"Wake up Big Sis Yue! Let's go play!"
As soon as the darkness went out, the bright morning light forced my eyes back shut for a moment, before I finally opened them again.
What I saw then was a young girl with short, black hair that stopped to the back of her neck. She had bright, amber eyes and a slightly upturned nose, much like mine. Her lips were curved up to a slight smirk, which she only shows when she's up to mischief. This adorable girl is my little sister, Ming Yi.
I rubbed my left eye and yawned. Clearly, I haven't had much sleep since I used up the whole night for training and cultivation.
After hesitating to get up this early for a bit, I eventually relented and stretched my body as I nudged Little Ming Yi off my bed. She had become a bit annoying lately, but seeing the adorable smile she shows me all the time made me bow down in defeat. She'll grow up to be a charmer, that's for sure.
Patting her head, I told her with a half-serious look on my face: "Playing again? The Clan Leader will be disappointed if you do not train more, Yi'er."
"But I don't want to train anymore. Big Sis Yue, look, my hands are ruined after swinging a wooden stick so many times..." Yi'er lightly stomped her feet as she showed me her calloused hands with teary eyes.
Yi'er had never been a lazy one. She had always been among the last ones to leave the training hall, and she was about as enthusiastic as me in training when I was her age.
It was just that, the clan leader is someone that wanted and expected nothing less of perfection from us two. Looking at my sister now, my heart ached as I could see that the pressure of being the clan's budding young talent and also being the youngest daughter of the clan leader weighed down heavily on her shoulders, robbing her of the chance to enjoy her childhood.
I knew this, since I have been there myself.
With a comforting smile on my face, I reassured her and said: "Don't worry Yi'er. Big Sis has something for you."
After taking out a small bottle from my ring, I poured some of its contents onto my little sister's hands. A few seconds after doing so, the callouses that she showed me were now gone, replaced by a fair and smooth skin on her palm.
"Oh wow, thanks a lot Big Sis Yue!" Yi'er hugged me tightly as she exclaimed, which nearly knocked the air out of my lungs.
Immediately after that, she took my hands and ran her own through them, her eyes widened in fascination as she muttered: "No wonder yours are so soft and smooth. You actually had that secret all along!"
"It was hardly a secret Yi'er." I answered as I ruffled her hair. After seeing that she wasn't convinced, I continued: "If you want, I can tell you more ways to take care of your body as a lady when you grow up a bit more. After all, we can't let sword training take away both our charms, right?" I teased as I pulled on her cheeks.
"Ah, will you be teaching me the secret of how to grow mine like yours, Big Sis Yue?" Ming Yi said with the same mischievous look on her face from earlier, all while gesturing at my chest. After doing this, she immediately ran a short distance from me, then proceeded to laugh loudly.
As a final nail in the coffin, she added: "Or maybe you would teach me how to get a man for myself...Oh wait, you don't have one!"
Shocked by the words that came out of her mouth, I exclaimed: "Ming Yi, what do you mean by- Wait, get back here!"
The little devil had already started running with her tongue sticking out at me. If you want to play that much, then I'll play with you...
"What are you two doing?!"
Just when I was about to catch up to Yi'er, a stern voice came from behind us. The familiarity of it made us stop straight on our tracks, rooting both our feet to the floor as we turned towards the person who just spoke.
Seeing the usual harsh look on her eyes, and the scary way she curved her lips to form a scowl, I immediately knew we were in trouble because the person that just caught us was our mother, Clan Leader Ming Li.
Holding back my nervousness, I immediately knelt on one knee and clasped my hands as a show of respect, then said: "Greetings, Clan Leader. We were just-"
"Just what? I thought I told you two to stop playing around already! Especially you Ming Yi!"
"Y-yes mother?" My little sister said as her body jolted in surprise. Tilting my head slightly towards her, I could see that her head was directly facing down to the ground, not daring to look up at all.
"Don't you see that the Heavenly Providence will start in just a month's time? You are one of the youths that our clan decided to send, so why are you not preparing at all?!" Clan Leader Yi said as the severe look on her eyes frightened the little girl to tears.
"Clan Leader Li, I can assure you that Yi'er had been doing her best to prepare. We only took some time to rest. After all, I do not think that training too much will be good for Yi'er." I muttered in an attempt to defend my little sister.
"Rest? You had plenty of time for rest already. Ming Yi, go to the training hall and practice your swordsmanship at once!" Clan Leader Yi commanded as she crossed her arms and continued: "You need to be ready for the Heavenly Providence at all costs, and being lazy won't help you, or the clan for that matter."
"I-I shall do so, mother." Yi'er said weakly and stood up, before finally walking away as she choked back a few sobs.
"As for you, Ming Yue." Clan Leader Yi looked at me directly, then continued: "I do not want to see you condone your little sister's behavior any longer. Do you understand?"
"But mother I-"
As I spoke, I lifted my head and looked directly towards her, only to see that her expression is just as it was before. Cold and unfeeling. This made me stop from saying any more, until I finally responded with resignation.
"As you wish, Sect Leader Yi."
Without even a word of farewell, Sect Leader Yi finally turned away from me and left.
As I stood up from the floor, I could not help but feel...strange. It wasn't like this before. Not until our mothe- Sect Leader Yi, was given her position eight years ago...
Thinking back, I could still remember the three of us going to the back of the herb garden, where a beautiful peach tree resided.
Moreover, I could still relish the image of me and my little sister as we played around the peach tree, and as my...mother...sang a lullaby with the most beautiful voice that I have ever heard while she sat nearby.
Our father died mysteriously during his travels when I was five years of age, and right when Yi'er was just born. Even though it was hard for us, we fought on. I saw mother crying, and even having sleepless nights after that incident, but eventually, we carried on...and we were happy. For some time, at least.
It all changed when I was at the age of ten. My mother was suddenly made Clan Leader by our grandmother, the current Matriarch of the clan. Ever since then, she acted distant towards us, and at times...cold, even. Yi'er who was just five years old at the time was confused and dismayed as she tried everything to get mother's affection back, only to fail every time.
The following year, I was made to train every single day by the elders to the point that I would cry after hours upon hours of training, only to be flogged by them for not finishing it.
Though after a while, I eventually got used to training my swordsmanship and my cultivation that it was finally drilled to my bones, and I no longer needed the supervision of the elders to do it. For my efforts and my contribution to the clan, I was given Flowing Moonlight; one of the two Divine Artifacts of my Ming clan.
After all this time, however, a mere divine artifact isn't what I desired at all.
To hell with my contribution to the clan and training my swordsmanship, I do not care about any of that...
As the image of my mother's face just now appeared in my head, I thought to myself: What was it all for, really?
"Wha- what are you doing here, Big Sis Yue?"
Suddenly, a familiar voice called out from above the peach tree that I just went to, startling me to the point that I let out a loud gasp as a response.
"Wait, what are you doing here Yi'er? Didn't Sect Leader Yi tell you to train earlier?" I asked as I beckoned her to get down from the tree, which she did immediately. As I looked at her face, I saw that her eyes were red and the sleeves of her robe were already wet, possibly from crying all this time.
"I know, Big Sis Yue. I just came here to- I just-..." As soon as she stopped, tears suddenly flowed out of her eyes as she tried desperately to cover it with her hands.
"I-I never wanted to be strong like you, Big Sis Yue." Yi'er sniffed as she continued: "I just don't want mother to hate me...d-does she really hate me Big Sis Yue?"
"Shhh, it's not like that Yi'er." I pulled her close and hugged her gently, which made her calm down a bit. After doing so, I continued: "The Clan Leader is just too busy with running our clan, so you shouldn't worry about too much. Bearing such responsibility is not an easy task for anyone, Yi'er."
"Ah, Big Sis Yue is right. I shouldn't be like this..." After wiping what's left of her tears, Yi'er added: "I should do my best for the clan too, just like what you and mother did! If I do, do you think that mother will finally be with us?"
"Haha, why not Yi'er? If she sees you working hard, maybe she will give you the other Divine Artifact." With a cheerful smile on my face, I encouraged my little sister, all while ignoring the thought that I might be giving her false hope. After all, how could I let her know what I really thought?
"Hmm, that's great, but I don't really want a Divine Artifact that bad, Big Sis Yue. I don't even like fighting, after all." After thinking for a bit, Yi'er smiled as she continued: "I have decided that once I contributed enough to the sect, I will do something else that I really, really wanted to do from back then."
Overwhelmed by my curiosity, I asked: "Oh? What is it Yi'er? Can you tell me?"
"Hehe, okay. Follow me over here then..."
After walking for a bit, Yi'er took me just behind the peach tree, where countless beautiful flowers grew freely and were as colorful as the rainbow.
"This has become my hobby for a while, Big Sis Yue. Pretty, aren't they?" Yi'er puffed out her chest as she boasted, all while gesturing to the different variety of flowers.
"So you're the one that planted all of this..." I said as I looked at Yi'er with a smile, genuinely fascinated by the fact that she was actually the one that did it.
I haven't visited this peach tree for a long time, but I did notice that a few sprouts were already growing back then. I wondered who did it for a while, but it turns out that Yi'er was actually the culprit.
"Hmm, wait, Big Sis Yue. I have something for you here." Yi'er said as she searched for something among the flowers, before finally plucking one beautiful yellow flower that caught her attention.
"What is it, Yi'er?" I asked.
"It's a Scented Primrose. I asked mother before about what flower she liked and it's actually this one." Yi'er giggled as she continued: "After planting some of them for a while, it eventually became my favorite too."
After receiving the flower, I grinned and thanked her for the gift as I patted her head, which brought out that same, adorable smile on her face.
"Now that I gave you one, I just hope I can give mother one too someday." Yi'er whispered with as her smile devolved into a dejected expression.
Just as I was about to respond, however, she suddenly asked me a question that I could never hope to tell her the answer.
"Come to think of it, I noticed that Big Sis Yue is calling mother 'Sect Leader' all the time. Why?"
Faced by such a question, I couldn't even utter out a few words in response. After all, how could I?
How could I, her elder sister, tell her that I no longer had the hope that she held so desperately in her heart for all these years?
"O-oh wait! The elders might be waiting for you in the training hall, Yi'er. Come, I'll train with you so that the elders don't reprimand you again." I said urgently as I tried to avoid answering her question. The part about the elders is right though, so I think it will be enough to make her leave with me.
"Really?! Thanks, Big Sis Ying! I bet I'll get there first before you do!" Yi'er said cheerfully as she ran ahead of me.
"Haha, I don't think so!"
As I ran behind my little sister with a huge smile on my face, I wondered how long could it be before she eventually realized the truth...
The truth that the mother that we knew and loved...might never return at all.
A month had passed, and Yi'er had finally been sent to the Heavenly Providence. Personally, I think it will be no trouble for her to get to the ranks 10 to 5 at all.
After all, I won the Divine Providence when I was her age, and her level of cultivation was just a bit below mine.
As I watered the flowers that Yi'er begged me to take care of while she's gone, I couldn't help but think of the question she asked me back then.
Did I give up too soon? After all, my little sister who was younger than me by five years still believed...After thinking about it, should I as well?
For both Yi'er and I, could I possibly bring back our family together? After this, maybe I should-
"Young Master Yue, I bring terrible news!"
A servant interrupted my thoughts as she shouted those words, which gave me an ominous feeling as I turned towards her.
"What is it?" I asked warily.
"It's about your sister, Young Master Ming Yi..."
As soon as I made it to the clan infirmary, my heart stopped as I saw Yi'er lying on a bed unconscious, with bruises and cuts all over her body. Moreover, both of her arms were broken, along with her left leg that was hanging on a cloth to elevate it.
The best doctor that the clan could hire even said that her dantian was shattered, and while her bodily injuries may improve over time, she will not be able to cultivate again.
According to the servant, it turns out that Yi'er's injuries were from a one on one battle for the Heavenly Providence's first place. Yi'er tried her best to compete, but when they resorted to martial skills as their final attacks, my sister's opponent was, unfortunately, just a cut above her.
But the story did not end there, as it seems that after the elders of my Ming clan opted to withdraw from the battle, Yi'er's opponent did not stop his martial skill at all, crippling my little sister's cultivation along with giving her injuries that without the intervention of some elders, would have been fatal.
The more I looked at my little sister's tragic state, the more I lost control of myself. Eventually, I snapped and exclaimed towards the elder nearby: "Who did this?! Tell me now!"
"Hah! I-it's the Solar Crescent Sect's core disciple, Gu Liang, Y-young Master Yue."
Alright. It seems that I have to visit the bastard at the Solar Crescent Sect. There was no way that I-
"Where do you think you're going, Ming Yue?"
Right when I was just about to exit the infirmary, the Clan Leader suddenly appeared and stood in my way.
Though I was shocked by her appearance, I intended to say the truth nonetheless.
"I will personally go to the Solar Crescent Sect to demand Gu Liang, Clan Master Li! What Ming Yue suffered was an injustice!"
"No. You're going nowhere, Ming Yue." Clan Leader Yi said in a solemn voice.
"What do you mean by-".
"As your Clan Leader, I command you to stay put! Your intended actions will only bring harm to the clan, and that is something I cannot let you do!"
I doubted what I just heard. Is that really how far she had fallen? Was it really hopeless after all?
"Clan this, clan that. It's always the clan with you! How dare you call yourself our mother when you abandoned us for years, and now you're just willing to sit by and do nothing while Yi'er is practically half dead!"
After finally letting out everything that I held against her for the first time in all these years, I thought I could finally see a bit of emotion in her, even tinge of pity at least...But just as I felt that I saw some in her expression just now, it turns out that I was wrong.
With a straight face that bore no emotion at all, she told said: "The matters of the clan is something that I need to consider before anything else."
"Even your own daughter? Shame on you." After taking out the Scented Primrose that Yi'er gave me, I continued: "To think that she actually believed that you will return to the way you were once she's done enough for the clan. Well, look at her now. This, for the clan that you loved even more than us. I hope that you're happy."
I could no longer hold the anger back in my heart as I threw the flower straight at her, which landed straight at her feet. Without looking back, I made my way out of the infirmary and left the Clan Leader, along with the flower that she had been staring at below her.
After searching for a while, I had finally found something from the clan library that could help with Yi'er's condition. It was an herb called the Heaven's Touch, which was said to be a cure for a shattered dantian. The only problem was that, there was only a single record about such a treasure in all of the books in the clan's library.
I knew this because I scoured the library for the books that could tell me what might cure Yi'er's condition for five straight days without stopping. The elders actually stopped me from leaving the sect before, so I had no choice but to do this for her, at least.
I have to get a Heaven's Touch. Maybe...No, it will cure her. I'm sure of it! The clan would never invest time, or even resources in finding such a thing, especially now that Yi'er had her dantian destroyed. I have to do this by myself.
After packing some items that are necessary for my journey, I used Flowing Moonlight's stored martial skill to move undetected, even by the Clan Matriarch who was currently an Early Stage Heavenly Sovereign.
Before I left, however, I needed to see my little sister's face one last time, as I do not know when I'll be back again to do so.
"...But I know that he told Gu Liang to do it! After all, I believe that he was responsible for my husband's death too!"
"I know that! But you cannot just endanger the whole clan with an assumption, Ming Yi!"
A familiar voice, that of the Sect Leader, sounded out from the room in the infirmary where Yi'er was held. She argued with who I could only guess was the Clan Matriarch by listening to their voices.
I enhanced my hearing and moved closer, as I wanted to hear what they were talking about.
"My daughter almost died, Matriarch.One of the things that I feared would happen since you put me in this position! Why do you think I followed what you told me about keeping my distance and training them until they can't anymore? It's to avoid a situation just like this, is it not?!" Clan leader Yi exclaimed. Hearing such words from her confused me. Followed the Matriarch? Could it be...
"Don't you dare blame me for this, Ming Li! Your daughter's skill is not comparable to the boy from the Solar Crescent Sect, that's why she lost! If only you pushed her harder-"
"Get out!" Clan Leader Li exclaimed, then continued: "I-I barely know my daughters now, and I could only imagine what they feel about me. If only you gave this position to someone else, I would've-"
Clan Leader Li stopped abruptly. After a while, the silence was finally broken as the Matriarch took the opportunity to speak.
"Fine. But remember, you are now the leader of the Ming clan! Pull yourself together and don't you dare do anything stupid now, lest you bring the destruction of the clan for a mere Spirit Enforcer!"
With that, I could no longer hear the Matriarch's voice. Assuming that she already left, I got even closer to the door as I watched the Clan Leader and Yi'er from afar.
The Clan Leader's back may be turned against me, but I could still hear the sound of tears dripping down to the cold, hard floor, along with the sobs that she desperately tried to hide as she covered her mouth with her hands.
"I'm sorry, Yi'er...I'm so sorry..."
Right after saying this, she started...singing.
The lullaby that I thought I would never hear again flowed out of her mouth beautifully as she stroked Yi'er's hair, then sang on as if she could still remember each and every word like it was yesterday.
"Mother is the best in the world
With a mom you have the most valuable treasure
Jump into your mom's heart
And...you will find...happiness."
I held my breath as her song came to a conclusion. She broke down with a loud, yet suppressed cry of anguish, with a familiar, yellow-colored flower falling down from her lap to the floor below.
The song was cut short, but it was enough.
Enough to make me believe that my...mother...is still in there. It made me realize that even with the cold exterior she had put on around us, she had our best interest at heart.
Maybe mother is right. Maybe I should have made Yi'er train more, rather than spending all those time playing around with her.
Maybe I'm the reason that she's in this situation now...
Tears fell down from my eyes and pattered against the cold floor. It was then that my mother was alerted to my presence, with her immediately rising up from her seat as she looked straight at me.
"Who's there? Show yourself!"
For a moment...I wanted to remove Flowing Moonlight's martial skill; to show myself and tell her that I forgive her and that what happened to Yi'er was not her fault at all.
But for the life of me, I could not do it. Not when I have something that I have to do for Yi'er...for both of them.
Looking back, I took in the sight of both my mother and my little sister as I silently wiped the tears that welled up in my eyes.
I don't know when I'll be back, but I would definitely succeed in finding a cure for Yi'er...no matter how long it takes!
Months, or maybe a year had passed since I left the clan.
Finally, after reading countless texts and gathering both reliable information from other people or even rumors, I have found enough information about the cure that I was searching for, which led me face to face with the mysterious-looking platform before me.
The platform is inscribed with the same, indecipherable lines of text that I had only seen being used for interspatial rings by blacksmiths, which led me to believe that the platform is some kind of ancient storing unit for treasures.
As I looked back behind me, countless demon beasts roared, furious that I had broken into their territory. The stone door that kept me away from them was now lined with countless cracks, which showed that it was on the verge of breaking to pieces.
I quickly got onto the platform, then crouched down as I injected my spirit energy to the jade-colored stone that protruded in the middle of it.
A sudden flash of light blared around me, forcing me to close my eyes as I thought of immediately searching for the Heaven's Touch that could be placed inside...
Only to find out that activating the platform was an immensely terrible mistake that I would come to regret each and every day in the future.
My body felt like it was going to be torn apart, and my insides felt like they were being carved and stabbed repeatedly. I felt blood dripping down my nose as the blinding light continued to shine with no signs of stopping, before finally dying down slowly after a few more seconds.
As I opened my eyes, a sight vastly different from the cavernous place I was in earlier greeted me. The ruins all around me gave it away, which sent me into a panic as I immediately got out of the old, eerie and decrepit building.
As I came to find out later on...this place isn't somewhere I have visited before. In fact, I eventually found after going to the areas with people nearby that this place was not in any of the maps that I had on me at all.
A dreadful feeling welled up inside my chest as I ran back to the place where the platform was and injected my spirit energy to the now gray-colored again and again, only for it to show no reaction at all.
I increased the output of my spirit energy to the limit, which destroyed the ground nearby, also causing the old building to shake slightly.
The darkness overcame me over time, as the quantity of my spirit energy became lesser and lesser by the second.
Before my eyes closed at last, I saw the image of a beautiful peach tree in the back of a herb garden, along with the two people that I had always longed for.
For years to come, I dreamt of them.
It had always been them...