Read Light Novel > Seize The Sky > 15 Chapter 14: Hot Water

15 Chapter 14: Hot Water



I cultivated most of the night. As usual, getting beaten up had turned my body into an essence sponge, and it flowed into my injured body like a balm. That was one thing I'd noticed after my fight with the assassins. Being healed had cured my injuries in a single day, but it had also deprived me of the opportunity to cultivate while injured. I feel like I had really missed out on what could have been significant progress. Then again, as bad as my internal injuries had been, I might have died without the healing.

The beast meat was also helping. I could feel the occasional rush of warm energy enter my body while the meat was being digested. It was no wonder the stuff was so expensive. It was strengthening my body and it tasted great, even with my poor cooking.

The night had passed uneventfully as I kept watch. It was still a few hours to dawn and I was starting to nod off. I was exhausted after the fight, and having to stay up all night after the adrenaline had worn off was no mean feat, even aided by my cultivation. It was a good thing I couldn't see myself. I probably looked like some deranged zombie.

I jolted back awake as my head once again started to drop towards my chest. I was about to stand up to ward off sleep when I heard a soft rustle from behind me. Turning towards the sound, I saw a thick green vine creeping along the ground towards me.

I just stared at it in confusion for a few seconds, the gears of my sleep-deprived mind gummed up. Why would there be a vine creeping towards me? Following the vine with my eyes, I saw a number of other vines moving stealthily out from the entrance to the cave. It wasn't until I saw a vine starting to curl around Shimak that I realized what was going on.

Whipping my knife off my belt, I drove the blade straight through the vine nearest me. The vine froze for half a heartbeat before an awful high-pitched scream screeched out of the cave. Then all hell broke loose. As Shimak struggled to her feet, still bleary-eyed from sleep, over a dozen vines flashed out from the cave towards us. I started hacking at the vines with my knife, but it was a pitiful weapon for this kind of situation. Although the vines weren't particularly tough, the blade's short length was better suited for stabbing than chopping.

My struggles were for naught. I was quickly grabbed by multiple vines that started dragging me towards the cave. As I struggled against the pull of the vines I watched a giant red tulip flower press its way out of the foliage over the cave, the flower opening up like the maw of a giant squid. I panicked and squirmed wildly, still trying frantically to cut through the vines with my pitiful little dagger. The was dagger not working, I rolled myself over and clawed at the ground, trying to slow myself. Passing near the still burning fire I finally had some inspiration. Reaching out with my free arm I grabbed one of the half burnt logs from the fire. The skin on my hand started to burn, but I barely noticed. Burns could be healed, being eaten was a bit more difficult to undo.

Rolling with the log, I pressed the flaming end against the vines pulling me. There was no reaction at first, but as one of the vines started to smoke it quickly loosened and withdrew. It wasn't enough. At this rate it'd take me five minutes to get all these vines off. I only had a few seconds. Frustrated, I threw the flaming log at the plant-monster's open mouth. My aim was good, the log deposited itself perfectly into the back of the creature's throat. It did not take it well.

It screamed again, this time with more pain than outrage. The vines wrapped around Shimak released, rushing back to the creature and trying to fish the burning log out of its mouth. With our best weapon freed we could finally start our offense.

Shimak reached forward with her right hand and shouted in a clear voice. "Go Sparks!" The tattoo on her arm flashed and a soot-colored fawn appeared before her. The fawn wasted no time, dashing forward as Shimak made a few hand seals. The world's essence seemed to shift subtly towards the charging fawn.

[Beast Art: Blazing Trail]

The fawn's hooves began to glow with red light, then they burst into flames! Its footfalls incinerating the grass behind it, essence-fueled flames left a fiery trail as it charged. The fawn reared up just as it reached the plant-monster's body, lashing out with it's burning hooves. The plant-monster was NOT a fan of fire. The monster seemed to forget everything but its newest foe, all of the vines retracting and lashing at the fawn.

I retreated back to the fire and started to pitch more burning logs at the plant. I regretted not collecting the wolves' fat. I could have made a pretty mean incendiary with it, given a little time and a decent container. After throwing three more logs I ran in to join the fray. Shimak was already in, using brute strength to just rip the vines apart, while the fawn was content to smash the beast with it's flaming hooves. The fawn seemed to be egging the fire on. As the fight progressed the flames on its feet, and on the logs against the monster, grew in size and intensity.

The plant beast wasn't as strong of an opponent as it had seemed initially. While its vines were tough, they were easily cut by the hooves of Shimak's fawn, and Shimak herself had no trouble simply ripping them apart. The flames seemed to have completely suppressed any powers it might have had. The monster's lack of mobility was easily its largest disadvantage though. Once on fire, it was unable to escape. Soon it's shrieks and struggles subsided.

"Alright Sparks, absorb." The fawn walked forward and seemed to inhale and all the various flames burning on the plant's body died out. A smoking corpse, that smelled faintly of burnt broccoli, was all that remained when it finished. Sparks didn't seem to care about the smell though, walking forward it started to nose the corpse before opening its mouth and digging in.

"I can't really use my beast on land because it can't move very well out of the water, but if you had a powerful move like that up your sleeve, why didn't you summon your fawn against the wolves?" I asked Shimak as I walked over to her.

Raising one red eyebrow, she gave me the 'are you an idiot' look I was so familiar with. "You want me to send a fawn to fight a pack of wolves?" I was silent for a long moment before I said anything.

"Yeah… well, when you say it like that it just sounds stupid. And I wouldn't really count three as a pack." I said defensively.

Shimak laughed, the sound childlike and clear. I smiled begrudgingly. "My ash fawn isn't very good in a direct confrontation. It's very good at running away and has a strong elemental affinity, but the problem is mostly that steel wolves aren't bothered by fire very much. I would have been putting Sparks in danger for no good reason."

"But a giant plant is a much better target for a fire-beast." I said, understanding.

"Now you're catching on. And here I thought you were just dumb muscle." She looked thoughtful for a second then said. "Actually I'm the muscle AND the brains… What is it you do exactly?"

"Ouch, Just twist the knife a little deeper why don't you?" I said with a grin.

"Speaking of knives, get to chopping. If I've gotta do the fighting and the thinking, you have to do the work." Shimak said as she laid down again. Even in the pre-darkness I could see how pale her face was. Having to fight again so soon after exhausting herself hadn't been good for her, regardless of how chipper she sounded.

"Ahhhhh. I get it now. I'm like the handsome servant the high-caste ladies keep around to carry their stuff. Should I take my shirt off and oil myself up or something?" I asked, laughing

Shimak gave me her trademark snort before rolling over. She was asleep almost instantly. I, on the other hand, had to butcher a plant monster. While it wasn't nearly as difficult as the wolves, it was just as messy. The plant had an odd, greenish blood that I got all over myself. Shimak's fawn stayed out for a while, eating the plant, but when it finished it walked delicately over to Shimak and turned back into a tattoo. I dug out the beast core, then after arguing with myself for a while, took a bite out of one of its vines. It tasted almost exactly like asparagus; Which I hate. I figured it would work to keep us from starving though. We were going to need all we could get if we planned to stay out here.

The sun was just starting to fill our clearing with light as I finished with the plant beast. I was now completely burnt out. I'd been up for more than an entire day, and I'd slept poorly the night before that. Settling my back against a wall, I fell asleep instantly and didn't wake up until nearly nightfall the next day.

I sat up and looked around blearily. Shimak had made another fire and was roasting some asparagus vines. When she saw me rising she grinned. "Finally awake lazy bones?"

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"Yep, what about you? You were looking pretty pale last night, or this morning I guess." I said, wiping the sleep from my eyes.

"Much better. I woke up around noon and cultivated the rest of the day. I'm still a little beat up, but I can fight again if we need it." She said as she prodded a vine. "Tastes pretty good actually. You want some? " She asked, holding out a chunk of vine skewered on a stick.

"Sure why not." I said with a shrug, accepting the stick and taking a bite. This was definitely roasted asparagus. "I'd kill for some butter and garlic to put on this." I said as I chewed. I couldn't really complain though. I hadn't eaten this well forever.

"So what's on the agenda for today?" Shimak asked once I'd finished my meal.

"Well, First I need to do something with these wolf-skulls. They are starting to stink something fierce." I'd cut the wolves heads off, but hadn't been able to clean them. The fur around the head was simply too hard. "Then I think we should explore the cave. I doubt there's anything dangerous in there with that monster guarding the door, but we should check it out. If it's clear we can move our camp inside, it'll be easier to defend."

Shimak nodded her approval and I moved off to gather more firewood. Cutting the skin off hadn't worked, so my next plan was to try and burn it off.The skulls were metal and wouldn't melt unless I made the fire ridiculously hot. I figured a fairly good sized bonfire should do the trick.. If not I could ask Shimak to use Sparks to super-charge the fire for me. Wood wasn't in short supply around here, and with my extra speed I quickly had a pyre nearly five feet high. I stuck the wolf skulls on top of my pyre and set it ablaze. Hopefully it would burn the off the super-hard skin and all the squishy bits. Then I could clean off all the gunk and I'd have the skulls.

Shimak and I grabbed a couple of improvised torches and ventured into the cave. The entrance was actually very narrow, and despite our small size, Shimak and I had a hard time squeezing through. The long entrance tunnel opened into medium sized, domed chamber. A large crystal suspended from the ceiling illuminated the room with what appeared to be natural sunlight. The temperature inside was much hotter than outside and I caught the faint smell of sulfur in the air. Planters full of plants were set in neat little rows, filling the room with colors and scents. Flowers, herbs, vines, and even mushrooms were all shoved together and over-growing their beds.

A path of decorated stone wove between the planters to the only other door in the room that lead deeper into the cavern. In the center of the room, just below the crystal, was a waist-high stone pillar. Curious, we moved forward to inspect it.

The pillar was perfectly octangular, and made of blue-veined white marble about three feet high. In the center of pillar a pendent sat in a recessed hole. The pendant appeared to be made of pale green jade, and was about the size of a dessert plate. It had a beautifully carved flowering vine inscribed on it.

"This…. This is a treasure." Shimak said, stunned.

"Yeah, the detail is incredible." I agreed. "I wonder how much He'sha would pay for it. " I mused, rubbing my chin. A small hand shot out and slapped the back of my head.

"Ou!"

"This is a real martial treasure, not some piece of fancy decoration." Shimak snapped.

Rubbing the back of my head, I said bitterly, "You know, you can't just stick the word martial in front of everything to make it cool."

"This is a MARTIAL art, it's been handed down for generations. This is a MARTIAL library, it is the treasure of our village. This is a MARTIAL turnip, it's at least four-thousand times better than a normal turnip. You all can kiss my martial ass." I said in a mocking tone.

Shimak waited patiently until I finished, looking at me with one orange-red eyebrow raised in question. "Feel better?"

"It's a stupid name." I said petulantly. "Let me guess, that piece of jade has some crazy magical power that can make me fly or shoot lighting out of my butt." Shimak's head tilted to the side slightly as her expression turned strange.

"What goes on in your head?" She asked seriously.

"All the interesting stuff obviously." I sighed, leaning over and picking up the piece of jade. It was surprisingly heavy, and felt warm to the touch. "How does it work?" I asked her.

She shrugged. "Could be anything." She said. "Maybe essence, or blood, or maybe it only works from within the pillar. It's not like I've ever seen one before. It could be almost anything."

I pushed essence into my fingertip then bit it, letting a fat drop of blood fall onto the pendant. Just as I'd done with the jade tablet my Martial Style had been inscribed on. The crimson drop fell onto the pendant and started to disappear, like it was being sucked inside. Soon no trace remained and the pendant was as pristine as ever. The world's essence seemed to fluctuate. It wasn't an overbearing shift like when Ol'Scratch had evolved, it was subtle. A gentle, wave-like movement, rather than a sharp explosion.

The plants around us started to rustle and my eyes moved to them as they wiggled and writhed. They seemed to all grow slightly, then the essence in the blood must have run out, because they stopped just as suddenly as they had started.

"Hmmmm, It grows plants…. That's…. Odd.." Then some facts congealed in my brain. "That's probably why that plant monster was in the cave entrance. This thing must give off some sort of aura even when it's not actively being used." I said looking at it with interest.

Shimak, however, didn't seem impressed. " Are you crazy? That thing could have sucked out your soul." She said, looking at me with wide-eyed incredulity. She shook her head before saying "Shame it's not something more useful."

I sighed inwardly. Shimak was smart, but too much of a combat freak. "I don't know, could be useful. This place probably used to be some expert's hideout. This was their private herb garden. I bet some of these plants are worth a ton." I said as I looked around. .

"You and money, strength is more important. Even if you're the richest man in the world someone with a bigger fist can just come and take it from you." Shimak shot back. Her eyes hardened as a serious expression settled on her young face. "Only when you're strong can you defend those you care about." Shimak had a chip on her shoulder that weighed a ton. She was obviously thinking about her mother.

She was right to a degree, but not completely. She and I were from different worlds, and those worlds had given us very different perspectives. In her world, individual strength was what mattered. A powerful cultivator could shatter mountains and flip seas, but in my world, money could topple empires.

I put the pendant back into the pillar and we moved on to explore more of the cave. An archway lead from the first room into another, and the next room had obviously been some sort of study. An old, rotted prayer mat sat in the middle of the room, likely for cultivation. The old, gnarled roots from a tree above the cave grew down from the ceiling and formed the shape of a chair. On the ground in front of another wall, between two groups of roots that had grown down, was the remnants of what I think used to be a hammock. The stone of the third wall had been depressed, forming shelves which were filled with old decayed tomes in neat rows.

"This really was some old cultivator's hideout." Shimak said with awe. "This was someone's study."

"Makes sense. I mean, the mountain is safe and all, but someone strong would be better off living down here in the woods. The essence is much better down here for cultivation. Aren't the main branch of the Mountain-Sun family plant cultivators. This was probably one of their ancestor's getaways, and he came down here when he wanted some time alone to cultivate. Or his wife was nagging him."

I wanted to check out the books, but we proceeded on through the study and into the final room. This room was smaller than the others and was completely empty. Aside from a steaming pool of water in the center of the room. The air was thick and humid, with the smell of sulfur thick in the air. I grinned like an idiot as I stared down at the pool,barely able to contain the my building excitement.

"HOT TUB!" I shouted, quickly stripping to my underwear and jumping in. There was a splash as I hit the pool and the heated water rushed up around me. Coming back to the surface, I laughed contentedly as I let my head lay on the edge of the pool and just floated.

"Are you an idiot?! What if there was some monster in there!" Shimak shouted. I shrugged, not put out in the least, letting the warmth of the water sooth my body and muscles. Fresh meat was one thing, but THIS was how the other-half lived. Now if I only had a couple of babes in bikinis and a cold beer my life would be complete.

"There's not going to be a monster. This is for relaxation, who would put a monster in here?" I said, closing my eyes and enjoying the warm water. The water bubbled faintly, almost like it was carbonated, and the sensation of the bubbles and heat was completely divine after all the battles and beatings I'd taken. "I'm telling you, you're missing out." I said without opening my eyes.

The pool had a ring of smooth stone a few feet under the surface that was obviously meant to be a seat. Moving slowly onto the bench, I was short enough that the water came to the top of my shoulders, I was able to sit up and relax. There was a splash, and I opened my eyes to see Shimak sitting across from me. Her orange-red hair floated on the surface of the water, and I was suddenly thankful the water was opaque - and that it came all the way to her chin. That was something I really didn't need to deal with. Puberty had been bad enough the first time around.

I lazed about for a few minutes, then summoned Rupert. He didn't get to be out very often. Unless I had a large pool of water nearby, I could only let him out for a few minutes before he started to dry out, and the barrel of water in the house didn't provide him much space. I'd felt a little guilty about it sometimes, so now I didn't hesitate to let him join us. Grey light swirled for a moment before Rupert plopped into the hot tub.

"Don't do that…." Shimak said. "He's a water beast. They are Yin, they like cold, dark water, not this." She said as Rupert swam around the pool, swimming in circles and sending feelings of happiness through the bond.

"I"m not certain you're right." I said, as Rupter burst through the surface of the water, doing a flip, and then splashing back into the water. "He seems pretty happy to me. He feels happier than he's ever been as far as I can tell."

Shimak frowned as she watched his antics. "That…. Doesn't make sense." She said as I shrugged.

"Well, we always knew he was different from most beasts. It's not terribly surprising that he doesn't follow conventional wisdom." I said. I closed my eyes and started to cultivate, pulling the rich essence in through my link with Rupert. It was more dense here than any place I'd found so far, which made me smile, I knew I'd be spending a great deal of time here in the future.

Shimak only let me relax for a few minutes before she roused me from the hot-spring and made me help her clean up main room. It didn't take us too long, and we'd moved what meager belongings we had into the cave before the night was half-over. Skimak and I finally settled down to get some much needed rest. We were both running on fumes. She went back to sleep, and I sat on the rim of the hot spring to cultivate with Rupert on the bottom of the pool. I let my body relax and soak in the essence, feeling my sore muscles unknot and my wounds slowly knitting back together. We had food now, and shelter. Maybe things were looking up.