I wandered through the streets of the Sun Kingdom, moving in between the crowd of people milling about.
It was sometime in the middle of the afternoon. While I couldn’t tell the exact time, I’d put it at around three or so considering how the sun had passed its highest point.
That meant it would be night by the time I managed to get back to Xinxin’s house. And that was if I turned around and left now.
But I had not intention of doing that. I wasn’t the type to stick around cooped up twiddling his thumbs just sitting around. Besides, the best way for me to recover was impossible while there.
I glanced around my surroundings. I’d long ago left the sect grounds and managed to make it a good way into the kingdom proper. At least, far enough to where the seedy alleyways leading to the slums could be found.
Although most of the people around me weren’t among that crowd, mostly travelers from the other countries or wandering practitioners from the various smaller sects scattered about, I could see a few suspicious individuals here and there.
“It seems like humans don’t change no matter where or when they are, huh?”
Assassins tracking down marks. Fat men trafficking women with subtle gestures and messages. Casual threats being made to stall owners…
I shook my head.
That didn’t matter too much. What did was that it seemed like I was in the right place.
Information Concealment activated and I walked down one of the side alleys leading deeper into the depths of the slums. Grimy sewage splashed as I did, followed by the unpleasant musk that usually accompanied that sort of thing.
On an average day, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near that sort of place. After all, while I didn’t have an issue getting my hands dirty, I wasn’t one to go out of my way to get them dirty. But there was a reason I came here.
My power was depleted. Both cultivation and mana. Fortunately, I could replenish both with time. I just needed the raw material and my Absolute Memory would do the rest. The problem was getting that raw material.
The ambient mana in the air helped, along with the little natural energy that seemed to linger around the Sun Kingdom. However, there was a faster and easier way to restore my cultivation, one I’d used countless time in the other world.
And after a few more turns down the alley, I found what I was looking for.
Further down the path I took, there were three men standing in the middle of an intersection..
The leader was bald and had scars all over his face. He wore a thin leather vest over his shirt and had on a pair of tattered cloth pants, color long ago faded to a washed out gray.
The other two were typical flunkies. The thin, skinny and seedy type. The only differentiating factor between the two was that one had a sword and the other a knife.
As for the leader himself, he wore a pair of spiked knuckles on his hands.
Typical ruffians. The type that wouldn’t be missed if they went missing.
I stepped forward and then paused as I realized that there was someone else there too. I hadn’t noticed since the ruffian’s leader wide body had blocked my view, but there was a young woman standing in the middle of the three ruffians.
She couldn’t be called stunningly beautiful, but she was fairly attractive. She wore a light blue robe and had a sword sheathed at her side. From her stance, it seemed like she knew how to use it as well. However, her aura was thin, meaning she wasn’t that strong.
I pinched my nose and sighed. “Am I really that prone to clichés?”
I thought I’d gone through the last of them after leaving Aria. Was it because I was weak again that I happened to walk into these situations? Or was this just my natural karma, running across defenseless women?
The leader of the ruffians laughed and said, “You made a poor decision coming down here alone.”
I couldn’t help but agree with the guy. That young woman was just asking for trouble wandering in a place like this alone. No matter how skilled she was with that sword, the ruffians were a league stronger than her.
The young woman glanced at the ruffian leader and then shifted her gaze to the other two men. “Hmph. Three of you against a defenseless woman… Have you no shame?”
The leader laughed. “You must be from one of those fancy sects.” He shook his head and said, “Around these parts, being shameless is the only way to live.” He grinned, revealing crooked yellow teeth and said, “Now, are you going to come quietly? Or do we have to rough you up a bit first?”
It’d leave a bad taste in my mouth if I let the situation unfold as I thought it would turn out.
…Heh. Funny. Maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought I did.
I shook my head and started to move forward, planning to quietly assassinate the three men. But then I noticed that the woman was calm.
That made me hesitate.
While I was weak, I was confident in my experience in assessing power and strengths. That was a hard earned talent I got through countless deaths and battles.
Everything was telling me that the woman was weaker than the men.
Yet, she was confident. Unmoved… and even condescending.
She smiled, a cold expression and said, “You seem quite confident in defeating me.”
The ruffian leader cracked his knuckles and said, “This isn’t your sect, girly. Time you learn what the real world’s like!” He stepped forward, swinging his fists. At the same time, the two others moved, swing their sword and knife.
The woman sighed. “Fools… But I suppose fools like you are why I came here.” She smiled.
“I’ll wipe that cocky grin off your- grk!”
A single moment. In an instant, the seemingly defenseless young woman let out a crushing pressure. She grabbed the leader of the ruffians by the neck and then sent the others to the ground.
The woman’s smile widened and then dark tendrils spread from her body, slowly reaching out towards the ruffians. At the same time, her appearance changed.
When I saw who was standing there, I narrowed my eyes and stepped forward, dropping Information Concealment.
Now that her appearance changed and she released the concealment on her aura, the woman’s true identity was revealed.
The woman glanced at me, her eyes cold for a brief moment before widening in shock.
I stared back and crossed my arms. “So. Care to tell me what you’re doing here, Girl?”
It was Xinxin. When I appeared, she stood there, holding the ruffian leader up in the air like a child with her hand found stuck in the cookie jar. She quickly dropped the man and said, “This… I can explain!”
The ruffian leader coughed and grabbed his neck. He quickly stood up and then pointed at me. “You bastard! You set us-“
“You’re too loud.”
I moved forward and grabbed him with my left hand. At the same time, I activated Dragon’s Grasp and rotated my cultivation base, draining everything that he was. Memories, magic, energy… A surge of darkness enveloped the man before assimilating him into pure energy and experience, settling back into my body.
A pair of muffled screams echoed. The other two men must have seen what happened to their leader.
I ignored it for the moment and assessed myself.
The ruffian leader was… decently strong. In Xinxin’s world, he would have been about a core formation practitioner, while in this world, I’d put him at around level 50 by that goddess’s standards. A far cry from restoring my stats and abilities, but a decent start.
I glanced at Xinxin.
If she saw the brutal and terrific way I killed the man, she didn’t care. In fact, it looked more like she was worried about being scolded than scared of me.
That was… somewhat charming, but also concerning.
Again, I felt that twinge of guilt. From the way she acted earlier, the influence on her was clear. After all, that haughty and cold attitude was familiar.
But there was time to think about that later. For now, since Xinxin had already prepared them, I might as well take it.
Darkness surged again and then the other ruffians vanished, turned into my strength.
Fragmented memories flowed into my mind. Various crimes, hideous fetishes, brutal abuse… I filtered out the meaningless information and focused on the useful knowledge.
It seemed that they had a hideout nearby with some cash and medicinal pills. Considering my current lack of assets and resources, it would be a good start.
“Um, Sifu?” Xinxin’s soft and lovely voice echoed. “Are you… mad at me?”
I glanced at her.
It was an odd dichotomy compared to what I just saw. A sweet and lovely young woman waiting almost on my every word contrasted against that harsh cold beauty who enjoyed having power over those men.
I shook my head and said, “Those guys had a hideout nearby with some useful items. Let’s take a walk.”
Before she could answer, I started moving down the alleyway.
Behind me, I heard a pair of quick footsteps as Xinxin moved to catch up. However, she never moved past me or to my side, always slightly behind and to my right.
Honestly, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t somewhat satisfying to have a beautiful young woman like that acting so meek and subservient. But when I thought about the reason why she was like that, I could only get angry. At her a bit, but mostly at myself.
I thought that she would have changed. The girl who begged me to be her Sifu, who was willing to throw her life away out of despair… I thought that she would have found a reason to live. Instead… it seemed like she found a reason to die.
The walk down the alleyway continued in silence. Whether because people had seen how I got rid of those ruffians or because they sensed Xinxin’s unconcealed strength, nobody else bothered to appear before us.
Though I didn’t look at her, I could sense Xinxin’s gaze on me. It seemed like she wanted to say something, but she also seemed to sense my irritation and remained silent.
We rounded a corner as I followed the memories I had pilfered from the ruffians. It was only a straight path down, so I decided to break the silence. I tilted my head slightly, turning back to Xinxin, and said, “Why are you here, Girl?”
She winced, wringing her hands together, and said, “Training?”
I stopped walking and turned around to face her.
She stopped as well and then looked at me, but couldn’t meet my gaze.
“Training,” I said. “You were training… by walking down shady alleyways and waiting to be attacked?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to stave off a headache. “Girl. Tell me, honestly. Did you get a head injury recently? Or did you forget how I told you to value your life?”
Xinxin flinched. However, she didn’t take it lying down. “I… I was fine! They were weaklings anyway, weren’t they?”
I narrowed my eyes. “And what if they weren’t? What if it was someone much stronger than you? Someone who could force you to submit?”
Xinxin huffed and crossed her arms. “As if that could happen! I’m much stronger than I look, Sifu-“
“Idiot!” I reached over and swatted her head.
“Ow!” Xinxin winced and clutched her head. “What was that for?”
“For being dumb! And arrogant! Do you think you’re indestructible just because you managed to find me? Did you forget just what happened when I thought that was the case?”
I thought I could beat that goddess and ended up losing myself for who knows how long. All of that because I had underprepared and underestimated her.
when I did that?”
Xinxin flinched. “W-Well, it’s not like there’s anyone stronger than that woman here, right?”
I shook my head. “You underestimate her.”
I remembered that young teen I met in the future. The one that managed to perform such a ridiculous attack… and the one the goddess said was coming in ten years.
“She’s whimsical. One day, she might decide to bestow a lot of strength on a random person. Or she might decide it’s time to settle you. In that case, what would you do, hm?”
Xinxin winced. “I… had not considered that, Sifu.”
“That’s right! Idiot girl!”
I swatted her head again.
“Ow!” She frowned and said, “Stop hitting me!”
“You’re lucky you’re my disciple! If you weren’t, I’d do a lot worse for being so stupid!”
I shook my head and then walked ahead, leaving her behind.
I was losing my cool. That was odd. It only seemed to happen around her… Hmph. Stupid girl. She didn’t even know the value of her own life, risking it so recklessly like that.
Xinxin quickly caught up. This time, she actually walked beside me. Glancing at me, she bowed her head and said, “I’m sorry, Sifu.”
“Don’t be sorry. Be better.” I sighed. “While I can’t deny that you are stronger now, strength means nothing if not tempered by your mind. I taught you how to stand against death, gave you strength, and taught you caution… but it seems I forgot to teach you common sense.”
Xinxin huffed. “Rude! You’re the one who doesn’t follow common sense!”
“Because I’m not an ordinary person. Or even entirely human at this point.”
“W-Well neither am I!”
I nodded. “True. But you are a woman. Not only that, but a beautiful woman who’s so attractive that even I have to admit I’m somewhat entranced.”
You’d have to be blind to not appreciate her beauty. No, even the blind could sense it in her lovely voice. You’d have to be a dumb, blind idiot only attracted to males to not be attracted to her.
Xinxin flushed. “S-Sifu, that’s-“
“And that’s dangerous. Ideally, to your opponents, but when you’re an idiot like you were earlier, it’s to you.” I shook my head. “Argh… It seems like I can’t even leave you alone for a minute. And what happened to dealing with important business?”
Xinxin huffed. “I did! There was an important visitor who came by the sect that I had to meet. But afterwards I had some free time, so I stopped here to…”
“Girl. You had better not upset me.”
“…To see if I could find something to help you recover.”
I froze and then I let out a long sigh.
“…You should know this by now. I’m not a good person.”
“I’m also not someone who needs to be protected.”
“So explain to me why you want to help me recover.”
“…I just want to.”
She pouted her lips and crossed her arms. “I just want to, okay?”
“You’re being childish.”
“You’re being an idiot! Treating me like a girl and then like an adult… Pick one already!”
“Stop acting like both then!”
“I can’t change the person I am!”
“You’re the idiot, Sifu!”
“Argh! Whatever!” I shook my head. We had arrived at the end of the alleyway. A dead end, and also where the stash was hidden. “We’re here anyway. But don’t think this conversation is over.”
I tapped at a few spots on the wall. A small portion fell apart and revealed a clay pot. Reaching inside, I grabbed it and then opened the lid, dumping the contents into my left hand.
Xinxin peered over my shoulder and said, “Hm? Are those medicinal pills?” She frowned. “What are those doing here?”
“Looks like those targets of yours had some good fortune. A pity they met you, the calamitous beauty.”
“…That makes it sound like I bring misfortune to others, Sifu.”
“Considering what’s happened to me, do you disagree?”
“Hmph!” Xinxin pouted and crossed her arms.
I shook my head and then handed the pills over to Xinxin.
She stared at me and frowned. “Don’t tell me you’re going to try to force me to eat these too, Sifu.”
I rolled my eyes. “And have to keep you alive after you keep giving up on life so easily again? No thanks.”
Xinxin looked confused. “What?”
Oh? It seemed like she didn’t quite remember those times. That was… good, I suppose. A bit less guilt on my part if she couldn’t remember those times.
I shook my head and said, “Just tell me what these are. You have spiritual sense, don’t you? Use it and tell me what’s inside.”
Xinxin frowned and then did as I asked. “It looks like some blood lotus, some profound beast essence… and some other medicinal plants?”
“You never taught me anything about alchemy, Sifu!”
I shook my head. “Whatever. At least it shouldn’t be poisonous.” Without a second thought, I ate them.
“Sifu! What are you-“
I focused, memorizing the effects of the pills.
Blood lotus… that gave regeneration.
Profound beast essence… that was bodily strength.
The other medicinal plants… they had a lot of natural energy. Not much, but enough.
Whatever the pill’s effect was supposed to be didn’t matter so much as their ingredients.
I nodded and then glanced back at Xinxin.
She stared at me and then sighed. “Of course. What was I expecting?”
“Now… since you’re so free. Care to tell me why you entered the Dark Tournament?”