“Eventually… the people from that world created a mighty nation that has existed from generation to generation down to this very day. That is our nation… the Vile-Emperor Dynasty, one of the two imperial dynasties that exists in the Eternal Lands, and also… the most powerful!
“Eventually, the Vile-Emperor Dynasty took note of the other two statues of the Eternal Sons. They knew that one day, the two statues would break open, and the hosts of living beings inside would emerge.
“Originally, the Vile-Emperor Dynasty had intended to welcome the people from the other statues, and join forces with them to fight the great enemy. But before they could prepare properly, the second statue… unexpectedly shattered. The people inside were teleported to all sorts of locations in the Eternal Lands. Unexpectedly, they were not interested in fighting the great enemy. They were bent on conquest, and in the end, the Vile-Emperor Dynasty had no choice but to go to war…. It was around that time that an archaean appeared from within the newly arrived imperial clan. Thankfully, the Vile-Emperor was already in that same cultivation level. In order to prevent a horrific situation for their peoples, they eventually made peace.” As the old man sighed in the temple, Bai Xiaochun took a swig of alcohol, and then chuckled.
Bai Xiaochun could see through to the truth almost immediately. The Vile-Emperor Dynasty had hoped to control all of the Eternal Lands, but the second Eternal Son statue had opened before they were in a place to do so. The people from within the second statue regrouped and fought back until the Vile-Emperor Dynasty had no choice but to declare a truce.
Obviously, that other major force was the Saint-Emperor Dynasty!
“Originally, there should have been three imperial dynasties….” the old man said with another sigh.
“I know, Master. The third imperial dynasty was supposed to be the Arch-Emperor Dynasty. Hasn’t everyone been saying that the third Eternal Son statue shattered recently?”
When Bai Xiaochun heard the boy’s words, he looked down at the alcohol jug, his hand trembling.
“Sadly, the third Eternal Son statue was supposed to produce the Arch-Emperor Dynasty. But it shattered far, far too late…. Right now, the Vile-Emperor Dynasty essentially controls three of the immortal domains. There are two immortal domains that are mostly under the control of Saint-Emperor City, which the Vile-Emperor Dynasty can’t do anything about!
“The only thing the Arch-Emperor Dynasty people are good for now is to bolster the forces of the other two imperial dynasties. In any case, the end goal of it all is to deal with the great Enemy from Beyond. Of course, the sanctimonious Saint-Emperor Dynasty is weak and useless. Our Vile-Emperor Dynasty is the true strength of the Eternal Lands, and its only hope!” By the time the old man got to the last part of his speech, his voice resonated with devotion and zeal.
Bai Xiaochun lay there slumped against the wall, hand trembling as he lifted the alcohol jug and took another drink, hoping that he would soon be numb to the bitterness that dwelled in his heart.
This town was in the third immortal domain, which was controlled by the Vile-Emperor Dynasty. The five immortal domains in the Eternal Lands were all roughly the same size, each one vastly larger than the Heavenspan Realm. In fact, the Heavenspan Realm would only count as one of the many prefectures that existed within a given immortal domain.
Each immortal domain had dozens of prefectures. Within the prefectures were dozens of counties, and within the counties were hundreds of cities and towns of varying sizes….
The little town that Bai Xiaochun was in was just such a place.
In the Eternal Lands, the relationship between cultivators and mortals was somewhat different than in the Heavenspan Realm. Here, the cultivators took care of the mortals, as well as the land itself.
Each immortal domain was ruled by a celestial, whose subordinates, the demigods, would oversee the prefectures.
Of course, the demigods had subordinates too, devas who ran the various counties. Usually, Nascent Soul experts would be in charge of the larger cities, with the smaller locations occasionally being run by Core Formation cultivators.
Not every celestial would be appointed to serve as the ruler of an immortal domain. For example, in the Vile-Emperor Dynasty, there were only three celestials with such responsibility, while the other handful remained stationed in Vile-Emperor City.
And the Vile-Emperor himself was in charge of Vile-Emperor City and the areas surrounding it!
“The Eternal Lands….” Bai Xiaochun murmured. Whether it was in terms of sheer size, or the number of powerful experts present, the Eternal Lands vastly surpassed the Heavenspan Realm. People like Daoist Heavenspan who had not yet become true celestials… were by no means rare.
Only by reaching the Mahayana Realm and becoming celestials could someone truly be counted as a powerful expert in the Eternal Lands.
Above the Celestial Realm was the Archaean Realm…. That was a terrifying level, and in all of the Eternal Lands, there were only two such people, the two emperors.
From what Bai Xiaochun could tell, quasi-archaeans were people in the great circle of the Celestial Realm, or people who had failed to actually become archaeans.
“I wonder where that laughing-crying ghost face came from originally….” he thought. Then he shook his head. Every time his thoughts strayed to such matters, many images would appear in his mind.
He would see friends and family from the Heavenspan Realm, people… that he had been unable to find.
During his first few months of searching, it had been easy to track down the aura of the Heavenspan Realm. He had found corpses of strangers, and some who were familiar faces. Each time he had trembled and looked up into the sky, heart wracked with grief.
At some point, the old man and the boy moved on from the temple. When they did, the boy couldn’t conceal his excitement at having gained enlightenment of his magical technique.
Eventually, the sun set. Bai Xiaochun was still lying there against the temple wall, as drunk as ever. He almost looked like he was asleep.
Usually, he would only leave this spot when he ran out of alcohol. Then he would stagger over to the tavern to buy more, then come back to the temple, lean up against the wall, and watch the sun rising and setting, or look up at the strange hands and the evil face in the sky.
Days turned into a blur. Bai Xiaochun had no idea how much time had passed. He had a scraggly beard now, and his clothing was so dirty it threatened to turn black.
He no longer thought about the past. Unwilling to deal with the pain, he entered a state of almost complete mental blankness.
Sometimes a dried-up leaf would land in front of him, and he would stare at it for the entire day…. It was almost as if by looking at the leaf, he could see all of the happiness, anger, sorrow, and joy it had experienced in its life.
One thing he loved was when night fell and, from his spot at the temple, he could see lamplight filling the little town. Each of those flickering lamps represented a family….
He looked at them until his tears ran dry. Sadly, the lamp of his heart seemed impossible to spark to life.
One autumn night, thunder rumbled in the sky, and great, bean-sized drops of rain began to fall, almost as cold as ice. Clearly, winter was on the way.
Bai Xiaochun looked up into the night, and the rain splashed onto his face. For the first time, he actually felt cold. However, it was also in that same moment that he looked down at the back of his hand, to the spark-shaped scar that was the spot where Bai Hao had perished.
“It’s warm….” he said. It had been a long time since he spoke out loud, and the feeling was strange. As he looked down at his hand, his disheveled hair fell down to cover his face, and yet, it couldn't cover the confused shock in his eyes. He suddenly began to pant.
“It's warm?” Shivering, he lifted his hand up until it was right in front of his nose. For the first time in a long time, his eyes were not cloudy and dim, but rather, shone with the bright light of surprise.
Deep within his gaze, a stubborn determination suddenly erupted to life.
“It's warm!” he exclaimed in a quavering voice. Unable to stop his hand from shaking, he sent some divine sense into it, and specifically, the spark-shaped mark on it.
He had done this on numerous occasions before, but his divine sense had never detected anything in particular. But now it did. All of a sudden, his dry eyes began to overflow with tears.
“Hao’er… you’re not dead!!” All of a sudden, mad excitement rose up inside of him. Up above, thunder crashed, but it was like nothing compared to what was happening inside his mind and heart. He could sense Bai Hao’s aura! Deep inside the mark on his hand, he could sense Bai Hao as an incredibly weak discarnate soul!
He was as fragile as a candle flickering in the wind. And yet, within that weakness, he showed a tenacious refusal to be destroyed. Unfortunately, it would be many years before he managed to grow strong, and recover.
Shaking physically, Bai Xiaochun grabbed one hand with the other and then pushed them both up against his chest. Considering his unkempt hair and scraggly beard, he looked very much like a destitute beggar who had just found the most precious of gems. As the rain fell down on him, it was for the first time since he arrived in the Eternal Lands… that he smiled.