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Chapter 209 - Viewing the Monoliths at Dawn
The courtyard was quiet, the mood was oppressive. The first to break the silence was Chen Changsheng.
He walked into the hut and saw Tang Thirty-Six finishing the leftover tea-soaked rice. For some reason, this angered him. Any other time, he probably would have left to wash the dishes and wipe the table twice over, but right now he was not in the mood. He told the others, “I’m going to bed.”
Having said that, he turned around and walked into the hut, found a blanket, and put it over his face.
The rest, who were still immersed in that complex and melancholy mood, were rather surprised when they saw him really go to sleep. Guan Feibai arched his eyebrows and unhappily said, “He really is a cold-blooded guy.”
Gou Hanshi shook his head to indicate that he should say no more.
Tang Thirty-Six sneered. “You bastard, you’re just a battle maniac. How are you any different from that old man under the pavilion?”
Suddenly, Zhexiu spoke up. “To be a little cold-blooded is better.”
Everyone there was stunned by those words, such that even Tang Thirty-Six thought it was a little far-fetched.
“Colder blood means less likely to get a fever, and even less likely to go crazy.”
Zhexiu expressionlessly explained himself, turned and entered the hut. He found a blanket, laid on the bed and began to sleep.
Tang Thirty-Six suddenly thought of something and walked into the hut. “Hey, how many blankets are there anyway? You haven’t used them all, have you?”
Hearing this, Guan Feibai leapt from the doorstep and shouted into the hut, “I don’t care how many blankets there are, but we need at least two!”
On the brink of death, Xun Mei had passed on this grass hut to these youths. It was a very solemn affair, as if it were his greatest legacy. In reality, the hut was very crude and wretched. It only had three rooms; the kitchen, the main room and the inner room. No one could stay in the kitchen, and the remaining two were very small. To have seven people living there was rather crowded.
Chen Changsheng, Tang Thirty-Six, and Zhexiu stayed in the relatively nicer looking inner room. After all, they had come first; and while Xun Mei had given the hut to all of the youths, he did so mostly because of those three. Thus, other than Guan Feibai, who stubbornly putting his all into getting two blankets, the four disciples from the Mount Li Sword Sect really had no objections.
Xun Mei had only left three sour-smelling blankets. After two of them had been wrested away, there was only one left. Fortunately, Zhexiu had grown up in the snowy plains and did not need a blanket. To normal people, spring was a chilly season; but to him, it had the all the pleasantness of early summer. As the child of such a wealthy household, Tang Thirty-Six had actually brought a fur skin with him. Thus, luckily, Chen Changsheng did not have to share his blanket.
The night grew darker, but Chen Changsheng’s eyes remained open; he had not fallen asleep.
It was not because of the sour smell coming off the blanket, although that was certainly a big reason.
The person that had slept on this bed for thirty-seven years just died before their eyes. Who could sleep knowing that?
Like him, there were actually many people who could not sleep.
“Was it worth it?” Tang Thirty-Six asked as he looked out the windows at the stars in the night sky, his mood downcast.
Zhexiu’s eyes were closed. He was not asleep, but he did not respond. Thought on this matter was unnecessary.
Chen Changsheng also did not answer; but, under the blanket, he gripped that black stone a bit tighter. Last night in the Pavilion of Ascending Mist, he had understood some things. Tonight in the Mausoleum of Books, he had encountered some things. These things all came up too abruptly, and were too much for his fifteen-year-old self to handle. In fact, he was probably even more frustrated than Tang Thirty-Six.
Gazing up at the stars, he could feel that distant little red star which was his own. He silently thought, if I wanted to change my fate, I would first have the change the fate of all the people I’m connected to, changing their stars. But how can I know which stars correspond to which people? Xun Mei…where is his star? There was already a connection between the two, would his death change anything? Or is it to say that because he entered the Mausoleum of Books, Xun Mei’s fate had changed? To change his fate, would he really have to bring suffering and death to those by his side?
And if the star he affected were his Senior’s? Or Tang Thirty-Six’s? Or Luo Luo’s? Even if it were Xu Yourong’s, would he be able to coldly look on as her star grew dim? Just as he was thinking about such trivial things, Tang Thirty-Six suddenly got up, flung off the fur skin, and began to fan himself with the front of his shirt.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“It’s a little hot.” Tang Thirty-Six continued, “I really don’t know how the people in my family prepared for this.”
Chen Changsheng chuckled, but did not say anything.
Tang Thirty-Six suddenly turned to him, his mood serious. “Chen Changsheng, I need to tell you something.”
Puzzled, Chen Changsheng asked, “What?”
Tang Thirty-Six was very serious. “In the future, no matter what happens, I won’t ever say ‘thank you’ to you, and you won’t ever say ‘you’re welcome’ to me.”
Chen Changsheng did not respond. He knew that Tang Thirty-Six had been deeply moved by Xun Mei and Wang Po’s final conversation.
Guan Feibai’s jeering voice came from the other room. “How come you’re the one saying ‘thank you’ and he’s the one saying ‘you’re welcome’? You’ve already decided that, in the future, you’re going to be Wang Po, and that Chen Changsheng will never be your match; only able to play the role of encouraging you forward? Don’t forget, he’s already at Ethereal Opening. You’re still pretty far from him!”
In this serious setting where two brothers shared their bond, Tang Thirty-Six could not help but fly into rage at these sudden words. He shouted back, “You make it sound like you’re so much stronger than me!”
Guan Feibai sneered. “Regardless of how much stronger I am, I’m still stronger.”
Gou Hanshi interjected. “Stop quarreling.”
Chen Changsheng added in, “Just go to sleep early.”
The hut finally grew quiet. However, not too long after, everyone heard Qi Jian’s shy voice.
“Second senior brother, I…. I…. think I’m hungry.”
There was silence, then laughter all around.
Qi Jian’s small face blushed.
Chen Changsheng saw that while Zhexiu’s eyes were closed, the corners of his lips perked up.
After a few rounds of argument and laughter, their moods had all somewhat settled down, and they gradually fell asleep.
Chen Changsheng was still awake. He calmly looked out the window at the night sky filled with stars.
Tonight, Xun Mei had said he had learned a lot from him and Zhexiu. In truth, Chen Changsheng had also learned many things.
Zhexiu had said that the most important thing in life was not to live, but to live awake or die awake. To him, the most important thing in life was to follow his heart. In the old temple in Xining village, he had studied the Daoist Canons with his master. The Dao which he had practiced was not for killing people with flying swords, or living forever without aging, but to follow his heart.
When trying to live while facing death, the only thing that held any meaning was that he was already between life and death, so he obviously had to stay sober and follow his heart.
It was also because he had truly faced life and death that in the past few years, he had taken the three words ‘follow your heart’ and cultivated them to an incredible level. He had then gone to the Divine General’s estate to cancel the engagement, appeared at the Ivy League Gathering, and finally obtained the first place on the First Banner in the Grand Examination. However, when he had finally been able to enter the Pavilion of Ascending Mist and discovered those secrets, he had seen life’s hope for the first time in many years, but his heart had been instead perturbed.
His loss of interest in cultivation and his playing tourist on the first day in the Mausoleum of Books were because his heart had been confused. Fortunately, he had heard Zhexiu’s answer and met Xun Mei. Xun Mei had taken thirty-seven years to wake up, while he had only used one night. He could not help but admit that he had been rather lucky.
Now that Chen Changsheng had gotten back his tranquil mood, he naturally returned to his familiar lifestyle. Despite the fact that so many things had happened last night, that both his body and soul were worn out, and that he had even slept later than usual, he opened his eyes and woke up early at five o’clock when the sky was still dark.
When he awoke, he did not immediately get up, but instead took five breaths of time to calm his mind. Then, he got up and put on his shoes and clothes. As he prepared to make the bed, he realized that there were two people on the bed. He saw Tang Thirty-Six tightly holding onto his fur skin, curled up into a ball, like an insecure child. In contrast, Zhexiu was lying on the ground with his back straight, and, to bluntly put it, he seemed like a stone statue.
Chen Changsheng shook his head and walked to the outer room. He saw Gou Hanshi, Liang Banhu, and Guan Feibai all bundled up under one blanket, while Qi Jian slept in the corner with his own blanket. Chen Changsheng could not help but shake his head. Truly, the Mount Li Sect Master’s final disciple received special treatment.
He walked out to the courtyard and went the nearby creek, using the water to wash his face and rinse his mouth. Afterwards, he cooked a big pot of rice porridge and also steamed the remaining two-thirds of the salted fish. Then, he went over and opened the window in attempt to wake up Tang Thirty-Six. Tang Thirty-Six’s two hands balled up into fists, and he spat out a few angry expletives, after which Tang Thirty-Six paid him no more attention.
For the third time after he woke up, Chen Changsheng shook his head. He helplessly turned around, only to find Zhexiu squatting by the collapsed fence as he brushed his teeth. He could not help but be surprised. Chuckling, he said, “I didn’t expect this.”
Squatting on the ground, Zhexiu did not turn his head. He said in a somewhat muffled voice, “Didn’t expect what, that a wolf cub like me like to be clean?”
Chen Changsheng thought it over and decided that it was his way of thinking that was wrong. Apologetically, he replied, “It was my mistake.”
Zhexiu threw away the tree branch that he had been using to brush his teeth, which he had gotten from a willow or some other tree, and then cupped some water in his hands to wash his face. Finally, he said, “There’s nothing to be mistaken about. On the snowy plains, I really wouldn’t wash my face every day. The oil and grease can help protect me against the wind. But at the very least, I would brush my teeth twice a day, and from time to time, I would chew on some ice.”
Chen Changsheng was intrigued. “Why did you do that?”
Zhexiu replied, “On the snowy plains, meat would sometimes freeze solid. Sometimes I would have to eat the meat raw, and that requires a good set of teeth. Only in this way would my teeth be strong enough to chew on it.”
Chen Changsheng thought it over and agreed. “Very reasonable.”
Zhexiu added, “In the various tribes, the old people that lived the longest would often have the best teeth.”
Chen Changsheng noticed that Zhexiu’s teeth were indeed very white and healthy.
Paired with the salted fish, the two each drank down three bowls of porridge, then left the grass hut. Cutting through a large forest of orange fruit trees, they walked towards the Mausoleum of Books.
Nobody said anything along the way, so the atmosphere was very quiet.
When they had almost arrived at the main path in the Mausoleum, Zhexiu suddenly stopped. “It’s a bit weird,” he said.
Chen Changsheng stared at him and asked, “What’s weird?”
“I’m used to being alone.”
After a moment’s thought, Chen Changsheng replied, “Then you first.”
“I still need you to cure my illness, so you should go first. Besides brushing teeth, the snowy plains have another rule: you shouldn’t offend your doctor.”
Chen Changsheng laughed. “You don’t need to be so courteous about this sort of thing.”
Zhexiu did not respond, instead directly thrusting out a clenched fist.
Chen Changsheng was rather surprised. “Don’t tell me we also have to fight over this?”
Zhexiu asked, “Do you know how to play the finger-guessing game?”
“I only know how to play rock-paper-scissors.”
Zhexiu was silent for a moment, then finally said, “I also only know that game.”
Using a tattered rag to wrap around a rock-like fist, Chen Changsheng was able to obtain victory and was the first to leave. Following the main path north while occasionally hearing the fluttering of the morning birds, Chen Changsheng shortly arrived at the Mausoleum of Books’ main gate and walked on the only path by which one could view the monoliths.
The monoliths were all in the mountain, so naturally, this monolith-viewing path was a mountain path. However, it was not very steep. There were many stone steps carved into the path, making the climb very easy.
It was just now truly dawn. The morning sun rose from the eastern horizon, illuminating the distant buildings in the capital. The Palace of Great Brilliance and the Pavilion of Ascending Mist were particularly prominent.
The somewhat chilly morning wind lightly brushed his cheeks while the dawn light illuminated his path forward. As he walked through the quiet woods while listening to the song of the morning birds and saw the morning sun be turned into a flowery face by the tree branches, Chen Changsheng’s mind was serene and joyful. Although he had started a day late compared to others, it did not really matter.
Yes, this was indeed wasting away at his life.
Just as he had mentioned to Zhexiu, playing chess and the zither, painting and calligraphy, and enjoying the scenery were all a waste of life.
But how beautiful wasting one’s life in this manner was.
And how beautiful it was to have a life to waste in such a manner.
Within the quiet and uninhabited mountain forest, Chen Changsheng climbed the steps. Soon afterwards, he arrived at a monolith. He walked in front of the monolith, but all he could see on it were marks that seemed to have been made by knives and hatchets, not words. There also did not seem to be any lines; it was very obvious that somebody had destroyed them. He recalled the decree that the Divine Empress had issued in the past, and he knew that this was not the monolith he had come to see. He shook his head and continued walking.
He did not walk too far before he saw yet another monolith.
This place was a cliff, and in front of the cliff was a hut. The monolith stood in the center of this hut.
The eaves of the hut furled out on all sides. Even if there was a great storm, it would be very difficult for this monolith to get wet.
Chen Changsheng walked to the front of the hut and looked at the monolith, and his state of mind wavered slightly.
The shape of this monolith was not very proper. Even its thickness was not uniform. Compared to normal monoliths in the world, it seemed even more like an unfinished product.
The monolith’s surface was very glossy. Who knew how many hands had rubbed against it?
This was a Heavenly Tome Monolith.
The first monolith of the Mausoleum of Books.
Chen Changsheng restrained himself from looking at the monolith’s surface, and looked around the hut instead.
The forest outside the hut acted as an obstacle. The stone steps continued no further, ending at a rock plateau.
Through the gaps in the forest, one could faintly the eaves of roofs in the distance. Perhaps they were other monolith huts, but there was no path to reach them.
Seeing this picture, Chen Changsheng became lost in thought.
The morning light spilled over the rock plateau, a cool breeze ran through the trees, and two kingfishers chirped as they flew into the sky.
Chen Changsheng awoke from his stupor, and then turned to the monolith within the hut. He subconsciously put his hands behind his back and calmly began to examine it.
When his gaze landed upon the surface of the monolith, he could not keep his heart from racing.