“We’re here,” Softie said. She stopped the boat at the destroyed temple-like area where we had entered the Immortal Continent from. It seems like no one repaired it after the tribulation that occurred on my and Lucia’s arrival. The boat alighted to the ground, and Softie stowed it away inside of her interspacial ring. “If you channel your qi on the center of the altar, the pathway to the heaven and earth realm will open.” Her lips trembled as her eyes glistened with tears. “I, I’m going to miss you. Thank you, Lucia, for being my first friend.” She paused. “Um, and you too, Ilya, I guess.”
So I’m an afterthought.
“Hmm? Why does it seem like you aren’t coming with us?” Lucia asked and tilted her head. “You’re not thinking of ditching your commander, me, right? That’s deserting! And deserters are executed in the army.”
“D-didn’t you hear what my grandfather said? Anyone in the saint realm or above is barred entry from the pocket realm unless they’re a native. It was a seal put in place by the people who created the realm,” Softie said. “A-and we’re not in the army right now. This isn’t deserting….”
“Hmm.” Lucia scratched her head while grumbling. “There’s no way to take you in? Can’t I stuff you into this pouch or something? Ah! Doesn’t that mean I have to leave Mr. Feathers and these running fish behind?”
“There’s no way,” Softie said and shook her head. “Mr. Feathers managed to kidnap a sky-realm smith’s son; I think he’ll be fine if you let him do as he pleases. As for the axolotl’s, they’re peak saint-realm beasts. They won’t be able to go in either.”
Lucia hung her head. “But … my tasty portable snack mounts….” She sighed and untied the pouch on her waist before tying it around Softie’s. “Alright. You take care of them. If you eat any without me, I’ll beat you up, got it?”
“Neigh!” A red chicken-like head popped out of the pouch. “Neigh, neigh!”
Lucia patted the phoenix’s head. “Alright, Mr. Feathers. Take care of Softie, you hear? She’s a weak crybaby, so don’t bully her too much.”
“Lucia! I am not!” Softie said and stamped her feet while sniffling. A tear leaked out of her eye and rolled down her cheek, and she wiped it away before pulling something out of her interspacial ring. It looked like a lantern, but instead of an orange flame, it was burning with a white light. Softie bit her lower lip and grabbed Lucia’s hand, depositing the lantern’s handle into her palm. “This is my soul lantern. As long as I’m alive, it’ll burn. And if you hold it up, this mark over here will always rotate and point in the direction I’m in. You can use this to find me once you become an immortal and return…. I’ll miss you, Lucia. I promise I’ll cultivate hard by ingesting and purifying the impurities you left behind. When you come back, I won’t be a crybaby anymore, and I’ll at least be a sky-realm expert!”
An odd expression appeared on Lucia’s face. “…You’re going to drink my bathwater?”
“Don’t say it like that!” Softie’s face flushed bright red. She took in a deep breath and stepped forward, pecking Lucia on the lips like a sparrow. She lowered her head and looked to the side. “W-we shouldn’t part like this. This isn’t goodbye. You’re coming back; there’s no need for me to be so emotional.” Softie raised her head, tears dropping from both of her eyes. “Promise me you’ll come back, Lucia.”
Lucia scratched her nose. “Eh…. But won’t it be dangerous for me?”
Rest in peace, Softie. Lucia’s too dense to understand your feelings.
Softie glared at Lucia, but she didn’t look intimidating at all because of her tears. “I’ll be waiting, so you better come back!” Then she turned around and took out the slim boat. She hopped inside as it rose off the ground before Lucia could react. The boat charged forward, and Softie looked back once, her body getting smaller and smaller as the boat got further and further away. “You better come back!” And then, just like that, she was gone, the boat disappearing over the horizon.
Lucia sighed and looked at me. “You know, sometimes, I think Softie’s in love with me.”
That’s right. She is.
“But then I think about it a little, and the necklace of intelligence tells me I’m wrong.” Lucia nodded. “There’s no way Softie has any feelings for me other than that of admiration and awe.”
Maybe it’s time to give Lucia a new necklace. “Right. Of course.”
“Oh wells, let’s go!” Lucia looped her hand around my waist and lifted me like a bale of hay. She skipped towards the center of the temple and dropped me onto the ground. “I just put my qi inside? Like this?”
The temple trembled as a blue gash formed in front of us. It opened up like a mouth, and the inside of it was black, speckled with white lights. Lucia stared at it and rubbed her chin before grabbing her tail. She patted it a couple of times, checking its springiness. She nodded. “Mm. Doesn’t seem dangerous.”
I have a theory about Lucia’s tail. I think all her qi and excess energy is stored inside of it. She eats a tremendous amount of food, but none of it goes to her waist or thighs. But, clearly, it has to be going somewhere—why not her tail? Her tail almost has a mind of its own, telling her when there’s danger or—not!?
“Testing!” Lucia said in an upbeat manner. And she threw me into the portal! Why am I always being treated like this!?
Passing through the portal was like passing through a layer of ice cold water. I had to pat my robes to make sure I wasn’t wet—I wasn’t. Where am I? This looks like … an unexplored area. Great. Well, I guess I’ll wait for Lucia to show up first. I’ll prepare a teleportation spell while I’m at it. I might not be an earth-realm expert who can teleport instantly, but it’s not like it’s impossible for me to create a spell with a similar effect.
I didn’t have to wait long for Lucia to appear. She landed right on top of me.
“Oh! Ilya, you made it across safely. Great!” Lucia stood up and dusted herself off. “Where are we?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m setting up a teleportation sp—”
“Then I’ll figure it out!” Lucia grabbed me before I could even finish my sentence, and then the ground disappeared. She had teleported into the sky. And she’s still standing in the sky. Can she fly after becoming a sky-realm expert? “Hmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmm. There! I see my palace. But why does it look so green?”