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49 Chapter Forty Nine - The Last Disciple

    Chang Min had been born as one of the last generation of Eld Dein, the most pitiful of generations.  Few were born and fewer could survive in the world where the soil was dry and poor and the heavens had nearly forsaken them.  This was the results of sucking dry the energies of the world for billions of years.

    As a child, Chang Min was much like many, thin and under nourished.  The separations of wealth had long since past, now one either had food or did not.  Dowry's and bride prices would be considered great if there was meat and vegetables. Crimes and schemes would revolve around obtaining food and land able to grow food.  One such scheme that many of those scrambling for survival fell for was that of the Heaven's Defying Sect.

    The Sect declared that it was the last foundation that could support their people, the last pillar of hope and should their children be sent to become part of the Sect, those children would have the opportunity to cultivate until they were immortals and as immortals cultivate until they became Gods.  Only when they were Gods, would they storm the gates of Heaven and take over the great realm and only then would their poor Eld Dein be saved.  The people, by now, were unlearned and had little to hope for barring a good meal and to see the sun rise of the following day. And so they sent their children forth, but would never see them again.  Still, they clung to hope.

    So though many children for several generations had vanished into the lofty confines of the Sect, still more were sent.  Chang Min's parents sent him when he was just eight years of age; they were dying, they could no longer raise him and one could not rely on any soul but one's parents in this life.  They felt that their only hope for his survival was to send him to the Sect.

    Chang Min entered the Sect easily as it was discovered that he had a rare and pure earth root.  However, due to his malnourished body, his meridians were weak and he was sent to the outer parts of the Sect.  Here the children and those predecessors of the generations before were expected to till the dusty land and try to beget grain from it.  Most of this food was then transferred into the inner Sect, only a bit was left for the outer Sect disciples, thus competition for food was fierce.  It was not much different from the village of his birth, just that here Chang Min could cultivate to try to become stronger.  Many of those sent with him could not survive the harsh conditions and died.  Others died during the fights over scraps of meat.  Chang Min did not fight, simply retreated, filling his stomach with grass, leaves and roots and if he was lucky, a mushroom or two.  In this way, the skinny, small boy became a skinny, small man.

    It should be noted, that although the outer Sect conditions were awful, the inner Sect was actually not all it seemed either.  The Heaven's Defying Sect were not a pillar of hope, there would be no immortality waiting for the disciples nor place within the Heavens.  The elders of this Sect had fallen from the righteous path due to their desperate scramble to escape a dying world and were nothing more that Devil Cultivators now.

    When the Upper Realms closed their gates to the dying Eld Dein, these Elders had found themselves trapped before reaching the enlightened stages of cultivation that would have seen them rise.  At first, they did not worry about it, blind to the truth of the matter, but once the fate of their world had been divined, they knew fear.  An immortal does not necessarily fear death, but they fear falling against their will.  And so they sought to flee from fate.  Their plan was to nourish talented disciples with food and cultivation, before stealing away and refining the cores of those disciples and using them to break open those closed gates!

    Thousands of disciples had died at their hands and tens of thousands by otherwise indirect means.  Only their secluded location and the digression of the world had kept their vile secret contained.

    However, with only decades left until the predicted end, the Elders were becoming desperate.  The harvested cores were not overly strong, the disciples having been dealt with before they could become a threat to the Elders and no matter the ritual nor spell formation cast using the blood and cores upon the way points, the gates to the upper realms remained sealed.

    And then a small group of wandering Cultivators passed by.

    Wandering Cultivators were not unusual, often these groups were seeking their own truths; ways to escape the path of fate, ways to try and save their dying world.  However this group contained two men in a hair's breath of the enlightened stages of cultivation as well as several others with impressive cultivations.  The Elders would not normally attack such, but quietly bide their time and let them pass undisturbed for they could not guarantee their lives would be kept in confronting such.  But desperate times called for desperate measures and the Elders lead all of their Sect disciples in an ambush.

    Their advantage in numbers, however, did not sway the results of the battle; their remaining disciples were simply to low in cultivation and weak in foundation, kept so due to the Elders' less than savoury reasons.  Seeing as the battle was not going in their favour, the Elders sought to retreat and abandon their disciples in order to save their own lives.  Only two did successfully escape, but the blood of hundreds of young Cultivators was spilled in this ferocious battle.  Those who survived could only bitterly watch as their Masters abandoned them and they too lost hope.

    However, these Wandering Cultivators were not without mercy and only killed those who insisted on attempting on taking their lives.  But they were not saints and would not aid their enemies with wrapping wounds or burying the dead.  As they walked away from the battlefield, they did not look back.

    Thus they did not see one skinny youth, who'd neither fought nor fled following them...

    However, he could not hide his presence from them for long.

    "Still wish to ambush us?" Lu Ting had growled between gritted teeth as he held the young man by his slender throat and held him up against a tree.  Chang Min had crawled weakly at the strong hand gripping him, gasping for breath.

    "Lu Ting, curb your anger," Ren Zexian had advised him in calm tones.

    "But Master!"  The impetuous man had complained with bitterness.

    "Vengeance is a bitter path that curves and simply leads to more vengeance," Ren Zexian had told him.  "And besides, for what reason do you seek to take your anger out on this young man?"

    Lu Ting had frowned.  "His Sect sought our lives!  Why should I not seek his?"

    "Big Brother, Lu Ting is right!" Long Wenwen had added, pouting as she sewed the long tear in her robes.  Clothes were nearly as scarce as food for the mortals, she was not happy that hers had been torn in a moment of her carelessness.

    Yu Zhang chuckled as he looked fondly at his youngest disciple.  "Still such a vain girl," he had mused.

    Ren Zexian had shared his mirth with a slight smile, before indicating once more that Lu Ting ought to let him go.  "This young man's hands are clean," Ren Zexian had then advised them.  "He did not participate in his sect's foolish attack upon us."

    "But he did not aid us either," Hao ZhenKang mentioned as he threw his arm about his dao companion, unhappy that his partner's long hair had been partially cut in the battle.  Not to mention, he himself had lost his sword.

    "That is true," Ren Zexian had admitted as he had approached the youth, who coughed and spluttered, trying to take in air.  His wrist had been caught by Ren Zexian, who tested his pulse with him unawares.  "But then, what can a child of Secondary Cultivation do to turn the tides of battle."  He turned away at that point, his smile still fixed upon his gentle face.

    "Secondary Cultivation?" Yu Zhang had murmured and his slightly lined face split into a bright smile.  "So there are still children seeking to defy fate and reach the Heavens."

    "Pitiful," Lu Ting had sneered.

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    Chang Min had looked over these men and women, who he had followed, mesmerised by their ethereal appearances.  Against the backdrop of half-starved youths, diseased and dying men dressed in rags and coated in dust, they were like fresh Mountain Dew on a lush field of ripened rice.  He couldn't have helped but been attracted to them.  He hadn't known why his sect had attacked them and sought to kill them, he even understood that following them might lead to his death.  However, compared with starving to death in the pitiful, harsh conditions of the Outer Sect, he had felt this would be a blessing.

    So, he had continued to follow them, foraging for sustenance as he did so.  They had not invite him to join their group, but they did not shoo him away either.  In fact, once or twice he'd even lost them, only by heaven's grace did he find them again.  Three months past rapidly in this way and the already exhausted Chang Min had found himself close to collapse and on his last breath.  He had thought that he would die this way.

    Only, one of the Elders of the group had taken pity on him, had fed him with a nourishing One Pulse pill and accepted him as a disciple.  After his body had been treated with food and healing pills, his meridians had become able to support his cultivation and his innate talent had been allowed to blossom.  By the time the End came, he had been upon the peak of Quinary Stage.  He had become accepted by the others of their wandering group, his origins more or less a matter of the past.

    He had trusted Elder Yu Zhang's judgement and placed his life in the old Cultivator's hands, believing that they would continue their journey in some other world; they would wander and he would follow.

    Only when he'd awakened from the sealed sleep did he come to realise, he was now completely alone.
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