“Now, we’re talking the Adornment Realm. It’s far beyond your current scope, so it’ll just go over your head.”
“Convey it in an understandable way then.”
“Sure. Just make the profound simple, huh? Hmm.”
Onyx thought for a while. This wasn’t the first time he had to dumb things down for someone else. That fellow he met a thousand years ago was like a baby who knew nothing. It was surprising he was able to survive for so long.
Hei continued his work while Onyx sorted his thoughts.
“Alright. This should do. When we’re talking about will, we are referring to a mixture of the cultivator’s feelings and understanding of the world. In the Inner Pagoda Realm, which is the realm before the Adornment Realm, what is important is to understand oneself in relation to the world. To create a path that is unique to oneself. Adornment is to add comprehensions of laws to bolster this. You with me so far?”
“Once laws are comprehended, one is able to manifest one’s intention in a domain of sorts. It is to overwrite phenomena in a certain space around the individual, where laws operate in a way so as to benefit them. This often gives them an advantage over the opponent.”
“What happens when two of these domains collide?”
“That’s beside the point, but to answer, the one with the strongest will and the deeper understanding of laws has the advantage. But that’s only if the laws both sides chose to comprehend are the same. It’s usually the case that two domains can co-exist without issue.”
“Anyway, these domains are where techniques can take on the cultivator’s will and manifest in a form unique to them, impossible to replicate by others.”
“Why is that? Presumably, if both cultivators understand the same laws, one should be able to reproduce the same technique. Why is that not the case?”
“Ah. You ask a lot of questions. The main reason lies in the pagodas. Each person’s understanding of themselves is unique. And on top of that, even if two people comprehend the same laws, their comprehensions will be different. Just like the way that Jingfei girl understands formations is different from the way the one named Qiuyue does. Neither is inferior to the other, but they are very different.”
“And there you have it. The information is only useful four realms up, or in some cases, lower realm cultivators can form pseudo domains, but that's a rare occurrence. The point is, if you think with this in mind while creating your combat technique, it will have much more potential in the future.”
“I see. I appreciate the information.”
“Sigh. Lower continent.”
Onyx rotated back and forth, almost as if he were shaking his head.
“Most people here would never get access to this information. You should consider yourself fortunate. To think that the great I, would personally instruct you… Really fortunate. Really fortunate.”
Hei went back to work, thinking about the things Onyx had mentioned. How was he to allow this technique to be scalable across realms? How was he to leave room for the understanding of laws and how they can bolster the technique?
The only thing he could do was use what he currently knew. That the realms weren’t exactly as most people believed. And his rudimentary understanding of spatial laws.
As he came up with ideas to implement, he had a sudden thought.
“Even the princes of kingdoms would have to bow politely in front of me back in the day. Ah. Truly fortunate. Fortunate indeed.”
“There was even this one time when-”
Hei decided to take Onyx by the hilt.
“Hm? What’s up? Ugh. You made me forget where I was… Where was I?”
“Onyx, where does demonic qi come from?”
This was the question Hei was interested in. He tried looking for it in the environment, but he wasn’t able to find any. Which brought the question; how exactly did demonic cultivators cultivate? It wasn’t entirely through stealing from others, was it?
“Demonic qi? Well, there are two leading theories when it comes to that.”
“It’s not unified? How were they able to create cultivation methods without a good understanding?”
“That’s exactly it. According to both theories, one doesn’t really need to understand where demonic qi comes from. What’s important is that it can be obtained, and it can be used for one’s benefit.”
“The first theory and the one most people are more comfortable with, is that demonic qi is a mutation of regular natural qi. The primary cause of this mutation is said to be the evil within the human heart.”
“Then that would mean-”
“Right. There are very few, if any, spirit beasts, or actual demons for that matter, who cultivate demonic qi. It is only humans who do so.”
“I see. But why do they call demonic cultivators as such when there are already demons? Did no one think that would be confusing?”
“That ties into the second theory, and the oldest as well. The legend of Azroth.”
“Mm. He’s said to be the first demon to come into existence. But don’t let him hear you say that.”
“Because, according to the legend, Azroth referred to himself as a forest spirit. He was supposedly born of a world tree and gained enlightenment as well as a humanoid form. From there, he lived his life protecting the various forests around him, and helping other spiritual plants to gain enlightenment.”
“Then where does the term demon come from?”
“Well. That’s where the tale takes a turn. You see, it just so happened that the forests Azroth supposedly protected, were rich in resources. I’m sure you can picture the rest.”
“Humans came in and tried to claim them for themselves.”
“Exactly. But there’s a problem. Azroth considered each and every spiritual plant to be part of his family. Of course, he wouldn’t let humans come in and kill them for a reason such as gaining strength. Inevitably, there was a giant battle between the humans and the forest spirits, the forest spirits losing in the end.”
“From there, there is another twist in the tale. Apparently, Azroth managed to survive and hid deep underground, where his hatred for humans festered. While he was down there, he was connected to the heart of the world through his roots and was able to see the lives of all his brethren, and their ends. How they were gathered by humans and their fruits forcefully taken. Naturally, Azroth’s rage did not cool down one bit while he recovered.”
“Once he had regained his strength, he didn’t start another war, as one would expect. No, instead, he devised a strategy. If the humans wanted strength so badly, he would grant it to them. He came up with the concept of demonic cultivation techniques, where the primary method of advancement was to steal from others.”
“Right? From there, he spread it around to a few disgruntled humans all over the world, this is the middle world we’re talking about, by the way. After doing that, he sat back and watched as the humans fought among themselves. He even went as far as to lend his own strength in return for a sacrifice of life essence. Eventually, the humans discovered what he had done, and found him once more, where they destroyed him down to the last fragment.”
“I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not the end of the story. Before being destroyed, Azroth vowed to return and proclaimed that when that time came, he would bring forth the extinction of humanity. Supposedly, he is still lending his strength in exchange for life essence, which he is using for his recovery.”
“Is that so?”
“Well, that’s how the story goes, anyway. You can see which of the two theories is the more interesting one, and you can also probably understand why people like the first one better.”
“Mm. So that’s why they call him a demon, and consequently, all of his kind are also referred to as demons?”
“Which of the two theories do you believe is more accurate, Onyx?”
“Hmm. That’s an interesting one. Fang’er believed with all her heart that Azroth would return and has been preparing for it her whole life, but as for myself… Well, I’m no longer human, so it doesn’t matter either way. Though, I do find Azroth to be an interesting fellow.”
Yuying jumped in with her two cents.
“To be honest, that’s where Lady Shufang and I differ. The story of Azroth is too fantastical. And besides, even the demons of today don’t necessarily believe in him, and you would assume that they would be the ones who believe in him the most.”
“You shouldn’t judge Fang’er’s convictions with your experience in the eastern world. The middle world is a much different place. The same goes for the demons here. They know nothing in comparison to those of the middle world.”
“I suppose you’re right about that.”
Onyx then turned to Hei.
“You’ve asked me, but how about yourself? Which do you believe?”
“I’m inclined to believe that Azroth, or at least some external entity, is the source of demonic qi.”
“Oh? Why so?”
“It was brief, but when the patriarch used certain techniques, it seemed as if he were channelling something as opposed to drawing upon his own strength. It lends credence to the idea that Azroth supplies strength in exchange for life essence.”
“I see. You’re the second one I’ve heard make that point. Most people can’t detect any inkling of Azroth’s presence at all. And even the demonic cultivators themselves think they are using their own power.”
“That only makes Azroth’s strategies more ingenious.”
“Oh? Look what we have here. A demon sympathiser. You fellows are persecuted everywhere.”
“Technically speaking, I’m a sympathiser for all life.”
“So, what? Do you hope for Azroth to be able to achieve his goals someday?”
“I’m not for the extinction of humanity, but a place where forest spirits can live freely. I would want to see such a place.”
“Interesting. But you know, Azroth doesn’t quite see it that way. Well, that’s according to the legend anyway. He is no longer content with peace. He wants revenge.”
“And rightly so.”
“Then… What would you do if he showed up?”
“I would stop him.”
“But then he wouldn’t be able to achieve his revenge.”
“I would share my mother’s teachings with him. He'd surely turn over a new leaf once he heard them. Then, if I had the time, I would lend him my assistance in creating a place for him and his people.”
“But what if-”
“If he still refused peace, then assuming I had the ability, I would have no choice but to disable him. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.”
“An interesting perspective. So, you would protect humanity, and also the forest spirits?”
Yuying noticed that Onyx was waiting for a follow-up.
“Ah. You have to ask him to explain sometimes. This guy doesn’t like to speak too much.”
“Right. He’s acting all weird now. It’s different from the way he usually is.”
Onyx turned back to Hei.
“If you aren’t going to protect them, then what is your view?”
“My view is that no one should be harmed by another. But as long as the world does not share those views, such a thing is an impossibility. As such, all I can do is to protect those dear to me, and those who share my ideals. For the others, they can live in the world of their making.”
“I see. So, how does this tie into the whole Azroth thing?”
“If Azroth were content with eliminating all humans except those I wish to protect, then I wouldn't interfere. However, such a possibility… I feel there isn’t one.”
“I think you’re right about that.”
Yuying had a question.
“Just curious. Who are the ones you wish to protect?”
“My mother, grandfather, grandmother, sisters and brother. My maid and those she holds dear, and my temporary maid.”
Though the current Hei didn’t see the Shao Clan as his true family, this was more normal sounding than ‘the woman who birthed me and her family’.
Yuying was slightly disappointed, though she didn’t know why.
“And as long as we’re in collaboration, both Honghuo and yourself are also included.”
Yuying’s eyes opened wide for a moment, she was taken by surprise.
“Could you say that one more time without mentioning the other boy?”
Hei furrowed his eyebrows. Why the odd request?