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“When you learn who you are, you are no longer you. When you no longer know who you are, you… will be you!”
Murmurs reached Su Ming’s ears and echoed in his head. When the sentence turned into a loud bang and roared in his heart, Su Ming opened his eyes.
Sweat had appeared at some unknown point of time on his forehead. The sky outside was silver, and it was because of falling snow. The land, dressed in a silver cloak, reflected a light that did not belong to the darkness of night.
Su Ming sat in a stone cave naturally formed due to a crack in the mountain. It was a place he had come upon while charging to Seven Moons Sect for three months. In the seemingly endless land, he had sat down cross-legged and began regulating his breathing.
He was incredibly far away from Seven Moons Sect. Even if he had reached the first level of Dao Divinity, he still needed several years to reach it.
Because of that, he did not choose to continue on without stop, but would occasionally rest so that he would constantly be at the peak of his form.
Right then, he opened his eyes.
He stared at the night sky beyond the cave and remembered the dream he just had. He seldom had dreams, for they would not appear when he meditated, but he had just had a dream.
Su Ming was only familiar with one sentence in the dream. The words from it echoed in his mind, and even when he opened his eyes, they lingered in his ears and refused to leave.
In silence, Su Ming stood up and walked out of the stone cave. Under the snow and amid the wind, he left behind a trail of footprints while walking into the distance. He crossed mountains and frozen rivers. The sun rose while he walked, and when it set, a city showed up ahead of him.
In the dusk, the city shone with light all over the place. There were voices coming and going, which filled it with activity…
Su Ming watched at the city, then closed his eyes. After a moment, when he opened them, he walked towards the city.
The families there had huge red lanterns hanging from their houses. Many children played, and their laughter was like tinkling bells. Almost every person was smiling, and their joyful faces filled the city. It made Su Ming remember… his Master bringing him to an unfamiliar city every single year on that day to sense… the atmosphere of a new year.
It was the last day of a year. Once dusk was over, night would fall, and when the sun rose again, another year would start.
Every year, all of Ancient Zang would celebrate it. All the cities in the land would be filled with a joyous atmosphere. Families would hang lamps high on their houses, and light would shine from them in the wind and snow as if it could chase away the cold from each house so that… the night would no longer be cold.
Su Ming walked through the city and observed his surroundings. He gradually lowered his head, and when he walked into the corner of an alley… he saw a noodle stall. In the cold wind, steam rose into the air, hiding the old man who was cooking noodles. He was indistinct to the passersby.
The noodle stall was not huge. There were only four or five tables, and a screen like that of a tent flap covered it so that the stall could hide from the snow, but the screen could not block much of the wind. There were about three men sitting inside and eating hot, steaming noodles while drinking soup as if trying to chase away the chill in their bodies.
“Old man Wu, it’s new year now, bring out some of the old wine you’ve been treasuring. Let us have a taste of it,” one of the men eating noodles said with a smile. When he spoke, his breath formed white vapor, and it was incredibly distinct in the blizzard.
“You lot… Oh, fine.” The old man cooking noodles seemed to have smiled. He turned around and brought out a pot of wine before placing it on the table.
“That’s the spirit. At least our efforts of coming here today to keep you company were not wasted.” The man smiled, then immediately picked up the pot of wine and took a big gulp from it.
Su Ming walked into the noodle stall at that moment and sat at a table in the corner while watching the snow outside.
“Owner, one bowl of noodles, please.”
The old cook turned his head around and cast a glance at Su Ming, then picked up a bowl and scooped up a huge portion of noodles. He also added some meat in the bowl before he placed it in front of Su Ming.
Su Ming stared at the noodles on the table, then started eating them quietly. The taste of the noodles was quite good, and the soup was hot. Once it entered his mouth, it filled it with warmth that even the snow no longer felt cold.
Time gradually passed. When night fell, not many people could be seen on the streets. It was festival time and also a day for families to reunite. At such a moment, a family would be together. The adults would watch children play, the lamps shine, and in the warmth of their homes, they would experience the tenderness of familial love.
Compared to the snow outside, practically everyone had that warmth so they did not have to suffer the cold, but Su Ming… he did not have that warmth.
When the men in the noodle stall left, the moaning wind caused the tent flap to let out loud fluttering sounds, and Su Ming sighed softly.
“Why aren’t you going home?” The old cook sat at a nearby table. He picked up the pot of old wine, warmed it up for a while, then took a swig from it and looked at Su Ming.
Su Ming was silent for a while before he spoke slowly. “I can’t find the way home.”
“It’s not that you can’t find the way, but you don’t have a home, right?”
The old man smiled. He picked up another pot of wine and stood up to walk over. Once he sat down, he placed it in front of Su Ming.
With the help of the light from the lamp, Su Ming lifted his head and looked at the old man. He was a mortal who had already reached the end of his life and had a face full of wrinkles.
Su Ming picked up the pot of wine. Once he took a sip from it, he watched the snow outside and asked languidly, “What about you?”
“I have a home, but I’m the only one in it. It doesn’t matter whether I go back or not. I would rather be here.”
The old man smiled. When he did so, the wrinkles on his face seemed to have increased, making the smile look full of anguish.
Su Ming did not speak. He drank, and in the wind and falling snow, the bright moon appeared in the sky. There were lamps on the thousands of houses around him, and there was also a lamp in the noodle stall, but that lamp was not warm. Instead, there was a desolate air about it.
He felt… his thoughts shift. He thought that he had already buried the yearning he would feel at that moment every single year and the beautiful moments from the past, he thought he no longer felt pain because he was heartless, but right then, under the shadows cast by the light from the lamp, he felt a pain that wind could not blow away and snow could not bury.
In the pain and cold, Su Ming remembered his elder, his senior brothers from the ninth summit, Yu Xuan, Cang Lan, Xu Hui… the bald crane, and that one single face in his memories.
As he thought about them, he finished the pot of wine.
He drank wine, because he no longer had any tears left. He could only pretend that the wine was his tears. Once he drank it, it became a bitterness and anguish that he could never chase away from his heart. If that was the case, he might as well let that bitterness remain in him for all eternity, and might as well let the anguish stay with him forever, because only by doing so… will he know that he was still alive.
Only then would he know that he… was not dead yet. Only then would he have more determination to change everything. Even if it was practically impossible… Su Ming still wanted to make it possible!
“Where is your family?” The old man watched Su Ming. When he spoke in his hoarse voice, he picked up another pot of wine and placed it in front of Su Ming.
“They’re very far away. What about you?” Su Ming shook his head.
“My family? Heh heh… I originally had a huge family. I had a grandson, and he had a bunch of people to keep him company, and they were all my family… He even found a few wives, and the house was very lively.” The old man drank wine, and his eyes filled with nostalgia.
“But one day, when I woke up, he was gone. We could no longer find him, and the house that was bustling with activity was no longer lively. Everyone went out to search for him, and they left one after another. They went to many places, but they never managed to find him.
“I am the only one left in this place. The house is empty. I don’t know where he went to, and neither did I go out to find him. I want to stay here. I light a lamp in the house and wait for him. If he comes back one day, I don’t want him… to be unable to find his home. I don’t want him… to be unable to see the lamp in the house guiding his way,” the old man mumbled. His voice was hoarse, and a hint of ancientness seemed to have been added to the snow.
“But honestly, I’m not really alone… Compared to me, our emperor is the one who is lonely…” The old man sighed softly. He picked up a pot of wine and drank from it again.
“We know that the emperor has three sons. When they will come of age, they will be taken away by someone to wander about the world… and when they leave… they will leave for six thousand years…
“During those six thousand years, he will be alone. He will have to light a lamp in the capital as well to lead the princes back home, because there is a legend in our kingdom saying that each prince has a possibility of losing their way while they are out wandering. They may no longer remember the way home.” As the old man spoke, he lowered his head as if he had become drunk.
Su Ming was silent. He finished the final mouthful of wine from his pot, then stood up to walk past the old man. With a swing of his right hand, the snow and wind around him avoided him, making the place warm. Then, he walked out of the noodle stall and into the blizzard. He left the city and joined the wind of the night, going in the direction of Seven Moons Sect.
When Su Ming left into the distance and his figure disappeared into the night sky beyond the city, the seemingly drunk old man slowly lifted his head and stood up to stare at the night sky. His appearance slowly changed as if time was changing, and he turned into a middle-aged man.
He sighed softly.
“When you learn who you are, you are… no longer you. When you no longer know who you are, you… will be you.”
As he sighed softly, the entire city turned into an illusion. Only the middle-aged man was left standing alone in the snow and wind. As he sighed softly, he turned around and walked quietly towards the capital city of Ancient Zang.
“What is real, and what is fake? Xuan Er… three thousand years have passed. When… will you ever gain your epiphany? You seek the truth, but what is the truth? You believe that certain things are fake, but what is meant by falsehood?” the middle-aged man murmured. With pain in his heart, he gradually disappeared into the snow and his figure slowly faded away.
Only the snow remained drifting about in the air. There seemed to be a sigh contained in it, lingering for a long time in the world…
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