Chapter 2 — Sweeping Rain Academy
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The night after the annual Spirit Walk was always a lively night for the village — bonfires, dancing, feasting, and drinking — it was a celebration that nearly everyone partook in, mortals and vi masters alike. As much as I was uninterested in such a celebration, my family had to be present — not only did we have an image to uphold, but, given my father’s position, being present at celebrations like these were one of our many responsibilities. 

Unfortunately, for me this celebration didn’t go... quite how previous celebrations had gone. Where previously my father would have spent most of his time glorifying me, and the future I was bound to have... My terrible aptitude was revealed, now. Things were different.

I watched my father reach down to ruffle Morning Rain’s hair, and she quickly dodged out of the way with an unhappy grimace. Sighing, I plopped my chin on the table and ignored the plate of food in front of me. I had no appetite, I was just... too worried about everything. Things had changed so much, so very fast... It had started just a few hours before, back when we’d left the Spirit Cave and reunited with our parents.

“How’s my boy?” my father had slapped my back suddenly, nearly knocking me to the ground. “Another A-grade like me, I expect?”

I’d looked up towards the booming voice. The dude was massive, with huge, broad shoulders and a full beard. He looked like a viking crossbred with a bear — extremely large and hairy... and maybe a bit pudgy, too. Mountain Rain, my father’s name was; his title, Chief of the Village of Rain. Where he might not have been the strongest vi master in the village, nor the oldest, nor the most experienced... he was the face of our village.

But none of that had run through my mind at his sight. Instead, the only two words running through my mind had been: Good god. If I ended up looking anything like him, I was fully aware I’d off myself even faster than I had the first time. And this time it’d be intentional!

“I’m... uhhh...” I’d mumbled, idly fingering the dull, worn copper badge that Elder Flame had given to me and I’d since hung around my neck. What was I supposed to say? The truth?

“What is it?” he’d boomed. “Speak up, boy!”

A high-pitched voice had interjected before I could say anything more. “He’s embarrassed because he barely made it past the 100 metre mark, papa.”

“Hahahaha!” father had chortled, ruffling Morning Rain’s hair and getting an unhappy glare from her in return. No, father, it was me that liked the hair ruffling, not her. Not that he’d ever done it to me, though... that I could remember. “Very amusing,” he said. “What’d he get for real, now?”

I’d wanted to run away so very much. Morning Rain! Stupid sister! Why did she have to rat me out like that? Why was she so venomous now?

I’d breathed out a long sigh, hiding my face in my hands. “She’s telling the truth, father,” I’d mumbled. It wasn’t like there’d been anything I could’ve done about it. He’d have found out eventually no matter what I did.

“Okay, you two, it was funny at first but it’s not anymore. Let me see your badge,” he’d grabbed it and tugged a little roughly, pulling me towards him.

“Heaven’s...” he’d sworn a long string of curses under his breath, then rubbed his temple. “Stupid boy, couldn’t you have cut your old man a little slack?” He’d sighed, then looked down at Morning Rain. “What about you, girl? What’d you get?”

“A-grade,” she’d said, simply, holding out her badge.

“Attagirl!” our father had exclaimed. “That’s what I like to see! Looks like the village has a new next-in-line!”

Morning Rain turned to look at me, a malicious glint in her eye. Then she’d winked, spun around, and started off back home, chatting happily with Father.

They both had completely ignored me. 

And that seemed to be the new normal, after that, all the way up until now. This entire night so far, Mountain Rain had spent every free moment glorifying Morning Rain just like he’d done in the past with me. He’d rambled on and on about the amazing future she was sure to have, celebrating her A-grade aperture, and even made bets on how many months it would be until she broke through to the first tier.

Since I was a part of the family, I was sitting with them. However, I didn’t like it. Where before I’d been annoyed that I’d gotten all the attention, and been unhappy that it was attention for things I didn’t want to do... now I was just watching Morning Rain be happy in the same spot and still felt just as much pain inside.

How in the world would I fix this pain? I needed to not be a boy anymore. As soon as possible. That would fix this, I was sure of it! The problem was actually going about doing that, though...

I supposed that I should consider myself lucky that I was a vi master at all, that I wasn’t mortal — vi plants and cultivation were like magic, and if anything could fix my body, it was magic. It was just too bad that my aperture was such a low grade. So unlucky!

If there was one thing I was thankful for, it was that I wasn’t the centre of attention anymore. I couldn’t even imagine what the response would’ve been if I’d still been considered the next-in-line for the position of village chief, but tried to use cultivation and vi plants to turn into a girl. Heck, Mountain Rain might’ve even spat blood!

That put a small smile on my face. Well, maybe I could still get him to spit blood if I tried hard enough. All I needed to do was destroy all his expectations of me... which, at this point, were probably just that I’d fail or something. Instead I’d become a cute girl, and live a good life! He’d be bound to spit blood for sure! Oh, and Morning Rain as well. Heck, maybe I could get the entire village to spit blood at the same time. That would be amazing. And very messy.

Then again... small goals. For now... Morning Rain. The sister of mine who had only given me malicious looks of prideful gloating throughout this celebration. Yes... she was first on my list... Without fail, I would become a girl and get her to spit blood!

Wow! Having goals was great!

 


 

Like all new vi masters, Morning Rain and I were invited into the village’s cultivation school, Sweeping Rain Academy. After one last weekend with their families — a weekend I spent alone, coincidentally — we all arrived in the Academy’s entrance plaza, our families left behind. There were nineteen of us — eighteen new prospective vi masters and I, the talentless.

It was unfortunate that I was this way, partly because I knew I would have a better mindset if I wasn’t, and partly because inside I knew I was more mature than all of these kids, already having lived nineteen years of another life. I would’ve been able to do well given more inborn talent... but, oh well. It was what it was.

It was interesting to compare myself to these kids, though. Some of them were immature enough to be crying, knowing they wouldn’t be seeing their families for months. Maybe that was a given, though, them only being ten years old. I guess that’s this world for you.

I, for one, didn’t particularly care to see my family again... at all, really. I’d been abandoned the moment my aptitude had come out, and, given my new influx of memories, I hadn’t been very interested in trying to rebuild the bridge they’d burnt. If a miracle happened and somehow I did manage to become a powerful vi master... it was their loss.

My thoughts came to a standstill as I realised that the incessant chatter and faint sounds of sobbing had gone silent. Were they starting? It seemed so. Some of the adults had walked up onto a raised platform, an older woman with very long silvery hair and purple robes moving to the front, Elder Flame, Elder Swan, and a few others behind. I watched as she performed a strange hand gesture and drew a circle above her chest. Ahh, she was activating an amplification vi plant, Many Echoes Vi; I’d seen my father use that before. Not that he particularly needed it...

“Good morning, young vi masters!” her feminine, but surprisingly deep and rich voice echoed throughout the plaza. Anyone who wasn’t silent yet became so at her words — whether or not they were upset about being separated from their families for the time being, they had no intent of missing any of this information. Very few were so cocky to believe that they could succeed in the vi world without effort.

“As is tradition, your first week at Sweeping Rain Academy will be spent learning the basics of cultivation. You will choose a cultivation manual — don’t worry, if you choose poorly, you can always change it later — and then you will cultivate every day. At the end of the week, and, based on your performance, the village’s vi masters can offer you a position under their wing in the assembly we call the Master-Disciple Market. Any questions?”

One of the kids near the front raised their hand. She gestured to them, and they said something that I couldn’t make out.

The woman shook her head. “Ah, no, you won’t be getting your core vi until next week. Patience. Anyone else?”

Someone behind me spoke up, loud and brash. He very blatantly had no respect for this woman. “When am I gonna get my Spirit Stones?”

“The first allowance will be at the end of the second week. Also, Mister... Wood? Please be respectful and raise your hand next time,” she smiled warmly, but somehow I didn’t feel very warm, shifting uncomfortably instead. “I don’t expect to need to say that again. Until you’re a tier three vi master, keep in mind that I can crush you like a bug.” Chills ran down my spine and sweat formed on my brow. Holy... was that killing intent? That was scary!

“Now,” the woman said, grinning widely as if she’d done something really funny. “Any other questions?”

Hesitantly, one other person raised their hand. The woman gestured to her. “Miss... Song?”

“I just was wondering who you were, ma’am,” the girl squeaked.

“Oh!” the woman tapped her forehead. “Silly me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Purple Moon, but you can call me Elder Moon. I’m the head of Sweeping Rain Academy.”

A few students gasped. I didn’t know why. Who was she? Was she that important? I didn’t think I’d seen her before, and surely she would have visited with my father... Her name definitely was familiar, though.

“What’s so special about her?” someone asked in a whisper.

“Tier four upper stage...” someone whispered back, barely audible.

Oh. Okay, that made more sense. Wait, was she really that strong? She was the strongest in the whole village, then, wasn’t she? My father was only tier three middle stage, and most of the village elders were tier three as well, only a few were in tier four. Tier four upper stage was a world of difference...

The question was, why had this incredibly powerful vi master never visited my father? Or had she, but I’d never seen her, maybe?

A boy in front of me leaned forwards to interject into the whispered conversation, “No, that was her tier before she went into seclusion a few years ago. My father told me all ab—”

“Now that you all are thoroughly distracted with my identity...” Elder Moon said, a twinge of annoyance in her tone that immediately stopped the chatter. She sighed. “I suppose you all can head to the Sweeping Rain library, now.” Turning to Elder Flame, who was stroking his wispy white beard, and, forgetting to turn off her amplification, she muttered, “Little Flame, you realise this is why I usually avoid these pointless gatherings, right? Waste of my time. You handle the rest, I have business to attend to.”

As the woman leapt gracefully onto a rooftop and away, still muttering to herself, the whisperings started up again, this time with a few quiet chuckles.

This time I understood what the chuckling was about, though — Elder Flame was one of the village's three Supreme Elders... but she’d called him Little Flame! Like he was a kid! And the poor guy was standing there, his face red, scratching his temple as if trying to figure out how to recover his image. Finally, he sighed as if it was a lost cause, then gestured for us to follow him. “Come along now, little ones.”

 


 

The library was an interesting place — more interesting than anything I remembered having seen before. It was shaped... very haphazardly. It was made of marble, old wood rich in essence, and fine glass. From the outside it looked sorta like two separate towers that had collapsed into each other, then been put back together with vines, more wood, and cobblestone.

From the inside, it was even more strange. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the place; it was clearly separated into floors, but each floor seemed like a total mess. Books were in shelves in all directions — crammed into little cubbies, stacked on tables, even standing precariously on windowsills. And that was just the books, not to mention the many staircases and ladders and the strange furniture in all directions.

“Sir?” someone asked, as we entered. 

Elder Flame turned around and nodded. “What is it, son?”

“Why does this library look so... crazy?”

Elder Flame chuckled. “You must not have seen cultivation before. See, when cultivation goes wrong... any vi plants stored in your aperture can... well, let’s just say they might do things you don’t expect. We’ve long since disallowed cultivation in the library, but, well, people can’t help themselves, now, can they? You read something interesting and you want to try it out right then and there!” he smiled wistfully, as if picturing all the marvellous things he’d encountered in this place. Then he frowned. “I admit once or twice in the past I may have even tried a couple things in here, too...” he rubbed the back of his head. “Luckily, it all went fine, of course.”

“Don’t lie to them,” an very old woman walked past. “I remember putting out that fire on floor four clear as day, Elder Flame.”

Elder Flame rubbed the back of his head again. “Well, regardless, don’t cultivate here, or your allowance will be confiscated.”

Another man spoke up, this one had a black goatee and bags under his eyes. I didn’t recognise him, though; he was just a teacher and not an elder. “You kids can all go grab a cultivation manual now. All manuals have been tested and do work — choose one that seems suitable to yourself. You have until sunset — that’s, what, six hours? When you’re done, come see one of us or Madame Scroll — the librarian — and we’ll have someone bring you to your room. If cultivating with your manual requires cultivation materials, then is the time to ask.”

“If you have any questions about what manual to choose, or want advice,” a second Elder — Oh, this was Elder Swan, again! — mentioned, “See me. However, no manual is off-limits, provided you take it from the first floor!”

“Good luck?” Elder Flame offered, weakly. The poor guy.

With that, all of us students began wandering the floor. Up and down short staircases, up ladders, through tight hallways and underneath low shelves. There truly were books in all places, and I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for. 

For today, I apparently had six hours to find a manual, which had me a little worried. It seemed like the number of books on tier zero cultivation were as numerous as the stars in the sky. Thinking about it, though, Elder Moon had said I’d be able to change my manual if I needed to later. Confirming with Elder Swan — she was the woman with green hair — I found out that over the coming week I’d be able to try cultivating as many manuals as I needed to find one that suited me.

That was good, at least. I would have a lot of tries. That meant my main problem was how to find a manual that would further my intent. What was my intent? Why, becoming a girl, duh! A rare vi plant could do it, I was sure, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was my only option. With as many manuals as there were... it was very possible there was a cultivation method that would help transition my body into a girl’s!

The main problem was that I didn’t know whether changing your sex in this world was taboo. If I figured out some way to do it, how would people treat me? Or if I let slip that I was trying to do that, how would people treat me? That was functionally equivalent to coming out of the closet, and, well, the last time I’d done that... yeah.

Given that, I was a bit too afraid to ask for help finding a manual that would do what I wanted it to, and could only search on my own. 

To avoid prying eyes, I went as far as I could into the depths of the first floor... and then, when no one was around... I began my search.

Great Flame Cultivation Method... nope. Flowing Water Cultivation Method... nada. Bright Moon Cultivation Method, Eat Strength Cultivation Method, Poison Frog Exposure Cultivation Method...

There really were so many of these, and I wasn’t really sure how to know whether one was going to do what I wanted it to. I guess I could only open them up and hope they would tell me...

I peeked inside the Bright Moon Cultivation Method... “This cultivation method requires bathing daily in the light of the full moon. The greater the amount of bare skin to absorb the moonlight energy, the greater the cultivation speed. Note: This method has the side effect of increasing hair growth in any location that absorbs moonlight, and the hair tends to obstruct the moonlight energy. It is recommended to pair this cultivation method with hair removal alchemical solutions.”

I closed the book and put it back, then blinked a few times. Yeah, no thanks. Also, how was someone supposed to bathe daily in the light of the full moon? The full moon only came around, like, once a month or whatever, right?

Were all the manuals going to be this useless?

I sighed dramatically. I could only keep searching.

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