Eris clasped her hands together and bowed her head. “I apologize for our slight, Great Heaven Seizer. However, we hope that you can continue lending us your strength… and that your sect will intervene as well.”
Xinxin shook her head. “This is a temporary alliance.” She glanced at Nero and said, “Truthfully, the primary reason I agreed to help was due to the shared karma between Nero and my Sifu… and even then, that karma is faint.”
Nero blinked. “Between me and your Sifu?” He frowned and said, “I don’t remember meeting anyone good enough to be considered your Sifu…”
Xinxin smiled. “It is not necessarily good karma between you two.”
The Anti-Magic that eliminated her Sifu from this timeline was developed by Nero, after all. While it would be her to deal the blow… it was true that a faint ill-fated connection existed between the two.
Nero’s eyes widened.
Eris immediately blanched and lowered her head. “I-In that case, oh Great Heaven Seizer-“
Xinxin waved her hand and said, “There’s no need to worry about it. My Sifu isn’t a very good person either.” She frowned and said, “After all, he left me behind all those years without so much as a word…”
Across the table, the three demons glanced at each other, unsure of what to say.
Titania paused and then spoke up. “Master… who is your Sifu? If you are that powerful already, then how strong is the one who taught you?”
Xinxin frowned. “How strong is my Sifu?”
That was a good question. She… never really discovered the limit of her Sifu, whether as his Faithful Companion or as his disciple. Still, she was sure of one thing.
“He is strong enough that the Goddess feared him enough to try and bind him with the destiny of a hero.” Xinxin smiled. “Unfortunately for her, my Sifu managed to slip away.” Her smile faded when she remembered the condition she last saw her Sifu in. “…However he got gravely injured in the process. While he is still powerful, his memories are… damaged, so to speak.”
Scattered across time and space as well, leaving her to pick up the pieces to find him.
Eris raised her head and said, “If there is anything that we can do to return the favor of saving our lives and helping Prince Nero-“
“You can help by resting,” Xinxin said. “While I will help you escape from the Empire and locate your dear princess, I have no intention of doing it all. Of course, I will fight back if anyone opposes me… but do not expect me to actively fight your battle for you.”
Moros scratched his hair and said, “A shame. I wanted to see your strength in action.”
“Moros!” Eris scolded him and lowered her head. “I apologize for my rude companion… and for any slights the prince may have given you as well.” She glared at the other demons and said, “Unfortunately, neither of them are very versed in respect.”
Titania smiled. “How amusing. I can recall but a few years back that it was you who-“
“T-That was decades ago, Miss Titania! And I have grown much since then!”
Xinxin shook her head and then turned towards Titania. “To answer your first question… you have already met my Sifu.”
“Hm?” Titania frowned. “…Have I? No, I suppose I have met many people throughout the years, but…”
Xinxin shook her head. “I mean recently. It is the one you mentioned that was similar to me.”
Titania blinked. “…Him? But he…” She frowned. “He was strong, yes, but compared to you…”
Xinxin shrugged. “It is… complicated. Karmic knots are holding him back.”
Both in this time and in his strength.
Out of curiosity, Xinxin focused her spiritual sense again to check on Nowun and his party.
It just happened to be that the group were heading out to meet with the Emperor.
“And it would appear our time to act is coming.” She turned to the others and said, “Rest up as best you can. We will leave in an hour.”
That should be plenty of time for Nowun to finish his conversation with the Emperor and head back to the guest room with the others.
Eris nodded and then winced when the act pulled at her wounds. She sighed and said, “If only we were in the Demon Realm… the dark mana there would make an injury like this recover in no time.”
Titania glanced at Eris and then frowned. “That is true… in your homeland, you demons are like us when we are near the world tree, are you not?”
“Hm?” Xinxin looked to Titania. “What do you mean?”
“As the guardians of Order,” Titania said. “Elves have… had vast regenerative capabilities near the World Tree… assuming mana is not disrupted by Chaos. Demons are similar in that, as they guard the heart of chaos, they heal in the same type of environment where the heart of chaos is kept, which is thriving in darkness.”
Xinxin blinked. “Darkness helps you heal? You should have said something earlier then.” She waved her hand, sending a surge of darkness towards the demons. Immediately, their wounds began visibly healing before completely vanishing in a manner of seconds.
Eris’s eyes grew wide and she rounded on Nero. “The Heaven Seizer gives this much aid and you were rude to her when you first met!?”
Xinxin laughed. “That’s right. Nero had the nerve to try and call out to me after one of my matches and even bar my way.”
Nero stood up. “That was before I knew who you were!”
Xinxin raised an eyebrow. “Have you never heard of common courtesy to women?”
“That gets you killed in the Sun Kingdom!”
“…True. Even so.”
Eris glared at Nero.
Time passed and the group made their way to the imperial palace. However, instead of sneaking in, they moved under broad daylight, walking up to the main entrance.
Nero tugged at his robes and said, “I-Is this really the best course of action, Miss Faith? Won’t they notice?”
“Only if you continue acting so fidgety,” Xinxin said. “However, even if they do… can they do anything about it?”
Xinxin was the Heaven Seizer and had the backing of the entire Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect. If seeing her Sifu with an elder identification talisman was enough to deter the summoned heroes, then there was no question of how they’d react to her. Though, considering how the guard at the gate reacted to her… well, she was feeling irritated from seeing her Sifu not react to her…
Eris tapped Nero on the head and said, “You shouldn’t doubt your allies, Prince Nero. Especially not those stronger than you.”
Nero sighed. “Sorry. Just… worried.”
Xinxin shook her head. “Do not be. Unless the Goddess herself shows up, there is no one that will contest the fact that you are proper disciples from my sect.”
The group approached the front gate of the palace. There, two guards stood at the ready, equipped with heavy black and gold platemail armor. In their hands, both guards held a heavy spear, propping it up against the ground.
“Halt!” The guard on the left, an ordinary-looking young man with brown hair, lowered his spear and said, “State your business!”
Xinxin crossed her arms and stepped forward. “Did that guard at the gate not inform you? Hmph… it seems that this ‘Empire’ is quite inept.”
The guard on the right, an older man with orange hair and a grizzled beard, noticed Xinxin’s pendant and quickly stepped up. He bowed his head. “I apologize for his rudeness, Miss.” He raised his head and said, “Might I ask what a young lady from the East is doing here with her entourage?”
Xinxin looked at the older guard and nodded. “At least one of you has manners.” She gestured towards her pendant and said, “I am the Heaven Seizer, arriving on behalf of the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect. It’s come to our attention that a young man has arrived in your Empire impersonating an elder of our sect with a jade talisman.” She narrowed her eyes and said, “Such a thing is a severe crime… thus I have come in person to deal with him.”
“I… see,” the older guard said. “And I suppose those are…?”
“My personal servants to deal with trivial matters and to save face. Now… will you let us in?”
The younger guard narrowed his eyes. “And why should we let you in just because you say you’re some important person? Besides, Heaven Seizer? What kind of game are you playing, girl?”
The older guard quickly shook his head. “Kid, you really shouldn’t-“
“Quiet, Ronald.” He glared and said, “I’m the one that-“
Xinxin sighed and shook her head. “I truly do not have the patience for this.”
The younger guard looked at Xinxin. “Yeah? Well me neither! Besides, even if you are this Heaven Seizure or whatever, what proof do you have that he stole the jade talisman? Maybe you just want to-“
Xinxin turned her head back and looked at Titania. “Cut him down.”
Titania grinned and drew her sword. “With pleasure.”
The older guard threw his spear down. He turned to his partner and said, “Apologize, now!”
“Why should I-“
“Coward!” The younger guard scolded his partner and then lowered his spear to fight… or he tried to. “What…? I… can’t… move…?”
Xinxin sighed and said, “There are fools all over the world, it would appear… even here. A pity.”
Titania stepped forward and swung her blackened holy sword.
Armor shattered and then a bisected corpse hit the ground.
Xinxin walked forward, glancing at the other guard.
He quickly lowered his gaze.
Xinxin nodded. “You seem reasonable.”
The remaining guard gulped and said, “As you say, Miss Heaven Seizer.”
“My sword maid is… quite eager to cut down those who don’t show me the proper face… and I’m of the mind myself to set an example of why the name Heaven Seizer bears weight.” Xinxin smiled. “As I said, I do not have the patience to waste on fools who seek death… so would you kindly lead the way?”
He quickly nodded and got to his feet.
Titania flicked her sword clean of blood and sheathed it before returning to Xinxin’s side.
Xinxin turned around and said, “See? And you were worried about us getting in.”
None of the demons responded, instead looking at Xinxin with various levels of respect, horror, and appreciation.
Xinxin shook her head and then looked back at the guard. “Now, go. Ah, and I hope you are a fast talker. The fate of your comrades will depend on your ability to quickly dissuade them from attacking…”
Unfortunately… or rather, fortunately for the imperial soldiers, the older guard was a skilled orator. That, or the desperation in his eyes was a good enough deterrent.
Either way, Xinxin’s group managed to make it to the foot of the imperial throne room unaccosted.
Glancing beside her, Xinxin noticed that Titania looked disappointed. It seemed like the elf had recognized quite a few faces as they walked by.
As for the trailing demons, they were all tense. Despite Xinxin’s show of force, they were still worried about being in the middle of the imperial army’s headquarters.
Xinxin rolled her eyes.
The guard stopped at the foot of a staircase covered in red carpet and lowered his head. “We have arrived, Miss Heaven Seizer.”
Xinxin looked up.
It seemed like the so-called Emperor was the pretentious type. To have people ascend a flight of stairs to see him was the height of hubris. From what she had heard, this ‘Emperor’ was not even truly ordained, merely taking upon the name after unifying the north. It was a far cry from the Yellow Dragon Emperor of the Xia Dynasty that held Heaven’s Mandate…
Xinxin shook her head and focused on what was before her.
Like she immediately saw, the staircase was covered in a lush red carpet. That led all the way up, passing beneath a pair of intricately carved golden doors. There was a balcony in front of the doors encircling the area they were in and halls on that floor leading to other rooms, one of which was the guestroom where her Sifu was staying with those other women.
Xinxin nodded and turned towards the guard. “Good work. I will be honest… I did not expect to arrive here without a single death. Your glib and quick tongue is truly a thing to behold.”
The guard kept a neutral expression and simply bowed his head. “The Emperor should be upstairs. With that… I will take my leave.”
It was a careful farewell, one that seemed to be done out of fear and worry. Yet, Xinxin caught a smug and vindictive glare in his eyes before he turned.
At that time, the golden doors burst open and a crowd of black-haired young men and women emerged. All of them were armed… and truthfully, they looked like a ragtag bunch. Swords, lances, axes, wands, staves… an assortment of varied weaponry and armor were spread about the crowd of about twenty people… students, if Xinxin’s memories served correct.
One of the students, a teenage girl with short cut black hair, pointed a sword at Xinxin and said, “Who do you think you are, storming into the palace like that?!”
“So this is what you were hoping for?” Xinxin sighed.
The older guard realized the danger to his life and started running… but it was too late.
Xinxin flicked her hand.
There was a sickening crunch, and then a puddle of blood stained the palace’s marble floor.
“Captain Ronald!” The same girl who acted so arrogantly towards Xinxin screamed.
There was a soft crunch and the scream stopped.
Xinxin shook her head and walked forward. At the same time, crushing spiritual pressure surrounded her. With every step, the pressure intensified. And because it intensified, none of the students could move.
When Xinxin stepped off of the stairs onto the same floor as the crowd of students, they were frozen in place, barely able to stand from the pressure and terrified into silence.
Xinxin stared at them, briefly considering whether or not to spare them. And then she decided that it didn’t matter in the end.
“You’re in my way.”
She stepped forward again. As she did, blood ran down from the upper levels, like a crimson deluge.
Behind her, she could hear Titania and the others follow.
“So many apostles,” Eris said. “Killed so effortlessly…”
Xinxin shook her head. “Calling those children Apostles is a stretch.”
Alan was much more terrifying. Those children were just fodder… and they didn’t even have enough of the Goddess’s strength to merit absorbing.
After she got rid of the crowd of students, the golden doors to the throne room had closed.
Xinxin sighed. “Meaningless obstacle after obstacle…”
The golden spiderweb of karma was all over the place. After what she had done, those threads started moving, quickly rearranging things in the background.
The Goddess was making her move… but.
“Too little too late.”
Xinxin kicked the doors open.
Emperor Elio was sitting on his throne, the golden-haired young emperor lost in thought. The moment the doors flew open, however, he immediately stood. Mana flared to life around him, showing hints of chaotic darkness mixed with golden light. But when he saw Xinxin’s pendant as well as the uniform on the people behind her, he quickly calmed down.
Xinxin glanced around the room. She had seen it earlier when spying on Nowun and the others, but it was a bit different in person. For one, unlike the luxury on the outside, the place was fairly spartan. Despite his hubris, the Emperor seemed to be somewhat self-aware of his place.
“Great Heaven Seizer.” Emperor Elio clasped his hands and bowed his head. “It is an honor to welcome you to this humble Empire.”
“Hmph. Such a small land, and yet you dare to still call it an Empire? The Sun Kingdom is even more vast, yet it dares not call itself by such a name.”
…Probably because Wang Tian didn’t want to bother with the title of Heavenly Emperor, but the point remained.
Elio flinched, but kept on a professional smile. “That is true. Please forgive this one’s arrogance then. I was young at the time, you see.”
Xinxin sighed. “I suppose it is simply the hubris of men to think greater of themselves than they truly are…”
Elio’s eye twitched, but he kept his professional smile on and said, “May I ask what you are doing here? Has the Sun Kingdom decided to accept my proposal of joining forces against the Demon Lord?”
Xinxin scoffed. “As if we would agree to become your borrowed knife… but no. We are here strictly for business.”
If the Emperor was bothered about Xinxin’s implication of his scheming, he ignored it. “Then, by all means state it. I am all ears.”
Xinxin resisted the urge to say that he was ‘all air’. Instead, she nodded and said, “There is an impersonator that obtained a talisman from our sect, identifying himself as an elder. From what I heard, he came to meet with you.”
Elio’s eyes widened and then he frowned. “An impersonator? No… that explains it,” he muttered.
Xinxin casually looked at her left hand and said, “I hope that you don’t mind if we take the talisman back, do you?”
Elio shook his head. “I wouldn’t dare act against you, Great Heaven Seizer.” He smiled and said, “If anything, I owe a great deal to your sect. Without the aid of the Heavenly King, I would not be where I am today.”
The aid of the Heavenly King? Wang Tian helped him?
Confused, Xinxin focused and looked at his karma for a bit. When she did, her eyes widened for a fraction, but she carefully schooled her features and said, “In that case… I hope you do not mind us seeking the imposter out.”
“Of course not. He should be in the guest room on this floor… shall I send a guard to guide you?”
“No need. I know the way… though there is something I wish to discuss with you after, so I will leave a few of my servants behind.” With that, she turned to look at the demons… specifically Nero.
The prince looked a bit panicked, but his teachers were calm and bowed their heads. “We will wait your return, Great Heaven Seizer.”
“Entertaining your servants will be my honor,” Elio said. “Please, take your time.”
Xinxin nodded and then turned around completely, walking back towards the entrance. Along the way, she looked to Titania and said, “Nia. With me.”
Titania bowed her head. “Yes, Master.” Still, as she did that, she glanced at the Emperor with a blatant hostile glare.
The Emperor responded with a wry smile.
Xinxin kept walking. As she passed by the demons, she muttered, “Don’t bother concealing your hostility. Test him a bit for me until I return.”
Moros grinned. “As you say, Heaven Seizer.”
Eris nodded, smiling as well. “Understood.”
With that, Xinxin left, Titania trailing behind her.
Outside of the throne room, Titania moved to Xinxin’s side and said, “What are you planning with the Emperor? Do you intend to cut him down here and now?”
“…I’m not sure.” Xinxin frowned, remembering what she saw in the Emperor. “That man is… strange. Very strange.”
While Emperor Elio had the same golden thread of karma as everyone else the Goddess touched, his wasn’t actually connected to him. Instead, while it encircled him, it in a loose knot that was able to come apart at any time. Furthermore, there was an even stronger bond that fiercely clung onto him, preventing anything else from getting close.
It was similar to what Xinxin shared with her Sifu, but different. If her bond with her Sifu was colorless but unbreakable, that man’s bond was a pure white and unyielding.
The grasp her Sifu had on her ripped apart all other bonds Xinxin might make, a domineering force born from his power, his tangled karma, and his domineering personality when they met in the past… present. In contrast, the bond that Elio had pushed everything else away, even the thread of Destiny the Goddess tried to place on him.
Xinxin was curious. Just what kind of relation did he have- no, what resolve was it that let him repel even the Goddess? And furthermore… could she use him?
…But that was for later.
They had arrived.
A simple wooden door. It could be called elaborate in comparison to most doors in the city, made from a rich dark oak, but it was still just an ordinary door. Behind it, Nowun and his companions were waiting, completely ignorant of both Xinxin and Titania’s presence.
Xinxin drew the sword Wang Tian left her and wreathed it with a bit of Anti-Magic that she learned from Nero.
In response, Titania drew the blackened Caliburn, turning it invisible with a gust of icy wind.
Xinxin tensed, ready to act… and then she remembered something. Glancing at Titania, Xinxin waved her hand and covered her in darkness.
Titania blinked and then whispered. “Master? Why must I hide my face? Are we not acting with impunity?”
“…It will be troublesome if my Sifu sees you.”
…Actually, it would be troublesome if Nowun didn’t see Titania like how he should remember her appearing.
In order to sever Nowun’s knotted karma and trace the path back to where her Sifu was currently stranded, Xinxin needed to line up the pieces right. To do that, she needed to make the events unfold exactly like in her Sifu’s memories… and how she herself remembered them.
“Nowun?” Aria’s innocent voice echoed from behind the door.
“Now.” Xinxin bent space and warped Titania into the corner of the room.
At the same time, Xinxin followed, bending space again to appear in the room.
Aria was sitting on a chair across from Nowun and staring at the nameless young man.
Nowun was leaning against the wall, lost in thought.
As for Saphira, the dragon was sitting on a bed on the right side of the room.
Titania acted first. From her spot in the corner of the room, she tossed her sword at Aria’s chest. The blackened Caliburn, wreathed in wind, quickly flew like an arrow, fired straight towards Aria’s heart.
Nowun quickly reacted, trying to make a barrier to stop the attack. But the result was already predetermined.
Still, that meant that he, as well as Saphira, were distracted. Before the Divine Dragon could react, Xinxin appeared behind Saphira and enveloped her in darkness. The Divine Dragon tried to struggle, but like Aria’s mortal wound, it was already predetermined, Xinxin merely tracing out the actions that had already played out. At the same time though, she took the chance to steal Saphira’s divinity as well as her strength.
A single moment.
In that time, Aria’s eyes widened and she reached out. “No… wun…?”
The nameless young man dashed forward, grabbing her before she hit the ground. His eyes were frantic, emotion clear on his usual apathetic face.
Titania lowered her hand.
“You!” Nowun spun towards Titania and lashed out with darkness, followed shortly by chaos.
Blinded by emotions, he didn’t realize yet that Saphira was gone.
Xinxin nodded. Everything was unfolding just like she remembered. Next… she scattered Nowun’s darkness and absorbed the chaos.
Seeing that only enraged Nowun. “Titania…!” He set Aria down and then reached for his right side, pulling out a stick… his faithful companion and Xinxin’s past form.
It was time.
The moment Nowun grabbed his faithful companion… she stabbed him from behind.
…Was it because of their bond, Wang Tian’s sword, or her imagination? For a brief moment, Xinxin felt shock and despair pass through her.
But that moment quickly passed and Nowun’s body went limp.
At the same time, the golden thread tangled inside of his karma was severed. When it did, the rest of his karma began to fade, as if it was an illusion.
Before it could, Xinxin quickly retied her connection with her Sifu with that karma, forming a tight knot.
It was just in time.
With the golden thread severed, everything that Nowun gained from the Goddess vanished, including his presence in the world.
And then, like that, the room emptied, leaving behind two young woman and a beautiful innocent corpse upon the ground.
Xinxin sheathed her sword and stood there for a moment, staring at where Nowun vanished. “…I will see you soon, my Sifu. Until then…”
Suddenly, an anguished cry echoed in the room.