4 A Job
"How nostalgic," commented Lady Zhuo. "It has been a long, long time since I have told this story. It is one that I know is told in both East and West, so I hope that you recognize it enough to bring forth your memories. The tale of creation.
"Once, this world was chaos. Demons roamed the night and the elements swirled in disarray. Great storms of fire and molten rock burst from the ground. The oceans roared and shattered the lands with tides as high as mountains."
A faint frown graced Lady Zhuo's lips as her eyes flitted closed, recalling the old story.
"And then came the gods. There was the great Jade Emperor and his Celestial Court in the East, and then there were the hardy Aether gods of the North and West. They banded together in this destruction and decided to end the chaos. They took the best parts of all of them, their love, their genius, their bravery, their generosity, their kindness, and forged it into a brilliant blade of creation.
With it, they brought the chaotic elements to heel and sent the demons fleeing underground.
With the elements settled, they planted the blade of creation within the earth, and from it sprouted a massive tree that towered over the clouds. From this tree came life energy – all the plants and flowers and little animals of the fields flowered from this one center. Yet the gods could not rule over lilies and rabbits, and thus they crafted humans out of their own image and led them to great heights, marveling as they went from tribes to cities.
Yet no good thing lasts forever, not even for the ageless gods above. They became too invested in their creations and the ugly parts of humanity - the greed, the fear, the cruelty - imprinted on them, and they soon turned to warring with each other, using humanity to wage their battles.
But so long as that great tree of life stood, the gods would not die, and so the more sinister of the divine beings crafted the instrument of their undoing – a blade of destruction forged of all the ugliness they had absorbed from mankind. The blade proved far too chaotic to control, and instead of killing just a few gods, it destroyed the tree of life, sending this world into imbalance once more.
Now no more gods walk upon the earth, and once more demonic creatures have risen up."
Renard nodded slowly. It felt like he was hearing the origin myth of a culture with all this talk of gods and creation and ends. Except in this world, all of this was real – it was history.
"That must have been a long, long time ago," said Renard.
Lady Zhuo shook her head. "It has only been a little longer than a century."
"Excuse me?" Renard blinked. "That's like, two generations? There might even still be people alive right now that remember the gods you talked about."
"Indeed, there certainly are. Some of the older cultivators, what few survived the cataclysmic falling of the tree of life, remember even fighting alongside the gods, but those are times long past. Now they fight their fellow men in the West, for control of this broken world."
Renard pointed to himself. "And I'm one of these Westerners."
"How bad is it? This war?" Renard shifted uncomfortably. "Between East and West?"
"Some say this war will herald the end of times," said Lady Zhuo in an almost matter of fact tone. "The two great empires of this land, the Xia in the East and the Dominion in the West, are fighting over the scraps of a bloody, beaten world left behind by the greed of the gods. Ever since the tree of life fell and the demonic creatures have made their reappearance, there has not been enough to go around. Not enough farmland, not enough clean water, not enough anything. It is only natural that we raise arms to squabble for our survival."
"What a tragedy," remarked Renard. He saw Lady Zhuo eyeing him curiously and continued, "I mean, this world is so beautiful and unique – there's magic, for god's sake. But it sounds like there's just been blood through and through for the better part of the past hundred years. I just find that so sad, in a way."
"A tragedy, yes." A contemplative pause. "So, foreigner-"
"Renard. My name's Renard."
"Of course, excuse my impoliteness. So, Renard, do you feel that your memories have come back, hearing this old tale?"
Renard wrung his hands together. Obviously, he had no memories to call back. He'd never forgotten anything to begin with. At the same time though, saying he'd been transported from a different world was a whole different tier of crazy that he doubted Lady Zhuo would believe.
"Don't think so," said Renard.
"A shame." Lady Zhuo sighed. When she spoke again, she narrowed her eyes, not quite in anger, but more in inspection. "A shame that you lie to me. Come, be honest, your memories are full, no? When I gazed upon your soul, I did not see it broken. It was whole. I felt it best not to mention this in front of Li, or else he would have reacted quite badly."
Renard decided to spill the beans. He told her everything, or as well as he could. He told her how he had trained as a fencer in his old world and how he had been transported here. He did not, however, mention the system and how it told him he was meant to be some sort of savior. That would have been in very bad taste.
"I see." Lady Zhuo rested her chin on a contemplative palm. "It is not impossible for creatures from other worlds to be summoned. But to think a human could be called – this is certainly a first. But now I know that you are innocent and, most of all, do not belong in this broken world. If you so desire, I could ask the few alchemists and sages I know whether they have a way to send you back."
Renard shook his head. "I want to stay."
"Are you sure? This world is not kind. I can tell that the world you came from is much more merciful. You are far weaker in body than most of my Sect's men, and you do not seem to have talent for cultivation."
"As long as I can help, even if it's just a little, I want to stay."
Lady Zhou looked at Renard with a mix of curiosity and concern. "And what of your family in your other world? Your friends? Will they not be concerned?"
Renard knew that at any time, he could ask the system to bail him out and send him back to his world, but he didn't want to give up before he even started.
"My family was…distant," said Renard. "And my friends will miss me, but they're strong people. They'll do well for themselves. I've always wanted to help for some kind of greater good, and I feel like this world is where I can make that difference."
For the first time, Lady Zhuo smiled in earnest. A happy, full smile that softened all the sharpness from her expression. "How amusing. And idealistic. You remind me of my younger brother, may the four cardinal gods rest his soul. Then so be it: as patriarch, I decree that you will be part of my sect. As for what you are to do to earn your keep, well, you said you were trained with the sword, yes?"
"Then you shall be a combat instructor. We have always needed one, and I am sure that a teaching position is best given a heart as big as yours."
"Thank you for everything. I really appreciate it."
Lady Zhuo stood up, folding her crimson robes straight. "I accept your thanks, but you should show your appreciation with results. I hope to see this sect of bumbling farmers have some idea of what to do with a blade soon." She strode towards the door and looked back before she left. "Rest for the night. When light comes in the morning, I will have more details on your new job."
With a pleasant nod, she left, closing the door gently behind her. Renard exhaled and laid back, the energy leeching out of him. Tonight had been hectic, and the blowback from everything had made him tired. He didn't know what awaited him tomorrow or how he'd go about teaching fencing to people from another world where they used magic, but he figured it wouldn't hurt to try.
At the very least, there wasn't any use worrying about it. If he failed, then he failed. He would get back up and try harder.