“Information.” Uswah spoke after a brief silence, one the group had filled with further walking. Their short tiff had ended with them left behind, and so the group had hurried to catch up with the scouts.
“I want it. You have it,” Arthur said.
“Oh gods, he’s rhyming again,” Sharmila groaned.
“Flows both ways,” Uswah said.
“Really?” Arthur said, eyes narrowing. She could not know about his other skills, unless his expanded healing ability made sense to her. He had not used it, not much since he had not had the hour it would have required. Nevermind the fact that the pain had been, surprisingly, more subdued.
Perhaps another side effect of the Yin Body.
“You are the first male Yin. Unique.” Uswah raised a hand. “Unique can highlight differences. Help me learn more, about my own cultivation techniques.” A slight smile. “Maybe come up with something new.”
“I see. That’s a little vague, though.”
“It is. Information on Yin Bodies is . . . sparse. Except to those privileged to be in certain clans. Those not born into one, we’re forced to learn ourselves.”
“Damn,” Arthur cursed, though without heat. “I’d hoped you knew more.”
“I do.” A slight smile. “I know at least how to cultivate properly.”
Now she had his attention. He stared at Uswah who offered him a wider half-smile before she continued. “Also. A favour.” She held a single finger up. “One big favour. No excuses, no hesitation.”
Arthur frowned. “No. You could, you know, ask me to kill a baby.”
“No babies in the Tower.”
“Metaphorically! And once we’re out of the Tower, well, a lot of babies there.”
“Okay. No baby killing.”
“Wait, was that on the table? Seriously?” Arthur said, stepping away from Uswah.
A teasing smile danced on Uswah’s lips in answer. “No horrors. But no promises about it not being illegal. Just not immoral.”
Arthur drummed fingers along his staff, using it to prod the ground before him. He was not surprised to see a nearby plant snap upwards, grabbing his staff—and it would have grabbed his leg if he had put it there—before he yanked the entire thing out of the ground.
“Don’t destroy that.” Behind him, Jan’s voice. She hurried over, grabbing at the staff and pulling it upwards as she cut at the bottom of the plant where root and stem joined, extracting a glowing portion in short order. “Good find. Thanks, ah!”
Arthur peeled the dying, limp plant off his staff. “What was that?” He had never seen that portion Jan harvested before. Not that he went around gathering plant parts much, but he was sure he hadn’t seen anything like that on the Guild boards either.
“Ingredient. For alchemy. Don’t worry, I share,” Jan said.
“Not a real answer,” Arthur grumbled.
“Secrets. All of us have them.” Uswah prodded him. “Now, your decision?”
“Fine, fine. One favour, nothing immoral,” Arthur replied. That was still a little too vague for his liking, but at least he was going to be deciding what constituted immoral. It wasn’t as though the Tower held people in a supernatural way to such promises.
“Good.” Uswah reached into her dress, making Arthur blink. He did not, however, turn away as she rummaged and extracted a scroll, so she raised an eyebrow at him.
“Hey, I’m just a half man.”
He grinned, taking the scroll she handed him. He pulled it open just enough for a peek. “This is your cultivation method?”
“I see.” Relief, rushing through him. He clutched the scroll tighter for a brief second, drawing an annoyed squeak from Uswah at the damage, which he guiltily smoothed out. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” Arthur nodded and slipped it in his bag carefully. Once that was done, he hurried to catch up, turning his attention to the act of trudging along. There were many miles to cover.
And at the end, he had a scroll to read and decipher.
Hours and hours walking before the group finally stopped, pulling into a clearing and setting up a makeshift encampment. Tents, strings strung around trees, and a few stakes punched into the ground were all that was done for protection, besides a half dozen talismans strung on those same strings. Once triggered, they would protect the encampment from being located or breached. Or at the very least, sound a warning.
Despite his resolve to read that scroll, Arthur was unable to keep his eyes open. He did not even manage to do more than crawl into his tent before he collapsed on the bedroll, exhaustion and the drain of healing taking him to the land of Somnus.
Six hours later, Arthur woke, his body humming with energy. He had not realized it before, but his Yin was stronger in the dark of the night. He had noticed the change in cultivation speed at times, but in his old solitary, windowless room, he had had no way to tell the time of day. Nor had he cared to then.
Body thrumming with power, Arthur spent a moment to review his stats.
“Oh hell,” he groaned. “I forgot to learn Energy Dart. And spend my refined energy point.”
Damn it. Every time he got too involved in his cultivation, in anything, he hyper-focused and anything else that was important was driven away. All that he could do, all that he could focus on, was the project that had driven him to this point.
And now, well.
“I really could have done with more points in Body.” He really could have. But he had a Body of 6 now, higher than before. And he was one point away from a trait in Spirit, but if he grabbed that . . .
“My problem’s in gathering energy to refine, not in actually refining that energy.” He muttered that all softly to himself as he reviewed his status.
On the other hand, a trait could make a difference. He cudgelled his brains, trying to recall the common Spirit traits that he had read about and the one he had planned to acquire. It had been long, all too long since he’d read about them. The things that Spirit changed were not just refinement speed but also aura, killing intent, poison resistances, and even the ability to control and mold energies.
Now, he had not a lot of refined energy-based effects, but perhaps his most important skill, Accelerated Healing, did use it. On top of that, the Energy Dart technique which he had meant to learn used refined energy.
On the other hand, boosting his Mind ability would increase his energy collection speed, help him learn the Energy Dart technique, and deal with things like the rather fraught social situations. He wouldn’t necessarily be smarter, but greater comprehension helped.
“Gods, I hate decisions.” Arthur sighed, grabbed the scroll from his bag and unrolled it. Better to see how hard it was to learn this.
An hour later, as the light of the sun began to cut through his lantern, Arthur was done with his third read-through. He rubbed his temples, staring at the document, and sighed.
“Mind it is . . .”
The application of the refined point of energy shot through his body like lightning, tightening his muscles before cold, ice-cold, shock cut through his mind. His brain froze and hurt, lightning arcing through mind and soul.
Teeth grit, body arched. He whimpered, thrashing around till the point, his first ever into Mind, faded away. Leaving him . . .