After the ascetic became the Sage of the West, he would often think about his youth, particularly the moment the white tiger had lunged at him. At that time, he had enlisted in the army upon receiving the Holylight’s summon. All he wanted was to fulfill his duty to his hometown. He never thought he will journey down the path of Taoist cultivation, and the fact that he would kill Baihu and become the Sage of the West was even more unanticipated.
He had reported to his army group worriedly, and settled in the camp under the orders of his superiors. The next day, the training officer had the soldiers line up in formation, before beginning his training lecture.
Drill Sergeant: Future warriors of Holylight City.
Drill Sergeant: Tell me, what is the weapon of a warrior?
Soldier One: The Holylight Sword.
Drill Sergeant: Wrong. It is actually this plain-looking armor.
Drill Sergeant: A suit of armor that fits your body would grant you success in battle.
Drill Sergeant: But an ill-fitting suit of armor would hinder your movements.
Drill Sergeant: Armor is your most precious weapon as only the alive can swing a sword.
The drill sergeant led the recruit to the training chamber’s entrance and told them their first test is to choose a suit of armor. Looking around, the ascetic saw a lone blacksmith in his own heavy armor embellishing a new suit of armor with the Holylight City crest. The entrance to the training chamber was just behind him.
The armorer worked silently as the recruits pushed and shoved their way into the training chamber. The ascetic stayed outside, his attention focused on the shining suits of armor that neared completion. He stood there unconcerned, but when he tried to start a conversation with the armorer, the only reply he got was silence. Thinking that the armor could not simply run off, he decided to head into the training chamber for a quick tour only to find a single suit left on the floor. It was then that his companion emerged out of breath and told the ascetic that no suits of armor remained.
Still, the ascetic remained unruffled. Out of curiosity, he reached down to pick up that sole remaining suit of armor. The armorer in protective gear was staring in his direction when suddenly, there was tremor emerging out of the armor as a radiant beam of light hit the ascetic in the eye.
The ascetic immediately leapt back in fright as a tiger had manifested itself without warning from within the armor. At the same time, the soldiers heard the commotion and rushed out of the training chamber. Some were already wearing helmets, but the others only had their vambrace on; yet, all prepared to fight the tiger alongside the ascetic.
Soldier A: There is no need to be afraid. Everyone, charge!
Soldier A: We can defeat it even without weapons.
Soldier A: We are the future warriors of Holylight City!
Armorer: Those yet to be armored, be ready for your destiny —
Armorer: To die at the claws of Baihu.
Drill Sergeant: Every year, there would be recruits who are eaten by Baihu...
Drill Sergeant: ...because they are not wearing armor.
Drill Sergeant: Only a few were killed this year; not bad.
Drill Sergeant: The survivors are the elites of Holylight City.
Drill Sergeant: You are the pride of Holylight City.
The recruits cheered at the drill sergeant’s words as if they had just emerged triumphant after a major battle. The sole exception was the ascetic in whom the thought to withdraw from the army emerged. In this test of life and death, he had hidden behind his companions as he watched other new weaponless recruits sacrifice themselves on his behalf. If it were not for the armorer who knocked out the ferocious tiger before it reached him, the ascetic would have likely been torn apart.
In his view, the fact that the valiant perished while the weak were accoladed was not the ascetic’s expectations. He was unsatisfied both with the drill sergeant's training style and its results. After a few days, he left the battalion and decided to follow an older ascetic master; from that moment on, he began his journey of ascetic self-cultivation.
Old Ascetic: There is no need to ask. You would know when you see it.
The two ascetics travelled through the plains on their horse-drawn carriage. Throughout their journey, the master had kept looking off in the distance, sometimes appearing to be looking at the view while other times examining traces on the ground. All of a sudden, the carriage veered sharply to the right and accelerated under the master's orders. The apprentice did not comprehend what was happening and therefore, poked his head out of the window only to see that the axle was following claw marks on the ground as waves of wailing sounds neared.
The carriage sped up, the master tightly clinging onto the apprentice, and charged into a gathering of creatures, the front yoke severed upon impact. Although flipped, the carriage’s forward momentum continued slamming through stones. It did not stop until the pair was flung from the carriage with the collapse of the axle and landed in front of a beast.
The pair had landed in a heap on the plains; the ferocious beast was crowded by Demons while a Qinglong flew in the skies above seemingly serving as a protector. The Demons launched furious attacks and severe wounds abounded on the beast’s body. Its imminent collapse was palpable; temporary success in repelling the creatures was attributable to Qinglong shielding it with power channeled from water.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: I am the Sage of the East and on the way to sought a dragon jewel.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: I am heading to the Dragon palace and happened to pass through this land.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Baihu had been trapped by demonic structures.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Please lend your support, ascetics.
Upon hearing the words, the apprentice stood from the grass — his eyes shut as he readied a spell to attack the beast. The master reached out before his apprentice’s spell actualized, knocking him back with an invisible wave of energy.
Old Ascetic: Why do you seek to harm the mythological beast?
Young Ascetic: That vermin scum slaughtered my comrades. How can I not kill it?
Old Ascetic: You were a Holylight City soldier?
Old Ascetic: Never mind; let’s finish the battle first.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Despicable Demons!
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Attacking Baihu in vengeance when it is unable to retaliate?!
Old Ascetic: Even though no one cared for Baihu in Holylight City,
Old Ascetic: it shouldn't be in this state.
Old Ascetic: This Baihu is still a mythological beast.
Old Ascetic: It has helped Humankind resist Demons since antiquity.
Young Ascetic: Are you telling me there are such beasts that would harm Humans?
Old Ascetic: I am here to tame the beast.
Old Ascetic: If we allow it to continue its rampage, the harm would only grow.
Young Ascetic: Isn’t it better simply to kill it?
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Young man, the sins of the mythological beast should lie at the feet of the Gods.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: The Gods created them, but then left them in the realm of Humans all alone.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Do you know that Qinglong and Baihu were created by the Gods?
Qinglong the Sage of the East: Yet, their godly powers have been stripped.
Qinglong the Sage of the East: They were left to survive on their own accord since.
Old Ascetic: My apprentice, we are ascetics.
Old Ascetic: Therefore, we have the responsibility to watch over all life,
Old Ascetic: even if it had once harmed your companions.
After the retreat of the creatures, the old ascetic and the apprentice vowed to each other that they would defend and tame Baihu with their lives. Together, they would expel evil. Time would serve as the testament to their vow. Baihu, along with the ascetics, headed towards Holylight City.
Baihu is a mythological beast who has lived since antiquity. It has once served as a killing machine on the battlefield. After the end of the battles between Gods and Demons, its godly powers were rescinded by the Gods; since, it had wandered around in the wild. Upon recognizing it, the priests of the Holylight City took it in to serve as a living relic for the later generations. Its role was to remind the masses of the necessary constant vigilance against potential demonic invasions in the future.
However, Baihu had yet to adapt to the ways of Humankind and retained its wild beginnings; it would often menacingly roar in hopes of eating those around it. As the Holylight army did not want to harm the mythological beast, they intentionally arranged for it to fight with new recruits so as to expend some of its wild nature. To the outside, they claimed it was a test.
During this time, Baihu was well cared for and recovered with the abundant food stores of Holylight City. Unfortunately, the recovery of Baihu’s strength also meant the growth of its wild tendencies. Finally, it had lost control of its animalistic aggressions and attacked the citizens who lived in the city. This was why the ascetics had found Baihu in the wild...
The grand priest sat in the center of the temple throne hall, flanked by eight priests wearing different styles of clothing. They stood at the top of the stairs which were covered by a golden red carpet; under the stairs, an old ascetic and his apprentice stood beside a beast emanating with whiffs of blood. The priest recognized the beast was Baihu.
Grand Priest: The Holy Temple has decided to expel it.
Grand Priest: Why have you brought it back to the city?
Old Ascetic: This is the responsibility of an ascetic.
Grand Priest: Why did you think the Holy Temple took it into the city and later...
Old Ascetic: I have brought it back because I have the ability to care for it.
Grand Priest: Do you really have such power?
Grand Priest: If you are going to flaunt your ability,
Grand Priest: you must first defeat the knights of the Holy Temple.
Knight of the Holy Temple: Do you know how many soldiers Baihu ate every year?
Knight of the Holy Temple: You think you can do this on your own?
Knight of the Holy Temple: The Holylight will rejuvenate me.
His apprentice watched from the side as the ascetic effortlessly defeated the many warriors of the Holy Temple by himself. Understanding that the ascetic had powers rarely seen, the Grand Priest allowed Baihu to train at his side. However, if Baihu ever harms another innocent person, the ascetic and Baihu would be expelled from the city.
The ascetic promised the Grand Priest, and later requested that his apprentice join him in the taming of Baihu to witness its growth. Baihu quickly recovered from its injuries, and once again became its agitated self. The ascetic believed that mythological beasts were difficult to tame because they did not have the inherent trait to differentiate. To them, the world was all the same, and it cannot tell different people apart.
He allowed Baihu to battle alongside the army and expend its animalistic tendencies on the enemy. Every time it returned from battle, the ascetic would take advantage of its exhaustion to pacify it with Holylight. Under the radiation of the light, the boundary differentiating different groups became clear for Baihu who learnt the difference between Humans and demonic creatures. Its animalistic characteristics was therefore able to be focused upon different targets. Baihu became tamed towards the ascetic and his apprentice. However, the Holy Temple remained distrusting towards them, and once again, they sent someone to challenge them.
Envoy of the Temple: Ascetic, no matter how tamed the mythological beast seems,
Envoy of the Temple: there would still come a day when it would attack you.
Envoy of the Temple: This mechanical golem can withstand any attack without pain or harm.
Envoy of the Temple: Baihu, on the other hand, could bleed and would die.
Envoy of the Temple: Why are you...
Envoy of the Temple: Protecting Baihu with your own life?
In the chaotic battle, the Sage of the West, with his own life, stopped Sacred Cougar’s attack. This allowed Baihu the opportunity to strike and win. The raging cougar golem finally collapsed, but the ascetic was also gravely wounded. The envoy turned and left at the sight of this, leaving only the dying Baihu as well as the wounded ascetic which was still tearing at the body of the golem. His apprentice arrived shortly thereafter.
Old Ascetic: I know it was you.
Young Ascetic: What do you mean it was me?
Old Ascetic: I know you have a grudge against Baihu, but feels deeply for me.
Old Ascetic: But back then, death did come for your companions.
Old Ascetic: Still, I never thought you would do this.
Young Ascetic: I did not have a choice.
From the body of the golem he had torn apart, the old ascetic pulled out its core. It was a radiant runestone of the Sages that was blinding to his apprentice. Baihu’s body was slowly cooling and the old ascetic knew that it had run out of pneuma; thus, he shoved the runestone into Baihu in place of its pneuma while he used his power to merge with Baihu, forever fusing his life with that of the beast.
Old Ascetic: It had died once.
Old Ascetic: It is no longer the Baihu who had killed your companions.
Old Ascetic: Promise me that you will take my place.
Old Ascetic: Despite my old age, I have only ever had one apprentice — you.
He heard his master’s voice in the blinding light and by the time his sight returned, his master had vanished. Only Baihu remained, laying on the ground. He patted Baihu’s body and it immediately returned to its feet with an enraged howl. This reminded him of his first day as a soldier.