When Ling Lan, who had had her consciousness forcefully extracted, opened her eyes once more, she found that she wasn't in any particular instructor's training space, nor was she in the main hall of the learning space where Little Four was at. Instead, she was in an extremely dark and gloomy tunnel.
Ling Lan couldn't help but frown. She wasn't a stranger to tunnels in the mind-space — once, one of Instructor Number Five's twisted experiments had been held in this sort of setting. Of course, that experience definitely could not be called pleasant, so Ling Lan was not a big fan of this sort of surroundings.
Still, Ling Lan was also very clear on the fact that whether she liked it or not, she would have to stay put here. The learning space had never put anything up for negotiation.
Ling Lan waited for a good long while, but no instructor presented themselves. The furrow of her brows deepened — what exactly was going on?
"Hello, is anybody there? Instructor Number One? Instructor Number Five? Instructor Number Nine?" yelled out Ling Lan. She did not want to waste time here on this sort of endless waiting. Remember, on the outside, Qi Long was still waiting to fight a match with her, and she really didn't want to be a no-show.
The only response Ling Lan received was a gradually fading echo from the tunnel; there was no human response. After some thought, Ling Lan raised her hand to rub at her forehead and said with a helpless tone, "Little Four, stop playing, come out now."
She thought that this could be a prank by Little Four, but unfortunately, silence was still the only response Ling Lan received. And so Ling Lan was stumped. Could it be that she had guessed wrongly?
Ling Lan's brows were scrunched up tightly as her gaze swept over her surroundings in hopes of being able to find some clue — if this was a test, the learning space would definitely provide some sort of hint.
The lighting in the tunnel wasn't very good — she could only see for a distance of about 10 metres. All around her was a thick darkness, just like a black hole capable of devouring everything, so still and quiet that she felt suffocated.
Ling Lan took several slow steps forwards, and it suddenly got even darker. Ling Lan squinted her eyes, trying to get her eyes adapted quicker to the meagre light that was almost darkness. Ling Lan thought that it would be dark all along the tunnel, but unexpectedly, it got subtly brighter right in front of her as she shuffled along, and then she found that two metres ahead, on the wall on her right-hand side, there was a small platform jutting out, with a small oil lamp sitting on it. The lamp was emitting a feeble light, lighting up the area around it for several metres.
"How stingy. Couldn't they have put out a bigger one? A brighter one?" Ling Lan was a bit disgruntled. As a girl, she really hated the dark.
Ling Lan's grumbles had just faded when her face went slack in surprise. She had noticed that she was surrounded by thick darkness once again, not a trace of light visible.
"Seems like, this tunnel has a curve to it." Only that could explain why her sight could be obscured, preventing her from seeing the light of the next oil lamp.
Ling Lan continued to move forwards. When she once again entered the place where the light was the darkest, she saw something from the corner of her eye which made her let out an involuntary cry of surprise. She felt as if the wall at that section was not the same as what she saw earlier — an even flat sheet — but instead had highs and lows as if marked with something.
Could it be that the wall contained some secret? Or perhaps the information of the test? Ling Lan felt a surge of excitement. She quickly retreated back to where the oil lamp was, and with a leap through the air, she plucked down the oil lamp from its platform.
"Looks like there was a reason for setting out oil lamps that can be removed. I actually overlooked that. Luckily my sight is amazing, letting me see things that most people can't, so I didn't miss it in the end." Even as Ling Lan congratulated herself, she became even more cautious. She had sensed that the test set by the learning space this time was not easy — no instructions from the instructors, and also no hints from the system. She even suspected that, if she hadn't discovered the key point hidden on the walls, she might very well have gone around in never-ending circles in the tunnel, until she managed to find it — or perhaps, if she never managed to find it, she would be here until she died ...
Ling Lan shook her head vigorously, telling herself to stop scaring herself. She lifted the oil lamp and continued onwards with a hand on the wall. Finally, the uneven section of wall she had noticed revealed itself before her ... it turned out to be a realistic lifelike mural.
Ling Lan lifted the oil lamp high, and rays of light shone over the mural to display it in its entirety before her eyes.
And then, Ling Lan felt a rush of killing intent assault her senses, making her draw in a cold breath. On the mural, corpses littered a wild plain. Their bodies were broken and battered, and on those corpses whose faces were still distinguishable, one expression was vividly portrayed —— terror, a profound terror born from extreme despair.
And in the centre of this plain piled with corpses, a person stood tall. He was looking at everything surrounding him with a smile on his face, as if in admiration, but also as if he were enjoying this lavish feast of bloody carnage before his eyes. At the same time, gripped in his hands, was the head of an infant still in its swaddling clothes. His fingers had already sunk into the infant's flesh, causing countless rivulets of fresh blood to flow down and obscure the infant's face ...
Ling Lan felt a chill penetrate her heart. She could clearly sense the emotions of the ruthless killer in the image. There was no frenzy, nor was there any distortion in his rationality — instead, there was a sort of extreme calm. He was thoroughly enjoying all of this — killing people was just another game — there was no semblance of humanity within him.
Could this person still be considered human? Ling Lan held back her discomfort and continued to walk. After another 10 metres or so, another mural appeared. It was completely different from the previous one. This time, the image was packed with a horde of live people. They were prostrated on the ground, with quite a few of them looking up towards somewhere high above. Although the expressions on their slanted faces were all different, there was one point they all had in common — their eyes were all filled with a zealous reverence. And their focus was at the highest point of the mural. A human being, fashioned like a deity, was holding onto a staff, smiling benevolently down at all of his believers at his feet.
Unsure why, Ling Lan, who should have felt warmed and calmed by this picture, again felt a chill run through her. She couldn't help but feel that that deity’s smile carried a type of mockery and contempt; as if within his eyes, all he saw were a multitude of ants.
Ling Lan's brows drew even closer together. What were these murals trying to tell her? Ling Lan knew that the learning space would not give out useless images. If there was no meaning to them, the two walls of the tunnel would be smooth and unblemished, not to mention how concealed the murals were.
Ling Lan was not someone to think herself into knots. Since she couldn't figure it out now, then she would just continue moving onwards to find the answer.
Subsequently, more murals appeared one after another, bringing Ling Lan through demonic realms, fantasy dreamscapes, spiritual planes, and also bestial wildernesses ... all kinds of strange and fascinating worlds presented themselves before Ling Lan one by one. Even as Ling Lan was awed and stunned by all of them, her confusion grew — what exactly were all these seemingly unrelated murals driving at?
Just like that, Ling Lan skimmed over all these murals one by one. After approximately half an hour, when the countless murals were starting to make Ling Lan's eyes cross and head spin, yet another new mural appeared.
This time, Ling Lan found her steps stopping as she exclaimed loudly in surprise because this mural was completely different from any of the others she had seen previously. It was not depicting the story of any gods or demons, but chronicled the life of a regular human being.
Indeed, it was a long mural split into six panels, and though the images on the six panels were different, they all featured the same protagonist.
In the first panel, he had a confident smile on his face, and his eyes danced with excitement. Carrying his own weapon, a bastard sword, slung over his back, he walked out of his own world. In the picture, behind the protagonist was a golden paddy field — it was harvest season, a peaceful refuge.
In the second panel, he came to a world buffeted by foul winds and bloody rain. He saw hell on earth, as a group of bandits raped and pillaged a random village. Young and filled with a sense of righteousness, he was enraged, drawing out the bastard sword from behind his back to clash with the bandits.
The story was picked up closely in the third panel. At his back, countless youths followed his lead, lifting all kinds of weapons to fight back, finally killing every single one of the bandits. And then, since the village had already been destroyed, the survivors all willingly decided to accompany him on his travels.
In the fourth panel, the group helped many other people who needed similar help. They lifted their weapons to defend themselves and to defend others, and here, the people gathered around the protagonist had increased.
In the fifth panel, two different camps of people were warring with each other. The protagonist was standing in the middle of one of the camps, his bastard sword lifted high above him, pointed at the enemy as he shouted to attack. Countless warriors followed his lead into battle, courageously charging at the enemy.
In the final panel, he had ascended the dragon's throne which represented the right to rule. He was smiling, while the warriors who had followed him faithfully by his side had their arms raised high as they cheered. Joy and excitement were writ all over their faces, for they had managed to defeat all the enemies that had threatened them, and established the utopia they had dreamed of ...
"Achieving success and establishing a legacy?" Ling Lan wondered at this strange turn — after all, the previous murals had all depicted stories of spirituality, gods and demons — it was a bit hard to take this sudden lane-shift into a record of the struggles of a human. Ling Lan only paused for a moment; when she finished looking over the entire mural, she chose to continue moving forwards.
She had only taken a few steps when she abruptly stopped, and as if thinking of something, she quickly backtracked to return to that image on the first panel. In short order, she skipped to the sixth panel, and then Ling Lan's initially calm face turned grim in an instant.
"Is this image trying to tell me ... about the corruption of a human heart? Gaining power, but losing one's true self in the process? Is it worth it or is it not worth it? Or perhaps there is yet some other deeper meaning?" Ling Lan's brows became even more tightly furrowed. The smile of the protagonist in the first panel was sincere and enthusiastic, and very warm. But by the sixth panel, the same smile had already become fake and superficial, even cold.
Ling Lan stared closely at the protagonist's smile on the sixth panel, and the more she stared the more strange and unsettled she felt. Perhaps Ling Lan had stared too long, for she felt as if the smile on the protagonist's face was growing wider and wider, and at the same time, the chill emanating from the depths of his eyes seemed to become ever more palpable. It got to the point where Ling Lan could vaguely sense a surge of killing intent.
Ling Lan's heart skipped a beat — but just as she thought to jump away from the mural, she found that her body could no longer move.
F*ck! What in the world was happening? Why couldn't she move?
Right then, Ling Lan noticed that, within the mural, an odd streak of black had appeared on the protagonist's originally grey-white eyes, and was rapidly expanding to encompass the entire mural. Soon, the mural had become a terrifying vortex of swirling darkness, and unsurprisingly, the immobilised Ling Lan was directly sucked into it.