Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 86

Chapter 86: Loctris 7

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Benzhi lay in a recently acquired bed, in an incomplete room on the second floor of the Alpine Forest Trading Company Warehouse.

Ventiry, Sable, Carney and Skorrick had been busy. While most of the city panicked, packed and left, including the workers who were completing the renovations, they had been purchasing, for astronomically low prices, goods, furniture and items that people had resigned to leave behind.

 They had confidence in the Vanguard being victorious. They believed it was a good bet. Benzhi didn’t really care, he would portal them to the Alpine forest before the Myrkalfar arrived. As he would anyone in their immediate circle, including Jax, Ventiry, Sable and of course his support team of Carney and Skorrick. Flek and Keann had already returned days ago.

 The nobles whom they purchased furniture and goods from were happy, they would rather have gems and gold than a massive bed they could not carry. They seemed to give low odds of the defence being successful. They were encouraged in this thinking by the Governor, who saw no harm in the exodus, and a high risk in staying. They expected the Myrkalfar to take anyone with any qi talent into slavery. Apparently, this was a common occurrence, if once every fifty years in perpetuity was common.

 A qi bubble floated over the sleeping Reyas and popped into Benzhi.

 ‘You dumb, dumb, Kebo cannot portal into domain, come and meet Kebo, time is now,’ Kebo’s message contained an anchor and an emotion. A large helping of frustration with a big idiot.

 Benzhi slapped his forehead, Kebo had been waiting for him to leave the domain to come and visit. Benzhi had just sent bubble after bubble. Well, it was his fault, he could have sent a message to Benzhi earlier.

 Gisael could wake from sleep from a pin drop unless she chose to ignore it.

 “Kebo or Glamour?” she asked.

 “Kebo,” he said. She smiled, she would much rather he deal with Kebo as she did not trust Glamour at all.  “He wants to meet now,” Benzhi got out of bed and started getting dressed in his leathers. Thankfully the rune of permanence kept them perfectly clean and odour free, he could wear them for weeks on end with no sign of wear and tear nor dirt or smell.

  “Shall we come?” she asked unsure if Benzhi would go along or the whole Vanguard would.

 “Given the questions, I will be asking and the imminent battle, yes,” he answered.

 She nodded and went about waking Reyas and Anastasia.

 Within minutes they were ready, and Benzhi opened a portal, he stepped through while keeping it open.

 They were in a garden and rather than night it was mid-morning. Benzhi looked at the sky, there were twin suns, he swore. Where the hell had Kebo brought them, this was no Basal.

 Speaking of Kebo, he hopped down off a perfectly smooth rock that overlooked a stream, “payment for Anchor and lesson upfront.” He said holding out his hand.

 Benzhi gave him a full concentrated qi solid core, one of nine that he had left. Well, eight now.  Kebo did not come cheap, these were worth a fortune in qi and gold. But he was worth it, especially if it meant increasing their chance of surviving the upcoming battle.

 “Dumb dumb, Kebo not normally ask this question, because my clients are not normally…dumb. Do you have anchor back?” he asked.

 Benzhi nodded, he had created a tiny domain in the warehouse the first day they had it. He could not create an anchor inside the Loctris domain, but he was able to create a domain within a domain. It truly was an embassy of the Alpine Forest. He had no idea if anyone was alerted by the foreign domain, but now, in any case, thanks to Ventiry they had the right to do it. It was effectively their sovereign land.

 “Good,” he wiped his head like it was a load off his mind. With a wave of his hand Kebo closed Benzhi’s portal, “no surprises,” he explained and showed his sharp little teeth.

 “Kebo has tough job teaching you, did you not listen,” Kebo began, “no can create portal into foreign domain. Unless you give Kebo anchor and it is your domain. But not many do that, too dangerous.” He said puffing on his little pipe.

 “What is training you want?” Kebo asked.

 Benzhi licked his lips, “we want to learn about affinities. What they are and possibly what affinities we possess.”

 Kebo looked at the four, “this not train one, this train four. Four times cost.”

 Benzhi waived his hand, “no, it is the same we all learn, you can have a small amount extra for testing four instead of one.”

 “Kebo have good knowledge, you need, give Kebo one more now, you will not be sorry,” he said.

 Benzhi handed one extra qi solid core over to Kebo thinking this better be worth it. He had just handed him twenty percent of their concentrated qi kernel hoard.

 “Kebo start with explain affinity. Listen careful. You not listen last time,” Kebo carried on. “Affinity comes from element or force,” he began.

 Kebo grabbed a rock, “element,” he scooped up some water, “element,” he grabbed a stick, “element. See elements. You make things with elements. You can touch them. Most time can see them.”

 Kebo waddled over to Gisael and handed her the stick. “Kebo bet qi kernel, this one had wood element affinity,” he tapped his third eye showing how he knew.

 “Anastasia, have you had any success with qi arrow? Any whatsoever?” Benzhi asked.

 She shook her head.

Benzhi had never tried a wood elf bow, let alone tried to mimic qi arrow. What Kebo said made sense, perhaps nearly all wood elves had wood affinity and only they would use qi arrow.

 It related to their crafting and all their weapons. His shield and sword were wood. It was most likely Paphyra had a strong wood affinity as did Flek.

 “Does she possess any other affinity?” Benzhi asked.

 Kebo circled Gisael and drew a small knife, she gave him her finger, and he stabbed it drawing blood. He popped a few drops in his mouth, tasting it.

 “Mmhm, nice,” he said grinning, “it is rare to have many affinity. It is good to have one, great to have two and very very rare to have more. Old ones and tings like divine beasts have two or even three.”

 “Other affinity is force,” he continued his explanation, “force is unseen. Kebo sees what force does, but does not see the force unless Kebo cheats and uses third eye. Force is like, wind.” He picked up a leaf and blew it. “It is like warmth from a fire or cold from ice. It is not fire. It is the warmth.” Kebo picked up a rock, “pretend Kebo not through rock with his hand, pretend it just flew,” and he threw the rock. He picked up another and just dropped it. “That is force, things fall to ground. But sometime if you have affinity you can make them fall in other directions.”

 “In a roundabout way, it sounds like he is explaining telekinesis,” Anastasia said.

 “Fall in other direction is better way to explain,” Kebo said empathically. He went back to Gisael, “you are lucky, or deserving. Kebo not know. But you have second affinity that you do not use.” Everyone waited with baited breath to hear the affinity Gisael possessed that she had never tapped.

 Kebo blew at her, “you have wind.”

 Gisael was stunned, Benzhi asked, “how does she use it?”

 Kebo concentrated and tapped his head, “Kebo not know, Kebo not have wind.”

 Benzhi sighed, well at least it was something for them to explore in the future.

 “The Sand guy, Jansin, he has wind,” Anastasia volunteered. She was right, someone they could study or talk to right away. Jansin moved sand around using wind. Many thought he moved the sand, but that was not right, it was the wind moving it. He could use wind to move almost anything. But given they were in Sandstone it made sense he had honed that skill.

  Kebo moved to Reyas, pricked her offered finger and tasted her blood.

 He walked around her humming. “Why are all your women so talented?” he asked Benzhi. It was funny he assumed they were Benzhi’s women, not his companions or part of an elite fighting force. Well, he was right on two counts.

 Reyas giggled, half at his words and a half in expectation.

 “She has affinity to element, animal,” he received confused looks, how were animals an element. “Hmm, let Kebo explain. Animal have blood, muscle and bone. So it be element. But there be many type of Animal affinity and this one not be for making. She be affinity for cats, small and big. She should make friends with wild cats. Best friend would be powerful divine beast cat. That would make a good companion, they smart too.”

 He grinned and said, “she have another affinity. Where you get her from?” Kebo joked, they thought he joked. “She be heat, like from fire.”

 “Holy,” Benzhi said.

 It was Reyas turned to be stunned.

 “So she can throw fire from her hands?” Anastasia asked.

 “Kebo know some heat tricks, but, fire from hand would be too hard for this one,” he said. “Let Kebo show you one trick.” He walked around and found a dry leaf, held it in his palm and poof it caught fire and burnt up within moments.

 Benzhi had been watching with qi sight closely and had shared with Reyas. Kebo had collected qi in his palm, and it spun and presumably heated the leaf until it burst into flames. The heat came from his qi, that was not visible under qi sight, just the qi pattern and the effect.

 Reyas began to practice with the first dead leaf she could find.

 Kebo went over to Anastasia and repeated his little ritual of circling and tasting her blood.

 His little eyes gleamed. “Oh, Kebo impressed. Must check, give me some more,” he held out his knife, for a few more droplets of blood.

 “You tell Kebo what he is like,” he said to Anastasia. She looked at him quizzically and decided just to answer his strange question honestly.

 “Kebo is greedy for qi but honourable. If he gives his word, it can be trusted. Kebo follows his own rules very strictly,” she said.

 “Does Kebo like you?” he asked her.

 “Only a little, Kebo likes himself and he likes playing with qi, there are not many people you like,” she answered.

 Kebo chuckled, “you don’t need Kebo to know your affinity. You have empathy, you read people, you know them. This is good affinity to be healer or destroyer of mind. It is good affinity, you use already. But there are things you can learn. It is good affinity for aura, you will be much stronger at aura than normal qi person.”

 “Does she just have one qi ability?” Benzhi asked.

 Kebo laughed his little chirpy laugh. “Who be greedy now. It is good affinity and rare, you should be happy with any,” he said.

 All eyes, well except Reyas she was trying to ignite a leaf, fell on Benzhi.

 Kebo did not go through the ritual.

 “Kebo already know your affinity from first meeting,” he said.

 “Why did you not tell me?” Benzhi asked frustratedly.

 “It is dangerous, Kebo was worried you take control of him,” he answered.

  “I promise I will not take control,” Benzhi stated.

  Kebo hummed, “it is a very rare affinity,” he said and went back to sit on his rock, he got himself comfortable.

  “Kebo will tell you, you will be nice to Kebo,” he said. Benzhi could only think he was already paid and extorted for more qi kernels.

 “This affinity is not rare,” he changed his statement, “we only know of one other who live with this affinity. What is more than rare?” Kebo asked earnestly.

 “Unique,” Anastasia said.

 Kebo nodded, “that is better word, Kebo like. The unique affinity that only the Qi Sage possess,” he explained.

 Benzhi did not know what he wanted to know more, what was the damned affinity already or who was the Qi Sage.

 “Who is the Qi Sage?” Anastasia asked beating Benzhi to it.

 “He be the one who is older than Kebo, older than anyone Kebo knows. The Qi Sage is respected and feared by all of Kebo’s clients he is the one who taught their fathers and mothers to use qi,” Kebo explained vaguely.

 “Wait, you mean he taught their ancestors? Surely it has been around for longer than one generation,” Anastasia said.

 Kebo smiled, “see yours is good affinity, it helpful. Ancestors is good word. The Qi Sage learnt qi from Kebo’s race, the gatekeepers who live in the Aether and he taught qi to others.

 “How long ago was this?” Benzhi asked.

 “Listen, dummy, time does not matter. Kebo told you this. It was now, it was tomorrow, it was before Kebo’s fifty fathers. The Qi Sage go where and when he wants,” Kebo answered.

 “What is the ability that you do not want to tell me?” Benzhi asked. Kebo had been stalling.

 “Kebo thought you were strange when you first close red portal and fight Kebo,” he said harkening back to when Benzhi tried to close the portal forcibly before the second wave. He ended up in a struggle with Kebo which only ended when Kebo popped out of the portal shouting at him.

 “No person, other than First Order Gate Guardian, should be fighting Kebo. Except the Qi Sage and now you,” Kebo said, “your affinity is qi itself.”

 Benzhi’s mind whirled it was extraordinary, and yet it explained so much. How had he learned everything so quickly when every other talent from earth learns so slowly or not at all. He had surpassed even Huineng who was a peak master in China twenty years before Benzhi was born.

 He could see patterns others could not. No one he knew could create qi sight and see the patterns in detail like he did. At most, they saw qi streams, but not the tiny bubbles, let alone the minute patterns, shapes and concentration of the tiny bubbles.

 Qi communication link did things for him it did for no other. Others could communicate, but they did not get shared vision like he did. If he was not with Reyas and Gisael, the link did not work the same for them. They could only talk, the shared vision vanished.

 He learned qi barrier in moments from watching a Myrkalfar Knight and used it in an attempt to defend himself against the Myrkalfar Daughter. Alejo had said it would take years to master and at least a year for the most talented.

 His healing ability was rare amongst all races. He had taught himself by watching a Troll! Most would not be able to see the micropatterns and the forms the troll completed with its natural talent. But it went further. To manipulate qi to such an extent. He had been forming qi bubbles with way less experience than Anastasia now had, and she could not come close to his early successes.

 The Qizhu wanted him. Why?

The Myrkalfar wanted him? Sure he caused some issues, but, why did it warrant a search through the entirety of the planes?

 Why did the Qizhu mention his description when talking to Mogui on a random foreign plane?

 He did not warrant that sort of search, that sort of notoriety. Not from the Qizhu, they had never met. Not unless they had an idea he was different. Maybe they even knew he was like the Qi Sage.

 Benzhi had not fainted, but he had fallen to the ground, his mind whirling. The Qi Sage sounded like fucking Jesus Christ and Gandalf all in one. Hell, he was a cross between Buddha and Doctor Who.

 “What race is the Qi Sage?” Benzhi asked Kebo.

 “Kebo has not met the Qi Sage. But he is a man, like you,” Kebo said.

 “Man?” Gisael asked.

 “You know this is not my original body, you know I come from a place called Earth. Anastasia and I are men, hell, she still is,” Benzhi answered.

 He had never seen Gisael upset. Perhaps pretend upset, but not upset. Until now.

 Benzhi just had the most massive news anyone in the universe could get, and she was upset because he was originally a man. Something which should have been obvious from their explanations. He and Anastasia had told them everything. The Seer was a man, Anastasia was a man, a woman yes, but from the race of men. What the hell, Gisael wasn’t stupid.

 Antasia approached Gisael, consoling her, “You knew this, deep down you knew, and it does not matter. He is he and his old body, the one that was a man, is dead. He left it to be a part of the Alpine Forest. To be with the Vanguard.”

 Anastasia stroked Gisael, and the words flowed out calming her. Gisael wiped tears from her eyes and nodded. She hugged Anastasia.

 “Um?” Benzhi was about to say, this is stupid, they have much bigger news and problems right now. But he was warned and waved away by Anastasia, through the link and with her hand.

 Benzhi changed his tact, “Kebo, you were scared I could take control of you. Why?”

 “The Qi Sage commands many gatekeepers, he controls them,” Kebo said, “Kebo does not want to be a slave. Kebo likes being free.” He smiled at Benzhi, he must have thought the smile would convince him to allow Kebo to continue being free.

 Benzhi laughed. “I do not like slavery of any form. You do not need to worry Kebo, I would rather we be friends.”

 Kebo grinned, then he looked troubled, “you better go back, your time is moving too fast.”

 “Oh shit,” Benzhi didn’t think to ask, “if the time dilation was out dramatically an hour could be days.”

 “But I have so many questions!” Benzhi was frustrated.

 “Kebo gave you anchor to this place, we can meet here again one day,” Kebo said.

 “What is this place?” Benzhi asked.

 Kebo shrugged, “just a plane, one with no people. Kebo likes it.”

 Benzhi opened a portal, and the Vanguard rushed through. They had no idea how much time was lost, it would be disastrous if their friends had died or worse were enslaved by the Myrkalfar while waiting for them.

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