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Beyond the Timescape

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Xu Qing lives in a world where the weak are the prey of the strong, and every day is a fight to survive. The aura of a god has polluted the entire world, including the resources necessary to practice cultivation. As a result, cultivators risk mutation and death when they try to become more powerful. Xu Qing’s goals are simple: he wants to survive, and he wants to find his lost family. He lives in brutal, ruthless, and chaotic circumstances, but he encounters good people that become his close friends. He is not crafty and cowardly like Bai Xiaochun. He is not clever and greedy like Meng Hao. He is his own person, and if you want to find out what he’s like… you’ll have to start reading!

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Chapter 1: Living
It was the third lunar month, the beginning of spring, in a far corner of the eastern part of the continent of South Phoenix. The dark, hazy sky hung oppressively overhead, like an ink painting splashed onto a canvas, with the dome of heaven black and the clouds smudged across it. Crimson bolts of lightning danced among the layers of clouds, accompanied by the clap of thunder. It sounded like the howl of a god, echoing out over the mortal world. Blood-colored rain fell with sorrow onto the mundane world. Lurking below was a ruined city, pounded by the crimson rain, completely devoid of any signs of life. Shattered city walls held no living things. Collapsed buildings could be seen, as well as greenish-black corpses and piles of gore. No sound interrupted the silence. What had once been bustling city streets were now desolate. In the past, people had traversed these dusty paths, but not anymore. The only things left behind were mangled flesh, dirt, and shredded paper, mixed into a bloody paste that could only be described as shocking and ghastly. Not far in the distance was an overturned horse cart, stuck in the mud and nearly broken to bits. Draped on the axle was a rabbit doll swaying in the wind, its white fur long since stained red with blood. Its cloudy eyes brimmed with animosity as it stared blankly at the blood-splattered cobblestones ahead of it. Near the cart lay a young man. He looked to be thirteen or fourteen, his clothing tattered and filthy. Tied at his waist was a sack made of animal hide. His eyes were nothing but slits and he wasn't moving. The icy wind swept through the holes in his clothes, slowly but surely sucking the heat out of his body. Then some raindrops hit his face, and he blinked, revealing that his cold, hawk-like eyes were focused on something a short distance from him. About twenty meters away was an emaciated vulture ripping flesh off the corpse of a stray dog, and occasionally glancing around. These ruins were a dangerous place, and all it would take was a slight bit of movement for the vulture to fly up into the air to safety. The young man was also waiting for his opportunity, like a skilled hunter. It didn’t take long for that opportunity to arrive, as the vulture suddenly plunged its head deep into the chest cavity of the dog. The young man’s eyes turned extremely cold, and he shot into motion like an arrow from a bow, racing toward the vulture while simultaneously pulling a black iron skewer out of his sack. [1] The tip of the skewer glittered coldly. Perhaps it was that, or perhaps it was the killing intent radiating off the young man. Either way, the vulture sensed it. Flapping its wings in alarm, it flew up into the air. It wasn't fast enough. The young man’s face was completely expressionless as he threw the black skewer, sending it shooting through the air in a dark streak. SPLAT! The skewer pierced the vulture’s head, shattering its skull and taking away its life in an instant. The force of the blow carried the vulture through the air until it smacked into the horse cart. The blood-soaked stuffed rabbit swayed back and forth. The young man’s face was placid as he hurried back to the cart and grabbed both the vulture and the skewer. The boy had thrown the skewer with such force that, when he pulled it out of the cart, it took a chunk of wood with it. Having accomplished these things, the young man walked away without looking back. The wind picked up. At the same time, the blood-soaked rabbit looked like it was watching the young man as he left. Thanks to the wind, the rain seemed even colder as it hit the young man and his tattered clothing. At a certain point, he hunched over, frowning as he tried to wrap himself up. He let loose a grunt of exasperation. He hated the cold. Usually, he stayed indoors during weather like this. But right now, he hurried down the street without pause, passing numerous broken-down shops and stores. There wasn’t much time left. His vulture hunt had taken longer than he expected, and there was somewhere else he needed to go tonight. It shouldn’t be far now. Greenish-black corpses choked the street ahead, their faces masks of fury and hopelessness. It was as if the aura of despair they exuded sought to infect the mind of the young man. But the young man was used to it, and he didn't spare the corpses a second thought. In fact, he kept his eyes on the sky. He seemed anxious, as though the darkening sky was more terrifying than all the corpses combined. Eventually, he caught sight of a medicine shop off in the distance. Breathing a sigh of relief, he hurried toward it. It wasn’t a large place, and there were medicine drawers scattered everywhere. The place smelled like a mix of medicine and mold, almost like that of a freshly opened tomb. The whole place was a mess. [2] In the corner was the corpse of an old man leaning up against the wall, his skin greenish-black. He had died with his eyes open, and was staring blankly out into the world. The young man glanced around and then started rummaging through the place. The medicinal plants in the place matched the corpses. Most were greenish-black. Only a few looked normal. The young man looked closely at the untainted medicine, seemingly searching through his memories. Eventually, he identified a medicinal plant used to treat incisions. Taking off his tattered shirt, he looked down at a gaping wound on his chest. It wasn’t healed, and its edges were turning black. There was also some blood seeping out. Crushing the medicinal plant, he took a deep breath and then smeared the paste on his wound. The pain caused his vision to swim, and he shook from head to toe and nearly fell over. He forced himself to keep smearing on the medicine, but he couldn’t stop beads of sweat from popping out on his forehead and rolling down his face onto the ground. They became like blotches of ink below him. Ten breaths of time passed. After covering the wound with medicine, the young man was out of energy. Leaning up against the nearby medicine cabinet, he took some time to breathe, then put his shirt back on. Once again, he looked out at the sky. Then he pulled a dilapidated map out of his sack and carefully opened it up. It was a simple depiction of the city he was currently in. The medicine shop was marked on the map, and many of the city districts in the northeast were crossed out. It looked like he'd used his fingernail to do it. There were only two districts that weren’t crossed out. After all these days of searching, at least I know it’s somewhere in those two districts. He folded the map up, put it away, and prepared to leave. Just before walking out, he stopped and looked at the corpse of the old man. And specifically… his clothing. The old man wore a leather jerkin of such good quality that it was mostly intact. After some thought, the young man walked over, peeled the jerkin off the old man, and donned it. It was slightly too big, but after putting it on, at least he felt warm. He looked down at the old man for a moment, then knelt and closed his eyes. “Rest in peace,” he said in a soft, hoarse voice. Ripping one of the curtains off the wall, he covered the old man’s corpse, then left. Upon walking out into the open, he noticed a flash of light up ahead. Stuck in the mud was a hand-sized mirror. Looking down at it, he could see his reflection. His face was dirty, but that couldn't completely cover up his delicate and unusually handsome features. Unfortunately, the innocence one would expect to find in a teenage boy was gone, replaced instead with cold indifference. The young man looked at his reflection for a long moment, then lifted his foot and stepped on the mirror. CRACK! He left the shattered mirror behind as he ran off into the distance. Despite being in pieces, the mirror still managed to reflect the light from the sky. Up there, covering the world, and overlooking all living beings, was the half face of a broken god. The face seemed indifferent, with its eyes closed, and hair draped down around it. It was a natural part of this world, similar to the sun and moon. Beneath it, the living beings of the world were like bugs. Insects. And as in the Awakening of Insects, the lives of all creatures in the world were influenced by that face, and changed because of it. Beneath the face of the god, radiance and light slowly faded from the day. The shadows cast by the setting sun created a haze that filled the ruins, covering all the surrounding lands, as if to swallow them whole. The rain fell harder. As the darkness deepened and the wind picked up, sharp wailing drifted through the air. It sounded like the cries of evil ghosts, calling out to rouse whatever grues lurked in the ruins. The sounds were spine-tingling, and would shock the souls of whoever heard them. The young man ran through the streets faster and with more urgency as darkness fell. Eventually, he ran past a collapsed house and was about to keep moving when his pupils constricted. Just now, he had spotted a person off in the distance. This person didn't seem to bear any injury at all, and wore fine clothing as he leaned up against a wall. Most importantly, his skin looked normal. It wasn’t greenish-black! In ruins like this, only a living person could possibly look like that! The young man hadn’t seen any living people for a long time. This unexpected development left him feeling shaken. Then, a thought occurred to him, and he started breathing heavily, as though he were nervous. He wanted to keep going, except that the darkness was closing in from behind. He hesitated for a moment. Then he committed this position to mind and hurried away. Just before darkness truly fell, the young man reached his dwelling place in the ruins. It was a very small cave with bird feathers scattered about everywhere. The only way inside was a c***k too small for an adult to fit through. However, the young man could just barely squeeze through. Once inside, he would cram miscellaneous items like books and rocks into the c***k to seal it up. Just as he finished sealing himself inside, it became completely dark outside. However, the young man didn’t relax. He kept his iron spike gripped tightly in his hand, and masked his breathing as he crouched there listening to what was happening outside. Soon, he heard the sound of mutant beasts howling and grues laughing. Some of the howling grew more distinct, closer. The boy became nervous. However, the howling passed by the cave and faded away. Eventually, he breathed a sigh of relief. As he sat down in the cave, time seemed to stop. He remained in a daze for a while as his tightly wound nerves relaxed. Off to the side was a kettle of water. He drank. Then, ignoring the sounds outside, he took the vulture carcass out of his sack. He ate, ripping off flesh and swallowing bite by bite. It tasted bitter, but he kept eating, forcing the meat into his belly. He felt rumbling as his stomach struggled to digest the new material. Only when he'd completely devoured the vulture did he take a deep breath and close his eyes to sleep. He ached from exhaustion, and yet he kept a firm grip on his iron spike. He was like a lone wolf, ready to wake up at the slightest sign of anything unusual. The darkness outside covered the city like a blanket, filling the dome of heaven. The world beneath that dome of heaven was immense. The continent of South Phoenix was only one location in the sprawling sea. No one really knew how big the entire world was. However, everyone in the world who looked up into the sky would see that broken face above. It was impossible to say when exactly the broken face had come. However, from passages in certain ancient records, it was known that it arrived long, long ago. The world had once been filled with the energy of immortals, and had been a glorious and flourishing place, bursting with life. Until… that immense face came from the void, devouring and destroying. Upon the arrival of the face, all living beings in the world united to stop it. But they failed. In the end, a small group of Ancient Emperors and Imperial Sovereigns led their people away in a great exodus. Not long after the broken face arrived to hang over the world, a nightmare began. When hīs aura filled the world, it came to pass that the mountains, the oceans, and all living creatures became tainted. Even the spirit power used by cultivators in their cultivation was no exception. [3] Living beings withered. Countless people were destroyed. Almost everything died. Those few individuals who survived the calamity looked up at the half-face in the sky and called it… a god. They called their world Armageddon, and the places the Ancient Emperors and Imperial Sovereigns departed to came to be known as holy lands. As the calendar eras passed, generation after generation used these names. There was more to the calamity brought by this god. Hīs might continued to oppress the living beings of the world, and that was because… Every so often, sometimes once in a decade, sometimes once in a century, the god would open hīs eyes for a short time. When that happened, the location looked upon would be infected by hīs aura. The people there would experience catastrophe, and that location would forevermore be known as a forbidden region. Over the years, more and more forbidden regions came to exist in the world, while the inhabitable areas grew fewer and fewer. Nine days ago, the god’s eyes opened and looked down onto the area where this young man lived. There were dozens of human cities there, and countless living things. All of it, including the slums outside the cities, were infected as a result, and turned into a forbidden region. The terrifying pollution caused many living things to instantly explode into clouds of blood. But others mutated into mindless beasts. In other cases, the souls of the living beings departed, leaving behind greenish-black corpses. Only a few humans and animals survived. This young man was one of them. A mournful voice echoed out in the darkness, and when the young man realized it was coming closer to his cave, his eyes snapped open. Lifting his iron skewer, he looked in the direction of the c***k. The voice circled around, then moved away. He breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly not feeling in the mood to sleep, he felt around for his sack, found it, and pulled out a bamboo slip from inside. It was dark, but he could feel the text carved into the bamboo, and was thus able to read without light. Sitting up, he started to breathe in a prescribed fashion. This young man was named Xu Qing, and from a very young age he had eked out a living in the slums outside the city. [4] Nine days ago when the catastrophe struck, he hid in a crevice. And unlike all the terrified people around him, he looked up into the sky at the god, and into those open eyes. The god’s pupils were shaped like crosses, and upon seeing them, the terror in Xu Qing’s heart vanished. It was also at that moment that he saw a violet light descend from the heavens and land somewhere in the northeastern part of the city. Then he passed out. When he woke up, he was the only survivor in the slums. However, he didn’t start exploring. He knew that when the god’s eyes opened, a forbidden region would form. And when that happened, a rain of blood would fall, forming a boundary around the forbidden region. Because of that boundary, people inside the forbidden region couldn’t leave. Nor could anyone on the outside come in, at least until the forbidden region was fully formed. And that would happen when the rain stopped. To Xu Qing, who had grown up in rough conditions, this catastrophe wasn’t that bad. The slums had been filled with thugs, stray dogs, and plagues. On any freezing night, he could have lost his life. It had always been a struggle to survive. As long as he stayed alive, nothing else mattered. That said, his brutal life in the slums had contained bits of warmth. For instance, there were occasional down-and-out scholars who came to teach classes to the children, and instruct them how to read. Xu Qing also had some memories of his family. However, those memories were getting more difficult to hold on to, and he had the feeling that they would fade away eventually. At the very least, he knew he wasn’t an orphan. He did have a family. He’d just lost touch with them long ago. In any case, his dream was simply to keep on living. If he could do that, then maybe he could find his family again one day. Given that he’d somehow survived the catastrophe, he decided to go explore the city. He had two goals when he set out. The first was to find the city magistrate’s mansion, where rumor had it there was a method to become stronger. His second goal was to find the spot where that violet light fell. That method of getting stronger was something everyone in the slums wanted to get. They called it cultivation. And anyone who practiced cultivation was called a cultivator. Becoming a cultivator was Xu Qing’s strongest desire, other than reuniting with his family. Cultivators weren't very common. In all his years in the slums, Xu Qing had only ever once glimpsed one off in the distance in the city. One distinctive characteristic of cultivators was that they caused people who looked at them to tremble. Xu Qing had heard that the magistrate himself was a cultivator, as were all of his guards. Five days ago during his search of the city, he finally found the city magistrate’s manor. And on a corpse there, he found the very bamboo slip he currently held in his hand. It had been a dangerous adventure, and it ended with him sustaining that grievous wound to the chest. However, the bamboo slip also contained the secrets of cultivation that he had longed for. He had memorized the contents of the slip, and had already begun practicing cultivation. Because Xu Qing knew literally nothing about cultivation to begin with, he wasn’t sure if the technique described in the slip was authentic. Thankfully, the text was easy to understand, and focused around visualizations and breathing. By following the exact routine, he had already achieved some results. The method was called the Sea and Mountain Incantation. The cultivation method involved visualizing the image inscribed on the bamboo slip, and then breathing in a prescribed fashion. The image was strange. It depicted a bizarre creature with a large head, a small body, and a single leg. Its body was pitch black, and its face was vicious, like that of an evil ghost. Xu Qing had never seen a creature like that in real life, but the bamboo slip described it as a goblin. [5] Not long after he conjured the image in his mind and started breathing, the air around him stirred. Streams of spirit power flowed into him, filling his body, reaching every corner of his being. It caused icy cold to reach his bones, making him feel like he was submerged in ice water. Xu Qing feared the cold, but he refused to give up, and continued with the session of cultivation. Then, after continuing according to the description on the bamboo slip, he ended the session and found that he was sweating. Despite having just eaten the entire vulture, he felt pangs of hunger in his belly. Wiping the sweat off of himself, he rubbed his belly. Ever since he started training in this technique, he found himself getting much hungrier. However, he was also a lot more athletic. Because of that, his tolerance to the cold grew greater. Having finished with cultivation, he looked toward the c***k, and beyond it, the outside. It was still dark, and the terrifying sounds outside were waxing and waning. He wasn’t sure why he had survived the catastrophe. Maybe it was luck. Or maybe… it had something to do with that violet light. That was why, even as he continued to train in the new technique, he had traveled all the way to the northeast of the city. However, he had not yet found where the violet light landed. Xu Qing thought about these matters as he paid attention to the howls outside. He couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d found that corpse leaning up against the wall the day before at nightfall. That corpse had been in the northeast section of the city. And… it actually looked like a living person. Don’t tell me it has something to do with that violet light…?

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