Moonseeker Pavilion was entirely illuminated at night, save for the topmost floor. There was a woman wearing a fierce expression in the darkness, slowly ascending the stairs till she reached the top floor.
She stood in front of the door for a moment, then said, "Pavilion Lord, it’s Gu Suli. I have finished tending to the matter you asked me to handle. The three hundred thousand people of the Earthorigin Sect have arrived in utmost secrecy. Nobody is aware of their presence."
The top floor was really quiet without a single word to be heard, but Gu Suli knew that there were others within.
"Since that's the case, I'll return to the Divine Capital. The battle has been rather chaotic lately, and Dazzling Pavilion hasn't been doing too well either. Too many business connections have been cut off," Gu Suli continued. Even after that, there was no response from the top floor, which she thought to be rather fishy. This was Meng Tingyu's turf, so why wasn’t she answering her?
"Pavilion Lord, are you there?" she asked. Still, no response.
"Perhaps something happened. I’m coming in to take a look. Forgive my intrusion."
Ater she said that, she knocked the door, pushed it open, and entered with her guard up. In the darkness, she saw an old man dressed in tattered rags sitting by the window and looking at the Divine Capital in the distance.
"Who are you?!" she snapped. While she was speaking, she armed herself and summoned her lifebound beast.
The old man didn't say anything, just gradually turned to her.
"Au—Autarch Qian! Your Majesty!" Her eyes were wide with her mouth agape. She wasn't aware that Autarch Qian was still alive. The reason Meng Tingyu had her seek out three hundred thousand people suddenly dawned on her. Meng Tingyu had been doing Autarch Qian's bidding the whole time.
"Gu Suli, come here," he said with a wave.
"Yes!" She shivered as she tried to feign an expression of delight. "So Your Majesty is still healthy and well! I’m happy for Your Majesty!"
All kinds of thoughts flashed through her head as she began to feel the presence of a grand conspiracy.
"Oh, are you really?" Autarch Qian smiled. Gu Suli was now right in front of him.
"I pay my respects to Your Majesty!" she said, prostrating herself before him and not daring to raise her head.
"Very well. It's a shame. It would've been fine if you had just finished your job, but you had to come in."
Wham! The old man struck her head as fast as lightning. She fell to the ground with her brains spilling out and eyes open in confusion.
A butterfly lifebound beast went charging out of the room, only to be torn apart by a few other beasts at the entrance. It didn't even manage to shriek from the pain before it died. Blood was spilled all over the place.
"I'm sorry. It's a crucial moment and I can't trust you." He tore the curtain apart, wiped his hands, and left after stepping over Gu Suli's corpse. At the entrance was the gigantic beast in the darkness that had eaten the butterfly. It had nine huge heads, all of which were still chewing on dead butterfly.
"Yu really had it hard over the years, hiding the matter of the Cyclic Mirror. She even managed to send hundreds of thousands of little fish here without drawing any attention. It’s truly impressive," said the beast.
"She did well. Back then, her mother was the one who helped me do it, but now, it was her turn. It's too bad that she won’t be able to escape this catastrophe either. I just hope that she'll at least survive after all this. Without her around, I won't be able to enjoy my little fish without anyone noticing any longer. Back then, I’d always be cursed by those do-gooders. It seems that using Dazzling Pavilion's trade connections to hide this paid off well," the old man said.
"Won't she expose your plan?" asked the beast.
"No. She knows that some things can't be revealed, even in the face of death. Otherwise, their family and everything in Dazzling Pavilion will no longer exist," said the old man.
"What if she does reveal the secrets then?"
"It won't matter. My little fish are already here. It's time for the final act, so a little more fanfare isn't unwelcome either. Even if she doesn't reveal it, I'll still lure Weisheng Yunxi out to see this. I'll show her my culinary magnum opus, the Mirror Fish Soup."
The man and beast descended to the nearby lake. It was perfectly circular, and resembled a mirror when viewed from above. However, the sky tonight was especially dark, causing the lake itself to look rather gloomy too.
The gigantic beast landed on the surface of the lake. Even though it looked so huge, it had an angelic singing voice that was incredibly charming and dreamlike. The whole area now felt as serene as Romance River; it had some quality that seemed to resonate with the soul.
As its singing spread out, people started coming out of a nearby fog bank. Their faces were adorned with ecstatic smiles. They held their lovers, relatives, and siblings and came without stopping.
They were mostly young adults and children. The children were just as happy as the rest. They didn't know they were being lulled by the song. They danced merrily and played catch along the way to the lake.
There were so many people that it filled one's vision. The smiles remained on their faces the entire time. When the first person stepped into the lake, it was as if the rest weren't able to see it and continued forward.
"My fishies, get into the pot," the old man said with a joyous smile that allowed him to blend in well with the blissful crowd. The water level of the lake started off low, but it grew deeper and deeper. As the people advanced, they were eventually fully submerged, but that didn't stop them from pressing onward. They all had some beast ki in them that allowed them to stay submerged for some time. Some of them even intentionally tried to go deeper to make space for the others to come.
"Don't hurry, take your time. Everyone here has their place. Each little fish will be able to take part in the honorable contribution to the longevity and prosperity of the Theocracy. This old man is but a humble guide who’ll show you the way," the old man said.
After two hours, the lake was filled with people. They were like packed dumplings that were swelling slightly from the water. Many of them were submerged underneath, with only some tens of heads poking out from the surface. It went without saying that the experience was bound to be unpleasant, yet the smiles still hadn't vanished from the ones submerged at the very bottom of the lake.
"Fishies, you really are so vigorous and filled with energy," the old man said as he levitated in mid air. "Have you cleaned up the lifebound beasts? I can't afford any impurities in my fish soup."
"Don't worry, they've been dealt with," said one of the nine heads of the beast, the other eight still chewing away.
"Even though this isn't the first time, it won't be the last either. I'm feeling a little pumped... It must've been too long since I've had a chance to sate my appetite. Even though this can't compare to the Divine Capital's Cyclic Mirror Lake, it’s still better, thanks to the privacy it affords. Nobody will be able to disrupt my cooking.
"There’s always those who go on and on about righteousness and justice, but they don't know what those really mean when it really comes to it. Cultivation is the act of fighting the heavens and the earth. There’s too many mortals in this world, and they’re nothing but meaningless numbers. There’s no reason someone exceptional shouldn't be worth more than ten million mundane people. Nor is there any such thing as right apart from the things you're able to do in this world. If this isn't righteous, why would the gods create the Cyclic Mirror Lake? It can't just be a whimsical decoration, right?" He shook his head and clicked his tongue.
"You seem talkative today. Feeling hesitant?" the beast asked.
"Oh, no, you're wrong. This isn't hesitation. My will to do this has never wavered. However, I just feel a little tired explaining this to everyone that asks. So, keeping it in has made me feel rather lonely."
"Solace is the only way through which one can take back their destiny from the heavens. Even if one becomes an empyrean saint, they’ll only be able to live for five hundred years. At our age, all that remains is deterioration, suffering, and aging. I don't want this. I don't let my thoughts wander that deep like you. All I'm doing is trying to survive. That's all there is," said the beast.
"That's right. Five hundred years is far too short. Back in the day, we were young and powerful. It felt like we could rule the world. Yet in the blink of an eye, we're at the edge of our life. It hurts.... It really does. The way of the heavens is merciless. We’ve been forced to do this by the heavens. In fact, the way I see it, the heavens give birth to too many people. It would be better to consider some of them fish... I shall eat the fish and drink the soup. It’s only reasonable.
"In the future, when there are fewer humans and more fish, humans will be able to live longer lives. Imagine living for millennia without worry. Now that’s life. Even though I'm the autarch of my own Theocracy, I can only live for five hundred years, yet these fish can't even live up to a hundred. How am I any different from these puny fish? That won't do... Did I do something wrong to deserve this? That can't be. We Theocrats have flourished from ancient times until now, using this very method without any so-called punishment from the heavens. That means that what we're doing is right. What is right is what is permitted."
"Alright, let's begin."
"Great. Let's start cooking the soup!" The old man wiped away his tears and looked joyful once more. "Come to me, my dear!" He opened his arms wide.
At that moment, the bottom of the lake glowed white, causing the water to suddenly shimmer. From up high, it looked like there was another moon in the reflection of the lake. The lake water turned milky white, and the people within bubbled and steamed as if they were being boiled in soup.
"Now, time to up the heat. Once they’re smoking a little, slide the fish in and flip it after some time. Add a few pieces of garlic and some water, as well as chopped onions. For seasoning, use half a spoonful of vinegar and sugar. Then, let it simmer. Half an hour later, the soup will turn white. Continue simmering under high heat. In the end, add some garnish and it's ready to serve! Wow, it smells fragrant indeed!"
The old man watched as the people in the lake began melting into a white substance. Their smiles of bliss persisted even as they melted. Countless white souls gathered together and sank into the depths of the lake, forming a mirror within.
"It's done! Perfect!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter