Arc One - The Mortals
Chapter 1 - The Dream that Lasted a Thousand Autumns
The sky was still in the claws of the shadow. There was a hundred thousand miles of great darkness, but the first ray of sunlight had shone down on the mountain of Swords Gate. The misty clouds surrounded the mountainside, curling and floating around it. The sunlight fell onto the summit of the mountain, covering it in a dazzling golden light.
A golden-roofed palace gave off a million shining rays. A breathtaking scene formed as that radiance was reflected on the sea of clouds about the peak.
A number of magnificent palaces floated between the mountains, surrounded by a sea of clouds. They were sacred, solemn, and dignified.
This was the hundred thousand miles of the Great Wilderness; the common holy land for the three thousand tribes of humanity—the Swords Gate!
Countless Qi Practitioners were born in the Swords Gate. They acted as the guardians of the hundred thousand miles of the Great Wilderness. Every man and woman from the three thousand human tribes all looked up to them and swore that one day, they would also hold the supreme glory of being a Qi Practitioner themselves.
The environment and conditions of the Great Wilderness were poor and inhospitable, while the humans were a weak and fragile race. Without Swords Gate watching over the Great Wilderness, the three thousand tribes might have long since faded into history.
Behind the tall and high mountain gate were the homes of tens of thousands of Swords Gate outer hall disciples. There were a great number of Qi Practitioners in Swords Gate. Among the teenagers that were sent to the mountain by the three thousand tribes, those that came from the weaker tribes would normally stay here.
Meanwhile, the more powerful tribes would usually have one or more Qi Practitioners in the Swords Gate Mountain. Their teenagers would be sent to cultivate directly under them.
Zhong Yue woke up from his sleep early in the morning. He stood shirtless beside the well as he drew a bucket of water up from it. The bucket of well-water was poured down onto his head, washing away the final vestiges of his lethargy.
The clear well-water flowed down his body before splashing onto the quartz floor.
His muscles were strong and well-proportioned. His skin was tightly stretched over his muscles, showing his great conditioning. On his chest, were three deep claw scars that were left behind by some type of beast.
Zhong Yue turned around. A road of claw marks crawled across his back, and even his left arm were marked by the scars of beast bites. There were dozens of large and small scars all over him; it was nothing like a body that would belong to a normal fifteen-year-old teenager.
Zhong Yue picked up and carried a medicine basket as he quietly walked out of the gate and went down the mountain slopes.
The status of the outer disciples was extremely low; they could only learn the most primitive and superficial techniques of Swords Gate. Only when they had succeeded in manifesting their spirit could they become a nominal disciple of the inner hall. After that, they would then be able to become an apprentice under the heads of the inner hall, and they would be able to practice the true inheritances of the Swords Gate. However, it was not hard to imagine the difficulty of being promoted to an inner disciple from an outer disciple.
Of the three thousand human tribes in the Great Wilderness, the tribesmen of the smaller tribes numbered in the tens of thousands, while the bigger tribes numbered in the millions; all of whom were vying for a place in the Swords Gate. They all wanted to become one of the nominal inner disciples and eventually become a Qi Practitioner; one could guess how intense the competition was.
Swords Gate had its own rule: if the disciple could not manifest their spirit before the age of sixteen, they would be remove from the list of Swords Gate disciples. The sons and daughters of the powerful tribes would naturally be given all kinds of medicinal pellets to help their cultivations so that they could acquire their spirits before the age limit.
With a constant supply of medicinal pellets, even a disciple with the most ordinary talent could become a Qi Practitioner!
Sadly, the children of the poor could never enjoy such luxurious treatment. The only thing they could rely on was themselves.
A poor family could not give birth to a rich child; it was indescribably difficult for the poor to become a Qi Practitioner.
Zhong Yue was born in the Zhong Shan tribe, one of such small and insignificant tribes that had suffered years of natural disasters. They had only a few hundred surviving tribesmen and could be said to be the smallest tribe in the Great Wilderness.
A tribe like that could not even protect itself, how could it even have the ability to support and raise a Qi Practitioner?
Therefore, even with a hundred times more effort than the others, Zhong Yue was still far away from being able to manifest a spirit.
This was why he had trekked down the mountain this early; he had done so to search for spirit herbs to make the Feather Spirit Pellets that could help nourish his soul.
The Feather spirit Pellets were the most common medicinal pellets. The required herbs were also commonly seen herbs. Despite this, he still could not afford to buy one of the pellets. Instead, he could only gather the herbs and concoct the pellets himself.
Compared to the other disciples that enjoyed the supplement of medicinal pills, gathering herbs to make his own pellets would of course be more troublesome and time-consuming.
Four hours after he left Swords Gate Mountain, the sky had turned bright and sunny. The disciples of Swords Gate had all gotten up from their beds and begun to practice their cultivation techniques.
Suddenly, a wave of hurried and rapid ringing bell sounds could be heard from the top of the mountain. One after one, Qi practitioners flew down from the top of the mountain and shouted, “The Devil Soul Yin Effluvium is coming, all disciples of Swords Gate are not allowed to leave the mountain!”
“All personnel are forbidden to leave Swords Gate Mountain!”
“The Devil Soul Yin Effluvium is extremely dangerous, only Swords Gate Mountain can guard and defend against it. No one shall leave Swords Gate Mountain or your only ending would be death!”
The news caused a surge of commotion among the disciples, and they could hear a loud boom as the mountain gate was completely shut. Swords Gate Mountain floated in the air, surrounded by the clouds. The palaces gave off immense light rays and the golden summit shone brighter and farther than ever as it began to glimmer with a new luminous radiance!
This was the first time the outer disciples had come across such a serious and solemn situation, but it was nothing new to the inner disciples.
Every ten years, the Devil Soul Yin Effluvium would occur. It was the very definition of danger, and even a Qi Practitioner could not stand against it. They would only end up dying horribly.
Every time it occurred, it would wash a thousand miles of land with the blood of those that had the misfortune of being present at the time of eruption. Not even a single grass would ever grow on the land it passed through!
“Why is the Devil Soul Yin Effluvium erupting so early? According to the estimations, it should have happened in another five days,” one of the inner disciples mumbled to himself.
At this moment, a series of loud noises could be heard below them, it was as though monsters were revolting and causing chaos underground. Suddenly, dark black smoke came bursting out of a deep valley not far away from Swords Gate Mountain. The black smoke sprayed up into the sky like an endless fountain!
The dark black pillar of smoke soon rose taller than Swords Gate Mountain, shooting straight up into the clouds before spreading in all directions. The scene from afar was like a huge and massive dark black umbrella opening up!
Very quickly, the world became blanketed by a pitch darkness. The only exception was the bright golden rays that illuminated Swords Gate Mountain.
Surging waves of darkness came spurting down. They reached the sides of Swords Gate Mountain, and were blocked by the rays, as if there was a radiant barrier protecting it. The dark black haze was prevented from seeping into Swords Gate Mountain.
Additionally, there seemed to be horrible creatures living in the dark haze, making fearful howls and furious roars. Those who could hear them were terrified. From time to time, they would ram into the radiant barrier of Swords Gate Mountain, causing a series of low pitched rumbles that struck fear and horror to those within.
On the top of Swords Gate Mountain, in front of a palace, a few Qi Practitioners raised their heads and gazed at the terrifying Devil Soul Yin Effluvium. One of them whispered, “The outer disciples that left the mountain gate have yet to return, I’m afraid they will never be able to now…”
Zhong Yue’s destination was a place called Juyun Mountain. It was a place rich in spirit herbs that was located in the southeast area of Swords Gate Mountain. Although he was unable to learn and practice any profound cultivation techniques during the years he had spent as a Swords Gate outer disciple, he had trained his body’s physique. Each of his strides could cover ten feet. With this, he was easily able to trek across the mountains.
The day was already sunny and bright when he set foot on the Juyun Mountain. Occasionally, he could hear the howls and growls of beasts coming from the mountain woods.
The place was off the beaten track, there were not any hunting activities around the area, and the mountain was filled with beasts. Zhong Yue cautiously traversed through the jungle paths, searching and looking around. Soon, he had plucked a few spirit herbs.
“The other spirit herbs are easy to find, but it’s just this Five-Fragrance Lingzhi Mushroom that is giving me trouble. I really need some luck to find it.”
He crossed over the mountains and traveled through the ridge. Suddenly, he could smell a unique fragrance. It was faint and vague, but as he walked closer, the fragrance of the spirit herb became thicker and stronger.
The fragrance was a peculiar mix of five different scents: sweet, refreshing, aromatic, mellow, and pungent. This was the unique smell of the Five-Fragrance Lingzhi Mushroom!
He followed behind and tracked the unique smell to the side of a cliff and he slanted his body to look down. The cliff was steep and filled with protruding rocks. The valley was so deep that not even his eyes or the light could reach to the bottom.
Approximately a hundred feet away from the cliff, there was a large rock protruding. Trickling streams of water seeped out from the cliff’s body, irrigating several spirit herbs.
“Five-Fragrance Lingzhi Mushroom!”
Zhong Yue felt a surge of happiness as he meticulously climbed down the cliff. The cliff was steep, but his movements and skill were excellent, so it was not dangerous to him at all.
A few moments later, he was close to the large rock as he looked down and all he could see was a dark black valley. A breeze of cold air blew up from the bottom of the valley, chilly and frosty.
He immediately became cautious. Just as he finally reached the rock to harvest the Five-Fragrance Lingzhi Mushroom, the sky suddenly dimmed. He quickly raised his head to find out why, and his heart skipped a beat.
A huge bird that had wings that shone with golden rays was on the top of the cliff. Its wings were fully opened and its wingspan covered many yards. It also had two pairs of wings. The golden bird was flapping its wings as it rushed down toward Zhong Yue, its claws glittering and flashing like frost and snow!
“What creature is this?”
Before the four-winged golden bird reached him, waves of strong winds blew at his face, causing a burst of dull pain. It almost pushed him off from the big rock!
The four-winged golden bird rushed down at Zhong Yue. Right at this critical moment, he swiftly grabbed a few Five-Fragrance Lingzhi Mushroom and quickly leaped down from the big rock.
The big bird missed its target, flying back into the sky and searching the perimeter. Zhong Yue did not fall down to the valley. Instead, he hung by a piece of ivy ten feet below the big rock.
The four-winged golden bird let out a violent trill as it soared into the sky and prepared to make its second assault. Left with no other choice, Zhong Yue grit his teeth and slid along the ivy down into the deep valley. The four-winged golden bird was still in midair when a surge of dark black haze swept through the mountain ridge. Zhong Yue looked up and saw that the sky was darkening as if there was a black curtain being drawn over it.
However, there was a faint light glimmering at the bottom of the valley, but he could not tell what it was. All of a sudden, he could hear winds blowing down from above his head and a huge skeleton falling from the sky, passing by him and spiraling down into the valley.
Terror seized his heart for a second. That four-winged golden bird!
It was only a few seconds, but the four-winged golden bird was left with only its skeleton. It was as if something in the dark black haze had eaten it away!
Zhong Yue was completely terrified, he looked up and he saw the dark black haze falling down the cliff toward him with great momentum. He slid down the ivy swiftly, but a few breaking sounds could be heard as the ivy was torn from the cliff. Zhong Yue fell down the cliff with the ripped vines.
In a state of panicked confusion, he frantically grabbed at anything, and finally stopped himself from falling after he managed to catch hold of the branch of an old tree that had grown out from the cliff. He looked up, finding that the dark black haze was only forty-some feet away from him.
Right at this moment, hissing sounds came from a hole with the diameter of a water tank beside the old tree’s branch. A huge triangular skull extended out of the hole. It rose up and stared at Zhong Yue in delight.
It was a python that was huge beyond his imagination!
The giant python hissed. It was interested in him.
The constricting power of such a giant python would be immense, it was one of the beast kings of the Great Wilderness. It would be hard for even a Qi Practitioner to kill it, let alone him.
Zhong Yue grit his teeth again and let go of the branch, falling down toward the valley below.
The giant python hissed and stretched out its long forked tongue. It was about to pounce on Zhong Yue when the dark black haze consumed it.
Huala — A python skeleton that was hundreds of feet long dropped down from the haze of darkness, falling down the valley along with Zhong Yue. The both of them plummeted down towards the bottom together.
The bottom of the valley was cold and dark. A thick layer of dead branches and leaves that covered the ground cushioned Zhong Yue’s fall so he didn’t end up seriously injured. The youngster looked around, and in the faint light, he could see the countless bones and remains of beasts and a number of ghost-lights. The corpses should be the unlucky victims of the claws and teeth of the peculiar bird and the giant python.
“Even the giant python died, what is this dark black haze — Shit!”
His face changed drastically, the dark black haze was reaching the bottom of the valley and had spread out in all directions. One by one, the ghost-lights all disappeared into the dark black haze.
Zhong Yue looked around, seeing the dark black haze surge toward him, he sighed in his heart, This strange haze ate the golden bird and the giant python, I’m afraid I will have the same ending… what, why isn’t it moving anymore?
The dark black haze stopped a dozen yards away from him, as if there was an invisible force that preventing its further advance. A dome-shaped barrier seemed to form around him that warded off the black haze from encroaching upon his immediate vicinity.
Zhong Yue saw a massive white bone claw come down and grip the barrier dome. The barrier gave off high-pitched creaking noises but did not break.
What monster could have such a massive white bone claw? Even a toe bone was bigger and taller than him!
One had to know that in all these years, Zhong Yue had spent his time training his physical strength so he was taller than ordinary adults. But just one of the phalanges of the white bone claw before his eyes was actually much taller than himself. It was unimaginable, way beyond the realm of conceivability – what a colossal titan this was!
Zhong Yue saw that in the middle of this small guardian barrier sat a skeleton figure. The skeleton sat in the lotus position, with its right arm holding a lamp as if it was illuminating the way for people in the dark.
The light was faint, not much brighter than the ghost-lights. It seemed like it would be extinguished at any time.
Strange, this man has been dead for ages and only his bones remain. How is this lamp not extinguished yet?
Zhong Yue was curious. He stepped closer to have a better look at it, and realized something unusual. The skeleton was not from a human. It was also was not sitting in the lotus position, but coiled up.
It was seated, but not in the usual crossed-leg manner because the corpse did not have any legs. Instead, it had a long snake tail that was spiraled in a coil. But its upper body was humanoid, with a normal head, neck, hands, and arms!
This was a skeleton of a strange half-human, half-snake creature!
Could it be that this lamp acted as a barrier to the strange haze?
Zhong Yue paid his respects to the skeleton of the strange skeleton, and meticulously picked the lamp up. The light was feebly wobbling as if it would extinguish at any time. He promptly used his hand to shield it.
At that moment, he could hear a lazy voice saying, “A dream that lasted a thousand autumns, what year is this? Young man, how many reigns have there been, and what reign is the Fuxi in now?
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