After asking about the Dark Tournament, Xinxin teleported us back to her private grounds, saying it was better to talk about it in a place where we couldn’t be overheard.
Ironically enough, the moment when we reemerged into reality after going through bent space, there were two people waiting in front of her small cabin.
Titania bowed her head and said, “Master Xinxin.”
Beside the elf princess, there was a young man with black spiky hair. He noticed Xinxin and bowed his head as well. “I greet the Great Heaven Seizer.”
Xinxin sighed and said, “Raise your heads, Titania, Erik. I thought I told you to stop with that when we weren’t around other people.”
Titania quietly raised her head but said nothing else.
As for the young man… Erik, it seemed, he shook his head and said, “I recall. However, I would not dare to show disrespect towards the man you call your Sifu, Heaven Seizer.”
I glanced at her. Did she plan this? Was this a way for her to get out of explaining her actions to me?
No. It was too convenient, and that exasperation she had looked real too. It seemed like this was just a coincidence.
I frowned and said, “What are you two doing here?”
Erik nodded and said, “I wished to report to the Heaven Seizer of the sect’s decision in dealing with the Northern Empire.”
“Northern Empire?” I looked to Xinxin for an explanation.
She coughed and said, “It’s a long story, Sifu.”
My frown deepened, but I decided to let it be for now.
Erik looked to Xinxin and said, “The discussion with Emperor Elio went well. The Northern Empire will be cooperating with the Sun Kingdom and our sect in mediating peace with the Demon Realm. This will be done through a summit in a month’s time taking place at the ruins of Alvheim.”
As he finished, Erik glanced at Titania.
A subtle frown showed on the elf’s face.
Ruins of Alvheim… That’s right. If this Titania was the one that went after Aria in the Northern Kingdom, that meant that Alvheim had fallen and the elves were either enslaved or killed.
Xinxin nodded. “That is fine. However, what of the Demons?”
“Nero and his companions are resting in a private cabin that we’ve prepared, as you asked. They seem to have also sent word to the Demon Lord, so at the least the imminent war will be put to a halt. However… There is a problem.”
Xinxin frowned. “And that is?”
“The Imperial Army is upset with your brutal treatment of the so called Heroes. They’re seeking reparations from us.”
“Hmph. That guy wants us to do something about it?”
“No. Elio said that he’ll handle it. However… it is possible that the forces not content with his rule may act out.”
Xinxin scoffed and said, “Let them. As if they can do anything to me.”
Erik bowed his head. “As you say. Then… that is all.” He raised his head and said, “I wish you a good evening, Great Heaven Seizer. And… the next time you decide to stop by my chambers, I would ask that you alert me beforehand.” He sighed. “Since your last abrupt appearance, the others have been too embarrassed to do anything but hold my hand.”
Xinxin rolled her eyes. “Tell those girls that what you three do is up to yourselves. But I will do my best to remember.”
“That is all I ask. Then… farewell.” Erik bowed again and then walked off.
After the young man was gone, I raised an eyebrow and said, “So you’ve been visiting young men’s chambers now, have you? Taken an interest in dual cultivation?”
Xinxin flushed and said, “Sifu! It’s not like that!” She shook her head and said, “I just… happened to teleport into his bedroom by accident when returning from the Northern Empire.”
“Right. Accident.” I shook my head and then narrowed my eyes. “Now… Are you going to talk about the Dark Tournament and why you attended it?”
Xinxin glanced at Titania.
“Oh, she can stay.” I crossed my arms and said, “I’m sure she’s curious about why you fought in the tournament as well, my dearest disciple.”
After a long night spent chewing Xinxin out about how reckless it was to risk her life on money when she could have obtained it in simpler ways like robbing or counterfeiting, I went outside to cool my head.
Xinxin had a pond by her small cabin, so I sat beside it to do some meditating and try to restore my reserves.
I took a deep breath and calmed down, drawing in mana from the air and what little natural energy I could sense.
It was… something. The place was abundant with mana and natural energy, but it was far from enough to get me back to full potential. At the rate I felt my reserves filling, it would take a year, and that was if I did nothing but meditate.
I could cut the time down by plundering what I needed from people, but that was risky. I would either need to kill millions of average people to get me back to full capacity or a couple thousand extraordinary individuals.
Either option would draw the attention of major powers, which in turn would draw the eye of that goddess.
At the moment, it didn’t seem that she was aware I was here, but that would definitely change if I caused such a big disturbance.
In that case… should I just take my time?
It was odd. It seemed like so long ago since I had any down time… the most that I could say were those times wandering around with Xinxin. And that had been barely a week.
Right. And then there was Xinxin.
She… was different now. Not quite as innocent as I remembered her being. Ruthless… except to me.
That was my fault. They say the student took after the teacher, so her actions could only be due to my own.
It was… somewhat good. At least she was able to protect herself. But she also took too many risks, got too arrogant.
…In hindsight, all of my own flaws as well.
I sighed and opened my eyes. When I did, I caught sight of my reflection peering upon the pond’s surface.
A pale face. Long black hair that was kept unkempt. Eerie dark eyes that glimmered red. A body that was lithe and had only muscle, refined from countless efforts.
The wide-eyed youth that had first arrived was nowhere to be seen. No. I suppose I had never been a wide-eyed youth.
This… What was this? What did I want?
If that Goddess said the truth, I had already died back on Earth. Not only that, but even if I returned… I could no longer recall my life from back then or what type of person I was.
‘I’ was only who I was. The only me right now was myself. Who I had been in the past… it didn’t matter anymore. But the problem came with what I wanted to do next.
I clenched my hand.
Strength. That was all I had. Strength and the ability to grow stronger still. But when I reached the peak… what next?
That was something I had to answer.
No. I could think about that later.
My goal was still the same. Get strong enough to beat that goddess. Play her at her own game. But after that…
“Sifu?” Xinxin walked over and said, “Can’t sleep?”
I turned my head to look at her and frowned. “I should be asking you that, Girl.”
Xinxin brushed the ground beside me and then sat down. She smiled and said, “You should know by now. I don’t need sleep any more.”
True. She had already tossed off the mortal coil and stepped onto ‘sainthood’ according to those cultivators. In short, an immortal. Weaker than the Goddess at the moment, but with the power to grow.
“It seems like you were diligent at least.”
“Of course I was, Sifu. I wouldn’t ignore your teachings.” She paused and then frowned. “More like I could never forget with how you taught me.”
It was silent, with nothing but the sound of water flowing.
“Is Titania asleep?”
Xinxin nodded. “She wanted to stay up along with me, but I ordered her to get some rest. Nia is too stubborn for her own good sometimes.”
Funny. The name could pass for an Asian one.
“Sifu.” Xinxin stared at me and said, “Is something wrong?”
“…Girl. Answer me honestly.” I turned to look at her.
She looked surprised, but nodded. “Yes, Sifu.”
“Are you happy?”
“Happy?” She tilted her head.
I nodded. “Yes. Are you happy with your life right now?”
Xinxin looked contemplative. She shifted her legs, crossing them across each other and leaned back. “Hm… It has been rough, but I think so. After all,” she smiled. “You are here with me, Sifu.”
I looked up at the stars for a while, contemplating. After a while, I lowered my gaze and looked at her. “…Xinxin.”
“You need to live.”
I stared at her and decided.
“You said it yourself, right? You are my disciple. My legacy. Even if I disappear, you should remain. Thus, you need to live.”
“Sifu. You… that makes it sound like you’re going to leave again.”
“Perhaps. My connection to this world is tenuous. There’s… not much for me here. Or anywhere.”
A realization. The only thing I had was an obsession. The desire to become stronger and get back at that Goddess. Going back to earth was secondary… but even then, it was a long shot. And just something to think about.
Xinxin shook her head.
“That’s not true, Sifu! This is your home! I need you!”
“But do you?” I stared at her. “Since the beginning… I have harmed you. Even now, the attraction and affection you feel. It’s only because you have no one else. Nothing else. Thus, you cling to me, the only remnant of your past.”
“That’s not true!“
“But it is.” I stared at her and said, “…There’s a condition for what you feel in my world. It’s not normal, nor is it healthy.”
“So what? I don’t care!”
“You can’t leave me again! I-“
I sighed. “You’re right.”
I shook my head and stared at her. “You’re hopeless. Reckless. You’re strong and beautiful, but too volatile for your own good.”
“I’ll just have to stick around and keep an eye on you then.”
Xinxin reached over to hug me.
I quickly stood up, causing her to fall onto the ground.
“Know your place! Just because I’m sticking around doesn’t mean that we’re that close yet.”
“Hmph. You like me. You just won’t admit it!”
I bopped her on the head. “You’re too arrogant.”
She stuck out her tongue.
I shook my head and sat back down to meditate. “Now be quiet. I need to meditate.”
Xinxin nodded. “I’ll be inside then. Have a good night, Sifu.”
I tried my best to hide the smile on my face.
…The battle. Afterwards… I suppose it wouldn’t be bad to have her at my side.
But. There was one other person… No. Two. Karma I had still yet to resolve. Those two…
I frowned, quietly formulating a plan.