32 – Heartfelt Sentiments
Xinxin stared at the old man in front of her. Those words of his… she couldn’t understand them. No, she understood the meaning of them. Individually and as a sentence they made sense. But the reason the old man was saying that- no, the fact that he knew those words and that information at all… Xinxin couldn’t understand.
Erik looked between Xinxin and the elderly man standing in front of her. He frowned and then turned towards the old man. “Heavenly King,” he said. “Do you know who she is?”
The elderly man slowly nodded and said, “She is an old acquaintance of mine, young Erik.” He paused and then shook his head. “No. In truth, our whole sect can be said to have been established solely for her sake.”
Erik’s eyes widened and he said, “Then… Heavenly King.” He glanced at Xinxin and said, “She is the Heaven Seizer?”
The elderly man nodded. “That is right, young Erik.”
Erik immediately dropped in a kowtow and knocked his head against the ground. “We beg forgiveness, Great Heaven Seizer! We had eyes, but could not see the great immortal standing before us!”
The two young women behind Erik were slower to react. However, it seemed that they quickly realized what was going on and kowtowed as well.
“Forgive us, Great Heaven Seizer!”
“Y-Yeah! Sorry for our rude actions and everything, Great Heaven Seizer!”
Xinxin blinked, still lost as to what was going on. Seeing the three brats kneeling before her, she frowned and said, “I suppose it could not be helped. None of you knew what you were doing.” She sighed. “I will let this time pass. But there will not be a second. As for you…” She turned to the elderly man. “Who are you?”
The Heavenly King laughed, a low chuckle. “That is a long story, Xinxin.” He turned around and looked at the three kneeling against the ground. “You three are dismissed. There will no longer be any need to protect these grounds.”
Erik rose to his feet and nodded. “Yes, Heavenly King!” He turned to his companions and grabbed their arms, pulling them to their feet. “Mary, Sarah. Let’s go!”
The tomboyish young woman with brown hair frowned. “Now, Erik? But we haven’t-“
“Sarah!” Erik shook his head and looked back at the Heavenly King and then Xinxin. He forced her to bow her head and said, “Pardon her rudeness, Great Heaven Seizer! We will leave immediately!” After that, he gestured towards the other young woman with blue hair and whispered, “Grab Sarah, Mary!”
Mary nodded and grabbed Sarah’s right arm. Erik grabbed her other, and then the three left.
Xinxin watched the three leave and then turned back to the elderly man. “So those three are your disciples, huh?”
The Heavenly King smiled. “The latest in a long line of succession… but yes. They are a bit… unorthodox, but they mean well.”
Xinxin thought that they were more than just unorthodox, but there were more important things on her mind than three foreigners being accepted as disciples. She stared at the elderly man and said, “You never answered my question. Who are you?” At the same time, she slowly gathered qi around the stick in her right hand. While she had an inkling about who that Heavenly King was, she didn’t dare to drop her guard. Even if she was right, with what had happened…
The Heavenly King sighed. “After all this time, you still… No, I suppose it is natural.” He shook his head, causing his head of white hair to shift like flowing clouds, and he said, “Shall we move somewhere else?”
A pagoda within a courtyard of flowers. Violet silk drapes hung from each side, elegant and serene.
When Xinxin saw it, she froze. “This place…?”
The Heavenly King walked inside of the pagoda. There, a table was placed in the center. The elderly man pulled out a chair from it and sat down. When he did, he turned back to look at Xinxin.
She ignored him for the moment. Instead, Xinxin walked over to the pagoda and ran her hand along its railing.
…Different. It was similar to the place she remembered, the keepsake her mother left behind. Similar, but different. The wood was foreign, new. The color was slightly off, a sharp red instead of the aged crimson she remembered.
“I apologize, Xinxin.” An old voice echoed in the courtyard, followed by a deep sigh. “I tried to recreate it as much as I could, but…”
“But you could not.” She looked up, finally staring at the Heavenly King. Finally accepting the reality of the situation.
The Heavenly King nodded. “The world is too different. Even I could only accomplish this much.”
Xinxin walked over to the table and sat down across from the old man. She stared at him, trying to match his features with the haughty young man in her memories.
The Heavenly King laughed. “What? Am I too hard to recognize in my old age?”
The old man nodded and said, “Indeed. It has been a very, very long time since we last met, Xinxin. Very long indeed.”
Xinxin shook her head. “I don’t understand. How are you alive?”
A smile crossed Wang Tian’s face. For a brief moment, his age seemed to fade away, showing that confident young master in Xinxin’s memories. “You underestimate me, Xinxin. It would take more than a mere spatial crack to kill me.”
“But your arm…” Xinxin stared at the empty sleeve on Wang Tian’s left side.
“This?” Wang Tian shook his shoulder and laughed. “A small price to pay. Think of it as a bit of compensation for the grief I’ve caused you over the years.”
Xinxin bit her lip. Even if she disliked him, she never wished for Wang Tian to cripple himself. Furthermore, the reason why it happened…
“Do not blame yourself, Xinxin.” Wang Tian shook his head and said, “The blame lies with me for my selfishness.” His eyes took on a distant gaze and said, “I have spent many years pondering over that moment. Pondering whether you were still alive. Whether I should have remained to fight with you instead of fleeing.”
Xinxin shook her head. “No. That is-“
“The truth. It is the truth.” Wang Tian shook his head. “Had I remained… perhaps things could have been different. Fighting alongside one as strong as your Sifu, we could have challenged her. Challenged her and won.”
Xinxin frowned. “Her?”
She felt a headache. A surge of emotions racing through her heart. Gratitude, rage, betrayal, regret.
Xinxin winced and placed her hand on her forehead.
Wang Tian sighed. “So you did not escape unscathed after all. I had hoped that your Sifu would have protected you… but I see now that you are here only at Her whim.”
Xinxin remembered now. The indescribable beauty that her Sifu sought to kill. The one that he failed to kill.
Xinxin clenched her hand. “That vile woman…!”
Wang Tian laughed, but the mirth didn’t reach his eyes. Instead, those blue eyes narrowed, shining with a cold light. “Yes. A vile woman indeed. However, it will do us no good to sit around and curse her name.” He waved his right hand, causing a tea pot and a pair of cups to appear on the table. “Would you like some tea, Xinxin?”
Hearing Wang Tian’s composed words, Xinxin took a breath to calm herself and nodded. “Yes. Some tea would be nice.” She paused and then narrowed her eyes at Wang Tian. “There had better be nothing strange about it.”
“I am hurt, Xinxin. This much time has passed and you still distrust me… Men my age have died from less heartbreak.” Wang Tian poured a cup of tea and slid it over.
Xinxin rolled her eyes and took the cup of tea. “As if you would die so easily.”
Wang Tian shrugged and then started pouring himself a cup of tea.
Seeing that, Xinxin frowned and said, “How long do you intend to keep that appearance? Do you enjoy playing the role of an elder that much? No, do you fantasize about wooing young maidens with that face? I knew you were a deviant before, but this is a new low.”
Wang Tian laughed. “Your tongue is as sharp as ever, Xinxin. However… this is not an illusion.”
Xinxin froze. After hearing Wang Tian’s words, she narrowed her eyes and looked at him. Not just with her eyes, but with her spiritual sense.
When she did, she froze. Not because of what she saw, but because of what she didn’t see.
“You…” She shook her head, not believing what she saw. Yet, it didn’t change even after she looked again, so she had to accept it. “Wang Tian… you became a mortal?”
Wang Tian sighed. “It is a long story to tell.” He picked up his cup of tea and took a sip. “Have you noticed it yet?”
Xinxin shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hm.” Wang Tian put down his cup and said, “Perhaps that is another gift from your Sifu. No, perhaps it is a result of who your Sifu is…”
“Wang Tian.” Xinxin frowned. “You aren’t making sense.”
“Very well. Then, allow me to say it clearly. Xinxin… Our world is gone.”
Xinxin froze. “That is…”
She wanted to say it was impossible. That Wang Tian was telling a lie, trying to distract her. And yet, that was irrational of her. She knew it. She could feel it. In Wang Tian’s words, and in seeing the world itself.
At first, she thought it was just her senses changing from whatever the Goddess had done, but…
Wang Tian sighed and took another sip from his cup. “It has been many, many years since I ended up here in this world. Thousands upon thousands of years. During that time, I have wandered this land, roamed every inch of its surface, sky, earth, and sea. Despite that, I have found no traces of the Xia Dynasty. None, that is, except for the faintest traces of law in one particular area.”
“And that area is here?”
He nodded. “Yes. Here, what the foreigners call the land of the east. The Sun Kingdom that I founded.”
“Hmph. So your arrogance came back then. Do not think that I missed how your disciples called you the Heavenly King.”
Wang Tian shrugged. “The young and the ignorant cling to names of power, regardless of one’s wishes.”
“Perhaps… but you have yet to explain it, Wang Tian. Why are you a mortal?”
“Patience, Xinxin. I am getting there.” Wang Tian took a long drink from his tea and said, “…This world is different. As a result, so too are its laws. Its ‘Order’.”
Xinxin nodded. “I saw that in your disciples… but you shouldn’t have been weakened this much.”
“This is true. Originally, I was as strong as I was in the Xia Dynasty. While I had lost my arm, none of my other abilities were hampered. Even when facing the strange abilities of the natives, I was able to hold my own.”
Xinxin frowned. “What happened?”
“…I met those who kidnapped your mother.”
Xinxin’s eyes widened and she stood up from her seat. “What? Who? Where?”
Wang Tian shook his head. “They are strong, Xinxin. Strong and possessing illogical powers that defy the laws themselves. Even were I to tell you of them, you would be incapable of doing anything.”
Xinxin narrowed her eyes. “You do not know that.”
“I do. And the reason I do is simple: they bear the protection of that Goddess. Not her blessing, as some foreigners possess, but her direct protection. A private and undying army with inexhaustible strength.”
Wang Tian nodded, a bitter smile on his face. “What a joke. Cultivation is the act of seeking immortality by carving one’s path into the world. Yet, those foreign devils attained it by a mere whim of the goddess.”
Xinxin slowly sat down. That… if they were protected by the Goddess, that vile woman that even her Sifu could not defeat, then- Wait! She looked to Wang Tian and said, “Have you seen any signs of my Sifu, Wang Tian?”
“Hm?” He looked confused. “You should know better than I, should you not, Xinxin?”
She shook her head. “In that battle, my Sifu…” She trailed off, remembering what happened to him. Facing against that goddess, despite his powers, he lost. Her Sifu, he-
Needs me. If I was still there, then that Goddess would never have been able to stop him!
A headache. Xinxin frowned and shook her head.
Wang Tian frowned. “So even your Sifu failed. But even if he failed, he should not-“ His eyes widened. “I see.” Wang Tian looked at Xinxin and said, “Perhaps I do know of some signs of your Sifu, Xinxin. However… you may not be able to meet him for a while.”
“Wang Tian.” Xinxin’s frown deepened. “You-“
“It’s not because I wish to stop you or anything along those lines. Merely, it will be impossible for you to meet him for now… and because I require time to gather materials. If you wish to follow after your Sifu, there are certain measures that I must prepare.”
“…You’re not lying?”
Wang Tian laughed. “There are many things that I have done in the past, Xinxin. There are also many times that I have let you down… but this time most of all, I will not. But for now… why don’t you relax for a bit? I’ve founded this entire sect and prepared this area in the off chance that you arrived, so I would greatly appreciate it if you did.”
“…Thank you, Wang Tian.”
“These are your bedchambers, Great Heaven Seizer.” Erik stopped in front of a building and then bowed towards Xinxin. “We disciples have continually maintained it for your arrival.”
Xinxin glanced around the room, slightly shocked. “This is…”
A sleek building with emerald bamboo. It was intricate and delicately carved, with a small pond and flowerbed of white lotuses. A tiny cottage seemingly tucked away into the wilderness.
She didn’t recognize it. Xinxin had never seen anything like it before in her life. Yet, when her eyes traced over its form, when she saw the way the light caught on the flowers and heard the light rattling of the bamboo, she felt something stir within her. Nostalgia, like a far off memory, and then bitterness.
“Great Heaven Seizer?”
Xinxin glanced at the black-haired young man and nodded. “I will take it from here.”
“Understood.” Erik bowed and said, “If you need anything, merely call out to any of us disciples. The Heavenly King has already informed us all of your presence, so there should no longer be a misunderstanding like before.”
Xinxin nodded and then walked into the building.
She glanced around, complex emotions welling inside of her. A golden dragon, a painted mountain, a poem written in a beautiful longhand… trivial keepsakes were placed all around the place. But that didn’t concern her. Instead, her attention was drawn to the aura that each keepsake carried, the traces of spiritual energy remaining.
Wang Tian said that he had lost his powers because of fighting against the foreigners. He said that his injuries had caused him to lose strength. But from the spiritual energy imbued in those keepsakes, it was clear that he lied.
Each and every item inside the building was filled with his power, carrying the sharp aura of a blade. His ‘Truth’ was etched deep inside everything, even the building itself. As a result, it was a perfect enclosure, sealed off from the world. Even that Goddess would not be able to peer within it unless she physically descended upon the world.
Xinxin picked up a delicately folded paper crane and muttered, “Does he care about me that much?”
Faint wisps of emotion. Longing, yearning, guilt, sorrow, regret. Everywhere she turned, she could detect traces of it in the items in the building.
But it didn’t make sense. Wang Tian… to him, she was just an accessory. And yet… he cared this much?
Xinxin sighed and placed the paper crane back on the table where she found it.
“Even if that’s the case…”
It was too late now. Perhaps, once upon a time… perhaps there could have been a chance that they would have ended up together. Perhaps if she had never found her Sifu, perhaps if she had merely accepted her Fate, things could have been different. Perhaps, like Xiaomei said, she could have been happy to accept the marriage and become his wife.
Perhaps. But it was too late now.
Now, the only one she had left, the only thing she had left was her Sifu.
Was it the emotions embedded in the items around her, or something else? For a moment, Xinxin felt a stab of pain in her chest, a pang of longing and yearning.
She sighed and then decided to sleep. It had been a long day, and one filled with countless changes. Perhaps after some rest, she would be able to decide what to do, be able to focus on her next moves.
But until then…
Xinxin yawned and then went to sleep.
A dream. In it, she saw the story of a pitiful girl.
Young, naïve… and beautiful enough to garner the envy of the heavens. Perhaps that was why she faced such misfortune.
The moment she turned of age, she was wed to a young master. A genius who was destined to reach beyond the heavens and tread upon lands she could not dare envision, let alone follow.
Even so, she had faith. She believed in their bond, their marriage, and dutifully fulfilled her role as a wife. She devoted her very being to him, gave him all of her heart.
From the beginning, their paths were destined to not cross. This was a fact that the young master made clear to her from the start. She would only be a footnote in his tale to defy the heavens.
But she was fine with that. Even if she was just a minor note, so long as she had a part in his tale, she was happy.
The young master, at least, had some measure of responsibility. With his prestige and strength, he created an elegant bamboo cottage for her to live. Though he could not give her the strength to walk beside him, he gave her everything that a mortal might wish to have. Everything, that was, except for his love.
Still, she accepted it. While beautiful, she understood her role in his tale. Even as he surrounded herself with countless beauties, even as talented fairies from all over the land flocked to his side, so long as she held one tiny corner of his heart, she was happy.
…Ridiculous. Pining after someone like that was bound to end in heartbreak.
Even so, she endured. She waited for the rare occasions he returned to spend a meal with her, the short times where she could show him the paintings she made, the poems she wrote. The brief smiles he gave her was enough.
But the heavens were cruel. Such pure devotion did not go rewarded, but instead were punished.
One day, a pair of the beauties that usually surrounded the young master appeared at the cottage. A distant cousin from her own clan with a wood physique, as well as a fiery-haired beauty.
The naïve girl believed their tale of the young master finding a use for her at last. Of finding a means for her to aid him along his path to tread across the heavens.
The beauties led her to an altar, far from the cottage. Far from any civilization or person at all.
There, she met her end.
The naïve girl’s heart was ripped out by the cousin she trusted, with her last sight being that of scornful eyes, and the last sounds she heard being that of malicious laughter.
Beyond that… there was darkness. She met her end, but she did not die.
An eternal fog, and a form where she could not scream, could not move, could not cry.
At first, she had hope. Her husband, that genius young master would surely save her. As the greatest in the world and her lawful husband, she would not let such a thing pass.
But time passed. An immeasurable amount.
The naïve girl’s hope shattered. Her heart broke, and the devoted love twisted into hate, changed into resentment… and eventually faded into apathy.
What heaven-sent child? What gifted prodigy?
She cursed her naïve self, rued the pure and devoted love she selflessly gave to the one who did not appreciate it.
But even those emotions faded. In their place, only despair and resignation remained.
A dark and unchanging mist.
She believed that her existence would continue that way forever.
But one day, something changed.
In the dark mist of her existence, there was a slight difference. Nothing so dramatic as a ray of light, but instead a lighter shade of black.
Someone reached out to her.
A dreadful roar filled the air.
That girl was terrified. She was weak, both of heart and body. And yet, she felt it. The clumsy hand holding onto her was weaker than even she was.
Even so, he was determined. He knew he was weak, but he sought to rebel against the heavens that decreed such a thing. To seize fortune from the jaws of death.
Countless times he perished.
Countless times, she returned to the dark and unchanging mist.
Yet, he continued to fight against his fate. Against the ‘law’ that decreed he could not defeat the monstrosity before him.
And each time, he chose her.
His ‘faithful companion’.