Chapter 175:

Fork in the Road

Mad God


Watching from the sky, Rumira kept her eye on Ren without blinking them before slowly descending right behind her.

"That technique…" She spoke up after landing with a slightly trembling voice, still under the influence of what she had just seen.

"Its name, Soul Tearer, wasn't given to it, so it may sound cool," Ren replied, standing up, turning towards her with a calm expression. "I named it that because it does exactly what its name implies. Harimau is dead. With no chance to ever come back to life."

"Is there even a chance at a second life?" Rumira asked her, only by reflex.

"It depends on what you call… a second life. But I know what you mean, and my answer is Some. But it is an exceptionally rare and hard achievement. The same goes for this technique. You don't have to worry; I'm not planning on teaching it to anyone."

"I want to believe in your words." She said after a little pause with conflicted eyes.

"You can. For starters, I developed this spell. There are exceptionally hard requirements to learn it. First, one would need to learn the correct way to cast it… What you just saw… is a deformed, inverse version of it. It was not designed to act like this."

"You want to tell me that this technique was not created to kill one's soul?" She asked, feeling it hard to believe.

"No. It was created to protect it. To anchor it into reality so it can pass through reincarnation, keeping the soul's original thoughts and feelings. Without learning how to use it as intended, you won't understand how to turn it into… this." She said, looking back at the corpse before spreading her arms apart. "So don't worry! Even if I start teaching it to someone, skipping the first step, he or she must have a God Crystal, or it won't even be possible to understand the basic principles behind it! Without ever having one inside of you, you won't be able to comprehend the technique at all!" He explained slowly and with a friendly voice, looking into her eyes. Ren was not keeping any secrets before her at all, letting Rumira look deep into her eyes, seeing that she was not lying to her.

“God Crystal… but you used it and…” She couldn't continue anymore. Her eyes went wide as realization struck her. Every fiber inside her body was stunning as she realized the implications behind her words. "You… you are-" She stuttered, almost falling backwards.

Every demon, old and young, innately knew their own history. It was imprinted into their genes; The day when the Sky was torn open and the Mad God, before his death, washed the realm with life, bringing energy and giving rise to the first demons. That event gave their species his blessing, bringing true intelligence to them.

"I am Ren. Daughter of Anya and Xendar. Wife of Leinor. Current Master of Ariana. That is who I am." Ren said before Rumira could finish, yet the Queen of the Foxes had just fallen to her knees, lowering her head.

"Let me express my feelings, just… this once…" She said with a trembling voice.

"Ugh... please… this is… not something…!" Ren said as she twitched her mouth, rushing forward to raise up the Queen of the Foxes.

"No. Even when there were times I cursed my own powers and fate, I always remembered one thing and I believed in it firmly; Without you, we would not be here! Most demons also think the same way; I am sure of that! If Harimau knew, he would be proud to die at your hands!"

"What are you saying?" Ren said, unable to pull her body up from the kneeling position no matter how hard she tried.

"It was the Mad God that gave us life! Every demon believes it. Be it my tribe, Kangs, Harimaus, Chonos, or even the Ents! No matter which demon you ask, what they believe, or where they came from, we all know that it is inside of us. An innate feeling when we gain true intelligence; We are children of the Mad God." She said, raising her head, looking up at Ren with tears in her eyes and a smile more radiant than anything Ren had seen before. "I just want to thank you for giving us life. We are your children, always will be."

Ren could not say anything, standing there, watching Rumira's eyes sparkling like a child who never knew her own parents. One day, by accident, she found her own mother.

"Ahhhh…" Ren sighed as she closed her eyes. When she reopened them, they were filled with a gentle light as her expression greatly softened, holding Rumira's hand. She was pulling her to her feet finally. "Look! The Mad God died that day. Let me say it once again, my name is Ren. This is who I am, and I never intend to be anyone else."

"I understand. I won't say a word, ever! I will bury it deep inside my heart." She nodded with a serious expression. "I just wanted to tell you in the name of every demon, we all look up to the Mad God as our own… God. The one who made us into who we are."

"Please, stop!" Ren chuckled with clear embarrassment, shaking her head. "It was for my own selfish reasons and not because I am some benevolent being. Don't put me on a pedestal, as I never saw myself as a God! I was only someone who was lucky enough to reach the door leading out from this realm, right into the cosmos. I did what I did because I wanted to open that door and have a chance to go through it, that is all."

"Yet you still created us." Rumira smiled with happiness. "We are your children. Even if by accident." She chuckled playfully.

"Children… huh?" She whispered, closing her eyes, trembling at her words a little as she felt a hand touch her shoulders… and they were not Rumira's fingers. When her eyelids slowly lifted, turning towards the corpse of the Tiger King, she was filled with mixed and strange feelings, not noticing them before. Or she just subconsciously suppressed them. "I'll bring his body back to Thunder Valley."

"I understand. I'll head back to my home. I can't stay out for long, or anybody coming in contact with me may suffer. Before leaving… can I… ask something?" She smiled at her again, watching Ren with stars in her eyes.

"Shoot." She nodded, looking back at her.

"Can I call you Ren?"

"Ahaha, sure, why even ask that?" She laughed, shaking her head, but Rumira just smiled before bowing a little and then flying away, leaving only Ren and the corpse of the Tiger King behind.

"She was really shocked, I could see it in her eyes." Leinor's figure appeared behind Ren, holding her shoulders, managing to take a corporeal shape and not just be a voice.

"And you were not?"

"I have known you since we were kids. We grew up together. I don't care who you were before. In this life, you are Ren, my one and only love."

Ren's lips slowly curled upwards, patting his fingers, even feeling the warmth of his hand, finally realizing something important. He has not disappeared. He was still there. Even if she herself did not want to admit it, deep down, sometimes she felt like it was truly just her own mind playing tricks on her. Finally, she was 100% sure she really did get a hold of Leinor's soul, or at least what remained of it, in those last moments. This realization immediately widened her smile, drawing tears to the edge of her eyes.

"She really sees you as a mother." Leinor continued. "In a way, it is true. You can't deny it! It was your actions that gave birth to them."

"I know… and it is weird. Being a mother to a whole new species." She joked a little, but it was truly weird for her.

"I know the tiger was trouble, but still… Do you really want to go through with this? Harvesting more of your children until you have enough cores?" Leinor asked. Being part of her for so long, he knew her state better and better. He was slowly fusing with Ren's soul. If she did not let him go and disappear, they would fuse together. And it would bar her from any advancement… and bring who knows what other problems with it.

"Please… stop calling them that." Ren sighed, shaking her head.

"Ren, face it, please! Just say it out loud, repeat after me! You are trying to wipe out a weakened God from his own crystal. Then place a broken me into it and slaughter… how many people? Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How long would it take for me to be stable again? Would you even be the same girl I fell in love with at the end? Would you… stop if the likes of Rudrick and Zelig aren't enough? Or…”

"Well… I was once called the Mad God for a reason…" She murmured, barely audible.

"Didn't you just say you are not anymore? Ren! Don't forget, I am part of you now, I know your thoughts, and I know what you feel! Are you willing to harvest as many demonic cores as needed to power up this formation of yours to the maximum? That's cruel! That is NOT YOU! Then…”

"LeiLei…"

"Don't LeiLei me!" He shut her down with force, the first time in their life. He was truly angry with her, and he had none of it. His words were echoing inside her mind like a hammer hitting an anvil. "Are you out of your damned mind?!"

"I am not…" She said, lowering her head and playing with the edge of her clothes. "I wouldn't harvest everyone's souls…" She murmured, fidgeting with the edge of her clothing like a child. "Only those who are working with Zelig and Rudrick…"

"Still! Sorry, but I won't accept that! Even if they are deserving of death, acting like this is only going to lead you into an even more wrong and dark path! No! Doing something like that can change you. I won't let it happen! Ren, you always taught me how to search for balance and harmony in my cultivation. You are doing the exact opposite of what you teach to others! Don't you see it? How are you going to find your way back to the path that you always told me about? If you continue to act like this… Something bad is going to happen. I can feel it."

"..." Ren was breathing slowly and heavily, falling silent after his forceful words with tears in her eyes. "But you are not with me… I feel like I'm going all alone now…" She whispered in the end, crouching down.

"Bullshit!" She felt a little tug from behind, raising her up from the ground and hugging her. "Suddenly, all of your friends are gone? What about your parents? Don't tell me there are no disciples under you! Is Ariana not someone who you would defend with your life? Huh? Ren, wake up!"

"..."

"I would love you no matter what, Ren." He spoke up after a minute of silence, whispering into her ears. "But that does not mean I would not try to stop you from doing something wrong or stupid. It is exactly the opposite! I don't want you to do something like that exactly because I love you."

"I love you too…" Escaped a painful and heart-wrenching, weak voice from Ren's lips. Her fingers were grabbing into the corporeal hands of Leinor, while her tears were streaming down her face, falling to the ground with a loud splatter. She wanted to turn, but somehow, she felt like if she did, he wouldn't be there, and she would lose him again. She was trembling, trying to gulp back her tears, when the next moment, she heard Ariana's voice traveling from afar.

"Master!" landed quickly behind her, hurriedly hugging Ren's strongly trembling body, bringing her back to reality, blinking with a bit of a confused look in her eyes.

"I'm fine…" She murmured, wiping her eyes after realizing it was no longer Leinor who hugged her from behind.

"You're not! I felt it even from afar! I hurried here as fast as I could!"

Ren just fell silent once again, turning towards Ariana, letting her disciple hug her as she hugged back, really needing it right now, not even trying to deny it. Burying her head into Ariana's chest, she slowly fell to her knees. Ariana just held her loudly, crying Master as strong as she could. She knew, since the day Leinor died, her Master had never let her feelings out properly, not even once, but at that moment, something changed, and a dam had just broken wide open. Ariana said nothing, affectionately stroking her Master's head, gently rocking back and forth with her while her fingers ran through her hair. Ren soaked her whole clothing with tears, screaming into her chest for a long, long time to come, yet her disciple just hugged her firmer and firmer. She was letting Ren's emotions run wild, not even trying to consume or manipulate them at all.

"It's okay…" Ariana whispered. "Just as you said to me, I will always be here for you, Master."