46 – Martial Hero Route – Arrangements
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Sorry for the wait. Caught a cold last week and just coming off of it. Sub-zero temperatures threw my body for a loop when after I jogged outside in it...

Nero’s eyes widened and he stared up at the sky. “What are they doing?!”

The crowd of passing travelers all did as Nero and stared up at the one who announced that arrogant message.

The crimson-haired woman, that Eris mentioned by Nero, floated above everyone, a cruel smile on her face. Dark draconian wings had sprouted from her back, and she replaced her cloak with a skin-tight crimson dress.

Beside the woman, with wings as well, was a tall man with rippling muscles and cobalt-colored hair. On his back, he carried a giant double-edged sword.

Xinxin sighed and used the distraction to grab Nero and Titania, quickly ducking into a side alley.

Nero quickly snapped out of it and glared at Xinxin. “What are you doing? We have to stop her, now!”

Once they were inside the alley, Xinxin let go of Nero’s hand and shook her head. “Be my guest. However, do not come begging for my help when you get caught and dragged away.”

Nero frowned. “What are you-“

Armor rattled and the ground shook. Beyond the entrance to the alleyway, platoons of imperial soldiers in black and gold armor marched down the road.

Nero paled.

Xinxin sighed and waved her hand, shrouding their group in a veil of darkness. It wasn’t perfect, just a crude imitation of what her Sifu could do, but it was enough for those mundane soldiers.

A few passing soldiers glanced down the alleyway, but seeing nothing but darkness, they moved on.

Nero noticed that and then shook his head. He looked back at Xinxin and whispered, “We can’t let this continue! Eris and Moros are members of the four Archfiends! If either of them goes all out-“

A huge surge of mana started to gather.

Xinxin looked at sky and said, “It won’t be the soldiers who have to worry at this rate.”

Nero turned around.

Just then, a burst of white lightning carved through the air towards Eris.

The cobalt-haired man, Moros quickly jumped in front of her to stop the attack with a barrier, but it was only barely effective.

Nero’s eyes widened, stunned into silence.

Titania looked shocked as well. The elf stared at the sky and muttered, “That white lightning… could it be? The Divine White Dragon?”

Xinxin shook her head. “Those two really picked a fight they couldn’t win. Should I say it’s their bad fortune, or that this is just their karma?”

There were golden threads completely wrapped around both of the demons in the sky, binding them tightly without allowing a single finger’s width of freedom. Of course, nobody could see it at the moment, not even her Sifu, but Xinxin could. The Goddess’s influence was as clear as day.

Still.

Xinxin glanced at Nero and said, “Decide quickly. Can you persuade them? No, do you want to try?”

“I can, no, I will!” He knelt to the ground and bowed his head. “Please, Miss Faith! Save them!”

Xinxin wrinkled her nose and stopped him before his head could get covered in grime. “You didn’t need to grovel.”

Nero straightened and scratched the back of his head, a wry smile on his face.

Mana surged and white lightning crackled again.

Xinxin carefully watched the two demons in the air, silently waiting.

If she knew the Goddess, then those two would be thrown away the moment she thought they were useless.

So…

A fraction of a moment. In that brief instant before the demons would be killed, completely eradicated by the pure white lightning coming from the dragon that her Sifu had bound to himself, Xinxin acted.

White lightning erupted in the sky. The air shattered, and space bent. Unable to put up even a speck of resistance, the cobalt-haired demon and the crimson-haired demon vanished, completely vaporized. Along with them, so too shattered the golden threads of karma binding them… or so it seemed.

Instead, moments before their demise, Xinxin plucked them from the verge of death and tossed them into the alleyway beside Nero.

A pair of thumps echoed as the two injured demons crashed against the dirty ground.

Perhaps because of their weakened states, both of them had lost their wings and looked just like ordinary humans, but with odd-colored hair.

Eris, the crimson-haired demon, blinked a few times. Her ruby eyes searched the surroundings, dazed, and then locked onto Nero. When she saw him, she let out a weak laugh. “Prince… Nero? Ha. Hahaha… so I’ve died after all.”

Moros grunted and slowly propped himself up against the side of a building. “If you’re dead, Eris, then it looks like you didn’t die alone. But goddess… I didn’t death would hurt this much.”

Nero stepped forward, moving to hug the two. “Aunt Eris! Uncle Moros!”

Xinxin spoke out. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not unless you want to sent them the rest of the way to the underworld.”

Nero froze.

Xinxin sighed and stared at the sky where bits of broken space were still lingering. “I managed to save them, but Sifu’s dragon is stronger than anticipated. Did that Goddess try to make more Divine Beasts later?”

While she had bent space to save the demons, it was the white lightning that shattered it.

A pained groan echoed as Eris slowly raised her body. Blood was running down her body, staining her crimson dress an even darker shade of red.

Xinxin frowned. “Titania. You know healing spells, do you not?”

The elf blinked at being addressed and then frowned. “A few. But for injuries this severe…”

Xinxin waved her hand. “It’s fine. Just get them away from death’s door.”

Titania nodded and walked over towards Eris. She bent down and held her hand over the crimson-haired demon. With some muttering, a blue light shone over Titania’s hand and the demon’s wounds started closing.

Eris blinked and looked over at her healer. “Titania?” Her dazed eyes focused and then she said, “You are… the eldest elf princess?”

Titania nodded. “It has been a while, Ruby Archfiend. I see that your recklessness has continued into adulthood.”

Eris blushed and said, “It has not! This is just… extenuating circumstances.”

While the crimson-haired demon was bantering with Titania, the other one, Moros, stared at Xinxin. “Your appearance,” he said. “No. Your pendant… So the Heaven Seizer has descended at last, I see. To think that she is-“

Xinxin narrowed her eyes. “If you wish to end your life so quickly, I can send you on your way. There is no need to taunt me.”

Moros shook his head. “I apologize if that is how you perceive it. I am just astonished that the feared Heaven Seizer is such an enchanting young girl. But I know better than to trust in appearances.” He lowered his head and stared at his hands. “To think that my cobalt wall would be shattered by that white lightning…”

Nero moved closer to his teachers and said, “Why are you two here in the capital? Did father order the invasion already?”

Titania finished healing Eris and then moved over to heal Moros.

The cobalt-haired demon nodded in thanks and then turned towards Nero. “The more important question is… why- no, how are you alive, Nero? We all thought you perished alongside your sister in Tartarus.”

Eris turned to glare at Nero and said, “Moros is right. Why didn’t you report back, Prince?” Her expression softened and then she said, “If your father knew…”

Nero sighed. “I did return. And the first thing I did was to speak with my father, but-“

Xinxin interrupted them. “While your reunion is touching… We should have it somewhere else other than this trashy alleyway.”

Nero nodded and stood up.

Titania stepped back, finished with healing Moros, and turned towards Xinxin. “It is done.”

“Good. Then… hm.” Xinxin stared at the demons. “With what happened, things will get troublesome if anyone sees that you’re still alive… not to mention that Goddess is watching.”

The faint golden threads were still all over the city, showing off the Goddess’s reach. They couldn’t cling onto Xinxin, but the others… Well, if she remembered right, the Goddess should enjoy a play.

Maybe they should just charge in? No, it wouldn’t match up with her Sifu’s memories then, and she’d miss her opportunity to sever the link. Then…

“Ah.”

She remembered. Lightning wasn’t the only thing she got from the Dark Tournament. There was that pretentious woman as well that could use illusions. While it was a weak power… paired with Xinxin’s experience in Myriad Heavens…

Xinxin raised her hand, focusing on that thread of illusory strength she absorbed. Tracing it out in the pattern of Myriad Heavens, she wove it over the demons as well as Titania.

When it was done, the demons and Titania all had black hair with matching dark brown eyes, and the elf’s ears became round, indistinguishable from ordinary humans.

Nero blinked and then stared at Xinxin. “If you could do that, why didn’t you do it earlier?”

Xinxin shrugged. “I forgot.”

Eris got up and grabbed her hair, examining it. “How strange… the mystical eastern arts are incredible. I can’t detect any mana at all. And this… isn’t just an illusion.” She let a bit of her hair fall and watched how the black strands fell.

Moros pulled out his sword, or what was left of it, and used it to look at his reflection. “Indeed. A flawless disguise.” He looked at Xinxin and said, “If I may ask, what did that brash prince do to secure your aid, Great Heaven Seizer?”

Eris paused and then turned to glare at Nero. “I hope you remembered your manners, Prince.”

He wilted and scratched the back of his head. “U-Um… maybe?”

Xinxin sighed and said, “You can chew your student… nephew… prince later. For now, we need to move.” She spun around and started walking out of the alley. “And if anyone asks, you are all my servants. As for names… just come up with some elaborate Daoist name. That guy.” She nodded her head towards Nero. “Should be more than familiar. Is that not right, Mister Dark Knight?”

“Dark Knight?” Eris stared at Nero.

He coughed and looked away.


Through a combination of intimidation, the Heaven Seizer pendant, and throwing money around, Xinxin’s group managed to secure a luxurious suite a few buildings down from the Imperial Palace.

In their room, the group had reconvened around a wooden table to share information.

Xinxin sat at the head of the table, slowly sipping on a cup of tea. It was… alright, but far from the quality she was accustomed to. Then again, with mana replacing natural energy, her expectations hadn’t been high.

Titania stood beside her Master, silently waiting. Her eyes kept glancing towards the Imperial Palace, her hands hovering over the sword at her side.

Eris and Moros were both sipping on a vial of red liquid, health potions that Nero passed them from his supplies.

As for Nero himself, he was trapped squarely between his two teachers, rigid and nervous but unable to escape.

Eris spoke first. She turned to prince and said, “So. Why are you here, Nero?”

He coughed and said, “Shouldn’t you two explain why you’re here first?”

Moros gave a cold laugh. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” His eyes narrowed, and he glanced in the direction of the Imperial Palace as well. “Those bastards killed Princess Eve, so we’re going to hit them back where it hurts.” He paused and then sighed. “Or that was the plan. If it hadn’t been for that young master and his servants…”

Xinxin bit back the urge to scoff.

Her Sifu… a young master? The one there was still young and naïve, moving in accordance with the Goddess. Considering him a young master…

Eris glared at Nero. “That’s right. So what are you doing here, Prince? I would have thought that you would be the most furious out of us all.” She stared at him and said, “How are you so… calm?! Your sister… Princess Eve! They killed her in such a horrific way and-“

“Wait, wait, wait!” Nero shook his head. “She’s not dead! That’s why I’m here. The Goddess and her Apostles made it seem that way, but she’s being held captive beneath the Imperial Palace. That’s why…”

Xinxin tuned them out. Instead of the conversation, she used her spiritual sense to spy on her Sifu.

It was odd, seeing him like that. He looked different as well, only slightly. His hair was shorter, his gaze not as haunted. It was still apathetic, but softer rather than the cynical gaze she was used to. Also, his eyes… hm. Was it because of his cultivation? They were still a dark brown, but not as bloody…

The blonde elf, that Aria, frowned while staring in front of a mirror. She ran her hands along her dress and muttered some inane ungrateful statement.

It seemed like the three were getting ready to meet the Emperor. In that case, it wouldn’t be long until it was time to act.

And then Aria glanced over at Xinxin.

It was a brief eye contact, short enough to be coincidence. But the moment she did, a faint golden thread tugged at the elf, turning her towards Xinxin.

“Hmph.” Xinxin shook her head and retracted her spiritual sense. It seemed like that Goddess was meddling again… No. She should have expected it.

When Xinxin focused her attention back on the room, she noticed that the demons were staring at her.

Xinxin blinked. “What?” She frowned and said, “Did they not teach you how rude it is to stare when you were a child?”

Thanks for reading and leaving comments! I'll make sure to get the next chapter up early tomorrow to make up for the delay. I hope the chapter was enjoyable, and I'll see you soon.

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