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Rumor had it that when celestials reached the end of their calculated lifespans, they would undergo Five Decays. Once accustomed to staying within the boundaries of bliss, they would be reluctant to part with it, taking in the poison of aversion. According to the ‘six harmonies mental cultivation’, once a ‘celestial’ ate and drank of the human world’s smoke and fire, they would present a waning appearance, their hairs turning white, qi gradually weakening, and body gradually declining. No longer would they prosper, nearing their own coffin.
Ye Baiyi was feeling as much right about now. His hair was getting whiter by the day, as if someone had a brush and was painting it somewhere unseen, bit by bit. When casually gathered up, it would come out in large chunks, too. Sometimes, he would suffer delirium, and forget where he had just been and where he was going. His energy was lacking; sometimes, he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night, and sometimes he would sleep, then find it hard to open his eyes when the sun was already high in the sky the next day.
Even so, he felt delighted, free, and without a smidgen of ‘aversion’. What the six harmonies had claimed was absolute nonsense.
The root cause of this was probably the fact that he had never taken himself as a celestial, but felt himself to be the living dead.
In his view, once he was off Changming, he was the living dead that had now opened his eyes to come alive, even if it was only for a few brief years, even if he would once again walk the path of mortality where one was born, grew old, got sick, and died.
He ate a lot of food on the daily. At times, he would traverse very long distances just to try out a purportedly-delectable snack from some area. The ancients told that wanting food and sex was human nature; he was too old to be in the mood for sex, so he threw his entire being into food. He was not a picky eater, eating everything and enjoying everything, where even a bowl of tofu, randomly grabbed by the proprietress of a roadside pub, could be finely savored by him for a good long while.
To someone who had eaten cold food and snow water for a century, the sourness, sweetness, bitterness, and spiciness of the world were all precious things.
He had paid visits to people that knew of what had happened thirty years ago. After going down every possible route, he had finally found the unremarkable graves of Rong Xuan and Yue Feng’r, took back the dust-covered Ancient Blade of the Dragon’s Back, then put their bones together, cremated them, placed them in a jar, and entrusted another with delivering them to Changming.
He had been wanting to obstruct those that were fighting over opening up the arsenal, but after seeing a farce first-hand, he felt fatigued again… what did their lives and deaths have to do with him?
Thinking himself to be just an old man on the brink of death, he had nothing to be concerned about while he lived, and nothing to do the day long. Thus, he assumed his duty to be traveling all North and South of of the great river and eating all the food of the realm. Perhaps he would go until the day he could no longer move, and where he ended up would simply be the place he would die.
By the by, he missed Rong Changqing every once in a while.
Rong Changqing, his sole friend of this world, had already been dead for thirty years.
In spite of that, Ye Baiyi could still recall, without a single detail lost, how the other used to look, how he looked when young and proud, how he looked when teenaged and whimsical, and even how he looked when a babbling toddler.
Proud and wild during his life, Ye Baiyi refused to remember people of insignificance. The lone vivid recollection he’d had since his birth pertained to that man.
Rong Changing had grown up with him since they were young. Unlike Ye Baiyi, who went looking for fights the moment he was born, he had been a very charming man whose calls to others had been akin to cleanses in a cool breeze. He had liked fine wine, famed swords, pretty people, and even literature. Anyone in the world could have been his friend, given that they gave him a cup of alcohol, but unfortunately, he’d had only one genuine friend — Ye Baiyi, who, when not practicing, would only taunt others.
‘Ghost Hand’ Rong Changqing’s fame-starting work had been the Great Famine sword. At the time, he had been merely a young nobody. Without a single care, he had casually handed the blade that others would later call ‘the General amongst swords’ off to an old, wandering beggar, who had given him a pot of monkey wine and a book of secret techniques.
The wine, he had brought back to share with Ye Baiyi, while the book had contained the surviving sections of what following generations would call the six harmonies.
Later on, Ye Baiyi would hear that by great coincidence, Great Famine, which had wandered across jianghu, had fallen into the hands of the Zhang orphan. He suddenly thought this a little absurd, as if their people and these events were vaguely connected into one circle. Death begot death, age begot age; this became a segment of misery not explained to completion, with no one left behind to do so fully.
Rong Changqing had been a young one; of those who practiced martial arts, which one could ever resist the magic of being one with the Heavens? His aptitude hadn’t been enough, though. At times, when Ye Baiyi thought back on it, he felt that the thing was actually a demonic book with all sorts of snares inside it, luring humans into walking step by step down it until they were damned without reprieve. Maybe only one person out of millions would be chosen by it, then become its new successor, making them the spitting image of something that was neither human nor ghost.
Rong Changqing, a heavensent genius, had relied on his own strength to futilely complete the six harmonies, resulting in qi deviation.
Back then, Ye Baiyi had been out touring, in the midst of looking at Changming Mountain, thinking that it was unfrequented and very suited for his occasional solitary seclusion. The villagers below the mountain had just spread worsening hearsay about an ‘Ancient Monk’.
Madam Rong had still been a not-yet-married girl, yet she had discarded her status to carry Rong Changqing up the mountain on her back, pleading with Ye Baiyi to save him.
The two had exhausted their minds for methods, with absolutely no results. In the end, out of a lack of option, Ye Baiyi had resolved to swap their fates by transferring Rong Changqing’s power to himself. Surprisingly, when it came to him, he had actually come to fully grasp the wondrous six harmonies method by some karmic fluke.
So many people had successively asked for such a thing, yet hadn’t received it. This heavenly ‘pie’, stinking of dogshit, had instead landed upon the head of someone who embraced the will to die.
Rong Changqing had been a sentimental one. He had decided to repay his two benefactors by marrying Madam Rong, and keeping Ye Baiyi company all his life on Changming.
He had been a fool. He’d had no idea that Madam Rong didn’t want to keep another ice-cold man in such an ice-cold ghostland company her whole life, nor did he have any idea that Ye Baiyi… didn’t want him to marry her.
He had been a fool. Exchanging a famed sword for a demonic book had been one foolish thing, and being engrossed in that book had been a second foolish thing, but in truth, those two previous things put together were not as foolish as his third foolish thing.
Had there ever been anything more ridiculous than that in the world?
Yes. Something even more ridiculous had been Rong Changqing’s son, Rong Xuan. He had been a child as foolish as his old man, and a martial moron just as determined as his shifu, Ye Baiyi. He had been a combination of everybody’s shortcomings, thus making his life destined for tragedy.
He hadn’t understood that the thing martial artists searched for all their lives had been in the hands of his shifu and papa. Why had the both of them been so secretive? He had heard them say it was an extremely dangerous object, but young people did not view danger the same as their elders.
In anyone’s youthful era, they would inevitably believe themselves to be different from others. What someone else couldn’t do, they could, and what killed someone else wouldn’t kill them.
Rong Xuan had run away bearing Dragon’s Back, which Ye Baiyi had passed on to him himself. Rong Changqing and Madam Rong then had a big row. The girl that had formerly been talented, gorgeous, aspirant, steadfast, and faithful had turned into an aged and despairing woman from decades inside the frosted loneliness. She had differed from them; she had been a flower that needed excitement, needed sunlight and human presence.
Carnage of thirty years. The first step had been to run away, like it was predestiny… perhaps it had started from Rong Xuan, perhaps from Rong Changqing. Perhaps it had started even earlier, from that wandering old beggar and that ‘General Great Famine’, so quietly created.
Perhaps it had simply been a circle, duplicated over and over again in people’s minds, continued down generations.
Thirty years later, Wen Kexing had come to grab onto a tiny hint, set to task, and then turn everything onto its head.
But, that was all in the past… in the afternoon of some random day, Ye Baiyi, who had just finished the last mouthful of his broth in a tiny tavern, suddenly had an apathetic thought; those alive, and those dead, were all in the past.
Those situated inside the playing field each had their respective griefs, like him, like Madam Rong, like Wen Kexing, like Zhou Zishu, like Zhao Jing, and even like Gu Xiang and Cao Weining. They all had attempted to ‘jump out’.
Ye Baiyi had wanted to jump out of that curse of being one with the Heavens. Madam Rong had wanted to jump out of the iceland that was Changming. Wen Kexing had wanted to jump out of being an evil spirit and return to the human world. Zhou Zishu had wanted to jump out of Tian Chuang and be free. Zhao Jing had wanted to jump out of the rules of all of jianghu, look down upon everyone from up on high, and grasp the universe in his hand. Gu Xiang and Cao Weining had wanted to jump out of the world’s deep-seated prejudices to be together, standing alone as they cast everything away.
They conflicted, contested, schemed to exhaustion, and risked their lives.
Just like an abyss, some jumped over and got out, while some didn’t make it, falling to their deaths.
And, that abyss had a name. It was… jianghu.
The translator says: That is all. Goodnight.