The River of Time and Space existed in another dimension. The water that made it up was formed by images of time and space itself, and contained an infinitude of human lives. Within that river, it was possible to see every person who had ever existed, or would exist, from the moment they were born, until they died.
Bai Xiaochun was standing on the bank of the river, waiting for something, expression calm as he looked at the river water.
Before long, the sound of rippling water could be heard, and a boat appeared. As it slid through the water, Bai Xiaochun looked over, his expression the same as ever, his gaze falling upon the boatman.
He wore a wide, conical hat which obscured his face, but as he neared, he looked up, revealing ancient features to Bai Xiaochun. He smiled.
“Please step aboard, Fellow Daoist.”
Bai Xiaochun smiled and nodded. After he stepped onto the boat, the old boatman began to row, and the boat floated down the River of Time and Space.
Time passed, although it was impossible to say how much. The boatman didn’t say anything, and neither did Bai Xiaochun, who simply stood quietly at the prow, looking at the water. He saw the lives of countless people, and within the rippling sound of the water, he could hear countless voices. It was all very pleasant.
“We’ve met before,” Bai Xiaochun said.
The boatman looked over. Smiling, he said, “If stepping through time and space to discuss the Dao for a moment counts as having met, then we have indeed met, Fellow Daoist.”
Bai Xiaochun smiled. The moment he had seen this old man’s face, he knew who he was. He was the owner of the precious treasure that was the hourglass. He was the Master of the Worldly Daoist, as well as the Mortal Daoist, who eventually changed his name to Mortal Renegade. This old man had transformed himself into time itself.
Continuing to row the boat, the old man said, “And why have you come here, Fellow Daoist?”
Continuing to stare at the water, Bai Xiaochun quietly replied, “To pick a flower. The Eternal Flower.”
The boatman laughed. “Well that’s not going to be easy.”
At that point, Bai Xiaochun made a grasping motion, causing an Aphrodisiac Pill to suddenly appear between his fingers.
When the boatman saw that pill, his laughter gurgled to a stop, and his mouth snapped shut. The truth was that although he seemed very calm on the outside, as soon as Bai Xiaochun had appeared, his heart had begun to pound with anxiety.
It was only natural for him to recognize Bai Xiaochun. This was the River of Time and Space, and the old man was an expression of time itself. He knew everything. A mere glance at Bai Xiaochun revealed all the information about the fight with the Mortal Renegade, as well as everything afterward!!
As all of the various details had been revealed to him, he collapsed a bit inwardly, almost unable to believe everything he had seen.
He could sense that Bai Xiaochun’s cultivation base had already reached an unfathomable level. In fact, the old boatman had actually never considered that someone could become this powerful.
This old boatman had long since reached the fourth step of cultivation, and yet… not even he would dare to consume an Aphrodisiac Pill created by someone as almighty as Bai Xiaochun.
Perhaps with other pills, he might have taken a chance. But Aphrodisiac Pills… seized good fortune from heaven and earth to become powerful to an indescribable degree!
“I can’t believe you’re threatening me with an Aphrodisiac Pill,” the old man thought. “If you don’t want to listen to what I have to say, fine. There’s no need for those things!” He didn’t dare to speak any of those words out loud. Bowing his head, he continued to row the boat through the River of Time and Space. Eventually… they reached a place filled with countless Eternal Flowers!
Each and every one of the flowers contained images touched by time. Some of the images were dark and listless, while some were bright and colorful.
The Eternal Flowers all had five petals, and were dazzlingly colorful. The fragrant aroma they emitted was delightful. As for the pistil of the flower, it featured a glowing sphere of light, within which was a closed eye.
On each of the innumerable Eternal Flowers was a little turtle, who would scurry about, seemingly on the verge of hungrily gobbling up one of the petals.
Among the multitude of Eternal Flowers, there were two that were particularly conspicuous, and immediately jumped out to Bai Xiaochun.
After a moment, the boatman cleared his throat, looked at Bai Xiaochun, and said, “The River of Time and Space is supposed to contain things related to the trajectory of actual lives, just broken up into countless segments. But there is something unique and special about the Eternal Flower, something that is essentially half way into the fifth step. It now contains countless possibilities, and thus, there are countless versions of the Eternal Flower. Each one represents a different destiny. Therefore… which one do you want?”
“All of them!” Bai Xiaochun replied, his eyes fixed on the Eternal Flowers.
The boatman was inclined to glare at him, but then he thought of the level of Bai Xiaochun’s cultivation base, and his Aphrodisiac Pills, and forced himself to remain calm.
“I can't stop you,” he said with a wry smile. “But… what would be the point of that?”
Bai Xiaochun didn’t respond. He knew that such an act would be somewhat meaningless, and therefore, continued to study the Eternal Flowers. Just as the old boatman had said, each of the Eternal Flowers existed at a different point in time. Some were during his Spirit Stream Sect days, others during the Blood Stream Sect days. In some, he was in the Wildlands, and in quite a few, the Heavenspan Realm had collapsed, and he was in the Eternal Immortal Domains.
Each flower represented a different point in time, and a different destiny. And he could pick any of them that he wished.
The boatman didn’t try to rush him, mostly because he didn’t dare to. He simply looked on. Eventually, he even pulled out a jug of alcohol from somewhere and began to drink.
After some more time passed, Bai Xiaochun’s gaze came to be focused on the two flowers he found to be most eye-catching. One of them was on the far left side of the river, the other, on the far right. They couldn’t have been more opposite.
After some more thought, he sent some divine sense into the Eternal Flower on the left. Immediately, images sprang up in his mind.
He saw a village at the foot of Mount Hood. The villagers and local elders all stood at the entrance of the village, looking at a young man.
The young man had sparkling eyes and fair skin, and was dressed in a homespun robe. He wasn’t very tall, and at first glance, seemed very well-behaved. However, he had a huge collection of axes and cleavers tucked into his garments in various places, which seemed very out-of-place.
As Bai Xiaochun looked at the young man, the vision he was experiencing overlapped with his own memories, and he realized that if he picked this Eternal Flower, he would return to the beginning of everything.
“Dear elders and fellow villagers, I am on my way to learn about immortal cultivation. I shall miss all of you!” The young man wore a slightly pained expression, as if he couldn’t bear to part with his fellow villagers.
A white-haired old man stepped out of the crowd and said, “Xiaochun, ever since your dad and mom left us, oh so long ago, you… you have been, er--” he paused for a moment “--such a good kid!!
“Don’t tell me you’re not interested in living forever? All you have to do is become an immortal, and then you can live forever! That’s a really, really long time! Well, it’s time for you to leave now. Even a baby eagle must learn to fly eventually.
“No matter what situations you run into out there, you have to hang in there and keep moving forward. Once you leave the village, you can't come back, because your path will always lie ahead, not behind!”
As other villagers offered similar exhortations, the village elder patted the young man on the shoulder and gave him a kind smile. Apparently due to all the encouragement, the young man nodded, determination flickering in his eyes. Taking one last look at his fellow villagers, he turned and walked away.
The sight was so moving to the villagers that tears of excitement began to flow down their cheeks.
“Justice from the heavens! The weasel… is finally gone! Who was it that told him they saw an immortal in the area? Whoever it was, I'm going to give you a huge reward on behalf of the village!”
“Today is the beginning of a new era!”
Even as such cries began to rise up, the young man suddenly turned and trotted back into the village. Looking very determined, he cleared his throat and said, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going. I'm serious! I don’t want to become an immortal!”
All of the villagers stared at him in shock. A few of them had pulled out drums or gongs, but were now so taken aback that they dropped them onto the ground with a clattering bang….
Bai Xiaochun watched the scene play out, a smile on his face. Eventually, the vision faded away, and he was once again looking at the Eternal Flower on the left.
“The starting point….”
1. Bai Xiaochun originally met this boatman in Previous Chapter Next Chapter