Far fewer tourists were roaming the streets today now that the contest was over. Most of them were on their way back home—of course, some needed an extra night of rest here. Half a day had passed since the event and the accumulated emotions were still fermenting; the whole city was still immersed in the excitement of the aftermath.
Imagine you had just had the perfect reproductive activity and were now lying in bed, fatigued but relaxed. Your mind was in harmony with your body, utterly satisfied and perceptive. You felt like wandering the great void, sensing your great alignment with the universe.
In one word: sweet!
Everyone in every corner of the country seemed to be talking about the three rounds of contest. This was the very first direct presentation of the Taoist skill at a relatively large scale.
Especially that last sword stance of Zhang Shouyang, which far surpassed the common people's imagination, making it the topic of the moment.
'I have a sword, and it is worth bragging about!'
Like the westerners with their imagination of magic, a lot of people in this country grew up dreaming about meeting a sword immortal one day.
Of course, angry voices were inevitable. Some were indignantly denouncing the fact that people were killed in broad daylight in public and the authorities had acquiesced to it… if such things were allowed to go on, moral frameworks would fall apart, the society would go into chaos, the nation would be in peril, blah, blah, blah.
Correspondingly, some refuted such accusations, saying that with the great change of the world, those who clung to the old state of mind of the safe and stable days would only end up being the first ones to die. They instead appealed for a change in the public mentality so as to adapt to the new environment, etc., etc.
Both sides had their point. Be it politically or economically, or even in aspects such as literature, art, food supply, medical service, contraception, etc., it was inevitable that whenever transformation took place, a great number of less adjusted would end up eliminated the first.
Gu Yu walked along the street carrying his sword box, brushing past countless strangers as he wandered on all by himself.
Entering November, the south of the country was also getting colder. Yingtan, however, was surrounded by the five mountains of Longhu, Gui Peak, Sanqing, Wuyi, and Wufu, and was rich in the spiritual essence, hence the climate remained rather mild here.
Mutated creatures were appearing in rising numbers in the surrounding area. Because of the neighboring Celestial Master Temple, the authorities had made the safety here their top priority. Necessary arrangements were made beforehand, and no animals were bothering this city.
He did not go see Bai Yu and his buddies, for meeting them again would be way too embarrassing. He wandered around for a while longer when his phone rang. Taking it out, he saw that it was from Long Qiu.
"Hello, Brother… oh, it's nothing, just want to ask when are you coming back…
"Gosh, stop pushing me! Stay away from me…"
"Video! Make it video!"
Xiaojin's loud voice came from the other side and Long Qiu hung up. Immediately, there was an incoming video call invitation. Gu Yu found a quiet spot and tapped the "accept". The screen switched on, showing the faces of the two girls.
"Brother-in-law, what was it like in action?! Tell me! Tell me!"
Xiaojin was pressing her face on the screen and all Gu Yu could see was her two black pupils rolling around like some Japanese horror movie.
"Can't you read it off the internet?" He held the phone away from him as far as possible.
"Those are just gossips. You're the official channel! Hey, hey, hey, you cheated that last sword stance, didn't you? That was aaaaawsome!"
"Kind of. I lent him a streak of sword energy, that's all."
"Haha! I knew it! Those people could never have done it themselves!" Little Soap threw back her head and roared with laughter, but stuck her face back to the screen two seconds later. She then became all sad. "Sigh, it must have been so much fun watching it in person. There hasn't been any real battle since 1999. Too bad I didn't have the chance to see this one."
"What happened in 1999?" asked Long Qiu curiously.
"You don't know?" Xiaojin put on her most surprised face and waved her hands in excitement. Opening her mouth, she acted as if she was going to pour everything out before forcing all the words back down her throat again. "God, I can't! I can't tell you!"
"Are you nuts? What on earth happened?" Long Qiu was all the more baffled.
"Sigh, it still felt like yesterday to me. I was in kindergarten playing house with my fellow little friends when the sun was blocked out and all the light was gone. Only five years old back then, I fulfilled my duty and fought on the battlefield… sob, I was the only surviving soldier of my entire company! I still wonder these days that if Battleship Pangu made its way out 1 ."
Our young Drama Queen was enjoying herself again, gathering up her emotions as she spoke to the point that she was rubbing her eyes as if she was going to cry.
"Enough with the crap!" Gu Yu couldn't stand it any long and interjected, asking, "How is your Sky-turning Seal going?"
"That things is too big! Doing it every day is driving me crazy!" Xiaojin raised her head and was her normal self again.
That did not come out right!
He was the one driven nuts now.
Long Qiu was the good girl as always and translated for him. "She doesn't have enough energy and that stone is too big. She's not going to finish within forty-nine days; we probably have to wait a while longer. Oh, by the way, Shengtian is going through replanning and places like Yidao River, Erdao River, Sandao River… are all going to be expanded and upgraded. They are planning to build new roads as well. We haven't heard anything about Bai Town, through."
She filled Gu Yu in, ticking off each piece of news counting her fingers.
Gu Yu frowned. That was going to affect a lot of things, which they couldn't possibly talk through over the phone; he had to go back to have a look. He then asked, "Why, where's your sister? Why isn't she here?"
"Oh, Sister is in Sand Ridge today. Do you remember that big spider we caught the other day? She wants to breed it and is going back there to find a male one for it. Sister said the silk could be very useful. We can sew clothes with it or make it into things like small umbrellas."
Spider silk, small umbrella…
The corner of Gu Yu's mouth was twitching as he watched Long Qiu talking about things she only partially understood. He was suddenly amazed by the girl on the other side of the line. The fact that she was living with a family as odd as theirs and could still stay this innocent, as well as keep her sanity, was no less than a miracle!
The three chatted for a little more before hanging up.
Gu Yu had yet to put away his phone when it rang again. This time, it was from Tan Chongdai.
Street corner, a park.
It was a woody place with verdant lawn. The sun shone down mildly on the grass through the gaps in the branches, speckling the green surface with different colors. A grotesque rockery stood on one side, surrounded by a pool in which koi were swimming around at ease.
A few tourists were walking casually along the cloister, crossing the wooden bridges, or strolling the stone-paved paths. It was a most serene and beautiful picture.
Gu Yu and Tan Chongdai walked side by side. The old man's Taoist robe was attracting much unwanted attention and he had to gesture with his wide sleeve towards a deeper corner of the park.
The two had a lengthy conversation during the contest, when Gu Yu noticed the old man's declining health, but found it inappropriate to bring it up under that circumstance. He was thinking of offering some help when Tan Chongdai reached out to him first.
"Old Priest, I saw that your inner energy was draining up and greatly weakened. I have a few pills here. Take half a pill every three days, maybe it will restore your health."
He took out his gourd, poured out seven or eight pills, paused a little, and put them back in. He then passed the entire gourd to the old man.
"That won't be necessary. I am fully aware of my condition. The lamp is going out. I don't think I'll live to see another year."
Tan Chongdai pushed back Gu Yu's hand that was holding the gourd, his voice calm but filled with sorrow. "We cultivators have an instinct about our own life. I began to feel it half a month ago. This is fate; there's nothing we can do about it."
"Please stay positive. New Taoist skills are being discovered constantly now. Live long enough and you will have your opportunity." Gu Yu tried to comfort him.
"Opportunity… haha… opportunity…" Tan Chongdai let out a little laughter in his husky voice and sighed. "Layman, I started cultivating under my master's instruction when I was three year old and didn't reach my first achievement until I was in my thirties. My master said I was not blessed with a good natural endowment, but with assiduous work, I would achieve the Great Dao one day. For the past seventy years, I dared not slack off for a minute. I have been work diligently and conscientiously. In the end, I could not achieve what abbot—Shouyang—achieved in his twenty years of work, let alone comparing to what you were able to do."
"Please, let me finish." He waved Gu Yu off and continued, "After that, I knew that my master was only comforting me. It made sense. If working hard alone could make one achieve the Great Dao, then all those diligent people out there would all succeed, wouldn't they?
"I have spent my whole life in Qionglong Mountain, guarding the little inheritance I was bestowed with. I thought I was going to die unaccomplished… then you two showed up at my doorstep, and then the Taoist community was shaken and the ancient skills recovered. It was then that I realized a great time had fallen upon us. I knew perfectly well that I was way too old for anything to happen to me, but I did think it was my opportunity.
"I then joined the monastery as the thick-skinned abbot and became the fellow member of Qiyun with all those juniors so much younger then me. I even betrayed my own sect and abandoned the fundament of Qionglong Mountain to switch to Quanzhen Dan method… then what?
"Ha, I was simply born at a wrong time, and time waits for no one!
"Pursuing immortality is fighting against nature for the extra years, and one needs all three of natural endowment, opportunity, and hard work to achieve it. I only have the last one, and that is probably my destiny."
He then turned to look at Gu Yu with a smile. "Your pills are too precious to waste on me. I will only be hanging onto this life for nothing, and I am not that pathetic."
Gu Yu fell silent. It was exactly as the old man said; his vitality was draining up and without solving the rudimental problem, any help was simply stretching out his years.
Even if he taught Tan Chongdai the essence-consuming method right now and help him to reach the innate state this instant, he would only extend the old man's life for a few more years. After that, what would he do? The lifespan would only reach the hundreds after breaking into the Human Immortal state.
Even as excellently endowed and perceptive as he and Xiaozhai were, together with the help of the Mind-enhancing Dan, they had not yet broken into that state. Would Tan Chongdai have the time to wait that long?
Cultivation was to break the shackles of the limit of life, which was what one was doing in the innate state, Human Immortal state, and Immortal state… it was meant to be the toughest problem like the realm at the end of the world and the pillar that held up the sky. Fresh forces continually came forward to take place of those who had pushed ahead in trying to reach this destination, and many died at the starting point or halfway through. It was simply insurmountable for them.
Moreover, Tan Chongdai was already discomposed on his path towards the Great Dao. After a lifetime of hard work, he was stopped by "not well-endowed" and "born at a wrong time".
The blow was too heavy, and he had lost his hope. Death was inevitable for him now.
"Sigh, as unresigned as I feel, I still think I am fortunate enough to experience all this. I have met you, become good friends with all my fellow members of the monastery, and come to know that Taoist skills will exist for eternity in this world; I have no regrets."
Before they knew it, they had reached a quiet and remote corner of the park. A few clusters of green bamboo rustled at the breeze.
Tan Chongdai stopped abruptly and said, "With what was happening earlier, I didn't get the chance to explain myself clearly. I have contacted Layman because I wanted to bid you a formal farewell and to ask you for a favor."
Gu Yu bowed solemnly, as a junior should when being instructed by a senior.
Watching him, Tan Chongdai was trembling a little and his voice sounded hoarser than ever. "After I die, my soul will scatter all over this land. It could end up with any animal or plant.
"I don't have any unreasonable expectations, but if Layman achieves the Great Dao and learns the skill of communicating with souls one day, when you see some animal of plant that you think has a part of me in them that allows me to be born as a cultivator again in another life… please give me a chance… please… please!"
The old man burst into tears and could not make a coherent sentence after that.TL/N: Xiaojin's narrative was an internet spoof known as "War of 1999", which originated from a weibo post telling those born after year 2000 that a meteorite struck the earth in 1999 (the millennium apocalypse), resulting in an alien invasion. Those born in the 1980s and 1990s joined force and successfully defended earth, after which, they wiped everybody's memory clean…