3:21 – Karma – I
A young lady in a violet dress sighed and fidgeted with her long, crimson hair. After a few moments, she stopped and shifted her blue eyes to the side, staring at a person standing there. “This is a stupid idea.”
The person was a young man in a dark blue martial attire. Long black hair trailed behind him, scraggly and uncouth. The young man possessed a valiant demeanor, but his appearance was average at best.
Contrasted with the beautiful young lady speaking to him, that average appearance seemed even worse. Yet, although that was average, the taut and lithe muscles revealed beneath the man’s attire were not. His body was one forged through combat and dedicated training. Coupled with the sword he kept sheathed at his side, it was clear that he was not one to be taken lightly.
He met the young lady’s gaze and said, “That may be true, Lady Xian. However, it is necessary to avoid trouble while we travel the land.”
‘Lady Xian’ grimaced at the young man’s words. “Can’t you talk more… arrogantly? Aloof? You know, like you used to.” She shook her head and said, “Where’s that pride of yours?”
The young man immediately replied. “I threw it away with my name, Lady Xian.”
“And that!” ‘Lady Xian’ pointed at the young man and said, “Just what were you thinking, Wa- um, Mu Tian? Is something wrong with your head?”
The young man, Mu Tian, said, “Nothing is wrong with me. I simply now have the eyes to see Mt. Tai.”
“Eyes to see Mt. Tai?” Lady Xian stared at Mu Tian, carefully scrutinizing him.
The appearance was different from the one she remembered, but there was no mistaking the fact that the person standing before her was that heavenly prince hailed by the Wang Clan in the past. Even with his cultivation suppressed to the level of a Core Formation expert, there was no mistaking his sharp aura. And yet…
“I prefer calling it ‘enlightened’, Lady Xian.”
Xinxin shook her head and then looked away. “Whatever, weirdo.”
The glassy white moon cast its radiance from the night sky, surrounded by countless stars. After the abrupt end to their fight and sudden departure, Xinxin and Wang Tian had emerged somewhere in the Western Plains of the Xia Dynasty. Due to the hastily created spatial rift they used to escape, night had already fallen when they reached the other side of the rift.
However, that wasn’t enough to ensure they could avoid the Wang Elders, especially Wang Tian’s grandfather. That led to the current situation of both Xinxin and Wang Tian, now Mu Tian after throwing away his clan name, disguising themselves with the Myriad Heavens technique.
Xinxin was playing the part of a willful ‘Lady Xian’, the daughter of some mortal king in the Eastern Plains.
Mu Tian was her body guard, a plain swordsman that had reached the Core Formation stage. He was also fiercely loyal and quick to strike anyone who besmirched her honor… or so Mu Tian declared.
Personally, Xinxin thought that Mu Tian was secretly relishing the chance to put unsuspecting young masters in their place. After all, it would have been just as simple for them to be a pair of traveling brother and sister loose practitioners…
“So, Mu Tian.”
“Yes, Lady Xian?”
Xinxin stared off in the distance and frowned. “Why are we heading to the Bai Clan’s territory again? Wouldn’t it be better to gather information in the Imperial City?”
“That may be the case. However, in recent years I learned of certain strange occurrences on the Western Plains.”
“Strange occurrences?” Xinxin turned her head back to look at Mu Tian.
The swordsman nodded. “Renowned experts going missing, entire villages becoming empty without a trace of conflict… the general consensus seems to be that a loose cultivator following an unorthodox path is on the rise. However…”
“It’s just like what happened at home,” Xinxin said.
“Yes, Lady Xian.”
Xinxin frowned. Sifu… just what was he doing? No, was it her Sifu in the first place? Surely someone as powerful as him didn’t need to resort to such lowly means? After all, he had bestowed Xinxin a heaven-defying cultivation base as well as the technique to match it. Following a path of slaughter just wasn’t like him… was it?
“Whether a loose cultivator or not,” Mu Tian said, “It remains the best lead we have for your Sifu.”
Xinxin sighed. “I guess so.” She turned back in the direction of the Bai Clan and then frowned. “…Are you sure we have to walk all the way there?”
“If you find it unpleasant, Lady Xian, I can always carry you.”
“Pft. As if I would allow that.”
“It would increase the veracity of our disguise.”
“Sure it would, but I’d rather fight it out with people who discover us than let you carry me.”
“…As you will, Lady Xian.”
Hearing Mu Tian’s response gave Xinxin mixed emotions. Since she couldn’t sort them out, she scoffed and started walking.
For a while, there were only the sounds of padded footsteps and a soft night breeze. Xinxin walked with a resolute marching pace and Mu Tian quietly matched her from behind.
At first, she could ignore it. However, as they kept walking in silence, Xinxin couldn’t help but speak up. “Mu Tian,” she said.
“Yes, Lady Xian?”
Xinxin walked for a bit, mulling over her words, and then she said, “Why did you change?”
“I do not understand?”
“This…” Xinxin thought about how to phrase her words and said, “Everything about you. It’s different. You used to be so haughty, hogging the limelight at every chance you could. At the same time, you took everything for granted and treated me like an object. The betrothal was just an accessory to your great ‘dao’. But now you’re so… weird. Humble. It isn’t like you.”
Mu Tian sighed. “Does it matter?”
“Yes. It does.” Xinxin came to a stop and turned around.
Seeing Xinxin stop, Mu Tian came to a halt as well.
Staring at Mu Tian, Xinxin recalled what she remembered of the former scion. Lofty and aloof. Condescending. Annoyingly talented. Always seeking the best resources and techniques while taking everything for granted.
But with how Mu Tian had acted, forsaking his clan name, chasing after her, showing up to defend her for no reason after she was heading back to the Zhan Clan… and then there was his hands-off approach in the recent years as well.
The accumulation of experiences was enough to rouse Xinxin’s suspicion. It was good that she didn’t to deal with that arrogant young master she remembered, but she didn’t know what to think of the person that took his place.
Mu Tian broke the silence first. He gave a long sigh and said, “Let us say that I had a heavenly revelation while I was training.”
“…A heavenly revelation.”
Xinxin didn’t believe it. Convenient things like that didn’t happen in life. And even if they did, they were never in her favor.
However, Mu Tian was sincere. The former heavenly prince nodded and said, “The path of cultivation is long and arduous, granting immortality at its end. It is a path of attainment… but it is also a path of severing. To gain immortality is to leave the mortal realm behind to reach eternity, along with any lingering sentiments. That…” Mu Tian stared at Xinxin and then looked away before muttering, “I did not wish to live like that.”
Faced with the vulnerable confession, Xinxin didn’t know what to say or feel. She thought that it might have been better to not have asked at all, especially since Mu Tian’s sincere words made her feel weird.
In the end, Xinxin turned around and said, “…I still think you’re weird.”
Mu Tian laughed. “If you did not, I would be concerned.”
With Mu Tian’s laughter, the strange mood between them seemed to have lightened and the pair began walking again. However, as they did, Xinxin mulled over Mu Tian’s last words.
Cultivation as a path of severing… didn’t seem to line up with her Sifu’s words.
Instead of severing, cultivation was a path of accumulation and binding. At least, that was what her Sifu wrote in the manual he left her. In addition, Xinxin’s experiences seemed to reflect that. Gathering all of the energy from around her and converting it into her own unique form…
The normal path of cultivation led one to Sainthood and then the mastery of Laws to open the Immortal Door and attain eternity. Like Mu Tian said, it was a path of severing, of transcending the mortal coil.
But if that was the case…
“Just what is this technique Sifu left me?”
If the true path of cultivation severed a path to the heavens, where did her path, one that devoured anything and everything around her, lead?