Chapter 1239: That Year
Bai Xiaochun felt like he was being prodded awake from a deep sleep. He opened his eyes, and it was as if his soul had lost access to all of his previous memories. He had no idea who he was, and only knew that he felt very cold….
White, fluffy snowflakes fell from above, completely obscuring the sky, and also covering the ground, making even the distant mountains a pale white color.
Bai Xiaochun found himself in a forest of withered trees. In fact, the trees were covered with so much snow that many of their branches had already snapped. The scattered branches that remained intact seemed like spots of black within the wider world of whiteness.
fall asleep, Little Chen,” someone said. “Stay awake….”
Bai Xiaochun felt like he had been dreaming, except he couldn’t remember what the dream had been about. Now that he was awake, everything was all a blur.
All he knew was that it was cold, so cold that he felt like he might freeze. Perhaps the cold had sealed his memories.
But then… he felt himself being prodded a few times, and a face appeared in front of him, white with frost.
It was a youngster, about thirteen or fourteen years old. He was gaunt, and apparently injured, as his clothing was torn and stained with blood. He looked very weak, but there was something about his eyes that was completely unforgettable. They shimmered like stars, but at the same time, contained a ruthlessness that belied his young age. And yet, when he gazed at Bai Xiaochun, that ruthlessness vanished, to be replaced with warmth and love.
“Brother….” Bai Xiaochun murmured, his lips quivering. Yes, his memories were telling him that this was indeed… his older brother, a blood brother with whom he shared both father and mother!
Even saying that one word,
, caused a wave of exhaustion to pass through him. He almost wasn’t sure he could deal with the biting wind, a wild wind that filled him with bleakness and desolation.
It was obviously the dead of winter, what with the falling snowflakes. However, as he looked up into the sky, he realized that there were also bugs flying high up in the sky… pale white locusts!
Apparently, their presence within the snowstorm was what had led to the famine which gripped the lands. There were other people in the area, refugees who huddled against the wind, their gaunt frames and listless expressions making it difficult to tell if they were even alive….
They all feared the cold, and yet, no one seemed willing to start a fire. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t dare…. When Bai Xiaochun looked at the locusts in the snowstorm, he could instantly tell that they were unique in more than one way. Not only could they survive in this icy cold, but it was also obvious that fire would attract their attention. And in the dead of winter, when food was scarce, they would eat anything they could find.
The weight of all of these thoughts seemed to weaken him, to the point where he could barely lift his hand. However, he somehow managed to do that, and when he did, he saw the hand of a seven- or eight-year-old. His hand dropped back down, and he struggled to keep his eyes open….
The young man who had spoken moments ago seemed relieved to see Bai Xiaochun awake. However, he could also see how weak he was, and how he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He prodded him anxiously a few more times, clearly grieving at the fact that his younger brother was having trouble hanging on to life. The problem was hunger; only if he could find food to eat would his brother have the strength to keep on living.
“Hang in there a bit longer, Little Chen. I’ll get some food for you. Just wait, I’ll be back right away!” Determination flashed in the youngster’s eyes, and as he turned away from his younger brother, the ruthlessness returned to his face. Looking like a lone wolf, he stalked off into the forest.
He was clearly in a weak state, but apparently, Bai Xiaochun’s moment of crisis had unlocked shocking toughness within him. Ignoring his injuries and his weakness, he vanished into the trees.
“Brother….” Bai Xiaochun murmured, although his voice was too quiet for anyone to hear. He knew that his big brother was going to get food for him, and vaguely remembered that it was only after the white locusts had arrived that the famine started, and disease spread. Everyone back home in their village had either starved to death or died of disease, including their parents.
Bai Xiaochun knew that the only reason he was alive was his brother’s strength. After he had fallen sick, his brother had cared for him and even carried him on his back during their journey. When the adults had begun to fight amongst each other for food, his brother had developed a ruthlessness that even they feared.
His brother gave him most of the food. Even when his brother’s stomach growled with hunger, he pretended to be full, and would say, “I’m your big brother, aren’t I? Here, eat.”
Thus, Bai Xiaochun remained alive. He remembered that his name was Zhou Chen, and his older brother was Zhou Fan. And he was also sure that, without the dead weight that was himself, his ruthless brother would definitely have had it much better off in this chaotic world….
Unfortunately, despite how his brother had cared for him, his sickness had weakened him to the point where he couldn’t hang on for much longer.
“Without me, my brother would have a much better life….” he thought. Eventually, he closed his eyes and let the snowflakes begin to cover him up, the flame of his life force beginning to flicker out. However, even as that was about to happen, a powerful force pushed the snow away, scattering even the white locusts in the area. At the same time, an old man descended from above, clad in a Daoist robe, an unsightly expression on his face.
As soon as the refugees in the area saw the old man, they kowtowed, trembling. They opened their mouths as if to beg for his help, but even as they did, locusts began to crawl out from inside them….
None of them had the power to even scream as they simply waited to die.
The old man looked at all of the refugees who had already been infected by the parasitic locusts, and a gleam of pity appeared in his eyes. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about the situation. Waving his hands, he put the tortured refugees out of their misery.
Clearly in a horrific mood, the old man turned to leave, which was when he noticed Bai Xiaochun.
“Eee?” he muttered, stopping in place and looking more closely. A moment later, his eyes lit up with disbelief. “A Dao Body?”
Walking over to Bai Xiaochun, he waved his hand, causing a warmth to enter him that stabilized the flickering flame of his life force.
As he looked closer at Bai Xiaochun, his eyes began to shine even more brightly. Throwing his head back, he laughed heartily before picking the unconscious Bai Xiaochun up and flying up into the air with him….
After enough time passed for an incense stick to burn, the emaciated Zhou Fan staggered back. Snow was piled up on his shoulders and head, and each step he took left drops of blood on the snow.
He had a few new wounds on his face, and he was bleeding from his abdomen. He was in very bad shape, and yet, his eyes flickered with excitement. Tucked into the fold of his garment was a steamed bun, soaked with blood, that he had risked his life to rob from someone else.
“Little Chen! I found some food for–” Before he could finish speaking, his face fell as he noticed all the corpses in the area. Looking around anxiously, he rushed over to where he had left Bai Xiaochun, only to find no one there. That, and the sight of all of locusts devouring the nearby corpses, made his heart seize.
“Little Chen!” he wailed. “Little Chen!!”
He had lost his only relative. He had lost everything. Trembling, he continued to search in vain. In the end, he dropped down onto the very spot where his brother had been lying, holding the blood-soaked bun, and began to weep.
“Little Chen….” In his despair, he didn’t notice that the scent of the blood had attracted a horde of white locusts, who descended from the sky and swarmed over him.
1. There is a clue here that seems fairly obvious in Chinese, and yet still leaves a lot of room for speculation. Remember a few chapters ago when Bai Xiaochun experienced the vision in the hourglass world, and heard a Master talking to two apprentices? I translated those apprentices’ Daoist names as the Worldly Daoist and Mortal Renegade. In Chinese, those Daoist names are Dao
. The brothers in this chapter are Zhou
. The final characters are the same, implying that the brothers in this chapter have something to do with the Worldly Daoist and Mortal Renegade.