Ling Lan blinked at the three instructors before her in bemusement. She hadn't expected this mission to involve all three of her instructors at the same time — the fact that even the usually aloof Number One had appeared made her feel rather touched.
"What's going on, instructors?" asked Ling Lan.
Number Nine was the most anxious; she immediately opened her mouth to ask, "Ling Lan, what Dao did you choose?"
"Dao?" Ling Lan was taken aback, but understood right after and replied quickly, "I didn't choose any of those Daos."
"How could that be possible?" Number Nine's face was filled with disbelief. Passing meant that the testee had found the Dao that belonged to them — why did Ling Lan have to say that she hadn't chosen a Dao? Number Nine wasn't the only one who didn't believe her; even the typically contrary Number Five also didn't believe her. Only Number One had an unfathomable look of deep thought on his face.
"Well, I can't really say I didn't choose ..." said Ling Lan bashfully as she rubbed her head and smiled. "I chose to walk my own Dao, and then the system said I passed and just let me out."
Number One's eyes brightened, flaring with an intense light, while Number Five and Number Nine's faces were filled with shock, which quickly turned into triumphant joy ... how lucky were they, to be able to raise a pupil who could forge her own Dao — this sort of person would undoubtedly become a historic figure.
Ling Lan said somewhat regretfully, "Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether I can complete it. The development of this Dao is all up to me to figure out."
After Ling Lan had been sucked in by the black vortex from the scene of the second panel, she hadn't appeared in a new scene, but had entered an expanse of nothingness instead. Everything had been a grey blankness around her, not a single thing in existence, while Ling Lan herself had just been suspended in mid-air within this nothingness.
Just as Ling Lan was getting restless, the grey blankness suddenly twisted and actually turned into an enormous grey dragon to pounce at the suspended Ling Lan.
Back then, Ling Lan had been terrified, but finding that she had been robbed of the ability to move, she could only watch helplessly as this enormous grey dragon swallowed her whole.
Within that split second, countless images flashed before Ling Lan's eyes. The countless Daos which existed in the world were displayed before her, and she experienced all the trials and epiphanies associated with the Daos along with the images ... when Ling Lan woke up once more, she found that she was still suspended within the nothingness, unharmed, as if all that had just happened had just been a passing dream.
An extremely wispy voice came from a distance: "Of these countless Daos, one of them belongs to you. Which one will you choose?"
"Dao? Is that the evolution pathway I want?" asked Ling Lan pensively.
"Those paths earlier, didn't you see them all?" replied the wispy voice.
"Hate, frenzy, tolerance, control, ties, responsibility, and even kindness and murder ... every person had to abandon some part of themselves ... is this the cost for evolution?" This sort of choice greatly displeased Ling Lan. Was it really necessary to make sacrifices to become stronger?
"Gain and loss, has always been fair; to sacrifice or not, is up to the individual." The wispy voice was cold and emotionless, but it also spoke the truth. In the end, everything was up to personal choice.
"Is it fair?" Ling Lan closed her eyes, once again immersing herself in the grief and epiphanies brought on by those images. It was true that all those people had become the top of their fields, standing at the pinnacle of human achievement, but they also lost some very important things in the meantime. Even those people who had chosen the Fellowship Dao still lost their family —— when one's love was all-encompassing, and all men were equal in one's eyes, what significance did family have?
She did not believe that those people had chosen the Fellowship Dao purely for themselves to begin with — it was likely that they had chosen it also for the sake of their families, but in the end, the outcome was distinctly different from their original intentions. In that case, what purpose was there in becoming strong this way?
It was true that Ling Lan wanted to become strong because she didn't want to live a restrained life. If she was strong enough, her father's military benefits wouldn't be coveted by others, and she eventually wouldn't have to keep pretending to be a man to hold onto them.
She really wanted to give birth to an exceptional baby, but her identity now meant she needed to be strong enough to push down a man she liked in order to get the other half of the genetic material needed for her child.
Moreover, she wanted her child to be able to live openly without having to sneak around, growing up honestly under the care of her boundless love ... she wanted to live this life without any regrets, looking down upon the whole world with a smile ... all of this required her to become even stronger, perhaps even strong enough to stand at the very top.
However, this didn't mean that she was willing to sacrifice certain things in the process. For instance, she didn't want to become a madman or a villain, scorned by the world, so the Demonic Dao, Ghoul Dao, or Killing Dao were all unsuitable for her. She also didn't want to become a saint, a benevolent figure, or a king, to become some sort of leader, for this would force her children to have to be on their guard from a young age, losing the childish innocence and joy they should have. Thus, the Sage Dao, Sovereign Dao, and Benevolence Dao were all not the Dao she needed either. Whatever emotionless-type Dao or relationship-centred Dao were all nonsense, Heart's Dao, Literary Dao, Martial Dao ... all these evolutionary Daos with their multitude of restrictions and conditions were not at all pathways that Ling Lan wanted to walk ...
After analysing each and every one of the Daos, Ling Lan still couldn't find a Dao that suited her. Dissatisfied, she said, "Didn't you say that there would a Dao suitable for me among all these Daos? Why is there none that catches my eye?"
The wispy voice rang out once more, "There are hundreds and thousands of Dao in the world, how do you know that there is no Dao that is suitable for you?"
Ling Lan's response was quick. "In other words, the Daos I've seen are only a portion? Then isn't that strange? Why won't you let me see them all?"
The wispy voice rang out again, but it no longer sounded cool and unaffected; this time, there was a trace of dissatisfaction in its tone as it said, "Due to coincidence and serendipity, you've been given the blessing of several Daos. Don't be too greedy now."
Ling Lan cared not for the voice's dissatisfaction, but rather found the answer she sought from its response. "In that case, I won't choose any of those Daos you've shown me."
Ling Lan's reply stunned the wispy voice. "Why?" Previously, anyone faced with this situation would always joyfully choose one of the Daos offered; why would this person before it now bear to give up such a great opportunity? It was finding this a little hard to accept.
"Didn't you say that there were hundreds and thousands of Dao in this world? Then I need to find the one that suits me best!" Ling Lan used its own words against it, the teasing tone in her voice obvious.
The wispy voice was instantly aggravated, "All these Daos I've given you are Daos which have been tried and tested, created and developed by those who have succeeded, capable of helping you grow strong quickly. Anything else would have to depend on your own capabilities, leaving you stumbling in the dark — you may end up accomplishing nothing in your life, unable to become strong ... are you stupid?"
"Hehe, not faking it anymore?" Ling Lan poked fun at the voice.
The voice went silent, and Ling Lan continued to say, "You're the system of the learning space, aren't you? Stop pretending to be some mysterious master and just tell me straight, what exactly is this?"
"Choosing the right evolutionary Dao, refers to your path of evolution." This time, the voice was no longer wispy, but was the usual system's voice Ling Lan was familiar with.
Only then did Ling Lan nod contentedly. There we go — acting all high and mighty like some deity, beating around the bush with mysticism and riddles; these were all things she wasn't used to. "Isn't this just taking on training step by step?" asked Ling Lan curiously. She still hadn't wrapped her mind around the appearance of this mysterious concept of Dao.
"Dao is a sort of enlightenment, a plane of thought, a realm ... not just regimented numbers and training." The system's reply was airy, but Ling Lan still understood and nodded somewhat thoughtfully. This was thanks to Ling Lan having read way too many novels in the past — some Chinese Buddhist scriptures and teachings would often appear in novels, so this sort of words with deep zen flavour was no problem for her.
"All those Daos I saw were a type of extreme. In other words, when someone walks to a particular extreme, he may be able to realise some profound secret of that extreme ..." There were many things to do with humans which cannot be explained by technology. For instance, the Qi cultivation exercises she had learned was one of these miraculous things.
This time, the learning space's system did not respond, for these things needed to be discovered by the host themselves.
After another few minutes, the learning space's system asked again, "You really don't want to choose those Daos? They're really a shortcut, you know."
But Ling Lan recalled those cultivation-type novels she had read — it's been said that the experience of others can only be referenced but not imitated blindly, because everyone is different. Only those things which one has realised on one's own are truly suited for oneself, so perhaps Dao is the same ...
Ling Lan had her answer. She shook her head once more, "I don't want them."
"Is it that you don't want to become strong anymore?" The system's voice was somewhat disappointed; its host Ling Lan was exceptional on so many fronts, so it just couldn't understand why Ling Lan would give up this obvious chance to become strong.
"Of course I want to, but like you said earlier, only one Dao of the hundreds and thousands in this world will be suitable for me — and I really want to walk that Dao," said Ling Lan firmly.
"Even if you end up a complete failure, you mustn't regret this," cautioned the system once more.
"No regrets." Ling Lan was a greedy person — she wasn't willing to cast away her feelings. Perhaps this avarice would ultimately cause her to lose the chance to grasp Dao, but she believed that even if she never found the Dao that belonged to her, she could still become strong.
"In that case, shutting down the learning space's legacy system ..." Since the host had no need of it, then there was no need for the existence of the learning space's legacy system.
Following this announcement, Ling Lan felt all the miscellaneous images of Dao within her mind being extracted, along with all the accompanying epiphanies. At the end, a thundering voice crashed down, "What is Dao?"
The answer spilled forth from within Ling Lan, "A human's true heart!"
Her reply echoed throughout the space, and the light in Ling Lan's eyes grew brighter and brighter. She said firmly once more, "Yes, a human's true heart."
"And what is your Dao?"
"Freedom, an existence without shackles, so my Dao should also be free, not limited to the boundaries of any Dao ... it is the existence of any possible Dao."
Ling Lan abruptly lifted her head, and the light in her eyes was so bright it could almost illuminate this entire virtual space. "So, I shall name my Dao as the Dominance Dao."
"Congratulations, you have passed." The voice of the system rang out once more, telling Ling Lan the good news. Before Ling Lan could continue to ask any questions, she had been whisked away again by a black vortex, and when she was spat out once more, she had already arrived at where Instructor Number One and the others were at.
"The Dominance Dao, is it?" Number One peered intently at Ling Lan, and a momentary trace of satisfaction flit through his eyes. This was truly the dominant air his disciple should have; he was very pleased with Ling Lan's choice.