Lili Lili! Look, this one is awake! Da, Roza Roza. You’re right. Two voices rushed to my ears the moment I woke up. One is cold, tired and the other one is warm and peppy… but both are unmistakably teen girl voices. My senses gradually returned to me as my body fought against the numbness. What happened? Where am I now? Though I didn’t have the answers to these questions, my past experience soon laid out a simple fact for me Another stupid ponzi scheme with hot girls. I’ll just get back to sleep. Nothing good for me after I open my eyes. Lili! Look, this one is trying to escape from reality. Did you hear those words, Lili? Da, Roza. It sounds like what losers would say. I heard everything, Roza. Ahem. So you did hear me. But you can never wake someone pretending to be asleep. Shameful but… eh? (What’s with this strong sense of deja vu?) I’ve traveled the mountains and seas for many seasons… I tried many things, and failed many times… Just before I decided to give up… I heard about the Holy Writings describing a God who can fulfill any wish.So again I traveled the mountains and seas… Skip the boring repetitions, please. Ahem… …Fu Hua?! Why are you dressed like… No, I know it. She is not her. The Arch Imperator of the Holy Schicksal Empire – the part she now plays in this world fragment. Here we go. Allow me to re-introduce myself. I’m a bound handmaiden of the Forbidden Citadel… And Grand Chancellor of Emberya, Rita Rossweisse.Grand Chancellor of Emberya… even now she couldn’t seem to shake off her maiden identity. A lot happened the last time, and I miss it dearly. Wait… miss? It’s all very recent, but why do I… You’re just a fish for gutting and salting. So are you a fool trying to look brave? I’d rather be a reckless fool… If you could somehow return to the lady leaning by the bar and throwing drunken words at me. Thank goodness… You’re finally awake. The beach, the island… This is… Ah, I remember now! It’s an unplanned adventure. Leave me alone, human. Be my slave, and I’ll keep you alive till the end of the world. The Water Djinn dwelling alone in the Desert Pyramid. I didn’t! Don’t get any closer! The girl venturing alone to find her big sister. Seele, I’m sorry… And the Rime Witch freezing the battlefield to seal the Colossus.Humph, finally starting to remember? Ah, now I remember. I was teleported against my will to a certain world fragment… Where three kingdoms were warring with each other for the ancient ruins that kept the legendary wish granter. Exactly. You won the wish granter, but somehow you ended up losing the opportunity to return to where you belong. The thoughtful chancellor told me the Grand Seeress gained immortality as the finder of the wish granter. She might teach me how to travel to other isekai worlds. My tried and true formation should have worked like a charm. In the end, your pathetic obsession brought much uncertainty to the system and even I suffered from your idiocy. Oh, maybe deep down, I’ve always wanted to stay…In a world where I don’t belong, but everyone is safe and sound. It’s a world where people come and go. Perhaps we just couldn’t handle farewells. “Couldn’t handle farewells”? That sounds familiar. But the only reason I’m here is to end this farce once and for all. It’s time to go, Captain. Can you answer me one last question? Let me hear it. When it happened, you knew the formation went wrong but you didn’t back up from it. Instead, you stepped right into our mess and ended up here with us. Why? Why would I care about…Ahem… saving one life is equal to saving the whole world… that’s the empress’s way. And? And for some uncanny reason, you always remind me of someone I used to know, even though you look nothing alike. I’m just slightly intrigued by you, the self-professed “Captain”. No worries. There is plenty of time for you to know me in the coming days… Coming days? Wait… Huff… Kong… ming… I indulged myself in oxygen like a drown person with one hand clenching to the rescue raft. Huff… huff… With Kongming and other images from the past still lingering on my retinas, I could hardly see what lay before me. Ho…This is… A cold and rough pain attacked my palms. Seems like my senses came back faster than my brain. Very soon, the flashing images settled down and became solid memories. Hey! Hey! Some noise came to my ears, but I couldn’t make it out. Move aside! Out of my way! Right, Kongming blamed me for dragging her into it, but she did promise to send me back to Hyperion. This doesn’t look like… …What’s wrong with you?! You’re getting me caught… Damn you! I felt a violent tug my arm. Whoever did this seemed in panic, unsure whether to push me aside or pull me up. …You? Why you? Her brute force sent a sharp pain up my arm and put an abrupt end to my numbness.Thanks to her, I began to see the surroundings. …Wait… you’re Kongming? As I began to size up the girl in sight, a peculiar familiarity came to me. But the way you speak is different. You remind me more of someone else… Are you… TeRiRi the Magic Girl Emperyus… and the Grand Seeress? She froze for a brief moment, and gave me a dry smile. Even you saw through my disguise. It’s a total failure. And stop calling me that. I’m no longer the Grand Seeress. I’m a fugitive now.Fugitive? What happened? And why are you dressed like Kong… Long story… Enemies are catching up! Why are you still here? I thought you left. Where… am I? It’s the ruins. You’ve been here, remember? Ruins? Hmm… It looks even more broken now. Eyes on the road! This isn’t right… Kongming said she’d send me back to Hyperion, which is my world, but now… Kongming said that? Are you kidding me? That can’t be possible… Wha… What happened? Watch out! Someone is there! Swoosh… swoosh… swoosh… Three arrows darted into the ground barely before out feet, with the arrow vanes vibrating fiercely. I took Theresa’s arm to flee the other way, but a harsh kick in the knee sent me to the ground.And my eyes then took me back to complete darkness. Separate them and take them away. What do you want? Let go of her! Darn it… take me back to Rita, or kill me now! Enough talk. Her Majesty wants her alive. What do we do with this one? After a short silence, a cold breeze swept over my neck.He knows nothing, and he didn’t even see your faces… I thought I heard a lance knocking the ground. My captors were probably deciding when to take my life. We should leave it to Her Majesty’s decision. Yeah… just a small potato of no consequence. Hahahah, let’s move. My hands were firmly tied behind my back, and with a sudden tug of the rope, I was sent faltering forward. Hey, where are you taking us? The answer I got was a mean elbow strike in the stomach. Ugh… Coughing violently, I was then hauled up from the ground. I was no stranger to a bag over the head, but something told me this time was different. As cold sweat crept up my back, I tired to take a deep breath and sort out everything I knew so far. First of all, I didn’t return to Hyperion, and I’m not on the island either. I’m with the Grand Seeress and…I must have returned to the era of Holy Schicksal Empire, Jormungond, and Emberya… After a while, my captor suddenly stopped and took the gunny sack off my head. I got a glimpse of the surroundings. Night had fallen and I was standing before an imposing palace. I heard he’s a friend of Theresa. Release him now. Show your gratitude to Her Majesty now! “Her Majesty”? The ruler of Emberya… Who are you? The guard taunted me as he lifted his hand that held my head low. Ha, this one has lost it. Everyone in the world knows…Guard A: The one who ended the war of the three kingdoms Guard A: And unified the realm, Kongming the Grand Seeress! Theresa… so you dressed like me. I didn’t know you had such a tasteless hobby. But it’s not enough to flee from me. Kong… Kongming?! It’s you! A familiar face that I’d never forget… a familiar face that I just saw moments ago. Memories about her flushed all over me and sank my speculation about “Her Majesty”. A big relief for me. Kongming, I swear I didn’t have any “pathetic obsession” this time, and all I thought was to return to my own world. …But lucky me, I ended up here. If it’s nothing wrong with your formation, I have to see this as a passive skill of mine that I never knew I had.How dare you talk to the Grand Seeress like that! Having confirmed the Grand Seeress was indeed Kongming, I was mightily relieved and didn’t heed the angry guard. When I left Emberya, Theresa was the Grand Seeress. Kongming had retired and wished to become a hermit. So I have to suppose there’s been some sort of misunderstanding… Your calm is intriguing… but I’m indeed the Grand Seeress. But Kongming didn’t look intrigued at all. Her eyes were cold and dark. They were like two small black holes that no light dare to travel near. The look alone didn’t frighten me, but seeing it on a familiar face was blood chilling.She seemed to have been possessed in the matter of minutes. What happened? If the guard wasn’t lying about “bring all of the realm under her rule”, Schicksal and Jormungond… But how could these things happen in the wink of an eye? Kongming… Your Majesty, Captain was once an honored guest of the court. Do not harm him. You have my word, but I need you to do something for me. Maidens, dress Theresa now.Maidens flew in with a delicate dress. That’s Theresa’s stage outfit, in which she used to shine bright like a diamond. But now she’s struggling against the maidens who tried to force her into her favorite dress. Kongming, what do you want from Theresa? Nothing, except I want her to be a happy little songbird singing day and night for me, with her wings clipped. I’m not singing for you! I sing for Rita and other people. If I remember correctly, Theresa, you used to be called “TeRiRi the Magic Girl Emperyus”. Today happens to be Qixi, so sing a song to the heavens and stars now for my amusement, magic girl. No matter how many times you turn me down or run away, I’ll always find you, just like this time.Theresa lost her fighting spirit and her head sank. Once the loved and respected Grand Seeress, she’s now no more than a bullied little girl trying to hold back her tears. What on earth happened… to Emberya? Seems like Captain has a lot of questions, but I can’t answer them now since there’s a more important matter at hand. A more important matter? Now sit beside me and watch carefully.Enjoy the show with me and your questions may be answered. The guard loosened his grip and led me with his spear to the stairs. Let me go! The fiery bawl made me turn my head and find two more familiar faces. Though dressed differently, the two… were without a doubt the Arch Imperator and the Corsair Queen. On your knees! Never! …Insolent peasants! It’s fine. The Corsair Queen won’t kneel for she was born wild and uncivilized… but what about you, Arch Imperator? Humph, I lost my kingdom in just three months, so give me a break and spare me the Arch Imperator nonsense! Why would the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen be here? They seem to have had a big and ugly fight with Kongming.And the three kingdoms is now history. When we last met amidst the ruins, who’d have thought this is how we meet again? Any regrets? If you knew this was inevitable, you might as well give me a quick answer there and then. Grand Seeress, I don’t think this is what you have us here for. Cut the crap and just give me a quick one. As you wish then. Bring the two items. Two treasures from the imperial arsenal. l’m lending them to you now. The guards carried two chests to Kongming, and she drew out a greatsword from one of them.This is the Blood Bather, the legendary blade that turns enemy blood into all consuming flames. Kongming turned over and tugged the embroidered cover to reveal an armor. This is the Shadow Moon, the legendary armor that drinks all light and blocks all attacks. You’re asking us to… Let’s have a little bet. I’d to see how the sharpest sword fares against the sturdiest shield. Kongming, you’re… playing with lives! Haha, the whole world is my stake, and I can certainly afford two insignificant lives. Empire unification by the Grand Seeress | Eternal separation of the stars I want to see how the sharpest sword fares…Against the sturdiest shield. I respect you, Arch Imperator, so I’ll give my full strength to fight you. If we do this, Corsair Queen… Three, Two, One, Begin. Blood Bather struck first, but Arch Imperator turned the tide. Impressive. Shadow Moon is prevailing, but Corsair Queen’s counterattack is breathtaking. I’m curious when my people were in the deadly fight against Huodou, did you two onlookers have the same feeling as mine now? But it doesn’t matter anymore. Corsair Queen…Don’t forget… our pact… I’ll kill you, Kongming!!! Nooooo! People’s fate might vary, but they share the same death. You two can share it now. Before my senses came back to me, the traces left by the battle were all wiped clean. It was then I began to realize there wasn’t going to be any survivor in Kongming’s game. As cold sweat washed over back, I could still hear the fading scream of Theresa. Theresa… is she alright? Theresa is having a little shock. The guards have escorted her to rest. Kong… ahem… I tried to ask her why she would go this far, but only rusty mumble came out of my mouth. Kongming walked up the stairs and took the silk handkerchief from the maiden to wipe the blood off her face. Ho, that’s it… She sighed in relief and waved the maiden to bring two cups with wine. Have a taste, Captain. Spring Dance, the finest wine in the empire. Is your tongue twisted, Captain? I opened my parched mouth in vain and nothing came out. Looks like you’re in shock too…I’ll drink first then… Hmm? One sip later, Kongming frowned and flung the cup onto the floor with porcelain shards splashing all over. And with another brittle clash, the cup before me also went to the floor to join the other one. Today is Qixi, not some frosty autumn day. Did I ever say I want the wine warmed? The wine is spoiled! Take it away! The wine serving maiden hurriedly knelt down and kowtowed, only to be dragged away brutally by a guard. Two more maidens came forward to clean up the mess and serve the wine in new cups again. The look on their faces told me it’s a daily routine they’ve long grown used to. What a waste… Trying to ease up the tension, I took the cup with a nervous hand and sipped to finally soothe my tongue. It’s indeed good wine, but… I sense there’s something unsaid in your remark, Captain.Not knowing how to reply to her, I tried to bury my head in the cup. A few cups later, my body began to warm up and my arrested brain began to turn again. I looked around one more time and finally took note of something unusual. Right, where is Rita… I mean, the Grand Chancellor? Kongming raised her cup but suddenly paused for a second. She played the cup in her hand before she topped up herself and toasted to the sky. Over there… I followed her eyes and found a twinkling star. Kongming’s rueful voice then brought an awful news. Rita is dead… The chancellor is… dead? No way… Theresa was asking about her just now. Wouldn’t she know? Kongming took another sip and continue to fiddle with her cup.I suppose you’ve noticed, that you came here three months later than me… A lot has happened since I arrived alone. It all started with the three years I stayed on the island. I had reinforced the seal on Huodou several times, but three years was too long for it to be left unchecked. After it broke free, the empire became its first victim. So when you returned… Rita was already fighting Huodou? Kongming nodded. Beneath her usual composure, I could feel unwanted memories surging up. A thousand years ago, I once sealed Huodou with my formation to protect Emberya. But when I tried to activate the formation again this time, I found the old partners by my side all gone… Without their help, it’s far more difficult to seal the beast again.Couldn’t you ask the neighbor kingdoms for help? As for the help I asked… even the two envoys I sent didn’t make it back, let alone any reply. So that’s why you called the other two kingdoms “onlookers”… This explains her bad blood with the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen… Right, the two stood idle while we fought Huodou, trying to prey on us once we were weakened. When I finally developed a new formation and went to Rita so we could stop Huodou together… Empire unification by the Grand Seeress | Eternal separation of the stars [Look for traces of Rita.] This seems to belong to Rita… And this too… We won’t lose… The downstream… That’s… Rita’s scythe?! I found her scythe lying by the river. Huodou was long gone. Only scattered petals rippling with the water. Rita was lying in the water, as if quietly asleep. There were more wounds on her than I could possibly count, but no bleeding anymore. I lifted her up. She was soaked all over, but she felt feather light, as if all the blood in her had bled dry… I looked down at her and felt she looked so strange for reasons I couldn’t tell.L cuddled her cold body and wondered on and on, until night fell and stars rose above the sea. The answer finally came to me. Whenever I saw her, there was always this understated smile on her face. Or in her eyes, to be more exact. But… I can’t see her eyes anymore. I… can’t see her eyes anymore. Is the chancellor… I couldn’t finish the sentence, but Kongming knew what I meant and nodded silently. And you know all about the rest. I’m avenging Rita. … Now the Corsair Queen and Arch Imperator have been served justice. There’s one more culprit left before Rita is fully avenged. One more? … Kongming fell in her thoughts, and I dared not to disturb her. It’s… it’s not Theresa, is it? Of course not.Why would I kill a lunatic? Kongming sighed. She won’t believe Rita is dead, and she’s still thinking about singing for her. That’s no ruler for the empire, so I relieved her of the throne. Meanwhile, I ordered her to sing for me and me alone. In her mind, it’s me who’s keeping her from her dear Rita. Kongming spoke like these were trivial matters of no importance. She lifted her head and emptied the cup in one go. A soft blush began to float up her cheeks. Now… indulge me with a game of chess. Before I could say anything, Kongming took out a chess board and set the game on the table. Forgive me, but I’m in no mood for chess after what just happened…Captain may find my proposal intrusive, but some things are better told over the chess board. But… Are you afraid of losing to me, Captain? She winkled with wily eyes. I wandered if it’s the wine working, but I felt the old and familiar Kongming came back. I’d let you play the first hand. How about that? Hmm… you’re giving me a big advantage. …Kongming, please go easy on me. I landed my first piece.Cannon in Lane 2 moving to Lane 4. Pawn in Lane 5 moving to Lane 6. My story haven’t quite finished. …Pawn in Lane 4 advancing by 1. Ironically, thanks to Rita’s death, I accomplished in three months what I failed to in the past centuries. King in Lane 6 advancing by 1. “From this moment, you two become immortal. With no other greater interference, your lives shall last eternally.” Rock in Lane 3 advancing by 8. Immortality isn’t the same as free from death… King in Lane 6 retreating by 1. Are these words from the Golem in the ruins? Rook in Lane 2 advancing by 1. I remember the last time, it… Foremost Pawn moving to Lane 5. No, it’s from an earlier time… Not sure how to continue the topic, I could only pretend to focus on the chess board. …Rook in Lane 2 moving to Lane 5. This hand took me a lot of hard thinking. Pawn in Lane 4 moving to Lane 5. Er… King in Lane 5 advancing by 1. Pawn in Lane 6 advancing by 1. Kongming landed one piece after another with hardly any thinking. King in Lane 5 advancing by 1. Somehow, I felt her breath became heavier, and her eyes became brighter.Rook in Lane 5 moving to Lane 3. … The game went on, but my position grew worse and worse. I could barely hold off her offensive. … Rock in Lane 6 moving to Lane 4. …Rook… in Lane 9 retreating by 2. What happened? Somehow, I felt her breath became heavier, but her plays didn’t slow down a bit. … Are you alright? Kongming waved her hand, signaling me to continue. Rook in Lane 4 retreating by 7. …Rook in Lane 9 retreating by 2. Rook in Lane 4 advancing by 7. Her hands seemed to be shivering in an almost unnoticeable way. Kongming, should we take a break? Im fine. Rook in Lane 9 moving to Lane 5. King in Lane 5 moving to Lane 4. …Captain. What, Kongming? Kongming: Thank you for playing chess with me Kongming: Elephant in Lane 5… Advancing by 7… Captain, you have lost… Kongming!! Kongming’s cup fell off her hand and l rose to my feet immediately. The guards came at me with their lances. Step back, all of you! Anyone coming forward without me saying so shall be executed here and now! The guards exchanged a confused look with each other and took one step back.Gasping heavily, Kongming supported herself with one hand on the table and pointed the other at the chess board. It’s not finished yet, but I know I have lost. But that doesn’t concern me now… Kongming, please tell me what happened… She let out a long breath and laughed. My time has come, it seems. As spilled wine spread around the cup, I suddenly remembered she said something about “only one more culprit left”. What?! Are you trying to… kill yourself? No, not like that. I didn’t mean it. This flagon is not poisoned, but the previous one was. The two prisoners bought off my maiden for this. I let my guard down and didn’t not test the wine for poison… They traded their deaths for mine. Two lives for one… a pretty decent deal for them, I guess. I began to understand why her mood had such big sways earlier. She knew it’s poisoned at the first sip and she stopped me drinking it in a subtle way, but why? Your enemies are all dead, and this is your place. Why didn’t you say it when you found out the poisoned wine? If you said something then, you might…There might still be a chance… Kongming shook her head with a bitter smile. I drank the poisoned wine, for there’s nothing left for me in this world? Or, for I finally assured myself that you were the one? Kongming turned around and stared directly into my eyes. The… the one? Long long ago when l was still a 12-year-old princess, I fled the capital trying to save the empire on my own. Out of nowhere, a nobody showed up and seemed hellbent on helping me and protecting me. I still remember the fish grill he cooked… never tasted anything fouler… I had a lot of help… my uncle, General Durandal, Miss Ironfist, but how did I end up this way? Maybe it all started in a year after the one left me. Imperial Year 72, I went to the ruins alone to check the seal.Just as I suspected, the seal was beginning to wane. I needed to stay there and strengthen it. But amidst the ruins memories of the past were awakened. What was the one doing now? When would fate bring us together again? In what future would our reunion happen? In the eyes of Kongming, stars shone bright. I tried to analyze the sleeping Miss Ironfist, the only thing left to me by the one. I thought I had the secret and developed a new formation…But it brought Rozaliya and Liliya here before you. At that time… Sending you back was to right a wrong… After all, it was technically my fault that you were brought here. In the three years drifting on the island, I watched you closely… and somehow you always reminded me of the one. The… the one? Seeing Kongming on the verge of collapse, I swept the boardaside and got hold of her before she fell. She coughed fiercely with blood seeping from the corner of her lips. But now… I’m finally certain… She reached out her shivering hand trying to touch my face.You’re indeed the one. The short week when you were by my side changed the entire course of my life. Maybe she mistook me for an old friend, but something in her determined eyes began to make me doubt my identity. I wanted to say something, ask something, but a strong hand named fate grabbed me by the throat and silenced me. Are you saying… we’ve met before? You looked different… but a person’s nature does not change easily. They call me the Grand Seeress for a reason. I can always see under the skin and reach the heart. … I don’t know how you did it, but when you said you’d leave, the one that’s supposed to be you passed out instantly. But after he woke up, he had no memory about me left.My assumption is that you somehow borrowed the body of someone from this world. The only one who can validate my theory is Miss Ironfist, but she’s been in a thousand-year-long slumber. I always thought you left her behind for a reason… so I studied her over and over. With a little bit of luck, I developed the unstable formation based on what I learned from Miss Ironfist. You were split into two halves in the teleportation, and the second half emerged three years later than the first… This time, you came three months later me… ahem… Coughing intensely, she turned her body around in search for a more comfortable position. If Miss Ironfist is as powerful as she claimed, she might know how to alter the ill fate where I had to avenge Rita. The Miss Ironfist you mentioned… where’s she? She’s in my bedchamber… asleep. If there’s anyone in the world who can wake her up, it has to be you.It’s too much for me to take in. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have entertained such a bold theory… So, my faith is still in you… that you can change everything… before it’s too late… In my arms, Kongming mustered the last of her dying strength to clench to my wrist. …Find Miss Ironfist… Wake her up… You have to find a way to make things better… Save Emberya… save Rita… and save me… Your words still ring in my ears… “see you in the distant future”… So please, take me… to the distant future… where we can meet again… Please, Mr… Assassin… Kongming… Kongming! The shivering in her suddenly stopped. Under the starry sky of Qixi, her parted lips were trying to tell an unfinished story. The elders used to say stars were people among us, when the ocean and the sky were still connected… Someone took a raft to drift across the ocean but ended in the sky as a shining star. I held her in my arms and whispered her name softly…But the world only gave me dead silence as reply. The girl before my eyes… The girl in my memory… Everything she ever said or did clashed and converged… Into an overwhelming tide that swallowed me. Empire unification by the Grand Seeress | Eternal separation of the stars The memory and the reality clashed. Which one is the real Kongming? I’m just slightly intrigued by you, the self-professed “Captain”. There’ll be plenty of time for us to know more… “I could never handle farewells”… Someone seemed to have said these words to me long ago. It’s time to say goodbye, Captain. So… this is the end. How about a bet. People’s fate might vary, but they share same death. So, my faith is still in you…That you can change everything… before it’s too late… The only thing I can do is… Head to the “true” future! In Kongming’s bedchamber. A small figure was sitting with its back against the screen. She was sitting on a giant metallic hand, with two more hands supporting her in the back, but her head was drooping. Miss Ironfist… I glanced over the room and found the screen to be a clearcut border of different views.Before the screen, everything was neat and tidy, but behind the screen there were only cluttered book piles. Kongming must have spent more sleepless nights here sitting opposite Miss Ironfist than I can possible count. “The Grand Seeress is immortal. She’ll be back with us in no time!” Noise came from outside the window. I thought I was found and instantly laid low. “Find the one who drank with the Grand Seeress!” “Who is the heir to the Grand Seeress?” When every voice was struggling to overwhelm the others, no voice could be heard clearly. The one with the decisive voice was gone. She’s now a star looking down upon us. The voices from the ground could never reach her now. But there has to be something I can do… As I stared at Miss Ironfist, those hard questions awaiting answers came at me again. Why am I here? When did I see Kongming before? Why… would I do these things for her? These questions merged into a more important question: who am I? And I know the answer to this one. I’m… Captain. I reached out to the tiny robot.The moment my hand came into contact with her, an electric flux surged around her and shot up my finger. The huge pain made me retract my hand instantly. …Verification complete. Tesla Zero rebooting… Wake-up failed. Entering low power mode. I was taken aback. Wake-up failed? But you were talking… …Tesla Zero seems to be her real name, and “Miss Ironfist” is perhaps a nickname? I began to size her up. The three gray hands were half open, and electric fluxes flew through the bunny ears. No way she’s from this era. Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. I heard it clearly this time. The voice came from inside Miss Ironfist. Probably some recorded system prompt. Miss Ironfist, I’m Captain. Kongming sent me here. Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. She told me you knew how to rewrite the history where Rita died miserably and she had to avenge her with blood… Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. Rita is dead, and so is Kongming… I was babbling uncontrollably. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I had to say something. Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. Miss Ironfist, how do I bring two dead people back alive? Please help me if you know.If Rita was alive, Kongming would not… Keywords detected and analyzed… Augmentation on… Set anchor to initiate transfer with full energy charge… Anchor? The time point when Rita died or… Never mind, I’ll just go with it and see what happens… Please… Miss Ironfist… I saw Kongming’s eyes closed again. Her heart had stopped beating, but her tears were still streaming down. Tears dripped drop by drop onto the back of my hand. They were cold. Charging… Complete. Positioning anchor… Complete.Transferring… Complete. Calculating termination time… Like bubbles, small chunks of my consciousness slowly floated back, but regaining my senses took more time. A fragrance found its way to my nostrils. My body became lighter and began to embrace the drifting senses. But as my senses returned to me, the fragrance began to smell wrong. Something bitter in my mouth… *Cough* Slap… As I struggled to sit up in the bed, something was accidentally knocked over and fell down. I heard the sound of something breaking, and then a cough. Humph. I turned around and saw Kongming waving her fan at my side, with her poker face and unfriendly eyes. This look… unmistakably the Kongming I used to know… Why… why am I here? I was hoping you would answer this question for me, fool. Looks like… I did it? How did you manage to fail again? And end up in my chamber? I…I… I meant to say “I’m back to save your life”, but she’d simply sniff at me and refuse to believe her life was at stake. I… I’ve no idea… why I wasn’t sent back to my world. I was hoping you could tell me. I was telling the truth, but only the half of it. But what exactly went wrong with my formation? Even Rozaliya and Liliya are missing now… Never mind. Long story short, I didn’t see you when I left the ruins, but I found you here and unconscious. Well, that does place me three months earlier than the last time… By the way, the Penglai Incense is a precious tribute from the western nomads carefully preserved for Qixi. I burnt half of the block to wake you up, and you casually broke the other half.I didn’t mean to… and the smoke also suffocated me… You ungrateful fool… I ground the incense into powder to save your worthless life and you dared to grumble! So the bitter taste came from the incense… I… never mind, it’s a great folly for me to save you in the first place. She was always this self-important and grumpy before. The Kongming I knew is back, and that’s a big relief. …You look disturbed and absentminded. I just saved your life but where’s your respect and gratitude? I’d never disrespect you. Do you have anything to confess? I hope you’re not keeping something from me.Huh? No… of course not. Really? Time will attest to my innocence and integrity. I heard Miss Ironfist’s noise when I was half conscious… Maybe Kongming heard too and that’s why she asked me this? The bed was right beside the screen, and from where I sat I could see Miss Ironfist clearly. That’s… Tesla Zero? …How did you know Miss Ironfist? Lying to Kongming is like playing with fire. I’d better mix it with a tad of truth.Oh, the chancellor told me a lot of your stories, and I know this Miss Ironfist has been a big help to you. Yes, that’s the Tesla Zero you’ve heard. She came here with an old friend, but she’s been asleep ever since the old friend left. Looks like Miss lronfist fell into power saving mode again before Kongming returned, so I wouldn’t be exposed. Rita did tell you all this? She never said she had a civilian friend like you.Miss Ironfist once helped me to defeat Huodou. Now it has returned, but she’s not able to help again. Neither are a lot of my old friends. Kongming sighed deeply. It’s hard for me to admit, but my formation was the reason why you failed to return to your world once again. I was told Huodou had broke loose again and Rita went to the front line….Just now, Theresa and I sent envoys to Schicksal and Jormungond asking for their help. …They’re not coming. If Huodou picks Emberya as its first target, the other two kingdoms may very well stand by. Kongming’s frown made me realize I might have taken too big a leap. To avoid her suspicion, I added something. Just a hunch, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask them anyway. On the other hand, you can start preparing your formation. I had that in mind, but Rita left me a message… No, there’s no time for hesitation. …l’ve kept myself away from worldly affairs for too long that same logic seems to slip off me. And to my surprise, you read the situation very well… When I was cracking my brains for a good reason to convince her, she made up her mind decisively. Let’s go and check the Abyssal Altar. Abyssal Altar. So this is where Huodou was sealed. Yes, Huodou was previously sealed at the altar, or in a space near the altar to be more exact. When it fled the space, it also caused massive damage to the ruins.Over there. That’s… Golem? It’s still asleep? Look closely. Kongming walked up to Golem and with a gentle lift of hand, half of Golems head fell. The fallen part had clear scorched marks. Could it be Huodou? It even broke Golem? Exactly, and maybe the traces can help us to track it down. Captain, help me deploy the Seven Star Formation. The Seven Star Formation? Light up the Seven Star Lanterns in the correct order. Follow me. I’ll tell you how it works later. Destined brutal battle against Huodou | Fateful flames of war and desolation [ Light up the seven lantern ] Vanguard Marshal Enigma Magister Vengeance Inquisitor Devouring Wolf The time has come.The formation is complete. Disperse! The flames are pointing towards… Moon Emberya! Strange… Kongming, what’s… l deployed the formation to probe the ruins and lit up the lanterns to indicate Huodou’s energy traces. The lanterns point to Moon Emberya, but I didn’t receive any report on its appearance there… As she spoke, some disturbing crackles were heard. I looked closely and found five lanterns cracked. Kongming waved her fan with a frown. Captain, we need to return to Moon Emberya now. What did you find, Kongming? I used the same formation to seal Huodou, but now five of the seven lanterns are broken.It’s grown much stronger since then. The lanterns told us Huodou went to Moon Emberya first, and the most tensely populated part… But based on the information I’ve received, Huodou never showed up around Moon Emberya lately… Rita said she could handle Huodou alone and told me to focus on the formation… Evidently, Huodou may pounce back any hour, and Rita can only hold off it from Moon Emberya for a short time. As if to echo Kongming’s observation, a huge bang came from afar. Curses, that’s from the largest neighborhood of Moon Emberya… Wait, Kongming, is Rita… We’re running out of time. Let’s talk about this on the road. l have a very bad feeling. It’s like… I know there’s a thin thread in the wind, but I can’t see it or grip it. For the first time in my life, I can feel… the future slipping through my fingers like sand grains. Never mind, to endeavor to my wit’s end and leave no room for regret is my way… Hold on, Captain. Standing on a hill top outside Moon Emberya, we saw sporadic fire burning in the city’s commercial area.Some shops are damaged, but not very badly. The fire should be put out soon. It’s a bit weird. None of the citizens are out to snuff out the fire. Your Majesty! You’re… the manager of the fabric store, right? There’s fire in the city. Are you alright? Where are you going? I’m fine… just here to check my store… How does it look? Half of the store is toasted, but thanks to the chancellor, all of our precious stock were moved elsewhere. You saw the chancellor? Did she head to the mountain behind the city? The difficult terrain there is very likely to keep Huodou away. On hearing these words, the manager knelt down and kowtowed three times. The chancellor sent word and told us to hide in the mountain. She said the beast wouldn’t go there. No wonder there’s no one in the city. They all went to the mountain.She mentioned there were other monsters brought by Huodou, but they wandered about without a clear target. So where’s the chancellor then? I… I have no idea. Kongming helped the manager get on his feet. Her lips parted, but something held her words back. Leave now and hurry. Stores can be rebuilt, but you only have one life. Kongming remained where she was, her eyes staring into the distance. Kongming, don’t blame him… You think I’d blame for ditching the safety zone Rita told them to stay in and risking his life for the shop? No, I won’t. Life is hard, and the shop means a world to him. Besides, he doesn’t owe his life to Rita… Kongming sighed before she carefully observed the neighborhood and plucked a tree branch to draw a formation. Water on the top and Lake at the bottom… This rain praying formation should be enough to handle the fire. Let’s track Huodou down along the path. Destined brutal battle against Huodou | Fateful flames of war and desolation Everything is burnt…This can’t be good… We have to go to the town now. Hurry up. A trail of huge scorched footsteps extended before our eyes, and on the side of the trail were trees slashed in half. This is obviously from Huodou’s tail sweep. Huodou went that way… the aged battlefield! That’s an open space where it can run freely. If we can’t stop it there, it would be even harder to trap it later… Rita… don’t even think about… Kongming bit her lips and took long to make up her mind. I fear I won’t be able to protect you later, so take the bamboo path and get into the mountain now. Don’t give up on me yet, Kongming. I may not be much of a help, but I certainly won’t become your deadweight… I can take care of myself. Humph, it’s your call. Kongming packed her fan and flipped her long sleeve to stride off. I’ll stay by your side no matter how hard it is… This time, we’ll save Rita together and rewrite history…Follow up! I’m not waiting for you! Her voice faded as our gap expanded. I threw my hesitation aside to catch up with her. The ancient battlefield. Bang! I stepped in and saw a giant shadow looming in the smoke. Kongming’s hard drag helped me evade the raining rubble. Huodou is hiding now? In the smoke screen stood a tall figure. …Hide all you want, vile creature, but there’s no escaping my final strike! You’ll never put your filthy claws on Moon Emberya again, even if the cost is my life! The Grand Chancellor of Emberya, the perfect woman free from any human weakness, was now bathed in blood.Still, there wasn’t even a trace of fear to be found on her face. Rita, what do you think you’re doing?! Rita turned over and saw me. Captain, you’re here too… no wonder Her Majesty found me… Forgive my manners, but this is not a good place or time for a friendly chat… She gave me a bitter smile before turning around again. Your Majesty… so I failed to keep you from here. Sorry you have to find me in this utterly unpresentable state. Kongming didn’t wait Rita to finish and tore a scrap off her sleeve. She walked up to Rita silently and dressed her wounds. It’s a pity the Cloud Blue fabric went to waste. Takes a lifetime to extract this special color from the flowers. That’s the least of my worries now. Kongming’s little face was now pumped up by anger like a puffer. I’ve been meaning to say this since the beginning! Liar! Rita, you’re the biggest liar in the world! You lied to my face about the crisis! Had I not checked the altar myself, you’d be toast by now… Huodou is much stronger now, and it takes both of us to stop it…Your Majesty’s forte is the formations, not close combat. Your Majesty almost caught a cold in the last Huodou hunt. So you decided to trade your life for the beast in my stead? Kongming cut in abruptly, leaving Rita no room for explanation. Rita looked at her puffed face and smiled in reply. Yes, but I was simply following the suicidal tradition Your Majesty set when we dealt with Huodou the last time. You… I didn’t know what went down exactly, but judging from Kongming’s stutter, Rita was telling the truth. Well, like empress, like chancellor… Rita looked to the horizon. The beast broke loose in Your Majesty’s absence, and I’m responsible for not being able to safeguard the empire. “From this moment, you two become immortal. With no other greater interference, your lives shall last eternally.” If the colossus told the truth, Emberya will reign forever as long as Your Majesty and I still breath.Even in times of war, if we keep our distance from the front line, the colossus will always be able to turn the tide. But Your Majesty has cautioned me time and again ever since the colossus granted the wish… “Emberya is more than you and me.” Rita, I don’t need to hear this now. Well, I’m trying to fill Captain in. At first I didn’t quite understand. On the first day of every month, we always went to the Star Pavilion together. It’s a place where we enjoy stage performances specially prepared for us.The shows were great, but having watched the same for ages, my mind would wander as soon as the curtain was lifted. One day, Your Majesty told me there was an alley right beside the Star Pavilion. The shows were not prohibited from civilian eyes, so many people would crowd the alley for a glimpse. Later on I found out it wasn’t the shows that captured their eyes.It’s the untouchable Your Majesty and me. And the funny thing is, Your Majesty and I enjoy watching them far more than the monotonous shows. The Star Pavilion was thus turned into a window for the people of Emberya and us to peek into a different way of life. Rita chuckled and somehow I sensed an understated loneliness in her laughter. Your Majesty is full of curiosity and love running through the city’s nooks and crannies for little adventures. Once out the imperial citadel, she would become a small fish swimming freely in the open water. I remember my favorite sugar figure stand. The nicest one was always sold out and I had to settle for something else. And the daughter of fragrance store’s owner always nagged me for candy, so her father always gave me free sachets. After a thousand years, some shops still stand but more have died with their owners. People always come and go. That’s what makes Your Majesty appreciate that “Emberya is more than you and me”. “Moon Emberya is the sum of every soul breathing within its walls, and so is the empire.” Not for a second have I forgotten Your Majesty’s words.The empress and chancellor fell silent in the thickening smoke. I told you I didn’t want to hear this, Rita. You just keep going on and on in your typically leisurely manner. Kongming’s half-hearted accusation surprised both Rita and me. The two of them looked at each other and couldn’t hold back their laugh. Now is maybe not the best time to walk down memory lane. But weirdly, it’s all I can think of before the deadly battle.The rumbling returned in the company of the monster’s scorching breath. Kongming lifted her fan. The east wind is rising. Follow me to battle! Your Majesty… Rita raised her scythe and stood before us. Please focus on your formation, and I’ll defeat the vile beast once and for all. Rita: The two of you have helped me so… Rita: For Rita to lose this battle… Rita: Is to disgrace Emberya and its people! Destined brutal battle against Huodou | Fateful flames of war and desolation Huodou, the greatest calamity of the age.As long as it’s still alive, all lives are doomed, and the misery and suffering will never end. Your Majesty! As soon as Rita knocked down Huodou, Kongming’s Seven Star Formation was activated around the beast. Floundering to break free, Huodou spat furious flames to burn everything and everyone around. Meet your end now! My vision suddenly blurred and I thought I saw a dragon proudly raising its head behind Kongming. Meanwhile, six of the seven lanterns in the formation went out one by one. The formation… cannot stop it… Why did Huodou grow in power after it broke the seal? Could it be… it formed some kind of connection with the ruins and siphoned power from the formation? And the ruins now serve as an energy pool for it to channel and restore power… I’ll hold it off. Your Majesty, try to switch the formation and sever Huodou’s connection with the ruins first! The last lantern went out as well. Huodou… it’s power is surging rapidly! The power surge will backfire and cause explosion… Huodou means to kill all of us with a suicidal attack! Let me distract it and lure it to the sea…No… this is suicide! I can do it. Now you concentrate on the formation and wait for me to run far. You’ve stopped it before, and you can certainly make it this time. Kongming looked at me again and said something, but I couldn’t hear her. The flame storm swept over and set us apart. Pain overwhelmed every inch of my body and threatened to take away my consciousness. In the twilight zone, I seemed to hear something. …Countdown… 9 seconds… 8 seconds… Countdown? Why would there be a timer? Is it the countdown to Huodou’s explosive death? I began to run. But I seemed to have forgotten how to run.I was merely swinging my arms and legs like a broken robot. The formation worked, but it only stalled Huodou by a bit. It came at me like a giant, burning wrecking ball. Before my eyes laid a cliff overlooking the ocean, and a pit that I had no idea how deep it reached. With searing wind licking my cheeks, there’s no time for me to think. I was ready to dive off the cliff, but something tripped me over and I ended up falling into the pit. I kept falling as I heard a massive boom from outside the pit. Huodou should have fallen into the sea, and the explosion wouldn’t hurt anyone this way. The boom soon faded away, but not the timer in my head.Countdown to retracting anchor… 9 seconds… Teleportation terminating… That’s… Miss Ironfist speaking. The teleportation is ending? I don’t know exactly how it works, but seems to me this spacetime teleportation has a time limit. Well, it wouldn’t be right without a limit. But the question is, where will I be after the teleportation ends? And will I be sent back to the Qixi when Kongming died miserably and left Miss Ironfist to me? I’ve no answers. Anyway, Huodou has died, so Rita won’t have to sacrifice her life and Kongming would be alive too. I’ve saved their lives. While still in midair, I turned my head, allow the rain of tiny gravel wash my face, and let out a relieved sigh. Great. Looks like the only one that dies in this story is going to be me. To be honest, good luck was never my friend…But if I can somehow make it out alive… I’ll let you tell my fortune again, Kongming. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Wish me luck. Once again, the world turned gray and obscure… I was not at all afraid. Things are always gray and obscure before light comes. “Survive… Mr. Assassin…” Kongming’s voice rang in my head, but I couldn’t seem to remember when she said this to me.In the gray, something poked my eyes. I opened my eyes, but they acted against my will and closed the next instant. Tears rushed out, and I saw… light. I fumbled around and found myself still in the pit. It took me a while to get used to the light. Somehow, the pit turned to be shallower than I remembered, and very soon I climbed out with ease. I was standing amidst a boundless desert, but my memory told me the fight took place near the ancient battlefield. Being close to the sea, this place had no reason to be so dry and barren.I suddenly began to understand why the pit appeared so much shallower. The surface soil seemed to have been eroded into sands. Wait… the sea… where’s the sea under the cliff? I peered down the cliff. There’s no sea, only a big, big hole. Everything… has changed. What happened after the Huodou battle? I could only rely on my fading memory to make out the direction and head to where I last saw Kongming.A tree gradually emerged on the horizon, a rare sign of life in the desert. I quickened my steps. … As I walked closely, I found out it’s a desert poplar. … I also saw someone under the tree. She seemed to be staring into the tree and lost in her thoughts. The dress told me it’s Rita, but why would she be here? I ran to her to find out. Rita! On hearing my voice, Rita turned around… … I could hardly believe my eyes. Right before me stood a Rita that looked withered and emaciated. When I last saw her in the battle, she seemed weakened and worn, but her fire of life was still burning bright. The look on her face was hollow and tired. The same look I saw on the bad ending Kongming’s face. Only people who have lost their dearest have eyes like these.A glimmer flashed by her eyes when she saw me. Her Majesty’s calculation is right. You’re still alive… Rita… is Kongming… I wasn’t sure what to say. It shouldn’t be like this! No way! Rita bowed to me and the look on her face told the whole story. Captain, you’ve finally come… Is Huodou gone? Yes, it’s gone… but just as Her Majesty foresaw, with its death came a violent explosion. It occurred on the sea beyond our border, and all three kingdoms suffered heavy losses… We managed to contain the damage, but for Jormungond and Schicksal, it’s outright catastrophic.Jormungond’s sea evaporated and became land, while Schicksal’s glaciers melted and turned into an ocean. Captain, do you still remember the two envoys we dispatched to Schicksal and Jormungond for help? Yeah, what about them? The two never made it back. They went missing… Missing? Not kept prisoners by Schicksal and Jormungond? Before the time travel, Kongming told me two envoys were sent but the two kingdoms never lent a hand…That’s where things don’t add up. Earlier, Her Majesty believed the two envoys were detained, but we did not respond before the Huodou battle. The Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen are not my friends, but I know killing the messengers is below them. With Huodou’s return, the monsters it brought along also put people from the other two kingdoms in harm’s way. I regarded the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen were only being cautious for the sake of their own kingdoms. But soon after Huodou was defeated, the message came that Jormungond and Schicksal allied to invade us.I sent people to investigate and learned the shocking fact that the two kingdoms did send troops to our aid. After Huodou perished, the two kingdoms assumed their soldiers helped, but they never returned. Missing envoys and troops? They might jump to the wrong conclusion if they relate this to the Huodou explosion… Yes, rumors rose believing it was us who freed Huodou and imprisoned the aiding troops to hurt the two kingdoms. The two kingdoms were consumed by rage and war was inevitable. I began to make preparations. And Kongming… Her Majesty… did something no one expected. She fed the rumor that Emberya was struggling over resistance or surrender and kept playing her zither on the keep. It’s a screen smoke to cover our evacuation. She wouldn’t listen however hard I tried to urge her to leave with us. When the zither tune began to falter, the invaders attacked believing it indicated the loss of the defenders’ faith.But when the gate was rammed open, only Her Majesty was found inside. All the city’s residents had been evacuated. Her Majesty finished the last tune with grace and dignity before she whispered farewell to her Zither’s Lament. Destined brutal battle against Huodou | Fateful flames of war and desolation Where are my troops, Kongming! I don’t have them, Corsair Queen. Then I’ll turn your kingdom upside down! Enemies at the South Gate! It’s not just my kingdom. I’ll defend. Kongming… Enough talk. Draw your blade. All of you. Enemies is the palace…! I’ll defend. Humph. So many annoying bugs. Rita and the people should be safe now… My precious Zither… That’s enough for me. Just keep me company till the last moment. Her Majesty bought us time to evacuate Moon Emberya and defended the besieged city herself to the last breath… According to my informers, the allied invaders failed to find their lost troops in Moon Emberya. Moon Emberya has fallen. We cannot return now. I gathered intel on the missing troops and envoys, the location they were last seen and the map of the area…I have no use for it now, but Captain… you may still find it helpful. My sole purpose here is to pass on Her Majesty’s message and hand over… her. Rita reached her hands into the winding branches of the desert poplar and carefully took out something. “I’m leaving Miss Ironfist to your care, Mr Assassin.” That’s Her Majesty’s message.Mr… Assassin… Kongming… why? When did she… How did she know I was the Mr. Assassin she met in her youth? It suddenly occurred to me that after I woke up in Kongming’s room, she asked me if I was holding something back. She probably had suspected then, and my “smart play” gave myself up and confirmed her suspicion. Is it the rattling of Miss Ironfist before she went in, or a slip of my tongue that exposed me? There’s no way to find out now. A new Moon Emberya will rise where we stand now. Many hours of work will be devoted, but… “Moon Emberya is the sum of every soul breathing in it, and so is the empire.” Rita reached out her thin arm and stroked the desert poplar. This desert poplar has stood here for long years.Probably even before I was born. The trunk has withered and the branches have broken, but it still stands proudly. “It takes a thousand years for a desert poplar to die, another thousand years to fall, and a third to rot.” This saying always reminds me of the Grand Seeress and Emberya. The first part is about the Grand Seeress, the second is about the Grand Seeress name, and the third about Emberya. The Grand Seeress name was passed onto Theresa, but Her Majesty is still safeguarding the empire after her death. The empire lives on. The Grand Seeress name lives on. But Her Majesty is no longer with us… Rita bowed to me again. Pray forgive my babbling. I tell myself, Her Majesty was someone who faced Huodou alone for the realm and risked her life to send me a message.Who stood watch at the Abyssal Altar for a thousand years and shielded Moon Emberya on her own. She’s never destined to meet her end comfortably in a feather bed. And I should have known long ago. But deep down, a part of me still holds this delusion that you could somehow save her… Her voice sank low and I could hardly hear her.I can see tears welling up in your eyes, but why are you holding them back instead of letting it all out? I wanted to ask her this, but I didn’t. Perhaps she saw the same look on me and wanted to ask me the same question. What went wrong? I strongly felt something was off. What changes had this world seen? The missing envoys and soldiers… the monsters that came with Huodou’s return… And the broken Golem… none of these makes any sense. After Rita left, | eyed the Tesla Zero lying under the tree. Here we go again. Miss Ironfist, should I travel back to the last hour of Kongming, in the Moon Emberya siege? Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. She did die there, but that wasn’t the deciding factor…I should stop the two kingdoms from joining forces. I should set the anchor at… hmm… perhaps checking the name list and map Rita gave me would help… Low power mode active. Speech module disabled. The map showed the troops coming to aid were last seen in a valley near the Jormungond and Emberya border. I unfolded the name scroll and the myriad of soldiers’ names began to wear out my eyes quickly. Nothing important… The second I folded the scroll, two strange names popped up. Vodka Typhoon from Jormungond. Vodka Swordmaster from Schicksal. These names feel fishy to me…Gotta be the twins… They were supposed to have come here with Kongming, but… Rozaliya… and Liliya… If they are indeed in the aid troops, finding them will help turn the situation around. Keywords detected and analyzed… Augmentation on… Activating… Activating… Set anchor to initiate transfer with full energy charge… Why the envoys and the aiding troops all went missing? What happened to them? With Miss Ironfist’s robotic voice ringing in my ears, my consciousness had drifted freely in the twilight zone.I felt as if I was soaking in hot spring, but very soon, the pleasure was brutally ended by someone slapping my face. Who is it? My eyes opened to find a machete’s point dangerously close to my nose. Hey, who are you? I’m just passing by… Stay clear of this place. War is coming, and things are gonna get nasty. The Schicksal emblem on the soldiers’ armors almost gave me a heart attack. Thank goodness they soon left me alone. Not far from where I stood, the Schicksal and Jormungond soldiers were marching towards Moon Emberya.The twins are little devils that won’t go down easily… maybe something big happened on their way to Moon Emberya? One puzzle after another. Somehow, I felt finding them was the key to putting together all the puzzle pieces. I went on towards the border valley. It’s a path rarely trodden upon, save for a few monster trails. After a long while, I finally reached the valley. Based on Rita’s intel, this is where everything begin to fall apart. In the embrace of high cliffs, a water fall poured down. On the ground, a maze of winding tracks led to darkness. I kept walking for I didn’t know how long until I finally spotted some traces left by humans. Some rubble, a military lamp, and a pack.I was about to check the pack when I saw something moved in the corner. …Liliya? It turned around and something it held fell to the ground. Ca-Captain? You didn’t make it back? It’s a long story. Kongming’s formation went wrong. Why are you here? There are a lot of monsters in this cave, and I… I’m trapped here. Monsters? I meant to ask more, but I suddenly caught a glimpse of some weird looking monsters rearing their heads. That’s them! I fought them off many times, but they always came back, like there’s a demon on the other side. I can’t kill them all and I can’t drive them away. I’m never leaving this cave now… …Wait, they found us. Our eyes met the monsters and they began to charge at us immediately. Right before its too late, I yanked Liliya to the side. The monsters couldn’t stop and bumped into the wall. The cave trembled heavily and crushed stones began to rain down. …Run, Liliya! Alliance formed out of severe hostility | Glorious lantern light on Qixi Another strange monster…It looks strong. Be careful, Captain. What is it suddenly… Oh, I remember it now, it’s what people call “Iron-Head Monster”.It has super tough skin. You won’t be able to damage it, so don’t even bother, Captain. …But we have to do something! Oh! I know! The head is the weak point! Attack its head, Captain! …I’d never think of that, not even with a million guesses. Iron-Head Monster… Huh. Phew, we’re safe now. The monsters didn’t catch up. By the way, why are you here? I got separated from the Schicksal soldiers. …Thats it? You sure know how to skip all the important parts. Oh, fine, I’ll start with the beginning. After we got into Kongming’s formation, I don’t know what happened, but I was sent to Schicksal. Roza Idiotka, Kongming, and Captain… you were all gone. I saw the enlistment ad that said “300 a month with food and shelter” so I signed up and got sent to Emberya. On our way, we found some villagers chased by monsters. We wanted to save them but more monsters came and we split. So the Schicksal soldiers are still alive? Yeah, should be.Maybe theyre trapped at other places. Oh, right, the messenger from Emberya is also with them. …I see. We walked into the cave as we talked. All of a sudden, some soft noise came from the darkness ahead. Hush… Is it monsters? Nah. It’s “slap” sound. Maybe someone is playing mud? Eh? Liliya? Is that you, Liliya? The next second, something in the dark popped up and grabbed Liliya. Roza… Ugh! I thought you were dead! Boohoo… You… you’re hurting me… Ugh… Huh? Captain is here too. Great! Rozaliya, why are you here? There are a lot of monsters in this cave, and I… I’m trapped here. I fought them off many times, but they always came back, like there’s something terrible on the other side. I can’t kill them all and I can’t drive them away. I’m never leaving this cave now… Can you help me, Captain? This sounds familiar… Alright, I got it now… …Aw, let go now, Roza Idiotka! Waah… Lili… Let go… Roza, your hands are full of mud.Stay away from me… Oh, right, come check out my stove! You call that slump of mud a stove? That’s what I learned in Jormungond. Super useful! Rozaliya, you haven’t told us why you’re here. I’m now the second biggest boss in Jormungond. I came with thousands of brothers for some serious business. Humph, that’s nothing compared to me! I’m a Schicksal general now! The Corsair Queen gave me her treasure! Lemme find it… Tada! The Jormungond Universal Compass! Looks like it’s made of brass, and totally soaked.Pretty much useless now. Um… even without the compass, the great Rozaliya can always tell directions! Duh, I don’t believe it. Well, I believe neither of you… Right, where are the Jormungond soldiers? …I got separated. Oh, that’s a surprise. It’s like you two were following the the same script… We were about to save Kongming, but we ran into some villagers whose village was taken by monsters. But there were too many of these monsters and we couldn’t beat them. We got trapped here and there’s no way out. The twins being here means the other soldiers are not far away either. Only a matter of time before we find them. But… Villagers and monsters… pretty much the same story told by Liliya before. Rozaliya and Liliya, do you still remember what the villagers looked like? Um… no. But the leader was a man in black? Are you two messing with me? Anything special about this leader? Special? He looked super ordinary…Oh, he was holding a black umbrella, on a nice and sunny day… Um… the villagers I saw had no umbrella, and they looked normal too… Never mind, I give up. You’re not giving me much… but I can tell something isn’t right. Um… I’ll think about it later. Follow me. I’ll take you out of here… Huh? What are you two doing in the corner? Chomp chomp chomp… Hold on! Don’t eat anything unclean! It’s super yummy! You want a bite, Captain? Hey, get this black thing off my face! Huh? It smells…Is it sweet potato? Yeah, it’s a teeny weeny burnt, but the taste is still awesome! Roza only baked two. That’s not enough. Thats because the tiny stove can only bake two at a time… Captain, give yours to Lili. Why would there be sweet potatoes? Where did you find them? There’s plenty over there. Just dig up a bit of soil and you’ll find them. What are you doing, Lili? Don’t dig up my sweet potatoes! I found them! Ho ho, it’s mine now. Let’s bake them. Be careful. The monsters might smell it and come… Come fight me, Vodka Swordmaster. Winners takes all! Come fight me, Vodka Typhoon.Winner takes all! …None of them is listening… Hush now, monsters are coming! Roza Idiotka, you brought the monsters here. What? Its your noise that drew them here! Alliance formed out of severe hostility | Glorious lantern light on Qixi Try my banana peel trap, you stupid monsters! Aargh! I almost fell! I think youre trying to snatch my sweet potatoes, Lili! I don’t like your sweet potatoes. Universe Ring, activated~ Stop it! It trapped me! Infinite bombs, BOOM! Stay away from my sweet potatoes! More monsters are coming! We better run… Lemme dig some more sweet potatoes before we leave… Phew… finally made it out…Are you alright? … Rozaliya and Liliya lay still on the ground and gave me no reply. Hey, Rozaliya? Liliya? Are you alright? …I’m starving… No stamina left. Can’t move a finger now. One sweet potato is not even an appetizer. I didn’t bring my stove and I can’t bake more now… Get up. I’m sending you back to the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen… … How about this? I know a place where you can eat to your heart’s content. On hearing the word “eat”, Rozaliya and Liliya sprung up like a pair of freshly infected zombies. Where is it? I can still walk if it’s not too far away. Moon Emberya. When we arrived, only a handful of soldiers stood guard at the gate, and sorrowful zither tunes echoed in the city. We found Kongming lost in her thoughts behind the zither. She didn’t even notice us until we came close.Captain… you… I knew you wouldn’t die easily on me… …I saw you ran over the cliff and I couldn’t find anything left by you. I had to think that you… You can rest your worries now. I promised you to look after myself, didn’t I? Captain… you’re a reckless fool. Chomp chomp… Wake up, Rozaliya. There’s no sweet potato left. Are you biting your fingers? Rozaliya and Liliya? After you disappeared, were you seeking them two? …I’m starving… I can eat two horses now… They ran into monsters and got trapped in a valley near the Jormungond and Emberya border.We’re in war, and the best we have now is our emergency food supply… Two big steamed buns, twenty small ones, and fried dough sticks… Is this enough? That should do. I simply ignored the silent screams from Rozaliya and Liliya. We’re saved… Following Kongming is the rightest choice… Kongming, we saw many Schicksal and Jormungond soldiers on the way. Are they… Hmm. They believe we have held their missing troops and thus allied to fight us. We cannot hold them off. I’ve told Rita and Theresa to evacuate the citizens, but I didn’t foresee your return… Forgive me for being blunt… but Kongming, if you have some strategy to fend them off, now is the time to use it. Captain, what do you mean? Your intention is obvious. You plan to guard the empty city alone against thousands of armed and angry soldiers. …It’s the only way that works. Well, there must be other options you’ve considered. Yes… as you said, I do have another strategy. With the capital under siege, what’s keeping you from acting decisively? You should know that nothing outweighs life….I know, and I also know mine is not the only life that matters. If the price for saving the city is thousands of innocent lives, would you still choose to follow through? I… My decision is final. I do have a formation to annihilate every human being around the city, but I’ve forsaken it. Taking thousands of lives hostage might compel the besiegers to retreat, but it would only justify their invasion. So…This is the only way. In the setting sun, Kongming overlooked the vacant city with her mournful but determined eyes. All went quiet, and even the twins gulping down their food felt something and raised their heads. I looked into their confused eyes. …Kongming, I may have a way to avoid the kingdom conflict. Hmm? Jormungond and Schicksal invade us because of the Huodou explosion. Snow melted and sea formed in the snow nation. Ocean receded and land rose in the pirate heaven. But the beast is not Emberya’s fault, and they fight us because they believe Emberya diverted the damage to them. Yes. We don’t know if it’s an easy excuse for them to justify the invasion, or a true conviction of righteous revenge. But the spark that started the fire is the missing troops that never returned to their home kingdoms.Keep talking. What if survivors of the missing troops show up? You mean… Yes, someone gave me a list of all the soldiers sent to Emberya for aid. In the list, two names caught my attention: Vodka Typhoon and Vodka Swordmaster. They’re Rozaliya and Liliya’s aliases. They were each sent to Schicksal and Jormungond when the formation went wrong. I see. I noticed their disappearance, but at that moment, the situation required me to focus on the battle. Now that we can play the survivor cards, the fundamental justification behind their invasion does not stand anymore. This can at the very least secure us a negotiation with the besiegers. Rita told me the two aid forces were led by Vodka Typhoon and Vodka Swordmaster, but I never made the connection. Even so, it still puzzles me that the two kingdoms should put our feud aside and send the soldiers to our rescue. Ahem, as for this… Liliya, tell us why. Liliya gobbled down a big steamed bun and cleared her throat. The Arch Imperator was hesitant about helping Emberya. After all, we have this “Schicksal First” policy. But she told us the three kingdoms were leaves on the same branch and Emberya’s peril would be felt by all.I see. But even if a negotiation is possible, the disastrous aftermath of the Huodou explosion won’t be ignored. To put myself in their shoes, I’d never withdraw my siege simply because the misunderstanding has been cleared. About this… Kongming, a private word please. Lili, I think Captain and Kongming were staring at us all the time. Nothing serious. Let’s get fed first. A few days later. Captain has been pacing back and forth for an eternity. He must be anxious. It’s been three days since the letter was delivered, and still no reply from the allied forces. I’m worried that… It’s out of our hands now, and worrying doesn’t help. Apart from the dessert munching twins over there, you’re perhaps the only one who can still remain calm. Anxiety and impatience are enemies of nurturing good character. Captain, read a book to restore your inner peace. I then heard a string of hasty footsteps coming close. Your Majesty, the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen have sent word! See, like I told you. She took the letter and opened it with a poker face.A few moments later, she put the letter away and looked at me. So? The next day, the command of the allied forces. Should I inform the Grand Chancellor and Theresa-sama? No need. Tell them to continue the evacuation. It’s a big gamble for us… If the negotiation goes south, you know what will happen. I know. Even if it comes to the worst, I can still earn some time for the evacuation. But you don’t have to… It’s too late for me to back away now. Let’s finish what we started. After all, its me that led Huodou into the sea and started the chain reaction. Besides… (Besides, saving you is only part of my plan. Himeko and Fu Hua also need my help…) (I still remember the dumbfounded me standing on the cold and blood stained stairs before the palace…) (I wanted to scream, but my throat was too sore to allow it.) (I wanted to cry, but my eyes were filled up by the settled blood.) (I wanted to question the murderer, but her burning vengeance sealed my lips.) (In the end, even the murderer died in my arms.) (Like a drowned person desperately struggling to hold onto something, I tried to get to the bottom of the tragedies.) (Back then, I couldn’t see the whole picture and write a happy ending for everyone.) (But it’s all different now.) Captain? Rozaliya and Liliya, get prepared.Kongming. Huh? I’ll make it work. The vanguard had sieged Moon Emberya, but the command was still at the border. That sent a very subtle message. The command was in a cave rather than a camp. That’s part of the legacy left by Huodou’s explosion. The snow on the great plains of Schicksal had all melted and half the kingdom went underwater. And the tide riding pirates of Jormungond were turned into cave dwellers. It’s not your fault, Captain. Huodou threatened all of the realm, and it’s impossible to contain its damage. If you didn’t lead Huodou into the sea and I didn’t activate the Guardian Formation, we’d be seeing more miseries. I know. I know all along, but still… Humph… A snort put an end to our conversation. We had already reached the depths of the cave. I looked around and found Jormungond trade commodities randomly piled up in the corners. The leaders of the allied forces measured us up with cold eyes. On making eye contact, a trace of surprise flashed over each of their faces.But they soon resumed calm and fixed their unfriendly eyes on Kongming. Well well, the legendary first Grand Seeress in the flesh. What an honor. You played us liked a fiddle, master strategist. A thousand years of wisdom on a little girl that couldn’t look more than twelve. Who’d have thought? You know I’m an elder but you don’t respect me as one. I’ve heard a lot about the heroic second Corsair Queen, but I have to say you turned out to be a disappointment. You! Enough! We’re not here for petty arguments. Kongming, you should have seen what you’ve done to Jormungond on the way here. And I have to applaud your courage waltzing in here with only three guards. Or maybe in your eyes, we’re no more than a pack of bandits that pose no threat to you? With the last word, the Arch Imperator threw a punch on the wall.The ground quaked and rubble fell. The cave trembled all over under the impact. Arch Imperator, your reputation has long preceded you, and I’d say it’s well justified. I’ll be candid. l have two goals. One is to prove my innocence, and the other is to ensure the empire’s survival. Humph, I’ll be candid too. I’m afraid none of your wishes will be granted today. Hime… Corsair Queen, please remain calm. Schicksal and Jormungond’s sufferings all came from Huodou’s explosion. But the beast is not Emberya’s fault, and you’re here because you believe Emberya diverted the damage to Jormungond. So what? I don’t intend to question your judgment, but there was no such diversion. Captain… you’re adding insult to injury. You’re crossing the line here. If you fail to produce valid evidence… It takes remedy to convince you, not evidence. I fully understand your motivation to hold Emberya accountable. But what if Emberya is also a victim? That’s a lie! Yes, Emberya suffered the first when Huodou broke loose. But we dispatched troops to your rescue as soon as we heard. How did our kindness repay us? Our soldiers are missing, and Huodou’s explosion shifted the terrains of Jormungond and Schicksal forever.While Emberya sustained some losses but your existence was never threatened. I say that’s evidence enough! Please hear me out, Corsair Queen. Let me tell you the truth why Emberya alone survived the Huodou explosion. Huodou is a ferocious beast l sealed a thousand years ago with the help of my Emberyan friends. For the past millennium, I’ve been reinforcing the seal, and I naturally understand the beast’s rage towards Emberya. For insurance, I deployed the Guardian Formation across Emberya during my early travels. Only I can activate the formation, and it’s the only thing that kept Emberya from collapsing in the explosion. Still, I underestimated the beast. The formation deployed over centuries crumbled like a paper in the explosion. If not so, you wouldn’t be able to march to Moon Emberya without much resistance. …She is telling the truth. Don’t fall for her lies! Her eyes tell me she’s not lying.These are the eyes of a protector. But what about our missing soldiers? Where have they gone? It simply doesn’t make sense. Like we said in the letter, the troops didn’t reach Emberya, and our envoys didn’t make it back. I personally received the Emberyan envoy, and he was with the dispatched Schicksal soldiers. Same here. Yes, it happened on the way to Emberya.We are yet to figure out what exactly happened, but the survivors’ words might carry some weight. If not for the survivors mentioned in your letter, we’d never have this conversation. Rozaliya and Liliya, tell us what you’ve been through. We were about to save Kongming, but we ran into some villagers whose village was taken by monsters. But there were too many of these monsters and we couldn’t beat them. We got trapped here and there’s no way out. We met some villagers asking for help too. We wanted to help, but more monsters came at us.Villagers in both stories… that does sound suspicious. But how can we be sure the twins haven’t betrayed us and made up the story? After the explosion, the Jormungond sea dried out and all ships were beached. The fishers had to abandon their homes and settle in the caves. At this time of year, the nights are still cold, and many of them have no shelter, no food. We’ve lost everything, but we have to live on! We were born fishers, and plowing the land isn’t in our blood. How are we supposed to make a living then? Till now, most of our houses are flooded, and our farmland has all gone to waste. No crops can be grown again. The two kingdoms are living hells now. Even if you told the truth, we can’t simply retreat and wait for death.I understand your rage and desperation, and that’s why I told you: “It takes remedy to convince you, not evidence.” Please take a look at this. The Grand Seeress has prepared a systematic relief plan to cope with the damages. Emberya will provide Schicksal with the blueprint of the Wind Tower. Wind Tower? Yes, it can fasten evaporation and drainage. Meanwhile, Emberya will support the reconstruction with the latest tech. For Jormungond… please read this page, Corsair Queen. Emberya will provide 5000 Mobile Houses to shelter the homeless. Mobile Houses? Building a house takes months. I doubt you can really deliver. Please rest assured, Corsair Queen. This type of house is easy and fast to built but can last long years. When did Emberya prepare all these? They sound like inventions from another world. No, they were not prepared for the occasion. The Grand Seeress developed them long ago for the TeRiRi concert tour. The Wind Tower can drain off the water on a rainy day. The Mobile Houses are for fans queuing up for a signature. If we can’t feed our kingdoms, all your promises are no more than lip service.We have just the answer for that. The twins found a nourishing staple in the valley that ripes in four months. Rozaliya, Liliya! Chomp chomp… Ahem, it’s exactly what they’re having. It’s named Golden Potato. There are some baked ones for you to taste. It smells good and tastes… delicious. But we’re out of time. Schicksal would be a kingdom of corpses when it ripes.Don’t worry. If our peace treaty goes through, Emberya will supply enough food to feed your people for 4 months. How much food do you think is needed to sustain for four months? Hahahah, that’s ridiculous… Well, how about eight million tons? l signaled Kongming with a seemingly casual side glance, and she gave me a nod that’s almost unnoticeable. Fine, eight million tons, not a gram short. Wha-What?! Captain, this is not child’s play. An empty promise will cost you dearly. I’d never play with fire when it comes to diplomacy.Besides, Emberya will dredge the watercourses in three years. We will unite… ahem, we’ll build traffic hubs and lead international trade to prosperity. Emberya will also freely share the latest technology so that all three kingdoms can benefit equally from progress. …Ahem. If you sign the treaty today, peace and prosperity across the realm will become reality in no time. What do you think, Arch Imperator? I need more convincing than sweet words. Before I could further explain, a huge boom sent the whole cave shivering with falling rocks. What happened? Thunderous monster roars were felt all through the cave, but the Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen didn’t even blink. They’re here again? I’ll lead the soldiers to attack them from behind. These monsters are outrageous… never know when to give up! Today is the day for them to learn the hard lesson. Alliance formed out of severe hostility | Glorious lantern light on Qixi Something is coming.Careful, Corsair Queen. Humph, this must be the beast king. With a mighty blow from the Corsair Queen, the monster bit the dust. Where were we just now? After the chaos, the cave became an even bigger mess. The Corsair Queen pulled over a crate and sat down casually. Well, you’ve all seen what Jormungond has turned into now. Captain’s terms sound tempting, but they are too little too late. We have a conclusion now, and there’s no need to talk more. Guards, escort our guests! The Corsair Queen snapped her finger and the next moment we were surrounded by fierce looking pirates. Wait! Corsair Queen, if another beast appears, how will you handle it then? Nonsense! Yama, Amorphous, and Huodou… They’re not wild animals you run into every day.Hold on, you mean… there are other beasts like Huodou that may ravage the realm? Captain saw it with his own eyes. Do you know why Captain would return here years later? I’m listening. … Captain roamed the realm and visited a secluded place, where writings on the cliff tell the legends of the ten beasts. “Qiongqi, the first and fiercest of the ten, has the resemblance of tiger and eagle. Descends every few centuries.” Exactly. Have you two heard about this beast? It does exist. You’ve heard about it too? Yes, there are Schicksal folktales that speak of a similar beast. Well then, the Arch Imperator must know how destructive the beast can be. After Huodou I saw the ominous sign of a red moon. Huodou is only the harbinger of the true savagery. 1000 years ago, Emberya slain Yama, Amorphous and sealed Huodou.Kongming knows the beasts better than everyone. You can overturn Emberya today, but when another beast comes, what will your chances be? And your missing soldiers are still trapped in the valley. Emberya can help find them if a deal is struck today. I understand you’re fighting for your justice, but no one has anything to gain from this nasty war. The Arch Imperator and Corsair Queen both became silent. Can I count on you about the eight million tons of rice in a month? You have my word. Well, if we don’t see the food aid in a month, this treaty will be nullified, and our rage will burn down everything. Fair enough, but you retreat tonight from Emberya. If we deliver on our end, you must fully honor the terms. Papers and brush pens were presented. The terms were written down and signed by the three parties. Well, that’s it. I hope you can be trusted, founder of Emberya. Emberya will honor the pact. With the signed treaty, Kongming and I left the command and soon returned to Moon Emberya.”Roamed the realm”… Kongming, I didn’t know you were such an elegant liar. Humph, and the feeling is mutual. By the way, did you read some astrology books? Even I was almost fooled by you. Oh, I was simply imitating your way of speaking. You… Kongming’s fan hit my head before I could dodge. That should put an end to it… Ah, my heart feels much lighter now. A flurry of hurried footsteps sounded. I stopped and saw Rita and Theresa rushing over with worried faces. Your Majesty took too much risk venturing over the border. If we didn’t make it on time… Well, we’ve returned, safe and sound. Kongming led in the front while Rita and Theresa followed her closely. I sighed softly in relief behind their backs. The guards told us you promised eight million tons of rice in a month in exchange for peace. Is it true? Eight million tons? That’s the entirety of our stock. How could we manage to feed our people then? In fact…I was about to explain when the robotic voice sounded again at this very inconvenient time. Countdown… 9 seconds… Teleportation terminating… What? Not again! Not now! Overwhelming blankness took away my consciousness in no time. The last image I saw was their silhouettes under the high moon. My consciousness came back. I heard scattered footsteps and I saw the almost too familiar wooden screen. Some handmaids passed by. I wobbled to get on my feet and tried to ask them what happened. Excuse me, is Kongming… No one paid me any heed. They rushed past with anxious faces. No, Kongming is not… A strong faintness overwhelmed me.I took a deep breath and began to sprint for the central palace. My head was a mess. I couldn’t help thinking about what I had done wrong and how could I make it right. It’s a long, long way. When I finally reached out my hand to the door, my hand was quivering all over. That’s enough. I won’t be able to lift my legs with this on… …Should we try… I want to try it too! Loud laughters came from behind the door. I pushed the door open not knowing what to expect. Captain? Where have you been? Why are you all so surprised? What happened? Mannerless fool! You left without a word, and now you swagger in like nothing has happened. The four of us were taking a walk, and you simply vanished in a puff of smoke. You could have given us a notice. Your transgression and insolence call for proper punishment. Waterboarding, public shaming, or flogging… what’s on your mind, Your Majesty? Rita gave me a wicked smile, and Kongming studied my reactions with great curiosity.Wait… What?! Never mind, since you’ve returned, Ill graciously forgive your misconduct. Well, Your Majesty certainly wasn’t gracious when you were stumping the floor for Captain’s missing earlier… Humph, it never happened. Looks like Captain is spared then. Come on, you weren’t being serious, right? Rita, let’s follow through the plan. Sure. Captain, please excuse us for a moment. Hmm? What plan? They retreated to the inner room. After a flurry of chuckles, Kongming’s voice passed over. Wait, Rita! I’m not wearing this flower. It’s too childish! Your Majesty, it’s the latest fashion. It compliments your dress like nothing else. Here, let me do it for you. Look how fabulous you are! Your Majesty, why are you blushing? Ugh… Please be still, Your Majesty. Ah… no, it’s tickling… When I couldn’t be more confused, Rita let out a soft chuckle again. Alright, it’s finished. Captain, take a guess now. Which one is Kongming? Yeah, tell us. Come on, it’s too easy.Of course it’s… um… Stop teasing Captain now. It’s almost time. Fine. I’ll get dressed. Captain, how does it look on me? It looks bad? Ah, no, I was lost for words. This dress is specially tailored for Qixi. Captain, youre so insensitive. It… looks very nice actually. Never mind, I don’t care about your opinion. Still, you have no excuse to be unprepared for the special occasion.As Kongming spoke, she fixed a jade amulet to my belt. This would do for now. It’s time for us to set off. Where to? Why, the lantern fair of course. We’ll watch the lantern show and pray for good fortune with the people of Emberya. Let’s go, Captain. It’s a summer evening of refreshing breezes, and we arrived at the Star Pavilion in fast wagons. Every house was decorated with colored glaze lanterns, and children were running around the corners with pinwheels. We’re seeing a lot of new and beautiful lanterns tonight. Yes, a few days ago a craftsman came and he is said to be a master of lanterns.Maybe we can invite him to the palace? That won’t be necessary. A river of lanterns flew with the passing crowds. The three girls were having a rarely good time in the festive scene. But for me, everything looked… unreal. It’s all too good to be true. Ahem… how are thing going with Jormungond and Schicksal? Thanks to Captain, trade has opened up and the three kingdoms are entering a mutually beneficial relationship. … We handed out seed rice to the farmers on the peace talk day, and exactly one month later new crops were harvested. Well, the credit goes to the Boosted Crop developed by Kongming. It ripes in a month. That’s mind blowing magic. Kongming-sama came up with a lot of new stuff at the ruins, and the imperial repository almost can’t hold them all.There is use for each and every one of them. As we spoke, the wagons had taken us to the center of Moon Emberya. A wooden tower stood out among all the shops and houses. Numerous lanterns danced to the rhythm of the wind. That’s probably the Star Pavilion they talked about. Are you looking at the tall building over there? That’s where the prayers will be held tonight. Prayers? It’s a tradition of the empire. Every Qixi night, people parade the city and pray for happiness and prosperity…In my eyes, these festivals are only meant to serve people’s selfish desires. We eat tangyuan on Lantern Festival and climb mountains on Double Ninth… Must-do activities for every festival. Kongming supported her head with one hand and checked the passing crowds with indifferent, tired eyes. Well, even so, these special days do give us a reason to reunite for a pleasant time, don’t they? In the festive atmosphere, even normal views and mundane activities may bring a fresh taste. Is it so? Kongming tut-tutted in disapproval, and I turned away from the awkwardness. The wagons came to a stop shortly. We’ve arrived. With imperial guards lined up on the side, Kongming walked Rita and Theresa to the Star Pavilion. I’ll leave it to you two. Sure. We can handle it. Are you sure not to come along? Citizens of Moon Emberya heard your return and would be honored by your presence. The truth is, the long years at the altar have washed away my memory of the ceremony.Theresa can host it better. As you wish then. Please take care of Her Majesty, Captain. Eh? Rita and Theresa can have all the overly sophisticated ceremony and speeches. While we join the crowd to have some fun! Huh? The next moment, I was forcibly dragged by Kongming into the sea of people. So many people here to see the boat parade… Good thing theyre all high tail boats today. I can at least see the orchid lanterns hanging at the stern. Why don’t you sit on my shoulders and see the whole picture? No sooner had I finished my words than a fan slap hit my shoulder.Humph, the parade is for people like you who haven’t seen much of the world, and I’ve seen it every single year. But the childlike joy on her face betrayed her pretended poise. Her eyes could hardly leave the lanterns. Ah, its Feng’s Sweet Shop! I want red bean mochi! And sugar haws! Huh? I thought you had been here many times, and you must had plenty of these before. Sure, and that’s why I know what tastes good and what doesn’t. And you’ve gotta to taste Smiley Face at the Qixi fair. A grand parade of oil, flour, sugar, and honey! Yeah, I got it…Tell me what you want, and I’ll go get them for you. Sweet milky balls and red bean mochi, three of each. Osmanthus pudding, double sugar. And two rubing. Can you really stomach that much? Wait, have you finished? Kongming looked up at me, pointed at the Crystal Cake stand, and began to play cute with her big watery eyes. Mr. Assassin, pleeeeease? Yeah yeah, why not… Huh? What did you just call me? Kongming ignored me, handed me all the desserts, and before I got a firm grip, she had dragged me to the next shop. Hey, sugar figures over there! Come on, before there’s nothing left for us! Weird.This is weird. Yes, she’s unmistakably Kongming, but right now she feels insanely different. Is it… the “festive atmosphere”? Well, I certainly won’t mind if her happy-go-lucky side can last… Are you happy now? Happy? What? I couldn’t stand your long face all the way, so I decided to tease you a bit. Now you’re grinning like an idiot. I hope you’re not getting any wrong ideas. Kongming unfolded the paper cover of the freshly steamed mutton bun, blew it slightly colder, and began to enjoy it. Underneath the flower lanterns, her face had a rosy sheen that could be easily mistaken for a flush. Come on, the happier one of us is definitely…Who? Who is it? Kongming’s cold gaze froze my tongue. Um… Oh, the sugar figures are ready. The two shining sugar figures handed over by the master came to my rescue and diverted Kongming’s attention. Two funny looking sugar figures, to be honest. Kongming couldn’t help but burst into laughters. … Hey, drop that look… You’re not thinking these two figures look like us, are you? They are in our likeness, because I say so. Now let’s check out the other side. Kongming nipped at the figure while watching the lanterns, and l was following her closely with two hands full. As the parade fleet roamed by, thousands of lanterns lit up the sky like the stars.The whole world had gone festive. Lanterns… fabulous lanterns… at reasonable prices… With bells tinkling, a lantern craftsman holding a black umbrella chanted as he passed us by. That must be the lantern master Theresa talked about. These lanterns look really nice, but I feel something is lacking. What? You expect them to fly like birds? No, it’s not what I meant. Well, that wouldn’t be too hard. Captain, are you up for a little chaHenge? I guess. What is it? Kongming turned around and her eyes shone bright like stars. We’ll make a lantern that can fly like a bird.Alliance formed out of severe hostility | Glorious lantern light on Qixi We’ve already got paper and rosin. Let’s go get some bamboos from the forest. Kongming… What is it? Why would you want to make a sky lantern all of a sudden? Is it also a Qixi tradition? Of course not. It’s just… I just thought of an old promise. Let me check how many bamboos we’ve already collected… Let’s get some more, Captain. These should be enough. Thank you, Captain. Then whittle the bamboos into thin sheets. We’ll be needing them to make the sky lantern. This place is beautiful. Let’s make the sky lantern here, Captain. Kongming spread the thin paper, cropped it into five equal parts, and carefully placed them on the bamboo threads. It’s been a long time since I did this. Im not sure if I can still make it work. It will fly. Technically, as long as the paper holds and the rosin burns, it can keep ascending. Kongming squinted at me and chuckled. I could only recite more of the high school physics I learned to sound right.The look on your face is precious when you try to explain something like a teacher. But… Tonight is the last night you stay here, right? Huh? I didn’t say so… You said nothing, but it’s written all over your face. I’ve been working on my formation these three months with the hope of sending you back to your world. I knew you’d leave someday, but it’s much sooner than I expected. Alright, we might as well enjoy the last night. We have lantern fair every year, but this time is different. Captain, can you see the tower over there? In a while, Rita and Theresa will ascend the tower and hold prayers for good fortune shared by all of Emberya. I followed Kongming’s eyes and found the majestic tower. Captain, do you think our prayers will reach the stars thousands of miles above us? I didn’t know the answer, but Kongming didn’t seem to mind either. She adjusted the skeleton so the lantern can fly….It’s done. Maybe you can write a wish on the sky lantern, and it will bring your wish to the stars. The lantern fire twinkled like a star, putting a soft glow on her somewhat wistful face. She handed the lantern to me. Do you have a wish to write on the lantern? Huh? For real? Lemme think… Think it as part of the celebration. Maybe the festive atmosphere does indeed make it special. …That sounds familiar. Alright, I won’t tease you more. Take your time while I return to the Star Pavilion for a brush pen.I’ll go with you. No need. I’ll take the shortcut and be back soon. Besides, you can’t walk fast holding the lantern in the crowds. Just wait for me here and I’ll be back before you know it. Kongming smiled as she walked across the timber bridge and disappeared in the bamboo grove. What should my wish be? World peace? Nah, it’s too unoriginal.Safely back to Hyperion? That sounds better… Forget it, no need to take this seriously. It won’t grant my wish like the Golem… But what took Kongming so long? I’ll go find her. I took the shortcut to the city, with my hands protecting the lantern from the crowds and my eyes searching for her. Noises from the fair passed over. On the ornate tower, tens of hanged flower lanterns were dancing with the wind. But the next instant… Bang!! The beams tumbled and Star Pavilion was set on fire. The sparks hit the trees nearby and the city turned red. ! I began to sprint. Heavy smoke engulfed the city and the blissful Qixi lantern fair turned into a disaster movie. The block around the tower was full of wooden structures, and that allowed the fire to run wild unstoppably.Kongming! Rita! Theresa! Stay clear! The area is locked down to contain the fire! Do not approach! You… have you seen Kongming? The guards are searching. Are you sure Her Majesty is here? She returned to the Star Pavilion for a pen… Let me through! I’ll find her! No, you shall not pass. Let me go! The guards blocked my path and held my arms. I wriggled free and dashed to the fire. Kongming!! As I ran into a wall of fire and tried to get around it, a burned out beam crumbled and hit hard on my back. But I could feel no pain, as if all my senses had been severed. All I could hear was their names ringing in my head. …I will save you… each and every one of you… Step back! Do you have a death wish or something?! The tower is on fire and no one can make it out! …We found lots of explosives southwest of the tower…Someone may have planted them… Watch out! Back off! Back off! Everyone back off! “No one can make it out”… “lots of explosives”… Cries, screams, and other noises surged into my ears, but my world had quieted down into absolute silence. I thought I had directed history to a happy ending, but everything I built fell apart in a wink like a house of cards. …It’s collapsing! Run! Keep away from it! The crowds rushed by and pushed me away from the fire. I reached out my hand but the only thing I caught was air. No… it’s not over. It can’t be over yet! …Miss Ironfist… if I can find her… there’s still a chance to turn it around! The crowds were in my way. The guards were in my way. The fire was in my way. Something intangible was holding me back like a rising tide. I had no choice but to throw myself headfirst into it. I grabbed the rail on the side to steady myself and slowly pushed myself against the crowds. Having passed the guards, I began to make a desperate run to the central palace.If I had known it earlier… if I stopped Kongming from returning to Star Pavilion… if I disarmed the bombs… if… But I can still turn back time… and make things right. The fire had not reached Kongming’s room and l fumbled my way to Miss lronfist in the dense smoke. Like a desert traveler finding a bottle of water, I clung to her cold metal fists without any care for the electric shock. Positioning anchor… Complete… Initiating transfer… This time, I’ll make it right… This time, I’ll save everyone! In my blurred vision, a burning crossbeam fell down over my head. Everything went to dust in the sea of fire. Are you happy now? Happy? What do you mean? Words came out faster than my consciousness restored. My heart was racing like mad. I held my breath to avoid smoke in my nose. My fingers still ached from the electric charge, and screams, cries were still lingering in my ears…Then everything went quiet. The noises rushed in. Cries, laughters, shouts… the lively fair was reaching its height. Oh, I’m… back. Back to a few hours ago, on the dreamlike main street. The Star Pavilion still stood tall amidst the bustling streets, with dazzling flower lanterns dangling in the wind. I see. Previously, the “pasts” I went back to didn’t have me in it, so it’s more like a transfer.But this time, the “past” I’ve returned to had me in it, so my consciousness was directly overwritten on the old me? No, it’s too soon to jump to the conclusion now. But it does look very much like what I presumed. Slightly relieved, I didn’t even notice I was holding something and subconsciously let go. Ah, my osmanthus pudding! Hey, why did you drop them? That’s when I saw all sorts of desserts dropped on the ground.Oh, sorry! I… got carried away. (Right, last time, Kongming did nag me for a lot of desserts…) I couldn’t stand your long face all the way, so I decided to tease you a bit. Your dopey face made me think you took it seriously, but now I know your mind wandered elsewhere… Humph! Red bean mochi… three. Sweet milky balls… three. Hmm, the numbers are correct. I’ll let you off the hook this time. Still the jostling crowds. Everything was exactly the same as the last time. If I do nothing, history would only repeat itself. The Star Pavilion will explode, and the streets will be consumed by fire. Before that happens, I must find the cause of the explosion.Yes, I must do something, and only I can do something. I looked to Kongming, who unfolded the paper cover of the freshly steamed mutton bun and began to enjoy it. (I must alert Rita at the Star Pavilion, stop the prayers, and keep Kongming away from the explosion…) I began to recall everything that went down the last time and think about how to lead Kongming to safety tactfully. Lanterns… fabulous lanterns… for just a few coins… As the parade fleet roamed by, thousands of lanterns lit up the sky like the stars. The whole world had gone festive.Lanterns… Right, lanterns! Ahem… Kongming, there’s something on my mind. What is it? These lanterns look really nice, but I feel something is lacking. What? You expect them to fly like birds? Kongming gave exactly the same answer as before. Well, that wouldn’t be too hard. Captain, are you up for a little challenge? Yes, what comes next starts with making a lantern… I guess. What is it? We’ll make a lantern that can fly like a bird. For that we’ll need some thin papers. I think we can find it at one of the stores.Thin papers and rosin can all be bought from the street, but bamboo threads can only be found outside the city. That’s what I learned from the last time. We can buy thin papers and rosin here, but bamboo threads can only come from the bamboo grove outside the city. Bamboo whittling? I can’t remember the last time I did this. Captain, let’s go and make some bamboo threads together. I tried to avoid her expectant eyes, for I knew I couldn’t stay beside her this time. The explosion will take place in the city, and she will stay safely in the bamboo grove when it happens.No, splitting up makes faster progress. I’ll get thin papers and rosin, while you whittle some bamboo threads. This way, we can make more than one. When the prayers are over, we can fly our lanterns on top of the Star Pavilion. Hmm… that’s not a bad proposal from you. Good, we’ll meet again at the city gate later. After I sent Kongming off with my lingering eyes, I turned around and started to make for the Star Pavilion. Huff… buff… Under the night sky, the lanterns of the tower wiggled like twinkling stars. I saw a guard walked out of the gate. Captain? Where’s the chancellor? Please follow me. Captain? Shouldn’t you be in Her Majesty’s company? What urgent business brought you here? May I have a word? Rita waved the guards off. Please speak your mind, Captain. You have my complete trust. Will you take my word for it if I say bombs have been planted in this building? This pavilion is for ceremonial purposes and heavily guarded. No one can set foot in without official permission.We’ll find out if someone has broken in pretty soon. Captain’s intel defies common logic, but then again, Captain yourself is someone surrounded by irregularities. And this time, I can’t really say I’m surprised. You’re a remarkable person, and I choose to put my faith in you one more time. Guards, warn Theresa-sama, evacuate the building, and clear the streets. Captain, where’s Her Majesty now? She’s in the bamboo grove outside the city now. We planned to make lanterns out of bamboo before I came here. A sound plan. Her Majesty would be safer there with the protection of the Shadow Guards. While I can rest my worries and search the explosives here with Captain. You don’t have to stay here, Rita… The whole empire is at stake.It’s the call of my duty. But I am greatly in your debt, Captain. You care deeply about the empire and saved us all from destruction. Please accept my humble gratitude. Roiling undercurrents in the crowds | Lurking perils of convoluted destinies Defuse all the explosives hidden in the bottles.Watch out for the explosion All explosives have been cleared. Much obliged for your assistance, Captain. But I still find it unusual. The explosives are in small numbers, and not very well concealed. The strange thing is no one found out. One hour before the ceremony, I’d personally inspect the environment and equipment. It’s unlikely that I’d miss it… Hmm… (Strange. Rita’s inspection should be enough to root out the explosives… even for the last time…) (This means the Star Pavilion is not going to explode itself, and…) The horrible thought froze me and soaked my back with cold sweat. (Think. Think hard. I must have overlooked something important…) The explosives we found are not nearly enough to shake the foundation of the Star Pavilion… Last time, the whole city was on fire… a horrifying view I wish I never have to see again.The wooden structure of the pavilion can indeed help the fire grow. Thinking back now, when the burned beam hit my back, I also heard a string of explosions… Among the screams, cries, and desperate shouts for help. There are… other explosives! It’s a trap! Other explosives? You mean… the ones we found are only a distraction to drop our guard? Yes, and the explosives are very likely hidden in plain sight and overlooked by everyone. The city bell rang and I counted nine. Each sank my heart even deepen. Captain? I climbed onto the window frame and took a lantern from the eaves. The paper and bamboo threads looked normal. This lantern burns wax instead of rosin. But it’s still common in lanterns of this type. To take a closer look, I blew out the fire. Break the wax, slowly and carefully. Another guard took out a knife to carve out the outer layer.As white wax fell off, a black fluid began to drip. This is not common wax… It’s rock oil! Everyone was shocked in disbelief. Rock oil burns longer than wax, but it’s also far more volatile and explosive. Someone replaced the wax with rock oil… purposefully and skillfully. Only the lower part of the candle was infused with rock oil. It takes a while before the top part burns out and detonate the lantern… And the explosion was timed to take place… precisely when the celebration reaches its climax! Alert everyone! Snuff out all the lanterns in the Star Pavilion… and the whole city! Grand Chancellor, the citizens are being evacuated! Who is behind this? What is their purpose? The lanterns are our only lead… but there’s no way to narrow it down… More lanterns at the fair than we can possibly count… and we can’t track down every lantern maker in the city…Rita’s eyes glittered on hearing “lantern maker”. Thank you for reminding me, Captain. Of all the craftsmen that came to Moon Emberya lately, there’s one lantern maker that stands out. His lanterns have novel looks and last longer than the others. That’s why he is exceptionally popular now. If he can adjust the formula of the candle to control the the burning speed… He can certainly make explosive candles and fit them into lanterns for everyone to buy… Find the craftsman! The gleaming and glittering fair dimmed down. Guards were trying to restore order to the streets. Lanterns… fabulous lanterns… for just a few coins… The peddling craftsman’s voice sounded in the alley. The black cloak and black umbrella were unmistakable. He was surrounded with his back against the wall. Guards approached slowly with their spears, but the craftsman didn’t seem to mind and walked to us casually.Wanna buy a lantern? The only Bagua Lanterns in town… A wind blew by. …The lantern turns with the wind, back and forth. Looks like no more business for me today. This is the last Bagua Lantern, and you can have it. He flung the lantern at me, but I didn’t catch it. A spear thrust through it and rock oil began to drip from the tip. The lantern was a distraction. He tried to climb onto the wall. But a scythe got in his way. Rita came down from above, and the craftsman slided back to miss the scythe by a hair, but the edge met his face.No blood was spilled. Only a human skin mask broke in half and fell down. Behind the mask there was another mask. Who are you? Who sent you? What’s your purpose? I’m faceless and nameless… Never mind, we have a hundred ways to make you talk, but I must warn you they might hurt a little. I assume you have cleared all of the city. Pity that the fireworks I long to see are not happening today. You! But if you think that’s my purpose, you cannot be more wrong… What? He suddenly burst into a fit of disturbing laughter. My purpose… is like… the Bagua Lantern… Do not… confuse the cause and effect. Quick, open his mouth! The guards swarmed to him but it’s too late. The craftsman’s head drooped down and his breath went out. Search him! The guards came back with a sealed potion and inside the potion was a transparent liquid.A poison without color or odor… a well-thought-out operation. Grand Chancellor, all of the lanterns in the city have been put out. The explosive lanterns are no longer a problem and the craftsman is dead. This should be the end of it. But somehow, the craftsman’s last words unsettled me greatly. Grand Chancellor, we can’t find Her Majesty at the city gate! Kongming? Right, I need to make sure she’s safe. All uncertainties have been eliminated, but I still couldn’t be relieved until I see her. Maybe Her Majesty is having a good time whittling bamboo and lost track of time. Captain, I’ll go with you. Roiling undercurrents in the crowds | Lurking perils of convoluted destinies [Ask around.] Captain: Excuse me.We are looking for a little girl… Captain: She wears an orchid pin, about this tall… Waiter at Feng’s Sweet Shop: I think she went that way. Sugar figure maker: The little girl who bought two sugar figures? Sugar figure maker: She went that way. Rita: This is a dead end, Captain. It’s not this way. Passerby: A little girl in a dark dress… Passerby: Oh I remember, she went that way. Vendor kid: That lady who came to buy rubing? Vendor kid: I think she went that way. Captain: So many people… Captain: Where could Kongming be… The hour for fireworks drew near, but the crowds were rushing out of the city. Kongming stood by the road on tiptoes, anxiously searching for Captain among the crowds. I wonder if this dress and the sky lantern can remind Captain of the past.What took him so long? Is he lost? I probably should go and find him. He’s unbelievable… I might as well buy papers and rosin myself. I’m not waiting for him all night like a fool. She carefully protected the lantern and trudged against the panicked crowds making her way to the Star Pavilion. Strange… all the lanterns went out? Why is everyone… Excuse me, coming through… What happened? Where is Captain now… Ouch! Kongming was too absorbed in her thoughts that she bumped into someone. Oh… sorry… Kongming rubbed her forehead in embarrassment and stepped aside, but only to be seized by the arm. Gotcha… The low voice was only meant to be heard between them two. Huh? Intense pain spread from her chest and shot up every nerve to freeze her on the spot and halt her breath. … Ugh… you are… His face was familiar, but Kongming couldn’t put a name to it. The stranger walked behind Kongming’s back casually and whispered something in a low voice. Ah… What’s he talking about? Why would it be… Kongming felt her consciousness escaping her in dribs and drabs. Impossible… The stranger laughed mockingly before disappearing in the crowd.Finally catching her breath, Kongming found the world falling back from her in slow motion… Then she lost her balance and hit the cobblestone ground. She couldn’t breath. She couldn’t move. Life was draining away from her while her brain still stumbled to function. A familiar figure came close. She couldn’t see clearly, but she believed that’s him.The flower lantern she had carefully protected along the way was lying on the ground, trampled and torn. Kongming gasped desperately to catch her breath. Mr… Assassin… Run… It’s… dangerous… Fragmented memories began to flow through Kongming’s head. In these memories, there were always people by her side. People who protected her, spoiled her, and trusted her unconditionally. It’s a shame… I won’t be able to see… the fireworks this year… Ah… The bustling crowd merged with the stars into blurred but warm light, and the calling gradually faded away. Huff… buff… I’m feeling… warmer now. I’ll rest a bit now. Clank! A jade potion fell down from the tower and broke, with the poison drops it contained seeping into the ground.The correction is done… and poisoning the wine won’t be necessary now. On the tower, a man in black overlooked the city behind the rail. The right path leads to the right destination. And the wrong path leads to the wrong destination. We were brought by the path and share the path with her. Now our purpose has been fulfilled, and there’s no reason for our existence anymore. The man in black sighed deeply and took off. People come and go. Light brightens and dims… With a short bell chime, the man in black walked into the dark night and vanished. Meanwhile, countless men in black elsewhere in the world also vanished. Nobody knew when they came, and nobody knew when they were gone. Are you happy now? Happy? You must be kidding me! …Why? Why it still ended this way!? With all the explosives disarmed, how come I failed again this time? …Captain… Captain? Kongming… I stared at her blankly and somehow my eyes became sore. I’m back again… the same street, the same view… The laughters and peddling words seemed to hurt my ears, and the blissful festive sight made my eyes ache.The murderer is somewhere out there, lurking in the crowd. Captain, you’re… hurting me… ljust realized I’d been holding Kongming’s hand so tight that her delicate hand began to redden. Sorry, I… I didn’t mean it. I know. What happened? I… I didn’t know where to start. When I finally fought my way through the crowd and reached Kongming. She was lying in her blood pool, gasping painfully and urging me to leave. The killing dagger was right beside her, with its black blade fully bathed in blood. I saw blood welled from her fatal wound and tried everything to desperately stop it… I pressed my forehead… My swelling, aching head couldn’t seem to shake the sick crimson off my eyes. …Captain, are you alright? No, it’s not the time to rest now. We must leave! Kongming, follow me… Wait, where are we going? I had no time to explain. The only thing that mattered was to take her away to somewhere safe. But… where’s safe after all? Captain, is the empire looking at yet another catastrophe? We must get out of here…Captain! She suddenly stopped. Captain, you must be exhausted… after all that’s happened. …Yes? For as long as I could remember, you’ve always stood by my side through the most trying times. Be it Huodou or the missing soldiers, you carried everything on your back and kept me in the dark. But you don’t have to. I’ll always be there for you and I wish to share your burdens. No matter what the future has in store, you can tell me and we can get through it together. No… you won’t believe it. After all that’s happened, I doubt I’d be easily surprised. I can entertain even the most ludicrous possibilities. …What if I say I’ve been through what’s going to happen many times? I’d believe it. …Don’t tease me anymore.I can barely make myself believe. How can you trust me so blindly? Well, I’ve never ruled out the impossible, but more importantly, I choose to believe you rather than what’s logical. So please be open to me, Captain. Is there danger at the fair? Did someone plant explosives? Yes, but that’s only the half of it. Too many eyes and ears here. Let’s talk somewhere in private. I took Kongming to a quiet alley where we could observe the streets. Kongming, beware of the crowd. A moment later, a craftsman holding a black umbrella will pass by selling his lanterns. A lantern vendor? Yes. He changed the candle formula and replaced the wax with rock oil. Rock oil?! Isn’t it something highly explosive? Right. The special candle has wax at the top but rock oil at the bottom. Takes a while for the lantern to explode. Right now, these lanterns are around the city, and even some fitted at the Star Pavilion come from the craftsman.Is he planning to destroy the whole city? Just like you said, someone is trying to sabotage the fair. And the lesson from the last time is to put out all the lanterns and evacuate the city. …I finally said it. I wasn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do, but at least I wouldn’t be alone this time. So you’ve found the solution.Well then, what’s the other half of it? Someone will try to assassinate you at the fair. I chose the words carefully trying not to shock her, but to my surprise, she sighed in relief. …Oh, that’s it. You don’t believe me? No, I believe you, wholeheartedly. But assassinations belong to the lowest level of hazards in my book. You can’t be serious, right? I’m no stranger to hired blades aimed at my throat. I’ve grown used to it. Kongming waved her hand and two men walked out of the shadow. Unlike uniformed guards, they were dressed in festive outfits and could easily pass as ordinary fair goers. Hidden in plain sight – the formidable Shadow Guards who only answer to the Grand Seeress. You’ve heard Captain. One of you alert Rita now, and the other one stay here on close watch. Aye. The two returned to the shadow like they were never out in the light. The Shadow Guards should have been able to keep Kongming out of harm’s way, but she was still stabbed the last time.Captain, are you sure the craftsman will pass by? Yes, I’m sure. A parade boat carrying a several-meter tall lantern slowly floated by, provoking many wows from the crowd. …Weird. Why hasn’t he shown up? It’s about time. I say we wait no more and seek him out. Maybe something unexpected happened and stalled him. Something unexpected… In theory, everything that comes next is identical to what I experienced before. Why would he change his route? There’s no reason for him to do so… Something must have happened. Something… that messed up the timeline. I began to search my memory. I had a habit of noticing small things, and it proved to be very helpful this time. …What’s different this time? Differences lead to more clues, and relying too much on assumptions rather than facts doesn’t end well. We should act now, Captain. Kongming, are you thinking… Yes, let’s seek out the suspect together. No… you’d better leave it to the guards and return to the imperial citadel.We can’t take this light. The best plan is to return immediately and do not give the enemies any chance. Putting the whole city and its people in danger while I hide in a hole, this is not my way. I know you care about the citizens, Kongming, but now is not the time to play the hero! You’re in great danger and our enemies are lurking in the dark. You could die any minute! Only my life matters and the thousands of souls in this city do not count? I understand someone is trying to take my life, and that you’re doing everything to stop it from happening. But to capture the craftsman and protect the city are the weight of my crown. With my people in grave and imminent danger, how can I possibly put my heart at ease? I appreciate everything you’ve done, but please respect my duty and conviction. Besides, I still have you by my side… And you once promised to “stay by my side no matter how hard it is” in the Huodou battle. I now ask you to fulfill your promise, Captain. Kongming reached out her hand…. After long hesitation, I took her hand. …I’m not leaving you to act alone, so this time… I’ll give it all to ensure your safety. I’m counting on it, Captain. Let’s go and meet the lantern peddler. Setup reunion with an old acquaintance | Vain attempt shattered under fireworks Captain: Focus…[Track the suspicious lantern vendor.] Captain: What is different…[Track the suspicious lantern vendor.] Captain: Muddy footprints? Captain: Let me ask around. Captain: Excuse me – would you happen to know anything about these muddy footprints? Waiter at Feng’s Sweet Shop: These footprints? Waiter at Feng’s Sweet Shop: Oh, they’re from a lantern vendor. Waiter at Feng’s Sweet Shop: He left these when he suddenly came out from the bushes. Captain: (I knew it!) Captain: Muddy footprints? Captain: Let me ask around. Orchid Pin vendor: The lantern seller did pass me. Orchid Pin vendor: But he was kinda weird…Orchid Pin vendor: He was in such a hurry, that he wasn’t even chanting. Captain: Muddy footprints? Captain: Let me ask around. Sugar figure maker: I’m looking for that lantern seller too! Sugar figure maker: He knocked over my syrup cauldron. Sugar figure maker: He gotta pay me back! Captain: All clues gathered. Captain: Looks like that craftsman did go this way. Kongming and I took the stairs up. According to the vendors, the craftsman is up to something……Noise from that side! Over there? Behind the corner, we found the craftsman. With his back facing us, he knelt down to finish the man lying on the ground with his dagger. The man on the ground was powerless and ready to meet his end. Stop! Kongming hurled her fan at the craftsman’s head. He sidestepped to evade and stood up. I found the dying man to be the Shadow Guard sent to alert Rita. Hmm… Looks like everyone is here. A few rounds later, Kongming drove the craftsman into the corner. He suddenly burst into eerie laughters. His human skin mask cracked and revealed a more disturbing mask underneath. Who are you? I’m faceless and nameless… You tried to murder my Shadow Guard and spread explosive lanterns in the city.What are you up to? If I let this messenger boy through, I’d be the one lying on the cold ground now. The craftsman took out a lantern, and I knew it’s meant to be a distraction for him to escape. Kongming, stop him! I picked up a stick to deflect the lantern, while Kongming darted ahead and knocked the dagger off his hand. Though cornered with no way to run, the craftsman remained unusually calm.I suggest you surrender yourself and save us the trouble. Kongming signaled the Shadow Guard following us to come forward. We outnumber you three to one. The odds are hopelessly against you. Well I beg to differ. Something came from behind. Without thinking, I put myself behind Kongming and blocked the attack. I heard the sound of my flesh rent open by blade. Blood spilled out but I almost felt no pain. Every bit of me was focusing on the dagger. I remember the dagger… the one used to stab Kongming the last time! You’ve betrayed Emberya and it’s punishable by death. So what? The Shadow Guard lifted his mask and revealed the black mask underneath, identical to the craftsman’s. Now the odds have turned against us.The craftsman might be easy to handle, but the Shadow Guard… Are you alright, Captain? Just a scratch… No worries. I’m leaving my back to you, Mr. Assassin. Setup reunion with an old acquaintance | Vain attempt shattered under fireworks Craftsman: Impressive. Craftsman: Now try this With all his shurikens deflected, the craftsman took a fatal blow from Kongming and went out. The Shadow Guard’s unexpected moves took Kongming and I by surprise and proved to be difficult to beat.The stab pain intensified and I felt strength draining away with cold sweat. Your partner won’t be able to help you now. Life is death, and in death we live. Such is our destiny. Kongming dashed ahead to strike the Shadow Guard’s heart, but he pulled the craftsman’s body to block the attack. Heh… Shielding yourself with your partner’s corpse. I wonder how would he feel if he came back to life.Heh… I believe your partner would gladly block for you too in his death. The Shadow Guard flashed behind Kongming’s back for a lightning fast slash. Ugh… Captain! I blocked it… Don’t worry, I’m fine… You’re distracted. You have a weakness. You can’t beat me. We’ll see about that. It was then I realized the dying Shadow Guard on the ground was missing. The cold, black dagger came again at Kongming. I meant to block it, but my body felt heavy and clumsy like a rock. That’s enough. The Shadow Guard froze as Rita’s scythe had come less than an inch from his neck.Scores of guards approached. The shining spear tips around him meant any rash move would forfeit his life. You’ve lost, traitor. Who is your master? Haha… I’m doing no one’s bidding. My mission is to… correct… Poison in his mouth! The guards came close to clamp his mouth open, but it’s too late. You reap what you sow… No escape from consequences… With a final grim laugh, the Shadow Guard lost his breath. Sorry, Your Majesty… I came late.I was making preparations for the prayers. If not for the gravely wounded Shadow Guard who came to alert me… You came at the right time. The wounded Shadow Guard? So he fled while we fought the masked men and warned Rita. The guards carried the two bodies out of the alley, and some of them stayed to address my wounds. The wounds are patched up… Thank goodness they missed the fatal parts, but Captain still need to visit a doctor. Are you alright, Captain? Just some stings. Don’t even hurt. Oh right, the lanterns at the Star Pavilion have rock oil inside, Rita. Rest assured, Captain. All of them were put out and the explosives were cleared. Theresa-sama is evacuating the city. I’ve prepared a carriage for you and Her Majesty.Good. Captain, can you still walk? Don’t worry for me, I’m a tough guy. Kongming spoke no more and quietly helped me get on the carriage. It just occurred to me… that the blood stains on me might startle everyone. Seeing their former Grand Seeress in such a sorry state might cause a public panic. That can be taken care of. We can stop by the tailor’s shop and buy a new dress. It’s right ahead. Good idea. The lanterns on the street went out one by one. Guards rushed around leading the panicky citizens to evacuate. Luckily the tailor’s shop was still open. Rita came back to the carriage with a new dress in hand. Could you excuse yourself for a moment while Her Majesty change inside, Captain? Huh? Oh, of course.Your Majesty, please allow me to change for you. No need, Rita. I’ll do it myself and just wait for me outside, will you? The curtain was drawn and Rita got out of the carriage too. Thank goodness Her Majesty and Captain sent the Shadow Guard to warn me, or else the city would burn now. Is he alright? The doctors are tending him now, but the hasty run worsened his wounds… He may never be a Shadow Guard again. For his loyalty, I would ask Her Majesty to grant him fortune and status. He deserves this. But Captain, how do you know there is rock oil in the lantern candles? I was about to explain when a huge explosion came from the building behind and fire sprang at us. Rattled by the sudden boom, the horses began to charge ahead like mad. My hand acted before my brain and grabbed one of the beams of the carriage, but only to be flung off soon. Kongming is still in the carriage! You two, block the carriage! Kongming, get out of the carriage now! Behind me were burning houses and people crying for help, while in front of me the carriage ran wild and far.It’s on fire! The fire is too big! Not enough water! Guards, spread out to fight the fire, and send a team for water! We must stop the fire getting to the firework shops. Let’s get to the carriage, Captain! The carriage left a path of chaos as it trampled across the city. Residents fled their burning houses in great panic. Too many people here! The disoriented crowds began to slow us down. Rita leaped onto the roofs and began to pick up her speed. Through the fire, I saw a black figure with a black umbrella blocking Rita’s way. The law of consequence bends for no one… You’re trying in vain to stop the inevitable… Get out of my way! The swinging scythe passed right through the man and he vanished in a puff of smoke. Grand Chancellor, the carriage is running out of the city! Don’t lose it! …The ruts look messy.The carriage may have lost control. Some wood chips. Maybe the carriage hit a rock here. The carriage should be right ahead. It took us long to finally find the carriage. The wounded driver was lying on the ground, and the horses broke loose. Seems like it rolled over at the hill and took heavy hits. The driver is dead. Fear grasped me by the throat and I couldn’t breathe….Rita, have you found Kongming? She’s not in the carriage… and not around it either… Maybe she escaped before the collision? Let’s keep searching. Her Majesty couldn’t be far off. Setup reunion with an old acquaintance | Vain attempt shattered under fireworks [Look for traces of Kongming.] This dark red liquid… Is it… blood?! This pendant looks exactly the same as the one on Her Majesty’s dress… Looks like we are heading in the right direction. This is… Her Majesty’s hairpin! …!!! …Too quiet. The dark woods were deadly quiet and the deeper I reached, the more eerie it felt.Kongming! Kongming! No reply. No one but us two in the grove. Here… a fan… That’s Her Majesty’s. She bought it from the fair some years ago, and she always keeps it around. Her Majesty should be very close. The blue folded fan with gold trims on the bamboo skeleton. The “Emberya” on the fan was clearly Kongming’s writing. The night sky was suddenly lit up by the stashed fireworks. The bamboo grove became bright as day for a second. And in the short second, I saw… More fireworks bloomed in the sky and embers fell like shooting stars. Everything became clear. Kongming? She was leaning against a rock and gazing up into the sky with the fan by her hand. She felt cold, and the light in her eyes had gone out. Kongming! Wake up! Can you hear me? Wind rose, bringing the rhythmical firework explosions and cries for help from the city.The night sky became a massive garden filled with dazzling blossoms of fireworks. Light blinded my eyes. The world became still and my blood froze. …No!!! Kongming! Kongming! Captain, please stop now… Her Majesty… can never answer you again… No… this can’t be! Darkness devoured me. No light in my world. No where to run. l was completely lost. …Tesla Zero. I stumbled ahead, but no matter how far I ran, the future I longed for remained a mirage I could never touch. My body became heavier and heavier until my legs defied my will to move. But I can’t stop yet. Not here. Not now. I’m back. What should I do now? Think. Think hard. Explosions. I must stop the explosions. I don’t know what caused the explosion. I have no time. At least I could stop Kongming from getting into the deadly carriage… Kongming, follow me to get out on foot. We can’t stay here.There will be explosions. Help! I couldn’t move my leg now… Theresa? Why would she be here? We need to help her! Stay here. I’ll go help her! No one is dying on me this time… The supporting pillars are about to give in! Come out now! Watch out, Captain! … I lived this time, but they died to save me. I… What can I do? How can I change this bloody fate? What if… I tell Kongming to get into the carriage earlier? […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…] […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Chargin […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Cha […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Chargin […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Cha […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Charging complete.Initiating transfer…] Yes, I can tell her to get into the carriage before the explosion. Run! Don’t look back! This time, I decided to stay by her side. The horses weren’t rattled, and the carriage left the city uneventfully. Until we got into the bamboo grove. I heard the carriage rustling the bamboo leaves, and covered by the rustling was the swooshing of arrows. I got in front of Kongming to block the arrows. That’s the only way I knew to protect her. But one arrow still flew past me and hit her. Even for someone who experienced no small amount of impossible, I still found it beyond belief. It’s simply uncanny, like the enemy knew there would be this tiny opening exactly at this exact moment. I’ve…Failed again… […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Chargin […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Cha […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Chargin […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Cha […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Chargin […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Cha […Spacetime anchor located, Tesla Zero charging…][Charging complete. Initiating transfer…] How many more times must I try? I began to realize that some intangible force was holding me back all along but I didn’t know what it was.It’s like I was fixing a leaking umbrella. One hole was patched up and another hole began to form. l was playing a game that had spun out of my control. If I could somehow get the whole picture from a high point, there might be a way to beat the game. But I was hopelessly trapped and had to play my part in the game… Yes, instead of the player, I’m merely a pawn on the chess board. Who’s playing this game? Are there other observers? Would they feel bored when the game has come this far? They might be able to see in a glance the ending that I have to take thousands of steps to get to.I don’t know how the story ends… or if the story has any ending at all. I nearly forgot initially my purpose was to return to Hyperion… but it doesn’t matter anymore. If there are observers watching this game, what would they say about all the things I’ve done? “His stupidity is off the chart.” “How could he fail such a simple task?” “If I were him…” “If he had done that, things would turn out differently.” “Why can’t he save everyone?” Sure…They won’t approve of me. …And they have every reason to do so. I finally realize that I am not the Mr. Assassin who could make everything happen in your eyes. You put your faith in the wrong person and I failed you. Kongming: Wha… why would I save you… Kongming: Elephant in Lane 5… advancing by 7… Captain, you have lost…Kongming: What’s Mr. Assassin doing now? When would fate bring us together again? Kongming: Run… now… it’s dangerous… Kongming: Please, Mr… Assassin… […Tesla Zero rebooting…][…Warnin […Tesla Zero rebooting…][…Warning, initiating system […Tesla Zero rebooting…][…Warning, initiating system wake-up. Restoring speech module…] Fate can be read, but not tampered with, despite one’s strongest longings. I have experienced the future with you, but I have never witnessed your past. At that time, you chose to shoulder the destinies of others, just like what you are doing now. You have been forced to repeat the past over and over again. Tesla – Zero: You’re still in pain Tesla – Zero: But you have never forgotten your pain Tesla – Zero: And I have finally come to your past Tesla – Zero: To give your arduous journey through world fragments Tesla – Zero: A starting note Cry, if you feel the pain. Just cry like a toddler. Let it all out. Don’t fear your pain. It saved you from something even more horrible – numbness.Tesla – Zero: It’s because you no longer play a part yourself Tesla – Zero: You only observe now Tesla – Zero: Like me Tesla – Zero: Watching the horrors that you’ve undergone “But if you wish to understand humanity, you can’t just be an onlooker.” “You have to stand right next to them and try to see what they are looking at.” Tesla – Zero: That was what you told me in the distant future Tesla – Zero: Now I try to stand beside you Tesla – Zero: What do your eyes fall upon? If there are other onlookers at this moment, they must be expecting something of you They expect you to bypass even more tragedies, until you reach a happy ending where everyone is safe and sound.They do not know or care about what you have been through. Tesla – Zero: What you have lost and found time and again Tesla – Zero: Are little more than tall tales to them Tesla – Zero: Tales whose endings they think they know Tesla – Zero: But is what they believe the truth? This story is not about deliverance. Its ending is constantly being modified, and new rifts emerge therewith. And you are the one who keeps trying, and reliving the pain. Tesla – Zero: Persistence alone won’t help you accomplish the impossible Tesla – Zero: And miracles won’t happen merely because you believe so Tesla – Zero: We both know that Tesla – Zero: Even if you’ve strived for it, it’s still beyond your current reach But here I am, offering you an opportunity to break away from the hopeless situation. Which is the meaning of my existence here. Huff… huff… Are you alright, Captain? …It’s Kongming’s room. Where… where did I wake up the last time? …After my many times of teleportation, it’s taking longer and longer for me to regain consciousness. But I’m getting close now. At least I could make sure Rita and Theresa won’t die for the last few times. Almost there. Only have to keep Kongming alive now… This time, I’ll… Captain, you passed out all of a sudden, and I couldn’t wake you up anyway, so I told the guards to carry you back. Why would you do that! Why didn’t you listen to me? Wha-what? I told you if I passed out, you had to wake me up on the spot no matter what. I tried but you were like a rock. It took too long, and I… became worried… What time is it now? How much have I lost? The paths and conditions… all changed… Forget it. Do as I said. Take the alley behind the sugar figure stand, stay five minutes in the textile shop before…Why… Don’t ask why! Just do it if you wish to live! Captain… did you have a nightmare? Enough talk now. You should rest well… I’ll have the handmaiden bring an ice pot to cool down the chamber. She took a towel to help me wipe off the sweat. Don’t… touch me. Stop looking at me like that… I came back, and it means I failed again.I couldn’t take it… I can’t bear your eyes… your expecting eyes. I… Mr. Assassin… I’m not your Mr. Assassin! The Mr. Assassin in your memory can do everything, but I… You know how many Qixi nights have I been through? How many times have I watched you disappear? I’m afraid… afraid to meet your eyes when I wake up again… afraid to run into another dead end…I want to run away from this, but where to? Running is a choice I don’t have… What am I saying? Why am I saying this? Did I say this to her before? You have a choice. You can always give me up and shake off the nightmare. Without me, Rita and Theresa would still take good care of you. You could erase me from your memory and live happily. Live happily… without you? If you give me up now, I’d never hold any grudge against you. I never did. In the distant past, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have died in the woods. But I know you can’t possibly stay by my side every step of the way… I need to rely on myself and become stronger. Then you showed up again and warned me about Huodou. You risked your life to distract Huodou for me. You found the missing troops and you set the table for the three kingdoms to cease fire and reach a deal.You found the connection between the explosive lanterns and the craftsman, and the traitor among the Shadow Guards. Anyone could have done this. It’s you who saved me from certain death time and again. You still have no faith in yourself, after everything you’ve done for me? I… Yes, every time, you could only take one small step ahead and make one small change. But it’s a gigantic mistake to admit defeat and deem yourself worthless because you haven’t reached the final goal. You don’t have to comfort me… This is no excuse for my failure… I refuse to see it as a failure… How many times now? How many time travels? …I’ve lost count long ago. I answered this question without thinking and immediately realized something was wrong. Miss… Ironfist? You…You’re awake? After a moment of silence, Miss Ironfist spoke alongside the electric buzz… She yawned deeply, jumped out of the giant palm, and adjusted her glasses. Good timing. You’re still alive, fortune teller. I have to warn you though. You’d never be able to reach the future you look forward to if you tear me apart. …Fortune… teller? Oh, skipper, you’re here too… She sounded arrogant and funny, but in her cold and mechanic voice, I sensed a trace of emotion. …Never mind, it would take less time to search the records myself. I’ve been running on low power, but the background modules were still functioning and keeping records. Are you serious? You’ve rewritten the past this many times? You’re the biggest tryhard I know….Oh, don’t get me wrong. I mean the future you who set the threshold number of consciousness mapping. Threshold number? Future me? Wait, what are you talking about? It’s all calculated. He left me here to point out the direction for you when you’re desperate. But the wake-up is conditional. The future you set a threshold number of consciousness mapping to trigger my wake-up. So… you’re the final insurance the future me left? Correct. But if somehow you give up before reaching the threshold, I’d still be asleep now. But why? The future me should know better than to trust me… He set too high a target for me. Ha, that’s him being naive. He somehow still believes the past him who has failed so many times can still make it. He expects… that you can find a completely different path than his, however small the chance is.A different path? Yes, he set an absurdly high threshold, but its you who have reached it by running into dead ends again and again. I’d say it’s very characteristic of you. Miss lronfist, maybe you could explain to us everything we’ve been through now? Everything? It all started with the three years when fortune teller was away and Huodou broke the seal. The ruins were damaged, and Golem the wish granter too. But instead of being disabled completely, it went into hibernation. As a compensation mechanism, a self-driven management program was activated to act in its stead. Self-driven management program? Is it… Yes, it’s the true enemy that has tried and succeeded in eliminating fortune teller on every timeline. But why does it hold such strong hostility against me? It’s the Golem that granted me immortality. Why would the program act against its will and try to undo the wish? Remember what I said? Things began to fall apart in the three years you were away. At that time, you were not in this world. Before your return, the program had indexed and archived the profiles of everyone who’d been granted a wish.Thus you became an anomaly in the system, an unidentified individual not meant for this world. And the men in black? They’re mass-manufactured agents to enforce the directive – erase you, the anomaly from the system. It’s beginning to make sense now. The assassin reminded me of someone serving the last Corsair Queen in Jormungond. The man who addressed himself as the “messenger”. He should have died in the fray for the Jormungond throne. Hmm, if my calculations are right, his death is simply a improvised play to distract attention. He is probably the incarnation of the pre-hibernation Golem to roam freely in the world.In contrast, the men in black you met were simply mindlessly machines to execute the elimination order. If you told the truth and the program’s goal is to wipe out Kongming. Then why would the Corsair Queen, Arch Imperator, Rita, and Theresa also die on the timelines I’ve traveled to? For the program, everything in this world is but data. In eliminating the anomaly, containing collateral damage to other data is not a priority for it. Of all the endings… isn’t there one where I can live? No… not in my simulations, and the skipper’s experience is also factual evidence.The thing is… the program’s directive is binary. If it deems it impossible to erase the anomaly, it may resort to the ultimate solution – reset the whole world. What? This is ridiculous. Ridiculous? Well, the Golem in the ruins is ridiculous enough. Have you ever thought about it? Maybe itself is the greatest anomaly in this world. Huh? Never mind, you wouldn’t understand anyway.That’s enough explanation for you. Let’s focus on the problem at hand. Is there really a solution? You said it before. The program will not rest until it achieves its goal. No, Captain, there’s a solution. Wha… Fortune teller, you’re smarter than I calculated. I didn’t expect you to be able to think outside the box. The only way to keep myself alive is to leave this world, right? Leave? You… you are saying I should bring her on board Hyperion? That’s the only way.Fortune teller leaving this world would count as mission accomplished for the program. But can you really do that? What exactly are you? There seems to be some misunderstanding. After all, Im but a man-made item. I’m not the cause of your consciousness mappings. It’s all you. Me? Until now, you have not yet grasped the true nature of the Hyperion sailing on the Sea of Quanta. Built by your memory, it’s the manifestation of your power and the path leading to tomorrow. I’m not the game changer you wish me to be.I’m merely left here to help you change the game yourself. What’s mission impossible for you now might be possible for the future you. The one who built this timeline loop and sent the past self into the future is you. That still makes me a pawn on the chess board. But the one playing the chess game is also me, the future me. Yes, the game is meant for the future you to beat the ill fate in this world. But you were not made into a pawn by anyone. Instead, you chose to be part of the game willingly. “But if you wish to understand humanity, you can’t just be an onlooker.” You have to get close and study carefully.You said this to me in the distant future. And that future is built by both you and the future you. You keep saying there’s nothing you can do, but you’ve only been doing one thing. To return to the past and walk back into the darkness. That’s the only way to reach the light. You chose to throw yourself back into the darkness, time and again. Once wasn’t enough, so you tried ten times more, hundreds of times more…It’s your tireless attempts that awakened me. You chose to become the future you. You chose this future. …I see. Good, but before you fully understand the nature of your power, you won’t be able to travel across the bubble universes. Eh? That’s why I’m here. To stabilize and amplify your power. Fortune teller, what’s on your mind? It doesn’t seem like I have a choice, does it? I’ve never wished to rule Emberya to begin with. Duty and honor pushed me to the throne, but if I had a choice, I’d rather become an explorer roaming the realm. Thousands of years can turn anyone insane. If not for Rita, Id probably be known as the Mad Empress now. Kongming… According to Miss Ironfist, this program would stop at nothing to eliminate my existence. I’ve watched this world for a thousand years, but still, there are views here I’d like to see again someday. Leaving this world is the best thing I can do to protect it…So you’ve made up your mind. But Rita… …I know what’s on your mind, but even with my amplification, skipper cannot take two people away from this world. The enforcers of the program may find you any minute. Time is running out. If you can leave before the program intervenes, Emberya will still be able to enjoy a wonderful night.Ha… looks like I’ll miss the firework show tonight after all. Kongming and I gently pushed the door open and found Rita taking a nap by the desk with scrolls and a pen beside her. Kongming stood by the door for a long while, and eventually took a woolen blanket to cover Rita up. She stood beside Rita and quietly watched her. We’re not waking her up? Shh… Kongming reached out her hand, but eventually took it back. This will suffice. She watched Rita intently and nothing could make her eyes move. Just like the last time… I’m still… not used to saying goodbye.We live in a world where we always leave without saying goodbyes properly… It’s time to go. I had to play the bad guy and interrupt her. I took her hand and dragged her out of the room. In the distance, Tesla Zero was flickering with strange lights. I looked at Kongming and saw her lips quivered, but nothing came out. I nodded to her. “See you in the not so distant future.” Grand Chancellor… Huh? The festive celebration is about to start….The hour has already come? …I’ll be right there. …Wait, where’s Her Majesty? I was going to report it. We couldn’t find Her Majesty anywhere in the city. Rita lifted her head and seemed to realize something. Ah… What’s wrong, Grand Chancellor? Never mind. Her Majesty is probably out of the city looking for new adventures. Should we send guards to look for Her Majesty? There is no need. You’re dismissed. After the guard left, Rita began to stroke the blanket and fixated her eyes on the blue fan by the window. Your Majesty… Looks like you’re on a long journey now… … You’re finally back… How’s the past me doing? Hmm… what should I say? You were a handful even as a small child. I’ll take that as a compliment. After I leave T here, events that involve you should end now. The seed was planted and the story is to be continued.The journey started with you but won’t end with you. Even now, there are travelers like the Hyperion crew who have lost their footing in a bubble universe. “To provide shelter for these children.” I don’t think that sums up the meaning of the journey. What exactly are you seeking? … Humph… still so secretive… Sorry, it’s a speculation of mine and only time can tell if it’s right or wrong.If you say so… Right, I’ve been archiving the observation data of bubble universes and I found a few curious points. I plan to compile a collection of reports based on the data… and I’m going to name it Valkyrie Persona. Ahem… that sounds… great. Hmm, it’s quite to my taste. Also, you seem to have a habit of recording the events after every mission, right? Wha-What? How do you know? Do I have to remind you what an accomplished astrologist is capable of? The Al database should have covered every detail of past events, but I feel your account is more entertaining. For reference, these files should also have a name of their own. I’m thinking… Hold on, my friend. As the author, I feel I’m entitled to name the series myself. Humph, I’m certain mine is better… but I’ll hear you out nevertheless. Hmm… I pretended to think hard, and uncannily, the first thing that popped up was a story that I used to love reading. Hmm… it’s decided. I’m gonna call it… Cap’s Bizarre Adventure.[ Stargazing Notes ] 1. Star PavilionImperial Year ##, Qixi.This Star Pavilion was recently built as the venue for the annual prayers for good harvests on Qixi, and a place for people to watch lanterns and enjoy the festival. The building looks nice, and the lantern lights are beautiful. But the rituals are so lengthy and complicated. I heard that one of our royal musicians had even invented a dance for the prayers… Ugh. I am not going to do that boring dance. I have to think of a way to get out of this. 2. Strange GirlImperial Year ##, Qixi.I met a strange girl today. I sneaked out of the palace and was on my way to see the Qixi lanterns, when a strange girl stopped me and claimed that I was a relative of hers. There were several men (very strong) chasing after her, and they asked me for compensation. I didn’t want to attract the guards, so I gave them some money just to send them away.It turned out that the girl knocked over a shelf at a pastry stall by the road but had no money on her. Later I learned that she sneaked out of her home for the Qixi lantern fair, just like I did… She told me that her parents who made bamboo fans for a living were very strict with her and wouldn’t let her go to the fair, so she climbed over the wall and sneaked out, every year… I cannot believe this reckless little girl just left home without bringing any money. The first time I sneaked out of the palace, I packed all Rita’s savings. …Although she then scolded me for that for a few days…3. Bamboo FansImperial Year ##, Qixi.I met that strange girl again this year. It seemed that she got herself in trouble again, and was being scolded by a shopkeeper. She looked relieved the second she saw me, so I had to save her with money again. She insisted on paying me back by borrowing more money from me. I was curious. After a while, she returned with a pile of blank bamboo fans, took out a knife and carved some patterns on them.She told passers-by that if they wrote their wishes on a bamboo fan and carried it with them all the time, their wishes would come true. No one would believe such childish nonsense. But the girl insisted and asked me to sell the fans with her. To my surprise, moments later, a group of people actually came to buy the fans. Then I suddenly noticed our “customers” were all wearing the castle guard uniforms under their coats. I looked up, and saw Rita waving at me from the other side of the street, smiling. In the end, I bought the rest of the bamboo fans. I picked one from them, and thought for a long time before I wrote anything on it. …I’ll find a chance to give it to Rita, as a thank you gift. If it weren’t for her, Moon Emberya wouldn’t have seen today’s peace and prosperity. 4. Red Bean MochiImperial Year ##, Qixi.I didn’t go to the lantern fair tonight. I caught a bad cold during the northern expedition years ago and seem to be suffering a relapse these days.Rita forced me to rest in bed. The festive noises from the fair and the fact that I could not be a part of it tormented me. Just when I was hatching a scheme to distract the bodyguard and sneak out, Rita suddenly came back with some red bean mochi. They didn’t taste like the ones from Feng’s Sweet Shop that I used to have. She must have made them herself. I’m not surprised – Rita’s mochi taste even better. 5. The RuinsImperial Year ##, Qixi.It’s so boring here, the ruins. I should have brought more books. Ah… I really miss those red bean mochi from Feng’s Sweet Shop… Ooh and Smiley Face, and osmanthus pudding, lotus pie, golden milk tart, glace plum, fish-stuffed lotus bun, crab-stuffed orange… It is a pity that I have to miss this year’s lantern fair. Rita and Theresa must be performing the ritual on Star Pavilion at the moment. 6. Lantern LightsImperial Year ##, Qixi.I don’t know when it started, but there are more and more people selling bamboo fans at the lantern fair in recent years.I cannotbelieve such a sloppy made-up story about attaching wishes to bamboo fans has now become a festival tradition… I had so much fun tonight. After all these years, he finally came back to visit me again. We went to the lantern fair and watched the boat parade together, and I ate a lot of delicious snacks. He clearly wanted to have some snacks too, but was too proud to ask.The way he stared at the snacks… so cute. He also bought me an orchid pin, and told me to wear it for “festive mood”. How juvenile. The festival is not about hairpins or lanterns it’s about people getting together, putting work aside, and simply having fun at the fair in lantern lights while eating sugar figures… This is what Qixi is all about. If only I could have a Qixi night like this every year..