Just then, the snake moved. It crawled sinuously towards them.
Its long tail swept those ancient trees, cutting through the small forest. Wherever it went, was followed by a trail of destruction. Trees which were so thick that one could barely get their arms around, were all toppled down.
With one hand squeezing Cheng Qian’s shoulder, the other lifting his sword, and his arm holding Li Yun who could scarcely stand, Yan Zhengming thought wearily, “What the fuck should I do?”
While his feet was still feeling like jelly, his head had already cooled down. He knew they stood no chance in escaping right now. But at the very thought that they would be torn into shreds and die in the beast’s mouth, he felt a spasm of dizziness.
In a flash, this lousy imagination made him determine to leave life and death out of consideration. Miraculously, his hand holding the sword stopped quaking. He resolved that no matter what happened, he was going to fight to death with it. At least he should slice two scales off, and when he was drained, he would kill himself – better than suffering the torment of the filthy smell from its mouth before closing his eyes.
At the border of life and death, those sword moves that he failed to integrate for the past few years were now swelling like tides in his mind, linking together in such a magical way that the snake seemed to decelerate significantly in his eyes.
Yan Zhengming twisted his wrist and aimed firmly at the huge snake’s eye.
The first stab, he must not miss it.
The snake monster was getting closer and closer. For a second, Yan Zhengming stopped breathing –
… But then, the snake passed them by.
The swinging serpent’s tail narrowly missed Cheng Qian’s ankle by less than the length of a palm, and it just went straight into another direction emitting a terrible rustling sound, as if it didn’t see them.
The three boys kept their postures unchanged for a good while until someone’s abnormal heartbeats broke the silence. They just had a brush with death.
Yan Zhengming withdrew himself from the highly-focused state and only then slowly hung down his sword. For a while, he felt as if his limbs weighted hundreds of Jin1 and he could barely support himself. His back was soaked in cold sweats that were coursing all the way down his spine to his waist.
Staring at his sword, Yan Zhengming was amazed that he gained an insight in that emergency.
If Muchun Zhenren knew about this, he would definitely sigh that he didn’t teach young master Yan according to his characteristics. If he had placed a lumpy toad on the desk while he practiced charms, which would lick young master Yan’s hand every time he got distracted, his cultivation level would have probably improved in leaps and bounds.
At this time, the tablet spoke again, with a very breezy attitude. “I’ve told you, with me, you don’t have to fear such small monsters.”
Its voice rang a bell with Cheng Qian. He took a puzzled look at the tablet in his hand, but failed to recall where he had heard it.
He thrusted the tablet into first senior brother’s hand, who hadn’t come back to earth yet. Then he carried his nonaggressive wooden sword and walked to the front of the bear’s body.
Yan Zhengming hadn’t dried off yet and began to sweat again when he saw this bold cub climbing up the bear’s body with both hands and feet. He hissed, “What are you doing? Get down!”
Cheng Qian waved his hand at him without even looking back, and then reached his target successfully – a “sword” hanging on the bear’s waist, made of some beast’s sharp fang. That tooth was a good two Chi long, with a hole in the end so it would be convenient to hold. Its tip was as sharp as a knife and was glinting with dim light, perhaps with venom on it.
The tooth was so large that the short Cheng Qian was holding it as if it was a behemoth. The chillily shining blade reflected his serious face, and there was still ominous blood of its former owner on it.
Under Yan Zhengming’s and Li Yun’s astonished gaze, Cheng Qian abandoned his wooden sword for the new one with an impassive expression.
He jumped down from that corpse and tried wielding it with both hands, but felt it was too long and heavy, not very convenient. He stabbed forward with a total lack of inhibition, and poof! Its tip stuck into the thick fur freely without any obstruction as if he was cutting vegetables.
Only then was Cheng Qian satisfied – in spite of its unwieldiness, it was incisive enough.
Li Yun muttered, “Third Junior Brother… what breed of guy is he?”
Yan Zhengming laughed dryly, no knowing what to reply.
Although the serpent, which had turned a blind eye to them just now, proved that the tablet did have some effects, Cheng Qian didn’t want pin their safety entirely on that thing.
Only when he was holding this heavy tooth would he have a sense of real security.
One monster died, and the other left. There was no danger around for the time being. When Li Yun dripped “magic water” on that useless stone, naturally the toad became alive and kicking again, and continued to guide them forward happily.
Along the way, Yan Zhengming tried to talk to that tablet several times. But it suddenly became dumb and wouldn’t answer any of his questions.
Until the toad led them to the top of a hill.
With only one peep down from the top of the hill, the toad was aghast. Then it played the same old trick and overturned itself on the ground, pretending to be dead again.
Li Yun caught up. At a simple glance, he understood why.
He instinctively turned to run and bumped into Cheng Qian, almost causing them to roll down the hill together.
Cheng Qian’s small back badly hit a rock, the fang almost fell out of his hand. He was knocked dizzy by Li Yun and said suppressing the howl of pain, “Second Senior Brother, if you want to go with your toad, don’t pull me along!”
Li Yun collared Cheng Qian, lips shaking so heavily that he couldn’t speak. Cheng Qian only then realised something was wrong. Looking up at Yan Zhengming’s equally frozen figure, he inquired, “What’s wrong?”
Standing where the toad died in the line of its duty, Yan Zhengming felt that the whole world was upside down – in the valley down the hill, there were hundreds of thousands of monsters fighting heatedly: flying birds and running beasts, human-headed and beast-bodied monsters, blood dying the ground, flesh flying up and down – it was like a slaughterhouse. In contrast, the huge bear and long snake just now… were really only two small monsters.
Eventually, the tablet uttered, “Don’t look. If that was real, the sound and the bloody smell would have already spread to the other side of the mountain. Is it possible that you didn’t notice it until you climbed up here?”
His words slapped those silly boys out of their shock. After a more careful look, they found there were some blurs in the scene in the valley.
Li Yun breathed a sigh of relief and asked almost eagerly, “Senior, are they all false?”
“This valley is called Mirror Valley, it reflects the scene of somewhere else. Of course they are all real, although it is not happening here.” The tablet chuckled.
He sounded very nonchalant, as if he had seen plenty of bloodshed and death, which set the lads on their guard.
They winked at one another without uttering a sound, while the tablet seemed to not notice their nervousness and continued, “Pass through the valley and over that mountain ahead, you will see the Celestial Platform. The scene in the Mirror Valley takes place somewhere near it. You only have to send me there, then you can go find your little junior brother.”
“We are here for that little underbite, not to commit suicide together – what the hell are you?” Said Yan Zhengming dryly.
At that, a cloud of white smoke rose from the tablet, and when it cleared, an image of their long-necked and small-headed master showed up, so vivid that it looked like Muchun Zhenren himself was here.
But seeing his acquainted weasel master, Yan Zhengming didn’t show a kinder look. Instead, he threw the tablet on the ground, pointed his sword at it, and barked, “How dare you masquerade as my master!”
Being scolded like that, “master” didn’t get angry but smiled, eyes crinkling. Then by a sudden metamorphosis, it changed to a nebulous black shadow, taking the shape of a mushroom.
“I will not be your master then – but I was carved by your master himself.” That “mushroom” said gently. “Xiao-Zhengming, even if you do not trust me, don’t you trust your master?”
Seeing Yan Zhengming hesitating, the “mushroom” resumed, “Besides, Xiao-Yun’s toad has led you here, which means Xiao-Yuan is right in front. So we’re going the same way, right?”
Yan Zhengming looked down to see the direction to which the toad was heading before it died, and thought, “Since we’re already here, it’s too ridiculous if we back down now, and what if Han Yuan is really in the front?”
Out of absolute trust in his master, Yan Zhengming put his sword down together with the doubt in his mind. He stooped to pick up the tablet and said impatiently, “You lead the way.”
The tablet led them all the way down to the Mirror Valley. Even though they were well aware that it was only mirages around them, it was still a torment to travel under the claws and teeth of those monsters, which made this path seem awfully long. Cheng Qian thought that after this experience, those ghost stories about “haunted deserted villages at night” and “heart-gouging ghosts” couldn’t horrify him any more.
Cheng Qian couldn’t resist asking, “What on earth is going on here?”
“The Heavenly Monster is coming into the world. Its descension robbed the Monster King of his powers. Demonic cultivators don’t value allegiance, once the Monster King gets weak, they will seize the chance to rebel and usurp the throne.” Answered the tablet unhurriedly.
“What humiliation!” Cheng Qian thought.
But then, thinking of the rude Zipeng Zhenren and the snake monster that silently killed a bear to take its core, he felt that demonic cultivators deserved to be called beasts. They were all unreasonable and did not follow moral principles. Looking at it this way, it seemed excusable that they rebelled disloyally.
“Since it’s an institution for demonic cultivators, why are you going to the Celestial Platform? To watch the fighting scene?” Asked Yan Zhengming.
This time, the “mushroom” in the tablet adopted a stern countenance. “It’s already inauspicious for the Heavenly Monster to see blood at its birth, if this slaughter is not quelled, I’m afraid the Heavenly Monster will be born to be bloodthirsty and bring disaster to Fuyao Mountain. I have to stop that before the disaster is sealed.”
Feeling foggy, Yan Zhengming pursued, “What do you mean?”
But the tablet just shuffled away the subject as if it didn’t hear his question. “There’s movement under the bridge in front. The guy you’re looking for should be there.”
In the depths of Mirror Valley, there was a low-lying land full of silt. It could be a river before. Even though the river had run dry, a bridge with a sculpture of a beast head was preserved.
There were several piers and openings under the bridge. Cheng Qian spotted a few shriveled ugly monsters. They had pointy chins, beards on both cheeks and a long tail – apparently, they were a gang of mice spirits.
Their attention was drawn from the tablet evading the subject. A mouse spirit was sneaking around on lookout, and the rest was buzzing around in the bridge opening. The thing they were surrounding was their junior brother Han Yuan!
Han Yuan looked like a muddy monkey and was thrashing violently. Two big mice pinned him on the ground and another was daubing mud on his body. Beside them, a bonfire had been ignited – they were going to make Han Yuan into a “beggar’s human2”!
The course of nature goes round! The little beggar had stolen and eaten so many poultry, and now he was going to be toasted in mud. That was his karma!
As the tablet didn’t hide the three martial brothers’ figures this time, Han Yuan and those mice spirits all spotted them.
Han Yuan almost burst into excited tears, he howled desperately with relief, “Help! Senior Brothers – Help! – Let go of me! You fucking mice! I’m warning you: my senior brothers can blow clouds and puff fogs, control thunders and lightnings… just wait to be scorched by the lightning, you vile mice!”
His senior brothers that were said to be able to control thunders and lightnings were speechless.
Seeing the mud on Han Yuan’s body, Yan Zhengming showed a revolted expression as if he had a toothache. “I think we may as well have him roasted.”
No sooner had he finished speaking than the mouse on lookout pounced at him. Having encountered the battle between a snake and a bear, and the rebellion of thousands of monsters, he could hardly be terrified by such a wretched mouse which wasn’t as tall as him. Yan Zhengming thrusted the tablet into Li Yun’s bosom and whipped up with his sword.
The mouse spirit jumped to scratch and Yan Zhengming swung his sword horizontally to resist. The mouse’s nails raked the big gem on the sword, but the gem remained intact and its nails broke!
That mouse let out a blood-curdling scream. Then it ragingly opened its mouth and snapped at Yan Zhengming’s sword. With a sweep of his arm, Yan Zhengming elbowed the mouse at its nose. It gave a choked cry and toppled sidewards to the front of Cheng Qian, who had been waiting there beforehand.
By now, Cheng Qian was only relatively practiced in the opening move, so he was already in position, staring at the situation concentratedly. The big mouse was seeing stars by Yan Zhengming’s knock and stumbled under Cheng Qian’s sword at such an angle that it looked like it delivered itself there.
Cheng Qian instinctively gripped the fang with both hands and there went his opening move –
The heroic mouse was sent to Nirvana.(The mouse was killed.)
Not expecting that he would kill it with one shot, Cheng Qian went blank for a moment. On the other hand, seeing that this matter couldn’t easily reach an end, the other three mice had abandoned Han Yuan and rushed at them separately.
They were going to launch a death fight upon those that spoiled their dinner.