A cottage beside an emerald bamboo forest. There, by a small, bubbling creek, a man with a stern expression and flowing black robes sat cross-legged by the water’s edge, eyes closed in meditation.
The stream’s course was constant and yet changing. The water that passed through now was not the same as the water that passed before. Although it had one source, by the time the water reached the man, it had already diverged, becoming its own existence.
One source, many streams. But at the end, those streams reconvened, crossing with each other through the infinite reverberations of the world once the water evaporated, the fundamental elements-
A bright and cheerful voice.
Before the man knew it, a tiny warm figure had jumped into his lap.
Opening his eyes, he saw a cute and adorable young girl looking up at him with sparkling violet eyes. Her hair was frazzled, different from her mother’s straight silky hair, but those delicate features and bright smile were exactly the same as hers.
Well, the same as her mother’s when she had still been young and innocent, unlike how she was now.
“I did it!” The little girl held out her hands and said, “See?”
A glimmer of light. The faint wisps accompanying someone who managed to convert the ambient energy into their own qi.
Seeing that, Nowun let out a wry smile. “You really are a little genius, aren’t you, Ai?”
“Heehee.” She smiled and nuzzled against his chest.
“Zhan Ai!” At that time, a sharp voice cut through the air. “How many times have I told you to not run away during lessons!”
Nowun laughed and gently set his daughter on the ground beside him. “Come on, Ai. Hurry back inside before your Aunt Nia gets upset.”
“Don’t wanna!” She grabbed Nowun’s arm and said, “Why can’t daddy teach me?”
Nowun sighed and gently brushed his daughter’s hair down, smoothing. “I told you already, didn’t I?” Glancing back at the cottage, he lowered his voice and said, “We have to make your Aunt seem useful or else she’ll take it out on Uncle Nero later.”
“I heard that, you bastard!”
The door to the cottage slammed shut and then a woman walked out.
Slightly pointed ears, her honey-colored hair tied in a strict bun and kept in place by ivory pins. She wore a form-fitting black dress with a golden dragon that Nowun felt was a bit too much considering how old she was, but it seemed that it was to her taste, so he didn’t question it too much.
Titania marched over to the stream and picked up Ai, slinging her over her shoulder. “You little rascal… Why is it that the one who takes after Master Xinxin the most in appearance has to take after her bastard father’s personality?”
“Nooo! Daddy!” Ai flailed, squirming beneath Titania’s grasp and trying to escape. “Help me!”
Nowun glanced at Titania, raising an eyebrow.
She glared back, promising divine retribution… Well, an expression promising divine retribution.
Seeing that, Nowun shrugged and said, “Go finish your studies, Princess.”
“Traitor! I’m telling Mommy on you!”
“Hmph.” Titania spun around and said, “You can tell your mother all you want later, Ai. But that won’t change the fact that you have to finish your etiquette and cultivation lessons first.”
Nowun bit back a laugh at the ridiculous sight before standing up to stretch.
The door to the cottage slammed shut again. This time, formations welled up around it, preventing his wayward daughter from escaping again.
Seeing that, he shook his head and said, “How did a sweet woman like Xinxin result in a tomboy like that…?”
Frankly, it made him nervous for the future. Right now, Ai was still just six years old, but it wouldn’t be long until she reached that rebellious phase of a teenager.
Considering how Xinxin had been at that age and how she had been naïve enough to fall in love with a bad guy like him of all people… complicated circumstances aside, Nowun seriously worried that either he’d be heartbroken in the future… or that he’d have to stop a war from raging as his precious princess broke the hearts of every young master and prince throughout the world.
“You seem troubled, Father.”
Nowun resisted the urge to jump at the sudden voice and slowly turned around towards the speaker.
A young man… No, a boy just stepping into the teenaged years stood a few feet away from Nowun.
Zhan Longtian, Nowun and Xinxin’s son, twice Ai’s age at twelve years old.
Like Ai, he took more after Xinxin than he did Nowun in terms of appearance. Longtian’s face was delicate, a bit feminine, and his skin was pristine and flawless. However, the sharp dark eyes and well-trained body showed that he was anything but dainty.
In fact, if Nowun remembered right, this little bastard was toying around with both Elio’s daughter and some of those angelic emissaries from the Western Mountainranges…
“Father?” Longtian tilted his head to the side and said, “My apologies. Did I disturb your cultivation?”
And then there was that. For some inexplicable reason, the kid was extremely composed and mature for his age. Well-mannered… and somehow capable of hiding his presence even to Nowun’s spiritual sense.
Was it a natural result of the saying that a tiger didn’t beget a dog son? No matter who or what evaluated him, Longtian was an outstanding and incredible kid that had a wide heart and a calm mind as well as heaven-defying talents.
Nowun slowly shook his head and said, “No. I was just finishing up and thinking about your sister, Son.”
Right. Son. No matter how incredible the kid was, he was still Nowun’s son.
Hearing that word made Longtian brighten up a bit. Letting out a serene smile, he said, “Did little Ai escape from Aunt Nia again?”
“She did, but your Aunt came right out and dragged her back.”
“Mm.” Longtian nodded and said, “Don’t blame her too much, Father. Little Ai adores you a great deal.”
Nowun nodded. “I know… but I’m starting to get worried that I’m spoiling her too much… I mean, I’m usually just here cultivating and spend half the day with her.”
“Then perhaps you should go help mother with her duties in administrating the sect, Father?”
“Maybe…” Nowun started to nod in agreement and then he remembered something. “Wait a minute.” He narrowed his eyes at Longtian and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be training with Alice and Victoria right now?”
Just like how Ai was supposed to be in her lessons, this brat was supposed to be training with Erik’s two daughters.
Longtian coughed. “This… is true. But I thought that I should check on Father for a moment and see how far I had developed my stealth arts.”
“Stealth arts…?” Nowun paused, coming to a sudden realization. “Wait. Don’t tell me that the reason you’re so good at hiding is because you’re running away from those-“
“Forgive me Father, but I should return. See you at dinner tonight.” With that brief farewell and a short bow, Longtian vanished from sight.
Nowun stood there for a few moments, surprised at how well that guy ran away. And then he sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Crazy bastard… Then again, I guess he really is my kid if he has that kind of luck with women…”
Longtian didn’t say it, but the way he ran off was definitely the same way that Nowun used to do to evade the topic of who he liked more between Xinxin and Aria in the past… Well, before he dragged that other guy out and threw everything his way.
At that time, space rippled and a familiar presence emerged.
Stepping lightly onto the ground in front of him like a fairy from the celestial realm, a heaven-defying beauty in a flowing white robe turned around, scanning the area. Her eyes, an imperial shade of violet that glimmered like amethyst stars, swept across the surroundings while her hair, like strands of the night sky, shifted in the wind.
Xinxin, Nowun’s lovely wife and Faithful Companion.
Taking one more look around the surroundings, Xinxin frowned and turned to Nowun. “Sifu, you haven’t seen our wayward son by chance, have you?”
Nowun sighed. “Am I going to have to remind you every day to stop calling me that, Xinxin?”
She crossed her arms and said, “And how many times do I have to remind you? It’s Sifu until you let me call you Hubby or you call me by a nickname.”
“Fine, Wifey. Whatever you say.”
“And that doesn’t count, Sifu.” She looked around. “Ai is still with Nia… but I don’t sense Longlong anywhere. I could have sworn he was just here though…”
“Did something happen?”
Xinxin nodded. “Little Alice and Vicky came running to me crying about our son leaving them in the middle of the training grounds. I couldn’t make much out since they were hysterical, but they mentioned something about a broken promise and a trip out to the Sun Kingdom later in the evening.”
Later in the evening…
‘You sly bastard.’
Today was the day that a festival was going to occur to celebrate the previous Heaven King’s… Wang Tian’s birthday.
It was also the day that became infamous for girls expecting boys to pledge their undying love to the ones they cared about so that the girls could return the favor on the Heaven Seizer’s… Xinxin’s birthday later in the year.
Xinxin frowned. “Do you have any idea where he is, Sifu?”
Xinxin narrowed her eyes. “Siiifuuu. You had better not be lying to me.”
“I’m not. I really don’t have a clue where he is right now.” Sighing, he said, “That kid’s even better at run- I mean concealing his presence than I am.”
“…I never said that. I said concealing his presence.”
“Right, right.” Xinxin nodded. “It really is like father like son then…”
A calm voice, nonchalant.
Of course, when Xinxin spoke like that, it meant that she was absolutely furious.
Nowun made a quiet prayer for his son and hoped that he had worked on his physique training as much as his stealth arts.
“In any case…” Xinxin turned back to Nowun and said, “I just managed to finish up the documents for the day and get away from Erik.”
Nowun raised an eyebrow and said, “Who was it that was just complaining about our son running away?”
Xinxin waved her hand. “Don’t mind the details. I wanted to know if you wanted to have lunch with me? It’s been a long time since it’s been just the two of us, and I wanted to share a special dessert with you over tea.”
“A dessert huh?”
“Mmhm.” Xinxin grabbed Nowun’s arm before he could refuse and said, “A special dessert that’s sweet and pure with a few spots of pink. You see, I’ve been really, really stressed lately and I really wanted to share this dessert with you, Sifu.” She looked up at Nowun and licked her lips. “You won’t say no, right?”