50 – Shattered Threads, Binding Ties – I
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The thread of karma connecting Xinxin to her Sifu was tangled and distorted. Though she managed to attach a new one to him in the past… present, his powers and his acts of sending himself and his memories across time resulted in it being becoming just as tangled as the original thread she had.

However, while tangled, she could follow it. With the sword Wang Tian left her… and she should really give it a proper name instead of just calling it by ‘sword’, Xinxin’s connection to her Sifu lit up in the dark void, allowing her to trace it even through time and space.

Still, it was odd. The path that she had to take in order to trace out the karma was long and convoluted, spinning back to the past, the future, the present, and then into the past yet again.

After following it for a while, Xinxin stood at a crossroad. In the void between time and space, the domain of karma that she could enter through a combination of her powers and her sword, the thread she held and used to guide her split apart.

She didn’t know which one she had to follow. All of them were the same… or rather, they all came from the same source, the thread she traced out stretching back to the past. That meant all of them led to her Sifu… but her Sifu wasn’t the same in each one. Since the thread was frayed…

Ah.

So that was it.

If the thread of karma was frayed… then she simply had to collect the pieces. She had to reach the end of the line and then pull it back, weaving the full thread once more. At that point…

Xinxin nodded to herself and then chose to pursue the thread leading furthest back into the past… or rather, her Sifu’s past.

With a slight tug, the darkness vanished. In its place, a gray mist and a silent forest emerged.

“This place,” Xinxin muttered. “I recognize it.”

Not from her memories, but from ‘her’ memories. Those of her previous life, the one with Wang Tian.

It was the Lost Woods, the place where she spent an uncountable period of time in dark solitude.

Xinxin shivered, remembering those memories, and then shook her head. “It won’t happen again.”

Muttering those words to assure herself, she took another look around.

Due to the nature of the Lost Woods, she couldn’t expand her spiritual sense very far. At most, she could see the size of a small clearing.

Realizing that, Xinxin frowned. “This place… What is this place, really?”

Memories from her time in the darkness as well as the ones with ‘Nowun’ as his Faithful Companion showed her that there was at least that dragon here, the fallen divine beast. Yet, to have such a suppressive power to where even she found it difficult to perceive the surroundings… It was odd.

But she didn’t come here for that. While she was curious, Xinxin had more important matters to handle.

She glanced down at the frayed thread of karma around her wrist and said, “Where are you, Sifu?”

Was it by chance, or did her words have an effect? At once, she felt a disturbance in the air. Dark mana fluctuated, enough to send the suppressive atmosphere into disarray, if just for a moment.

Xinxin frowned and then quickly ran towards the source. As she did, she hid herself by imitating her Sifu’s Information Concealment, slowly blending in with the natural energies.

That turned out to be a wise decision.

xxx

Following the disturbance led Xinxin to a forest clearing. It was one that she vaguely recognized. There was a pond nearby, along with a rock to rest upon. In any other time, it might have been peaceful. But at the moment, that was impossible.

Blood stained the surroundings crimson. A corpse, torn apart and scattered lay in the center of the clearing, dyeing the water of the pond a deep scarlet hue.

Xinxin subconsciously gulped. It was a gruesome sight, one that she found disturbing even with all that she experienced. No, it was one that she found too empathetic, similar to when she first experienced ‘death’ in her Sifu’s teachings.

The corpse… while it was in terrible shape, Xinxin could still recognize it. Faint threads of golden hair, pristine skin… It was Aria.

But that wasn’t what caught her eye the most. There was someone else there standing in front of the corpse.

It was a young man with an average appearance and dark eyes. The color was indiscernible, something that could have been brown, black, or a dark shade of red. Either way, they were shining with the glint of madness, insanity.

Still, she could tell who that person was.

“Sifu…?”

The young man immediately turned to look at her.

Xinxin froze and held her breath.

Since this was the past, her Sifu… Nowun should still be weaker than her by a considerable margin. That meant that he shouldn’t be able to see through her concealment. Yet… for a brief moment, Xinxin felt like her Sifu saw right through her.

But that moment passed. Her Sifu shook his head and then raised his left hand, clutching at his skull. He winced and ground his teeth while holding his Faithful Companion in his right hand.

Xinxin stood still, watching. The thread of karma led to him, but it was fraying, slowly winding away. At the same time, the faint golden thread connecting Nowun to Aria melted, losing all its color. In its place, a pure dark line formed.

Nowun knelt to the ground and roared. Pain, agony, regret. It was the sound of someone who had crossed a line he didn’t know how to return from.

Xinxin wanted to move forward. She wanted to reach out and hold him, tell her Sifu that it was alright. That this wasn’t his fault. That the Goddess trying to bind him to her will caused him to act like this. That his powers were rebelling against her own, causing him to lose himself.

But she didn’t.

Her instincts were warning her. Everything inside of her said that the moment she stepped forward would cause an irreparable mistake. That not only what she be harmed, but her Sifu as well.

And it didn’t take much for Xinxin to see why.

The karma around her Sifu… around Nowun was fluctuating wildly, spinning like a hurricane, each thread lashing out as sharp as a blade. His Absolute Memory was trying to sift through and reconcile her Sifu’s scattered karma, but it was being pushed back by the world and the Goddess. Not only that, but her Sifu’s own actions of winding back and forth through time had caused his sense of self to fray.

In that state, rather than a person, he was an instrument of power. A being moving of pure instinct rather than reason. And that instinct was to absorb. To take in everything and anything around him.

Xinxin stood still.

Suddenly, a fountain of darkness erupted from Nowun, spreading out like a black sea. At the same time, it was contained. It covered the clearing and no further.

Of course, that meant that it reached out to Xinxin as well.

Her eyes widened and she quickly retreated, being careful not to draw her Sifu’s attention.

The darkness converged upon the clearing and then fluctuated, spreading chaotically with countless waves crashing in upon itself. And then it faded, vanishing in an instant as if it was just an illusion. When it did, the clearing returned to normal and Xinxin could see within it once more.

Carefully, Xinxin approached the clearing again.

Her Sifu was still standing there. However, the blood and Aria’s corpse was nowhere to be seen.

The act was familiar. It was something that she did herself. Realizing that, Xinxin frowned.

“This cultivation technique Sifu taught me…”

Could it be that it was actually a fragment of his own power? It was too similar, what he just did and how she instinctively used her own strength.

While she couldn’t tell for sure, Xinxin felt like her Sifu had absorbed Aria and her abilities completely into his own. A greedy act that left nothing behind, only the memories.

Did he realize what he did?

Nowun clutched his head, a pained look on his face. He stared at the place where Aria’s corpse had lain with wild eyes. Then, he turned on his heel and ran, sprinting out of the Lost Woods.

Xinxin’s eyes widened and she quickly gave chase, dashing after him.

Nowun ran without stopping, and his speed gradually picked up pace. Subconsciously, he drew on the power of wind to increase his speed.

Seeing that, Xinxin frowned and did the same.

Still, seeing her Sifu run so wildly and with such a pained look… She wanted to call out to him. But she couldn’t. Not without risking losing him entirely.

Instead, Xinxin cursed that Goddess. She brought him here under the false pretense of allowing him to do as he wished, yet she tried to force a destiny upon him as well, making him an actor in her play. A hypocrite of the highest order.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Xinxin wasn’t strong enough yet, she’d personally tear open the path to reach that Goddess and smack her across the face.

But she wasn’t, so Xinxin had to endure.

Nowun ran across the Ancient Forest and headed towards Yggdrasil. It seemed like some semblance of his mind had returned, since he was moving with a purpose instead of wildly.

Xinxin frowned. There was something about the situation that bothered her… but she couldn’t remember why.

Nowun came to a stop in front of the World Tree.

Xinxin did as well, a few paces behind him.

The air was silent. In this time, the elves had already been destroyed and conquered, leaving only the empty shell of Yggdrasil and Alvheim behind.

Xinxin bit her lip.

Nowun shook his head and then strode forward, walking through the empty halls. Information Concealment activated and erased his traces, preventing any outsider from knowing he was there.

But Xinxin could still see him. The ties between them were too strong to be hidden with just that.

The Master and Disciple pair that no one could perceive walked through Yggdrasil in silence.

Corpses of elven warriors were strewn haphazardly across the halls. Mostly male, though an occasional female could be seen. Like Aria’s corpse had been though, none were in complete shape.

Nowun clutched his head as he walked, as if fighting against something inside of himself.

Xinxin felt her heart drop at seeing that, but kept quiet.

She was starting to remember now. What happened here, what was to happen next, as well as her role to play in order to resolve this thread of karma.

They arrived at the inner chamber of Yggdrasil. A holy sanctuary with roots forming the walls, wrapping around almost like a womb. And then, in the center of it, a swirl of roots wrapped around a glowing orb, pulsating with a soft green light.

Xinxin stood off to the side and watched the events unfold.

Nowun faced off against the wooden guardian. A young girl’s cries echoed as he used Dragon’s Grasp to forcibly bind the blade at the heart of Yggdrasil. Roots writhed as Hraesvelg called out to the elven warriors who had fallen, bringing them all back to life to stop Nowun.

And then it happened. The point where her past and present selves met.

Nowun’s Faithful Companion… the Xinxin who lived the isolated life and died an ignoble death as a sacrifice did everything she could to try and save him. But she was too weak. In her current form, she was just a soul. While she inhabited something that could rival legendary weapons, it was still a stick at its core.

As a result, she began breaking apart. Both her soul and her existence. But… before she did, she tried her best to help him. To sever the Destiny binding him and grant him the strength to step out on his own.

It wasn’t enough. But… she wasn’t alone.

Emotions spreading out through shared karma. A silent wish from her past self for anyone and anything to help the one who pulled her out of the darkness.

Feeling that, Xinxin let out a wry smile. “In the end, that tough act was just an act, huh?”

She remembered the cold woman who stood before her when she failed to defeat Alain and then shook her head. Xinxin drew her sword and then slashed the remaining threads binding her Sifu to the world.

The moment she did, Nowun grabbed the sword. And then… her past self vanished. No, rather than vanish, it was more appropriate to say that she had returned to Xinxin properly.

But Nowun didn’t know that. Sensing the lack of his Faithful Companion, he let out a pained roar and then lashed out with the Mana Blade.

As the sword created by the Goddess to maintain the world’s Order, the act caused everything to break down. Time splintered and space shattered. But not only that, since Nowun possessed Chaos already, wielding Order with his Absolute Memory caused his existence to unwind.

He was set free from karma and the world, but his ability tried to force him to remain, to reconcile the memories he had. As a result, his existence began to split apart, slowly splintering across the countless memories he had created.

But before then, and before the world could vanish completely, Xinxin stepped forward.

‘Absolute Memory’ was trying to find an anchor point. His karma was the same, trying to find a connection to latch onto in order to stabilize.

In that case…

Xinxin reached out to him and grabbed his hand.

Nowun’s eyes widened and he turned around, staring at her.

Xinxin smiled and said, “Until we meet again, Sifu.”

He vanished, his Absolute Memory and karma using their connection to send him to the time they first met, to when she found him collapsed on the ground and went to give him a pill to recover.

And then the world collapsed, leaving Xinxin in the void beyond time and space again.

The frayed thread connecting to that part of the past had vanished… no, it had winded back around the other threads, slowly rebuilding the connection.

Xinxin sighed and then followed the next one.

Hoo boy. Got sicker than I thought. Managed to recover in time for the holidays to where I didn't have to lie in bed, but even now I've still got a lingering cough. 

The plan was to get this up before the end of the year... but well, here we are. 

Anyway, I hope the holidays and end of the year went well for you guys and I wish you a belated happy new year.

Thanks for reading and commenting, and I'll see you tomorrow!

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