Chapter 59: Unable to see Chang’an
The State of Zhao was in the southern part of the Southern Domain, which was connected to the Western subcontinent. These two areas were separated from the rest of the lands of South Heaven by the Milky Way Sea, although it is possible that long ago, the lands of South Heaven had not been split in this way.
To state things more clearly, the State of Zhao exists on the edge of the Southern Domain, far from the sea. Only by passing over numerous mountains would the boundless Milky Way Sea become visible.
The State of Zhao was not very large, nor was it heavily populated. However, the capital city was a bustling place. Even though the evening air was filled with falling snow, the houses glowed with lantern light, keeping everyone warm inside.
Anyone who didn’t own a house, who walked about in the snowy night, would feel an indescribable loneliness.
Meng Hao walked down the street beneath the darkening sky. The crowds of people who would normally be visible during the day were nowhere to be seen. Anyone who moved about wore wide bamboo hats, and kept their heads lowered as they hurried along.
Looking off into the distance, Meng Hao could just barely make out the shape of a large, prominent building. It was a pagoda, a tower.
The Tower of Tang.
It was nearly three hundred meters tall, almost like a mountain, capable of capturing the attention of anyone within the city. Snow surrounded it, but could not hide the evidence of the devoted care spent by the King of Zhao, the scholars, and the many other people who had constructed it.
It faced the Eastern Lands, the Great Tang and Chang’an.
Meng Hao had never been to the capital city before, nor the Tower of Tang. He had never even seen it before. But as he walked down the street toward it, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that… this was definitely the Tower of Tang.
He had always imagined that one day he would become a government official, and then he would be able to climb to its top and stare out across the land.
He looked at the Tower of Tang sitting there amidst the swirling snow. A long time passed.
“Before mother and father disappeared,” he murmured to himself, “a violet wind blew outside. People said it was an auspicious sign, and that a celestial being had appeared in the sky….” He walked forward, staring at the Tower of Tang.
He thought about everything that had happened that night. He would never be able to forget. That night, he lost his youth. From that night on, he would never again have a father and mother to rely on. That was when he began to grow strong.
It was then that he started to dream of going to the Eastern Lands, to the Great Tang!
Rumors spread that his parents were dead, but Meng Hao knew that they were simply missing. They were out there, somewhere. He would never forget the violet robe his father had been wearing that night as he stood next to the window, looking out at the violet wind. Nor would he forget how his father had looked back at him, a disturbed look in his eyes.
He would never forget that night, nor the quiet sound of his mother weeping.
He had never spoken of these things to anyone, but had kept them buried deep in his heart.
As the Tower of Tang grew closer and closer, he wondered why he was suddenly thinking about such things from the past. He sighed. The sigh broke to pieces in the snowy wind. It would never leave the capital city, nor the State of Zhao, nor the Southern Domain. It would not cross the Milky Way Sea, nor would it reach Chang’an.
“Maybe it’s because mother would always talk about the Great Tang,” he murmured. “She told me that in the capital city of every nation, there is a Tower of Tang, and people say those towers are the closest you can get to Chang’an without actually being there.”
As he approached the district surrounding the Tower of Tang, he looked up.
The snow fell in heavy sheets, and the winter wind whimpered around him. More and more snow was building up on the tower. From where he stood, he could see clearly that it had been constructed with great care. Its foundation was eight-sided, and it rose up like a massive pagoda.
It was constructed from green material, and looked just like he had imagined it would.
Despite the snow, soldiers patrolled around its perimeter. This area… was a place only highly ranked officials and powerful people could enter, in order to offer sacrifices and perform rites.
But the mortal soldiers didn’t notice as Meng Hao’s body passed by and entered the tower.
An ancient flight of stairs wound up inside, reaching slowly up toward the top. The walls were carved with brightly colored frescos, depicting the Eastern Lands, the Great Tang and Chang’an.
“I remember mother describing the Great Tang to me. I was so small then, that I didn’t really understand what she was talking about. But now that I think about it, the way she described the Eastern Lands, the Great Tang and Chang’an… it was as if she had seen them with her own eyes. If she hadn’t, how could she have described everything in such detail? It was just like these carvings.” He examined them as he ascended the stairs. Eventually he reached the top of the tower, and the end of the carvings. They had depicted life and culture, beautiful scenery, and countless amazing, legendary stories. It was all very moving and inspiring.
Outside, the snow whistled about in the air, buffeted by strong winds. It lay thick on the top of the tower. Meng Hao took a deep breath and looked off into the distance. The only thing he could see was snow. He could not see the Eastern Lands, nor the Great Tang, nor Chang’an.
“So you can’t see Chang’an from here after all,” he murmured quietly. He stood there quietly, wrapped up in countless thoughts. He was not a government official, here to offer sacrifices to the heavens. He was a Cultivator, a Cultivator of the eighth level of Qi Condensation.
“I walk a different path than before, but the direction is the same.” The wind blew his hair about, and the snow stuck to him un-melting, as if it approved of his life, as if he too, were snow.
After a while, he sat down cross-legged and began to meditate quietly.
During the night, the snow fell even harder. The lights shone within the houses of the capital city. From atop the Tower of Tang, everything grew pitch black and quiet. Within the quiet darkness, Meng Hao could see himself years ago, back in Yunjie County, amidst the snow.
The snowy night slowly passed.
At dawn, Meng Hao opened his eyes. It was hard to say whether he glanced at the rising sun, or if the rising sun glanced at him first.
The city came to life with the dawn. Soon, the streets filled with throngs of people. Meng Hao watched the mortal world spread out before him.
He observed silently, all the way until night fell. Another dawn broke. One day, two days, three days.
For seven days, Meng Hao gazed down on everything. At first, his eyes had seemed faint and weak, but then they grew bright, and finally, calm.
Something had changed in his mind. He had achieved a state of enlightenment regarding life itself. At dawn on the eighth day, he looked down to see officials and soldiers arrive at the Tower of Tang to perform a rite. A middle-aged man stood there wearing a golden robe. Behind him were crowds of people, standing neatly in formation. He offered sacrifices to heaven and earth, as did many of the commoners throughout the city.
Meng Hao stood as they began to bow to the heavens. He left the tower, avoiding their obeisance. Stepping onto the treasured fan, he soared forward, knowing that the time had come for him to leave. As he prepared to depart, he looked back toward the tower one more time.
When he did, his eyes grew wide.
He watched as the people kowtowed outside of the Tower of Tang, which then began to glow softly. It was a sparkling glow that the mortals could not see, but someone filled with spiritual energy could.
The light shot upwards, sending the clouds roiling, whereupon a huge vortex appeared. This, also, was invisible to the eyes of the mortals, but not to Meng Hao. He could see the vortex clearly, and it caused him to suck in a breath. He looked shaken.
Inside the vortex, he could see… an endless field of bones and ruins, filled with a ghastly aura and a curling, black fog. He couldn’t see very many clear details, but could sense a mysterious and gruesome air roiling out.
His mind was shaken, especially when he noticed that within the black mist of the vortex was an enormous coffin. There, amidst the ruins, sitting cross-legged next to the coffin, was a shrivelled corpse. It suddenly opened its eyes. They were as gray as ash, and within them seven faint spots of light rotated about like stars. The corpse’s vision shot out from within the vortex, straight onto Meng Hao.
His heart trembled, and he involuntarily closed his eyes as he felt a stab of pain within them. It felt as if seven stars were about to appear within his own pupils, the same as those within the ash-gray eyes.
Suddenly, withered wrinkles began appear across his body, and a terrible black mist began to seep out of his pores.
Shocked, Meng Hao retreated at top speed. At the same time, the vortex was suddenly sucked up into the clouds. The crushing feeling he had experienced vanished, and everything went back to normal. It was as if what he had just seen had been a hallucination.
And yet, his body was still withered, and faint wisps of death aura continued to seep out of him. His facial expression changed several times. He looked down at the Tower of Tang. The glow was no longer present, but the people continued to pay obeisance. His face grew dark, and without hesitation he pushed the treasured fan to its limits. His body turned into a stream of light and he disappeared into the distance.
He soared out of the capital city, looking back toward the Tower of Tang several times. His eyes scanned the sky, and doubt began to rise up in his heart.
“It couldn’t have been a hallucination. The Tower of Tang… what kind of place is it exactly? Originally I thought it was a mortal place, but that’s obviously not true! What was that place within the vortex…? The ruins, the death aura, all those bones…” His scalp grew numb as he thought about the corpse he had seen amidst the ruins.
Its eyes had been filled with callousness, grim and ghastly, especially the seven stars within the pupils of its gray eyes. As he thought of this, his body grew cold and began to drip with sweat.
“And that… coffin.” Meng Hao took a deep breath, his eyes filled with fear.
“Who is inside that coffin, and why did it suddenly appear within the vortex. Why…? Does it have something to do with the Tower of Tang…? Does it have something to do with the Great Tang in the Eastern Lands?” Meng Hao grew thoughtful, looking back yet again at the Tower of Tang. The sense of awe within him grew stronger. He breathed in deeply again, gliding forward a bit before dropping to the ground and running.
He was starting to think that being stared at by the corpse within the vortex… had been a catastrophe….
This chapter was sponsored by Mitchell Kutchuk, Tu Ha, and Hein Haugeberg