"A debt collector." Ling Lan's trench knife stabbed mercilessly into the heart of one of the subordinates, and blood once again stained her hair. As she leapt away to lunge at another, she didn't forget to leave this response behind.
Ling Lan's savagery caused the killers to have no time to bother with the villagers. They all lifted their weapons and charged at Ling Lan, preparing to surround her and attack her from all sides.
"I've wounded him!" shouted one of the thugs suddenly. There was still a trace of blood clinging to his weapon, but this was also his final achievement, for Ling Lan's dagger cut through his throat the next second.
"After striving for so long, I still couldn't avoid getting injured." Ling Lan looked at the cut on her shoulder area impassively. Though it was still bleeding sluggishly, Ling Lan did not retreat at all, seemingly not feeling any pain from the wound. She decisively swung her weapons around and thrust them at the next foe.
She had no wild hopes of killing all of these beastly scumbags without any injury to herself ... although she had considered at one point to complete the mission perfectly in such a way, which was why she had chosen to tolerate so much at the start. But that sort of toleration had made her feel unbearably frustrated and irritable, deeply uncomfortable. In contrast, though she had gotten injured, her current mood was extraordinarily light. She relished this sort of battle, this sensation of freedom.
This is the kind of battle I yearn for! No suppression or holding back, free to do whatever I want to do!
Yes, freedom is what I want!
Humans were resilient. As long as they were given a slim thread of survival, they would be able to unleash unimaginable power ... and the villagers who had been held captive here were no exception.
The tools the thugs had used to threaten them had finally been turned back against the thugs themselves, and Ling Lan's overwhelming strength and ferocity stoked the villagers' courage. Everyone there knew that if they didn't fight back, all that awaited them was death, and now that they had the hope of survival ...
For the sake of their husbands and wives, for the sake of their parents and relatives, and also for themselves, everyone in the village — whether male or female, young or old — took up weapons, determined to engage these criminals who had destroyed their happy homes in a battle to the death.
It was very difficult for regular people with low combat ability, like the villagers, to finish off these exceptionally strong killers. However, the villagers had already decided to risk everything, determined to die honourably even if they couldn't succeed. Just think about how many villagers there were — if one wasn't enough, then try two; if two wasn't enough, then try three.
This was no longer a game where the strong butchered the weak, but was now a horrific melee fight. Beside the body of every despicable killer, you could basically see a villager tangled up with him, almost inseparable.
This was how the villagers fought. Very simply, the elderly entrusted their hopes to the younger generation, rushing forward to pull a random killer into a death embrace — then, even if their chests were hacked into paste, they wouldn't let go. It had to be said that the latent reserves of humans were truly unfathomable — the strength of these old people before death became inexplicably horrifying, capable of rendering the killers completely immobile. Then, the second villager would rush forward, followed by the third, the fourth and so on ... until the opponent was dead.
The villagers' sudden fearlessness in the face of death shocked the killers; following the death of one killer after another, the remaining killers actually began to panic. In particular, once their greatest leader was successfully killed by Ling Lan, they could no longer control the fear in their hearts, and began fleeing like beaten dogs towards the outsides of the village.
Though Ling Lan tried her best, a few killers still managed to escape, making her feel a little disappointed. She had really wanted to end every single one of them here.
Although the killers were dead, this village was pretty much destroyed. Only 30% of the villagers had survived, with a majority being women and children, as well as a small number of young men. Almost all of the elderly had perished in that final clash.
Ling Lan didn't linger; she felt that it was inappropriate for her to remain in this village which needed to be rebuilt. The villagers were still in a stupor from their grief, and so did not notice when Ling Lan left.
"Benefactor, don't go," shouted the young man suddenly, rushing over with the rest of the villagers his team had rescued.
This shout seemed to awaken the villagers from their grief, and they all gathered around her, begging Ling Lan not to leave them.
Ling Lan did not look back, only replying coolly, "I ... am not your benefactor."
"No, you are. If you hadn't killed most of the killers, we wouldn't have been able to survive." Of course, the villagers didn't believe Ling Lan's words — if Ling Lan hadn't intervened, they wouldn't have been able to oppose the killers no matter how hard they tried.
"You've saved us. We are willing to acknowledge you as master." Perhaps the villagers were grateful, or perhaps they just needed the protection of someone strong, for the young man's suggestion was unequivocally approved — they were all willing to become Ling Lan's servants.
The villagers' words led Ling Lan to recall the image within the third panel of the mural. That protagonist had possessed countless subordinates — perhaps this was where he had started to amass power. According to the mission itinerary, she should just agree and continue to experience all the images within those six panels of the mural — perhaps then she would complete the mission.
Ling Lan fell into a contemplative silence, and then, just as she was about to speak up and agree, she abruptly remembered her mission description — to find the right evolution pathway for herself. If she just blindly followed the contents of the mural, would that be 'right'?
Ling Lan felt as if she had hit upon a key point. Back then, it was because she had noticed the difference between the protagonist's smile in the first panel and the sixth panel that she had been sucked into the mural ... in that case, could she take it as the protagonist's path of becoming a king and total domination being a mistake? So the main point of this mission was the term 'right'?
Ling Lan had the strong feeling that the answer was right before her, but there just happened to be a thin layer of paper still in the way ... the more she thought about it, the more confused she became, until she reached a point where she felt that her thoughts were a bit of a mess.
Ling Lan habitually sat down in a meditative pose and began circulating her Qi. After one circuit, the stray thoughts in her mind all disappeared, and things became clearer.
Ling Lan once again thought back to the earlier question, but this time she started chasing the thought from the beginning. It had all started because she had noticed that the smile in the first panel and the sixth panel were different ...
The smile in the first panel was sincere, innocent, and passionate, while the smile in the final panel had become fake, affected, and cold. This indicated that after the protagonist had gone through the experiences of the mural, he had changed from a pure-hearted youth into a dark and deceitful ruler. As he grew up, he had also lost his innocence ...
The right evolution pathway? A notion sparked through Ling Lan's mind. She suddenly thought — could it be that the learning space felt that the protagonist's choice to become a ruler was wrong?
No, no, no ... Ling Lan felt that there was something wrong with this assumption; perhaps there was still some deeper meaning ... Ling Lan thought back to the countless other murals she had seen in the tunnel. Although they all depicted different things, with different forms and different content, they all had one point in common — their protagonists were all strong in a particular aspect.
This fit perfectly with the learning space's reason for existing. Cultivating its host to become strong was the only calling of the learning space, so regardless of which path of strength the host decided to pursue, the learning space would not restrict its host, but was rather happy to provide support. Thus, there was absolutely nothing wrong if the protagonist in the mural decided to become a king who liked to expand his territory.
Then, the problem might be with the protagonist's mental state — could the loss of self be what the learning space really disapproved of?
At this thought, Ling Lan felt as if she had opened a door that had originally been sealed up tight, bringing in a sea of light. All the conundrums she had before had been answered.
Ling Lan thought to herself: although the protagonist managed to become a king, he lost the sincerity and passion he had in the beginning, losing his true self. The mission this time may very well be for me to understand my true self, and figure out what my true thoughts are ...
I want to possess a healthy body, I want to live freely, I want to do whatever I want to do without worry. I don't want to see any sinister plots, and I don't want to be controlled. I want to make a few close friends and bosom buddies, and raise an exceptional baby. Yes, I hate troublesome things, and I don't want to be tied down ...
Ling Lan abruptly opened her eyes, stood up to face the young man waiting patiently by her side and said firmly, "I refuse!"
"Why?" cried the young man sadly. His entire expression actually twisted, and his gaze was resentful.
"Your fates rest in your own hands. What does it have to do with me?" Ling Lan said impassively. This was truly spoken from her heart. "Why should I take care of you all? Why should I bear your responsibilities? No one can force me to do what I don't want to do, no one."
"Then why did you save us? You might as well have let us die at the hands of those people." The young man burst into tears, and all the villagers also started crying. Even the sky started to weep rain, as if unsatisfied with Ling Lan's heartlessness.
"To save or not to save is my choice, to die or not to die is yours ..." Ling Lan threw down this final statement, and then immediately turned to walk away, no hesitation at all in her demeanour.
In that moment, Ling Lan had made her decision. She wanted to be a free spirit, and do whatever she wanted to do. She didn't want to live according to the world's rules of right and wrong, and restrict her own movements that way.
Gradually, Ling Lan left that blood-stained village further and further behind, coming to a desolate hillside of yellow soil. Ling Lan didn't know if her choice was the right one, but she regretted nothing. Instead, her heart was light, because the mission this time had let her reaffirm the path she wanted to walk. So that she wouldn't be tied down, so that she could live freely, so that she could give birth to an absolutely exceptional baby — she needed to become much stronger!
Just as Ling Lan was about to unleash a scream to vent the pent up emotions in her heart, a black vortex suddenly appeared once again before her eyes, pulling her inside it in an instant.
F*ck, again?! Ling Lan only had enough time to say that before she was entirely devoured by the black vortex.
The tall slope of yellow soil once more subsided into silence, just as if Ling Lan had never been there.
Alone in his space, Number One was sitting cross-legged in contemplation when his mind flickered, and then he abruptly disappeared. At the same time, with joyful faces, Number Five and Number Nine also disappeared from within their own spaces, and the three of them appeared together before the gates of the test of Dao.
Very quickly, a black vortex appeared before them, and then a small figure dropped out from it.
Ling Lan calmly adjusted her posture in the air, and then landed safely on her feet.
"Ling Lan, congratulations, you have passed," said Instructor Number One coolly.
Number Five and Number Nine shared a glance, subtle knowing smiles on the corners of their lips. Number One's true emotions were not as calm as his appearance would suggest.