13 To Be A Sword Sain
Renard sat up wrapped in his rough blanket. His wounds had been dressed and healed once more, and once again, he'd been left without any shirt. To preserve his maidenly decency, he wore the blanket like a kind of cloak as he met Lady Zhou's stare.
"Thank you for healing me," said Renard. "I know it must be a hassle to keep looking after me."
Lady Zhou raised a hand to stop him from speaking. Even in the dim firelight of Renard's room, her hand shone with a near reflective radiance, like snow sparkling under the sun's rays.
"I wish to move onto more important matters. Renard, you have kept secrets from me. In fact, I do not even truly know if you are human."
Renard rolled his neck, popping the stiffness out with a low groan. "Well, I sure as hell feel human, that's for sure."
"This is a serious matter."
Renard heard the edge in Lady Zhou's tone and immediately sat up. "Sorry."
Lady Zhou sighed. "When I first divined you, I thought you an ordinary man and only chose to peer into your soul to see what kind of person you were. However, after seeing you grow so powerful, I decided to look into your meridians – the vessels with which you circulate Qi."
Renard didn't even know meridians existed until now. He was 100% sure he didn't have anything like that in the other world, and he had no clue how he was gaining these magical powers without them.
"What did you find? Believe me, Lady Zhou, I don't have much of an idea of what's going on, so I'd be discovering alongside you."
"You possess golden meridians," said Lady Zhou, almost in a whisper. Her stare was intense, her mouth agape in a rare expression of contemplative wonder. "I know you have no idea what this means, so I will explain. Meridians, like blood vessels, pump Qi through our bodies. The quality of your meridians determines your quality as a cultivator, with many talentless individuals possessing black meridians too impure to process Qi.
Golden, however, is the realm of gods and demons. I have even found Anima, the purest of energies derived from raw, crystallized emotions such as hope, within you, and only the divine or demonic may harness that energy to great lengths."
Renard noticed Lady Zhou's left hand – the one that materialized her weapon – twitch.
"Renard," she said. "There are no more gods. That leaves me with one assumption. That you are a demon."
"Lady Zhou, I don't have any horns coming out of my head," Renard protested.
"Demons need not appear as such. There are many capable of shifting their forms. I hold no ill will against you, but I cannot let a demon such as yourself stay here, for sooner or later, you will become hungry and decide to feed off our negative Anima, terrorizing us to drain our fear."
"Look-" Renard tried piecing together an explanation for his system again, because if he didn't he was getting the boot. Once again, he hit a wall, so he decided to just let go.
He explained everything without thinking. She knew he was from another world, but she didn't know about the system. He told her how it had reached out to him, how it was in actuality the creation goddess, and how he was to be a Sword Saint. He didn't know whether he was making sense or not, but he didn't care – he just needed to get what he knew out.
Then, completely to Renard's surprise, Lady Zhou bowed. Her forehead nearly touched the floor, her curtains of black hair sprawling across the wood. Renard, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, tried reaching out to her shoulder to get her to sit back up, but touching her also felt rather awkward.
"Lady Nuwa has not abandoned us, after all," she said reverently. She sat up and pushed loose locks of hair from her eyes. "I could not have ever imagined that you are an incarnation of the Sword Saint."
"There were more before me?" Renard questioned.
"Yes. Lady Nuwa, when she first assumed a physical form to be with us mortals many eons ago, made herself truly mortal. She loved, she hated, she smiled, she cried. She grew old. She died. Thus, she lived a life as a true mortal, teaching us how to cultivate and lead better lives, but she saw that mankind was imperfect, and would need guidance even after she left. Thus, when her mortal body passed away, her title of Sword Saint did not. Rather, it passed on.
Every so often, during times of great need, another Sword Saint would emerge, bearing her title and powers, restoring order to chaos.
Unfortunately, when the Felling occurred a hundred years ago, the Sword Saint that rose up at that time was struck down by the Blade of Ruin, and it was thought that the line of saints had ended forever. That created much of the hopelessness and fear that has come to pervade this world."
Lady Zhou reached forward and clasped Renard's hands with trembling fingers. She had a cold touch that quickly warmed up as she held on. The warmth of newfound hope. Renard could feel that warmth seeping into him, presumably flowing into his golden meridians.
"But now I see that is not true. As an Otherworlder, I know you cannot understand the significance of this. The Sword Saint is a venerable title that symbolizes hope. Order. Peace. Those that bear its title only appear under the times of greatest need. You have decided to shoulder a title of immeasurable greatness, and, at the same time, immeasurable struggle."
"I might not have read the job requirements all that closely before signing up," said Renard with a wry smile. "So I'm not sure what I'm getting myself into, but as long as I can help out, I'm fine with taking up this 'immeasurable struggle'."
"You do not understand." Lady Zhou gave Renard an almost pitying look. "This is the worst time for a Sword Saint such as yourself to have come. The emperor has begun to see himself as divine and forbidden the worship of any other gods of old, and as all the gods have passed and their influence faded, there is nothing to oppose him. Temples have been razed and monks have been slaughtered. Should the world know what you are, you will become an immediate target for both East and West. This is the worst era for you to have arisen in."
"Or the best one. If I'm here to help, then all that means is that I've got a lot of work to do, and I've never been the type to just lounge around." Renard didn't know how much danger he had been throwing himself into when he accepted the system, but that had never mattered. It didn't matter what he had to go through so long as someone else came out better for it. He had always thought like this, and he wouldn't change now. "I like to look at things differently. Maybe you think I'll become an immediate target, but I like to think that I can become an immediate hope."
"Do you truly believe this, Renard? You could step back from this and live comfortably – your golden meridians alone would attest to that. And I would not begrudge you for that decision. I would even be willing to help you live in secrecy as a normal member of this sect."
"I do." Renard nodded. "It's because I have this power that I want to help. What good is power if I don't use it? When bad things happen all around me and I don't do anything – even when I have the power to – aren't I responsible? I have to do this, and I want to do it. I've always wanted to make a difference, and, well, I can make that difference now. I can't walk away from it."
Lady Zhou put a hand to her heart and lowered her head, her eyes closing in reverence. "Then I shall respect you now as a Sword Saint, o venerable chosen of Nuwa." When she opened her eyes, they were cold and analytical, sizing up Renard. "But despite how much I appreciate your willingness to help, you are much too weak right now."
"I'm getting stronger and stronger."
"Not strong enough." Lady Zhou stood up and motioned for Renard to do the same. "I cannot in good faith allow you to don the title of Sword Saint without having the power to ensure that you can survive. That is why from now on, you shall be my disciple. I will make sure that you have the strength to stand tall in this world."
"What about my job as a teacher?"
"Consider yourself retired. Renard, you still do not comprehend just how important your title is. As Sword Saint, you do not have time to teach farmers. You are destined for greater fights and struggles. Perhaps you may even be able to end this decades old war between East and West."
Renard shook his head. He thought of Yun, how much she had looked up to him. He thought of Chen, how he saw Renard as hope for finding his wife. Even Ling, unfathomable as she was, believed in him.
"I have disciples that need me. I can't walk away from them."
Lady Zhou looked at him with disbelief but said, "That is fine. You are talking of the three that you trained, yes? Not too much of a burden. I will allow you to train them, but no more. You must spend the rest of your time training under me."
"Li's going to teach the rest of the villagers from now on?"
Renard paused. He couldn't leave the villagers under Li's brutal training, and he promised to himself that he would help Li.
"I want to talk to Li, if he's awake."
"Are you certain?" Lady Zhou looked away. "He is not…in an agreeable mood."
"Nothing new, then," said Renard. "I know what I want. Let me talk to Li, and then we can talk training right after."
"So be it." Lady Zhou started to leave the room. "Follow. I shall lead you to his quarters."