An old man born nine times rarely knows failure, but when his tenth attempt did exactly that, the heavens spit him out in an open meadow, where his journey began thousands of years prior. Once he finished cursing fate and the yellow soil where he stood, he brushed the dust from his light blue robe and white beard before checking his surroundings.
In every direction, tall golden colored grass extended from one horizon to the other with hardly a shrub or tree in sight. The open field was foreign to him, but at the same time uncomfortably familiar. This world was less colorful and vibrant compared to the others he traveled, and just one breath of the stale air told him where he was, a place he never wished to see again.
Of the nine major worlds he had been to, this one remained frozen in time. From the oldest of tomes to the present day, not much changed. It was a world full of soulless people and shallow dreams with no advancements; as he searched through the memories that came flooding back to his mind, he was unable to find very many that were pleasant.
Over his many years, he rarely made friends. The names and faces of his foes disappeared with the passage of time, and during the hundreds of years he spent here, there was only one person worth remembering. After finding what passed as a dirt road, he walked with the sun at his back while images of his past raced through his eyes, of them, only a few stood out.
Lost in his thoughts for nearly an hour, he walked aimlessly down the road until he spotted a small village not far ahead. It looked like any other frontier village, poor and unguarded, but something about it felt off to him. A dark, sinister aura surrounded it, and he was unable to sense any humans in the area.
As he approached, the noisy chirps of insects and birds disappeared, which led to eerie, silent fields bordering the village. The golden grass transitioned into a carpet of gray, brittle blades, with even the slightest breeze turning them to dust. The lifeless region confirmed his thoughts, and he already knew what to expect beyond the wooden walls.
All living things contained a certain amount of life-essence in them, and on this never changing world, there was only one thing capable of removing it, essence-draining powder. However, he had never seen it used so abundantly. The ingredients to make it were not easy to come by and there were not many people willing to risk their lives to process them.
More importantly, essence-draining powder was not very useful in an open setting, as it would spread and dilute rapidly. It was usually only lethal in small closed environments. Outside of high-level assassination attempts, it was not common, and the old man could not believe someone would use so much powder in such a barren area.
Once he walked through the entrance gate, he saw close to 100 simple wooden houses with thatched roofs, and small shops tightly packed together. It was not overly small, but not too large either. Frontier villages like these were not very well organized, and the place where you bought your food could be right next to a waste hole.
These simple people lived outside of the martial world, mostly farmers and tradesman, and there were few pleasures in life. Hard work left their bodies weathered, and because of this, their condition after being poisoned did not surprise him at all.
Their partially desiccated corpses littered the ground, and the expressions on their faces showed they had no idea of what was happening to them. From the way their bodies fanned out in different directions, he could tell they ran frantically, unsure of where to go and how to escape. It was a tragic end, and from their current state, he estimated the time of attack was no more than an hour ago. Not long from now, like the grass just outside the walls, their bodies would turn to dust.
He could not think of a single reason why someone would use essence-draining powder on a group of non-cultivators. Anyone capable of activating the capsule would be able to kill these people with the wave of their hands. It was no different from using a hammer to crush an ant.
The bodies of non-cultivators such as these frontier villagers had very little life-essence, and within a few breaths time, the powder would kill any normal person it contacted. Only the top powers of this world had the ability to purge it from their bodies, with even low-level cultivators turning to dust.
As he walked through the village, he wondered if there were any sects or governments nearby that investigated cases like these, but after thinking about it, he doubted anyone would come. Sects normally punished crimes against non-cultivators harshly, but a frontier region like this held little value to them as the soil was not able to support spirit herbs. Most likely, nobody would bother to search for the truth.
Either way, he decided not to linger and implicate himself in the tragedy. Instead, he planned to leave after searching for any valuables. Even if there were no authorities to punish the perpetrator, merchants traveled to small villages like this, and news would spread to larger villages and relatives eventually.
While pilfering through the village’s shops and homes, the old man collected coins and a few other items he thought might be of some value during his journey. Normally, only cities and cultivators used spirit stones, so to get by in regions like this he would need to rely on anything he could find here.
However, there was little worth taking. In the end, he only found a few hundred copper coins and less than a dozen silver plates. Thinking about the small sum, he decided to collect a few knives, swords, and tools from a blacksmith’s shop, which he placed into his storage ring. It was not much, but he figured it was enough to get by.
After scouring a small shop for valuables, movement nearly 100 meters away caught his eye, which was quite surprising. When he scanned the village earlier, he felt no life forces, so when he saw it was a young boy only 15 or 16 years old, he was shocked he missed him. The boy was dragging his body across the dirt using only his elbows, and appeared to be in a trancelike state.
When the old man placed his hand on the boys back to examine him, he was startled to find he was a cultivator. However, he was only level three of the qi condensation stage, and his meridians were thin and shallow, showing he had low potential. Nonetheless, he was indeed a cultivator, making him extremely rare in this region, and he had somehow found a way to resist the poison for far longer than a cultivator of his level should have been able to.
The pitiful back of the young boy left the old man conflicted. He could easily purge the boy’s body of the powder, but he was unsure of the reasons behind the powders use. Someone purposely used a large amount of resources to kill everyone in the village, meaning they wanted everyone dead. He was not afraid of anyone coming after him, but he also did not want to entangle himself with pointless issues.
However, he was not a heartless person that would watch someone die if he could easily save them. After thinking for a moment and weighing the options, he came to a decision. He would save the young man, bring him to the nearest town, and wait for him to wake up before moving on. Their meeting was fate, and perhaps he could gain a little information about the region.
Bending over and placing his palm on the boys back, he released a small amount of essence qi into his body. It charged through the torn meridians, spreading through his body and into the boys damaged dantian, expelling any remnants of the powder through his pores and orifices. The old man’s pure qi even cleansed the boy’s body of impurities built up from cheap pills and elixirs.
With the poison purged from his body, the boy stopped struggling and fell into a deep sleep. His face no longer had a pained expression, and instead, the old man saw a small smile form on his face. After his body returned to a stable state, the young boy completely let his guard down.
Once the old man finished wiping the filth from the boy’s body, he picked him up and threw him over his shoulder like a sack of rice. After taking one last look to make sure he did not miss anything, he left the small village on the beaten dirt road towards what he hoped would be a larger town. Though travel through air was an option, it was rare in this world where cultivators relied on treasures to soar the skies.
Instead, he decided to walk just as any normal person would. Throughout the course of his long life, he always flew over areas like this, never spending much time contemplating their worth. He lost his first battle against the eternal realm, and he needed to rethink how he could challenge it once more. He needed to change the way he approached life. If he ignored the small things again, he was doomed to fail once more, and this time, there were no second chances.