When Xinxin regained her senses, she realized that she was lost. After seeing Sifu and that woman so close together... She thought she would be able to handle it, but it seemed like the impact was more than she expected. And because of that, she had run off without thinking of where to go.
A breeze blew past, bringing with it the soft clattering of bamboo. Nearby, the faint bubbling of running water echoed, accompanied by a thin mist.
Xinxin blinked, looking at her surroundings, and then a wry smile crossed her face.
It was the same place where she had first met her Sifu. Although a bit different because it was a replica that Wang Tian made, there was no mistaking it.
Xinxin shook her head, trying to calm her frantic heart.
Was it because of her emotions, or 'her' emotions?
Either way, Xinxin's heart felt like it was ripping in half.
Her Sifu's face flashed in her mind. The quiet resolve, the determined gaze, as if to face the entire world to protect the one he loved...
It was an expression that Xinxin had always desired.
So, seeing Sifu look like that to another woman...
Xinxin clenched her chest, crumpling up the soft silk dress she wore.
Xinxin sighed and walked over to lean against a bamboo tree. "...I'm being stupid."
She had already known.
Aria and Sifu were tied together by karma. Black and red threads entwined as one, drawing them together whether they wished it or not. Even after that goddess's golden thread had been severed, those bonds remained.
And that bond was stronger than the one that Xinxin had with her Sifu.
Xinxin sighed and sat down, pulling her knees up to her chest.
Her Sifu... No. Nowun had always been confident. Serious and striving towards his ambitions. And if he intended to cherish that elf, then Xinxin should support him.
It was fine to just be at his side. She was happy as long as he was alive and safe. But most of all... Xinxin didn't want to burden him.
Since Xinxin met Nowun, he had always been pulled along by someone else, tied down by some obligation that he didn't choose. 'Chains' that were imposed on him rather than ropes he cast out on his own.
Xinxin didn't want to be another shackle on him.
It was why she didn't mention her 'past' as his Faithful Companion. It was why she didn't mention what happened after she brought him back.
All that Xinxin wanted was for her Sifu to fulfill his dreams and ambitions... even if that meant that she would just remain as his disciple and nothing else.
That... was all that Xinxin wanted. Nothing more.
"How ironic, Xinxin. Was pining for one lifetime not enough?"
Xinxin's quickly stood up, searching the surroundings.
A familiar laugh echoed and then a man stepped out from within the bamboo forest.
Xinxin's eyes widened.
A heroic young man in a faded azure robe. A plain sword was strapped at his right side and his long hair had turned a pure white.
Even so, Xinxin would never be able to forget that appearance. "Wang... Tian?"
The man smiled and then walked over.
Xinxin subconsciously took a few steps back, crashing into the bamboo.
The man... Wang Tian stopped when he saw that and then sighed. "You... Don't you think you're letting the past weigh on you too much?"
Xinxin frowned. "What do you mean? No." She shook her head and said, "How are you alive?"
It didn't make sense.
Xinxin had seen him die. She had watched as his existence unraveled and vanished into the void. Even if time had been disturbed, there was no way for him to be standing there before her.
Wang Tian let out a faint smile and said, "Though you've gotten harsher, it seems that you're still the same kind girl in the end. But you know, giving out your heart like that is only going to leave it shattered in the end."
Xinxin scoffed and crossed her arms. "As if you would know."
"But I do," Wang Tian said. "After all, I was the one who had your heart first. Well... maybe not. 'You' never belonged to me. Not like 'she' did."
"...I'm leaving." Xinxin spun around and started walking away. "I don't know whether this is a delusion, reality, or whatever, but I won't stand here and be mocked by you."
Wang Tian followed after her.
Xinxin stubbornly kept walking.
After a while, Wang Tian said, "You're worried that you'll be a burden to him, aren't you?"
Xinxin's heart throbbed, but she resolutely kept silent and kept walking.
"That man, your Sifu, is walking a path that defies everything. While strong, you're afraid that you'll become his weakness. A liability."
"That's especially true now that the other girl is there. Xinxin... You're worried that you'll get thrown away. No, that you'll get replaced. Isn't that right, Faithful Companion?"
Xinxin's eyes widened and she spun around. In an instant, her sword was drawn and pointed at Wang Tian- No, at the person borrowing Wang Tian's form. "Who are you?"
"Whoops!" The imposter giggled and said, "Looks like I slipped up."
Xinxin narrowed her eyes.
The imposter's form rippled and then a beautiful young woman stood in Wang Tian's place. A familiar one at that, with pristine jade skin, silky black hair, and eyes like starry amethysts. Borrowing Xinxin's appearance now, the imposter let out a playful smile and said, "You should know who I am, right?"
"...You're that Goddess."
"Hey!" The Goddess pouted and said, "I have a name, you know?"
Xinxin responded by stepping forward and slashing at the Goddess's neck.
Callous laughter echoed in the forest, and then the Goddess reappeared behind Xinxin. This time, however, her appearance was someone else. A cold beauty with snowy white hair and sapphire eyes.
Xinxin sent a surge of dark spike towards the Goddess.
Once again, she vanished. When she reappeared, she was in the form of a young blonde elf woman wearing a white dress. Emerald eyes looked down at Xinxin, a haughty expression completely at odd with Aria's usual personality. "Half-hearted attacks like that won't hurt me, you know?"
"Then I'll just try harder!" Xinxin glared at the Goddess and then focused. Drawing out the strength in her dantian, drawing in the ambient energy in the surroundings and compressing them to the limit... At the same time, she changed her weapon with the sword Wang Tian left her and then stepped forward, slashing at the Goddess's neck.
A delicate white hand blocked it, pressing its palm against the edge of Xinxin's blade. As a result, a thin red line formed, letting out a trace of blood. But that was all.
Xinxin scowled and pressed harder, trying to cut through. But nothing happened.
The Goddess tilted her head. "How surprising. For you to be able to damage me like this as well as for that guy to fragment 'myself' like that... It's interesting. No, 'fun'." Having said that, the Goddess swept her hand and sent Xinxin back.
Xinxin quickly landed on the ground and cautiously surveyed the Goddess.
She was still in Aria's form, but the manic and callous gaze in those emerald eyes was clearly that of someone else.
Xinxin wondered for a brief moment if her Sifu had made a mistake and the Goddess had taken over Aria... but it couldn't be the case. After all, he would have realized it first. Then how-
"You don't need to be so cautious." The Goddess smiled and leaned against a bamboo tree. "I'm just here to talk. A bit of a tête-à-tête between women."
"I have nothing to say to a woman like you."
"Ah." The Goddess nodded. "That's understandable. I did send people to wipe out your clan and steal your mother's soul to make an angel, after all."
Xinxin felt a surge of rage at those words but quickly calmed herself.
The Goddess laughed. "That's good. Being able to hold back and keep a calm mind is a good sign. Seems like Nowun is a better teacher than I anticipated."
Darkness flared around Xinxin and she said, "Don't say his name."
The Goddess crossed her arms. "It's not like it's his real name. What difference does it make?"
Xinxin glared at the Goddess.
"Fine, fine." The Goddess held up her hands in surrender. "I'll stop playing around." After that, she sat down. The moment she did, a pure white chair appeared beneath her.
Seeing that, Xinxin frowned.
That Goddess was awfully talkative today... and non-violent as well.
Something was off, but Xinxin didn't know what.
Before she could figure it out, the Goddess spoke. "I'm surprised that I can't find that guy anywhere." The Goddess glanced at Xinxin and said, "To not be seen with my sight... either he's gotten a lot better at hiding or you're pretty strong."
"You shouldn't underestimate humans, Goddess."
The Goddess laughed.
Xinxin blinked and then said, "What's so funny?"
The Goddess shifted her legs, crossing her right over her left, and said, "Underestimating humans is the last thing I want to do. After all, the last time I did that..." She trailed off and shook her head.
Xinxin straightened. "Enough rambling. Why are you here and what do you want?" Even while she said that, Xinxin carefully observed the Goddess, waiting for an opening.
The Goddess nodded. "Alright. In that case... I'll cut to the chase." She smiled and said, "Why don't you make a deal with me?"