“Hao’er….” he murmured in excitement. He smiled as excitedly as a child would, a smile that had appeared often in the Heavenspan Realm, but after everything he had experienced, had become as rare as a jewel.
In his state of despondency, the fluctuations of Bai Hao’s soul became something like a burning lantern on a dark night. Despite how wet and freezing it was that night, Bai Xiaochun felt warm.
Back in the Wildlands, Master and apprentice had depended on each other for survival as they ran their little spirit enhancement shop, and it was that memory which suddenly brought Bai Xiaochun to his senses. It was almost like the sun rising up from the horizon.
He looked back down at his hand, and suddenly wondered if he was dreaming. Therefore, he probed at the scar on his hand over and over again to make sure. Finally, he breathed a long sigh.
Bai Hao was definitely not dead!
Or perhaps it was most appropriate to say that his soul had not fully dispersed. Perhaps it was something the gravekeeper had done, or perhaps it was Bai Hao’s own determination. Either way, he had somehow survived as a discarnate soul.
Bai Xiaochun had reached out to try to grab Bai Hao, only to have a tiny spark fall down onto the back of his hand. And that spark was the discarnate soul.
It was so weak that it seemed it might vanish at any moment. And yet there it was, inside the scar. Due to the string of catastrophic events that had ended in the destruction of the Heavenspan Realm, Bai Xiaochun had never sensed the oh-so-weak fluctuations of the soul.
But now, in this tiny town, in his moment of quiet despair, as he sat there watching the sun rise and set… he suddenly sensed something in the mark on the back of his hand.
“You’re still with me….” he murmured. A bit of pain and bitterness could be seen in his smile as he lifted his alcohol jug up to take another drink. It was almost empty.
“This Drunken Immortal is good stuff, Hao’er.” Rubbing his aching temples, he began to head toward the tavern again. As he walked along, talking to himself and drinking, the other people on the street would look at him with strange expressions, and hurry to get out of his way.
“Scholar Bai is crazy!”
“He’s started talking to himself!? Who is this Bai Hao fellow? His assistant or something?”
“You can’t help but feel sorry for him.”
Bai Xiaochun ignored all the townsfolk pointing and whispering about him. Before, he had been all alone in the world, but now, he had Bai Hao to accompany him.
His whole day was spent drinking and talking to his apprentice, until he eventually staggered back to the temple and leaned up against the crumbling wall. There, he stared up blankly into the sky again.
The fluctuations of Bai Hao’s soul were like a lamp on a dark night, casting light out into the world. Before, Bai Xiaochun had been unwilling to consider what the future held, but now, he began to ponder just that.
“Hao’er, what do you think Master should do…?
“Maybe I should look for people from the Heavenspan Realm. But… I already looked. From the moment I woke up, I started looking. All I found… were corpses.
“Hao’er, do you remember Beihan Lie? Oh right, you never met him. Well, I found his corpse….” Bai Xiaochun shook his head and smiled bitterly. Then he took another drink.
“I don't want to keep looking…. But what else am I supposed to do in this strange, unfamiliar world…? I wish you could wake up. You would definitely have some great ideas! You always do.” Bai Xiaochun sighed and looked up at the setting sun, and the amber glow which it cast out across the sky.
It was almost dark when he decided that he needed more alcohol. Like usual, he crawled to his feet and headed toward the tavern, where he got another jug. By the time he headed back out into the dark, he was already drunk again.
“Ah the drunken life. That’s how to be happy….” He threw his head back and laughed heartily, then suddenly started crying. By the time he staggered back to the temple he was out of energy, and collapsed face-first onto the ground. His jug rolled off to the side, spilling quite a bit of alcohol.
There were a few lamps lit within the little town, but none of them were strong enough to illuminate the ruins of the temple. A biting wind kicked up, and whether it was the rustling of the withered leaves that blew through the air, or the whisper of the bamboo forests around the village, it all sounded very desolate.
The night grew darker, and the wind picked up. Eventually, one particularly strong gust of wind pushed the empty jug of alcohol into motion. It rolled off to the side and down into a nearby ditch, where a foot suddenly stepped down onto it, crushing it into the mud.
“That drunkard is going to drink himself to death sooner or later!”
“You know, he must be pretty rich. Think about it! He's been drinking for months and months, but still has money to spend.”
“We're actually doing a good thing here. His money would do a lot more good in our pockets than it would being wasted by him, drinking himself to death. Let’s just send him off early to reunite with his dead family!” Three local ruffians emerged from the nearby bamboo forest, joking greedily amongst themselves as they tromped over to the temple.
They were members of a local gang, mortals who had long since taken notice of Bai Xiaochun. Originally, they hadn’t given him much thought, but when they realized that he continually bought Drunken Immortal and never seemed to run out of money, their interest was piqued.
To ruffians like this, a drunkard with deep pockets was like a fat sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Only one of the ruffians actually approached Bai Xiaochun. The other two fanned out to act as lookouts. As far as they were concerned, any of them could single-handedly take care of a single drunken scholar.
One of the ruffians standing watch chuckled and said, “Hurry up and kill him, Sun Wu! Then we can take the loot to the Pink and Lace Pavilion and have a real good time!”
The one they called Sun Wu didn’t hesitate. He walked over to where Bai Xiaochun lay on the ground outside the temple and squatted down next to him.
“The sooner you die, Scholar Bai, the sooner you can be reincarnated. I’m just helping you out here!” With that, he reached into the fold of his robe and pulled out a dagger, which he placed right over Bai Xiaochun’s heart.
Because of the life of crime they had led, these three ruffians had done things that most ordinary people had not. They had taken lives in the past, and although they couldn’t be considered particularly powerful or dangerous, were vicious and merciless to the core.
They had never even considered sparing Bai Xiaochun’s life. He was an outsider, so if he died, no one would care too much. On the other hand, if they robbed him but left him alive, and he reported the theft to the authorities, it could cause them a big headache.
The moonlight caught the dagger, causing it to glint in sinister fashion. Sun Wu smiled coldly, but then realized that considering the scholar might awaken from the pain, he reached down and clamped his hand over his mouth.
He had killed people in this way before. However, something different happened this time. As he tried to plunge the knife into Bai Xiaochun’s chest, it felt like he had struck a slab of metal. He pushed harder, but then let out a yelp of shock and pain as the dagger snapped in half.
To Sun Wu’s shock, his forefinger was cut by the broken dagger, and began to bleed.
It was too dark for the other ruffians to see what was happening, so one of them called out, “Hurry it up, Sun Wu. What are you doing?!”
Sun Wu took a deep breath. He looked at the broken dagger, and then the sleeping Bai Xiaochun, who reeked of alcohol. Assuming that it was a problem with his dagger, he borrowed a saber from one of his fellows and then hacked it down onto Bai Xiaochun’s neck.
A cracking sound rang out, and Sun Wu shrieked and staggered backward, his arms vibrating so hard he worried his bones might break. He even lost his balance and fell onto the ground, the shattered remnants of the sabre scattering around him.
Meanwhile, Bai Xiaochun was snoring just as loudly as before, and hadn’t reacted at all. To him, both the dagger and the sabre had felt like little more than a mosquito landing on him.
Sun Wu and his companions immediately began to sweat profusely, and their eyes went as wide as if they had seen a ghost.
“How is this even possible!?!?”
1. If you’re like me, you might have missed the casual mention of a spark falling on his hand. It was in