Chapter 1 – Prologue
The evening sky was turning red.
The sun that had brightly illuminated the world was creeping behind the western mountains, casting its crimson-amber glow over the skies above. In turn, the world itself now glowed in the matching crimson-amber hue. Even the vast expanse of land below was dyed in a crimson hue, just like its heavenly counterpart.
A man was standing on this crimson land.
The ground he stood on was dyed in a slightly different hue from the sky above. He stood in utter silence on the blood-soaked land, staring at the heavens above.
The world called this man ‘Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor.’
After entering ganghofor five years, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor had his name known throughout the land. And in the seventh year, he had become the common enemy of the entire gangho.
In the eighth year, he had joined the demon cult, and had eventually become the first outsider in the Heavenly Demon Cult's one-thousand-year-long history to rise to the position of the cult leader.
His name had become a myth, a legend.
Some called him an extraordinarily bloodthirsty berserker. Some called him a hero that had overcome his fate. His origin was humble, and his life was just as challenging, but he had still overcome the adversities to ascend to the loftiest position.
The Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor thus stood alone on the crimson-dyed land, staring tall and proud at the heavens above. Although… 'Tall and proud' was perhaps not the best description for his current state—no, such a description was definitely unsuitable. Right now, his entire body was cracking apart, while blood gushed out of his wounds.
A drop of blood lazily trickled down the sword impaling Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's solar plexus. He wordlessly stared at the blue blade as the drop of blood fell down.
The name of this weapon was 'Azuremourne,’ a treasure sword handed down from one generation of the Heavenly Demon Cult to the next. Even Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor, known for his lack of interest in treasures, held quite a lot of knowledge on this sword. Which made sense, considering that this very sword was the reward he had personally bestowed upon his loyal subordinate after ascending to the position of the cult leader.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor quietly looked down at Azuremourne. The weapon's bluish blade was now dyed crimson from his blood. Why was it stabbed into him right now, though?
Moreover, that wasn't even the only weapon piercing his body.
The spear ‘Abyssal Flame,’ which had penetrated his right shoulder and emerged from the left side of his waist, belonged to Ghost Demon, one of the Nine Demons. The owner of ‘Peacemaker,’ the sword stabbing his right thigh, was none other than Taiji-zi, the current head of the Wudang Sect.
The owner of ‘Frostbringer,’ another sword stabbing Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's back, was Namgung Ju, the head of the Namgung Clan; meanwhile, the blade of ‘Twisted Destruction’ impaling the cult leader's dantian belonged to Mo Zhang-gong, also known as the Blood of Evil—the lord of the Evil Emperor Palace, one of the Four Gangs. Finally, a dagger named 'Silverfang' was stabbed into Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's left foot. Its owner was the shadow captain of the Silent Shadows that loyally served the Imperial Family from the shadows.
The Heavenly Demon Cult, the Nine Sects and One Vagrant Group also known as the Ten Sects, the Five Great Clans, the Four Gangs, and even the Imperial Family—the blades belonging to these factions ruling the world were currently impaling Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor’s figure.
One man among them was gazing intently at his cult leader. He was the current owner of Azuremourne, and the world called him Blue Demon.
Before Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor had become the cult leader, he had gone by the name of Crimson Demon. Blue Demon was already his loyal underling back then. And after that, the world knew Blue Demon Guo Yue as the number two in the Heavenly Demon Cult.
Guo Yue quietly stared at the wretched figure of the wounded Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor. Even a blind man could tell that the leader of the Heavenly Demon Cult was teetering precariously on the edge of life and death. With six weapons impaling him, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor unsurprisingly suffered grievous wounds, each one serious enough to instantly kill an ordinary man. With such fatal injuries, what could he possibly do now? Even more so since he was surrounded by the current rulers of gangho! And it wasn’t just the weapons—he was also so heavily poisoned that not even the advent of the top deity in the Tao pantheon could save him now!
Anyone could tell that Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's fate was already sealed. However, Blue Demon did not lower his guard. No—never mind lowering his guard, hints of fear crept up in his eyes instead.
“How stubborn…!” Blue Demon Guo Yue let out a quiet gasp.
The ones evaluated as some of the strongest in gangho had gathered here today. These twenty-nine absolute powerhouses might not rank among the strongest thirty in gangho, but they would still crack the top fifty.
And these twenty-nine powerhouses were brought together to deal with just one man. This wasn't enough to assuage Blue Demon's nerves, however, prompting him to obtain the Tang Family's Formless Poison and the Five Poison Gates' Heaven Killing Poison to secretly poison Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor ahead of time. After all these measures, this was the end result.
The twenty-nine experts had assaulted one man together. And now, only nine among them remained standing. Nineteen were on the ground, their fates unknown, while one expert barely managed to stand on his remaining leg.
Blue Demon glanced at those experts on the ground. Each one of them was a master of their sect, a giant capable of shaking up gangho.
Blue Demon's confidence had gone through the roof after successfully poisoning Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor and luring him to this location. If the aim had been to simply kill the cult leader, then it would've been unnecessary to gather so many powerful experts. However, Blue Demon wished to deal with his cult leader without too much collateral damage.
He had calculated that the Nine Demons alone would've been sufficient to fulfill the goal of killing Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor. However, he could potentially wipe out the debt he owed to the other sects by getting them involved in today's matter. And through their cooperation, he had planned to buy enough time to overcome any future internal strife within the Heavenly Demon Cult caused by the demise of its leader. This decision had ended up saving Blue Demon's life today.
‘The Nine Demons would have been enough, huh?’
If it was possible, Blue Demon would've dearly loved to go back in time and stab himself for underestimating his opponent. If he really had attacked with only the Nine Demons by his side, then he would've been turned into a lump of bloody meat—his soul destined to wander the netherworld forever.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor slowly raised his head and locked eyes with Blue Demon. The latter unknowingly stumbled back a step at the moment of eye contact. He belatedly realized his slip-up after others shot glances at him. Even so, emotions like humiliation were far from his mind at that moment.
Such emotions were reserved for interactions between humans. Could anyone say that it'd be humiliating for a human to get scared of a tiger?
Blue Demon spoke with a trembling voice. “...It seems that you have withheld certain things about yourself, even from me.”
The Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor that Blue Demon knew would've turned into a lonely wandering spirit by now from their combined assault. But the man standing before his eyes was not the master he had thought he knew. Even though Blue Demon had served his master for the past several decades after the latter had joined the cult, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor had chosen not to reveal all of his cards even to his own loyal servant.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor didn't retort Blue Demon's observation. His interest lay elsewhere, after all.
“Are you done?” His question sent shivers down the backs of the still-standing masters.
Their lone opponent was on his last breath. It would not be strange to see him keel over any second now. Yet, none of these experts dared to charge in and finish the job. It wasn’t a surprise, since the spectacle from earlier was still too fresh in their minds.
The leader of Zhongnan Sect had pompously charged in at Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor only to get his skull blown apart with just a single strike. Ghost Demon's reward for impaling the cult leader with his spear was his corpse being mangled beyond recovery, while Taiji-zi got his wish to discern the mysteries of Yin and Yang fulfilled as his torso had been sliced in half. Namgung Ju, always boasting about being the sword emperor, had finally learned who was the real emperor. Even the captain of Silent Shadows would have to sleep for eternity in the darkness.
All those experts had paid the ultimate price of death just to leave some injuries on the demon cult's leader. Understandably, the remaining ones were deeply reluctant to trade their lives for a mere chance to inflict some new wounds on Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor .
Blue Demon muttered. “If... If only you wished for it, this world could've been yours...”
His words weren't a hollow observation. Combining the cult leader's true martial prowess with the Nine Demons' powers and the might of the Heavenly Demon Cult would've made it very easy to conquer all of gangho.
"Even if you held no desire for that... You still could've lived the rest of your life as an emperor without lifting a finger, my lord! If only... If only you hadn't tried to pass down the Records of Asura to ordinary cult disciples!" Blue Demon's voice contained barely-suppressed hatred. However, lamentation also clearly weighed heavily within his words.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor muttered, “That was your reason?”
“...My lord, you were majestic. Far too majestic. That's why... No one wishes to see another one like you rising up,” said Blue Demon.
After ascending to the position of Heavenly Demon Cult's leader, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor had declared this to the world.
- I shall give away my cultivation technique, the Records of Asura, to anyone under the heavens wishing to learn it.
The whole of gangho went into a frenzy from that shocking announcement, setting off an unprecedented level of chaos in the land. All Nine Demons did their best to dissuade their master. The Ten Sects and the Five Great Clans, considered irreconcilable enemies to the Heavenly Demon Cult, even sent envoys to plead with him to reconsider his stance. However, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor ignored them all.
...Which had eventually led to today's events.
Blue Demon cried out, “What you were trying to do utterly disregarded the Heavenly Demon Cult's customs! Even if it was you, I... I couldn't turn a blind eye when you dared to do such a thing!”
After listening to that cry, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor shifted his gaze to another man—the Abbot of Shaolin Temple, Master Monk Hui Ren. The old man's wrinkled face was trembling ever so slightly.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor asked, “Master Monk, do you agree with him?”
Master Monk Hui Ren gravely shook his head. "Amitabha. What you wished to do was based on true selflessness, Benefactor. No Buddhist out there would criticize such an act of non-possession." The old monk's voice was noticeably trembling. "However... Benefactor, this world is filled with far more insidious, sinister individuals than you can imagine. If you freely give away your cultivation technique, those pursuing evil will gain power without the necessary discipline. I couldn't overlook the potential chaos your actions would have led to."
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor retorted with an expressionless face. "What a petty reason."
“You can come up with all sorts of petty reasons, but in the end, you simply don't want to lose that tiny bit of authority, isn't it?”
His words sharply clawed into the experts' hearts.
Blue Demon shook his head. “Whatever our reasons are... you have done something you shouldn't have, my lord. And that... is the reason why you'll die today.”
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor faintly grinned at Blue Demon's declaration. But that was the extent of his reaction. He then slowly raised his head to stare at the heavens. The amber glow of the setting sun was deepening to herald the oncoming tide of darkness. That darkness of the night would completely blanket the sky in a little while.
"In that case, we should hurry things along, then." Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor spoke in a composed voice despite teetering on the edge of death. It was as if he had already transcended the fetters of life and death by now. "Night is descending. I am... not much of a fan of nights, you see."
Blue Demon turned his head to glance at his companions after his cult leader's declaration. However, they all avoided meeting his gaze. No one was willing to fight Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor even after the latter had been driven to his current state.
'And I believed in these fools...!'
Blue Demon gritted his teeth. However, he had no one to blame but himself. He was the one who had trusted these people and planned this monumental event, after all. While sensing the sneaky gazes urging him forward, Blue Demon addressed his cult leader once more. "...You can bluff all you want, but you're still dying, my lord. Even you should be afraid of death."
Even as he said that, Blue Demon found his actions utterly laughable. What good were all these ramblings for? Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor was his enemy now. His former master was in a wretched state where he could die at any given moment. In that case, Blue Demon should act now and personally finish his former master off. That would be the end, wouldn't it?
Blue Demon detested the experts avoiding his glare, but he also didn’t dare to step in front of his former master. Indeed, all he could do right now was buy time by engaging in useless banter. He couldn't do anything besides wishing for Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor to die on his own.
But then... an unexpected reply suddenly came from Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor. “Am I afraid, you ask?”
He asked again in a subdued voice. "Do you know what death is?”
Blue Demon shot back. “How can anyone know what death is, my lord?”
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor slowly shook his head. “Death is nothing to be afraid of.”
“But, you should be afraid of what comes after.”
What an obvious statement that was. Far too obvious, yet Blue Demon was unable to mock his former master for saying that. The voice and the manner of speech indicated that Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor actually knew something about death that the others didn't know.
The dying cult leader spoke again. "I do not fear death. Besides, fear isn't what has kept me in this place, anyway."
Blue Demon ended up stuttering a little. “...T-then, what is it?”
It was right at that moment that a faint line appeared between Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's lips. They parted ever so slightly in a bizarre manner, revealing his blood-stained teeth. That was supposed to be a grin, but it was one as chilling as a grim reaper's. Goosebumps broke out on Blue Demon's entire body.
"You already know, don't you?" Just as he said that, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's figure suddenly vanished from the spot, only to instantly reappear right in front of Blue Demon—all while still maintaining that bone-chilling grin on his face!
His hand clutched Blue Demon's throat tightly. Having subdued his former subordinate with such ease, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor slowly brought Blue Demon closer to him.
"Just how many more sins are you willing to commit, Benefactor!"
The experts witnessing this spectacle cried out in alarm, but they still didn’t rush in to help. Blue Demon was already in the demon cult leader's grip anyway, and the fear of dying after recklessly charging in also paralyzed their limbs.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor ignored the other experts, even though they looked like they wanted to rush forward. He simply brought his lips closer to Blue Demon's ear. Those bloodied lips parted, sending a subdued whisper to burrow into Blue Demon's eardrum. “You do know, don't you?”
Blue Demon shuddered helplessly. How could he not know?
How could he not know why his former master used to be called Crimson Demon? How could he not know the reason for Crimson Demon's ascension to the cult leader position despite being an outsider? How could he not know why his former master could instill such terror that went beyond his martial art realm?
Blue Demon had witnessed everything from the closest vantage point, and that was why he knew the truth better than anyone.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor quietly muttered, “I... never forget my grudges.”
What a bizarre noise that was. Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor was using his right hand to suppress Blue Demon, so he used his left hand to slowly pull out Azuremourne from his gut. His action was deliberately slow, in no hurry at all. Azuremourne left his body bit by bit, with the chill-inducing noise of a blade slicing through flesh..
Finally, the sword was out. Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor grinned once more as he shifted his gaze back to Blue Demon. “I gave this to you once before.”
Blue Demon already knew what his former master would say next. Even if he didn't want to think about it, his sharp intellect still perfectly predicted what Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor would say.
“As such, you should take it back.”
He took his time and slowly, oh-so-slowly, pushed Azuremourne into the middle of Blue Demon's chest. The latter's figure began to spasm like a man suffering from epilepsy.
A single quick thrust would have minimized the pain, but Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor deliberately took his time. He simply had to gift Blue Demon with excruciating pain exceeding the one he had felt when the latter had stabbed him in the gut.
"Kkuh... wuuk..." A suppressed whimper escaped from Blue Demon's lips. The Asura qi injected into Azuremourne was ripping apart his body from the inside.
Blue Demon's quivering irises met Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's glare. The latter bared his teeth in a toothy grin. “At least you needed to know—know what it means to betray me.”
Suddenly, blood gushed out from Blue Demon's mouth. Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor stared at his former underling with a slightly cocked brow. Azuremourne hadn't touched Blue Demon's heart yet, but the pain had gotten to him first, and he had chosen to sever his own main artery instead.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor slowly shook his head.
“I... I...” Blue Demon tried his hardest to say something, but his lips gradually stiffened while his consciousness faded away. Soon, his head tilted sideways, lifeless.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor quietly stared at the still Blue Demon before lowering the latter’s body to the ground. He then slowly closed the latter's eyes. Blue Demon had betrayed and entrapped his master, but that didn't change the fact that he used to call himself Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor's loyal subordinate for the past several decades.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor silently stared at the corpse with Azuremourne sticking out of its chest. He then raised his head to take another glimpse at the sky above. The sun had almost fully set by now. The heavens bathed in darkness were already filling up with countless stars.
He stared at the sky with a face awash with grief. The heavens remained beautiful and seemingly close enough for him to reach out and grab the Milky Way. However, he had never liked the view of this night sky. Every time he looked up at the darkened sky sparkling with tantalizingly close stars, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor couldn't help but recall a certain starless sky.
'Will this be my last?'
This would most likely be his last time looking up at this night sky. His body had already reached its limit, after all. It wouldn't have been strange for him to die any second in his current condition, yet he had still gone ahead and subdued Blue Demon. His movements had caused the weapons impaling him to completely destroy his internal organs.
His senses were getting dull, while his vision was getting cloudy. He had already experienced this sensation before—it was death.
'So, will this be my end, then?'
He had no answer to this question. This had also happened in the past, after all.
'If I get another chance, then...'
He had been breathlessly running his entire life. He had no aim other than to prevent himself from getting swallowed up by his fate. And that was why he had tried to survive so hard, even daring to march through hell.
'...Then, an ordinary life like others...'
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor quietly smiled. His eyes slowly closed and would never open again.
Here, on the plains drenched in blood and under the eyes of countless stars engraved on the night sky... Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor remained standing tall, his eyes closed for the last time.
“...Amitabha.” Only Master Monk Hui Ren's Buddhist chant quietly traveled along with the choking silence that had descended among the stupefied and lost experts of the martial world.
Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor had passed on.
Prologue 2. A Life of One
The hospital's emergency ward was suddenly thrust into action as the loud wails of a siren went off in the background. The emergency ward's staff rushed toward a patient being unloaded from an ambulance. One of the paramedics bringing in the patient yelled, "Car accident victim!"
“Semi-coma! Blood pressure, 92 over 58. Pulse, 115!”
The ER doctors surrounding the gurney checked the patient's status and shouted, "His blood pressure is too low, there might be internal bleeding! CT scan, stat!"
These urgent voices, hurried steps, and roars were eerily similar to screams coming from somewhere distant... The noises ringing in his ears forced the young man to slowly open his eyes.
His blurry vision saw the passing rays of light. Lengthy, vertical lights were flitting past his view. The young man slowly shifted his eyes to the side.
He saw a white gown first, then a man wearing a pair of glasses with an urgent expression. He spotted a woman kitted out in a green shirt, and behind her, there were objects made out of metal. All this was a strange sight to behold. However...
... They were also a familiar sight.
The man slowly closed his eyes again.
'I... I'm back.'
This young man, Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor, slowly let go of his consciousness.
A grin was etched on his lips.
1. Gangho, also known as jianghu in Chinese web novels, refers to the world of martial arts
2. zi: ancient honorific denoting a man with high morals or station