A flash of golden light blasted through the air, accompanied by explosive sound. Atop a platform in the sky, the light looked like a crescendo, bouncing off the sun’s rays as it pierced through the fabric of space and time in but a moment’s notice, arriving on the other end, where a muscular, middle-aged man clad in full, ebony-colored armor awaited with a massive vanguard shield. The light crashed directly into it, causing a massive explosion and uprooting the floor beneath, yet the man himself hadn’t even moved an inch. It was the light that bounced off, quickly transforming into a figure of a young, beautiful woman with golden hair and sky-colored eyes. She landed on her feet a few dozen meters away, seeming somewhat languid. Quickly recovering her stance, she braced herself for yet another attack but she saw the man shake his head and withdraw his shield and armor. Beneath was a figure of a tall, dark-skinned man with thick eyebrows and bald head. His green eyes stared deeply at the woman for a moment before he sighed. Alison bit her lower lip and withdrew her sword, dusting off her clothes.
“You said going back would have helped you.” the man spoke in a deep voice.
“I thought it would have.” Alison replied, emotionless. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“...” the man briefly glanced at the sky and suddenly braced for a leap. “Follow me.”
The two flew through the sky wingless, appearing like a true miracle as they bounded the vast lands in a span of a few seconds. The man landed by a massive waterfall by the edge of the cliff, dipping down mercilessly into a vast lake. What was odd, though, was that the water’s color was emerald green and it appeared to be sparkling, painting a majestic sight. The man waited for Alison to appear before he suddenly took a leap off the edge and dove straight into the lake, braving a nearly mile long drop without hesitation. Alison followed almost immediately after, feeling the cold air brush past her skin, her eyes growing teary. She purposefully withdrew the Qi surrounding her body that was shielding her, letting herself experience everything that could be experienced from it. She realized she was gaining speed quickly and that it was getting much harder to breathe, yet, for some odd reason, she didn’t hate the feeling. Rather, she enjoyed it. She felt her heart quicken, the whole of her body suddenly grew panicked as alarms echoed out inside her head, signaling the impending doom. Just before she had passed out from the lack of breath, she infused Qi into herself, expelling both the danger as well as the excitement. She landed directly into a lake just after the man, both creating massive splashes of water, swimming out shortly after and moving toward the shore where they sat at the edge, their legs up to their knees dipped in the cool water.
“You were always talented at everything,” the man said. “Except understanding people, and yourself. It’s unfortunate that cultivation isn’t only about getting more powerful, unlocking more potential through sheer talent and ability. In the end, cultivation is just as its name implies: cultivating yourself. There is no way to circumvent this wall, Alison. You can’t break past it. You can’t bound it. You can dig beneath it or go around it.”
“... I know.” Alison said, staring into the water.
“It’s good that you do,” the man said, smiling gently. “That way at the very least you’re not foolishly trying to push yourself through.”
“... I still think the answer is him.” Alison said while the man sighed.
“The answer isn’t him, but what he represents, Alison.” the man said. “So, what does he represent? What does he mean to you?”
“...” Alison thought for a moment, memories of the decade ago flashing past her mind. “Everything.” she spoke softly.
“...” the man didn’t know what else to say; he knew too well the demon Alison was battling wasn’t easy. It was dependence, the worst of kind at that. She had cemented herself as a part of the pair, and when her other end wasn’t there, she lost her heart. She hadn’t smiled in ages, hadn’t spent a minute with her peers outside mandatory training, hadn’t done anything else but cultivate ever since she’d gotten here, only with the plan of going back and saving him when she could. Now that that was gone, she had nothing else to hold onto, man realized. “Tell me about him.” he suddenly said. Though he knew about his existence, the man hardly knew anything of the boy himself.
“...” his heart suddenly shook; but for a brief moment, he saw a flash of her smiling face, her usually dead eyes waking up from their slumber, their heart thawing for a moment. Yet, just as quickly as it came, it disappeared. “My first day in the orphanage, I immediately realized I was being taken care of more so than the other kids. I had proper meals, was given proper dresses, was even given books to read. I enjoyed it, at the time, the special attention. Then, by the day’s end, I’d met him. I was sitting outside on the bench and reading a book, and from the corner of my eye, I saw him struggling to climb over the fence back into the orphanage’s courtyard. He had a silly expression on his face, his tongue stuck out, and I laughed. He spotted me and panicked, crying out and falling over.” the man listened with care; Alison never spoke of her past beyond saying it meant more to her than she could put into the words. The man never understood why; what was it, at the age of six, that could impact the girl so much she would have it be an irremovable part of her a whole decade later? “The first thing he did was get up, dust off his butt, and look at me. And then he said ‘You’re cute. What are you doing here?’.”
“I imagine it must have been nice to hear that.” the man said, smiling faintly.
“... it wasn’t the first sentence. It was the second.” Alison said, looking up. “No one’s asked me that. Not the sisters, not the other kids, not the people that brought me in. I know it’s kind of implied why I was there... but, I wanted to share my story. And I did. I told him everything. And he just stood there and listened. After I was done, I started crying. He reached into his pocket and took a small apple and handed it over. At the time I didn’t think much of it, and just took it. However, I quickly realized what that apple cost him. Of all the people I met in my life, he’s the one that never looked at me with anything but honest eyes.”
“... he sounds like a great kid.” the man said.
“Heh,” Alison suddenly chuckled, surprising the man. “I know... I know how you, how Master, Patriarch and others see me. A silly little girl who’s far too lovestruck to realize everything she’s shoving down the drain.”
“...” the man remained silent; there was no point in denying it, after all.
“... aaah,” Alison sighed, suddenly getting up. “When that woman told me he’s probably dead, for the first time since leaving orphanage, I felt my heart break. I felt a part of me crack. And it did so on the mere assumption that he was dead. Tell me, Elliyah, what would happen to me if I found out he was really dead?” Alison looked down at the man who looked back, yet was too afraid to answer. “I know how much you guys have sacrificed for me. And, even though I don’t show it, I really do care for you all. I love this place and I’m glad I can call it my home and I’d never do anything to jeopardize it.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming.” the man smiled.
“There’s no ‘but’. Not this time around,” Alison took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment, as though finalizing something that has been weighing on her mind for a long time. “I’ll do it.”
“...” Elliyah’s heart shook for a moment as his eyes gaped at her, in complete disbelief. “A-are you sure? You do know it’s irreversible, right?”
“I know,” Alison said, glancing at him. “But, it’s time I’d forgotten him. It’s time I’d moved on with my life.”
“...” Elliyah remained silent for a moment before getting up, walking over and hugging her tightly. “Though I can’t understand it,” he said. “From your eyes I know this is probably the hardest decision you’d ever made. And I also know it’s the decision you made solely for the sect. We’ll never forget it.”
“We can’t lose this Holy War,” Alison said, hugging him back. “That’s a certainty I’m aware of. And you once told me that I should only deal in certainties as they’re the only things that are reliable.”
“... your heart is boundless, Ally,” Elliyah said, pulling back and patting her head gently. “Though you won’t remember him, he’ll be with you, always, through it all. And, in your darkest moment, your heart will tell you to push forward, and you’ll hear a strange voice in your head telling you you are strong. Of that I’m certain.”
“...” Alison merely smiled back, hiding yet again her soul behind a facade, something she’d learned to do many moons ago. Though Elliyah and others meant well, she knew she could never show her heart to them in full. They were cultivators since the day they were born, but she lived as just another, ordinary girl first. She’d experienced things that can only be experienced in full by ordinary mortals. Perhaps, she realized, she hadn’t yet become a proper cultivator herself; deep down, she was unwilling to abandon all the things cultivators ought to abandon to further their cultivation. Perhaps, deep down, all she ever really wanted to be was an ordinary girl, living in ordinary life, with an ordinary boy who taught her the strength of heart and soul better than anyone else ever could. A boy who showed her resilience that cannot be put into words, hopefulness that shouldn’t be possible, and care that she’s yet to see in anyone else. She wondered, yet again, just how many people he would have saved in his life had he ever been given a proper chance. More than she will in eternal lifetimes, she wagered.