“…We should have killed the guard.”
Xinxin rolled her eyes at her bloodthirsty servant’s words and said, “There’s a time and place for everything, Titania. If you’re so inclined, you can kill him on our way out.”
The three walked inside Ars Nova, with Xinxin in the lead and the others behind her, as always.
There were a lot of people around, the usual lively crowd that came with being the capital of a vast empire. Warriors wandered around, seeking the latest deals. Merchants hawked their wares, yelling to get attention. Children ran around, their parents too busy to notice or unaware that their children had managed to escape.
A variety of men, women, and children alike, all gathered in one place, and all different. Despite that, the moment Xinxin, Nero, and Titania entered the main, the trio instantly drew the eyes of the crowd.
It wasn’t hard to imagine why.
Nero, despite being a demon, was annoyingly handsome. Paired with his gray hair and red eyes, he gave off the allure of a mysterious stranger, someone that could steal the hearts of any young maiden.
Titania, being the eldest princess of Alvheim, carried the dignity and beauty that was afforded one of that position. While her experiences had given her a jaded look, it only emphasized her austere beauty and didn’t detract from it.
And then there was Xinxin, leading the pair. When she took into account that, and the fact that the two others were following behind her subserviently, it was obvious that they’d draw attention.
Obvious, but annoying.
Xinxin scoffed and then let out a bit of spiritual pressure.
Immediately, a space opened up between the crowd and Xinxin’s group.
That done, Xinxin started walking forward. While she still felt the gazes from those around, nobody had the gall to step forward and obstruct them now.
Xinxin sighed. How her Sifu managed to handle it so calmly the first time around-
A familiar face in the crowd.
Up ahead, mixed in with the part of the crowd that still hadn’t noticed Xinxin and her group, were another trio. A young man with dark hair led an innocent-looking young woman with blonde hair and a cold beauty with silver hair and frosty blue eyes.
Xinxin’s heart throbbed and she placed a hand on her chest.
Nowun’s group moved, walking in front of Xinxin and the others. The nameless young man’s eyes scanned the surroundings… and then for a brief moment, his eyes met Xinxin’s.
Xinxin’s breath caught in her chest and she opened her mouth to call out.
But then Nowun’s eyes quickly passed over Xinxin, treating her as just another face in the crowd.
Seeing that, Xinxin’s heart ached.
It was him, but it wasn’t him.
Knowing that, a line from a poem she read long ago when she still pined for Wang Tian came to mind.
“The furthest distance in the world is that you don’t know that I love you when I stand in front of you… was it?” Xinxin muttered.
Nero called out and stepped forward. “Is something wrong?” He frowned and followed Xinxin’s gaze.
Xinxin shook her head. After that, she glanced at Titania to see her reaction.
Was it because her Sifu was concealing their identities? Even while Aria was so close by, Titania didn’t notice.
Xinxin sighed and said, “Let’s find something to eat. This will be a long day.”
Even after dealing with her Sifu’s karma in this time, there was still the matter of settling Nero’s issues before pursuing the next knot in her Sifu’s karma. Considering that it’d take a lot of effort, Xinxin wanted to at least enjoy herself a bit before then.
Also, she could use something tasty to cheer up the empty feeling in her chest.
“In that case,” Titania said. “Should we try the food stalls, Master?” She pointed towards a branch in the main road to the right, where food carts and restaurants were arranged.
Xinxin nodded and started walking without another word.
Perhaps sensing her mood shift, neither of the two following her did as well.
Yet, while they walked, a pair of hooded figures walked past them. A woman with blood-red hair and a man with steely cobalt hair. Both of them had grim expressions on, completely focused. As a result, neither noticed Xinxin, Nero, and Titania as they passed.
Nero’s eyes widened and he glanced back. Still, he didn’t stop and kept walking.
Xinxin glanced at him and said, “Recognize someone?”
Nero slowly nodded. “I… think so? Those two should be…” He frowned and then placed a hand on his chin. “But that doesn’t make sense. What are they doing here when… hm.”
Seeing that Nero would take a while, Xinxin looked around for a place to sit down.
Off to the side, there was a restaurant with outdoor seating. The tables and chairs were a dark oak, clearly expensive and well maintained. They were also all occupied.
It seemed to be fairly popular… but Xinxin didn’t feel like walking very far.
She glared at the closest group of people and loosened her spiritual pressure.
A scarred warrior and his party eating their panicked and scrambled, taking their food with them.
Xinxin walked towards the table, using her darkness to get rid of any lingering trash, and then sat down.
Nero looked amused. “A bit rude, isn’t it?”
“I’m in a bad mood. One that will get worse if you continue to act snippy.”
Nero’s expression became somber and he nodded, taking a seat opposite of Xinxin.
Titania moved to sit next to Xinxin. Before she sat down, Xinxin handed Titania the bag of Tian.
“Here,” Xinxin said. “Go buy something nice for us. Maybe those crepes if you can find them.” She sighed. “I want something tasty to eat.”
Titania’s eyes lit up and, for once, a relaxed smile crossed her face. “Understood, Master.” She took the bag and said, “I will return shortly.”
Xinxin waved her off and then turned her attention back to Nero.
The demon glanced around and frowned. “This… should we have this conversation here?”
Xinxin rolled her eyes and waved her hand. Space rippled, and she said, “There. The people around us will not be able to hear what we say.” She stared at Nero and said, “Now, what did you notice?”
The demon nodded and then said, “Those hooded figures we saw… that man and woman. I think they’re my teachers.”
“Hm?” Xinxin paused and said, “Teachers?”
Nero frowned. “I’m… not sure, but I think the woman is Eris. The one I mentioned earlier. As for the man… it should be Moros, my combat instructor. But I don’t get it. This is the capital of the human’s Empire. For those two to be here… it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Of course it does,” Xinxin said. “The demons think your sister is dead, do they not?”
Nero nodded. “That’s right.” He paused and said, “…Me too, come to think of it.” He scratched the back of his head and said, “I kind of forgot to tell everyone I was alive…”
“Can’t deny that…”
Xinxin sighed and said, “It’s obvious then, isn’t it? They must be the advance party… probably to wreak havoc in the name of the Demon Lord.”
Nero’s eyes widened and he stood up.
Before he could move, Xinxin waved her hand and sent him back in his seat. “Don’t be rash.”
Nero shook his head and said, “We have to do something! If they cause an incident, the Emperor might-“
“Relax. Your teachers will be in for an unfortunate surprise if they think they can act up in this city without repurcussions.”
“That’s why we have to go stop them!” Nero ran a hand through his hair and said, “No, I have to stop them. If I just talk to them…”
Xinxin shook her head. “They didn’t even recognize you when we walked past. You think you can convince them like that?”
Nero nodded. “They don’t know that my sister is still alive. If they did, they wouldn’t dare cause an incident when it could jeapordize her! And…”
“I can’t let them die!”
Xinxin paused and stared at Nero.
The demon stared back, his eyes pleading.
Xinxin blinked and then shook her head. “Childish.”
She thought that Nero was mature from how he interacted with her and his manners… but now that he was comfortable enough around Xinxin to act normally, she could see that he was still young and naïve.
Still… Xinxin supposed that she did owe him for helping her realize what she had to do to reunite with her Sifu. That, and he did teach the basics of his secret Anti-Magic to Xinxin and Titania…
Nero lowered his head. “Please! They’re like an aunt and uncle to me! I can’t let them die here!”
Xinxin sighed. “Fine. I’ll do what I can to-“
A loud crash echoed in the distance to the right.
Xinxin looked towards it just in time to see Titania throw a man to the ground, hatred clear in her eyes.
“…Actually, would you go and help my dear servant out first? We’ll talk after.”
Nero followed her gaze and, when he saw Titania, he carefully said, “Are you sure about that? I mean, I think Miss Titania would appreciate it more if you walked over.”
“True. But do you know how annoying it is to deal with people who underestimate me for being a beautiful young woman? Just what do you think’s going to happen when I walk over there and tell them to stop bothering Titania, another beautiful woman? And an elf at that?”
Xinxin nodded. “A bloodbath.”
Nero sighed and stood up, walking towards Titania. As he did, the demon’s face hardened, returning to the familiar look he had acting as the Dark Knight.
Seeing that was settled, Xinxin turned her attention to the left, where the hooded figures had walked down, as well as where her Sifu had gone.
When she did, she saw those figures stop to talk to a naïve young man with black hair. The ‘Brave’ that Xinxin remembered from the first time. He and his companions instantly ran off, chasing after Nowun.
“Ah, so that’s how it played out…”
The demons faked a report of a demon to divert attention.
Xinxin pondered whether to move. Before she did, something flashed in front of her eyes.
Golden thread, faint like a spider’s silk, blanketed the city. At the same time, a thick cord cut across the air, wrapping tightly around her Sifu.
Xinxin narrowed her eyes.
The golden thread… no, the golden rope was wrapped tight around Nowun, a knot that would get tighter no matter what direction the rope was pulled.
In short, an inevitable result.
At that time, one of the fainter golden threads fell towards Xinxin. It brushed against her skin, but didn’t take hold, sliding off like water against glass.
Xinxin grabbed it and frowned. It’d be annoying… but if she did it right…
She followed the thread to see that it was one out of the many forming that golden rope around her Sifu.
That meant that if she did things right, Xinxin could unravel the binding the Goddess had on her Sifu. Probably without her getting too suspicious as well.
As Xinxin thought about what to do, Nero and Titania returned.
The beautiful elf with honey-colored hair angrily chewed a crepe, held in a paper cone. Whipped cream and bits of fruit smeared her cheeks, but Titania didn’t seem to care.
Xinxin raised an eyebrow and looked at Nero.
The demon sighed and said, “It’s done, but I don’t think we’ll be welcome at that stall any time soon.”
Xinxin shrugged. “We won’t be here that long anyway.”
Nero nodded and then handed Xinxin a crepe in a paper cone. “Here. Miss Titania took most of them, but I thought you’d want one too.”
Xinxin smiled. “That’s thoughtful of you.”
Nero sat down and then rummaged around in his bag, pulling out some jerky. “I know how you girls like your sweets, so it’d be stupid of me not to save you one, right?”
Xinxin nodded and then took a bit from the crepe.
It was sweet and fluffy, just like Titania described. The cream was tasty, but not overbearing and the fruits were tart, but just enough to accent the sweet.
Xinxin smiled. Maybe she should grab one with Sifu when everything was settled. That guy needed a proper cooked meal… She didn’t think that he had eaten one since they met, actually. The reckless idiot relied too much on his ability and forgot about the basic things too much.
Lightning crackled from somewhere to the left, down the main road. Shortly after, screams rang out and the crowd of people scattered, running around like headless chickens.
“Eris!” Nero jumped to his feet.
Xinxin sighed and said, “Relax.” She took another bite from her crepe and then said, “This is all according to plan.”
“According to plan!?” Nero shook his head and then pointed at the road. “The ones over there are Apostles of the Goddess too! You cannot tell me that you seriously intend to sit here and-”
A hush suddenly filled the surroundings.
Nowun had completely shut down each of the Brave’s party members and was walking over to the Brave himself.
“…Wait?” Nero looked confused and turned around to look at what was going on.
Xinxin didn’t answer and just waited.
Nowun stood in front of the Brave and held out his empty hand.
Xinxin remembered it. At the same time, the faint golden thread she had grasped was tugging on her, the ties of the Goddess’s Fate beckoning her to act. No, the rules of the world trying to find a way to resolve her Sifu’s ‘Information Concealment’.
Xinxin sent the talisman Erik gave her over into her Sifu’s hand.
Nero noticed and his eyes widened. “You… are you framing them?”
Xinxin shrugged, watching as the Brave paled. “Is it really framing if they go ahead and commit the crime anyway? Ah, but we should move now.” She stuffed the rest of the crepe into her mouth and got up.
“Move?” Nero said. “Now?”
Xinxin swallowed and said, “You ask too many questions. If you want to save your dear teachers, just follow.” After that, she got up and started walking away.
Titania stood up as well, wiping the cream off her face with a napkin. Still, there were a few crepes left that she didn’t finish. The elf stared at them, longing clear in her gaze.
Xinxin rolled her eyes and said, “You can take those with you and keep eating, Titania.”
The elf smiled, truly grateful, and said, “Thank you, Master.” She carefully held them against her chest and started walking after Xinxin.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Nero slung his bag over his shoulder and jogged after Xinxin. “What are we doing? Why are we going-“
“So the level of the empire is only this much. To think, that I was concerned for nothing.”
A cold and feminine voice drifted down from above.