I opened my eyes.
There was an unfamiliar ceiling above me, and my mind was foggy.
It seemed that I was lying in a bed. From how soft it was as well as the luxurious violet quilt over me, it was a fairly fancy one too.
But… Where was I?
I sat up. The moment I did, a jolt of pain flashed through my head. “Gah…” I winced and clutched my temple with my right hand.
“Mm?” A soft and lovely voice echoed. Directly beside me, to my left.
I froze and glanced over.
A young beauty lay huddled under the quilt, hidden up to her chin beneath it. Still, it wasn’t enough to hide her features.
Violet eyes, as pure as amethysts. Milky white skin like the pale moon. Lovely pink lips and silky raven hair, slightly disheveled from sleep.
…And she had been sleeping right beside me.
The absurdity of the situation caused me to jump out of the bed in a panic.
“Eep!” The beautiful young woman let out a small squeal and grabbed the quilt before it could go flying, holding it up to her chin. She quickly glanced around the room, her eyes alert and cautious. Yet, when she saw me standing off to the side, she relaxed and then started to pout. “Sifu! Couldn’t you have woken up like a normal person?”
I frowned and carefully stared at the beautiful young woman.
Delicate features, as if carved by master artisans. An enchanting appearance that could bewitch men, demons, and gods alike.
For a split second, I thought she might be Serena… but she had called me Sifu.
Sifu… So then that means…?
She smiled and then nodded. Pulling up the quilt to her chin again, she shifted around until she was facing me, the quilt wrapped around her like a cape. “That’s right,” she said. “It’s me, Xinxin. Your faithful… disciple!”
A splitting headache.
I winced and then shook my head, clutching at my temple again. “I… What happened? The last thing I remember is…”
Memories flickered in my mind.
Fighting against Serena. Using my trump card against her… Losing. And then… Nothing.
No. That wasn’t true. I could vaguely recall seeing some familiar faces. Aria, Saphira, and Titania. But how and where…?
The beautiful young woman… No. My naïve disciple, Xinxin. She stared at me and then sighed. “It’s a long story,” she said. “But don’t worry, Sifu!” She smiled and said, “You’re safe here!”
I frowned, wondering why she would bring that up. And then I felt it.
My body… no. Everything about me was weaker than before. A lot weaker.
My powers… both mana and cultivation were heavily depleted. If I had to quantify it… I’d say that I was only at about a thousandth of what I had been before.
Considering my strength, that meant I was still a fair bit stronger than the average person. But when I took into account my enemy, it might as well have just been wishful thinking.
Thankfully, they weren’t completely gone. Even as I focused on them, I felt both my mana and cultivation base returning. Still, while it was returning at a steady rate, I had a feeling it would be a long time before I was back in top form. Months… maybe years even.
I shook my head. That was a problem for later. Right now…
I glanced up at my disciple. That naïve girl who begged me to become her Sifu, who followed and trusted me despite all common sense saying otherwise.
Xinxin stared back at me, her gaze soft and tender.
I averted my eyes.
It had been fine when she was younger, but now that she had grown up, it was hard to ignore the fact that my disciple was an extreme beauty.
Xinxin laughed and then stretched, letting the quilt fall back to the bed.
For a split second, I panicked, thinking that she was undressed. Fortunately, she wasn’t.
Beneath the quilt, Xinxin was wearing a lilac colored dress with a violet sash. Though a bit disheveled from her sleeping, there wasn’t anything off or untoward about it.
I sighed… and then I froze.
Her dress was sleeveless, leaving her arms bare. Because of that, I could see the marks on them. Deep and dark blue bruises around her wrists and lighter ones around her arms.
I traced them up and saw that there were some around her neck too. The signs of someone grabbing her there without holding back at all, as if trying to crush her throat.
Xinxin noticed me staring and flinched, tugging the top of her dress, trying to hide the marks. “A-Ah. This…”
I reached out with my right hand, intending to trace the bruises around her neck.
The moment I moved it, Xinxin flinched. It was only slight, a subtle motion. But it was enough to draw my eye.
I froze, my hand outstretched in the air. “This… I didn’t do this to you, did I?”
Now that I was paying attention, I could see other traces too. Her beautiful violet eyes were red, as if she had been crying. Her delicate cheeks were stained with tears, only recently dried. And furthermore, the marks on her neck… they didn’t stop there.
While her dress covered most of her body, it was thin enough that I could see a bit beneath it. And the dark blue bruises she had were easily visible against the light lilac-colored fabric.
When I realized just how badly she was hurt, my stomach fell and I started to feel nauseous from guilt.
Did Xinxin realize it? She laughed and reached out, gently lowering my hand. Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “You worry too much, Sifu. You’d never hurt me. This… This is just a result of my training. That’s all.”
Xinxin nodded and said, “I’ve been trying to hone my body to be able to withstand the chaotic void behind the spatial cracks. This… These marks are just a result of that.”
I wanted to believe her.
I wanted to think that Xinxin was telling the truth and that I didn’t do anything to her.
But… She hadn’t been looking me in the eye when she was speaking. Her violet eyes stared at me, but they kept flitting away.
Maybe it could just be nerves. After all, I had woken her up in an awkward way. Maybe she was just embarrassed.
…But that was just lying to myself.
I could remember it. How I ripped Aria apart limb from limb and then took all of her powers, her very soul. How I had been so hungry to gain strength. Obsessed to be strong enough to defeat that Goddess and find a way back home.
Even now that hunger, that obsession still lurked. While it was tempered a bit, I could sense it waiting for me to just let my guard down.
Knowing that, seeing the marks on Xinxin, and then even sensing traces of my power lingering all over her body…
I shook my head. “You’re lying, Xinxin. I… What did I…?”
Xinxin sighed and reached over. She held out her hand and lightly tapped me on my head. “Where’s my harsh Sifu? If this was back then and you saw me like this, you would have just told me to pull myself together.” She stared at me and said, “You’re being awfully kind right now, Sifu.”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I just looked at her. Stared into her eyes.
She stared back, a soft smile on her beautiful face, her violet eyes meeting my own with a warm gaze. But the bruises on her neck, the fact that traces of my power were all over her body… and now that I focused on it, even traces of it coursing through her…
Xinxin shook her head. “Well, it’s clear that you need more rest, Sifu.” She got out of the bed and then brushed herself off. After that, she smiled at me and said, “I’ll be back soon with some food. Don’t leave again, alright?”
With that, she walked off.
I watched her leave. Because of that, I saw that she was limping. Just a bit, but enough for me to notice.
And for her to do that considering the training she went and her cultivation level…
Crushing guilt. My stomach felt like it had a pit, and my breath caught in my chest.
While I didn’t know exactly what I did to her… and I was certain that she would never tell me, I could make a few guesses. And of those guesses…
I sat down on the bed and lowered my head, covering my face with both of my hands.
“What have I done? No… What happened to me?”
I tried to remember. I wanted to remember.
As if in response to my wish, the familiar sensation of Absolute Memory returned. Bits and pieces of the past flickered through my mind… but they were jumbled. Not only that, but entire swathes of time were missing… No. Not missing. Inaccessible, the backlash from my Paradoxum Memoriae, the technique I developed to kill that goddess.
Still, there was enough for me to fit the pieces together, enough for me to tell what I had become.
“A hungry ghost… No. A Preta.”
In that other world, the world where I met Xinxin, I did countless things to get enough power to kill that goddess and find a way home. To carve a path through the heavens to return to Earth.
I thought it was enough, but when I fought her, I lost.
…No. It wasn’t a complete loss. I managed to figure out the source of her powers and her divinity in that clash. ‘Order’ and ‘Light’. Combined, it was the light of Creation, which allowed her to govern over the world.
Now that I knew that, I could beat her. My Chaotic Darkness countered it, and my Absolute Memory could replicate it if I managed to get a portion of her powers.
If I had both, then I could stand on equal grounds against her. Reach the place where she waited, in that plane above the world and outside of time and space. There, I could settle it once and for all.
But I had been too hasty. Impatient. As a result… I was almost back to where I began.
I could still use Chaos, Darkness, and the combination I developed through cultivation, the path of Chaotic Darkness I started to walk that devoured everything and assimilated it within myself.
But everything else was gone. Well, temporarily. I could sense that I still remembered how to use it, and my Absolute Memory ensured that it was just a matter of time to restore my strength. But I still needed that time.
Furthermore, my body was wrecked. The meridians I painstakingly memorized and refined were cracked and splintered and the dantian I created was emptied out. My mana reserves were at an all time low too, probably only around 1,000 MP if I was using that goddess’s system to gauge it. And that was while I was in a place where mana was abundant too, unlike back in that other world.
It was the worst case scenario, essentially. Not only that, but because I was so wrecked, I couldn’t use Absolute Memory to loop or jump through space. While I was sure it would trigger if I died, I wasn’t sure if I would still be ‘me’ when it did. At least, not completely lucid like I was now.
But while that was bad, there was something more important than worrying about myself.
That thing… No. That person…
“Xinxin.” I muttered her name and stared at the ground.
The naïve young girl who bravely sought to become my disciple to escape a dead-end fate. The innocent young girl that I betrayed and used countless times to increase my strength before finally teaching her properly. The young girl that I left to her own devices after barely being strong enough to fend for herself…
I didn’t have a problem with killing people. Whether that was a flaw in personality that originally existed or something that became twisted along the way, I didn’t know. But killing people, innocent or not, didn’t bother me.
Yet, when I thought about all that I did to Xinxin. To that adorable young girl who was so happy that I reached out to help her, even while I led her to her and her clan to death in countless time loops before teaching her properly…
She must have known. If she was strong enough to reach me, who was cast off into a random time and place after losing to that goddess, there was no way that she didn’t know what I did.
…But she still went looking for me anyway. Not only that, but she was the only one who realized who ‘I’ really was. The only one who was still here after Aria and Saphira stayed with the shell I left behind.
I uncovered my face and clenched my hands into fists. “Dammit.”
Unlike with Aria, I didn’t have the excuse of saying that our connection was forced.
Xinxin… I was the one who picked her up. Who gave her strength and hope. Who turned her from an innocent young beauty to who she was today.
…Who I would never be able to repay for what she did for me, what she gave me.
I clenched my hands and examined my body.
I could feel it. Traces of power that weren’t my own coursed through my veins.
It was compatible, similar to my own. A Chaotic Darkness that fundamentally opposed the goddess’s Order of Light. But it wasn’t mine. It was softer, more subtle. Calming, almost. Enough to quell the hunger and emptiness that I had felt ever since losing his Faithful Companion and ending up in that cultivation world.
That meant that… this power…
The door opened and Xinxin walked in carrying a small tray in both of her hands. On it, there was a small bowl of rice porridge with pieces of haphazardly cut chicken in it. A wooden spoon was placed on the side.
Seeing me stare, Xinxin flushed. “It’s not much, Sifu, but I hope it’s to your liking.” After saying that, she offered me the tray.
I hesitated. The kindness she showed me… It was uncomfortable.
Xinxin’s expression dimmed. “Is it… not to your liking, Sifu?”
I shook my head. “It’s not that. I’m just…” I glanced back at her.
Xinxin’s body was healed now. The bruises on her body were gone, as if they never happened, and her red eyes were back to normal. It was like the battered beauty I saw when waking up was just a nightmare.
But I knew better.
I took the tray from her.
Xinxin smiled and dragged over a chair, sitting down to look at me.
I sighed and took a bite of the porridge using the wooden spoon.
It… wasn’t that good. There was a bit too much salt, the rice was lumpy, and the chicken was cut too thick. Still, I could sense the awkward care and love putting into it, so I couldn’t complain.
Even so… it was hard to swallow. But not because of the quality of the food or the cooking. Instead, that kindness and compassion…
My vision blurred.
Xinxin looked down. “I knew it. I’m no good at cooking after all…”
I shook my head. “No. It’s… It’s great. The best I’ve ever had. Really.”
Xinxin smiled. “That’s great! Then… Ah! I forgot to make you some tea!” She got up and said, “I’ll be right back, Sifu!” With that, she ran out again.
When she did, I brushed my eyes, wiping away my tears. At the same time, I used Information Concealment to hide the fact that I cried at all. After that, I laughed.
“This… is new.”
I, the heartless man who killed the very girl I saved, defeated the Wrathful Sin Dragon through sheer determination, who slaughtered millions and stole their lives to increase my strength… who treated my own disciple so harshly.
With just a small bowl of porridge made with care and affection, my cold heart was wavering.
“This isn’t good. For either of us.”
I didn’t know when or if I would revert to being a mindless killing machine. While I was stable now, and while my power was still too low to be of any harm, there was still the chance that I could become dangerous. If I did that and hurt Xinxin again. If I did that to the only person in this whole world that I could say with certainty I truly cared about…
I would break. Worse than when I lost against the Goddess.
But not only that, Xinxin… She seemed to believe that she loved me. The care and affection in her eyes… it was clear that she thought so at least.
But… I knew better.
From my treatment of her in the past… Harsh abuse and then encouragement. Reaching out to her in her lowest point… I didn’t intend for it to happen, but that was the exact same method that was used in abusive relationships to keep the victim from running. To make them want to stay and believe they were in love.
I took another bite of my porridge. All of a sudden, however, it just tasted like ash.
Xinxin returned with a teapot and some cups. “Thanks for waiting, Sifu!”
I smiled, carefully hiding my feelings, and nodded. “It’s no problem.”
She set them on a table and then lifted the teapot to pour a cup of tea.
Before she could, I moved my tray to side and said, “That’s enough. Let me.”
I walked over and wrapped my hands around hers, gently placing the teapot on the table.
Xinxin flushed and then nodded, moving her hands away.
I poured a cup of tea and set it down in front of Xinxin before pouring myself one as well. After that, I gestured for Xinxin to sit down.
Xinxin glanced at my unfinished porridge. “But Sifu. You-“
I narrowed my eyes. “Xinxin. Sit down.”
Hearing that, Xinxin flushed and then did as I said.
That caused a twinge of guilt to pass through my heart when I realized just how obedient she was towards me.
I sighed and then walked over to move the chair that Xinxin sat in earlier to the table. That done, I picked up my cup of tea and took a sip, glancing at Xinxin.