Amidst the envious gaze of the masses, Lu Tianzi began climbing the white stone steps that would eventually lead him to the entrance of the City Lord Manor.
The winter breeze gently rustled his short black hair, but his face remained stoic, seemingly oblivious to the cold. His thick fur coat drooped heavily to his feet, hiding his muscular body from the view of the masses. His eyes were resolute as he basked in these precious moments of glory, progressing at a constant speed as he climbed upwards one step at a time.
He had dreamt about this day for a long time, and it was only last week that it was finally announced that he was going to be named a Holy Guardian.
Upon being named, Lu Tianzi would immediately cease to be considered as a member of the general populace. Instead, he would join the ranks of humanity's leaders and begin shouldering the fate of the race in this age of chaos.
For someone to achieve such a feat when he was merely 15 years old… that was unheard of in the recorded history of Ivory Rock City!
Thus it was not surprising that most people regarded him as a genius with unparalleled talent.
But unknown to these people, his talent was not all that brought him to his current position. Lu Tianzi was indeed a rare martial arts genius, but he also trained harder than anyone else, determined to one day be able to fight for his race and bring humanity out of the darkness!
Snippets of his past years enduring the pain and hardships of cultivation quickly flashed through his mind as Lu Tianzi continued upwards, making this moment all the more meaningful for him. With one last step, Lu Tianzi finally arrived at the top of the stairs, coming face to face with the City Lord.
"Lu Tianzi pays my greetings to City Lord Hu!" Lu Tianzi immediately got down on one knee in respect.
"Mm, you have done well to reach this step," the City Lord nodded in satisfaction. "As the Lord of Ivory Rock City, I have always viewed the people of the city as my own sons and daughters, but there is one thing that I have never told anyone before. Among all of my sons and daughters, you, Tianzi, are the one whom I am the proudest of!"
"I thank City Lord Hu for the kind words!" Lu Tianzi responded with a loud yell.
Dressed in a noble's robe, the man before him seemed to be a normal middle aged man who was simply standing there nonchalantly. However, each of his words gave off a domineering aura that suppressed all. Even the birds dared not carelessly fly overhead, instinctively making a detour after sensing the commanding presence of the City Lord.
As the leader of the Ivory Rock City, it was not an overstatement to say that he held absolute power over the masses, both in status and in strength. However, not once had he abused his position of power for his private benefits.
On the contrary, he had always tried his best to help the ones in need. For this reason, despite his astounding individual strength, his kindness and benevolence were what truly defined him.
"These are not mere pleasantries, Tianzi," City Lord Hu shook his head with a smile. "The naming of the Holy Guardian might be done once every year, but I have never made light of this ceremony. Whether you believe me or not, I have been watching you closely over the past years. In the Ivory Rock Martial Academy, you worked harder than anyone else, staying up late every single night just so you could maximise every bit of your time. This is what you truly deserve!"
Hearing his words, it was as though Lu Tianzi had travelled back in time and revisited the harsh years of cultivation. Without even realising it, tears had already started welling up in his eyes.
So the City Lord had always been watching me…
I was never truly alone during those long nights of repetitive training…
"I am but a common student in the academy, and truly do not deserve such benevolence from City Lord Hu!"
Lu Tianzi meant every word that he said, and City Lord Hu was able to feel the sincerity in his words as well.
"Now then," City Lord Hu's expression turned solemn immediately.
"As a Holy Guardian, you would have to travel to faraway lands, conquering terrains unexplored, battle demons and beasts alike, all to find any remnants of humanity and bring them back to Ivory Rock City. Are you clear on the reasons for your mission?"
"I am to find our fellowmen struggling in the dangerous wilds, all in order to bring them back to safety where they belong! This is our duty as members of the same race!" Lu Tianzi answered in confidence.
"Do you swear your unwavering loyalty to humanity, such that every action you make and every breath you take is for the greater good and advancement of mankind?"
"I swear my loyalty to mankind, never to betray the people who had placed their hopes upon my shoulders!"
"Very well! Now, with your loyalty sworn in, I, Hu Yuanbo, with my authority as the Lord of Ivory Rock City, hereby name you, Lu Tianzi, as Holy Guardian! For the good of humanity!" City Lord Hu raised his voice for the first time today as he handed a long sword over to the kneeling Lu Tianzi.
"For the good of humanity!" Lu Tianzi kept his head low as he received the sword with both hands.
"Now stand, and show the people of Ivory Rock City the face of our newest Holy Guardian!"
City Lord Hu helped Lu Tianzi to his feet before taking a step back, allowing Lu Tianzi to stand alone in front of the masses standing below. When Lu Tianzi turned around to look, there were people standing as far as the eyes could reach, filling up every nook and cranny of the streets.
All of them were here to witness the birth of their new Holy Guardian. All of them were here to witness his rebirth.
Even though the distance meant that they could not see his face clearly, that did not matter. They were contented with simply relishing in the atmosphere of celebration.
And Lu Tianzi was none other than their target of celebration!
This was, without a doubt, the proudest moment of his life!
Lu Tianzi was sure that until the day that he took his very last breath, the scene before him would forever remain as a vivid memory in his mind. He would never forget this day, when he was named Holy Guardian of humanity!
Cheers erupted from the masses, all celebrating the birth of a new Holy Guardian.
In this era of darkness, any semblance of good news was few and far between. Thus people took care never to miss any opportunity for celebrations, not to mention a matter that was this grand.
In the past thousand years, humanity had been forced back further and further by the relentless onslaught of the demons and beasts. Now, the remaining survivors had gathered in their final bastion, Ivory Rock City.
This was their Holy City, blessed by the gods themselves.
And the best proof of the gods' blessings was the fact that Ivory Rock City had never experienced a major attack in its recorded history.
Not even once!
However, the people living beyond the city walls were not as fortunate.
Demons and beasts roamed freely in the wilds, forcing any surviving groups of humanity into hiding, barely scraping by and living each day in fear of being discovered.
But this was where Holy Guardians came into play.
Recognised for their strength, they might not be able to stand against the most powerful of enemies, but they were definitely able to defeat the lesser beasts. With their power, they could round up the hiding remnants of humanity and send them back to the safety of Ivory Rock City, where they could finally live in peace.
This also meant the Holy Guardians had to spend years in solitude, patiently exploring, patiently finding, until they finally managed to establish contact with any hidden groups out there. Once Holy Guardians left Ivory Rock City, they would never return again, instead committing the rest of their lives to fulfilling their cause.
With this in mind, Holy Guardians were regarded as the noblest of characters, living symbols of pure strength and conviction.
With the return of every group discovered by the Holy Guardians, they would bring along knowledge gained while surviving in the wilds, vital information that would aid in the war against their enemies. And only by repeatedly expanding their knowledge and inheritances as a civilisation would humanity stand a chance to rise up once again against the suppression of the demons and beasts!
With the birth of every Holy Guardian, humanity was also one step closer to regaining its lost prestige, one day nearer to breaking out of this era of darkness!
So how could they not celebrate the birth of the newest Holy Guardian, Lu Tianzi?
Lu Tianzi brought his fingers to the side of his thigh, and was able to make out the concealed knife hidden under his clothes. He had told his parents umpteen times that this was unnecessary, but they refused to listen, insisting that he always brought it along with him for emergencies.
In the end, he still relented.
After all, he knew that this advice contained the love and concern from his family, worried that he would be one day be placed in a dangerous position. Now as he felt it hanging by his side, Lu Tianzi could not help but feel an even greater source of pride.
Can you see this now, father, mother? I am now a Holy Guardian of humanity, celebrated by all!
It took a while until the firecrackers were spent and the cheers had calmed. The masses eventually emptied from the streets and returned to their chores.
Lu Tianzi, too, had work to be done.
After selecting his gear and getting a good night's rest, he would be setting out for the wilds at first light. In a way, this celebration could also be considered his farewell party.
Lu Tianzi followed City Lord Hu and a few servants as they entered the deep basements of the City Lord Manor. Unlike the area above, the basements were dark and damp, poorly lit by sporadic wall torches that burnt weakly.
Perhaps the City Lord did not see the need to have the basements well-lit when it was barely ever used.
"This way, please," the servant opened the door to a dark chamber and gestured for Lu Tianzi to enter.
The moment the door was opened, a stench of stale air immediately attacked their noses, testament to how long it had been since the last visit. There was also the distinct smell of metal that was mixed within. Without a doubt, this must be the armoury where all of Ivory Rock City's best equipment patiently awaited their destined masters.
As instructed, Lu Tianzi walked past the servant and stepped into the dark chamber, his eyes gleaming in excitement. He had already made up his mind, and all that was left was the actual act of choosing the equipment.
He would pick up the best spear in the armoury, and with that in hand he would sweep through the world, forging his own legends for future generations to sing of!
In preparation for this moment, Lu Tianzi had even traded away his own spear that he had always used for practice!
Lu Tianzi suddenly felt a strong impact striking the back of his neck, and his vision immediately turned blurry, his body collapsing to the ground, devoid of all his strength.
What just happened?
With the last remaining bit of his consciousness before passing out, he could only barely make out City Lord Hu smiling at him in satisfaction.
"Rest well, Tianzi. You have worked hard today. That was quite the perfect performance."