Fresh stream water gushed out from Xuefeng's throat as they finally reached the shore. Thin but strong arms gripped him in place until he coughed out all the water clogging his lungs.
"Are you alright?" Tianshi asked worriedly, rubbing his cheek gently.
She was his wife, the only one who left the passage with him while the rest got lost, separated from them forcefully.
"I'm fine," Xuefeng said weakly, trying to reassure her. He tried to lift himself up but a throbbing pain flared in his chest, making him flinch.
Right… Heavenly Chains broke my ribs.
"Don't move yet. Your wounds are still healing," Tianshi reminded him and forced him to lie down. "Rest for a moment. Rushing won't benefit us right now anyway."
Xuefeng closed his eyes, seeking comfort from Tianshi's soft touch as she cradled his white-haired head on her lap.
Suddenly, a sweet voice resounded in his mind, clearly apologetic.
'I'm sorry for being useless...'
'It's not your fault, Ling,' Xuefeng said, reaching out for her in his mind. She was one of the two Fate Spirits living inside his body, who had been helping him since the beginning of his journey. Without them he wouldn't have been able to stay alive. How could he blame them for anything? 'I'm the useless one. I should be the one taking care of my wives.' His voice was tinged with bitterness; he still couldn't accept what had happened.
'Let me heal your wounds,' Ling said softly. Immediately, he felt his bones reconstructing, and then the pain slowly receded.
'I don't know how this happened,' Ming spoke up with despair. 'If only there was a way for me to help, I could have prevented it..." As Ling's mother, she was supposed to know things that Ling couldn't help him with, yet even her knowledge turned out to be lacking. Even as the former Queen of Heavens, she couldn't influence Heavens' will.
Xuefeng opened his eyes and looked up at his beautiful wife who called out his name.
Tianshi's face hovered above his own, water dripping from her wet brown hair. They were both completely drenched, but her crystal blue gaze was full of warmth, her slender fingers rubbing his elvish ears gently to ease his pain.
He was of the Royal Forest Elf Bloodline, and his lovers could please him with just a soft touch to his ears, but in his current state the gesture barely registered in his mind.
"Don't blame yourself," Tianshi insisted. "It's not your fault. We will find everyone in no time."
Xuefeng heard her soothing words but he felt too guilty and ashamed to accept the comfort his wife offered. He felt her cup his face so he would look at her, and when his golden orbs locked with her own he saw that she was smiling.
"But I failed everyone," he muttered.
He couldn't protect his wives.
He couldn't keep his promise.
Did he even deserve them anymore?
"No," Tianshi said, shaking her head. "It's everyone's fault. We weren't strong enough to support each other and failed together. It happens to the best. What matters now is how we grow and improve from this. We can only learn by failing."
She lifted his left arm, showing him the birthday present that he received from them. Nine multi-colored crystals on a string, creating one of a kind bracelet.
Each crystal beat like a heart, some quicker, other slower than the rest. Each represented one of his wives. The crystals were bathed in their blood and had part of their soul inside of them. As long as the crystals were whole, his wives were safe.
"We are all alive. That's what's most important," Tianshi added.
"Ah… you are right," Xuefeng said with a sigh and finally stood up, pulling her up with him. "Let's focus on finding everyone then. I won't be at peace until we are all together."
Even if he was depressed, there was nothing else he could do now. The longer he stalled, the more chances of his wives getting hurt.
"Yes!" Tianshi agreed, nodding firmly. "Is your chest alright?"
"It's fully healed now," Xuefeng replied, pulling up his shirt so they could both inspect it. Thanks to his regeneration ability he only needed a few breaths to recover.
"I still don't understand, though. Why would Heavens want to split us?" Tianshi questioned, squeezing out water from her hair. "Are there rules preventing groups from entering the Heaven Realm?"
"There shouldn't be any. It must be something else," Xuefeng replied with a frown. He was confused and completely clueless.
He couldn't count how many times he had angered or challenged Heavens.
He dried his clothes in a blink, evaporating the water inside them and Tianshi followed his actions, helping him scan their surroundings. Endless greenery, lush trees, and fields of grass as far as the eye could see, yet his gaze landed on the stream they just got out from.
The passage from the Earth Realm had thrown them out at the bottom of it.
After dying on Earth, he reincarnated into the World of Cultivation, the fascinating realm of magic and elements where only one's imagination is the limit, where one could achieve his wildest dreams and reach the top of the world. But it was also a ruthless place, where cultivators fight — and even kill — for resources.
Despite all that, Xuefeng survived — and flourished. He learned how to battle, how to cultivate his body and soul and climb to the top of the Earth Realm, and even how to love. Aside from Tianshi, his childhood best friend who followed him from his home on Earth, he met his beautiful wives in that new world and trained alongside them.
He mastered all nine Elements, the crucial part of his Cultivation Path that put him steps ahead of his peers, and finally reached the point of Ascendance to the Heaven Realm. Both Xuefeng and his wives were ready to depart for their new adventure.
Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned.
Just as they thought they had succeeded, rushing through the passage between the Realms, they were attacked by the Heavens, forcefully split apart. Even their two Spirit Beasts ascending together with them were not spared. They were ones of the many beasts in the World of Cultivation that could absorb the energy from nature and grow into powerful beings, rivaling humans in their path of cultivation.
The faces of his crying wives as their hands slipped away from his palms still lingered in his mind. It was a sight that he never wanted to see again.
"Water Element seems to dominate this area. There are almost no other elements in the air," Tianshi pointed out.
Xuefeng silently agreed. Aside from the Water Essence in the air, all other elements were barely existent. Even if he tried to absorb the small energy particles of elements in the air, it wouldn't be enough to satisfy his daily needs.
"I think we are in the Water Element Land. I remember Ming mentioning it before," Xuefeng explained. "There are nine lands in the Heaven Realm and each land represents one element."
'Ming?' He called out in his mind, requiring more information.
'We are lucky,' Ming answered. 'Water Element Land is the least harsh one, with the most greenery and wildlife. We even landed in the southern part, which is the easiest one to explore. The northern part would be covered in endless snow and ice.'
Xuefeng's thoughts instantly wandered to his wives.
'Does that mean everyone else has to face harsher conditions?'
'There are no 'good' or 'bad' locations in the Heaven Realm,' Ming explained 'Everywhere is dangerous. Because you can only replenish one element in each Land, the Heaven Realm is hard to live in. I suggest we find a hideout so I can slowly explain everythin—'
Before Ming could finish speaking, there was an explosion somewhere not far from them. More sounds quickly followed, which to their surprise, were getting louder with each second.
'They are coming to us!' Ming called out. 'There are more than a hundred of them!'
Xuefeng and Tianishi turned to look at the horizon in alarm and saw multiple black dots rushing in their direction.
Golden Wings appeared on Xuefeng's back as he grabbed Tianshi in his arms, getting ready to flee, but she held his arms to stop him. She pointed to the incoming group.
"Xuefeng, look! They are chasing something!"
A shiny object seemed to be flying speedily in front of countless cultivators. As they got closer, Xuefeng was able to get a better look at the scene.
It turned out that the cultivators were after the dark blue ball that was flying away from them. Focused on their target, they weren't being particularly aggressive with each other, except when someone got too close to the ball. Then they attacked him until the ball got away and they resumed the chase.
Before Xuefeng could decide what to do, the group flew past them. No one in the group even seemed to notice they were there.
It must have been quite a treasure, Xuefeng thought. He was pondering whether they should join the chase when Ming cried out in his mind.
'Xuefeng! You need to get it!'
If Ming got excited over something, it meant it was definitely a precious treasure. Xuefeng didn't hesitate and launched to the sky like a rocket with Tianshi in his arms. Fire blasted from his feet, giving him an additional boost and Tianshi wrapped his body with her Support Arts that sped them up even further. She already got used to flying with him. His Golden Wings were much faster than her own, which were perfect in such a race of speed.
"Tianshi! Grab it quickly when we'll fly past it!" Xuefeng cried out mid-air. He held her with both arms across her chest and waist so she could be the catcher this time.
In barely ten seconds, they had caught with the group and flown above everyone else. Xuefeng caught a glimpse of white uniforms with a crest that looked like a light blue bird on the back, but before he could inspect it further, he was already at the front of the pack, chasing the Dark Blue object that was zooming out of reach.
"It's our Fragment!"
Curses flew up to them, but Xuefeng ignored them all, closing in on the treasure in a blink of an eye.
They were just above what the cultivators called a Fragment, ready to catch it, when the ball came to an immediate stop and dove downward. Xuefeng turned sharply, but with his speed, it was impossible to be as nimble as the treasure.
The cultivators laughed as they followed the fragment, zooming ahead of him. Someone launched forward, gaining the lead in the race.
Did they really think they could win?
Everything froze when his newest ability activated.
He smiled and slowed down, flying calmly in the frozen sky. The faster he moved, the more Fate Qi he had to use to change the time flow of the space in front of him. He could not waste the precious Fate Qi that his Fate Spirits patiently cultivated from his limited stock of Fate Stones.
If anyone looked closely at the cultivators' bodies, they would notice that they were actually moving, but in very slow motion. In comparison, Xuefeng was like a ghost, passing the sky unnoticed.
"This is so cool," Tianshi whispered, equally impressed and envious. "This is my first time seeing this. You could have shown it to me earlier."
"I can't use it for long. It drains too many resources to just activate it," Xuefeng explained. "I hope this is worth it."
'It is!' Ming called out excitedly just as Tianshi reached out to grab the object that everyone seemed to desire. 'I haven't even told you about them yet, and now you already got your First Water Qi Upgrade Fragment. It hasn't even been ten minutes since we arrived!'
Tianshi held the Fragment in her hand, and together they looked down at it. It was just a shiny, oval-shaped dark blue rock. "What is this Upgrade Element?" he asked, but then time suddenly returned to normal.
The group of cultivators unfroze but held still, momentarily confused, and then startled when they saw Xuefeng appear as if teleported.
"They have the Fragment!" someone in the group called out and, as one, the cultivators turned to look at Tianshi's open palm.
Previously fighting against each other, the cultivators in white uniforms now turned to Xuefeng and Tianshi as their common enemy. Weapons appeared in their hands, and Xuefeng knew the game was over.