Li Yun was stunned by those words. The smile on his face faded slightly as he asked, “What, you still remember your little Shixiong?”
“Of course I remember,” Shuikeng said, dissatisfied, “Not only do I remember how he had looked after growing up, I also remember that when we were kids, San-shixiong had doted on me the most — besides, even if I don't remember, Dshixiong has been painting him for almost a hundred years, how can I not recognize him?”
In the Fuyao Sect, there was the tradition of keeping a portrait of each generation's disciples in the Library. Even if they were unable to return at the moment, Yan Zhengming had always wanted to leave one for Cheng Qian. Unfortunately, no matter how he tried to fix and redo the portraits, none of them were good enough.
Li Yun smiled, “How heartless. Don't we dote on you too?”
As he spoke, he also looked at the image with Shuikeng. But that person's profile only appeared for a brief instance, like a startled swan, and they couldn't make out anything.
“Your little Shixiong had always had well-proportioned features. People with good faces probably all look quite similar, no need to make a fuss.” After a pause, Li Yun added, “Oh right, don't tell your Dshixiong about this. He'll blow up at you.”
Shuikeng gave an off-handed response, but her mind was elsewhere. She shamelessly thought to herself, This fellow looks pretty handsome, I definitely have to chat him up.
As she thought this, she suddenly became impatient for some reason. She spread her wings and flew into the air, complaining, “Why isn't Dshixiong back yet, is he planning to become a son-in-law in that Mingming Valley?”
Even without using her energy, Shuikeng's eyes were naturally able to look very far. With a casual glance, she could see animals running tens of li away. As she aimlessly looked around, she suddenly spotted a frost-like sword glare shooting into the sky in the distance. Following that sword glare, Shuikeng finally noticed that there was a b.l.o.o.d.y aura around that place.
That sword glare brought with it a sheet of frost, rolling up like tides and sweeping away the b.l.o.o.d.y aura. Then a thick black mist scattered, as if making its escape. In the blink of an eye, it had disappeared in different directions.
Shuikeng was stunned.
Her memories, still fresh in her mind, came to the surface from beyond the harsh times they'd experienced. Back then, in the small courtyard colored in autumn shades, a youth's interest seemed to have been piqued. He turned to smile at her, “Little Shimei, I'll show you what Tide Swordplay is —”
She could almost see it in front of her eyes.
Shuikeng's heartbeat sped up.
She abruptly spread her wings to their greatest expanse, ignored Li Yun's shouts, and dove to where the sword aura had come from.
As for that sword aura — Cheng Qian had chased the ghostly shadow on the corpse. He had seen the great demonic cultivator Jiang Peng with his own eyes and had spent many years with Tang Zhen, who had escaped the Soul-Consuming Lamp. He was very familiar with the malicious aura unique to the Soul-Consuming Lamp, so when the shadow first appeared, he had immediately sensed it.
At the same time, he became even more puzzled. Ghostly spirits from Soul-Consuming Lamps were usually fully-formed souls or primordial spirits — what kind of ghostly spirit would look like a piece of rag?
The rag-like shadow fled more than ten li and shot straight into a mountain cave.
Before he even stepped in, Cheng Qian had noticed the suffocating scent of blood from inside the cave. He didn't enter carelessly, only extending a bit of his consciousness at the entrance — if a cultivator had cultivated a primordial spirit, when they extended their consciousness, nothing could escape their eyes within a hundred li.
But this cave seemed as if it was shrouded in some kind of thick mist. Cheng Qian could only somewhat discern there was something deep inside the cave. Right as he was carefully circling around the entrance of the cave, he suddenly heard a clear sound behind him — with his loud voice, Nian Dada was saying at the top of his lungs, “Young Brother, you said that the corpses had been around here back then?”
A slightly younger voice answered, “Yes. Back then, all of the villagers had seen that white figure here.”
Cheng Qian's brows knitted and he immediately hid himself, watching those two come to the entrance of the cave. He had seen Liulang a few times, and had the impression that he was a young man who couldn't keep his feelings off his face. But at the moment, Liulang's face was extremely emotionless as he led Nian Dada into the cave. Looking carefully, his gaze felt somewhat dim, and there seemed to be a layer of mist over his pupils. As they approached the cave's entrance, the mist also thickened.
When he saw that Nian Dada, the absolute fool, hadn't noticed anything off and carelessly followed Liulang into the cave, Cheng Qian stopped hesitating. He immediately reined his entire presence and followed them in. His body was formed with the Spirit-Condensing Jade, so he was very skilled in hiding his own living aura. It was much easier than with an ordinary body made of flesh, and he could pretend to be dead any time he wanted.
As he walked, Nian Dada said, “You don't need to tell me. This cave really seems like it has had people die in here before, there's some kind of foul smell.”
When Cheng Qian heard this from a moderate distance away, a sense of helplessness appeared in his heart — this ability of discernment is truly unmatched.
Liulang didn't reply, eyes gazing straight ahead. There wasn't the slightest change in the youth's footsteps, tapping rhythmically against the ground.
Nian Dada, “Young Brother?”
When he still got no reply, Nian Dada finally felt gooseb.u.mps on his skin and couldn't help exclaiming, as if to boost his own courage, “Shishu! Cheng Shishu, are you inside? Cheng…”
His words were cut off abruptly, as if his tongue had been plucked out, and he stood stupefied — as they reached the end of the narrow path in front of them, Liulang, who was leading the way, suddenly collapsed without a sound. The scene inside the cave was revealed in full.
There was some kind of object inside. It was about as tall as a person, shaped like an oil lamp, open-mouthed with a long neck. Under the lamp's long neck, there were fine, densely packed carvings of charms, which extended down past the ground. The blood-red charms filled up the area within a few zhang of it.
The charms weren't particularly frightening. Even if they were, Nian Dada's foolish eyes wouldn't have been able to figure out what was wrong with the charms. What had frightened him was the fact that the liquid inside the lamp wasn't oil, but pooled up blood, which was moving all by itself, as if stirred by something. Countless skeletal remains bobbed up and down within. The entire mountain cave was shrouded in the color of blood.
Cheng Qian, who had followed them in stealthily, furrowed his brows. He could tell with one look that this was a Soul-Consuming Lamp.
Furthermore, it seemed to be the same one that Lord Beiming had destroyed back then.
Right as he was carefully studying the charms on the ground, a white figure suddenly broke out from the lamp and sunk into Liulang's body without warning.
The youth curled into a bizarre posture on the ground and abruptly leapt up. His nails suddenly grew three cun in an instant as he mercilessly squeezed Nian Dada's neck. Nian Dada was a cultivator and he already had his sword in his hand, he should have been able to block that attack. But when he saw Liulang's young face, his soft-hearted tendency appeared. He thought, This kid is an ordinary person, if I strike him with my sword, he might not be able to survive.
With just that slight hesitation, Nian Dada had missed his last chance. The demonic energy had completely invaded Liulang's body. Bit by bit, the originally smooth skin on the youth's face flaked off. The bones in his arms contorted like snakes, their length uneven due to the violent force of the demonic energy. His deformed finger bones protruded through his skin, moving up and pointing at the spot between Nian Dada's eyebrows. A hoa.r.s.e voice murmured, “Gathering the darkness of the netherworld, blending the blood and Qi of thousands as body, tempering tens of thousands of souls, that is the supreme pinnacle of demonic arts…”
Nian Dada's head hurt so much it seemed about to split. His soul was heavily shaken, it felt like his physical body couldn't keep it contained, as if his soul was about to escape through the spot between his brows right then and there.
A malicious smile appeared on 'Liulang''s face, “The Soul Lamp once again… Who!”
A snow-white sword aura burst forth, mercilessly striking down at 'Liulang''s head. Liulang's Soul-Extraction was cut off, and he almost suffered backlash from the Soul-Consuming Lamp. He had no choice but to toss Nian Dada aside and produced a roar of extreme fury.
Cheng Qian came forward with his sword, head still lowered to study the charms under the lamp. He spoke in an unhurried tone, “What's this, Senior Jiang, Lord Beiming had destroyed the Soul-Consuming Lamp with his own soul back then, but your body and soul hadn't been obliterated? Seems like the path of Ghostism really has some unique effects on the soul. You're… Hmm, could it be, you're trying to rebuild the Soul-Consuming Lamp?”
When Cheng Qian first saw the gigantic Soul-Consuming Lamp, he had first thought of Jiang Peng. Then he heard that voice and immediately became more convinced of the similarity, but he couldn't be certain.
The charms on the ground were shockingly complicated, that even Cheng Qian couldn't immediately figure them out. Because of this, he'd purposefully dragged his words out, putting up the farce that he had a completely thought-out plan, and made things up without base. He wanted to stall for time by talking, so he could memorize the charms on the ground by rote.
Who would've thought that the moment he said those words, 'Liulang''s expression changed drastically. He threw himself at Cheng Qian with a furious roar, as if his secret had been revealed so he had to silence the witness.
While Cheng Qian turned his body to avoid a few strikes of dark energy, he was internally surprised — this person was really Jiang Peng? He was really molding another Soul-Consuming Lamp?
Even if Jiang Peng used to be a peerless demon lord, he was currently possessing the body of an average person and had no Soul-Consuming Lamp or ghostly spirits at his side. With Cheng Qian's current level of cultivation, he wouldn't care much about Jiang Peng. Especially since he had clearly lost his senses and was practically a rabid dog.
Thinking back to the great demon lord on the East Sea all those years ago, who had completely reduced the cultivator sects' dignity and prestige to dust, the difference with his current state was like the distance between the heavens and the earth. Then, the idea of pretending to be an evil spirit causing trouble to fool nearby cultivators… Did he really come up with it himself?
Cheng Qian suddenly felt his hair stand on end — just what kind of path was Ghostism?
Was it the people using the Soul-Consuming Lamp as their tool, or was it the Soul-Consuming Lamp turning the people into ghosts?
Back then, exactly who had led Jiang Peng onto the path of Ghostism?
Cheng Qian immediately stopped suppressing his own cultivation. With him as the source, cold frost gradually covered the entire mountain cave, but they couldn't come close to the surroundings of the Soul-Consuming Lamp.
Jiang Peng was chilled by the coldness and somehow regained shreds of his reason. He retreated half a step and stared at Cheng Qian in alarm, “Who are you?”
Cheng Qian answered coldly, “Someone cleaning up the sect's filth.”
After he finished speaking, the glare of his sword came at Jiang Peng like the stars on a cold night. He was using Fuyao Wooden Swordplay. Surprise flashed on Jiang Peng's face. Then his hand cut into Liulang's torso, forcefully ripping out a rib bone, which turned into a long sword shrouded with dark energy in his hand. When raised into the air, it immediately produced ten incomplete ghost spirits, threateningly surrounding Cheng Qian despite their lack of real power.
Nian Dada, who had just managed to catch his breath, almost fainted upon seeing this. Straining his strangled throat, he shouted, “Look out!”
After a hundred years of cultivating, Cheng Qian never thought that the first person to exchange blows with him would be his martial uncle from the same sect.
What kind of fate was this?
The unremarkable, mediocre sword in Cheng Qian's hand suddenly expanded three chi. There was no blocking the sharp blade and it cut through those ghost spirits like nothing, bearing down on Jiang Peng with great force.
The pressure that Jiang Peng felt from his own sect's sword technique was indescribable. For a brief instance, this great demon's morale finally wavered. As soon as this happened, an opening immediately appeared on the flawless circle of charms around the Soul-Consuming Lamp. Chilling frost cut into the blood-red charms — Cheng Qian was only making a feint earlier, his true aim was the Soul-Consuming Lamp.
He exclaimed in a low voice, “Break —”
In that instance, the entire cave quaked heavily, as if about to collapse. The half-completed Soul-Consuming Lamp was cleaved in two with one strike from Cheng Qian. Thousands of ghostly spirits fought to escape the Soul-Consuming Lamp's confinement, coiling into dark mist. With a flick of Cheng Qian's sword, the thick b.l.o.o.d.y aura churned for a moment and blew up with a deafening sound.
The loud bang almost caused Nian Dada to faint. He only came back to himself after a while, and saw that a corner of the cave had been blasted open, with light pouring in from outside. Fortunately, the mountain could still withstand the force and didn't bury them alive. Once again, the Soul-Consuming Lamp was destroyed. The Elder of the Ethereal Lake had returned his sword to its sheath, coolly standing on one side to look at the b.l.o.o.d.y ‘Liulang'.
Nian Dada scrambled to Cheng Qian's side, “Shishu… this…”
“The real host has escaped.” As Cheng Qian spoke, he reached out toward Nian Dada, “Do you have any medicine for treating wounds?”
“Yes, yes!” Nian Dada hurriedly felt around his own body, procuring a small bottle of medicine. When he was about to clumsily feed it to the dying Liulang, Cheng Qian reached out to stop him. As soon as the pill fell into Cheng Qian's hand, it dissolved into a puff of mist, gently flowing into Liulang's body.
The medicine of Shuzhong was outstanding and could produce instant results. Liulang's dazed eyes had already regained focus. The youth's face was full of holes, his uneven arms lying limply at his sides. A rib was missing from his torso, leaving a dark, b.l.o.o.d.y hole. It was a ghastly sight.
Nian Dada couldn't help asking, “Shishu, can he survive?”
Cheng Qian lowered his eyes, looking at the youth on the verge of death. Liulang's deformed hands dug into the ground forcefully, eyes opened wide with an almost violent will to seek survival.
Cheng Qian said, “That depends on whether he wants to live.”
Before Nian Dada could figure out what those words meant, he saw Cheng Qian produce three bolts of cold energy, which, like three nails, mercilessly pierced Liulang's skullcap, dantian, and the sole of his feet. Liulang opened his mouth, but he couldn't produce a single sound. His entire body convulsed violently on the ground, leaving a long trail of bloodstains.
“For an ordinary person, their soul would disperse with their body's death, so I've pinned his soul into this body. If he can hold it for four hours, take him to Mingming Valley and ask your father to send him to Tang Zhen Zhenren's place,” Cheng Qian said, “If he can't hold it, there's nothing I can do — I have something else to deal with, I can't take you with me. If fate allows, we'll meet again.”
After he finished speaking, he turned around and disappeared in a puff of azure smoke — he had departed in a hurry just like that.
Nian Dada, “Ah! Shishu! Wait!”
He leapt three chi into the air, wanting to run after Cheng Qian, but he couldn't bring himself to leave the unconscious Liulang, so he could only spin around in place. Suddenly, a ball of fire burst into the mountain cave like a shooting star, transforming into a person when it landed. Nian Dada recoiled in fright, but when he looked closer, he saw that the newcomer was a beautiful girl, so he greeted her with a slight blush, “M-Miss, you…”
The person who had burst in was none other than Shuikeng. She looked around and stomped her foot, “Where is he?”
Nian Dada stuttered, “W-who?”
Shuikeng came forward to grab Nian Dada's collar, lifted him into the air, and fired off rapidly, “Where's the person who had used a sword here just now?”
Nian Dada's face flushed bright red as he squeezed out with great difficulty, “… He left.”
With a bitter face, Nian Dada struggled to save his own neck, “I don't know, Miss. That's a senior from our humble sect, why would he tell me where he's going?”
Shuikeng dropped him and turned to leave. But she thought for a bit and turned back around, questioning closely, “What sect are you from? What kind of senior is he?”
After coughing drily for a moment, Nian Dada still replied cordially, “There's only our Mingming Valley in this area. That's the Elder of the Ethereal Lake from our sect, he's been cultivating in seclusion for almost fifty years and only got out recently, this is his first time leaving the valley. Miss, you must've gotten the wrong person…”
Shuikeng cut him off, “What's his name?”
Nian Dada sighed at her persistence, but he still answered honestly, “Cheng…”
Before he could say the following word, Shuikeng had turned into a ball of fire again and flew out in pursuit without turning back.
Fifty years of seclusion, first time leaving the valley. If that really was her little Shixiong, where would he go? Other than Fuyao Mountain, Shuikeng couldn't think of any other place.
She was crying as she went. To be honest, she didn't know what there was to cry about, but she couldn't stop her tears for some reason. As soon as the tears fell from her face, they immediately evaporated amid the flames around her.
Shuikeng wished she could announce the news to everything under the heavens, or send a message for Dshixiong, Er-shixiong, and Zheshi-dage. But she also didn't dare to, fearing that this was a mere dream, a flower in the mirror, the moon reflected on the water.
She didn't even dare to hear the idiot say that person's full name.
In the past hundred years, San-shixiong had become their Sect Leader's nilin . n.o.body was allowed to mention him. Even the slightest hint of allusion could incur his wrath.
But while forbidding others from mentioning him, he himself had carved a phantom ring in the shape of a copper coin, which he'd sometimes summon to torment himself. Not to mention repeatedly painting that person's portrait, again and again. Every time he finished the painting, he would stare at it in a daze, then destroy it with his own hands.
Shuikeng knew the reason for this. He didn't want the person in the portrait to eternally remain in his youth, but he was powerless to change this.
Can a person come back to life after dying? She thought to herself, Impossible. Even for a cultivator of the primordial spirit level, when they're reincarnated, they wouldn't be the same as they were previously. Moreover, San-shixiong wasn't even seventeen years old back then, he was far from reaching the level of primordial spirit.
Shuikeng had almost convinced herself, but her wings refused to obey her, and continued flying toward Fuyao Mountain single-mindedly.
She was completely right, Cheng Qian was going to Fuyao Mountain. After seeing Jiang Peng again, he was reminded of the complicated old entanglements of the previous generation. He had a faint feeling in his heart, that when those issues had been sorted out, he would find the key to revitalizing their sect.
Why couldn't Fuyao Mountain become a second Mingming Valley?
On his way, Cheng Qian had made various mental preparations, considering the worst possibilities. Could Fuyao Mountain have already turned into a barren hill? That Library of theirs, with the most exquisite arrays and countless solitary copies of charms, could they have been claimed by some other person?
But it never occurred to him that none of these had happened — he couldn't find the way back to Fuyao Mountain.
Back then, when Muchun Zhenren brought Cheng Qian back to the sect, he had led him up step by step. Cheng Qian didn't think that he could possibly fail to find Fuyao Mountain. But after an unrelenting journey of a day and a night on his sword, following his memories to search high and low, he finally had no choice but to admit: Fuyao Mountain… had disappeared into thin air.
 ‘nilin' The word used here is 「逆鱗」. It refers to the scale that grows in the opposite direction on a dragon's body, usually under its throat. It is said that a dragon will enter a fit of rage if its nilin is touched.
If you liked this, please consider donating to keep this website going!
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»