Chapter 26 - A Chat with an Avatar
A sea of black pervaded Zheng Jin's sight as he looked around, only to find nothing but emptiness—as if every color in the world had been drained by the inexplicable darkness that surrounded him.
"What the hell is this place?" Zheng Jin thought as he tried to shake off the dizziness that plagued his head.
Strangely enough, the last thing he remembered was the pain of his body being torn apart by the sudden influx of spirit energy. After that, he was gone—taken to whatever this strange place was.
Zheng Jin knew that something went wrong with his ascension, as he had heard Bai Shuanyang's frantic, yet muffled calls just before he went away.
"I must have lost my consciousness. Damn it, is this how I—"
Zheng Jin's thoughts, however, were cut short as the hair on the back of his neck stood on end, followed by the surroundings becoming extremely cold.
Zheng Jin did not know why, but suddenly, a sense of despair and utter hopelessness overcame him. He clenched his fists and focused on where the baleful aura was coming from, but try as he might, he could not even see a thing.
As every second passed by, Zheng Jin's instincts told him to run—to go somewhere else far, far away from this place...but where?
The baleful aura got stronger and stronger, just as much as the growing dread that it brought to Zheng Jin. To him, this only meant one thing.
He was not alone.
"Show yourself, you coward!" Zheng Jin shouted as he cursed his blindness. Even without seeing anything, he felt that whatever carried such dreadful energy had him in their sights already.
As the unknown entity got closer and closer, Zheng Jin tried to pull his swords out of his interspatial ring, but no matter how many times he willed it, they did not come.
After checking his foot, he immediately knew why. There was no interspatial ring with him in the first place.
The same could be said for his status window, as it too did not appear. He intended to use his skills as he had hoped that he already broke through to the Awakened Mortal Realm, but even that option vanished like smoke.
Zheng Jin attempted to take a step back, but his legs would not move no matter how much he tried. Finally, the effects of the overwhelming, baleful aura showed itself.
Although Zheng Jin knew that there was something else that made his body freeze up.
As much as Zheng Jin hated it, an emotion he hadn't felt for a long, long time had gripped his heart right at this moment.
Disgusted by what he felt, Zheng Jin gritted his teeth as he dug his nails through the flesh of his palms.
"Damn it...how dare you!"
Zheng Jin's eyes turned bloodshot as he cursed himself repeatedly for feeling the same emotion that took something from him back then.
Something he could never bring back, no matter how much he wanted to.
"Come then, you son of a bitch."
Zheng Jin lifted his bloody hands and took a stance, the cold and crippling embrace of fear now driven away as a fiery expression appeared on Zheng Jin's face.
As he felt that the unknown entity was now upon him, Zheng Jin smiled as he thought of how his adventure in this new world had been a little too short.
"Heh, what a shit way to die," Zheng Jin thought as he clenched his fists even tighter. "Well, at least I'll give you a good fight, just like I did with that oversized lizard before I came here."
In the midst of his blindness, Zheng Jin did not fail to notice where the entity exactly was. Holding his ground, Zheng Jin looked right in front of him where the baleful aura gushed out uncontrollably.
Suddenly, a hand came out of the darkness and aimed for Zheng Jin, intending to subdue him completely after the baleful aura failed to do so.
The hand never came, however, as just as Zheng Jin sensed this move, a strange, red sigil instantly appeared on Zheng Jin's forehead.
A sigil that bore the mark of the Walhein Family's Soul Ancestry—The Divine Flame Dragon, Thyriandel.
The sigil brought forth a blaze of crimson-colored flames which surrounded Zheng Jin's entire body, subsequently driving the mysterious entity completely away from him.
"Dragonfire? But how?" Zheng Jin wondered as he touched the still-burning sigil.
It had to be known that the sigil is the "brand" that his former world's god, Calisto, embedded to a person's soul.
Considering this, the sigil should not be visible in Zheng Jin's physical form at all—at least, not until he had a higher attunement with his Soul Ancestry.
"Could this be my soul?" Zheng Jin thought as he looked at himself. Surprisingly, he saw that the wounds he inflicted on his palms were already gone, as if they were never there at all.
Zheng Jin hung his mouth in awe as the Dragonfire protected his soul from the mysterious entity, which he regretted not seeing before it went away like a puff of smoke.
Zheng Jin's celebration, however, was cut short as the seemingly endless void of darkness shook intensely. Immediately after this, a rainbow-hued beam of light erupted out of nowhere, surprising him as the light shone down, taking him away from the dark place in a flash of light.
Although he might have been taken away in an instant, Zheng Jin saw a glimpse of something lurking within the shadows just before he was taken.
Two impossibly dark eyes shone slightly, gazing at his soul with indiscernible intent, before finally vanishing to the sea of black.
Whatever it was, Zheng Jin had a feeling that this might not be the last time he would encounter such a thing...
"How did you get here?"
A disembodied, androgynous voice echoed throughout the place where Zheng Jin was taken.
The voice contained a majestic and overbearing force behind it that made even a tenacious person like Zheng Jin want to bow down in reverence.
It was as if Zheng Jin was now in the presence of something far beyond his comprehension—an unexplainable entity far superior than he could ever be.
As soon as the light faded away, Zheng Jin took in the breathtaking sights as he stood on an impossibly high mountain, so much so that he could only see the clouds right below.
"Where am I?" Zheng Jin asked as he searched for the owner of the voice earlier.
"Tell me, how did you get into my domain?"
"Your domain? I did not come to this place—"
"That is not what I meant." The voice's tone rose up in annoyance. "The mark on your soul is not something of my creation. It is a handiwork of something else— something not of my world."
"Your creation? Your world? Are you perhaps—"
"Do not test my patience and answer my question, offworlder."
As soon as the voice said this, Zheng Jin gasped as he saw his soul fade slowly into nothingness, no matter how much the sigil in his forehead shone defiantly.
"Wait!" Zheng Jin shouted as he finally guessed just who he was talking to. "I was reincarnated into your world by a divine artifact from mine!"
As soon as Zheng Jin responded, the sigil on his forehead calmed down as his soul avoided being destroyed without a trace.
"A divine artifact? Where is it now?"
Assuming that he caught the attention of the voice, Zheng Jin rejoiced as he spoke once again, "I left it in the Kingdom of Estellia. It was guarded by a dragon in the Farcol Wastelands, just south of the—"
"What is the name of that world's avatar?"
"Avatar? Does Your Excellency mean the God of Life, Calisto?" Zheng Jin worded out carefully, for as far as he knew, he might be talking to the literal god of this new world.
"Ah, so it really was her."
The voice then muttered as it remembered something. "I warned her that even as avatars, we cannot interfere with the affairs of our world too much, but look at what happened now..."
"If I'm being honest, Your Excellency, I very much like it on your world."
Zheng Jin bowed as he tried to keep his sanity afloat.
After all, here he was, trying to butter up a god—no, an avatar, with his words.
"Is that so?"
"Of course, Your Excellency. Why would I not be?" Zheng Jin smiled as he intended to continue to put his noble vocabulary to use.
"From the moment that I woke up in this body, I immediately accepted this world as my own. I appreciated the fact everyone can embark on the path of cultivation—to gain strength for themselves not just by birthright, but through sheer, hard work." Zheng Jin stirred with palpable conviction in his voice. "I am Ezio Walhein no longer. I am now called Zheng Jin, Your Excellency."
As much as this was true, however, Zheng Jin added a little embellishment with his story. He really did like this new world though, but just not as much as he made it out to be.
"Be that as it may, you do not even have your memories." The voice lamented. "You have nothing of mine, and your soul is already marked by Calisto..."
"My memories?" Zheng Jin asked. "Could Your Excellency restore the memories of the original owner of this body?"
A moment of silence.
Zheng Jin remained anxious as the owner of the voice remained silent, before finally—
"You are mistaken."
Zheng Jin's eyebrows knotted in his curiousness. "How so?"
"As opposed to Calisto's world, a different soul cannot take the place of another in this world. A mortal's physical husk will crumble immediately if such a phenomenon is to occur."
Zheng Jin wracked his brain as he tried to make sense of what the avatar just said, before coming up with another question.
"If it is so, then how did my soul manage to do it?"
Even though he did ask, Zheng Jin had already suspected an answer of his own, although it was very farfetched and couldn't possibly be true...
"You did not reincarnate in another mortal's body," the avatar said as Zheng Jin listened carefully.
"Calisto's artifact brought your soul back in time—to your past incarnate as a mortal named Zheng Jin in my world."
Zheng Jin's eyes widened as he took a couple of steps back, clearly baffled by the avatar's revelation.
As he looked at his own hands, Zheng Jin could not help but feel conflicted. If what the avatar said was true, then he had actually been living for the second time in the body of the past—him.
"Wait, Your Excellency. If that is true, then why don't I remember anything about my past?" Zheng Jin asked as he recovered his composure after some time, but still visibly shaken from this ordeal.
"Memories, along with things like that on your forehead, are wiped clean every time a soul goes through the cycle of reincarnation. Yours had when you were born anew in Calisto's world, but not when you came back here by using that strange creation of hers."
Hearing this, a chill went up to Zheng Jin's spine as he slowly pieced everything together.
"So I really was killed by Du Zhen and the others that night. But to reincarnate in this very same body...what are the odds?" Zheng Jin knotted his eyebrows as he thought of his old god—no, goddess—Calisto.
Based on what Zheng Jin had heard so far, the voice called themselves "avatars". Although he hadn't heard of such beings before, he could vaguely guess that they are the ones that hold the absolute highest authority in their respective worlds.
Moreover, he also sensed a bit of displeasure from this world's avatar towards Calisto, who had apparently been enjoying her work a little bit too much.
"Your Excellency." Zheng Jin lowered his head once again. "I wish to regain my memories as Zheng Jin and live on your world from now on. Being marked by Calisto matters not to me, as I have already decided to live in this wonderful world of yours."
Another bout of silence ensued as the avatar thought of what to do with Zheng Jin.
"Fine. If you really think highly of my world, then I shall restore your memories as a gift." The avatar said with a hint of pride.
"Do not expect more than this, as it will be our last encounter. I do not like interfering with my world's affairs, unlike that old avatar of yours."
"Thank you for your generosity, Your Excellency. This is more than—"
"But I cannot give you all of it yet, as doing so in your current state would break your mind," the avatar said abruptly.
At the same time, a rainbow-hued, beam of light from earlier appeared from atop the heavens and shone on Zheng Jin once again.
"Prove yourself worthy of your past, and it shall be given to you," the avatar said as the light started to lift Zheng Jin's soul away from the mountain.
"Once you have it all, it will either be a blessing—or a curse that will haunt you for the rest of your time in this world."
As the light carried the confused Zheng Jin further away from the mountain, the avatar, unexpectedly, spoke once again.
"Though with that abomination inside you, I doubt you'd have much time left—even with that mark on your soul protecting you."
"What do you—" Zheng Jin's words were cut short, however, as the light carried his soul with impossible speed, taking him away from the mountain in a flash of light.
After Zheng Jin's soul had been taken away, the avatar sighed as its voice shockingly changed to that of a young man, before finally murmuring to himself.
"Damn it. That idiot just got more careless and brazen after countless millennia."
The avatar's displeasure showed as the heavens rumbled as if they were breaking, but then calmed down after a while.
"To think that she hasn't learned anything from what happened in this world..."
The avatar's voice carried a tinge of melancholy as he remembered something that happened a long, long time ago.
To a being like him, however, it seemed as if it only happened yesterday.
"Zheng Jin please...," Bai Shuanyang said as she shook Zheng Jin's body, tears now welling up in her eyes.
The loud explosion that sent her flying before had actually taken her consciousness for a while. And when she woke, Zheng Jin had already been lying on the ground, breathing hurriedly as if he was having a nightmare.
The strange thing was that after she stood and made her way towards Zheng Jin, the latter had actually stopped breathing all of a sudden.
A long time had passed since then, and Bai Shuanyang had already tried everything she could from feeding Zheng Jin medicinal pills and using her knowledge of what to do when an ascension failed.
Her attempts, however, were fruitless, as Zheng Jin remained as he was before.
"W-wait here Zheng Jin. I'll get you some help!"
Just before Bai Shuanyang stood up, however, Zheng Jin had already opened his eyes—now staring strangely towards her.
"Zheng Jin! You're alright!" Bai Shuanyang cried as she held Zheng Jin in her arms.
"You...why are you here?" Zheng Jin asked in a weak, yet unusually cold voice.
After hearing Zheng Jin say these words, Bai Shuanyang felt as if she had been dreaming all along, and that the pleasant dream was suddenly interrupted by the cold, hard grip of reality.
It was then that a bitter thought dawned on her.
The dream she had indulged herself in for the past few months could very well be, as of this moment...