Arc 1: Chapter 17
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It was horribly difficult to maintain the façade of calmness. She wasn’t fooling herself, and others clearly knew as well, so at this point she wasn’t even sure what she was trying to do, if she was doing anything at all.

Bianca was afraid for her life. This feeling began gradually since her cultivation appeared thanks to the Demonic Tyrant, but with the outburst she’d had two days ago, it felt as if everyone was glaring at her, watching her, looking at her in disgust like the demon they thought her to be. She hated every moment, but more importantly than that, she felt as if everyone was ready to strike, to copy Lin Shuming’s initial example and attack her with whatever weapons they had.

The treasured blade, or whatever was stolen, still remained unfound. That meant anyone, possibly anywhere, could have it, and if someone with Lin Shuming’s ideas got a hold of it, she knew that her limited cultivation abilities would not be able to do a thing about it.

Hence, she had an idea. It was a bad one, she didn’t need to be told that, but when everyone might have a weapon, it was only reasonable to get one of her own. She had never used one before, she didn’t know what to do with it, how to protect herself effectively, nor anything like that, but at least it would have a certain intimidation factor against the regular villagers.

There was no armoury or anything like it, but Min Yu’s kitchen did have a bunch of knives, and it was easy enough to sneak into – she’d done it a few times before, as the whole village now knew.

‘I’m an idiot… Taking something like this will only… ugh, but… Fuck. I hate this. I wish Song Ming was here…’ she gripped the knife she had taken, and felt beads of sweat sliding down her face, ‘Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Well, I didn’t, but…’

She had exited Min Yu’s home within a minute of entering in in the middle of the night, and now she had returned to her shack, refusing to let go of the knife. Perhaps hiding it would have gone down better, as it would be difficult to attribute this theft to her when the rest were still unsolved, but even now, she knew that she wasn’t exactly thinking straight. In the future, after she had some time to process all of these events, she was sure that she would see even more holes within her activities, but she wasn’t giving herself any time to rest.

The sleep might have done her some good, but she only got an hour or two of it.

Eventually, the sun rose, and she was still up, clenching the knife’s handle. Most likely, she had left some permanent marks upon it, though she’d need to let go to have a look.

Bianca didn’t intend to do that just yet. She needed to see the village rise, the people leave their homes and go about their day. It would prove that most of them weren’t waiting to ambush her, and it would let her get some food to recover at least a little bit of her energy. It seemed like her body was also absorbing some of the outside planar energy at the same time, but that couldn’t make up for her tiredness.

‘I must look like shit right now… At least I’m still alive. Nobody came to stab me in the night…’

She rose from her bed and looked at the blade in her hand, a large kitchen knife with a sharp edge. It was clean – fortunately enough – and didn’t seem to get much use, so it was possible that Min Yu didn’t use it often, though she knew better than to expect to get away with this theft unnoticed.

Simply brandishing it would not end well, as that would definitely earn more fear and aggression towards her, so she had to hide it on her body… somehow. Even after spending a few weeks in the village, she had not obtained any variety of clothing, so she was still using the same garb as before. It had no suitable pockets for the placement of a sharp object, but she did have a few spare shirts, and they were all a little longer than they needed to be. Furthermore, she had a knife on hand, so she could modify them without trouble.

‘I can tuck a noticeable length of my shirt into my pants, so if I get rid of some of that, then tie it a bit higher and put the knife in there…’ her hands moved on their own, and it was only when she was almost done with creating whatever it was he was doing that she remembered that she was choosing to work on the shirt she was currently wearing.

Thus, she trimmed her shirt to the point of leaving a small amount of her belly – no more than five or six centimetres, fortunately – revealed to the world. Now, she could have just swapped shirts… and she probably should have.

While the knife wouldn’t be visible underneath her shirt, the odd change to her outfit would certainly not go amiss, especially if the people around her were just as paranoid as she thought they were, and as she was being as of late. It would have taken a moment, and it would have been easy, but somehow, her brain decided not to do it. She wasn’t in the habit of chatting to herself, and she wasn’t going to start now, just in case she managed to reveal something unfortunate about herself to… herself.

Perhaps she was secretly an exhibitionist that wanted to show off her body, or maybe she was some kind of masochist that wanted to make things difficult for herself.

It would be terrifying to learn such things, especially when it would mean that she developed something like a split personality that knew things she did not. Such a thing wouldn’t help her whatsoever, and would only accelerate her demise.

‘At this point, I’m just driving myself insane. Calm down, Bianca, calm down…’ she tried to breathe slowly and relax, hoping to fight off the tired feeling caused by the excess length of time spent awake.

She would have loved to have some coffee at this point, or even some of Song Ming’s tea – her thoughts immediately drifted to something very different, although originating from the same person, forcing her to shake her head and focus her thoughts – but there was no coffee in this world, as far as she knew. Even if there was, with no mass production and sprawling market, there was no chance of getting it in a place that didn’t actively grow it.

‘Huh… Apparently, not sleeping makes me think better about business. Should’ve tried that before I sat the exams…’ Bianca stepped out of her shack and looked about at the people wandering the streets, seeking to achieve whatever goals they had, as well as staring at her.

Bianca needed some food, so she headed for Min Yu’s residence, though feeling the knife against her side reminded her that she was heading towards something very dangerous. One issue was that the position she chose for the knife – the strip of fabric keeping the knife close was tied just below her boobs, so the handle poked into her armpit at times, and the tip of the blade rested awfully close to her hips, threatening to stab her as she walked. If nothing else, it did quite a bit to keep her awake and alert, though alertness was not doing her any good right now.

“Look at her… she’s acting strange, don’t you think?” someone said to her side, though when she glanced in their direction, she wasn’t able to spot that person.

“Is there something under her shirt? A-Apart from the boobs, obviously…” another voice said.

She tried to spot them too, but saw nothing, which concerned her even more. Either people were actively discussing her and knew how to hide just in time, or she was beginning to hear things, in which case she would have to doubt everything and anything going on around her. If it just one type of imaginary voices, then she’d at least know to watch out for the negative things, but if she started to just pluck everything out of thin air, then she’d have to wonder whether anything was real.

This was especially terrifying given that she was stuck in another world that really should have been confined to the pages of some fantasy story, so she couldn’t be sure when the fiction began and reality ended.

“B-Bianca… do you need something?” Min Yu’s voice interrupted her pondering, and made her realise that she’d managed to clear her journey in the process, “I haven’t made anything yet.”

“Oh… It’s still early, then…” she sighed, glancing in the vague direction of the sun.

From her shack, the sun seemed to be ever so slightly higher than in the village, though now that she gave it another look, it appeared that there was at least an hour more before Min Yu would usually have something prepared. Unfortunately, that left her with nothing else to do, and while her mind worked to figure out a solution, she ended up staying around Min Yu’s front door longer than necessary.

Fear crept into Min Yu’s eyes, a fact that Bianca grasped a moment too late.

“What are you doing? Can you… can you leave, please?” she asked, and then, before Bianca could respond, she added, “Also, do you know anything about the knife that’s been stolen from me? It vanished just this morning.”

“I…” Bianca felt a little amazed, ‘It was only this night that I stole it. How the fuck…’

“She stole another weapon? What, is one prized blade not enough for her?” someone said behind her, and whatever she could have said flew right out of her head.

“I didn’t-”

“I bet she was looking for a chance to attack Min Yu, in broad daylight no less,” another muttered.

“No, I-”

“She may have hid it at first, but I knew she was a demon from the start.”

A rush of anger caused her to turn and shout back, “I am not a demon! What have I done to any of you? What did I do wrong?”

She stopped herself from continuing, but it was too late. In a moment of odd mental clarity – a likely symptom of reaching that particular point of sleep deprivation where she felt more awake than ever, only to eventually plummet back into exhaustion later – she recalled that aggression would only make people more afraid of her. It didn’t help that her energy tended to flare up whenever she was angry or frustrated, which left an even worse impression.

Someone said the very thing she hoped they wouldn’t, “Her voice betrays her guilt! She wouldn’t be shouting if she was innocent!”

“That’s total bullshit! That’s not how it works!” Bianca yelled, glaring at the villager that said it – a man around thirty years of age, not that it mattered – and only catching herself a moment later, “Think about what I’ve actually done, not-”

“Bianca, are you threatening the people of Xi Village once more?” Lin Shuming’s distinctive voice pissed her off even more, “Everyone, stand back!”

“Shut the fuck up, Lin Shuming! What did I do to you? Is there an actual reason for all this? Did I slight you in some way?” she turned and questioned him immediately, unable to control herself any longer, “You’ve seen me try to live peacefully and just get along with everyone! AT least tell me that you have a reason for this!”

“Are you mad? I’ve been straightforward with you from the start,” he waved his hand in disagreement, “I told you, from the very start, that you are behaving in a suspicious manner.”

She was, ever so slightly, tempted to pull out the knife and give him a stab, though she knew that it was unfeasible and completely insane of an action. It made no sense to her how anyone could be so deranged as to behave in a manner like this and yet believe to be virtuous, but if he truly believed the words he spoke, he might well be afflicted with this.

“That’s insane! Just look at me! Where am I this… demon?”

As she spoke, she took a step away from Min Yu’s home and into the centre of the road, where she saw villagers slowly blocking both sides of the road as they looked on. Lin Shuming was to the west – with Min Yu’s residence being to the north, for reference – and he had his blade on his side, though he was not yet going to draw it. It was hard to appreciate such a thing when she was being surrounded anyway, but at least she wouldn’t need to attempt fighting anyone just yet.

“Must I repeat myself? Again?”

“I want you to tell me the truth for once? What, did you have a crush on Song Ming or something? Was I spending too much time with her? Is that it?”

“What? No, of course not. She is a beautiful young woman, but I’m not someone that would seek to prevent her from having a friend, regardless of my feelings,” he responded with such honesty that Bianca found it difficult to distrust him, “As I said, it is about your intentions and your future deeds! You’ve taken weapons and manuals-”

“She lied about not having a cultivation!” some other man interrupted, and the village nodded along.

“And that is true as well.”

“I literally started cultivating two weeks ago! You must have noticed that!”

“Nobody just learns techniques and skills out of nowhere,” Lin Shuming confirmed, “Something you blatantly claimed to do in front of us.”

“First of all-”

“Obviously, she’d been trying to get Old Man Song on her side,” someone else stated, “And his daughter, and Min Yu, and the rest of them! She was preparing to perform a demonic ritual to kills us all!”

‘What the fuck? Is everyone sharing a single brain cell around here? How can you reach a conclusion like that, you absolute fucking morons?’ Bianca managed – by some miracle – to contain the less polite thoughts within her head, “I did nothing like that! I know no demonic rituals! I hadn’t even known a thing until I woke up here last month!”

“That! That is the most suspicious thing of all!” Lin Shuming suddenly proclaimed, “Of all the lies you could have told, that is what made things clear for me.”

“Lies? It was the truth! Come on, one of you, surely you remember how I knew nothing at first?” she looked to the people around her, hoping that one of them would speak up despite the clear stranglehold Lin Shuming must have had on most of them.

However, there wasn’t a single hero amongst them. Instead, someone did the opposite.

“You were obviously just pretending. How convenient was it that you forgot all about cultivation and our village’s rites, but remembered nearly everything else?”

“It’s a blatant lie, and one that made me realise the truth!” after a nod to the outspoken member of the village, a woman this time, Lin Shuming turned back to Bianca, “Had you been someone fleeing from another village after some incident, or just a person living in the wilds, you could have just admitted it, but since you wanted us to lower our guards, you decided to proclaim something different. You claimed to know nothing, but you couldn’t truly act the part.”

“That’s ridiculous! Amnesia doesn’t just wipe out everything… probably. It didn’t for me, you f-”

“You worked your way into our community, you pretended to be someone you’re not, and now you are feeling the pressure to act before the sects realise what kind of a monster you are and eliminate you!” proclaimed Lin Shuming, pointing at her in an accusatory manner, “Admit your sins!”

“…” she met his gaze and struggled to decide how to respond.

On one hand, he was rejecting the very possibility of him having a grudge against her time and time again, which, while reasonable if he wanted to keep the village on his side, seemed so genuine that even she was beginning to be convinced. So, trying to reason with him and be as honest as she could be – admittance of her true identity was still out of the question – might work.

On the other, she was angry. Pissed off. There was no way that she could accept something like this as true, no matter how much he professed it to be. She’d been on her best behaviour for the longest time, even managing to restrain her kleptomania for a short while, and after ruining her day numerous times, this asshole thinks he can just claim to be looking out for the village? It was absurd, and she couldn’t put up with it no matter what.

“I have no sins to admit. More importantly, didn’t Liu Min tell you not to attack me?”

“I am not attacking you,” he shook his head, “I am ensuring that you do not harm anyone in the village. If you were to draw a weapon, then…”

He glanced at her side, and Bianca immediately felt cold sweat cover her back. It was incredibly dangerous to be near him with a knife on her, as he had spiritual perception that he could bring outside his body and detect it. Had she been unarmed, then she would be safe so long as he stuck to the instructions of Liu Min, but the knife had the potential to fuck her over.

“Couldn’t you just leave me alone? I had been trying to live without interfering with anyone!”

“You eat our food, live in one of our homes, and still claim that you’ve not been interacting with us? Are you mad? You try and call me disingenuous and a liar, and yet you seem to demonstrate that with every word you say!”

A step forward brought him dangerously close to being able to scan her, but she couldn’t back away, even if such an action would be natural. Those behind her might be able to see the knife beneath her shirt if they came closer, and she couldn’t be sure that they would all remain civil for however long this conflict would last. If one villager chose to rush up to her and grab her, hit her or maybe even stab her with a weapon of their own, she might well fail to defend herself and end up suffering an injury, or outright passing on from this odd world.

“I… I simply hadn’t thought of it in that way. Come on, weren’t you there around the time I awoke? Don’t you know I was found with nothing? What kind of idiot would leave themselves completely naked in a forest while leaving no traces of their belongings?” she tried to use reason, though the most she hoped for was Lin Shuming staying back.

“All you do is disparage yourself. I cannot know your means or reasons, only that I can find no other explanation for your presence here,” he disagreed, though, fortunately, he remained in place for now, “More importantly, you seem intent on avoiding the topic of your recent thefts! The items you took are valuable, but more importantly, in the hands of a killer like you, they are lethal. If you have some better explanation for all this, then provide it right away!”

“How would I? I didn’t take any of the items, you piece of shit!”

“You’re clearly trying to provoke me, Bianca. Do you think that if I attack first, you will convince everyone in the village that you’re somehow in the right?” he asked, and took another step forward.

Although she was never an expert at estimating distances, she didn’t need to employ that particular skill. The change in Lin Shuming’s expression was immediate, and when his hand moved to his blade, she felt that she had no choice but to act first. With one hand, she pulled up her shirt – not too far, as she realised that her poor design would force her to show her tits to everyone in front of her just to pull the knife free of the cloth strip acting as the holster – and with the other, she simply pulled the knife away, relying on her shoddy work to remove it alongside the cloth.

If nothing else, the near-flashing of at least a dozen people proved a decent distraction, as Lin Shuming didn’t take that next step forward, nor did he manage to unsheathe his weapon. By the time he realised what she was doing, he was already forced into stillness.

“Don’t get any closer! This is just for my own protection, and the ONLY weapon I’ve taken!” she insisted, pointing the tip of the kitchen knife straight at Lin Shuming, “Back off!”

“So you’ve lied! Again!” Min Yu suddenly exclaimed, briefly stealing Bianca’s attention.

In that moment, Lin Shuming reached for his sword again, forcing Bianca to take a more drastic measure and make use of Dominion’s Light, directing it to the blade. She wasn’t sure that it would even work, given that she wasn’t supposed to be able to externalise her energy, but the dark glow alone would have been intimidating thanks to her energy.

To her surprise, it did work, and it worked quite well. The crackling crimson spread from her hand to the inside of the blade and lit it up with the same light, though it never left the metal itself.

“Why would I admit to taking a knife while I’m surrounded? Also, as I’ve said, this is the only thing I’ve taken!”

“When you’ve lied once, it’s obvious that you would lie again. How much longer will you pretend to be something you’re not, demon? How long will it take you to admit the truth?” Lin Shuming asked, and the village seemed to take that a call to action.

“Demon!” a number of voices called out, though Bianca remained focused on the instigator.

All she knew was that it was not yet everyone present, which gave her just a little hope that maybe, just maybe, there would be enough sane minds to calm the situation down.

“Demon!” her hopes crashed as the number and volume of voices grew.

“Demon!” even more joined in, their words almost turning into a chant.

“Demon!” the words felt like they were pressing down on her, crushing her, trying to swallow her in some kind of darkness.

It was made even worse by the fact that she tried – and failed – to speak up each time, to say that they were wrong, that she had done nothing wrong, that she was innocent. She knew for a fact that she was, and if she could, she would have tried to prove it, but instead she was surrounded by people that saw her as a villain.

Their gazes were also growing more hateful, more murderous, to the point that she felt the tip a phantom knife pressing against her back, ready to plunge inside the moment one of the villagers, or Lin Shuming himself, decided to take action.

“Demon!” they yelled together, “Demon!”

The chanting had been coming from those encircling her, and seemed to remain still, with those ahead and behind her remaining in place, but then she heard something behind her – right behind her.

“Bianca-”

She could almost hear the breath hitting her skin, meaning that this person was awfully close.

As all kinds of terrible scenarios flashed through her mind, she acted almost out of instinct. Her grip on the knife tightened and she spun round, thrusting it into whoever came too close, and as if responding to the deed, Dominion’s Light flared up and reached the peak of its power, which was unleashed the instant the sharp tip of the knife pierced cloth, skin and flesh alike.

Bianca only realised what she did a moment later, when she saw her would-be assailant and felt blood gush out of the stab wound, spilling onto her clothing and skin, soaking the former in moments.

“O-Old Man Song? I… Oh no…”

He had no look of anger or fury, no murderous intent, nothing of the sort. He was unarmed, and as he froze the moment Bianca stabbed him, she could see that he wasn’t attempting to strike her, or grab her, or anything.

He had just approached her, and she stabbed him.

“B-Bianca… I… I believe you… I understand…” he said as he nearly collapsed, forcing Bianca to support him and lower him to the ground slowly, as she couldn’t keep him standing forever, “I should have…”

“Old Man Song, s-stay with me! I didn’t… I wasn’t intending to… I’m sorry…” Bianca apologised, feeling even worse due to the fact that Old Man Song was not angry at her. It made her feel like even more of a failure, even more of an asshole for doing what she did.

“Everyone, stay back! Be careful…” she heard Lin Shuming’s voice, but it was as quiet as a breeze.

“I… forgive you…”

“No, don’t-”

“What are you all doing? Get away from-” a second, familiar voice barged into the situation, which instantly made Bianca feel even worse, “Bia- wait, father? W-What happened here?”

Bianca looked up and, by accident, looked Song Ming straight in the eyes, seeing the sheer disbelief and the despair that slowly grew with every moment. More than anything, there was the look of betrayal, as she saw the knife still in Bianca’s hand, coated with her father’s blood. That look hurt Bianca more than anything.

“W-Why? Why did you…” Song Ming struggled to get any coherent words out as she fell to her knees, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

With that, the gazes of the villagers turned even more hostile, and Bianca just couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t even consider what would happen once everyone came to their senses and got into action, and so she fled.

She fled, and didn’t look back.

 

END OF ARC 1

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