The four of them slowly entered the Temple of the Origin of Heaven. This Daoist temple was huge, so even after they entered the temple, they could only see the silhouette of some buildings in the distance behind the front hall.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Su Jin, I’m an office worker and I’ve gone through one challenge so far,” Su Jin introduced himself to the two newbies.
“My name is Kano Mai, I’m a freelancer and I’ve gone through seven challenges so far,” Kano Mai introduced herself after Su Jin.
The quiet female student timidly introduced herself, “My name is Tan Xin, I’m in my second year of university.”
“My name is Shi Teng, I’m a fitness trainer!” After Kano Mai taught him a lesson earlier, he had learned to behave himself.
Su Jin nodded at them to acknowledge their introductions. Out of the two of them, Shi Teng certainly looked like he could fight and would probably be helpful against ordinary humans. He didn’t think Tan Xin would be of much help in that aspect, but thankfully, this challenge was only at Level C. According to Jiang Li’s explanation, ordinary humans would still be able to handle this level as long as they weren’t too unlucky. Besides, he now had Kano Mai, an experienced owner who had survived seven challenges before this. The chances of them making it through this challenge were quite high.
“The mission this time round is to reach the deepest part of the Temple. Do you guys have any ideas?” Su Jin decided to gather some opinions, in case the newbies proved to be intelligent.
“The deepest part of the temple? Is that referring to the part of the temple that’s furthest from the gate?” asked Tan Xin a little embarrassedly after thinking about it.
Su Jin nodded slightly to thank her for her opinion, but Kano Mai interjected, “So, the deepest part of the Temple that’s above ground? But it can refer to a spot underground as well, right? If this temple has structures underground, then the word “deepest” could be referring literally to that.”
“You’re right. If you’re talking about these two planes, both are possible. But this “deepest part” might have another meaning. It might be referring to the core… the central part of the temple…” Su Jin started considering his options. The information provided by the Handbook wasn’t very precise and the words it used could be easily misconstrued by the owners depending on how the owners defined them, so one had to chew on it very carefully.
“Is that very important? It’s just a temple, isn’t it? Let’s just search for it and we’ll find it, won’t we?” asked Shi Teng puzzledly.
Su Jin and Kano Mai exchanged glances, and Su Jin explained, “Every Handbook challenge is filled with dangers. If you don’t analyze the hints given properly, it could result in very severe consequences within the challenge.”
“Severe consequences? How severe could they get?” Shi Teng still wasn’t taking this whole thing very seriously. To him, the temple was just a simple building and couldn’t possibly be that dangerous.
“You could die, that’s how severe,” spat Kano Mai frostily.
Both Shi Teng and Tan Xin looked taken aback, so Su Jin said, “Mai is right. So, if you don’t want to die, you’d better be as careful. Be as careful as you can.”
By this point, they had already entered the front hall. Dim candles were burning within the hall, but these candles were gigantic and looked more like the pillars that held up the hall. Thick drops of wax had gathered at the bottom of the candles, which made them look like a raised platform that was a few stories high. A gigantic flame flickered around the wick, coloring the entire hall the same yellow color as itself.
The two sides of the front hall were flanked by two huge statues. A general in white armor stood on one side with a golden sword in hand and a stern look on his face. The other statue was a demon covered in black flames and its expression looked maniacal. The two statues were directly opposite each other and were staring furiously at one another.
At the foot of these two giant statues were a group of statues that were around the same size as an average human being. Some were white and some were black. All of them were carved differently, but they all looked like they were about to pounce on each other anytime.
“Be careful! I don’t think this place is safe.” Kano Mai narrowed her eyes slightly and Su Jin spotted a purple flash in her eyes.
“I attained this skill from one of the challenges I completed. It can enhance my vision, but because I haven’t activated my Spirit Power yet, I wasn’t able to change the type of things I can see,” Kano Mai explained to Su Jin when she noticed him staring at her eyes.
“That’s a pretty good skill to have.” Su Jin thought very highly of skills that could increase one’s natural senses.
As the four of them slowly moved along, they observed the statues on both sides of the front hall and realized that they seemed to be telling an ancient legend of sorts. Even though words weren’t used at all, the position and poses of the statues from the beginning of the corridor to the end were enough to convey the story roughly.
“It looks like a war between good and evil. The white side represents good, and the black side represents evil. And in the end… huh?” Su Jin’s expression faltered slightly when he realized that there was a huge taijitu right at the end of the two rows of statues.1
A standard taijitu consisted of a white side and a black side and it represented the universe as well as light and dark, or yin and yang. There was also a white circle in the black part and a black circle in the white part, which made them look like two fish resting against each other’s tails, which was a symbol that opposing natural forces were also forces that relied on one another to exist. The interdependence of two extremes was the core belief of Taiji, the philosophy that used this symbol.
But this taijitu was different. The black and white parts were drawn like most taijitu, but there was no circle of a contrasting color in the middle. When Su Jin looked closer at it, it seemed like this might not be a taijitu, or at least it wasn’t a complete one.
“So… did the good side win or did the evil side win in the end?” asked Tan Xin puzzledly. She couldn’t tell who won from just looking at this incomplete taijitu.
Su Jin thought about it for a while silently, then said to Tan Xin and Shi Teng, “Can you two take a look at your Handbooks? The Handbook usually gives newbies an additional hint or two, so that might give us an answer.”
Shi Teng immediately flipped his Handbook open and noticed that there was indeed some new content inside. He read it out loud, “There was no winner between good and evil. Just like how the light and the darkness can never destroy each other, which side you stand on will determine whether you live or die!”
“Mine says the same thing,” said Tan Xin with a nod after she checked her Handbook.
As usual, the hint given by the Handbook wasn’t very precise, so the owners had to try and decode the message themselves. All of them thought long and hard and tried to understand the message, but the hint was simply too vague. But since it mentioned life and death, Su Jin and Kano Mai wanted to be really careful about interpreting this message.
“Which side you stand on … does it literally refer to which part we stand on?” said Shi Teng hesitantly as he pointed to the flagstones below the taijitu. They had also been painted black and white.
“That’s possible. But which side should we choose?” Kano Mai nodded at the possibility, but none of them knew how to proceed. Which side should they stand on in order to remain safe? The information given by the Handbook didn’t mention anything about this.
“I think the safest is to just choose a different side each so that we split the risk,” said Kano Mai as she looked to Su Jin for his opinion.
Su Jin nodded in agreement. After the four of them discussed their options, they decided that Su Jin and Kano Mai would choose the seemingly more dangerous black side, while Shi Teng and Tan Xin would choose to stand on the white side.
Su Jin took the first step to stand on the part that was painted black, which was on the same level as the floor of the hall. Once he stood there, a black mist swirled around him for just one second and disappeared, as if it was just marking him. There was no other reaction besides that.
Shi Teng then went to stand on the white part, which was raised. This time, a white light flashed for a second. After nothing else happened, Tan Xin and Kano Mai took their places. Just like what happened to the two men, there was a black mist and a white light appeared for a second and disappeared again.
“Is it just making a marking of sorts?” murmured Su Jin to himself. Based on what the hint in the Handbook said, it did seem like they were supposed to confirm which side they were on. So now that they had confirmed which side they were on… Crap, Su Jin thought.
‘Could it be trying to drive a wedge between the group?’ thought Su Jin quietly. He started to think that there was something amiss now. The Handbook wanted them to choose a side each, but if they now represented the opposing sides of good and evil, then they were definitely going to end up fighting one another.
Su Jin glanced at the other three with him. Kano Mai remained silent and looked down at the floor, as if she was taking a rest. He concluded that Kano Mai had already realized this right from the start but decided not to say anything. Meanwhile, Tan Xin had a strange look on her face for just one second before it disappeared. It flashed by so quickly that Su Jin thought he might have been mistaken.
‘Has she discovered this problem too?’ Su Jin frowned, because if they had to end up fighting each other, then the newbie team was definitely going to die.
“I… I’m thinking… did the Handbook want us to split into two factions because … because we’re supposed to fight each other?” Tan Xin looked as though it had been very difficult for her to decide whether to tell Su Jin or not and she had finally decided to pluck up the courage to raise this issue.
Shi Teng’s expression fell. After Tan Xin mentioned this possibility, he too, felt that this was a possibility. But after he had experienced what Kano Mai was capable of, he knew that he was no match for Kano Mai.
“It’s possible,” said Su Jin as he nodded honestly. Then he said, “But you two don’t have to be too worried. Even if we’re supposed to be opposing sides, we might not have to fight to the death. Besides, the only mission we have to complete is to reach the deepest part of this Temple. So even if we’re in opposing teams, we’ll be fine as long as our goal is the same.”
But Tan Xin was a very intelligent woman. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have discovered this possibility so quickly. She didn’t believe what Su Jin said and felt that he was just trying to console them.
“Let me say this first. If we really have to reach a point where one side must win and the other side must lose, I’m willing to lose as long as I don’t have to die! I just hope that both of you can keep me safe,” said Tan Xin very earnestly to Su Jin and Kano Mai.
Su Jin and Kano Mai exchanged glances. This girl was really an intelligent one. She quickly told them what her stand was on this matter so that they would know that she didn’t pose a threat to them even if they had to fight each other. And since she was only a student, she certainly seemed harmless.
“I share the same sentiments! I know both of you are really formidable, so as long as I don’t have to die, I’d rather admit defeat,” said Shi Teng. He seemed afraid that they might not believe him, so he raised both arms in surrender.
Kano Mai whispered to Su Jin, “You can make the decision.”
“Alright then, we’ll agree on that. But don’t leave our line of sight, okay?” said Su Jin. He was willing to protect the newbies, but he had to guarantee his own safety first. If the two newbies threatened his survival, then he was definitely going to counterattack and nip the problem in the bud.
Both of them immediately nodded vigorously.
Just then, a terrible crackling noise resounded in the hall. Su Jin and Kano Mai immediately became alert. A purple light flashed in Kano Mai’s eyes, then her eyes widened in horror as she yelled at Su Jin, “Run! The statues have come alive!”
Taijitu is a term which refers to a Chinese symbol for the concept of yin and yang. It is the universal symbol of the religion known as Taoism and is also often used by non-Taoists to represent the concept of opposites existing in harmony. The taijitu consists of a rotated pattern inside a circle. ↩️
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