“With the Soul Divergence Incantation, you can cultivate an undying soul. Unfortunately, the difficulty level is too high for you…. However, this coffin can help you to cultivate the art. With it, even should great calamity arise, you… can continue to live!”
He only spoke a few sentences, but even that left Ke Yunhai gasping for breath. His face was pale, and the white nodes of light flying around him grew more dense. They circulated around his body, making it look almost like a glowing halo surrounded him.
He looked kindly at Meng Hao, his gaze filled with doting kindness and the reluctance to part. And love…. He feared the child he left behind might be bullied, might be lonely or taciturn.
Meng Hao bit his lip as he kneeled wordlessly in front of Ke Yunhai, tears flowing.
“There’s no need to cry,” said Ke Yunhai. “If men cry too much in our day and age, then their Dao becomes unstable. Come here, kid….” He raised a shaky hand, and Meng Hao, tears dripping, walked forward to stand in front of him.
Ke Yunhai’s hand, covered with so many wrinkles, gently patted Meng Hao’s head.
“You’ve grown up….”
“Dad….” Meng Hao looked at the pervasive death aura, and withered Ke Yunhai, and his heart felt as if it were tearing into pieces. His body trembled as his heart suddenly filled with the intense sensation that his father was about to leave him.
He… had long since taken Ke Yunhai to be his own father.
“Everyone dies eventually, that is something we can’t change. Lord Li returned life to the masses, and considering my position, I must respect his decision….”
“Why?” murmured Meng Hao, the tears pouring down. “Why do you have to respect it!? We Cultivators practice cultivation to gain eternal life, don’t we? What’s the point in abandoning eternal life?!”
Ke Yunhai was silent for a moment before raising his head. His gaze seemed to penetrate out of the Immortal’s cave to some distant place in the future. The death knell outside had reached the sixty-ninth toll. The sound of it echoed out endlessly.
“We Cultivators don’t just practice cultivation to gain eternal life. No, we pursue the Dao…. For those who strive after the Dao, life is a morning and death is an evening. For those who seek the Dao, when evening comes, of what use is longing…?” Ke Yunhai lowered his head to look at Meng Hao.
“Death and life are not important to me. Without Lord Li, your father would have long since died countless times over…. I do not fear death. The only thing I am uneasy about… is you….” Ke Yunhai tousled Meng Hao’s hair. He was already running very low on energy, but his eyes were filled with kindness, and an increasingly strong doting indulgence.
“I should have perished many years ago,” he continued. “But I was worried about you, so I put things off until today. If it were possible, I would accompany you a bit further, just like in the Demon Immortal Pagoda, me in the lead, you following… off into the distance.” He smiled, but his face was pale. More and more white nodes floated around him, making his smile seem somewhat distant.
“Dad….” said Meng Hao, pulling at Ke Yunhai’s hand.
“All of your brothers and sisters have already gone. Now that I’m leaving, you won’t have any relatives left in the world…. I hope that in the future… you will learn to be a bit more sensible.” As Ke Yunhai gazed at Meng Hao, the kindness in his eyes grew stronger, as did the reluctance to part. It was exactly as he said; what he was concerned most about in his life, was the child who kneeled in front of him now.
If there were even a little bit of hope to buy more time, he would seize it, and watch Ke Jiusi truly grow up.
Meng Hao wasn’t able to give voice to what he was feeling deep in his heart. He felt stabs of pain, as if his world were falling apart. It was as if there were a vortex inside of him, sucking in all of his thoughts.
He could only clasp Ke Yunhai’s hand tightly with his own. He could only cry. He opened his mouth, but no words came out, not even one.
“Don’t be sad. Your brothers and sisters are waiting for me. I’m their father too. I need to spend some time with them, also…. Jiusi, daddy hopes that one day, when I’m in the underworld, you’ll make me proud….”
Outside, the bells had tolled eighty-nine times. Ke Yunhai’s body was now completely surrounded by spinning white nodes of light. The hand that Meng Hao held began to grow faint. The only thing that was clear now, was Ke Yunhai’s kind smile.
His eyes had begun to fade. During the last ten tolls of the death knell, they would lose all of their brightness. They would transform into countless dots of light that would then vanish into the air.
Meng Hao’s heart felt as if it were being torn into pieces. His body quivered as he attempted to hold tight to Ke Yunhai’s disappearing hand.
Suddenly, Ke Yunhai’s fading eyes once again seemed to focus, as if he were using all the last bits of his life force to look at Meng Hao. He looked almost as if he were in a daze.
There in front of him, he saw a figure slowly materializing behind Meng Hao. It was a man in a white robe, whose features looked completely different than Meng Hao’s. He had long hair, and looked young, but also seemed to be filled with an endless ancientness.
This was none other than… Ke Jiusi!
Ke Jiusi looked at his father with tears in his eyes. He slowly kneeled down, his body superimposing with Meng Hao’s.
A smile appeared on Ke Yunhai’s face. He had long since put all the pieces of the puzzle together. He nodded, and slowly reached his hand out to touch Meng Hao’s forehead. Or… perhaps he was touching Ke Jiusi’s forehead.
In that instant, images appeared in Ke Yunhai’s mind. He saw the destruction of the Demon Immortal Sect and Ke Jiusi’s shocking final battle. He saw how Ke Jiusi returned to life and watched over the Demon Immortal Sect alone for tens of thousands of years.
Ke Jiusi looked at Ke Yunhai. Tears streamed down his face as he softly said: “Dad…. I learned to be a bit more sensible…. I’m sorry for everything before…. I’m sorry. Father… everything was my fault….”
At long last, he was able to see his father again. At long last, he was able to say those words to his Father.
The words were Ke Jiusi’s, and they were also Meng Hao’s. Two people, one set of words. It was hard to tell if Ke Jiusi was borrowing Meng Hao’s mouth, or Meng Hao was borrowing Ke Jiusi’s soul.
“Dad…. I’ve grown up. You can stop worrying, sir. I will always make you proud….”
Ke Yunhai looked at Meng Hao and Ke Jiusi for a long moment. His face filled with a kind smile, a smile filled with admiration, and even more so, deep content.
“Thank you,” said Ke Yunhai, his voice hoarse. “You, also, are my son. We are father and son in this life.” He gave Meng Hao a profound look, and within that gaze could be seen doting indulgence and kindness. It was in that moment that the innumerable white nodes of light completely surrounded his body.
Meng Hao trembled as he realized that the hand which had been holding Ke Yunhai, was now holding nothing. The final lick of flame in the oil lamp, was extinguished.
“DAD!!” Tears rained down Meng Hao’s face as he watched Ke Yunhai fade away. Outside, the ninety-ninth bell toll of the death knell could be heard!
One less than a hundred. Perfection was not permitted. The death knell protected the path, guarded the way. It could not have one too many, or one too less. Ninety-nine paths to the underworld.
That is the death knell which tolls when a Paragon perishes.
The sound of the death knell continued to echo about throughout the seven great mountain peaks of the First Heaven. In that moment, the million Cultivators in the Seven Peaks were kowtowing toward the Fourth Peak. Everyone, including the other Paragons, bowed deeply.
On the Fourth Peak, the sounds of weeping rose up. All of the disciples turned toward the direction of Ke Yunhai’s Immortal’s cave and began to kowtow on bended knees.
Ke Yunhai had perished.
As Meng Hao watched Ke Yunhai vanish completely, the sound of wailing drifted in from outside. He knelt there silently for a very long time before finally rising to his feet. Clutching his chest, he walked out of the Immortal’s cave. Outside, he saw that all of the Fourth Peak disciples were present, looking in his direction. As he looked back at them, an expression of profound grief filled his face.
He looked up into the sky, and the sunlight poured into his eyes. For a moment, he thought he could see Ke Yunhai’s shadow. Ninety-nine beams of light swirled around him, escorting him away. As Ke Yunhai made his way off into the distance, he turned his head slightly to glance at the lands below, and at Meng Hao.
As the sunlight poured down onto Meng Hao, he saw the image of himself when he first arrived in this illusory world. He remembered the first time he saw Ke Yunhai, and the kindness he had seen in his eyes, a kindness that could forgive anything.
After he killed Ji Mingfeng, he was whipped. He remembered hearing Ke Yunhai’s voice transmitted into his ear, asking why he hadn’t cried out yet. His heart had trembled.
Then, there were the magical items and talismans personally forged with Ke Yunhai’s life force. In the Immortal Demon Pagoda, Meng Hao reached the point where he was sure he was defeated. It was then that a figure appeared in front of him, tousled his hair, and then kindly said, “I’ll take you the rest of the way.”
Meng Hao saw all of these things, and they transformed into a final image of parting….
Now, he finally realized that Ke Yunhai knew all along that he wasn’t Ke Jiusi.
In the end, he had even thanked him. That proved everything. Then he had said that Meng Hao was also his son. He approved of Meng Hao….
All of it seemed like a dream. But it was a dream that Meng Hao wanted!
“The old man… is gone,” he murmured. The light in his eyes turned into darkness, superseding everything else in the world. He coughed up a mouthful of blood, and then collapsed onto the ground.
Meng Hao was in a coma for two days. When he finally awakened, he saw Xu Qing watching over him anxiously. He didn’t say anything. Xu Qing accompanied him to Ke Yunhai’s funeral. The tomb was in a valley in the Seventh Peak, a tomb that contained no corpse, only an extinguished oil lamp.
Meng Hao was no longer an ordinary disciple. Nor was he an Elite Apprentice. He was now the Lord of the Fourth Peak, although he was a Lord who was not a Paragon.
He did not concoct any more pills, nor did he seek enlightenment of Daoist magic. He sat outside his Immortal’s cave looking out into the darkness of night, and the bright sky of day. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at. He just stared.
Several days later, the ghost images were appearing multiple times per day in the ancient, illusory world. Meng Hao knew that this place… was about to vanish.
“Living and dying. It can be a departure, but also a beginning.” Meng Hao felt as if he had experienced a flash of insight. He closed his eyes and did not open them for a long time. When he did, he decided to head to the great staircase that led up into the sky. Before leaving, he happened to notice the medicinal pill which had been created from nothing. It brought him no joy. He gazed at it blankly for a moment, then carefully put it into his bag of holding.
As he stood before the great staircase, he looked back at the Fourth Peak one more time. In that glance he placed the image of the Fourth Peak firmly in place in his memories.
Then he turned and stepped onto that staircase which none of the other disciples of the Sect could see. He began to walk up, one step at a time. As he did, all the Cultivators from the great lands of South Heaven watched him.
They were waiting. Waiting for Meng Hao to reach the very top of the staircase. Then the Second Plane would reach its conclusion, and the Third Plane… would open.
This chapter was sponsored by Jusaz