Aria and Saphira.
Those two were my first companions. The ones that should have been at my side… but weren’t.
In this timeline, the two were already dead. Aria, slain by her older sister’s hand and Saphira, by Xinxin’s.
Now calm and free from the Goddess’s influence, I could see that I had been acting irrationally. Neither of the two had anything to do with that Goddess, but were rather victims. Moreover… I hadn’t done a very good job at taking responsibility.
I realized that after seeing Xinxin again. Having that young and sweet girl become such a ruthless young beauty who was only kind towards me… I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me in some way.
It also reminded me of the two others that I didn’t treat well. The ones that I pulled out of dire straits but essentially left to fend for their own.
In ‘that’ time, they were with the shell I left behind. Though they would be moving in accordance with the Goddess’s whims, they would also at least be safer. Properly taken care of until the time I came to reclaim what I gave up to distract the Goddess.
But when I did, the question of whether they would accept that fact came up. The shell of who I was would no doubt grow and change in ‘my’ absence. His personality would be influenced more strongly by the role given to him rather than by his desires, my desires.
If I returned and took back that role as intended, the Saphira and Aria of that time would definitely not accept it. They would only see it as a demon trying to usurp the one they care about.
Between the one who they had memories of standing by their side and protecting them versus a demon who tossed them so carelessly aside, the choice was obvious. Bonds and connections meant nothing without the emotions behind them.
“In that case...”
The problem was a lack of realization. The memories of them being with my shell would weigh more than the ones of them being with me. Thus, a rejection when I returned. So…
“I just have to make them realize it.”
Memories. One’s life and identity were made solely of what they could recall.
I knew that more than anyone else, having lost my past and holding only what I had experienced upon entering that accursed Goddess’s world.
Aria and Saphira would not be able to distinguish between my shell and myself. The memories they had and shared were the same between me and the one they were with. Instead, they would reject me who had diverged from the one they knew.
So to fix that, I just had to give them memories of being with me… which meant they needed to be alive.
A headache started to form.
“Argh… Does this mean I have to do another loop?”
It was already too late for them in this time. Aria and Saphira were dead, a fact that couldn’t be denied. Even if they weren’t, the timeline where I had left behind my shell should be a little ahead of this one since that Aria could recall the future and Saphira clearly remembered falling here.
I could resolve the conflicting memories from multiple times due to my ability, but if they were forced to reconcile things… would they be able to? Or would the memories lead to them rejecting their own selves?
Mana and the natural energies in the area began to swirl, affected by my shifting emotions.
I paused and let out a long breath, closing my eyes to calm down. At the same time, I remembered what I was supposed to be doing, recovering my powers, and focused on drawing in that mana and energy into my body.
Aria and Saphira.
The two I was responsible for yet treated so callously while I selfishly moved as I wished.
Would they even accept being here?
I had an inkling of how I could revive them. The experiments I did in the Xia Dynasty showed that I could bring back people that I had killed. Though it had just been a hollow shell at the time since my recollection was imperfect, those two were people I shared a strong connection with. Though that bond was frayed now, it should be possible to reforge it if I tried. Dragon’s Grasp meant that I could pull back Saphira’s soul even across time and space while being Aria’s Savior meant she wouldn’t forget about me no matter how much time passed.
However… that method of revival meant complete recall. Not only would their memories of this time be restored, but they would inevitably recall everything else that had occurred since then.
The cruel manner in which I killed Aria for her strength, the times I fought against Saphira as the Wrathful Sin Dragon and the joy I felt at killing her as well…
An ordinary person would be repulsed- No, horrified. Gratitude wouldn’t outweigh such events. Even if a murderer could bring back their victim, would that victim be able to forget the way they died and forgive the one who killed them?
I didn’t think so. And yet… I also didn’t want to leave it at that. To let them remain dead when I could clearly bring them back. Even if it meant that I was hated, I…
“You seem troubled, Sifu.”
My eyes snapped open.
Xinxin walked over, carrying a tray with a teapot and some tea cups.
I turned my head to look at her and then frowned. “I thought you said you were going to wait inside?”
She placed the tray down and then took a seat beside me. “I did intend to do that, but I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed troubled.” Xinxin paused and then said, “Are you that bothered that you’re weak right now?”
I shook my head. “It’s not that- Well, I suppose some of my irritation could be attributed to that. But I was thinking about what to do with Aria and Saphira.”
“Ah.” Xinxin nodded. “Titania’s sister and your dragon, right?”
I nodded as well. “That’s right-“ I paused and then looked at Xinxin.
She blinked and said, “What is it, Sifu?”
“…You killed them, right?”
Xinxin flushed. “U-Um… Well, I…”
I shook my head. “I don’t mean to blame you for their deaths. We already went over that. Instead… What did you do with their bodies?”
“Oh! I forgot.” Xinxin shook her head and said, “While I had to kill them to free you from that Goddess’s clutches, I thought you might have a way to bring them back afterwards, so I kept them safe and preserved.” She tilted her head and said, “Why do you ask? Are you going to bring them back?”
“I intend to, yes.” I carefully watched Xinxin’s expression and then said, “Does that bother you?”
“Bother me?” Xinxin blinked. “Why would that bother me, Sifu?”
Because you seem a bit mentally unstable… is what I wanted to say. But considering the fact that I didn’t know how she would react, I decided to keep that bit to myself and instead say, “I just thought you might be upset at having the hierarchy messed up.”
I nodded. “While not quite my disciples, they would still be your seniors.”
Xinxin smiled, as if enjoying a private joke, and then shook her head. “It’s fine, Sifu. Moreover, Nia would be thrilled to be with Aria again.” Her face dimmed and she said, “Despite her tough act, she regretted killing Aria a lot, you know?”
I held back a flinch, those words hitting a bit too close to home when I thought about Aria. Instead of saying anything, I simply nodded in response.
“Ah.” Xinxin clapped her hands together and then reached over to pour some tea. “This should help you a bit, Sifu. While it isn’t as effective as the Spirit Herbs back in the Xia Dynasty, that Wang Tian managed to cultivate some useful herbs to help recover. Here.” She poured out a cup and held it out.
I took it, but said, “You don’t have to always watch me, Xinxin. I might be your Sifu and a bit weak now, but you’re also-“
“Your faithful disciple and the only one you have at your side right now.” Xinxin shook her head and said, “Just accept that fact and focus on healing, Sifu.”
I took a sip from the tea.
It was sweet and refreshing. A bit like mint but mixed with something citrusy.
After that, I lowered my tea cup and said, “So willful… Looks like I might have to teach you a lesson again later.”
Xinxin stuck her tongue out at me and then poured herself a cup of tea as well.
I shook my head and went back to drinking my tea.
Faint traces of energy were being pulled into my body and the cracked meridians I had were slowly mending.
It was somewhat surprising. That Wang Tian really did have some good things prepared.
“So.” Xinxin lowered her tea cup and stared at me, her face solemn. “Will you bring them back to life, Sifu?”
I was quiet, thinking about her question. I could do it right now. If Xinxin had their bodies, it was just a matter of restoring the body to a previous state and drawing out the memories I had to resonate with the bonds I shared.
In short, all it would take was a decision.
I simply had to will it. But…
Xinxin stared at me and then said, “You’re worried.”
I firmed my expression and shook my head. “You’re imagining things.”
“Sifu…” Xinxin looked at me and sighed. “You don’t have to keep acting so harsh. I know that you really care. The fact that you’re putting this much thought into it and hesitating shows it.”
I didn’t respond to her. She was right, but I didn’t want to admit it either. No, more than not wanting to admit it… there was that guilt again. Caring about something after you’ve already thrown it away…
Xinxin shook her head and said, “While you haven’t been the best Sifu and you’re not a ‘good’ person-“
I narrowed my eyes.
Xinxin smiled and continued. “You have good intentions, Sifu. I am sure that those will be conveyed to them.”
“…There’s a saying about good intentions, Xinxin.” I stared into the pond. “The path to hell is paved with them.”
“Well, in that case you have at least me to follow you, Sifu.” Xinxin leaned on me and said, “I agreed, didn’t I? That even if my life isn’t happy, as long as I’m with you…”
“…I don’t think that’s quite what I told you would happen, but I appreciate the thought. Also, you’re being too clingy.” I pushed her off.
Xinxin puffed her cheeks out.
I shook my head at seeing her acting cute. A part of me knew that it was only because she had nothing else as well… but still, I was also happy that she was that determined to stand by me.
Wind blew again, disturbing the pond’s surface.
I glanced down at my hands.
Maybe it was the time. Maybe it was the aftermath from Xinxin’s affection and sacrifice.
Either way, I felt a bit of trepidation towards reviving them both. So for now…
Xinxin looked at me, quietly watching me.
I looked back and said, “Give me Aria’s body.” Bringing them both back was too much, but at least Aria…
Xinxin nodded. “Alright, Sifu.” She waved her right hand, causing a surge of darkness to well up beside me.
I peered at it, waiting.
And then the darkness died down, revealing a familiar form.