As soon as the old white-colored beast saw Meng Hao appear back in the second level, he looked a bit surprised.
“Considering your cultivation base, you were doomed to fail,” he said, his voice echoing about. “And yet, you didn’t perish in there….” He looked deeply at Meng Hao, and when he noticed his tattered, charred clothing, his suspicions mostly vanished.
Meng Hao smiled wryly and shook his head, then took a deep breath.
“Senior, I was crude and rash. I thought that my cultivation base was different, and that I could give it a try. I never thought that, as you mentioned, I would fail…. Thankfully, I didn’t get too close, otherwise I would have ended up dead and buried in there.”
The old beast nodded, and Meng Hao clasped hands and bowed. The old beast did nothing to prevent Meng Hao from vanishing into the exit portal.
As for Lu Bai, he silently watched Meng Hao leave.
In a certain region outside the Ancient Dao Lakes, glittering light rose up as Meng Hao was teleported out of the underground world. His expression was one of excitement as he patted his bag of holding and took a deep breath.
“That fire spirit from the 3,000-meter region is a trump card I can use if I ever run into a dangerous situation involving someone at the peak of the Immortal Realm. Unfortunately, the fire isn’t eternal. I wonder how many times I’ll be able to use it? Not many, I’m sure.” With that, Meng Hao vanished.
Meng Hao appeared in many places throughout the Southern Domain over the following days. He went to many familiar places, including the Black Lands, where he visited many old friends.
The Western Desert was still, for the most part, covered by the Violet Sea, and was lifeless.
After bidding farewell to his friends in the Black Lands, he went to the place where he’d once encountered the being who had fought with the Heavens of Ji. When he got there, there was no trace of anyone present at all. 1
After that, he went to the Milky Way Sea, where everything was still and silent, a sharp contrast to how it had once been. It was in the Inner Ring was where he had seen the ancient ship to which he felt so much gratitude, the same ancient ship he had also seen in the Ruins of Immortality.
After circling about the Milky Way Sea, he went back to the Eastern Lands. Finally, he let out a long sigh as he realized that it really was time to depart.
“Fatty is now in the Paleo-Immortal Mausoleum, Elder Brother Chen Fan went to the Sublime Flow Sword Grotto, and Wang Youcai joined Moonset Lake…. Even all those Chosen I know from the Ji Clan have left to go to the Ninth Mountain.” These were all things Meng Hao had recently been told by his father.
All of the Chosen that he had known from the Southern Domain were either dead, gone, or far beneath him in terms of power. Most did not even qualify to meet his gaze.
“It’s really time to leave,” Meng Hao thought with a sigh. He was now walking through the Eastern Lands, past mountains and through plains, making sure that his memories of the lands of South Heaven were firmly implanted in his mind. One day, he found himself on the shore of a mighty river in the Eastern Lands, where he suddenly stopped in his tracks.
He had sensed a familiar aura, although it was incredibly faint. If he hadn’t been walking through this area, he would never have noticed it.
“This aura….” He looked at the river in front of him, which was considered the main river in the Eastern Lands. It divided the sub-continent in half, and actually flowed out from the Milky Way Sea.
The strangest thing was that this aura was not just familiar, it was incredibly familiar. It was… his own aura!
Muttering to himself, Meng Hao followed the traces of the aura until he found himself on a remote shore of the river. There were no people anywhere nearby, and evidence of wild animals could be seen.
At a certain point, he suddenly caught sight of an object on a shallow bank nearby that instantly caused him to stop in place and stare with wide eyes.
Time seemed to suddenly come to a standstill, and the world seemed to cease its rotation. Everything else in front of Meng Hao vanished, except for that one item, floating there in the water. It seemed as if it were something eternal, and quickly became the only thing he could see.
It was a bottle gourd.
It was stuck between two rocks, battered by the elements, having soaked in the river water for countless years. It was thoroughly dilapidated and apparently on the verge of rotting to pieces completely. It floated there quietly, as if it were waiting for someone to come along and pick it up.
Perhaps, were it not for the two rocks that kept it stuck in place, the bottle gourd would have floated away long ago. Perhaps… it would have made it to the Great Tang.
Meng Hao began to tremble. The bottle gourd looked ordinary, but it was something he would never be able to forget.
Back when he was a young scholar, he had yet again failed in the Imperial examinations, then stood atop Mount Daqing, where he wrote something on a slip of paper, stuck it in a bottle gourd, and threw it into the river at the bottom of the mountain. 2
That river had been said to flow all the way to the Eastern Lands, but Meng Hao had long since learned that it connected not to the Eastern Lands, but to the Milky Way Sea.
It was as if, over the years, there were some power that had guided the bottle gourd across the Milky Way Sea and all the way to the Eastern Lands, where it got stuck in this river.
Meng Hao stared at the bottle gourd with its familiar aura. He had never imagined that one day he would once again see this bottle gourd. He had assumed that it had long since sunk to the bottom of the river or the sea, or had been picked up by someone.
“I threw this bottle into the river before I began to practice cultivation. Now, just when I’m about to leave, I’ve run into it again….” He walked quietly over to the bottle-gourd, then bent down to pick it up.
It was rotting, and as he held it in his hand, he felt as if he didn’t even need to expend any effort to break it open.
“But how… could it possibly still be around after hundreds of years…? It’s just an ordinary bottle gourd. It should have vanished long ago.” After looking at it for a long moment, he uncorked the gourd. Inside, it was slightly damp, but there was no water. Meng Hao turned it upside down, and a rolled up strip of paper fell out.
When he saw the paper, an emotional expression of reminiscence appeared on his face. He thought back to the youthful version of himself, standing there on Mount Daqing, and the bellowing rage he had flown into after each time he failed the Imperial examinations.
He also thought about his life in Yunjie County, and all the things that had happened there.
He gingerly uncurled the strip of paper. Although the words were somewhat blurry, he was able to vaguely make out the grand aspiration that he had written down that year….
He looked at the piece of paper, and as he smiled, it seemed as if the bottle gourd no longer bore the weight of his desire, and it transformed into ash. The strip of paper also gradually disintegrated into tiny pieces that drifted through his fingers and vanished with the wind.
Meng Hao then felt that familiar aura fade away.
He stood there quietly for a moment, saying nothing. Finally, he closed his eyes. Time passed. One day after another went by, until an entire week passed. The river water flowed, the sun and moon rose and set. Birds and beasts scampered to and fro along the river bank.
Seven days later, Meng Hao opened his eyes, and they shone with enlightenment.
“There is a mysterious power in the world….” he murmured.
“And that power is desire.
“That ordinary bottle gourd was able to survive down to this day because it was sustained from within by my desire. As a cultivator, the desire that I had back then has grown stronger even as I have grown stronger, however far away the realization of it was.
“It was my own familiar aura which helped that bottle gourd… to survive all these years.
“After picking it up, the desire that had coalesced in the bottle gourd and the piece of paper vanished and returned into my hand. That is why it disappeared into Heaven and Earth.
“It’s similar to what Xie Yixian from the Burning Incense Stick Society said during our arena match. Burning Incense… coalesces the desires of all living things, and the cultivation of that desire is burning incense. 3
“I never imagined that I would be enlightened here regarding the power of burning incense.” After a moment he looked down at his hand, which he then waved.
Time seemed to move in reverse, as the drifting pieces of ash from seven days before suddenly reappeared. They transformed into a piece of paper, as well as the bottle gourd which had vanished.
Meng Hao’s expression was calm as he once again placed the strip of paper into the bottle gourd and tossed it into the river. As the water flowed, the bottle gourd bobbed up and down, drifting off into the distance.
“I still haven’t achieved what I desire, so how could I let that bottle gourd disappear…? Perhaps years from now, someone will find my bottle gourd and open it up to reveal my desire… and my aura….” As he watched the bottle gourd disappear into the distance, a faint smile broke out on his face.
“It’s time to leave,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he turned and, his expression one of determination, strode off into the distance. Eventually, he appeared up in the sky, where he became a beam of light that disappeared off into the distance.
One day later.
In the Fang Clan of the Eastern Lands, a huge teleportation portal had been set up in a rear courtyard. Glittering light rose up from the portal, next to which stood Meng Hao, his parents, and another middle-aged man.
The middle-aged man acted extremely respectfully toward Fang Xiufeng and Meng Li, and when he looked at Meng Hao, an emotional and loving expression could be seen.
“Hao’er,” said Fang Xiufeng, “this is your 19th Uncle. He’s my younger cousin and a member of our bloodline.”
Meng Hao clasped hands and bowed deeply.
19th Uncle laughed heartily and quickly straightened Meng Hao up from his bow. His expression of fondness only continued to grow deeper.
“You’re a good kid,” he said. “Wonderful, truly wonderful. When we get back to the clan, I hope that you can help me take care of my own son. He loafs around all day and is always a big headache.”
“The Fang Clan is on Planet East Victory, which is far away from Planet South Heaven,” said Fang Xiufeng, looking at Meng Hao with a serious expression. “With your cultivation base, you can’t travel directly through the stars. You will need two teleportation portals to get there. Your 19th Uncle has come here personally to escort you along the way.”
Meng Li stood next to Fang Xiufeng, clearly reluctant to part from Meng Hao. However, she knew that Meng Hao’s path lay among the stars, not on Planet South Heaven.
All she could do was start straightening up his luggage. Although he had a bag of holding, she had personally sewn some luggage for him. She straightened up his clothing, then looked over her son, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Mom,” he said softly, “don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“I can’t leave Planet South Heaven,” said Fang Xiufeng. “If you face any dangers out there, I can’t protect you. This crocodile can temporarily act as your Dao Protector, but in the end, you must watch out for yourself.” He waved his hand, causing the crocodile to emerge and obediently shrink down and descend onto Meng Hao’s palm, then scurry up into his sleeve. Fang Xiufeng continued quietly, “If you perish….
“Father will get revenge for you!”
Meng Hao and 19th Uncle stood in the teleportation portal. Soft light glittered out as Meng Hao looked at his parents standing outside of the portal. Suddenly, his eyes felt moist, and he dropped to his knees to kowtow three times to his parents.
“Dad, mom. I’m leaving now…. You don’t need to miss me or worry about me, I’ll come back to visit often.”
The light from the teleportation portal rose up into the air. In the moment before he vanished completely, Meng Hao waved at his parents.
Meng Li couldn’t hold the tears back any longer as she watched Meng Hao disappear. Her heart filled with worry, and in that brief moment, she grew older.
Fang Xiufeng seemed strong on the outside, but even his eyes grew blurry.
“The kids have grown up. We have to let them fly on their own.”
Meng Hao interacted with the being in the Black Lands in chapter 321 ↩
The scene of Meng Hao tossing the bottle into the river happened in chapter 1 ↩
The arena match with Xie Yixian was in chapter 876 ↩