Although Xinxin didn’t know why her Spiritual Sense had increased so much, she didn’t put much thought into it. Instead, she used her enhanced abilities to find the direction to head back to her clan grounds, no longer needing to scale the mountain to find the right path.
The fight against the profound beasts had turned her around. If she had just kept walking, she might have wandered further south rather than back north.
After brushing herself off and uncovering the entrance of the cave, Xinxin ran off, heading in the direction of the clan grounds.
The sun hung low in the sky, indicating it was still early morning. The sky was a clear blue and a pleasant breeze billowed. An idyllic day if there ever was one. Yet, something about it unsettled Xinxin.
Not only that, but for it to be so bright and peaceful right after her Sifu left… was it a sign from the heavens? That such times would only be possible if Xinxin stood on her own?
She didn’t know, but even if it was, she wanted to see him at least one more time. Even if it was a short time, as his disciple, she had to at least give her thanks for giving her the strength to seize her own fate.
Xinxin shook her head and focused on running back to the Zhan Clan Grounds. While she didn’t know where her Sifu was, maybe her father could help out with that. With Xinxin’s rapid progress, Zhan Long should be somewhat motivated to find the one who helped her, right? Maybe? Hopefully…
Xinxin ran across the ground, taking giant strides by launching herself through the air. It would have been nice if she could fly, but she didn’t have a flying sword or other means of transportation.
At her current pace, it would take until sunset for her to return, and that was if she ran non-stop. That fact only reminded Xinxin how powerful her Sifu was. From what she remembered, it had only taken a minute to arrive at the Vermilion Bird’s valley.
Xinxin focused her attention back to traveling. Early in the morning, only the wind and the sun were her companions.
With nothing else to do, Xinxin found her mind wandering.
Just who was the nameless man she took as her Sifu? And why did he get so upset at her when she said she didn’t care about dying? Did he lose someone close to him? Or was it something else?
The dream she saw made it seem like he was chasing after something on his own. Vengeance? Retribution? Or a path of slaughter just for power?
Xinxin didn’t know, but she knew that she couldn’t accept him going through it alone.
…She couldn’t accept that?
Why couldn’t she accept that?
Xinxin frowned. Even if he was her Sifu, his business was his own. And he made it clear at the beginning, didn’t he? That following him would lead her down a dark path, that he was not a good person.
So she should leave him be. Accept his actions and show gratitude and then walk her own path.
One without him.
Xinxin’s heart throbbed.
Strange. It was strange. Something about that thought was strange, stirring something in Xinxin’s heart. But why-
“It’s her! That girl’s the one that the Goddess warned about!”
A masculine voice called out in a foreign language.
Xinxin turned towards the source of it.
There was a group of four. One was a towering man with dark brown hair in a suit of thick metal plates and carrying a giant shield and sword. One was a man with spiky golden hair and blue eyes, equipped with a radiant long sword and a silver chest plate. Another was a woman in a dark violet robe and a pointed fabric hat, her crimson hair billowing in the wind as she raised a stick. And the last was a blue-haired woman with a white robe bearing a red cross.
“Well hurry up and attack her, Alan!” The crimson haired woman shouted and then raised her stick. “I’ll give covering fire!”
The man with golden hair nodded and said, “Got it, Charlotte!”
They were strange and Xinxin didn’t understand what they were saying. She chalked it up to foreign travelers and continued on her way. But she didn’t make it far. Just as she touched down to make another leap, the golden-haired man charged at her.
At the same time, the crimson-haired woman swung her stick and shouted, “Fireball!” Flames sprouted from the crimson-haired woman’s stick, gathered into a fireball the size of melon, and shot through the air towards Xinxin.
“You all…! Fine, if it’s a fight you want, I’ll give it to you!” Xinxin formed a sword from her qi and then stood her ground.
The fireball arrived first.
Xinxin swung her sword and cleaved it apart, sending flames scattering on either side of her.
From behind the flames, the golden-haired man appeared, slashing his sword down towards Xinxin’s right shoulder.
It was fast, but nowhere near the speed of her Sifu.
Xinxin pivoted on her left foot, circling around the golden-haired man, and then she swung her sword at his exposed back. Despite the armor, with her condensed qi, it would be as good as rice paper against her sword.
Despite Xinxin’s actions, the golden-haired man remained calm and didn’t try to dodge.
“Idiot!” Xinxin called out and slashed.
But, the moment before her sword tore the golden-haired man apart, a gravelly voice boomed. “Holy Shield!”
Xinxin’s sword struck the golden-haired man’s back and then bounced off. “What-?”
This time, the golden-haired man was the one who spun around. In the brief gap of Xinxin’s rebounding attack, the golden-haired man swung his sword at her side. “Horizon Slash!” Azure light gathered around the golden-haired man’s blade and then surged through the air at high-speed.
Still, he was too slow.
Xinxin took a step back and pivoted on her left foot again, sending her sword to intercept the golden-haired man’s attack.
Steel screeched as the golden-haired man’s blade clashed with Xinxin’s qi sword. But only for a moment. As the blades met, Xinxin’s sword proved the better and began eating away at the golden-haired man’s blade.
Seeing that, the golden-haired man leapt back.
Xinxin took a step forward to pursue, but then she felt a monstrous pressure from behind her. Trusting her reflexes, Xinxin immediately gathered qi to reinforce her body and then spun around, swinging her sword as she did.
A loud clang reverberated as Xinxin’s sword clashed against the giant sword of the towering man with brown hair.
“Everyone, she’s strong! Don’t let your guard down!” The towering man’s gravelly voice boomed and then he pivoted, slamming his shield towards Xinxin’s body.
Xinxin’s eyes widened and she struck out with her left palm. “Hah!”
Another clang reverberated and the towering man was sent back a few steps. Yet, Xinxin didn’t have the time to celebrate.
“Holy Smite!” The woman in the white robes shouted and began shining a golden light.
At the same time, the other woman raised her wand and said, “Explosion!”
Xinxin felt a surge of energy well up. It was neither qi nor spiritual in nature, but her instincts told her it was dangerous.
Instead of trying to block, Xinxin tried to run.
“Oh no you don’t!” The golden-haired man raised his sword. “Thunder Slash!” Lightning crackled around his blade and he charged after Xinxin.
Seeing that, Xinxin’s eyes widened. The foreigner was able to use lightning? Was he a heavenly envoy sent for retribution? But even if he was… even if those foreigners were people from the heavens sent down to their world, Xinxin couldn’t hesitate or fear. She focused her qi into her sword again and slashed out, sending a wave of energy at the golden-haired man.
His eyes widened for a moment, but he grit his teeth and swung his sword against it.
Lightning clashed with a colorless energy and then the golden-haired man was sent staggering backwards.
Xinxin stared back only long enough to acknowledge that and then focused on running away. But before she made it a single step, a pair of overlapping voices called out.
““Combination attack: Big Bang!””
Space froze. Xinxin couldn’t move, caught in mid-air by a mysterious power.
She strained against it, using all the power of her cultivation base. The eleven pillars in her dantian surged with energy and an attractive force, quickly eroding the power holding her still. But before they could completely dissipate it, another even more overwhelming power appeared.
The immediate surroundings around Xinxin grew dim, shadows bleeding into reality and returning everything to the primordial void. An instant later, a tiny pinpoint of light appeared within the void.
Xinxin’s eyes widened and she strained with all her might to escape. While that power was neither qi, spiritual energy, or natural energy, Xinxin could intuitively tell that her life would be over if she didn’t manage to defend against it.
The point of light bloomed, like a lotus flower blossoming, and scattered a pure white radiance in every direction.
Staring at it, Xinxin felt time slow down. The instantaneous flash that should have vaporized her slowed to a crawl. Whether out of fear, determination, or some mysterious force, Xinxin was able to stretch an instant out to a few seconds and break free of the power holding her still. Then, in the infinitesimal fraction before the light touched her, Xinxin sent all her qi to clash against it, draining every drop of power in her body to resist.
It wasn’t enough. The overwhelming light enveloped Xinxin and seared her body.
Pain, the sensation of her very being unraveling, swept across Xinxin’s body. It was worse than the time that her Sifu forced her to eat the medicinal pill. But despite the pain… she didn’t die.
After what felt like an eternity, the light vanished and the darkness faded, returning the surroundings to normal. When it did, Xinxin fell to the ground.
Her body was covered in burns and her black dress was tattered. Despite that, she could still move. But before she could get up, a shadow loomed over her.
The golden-haired man stood there and pointed his sword at her heart.
Xinxin glared at him. “You… damned… foreigner!”
The golden-haired man stared at Xinxin and then hesitated.
“What are you doing, Alan?” The crimson haired woman shouted. “Stab her already!”
“I… but she’s just a girl!”
The crimson haired woman scowled and said, “Dammit, you white knight! Fine, I’ll do it myself!” She raised her stick into the air and said, “ Gigaflare!” A towering pillar of fire surged above the woman and then spiraled like a flame tornado.
Xinxin’s mind raced. She didn’t know who the foreigners were, or why she couldn’t detect any spiritual undulations from them, qi or otherwise, but they were powerful. Strong enough to contend with her at least.
Even so, she couldn’t die. Not there. Not like that. Her Sifu saved her life, gave her strength to live on. So… with all her might she had to keep fighting. Keep living.
Xinxin grit her teeth and focused. Scrounging up what little qi her body had recovered from the energy in the surroundings, she formed a blade. But an ordinary blade wasn’t enough. Her attack had been blocked by their strange powers. Even her most powerful attack that had scratched her Sifu was defended against.
Something better. Something stronger.
If she only had a single thread of power, then she had to strengthen it. Weave it tighter, closer. And if she ran out of thread, she had to get more, pulling it from the surroundings.
Xinxin focused and remembered the sensation of when she cut down the profound beasts. She recalled how she absorbed their spiritual energy, their qi. She recollected how they used various elements in their attacks.
Fire, water, earth, wood, metal.
Her qi had been colorless, the strange consequence of the foundation her Sifu gave her. By itself, it was strong. But it seemed that it wasn’t enough. Like how an ink painting lacked the vibrancy of life, her qi was empty, missing the vital components of nature.
Life was meaningless for her. That belief had reflected in her cultivation. A heart-demon she didn’t realize she had.
She wanted to live.
She wanted to seize her life with her own two hands.
She wanted to find her Sifu and curse him out for leaving her alone to fight off a horde of monsters.
She wanted to confront her father and find out the truth of why her mother went missing, why he grew so distant.
The crimson haired woman shouted and then swept her stick towards Xinxin. In response, the towering pillar of flames cut through the air and surged towards Xinxin.
“You’d better move if you don’t want to have to be revived by Diane, Alan!”
“Charlotte, you-“ The golden-haired man sighed and then jumped out of the way.
Flames touched down and scorched the earth.
Xinxin was in the midst of that. Her already burned body became enveloped by flames, slowly eroding away.
But she didn’t feel any pain. Instead, a pleasant warmth spread throughout her damaged body. Her empty dantian greedily devoured the flames enveloping her and turned it into qi, branding its strength as her own. The source of the flames, an unknown energy that felt at odds with the world, was pulled in by the attractive force of her foundation and then transmuted into a power that belonged solely to Xinxin.
As it did, the Dao Pillars in her foundation began to light up. One, two, three… soon, the ten outer pillars shone with blinding radiance. The only one that didn’t was the central pillar wreathed in darkness. Yet, that wasn’t to say that it wasn’t affected. While the outer pillars increased in radiance, the central pillar enhanced its attractive force. The surrounding circle of light slowly bled into the center, each strand of radiance sucked into the darkness and never to return.
Every second that passed increased the radiance and the speed of the phenomenon.
And then the pillars shattered.
The ten surrounding and shining Dao Pillars, the central pillar wreathed in shadows… under the boundless energy being transmuted, they cracked and splintered apart, turning into dust. But the attractive force that the central pillar possessed didn’t disappear. Instead, it became magnified. A boundless greed devoured everything within Xinxin’s dantian. The unnatural energy, the remnants of the Dao Pillar, Spirital Energy… even her awareness vanished as the attractive force grew and grew and grew.
Time continued to pass and the flames enveloping Xinxin’s body began to die down.
At the same time, the attractive force reached a singularity and then contracted to a single point, one that drew in even light itself and refused to let it free.
The moment it did, Xinxin’s awareness returned and her body changed. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, when the flames vanished, Xinxin stood there unharmed and more powerful than before.
Her black dress was restored, perhaps subconsciously modified in the process of her metamorphosis.
“What the-? An auto-resurrection skill?” The crimson haired woman said. “That crappy Goddess didn’t say anything about this!”
Xinxin stood up. When she did, she took a look at the foreigners that attacked her. When they met her gaze, they froze.
Before, Xinxin was merely a young beauty. Though she had an elegance and appearance that could be called ‘heaven-defying’ in its beauty with her pristine skin, amethyst eyes, and delicate face, she still possessed the traces of youth. An underdeveloped body and the traces of baby fat that came with youth along her face had yet to disappear.
But it was different now.
As if realizing that her current form was inadequate, her body had been reforged along with her dantian. Instead of a beautiful young girl, a woman in the prime of her life stood there.
Skin that glistened like pure white jade. A perfectly curved body that snugly fit the dress that was now a size too small. Shining violet eyes that looked like captured stars. Flowing black silky hair that billowed like strands of the night sky.
She stared at the foreign party of heroes and said, “You four are in my way.”
The moment her melodic voice echoed in the air, Xinxin attacked. A sword forged from primordial elements slashed towards the golden-haired man’s neck.
“Be careful, Alan!,” the crimson haired woman said. “ She’s enchanted her sword with multiple elements!”
“Got it, Charlotte!” Lightning crackled on the golden-haired man’s blade and he raised it to block.
Xinxin’s attack easily cut through the golden-haired man’s sword. But he seemed to have been expecting it and let go, using the force of the impact to fly backwards. As he did, he swept his hand through the air and drew another sword that radiated a holy light and crackled with lightning.
“Let’s go, Aeolus!” Otherworldly energy gathered around the golden-haired man’s sword and then he charged.
Xinxin did the same, wrapping her sword in the five elements, and charged with her own slash.
Metal screeched and energy crackled as the two locked blades.
Xinxin glared at the golden-haired man and said, “Who are you? Why are you attacking me?”
The golden-haired man didn’t respond to her. Instead, he tilted his head back a bit and spoke in that foreign language. “What’s she saying, Charlotte?”
“I don’t know? Don’t kill me?”
“Then why don’t we-“
“Do your job already, you damned hero!”
The golden-haired man shook his head and then narrowed his eyes. “Reversal.”
In an instant, Xinxin was sent flying backwards. Some unknown power dissipated all the qi in her sword and then tossed her back through the air.
“Barry, Aegis! Charlotte, Diane, help me with Omni-slash!”
The towering man in plate armor punched the ground, causing otherworldly energy to flood the air and surround the four party members. At the same time, the golden-haired man raised his sword above his head. When he did, the crimson haired woman and the other woman in the blue robes raised their hands towards the sword.
“Oh, blessed Goddess grant your strength and unseal your Hero’s power!”
“Spirits of nature, lend your power and grant the Hero strength!”
The world shuddered as unnatural energy poured in from somewhere else , separate from the current surroundings.
Xinxin narrowed her eyes.
It was a powerful attack. That slash that the golden-haired man was preparing was even more dangerous than the attack the two women used earlier.
“But you won’t beat me this time.”
Xinxin let out a breath and focused. Her Foundation had crumbled, but a Core had taken its place. Not one forged from energy, but one that devoured everything it came into contact with, one containing everything and nothing simultaneously. She let her sword dissolve and then slowly raised her left hand, like her Sifu had done in the past.
The golden-haired man stepped forward and roared. “Emerge, great wind of destruction! Aeolus!”
Space tore apart and a slash that cut through dimensions swept through the air.
But, the moment before it could reach Xinxin, a calm male voice called out.
“Word without a sound, blade by another name.”
The spatial wind vanished, crushed by a domineering aura.
“One sword chop to shake the heavens.”
The golden-haired man’s eyes grew wide and he shouted. “Barry! Avalon, now!”
The towering man in armor raised his shield and prepared to act. But he was too slow.
A single line carved apart heaven, earth, and sky. A sword strike with unimaginable strength tore into the earth and then ripped the armored man into shreds.
The foreign party was shocked.
Xinxin took advantage of that shock to attack. Rather than the golden-haired man, she made a bee-line towards the women with crimson hair.
“Oh no you don’t! Diane! I’ll leave resurrection of Barry up to you!”
“Understood, Sir Alan!”
The golden-haired man jumped in front of Xinxin again.
“Get out of my way already!”
Xinxin chopped with her left hand, condensing all of her force into a single blow.
“Steel Body!” The golden-haired man body shouted and then stood his ground.
Xinxin’s hand struck the man’s body. A metallic note reverberated and his body cracked, but he didn’t move.
Xinxin scoffed. If he could resist her attacks with that otherworldly energy, then what could he do without it? She revolved the dark core in her dantian and drew on its attractive force, using her body as a channel for it and then reached out with her left hand.
But just then, the woman in white robes began chanting. “Oh goddess, hear your faithful servant! Let the soul of Barry return and let his body be restored!”
Xinxin didn’t know what she said, but she could sense that otherworldly energy gathering where the armored man had perished. At the same time, she saw a masculine silhouette begin to reform within that energy.
She changed her mind and instead jumped back, cautious of what other strange attack they were planning.
But, before anything could occur, that calm voice from before called out again.
“One sword slash to cleave the sky.”
The domineering aura from before returned, as if some great immortal had descended upon the earth. And then, while that aura held everything in place, a blinding slash tore apart the space in front of Xinxin. When it faded, only scattered limbs and pools of blood remained from the foreigners. But even as Xinxin observed that, they vanished into motes of light, fading away into thin air.
It was concerning. But at that time, she had something else to worry about.
She turned around to look at the one who had attacked, to meet the man who had intervened in her fight.
For a brief moment, she thought it might have been her Sifu. But it wasn’t.
Instead of the average-looking young man with cold eyes, the person standing there was a handsome man with a heroic visage. His long hair was tied behind him with a silk ribbon and he stood there floating in the air, wearing flowing azure robes.
Xinxin had met him only once before, and that single time was enough to make her hate him. Gritting her teeth, Xinxin called out his name.
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