Twenty six babies were born at the same time one day in a new world.
Some of these newborns were boys, and some were girls; some were healthy, and some were feeble. Some of them were born in the families of royalty and kings, and some were abandoned in the pig stile.
Some of the newborns saw the flying swords as soon as they opened their eyes.
And some saw the blue sky over their heads when they opened their eyes.
A voice broke out in their heads at the same time.
This land was composed of five states: Chu State, Luo State, Qin State, Zhao State, and Qi State.
The Bronze Tripod representing the highest power of this world was supervised by a Godly Commissioner. No one had been accepted as the supreme ruler in hundreds of years here.
Without rules, or requests, or aid, these twenty six newborns had to rely on their own wits to grow up and develop. No matter what methods they would use, as long as one of them could unite the entire land and become the ruler of the whole world, that person would be accepted by the Godly Commissioner and acquire the Bronze Tripod. And that person would be the winner of this Dao Competition and obtain the Fairy Book of Longevity.
The only limitation was that the highest Cultivation state in this world would be the upper state of the Golden Pill or the initial state of the Yuanying, equal to the initial state of the Free Travel. The participants couldn't progress beyond these states.
Having announced this, the voice disappeared and didn't resurface in their heads again.
He could see the blue sky when he opened his eyes, indicating that there wasn't a roof over his head.
In fact, the infant was inside a wooden washbasin, drifting in the river.
He had an indignant expression in his eyes, as he thought this was truly unfair; some of them might have been born with the golden spoons, but why would he have to die as soon as he was just born?
Was he still an orphan in this world? Would he be picked up by his auntie again? Would he repeat the life he had in the other world again and happen to find many precious objects?
While thinking of all this, He Zhan felt it truly boring. He would rather lose his eyes and let the river carry him to the bottom of a cliff and die so he could leave the place.
Yet, he soon thought that he would have some sort of lucky encounter when he fell down the cliff due to his persistent good luck.
It was then that the river flowed more slowly, and he saw a woman wash clothes by the bank of the river. He sighed and closed his eyes. Then he cried out with all his might.
The newborn who saw the flying swords in the sky was of course born into a Cultivation sect.
Unfortunately, he was not the offspring of the certain Cultivation partners; his parents were the servants of the sect.
A few days after giving birth to the infant, the mother struggled to get out of the bed. She wrapped the infant with a cloth and tied it to her back, starting to clean the courtyards for the immortal masters.
When his mother didn't pay attention, he opened his eyes again to look upward. He found the Cultivation practitioner who looked like a master was merely in the Inherited Will State.
How could he be called the immortal master?
He wondered how he would be able to grow up quickly and cultivate diligently to become a useful person and then find his Young Master.
As the infant thought of these complicated issues, he gradually felt drowsy and eventually fell asleep accompanied by his mother's rocking movements.
The highest Cultivation state was merely the initial state of the Free Travel in this world, and very few people could reach this state. As such, the status of the Cultivation practitioners was not as insurmountable as that in Chaotian.
The human emperor had the most powerful status here; so it would be best to be born a prince.
The good-looking ones usually have a good luck as well.
Jing Jiu had slept quietly in the palace for three days.
The Emperor had gradually recovered from the heartbroken tragedy and took charge of the Empress's funeral. Maybe someday, the Emperor would remember him and come over to take a look at him.
The old and young palace maidservants had already washed him clean.
People would tend to feel drowsy in the afternoon during the late spring. It was deathly quiet in the Royal Palace, and those palace servant girls and eunuchs must have hid themselves somewhere to doze off.
He opened his eyes and stood up slowly, after he got used to this feeble and small body.
He had more experience in this than others.
He walked seven steps on the bed, looking at the sky and then the ground. As a result, he figured out his current situation.
Then, he looked up ahead. He could sense the ringing of a seemingly distant bell in the Empty Realm, feeling much more relieved.
If someone witnessed an infant of three days old stand up and take a few steps, they might be scared to death.
He lay down again and closed his eyes, engaging in meditation and cultivating.
The spiritual energy of heaven and earth was sparse here. For a regular Cultivation practitioner, cultivating for one year here was not even as effective as cultivating for one day in the old world.
Yet, he had a similar experience when he was trapped in the snowland, so he believed that he would progress much faster than the others.
As he said before, one could acquire a great deal of knowledge as long as they lived long enough, even if they didn't often travel outside the mountains.
Time had passed uneventfully.
Jing Jiu was cultivating every day; but to those palace servant girls and eunuchs, he was sleeping all the time.
Yet, someone was worried that the prince slept so much that he might be sick or have some inborn illness. However, the royal doctor came to check on him a few times and didn't find anything wrong with him.
Jing Jiu didn't care so much about being nursed by the nursing "mother" in her bosom or random bowel moments. It was because he could cut off his six senses at will, so he wouldn't feel a thing.
But, his appearance was still extraordinary in this world. He was an infant at the moment, so he looked very lovely, like a carved jade figurine.
As he was cultivating, the palace servant girls thought he was asleep; they often couldn't help but touch his face or other parts secretly.
Jing Jiu had thought about this matter carefully, but decided to try his best to put up with it.
It was meant to experience the mortal world in the Illusionary Realm of the Cloud-Dream of the Green Sky Mirror.
The participants of the Dao Competition would live here for many years. To perceive and endure the mortal life was supposed to be part of their experience.
Jing Jiu had always thought that the idea of experiencing the mortal world at the Fruit Formation Temple was stupid, and that he didn't need any experience. The reason he chose to endure it was that he had no other choice.
In the following days in the Royal Palace, Jing Jiu spent his time cultivating diligently, and would cry a little in cooperation.
One year later, as he thought it was the time when a regular infant could speak, he started speaking. The old maidservants and the palace servant girls who were attending to him were stunned when he spoke.
Perhaps it was because his pronunciation was too accurate, or his first words were not "mommy" and "daddy", or other words that resembled the sounds; but rather, he said: "Hot."
The old maidservants and the servant girls cross-checked several times to ascertain what he said was the word "hot", and what he wanted to express was also this intent.
The servants in the palace were afraid that he might catch cold, so they always wrapped him up like a parcel, even in the late spring.
Since he didn't have any zhengqi, his body was not protected from the cold and heat. He felt really hot at the time.
In the following year, Jing Jiu had carried out an important task, apart from his Cultivation.
He saw two palace servant girls play Go one day; and he found their prowess of playing Go was almost as good as Tong Yan.
Then, he designed a few tests for those young and old maidservants. They failed.
Judging by the results of the tests, Jing Jiu ascertained that the lives here were not real; they all lived in an illusionary realm.
Maybe for other Cultivation practitioners, this was not so important, but it was vitally important to him.
He had learned all the information about himself over the year.
He was the ninth prince in Chu State.
Eight elder brothers or sisters had all died when they were a fetus.
The Empress died after giving birth to him due to the complications of childbirth.
In other words, he was the sole heir of Chu State.
Normally, the Emperor should regard such a child as a precious gift.
Yet, the Emperor of Chu State was not a normal one.
The Chu Emperor could write poems and songs very well, and he could paint even better. He was outstanding in arts and literature. He had a deep affection for the late Empress. He refused the suggestions of his chancellors to appoint a new empress, and even sent away all the royal concubines from the palace. Besides attending the court meeting every day, he spent most of his time drinking, playing music and singing in reminiscence of his late wife.
Jing Jiu was not moved by all this. It was because the smell of alcohol and singing every night reminded him of Nan Wang doing the same thing on the opposite peak.
The Chu Emperor loved his late wife so much that he disliked this son, who had caused the death of his mother. The Emperor didn't pay much attention to his son, except providing him with the best clothes and food.
Chu State was located in the south of the land. It was not very wealthy or powerful. Its inhabitants were relatively weak.
Compared to Qin State, Zhao State and Qi State, Chu State was often neglected by people because of its insignificance.
Yet, Jing Jiu was satisfied with the situation. He even thought this was a perfect arrangement.
If he continued cultivating in the Royal Palace and lived like this, he wouldn't be able to learn that much about the world outside the palace; but he didn't care.
Back when he was on Green Mountain, he hadn't cared so much about the affairs in the outside world.
One year in the Illusionary Realm was about one day in the real world.
The scenes projected by the Heavenly Retrieval Orb in the sky were changing at a high speed, creating countless residual lines of light.
Since the Cultivation practitioners had a vision far superior to the common humans, they could vaguely see the contents in those fast moving scenes.
The scenes would occasionally slow down. It was at this moment that the people outside the valley could see some infants learn how to speak, some pretend being cute, and some reflect on something like an old man, without uttering a single word.
The twenty six participants were born in different environments and had different experiences growing up.
Yet, nobody noticed that a green bird often appeared in those slow-moving scenes, either on the tree branches or on the eaves.
Some people couldn't see the scenes clearly and thought it was boring; so they chose to leave the arena.
But most people fixed their eyes on the light screen, pondering something.
Seeing the fast moving scenes, it was inevitable that the onlookers would realize that the life was so short.
The saying "The life flies like a white horse passing through a crack or lightning flashing through the sky" conveyed the same principle.
Since time passes very fast, it should be cherished by all means. So the practitioners must seek the path toward heaven.
This was probably the meaning of the Dao Competition.
For some people, the experiences of those participants in the Illusionary Realm of Cloud-Dream were an exciting drama.
Sese and the young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery sat under a big Ash tree, sharing a dried fish, as they watched the scenes on the light screen, guessing the identities of those infants.
They didn't guess that the infant drifting in the river was He Zhan.
It was well known in the Cultivation circle that He Zhan always had a good luck.
Yet, they recognized the prince of Chu State easily.
He walked seven steps three days after his birth. Was he going to recite a poem?
He couldn't be anybody else but Jing Jiu, since this infant had a tendency of making a scene.
Gu Qing didn't know his Master had become the prince of Chu State, because he didn't watch the Dao Competition. He was already one hundred miles away from the Cloud-Dream Mountain riding on his sword.
He passed through the Great Formation of the Cloud-Dream Mountain and cupped his hands to bid farewell to those who saw him off. The eyes of his that gazed at the distant valleys had a hint of worry.
Gu Qing was asked by Jing Jiu to leave the Cloud-Dream Mountain; but he didn't understand why.
Yet, as he remembered clearly, Jing Jiu told him at the time that Jing Jiu would go back to Shenmo Peak first regardless of the result of the Dao Competition.
However, this assurance didn't make Gu Qing feel at ease, instead making him feel more worried. This statement had some foreboding intent no matter how one explained it
It had been four years since the participants had entered the Illusionary Realm of Cloud-Dream.
Everything was normal so far.
The Ninth Prince of Chu State was four years old. He was still a good-looking boy. But he seldom spoke, unless it was absolutely necessary.
At last the Emperor remembered that he had this son. He would come to visit Jing Jiu after finishing his drinking.
But the Ninth Prince couldn't get close to the Emperor. No matter how much the old maidservant taught him, he still kept silent in front of the Emperor most of time.
The gossip spread out in the Royal Palace and among the commoners.
Some of them said that the Ninth Prince was born with tremendous difficulty, and he might be slow even though he had good looks. Some people said that he was born from a strange embryo. And some of them even had the evil idea that he might be raised by a human trafficker and given to an official or a rich family as a playmate, if he were not a prince.
It was very quiet in the palace one afternoon. The Ninth Prince was sleeping. A few palace servant girls were chitchatting not far from the window; and they talked about those rumors.
Some servant girls thought that those rumors were actually true.
The Ninth Prince indeed looked a little slow. He often sat in the royal garden by himself, dazed. Nobody knew what he was looking at, or thinking of.
Some servant girls disagreed.
"His Highness is very smart. When I played Go game with Sister Er and was on the verge of losing the game, the prince placed a piece and saved the game for me as he happened to pass by."
"How old is His Highness? And who had seen him learn how to play Go with a teacher? It was a sheer fluke."
That servant girl looked around and said with a soft smile, "If the person you mentioned were the son of King Jing, it would be possible."
Hearing the name of the son of Jing King, these servant girls' eyes lit up.
In comparison to Qin State, Zhao State, and Qi State, Chu State was weak in its military prowess. But the Jing King was the pride of Chu State and a formidable military commander. He was stationed all year long at the border with Luo State.
It was said that the son of Jing King was born on the same day as the Ninth Prince, but there was a huge difference between their abilities and intelligence.
The son of Jing King was extremely smart. He could write poems at a very young age, and he was even more talented in playing chess. He treated others as warmly as the spring wind. It seemed that he had inborn wisdom or he came down from the fairy world.
It was said that the Jing King loved his son very much and treated him as his most precious thing. He was heard, when he was drunk, to state something inappropriate: "If my son weren't born so weak, he would be able to win the Tripod from the Godly Commissioner by the age of thirty."
Speaking of the rumors, these palace servant girls were quite excited, and they also expressed their regret, since they thought that the son of Jing King would be perfect if he weren't born feeble.
Jing Jiu was actually cultivating when he was asleep. As such, he was not really sleeping when he seemed asleep. He could hear the chitchatting outside the window of those palace servant girls.
He learned that he had someone of the same sort in this world. But he wasn't sure whether the son of Jing King was Tong Yan or Que Niang.
Since the son of Jing King was born feeble, it could even be Bai Zao.
Jing Jiu had already vaguely figured out the rules regarding what kind of person a participant would become after entering the Illusionary Realm of Cloud-Dream.
As for why the son of Jing King was not worried that other participants might discover him and didn't try to conceal his identity, it was understandable.
The Dao Competition was not as straightforward as the duel in an arena; it required a long period of time and had innumerable possibilities.
The situation for the son of Jing King was the same as Jing Jiu's; both of them had a good condition. No matter how they tried to conceal their identities, they would inevitably be noticed by other participants.
Regardless of whether the son of Jing King was Tong Yan or Bai Zao, revealing their identity early on would have an advantage for them.
Jing Jiu was aware that he couldn't conceal his identity much longer.
Like he said to Zhao Layue by the Sword Washing Stream, the sun would be always seen by others in the end.
He didn't act like the son of Jing King while waiting for that disciple of the No-Mercy Sect or Zhuo Rusui to find him.
The path he was to take would be quite different from other participants.
It was the same as what he did in the real world.
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