Faced with that question, there was only one response Xinxin could make.
"Don't be too hasty." The Goddess smiled and said, "It'll be strictly to your benefit. You're worried about your Sifu abandoning you, right? If you agree, I can make it so that he never leaves you- No, so that he only looks at you."
Xinxin's heart throbbed. Sifu... looking only at her?
The Goddess laced her hands together and placed them on her lap. "I see I have your attention now."
Xinxin shook her head.
"Come now. There's no need to lie to yourself." The Goddess smiled and said, "I can empathize. Giving everything to a person and then being left behind... While it's noble that you're willing to go through that again, is that what you truly desire?"
"I don't... Something like that..."
"At the rate things are going... it's going to happen, you know?" The Goddess's smile faded and she said, "While that person erased my blessings and changed his powers, he's still the same person at his core. Just like Wang Tian, that person is going to set off on his own path and walk it to the end, regardless of who he leaves behind. And in the end, you'll suffer the same fate."
"It's 'karma'. Not any destiny I created, but the natural consequences of your actions as well as his own. But that's a bit sad, isn't it? In that case... why don't you change it?"
"It would be simple. A peaceful life with you as the ruler of the Sun Kingdom with your beloved Sifu beside you. A lovely family with a beautiful daughter and a polite and filial son. Joyful and happy days. Don't you deserve something like that after all you've given up?"
Xinxin could see it.
A cute young girl that looked a bit like herself, reaching up with tiny hands. A young boy that looked a bit like Sifu, tugging at her shirt and asking to play.
"Nice, isn't it?" The Goddess stood up.
Xinxin flinched and took a step back.
"It's not bad to want to be happy. So... let's make a deal." The Goddess held out her hand.
Xinxin stared at it, her heart wavering. "I... I won't agree. But... But let's say that I did. What... would I have to do?"
The Goddess's smile widened. "It's simple. All you have to do is let your Sifu and that elf girl go to Alvheim by themselves. You're going to be busy with the peace conference anyway, aren't you? So just stay busy and ignore whatever happens there. When you do- Hm?" The Goddess looked to the side and then shook her head. "Ah. Looks like our time's up."
The Goddess waved at Xinxin and gave her a teasing smile. "You don't need to answer me. Just do as I said and I'll fill my end of the bargain. Til then... take care!"
Xinxin reached out, but when she did, the Goddess had vanished.
"Heaven Seizer?" A male voice called out.
Xinxin flinched and quickly lowered her hand.
The bamboo rustled and then a young man with spiky black hair appeared. Erik. His fancy white robe was scuffed up and he looked worried. But when he saw Xinxin standing there alone, he let out a sigh of relief. "Thank the heavens." He walked towards her and said, "I sensed you entering the forbidden area in a rush and I was worried that something happened."
Xinxin hid her trembling heart and shook her head. "Nothing happened."
Erik stared at Xinxin, frowning.
Xinxin stared back.
After a while, Erik slowly nodded. "...As you say, Elder Sister. However, if you ever wish to talk, know that I will never judge you for whatever you say." Erik brushed off his robes and said, "Regardless of how you may think about myself and the others, we all treated the Heavenly King as our grandfather. Since he cherished you so much, I hope that the day comes when we may become close as well."
Hearing those words calmed Xinxin's heart a bit. Still, she couldn't let him off for slipping up in calling her Heaven Seizer, so she decided to tease him a bit. "Is this how you hooked those two beautiful girls, Erik?"
Erik scoffed. "If anything, I'm the one ensnared in their web."
The Goddess's words and her deal...
Xinxin would be lying if her heart wasn't shaken from the offer. But seeing Erik's concern and frantic appearance was enough to bring her back to her senses.
"Well," Erik said. "Whatever the case, I hope that Elder Sister won't do anything too reckless in the near future. I may be the Heavenly King, but it is you who we serve. If something were to happen, I would never be able to face grandfather."
Erik smiled back.
Xinxin coughed and then said, "How are things going in terms of the peace conference?"
Erik sighed. "It is a bit troubling to determine which disciples to bring along. As this is a formal meeting of powers, it is imperative that our forces are both indicative of our strength and representative of our entire kingdom. Of course, this means visits to the minor sects and clans, passing messages..." Erik shook his head and said, "There is a lot that must be done in the next few weeks."
Xinxin nodded. "It's good that you're prepared. Nobody would ever believe that you're the sniveling person I met when I first arrived."
Erik gave a bitter smile and said, "Time does not wait for anyone, Elder Sister."
Those words gave Xinxin pause.
Time... That was right.
Even though Xinxin and her Sifu were not necessarily bound by time's forward march, that wasn't to say that it waited for them. And even if it did, emotions, thoughts, and memories could shift with time.
Don't you deserve something like that after all you've given up?
The Goddess's words came back to Xinxin's mind. With them came the gnawing thought.
What if... Sifu changed his mind? What if there came a time where, even if she stood beside him, Sifu saw her as a nuisance? In that case, if something like that were to happen...
Xinxin's heart throbbed.
"Elder Sister?" Erik stared at Xinxin, concern in his eyes.
Seeing that, Xinxin said, "Perhaps there is something you can help me with after all."
Erik lit up, smiling, and then he nodded. "Ask away, Elder Sister!"
Xinxin bit her lip for a moment and then said, "If... If you were given the option to throw everything away and just live with those girls, Mary and Sarah. If you didn't have to worry about your responsibilities anymore... If everything would remain peaceful like that... would you accept it?"
Erik's smile faded and he frowned, seriously considering the question. After a bit, he looked at Xinxin and said, "Before I answer... I have a question."
"Would everything else remain the same?"
Xinxin paused, considering the question. After a moment, she shook her head and said, "Everything would change. Your responsibilities would vanish and nobody would know the truth except for you."
Erik was quiet for a moment and then he said, "I have to admit, Elder Sister. Such a life is definitely desirable-"
"...However, would that not just be an illusion?"
Xinxin froze and then she shook her head. "But it would be real. A true reality where everyone would be happy."
"Even if that were the case... I could not accept it." Erik looked up at Xinxin and said, "While I would be happy and free, someone else would take my place. And that person would not be as qualified as I. Though I pray every day that I could simply enjoy a peaceful life and raise a family with the two that I love, for the sake of our sect... for your sake, I will take on that burden."
Xinxin flinched at Erik's sincere words. "B-But... don't you deserve better? After all you've done, don't you want to set it aside and just be happy?"
Erik stared into Xinxin's eyes.
Facing that gaze, Xinxin almost felt like she was looking at Wang Tian's enigmatic gaze back in the Xia Dynasty.
"Grandfather told me this when I was younger." Erik shifted his gaze and stared at the sky. "Life is a path that can only be walked once. Even if time turns back, the regrets that one creates and the pain they inflict upon to others will never be erased. After all, what you have done will forever remain in the depths of your heart."
Xinxin's heart throbbed. "That..."
It was true.
While the world might never realize it, Xinxin would remember. The happiness she felt would always be marred with guilt.
Erik lowered his head and said, "Grandfather had many regrets. Even so, he always looked forward. To me... To all of us, he said that we should always walk a path that we could be proud of. And... even if we could not be proud of it, even if our paths were riddled with mistakes and regrets, he said to continue anyway. Because if we didn't... if we pretended that such things never happened, we would be ignoring the sacrifices and lives we trampled upon the way. And if that happened... wouldn't it be worse than the most vile devil?"
Xinxin was quiet.
What Erik said... was definitely something that Wang Tian would have known all about.
Pretending that such things never happened would be ignoring the sacrifices and lives trampled along the way. Doing so would make them the worst type of devil...
Wang Tian could have done that. Along his path to defy heaven, he could have severed his heart and emotions towards Xinxin and forget all about her. But instead, he chose not to.
Although he had inflicted countless wrongs. Although he knew he could never ask forgiveness. Although everything he did would never repay the lifetime of sacrifice, he chose to live on and do his best.
He could have pretended nothing had happened. He could have used his knowledge of the future for his own gain and try to correct his mistakes. He could have lived a happy life together with the one he had forsaken and none would be the wiser.
But he didn't.
The proof of that was everywhere Xinxin could see.
Never knowing if he could see her again, he created an organization that would continue to help her even after his death. Even though it must have been painful to endure so long, even though he knew full well that he would have been more likely to be cursed at than praised, he did it.
That sort of resolve... Of staying true to one's emotions even if there was no chance of repayment...
"...What an idiot."
Was she talking about herself, or the guy who waited millennia for the chance that she might arrive?
Xinxin didn't know.
Erik smiled and said, "Does that help, Elder Sister?"
Xinxin smiled back. "It does." She bowed her head and said, "Thank you-"
A sudden gust of wind, coupled by the sound of breaking bamboo. With it came a young man with an average face and a flowing black robe. His black hair swayed like wisps of darkness while his eyes, once a dark brown, glimmered a deep crimson as they scanned the surroundings.
Xinxin immediately straightened, her eyes widening. "S-Sifu?"
Nowun's gaze settled on Xinxin. But then he noticed Erik standing close by and glared at the Heavenly King.
Erik flinched and quickly bowed his head. "G-Greetings, Grand Sifu."
"...Tch." Nowun ignored the guy and then walked over to Xinxin.
Seeing him approach like that reminded Xinxin of the past and she instinctively shirked away. But before she could get anywhere, a firm hand grasped her left arm.
Hearing that brought Xinxin to her senses. She frowned and shook her arm, trying to pull it free. "Stop that, Sifu! I'm not-"
"S-Sifu?" Xinxin's eyes widened.
Nowun stared at her and then pulled his hand back. Of course, since he didn't let go, Xinxin came with it.
Shocked, Xinxin didn't react. And because she didn't react, before she knew it, a pair of firm arms had pulled her close.
"No matter how strong you've gotten, it's still dangerous to run off by yourself. I would be... It would be troublesome if you disappeared somewhere I couldn't reach you, so stay in my sight, okay?"
They were clumsy words. Considering everything that Xinxin felt when she saw him with Aria, it was also far from an adequate apology. Even so...
"And more than that... You're the only person I can trust in this world without hesitation. So believe me when I say that I don't want to lose you. Alright?"
Xinxin looked up.
Nowun's face was uncharacteristically soft. No, instead of soft... it was as if he had turned back time to the very beginning. The awkward and clumsy young man who was foolish enough to face off against a dragon with just an ordinary stick. The rough but caring man who commanded her to live and fight against her fate instead of falling victim to it.
Without her realizing it, Xinxin's vision began to blur, tears welling up in her sparkling eyes.
"What? Crying already?" Nowun gave her a slight smile and said, "I thought you wanted me to stop treating you like a little girl?"
Xinxin stared at him with a sloppy smile and said, "Stupid Sifu. It's your fault for being so out of character." She sniffed and raised her hand to wipe away her tears.
Before she could, Nowun had already reached over, lightly brushing her cheeks. "Tears like that only make someone as beautiful as yourself ugly you know?"
Xinxin laughed and then buried her head in Nowun's chest. "You're the one to blame, Sifu. And this isn't fair."
A gentle hand on her back, a slight warmth holding her tight. Then, an uncharacteristically warm voice. "I know. But you don't have to worry. I'm not going anywhere any time soon... At least, not without you."
Xinxin nodded, her Sifu's words calming her troubled heart. Even so...
It's not bad to want to be happy.
A small portion of the Goddess's words echoed in her mind.
Her normally cold Sifu's warm affection. His clumsy but determined words and emotions...
If she could stay like this forever and make him look only at her, then...
Even if it was like an illusion. Even if it meant living a lie forever.
...Would that be so bad?