I wonder when Durandal will fulfill his deal with me. Yeah, I gave him a necklace that doesn’t actually do anything in exchange for my passage home, but what else was I supposed to do? Lucia expects me to fix Durandal’s sterility, but I’m not omniscient! I don’t know everything there is to know in the world. I’m not even twenty years old yet. It’s not like I haven’t thought about how to fix Durandal, but I simply have no idea where to even start. Quite frankly, I have zero experience with sex. How am I supposed to figure out the mechanism to create babies and figure out why Durandal doesn’t follow that norm? It’s impossible without extensive research, but that’s not the kind of research I want to delve into! I’m fine with dissecting bodies and salvaging them for medicinal ingredients, but there’s something about genitals that makes me avoid them. I think it has to do with some underlying trauma caused by adventuring with Lucia.
Think of the devil and the squirrelkin shall appear. “Yes?” I’ve given up on telling her to stop teleporting into my room. I don’t know how she always manages to find me. This is a cave I’ve never been to before in the sect—she probably asked someone, huh?
Lucia skipped towards my desk, her eyes lighting up. She dipped her hand into my still boiling cauldron and pulled out a few medicinal pills, throwing them into her mouth as if they were snacks. “We’re going home to the pocket realm!” She fanned her mouth with her hands. “Ah, this is hot.”
My pills…. Well, I was going to give some of them to her anyway. “When are we going?”
“How about after the banquet celebrating my rise to sect leader?” Lucia nodded as she pulled out a cup of hot chocolate, rinsing her mouth with it. “I’ve decided; it’s more important to hide and stay alive than it is to show off my prowess as sect leader. What if one of my apparitions provokes another immortal? Besides, I can always take Softie and Claw and the people that I really like into the pocket realm too. I won’t be missing out on anything!”
I thought saint-realm people and above weren’t allowed inside of pocket realms if they weren’t born there. That’s why only mortal-realm disciples invaded, no? Well, I’m sure Lucia will figure something out once she realizes. Will she? Either way, Durandal promised to open the way back for me. It won’t matter even if Lucia changes her mind. “But don’t you feel bad for abandoning the Shadow Devil Sect like this? They’re going to go through a great ceremony to inaugurate you, yet you’re going to leave after they’re done.”
Lucia tilted her head to the side and blinked at me. “…Is that something I should feel bad about?” Her arm rose into the air as her hand reached over her shoulder to scratch the back of her neck. “I mean, didn’t I abandon my territory back in the pocket realm too? I don’t feel bad about that.”
“Well….” Right, the question of whether or not Lucia has a conscience is up for debate. I’m sure she has one, but it’s broken. Things she should feel sorry for aren’t being felt sorry for, and things she shouldn’t be worried about are made into a big deal. Saying acorn stew tastes horrible makes someone a blaspheming heretic. Harvesting people’s heads is perfectly fine if you’re not the one dishing out the final blow.
“Besides, Softie’s grandpa ran the sect just fine before I came along,” Lucia said and yawned. “He can lead the sect while I’m not around. Then, on the occasions I come back, I’ll dish out commands and lead properly. Simple, see?”
Lucia does have a point…, surprisingly. “Makes sense. Did you only come here to tell me that, or was there something else?” I’m on the verge of creating a medicinal pill that’ll improve my mana circulation. Sure, I’ve failed hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times by now, but I’m close this time; I can feel it. I mean, I thought I was close the past couple of hundred times, but this time for real!
“I was going to bring you to the banquet. It’s starting soon.” Lucia grabbed my shoulder, and before I could pack away my things, she teleported us away. Why is she like this? What if a fire starts? Well, I left my cauldron on the lowest setting, so at most, I’ll come back to a pot of burnt ingredients. A fire shouldn’t break out. “Softie! I brought her.”
Huh. The plaza’s changed a lot in the short time I was experimenting. How many days has it been? Lucia went to sleep and didn’t wake up until now…. Two days, I think? It’s easy to lose track of time inside of a cave. No wonder why cultivators like living inside of them. If they could see the sun and moon swapping places while cultivating, they’d literally be watching their lives tick away. The cave removes the pressure of time. Maybe I was wrong about them being unprogressive backwater ancestor-worshippers. They certainly didn’t hold back while preparing for this banquet. Well, they say it’s a banquet, but all the food is meant for Lucia since no one wants to ingest any impurities. But everyone’s drinking something. “What’s this?” I pointed at the jars of liquid that peppered the surfaces of the multitudes of tables.
“That’s spirit wine,” Softie said. “It’s an impurity-free wine made from immortal rice. Feel free to try some.”
Why haven’t I seen it around before? Shouldn’t it be a very popular drink, considering it has no impurities? “I’ve never heard about it.”
“That makes sense,” Softie said and nodded. “It’s only taken out on very special occasions. Drinking it disorients you, so many cultivators avoid it. It used to be more popular, but people figured out they could kill someone higher ranked than them if their target drank enough of it. Offering it to someone outside of your sect is akin to offering someone poison. It’s a good thing you haven’t seen it outside because you’d be dead if you drank it.”
Lucia’s eyes lit up and she snatched a jar of it off a nearby table. She sniffed it, and her ears and tail perked up. Before she could bring the jar to her mouth, Softie placed her hand on Lucia’s sleeve. “Wait! S-share a jar with me.” She grabbed onto the jar and leaned over, placing her mouth on the lip and took a gulp. Then she rotated the jar so that the spot she just drank from was in front of Lucia’s mouth. Softie’s eyes stared at Lucia with so much expectation; I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
Lucia blinked and shrugged before drinking from the jar. Is Lucia weak to alcohol? I don’t think so; I’ve never seen her act drunk before. A drunken Lucia would be a disaster. I think I’ll distance myself from her just in case….
Wandering around the sect, I noticed a lot of couples. Men and women who were sitting underneath trees, on narrow benches meant for two people, on the shore by bodies of water, under the eaves of some buildings. All of them were sharing jars of spirit wine in the same manner that Softie had Lucia drink in. Once again, I couldn’t stop a feeling of pity from rising out of my chest. What horrible crime did Softie commit in her past life to fall in love with Lucia?
“Oh, if it isn’t Sister Ilya.”
Claw? “Hey, Claw. You’re here too, huh?” I didn’t expect Claw to show up to the celebration. He’s a very serious person focused on getting stronger. “You don’t seem like the celebrating type.”
Claw nodded at me. “I’m not, but I wanted to spend some time in the sect before I set off to avenge my parents. I don’t know if I’ll have another chance to experience a day like this.”
“Oh. Why don’t you ask Lucia to help you avenge your parents? I’m sure she’d be a huge help. And she sees you in a favorable light; I don’t think she’d deny your request.” Lucia mentioned bringing Claw to the pocket realm; I’m sure she thinks highly of him—even if it’s just as an executioner.
Claw shook his head. “This is something I must do by myself. I don’t want to drag Chosen Lucia into my troubles. A subordinate is meant to hoist his leader up, not bring her down.”
“Hm. Well, if you die or get captured, Lucia will probably be upset and try to avenge you. So don’t do either of those, okay?” Lucia already has a lot of bad will aimed at her. I’m surprised the grievances she caused haven’t caught up to her yet. There was the extermination of the phoenix sect, the killing of a country’s crown prince, the fact that she’s a squirrelkin spreading squirrel apparitions in a world where immortals want to kill squirrels. Deciding to hide in the pocket realm is probably the smartest decision Lucia has made since she came here.