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So jetlagged that I actually lost track of the day...



“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
--Obi-Wan Kenobi, ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’


Chapter 222 - Reward

…and when the glow faded, Huang Ming did not see anything out of the ordinary. He glanced around the room and then looked down on himself.

Miss Black continued to sip at her drink.

Nothing seemed to have changed.

“What did you do?” Huang Ming asked with a frown.

“You wanted a treasure, so I gave you one,” she replied.

His frown deepened as he looked as his very obviously empty hands.

“Well, where is it?”

“It is inside of you,” she answered nonchalantly.

Huang Ming was aghast. “What?”

“You asked about strength and such, but you forgotten one of the common attributes.”

Huang Ming mentally ticked off what he had mentioned previously before coming to a conclusion.

“Luck?” he asked uncertainly. “Is that even a thing?”

“I am imbuing you some modicum of good luck,” Miss Black said. “I think you deserve that much after all that you have been through for me.”

“You mean because of you,” he muttered.

She ignored his snide comment. “You can think of it as the small pebble rolling down a hill, working small things in your favour. What might kill you would only seriously maim you for life or turn you into a vegetable, for example.”

Huang Ming stared at her. “How is that a reward!?”

“Ah, but knowing that might cause you to be too overly reckless and change your behaviour. Wait; let me remove that from your memory.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry, it’s painless.”

She waved a hand vaguely over his general direction. “See?”

“See what?” Huang Ming asked. “I thought you’re supposed to give me a reward. Where is it?”

Miss Black smiled as she enjoyed her own private joke. “Forget it. Let us move on, you can ask me anything you want.”

Huang Ming sighed, feeling as if she had pulled a prank on him. He sat to face her directly, eye to eye.

“Are they well?” he asked quietly.

“Yes.”

Huang Ming raised an eyebrow skeptically. “All of them?”

“We have determined that our Avatars are often concerned for the well-being of the various individuals that they have come across. And so we have decided to make it so that their friends and loved ones live well,” she explained as she placed her tea cup back down. “And for their enemies to suffer,” she added matter-of-factly.

It was as if an enormous mountain had lifted from Huang Ming’s shoulders. All his lives, all his time spent in this or that body… the undying loves, the lovable children, the blood brothers, great rivals, friends and relatives… the inextinguishable hatreds and unending feuds and unfinished business… all had weighed heavily on his mind. Over time, some feelings eventually disappear, some memories eventually fade away. But there are some that would stay with him forever. Some… more than others.

“When it is all done, you may return to whatever time and place you desire. For now, you may ask about someone specific, if you wish. Consider it as an additional reward,” Miss Black offered.

And so he asked. The dark beauty who was his companion adventurer against the forces of evil… the alien honorbound warrior who fought by his side on innumerable planets… the sharpshooter on a steampunk world… the mercenary techno-wizard… the one-eyed ace pilot…

And finally, he asked about his parents and siblings on Earth.

They all lived and died well, long after he had left.

“Do you feel better now?”

“Yes,” Huang Ming admitted, his misty eyes had long since dried. Words could not express what he was feeling at the moment. Perhaps, it was the best sort of reward he could have ever hoped for.

“Good,” she said with a smile, pleased with herself.

Then Huang Ming glared at her. “What is the point of doing all that unless you let the Avatars know?” he asked softly. He was relieved… and yet also angered. None of his fellow Avatars had told him of such things, they had spent many idle moments chatting wistfully about those that they have left behind.

“We let them know when their term of service to us has expired. Or, as you put it, ‘ascended’.”

“Why?”

“How else would you reward an Avatar? You can already gain fame, power, sexual conquests and such in those lives you have experienced. You yourself jumped out of a building hoping to end it all,” she reminded him.

“I wouldn’t have jumped if you had told us that. We’d be more motivated to grind out our service to the end.”

“As I said, that would modify your behaviour due to our intervention. You would do things differently if you already know the ending.”

“When did you say that?” Huang Ming’s frown deepened.

Once more, she waved a hand.

“Forget it,” she said.

“Forget what? I am still waiting for my reward.”

“You have already received it.”

“I did?”

“Hold on, I will need to remove that too, in case that someone or something reads your mind.”

She waved again.

“Why do you keep waving your hand like that?”

“Don’t you feel better now?” Miss Black asked smugly.

“Ah. Hmm, I am. Why?” Huang Ming wondered aloud. It was as if his very soul was lighter, and the dark thoughts that had always been in the back of his mind had been dispelled. ‘But why are my eyes so dry?’

“Let’s move on,” Miss Black interrupted. “I cannot help you much in this world, but since I am allowed to give you some hints. What do you want to know about your enemy Avatar?”

“Do I know this enemy Avatar? How experienced is she?” Huang Ming asked.

“You have yet to cross paths with her before. She’s relatively quite new, compared to you.”

“Really. Maybe that is why she arrived sooner?”

“No, that should not have happened. It should be a level playing ground. You humans have a gaming term for this. ‘Matchmaking’, I believe.”

There was something disconcerting to hear a cosmic-spanning event involving omnipotent gods being described with mundane gaming phrases.

“I use them because it is conveniently familiar to you,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

“Right. Then, does she know who I am? I mean, as her opponent Avatar.”

To his relief, she shook her head. “No. But she is suspicious by nature and you are in her path anyway. So when I said you need to pick up the pace, I mean it.”

“I see. I don’t suppose you can break one of her legs and force her to rest?” Huang Ming asked lightly.

“That would be considered as a breach of the rules.”

“I know, I know,” Huang Ming sighed.

“Now that you know, it is time for me to leave,” she said as she stood up.

“Already? I feel a little shortchanged…” Huang Ming chuckled hollowly.

“Don’t worry, we will meet again when you are done,” she said confidently. Then she frowned. “Assuming that you win, that is.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he said sarcastically.

“You have no idea. I have faith in you, Avatar,” Miss Black said.

“You just want to be entertained,” Huang Ming said with a lopsided smile.

“And to win,” she added with a smirk of her own.

The dome of silent energy disappeared and immediately Huang Ming was assailed by a gust of violent wind that forced him to close his eyes and raise his hands protectively.

Something crashed into him, and he reflexively held on to whatever had collided into him.

When he opened his eyes after the wind had subsided, he saw an angry and flushed Master Zheng Yen in his arms. Her appearance had been restored. Was he mistaken but did she look younger than before Miss Black’s possession?

“Ah. Hello,” he greeted sheepishly.

“Let go of me this instant, you ruffian,” she hissed.

He sighed as she quickly got away from him, her eyes glaring daggers at him.

‘Some god she is, pulling a prank like this at the very end.’

‘I see everything, you know,’ a tiny voice in his mind reminded him.
 

The god gave her pick,
A parting trick.​