It was difficult to say how much time passed. It seemed both long and short. Outside, the sky gradually darkened, and faint moonlight spread out into the blackness.
Under the darkness of night, the flame in the bronze oil lamp danced back and forth, and it almost seemed as if the shadow of a person existed in the wick, looking up at the moon….
Shadows began to appear inside the temple, revealed by the lamplight. As the lamp’s flame danced, the shadows seemed to sway back and forth gracefully.
Meng Hao didn’t realize it, but the color of his garments were fading into a gray color, and were actually becoming tattered. It was as if his clothes were passing through time, becoming ancient even as he sat there cross-legged.
His whole person exuded this same feeling, as if his soul were being transported back through time to the ancient Daoist rite temple, to listen the music of the Dao. At the same time, the effects to his soul spread to his body, causing it to become ancient.
Suddenly, the sound of weeping floated out. It drifted out through the night air, clear and vivid. As the weeping echoed about, it gradually transformed into faint sighing.
“Do Immortals still exist in this world…?” asked a voice. Then there was silence, broken only by the rustling of the leaves in the trees.
At the same time, wisps of smoke began to rise up from the well. If there were someone standing next to the well, they would surely be shocked to find that it was filled with countless long strands of hair!
The black hair swirled out from within the well and then sank to the ground, where they spread out quickly to fill the entirety of the courtyard. It was at this point that cracking sounds could be heard coming from the bamboo trellis.
A dried up vine sagged down, making an arc-like shape that almost resembled a swing. It began to rock back and forth, almost as if… there were a person sitting on the vine, using it as a swing!
The sound of wailing drifted out from within the well, and laughter could be heard from the swing. They mixed together to fill the courtyard with an eerie sense of bizarreness. As for Meng Hao, he sat there in the courtyard, eyes closed, completely motionless.
He was surrounded by the flickering lamplight and the shadowy projections it revealed. The projections distorted and rippled, and then began to move, walking to and fro in the courtyard. Some sat down cross-legged, some prostrated themselves in worship. Some concocted medicinal pills, some held brooms in their hands that they used to sweep the floor. Some of them even approached the area where Meng Hao sat and peered at him curiously.
As for the dilapidated statue of the god, it now stood tall and straight like it had in the past. The statue’s shadow, which stretched out beneath it, suddenly separated from the statue and transformed into an old man.
The old man’s clothing looked very similar to Meng Hao’s long, worn-out robe. The man’s face was ashen, and blood oozed out from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth; severe injuries could be seen on his head. He looked like an evil spirit as he approached Meng Hao. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking as he floated to a position behind him, where he stood and looked down at the top of Meng Hao’s head.
A moment later, all of the projections within the courtyard turned and looked at Meng Hao. They approached, crowding around to stare at him closely.
Up above in the sky, black clouds covered half of the moon, and a soft wind blew across the land, along with an intermittent wail that sounded like mournful, choked sobbing.
It was at this point that the ground trembled, and muffled moaning sounds could be heard coming from deep within the temple.
“Home…. This place isn’t my home…. I want to go home….
“Take me home…. Take me home, Paragon… take me home….”
When the voice drifted out, the projections in the temple all trembled. In the temple’s courtyard, the black hair spreading out from the well suddenly flew up into the air. The swinging vine suddenly stopped moving.
At the same time, a head emerged from the well. It was illusory and pallid, and the expression on its face was incredibly terrifying and ferocious. Apparently this was… a head that had been soaking in the well’s water for millions of years, and yet had not decomposed. It was the head of a woman, whose listless, pupil-less eyes stared at the ground.
No figure was visible on the swing, and yet drops of black blood dropped down onto the ground beneath it.
It was at this point that a tremor ran through Meng Hao’s body. A hair-raising sense of terror filled him, and he opened his eyes. When he looked up, his scalp went numb as he realized that a pitch-black figure was standing directly in front of him.
In fact, he was completely surrounded by shadowy projections, all of whom appeared to be on the verge of touching him. His mind was sent completely spinning.
The shades seemed to know that Meng Hao had awakened, and they floated backward and then sat down cross-legged some distance away from him. Meng Hao could clearly see all of the projections, as well as the black hair in the courtyard. He saw the swinging vine, and the floating head. Feeling more creeped out than ever, he slowly rose to his feet to leave the temple.
He was filled with the feeling… that this place wasn’t somewhere he should continue loitering about in.
As he stood, he suddenly felt a coldness behind him. Without thinking about it, he turned his head and caught sight of an ancient face only an inch away from his own, blood flowing out of its eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Completely startled, Meng Hao staggered backward a few steps, his eyes widening.
“Who are you!?” he cried, sending his cultivation base rotating rapidly. His Dharma Idol appeared behind him, and his heart began to pound rapidly. The strangeness of this place left him feeling completely and utterly unsafe.
The old man’s expressionless eyes completely ignored Meng Hao. He turned and walked back toward the statue of the deity. As he neared it, his body gradually faded and then disappeared altogether.
The other projections in the area were still there, some sitting in meditation, some walking about, some practicing cultivation.
Meng Hao was panting rapidly as he began to leave. However, when he reached the threshold of the temple, he stopped in place and looked over to see a shadowy projection sitting cross-legged off to the side. It had a pill furnace in its hand, and was apparently concocting pills.
Furthermore… Meng Hao had never seen this method of pill concoction before; it was as if through absorbing the power of Heaven and Earth, no medicinal plants or other physical ingredients were needed!
Meng Hao gaped in shock. After looking more closely for a moment, his eyes began to shine with a strange light. He was a grandmaster of the Dao of alchemy, and his skill in concocting pills could be considered the highest in the lands of South Heaven, with the exception of Pill Demon.
“Creating something from nothing….” murmured Meng Hao, his eyes shining brightly. Back in the ancient Demon Immortal Sect, he had created a pill from nothing, and it still remained in his bag of holding. He had never consumed it.
Meng Hao felt that it was a miracle that he had even succeeded in concocting that one pill, and he had even tried on one occasion to duplicate it with the copper mirror, but had failed.
Now he saw this dark projection concocting pills here in this place. Its hands moved with adept proficiency, calm and unhurried.
Meng Hao blinked, and then decided not to leave. He looked around at the projections around him. Some were practicing cultivation, some were walking to and fro, some were utilizing incantation gestures to perform various Daoist magics.
The scene caused Meng Hao’s mind to tremble.
“Passing down Daos!!” he murmured. “They’re passing down Daos!!” His heart trembled even more than before. A Dao was not something to pass down lightly, but that was exactly what these projections were doing. It was as if all he had to do was go observe and contemplate them, and he would have the opportunity to acquire them.
Meng Hao took a deep breath, then looked back at the dark projection who was concocting pills. He walked over and sat down cross-legged in front of it and watched as it worked. The light in his eyes grew brighter and more brilliant. After a while, he pulled out his own pill furnace and began to imitate the dark figure’s pill concocting technique.
A night passed. It wasn’t a long time, but it felt very, very long to Meng Hao. It felt like such a long time that he couldn’t properly wrap his head around it. Finally, when the sky began to grow bright, the shadowy figure finished concocting a single pill, which it casually tossed out into the mountain range outside of the temple. At some point, Meng Hao became aware that he had also successfully concocted his own pill.
The sky was light now.
The projections in the temple faded away. The strands of hair in the courtyard vanished, and the vines returned to their original state, as if none of it had ever happened. Panting, Meng Hao looked down at the medicinal pill in his hand, which was surrounded by swirling blackness.
Actually, it was not really a pill. It was only a mass of swirling black mist. However, when the sunlight touched it, a black peel formed around it, and then it turned into a black-peeled medical pill.
There was no medicinal aroma to it, but rather, an explosive power.
Meng Hao frowned as he looked at the black-peeled pill. After a moment of thought, he squeezed it, whereupon his face instantly fell. Without hesitation, he threw the pill away from him. In midair, it began to emanate black mist, and then suddenly exploded.
A shockwave swept about in all directions.
“An incomplete concoction… and this is the botched product,” he thought. “But it was still creating something from nothing.” He was actually quite shocked. The explosive power caused by the medicinal pill’s explosion was like an attack.
“It’s too bad it’s so unstable. Simply touching it causes it to explode. Although now that I think about it, something about it seems familiar.” Eyes flickering, he thought back to the path he had trod up to this ancient temple. He had encountered many areas where the ground exploded. All of a sudden, he thought about how the figure had thrown out the medicinal pill just now, and everything clicked….
“This thing… has another use.” Eyes glittering, he thought for a moment, then produced his pill furnace and began to use the same method he had learned the previous night to absorb the spiritual energy of Heaven and Earth and use it to concoct more pills.
After several failures, he finally succeeded in producing two of the same swirling masses of black mist. When the sun touched them, they were covered over with a black peel. Holding the pills in his hand, he flew out of the temple. After a bit of experimentation, he found that the explosive effect would be activated simply by throwing it out. It could be used as a trump card.
“Burying it seems like a waste. I can’t really control it. Throwing it out directly is the best way to use it. With something like this, I have another life-saving technique at my disposal. It’s too bad though. This thing is pretty explosive, but appears to be connected to the unique aura of this place. I doubt I’ll be able to concoct them outside.” After some more thought, he returned to the temple and continued to concoct pills.
Several days passed. At night, Meng Hao would seek enlightenment regarding the Daos being passed down by the projections. During the day, he would concoct medicinal pills. Soon he had several dozen. He tried to imbue them with divine sense, but it was a failure and he eventually gave up on the idea.
He even left the mountains at one point to try to concoct the pills on the outside, but it didn’t work. That confirmed his theory. This type of pill… could only be concocted using the spiritual energy that existed inside the temple.
After returning to the temple, he continued to concoct the unusual black-peeled explosive medicinal pills.
“I imagine that the Chosen from the other worlds will be arriving soon….” His eyes glittered with anticipation regarding the fighting that would break out when they came. He keenly desired to see how he measured up to them, and… exactly how strong or weak he was.