ISSTH – Book 3 – Chapter 290

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Chapter 290: This Life

Two years later, Meng Hao was thirty-five years old. It had been nine years since he left home. However, during that entire time, he had only lived in two places, the river and the forest.

This year, he ran into a gang of bandits.

Bandits are generally killers, but they didn’t kill Meng Hao. Perhaps it was because of his worn scholar’s robe, or the scholar’s pack that he wore on his back. He certainly looked down on his fortune. The bandit leader was a beautiful, seductive woman. She asked him a single question.

“Can you keep financial records?”

Meng Hao shook his head. However, they took him anyway. They led him to their mountain fort, which was really a stockaded village where more than a thousand people lived. Most of them were the family members of the bandits, including quite a few children.

It was arranged for Meng Hao to become a teacher, which mostly involved instructing the children how to read. He didn’t have to teach anything very complicated. They just needed to be able to read bank notes and understand basic messages, things that any good bandit should be able to do.

This was a requirement laid upon all the bandits by the beautiful bandit Chieftess.

Time trickled by. Meng Hao adapted himself, and quickly felt at home. He taught reading, and looked up at the sky. It was almost like life in Eastern Emergence County. Sometimes he thought of Master, or of his father, and how he hadn’t gone back to sweep his grave for a very long time.

People died every month in the mountain fort. During a three year period, the camp moved locations twice. In the fourth year, the army came. The mountain fort faced overwhelming numbers; at a critical moment of life and death, Meng Hao unhesitatingly proposed using poison.

At the moment, a north wind was blowing, and the army was located to the south.

Meng Hao wasn’t sure why exactly he had thought of using poison. It was just that, in the past few years, he seemed to have an abundance of knowledge in his head. The poison… was of course concocted by Meng Hao.

As the poison powder drifted south with the wind, Meng Hao closed his eyes. A long time later, he heard shouts of rejoicing. It had been a massacre. The mountain village had won.

Meng Hao was thirty-nine years old. That night, during the third watch, something like burning fire burrowed under the covers with him. It was the bandit Chieftess. During the day she was a conservative woman, but right now she was like a beautiful spirit.

Overnight, Meng Hao’s life changed. He was no longer a teacher, but instead, a so-called military adviser. He had never experienced such a life before. It was fresh and exciting. Soon he was forty years old. He was past the prime of life when the blood boiled. And yet all of this was… addicting.

Killing. Plundering. For three years, no blood physically stained Meng Hao’s hands. However, with his assistance, the number of lives taken by the bandits increased by tenfold.

That winter, Meng Hao finally got fed up with it all. He had not chosen this life, and he wanted to leave. But by now, the mountain fort had grown very large. When he brought up leaving, the beautiful Chieftess refused to allow it.

But Meng Hao… persisted, and left the mountain fort anyway. Therefore, they tried to chase him down and kill him.

They chased him for a year before finally giving up. In the end, Meng Hao wasn’t killed. Exhausted, he turned, and there, one hundred or so paces behind him, was the Chieftess. She sat atop a horse, staring at him, a big black bow in her hand. She was older, but still beautiful, and within her eyes was a torn expression.

The wind blew past the two of them. Meng Hao shouldered the same scholar’s pack he’d taken with him when he left his hometown, turned around, and walked off into the distance.

No arrow was loosed from the bow.

That year, Meng Hao was forty-three years of age.

Eventually, he caught sight of a Daoist temple located on top of a mountain.

It was autumn, and the leaves rustled as they drifted down onto the green limestone of the temple. The sky was overcast, and occasionally the soft rumbling of thunder could be heard. Rain was coming.

Meng Hao took up residence in the Daoist temple. He watched the Daoists practice their religious cultivation, observed them live their daily lives, and enjoyed a kind of peace he had never experienced before.

He had the unshakeable feeling that his hands were stained dark with blood that just wouldn’t wash off. Perhaps in this place he could discover a way to cleanse it.

Two years later, Meng Hao was forty-five years old. He let out a soft sigh.

“It turns out there’s no way to cleanse it. In that case, I’ll just have to live with it.” Shaking his head, he bid farewell to the Daoist temple, and strode out once again into the world.

Eventually, he reached the capital city. After he had been living there for a year, a bloody war broke out with a neighbouring nation. Despite his age, Meng Hao was forcefully conscripted into the military, and became a soldier in the army. The war between the two countries had just started at this point.

Two years into the war, Meng Hao used some poison that he had concocted to win a battle that shocked both of the countries involved. This sparked his rise to prominence. He was no longer a common soldier, but a Poison Specialist.

Five years into the war, he was a General. He led a special offensive, commanding a force of one hundred thousand soldiers, along with a special unit of one hundred personally trained Poison Specialists.

Eight years into the war, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield and turned to defense. Meng Hao was more than fifty years old, and his name was famous throughout the entire nation. He led his men into the enemy nation in a campaign to destroy them thoroughly.

By the tenth year of the war, Meng Hao was fifty-six. It had been thirty years since he left his hometown. The enemy was destroyed. He returned to his home nation, and was welcomed with grand ceremony.

He was now a legend, and as such, was conferred with the title Royal Advisor.

Everything was like a dream, and Meng Hao wasn’t used to it. Perhaps it was because of him or perhaps because of the nation’s growing power, but after becoming the Royal Advisor, the nation turned into an aggressor. A new round of wars began.

Year after year passed, and eventually, Meng Hao was sixty years old. Once again fed up with everything, he left the army and returned to the areas that had been scorched by the flames of war. Pestilence raged there. He was able to save the lives of a few people, after which, he was the Royal Adviser no longer, but a doctor, the Alchemy Doctor.

He continued to travel, pursuing the dream he’d had when he was young, climbing mountains and traveling to distant lands.

However many people he had killed in the past, that was how many he would save.

His travels lasted for twenty years.

Throughout those twenty years, Meng Hao traveled through countless nations and climbed to the top of who knew how many mountain peaks. He saved many people, and soon, word of “the miraculous hands of the Alchemy Doctor” spread throughout the land.

The year Meng Hao turned eighty, he looked thoughtfully up into the sky. His weathered face was covered with the evidence of a life full of memories.

“I’ve traveled many paths in life,” he thought to himself, “but as for my choice… just what is it…? I did not choose to be the reflection in the water of the river. Nor did I choose to live the peaceful life of a hermit in the forest. I absolutely did not want to live the romantic life of a bandit couple, nor did I choose to become a Daoist priest…. I’ve long since given up on being a Poison Specialist or a Royal Advisor, on waging war…. I thought that my final decision would be to become an Alchemy Doctor. But now that I look back… that’s not my path either. Just what am I pursuing in this life?” He looked up into the sky, but could not think of any answer to the question. The only thing he found was more frustration, and deep exhaustion.

He missed home. That autumn night, he sat beneath the stars looking up at the sky. Next to his foot was a fallen leaf. He didn’t notice as the wind whispered through the forest, picked it up, and returned it back to the tree it had fallen from. At the moment, he was somewhat like that leaf. He had been way from home for almost a full sixty year cycle. Now, he needed to return.

Meng Hao began to walk. After he had left home, it had taken him fifty four years to reach this point. The return trip only took six.

Eastern Emergence County was still there, flourishing more than ever. Meng Hao’s hair was white when he entered the city. He was just barely able to make out some of the traces of the past.

The bordello was gone. The wall had long since been knocked down, and the location was now home to a large mansion.

The house where he grew up had vanished with the passing of time. In its place was an inn. Meng Hao stood across from it for a very long time, staring at it. His face was covered not just with the ravages of time, but with a complex expression. Finally, he turned and left.

When he returned to Master’s house, the person who opened the door was a stranger. After making some enquiries, Meng Hao turned his head to look at East Mountain off in the distance.

His father had been buried there more than fifty years ago. Master had been buried there more than twenty years ago.

Meng Hao sighed. Silently holding a pot of alcohol under his arm, he climbed the mountain. First, he visited his father’s grave, which was covered in weeds. “I know this is all an illusion,” he said softly, “and that you aren’t my real father. However… you let me feel the fatherly love that I’ve been missing. It was only a simple embrace so that I could sleep….” About thirty years ago, in the Daoist temple, he had come to understand everything. This world was nothing but an illusion, a test to become an apprentice.

The real Meng Hao was still in the world of the Celestial Land in the Violet Fate Sect, atop Violet East Mountain.

He closed his eyes. A long time passed before he left his father’s grave. Finally, he arrived at Master’s grave. He looked at it for a while before speaking.

“Becoming an apprentice involves three kowtows,” he murmured. “The first is during the time of innocence. The second is in the time of roaming. The third is when gazing at the sunset…. You gave me an entire life to decide whether or not to become your apprentice. Everything in this realm of illusions was created, not by you, but me. You only provided the starting point. Every person in the trial by fire will create their own world.

“In this world, I liberated my heart. I… I experienced everything. In the end, I’ve come back here. But I still haven’t found what it is that I wish to pursue….

“The Dao of alchemy? Obviously not.” He lifted the jug of alcohol and took a long drink.

“Eternal life?” he said quietly. “I’m not qualified.” Soon, the sun began to sink in the west, and the jug of alcohol was empty. He did not begin the third kowtow. Instead, he turned and headed back toward Eastern Emergence County.

He knew that once he performed the third kowtow, he would leave this world of illusions. But he still had not found his answer. Therefore, he would not leave. He would stay.

From then on, a very old man took up residence in Eastern Emergence County.

Outside of the world of illusions, within the Violet Fate Celestial Land, atop Violet East Mountain, tears seeped out of Chu Yuyan’s eyes. She opened them, and they were filled with grief, as if being immersed in her world had caused her to forget about reality.

A long time passed, and then a tremor ran through her body. She blinked. Her eyes were filled with confusion at first, but they quickly grew clearer. Her expression was one of melancholy. Eventually, she looked up and saw that there were two others with her here high atop Violet East Mountain.

One was Fang Mu. The other was Ye Feimu. Both of them had their eyes closed. One had a face filled with thoughtfulness, the other, confusion. The former was Meng Hao, the latter was Ye Feimu.

As for her, she was still about ten paces from the very peak of the mountain. Further behind her were the other two nameless candidates in the trial by fire.

It was at this moment that Ye Feimu suddenly trembled and began to awaken.

—–

This chapter was sponsored by Deathblade

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109 thoughts on “ISSTH – Book 3 – Chapter 290” - NO SPOILERS

  1. This is my favorite story yet.
    It felt so heartwarming, and confusing.
    Him searching for his Dao while gaining things he always wanted as well as things he disliked, then going forward, always going forward.
    I liked this story?

    1. It doesn’t happen often in Xianxia, that the frivolous MC actually has the chance to take a step back and ask himself ” Which path it? Why am I even on this path? Why?”
      God forbid — introspection, right?
      More than not, Xianxia MC’s are being pushed forcefully into a path, and then the audience just expects them to walk down that path without even questioning it. Because it’s cool, right? This was pretty nice.

      I also can’t help but wonder what went on with Yuyan, most likely something very intimate and soul-crushing to be set apart from.
      This entire situation reminds me that old poem about a man dreaming of a butterfly, not knowing if he’s actually a butterfly who’s dreamt of a man.

      1. Maybe Chu Yuyan got dumped by meng hao in her dreams? Jokes aside, perhaps someone died, perhaps it was actually meng hao that died in the end? would be a perfect excuse to make her love him all of a sudden. Maybe it had something to do with pill demon? It’s hard to guess.

  2. Beautiful. The prose reminds me of Book of the New Sun, or Taran Wanderer.

    Thanks for putting out this triple-chapter release; I appreciated being able to read it all at once.

    I wonder if we’ll see what Chu Yuyan and Yu Feimu dreamt of, or whether they’ll start to compare notes and realize Fang Mu must have been responsible for those tribulation clouds.

    1. That would make a lot of sense. Her choices ended with her embarking on a path of slaughter, yet years later she was able to find someone she loved, only to find that only a few years later, that person no longer wished to share her life. She had the chance to kill him in return for that, or even follow him, yet chose to do neither. In the end, she died old and alone unable to find any meaning within the choices he had made and the life she lived.

      1. I was thinking how similar she is with chu yuyan as well. Her main problem is she can’t be honest with herself, especially showing her love. I guess not a lot of people knows about the existence of Tsundere in this universe. I hope meng hao notices her someday, otherwise it would be a waste for her beauty to remain single forever.

  3. so, what do you want your life to be? a life that you content with?
    I’m still uncertain about it, but our lives are what we picked up anyway, even if there’s nothing ahead.

    thanks for the enlightenment! this chapters… deep. >.<

  4. Somehow, this release of chapters makes me think about a lot of things. You know? They experienced a second chance in life, and even so Meng Hao was not able to get his purpose, but was able to experience more things, ah man, it hit me hard in the heart, I liked it dunno why.

  5. I’m guessing Chu Yuyan dreamed and cried over her life regrets such as her failed engagement, encounters with Meng Hao, etc.

    Loving everyone’s interpretations of the test. What is Meng Hao’s purpose? The answer lies in the title.

    Thanks Deathblade for donating this chapter!

  6. This is making me wonder who/what Pill Demon actually is, what with the corpse demon guy musing about his secret identity a bit back. He could be Reverend Violet East, the name match and they both can make 100% pills. That would mean he spent thousands of years before taking up this identity though. I think it’s more likely given how the blood ‘demon’ sect knows about him, Pill Demon is literally a ‘pill demon’ a demonic spirit so old and strong it managed to incarnate itself (like creepy lake girl or what Meng Hao promised to do during pill furnace selection). There’s even precedent for sentient pills, Meng Hao paid one as his apprenticeship fee.

    Alright, wild guessing time over, I’ll just have to wait to see how wrong I am when this comes up again.

  7. Initially thought the chapters were a flashback, i kinda hope we see some of these characters in passing later in the novel, weirdly pleasant chapters, once again issth not producing action, but tranquillity xD

  8. I think this is an indication that meng hao will soon leave the violet sect since he reflected that his purpose in life isn’t to become an alchemist, he will soon embark on an exciting journey leaving his mark along the way, rather than fighting for the sake of country. This alchemist ark has been the best, but I think it’s time to move on to newer region, meet more people, and join the ranks of top experts. Of course not forgetting to capture the hearts of many ladies and leaving them hopeless because he’s all for elder sister Xu. Lol

  9. The imagery, the emotion. These chapters were powerful. Er Gen has done masterful work with this story. Especially this past arc, it has allowed Meng Hao to explore himself in a remarkable way.

    I am eager to see where Meng Hao’s soul searching takes him. Very thought provoking and effortlessly profound chapter.

  10. These 3 chapters are so well written. It pushes it a cut about the rest of the other authors in imagery and writing style. It even makes you think long and hard about what just happened instead of just passing it over like another random test. It touches you and makes you feel more than just blind murderous rage and anger (like the usual xianxia).

    6 main reasons:
    1. MC doesn’t have a real harem. Sure, girls are interested in him (but not at the omg I love you soo much lets have sex right now point), but its not the stereotypical chinese/japanese harem. Move over, he only really likes one girl, and he isn’t even sure if he really likes her and vice versa. We don’t really know what their relationship is. Its pretty close to “childhood friend” level, at this point. He isn’t a horny bastard either. And there is real romantic development, not superficial love development.

    2. He isn’t that much of a murderous psychopath. He said it himself. He wouldn’t kill if he didn’t have to, and in the end lets people live sometimes. Sure they are put into you kill me, I kill you situations, but he doesn’t like killing. There is a difference between having to kill, and wanting to kill. Except for like… 5 people he wanted to kill, everyone else he HAD to kill. For other MC’s, they WANT to kill, many times for the most stupidest of reason (mainly pride, or just randomly).
    MGA: He kills everyone, because…. well… because. (You don’t have to kill innocent disciples).

    3. He isn’t an asshole. No really, he isn’t. He has never, ever scammed anyone. Ever. They only seem like scams, but they aren’t really scams at all. In fact, in the beginning, his store wasn’t a scam at all. He just sold things people needed. If they didn’t have it, they would die. No tricks involved. Then that spear shit. He literally told them it was just an Iron spear. They didn’t believe him.
    He respects people, and doesn’t want to cause trouble. He really doesn’t. He just wanted to cultivate in peace. In face, he even sometimes pays respect to people who even disrespect him. Other MC’s want to cause trouble. He doesn’t. He just finds himself in situations, where the only way out is to cause trouble. I haven’t seen him specifically scheme against anyone, nor kill someones entire family.

    4. He is not a genius nor a loser. He is lucky, that is for sure, but he isn’t a genius. He can’t cultivate easily, because he had only average skills. Its by pure luck that he even got the perfect stuff. It wasn’t until recently that he gained genius, but it wasn’t even something he was born with. He just got his “bad luck” turned into “good luck”, for future plot foreshadowing. He is not a loser who rose to prominence. There was no underdog story. If you thought there was, you were kidding yourself. He was an average guy who got lucky. He was never bullied by people that turned him into an asshole. He was just an average scholar.

    5. He isn’t handsome. In line with his average beginnings, he is an average looking man. He doesn’t get the omg she is so pretty and powerful, girl friend. In fact he never gets a girlfriend. The girl he likes is comparatively average as well. Girl’s don’t swoon over him.

    6. He doesn’t become a person shittier than anyone who ever bullied him ever (in this case, you would say his enemies). This is pretty much true for almost every MC in the wuxia verse, who was ever bullied. Just because you horribly torture someone who was a bad guy, doesn’t make you a good guy. You become no better than the bad guy. In fact, you are worse than the bad guy. You think you are doing the wrong things for all the right reasons. At least the bad guy knows he is an evil horrible bastard. But you, the good guy, doing the exact same thing as the bad guy, thinks your doing the right think, and only fooling yourself into thinking your a good guy.
    Meng Hao isn’t like that. He knows he has been an asshole to some people, and he even feels sorry for doing that to them (Pretty much the wang clan kid, and the song clan kids). He knows what he is doing is wrong, and doesn’t try to hide behind bullshit like righteousness, vengeance, justice, and good.
    Just because you can get revenge and deal it 100x back, doesn’t mean you have too. That choice is what separates you from being a good guy, or a piece of shit, just like that guy.
    Just because that is the way the world works, doesn’t make it okay. In fact, if that is the way the world works, that is all the more reason why you should fight against it and not do it.
    True heroes kill when they have to, not when they want to. Thats why I don’t call most Xianxia MC’s heroes, and only refer to them as heroes.

    1. I meant “I don’t call Xianxia MC, heroes. I just call them main characters”. They don’t remotely display heroic traits, no matter how much their authors try to present them as.

  11. Looks like he is going to leave the sect… I hope he doesn’t return to being fugitive Meng Hao because that is boring. I prefer it when he has a “home” and proper interaction with other people

  12. These three chapters have been nostalgic. They reverberate our anguish and deep desire for freedom.

    What if having no dao is the ultimate dao, to pursue nothing, to want nothing and to gain nothing.

  13. I almost feel like Er Gen should give up on ISSTH and just write short stories… but I love it to much so I won’t suggest it. I wonder what a 100-year-old Meng Hao will decide to pursue?

    DB, you’re the best for releasing these three chapters at once.

  14. thank you DB and Co for the triple release..

    imho, these chapters sucked, seriously, author tried to describe illusory scenario but it was a poor job… the whole 3 chapters i spend 5 minutes to skim through them…

  15. Strange, for some reason I don’t believe Meng will choose to become his apprentice, his final goal is not the Dao of alchemy so why will he pursure this path.
    What is Mengs goal in life? Up in till now he has done everything to become strong, but for what reason?

  16. Again, with 60 years. What 60 years represent? A lifetime for normal humans? Even with second lifetime he still lost, what he wished to be isn’t actually he’ll be. What is his dao afterall? Not reliance, not killing, and not even alchemy.

  17. Before i was of the opinion that ISSTH=ATG in the sense that i like them both the same but after this 3 wonderfull chapter i must say that ISSTH>ATG.

    Thank you very much for the chapters!

  18. I have a feeling that the world was made with them all in it. And they all simply lived their lives as they would. And Chu Yuyan was the bandit Chieftainess. At least that is what I feel.
    Wow though that he already realized more than 30 years ago in the new world he is in that it was all an illusion yet he continued to live in it knowing that he had much to think on. That is a real scholar.

    Thanks for the chapter!

    1. Such a guessing maybe right, Chu Yuyan had never been a good woman from the beginning. Becomes into a bandit is 100% logic for her. But that woman has a personality that is to protect her man with full hearts. The first time she tried to murder & to rob MC was for cure Young master Wang. As for why she cried like a beach, because she got abandoned in the illusions as her man left her behind.

    1. Although i still do not understand, but feel this novel should be a badass novel…>_<.

      Heil, Gods of war, Just show us more barbaric bloodbath!! That is the word everyone knows.

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