Hey all! I'm considering moving to Riverbend Condos in the Pantops area-- I was wondering if anyone had any personal experience that they'd be willing to share?
Jack was still healing a week after being injured. Which wasn’t too surprising, he’d been covered in burns and blown part of his foot off after all. Fortunately, gene-mods were a solution to many things, and with time he knew his poor foot would be returned to full functionality. The many burns festooning his body would fade even faster.
For now though, he found that his armor chafed as he walked through the shattered front entrance of the Imperial Palace, Ren and a small smattering of his personal guard trailing behind him.
It wasn’t the first instance of property destruction that he’d seen on his way over to the building. While much of the city had been left untouched by the recent siege – with all of the carnage being concentrated on the walls – the recent conflict between the Imperial loyalists and the sects had not been so kind to the settlement’s interior.
While he wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that entire streets had been leveled, there’d definitely been a not-insignificant amount of property damage inflicted on a number of blocks where Imperial and sect cultivators happened to clash.
He couldn’t help but stifle some small amount of irritation as he passed by a smattering of bullet holes etched into what had once been a rather striking painting of a riverbend.
“Just typical,” he muttered.
Perhaps if he were a less cynical man, he might have been irritated that the weapons he’d provided to both sides had never actually seen use against the horde. Instead, they’d been employed by both sides against the other almost immediately after the horde quit the field.
Apparently, that sort of thing wasn’t abnormal. Cultivators were all-but conditioned to keep their aces in their back pocket until they absolutely had to use them. It wasn’t a cultural phenomena so much as common sense. After all, the element of surprise only worked once. If you used a new technique against an opponent you might otherwise have been able to defeat without it, you wouldn’t be able to use it to surprise an opponent who you might otherwise be unable to defeat.
In other words, the dramatic comeback wasn’t just a narrative prop in cultivator society. It was a strategy.
That didn’t make it any less annoying for him to see his work being used to kill people he’d been trying to save a few a months ago though.
He ignored the stares and hushed whispers that started the moment he stepped into the main hall. Ignoring the damage, it looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time he was here. The only real difference was in the coloration of the attendees. Instead of the subdued black and whites of the Imperial clan, the men and women present were a riot of different colors, each signifying their sect affiliation. Even the Crimson Guard were gone, replaced by an equally colorful ensemble of sect mortals.
He bulled past them all, making for the Magistrate’s office. Though now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure whether the former Magistrate held the title or Shui did? What had the Magistrate’s name been?
He pondered as two cultivator guards stepped forward to – respectfully – block his path. Hu… something? Huang? I think it was Huang.
He just knew he was making a butchery of the pronunciation. He had a feeling he did that for a lot of words, but no one was quite impolite enough to point it out.
“Honored Craftsman.” Both of the boar-women bowed. “Our mistress is most honored that you should choose to accept her invitation. If you will wait here, we shall inform her as your presence.”
Ah, so that was the game she was playing.
“Yeah, I’m not playing that game.” He stepped past both women. “She already knows I’m here. And if she thinks she can try to intimidate me by making me wait for her to let me in, she’s got another thing coming.”
He couldn’t afford to show any meekness here. He needed to act like he was invincible. With everything in flux due to Shui’s little coup, all the old guarantees were gone.
The only thing he could rely on now was strength.
…Or failing that, the illusion of it.
He watched as one of the guards started to reach for him, only to pull her hand back at the last moment as his microbots blurred into existence and flared out like a peacock’s feathers.
Genuine fear flitted across both women’s faces as the floating tendrils chattered like a rattlesnake’s tail, before the cultivators fearfully slunk back – and Jack felt himself relax slightly.
“As the Master Craftsman wishes,” the second of the two said nervously, a small bead of sweat forming on her forehead as the black masses loomed over them. “I am sure our mistress shall understand if he is impatient.”
Jack ignored the woman’s obvious attempt to save face and shift the narrative.
“Ren, follow me.” He instructed. “The rest of you stay out here.”
Receiving a slightly nervous nod from the blonde, he pushed the ornate double doors to the Magistrate’s office open and stepped through.
The sight within was about what he was expecting – with one notable exception.
The flags had changed colors, much like the guards outside. Shui sat behind the desk, looking very pleased with herself. Two more sect cultivators were present, both pigs.
The only thing he hadn’t expected to see was Huang – the former Magistrate – stood between them. I thought she’d be dead,
He was surprised to find that he was relieved that she wasn’t.
She stood there, appearing unharmed but resigned. It was strange to see her like this.
Apparently her final attack on the Red Death had destroyed her meridians – which were somehow important for cultivating. She was now little more than a mortal. Something Shui had used to justify her long held goal of taking over the city, citing Huang as no longer fit to lead in her current state.
Personally Jack thought that sounded a little ungrateful, but according to Ren it was a totally legitimate grievance. By the standards of the Empire, Huang was no longer fit to lead. Back on Earth the closest equivalent would have been a CEO having a stroke that visibly affected their mental faculties.
By that standard, Shui’s little rebellion sounded a lot more legitimate.
…Though Jack had little doubt that Huang’s mother wasn’t about to take her daughter getting ousted lying down.
The boar woman was playing with fire here – and she was doing so right where he lived.
“Hello Jack.” Shui smiled at him. “It’s good to see you’ve finally chosen to poke your head out of your little hidey-hole.”
Jack shrugged at the woman’s unsubtle jab. “What can I say? I felt like I deserved a vacation after near single-handedly saving the city.”
The woman’s smile became rather brittle. “Single-handedly?”
“Well, almost single-handedly,” he smirked. “Huang over there helped."
The woman in question perked up a bit at that: her downcast gaze flitted over to him for just a moment, before Shui spoke again.
“Such confidence. I must say, it’s surprising coming from a man who showed up to a meeting with his new Magistrate clad entirely in armor. Some would say that spoke to a lack
Jack eyed her. “I’d say it spoke to a propensity for preparation. A way of saying that I’m prepared to deal with all sort of situations. Like sudden dragon attacks.”
And there it was. A reminder of exactly why the new administration needed to be so cautious around him.
The Red Death hadn’t been a divinity. He’d been something totally new to the locals. He didn’t have anywhere near the culturual reverence they held for the divine ancestors.
He had however been strong. Strong enough to wipe the floor with Huang and three quarters of the city’s ruling council without breaking a sweat.
And Jack had been the one to put him down.
“So you really did it. I… some part of me still wondered if the Rooster had somehow performed the deed.”
“You didn’t feel her?” The woman asked, confusion clear on her face.
Fortunately, Jack was getting used to pretending he had the same magical bullshit powers everyone else did. “I was a little distracted at the time.”
The boar-kin nodded. “Understandable. It occurred just after the beast’s defeat, I felt a pulse of her power. I had thought for a moment that she slew the beast, but the pulse was miles distant from the dragon’s death.”
Jack resisted the urge to point out that he’d been pretty distant from the dragon when it had died too.
He also resisted the urge to glance at Ren for confirmation of Shui’s words. If she hadn’t mentioned it before, it was because she hadn’t sensed it. Which implied that this ‘pulse’ required a higher level of cultivation than most of the locals had.
In truth, it was possible that only Shui and the remaining sect leaders and elders knew that the Rooster had been in the area.
“Given that she’s not here now, squashing your little rebellion, I’m going to assume she didn’t stick around once the threat was vanquished?”
That would track with what he knew of the Empire’s mysterious founders. Sure they’d each been instrumental in the formation of the current Empire, but just looking at a history book, it was easy to see that they had become progressively less present in the day to day running of the place as time had gone by. Sure, it was couched in fancier terms, but it was clear that the immortal beings had basically gotten bored of their creation.
Even the Divine Dragon Empress, the leader of the Empire, spent most of her time sequestered in the Heavenly City.
Not even the current invasion had been enough to bring them all out seclusion. To his knowledge, only four of the twelve were currently known to be active in the current conflict.
The Rooster was one of them.
He was about to continue when he heard it.
That same tinkling laughter he’d been hearing all week.
No one else heard it. No one else even twitched.
And… he felt like shitting a brick as he realized that he’d spent the last week with a flying nuke flitting invisibly around his compound.
“You would do well to show slightly more respect to the Empire’s founders,” Shui said with a certain intensity in her voice.
He also noted that Shui very specifically didn’t confirm that the Rooster had left. And was likely aware that the Rooster was present in the room. And given that she’s still alive, I think I now know why she suddenly felt confident enough to basically slap Imperial Authority in the face with this little rebellion,
he thought frantically. Here I thought she was just relying on the war to keep the old dragon busy.
He shouldn’t have underestimated her.
“Though that begs the question,” the woman continued. “How did you do it? A technique? A tool? This… suit? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“It’s a secret.”
He could hardly tell her it was basically a fluke. A confluence of favorable circumstances. That the dragon was a big flying target and that his spells were neutered by Jack’s inability to be affected by magic.
The miner would have been fucked if the Red Death had been human sized – or even just stuck close to the ground.
…Or was less easily distracted.
It was actually a little horrifying to think of the many ways that whole fight could have gone south. Hell, it had nearly gone south with every possible factor working his favor.
The whole thing was a firm reminder that the world still had plenty of monsters in it that could wreck his shit if they even so much as looked in his direction.
And one of those monsters was in the room with him.
“I could order you to tell me,” Shui prompted. “I am, after all, Magistrate now.”
“You could,” Ren spoke for the first time since they’d entered the room. “And he would refuse. And if you wanted to avoid losing face, you would be forced to force the point. And I can say with some confidence that this city would not survive my master’s response to anyone attempting to force him to do anything.”
As glad as he was for the interruption, Ren had no idea she was making bets with chips that were no good. Shui would wipe the floor with him in a straight fight. And that was ignoring the giggling apocalypse behind him.
Who giggled again, the voice clearly coming from one of the nearby couches.
Yet he still couldn’t pick them up on his exterior cameras…
How? He was supposed to be immune to this ki shit!
Sweat started to bead on his brow as he flitted between vision modes.
In front of him, Shui leaned back in her seat, gaze still on him despite Ren’s words. “It’s funny. I used to derive amusement from hearing Huang here rant about your insolence, Jack.” She leaned forward, expression grim. “I’m finding it a lot less fun to deal with myself.”
Jack seized on the distraction, even as he continued to flick through sensor modes. “On that topic, I find myself curious. Is Huang really crippled?”
The room’s other blonde winced at his words, the golden scales around her eyes creasing as she glared at the floor.
“Aye,” Shui said, taken off-guard and slightly defensive. “Destroyed in her final attack. I’ve had a number of healers confirm that her meridians are all shattered. Permanently. Something she must have known would happen. It was a… surprisingly noble final act as a cultivator.” She eyed the other woman – who glared back. “Attempting to hold onto power afterwards was slightly less-so, but I forgive that.”
“May I?” Jack asked, not even waiting for an answer before he strode over.
Both cultivators twitched as he approached, but neither dared to try and stop him.
“Actually, I-” Shui started to say, but he was already running his magic ball over the dragon-kin.
…He tried to ignore the vaguely hopefully look on her face as she gazed up at him. It wasn’t expectant. He had no real reason to help her and she knew it. It was sort of a hoping against hope sort of thing.
The ball didn’t buzz. It didn’t even twitch.
As far as it was concerned, the woman in front of him had no more ki than a mortal, animal or plant.
Again, he tried to ignore the way she sagged as he turned away, that same resigned expression sliding back over her features.
It was strange to see her like this. She was normally so… fiery. Now she looked deflated. Spent. Submissive.
It didn’t suit her. Not at all.
“Alright, so she really can’t cultivate anymore,” he acknowledged, inwardly feeling a little bad for speaking about the woman like she wasn’t present – because as far as the cultivators in the room were concerned, she basically wasn’t. “Did you really have start a coup in the middle of a war?”
While he wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that as many cultivators had died in the last week as had died in the siege… the number wasn’t too far off.
The city had lost a lot of fighting power over this little tiff. Fighting power they wouldn’t be getting back anytime soon given just how long it took to train even a mediocre cultivator. Even if no more cultivators died in the immediate future, the city would need centuries to recover even the lower tiers of its cultivator caste.
Decades for its more powerful members. Sure, the myriad titles for sect leader and elder would be filled quickly enough, but the people filling those boots would be doing so in name alone.
“The choice was between a swift blooding now or a long blooding later. Rebellion would have been inevitable with a crippled scion in charge.” Shui dismissed his words. “Huang should have resigned the moment she was no longer fit to lead. The fact that she didn’t required me to step in to correct things.”
“A move that just coincidentally has you sitting in the seat you’ve been vying for since before I even stepped into this city,” Huang spoke for the first time since he’d entered the room.
“Just so,” the woman smiled at her former rival. “I’m serious though. None of the sects would have stood for a… mortal in charge.” Oh, the irony,
“My mother will not stand for this,” Huang noted, somewhat clinically. “Even in my current state, I am of the Dragon.”
“Perhaps,” Shui allowed. “Though the fact that your vaunted cavalry chose to sit the fight out rather than pick a side makes me think that might not be the case where you personally concerned.” She shrugged. “Either way, our Divine Empress has far more pressing concerns than a rebellion in one of her few remaining Northern cities.”
Jack hadn’t known the cavalry still lived. He’d have thought they’d died fighting to the last. Truthfully though, that was of little importance compared to the second bombshell Shui had dropped.
With it, the truth was finally laid bare. Prior to this the former Sect Leader had always labeled her coup as a local transfer of power. This was the first time she’d referred to it as any sort of… move away from Imperial power.
“So that’s it, you’re really going to try for independence,” Ren said. “You’re insane. The Empress will crush you – and us with you.”
“Loyalty to a crumbling regime would be insane,” Shui shot back. “The Empire is a sinking ship. For years the cracks have grown in her hull and now she’s taking on water. The war in the North continues to go poorly despite three divinities being present. Cities are falling across the North.”
“That’s not-” Ren started to say, only for Shui to interrupt.
“And that’s not all. I, or rather she,” Shui gestured to Huang, “received these orders by communication crystal three days ago.”
Both Ren and Jack needed only a moment to scan the scribed letter she slammed down on the table.
“That’s… insane.” Ren was the first to speak. “Move our entire army up to the Breach to reinforce the forts there? The city would be completely defenseless – and there are still other hordes out there.”
“Exactly,” Shui grunted. “The Empress has done the math and decided that it’s better to sacrifice every city in the North than retreat from the breach.”
“For the good of the Empire as a whole,” Huang muttered miserably – though it was clear to see her heart wasn’t in it.
“That’s all well and good if you aren’t one of the few million people being sacrificed by a dragon that doesn’t give a shit about you beyond the tithe you provide her,” Shui shot back.
Her gaze flitted back to him. “So as you can see, I’m not too worried about Imperial intervention. And I’d be even less worried with your big gonnes on my side should a punitive force come our way. Hell, if my scouts' reports are to be believed, you’d put us in a position not just to defend ourselves… but expand.”
Ah, it seemed that An’s little army had been discovered.
And her suppositions weren’t untrue. The Jiangshi mini-province that had formed around the main town would actually function as a decent bastion against the rest of the empire. Each fort-town was basically a fortress. One with a standing garrison that would wipe the floor with most other ‘conventional’ forces.
And with the mountains to the north and south, Jack would just need to plug the northern pass to form an iron curtain around Ten Huo.
Something he’d intended to do anyway, given that that was the route the horde had used to get to the city.
That left one big question though. Because he could deal with low level cultivators and mortals forever with the resources he now had available to him.
The problem lay with the powerful ones. Ones that looked at an incoming artillery shell and said ‘no, thank you. I’m good.’.
Sect leaders. Clan leaders. Imperial Scions. Heralds. Divinities.
Things he had no earthly idea of how to combat.
And neither would Shui.
“And what would you do if another divinity came along? There’s a few left unaccounted for after all.” Jack asked curiously. “What would you do if I didn’t decide to help you. Let’s assume in this hypothetical that you’ve somehow managed to… deal with me.”
Shui's eyes hardened. “Pray.”
He shook his head. “You’re lying. You’re not that stupid. And you had no way of knowing whether I’d help you when you started this coup. Hell, for all you knew, I would oppose you. And I killed the Red Death. Which means you needed to know you had some means of dealing with me before you headed down this path.”
Seconds ticked by as the two stared at each other. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“Sure you don’t,” Jack deadpanned, ignoring the giggles coming from the back of the room.
“Say I agreed to this?” he started, ignoring the surprised glance he received from Ren and the look of subdued betrayal he got from Huang. “I would have conditions.”
“Name them,” Shui’s response was immediate.
“First, her.” It was amusing, the look of surprise on everyone’s faces as he pointed at Huang.
“Why?” The boar-kin asked after a few seconds. “She’s powerless now. Crippled.”
“I’m a man. Why else would a man want an attractive woman.” Jack lied.
This time he got scowls from everyone present, except for Huang. The dragon-kin was actually fighting down a blush.
His desire for to have her in his possession wasn’t… entirely carnal. Mostly he just wanted to keep her safe so that he could claim he was only going along with the rebels if the Imperials looked like they might retake the city.
Plus… Huang had been crippled defending this city. Nearly died for it. It felt… wrong to just hang her out to dry. Not least of all because her fate was a perfect mirror of what would happen to him if anyone found out he wasn’t actually a magical punch wizard.
Or even all that strong individually.
Shui looked like she was about to complain, before she twitched at some unseen signal.
“That is… agreeable.”
It was clear to see that it most certainly wasn’t. Because she was essentially giving away a rival claimant to her position. A weak claim, given cultivator culture’s whole ‘follow only the strong thing’ but a claimant nonetheless.
Not least of all because there was still a small army of cultivators in the city who were supposed to be fanatically loyal to the woman – which in turn begged the question as to why the Imperial Cavalry had simply… done nothing while their charge was deposed?
Did that mean Huang had been relying entirely on her contracted cultivators and mortals?
…It was no wonder she’d lost so quickly.
Jack gestured, and though Ren hesitated for a moment, she did move forward to take possession of the former Magistrate. In moments, both blondes were back by his side, with the dragon-kin staring up at him with guarded curiosity.
“What else?” Shui grunted, clearly less happy than she’d been a moment ago.
“Second.” Jack took a deep breath. “I want to meet your boss.”
He could finally see them. For a given use of the word. They weren’t… doing whatever other ki users did to hide themselves. That was how they were hiding from his cameras. They were actually invisible. He had a feeling they were bending light like Elwin did.
Likewise, they were somehow immune to both sonar and thermal.
Not radar though. Why that was, he had no idea. He hadn’t been entirely sure there was even a difference between radar and sonar.
There was though, and he could see a black mass sitting on the couch. Literally on it, given that their presence wasn’t making the cushions deform in any way.
“I have no idea what you mean.”
Jack watched the black blur… twitch, for lack of a better word. Well, here goes nothing,
“Sure you do. I’m talking about the same person who’s been flitting around my compound all week and is sitting on that couch to my left.”
Shui’s eyes twitched towards the empty spot for just a moment, before she paled.
“Yeah, that person.” Jack continued. “The one who I’m pretty sure gave you the idea for this whole 'independence'rebellion thing.”
The room was filled with a tense silence that dragged and dragged.
“Oh, you are full of surprises.”
Jack wasn’t the only one that twitched. Everyone did.
The voice was melodious and husky in a way that seemed to glide into your ears and whisper dirty promises to you.
Promises that the feathered divinity who appeared on the couch, finally sinking into the cussions, seemed all too capable of fulfilling. God, I think I just got a bit of a chub going on,
Jack thought incredulously.
The rooster was… inhumanly beautiful. There was no other way to say it. Their swanlike neck. The way their crimson robes contrasted with their flawless pale skin. The vibrant green and orange feathers that poked out though their long silky brown hair.
They moved with ethereal grace as they brought up both their supple legs to hug against their chest, grinning up at him with undisguised mirth.
It was a coquettish expression, one that all but dared him to push the being down and just…
He shook his head, focus returning to him as a number of light sedatives entered his system.
At least he wasn’t the only one who had been staring. Everyone was. With wide eyes and open mouths, a somewhat glazed look on their face.
Well, with the exception of Huang – who was glaring, even if a little color had graced her cheeks.
“The Rooster,” she muttered. “I should have known that Shui alone wasn’t brave enough to start this madness.”
The wink the divinity gave the former magistrate was utterly unrepentant, though it lasted but a moment before returning to… Jack.
Thereir was curiosity in that expression. The kind of unrestrained and boundless curiosity a child might have.
…Right before they ripped some poor insect’s wings off.
“Everyone out please.” The divinity’s voice was light and playful. “I would like to speak to Mister Johansen alone.”
That seemed to snap the spell the other occupants of the room were under.
“My lady, I-” Shui started to say, before being cut off.
The divine’s gaze was like a naked blade as they glanced at their subordinate. “That was not a suggestion.”
The woman’s mouth slammed shut, and she along with her guards all but fled the room. To Ren’s credit, she actually managed to glance at Jack long enough to receive a nod, before fleeing too, Huang’s arm securely held in her own as she tugged the Imperial Princess away.
Then Jack was alone.
With what was essentially a walking nuke.
“Well Jack,” the divinity glided across the room to sit on Shui’s desk. “You asked to see me. Here I am. The Divine Rooster, in the flesh.”
Jack eyed the ancient being, double checking the results he was getting from his ultrasound sensors – now that they could see the room’s other occupant.
“So, what did you want to talk about,” they continued.
Jack took a deep breath and asked the question he’d wanted to know from the very first moment he’d heard the Rooster described.
“Why does everyone think you’re a girl when you’re clearly a guy?”
After all, roosters were male – and according to the scans he was getting, the divine being across from him was very
male where it counted.
Even if he did have an incredibly girly face and build.
“Counter question.” The brunette responded. “Why don’t you have any ki?”
Jack’s microbots surged into being, hissing like a dozen angry snakes at the rooster.
…Which was concerning on a number of levels. Because he’d definitely not told them to do that.
Oh, and his biggest secret had just been discovered with ease.
I used to go to Madigans on the Riverbend but since covid they're closed on Mondays
I'd like to go see dead and co this summer with my mom but I don't think she'll be able to stand for the majority of the show- her back and legs hurt her.
GA lawn is all that's really in the budget.
I've been to Riverbend a few times but never took note of how crowded it gets at the top of the lawn. Do you think a couple lawn chairs in the top corner would be best bet?
Thank you for reading
Anyone know what its like to live at Riverbend? It seems like a good location- walking distance to train and restaurants. Any comments or advice would be appreciated!