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Arc 7: How Many Cycles of Life and Death Has One Person Missing?
Beyond the mountains are more mountains, and beyond the towers are more towers.
Water is water, and beyond the sky is more sky.
The sky was blue. A soufflé of white clouds decorated the sky. If anyone looked over, it would seem as if the sky had turned into a beautiful picture. If the wind blew, the clouds would be drifting into the distance, so the picture would not be still, but form a world.
Su Ming stared at the sky blankly. He had woken up a month ago. During it, he might have accepted the reality around him, but he could still not understand… where he was.
His memories ended at the moment he attempted to Possess Xuan Zang. Due to the difference in their states of being, the chances of success had been slim to none, but at the moment Su Ming performed his Possession, he had burned his life and soul to the peak, which was why it was not impossible for him to succeed.
However, if he succeeded, why was he not Xuan Zang? And if he failed, where was he right then?
Su Ming lowered his head to stare at his body, then fell silent.
“Xuan Er, you’re daydreaming again.”
A stern voice came from nearby. The speaker was an old man with a head full of white hair and an awe-inspiring face. He was dressed in a gray long robe and wore a straw hat. While holding a wooden staff, he was looking at Su Ming.
“Master…” Su Ming stared at the old man before him. He might have woken up a month ago, but every single time he saw this person, his heart would tremble, and he would wonder whether everything before him was real.
The old man… was Tian Xie Zi!
He looked exactly the same, and even his intonation was just like in Su Ming’s memories. He could not tell whether it was the past or the present.
“It’s only been a month. You have to remember that there is a total of six thousand years, one hundred cycles of sixty years. There will be ten cycles for you to cross mountains, rivers, and plains with me. You will watch multiple sunrises and sunsets with me and gain an epiphany of the changes regarding the four seasons. You will learn of the principles of the world to search for the truth and the innate kindness of a person…
“And then, you will have to wander around on your own for ninety cycles of sixty years. Only by doing so will you have the right to contend against your eldest and second brother, and only then will you have the chance to become a future ruler, and I… will not have let down your father,” the old man said faintly. He struck the ground with the staff in hand, then turned around and continued onward.
His voice was ancient, and it echoed on the hill. It seemed to fuse with the breeze around them before drifting to the sky, gradually turning into the darkening clouds up ahead, then finally transforming into snow.
It was winter.
Su Ming followed behind the old man quietly. He crossed the hill and walked past a lake that was not frozen. In the distance, the setting sun shone on the land with its last rays of light, casting Su Ming’s reflection on the lake.
He was a teenager with a handsome face. He was dressed in a gray long robe and wore a straw hat, but there was an expression of someone who was lost on his face.
He was the third prince of Ancient Zang, and he had two older brothers. There was a tradition in Ancient Zang that before the emperor handed over his crown, all his sons had to travel and experience the world for six thousand years with the cultivators their father had personally assigned to them.
After the one hundred cycles of sixty years, the princes would return, and a fight for the throne would commence. Only one prince was destined to live through it, and the blood of those who died would be cast into his crown. Then he would become the ruler of the kingdom.
And that kingdom… was named Ancient Zang. It was the ruler of the entire land and a supreme entity in the entire world. It stood above all cultivators and all sects!
This was the additional memory that had appeared in Su Ming’s mind besides the ones he originally possessed. At some unknown point in time, it had been branded into the depths of his soul as if it had always belonged to him.
However, he could not remember his eldest brother’s name nor his second brother’s face. The strongest feeling he had was that he had to follow the old man before him for ten cycles of sixty years.
“Drink.” The old man stopped and turned his head around to cast a glance at Su Ming while pointing at the lake.
“When the water in a lake does not move, it will reflect the sky. Drink this water, and you will feel as if you have swallowed a corner of the sky. This lake… will be named Sky Lake.”
As the old man spoke, he bent his back and extended his hand to scoop up a handful of the water in the lake. He brought it to his lips and drank it.
In silence, Su Ming shifted his gaze to the lake. He did not bend his back, however.
The old man lifted his head and looked at Su Ming.
“Why should I drink this water? Even if it reflects the sky, and even if I feel as if I’ve swallowed a corner of the sky after I drank its water, I’ll just be lying to myself,” Su Ming shook his head and said languidly.
“Lift your head and look into the sky in the distance,” the old man said calmly.
Su Ming lifted his head. At the instant he saw the sky, he narrowed his eyes. He saw that there was a small region in the distant sky that seemed… to have been devoured!
“I don’t know the lake’s original name, but since I passed by it and said that it is the sky, then it is the sky. When I drink the water in the lake and say that I’ve swallowed a corner of the sky… then I will have swallowed a corner of the sky.
“If you’re hung up on this, then you will be governed by karma,” the old man said faintly.
Su Ming fell silent. After a long while, he suddenly laughed. Why should he care about karma? Why should he care about where he was? Why should he seek an answer? As long as he continued walking forward, it was enough.
“Your disciple has learned his lesson.”
Su Ming wrapped his fist in his palm. Once he bent his back, he crouched down, brought his right hand up, and placed it in the water, but he did not scoop up the water. Instead, a dark glint shone in his eyes, and he gently patted the surface of the lake.
At the instant he did so, the water in the lake roared and tumbled about. Endless ripples spread out, causing the sky that was originally reflected on the surface to immediately shatter and disappear from view.
“Why did you do this?” The old man frowned.
“Master, you say that it’s the sky, and once you drink it, you would have swallowed the sky. I say that it’s not the sky, hence I don’t need to drink it.” Su Ming stood up and looked at the old man.
“You have quite the ambition.” A hint of praise that disappeared as soon as it showed up appeared in the old man’s eyes, but soon, his gaze grew fierce, and the tone of his voice changed.
“But your logic doesn’t work, and you’re a little too conceited. When I say that the lake is the sky, it’s because I gained the feeling of looking at the sky when I looked at the lake. That is why I went along with the will of heaven and said those words, and which is why I could swallow the sky, because that is what the will of heaven has depicted, and I just went along with it.
“But you… disturbed the lake as if you’ve disturbed destiny. Before long though, the lake will return to normal, and it will reflect the sky. To it, you are just a passerby.
“You are complacent. You laugh at the water, disturbing it, but the lake is also laughing at you. If you don’t believe me… then look at the lake when it is calm. You laugh at the calm water, but can you not see your own reflection? It is laughing at you,” the old man said calmly. His words were uttered slowly, and they seemed to contain Dao.
“I don’t believe in destiny.”
Su Ming did not turn his head back, but vapor rose from the lake the moment it was about to become calm once again. The vapor instantly turned into fog. It covered the surface of the lake, and after the span of around ten breaths, Su Ming swung his arm at the lake with his back still turned towards it.
Wind immediately blew across the area. Once it sent the fog away, there was nothing left of the lake; it had disappeared without a trace. Only the ugly mud in a deep pit could be seen. There were also countless fish, prawns, and all sorts of lives in it.
“Now, it is completely gone,” Su Ming said faintly.
The old man was silent. He cast a profound glance at Su Ming, then shook his head.
“The blood of the royal family in Ancient Zang is the strongest in the universe. This rumor is indeed real. Let’s go. We still have a long way ahead of us.” The old man turned around and no longer looked at the lake. He continued onward.
Su Ming lowered his head and did not look back at the lake. He followed the old man and continued onward. To Su Ming, be it the goal or the end, they were not important on the journey. It was a path to search for Dao… a path through which he could make himself stronger.
He walked past mountains, rivers, four seasons, and past ten years.
The old man walked in front, and Su Ming followed behind. Ten years ago, the reflections of Su Ming on the lakes showed a teenager. As of then, he was already a young man. His strides had become larger, and the expression of someone who did not know where he was headed could no longer be found on his face either. The calm expression from when he was in Harmonious Morus Alba was back.
Stars glimmered in the night sky while bonfires burned on the ground. Su Ming sat beside one of them, and across him was the old Tian Xie Zi. After ten years came another blizzard. The two of them sat cross-legged and sensed the cold behind them as well as the hot wave crashing into their faces.
The old man had his eyes closed as if he immersed in his own training. He did not care about the changes around him. Su Ming lifted his head and stared at the blurry moon in the sky behind the snow above him. It looked like falling dust.
This moon was constantly around, but the people he knew… were not. Su Ming thought of the past quietly and went through his memories. While immersed in them, he entered the world that belonged to him and searched for the sighing ferryman.
“How many famous sects and clans are there in Ancient Zang?” the old man, who still had his eyes shut, asked in an ancient voice. It mixed with the wind and snow, fused into the crackles of the burning bonfire before reaching Su Ming’s ears.
“Seven sects, twelve clans.” Su Ming still stared at the blurry moon when he answered calmly.
“What are the differences between sects and clans?” the old man asked again.
“Sects extend to the endless space, and they are given their status by Ancient Zang. Clans come from the emptiness of space, and they don’t receive enlightenment from anything else.”
“What will happen every single time the throne is handed to a new ruler?” the old man continued asking.
“The seven sects will cause a stir, and the twelve clans will descend into chaos. When the princes fight for the crown, the world changes.” Su Ming moved his gaze away from the blurry moon in the sky and watched the bonfire burn while he answered calmly.
“I’ve told you about the limits of the level of cultivation in this endless world ten years ago. Do you still remember it?” the old man asked flatly.
“When you attain great completion in Avacaniya Realm, you can gain an epiphany of Boundless Dao Realm. Once you obtain your Dao Divinity and gain an epiphany of this Realm nine times, it will mean that you have advanced your Dao Divinity by nine levels. Nine is the limit, and once you achieve completion, you can reach a breakthrough and step into Boundless Dao Realm!
“There has never been a person who has reached Boundless Dao Realm before, which is why there are people who understand Dao, but do not understand what boundless means,” Su Ming answered calmly. He had come to understand all these things during the ten years through the bits and pieces the old man had told him.
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