3:22 – Karma – II
A guard in bamboo armor took a step back, his eyes wide with fear. He brandished a spear, waving it in front of him with trembling hands. “S-Stay back, you monster!”
Someone stepped forward. Another man, one with average features, black hair, and a black robe. In contrast to the guard’s frantic actions, the man was calm, composed. Almost eerily so.
That composure must have got to the guard. With a scream, the guard tossed his spear. Qi gathered in the spear, wrapping it with white light. As the spear flew, that light flickered and crackled, accelerating it. Before long, the tossed spear had become a bolt of white lightning aimed at the black-robed man’s heart.
An explosion erupted as the spear collided with its target. White lightning bolts scattered in every direction, and dust from the impact obscured the air.
The guard smiled at the sight and let out a sigh of relief. However, as the dust settled, the smile froze on the guard’s face.
The nameless ghost of a man let out a sigh. “Impressive technique, but you were far too lacking to utilize it properly.”
The guard paled upon hearing the man’s words, but it was too late.
The man stepped forward once more, his black robe billowing with his movement. However, unlike the first that had only covered a short distance, the second step closed the gap between him and the guard at once.
The guard let out a gargled gasp. A hand grasped his throat, slowly crushing it as the owner raised the guard into the air.
The black-robed man ignored the guard’s struggles. Instead, he focused on the essence flowing into his body, the steady stream of qi, spiritual energy, and accumulated memories coming from the guard.
Time passed. With every second, the guard’s struggles grew more frantic as his gasps decreased. He clawed at the arm holding him in the air, but was unable to even leave a single scratch. But that was inevitable. Trying to pierce the skin of the arm holding him up was like trying to tear apart steel with a feather.
Eventually, the guard stopped struggling and his arms fell limp at his side.
On seeing that, and on feeling that the flow had ceased, the nameless ghost of a man tossed the guard aside.
When the guard’s body crashed against the ground, it exploded into a pile of ash. However, even that ash didn’t persist and slowly dissolved into nothingness.
The black-robed man took a deep breath and then took a moment to evaluate his surroundings.
It was the dead of night, a few hours after midnight and before the sun’s first rays of light. Even so, the wide and bright disk of the moon was clear in the starry sky, giving off plenty of radiance to see.
After leaving the village, the nameless ghost of a man had arrived at the outer wall of the Bai Clan’s capital, Heavenspan. A powerful formation prevented anyone from attempting to climb over the walls or flying inside, meaning that the only way inside was through one of the four checkpoints and past a squadron of stationed guards.
To any normal infiltrator, it would be impossible to slip in undetected. With the sheer number of guards on rotation, over a dozen by the black-robed man’s last count, an infiltrator would either have to use a heaven-defying concealment technique to slip past the guards or somehow eliminate them all at once without alerting a single one of the many, many Saints keeping watch from the center of the capital.
A high order for most experts, but a trivial task for him.
The checkpoint that was filled with guards had become empty. The tables and seats where men had just been talking to pass the long night, the counter that the new recruits used to sort the paperwork and passes of travelers, even the cots strewn about where some guards had been napping. They were all empty, leaving not even a single trace that someone had been there just a few minutes prior.
The nameless ghost of a man walked over to a table and sat down, his black robe shifting in a non-existent breeze like dark wisps of smoke. Once settled in his seat, he closed his eyes for a moment. The act brought forth a stream of memories.
Fear. Pain. Regret. Remorse. Despair.
Countless negative emotions swirled as the accumulated experience of each guard he had slain was brought to the forefront.
It was enough to drive a man mad… or at least an ordinary one. However, at a time like that, Absolute Memory and its broad application revealed its strength. Before the nameless ghost of a man lost himself beneath the deluge, the memories were filtered away, stripped of both emotion and useless experiences until only the pertinent and desired knowledge remained.
After a few moments, he opened his eyes and muttered, “So that’s how it is.”
The White Tiger rested in the palace deep in the center of Heavenspan and was hailed as the Bai Clan’s divine guardian, taking a position even above the Bai Clan’s ancestor. Within that palace, the strongest of the Bai Clan, twenty one Saints that had reached the level centuries ago, maintained a constant vigil. Among those Saints, one was rumored to be making preparations to break through the Immortal Door and attain immortality.
From the conglomerated memories of the guards, the Saints were to allow quick execution of any order or desire the White Tiger may express. Yet… if that was the case, why so many?
The White Tiger was one of the four guardian beasts serving as the linchpins of the Xia Dynasty. It didn’t need protection… at least, it shouldn’t.
No answer emerged from the memories of the guards, but he could make a guess why that might be the case. And if his guess was true, the black-robed man’s time in Heavenspan wouldn’t be very long.
“It looks like this attempt is going to be quite… interesting.” The black-robed man smiled and stood up. He turned towards the path leading into the city and started walking. However, after taking a few steps, he paused.
“That’s right. It’ll be a hassle if those Saints catch wind of my actions so…”
He turned back around and stared at the empty checkpoint. As his cold dark eyes swept over the space, he recalled the position and mannerisms of every guard that had been there prior to his arrival. He recalled their forms, their appearances, their equipment… even the memories that he had obtained from them.
Wherever the black-robed man’s gaze paused, a shadowy figure emerged. Soon, the entire checkpoint was filled with those shadowy figures. The moment that happened, the black-robed man closed his eyes and remembered .
Someone observing the checkpoint would have noticed a distortion. For a brief moment, not only space and time, but existence itself seemed to flicker and skip. However, even if someone noticed, that observation would have been erased as the distortion resolved itself.
The quiet and empty checkpoint became noisy and lively in an instant as the guards were restored to normal, never realizing that they had all been slain just minutes prior.
Standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by the guards on all sides, the black-robed man was strangely unconcerned. And, despite the addition of an unfamiliar person in the center of their checkpoint, none of the guards spared him any glance.
“Tch.” The black-robed man shook his head. “It’s still incomplete.”
It was convincing enough. If any of those guards were to be prompted and ordered about, they would act accordingly. Left to their own devices, they would also act like their memories and personalities dictated. In other words, like an ordinary person.
However, the spark of humanity, the ‘soul’ that created life was missing from them all. A fact that would easily be found out on close scrutiny by a Saint.
“Well… there’s not much else I can do about it. Something to work on in the next attempt.”
The nameless ghost of a man sighed and then walked off, leaving the hollow shells of the guards behind him.