Chapter 88: Magnolia Garden
It did not take long to get used to living in Magnolia Garden. Xu Min had gotten used to a much higher standard of living after leaving the Zhong family compound in his previous life. He had also become a leading figure.
The Zhong family leader’s gift of land to Xu Min had a total of three thousand peasants and farmers living on it. They all paid a percentage of their yearly income in tax, which would become Xu Min's salary. Of this salary, the young man chose to pay a part to the Zhong family in exchange for protection of the Zhong family compound.
Xu Min suddenly had enough money to buy food to ensure Xu Wu could eat any delicacy that she liked. He hired servants to take care of all the everyday chores at home. This way Xu Wu no longer had to work. However, becoming quickly bored doing nothing, she shooed the hired servants away to deal with their home herself. After giving up on embroidery and sewing clothes, she started also looking after the house and the garden.
Previously, when Xu Wu had been a slave, many of the male slaves had tried to gain her favor. However, now that she was free and was the older sister of Xu Min, the martial brother of the Young Master, many commoners and even some nobles started to pursue her. This courting was something she was anything but used to. It confused her so much that she hidden herself up in the Magnolia Garden. She only left when her previous master, the Zhong family mistress, called for her so that they could have a cup of tea and a game of chess.
Life passed by in a blur. Xu Min grew up and became more and more outstanding. Because his talents were on full display, he advanced rapidly in the ranks.
While the Young Master had been capable of following Xu Min when they were young, he could no longer do so as they grew older. The gap in their strength grew larger and larger. However, the stronger Xu Min became, the happier the entire Zhong family was. Every time he reached another star, he would be gifted with a higher rank in the Guard or a larger area of real estate to add to his land with more farmers and peasants. Even a few small villages had been added to his list of subjects.
This life was a lot more casual than what Xu Min was used to. He spent all of his days training, chatting with the Young Master, and playing with his sister. Though life was simple, a part of him felt as though something was missing. Deep within his heart was a small voice telling him that things were not as great as they seemed.
Pushing away this emotion, Xu Min went through his days at a leisurely pace. His speed at progressing was far slower than it had been in his life outside the Blood Pagoda. Still, that speed was enough to consider him a frightening talent. In fact, within the Zhong family compound, no one was even half as terrifying as him.
Years went by in peace as Xu Min kept training himself. Until, finally, it was time for the Young Master to experience the world. Xu Min, as his martial brother, naturally decided to go with this young master to the outside world and experience hardships of life-and-death struggles. Deep inside, though, he carried the faint hope of reuniting with Yong Meilin.
Their first destination was Honghe City. Xu Min found Wang Li, the teacher in his previous life, as soon as they entered. Although they had never spoken much to each other, he had been the one to mold Xu Min into the expert he became outside the Blood Pagoda. He was the one who gifted Xu Min his devouring sword.
In this dreamworld of the Blood Pagoda, Xu Min became friendly with Wang Li once more. As they became familiar, Xu Min managed to somehow get his hands on Wang Li’s sword. Although he could not help but wonder why he has suddenly gifted this important and fantastic item with only a shallow friendship, he never questioned it.
After Honghe City, the two friends moved towards Ri Chu City where Xu Min went to the Yong family compound. Both of them entered the Hall of Champions to battle. They also sold the items they had managed to find along the way in the auction house.
Although Xu Min had been tempted to go and meet up with Cao Cao, he had chosen not to do so. If the two of them went to that sacred valley in the magical forest, it was highly likely that neither of them would survive the attacks of Cao Cao's father.
The first auction Xu Min and the Young Master witnessed was controlled by Yong Meilin. Although this was an older version of the woman he knew, Xu Min could recognize her from anywhere.
The moment their eyes met, a spark appeared between them. Everyone noticed it. Some were dismayed, others happy. The Young Master was elated when he found out that Xu Min had fallen for a woman. As well, this woman was an earthshaking beauty.
"I will wait for you to finish your training," Yong Meilin said to Xu Min as he and the young master left Ri Chu City. This Meilin had none of the real woman's haughtiness and arrogance nor did she have any of her stubbornness. Her whole personality had mellowed. Her eyes were filled with a gentle, loving light, causing Xu Min to frown. This person was not the woman he had loved.
Still, on they went. Xu Min and the Young Master went as far as the Immortal Ruins. Everywhere they went, Xu Min met the friends of his previous life with the exception of Cao Cao and Ye Ling. However, the more friends he met, the more out of place everything seemed.
This world was perfect. Everyone treated Xu Min as though he was a god. He never truly experienced any life-and-death combat. He battled a few bandits here and there, but everywhere he went, everyone was treating him like a returned hero.
Soon Young Master and he had been gone for close to five years. As they returned, they brought with them riches; both, as well, had found a woman they loved. Although this Meilin was different, she was still Meilin. Xu Min forced himself to look at her to always remind himself of what price he had paid to be able to be with his sister for a second lifetime. He had given up not only his friends but also his loved ones. This was a sacrifice he would never allow himself to forget.
Returning to the Zhong family compound with their newfound wealth and treasures, they were treated like royalty. A large banquet was held. The party lasted a full month with beasts being slaughtered every day to feed the many guests. During this time, the wealth of the Zhong family compound had not diminished. Instead, it had increased thanks to the money that the Young Master had brought home with him.
Xu Min was also rich. He was by now a five-star Warrior who had anything he could ever dream of. Nevertheless, the more he gained, the less he felt comfortable.
He had expected when he returned home to his older sister things would change for the better. He would once more become happy with his decision, but he did not.
Anywhere he went he was followed by women of all kinds. Some were noble women who wished to marry him to become one of his concubines; others were slaves who hoped for a better future.
Meilin and Xu Min got married, but Xu Min was never happy. Xu Wu had gotten married while Xu Min was away. She had fallen in love with a rich merchant within the small city. They had a child. Xu Wu seemed happy, but while looking at her, she also seemed empty. It was as though it was a shell with Xu Wu's appearance, which in fact had not changed much from the time they were children up until now. Her personality was not as Xu Min remembered it.
Realizing that things were not as he expected, Xu Min closed his eyes. Once more, the real Meilin appeared in front of him. Cao Cao and Ye Ling were also there, so was his Master.
"I made my decision, but it seems that what is lost is lost," Xu Min mumbled to himself, "No matter how much I wish for her to return to me, I cannot make her return. What returns is but my memory. Even the memories I have are incomplete. She is no longer a whole person, but an empty shell, existing solely for the purpose of making me feel better."
"I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. Yes, I did lose someone whom I truly loved, but in return, I was gifted many things. A woman to love, a caring master and two very good brothers. I have friends, and I experienced a vibrant and exciting life."
"Revenge is important to me. I need my revenge, but this should no longer be the only reason for me to live. I should understand that by now I have other reasons to be alive, other people whom I care for. Is it truly fair to let Meilin wait a whole lifetime so that I can live a fake life within this Blood Pagoda?"
"Is it fair that Ye Ling waits for me outside of this Pagoda until he grows old?"
"Should I let Cao Cao become the contracted beast of these Guardians which I know nothing about just because I want to stay in this dream world?"
"No!" Xu Min felt his fighting spirit rise. He felt his blood boil and felt more alive than he had been for a very long time. "This world makes my mortal enemies into friends! It destroys the memories of the loved ones I hold dear! I would rather keep traversing the world without Xu Wu than to keep living in this world where she is present, yet not!"
The more Xu Min spoke, the more he felt a puzzle within him was being solved. The more he realized that this fake world could never replace his real memories. He felt lighter. Suddenly the entire world turned blurry. The light was everywhere, and the world slowly disappeared beneath Xu Min.
"No!" he called out as he tried to look at his sister one last time, but it was already too late. There was no longer anything to see; the world had turned white. Xu Min called out, and at the same moment, he returned to the Blood Pagoda, tears running down his cheeks.
Xu Min was disgusted with himself. The past could not be changed, and the fact that he was willing to accept an illusion world was simply unacceptable. It made him into someone he was not; his eyes were blazing with anger as he once more straightened his back.
"Zhong family, I will make you pay for this!" he hissed through gritted teeth. His hatred for the Zhong family had not diminished in the duration of this fake world; on the contrary, it had increased. Had it not been for them, he would have never have felt the way he was right now!
"Well done in succeeding the Saint tier trial." the formless voice spoke once more. This was the first time it congratulated him.
"To continue to the last floor, you need a strength higher than your own," the voice continued. "Those who clear the Saint tier are allowed to enter this Blood Pagoda once more at a later date. You will need to be a seven-star Warrior to enter the final level, but now it is time for you to get your reward for finishing the second floor. You have done well, much better than what I would expect for a human to do. Although you were almost swallowed by the Dream of the Heart, you managed to get through it."
"Come with me. This is your reward. You will have to leave the Blood Pagoda now until the day where you become strong enough to return."