3:4 – Foundation
“I’m sorry, Sifu.”
Guilao sighed and said, “I’ll let it pass this time. But if you do something like that again, forget about being my disciple.”
Xinxin wanted to protest. She was just an ordinary girl that had never received any training. Even if she managed to brutally kill the Shadow Panther in the heat of a life and death experience, when faced with the gruesome aftermath it was obvious that she would lose her stomach.
Even though Xinxin knew that, she bit her tongue and said, “Yes, Sifu.”
Still, for her Sifu to remain unfazed after forcing a beautiful young girl like herself to commit such a brutal task… Xinxin began to wonder if there wasn’t some truth to Sifu declaring he was a ghost.
Guilao turned his attention back to the front and the master and disciple pair continued their walked through the dark bamboo forest.
After Xinxin’s violent upheaval, Sifu Guilao had declared that they were heading straight to the Zhan Clan Grounds. While her reaction to the first lesson wasn’t the best, Sifu Guilao decided that she would at least avoid freezing up when faced with a deadly situation now. Because of that, he deemed her ready to return to the Zhan Clan and confront her fellow clansmen about her decision.
After all, if you could stare down death and move past the painful experience, what were a few up-stuck elders?
Or so Sifu said.
Xinxin still didn’t think it would be that simple, but she had already made her choice, so she remained silent and kept walking.
The night breeze drifted across the forest, rattling the bamboo trees. Like before, it sounded like the cackling of evil spirits. But Xinxin wasn’t afraid. After all, there was something even more dreadful walking in front of her.
But that reminded Xinxin.
“What is it, girl?”
“How do you know the way to the Zhan Clan Grounds? Have you been there before?”
Xinxin thought that Sifu would have made her lead the way back. In the dark, it would have been difficult, especially with the profound beasts lurking in the night. That was also why Xinxin thought he taught her the first lesson. Yet, instead of forcing her to lead, Sifu had walked in front of her, causing Xinxin to follow behind.
Guilao came to a halt.
Xinxin almost ran into him, but managed to stop before she did. “Sifu?”
“…You ask too many questions, girl. Just trust that we won’t get lost.”
Saying those words, Guilao continued walking.
Xinxin frowned but followed after him. Her Sifu was just too mysterious. She burned with curiosity to find out more about him, but Xinxin refrained on remembering his temperament. When her Sifu got into a mood like that, it would be like talking to a brick wall. No, a brick wall at least bounced your voice back. It was instead like talking into the empty night, with only the spirits able to respond back while you hoped nothing would.
“How is your body, girl? Do you still feel nauseous?”
Xinxin shook her head, but then remembered that her Sifu couldn’t see her action.
Before Xinxin could respond, Guilao was already speaking again. “Good. Then we can move onto the next step.”
Xinxin wondered if her Sifu secretly had eyes on the back of his head. Then she remembered that he was an expert so far beyond her that she couldn’t even begin to fathom his power and brushed it off. Instead, she focused on what her Sifu said after that.
“The next step?”
“Yes,” Guilao said. “Your body should have digested the rest of the medicinal properties of the pill now. The life and death experience would have acted as a catalyst and cemented the foundation I laid out for you.”
Xinxin frowned. “But I don’t feel any different?”
“You wouldn’t. I made sure of that. If you focus your attention on your… what do they call it. Dantian? Heavenly sea? Energy center?” Guilao shook his head and said, “Just focus your attention to that place below your navel. You should realize it then.”
Xinxin was skeptical, but she closed her eyes and did as her Sifu said.
In an instant, her consciousness was pulled away from the forest and into a dark void. It stretched on seemingly forever, an infinite darkness expanding in every direction. But within that darkness there were eleven towering pillars that illuminated the darkness.
Ten of those pillars formed a circle, each of them appearing to have been carved out of crystal and glowing with starry light as if entire swathes of the night sky had been sealed away. The last pillar stood in the center of that circle. But unlike the others, it was barely visible, only a dark silhouette amidst the black background.
Shadowy tendrils wreathed the central pillar, drawing in the light from the surrounding pillars.
Staring at it, Xinxin almost felt like it would draw her in as well.
As if sensing her fear, the swirling shadows slowed, along with the attractive force.
With that, Xinxin was free to contemplate what she was seeing.
‘This is… Foundation Establishment?’ Xinxin thought. ‘Those pillars must be Dao Pillars. But I don’t remember hearing anyone ever having more than nine… or any with those colors. Nine should already be a complete circle, but I have ten in a circle and then one more…’
Xinxin drew her attention outside of her dantian. “Sifu-“
She called out, but there was nobody around.
Xinxin panicked and then scanned her surroundings. She couldn’t see her Sifu, but somehow, she felt that he was nearby. A strange sixth sense guided her way and she ran through the forest.
Before long, she caught sight of her Sifu’s back. “S-Sifu! You’re supposed to wait for me!”
Guilao kept walking and said, “It’s not my fault if you get left behind.”
Xinxin pouted her lips but quickly increased her pace to catch up.
“So,” Guilao said when Xinxin caught up. “I take it you realized that you’re no longer an ordinary girl.”
“Yes, Sifu. But… how am I in the Foundation Establishment stage already? And why do I have eleven Dao Pillars?”
“Again, you ask too many questions, girl.”
“Quiet.” Guilao’s cold voice cut off Xinxin’s words. “There are some things in life that are better to just accept rather than question.”
Xinxin realized that she wouldn’t be getting any answers and said, “Yes, Sifu.”
Guilao kept walking.
The bamboo forest began thinning out. The master and disciple pair were approaching the edges of the Zhan Clan Grounds.
At that time, Guilao spoke again. “…If you truly want to know, ask me again when you have become accustomed to your new power. Until then, just know that you won’t lose out even to that One Tin guy you’re betrothed to.”
Xinxin smiled. “It’s Wang Tian, Sifu.”
“That’s what I said.”
Xinxin’s smile grew and she walked a bit closer to her Sifu. “…Thank you.”
Guilao turned back to glance at Xinxin and then quickly turned away. “It’s still too soon to thank me, girl. Instead, you’d better come up with a good excuse for your clansmen unless you’re fine with me slaughtering everyone when they mistake me for having kidnapped their princess.”
Xinxin’s smile vanished. She had forgotten about that.
“Don’t worry,” Guilao said. “You still have a few hours until sunrise and then an hour afterwards before we arrive at the front gate of your clan grounds.”
“A few hours. Right- wait, the front gate?”
“Of course. I said it earlier, didn’t I? A Sifu should introduce himself to his disciple’s family.”
The words were soft and polite, but Xinxin could hear the excitement and hunger underlining them.
…Maybe the guards wouldn’t over react? Uncle Hu and Uncle Wei were reasonable people.
It was a bright and sunny morning. The blue sky carried fluffy white clouds that leisurely drifted above. The wind was refreshing, neither cool nor hot, and gently brushed the skin as it passed like a soft caress. The sun cast its rays to the ground, causing the drops of dew on the grass to glisten when light struck them.
With that beautiful weather accompanying them, Xinxin and her Sifu arrived at the front gates of the Zhan Clan Grounds.
The Zhan Clan Grounds, while called that, was really a vast sprawling village encircled by a wooden fence. Placed at the valley of the Emerald Mountain where the founder of the Zhan Clan’s tomb stood, it was protected by the founder’s legacy formation and the natural aura of the nearby mountain.
There were two main entrances to the Zhan Clan Grounds, one facing the Emerald Mountain and the bamboo forest where Xinxin and Guilao arrived from, and another facing the vast plains opening to the rest of the Xia Dynasty.
Those entrances were guarded by two men each and had a massive gate that shut at night to keep out profound beasts and would-be attackers. Their equipment varied depending on their specialty, be it spear, sword, fist, or some other weapon, but their uniform of dark green robes with brown embroidering remained a constant.
Despite the boring job, the guardsmen manning the gate took it seriously and carefully considered every threat to the clan. They were the first line of defense, after all.
Thus, when Zhan Hu and Zhan Wei noticed Xinxin walking towards the gate with her silk green robes covered in blood and grime, they immediately reacted.
“Brother Wei, quickly grab little Xinxin! I will distract him!”
Zhan Hu kicked off the ground and charged at Guilao. His long black hair billowed behind him as he lunged forward, thrusting an iron sword towards Guilao’s heart.
“Understood, Brother Hu!”
Zhan Wei kicked off the ground as well, making a beeline for Xinxin. Unlike his fellow guard, his hair was cropped short and so didn’t disturb the air as he moved.
Both of them moved faster than an ordinary human had any right to. Having reached the peak of Qi Condensation stage, they had gone beyond the levels of mortals and stepped onto the path of immortality.
But they were still just guards, and weak ones at that.
Guilao grinned and he leisurely raised his left hand.
“Uncle Hu, wait!” Xinxin shouted and tried to step in. “You aren’t a match for him!”
It was going wrong. Xinxin didn’t expect Uncle Hu and Uncle Wei to react so aggressively.
Zhan Wei grabbed Xinxin’s arm and turned around to run.
At the same time, Zhan Hu’s sword reached Guilao’s chest.
The air suddenly grew heavy, filled with pure malice.
Xinxin’s heart raced. Realizing that words wouldn’t have any effect, she decided to take things into her own hands.
When Zhan Wei turned to run, Xinxin pivoted and swung him at Zhan Hu.
Zhan Hu, seeing his comrade flying towards him, immediately averted his attack and reached out to grab him.
The two guards were sent sprawling on their collision, but they quickly got back on their feet to face Guilao. This time, Zhan Wei drew his sword as well. The distance had opened up, but it was one that could be crossed in a single bound.
The confrontation wouldn’t end so easily.
Guilao’s hand was still raised and malicious intent pressed down in the surrounding areas.
Despite not knowing what her Sifu was going to do, she knew that it wouldn’t end well for either Uncle Hu or Uncle Wei if she allowed him to continue.
Xinxin quickly grabbed her Sifu’s raised arm and said, “Sifu! Please, spare them!” After that, she turned around to the guards and said, “And Uncle Hu, Uncle Wei! Stop! This is my Sifu, not a kidnapper!”
Zhan Hu’s eyes widened. “Sifu? Little Xinxin, what are you talking about?”
“Sifu found me after I got lost in the forest and helped keep me safe through the night! He even taught me how to cultivate and protect myself from the profound beasts! He’s not a bad person!”
Zhan Hu frowned. “This…”
“What are you so concerned about, girl?” Guilao grinned. “Since they want a fight so bad, let me teach your ‘uncles’ a lesson or two.”
Xinxin pouted. “No! You’re going to kill them!”
Guilao was silent for a few seconds and then said, “…Not this time. I swear.”
After glaring at Xinxin for a few moments, Guilao sighed and lowered his arm. “Fine, girl. This time I’ll listen to you. But I don’t think your father is going to want to hear what you have to say.”
Before Xinxin could say anything else, an immense wind and spiritual pressure pressed down on the surroundings.
Zhan Hu and Zhan Wei immediately fell to their knees.
Xinxin managed to resist the pressure, but her face paled as a result.
For a moment, an illusory green bamboo forest replaced the open plains. But that quickly disappeared. In its place, a heroic figure in a green robe with a tree embroidered on it in gold appeared. His body was layered with muscles honed from years of training and his eyes were sharp, carrying a gaze that seemed to peer into the secrets of the world.
Upon arrival, Zhan Long’s long hair billowed majestically behind him. His sharp brows furrowed as he noticed Xinxin’s presence.
“Daughter. Explain yourself.”
Xinxin stared at her father and gulped.
Before she could say anything, her Sifu shook off her hands and stepped forward.
“Zhan Long… the Zhan Clan’s Dragon, is it? I have a few things I want to say to you about my disciple.”
The Zhan Clan’s leader gave a curt nod and then swept out his sleeve, causing a jade spear to appear. Grabbing it, Zhan Long spun it around and settled into a combat stance. “Good. I have words to say to you as well, my daughter’s ‘Sifu’.”