It was common knowledge that there was a lot of access to water sources in the Divine Capital, with tens of large rivers flowing through it and towards the sea. One of the rivers flowed north. It was among the most well known and developed places within the Divine Capital, and it was called Romance River.
The part of the river that flowed outside the capital toward the Northern Voidsea was called Northvoid River. It was said that the end of Northvoid River was the origin of the Ancient Theocrats.
Heavy rains would fall near the Divine Capital before the Fireworks Festival, causing the water levels in the rivers to rise considerably before they flowed toward the Northern Voidsea.
To the north of the Divine Capital was a wide and dense forest, through which Northvoid River flowed. The current was so rapid it could even uproot quite a number of other trees. As the rain grew stronger, the critters in the forest hid in whatever shelter they could find.
Somewhere along the river in the forest, an old man in tattered clothing wearing a woven bamboo hat sat in the mud with a long, thin bamboo stick in hand. There was a string hanging off the stick that led into the river, waving with the current.
The rain was so heavy that the mud on the ground splashed all over the old man, dirtying his face considerably. Yet he still wore a carefree smile on his face, like it wasn't bothering him. He seemed to be in his fifties, with some of his hair having whitened. There were some wrinkles on his face, and his back was beginning to hunch.
He had been sitting by the river for more than a couple of hours. Soon, a little girl around the age of six rode through the forest on her pig lifebound beast. She seemed to be having a lot of fun. Her laughter sounded clear like a morning bell. The sight of her playing amidst the heavy rain was truly mystical to behold.
"Old man, are you fishing?" she said when she saw the old man. Curiously, she jumped off her pig and walked to the man's side.
"Yes, little girl."
"The current’s too strong. No fish will be hooked this way. Your bait will easily be flushed away, too."
"Is that so? But the big fish only come out during strong currents. Grandpa here loves big fish, you see."
"Greedy! Big fish are really powerful! I doubt you'll be able to pull them in!" she said, chuckling.
"How dare you look down on grandpa here, huh? Just you wait I'll fish up a big one for you to see."
"Heh, I'll wait then!" She sat down and began to watch.
The heavy rain also caused mud to splash all over her. However, not even the mud could stain her innocence and naivete. Her eyes shone like gems in the rain as the rainwater polished it further.
"The big fish is here!" The old man pulled on his fishing pole as the fish struggled before it was pulled out. The two of them looked at the fish that was only two fingers wide. It wouldn't even be enough as a snack for the pig.
"Haha, it's such a small fish! You lost, old man!" She was laughing so hard her stomach hurt.
"Hahaha... Grandpa really talked big just then! What a joke it turned out to be! I'm truly embarrassed." Later, the old man picked up a container, filled it with some water, and put the fish in.
"Are you giving me the fish?"
"You guessed right, smart girl."
"But of course! My parents keep telling me that I'm smart, too!"
"Then would you like to keep this fish as a pet?"
"Of course! Thank you! I’ll raise it till it's big!" she said as she received the container, her eyes glowing with joy. While the fish was small, it was peculiarly multicolored and looked rather beautiful.
"Great. Grandpa here loves little fish too." He paused after some laughter, then continued, "Little girl, why don't you stay here for a chat? I'm old and lonely, so my thoughts always wander."
"Alright!" She sat down beside him obediently. "Are you all alone, old man? That's rather pitiful."
"Yes. It's been quite a while since I had anybody but myself. However, I like to fish, and raise them too. So, I guess it isn't as lonesome as it sounds."
"But fish can't talk. They can't help with boredom."
"That, you don't know, young girl. Listen to me. Any lifeform, even a fish, has its own thoughts. From the moment of their birth, they begin experiencing things. From there, they’ll begin to have their own thoughts. While a fish might not experience much, tens of thousands together would. That amalgamation is called the Dao.
"Dao? What is it? Is it something tasty?" she asked with her head tilted.
"That's right, it’s really tasty. Dao is my favorite food."
"I want to eat it too."
"Your mouth will rot if you do, you know."
"Then... forget it. I'll eat what my mommy cooks. It's delicious!"
"Haha, good. Only rotten people like me eat rotten stuff like that."
At that moment, some people could be heard calling out from afar.
The girl stood up in a hurry. "Old man, my parents are here for me. I'll go back for now. Let's play again, okay?"
"Come on, Piggy." The girl jumped on top of her pig with the water container in hand. "Bye, old man!"
"Goodbye, little girl."
However, the pig stumbled from the sudden rush, causing the girl to fall face first into the mud.
"Waaaaaah!" She began crying.
The old man put down his pole in a hurry to help her back up. He took out a piece of cloth and wiped her face clean. “You're still young. Better be careful when you walk. Many people can't get up after falling particularly badly, you know."
"The fishy's gone!" she said as she sobbed.
"Don't worry, let me find it. I have tons of fish, so don't worry."
All of a sudden, a young couple came out of the forest. They saw the old man holding the girl with an ugly smile on his face as she cried.
"Go away, shameless old man!" the man said, immediately kicking the old man flying into a tree. He wasn't able to get up after the crash.
"Daddy... you...." The girl was so terrified she could barely speak. Tears came flowing out of her eyes nonstop.
"Go home with Daddy, quick! There’s lots of bad people out there in times like these. Are you trying to die?" the man said as he pulled the girl along.
"Old man... old man...." The girl wasn't able to say anything else before she and her pig were brought away.
Rain continued falling, and soon, the water began to flood and submerge the old man, who remained there unmoving. However, his eyes were open the whole time as he looked through the water.
"Got you!" he said as he stretched his hand out, grabbing a five-colored fish in his hand. "Still trying to get away from me, are you? Naughty!"
He stood up with the fish in hand as he tidied his clothes and put his hat back on. Then, he walked to the riverbank and looked toward the Divine Capital before turning toward the end of Northvoid River. He knew that was where his home was.
"The path to the heavens is infinitely vast and ignorant of human suffering. People are like fish in a river, swaying about at the current's mercy. To live is to suffer... nobody can escape it...." Tears began flowing from his eyes. "Life is but a dream to endure...."
He looked at the fish in his hand and sighed. "If I want to live, I need to eat this fish. Sigh..."
He was in great pain. Even so, he put the living fish into his mouth and bit it into two, causing its blood to spill out. He finished the whole fish with his second bite. He then coughed heavily, perhaps due to the bones of the fish, looking utterly pained.
But in the end, he still smiled. He picked up his fish basket and fishing pole, adjusted his clothes and hat, and walked along Northvoid River toward the Divine Capital in his tattered sandals. As he walked, he recited, "Listen not to the rain hitting the leaves in the woods; who cares if I sing as I go?
"Who would worry that one with a bamboo crutch and straw shoes would be faster than one on horseback?
"With but a coir  raincoat, a whole lifetime can be spent in the rain.
"The chilly spring breeze sobers me. Though cold I may feel, warmed I am by the rays of the rising sun peeking over the mountains.
"Yet when I look back at where I once was and head back, it was as if the storm and sunshine was never there."
After the storm, the bright sun once more cast its warmth on the Divine Capital. The beautiful weather persisted into the night, further enhanced by a cloudless sky that allowed the stars to twinkle at full glory. It was said to be the most beautiful atmosphere for the Fireworks Festival in recent memory.
The Theocrats were fine admirers of beauty; not just the beauty of the flesh, but also of grandness, the city, and the beauty of the radiant fireworks. The world was one during the Fireworks Festival.
Every festival night, the citizens of the Divine Capital would show off the tongues of flame they had so meticulously crafted in the past year, leaving their own brush strokes on the canvas of the sky. It was a most romantic night, during which many lovers made their vows.
Though, there were also those who betrayed, and those who reached the end of their lives that night. Regardless, Tianming was still caught up in cultivating the Invincible Sword Body, having completely forgotten the passage of time.
It had been twenty-eight days since he’d assimilated his first strand of Coldfire Sword Ki. During that short month, he had suffered the utmost pain and cried out so hard that his lungs almost collapsed. Yet he had borne it all.
During that month, he had spent half his time on his general cultivation and the other half on the Invincible Sword Body. It was the perfect balance, but also the most tiring way to cultivate. Yet he still managed to keep up.
Even Weisheng Yunxi thought it nothing short of a miracle that he managed to endure the torture of assimilating sword ki every single day. Though, Tianming didn't see it as a miracle. He was just doing his best to ensure Feiling and he could continue to live well.
He always told himself he would endure it one more day, and repeated that reminder every single day. By the time the Fireworks Festival came around, he had assimilated three hundred plus strands of sword ki, long surpassing the Hundred-Demise Sword.
Even Ying Huo managed to assimilate around a hundred and seventy strands. It was now also at Hundred-Demise Sword.
In actuality, Ten-Demise Sword, Hundred-Demise Sword, and Thousand-Demise Sword were just arbitrary designations, for the power of the Invincible Sword Body was directly proportional to the number of sword ki strands assimilated. The stages mattered far less than the actual number itself. Three hundred strands of sword ki was fundamentally more powerful than only a hundred, after all, and ninety-nine strands wasn’t much different from a hundred. There was no fundamental change once the hundredth sword ki was assimilated.
Tianming had tested his newfound powers with the Shenxiao Sword Art and achieved amazing results. His month of hard work had indeed not been wasted.
"We've also broken through to the fourth level of the Earth Saint stage. After all, we have many saint crystals now, and it wasn’t much of a problem. The me now is far stronger than how I was when I defeated Dongyang Zhuo."
Not only did his lifebound beasts evolve, he had also progressed two levels and gained the Invincible Sword Body.
Now it was time for the Fireworks Festival, the day when the Divine Capital would be at its most merry. Tianming had gone to look for Bai Mo first thing in the morning. He would be telling him that he wanted to go to the imperial palace that very night.