Beyond the Timescape

Chapter 21: Thirsting for Knowledge

Chapter 21: Thirsting for Knowledge

That night, Xu Qing dreamed.

This was his first time in six years sleeping in such a luxurious room. It was his first time being comfortable, without the cold biting at him. And thus, it was one of the first times in a long time that he’d dreamed.

In his dream, the world wasn’t a brutal place. The god’s broken face didn’t hang in the sky, and his father and mother were there with him. So was his older brother. Without a care in the world, he headed to class with his friends. Afterward, he returned to a warm home, where he had a hot dinner with his family. Then he went to sleep feeling wonderful.

Even in the dream, he couldn’t quite make out the faces of his family. He tried, but it was like they were covered by a concealing mist.

Early in the morning, he woke up, opened his eyes, and lay there in bed staring at the ceiling. He felt warm as he slowly emerged from his dream, and then he looked around….

The room was built from gray bricks and tiles. There was a desk and a bed, as well as a washroom. The floor still radiated a bit of warmth, left over from the fire in the stove last night. There was a woven rush mat on the floor, and there was even a bookshelf, though it was empty.

Everything was simple, but to Xu Qing, it was extremely luxurious.

Taking a deep breath, he went to the washroom. After carefully putting his hands into the basin, he watched the muck slowly slide off of them before quickly pulling them out of the water. After looking down at them, he wiped them on his sides to get them dirty again.

Then he looked in the mirror. He saw his overcoat, his long black hair, which was an absolute mess, and his face covered with dirt. He also saw his sparkling eyes. After looking at himself for a while, he peered out the window, and his eyes turned cold.

The snowstorm had passed, and the sun had risen, casting light over the lands to melt away the last snowfall of winter.

Off in the distance, the melting snow in the trees revealed green buds, which indicated that spring… was finally here.

He walked out of his room and, as was his custom, looked over at Sergeant Thunder’s room. The dogs in the courtyard didn’t get up, but they wagged their tails in greeting.

I’ve got things to do, he thought, and his eyes filled with determination. Opening the courtyard gate, he walked out into the camp with a clear idea of where he was going.

It was dawn, and there weren’t a lot of scavengers up and about.

He headed toward the caravan area. The guards watched him but didn’t block his path. Eventually, he reached the physician’s tent, whereupon he heard someone reading aloud from a book.

After hesitating a moment, Xu Qing quietly stood outside the tent and listened.

The caravan guards looked at him curiously, then most of them looked away. A few kept their eyes on him.

Xu Qing ignored them. As he listened to the sound of reading from in the tent, he became thoroughly entranced. And eventually, he realized that it wasn’t just someone reading, but rather, the sound of some sort of test being administered.

It was the girl he remembered seeing. She was saying, “Golden twistgrass, also known as three-leaf pearls or cold-dispelling grass, is a sedge plant known by the common name short-leaved kyllinga, and is useful from root to tip. It’s a perennial herb that grows in forested mountains and damp wilderness regions. In South Phoenix, it can be found in the southern prefectures of Rising Nether and Widespirit. It can diffuse the lungs and relieve coughing, can clear heat and resolve poisons, can dissipate blood stasis and reduce swelling, is effective against venomous snake bites, can be used to treat injuries from falls, fractures, contusions, and strains. It works well in combination with….”

At first the girl spoke with confidence, but the further along she got, the more hesitant she became.

“It works well in combination with what?” Grandmaster Bai asked in a strict tone.

“It works well in combination with rhino-fire blossoms when refined into a medicine, taking the yang and converting it to yin. It can be used to create a comprehensive poison-preventing liquid that’s a major ingredient in grandization pills.” The young woman almost sounded scared, and spoke in a rapid-fire manner that ended with her taking a long breath.

Xu Qing stood outside the tent, listening closely.

Next came the young man, who spoke even more hesitantly than his counterpart. “Paleback root, also known as… uh, well, it’s a rubber plant of the spurge family, with pale roots. It’s s-slightly astringent and bitter, and is native to… well, anyway, it can calm the f-five yin organs, and….” Toward the end, he trailed off, obviously having forgotten the information.

Inside the tent, the young man looked extremely nervous, and even glanced at the young woman, hoping she would help him out. She obviously knew the details, but didn’t say anything, until the young man appeared to be on the verge of tears.

Meanwhile, Grandmaster Bai, who was sitting in front of them, suddenly looked toward the outside of the tent. One of the guards looked at him meaningfully. Grandmaster Bai thought for a moment, then shook his head.

Turning his attention back to the stammering young man, he snorted coldly. “Tonight you’ll copy the Classic of Plants and Vegetation ten times in a row!”

The young man really did look like he was going to cry, but he didn’t offer any retort. Instead, he hung his head despondently.

After testing both of his apprentices, Grandmaster Bai proclaimed that he was about to begin his daily lecture. For some reason, his voice seemed louder and clearer than usual.

The young man didn’t notice, but the young woman did, and seemed a bit curious. Blinking a few times, she looked to the side, and saw the shadow of a scrawny figure standing outside, silhouetted by the morning sun.

Outside the tent, Xu Qing listened attentively to every word spoken by Grandmaster Bai. Fearful that he might forget something, he committed everything to heart. To him, knowledge was a priceless treasure that he had long hoped to acquire.

Time slipped by. Grandmaster Bai lectured for longer than usual, perhaps twice as long. It was late in the morning by the time he finished, and there were scavengers now lined up outside seeking treatment. That was when Grandmaster Bai said, “Would the young man outside the tent please step inside for a moment?”

Xu Qing emerged from his daze in a start. Feeling a bit guilty all of a sudden, he took a deep breath, opened the tent flap, and quietly stepped inside. Normally speaking, he wouldn’t be so nervous. However, he’d originally come to ask some questions, only to end up eavesdropping outside the tent. In the scavenger basecamp, many people would react negatively to such behavior.

Seeing how nervous Xu Qing was, Grandmaster Bai calmly said, “Can I help you?”

Off to the side, the young woman looked curiously at Xu Qing. She recognized him, and it only took a moment to recall that he had brought an unconscious old man to them on his back.

“Well met, Grandmaster Bai,” Xu Qing said, inclining his head. Then, remembering how Sergeant Thunder had acted before, he clasped hands and bowed deeply. After a moment of hesitation, he said, “I wanted to know a bit more about lifespan flowers.”

Then he took out the five white boluses he’d been given by Boneblade, and placed them in front of Grandmaster Bai. Even one such pill was precious, but Xu Qing felt that one wasn’t enough to compensate for listening in on the class. In fact, five of them probably weren’t enough, so he also took out ten spirit coins and put them next to the pills. Only after this did he feel a bit more at ease.

Grandmaster Bai gave him a long, close look, then turned to the girl. “Tingyu, you explain.” [1]

The girl sat up straight, a solemn expression on her face as she said, “Lifespan flower, also known as life-extending flame and god-spirit weed, is a mutated variety of a god-type vegetation known as a regeneration tree. There are actually seventy-three known mutations, but only the first type can be used in medicines. They grow randomly in forbidden regions, without any specific habitat pattern. They’re extremely rare. They can be used to regrow severed limbs, reinvigorate life force, and treat any injury other than those to the mind.”

After finishing with the explanation, the girl pulled out a book, flipped through it, then held up a page with a picture on it. “This is what it looks like.”

The picture depicted a flower that looked ordinary other than the sawtooth edge to its leaves. There was also a strange marking in the middle of the flower.

Xu Qing looked closely at the picture, committed the details to memory, then bowed deeply to Grandmaster Bai and the girl. Finally, he turned to leave.

Before he could walk off, Grandmaster Bai casually said, “It’s the kind of plant that can be encountered by chance but never searched for and found. They usually grow in places where large mutant beasts can be found. Be careful.”

Xu Qing once again clasped hands and bowed, then raced back through the camp to his room.

Once inside, he pulled out a blank bamboo slip and used his iron skewer to inscribe it with both the description provided by the girl and the image of the lifespan flower itself. After that, he went on to write down as much information as he could remember from what he’d heard in the lecture.

After looking at the bamboo slip covered with text, he felt content, and put it away as surely as if it were a precious treasure.

I hope I can go back again and hear more.

He put some thought into a good way to return later and listen to more of Grandmaster Bai’s lessons, then cleared his mind and started his cultivation routine.Fôllôw 𝒏ew stories at n𝒐/v(e)lb/in(.)com

That night, he waited in the courtyard for Sergeant Thunder to return, whereupon he mentioned that he was making a run into the forbidden region. Sergeant Thunder seemed like he wanted to say something in response, but chose not to. He just nodded and offered some suggestions based on his experience.

At that moment, he seemed like an old grandfather offering advice to his grandson before sending him out into the world. In fact, he spent almost the whole night offering advice. Xu Qing committed everything to memory. Finally, Sergeant Thunder gave him an animal skin sack which contained some medicinal powder that Graceful Raptor had left behind.

After making sure he knew how to use it, Xu Qing said his farewells and headed out. Speeding through the morning light, he arrived some time later at the periphery of the forbidden region.

When he stepped through the boundary, he felt himself cut off from the warmth of the sun. Icy coldness pierced him, and he narrowed his eyes and looked around vigilantly. Then he shot into the depths of the forest so quickly he left behind a string of afterimages.

A moment later, there was no sign of him.

This was his second time entering the forbidden region jungle, and he felt a lot more at ease this time. It was very different from his first time.

That said, he was more cautious than ever. And as he moved, he kept an eye on the flowers and plants around him, hoping to spot a lifespan flower. Eventually, he reached the muddy marsh, and remembered what Graceful Raptor had taught him there. After covering himself in mud, he continued on.

Before long, the day had gone by.

During the entire time, he never encountered the Fog of Confusion, and by being careful, he was able to go around any large mutant beasts.

He eventually reached the spot where they’d fought the black-scaled wolves. Everything looked mostly the same. Even the defenses they’d erected were in place. However, the wolf corpses had already decomposed, leaving behind nothing but bones.

He checked the bones for signs that the meat had been torn off of them by teeth, but found no such evidence. Apparently, they’d rotted naturally. He breathed a sigh of relief. If nothing else, it seemed to indicate there were no dangerous mutant beasts around. With that, he found a suitable place in the area to hunker down for the night.

He settled on a hollow inside a huge tree. As darkness fell, and he huddled in the tree, he looked ahead to the canyon with the seven-leaf clover, and beyond it, the temple complex.

He had other goals on this journey other than simply looking for lifespan flowers. He also wanted to find one of those scar-removing crystals for the girl in the general store.

“Tomorrow,” he murmured, “I’ll see what’s out there.”

1. Ting means “pretty, attractive, graceful” and Yu means “jade.” This does not come across as a surname combined with a given name. It could be a nickname, or it could be her given name used without the surname. It’s impossible to tell. That said, it doesn’t come across as a daoist name. Madam Deathblade says it sounds “cute and pretty.” ☜

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