A sudden hush fell over the sea.
For the four disciples of Fuyao Sect, this dark silhouette was somewhat familiar. Yan Zhengming had caught a few words of what the shadow had said, and though he was the only one who knew how this person who’d once resided within a tablet had now shown up here, all of them were aware of the fact that this man must be closely related to their sect.
The last time they had met in the Demon Valley, this archdevil had treated them very amiably. Though he was fond of fooling those kids, he never angered even when they exposed his lies. From this, one could see his good temper.
Today, however, he appeared to be a starkly different person.
Though Yan Zhengming stood on the deck of a large ship, he felt the tyrannically vicious vibes emitting from Lord Beiming and setting the sea in unrest.
Jiang Peng’s expression twisted, and he jumped from the clouds onto the ship carrying a group of sword cultivators.
Those cultivators, who moments ago had been flashing their swords and killing ghost shadows, now leapt into the ocean like dumplings being poured into a pot. Without warning or reason, they splashed into the water and sent up spectacular waves.
A storm sprang up over the sea, causing Yan Zhengming to stagger and nearly lose his footing.
Fortunately, the entire body of this ship had been carved with charms drawn by powerful cultivators, allowing it to stay stable for a good while. It was for this reason that the ship was so expensive. But by the time Yan Zhengming regained his balance, his heart sank. His master disappeared with his boat!
“Tell the shipmaster to drive the ship away,” Yan Zhengming instructed a Taoist boy. “There’s a telescope in my luggage, fetch it for me… Cheng Qian, what the fuck are you doing? Get down!”
Cheng Qian had climbed up the ship last, and while Yan Zhengming had been distracted, Cheng Qian started gazing around the area.
Yan Zhengming rolled up his sleeves, took a striding step with his long legs, and pulled Cheng Qian down by hooking his arms around the boy’s waist.
Cheng Qian had been searching for Muchun Zhenren. After being yanked down like a chick before he had found anything, he struggled for all he was worth. “What are you doing?”
“What are you doing!?” Yan Zhengming shouted in Cheng Qian’s ear, holding him with his hand.
“I’m looking for Master!”
“You’re looking for death!”
Yan Zhengming fumed. Then he got a glimpse of Xueqing hurrying out for Cheng Qian, so Yan Zhengming ordered him, “Ehh… You, what’s your name again? Come over, watch this kid, don’t let him…”
Another quake of the ship cut Yan Zhengming short; Lord Beiming and Jiang Peng had come to blows.
The water dragon breached the surface of the water once again. Even the big ship of the Fuyao Sect couldn’t resist leaning sideways. Yan Zhengming had been left no time to hand Cheng Qian over to Xueqing. He pulled Cheng Qian tightly into his arms, and immediately after, he fell over, his back hitting the cabin next to him. The charms all over the entire ship began groaning madly.
With one side being an almighty demonic cultivator who could trap primordial spirits into his Soul-Consuming Lamp, and the other side being the grandmaster of all devil magic—Lord Beiming—their earthshaking clashes made those people on the sea seem like lowly crickets and ants who were forced to flow helplessly with the waves.
Trapped in such a sorry plight, Yan Zhengming finally couldn’t help shouting out his thoughts.
“I knew we shouldn’t have left the mountain!”
Cheng Qian struggled to lift his head and complained, “You are pressing my ribs.”
Yan Zhengming picked himself up with both hands and feet and thrust Cheng Qian into the cabin. “That’s because you’re so short that my arm could only reach your ribs!”
All of the protection charms on the big ship worked at full capacity. The ship swayed like a flickering candlelight in the midst of the raging tides. Perhaps after this experience, their master would no longer oppose young master Yan’s theory that “cheap things are not good; good things are not cheap.”
Only then did Yan Zhengming take a breath and look over the situation.
Yet the water vapour had blurred his eyesight, so he couldn’t see anything. He involuntarily thought of what he had heard from Wen Ya. According to him, Lord Beiming should be a senior of their sect who was still concerned about the sect despite the fact that he had strayed into Diabolism. Last time, he even sacrificed one of his souls in the Demon Valley to save them.
At that thought, Yan Zhengming suddenly became a little worried: this black shadow in front of them was probably an incomplete primordial spirit since he had only two out of three spiritual souls left. This ghost cultivator, on the other hand, happened to be the primordial spirit-killer and also didn’t look like someone to be trifled with. So, what if he even defeated Lord Beiming?
But this thought only lingered in his head for a second or so before it vanished. “This is a fight between two devils; whichever side wins has nothing to do with us,” Yan Zhengming thought, and as he adjusted his facial expression, he prepared to turn to give Cheng Qian a lecture. Nonetheless, he turned around only to find that when his concentration had lapsed for just a moment, Cheng Qian had gone missing!
And Puddle, as well.
Their disappearance made Yan Zhengming choke with anger, worry churning in his stomach. He looked around in a great flurry, fearing that those two brats had been captured by ghost shadows, or that they had fallen into the sea in the confusion.
“Young Master, third martial uncle is there!”
Yan Zhengming stumbled over to the Taoist child, and in the direction the Taoist boy was pointing to, he saw Cheng Qian and Puddle stealthily landing on their master’s broken boat.
Puddle’s wings hadn’t shrunk into her back yet, so it was evident how they had gotten down there. Yan Zhengming only couldn’t puzzle out how Cheng Qian had managed to persuade her.
In the meantime, the two devils fought heatedly in the sky. In such a tense situation, Yan Zhengming couldn’t just go rant at his junior brother; instead, he could only glare at him. Seeing that bastard wave to him from that leaking boat, Yan Zhengming felt a spasm of pain in his stomach.
He found this “gentle and quiet” junior brother had such a brave bearing that he could even disregard his life and death. That boy didn’t give a shit about whether the sky fell or the earth quaked, and cared about only a few people. Therefore, even if the two devils were going to rip a hole in the heavens, all he wanted to do was to find his master.
Muchun Zhenren was so scared by his apprentices’ arrival that his heart nearly jumped out of his mouth. He hurriedly put his index and middle fingers together, shot a bullet of spirit energy at Puddle and Cheng Qian to get them down, and raised his arms to catch them.
He was just about to lose temper when Cheng Qian clutched at his sleeves. The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Master, are you alright!?”
“Ah ah!” Puddle echoed with him.
Muchun Zhenren’s eyelids kept twitching. On one hand, he wanted to give each of them a slap in the bottom; on the other hand, his heart was so moved and softened by Cheng Qian’s words that in the end, he failed to do what he wanted to do.
Just then, a shriek broke out overhead. Jiang Peng’s body was nearly transparent, a gruesome flame dimly visible in his chest. Currents of air as dark as ink rose up in waves to his face, darkening even the whites of his eyes.
Dumbstruck, Muchun Zhenren murmured, “Using his body as the lamp… is he freaking crazy?”
And then, Muchun Zhenren’s presence changed as he planted his wooden sword into the deck. The sword in his hand seemed to have transformed into an exceptionally sharp weapon as it effortlessly cleaved deep into the deck. At the same moment, seawater rushed all around them, rising and forming a globe of water which encased the master and his apprentices inside its sphere.
Shortly after he’d done that, an inexpressible scream whipped out, so earsplitting that even Muchun Zhenren’s water globe couldn’t completely block it, and so mournful that it seemed as though thousands of ghosts were wailing at the same time. An ominous air climbed into the sky and gathered those dark clouds together. Lightning loomed over the clouds as the canopy of the sky shrouded the world in darkness, dwarfing Lord Beiming in insignificance.
As the ghost shadows rampaged, Lord Beiming’s figure became increasingly fragile. Beneath his feet were treacherous surging tides, where we stood looking like the most indomitable thorn between the heaven and earth.
Watching that figure, a phrase dawned upon Cheng Qian—“No matter how many foes, they cannot bend my will.”
The powerful demonic cultivator who could refine primordial spirits and the down-and-out ugly Taoist bun, the wild water dragon and the unsharp wooden sword, the thunders from the highest heavens and the fragmented soul of Lord Beiming…
Tang Wanqiu’s dazzling swordlight, the sawdust in master’s fingertips, and the solitary view of Lord Beiming’s back… suddenly, all those scenes flashed across Cheng Qian’s mind as something flew into his body, racing through his aching and still-recovering channels, sending a buzz of pain through his body.
Startled, Muchun Zhenren, hurried to catch Cheng Qian as he fell. He hadn’t expected that this boy would drift into his first meditation under such a situation and was unsure about whether this apprentice was innately brave or if he was destined to embark on a dangerous branch road in the future.
The situation was critical for Cheng Qian. Each time, the Celestial Market was held on an island on the East Sea. On that island was a forest of celestial mountains which made this area thick with magic. Now, that abundant spiritual energy was excessively absorbed into Cheng Qian’s body like an ocean being emptied into a small brook, almost bursting Cheng Qian’s fragile channels.
Puddle was scared voiceless. She blankly observed her third senior brother curl up because of the billows of pain.
In the sky, Jiang Peng had fully changed into a huge Soul-Consuming Lamp. The ghost shadows as multitudinous as willow catkins were sucked into the inauspicious lamp flame in an instant, and even the black mist covering Lord Beiming’s skin nearly dispersed. But before anyone could get a clear view of his face, Lord Beiming dashed towards the lamp with remarkable speed, like a moth darting into the fire.
Unexpectedly, however, the moment Lord Beiming moved, Puddle suddenly lost control of her wings and levitated in the air as if being pulled up.
In a dreadful rush, Muchun Zhenren stretched out to grip Puddle’s clothes while watching over Cheng Qian at the same time.
Only then did he notice the belt on the chubby girl’s waist. He reached to the gaudy belt and pulled it off.
Muchun shook a wooden talisman out of it. It was exactly the “tracking charm” that Cheng Qian had instructed Yan Zhengming to make.
Cheng Qian himself was a just beginner who lacked all understanding of the taboos and knacks of the art of charms, and Yan Zhengming was nothing short of an amateur; on top of that, they frequently quarreled while making the talisman, so how could they have possibly carved the tracking charm in the correct way?
Actually, even Muchun Zhenren didn’t recognize what that charm was when he passed a simple glance over it.
It wouldn’t matter if the charm were completely incorrect; at most, it would just be a waste of wood. The dangerous thing about it was that this unknown charm seemed to have now activated!
Right at the moment when Lord Beiming and the Soul-Consuming Lamp crashed in the sky, the vast darkness battling the intense brightness, a sparkle burst out from the talisman and quickly stretched out and expanded, turning into dazzling light. That light then rose up and crashed into a bolt of lightning that fell from the heavens. For a moment, everyone was struck blind, and the world before them became a world of white.
After an unknown amount of time, the blaze faded out. Lord Beiming and Jiang Peng were both gone, and Muchun Zhenren and his two apprentices had also disappeared. Where they once stood, only shreds of colored silk were left.
Cheng Qian suffered the anguish of thousands of cuts before he felt the pain finally ease away. He thought he was dying. In his unconsciousness, he seemed to hear a light cry. That was… junior sister?
Then he heard another soft voice whispering, “Shh—don’t cry.”
As Puddle’s whimper died down, everything around Cheng Qian seemed to be moving away from him. He started to lose sense of his limbs and soon his existence. He felt as if he was sinking into an unknown place and blending into it.
After an unknown period of time, Cheng Qian came round and felt better than he ever had before. Even the weariness and internal injuries from the past few days had now disappeared.
He slowly exhaled a breath and blinked. Then he found himself in an unfamiliar place.
This seemed to be a valley where an incredibly huge tree stood. Its root protruding from the ground was as high as a house, and beneath it lay a skeleton.
Beside the skeleton was his junior sister, along with a strange man.
Boggled, Cheng Qian propped himself up. “Senior… who are you?”
Then it suddenly struck him that he knew this guy—he was the man on the half piece of portrait Cheng Qian had discovered on the second-to-last floor of the Library. In front of this man’s feet lay silently a weasel with a slender body, though one couldn’t tell if it was alive.
Puddle stared at this stranger inquisitively. Although her human part didn’t recognize him, her demon part found this person very familiar.
The “stranger” turned to Cheng Qian, smiling faintly. “After a bit of time has passed, you can’t even recognize your own master?”
Cheng Qian’s legs were originally numb; after hearing the familiar voice of this stranger, he immediately slumped back to the ground. “Master?”
How come his long-waisted and short-legged master became such a handsome man!?
Being taught the word “master” heaps of times, Puddle understood what it meant. She let out a surprised “oh” and tilted her head, looking seriously in thought as a string of glistening dribble hung from her mouth.
Seeing her saliva, the man in a long robe with wide sleeves sighed and carefully wiped the saliva off. Then he droned, complaining, “Only I, your master, would not detest you, my dirty girl. If it were your first senior brother here, he would have stewed you.”
This familiar manner of speaking restored a sense of kinship in Puddle. She soon forgot about what master looked like before his face “changed” and happily blew her nose, smearing her master’s clean robe with tears and snot.
Cheng Qian was so confused that he felt like he was dreaming. There were so many questions on his mind, but he could only start from the urgent ones. “Master, what is this place? And… how did you become like this?”
Muchun Zhenren took out the slab, which had broken into two halves, and threw them at Cheng Qian, saying sulkily, “You have the cheek to ask me that? Look at what you guys have carved!”
Cheng Qian instantly recognised that was the thing which they’d worked on for a half night. He stammered, “This… this is a tracking charm.”
Muchun Zhenren sighed, “How dare dabblers like you touch charms which you’ve never seen before? You really have guts… there is more than one mistake in your strokes, making it only a semi-finished soul-tracking charm. Originally it had no use, but the soul-consuming lamp and Lord Beiming’s powerful primordial spirit forced it to activate, and now it has followed Lord Beiming’s primordial spirit to his boneyard.”
Cheng Qian couldn’t help but rest his eyes on the skeleton under the tree.
That was Lord Beiming’s?
He’d been dead?
A lot of doubts hovered in Cheng Qian’s head. He tentatively inquired, “Master, do you know him?”
Muchun Zhenren gave a wry smile. “Thanks to you guys, I recognised him only just now.”
With that, he fished a copper coin out of his sleeve and said, “Brother Wen Ya has given me three copper coins1; now I have only this one left.”
His fingertips were dazzlingly white in contrast to the rusty coin. Cheng Qian found himself still more used to Master’s wretched appearance with a moustache—this man looked like someone who had walked out from a picture, and thus gave Cheng Qian a feeling of distance as though in the next moment, he would return into the portrait.
Muchun Zhenren flicked his fingertip against that coin, and with a tinkling sound, a cloud of fog rose up from the copper coin, forming into Lord Beiming.
After scrutinizing the man for a moment, Muchun Zhenren slowly knelt down while holding Puddle, saluting, “Master.”