About two months prior, Zhao Bu had informed Long Yin Hei that a certain branch of his Zhao Clan, the Zi Clan, had been eradicated by a single person wearing Crimson robes and a strange mask. The clan had sent an expert to investigate but he had also gone missing, so the Clan was debating wether to give up or keep pursuing this mysterious person.
After all, that Crimson robed person might be a hidden expert or some powerful being, someone they shouldn’t offend, but they still hadn’t decided at the moment.
Yin Hei had given the news little to no thought at the time, after all, why would he care about some little branch of his disciple’s family? Even though it was the Zhao Clan, it was not his business.
Right now though, Long Yin Hei regretted not looking into it further. The reason? A person that might be the same Crimson Robed Demon that was such an headache for the prestigious Zhao family had just stood up from the Arena seats… And had confirmed himself as him being Lao Jianghu’s disciple!
The First Protector had almost snapped at the time, it seemed like it was everything part of that old man’s plan, as if they were all chess pieces on a board and he was moving both the white and black sides as he liked!
Fortunately for him, he was lucky enough to regain his composure. He had inquired “Youth! Who are you?”
He had also thought of something when he had looked carefully at the eye-grabbing clothing the boy was wearing and an idea to foil Lao Jianghu’s plans had formed into his mind…
“You are not wearing the Sect Robes, do you know what the penalty for that is?” the child would not leave this place alive, he had dug his own grave by not wearing the Sect Robes!
At that time, a pale Zhao Bu had turned towards his master and had confirmed Yin Hei’s suspicions “Master Long, I am almost completely sure that that guy… Is the person that eradicated the Zi clan!”
Yin Hei had slightly frowned when he heard that but nevertheless asked again “Answer me youth! Who are you!” Seeing the youth’s height as well as his build he had guessed that the young man could not have been older than Zhao Bu was, he was probably even younger.
Seeing that, he had attacked the youth with a pressure powerful enough to endanger the life of peak Advanced stage cultivators. He had esteemed that it would be enough for such a young child, after all Zhao Bu was a really rare genius, a child such as that couldn’t possibly repel his attack.
Boy, was he wrong.
Seeming to not even notice the pressure, the child had actually ignore him once again! “Oh? But I thought that I didn’t have to wear the Sect Robes after all… Master Lao Jianghu, did you lie to me?”
Impossible! Yin Hei’s expression had drastically changed. The voice was that of a child not yet in his teens, yet the boy had dismissed the pressure he had sent against him without even batting an eye, that made no sense!
Worsening the situation, Lao Jianghu acted as if it were normal since he had simply smiled and shook his head “I didn’t lie to you, but to gain such a privilege you will have to become the Sect Head… It won’t be a problem for you, will it?”
The boy had played with his hair for a bit and then answered nonchalantly “I guess not! I just need to beat these few pieces of trash down there, right?”
Pieces of trash? Both Zhao Bu and Sou Rou were extremely rare geniuses, if Sou Rou was a genius seen only once in a few decades, Zhao Bu was the supreme genius of the Zhao Clan, a talent not seen often even in a few centuries!
Obviously, Zhao Bu could not bear the insult silently “Shut your mouth, who do you think you are calling trash! Just who the hell are you?!?”
What happened next had shocked Long Yin Hei more than anyone else present. Speed. Incredible speed and what’s more, such speed that even he had to pay attention to clearly see the Crimson Robed child’s figure dashing through the air.
“Let’s just say that I am the Sect Head. If this is all you people from the Mysterious Light-Shadow Sect have to offer, it will probably turn out like that soon!”
Standing on Zhao Bu’s shoulder, the youth had both showed and proudly announced his power to the members of the Sect. Even if they felt indignant after being insulted, they knew that they could not retort because the youth was right: few people on the scene would be able to cope with that speed, and none of them were in the younger generation!
And he proved that and even more soon after. After showing his face and stunning everybody on the scene with his young age, not only did he find out about the Soul Crystal in Te Rin’s body which not even the Nine Protectors had noticed, shaming them, he even removed it effortlessly and saved the girl from a horrible death!
After that, he effortlessly defeated both the Second’s and the Seventh Protector’s disciples easily. He didn’t stop there though, as Zhao Bu shamelessly attacked the boy whilst he was standing in front of the injured Sou Rou.
Yin Hei had nodded in his mind in approval of his disciple’s actions but he was stunned once again when he had seen his disciple’s attack, powered up by a powerful talisman, was cut apart with a cheap shortsword in one strike!
Yin Hei had no time to be shocked again at the child’s action because he had to save his severely injured disciple from Cheng Hao’s fierce counterattack.
“[…] is the ceremony for appointing the Sect Head beginning?”
At the time, however, the First Protector hadn’t even noticed that Cheng Hao was speaking, nor had he noticed the stupor of the crowd. What he focused on at the moment was the flow of the Qi in his arm.
He had parried the blow before by enhancing his arm with Qi and he hadn’t dared being careless. Thus, he had also put in a lot of his Spiritual Power and Qi.
He had to use more than a tenth of his true power to be able to disperse the attack completely, something that would usually require a cultivation of the peak Sung stage at the very least…
Something was wrong! Something was very wrong! His blood was surging and that was normal, after all he had just exchanged blows and parried such a powerful attack by using the same power as his opponent. It would cancel each other out but it would still require a bit of effort.
When you do many, push-ups your arms would feel slightly weaker afterwards. It was the same principle.
That was fine and alright. However, the problem didn’t lay in the blood, but in his meridians: there was no discrepancy at all in the flow of his Qi! That would be impossible in all cases except for a single exception, an option so rare that he couldn’t possibly believe it.
But there was no other explanation. Right, the reason that his Qi wasn’t messed up in the slightest unlike his blood was because…
Didn’t carry even a hint of cultivation base!
He looked at the child in front of him shocked: to have such strong methods without relying on cultivation, how could that be? But that was not the important thing because he had just found out the opportunity to get rid of the boy at once!
“There won’t be any ceremony!” Yin Hei yelled as he laughed “Ahaha, you might have fooled everybody else in here, but you did not fool me! You have no cultivation! You are relying on some sort of treasure to power yourself up, you are not actually this powerful!”
Hearing those words, many in the crowd frowned and were shaking their heads: what the First Protector was saying might have sounded reasonable before, but right now he seemed to be saying this only to make the genius boy look bad. They would obviously not fall for that, how could someone be so powerful without having a cultivation? It was simply impossible!
Hearing those words, Cheng Hao smiled bitterly “Got found out, uh?” He sighed and shook his head “Guess I shouldn’t have exaggerated and exchanged blows with someone as powerful and knowledgeable as First Protector…”
When they heard those words, the people from the crowd were flabbergasted… Were the words of Yin Hei really true? They turned to look at the boy with indecisiveness in their eyes… After all, that could mean that mortal men would be able to fight cultivators! if such a treasure existed, it would mean the end of Martial Cultivation and the beginning of a new era of enhanced humans!
Seeing the reaction from the crowd, Cheng Hao smiled and raised his arms as he shook his head “Everybody can calm down, although I have no cultivation currently, I also don’t have any treasure on my body that enhances my strength! It is just my body that is special, you can trust me on that!”
“What’s more” He patted his chest “I am a cultivator!”
Yin Hei’s eyebrows twitched “Didn’t you just say you have no cultivation? How are we supposed to believe that you are actually a cultivator, uh?”
Cheng Hao grinned, his white teeth flashing “Of course I cannot prove that right now, why would I have not used cultivation before if I could have done so? You will have to trust my word!”
Lao Jianghu chuckled “Of course we trust you! What’s more, there is no rule that states that somebody without cultivation cannot become the Sect Head, nor did we say that in this battle one had to rely only on cultivation alone, did we? Even if it was a treasure, he would have all the rights to use it, just like how your disciple…” His expression darkened and he jabbed with his sharp words.
“… Used a forbidden Blood Talisman to lock on an unconscious disciple Sou Rou’s body” Lao Jianghu’s eyes grew dangerous and his whole atmosphere changed as it could be seen he was really angry at the moment.
Yin Hei gritted his teeth and muttered “I see that Third Protector doesn’t seem to like the way my disciple behaves… Should I help you out with that?”
Lao Jianghu smiled fiercely “Oh? You don’t need to worry about that, what you need to worry about though is to show respect to Lord Sect Head!” He turned to look at Second Protector Wu Rou and she nodded.
Seeing that Yin Hei paled and he turned towards Fa Guan “Eight Protector, this is madness! You cannot allow this to continue! He is not a cultivator! He is a mortal”
“And are you not one as well?” Fa Guan coldly shook his head as Dan Yang sat beside him, tending to his wounds and meditating. He looked a bit down because his disciple had been defeated “We are all Mortals here. At the end, we will all turn into dust and scatter into the wind, what exactly makes us not Mortals?”
“As Third Protector said, rules clearly state that there is no problem with a cultivation-less… Mortal… to become the Head. If somebody were to be in the wrong, it would be your disciple, using a Forbidden Talisman. Unfortunately, we have no proof of that so we cannot punish him. For Now.”
The Eight Protector humphed “Can you not see my disciple is recuperating? Leave us alone, or we of the Rules-Enforcing Department might change our mind!”
Yin Hei frowned when he heard those words, but then an idea flashed across his mind ‘Wu Rou has always fought with me to become the Sect Head, why would she allow a brat like him to become one?’
He turned but his eyes, previously filled with hope, widened when he saw the woman bowing at Cheng Hao “Thank you for saving my disciple. I, Second Protector Wu Rou, thank you, Disciple Cheng Hao!”
Wu Rou looked at Cheng Hao, her expression a bit sour, but overall happy as she didn’t hide her gratitude. She then shook her head at her own words “No, you are no mere Disciple anymore! Starting from today!”
She straightened herself smiling, as if a great load had just been taken off her shoulders ‘Maybe I didn’t even want to become the Head… Maybe I just wanted the Sect to be lead by a great person. I would have preferred Sou Rou to become the head, she even shares my name. I felt like it had been destiny when I had taken her in…’
She looked up and a single tear fell from each of her eyes. They were not the bitter, salty and painful tears of sadness and emptiness, but the sweet and relieving tears of happiness.
‘Only now do I realize though, that was just a fool’s thinking. My life was to bring up a genius, yes, a genius on par with Twin Stars! However, that genius would be nothing but another pawn… A faint light to make the real star of the show shine even brighter! To have everything planned out like this… It could be nothing else but Fate!’
Suddenly, time seemed to stop as everything became much slower until everything grew still… The sound was cut off as everything began to turn dark and a green fog began to spread around.
Wu Rou found herself in a dark version of the world. Everything was dark green and darkness was everywhere, only lit up by mysterious strings tied around every single thing in that dark world. They were packed together, and there were so many that it looked like a sea of threads.
She was surprised at first but even greater shock came to her when she looked around.
She looked at the child with golden eyes and black hair who was staring in front of him grinning, unaware that time had stopped, and she could almost swear that she could see light threads coiled around everybody at the scene.
White threads, Black threads, Pink threads, Purple threads…
But only those wrapped around Cheng Hao were golden!
A figure seemed to appear, floating beside Cheng Hao…
It was Cheng Hao’s own figure but he looked much more mature, his hair was white and he seemed to hold even greater wisdom, as if he knew everything of the world and of its inhabitants.
She could not understand what that meant, but even if she felt that what had just happened was really important she couldn’t understand why.
He noticed Wu Rou’s gaze and was not surprised. He winked at her smiling gently and put a finger on his lips that were sligthly curving upwards ‘Shhh’
Suddenly, she felt coughing coming from behind her. The man smiled and pointed in the direction the cough was coming from. A window appeared, a window of light, just like a mirror.
She looked at the smiling white haired boy and she mustered up courage. She walked up to the mirror and looked down.
She was shocked to find a copy of her, except this was much older. It was like seeing a play: she was the spectator and those in the mirror were the actors on a stage, except she understood that the story being narrated was not just anybody’s… She knew it was hers.
The other Wu Rou was alone in a solitary hut, gasping for air as she was about to make her last, dying breath, tears falling from her cheeks…
She was feverish and kept muttering things like ‘Have to breakthrough!’ and ‘to seek the Dao, to find the way!’. Her eyes were muddled and they didn’t seemed to be able to see around her as they only saw the image of her own twisted world.
She breathed in once and a black figure with a white mask leaned down on her, as if he was waiting for her soul to flow out. The mask was completely terrifying, there was a mouth depicted that had teeth that looked so sharp they could tear flesh off without much effort, the eyes were holes from which blood fell down, marking the white mask like tears.
Two red lights glowed from beneath the holes that were its eyes, like flames at the end of a tunnel. If one looked more closely, he would find that these two were actually countless souls set on fire, burning and screaming their pain.
Their shouts and their yells would never reach anybody.
If Evil, if Death, if Hell, could ever have a physical depiction, this being would not have too much of a difference with the real deal.
At the moment, the old woman was about to exhale her last breath, a green gas began to flow out of her seven apertures and to gather above her. The being opened his mouth from which saliva drooled down, and leaned in to take a bite of the soul flowing out of the woman’s body…
Suddenly, that figure and the small house disappeared in a flash of blinding light. In the place of the hut, a room appeared, where the same old woman, surrounded by children and middle aged men, was also laying on a bed.
They weren’t happy. They all more or less resembled each other and it could be seen they were relatives. At the moment, they were all trying hard to hold their tears in, even the small children felt something was wrong and were crying.
She looked all the same as the previous Wu Rou did. On the contrary though, her eyes were clear and her expression bright. An old man walked in and hugged the old woman who had the same features as Wu Rou’s. A few tears fell, but the two didn’t allow a sad moment to be the last memory of them together.
They looked happy and they were both grateful to each other for being there for the other, for being loved to the end even if it was not for their whole lifetime, they had still loved each other so much that they had made up for that.
Her eyes bright and her still alluring lips were arranged into a heartwarming smile as she looked at the man holding her and she hugged him even tighter…
Suddenly, the old woman noticed Wu Rou and the white haired youth staring at her through the window of light. She was a bit taken aback at first. She looked around and noticed that only she could see them.
Understanding that, she smiled and looked at the more mature-looking Cheng Hao and nodded in understanding. Her lips moved but no sound came out:
Right, this had happened…
On that day,
Thank you for making my life bright again!
The ‘other’ Cheng Hao smiled tenderly and shook his head. His lips also moved and the old woman stared shocked when he understood what he had just told her:
This is not the end.
Seeing that, both ‘Wu Rou’s were shocked: she was obviously dying, how could that not be the end?
But when the current her turned, she understood. Cheng Hao moved aside and a bright door appeared in midair. He opened it and a golden light came out.
It was blinding and it did not allow the younger Wu Rou to see what happened, but the older, dying version of her didn’t look away. Her eyes widened and her mouth gaped as she saw what was on the other side of the bright light…
Her pupils grew golden and she lost her sight, yet she smiled. She now knew, what was on the other side of that door. The woman smiled and moved her lips.
So this is what she-
No, what I saw that day…
The old Wu Rou kissed the man hugging her one more time and then exhaled and laid on the bed… The scene disappeared.
The white-haired Cheng Hao turned to look at Wu Rou and pointed at the mirror that was now beginning to crack.
See you then!
He waved and disappeared, when he did the window of light also shattered. The threads disappeared and the world turned back into the previous one, but Wu Rou still remembered what had happened on the other side…
And she wondered what that all meant.
Author’s Note: I wonder… What do you guys think?