For a while, there was only silence and the sounds of the porcelain tea cups clinking against the wooden table as they were set down.
But I didn’t mind the silence. Instead, I used it to sort out my mind a bit, taking advantage of the warm tea to relax. Relax and try not to think too much about the guilt weighing on my chest.
Across from me, I saw Xinxin took a sip from her cup of tea. From how her eyes wrinkled when she did, it seemed that she was enjoying it. Still, I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes kept flitting towards me.
I sighed and set down my cup of tea. “Am I that interesting to you?”
Xinxin shook her head. “No- I mean, yes! Well…” She frowned. “You just… seem a bit different, Sifu.”
“Different, huh?” I swirled the tea around in my cup and then shook my head. “You’re imagining things.”
“I’m not.” She stared at me, her violet eyes fixated on my own.
I forced myself to keep eye contact and not avert my gaze.
After a bit, Xinxin tilted her head and said, “You’re not scolding me any more.”
Her odd words made me regain my composure and I sighed. “Don’t tell me that you want to be scolded. You’re not a girl anymore… Or did you still want to be treated like one?”
Xinxin flushed and lowered her gaze. “Right. I… guess I’m not anymore.” She paused and then looked up at me, fidgeting slightly in her seat. “Um, then Sifu. Maybe…”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” I cut her off before she could say what I knew she would. “You’re still just my disciple.”
Xinxin’s face dimmed. “Right. Just your disciple…” She lowered her gaze and went back to drinking her tea, taking slow sips.
My heart ached at seeing her so disheartened, but I focused and pushed the feeling aside. That done, I went back to take another sip of my tea as well.
Sweet and refreshing. The tea Xinxin brought over was probably made from some magical herbs, or something similar. Sadly, I couldn’t tell what it was or memorize its effects in my current state, but knowing her, it was probably good for me.
Almost as if she read my mind, Xinxin glanced at me and then said, “How do you feel, Sifu? Is your body… well?”
I shook my head and said, “I might be wounded, but I’m not that weak, Girl.”
She frowned. “I thought you said that you weren’t going to treat me like a girl anymore, Sifu?”
“Hmph. I’ll do what I want, just like I always have.”
Tough words. A firm stance.
I had to say it, both to stop her and to stop myself. To draw a clear line between us.
Xinxin huffed and crossed her arms. “Why are you always so stubborn, Sifu?”
“Why are you so naïve and nosy? Can’t you just leave well enough alone?”
Xinxin glared at me. Still, with her beauty, instead of being intimidating, it just came off as adorable and cute.
I shook my head and went back to drinking my tea.
The moment I did, Xinxin laughed.
I frowned and looked at her. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Sifu. Just… I’m relieved.” She smiled and said, “You’re still the same as ever.”
My heart throbbed. Face with that beautiful and bright expression, I found it hard to speak. Still, I somehow managed to get my emotions under control and said, “You should have known better to think I’d be any different. You on the other hand…”
Xinxin leaned back and crossed her arms, puffing out her chest. “I grew up, right?”
“If you mean that you grew more talkative and impudent, then yes.”
She pouted, pursing her soft pink lips.
I purposefully ignored looking at her and closed my eyes, taking a long drink from my tea.
…This couldn’t continue. Xinxin and her affection… it was only a result from me twisting her mind. From building a dependency on me after I treated her both terribly and well. It… wasn’t true affection. And me taking advantage of it like this…
“Is something wrong, Sifu?”
I opened my eyes.
Xinxin was leaning over the table, propping her head on her right hand and peering into my face. “You look worried.”
I stared at her for a while and then sighed. “Xinxin.”
Did she realize the seriousness in my voice? She immediately leaned back and smoothed her expression, nodding. “Yes, Sifu?”
“Why did you follow me?”
She blinked and then frowned. “I… don’t understand. Why would I not follow you? You’re my Sifu.”
I shook my head. “You have to know what I did. To both you and to your clan. To countless innocent people. Why are you… Why do you still care about me?”
Xinxin stared at me for a bit and then laughed.
I glared at her. “I’m being serious here.”
She shook her head and then hid her mouth with her hand. “I’m sorry, Sifu. It’s just… Is that all you’re worried about?”
Xinxin set down her tea cup and then said in a soft voice, “Sifu. You… You are my everything. The one who gave me strength. The one who reached out his hand to me when no one else did. The one who put up with my hopeless and naïve young self and led me to become the woman I am now.”
“That’s…” The sincerity and affection in those words… Hearing them was like a blade straight to my heart. “…You’re delusional. I’m not that good of a person.”
“You might believe that, but I know better, Sifu. You pulled me out of the darkness when there was no one else… when you could have gone on by yourself as well.” She paused and lowered her gaze. “It’s true that it might have been chance, mere coincidence that we met. And you did it on a whim… but it doesn’t change the fact that you changed my life for the better.”
For the better she said… but was it really for the better?
Like she said, I was her everything. There was nothing and no one else for her.
But there could have been.
If I had never met her… If I hadn’t drawn the goddess’s attention… If-
I cut my thoughts off.
There was no point in wallowing. Instead, I focused on the person in front of me. On my dear disciple.
She stared back with a bright smile on her face. “How could I leave you behind? And besides.” She frowned and gave me a fake glare. “You still haven’t kept your promise.”
I paused. “Promise?”
“That’s right! You said you would tell me everything if I got strong enough! Well, I managed to get to you, so I should be more than qualified, right?”
Ah. I remembered now.
After I left her behind, I also left her a note. One that said I would tell her what actually happened to her clan and why I left.
Xinxin continued her glare, waiting for my response.
I shook my head and said, “I’ll tell you later.”
Xinxin let out a huff and crossed her arms. “You’d better! This time you won’t be able to run away.”
The conversation died down for a bit after that.
I went back to drinking my tea. When I finished, I looked around the room and said, “You never told me where we are.”
“Hm? Ah…” She shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, Sifu. I forgot to tell you. Right now we’re in my house… well, my private grounds.”
“Private grounds?” I frowned. “It looks vaguely familiar… Are we back in your clan’s territory?”
Xinxin’s expression dimmed and she shook her head. “No. That… my home… my world doesn’t exist anymore. Right now we’re in the Sun Kingdom.”
“The Sun Kingdom, huh?”
I remember thinking that it might be a place filled with cultivators taken from another world, but to think that I was spot on… Not to mention the disguise I used in the Northern Empire.
Xinxin nodded. “That’s right. And you don’t have to worry about anything while you’re here.” She puffed out her chest and said, “I don’t want to brag, but I have the highest word here. If anything happen or anyone bothers you, just tell me and I’ll fix it!”
“What if it’s you?”
Xinxin pouted, sticking out her lips. “Siiifu! Stop teasing me!”
Childish. Despite her age, she was acting just like I remembered her… when she had gotten over her fear of me, that was.
That… was strangely nostalgic.
“Anyway,” Xinxin said. “It’s my turn to protect you, so just leave everything to me!”
I scoffed. “As if you can even protect me properly.”
She crossed her arms and said, “I can do a better job than you did protecting me at least.”
Xinxin noticed and her eyes widened.
I pretended that nothing happened and said, “That’s enough. Now, tell me how and where we got here. Why are we in the Sun Kingdom? What happened to me? And… why are you older now?”
“To think that karma can work like this…”
I was walking around the sect grounds. The Heaven-Seizing Dragon’s sect grounds. The very same one that I once used as a disguise so long ago.
Remembering that fact, I glanced back down at my clothes.
Xinxin had given me a black robe to change into, saying that my current tattered one wouldn’t do. As a result, I was walking around in a black robe with fine violet embroidery and a dragon emblazoned on it. A design eerily similar to the one that I made when I used that cover story in the Empire.
I had a jade slip hanging from a string around my neck. Apparently it was to signify that I had a high position in the sect and prevent people from bothering me. Not that it mattered either way since I could use my Information Concealment to go unnoticed if I wanted to… Well, for a little bit, anyway. The shortage of mana and my depleted dantian made it difficult to use for long periods of time.
But back to the odd effects of karma… From what Xinxin told me, that One Tin guy was the founder of the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect. Not only that, but he had created it for Xinxin, with her being the sect’s fabled Heaven Seizer.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew both my disciple and that guy couldn’t be controlled by the goddess, I would have thought it was another scheme planned out by her.
It was just too coincidental, too neat.
But… it wasn’t. At least, not a scheme. Instead, it was just cause and effect.
I shook my head and glanced around my surroundings.
I was in the middle of the sect, not far from Xinxin’s private grounds, and walking along a paved road. In the distance, I could see a stone gate separating the sect from the outer Sun Kingdom, the sprawling city that spread out like a circle around the sect.
Around me, I saw some familiar types of buildings. The sorts with bamboo-tiled roofs and crimson supports. Other than those, there were pagodas and training courtyards scattered here and there within the gated area.
There were a lot of people around. Some were ordinary people with plain clothes, but most wore robes similar to my own. All of them however gave way to me as I passed.
I shook my head. While it was good that I wasn’t being bothered, this was still a bit odd. It wasn’t fear, but… respect? That was new to me.
I went along my way. The plan was to head to the city and take a look around, but as I rounded the corner, I caught sight of a familiar face.
I stopped and stared at that person.
An elf with dark green eyes and honey-colored hair. While she was wearing a black robe emblazoned with a dragon, indicating she belonged to the sect, and had styled her hair differently, a long ponytail instead of free-flowing, I recognized her.
She walked past me, giving me an idle glance as she passed. But barely a step beyond me she froze and then turned back around to look at me. “You…” She frowned. “Do I know you?” She glanced at my robe and then the jade slip, confusion clear on her face.
I nodded. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Titania?”
Her eyes widened.
Here's Xinxin all grown up but wearing some modern clothes. Made using the Mannequin Pro by AR14.works