3:23 – Karma – III
The moon remained shining beneath the starry sky. Yet, it had moved quite a ways since the time Xinxin and Mu Tian emerged on the Western Plains.
Since the pair were doing their best to avoid attention, they had walked the entire time.
Xinxin was annoyed at that fact. If Wang Tian… or Mu Tian, if she went by his new name, hadn’t decided to go along with her, she would have already arrived at the Bai Clan’s territory.
Then again, if she was alone, she would never have known about the strange occurrences in the Western Territory and would probably have been searching blindly still in the Northern Territories by the Wang Clan…
Xinxin sighed and looked up. When she did, she saw something else besides the almost endless stretch of hilly plains. “A village!” Finally, she could get some rest instead of the endless walking!
“A village?” Mu Tian called out from beside her and looked towards the village. “…It appears so. But Lady Xian-“
Before Mu Tian could say anything else, Xinxin broke out in a sprint.
“Hmph! We’ve been walking all night and I want a bed! You’re not stopping me, Mu Tian!”
Mu Tian ran after her. Despite Xinxin getting a head start and their cultivation bases being suppressed to the same levels, Mu Tian still managed to catch up. “Could you not be so hasty, Lady Xian?” Mu Tian jogged alongside Xinxin and said, “As your guard, it will be troublesome if someone attacks you where I cannot reach.”
“Yes… but isn’t it more convincing like this?”
Xinxin sighed. Even as skilled as that guy was, it seemed that he was lacking a bit in the acting department. Were all men like that, or was it just inherent to Mu Tian? Her Sifu hadn’t been like that, had he?
The village drew near, and Xinxin could make out finer details about it. A wooden fence encircled the entire village, and a large gate served as the entrance. From the looks of it, that was used as a deterrent to robbers and stray beasts. However, the gate was open, its doors slightly ajar, despite it being night time.
Seeing that, Xinxin slowed her pace. Beside her, Mu Tian did the same.
“…I’m unfamiliar with the customs of the Western Plains, Mu Tian. But do villages usually leave their gates open at night?”
Mu Tian unsheathed his sword and said, “No. They do not.”
“Could this be another of those ‘strange occurrences’ you were talking about?”
“Perhaps.” Mu Tian stepped in front of Xinxin and said, “Follow close behind, Lady Xian. Keep your cultivation suppressed, but do not hesitate to release it if danger appears.”
“You don’t need to tell me.”
“True. But I remind you regardless.” That said, Mu Tian walked towards the village gate.
Xinxin followed him.
Reaching the gate, Mu Tian pushed the doors. Despite not putting much force into it, both fell over, crashing against the ground with a thud.
Xinxin flinched and examined the surroundings, both with her eyes and her spiritual sense. When she did, she muttered, “There’s nothing?”
Mu Tian frowned and slowly advanced.
Xinxin did the same. As she did, she hid her hands in her sleeves and formed a small blade from her qi to use at a moment’s notice.
The village was eerily quiet. Despite being deep into night, there should have been some signs of life. The crackling of fire, the soft rustles of breath. And yet, it was absolutely silent, like a land of the dead.
Xinxin and Mu Tian made their way through the village, scanning everywhere they went. Yet, no signs of life emerged. Eventually, they stepped into the village plaza, a wide open expanse that the villages must have used for gatherings and daily activities.
There, Xinxin felt the first hint of something off.
She frowned and looked around with her eyes and spiritual sense.
Empty buildings, dusty roads, abandoned stalls… it was more of the same that they had seen along the way. Yet, Xinxin felt something else as well. The flow of natural energy was normal and abundant, so it wasn’t that. At the same time, there wasn’t a bloody aura or air of resentment that should have been present from a slaughter or fight.
“Strange,” Mu Tian muttered.
Xinxin nodded. “Did you notice it as well?”
“Yes.” Mu Tian was quiet for a moment and then sheathed his sword.
He shook his head. “There is nothing and no one here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, despite how odd it is.”
Xinxin was still uncertain and kept searching for another few minutes. After that, she was forced to agree. Even so, she kept her blade ready in her sleeves. “So,” she said. “What do you think happened then, Mister Heavenly Revelation?”
Mu Tian’s mouth twitched after hearing Xinxin’s words, but he smoothed his expression and said, “I am unsure.” He turned his head to look at the plaza. “I believed it to be similar to what happened at the Zhan Clan, but…”
“There are no corpses.” Mu Tian knelt to the ground and scraped a bit of the dirt. “…At the same time, there is no blood. No resentment. No negative karma.” Mu Tian stood up and brushed his hand against his blue robes. “The natural order remains undisturbed, along with the natural energy in the surroundings. If an expert had appeared here, that would not be the case.”
Hearing Mu Tian’s words affirmed Xinxin’s suspicions. But that only made the strange scenario stranger.
This was a village. Even if abandoned, there should have been some signs of it. Yet, everything was untouched, almost as if everyone had vanished in an instant. Furthermore, the flow of natural energy was completely undisturbed. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary-
Xinxin partially unsealed her cultivation and began absorbing the natural energy.
“Hm?” Mu Tian turned to Xinxin and said, “Do you have an idea?”
Xinxin nodded. “I think so. If this is my Sifu’s doing… it might be a test for me.” She remembered the manual her Sifu gave her. From nothing came all of creation, and all of creation returned to nothing.
Then, if there was nothing out of the ordinary… what was extraordinary must be hidden within that.
Xinxin closed her eyes and cycled the surrounding energy through her body and into her dantian.
At first, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. It followed the proper route into the black core within her dantian and was torn apart, ruthlessly assimilated to her growing pool of energy. But after a few minutes, that changed.
Hostility. Anger. Despair.
A flood of negative emotions and fragments of memories filled her mind.
“Kuh.” Xinxin coughed and bent over. Glancing at the ground, she saw a few specks of bright crimson on the dirt before her. At the same time, her vision began fading, replaced by different scenes.
A woman beautiful beyond words. A tree that towered into the heavens. A forest filled with endless white mist.
And then darkness. Solitude.
In a place that no one could reach, in an area no one remembered. There a hand reached out to her.
A flood of warmth erased the darkness.
Xinxin gasped and opened her eyes that she didn’t realize had closed.
Mu Tian was standing in front of her, his hand holding her right arm and sending qi through her meridians. His average appearance had been dispelled, and the handsome heavenly prince admired by all reappeared before her. However, the usual calm in his eyes was gone, replaced by a frigid wrath. His cultivation base was unsealed, revealing all the majesty of a Saint, and his eyes had turned a glacial blue along with it staring intently at Xinxin’s wrist.
Seeing him so serious, Xinxin couldn’t help but smile. “What happened to being a humble swordsman, Mu Tian?”
Mu Tian shifted his gaze towards Xinxin.
Was it because of the physical contact, or because Mu Tian was sending his energy into her body? Either way, for a brief moment she felt a glimmer of regret and concern in her heart. At the same time, she caught a glimpse of a woman who looked similar to herself, yet different. A heaven-defying beauty, yet one that had not been trained. A mortal.
Before Xinxin could make sense of what she experienced, Mu Tian let go of her arm.
“Xinxin.” Mu Tian’s voice was somber. He also hadn’t suppressed his cultivation. “Who was the last person who grabbed your wrist?”
Xinxin scoffed and turned her head, causing her currently crimson hair to shift like wisps of flame. “What, jealous?” She stared at Mu Tian from the corner of her eyes and frowned. “You don’t own me or get to decide who or what I do, Mister One Tin.”
“You do not understand. That-“
“ You don’t understand!” Xinxin crossed her arms and turned to face Mu Tian. “I was beginning to think that you might be a half-decent person, but it looks like you just can’t let our betrothal drop, can you?”
Mu Tian shook his head. “It is not that.”
“Then what is it?!”
Mu Tian was quiet.
As the silence drew on, Xinxin’s patience grew thin. Just when she was about to burst and yell at Mu Tian, he let out a long sigh.
“…Someone has claimed you.”