Sen was deeply relieved when Misty Peak, after throwing a few more verbal jabs at him, departed to go try to convince her grandfather to let her join Sen in the ruins. For his part, Sen thought it was a fool’s errand but a very useful fool’s errand. It served double duty by getting the fox woman out of his hair for a while and firmly placing the decision into Laughing River’s hand. Sen thought there was about no chance in the world that the elder fox would let Misty Peak go along. If Sen had his doubts about the woman’s intentions, the vastly more experienced Laughing River surely had deeper and more nuanced doubts. It seemed deeply unlikely that the old man would put his own survival at risk, not even if it might be amusing for him to see what would happen. Sen hesitated at that thought, though. I don’t really understand how their society works, he mused. I may be misreading what the old fox will do.

Realizing that the damage was already done if he had misjudged, Sen turned his mind back to building the formation. The work did go much faster without the fox woman there constantly interrupting him. Unfortunately, she’d slowed him down enough that he’d never be able to finish before darkness fell. It would take at least one more day to finish building the formation and do some basic tests. He knew he couldn’t fully activate it or even the horde with its seemingly unswerving fixation on the ruins would notice. Sen absolutely didn’t want them to notice until he was ready for them to notice. Of course, even without Misty Peak there to distract him, there was still the distraction of the ever-present spider watchers.

They weren’t actively impeding his progress. They were actually keeping to what he might almost describe as a polite distance. Close enough that they could observe what he was doing, but much too far away to launch an attack he wouldn’t see coming. They were, regardless, still beacons in his spiritual sense. He wasn’t sure if they stood out because he was looking for them, or if their focused attention on him forged a latent connection between them. They served as a constant low-level source of distraction. It didn’t slow him down that much, but Sen was starting to feel like the world was actively working against him ever finishing these formations. The knowledge that he wouldn’t finish before dark did mean that he felt fine taking a break in the middle of the afternoon to eat. He wasn’t hungry, but it took a lot of concentration to make formations. A quick meal gave him a mental break and let him appreciate the primal beauty of the forest around him.

Or, he thought that was what would happen. He’d barely had time to start when something moving fast on the outer edges of his spiritual sense caught his attention. He realized it was some kind of spirit beast bird and almost dismissed the thing from his thoughts. Of all the spirit beasts in the area, birds probably had the least to fear from the horde below. They were simply too fast and usually too far above to get caught accidentally. Unless one blindly flew into the horde, they were likely safe. It took another moment before Sen’s cultivation-enhanced mind was able to project the bird’s path. Sen groaned. It was headed straight for one of the spiders because of course it was. His initial instinct was simply to let nature play out the way it should. He could hardly be blamed if a spirit beast bird consumed a big, creepy, sapient spider.

However, the spider queen may not see it that way. Her precious children wouldn’t be out in the woods, relatively exposed, if he wasn't there. At the very least, they wouldn’t be spending most of their attention on him. They’d be watching their surroundings more carefully. Plus, the way that the horde had scared off most of the major spirit beasts in the area may have given the spiders a false sense of security while watching him. Still, he could just let it play out. The other spiders would report that he hadn’t done the killing. He’d been sitting there, minding his own business and eating, while the mean sky predator swooped in and killed the queen’s darling little monstrosity. She’d never know any better. But he would know better. While their agreement to not interfere with each other didn’t include providing any active protection, he supposed it might earn him a little goodwill from the queen if he intervened. Any additional goodwill he could earn would probably prove a good thing given how on-the-fence she’d been about him. So much for my quiet afternoon, he thought.

Leaving his food behind, Sen activated his qinggong technique and shot toward the spider that was perched up in a tree. Sen was fast on the ground, but he realized that the bird was faster. It would reach that spider before he did if he didn’t change tactics. Remembering his initial attempts to master his qinggong technique, he started launching himself up into the trees. He did some fast mental projections and, when he thought he had it right and had a clear path, he gathered his qi and blasted off of the trunk of a tree. Now that he was closing on the spider’s position at breakneck speeds, he got a look at the bird. It was a fire eagle. Of course, the spider was so fixated on him that it wasn’t looking at the real threat. Sen summoned the heavens chasing spear from his storage ring. He couldn’t tell exactly how strong the fire eagle was, but better to not take chances with a lesser spear.

He let the spear trail along the side of his body so it wouldn’t interfere with his flight. Sen almost cycled for water qi and then changed his mind, opting for ice qi instead. His affinity for ice qi wasn’t quite as strong as his water qi affinity, but it was the better weapon against the fire-aspected bird. He pushed the ice qi into the spearhead and formed an ice blade that trailed out behind him at nearly five feet long. It was heavy enough to slow Sen’s flight a little. He doubted that he could have even lifted it as a foundation formation cultivator, let alone swung it, but that was then. Sen could see the spider crouching against the tree trunk, oblivious to the bird, and ready to strike out at what it perceived as the real threat. Him. There was nothing he could do about that except hope that the spider wouldn’t do something that Sen couldn’t compensate for. This is going to be close, thought Sen even as the trees rushed by in a blur. By his estimation, he was going to have about half a second to intervene.This narrative has been unlawfully taken from Royal Road. If you see it on Amazon, please report it.


The eagle was so fixated on the spider that it didn’t notice Sen until the last moment. Even as Sen reached around to grasp the haft with his other hand and flared wind qi to swing him from a horizontal flight through the air to an upright position, the eagle flared its wings. With a heave that threatened to dislocate even his reinforced shoulders, Sen brought the spear and its massive ice blade into a simple, brutal upward sweep. The bird altered its course slightly but that wasn’t enough to save it. With a hissing shriek, the ice blade carved most of the way through the eagle’s body. Then, something happened that Sen hadn’t accounted it. The ice blade exploded. He didn’t have the time to erect any real defenses, and his momentum carried him straight into the explosion of ice shards and the still-burning corpse of the eagle. The ice sliced through robes and skin, where it didn’t punch straight into him. Meanwhile, the corpse of the eagle burned him with the uncontrolled burst of flames that accompanied its death.

Sen and the bird slammed into one of the massive trunks of the ancient trees. Unlike so many other trees that Sen had crashed into over the years, this tree trunk did not break. Colliding with the eagle had slowed him down a lot but not enough. Sen was stunned by the impact as vision disappeared into strobing white and red and there was nothing but a dull whine in his ears. It was the pain of being burned that jarred him out of it. It took a precious second to realize he was still tangled up with the bird and another to realize that they were tumbling toward the ground like a drunken comet. Sen didn’t need to look to know that there were massive roots waiting down there to snap even his cultivation-hardened bones like so many twigs. Ignoring how much it hurt, Sen pressed his hands against the inferno-hot body of the eagle shoved with all his might. The two separated in the air. One problem down, thought Sen.

Several possibilities flickered through Sen’s mind about how to stop himself, but he was still tumbling. Worse, he didn’t know how long he had until the unforgiving earth below was going to bring his fall to a jarring stop. He decided to take inspiration from the spiders. He cycled hard for air, wrapped himself up in the qi, and then sent arm-thick tendrils of it out in every direction. They wrapped around everything they came in contact with and Sen jerked to a hard stop, briefly. Several of the tendrils had seemingly wrapped around less-than-sturdy anchors. Those things ripped free and sent his body swinging. Before he could latch onto anything else, he slammed into another trunk. It was only sheer determination on his part that kept the air qi strands latched onto whatever they were latched onto.

Sen just let himself hang there and be happy that he hadn’t been crushed to paste on the ground. He finally opened his eyes and had to hold back a shout as he realized that he’d missed crashing into some of the massive roots by mere inches. The way he’d swung earlier, if he’d been any lower, those roots would have shattered his legs. Sen released the air tendrils and dropped to the nearest root. Everything hurt. He paused for a moment, summoned a healing elixir, and drank it before he walked over to what was left of the fire eagle. Even though it was dead, the corpse was still hot enough that it was threatening to set the entire area on fire. That was the last thing Sen needed with the way he was feeling. Grumbling under his breath, he went to work with water and ice. He contained the outer edges of the flames and worked his way slowly back toward the body.

He didn’t make the same mistake a second time and avoided using ice on the bird’s remains. Instead, he cooled it slowly with judicious applications of water. Not too much water, though, as he had no wish to add steam burns to his already extensive set of cuts, puncture wounds, burns, and bruises. When the eagle was finally cool enough that Sen didn’t think it was going to set anything else on fire. He squelched over to it through the mess of hot, muddy earth around it. He regarded it for a moment and then gave it a hard kick. Always make sure, he thought. When the bird didn’t stir, he opened the beast up and retrieved the core. It was still blisteringly hot, so he just let it drop into the muddy soup around the bird until it stopped hissing and steaming. Only then did he put it into a storage ring. For good measure, he put the bird into a storage ring as well. It’s probably good to eat, he thought.

With the fire eagle sufficiently dealt with, Sen decided he was too injured and tired to do anything more with the formation. He turned to start the walk back toward the galehouse and came up short. There were half a dozen of the big spiders standing there, just watching him. If he’d been less tired and in a little less pain, he might have even felt some apprehension. Instead, he just gave them a nod and started walking again. The spiders fell in around him, and it took Sen a while to realize that the creepy things were escorting him back to the galehouse. He decided that was fine with him. It wasn’t like he’d be revealing information. They knew where he was staying already. When he got back to the galehouse, most of the spiders disappeared back into the forest. One, maybe the one he’d saved, Sen couldn’t tell for sure, settled down near the galehouse and turned its gaze out toward the forest. Sen stared at it while his mind churned.


“Nope,” muttered Sen. “That’s a tomorrow problem.”

He pushed open the door and walked in on Misty Peak giving Laughing Riven a pleading look. They both turned to look at him and their eyes went wide.

“Charbroiled,” said Laughing River. “I’m not sure that’s the right look for you, boy.”

“Ha,” said Sen in a flat voice.

He walked over to his room, went in, and shut the door behind him. Sighing, he opened the door again and shouted into the common area.

“There’s a big spider outside. Don’t kill it.”