After a night’s rest, Xinxin hunted Erik down and told him to handle things in the sect for a few days since she was going to head out to Ars Nova.
Needless to say, Erik was worried and concerned, but since Xinxin wasn’t going to change her mind, he gave her a jade pendant identifying her as the Heaven Seizer and a jade talisman showing she was an elder in the sect if anyone was dumb enough to question her.
That done, and after eating some breakfast with Titania, Xinxin hunted down Nero.
The demon was already waiting in the pagoda, carrying a stuffed sack with him.
When Xinxin walked in, she raised an eyebrow and said, “What’s all of that for?”
Nero shook his head. “It’s a long trek from here to Ars Nova. I know that you, as the Sect Leader, have your own supplies, but I didn’t want to impose.”
Titania entered the pagoda as well, fiddling with the pitch black sword sheathed at her side. The elf looked up at Xinxin and then said, “I do not want to question you, Master, but… the demon has a point.”
Nero sighed. “You can call me by name, Miss Titania. We are on equal standing, are we not?”
“No.” Titania narrowed her eyes. “We are not. You are a demon, and I am the servant to the one you are begging for help. I will… accept being called Miss Titania, but do not expect the same in return.”
Nero winced. “I… guess that’s appropriate, considering what happened to Alvheim…”
Titania clenched the hilt of her weapon.
Xinxin felt a headache, but ignored it for the moment. “It will only take a moment for us to arrive at Ars Nova, so packing for the trip was redundant… though I did forget to tell you. And Titania, stop that.”
Titania slowly released her grip on the sword and smoothed her face.
Xinxin sighed. “In any case… let’s get going.”
Nero blinked. “Get going? How are we-“
Xinxin raised her left hand and then darkness enveloped the surroundings.
While she couldn’t jump through space as easily as her Sifu using his Absolute Memory, with the enlightenment on ‘space’ after taking Charlotte’s powers, she could achieve a similar effect.
Also, since Charlotte’s powers were granted by the Goddess, it didn’t distort time and karma like her Sifu’s spatial leaps, or shatter space like how Wang Tian used the spatial cracks.
A deep chill brushed over Xinxin’s body, the sensation of moving through the fabric of space, and all sound ceased to be.
And then they stopped.
Xinxin took a look around.
They were in a forest clearing, with faint sunlight filtering through the tree leaves. In the distance, the towering walls of Ars Nova could be seen, as well as some travelers walking towards the front gate.
Xinxin frowned. “Hm… not quite where I wanted to land, but close enough.” She glanced down at her hand and muttered. “Controlling space is more difficult than I anticipated. I can understand how Sifu did it, but for Wang Tian to have done it, and with spatial cracks as well… Maybe I gave him too little credit.”
The plan was to arrive in the middle of the city, a side alley she remembered seeing when going with Nowun the first time around. Unfortunately, whether because the image she had was unclear or because she was just unskilled, they ended up being off by a few kilometers.
Titania staggered off to the side and leaned against a tree. Her face was pale and she closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths to stead herself.
Xinxin blinked and then realized why the elf was reacting like that. “Ah.” She bowed her head slightly. “Sorry. It looks like I’m still lacking in my understanding of space.”
Titania shook her head. “It is… fine, Master. Just… give me a few moments to gather my bearings.”
Xinxin nodded. After that, she turned around to check on their other companion.
Nero was standing next to a tree, leaning on it for support like Titania.
Xinxin opened her mouth to ask if he was alright.
And then Nero spun around, tossing his bag to the side, and hunched over. A moment later, the sounds of retching and vomit splashing echoed in the forest.
Xinxin wrinkled her nose and carefully took a few steps back. “For a supposed son of the Demon Lord, you have quite the faint heart, Nero.”
The demon wiped his mouth off and then straightened, turning around to face Xinxin. “Sorry. I’ve always had bad motion sickness.”
Xinxin gave him a careful look and said, “…And you are fine now? Or should we give you a few moments to calm down? Because I swear that if you so much as get a fleck of vomit on me you will gravely regret it.”
Nero nodded. “I’m fine. A bit light-headed, but fine.”
“And you won’t vomit when we start moving quickly towards the front gates?”
“…I will hold you to that.”
Xinxin turned around and started walking towards the walled city in the distance.
Titania moved to Xinxin’s side, keeping pace with her. Still, as she walked the elf stared at the city and muttered, “Ars Nova…”
Xinxin glanced over. “Are you familiar with it?”
Titania shook her head. “It has been a few years since I visited… but if I recall correctly, they had good crepes.”
“Yes.” Titania smiled, for a split second losing her usual haunted expression, and said, “Fluffy pastries made fresh at a stall and topped with cream and fruits. I am… rather fond of them.”
“Oh?” Xinxin smiled as well. “Then maybe we should try some while we’re there. I think we should have a bit of time before we need to act, so… Ah.” She furrowed her brows. “I forgot. Do you think that they’ll accept Tian in Ars Nova?”
At that time, Nero caught up and took the place on Xinxin’s left side. “That should be fine. Since the East has valuable commodities, the Tian holds quite a bit of weight here. I think it’s something like two gold for one Tian.”
Xinxin adjusted the bag of coins at her side and nodded. “That’s good. It seems I won’t have to go through the scum of the city and repurpose their belongings then.”
Nero froze and stared at Xinxin.
Xinxin stared back and frowned. “What?”
“…Are you really not a demon?”
Xinxin paused, suddenly remembering what that flickering window said about her race.
A demon… while she wasn’t the kind that Nero thought she was, it was true that she could be considered a demon. One that achieved immortality by defying the Goddess, a soul that went against the natural order…
Xinxin shrugged. “Demon, immortal… the end is the same, so does it matter?”
All mortal lives were equal in death, and all immortals sought eternity beyond the world’s order.
Names and titles, in the end, were worthless, so classifications like that were meaningless.
Nero frowned and said, “That is not a ‘no’…”
Xinxin decided to ignore the demon and continued walking.
Time passed in silence as the group of three made their through the forest. But, just before they stepped out into the open fields leading to the front gate, Nero grabbed Xinxin’s arm.
She narrowed her eyes and shook off his hand. “What are you doing?”
Nero’s eyes widened and he quickly backed off, raising his hands. “I’m sorry, but we can’t walk up like this!”
Seeing that he was doing it out of concern and not ulterior motives, Xinxin reluctantly calmed down. Afterwards, she frowned and said, “What do you mean?”
“While they won’t question you, we…” Nero pointed to Titania and then himself. “Are definitely going to be stopped! I’m a demon and Miss Titania is an elf. You know, the ones that humans widely spread to be in alliance with the demons and then went out of their way to enslave?”
“How are we going to get in?” Nero frowned. “We can’t cause a commotion! That will alert the Emperor!”
Xinxin paused. “…That would be troublesome.”
“Yes! It would!” Nero nodded. “So then what are we-“
“But you underestimate me… as well as the sect that I own.”
Nero blinked. “What?”
Nero tugged on his clothes and frowned. “Will this really work?”
Xinxin nodded. “My… the Heavenly King did not establish a worthless kingdom and sect.”
She could remember how the young Brave had panicked after Nowun tricked him into thinking they were from the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect.
Unlike her Sifu, Xinxin truly was, so they had nothing to worry.
“Besides…” Xinxin narrowed her eyes. “If they dare to belittle Wang Tian’s legacy, they will swiftly learn to regret it.”
Titania adjusted her clothes and then brushed her hand against the collar around her neck. “…Even if that is the case, Master. Are you certain? I can join you two separately. Going in like this-“
Xinxin glanced at her and smiled. “Have a little faith. I might not be a reliable master, but this much is simple.”
The three of them started walking towards the front gate of Ars Nova.
Xinxin had created a pair of white robes for Nero and Titania, the uniforms she saw the practitioners wearing back in the sect. On the back, there was the character for Tian while on the front there was a dragon clawing towards the sky.
As for herself, Xinxin had changed into a soft lilac sleeveless dress with a black centerpiece. Over her arms, she had flowing white sleeves tied with a green ribbon, while a light violet ribbon was tied around her waist. Then, around her neck, Xinxin wore the jade pendant that Erik handed her, identifying her as the Heaven Seizer.
Like that, and trailed behind by Nero and Titania, she looked every bit the part of a young lady from the sect, guarded by her servants. And, just in case someone was fool enough to not believe her, Xinxin kept the jade talisman in her sleeve.
Nero frowned and said, “Is this necessary though? With your powers, couldn’t we just sneak in?”
Xinxin shook her head. “While you are not wrong, this is essential to achieve our goals in Ars Nova.”
Nero’s frown deepened. “How so? Isn’t it just sneaking in?”
Xinxin sighed. “We are here strictly on business, hunting a man impersonating an elder of the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect. You and Titania are my servants while I am the peerless Heaven Seizer. Considering the crime that person committed, we have the right to act with impunity.”
Nero’s eyes lit up. “I see! Though… what happens when they find out that we aren’t?”
Xinxin tilted her head. “What makes you think that it’s just a cover story?”
Nero’s eyes widened. “It’s not?”
Xinxin nodded. “There are indeed impersonators of my sect in Ars Nova. And, if memory serves correct, they should be taken in as guests in the Imperial Palace after a while.” She smiled. “Hosting one with the crime of impersonating an elder… that is the perfect rationale to storm the palace and search it, is it not?”
Nero nodded. “It is… but won’t the imperial army stop us? The Emperor doesn’t seem very… accommodating to say the least. From what I’ve heard, he reached his current position through forcibly uniting the north as well…”
Xinxin scoffed. “You’re worried about the strength of the enemy?” She shook her head. “No matter how strong you believe that emperor to be, or how strong the imperial army might be, I and my sect are stronger.”
Wang Tian did not establish a place of weaklings. Moreover, Xinxin could recall the strength of the ones that her Sifu fought from the Empire, as well as the ‘Braves’ they had summoned.
Compared to them, who relied on external power and the blessings of the Goddess, her forces, practitioners that sought to understand the principles of the world and hone their skills, were much stronger.
Nero smiled. “It seems that Fate is on my side then.”
Xinxin laughed. “Fate? On your side?” She shook her head. “Definitely not. That is the providence of the Goddess, and she would love it if the whole world was plunged into chaos. After all, to her, the world is a play.”
Titania spoke up. “In that case… Master. Will we kill my sister?”
Xinxin nodded. “Of course.”
Aria’s death was essential to break the knotted karma left behind in this time. However…
Xinxin looked at Titania and frowned. “But is that what you truly want?”
Because of her enhanced powers and the sword Wang Tian left her, Xinxin could see the threads of karma floating around Titania. Most were severed, frayed threads that no longer had a connection, but there were a few that remained.
One was light green, a bond connecting Titania to family. A relationship that should have been filled with caring and love. Yet, that thread was mottled and dark, corroded with hate.
Moreover, there were other threads, malice and lust, wrapping around her neck, choking Titania.
The elf couldn’t see them, and probably didn’t even realize she was being affected by that karma, but her mind and actions were definitely being directed.
Titania narrowed her eyes. “Are you going back on your word?”
Xinxin shook her head. “A promise is a promise.”
While Titania might be happier resolving the karma wither Aria, and while Xinxin could cut Titania free of the threads chaining her to the past, resolving her Sifu’s issues came first.
They arrived at the gate.
The guard, a brown-haired man in black and gold platemail, stepped forward and said, “Halt! State your business!”
Xinxin blinked. The man was surprisingly professional. “How rare,” she muttered.
The guard didn’t look at Xinxin with any sort of desire or even admiration.
Xinxin started to smile, prepared to be at least civil… and then she saw why he was ignoring her.
That guard’s gaze was fixed on Titania. While he hid his desires, there was no hiding the look of lust and scheming in his eyes.
Deviants. Deviants everywhere.
She shook her head and then walked forward, pointing to her pendant. “I am the Heaven Seizer, representing the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect. We have come to-“
The guard laughed and looked down at Xinxin. “Heaven Seizer? You?” He shook his head and said, “You should come up with a better story, little girl.”
Xinxin paused and shook her head. “Every time…”
Nero’s eyes widened and he called out. “Quick, apologize!”
The guard raised an eyebrow. “Apologize? Why should I-“
The guard buckled, crashing against the ground. His armor visibly cracked and his head was forced to bow.
Xinxin walked forward, slipping off her pendant.
The guard managed to raise his head, looking up at Xinxin. His eyes were wide in shock and fear.
Xinxin lowered her pendant, holding it in front of the guard’s eyes. “Do you see this symbol?” She pointed to the ‘Tian’ character on the front.
Xinxin tilted her head. “What does it mean?”
“I… I don’t know!”
“It is the symbol for Heaven, something you are clearly to blind to see. Now.” Xinxin turned the pendant over and said, “What is this?”
The guard carefully looked at the image their and said, “…A dragon claw?”
Xinxin slipped the pendant back on and nodded. “Now, even an idiot like you should be able to figure it out, right? Heaven and a dragon claw… what does that represent?”
“Th-The Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect!”
“Good!” Xinxin nodded. “It seems you do have eyes. Now, will you let us in? Or should I make a trip to the Emperor and inform him why the Sun Kingdom has decided to declare war on the Northern Empire?”
The guard’s eyes shook and he quickly said, “No ma’am! Th-There’s no need for that! You can go in!”
Xinxin smiled and released the pressure she was putting on the guard.
He gasped and lowered his head.
Xinxin walked past him and patted his shoulder. “Good job, soldier. Ah, but be mindful of your tongue in the future.” She clenched her hand. “The next time I face such disrespect, I will not be so civil.”
The guard mutely nodded.
Xinxin turned her head back to Nero and Titania. “Come, you two. We have business to attend to.”
Nero gave Xinxin a strange look, but quickly walked past the guard and moved to Xinxin’s left side.
Titania walked past the guard as well, but not before giving him a look of pure venom. That done, she moved to Xinxin’s right side.
As the three walked off, the guard let out a sigh and muttered, “They don’t pay me enough for this…”