Surprised, Bai Xiaochun accepted the command medallion. As soon as it touched his skin, intense coldness rushed into him. Clearly, it was some sort of precious object. Bai Xiaochun had heard of the Deadmire before. There were even some people who called it the Emptymire, as it was a location between the Heavenspan region and the Wildlands that was completely empty of all life.
There were only four areas where the Deadmire was accessible, all of which were near the Great Wall. With the command medallion he now possessed, he could enter it, and thus leave the Wildlands. Furthermore, it would actually speed up his journey back to the River-Defying Sect. After all, his original plan had been to cross the Great Wall, which would have eventually required that he travel back to the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect by boat.
The fact that the gravekeeper was treating him so well was moving. Obviously, the command medallion was no fake; if the gravekeeper wanted to get rid of him, he wouldn’t have needed to resort to some trap to do it.
“Great-Grandpa… you really are like my own great-grandfather…. Well, I guess I’ll take my leave now!” With that, he prepared to leave. After all, the Wildlands was a dangerous place, and considering that everyone was currently a bit stunned by who Bai Xiaochun’s Master was, it seemed like the perfect time to get away.
Of course, the Celestial’s attitude gave him pause. But considering that he was a very unimportant person in the grand scheme of things, it seemed unlikely that important people like the Celestial would pay much attention to him. Besides, he hadn’t done anything to offend the Celestial directly.
“If I just slip back quietly, it should be fine.” Although he felt a bit hesitant, now that his identity had been revealed, the Wildlands was definitely much more dangerous than the River-Defying Sect.
However, just as he made his decision, the gravekeeper suddenly started talking again. He stood there on the bank of the Underworld River, his hands clasped behind his back as he said, “Do you remember how I answered you all those years ago when you asked for my name…?”
“Huh?” Bai Xiaochun said, stopping in place and looking back.
“This world is basically a huge tomb, buried within which is a sovereign known as the Arch-Lord…. I am he who watches over his grave. The gravekeeper.” For some reason, the gravekeeper looked older than ever as he spoke.
“Upon that sovereign’s death, he closed the Worldgate and left instructions that only someone who cultivated his legacy all the way to the Mahayana Realm, a celestial, could open that gate. Until then, no one is permitted to leave this world!” He spoke softly, an ancient gleam in his eyes as though he were contemplating the past.
“A tomb?” Bai Xiaochun said with a soft gasp. Although he had learned a bit about the world in scattered bits throughout the years, this was his first time getting such a detailed explanation. The fact that the world he lived in was actually a tomb caused his eyes to widen, and his heart to race.
“His descendants became the imperial clan,” the gravekeeper continued. “And that is the origin of the Arch-Emperors, and also why this world's true name is… the Arch-Emperor Realm!” The gravekeeper wasn't looking at Bai Xiaochun, which made it seem like he was talking to himself as he contemplated ancient times.
“Were it not for certain unexpected events, this world should have long since seen an emperor who rose from the Demigod Realm to the Mahayana Realm…. Unfortunately, unexpected events did occur. A cultivator with spectacular talent created a new technique, a type of celestial magic. He forged his own path of cultivation, and eventually toppled the Arch-Emperor Dynasty!” Although the Gravekeeper was speaking very quietly at this point, Bai Xiaochun could tell that there was a touch of praise in his voice when he mentioned this certain cultivator. Obviously, that cultivator was so spectacular that he was deserving of praise by the gravekeeper. Furthermore, Bai Xiaochun knew exactly who he was.
“I was unable to interfere with the matter. In fact, there are many things that I can’t interfere with. I'm just a gravekeeper after all. I watch over the sovereign’s tomb, I tend to the cycle of reincarnation, and I defend the Worldgate. The first time I took any action at all was to ensure that the imperial clan wasn’t exterminated, and that the Joss Flame of the world continued to burn here in the Wildlands. However, the price I paid for interfering was that my time of existence was cut in half.
“That cultivator I mentioned spent years trying to find me. When he did, he asked me to open the Worldgate. He was illegitimate, so naturally I refused, but I did tell him the proper method to achieve his goal!
“However, the Arch-Lord’s legacy was not suitable for him. He came to me over and over again, and tried many ways to convince me. But in the end, he finally came to the conclusion that the only way to leave this place would be to kill me.
“Presumably, you know who that cultivator is. He is Daoist Heavenspan, also known as… the Celestial.” At this point, the gravekeeper turned and looked at Bai Xiaochun.
The gravekeeper’s words already had Bai Xiaochun reeling in astonishment, and yet, that astonishment grew more intense when Bai Xiaochun saw the gravekeeper’s face.
The gravekeeper seemed even older than before, so much so that he looked like he had just climbed out of a grave. He was very different from before, and fairly radiated a sense of weakness.
“I'm very old…. I've been around for far too long. I suspect that when that sovereign created me, he didn’t expect for me to exist for this much time. My original fate was to perish along with the opening of the Worldgate.” It seemed as if the gravekeeper didn’t mind the fact that he was growing extremely old at all.
“I don’t have much time left, so I decided to take action earlier. Unfortunately… not even calling upon forbidden magic was I able to kill him.
“Acting in the way I did reduced my time even further…. In addition, the wounds caused by the forbidden magic have pushed the world closer to the brink of collapse.” The gravekeeper shook his head, regret shining in his eyes.
As of this point, Bai Xiaochun felt like he understood everything. The gravekeeper was not just regretful for having failed in killing the Celestial in the recent battle. He regretted not having done so earlier. Because of the various limitations he faced, he had allowed the Celestial to keep living and grow into what he was today.
In fact, he had taken action today in the hopes of making up for some of those past mistakes!
“I knew from the beginning that I might fail to kill him. But I decided to try anyway…. The truth was that, even before you came to the Wildlands, I had already begun to make arrangements for what happens after I die.” The gravekeeper sighed and looked over at Bai Xiaochun.
“The successor of the Hell-Emperor?” Bai Xiaochun asked hesitantly, his heart beginning to pound. The gravekeeper nodded, causing Bai Xiaochun’s heart rate to increase even more. As far as Bai Xiaochun was concerned, if he hadn’t been able to put the puzzle pieces together, it would have meant he was a complete idiot. After all, it seemed obvious that the gravekeeper had noticed how outstanding he was, and that he wanted him to accept his legacy and become the next Hell-Emperor!
The mere thought of becoming the Hell-Emperor got Bai Xiaochun profoundly excited. However, he cleared his throat and humbly said, “Um… Great-Grandpa, the truth is that I’m not really that outstanding…. However, I can say that I’m ready! Uh, right. What does the successor of the Hell-Emperor actually have to do?”
The gravekeeper looked deeply into Bai Xiaochun’s eyes and said, “He will enter the Underworld River, and deliver his soul to the Underworld Palace. He will guard the sovereign’s tomb and watch over the cycle of reincarnation. He will defend the Worldgate, and refuse to open it for anyone who is illegitimate!”
Bai Xiaochun was a bit taken aback. The last part of what the gravekeeper had just said seemed interesting, but there was something a bit unsettling about the first part.
“Great-Grandpa, what do you mean by ‘deliver his soul to the Underworld Palace’? If his soul goes into the Underworld River, doesn’t that mean… that he has to die?” When he saw the gravekeeper nod in response, he gasped, and his face turned as white as a sheet.
“Great-Grandpa, er…. Look, I'm really not very outstanding. I'm just a regular person! I get restless easily, and have a lot of faults. If I’m in charge of the Underworld River, bad things will probably happen. It’s too big of a responsibility for a kid like me. Um… why don’t you pick someone else? I’ll… I’ll see you later, Great-Grandpa!” He took a step back, but before he could do anything more, the gravekeeper’s hand shot out toward him as if to grab him.
Bai Xiaochun let out a yelp.
“I'm really not the best choice, Great-Grandpa! Wherever I go, I accidentally cause huge disasters! I don’t want to cause a disaster for you! I--”
“Pipe down! I’m not so much of an idiot that I would pick you to be my successor!” As it turned out, what the gravekeeper had grabbed was not Bai Xiaochun, but his bag of holding. All of a sudden, Bai Hao’s soulhoarding pagoda flew out into the open and came to rest on the gravekeeper’s palm.
“The person I've picked to be my successor isn’t you,” he said coolly, “it’s Bai Hao.”
“Huh?” Bai Xiaochun replied, visibly stunned.