Ling Lan could only feel herself tumbling and being tugged every which way within the black vortex, and then she was swiftly sucked into a bottomless black hole. She felt as if she was travelling through the black hole — perhaps it was for only one second, or perhaps a long time had passed, like maybe an hour, or even a day.
Ling Lan's awareness became somewhat dulled and just as she was blanking out, light flashed before her eyes, and she was spat out from the black vortex.
Ling Lan felt herself falling rapidly. At this time, Ling Lan could see that she had arrived at an unknown small valley and was now hurtling down towards a small grassy hillside.
Ling Lan didn't know if this patch of grass was potentially dangerous, so she took in a deep breath, and using her developed core strength, she swept her right foot down several times, sending several strong gusts of wind flying down towards the grass. These winds thoroughly ruffled the grass below, sending the wild hares hiding within scattering in fright, with even several ground rodents among them.
The possibility of there being a hidden swamp or traps — none! The possibility of concealed venomous insects and other dangerous pests — infinitely close to zero!
In that split second, Ling Lan determined that the spot she was about to land on was safe, and so she freely allowed her body to fall. Still, she remained cautious, for Ling Lan knew that in an unknown world, there would also be unknown dangers.
After landing safely, Ling Lan carefully observed the surroundings of her landing point. Seeing that there really was no danger, only then did she take the time to take a closer look at the beautiful valley before her.
The view in the valley was breathtaking. On the distant hillsides, countless trees grew — a patch of gold here, a patch of vibrant red there, and verdant greens were everywhere. At the foot of the hills, the thick grass was interspersed with wild flowers in a variety of colours, swaying gracefully in the wind.
There was also a small brook that weaved among the flowering meadow, concealed by the surroundings in some parts while clearly displayed in others. Like this, it had a sort of bashful beauty, a somewhat elusive quality about it. But nearer to her side, the brook suddenly widened considerably, becoming a small river which was neither too deep nor too shallow, and there were even some palm-sized fish frolicking within it.
On the river bank, clusters of multi-coloured wild flowers were scattered across the ground, and as the river water flowed over cobblestones of varying hues, the beauty of the flowers entwined with the radiance of the shimmering water, the splendour of each enhancing the other. Just like that, her eyes were treated to an idyllic portrait of a fairy-tale land, giving Ling Lan the mistaken impression that she had returned to the Earth of her previous life ...
Although back then she had only seen such beautiful scenery online, she still remembered how enchanting those images were.
Now, in this current world, it was already impossible to see this sort of beautiful natural scenery. The more advanced technology was, the more damage was done to the environment. Even though the Federation now had countless inhabitable planets which resembled Earth, it was impossible to find scenery as beautiful as that which had once existed on Earth.
By the brook there was also a small footpath, meandering off into the distance in two directions. This proved that this valley was not uninhabited, otherwise there would not be such a path.
Seeing this, Ling Lan was undoubtedly glad, because this meant that she would be able to find out quickly where she was, or perhaps find out what she was supposed to do next.
Although Ling Lan's entry method this time was rather strange, she had already determined that she must have entered one of the specially designated missions of the learning space. Only when she completed the mission would she be able to return once more to the great hall of the learning space, or perhaps to one of the instructors' training spaces.
In fact, Ling Lan was very suspicious. This hint-less setup, where one had to rely solely on one's own ability in a wild goose chase, was very much like something the insane Instructor Number Five would cook up. Only he would do such an irresponsible thing — throwing her into the mission realm without any notice. If it were Number One or Number Nine, they would definitely meet up with her first to give her some guidelines.
Of course, this was all just Ling Lan's speculation and could not be confirmed. She would have to first finish this mission and return before she could find out for sure. So, the first thing Ling Lan needed to do was find out what her mission was this time, otherwise she wouldn't be able to take the next step. This was currently Ling Lan's biggest problem. It wasn't like before, when the instructors would explain the mission, or when the system would announce the parameters. This time, it was clear that she had to rely on her own investigation and judgement.
Were those murals a hint for part of the mission? For some reason, Ling Lan just could not put those murals out of her mind — there was just something about them that made her think that they were a key point, but in what way exactly, Ling Lan just could not say.
Since she couldn't glean anything from the murals right now, she would just look for some new clues in this place first.
Her mind made up, Ling Lan started moving. She first looked at the direction of the river flow, and then started walking along the footpath, heading in the direction of the source of the brook. Ling Lan really liked to start from the beginning. That way, she believed that regardless of whether she wanted to search or to solve a problem, the order would be systematic, and it wouldn't be as easy to miss anything.
Just like that, Ling Lan slowly followed the path to wind up those little slopes. She ascended step by step, and after about 30 minutes, when Ling Lan turned a corner along the footpath, she saw a large mountain in the near distance. At a glance, she could see that the path would end abruptly before that mountain.
This way should be a dead end! If she wanted to save time, Ling Lan should just turn back now, and search for clues in the other direction. Brows furrowed, Ling Lan looked towards the mountain, considering whether she should just turn back here.
"Ling Lan, you must remember, there is no such thing as 'almost' in the study of physical skills, and there are definitely no shortcuts. Through hard training, knowing means mastering everything — if not everything is mastered then it means you do not know. There are only these two categories, no other." Instructor Number Nine's clear voice suddenly rang out in Ling Lan's mind in recollection.
Back then, when she was still learning the foundational physical skills, Instructor Number Nine had asked her whether she knew them yet. Being cautious, Ling Lan had replied by saying that she 'almost' knew them.
This answer caused Instructor Number Nine to give her a good long lecture, warning her that she should make sure everything she does is really at 100% before thinking of her next step.
100% confirmation, is it? Ling Lan scratched her head and released a quiet sigh, giving up on the notion of heading back. There shouldn't be a time limit for this mission. In that case, she might as well run to the end and see. Ling Lan knew that if she didn't take the effort to make sure, she would not be at ease.
Ling Lan continued onwards towards the towering mountain, and after approximately half an hour, Ling Lan finally arrived at the base of the mountain.
This mountain had a curve to it, curving inwards and causing an oval plot of flat ground to appear before it. On the plot of land were many trees of varying heights and sizes. Some of the trees were incomparably thick, having already grown here for who knows how many centuries, perhaps even millenniums.
Meanwhile, it had only taken one glance for Ling Lan's eyes to light up, because she had noticed an almost imperceptibly small path winding into the forest. This was all thanks to Number One who had previously made her stay in a primordial deep forest for several months, leading her to learn how to find those very well-hidden yet safe paths, no matter if they were created by wild beasts or herself.
The corners of Ling Lan's lips quirked up into a smile. So it was true that 100% confirmation was needed for anything, otherwise too many chances would have easily slipped by unnoticed.
With a light heart, Ling Lan stepped into the woods. Following that concealed pathway, she walked past this short 30 metres of forested land, and what met her sight was a tiny fissure, so small that it could have been missed, right at the bottom section of the mountain.
This fissure was so thin and narrow that it would have been unnoticeable from a distance. Even at a closer distance, without going through those tall, imposing trees blocking her line of sight, it would have been impossible to see it.
A strand of sky, was it?
It truly was extremely concealed — the trick with the line of sight, along with the trap of habitual thinking, would easily cause most people to overlook it. Ling Lan herself had almost given up halfway through, but luckily she had remembered Instructor Number Nine's teachings, which had made her persist in her efforts.
Ling Lan's felt a stirring of emotion; perhaps the hint she needed would be inside this place? Or perhaps the answer?
Ling Lan slowly approached the fissure. Sure enough, it was a strand of sky — the fissure would only allow a person of average build to pass through it. If someone a little plumper would like to go through, they would probably have to make some special preparations before they could do so.
Of course, for Ling Lan, there was no problem at all. Ling Lan's mental appearance was currently that of a six year old child. At the very beginning when Ling Lan had first entered the learning space, Ling Lan's spiritual self had yet to merge completely with her current body, so her mental avatar had looked like her old self from the previous world for a period of time. But after that, as she grew older and the merge completed successfully, Ling Lan's mental avatar had matched up with her outer appearance, so she now looked exactly the same inside the learning space as she did in the outside world.
Ling Lan successfully went through the strand of sky, and unexpectedly, there was another valley within the valley. The first thing she saw was a large lake — it was likely that this lake was the source of the little stream she had followed along the way here, while the water source for the lake must be the snow melt coming from the surrounding mountains reaching up to the sky.
Ling Lan skirted the edges of the lake, which was emitting wisps of cold air, and continued following the path. After walking for another two to three minutes, an expanse of glinting gold came into view, causing Ling Lan to squint involuntarily.
This was a large paddy field, which could be described as stretching as far as the eye could see. When the wind of the valley swept by, a golden wave would roll through the field. Right now was the harvest season of the valley, and Ling Lan had the sudden urge to rush into the fields and gather up all that bountiful grain ...
Erm, the commoner mentality of her previous world was acting up again, influencing her thoughts and emotions. Ling Lan couldn't help but chuckle at herself.
Just as Ling Lan was about to continue moving on, a thought flashed through her mind. She recalled the mural that had caused her to be sucked into the black hole — in the first panel of that mural, wasn't there a paddy field just like this?
Could it be that she was now within the world on that mural?
This was actually highly probable! Since she had been sucked in by that mural, then it would make complete sense for her to have entered its world. If this deduction was correct, Ling Lan would have to think — what exactly did the learning space want her to do by sending her into this world?
Thinking back on the protagonist's smile in that first panel and in the final panel, about how the two smiles appeared so similar yet conveyed such different meaning, Ling Lan felt as if she were on the edge of an epiphany. Did her mission have something to do with those smiles?
Ling Lan had just thought of this when a mechanical voice rang out from the skies of the valley above her, "Congratulations, you have identified the vital clue. Now assigning the learning space's exclusive mission — seek out your correct evolution pathway!"A Chinese way of describing geographical features that are very narrow, exaggeratedly only allowing only a thin ray of light to seep through. Typically, it is not really narrow to that extent, but would be just wide enough to allow a kid or a thin person to go through, as is the case in this story.