3:1 – Zhan Xinxin
A bamboo forest atop an emerald mountain. A river coursed through it, bringing fresh water from the peak.
The sun was low in the sky, early morning, and cast soft rays of light from a clear blue sky. Gentle rolling mists covered the ground, giving the area a mystical feel.
By the river in the forest, a makeshift shelter was made. A few chopped bamboo were loosely placed together to make a haphazard wall and roof.
Within that shelter, a nameless man stirred.
His dark eyes darted about, taking in his surroundings. When they did, his eyes widened and he frantically patted his surroundings, searching for something.
He did not find it.
The nameless man sighed and sat up, running his left hand through his scraggly black hair. “It wasn’t a dream… and I can’t go back.”
Sorrow flickered in his eyes, but that was soon replaced by anger and then vigilance.
Footsteps echoed from down the trail nearby.
The nameless man slowly exited the shelter and then vanished without a trace.
Zhan Xinxin hummed a little tune as she walked along the trail in the Jade Forest. She had sneaked out from the manor again to go exploring. Because of that, she hadn’t changed from her clothes last night and dragged an elegant silk green robe across the dirty ground as she walked. Even so, while the robe became dirtied, it did nothing to detract from Zhan Xinxin’s beauty.
Xinxin was the darling of the Zhan Clan, a beauty with milky white skin as pale as the moon and violet eyes that twinkled like amethysts that had sealed the stars within. Her ruby lips drew the eye and her long black hair was like silk spun from the night sky itself.
However, her body was still undeveloped as Xinxin was only 14 years old. Still, it wouldn’t be long before a woman capable of bewitching gods and demons appeared in the world.
That was what every member in the Zhan Clan believed.
And that was why she was betrothed to the scion of the Wang Clan.
Remembering that made Xinxin purse her crimson lips.
The Zhan Clan, once renowned for its True Wood physique and carrying the esteem of a major clan in the Xia Dynasty, had slowly declined throughout the years. While there had been some descendants born with wood physiques recently, the True Wood physique famed for its boundless vitality and energy had not been seen since the death of their founder centuries ago.
In contrast, the Wang Clan, an old acquaintance of the Zhan Clan, had steadily increased in prestige throughout the years with rising stars born every generation. And now, with the prodigy Wang Tian appearing and preparing to breakthrough to the Core Formation realm before the age of 18, the Wang Clan was assured to rise even further.
Thus, to ensure the Zhan Clan’s continuation as well as strengthen their ties, Xinxin’s father, the clan head, decided that she was to be married to Wang Tian within two years. The day she became of age at 16 was the day she would have to give up her freedom and devote herself to bearing an heir for the famed ‘Prince of Heaven’.
That was, unless she did something about it before then. Since she was already promised to another and possessed an average aptitude at birth, the clan had refused to teach her. But if she could find a master and begin her cultivation… and if she could show decent progress, it might be enough to change her father’s mind.
Xinxin examined the glass bottle she kept within her sleeves and sighed. “I hope this Blood Coagulation Pill is enough for that mysterious Senior.” She couldn’t get her hands on the Vital Breath Pill without drawing attention to herself, so she prayed that the mysterious Senior’s injuries weren’t too heavy.
Xinxin tucked the bottle back into her sleeves… and then a hand clamped around her throat and pushed her against the trees.
“Who are you?” A cold voice echoed. “Why can I not feel any mana? Where is this?”
Xinxin’s clutched the arm of the one holding her neck and tried to resist, but to no avail. Realizing that, she lowered her hands and stared at the person before her.
A man. His appearance was average and he had messy black hair with dark eyes. Xinxin noted that his body was slim and, from the lack of definition she could see beneath his tattered clothing, untrained. At least it appeared that way.
But there was no mistaking the air of power around him, the sheer dread that emerged from simply staring at his form.
The man tightened his grip. “Did she send you? Another dainty maiden for me to save and become chains to bind me to this world?”
Xinxin couldn’t answer, but the man either didn’t realize or didn’t care. Instead, his eyes narrowed and took on a murderous light.
And then there was a soft clink .
The man’s eyes shifted towards the source of the noise.
It was the bottle kept in Xinxin’s sleeves. With her arms hanging loose at her sides, it had fallen to the ground.
Xinxin’s vision began fading. Her chest hurt and she could barely think.
And then the man let go.
Xinxin collapsed and drew in deep breaths, coughing as her body tried to make up for the lack of air.
The man ignored her, his attention focused on the bottle and the pill it contained. He picked it up and held it close to his eye, observing the pill rolling around within.
Xinxin took advantage of the man’s silence to calm down and settle her racing heart.
After a while, the man said, “What is this?”
“T-That is a Blood Coagulating Pill, Senior.” Xinxin coughed and said, “I thought you might need one. To help you recover.”
The man frowned. “A pill to coagulate blood?” His eyes narrowed.
Xinxin froze and quickly added, “It’s a healing pill! It has restorative energy within it to help you recover!”
Xinxin nodded. “Yes! Since I found Senior wounded the other day, I thought that something like this might-“
The man tossed Xinxin the bottle.
Her eyes widened and she barely caught it.
“You eat it.”
Xinxin blinked. “M-me? But Senior, I-“
“Eat it. If those bruises around your neck heal, I’ll consider hearing you out. If not…”
Xinxin gulped and then winced at the pain she felt when she did.
Xinxin carefully unsealed the bottle and rolled the pill onto her palm.
The man watched her, his dark eyes not letting anything escape from his gaze.
Xinxin stared at the pill.
It was innocuous. A little round red ball the size of a pea. That ball had the ability to seal gaping wounds and buy a few breaths worth of time for someone already on their last.
But that was for those who had already begun cultivating. For someone like Xinxin who had yet to train a day in her life to consume it-
Xinxin stared at the man.
He stared back, his eyes narrowing.
Xinxin’s hand shook.
If she took the pill, she could die. But if she didn’t, then she would die. The mysterious Senior she set out to save and become a disciple to was ruthless and paranoid.
Tears blurred Xinxin’s vision, but she took a deep breath and blinked them away.
It wasn’t so bad. Dying meant that her life would come to an end, but that only meant her soul would return to the stream of reincarnation. She wouldn’t have to worry about spending eternity with an arrogant young master that would just use her for an heir while he sought eternity and the great Dao.
Xinxin closed her eyes and swallowed the pill.
When she did, she felt a surge of heat erupt in her body. Her blood boiled, and her veins felt like they would burst.
Xinxin couldn’t help herself. She collapsed on the ground and curled up, sobbing with the pain.
She couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything, couldn’t feel anything but burning pain.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid . How stupid was she to think that she could escape her fate? How stupid was she to think that a wounded stranger would teach her for saving him?
Xinxin cried. Her beautiful voice hitched in pain and despair. Her delicate fingertips clawed into the dirt until they became bloody and torn.
It hurt. Having her fingers tear into the ground until she was grinding away her bones hurt. Sobbing in agony aggravated the bruises the man placed around her throat and made them hurt. And now even breathing hurt, the air too cold for her too hot body.
An eternal agony of searing flames.
And then, all of a sudden, it stopped.
A cold wave swept throughout her body, quelling the searing flames. However, the heat hadn’t vanished from Xinxin’s body. Instead, it dimmed, turning into a comfortable warmth. Pain was instantly replaced by pleasure and in an instant, Xinxin had gone from hell to heaven.
The change was too much for her, and the beautiful young girl fell unconscious.