Ch.21: Shortened Distance
Xie Lian didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. He was just about to get Ruoye to try again and grab onto something else, when he suddenly felt the white silk go slack around his wrist. Immediately, Xie Lian was overcome with a sense of dread.
This abrupt feeling wasn’t because Ruoye had loosened its grip on the other end, but because something worse had occurred.
Sure enough, that shade of red from the ground suddenly got a lot closer. It didn’t take long before it was within arm’s reach.
San Lang also got drawn into the sandstorm!
Xie Lian yelled at him, “Don’t panic!”
The moment he opened his mouth, he ate another mouthful of sand. With the way things were at this time, he had long become used to eating a mouthful of sand here and there.
Although he had shouted at San Lang to not panic, in reality, even he had felt that San Lang wouldn’t have panicked at all. Sure enough, after the young man had been caught in the air, Ruoye quickly retracted and pulled the two of them closer together.
Xie Lian got a good look at San Lang’s face. The expression on the boy’s face didn’t have even half an ounce of panic. Almost as if he would be able to read a book serenely even amidst the sandstorm, as long as he was given one. In fact, Xie Lian began to suspect whether or not San Lang had deliberately intended for himself to get rolled up into the air.
Ruoye went wounding around their waists a couple of times, tying them together. Xie Lian hugged onto San Lang before saying, “Go again! This time, don’t grab onto another human being!”
Thus, Ruoye flew out again. This time, what Ruoye had grabbed onto was……Nan Feng and Fu Yao!
Xie Lian felt both mentally and physically exhausted as he told Ruoye, “When I said not to grab onto a human, I didn’t mean for it to be so literal …..well, alright then……”
He shouted downward, in their direction, “Nan Feng, Fu Yao! Hang on tight! No matter what, you must support us!”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao, who were still on the ground below, naturally wanted to support them. The both of them stood their ground, but it was to no avail. The sandstorm was just too wild and fierce. Not long after and to no one’s surprise, yet another two shadows got rolled up into the tornado.
Now, the four of them were all spinning wildly in the air. Between the darkened yellow sky and the dark yellow earth, the tornado was much like an askew sand pillar supporting the heavens. Furthermore, a strip of white silk now connected four figures within this sand pillar, all of whom ceaselessly whirled about without rest. The more they spun, the faster they went, and the higher up they flew. To one side, Xie Lian ate sand like mad, yet on the other, he yelled: “How come you’re all up here too?”
What they saw aside from sand was still sand, and what they heard in addition to wind was still wind. With no other choice, they had to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. As he ate sand, Fu Yao spat in contempt, “You’ll have to ask this strip of stupid white silk! What’s wrong with it?!”
Xie Lian grasped the stupid white silk with both hands and helplessly said, “ Ruoye ah Ruoye, all four of us are counting on you now. This time, you mustn’t grab onto the wrong thing again. Go!”
Carrying feelings of forlorn hope with him, Xie Lian once again let one end of Ruoye go. Nan Feng yelled, “Don’t count on this thing anymore! Think of a another plan!”
But at this very moment, Xie Lian felt the end he was currently holding on suddenly tighten. His spirits immediately lifted as he said, “Wait, give it another chance! It grabbed onto something!”
Fu Yao also shouted, “It better not have looped around a passerby again! Better let them go if it did!”
It came without saying that Xie Lian was also worried about this as well. He tugged on Ruoye a couple of times, but discovered that the other end didn’t budge even the slightest bit. Only then did Xie Lian’s heart relax as he said, “No! Not this time! The other end feels very heavy and stable!” He then said, ”Retract!”
Going against the frenzied tornado, Ruoye retracted with great speed. The four figures rapidly sped away from the wind pillar. Gradually, amidst the yellow sand in the sky, Xie Lian was able to perceive the black outline of a semi circle below them.
This outline was massive, and was approximately the size of a small temple. In fact, the other end of Ruoye was precisely coiled around such a thing. And only after they got closer to the ground did he finally see it more clearly; that thing was a giant stone.
Within a sandstorm of this degree, this piece of stone was like a firm and silent fortress. It was undoubtedly an excellent shelter against the strong winds.
During their entire journey there, they definitely had not seen a giant rock like this. Thus, they really could not tell exactly how far that strange tornado had taken them. The moment the four of them reached the ground, they immediately made their way to the other side of the rock that was blocking the wind. Feeling delighted as they took shelter, Xie Lian said, “This is truly a blessing from the heavens.”
It turned out that the side of the rock that was protected from the wind had a hole. The hole was about two doors wide, while the height was slightly shorter than one. But it was sufficiently large enough for an adult to enter, as long as they bent down and bowed their heads. The entrance wasn’t neatly made, and was rather crooked. However, it didn’t appear like it was formed naturally, so it was more probable that someone had casually carved out this artificial entrance.
Once Xie Lian entered, he discovered that the rock was carved out to be almost completely hollow. The space within the cave didn’t seem to be small, but it was relatively dark. Xie Lian didn’t immediately explore the entire place, and instead sat down on an area that was illuminated by the light streaming in from the outside. He brushed off the yellow sand on Ruoye before wrapping it back around his wrist.
Nan Feng and Fu Yao were both spitting out sand. Sand had gotten into their mouth, eyes and ears, so it was needless to mention the folds within their clothes. Shedding their clothes and giving it a good shake had resulted in a heavy stream of sand and stone.
Amongst the four of them, the one that looked the least affected was still San Lang. After he had bent over and entered the cave, he dusted off a few specs of dust on his red attire, but nothing more. This was done more for show and out of courtesy. With the exception of his hair being slightly dishevelled and his ponytail being combed lopsided, his happy attitude didn’t seem to have been affected at all. In addition, that lopsided hairstyle of his was originally combed crooked by Xie Lian. Hence, even if it became more crooked, it didn’t really matter in the slightest.
Nan Feng wiped his face twice before breaking out in curses. Xie Lian dumped out the sand within his bamboo hat before sighing, “Ah~ I truly hadn’t expected you guys to get blown into the air too. Why didn’t you guys use the Thousand Pound Spell?
While spitting sand, Nan Feng replied, “We did! But it was ineffective.”
On one hand, Fu Yao viciously shook his outer robe, while on the other he spat: “Where do you think this is? This is a barren desert in the extreme northwest. It’s not like it’s my General’s domain. To the North is the territory belonging to the second General of the Pei house. To the West is Quan YiZhen’s territory. Within these few hundred miles, there’s no way you’d find even a single Xuan Zhen Temple.”
It should be noted that there was a common saying within the mortal realm—a powerful dragon cannot crush a snake in its old haunts . Therefore, since one of them was an official under the deputy general of the Southeast martial god, while the other was an official under the deputy general of the Southwest martial god, using spiritual arts on a territory that didn’t belong to them would inevitably mean that the enchantment in play would be subjected to restrictions. With their current appearances, Xie Lian believed that the two of them were both rather peeved and annoyed. It could be assumed that it was their first time being blown up into the sky by a gust of strong wind, only to whirl around in circles and be incapable of settling back onto the ground. Xie Lian said, “Both of you truly worked hard.”
San Lang sat down on the ground next to him. With a hand propped up against his cheek, he said, “Let’s just stay here and wait for the sandstorm to subside.”
Xie Lian turned towards him and said, “Looks like that’s our only option for now. As powerful as this tornado may be, it’s unlikely that it would also sweep up a rock this big into the sky.”
San Lang said, “But it is just as you said before, this sandstorm is indeed very strange.”
Xie Lian suddenly thought of something and said, “San Lang, I have a question.”
San Lang replied, “Ask away.”
Xie Lian said, “That Ban Yue Grand Tutor, are they male or female?”
San Lang replied, “Have I not mentioned this yet? Female.”
Xie Lian thought, ‘as expected’, and said, “When we were resting in that abandoned small inn, didn’t we see two figures walk by the front? Their steps were graceful yet odd. They definitely couldn’t have been mortals. In addition, the one in white had been a female official.”
Fu Yao was skeptical and said, “It is hard to distinguish whether or not they were male or female just by looking at their robes. Their figure was also taller than an average woman’s. Did you truly see it clearly?”
Xie Lian said, “I saw it clearly, there’s no mistake. So I’ve been thinking, could she have been the Ban Yue Grand Tutor?”
Nan Feng then said, “It’s possible, but there was a person wearing black by her side. Who could that have been?”
Xie Lian said, “That’s difficult to say. However, that person was walking faster than her, so his abilities definitely wouldn’t be beneath her’s.”
Fu Yao said, “Is there a possibility that they were the Two Demonic Cultivators’ other member, the Grand Tutor Fang Xin?”
Xie Lian said, “As for this, I think the reason why they’re called the Two Demonic Cultivators is probably because even numbers are easier to remember. Much like how in the Ghost Realm, there are the Four Calamities. Even though there aren’t four in reality, people went out of their way to gather four anyways.”
Hearing this, San Lang laughed out loud again. When Xie Lian looked at him, San Lang said, “It’s nothing, I just thought that what you said is very reasonable. After all, one of the Four Calamities is indeed just there to make them an even number.”
Thus, Xie Lian continued talking, “As a matter of fact, they probably have nothing to do with one another. I’ve heard a bit about this Grand Tutor Fang Xin. They were Yong An Kingdom’s Royal Tutor. There’s at least a hundred years interval between their appearance and the Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s arrival.”
Fu Yao found this to be unreasonable and said: “You didn’t know the Four Calamities of the Ghost Realm, yet you know of Grand Tutor Fang Xin from the Yong An Kingdom in the Mortal Realm?”
Xie Lian said, “Sometimes, when I’m passing by places as I collect scraps, I’d learn a few things. And it’s not like I collect scraps in the ghost realm, so of course I wouldn’t have known about them.”
At this moment, the sound of the wind from outside the cave had became a bit weaker. Standing slightly outside, Nan Feng hit the rock a few times to examine the material. After concentrating for a while, he bowed his head and said, “Why would this rock get a hole of this size dug out of it?”
He probably thought it was suspicious to see a rock like this here. However, this didn’t seem too strange to Xie Lian, so he said, “A hole dug out of a rock like this isn’t uncommon. The past people of the Ban Yue Kingdom, as in those who needed a shelter from the sandstorm, like the ones who had been out herding livestock and thus couldn’t make it home in time, or those who needed a temporary place to stay the night, would occasionally dig a hole in a rock like this. Some of these holes were not carved, but were blown out with explosives.”
Unconvinced, Nan Feng said, “How would you even herd livestock in the desert?”
Xie Lian said, “Two hundred years ago, this wasn’t a desert. Instead, this place also had an oasis.”
At this moment, San Lang said, “Gege.”
Xie Lian turned his head to ask, “What’s wrong?”
San Lang pointed his finger and said, “The rock you’re sitting on seems to have something written on it.”
“What?” Xie Lian lowered his head first before he got up. Only then did he discover that the place he was sitting on was a stone slate.
Sure enough, after wiping off the dust, there were indeed words written on the slate. However, they were engraved relatively faintly, so the words weren’t very visible. Half the slate was still buried within the sand. The writing extended upwards from the ground, while fading into the darkness.
Since there were characters written there, then they definitely had to take a look. Xie Lian said, “I’m low on spiritual power. Could one of you cast Palm Flame and help me illuminate this area? Many thanks!”
Nan Feng snapped his fingers. Instantly, a flame appeared on top of his palm. Xie Lian unintentionally glanced at San Lang, who didn’t seem surprised at the sight. After all, the boy had already witnessed the ‘Shrink a Thousand Miles’ array. Xie Lian felt that, no matter what either side revealed to each other in the future, no one would be surprised.
Nan Feng moved his hand to the place Xie Lian pointed at, and the fire illuminated the words engraved on the slate. The words were very strange, as if they were random drawings and scribbles casually scrawled by children. They were even slightly tilted. Nan Feng asked: “What is written here?”
San Lang said, “Naturally, they’re the characters of the Ban Yue Kingdom.”
Xie Lian replied, “I’m afraid Nan Feng was asking about the meaning behind the words. Let me take a look.”
Cleaning the sand off the slate, Xie Lian reached the top row. Several of the characters here were especially large, and appeared to be the title or subject. In addition, the symbols there seemed to repeat many times throughout the rest of the text. Beside them, Fu Yao also called forth some light onto his palm before he asked, “You can read Ban Yue text?”
Xie Lian said, “In all honesty, before the Ban Yue demonic cultivator had appeared, I collected scraps in the Ban Yue Kingdom.”
“Is something the matter?”
“Nothing, I was just curious as to how many other places you’ve collected scraps from.”
Xie Lian smiled, before he bowed his head to continue reading. Suddenly, he said a single word:
Nan Feng and Fu Yao both spoke at the same time, “What?”
Xie Lian lifted his head and said, “I said, what’s written at the very top of this slate is the word ‘General’.” He paused before continuing, “There’s another character written after ‘General’. However, I’m not too certain as to what this last character means.”
Nan Feng seemed to have let out a breath before he said, “Continue to examine them then.”
The moment Xie Lian nodded his head, Nan Feng held up that ball of Palm Flame. Once again, his hand slightly shifted forward. But with this adjustment, Xie Lian suddenly felt that there was something off. In his peripheral vision, there seemed to be something that hadn’t been there before.
Xie Lian pressed both of his hands on the slate full of engraved characters, before he slowly raised his head.
Only to see, amidst the darkness and superjacent to the slate, a rigid human face illuminated by the faint light of the flame. This face, with both eyeballs looking downwards, was currently staring straight at him.
The one who screamed wasn’t them, but the rigid human face.
Another Palm Flame became lit in Nan Feng’s other hand. Then, the flames upon both of his palms abruptly leapt upwards, reaching great heights. This finally illuminated the interior of the cave in its entirety.
Just now, what the light of the flame had revealed was someone who had always been hidden away in the dark. At this moment, they frantically crawled away to one side in retreat, withdrawing to the very edges of the depths in the cave. Unexpectedly, there was already a group of seven or eight people there, all huddled together in a group, trembling.
Nan Feng shouted loudly, “Who are you people?!”
The shout reverberated throughout the cave, making the entire place vibrate. Both of Xie Lian’s ears were already faintly pained from the ringing caused by the scream earlier. At this point, he had no choice but to cover his ears.
The sandstorm from before had been too strong, and the noise pollution had smothered their ears. Now, they struggled to hear each other even when they spoke at a volume just slightly lower than usual. In addition, after entering the cave, they had begun their heated discussion on the topic of the Ban Yue Grand Tutor. Later, they became very focused on deciphering the text on the stone slate. As a result, they did not sense there were other people hiding in the cave the entire time, people who hadn’t made a single noise.
The seven or eight people were all shivering. After quite a while, an old man around fifty years or so in age spoke up, “We are a group of ordinary merchants passing through this area. The sandstorm was too strong and we couldn’t keep going, so we ended up taking shelter here.”
Within the group of people, he appeared to be the most composed and seemed to be their leader. Nan Feng then said, “As ordinary merchants just passing by, why were you all acting so furtive and hid yourselves here?”
That old man was just about to say something when the young man, who looked about seventeen or eighteen years old, standing beside him loudly exclaimed, “We originally weren’t acting in a furtive manner, until you guys suddenly burst inside. Who knew if you guys were good or bad? Afterwards, we faintly heard you mention something about a Ban Yue Grand Tutor and something about a Ghost Realm. Your palm was also able to light fire from thin air! We all thought you guys were those Ban Yue soldiers who had come out to patrol and to catch people to eat. How could we have dared to make a sound?”
The old man appeared to be afraid that this young man’s words came off as too provoking and would anger the other party. He said, ”TianSheng, stop speaking nonsense.”
That young man had thick eyebrows and large eyes, and was born with a strong and dignified appearance. When he got told off by his elder, he immediately stopped talking. Xie Lian’s ears had finally stopped hurting, so he put down his hands. In an amicable manner, he said, “A misunderstanding, this is a misunderstanding. Everyone, there’s no need to be nervous. You can all relax a bit.”
After pausing for a moment, he continued, “We’re naturally not some Ban Yue soldiers. My humble self is the master of a monastery, and my companions are.…..people from my monastery. They study the arts of divination. You are all ordinary merchants, but we’re just ordinary Taoists. We mean no harm. Similarly, we wanted shelter from the wind, and just happened to enter the same cave. That’s all.”
His tone was warm and gentle, while his way of speech was slow. Hence, he was able to reassure everyone’s emotions. After repeatedly explaining and making guarantees, the expressions of the group of merchants finally eased.
But who would have thought that San Lang would suddenly laugh before saying, “How? From what I see, these merchants can’t be ordinary people. They’re just being modest.”
Puzzled, everyone glanced in his direction. San Lang continued, “When it comes to Ban Yue Pass, was it not ‘With every passing, half the party goes missing’? Despite being fully aware of this rumor, you still dared to pass through here. This can be considered as being rather courageous. How can you depict them as ordinary?”
Having heard this, that old man replied, “Young man, that is not always the case. In reality, rumors tend to be exaggerated, and there have been many merchants who passed through here in peace.”
San Lang said, “Oh?”
The old man said, “It’s fine as long as you find the right person to lead the way, and don’t end up accidentally straying into the former Ban Yue Kingdom’s territory. Thus, this time, to pass through here, we specifically found a local to lead the way.”
The young man named TianSheng said, “That’s right! It all depends on the leader. Us getting to this point is all thanks to A. He helped us avoid so many quicksands. In addition, he had seen the wind pick up earlier and immediately took us to find a shelter. Otherwise, we might have been buried alive by all the sand by now.”
Xie Lian took a look. The one named A-Zhao, who had led their group, looked extremely young. He looked to be in his twenties, and was born with a sincere, honest and handsome face.
Appearing to be someone who was quiet and slow to speak, he didn’t react much when everyone praised him and only spoke in a stuffy tone, “This is nothing, it’s all part of my responsibilities. I hope that when the wind dies down, everyone’s camels and goods will also remain unscathed.”
“They’ll definitely be alright!”
These merchants’ attitudes seemed very optimistic. Yet, Xie Lian couldn’t help but feel that things weren’t as simple as what they had thought.
‘If one doesn’t stray into the territory of Ban Yue Kingdom, then there would be no problems.’ If that was the case, did the ‘half the party goes missing’ caravans in the past all refer to the people who didn’t believe this demonic ruse and were determined to send themselves off to die?
He thought for a bit, before he whispered to Nan Feng and Fu Yao, “This situation occurred quite suddenly. However, when the sandstorm passes, let’s first ensure that these people leave safely before we head on over to the former territories of Ban Yue to investigate.”
Then, Xie Lian once again lowered his head and continued examining the engraved words on the stone slate. He had previously recognized the characters for ‘General’, but that was only because this word could be considered as one commonly used. However, his stay in Ban Yue Kingdom was an event that happened two hundred years ago. Even if he had been fluent in the language back then, after two hundred years, everything would have been completely forgotten. Now, having to suddenly pick it up again, he truly required some time and patience. At this moment, San Lang, who was standing beside him, said, “General’s mound.”
As soon as he said this, Xie Lian remembered. This last character, did it not have the meaning of mound, grave or tomb?
Turning his head, Xie Lian asked in surprise, “San Lang, could it be that you also understand the ancient text of Ban Yue?”
San Lang chuckled and said, “Not much. It was just a hobby, so I only know a few words.”
Xie Lian was already used to him replying this way. Ban Yue texts were quite limited, and those who understood it were hard to come by. The word ‘mound’ wasn’t a commonly used word either. If it was truly as San Lang claimed and he only ‘knew a few words’, then how could it coincidentally be precisely this word? He said, ‘not much’, but Xie Lian was afraid that the meaning of his words was more equivalent to ‘ask as much as you like, it won’t intimidate me’.
Immediately, Xie Lian replied with a smile. “This is very good. Maybe the few words you know are the ones I don’t know. Come here, let’s look at this together.”
He gently beckoned him, so San Lang went over. Nan Feng and Fu Yao stood to the side while holding up their Palm Flames to illuminate the area for them. Xie Lian’s finger slowly brushed over each character on the tombstone. Together with San Lang, they discussed in hushed voices as they quietly continued reading. As they read along, their gazes grew more and more peculiar by the second, until they finally turned solemn.
The young man named TianSheng from the group of merchants was relatively young, and young people were always full of curiosity. Moreover, having previously exchanged a few lines with the other party, he had henceforth considered them to be familiar with each other. Thus, TianSheng asked, “Fellow big brothers, what exactly is written on this tombstone?”
Xie Lian came back to his senses and replied, “This slate is a monument, and what’s written on this monument is a General’s life story.”
TianSheng said, “Is he a General from the Ban Yue Kingdom?”
San Lang replied: “No, he’s a General from the Central Plains.”
Suspicious, Nan Feng responded, “A General from the Central Plains? Then, why would the people of the Ban Yue Kingdom give him a proper mound? Aren’t the two kingdoms constantly at war with one another?”
San Lang said, “This particular General was very peculiar. Although the slate called him a General, in reality, he was merely a famous little military officer.”
“Then, was he promoted to a General afterwards?”
“Not at all. In fact, he began commanding a hundred people. Afterwards, he led seventy people, and then after that, he only led fifty people.”
“In short, he kept getting demoted.”
To be demoted again and again, to the point one couldn’t be demoted any further…… this kind of experience honestly felt too familiar. Xie Lian felt two gazes collectively fall on his body, but he pretended not to notice and continued reading the text on the stone slate. At this moment, he heard TianSheng ask with incomprehension, “How can there be an official who becomes lower and lower ranked? As long as you don’t make any big blunders, even if you don’t get promoted, you also wouldn’t get demoted. How much do you have to fail to get to this point?”
Tightening his right hand into a fist, Xie Lian lifted it to the front of his mouth and gently coughed. Then, he seriously said, “Young friend, an officer who continues to get demoted isn’t something uncommon.”
San Lang laughed and said, “That’s right, it’s quite common.”
After a pause, he continued, “The reason why this particular military official kept getting demoted wasn’t because he was incompetent and unsuited for his duties, but because the relationship between the two kingdoms was very bad. Yet, when he was on the battlefield, not only did he not bring back any achievements, he also repeatedly became a hindrance.”
Nan Feng said: “What do you mean by a hindrance?”
San Lang replied: “Not only did he try to stop the Ban Yue soldiers from killing the innocent people from his own country, he also stopped his own soldiers from killing the innocents of Ban Yue Kingdom. Every time he acts to stop innocents from being slaughtered, he gets demoted once.”
His laid-back manner made the seven or eight merchants slowly huddle together, as if they were listening to him tell a story. They seemed fairly invested, and they also expressed their opinions as they listened on. TianSheng said, “I feel like this military official isn’t wrong. It’s what it is when soldiers fight each other in battle. But for not letting them randomly kill innocents, isn’t this okay?”
“Although this is something foolishly kind for a soldier of his kingdom and not exactly suitable, in general, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Yeah. After all, he’s saving people, not harming them.”
Xie Lian heard this and faintly smiled.
The group of merchants in front of him were neither the people living at the border, nor were they the people from two hundred years ago. Nowadays, since Ban Yue kingdom had already been annihilated, people would naturally play down the matter when they mentioned it. They would be compassionate, and even give a few words of praise. And even if one didn’t agree with something that had happened, they would probably understand why it had been done.
But when it had been a hundred years ago, with both sides up in the flames of war and when hatred took no breaks, the consequences of the aforementioned behaviour would definitely not be lightly evaluated as being ‘foolishly kind’.
Within the group, only A-Zhao was a local. It was probably because of this that he was able to understand it better. He said, “Nowadays is nowadays, two hundred years ago was two hundred years ago. The fact that this military official merely got demoted already meant he was very lucky.”
Fu Yao only sneered before saying, “How ridiculous.”
Xie Lian could pretty much guess what he was about to say. Thus, he gently massaged the space between his eyebrows.
Sure enough, under the flame that illuminated Fu Yao’s gloomy appearance, he said, “Someone in his position should seek to do his duty. Since this person became a soldier, he should always remember to defend his own kingdom. When dauntlessly fighting enemies on the front line and with two kingdoms at war, it’s inevitable to kill. Being this soft-hearted would only cause his comrades to loathe him. Moreover, enemy soldiers would find him comical and ridiculous. There wouldn’t be anyone who would feel grateful.”
His words were also very reasonable, and so the cave fell silent. Then, Fu Yao said in a faint tone, “In the very end, there’s only one ending for people like that——death. And most likely, it would be at the hands of his own people.”
Having remained quiet for some time, Xie Lian broke the silence and said, “Yes, you’re quite right. He died.”
Shocked, TianSheng exclaimed: “Ah! How did he die? Did he really get killed by his own people?”
Xie Lian mulled over this for a moment, but still decided to say it, “That’s not entirely it. On the slate, it says that during one battle, whilst both parties were busy fighting one another, this man hadn’t tied his boot laces properly and had stepped onto his own laces. He tripped and fell, and then……”
Everyone in the cave had originally thought that this general must have died in an incomparably tragic yet moving manner. Thus, having heard what was said, they were all taken aback. They all thought to themselves, ‘ What kind of death was this?’ before laughter broke out amongst them, “Hahahahaha…..”
Xie Lian: “..….And so he was trampled and slashed to death by both enemy and friend, whose eyes were glazed crimson from murder.”
San Lang raised an eyebrow and said, “Is it that funny?”
Xie Lian also added, “Cough. That’s right, it’s rather tragic. Everyone, let’s show some sympathy and not laugh. Especially since we’re in front of his tombstone, we should give him some face.”
TianSheng hurriedly said, “I don’t mean any harm, but this is still……a little……haha……”
Xie Lian felt helpless because when he had read up to this part, he had also wanted to laugh a little. However, he decided to not bring that up. Instead, he continued to translate and read out loud.
Xie Lian said, “In short, although this military official had a bad reputation within the army, the citizens near the border of Ban Yue Kingdom and the people from the Central Plains who had been somewhat under his care started to call him ‘General’. Then, they built him a simple mound here and set up a tombstone to commemorate him.”
San Lang added, “Afterwards, the people of Ban Yue Kingdom discovered a miraculous part to this tombstone: As long you kowtow in front of this stone slate three times, you’d be able to turn an inauspicious start to a good blessing in the Gobi desert.”
His tone was really too enigmatic and unfathomable, which easily led people to believe him. The expression on his face was also deadly earnest. When people heard this, quite a few had immediately started to kowtow. It was better to believe that it existed than for it to not. However, Xie Lian found this rather baffling and said, “Ah? Is there really a sentence that said that? How wondrous.”
San Lang faintly smiled before he whispered, “No, I made that up. Since they had laughed at him before, making them kowtow to him now wouldn’t be asking too much, right?”
Xie Lian looked and saw that it was really true. There was already no more text left to translate on the stone slate. He had originally wanted to sigh, but now he just found it funny. Thus, he also whispered, “Why are you so cheeky?”
San Lang stuck out his tongue. The two of them were laughing when suddenly, someone screamed, “What is this!!!???”
This one shout resounded extremely sharply within the cave. Noise vibrating, it made people feel their hair stand on end. Xie Lian looked toward the direction where the shout had come from and asked, “What’s wrong?!”
Those who had been kowtowing in front of the ancient tombstone frantically got up and fled. Convulsing with fear, they exclaimed, “Snake!”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao both moved their hands in that direction. The two Palm Flames illuminated that spot of the ground from afar. Shockingly, a long and gorgeously coloured snake slithered upon the sandy soil!
Everyone all panicked, “How could there be snakes?!”
“Why doesn’t this snake make even the slightest bit of sound? It’s completely impossible to tell when it had crawled in!”
When the snake was illuminated by the flames, it’s body rose. It appeared to be extremely vigilant, and seemed as if it was ready to attack at any moment. Nan Feng was just about to strike it with a Palm Flame when he noticed someone slowly making their way toward it. The person casually caught it and soon had the entire seven inches of the snake’s body pinched within their grasp. Lifting their left hand, they brought it to the front of their eyes and carefully observed it while saying, “Aren’t snakes in the desert something common?”
Someone with this kind of unscrupulous attitude could only be San Lang. This was the so-called saying, ‘hit them where it hurts’; if all seven inches of this snake was pinched to death, regardless of how poisonous its fangs may be, they would still have been powerless.
The tail of the snake weakly wrapped around San Lang’s left arm a few times. At this moment, the distance between San Lang and Xie Lian shortened, and thus Xie Lian got a good look at the snake. Its skin appeared to be half-translucent, and one could see wispy strands of black mixed within a bright, purplish-red colour. This colour made people associate it with that of internal organs, which rendered feelings of uneasiness. Moreover, the tail of the snake was actually the colour of flesh, and sectioned off as if it had layers of hard shell. In fact, the tail didn’t resemble that of a snake’s, but more of a scorpion’s.
Having seen that part more clearly, Xie Lian’s expression abruptly changed before he exclaimed, “Watch out for its tail!”
He had barely finished speaking when the tail wrapped around San Lang’s arm suddenly loosened its grip. The tip of the tail seemed to have become another snake head. After snapping backwards, it suddenly thrust out!
That tail stab came abruptly, yet San Lang casually reached out with his right arm and caught that tail with ease. He pinched the tail as if he was holding something entertaining, before he showed it to Xie Lian. Laughing, San Lang said, “This tail is rather amusing.”
Xie Lian saw that the pointy end of the snake’s tail actually sprouted a sharp and fleshy red thorn. Letting out a breath, he said, “Good thing it didn’t stab you. As expected, this is a Scorpion-Tailed Snake.”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao also came over to take a look at the snake. They asked, “Scorpion-Tailed Snake?”
Xie Lian replied, “That’s right. This is a unique, poisonous animal exclusive to Ban Yue Kingdom, and they are quite rare in numbers. I have never seen one before, but I’ve heard of it. With a body of a snake and a tail like a scorpion, the poison is more toxic than the two combined. Regardless of whether one was bitten by its poisonous fangs or stabbed by the poisonous tail, they will all……”
After speaking up to that point, Xie Lian saw San Lang begin tormenting the snake wrapped around his hand by turning it about repeatedly. He would sometimes stretch it, sometimes squish it, and sometimes he would even wring it out like a towel. By now, San Lang was only a step away from tying it into a bow. After a moment of speechlessness, Xie Lian softly persuaded, “San Lang, stop playing with it. It’s very dangerous.”
However, San Lang laughed and said, “It’s okay. There’s no need for gege to worry. These Scorpion-Tailed Snakes are the Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s totem. Opportunities like these are rare, so of course I have to carefully examine it.”
Xie Lian gave a slight start and said, “The Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s totem?”
San Lang replied, “That’s right. It was said that it was precisely because the Ban Yue Grand Tutor could control these Scorpion-Tailed Snakes, for the people of Ban Yue to think her powers were boundless. This was why they worshipped her as the Grand Tutor.”
The moment he heard the word ‘control’, Xie Lian felt that something was off. He thought to himself, speaking of control, the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes had always moved in a herd, one that would cover a large expanse of ground. Immediately, Xie Lian said, “Everyone should make haste and get out of here first. I’m afraid that there isn’t just a single Scorpion-Tailed Snake here…..”
He hadn’t even finished his sentence when he heard a scream. “AH!!!!”
One after another, several people all began screaming in fear.
“So many snakes!”
“Over here too!”
In the midst of darkness, seven or eight purplish-red Scorpion-Tailed Snakes silently slithered out. They emerged extremely abruptly, so it was absolutely impossible to tell which hole they had crawled out from. In addition, they didn’t attack, and instead just stared silently at the group of people, as if they were examining what they were. These snakes’ slithering and attacks were all soundless, and they didn’t even have the hissing sounds a normal snake made when it flicked its tongue. They were truly extremely dangerous.
Nan Feng and Fu Yao’s palm flames shot out at the same time, causing a massive ball of fire to explode within the cave. Xie Lian yelled, “Get out!”
No one dared to stay in the cave for any longer and all but frantically fled outside. Fortunately, the sky reflected the beginning of a sunset and that tornado had long gone away. The sandstorm had also died down significantly.
The group of people evacuated toward an open area. As they ran and ran, someone said, “That tombstone is really frightening! How is it that we kowtowed three times in front of it, yet we still encountered something like this despite all that!”
Xie Lian thought that it was a good thing they didn’t know the last part had been entirely made up by San Lang. But then he also heard someone else say, “Yeah! The results are relatively the same as worshipping that rubbish immortal! The more you worship, the unluckier you become! “
For an arrow to hit the bullseye despite being in a place so distant and unrelated, Xie Lian was left with no words. Suddenly, TianSheng shouted in fear, “Uncle Zheng!” The elderly man he had been supporting collapsed. Xie Lian rushed over and asked, “What happened?”
The expression on Uncle Zheng’s face was filled with pain and suffering. He raised a trembling hand, which Xie Lian caught to take a look. Immediately, his heart sank when he saw a purplish-red colour appear between the elderly man’s thumb and forefinger, and even the bump from the swelling was already very big.
Around the swollen area, one could, with some difficulty, make out a tiny hole. For such a tiny wound, one could surmise that it wouldn’t be noticed within a short period of time. Xie Lian immediately said, “Everyone, check if there are any wounds on your body. If there are, quickly tie the part up with some string to prevent the poison from spreading!”
He flipped over the man’s wrist to check his meridian, but saw a purplish-red strip visible to the naked eye crawling up Uncle Zheng’s arm. Xie Lian mentally thought that this snake’s poison was incredibly potent and was just about to untie Ruoye, only to see A-Zhao rip off a piece of cloth and tie it around the middle of the the old man’s forearm. It was tied extremely tightly, preventing the poisoned blood from flowing back into the heart. His movements were also incomparably fast, something Xie Lian internally praised.
Xie Lian lifted his head. Without having to say anything, Nan Feng had already taken out a medicinal bottle and poured out a single pill. After Xie Lian made the old man swallow the pill, TianSheng frantically shouted, “Uncle, are you alright?! A-Zhao ge, Uncle won’t die, right?”
A-Zhao shook his head and said, “If you’ve been bitten by the scorpion-tailed snake, within four hours, death is inevitable.”
Stunned, TianSheng said, “Then……what can we do?”
Uncle Zheng was the leader of the merchant caravan. Thus, many of the merchants were also anxious and asked, “Didn’t this young friend just give him some medicine?”
Nan Feng said, “What I gave him wasn’t the antidote, and it’ll only temporarily prolong his life. It would help keep him alive and extend the four hours to twenty-four.”
All the merchants felt agitated and at a loss.
“Only twenty-four hours?”
“If you say it like that, doesn’t that just mean he has no other choice but to wait for death?”
“Is this poison incurable?”
At this moment, San Lang slowly made his way over and said, “There’s hope.”
One after another, everyone looked at him. Overcome with happiness, TianSheng turned his head around to say, “Zhao-ge, if he can be saved, why didn’t you say anything earlier? You scared me to death!”
However, A-Zhao did not reply, and only silently shook his head. San Lang said, “Of course it’d be difficult for him to say. If those who were poisoned could be saved, but others might lose their lives as a result, how could one explain this?”
Xie Lian asked, “San Lang, what do you mean?”
San Lang replied, “Gege, do you know the legend of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake?”
It turned out, legend has it that hundreds of years ago in Ban Yue Kingdom, there had been an emperor. He went deep within the mountains to hunt, and inadvertently caught two sinister spirits whose true forms were that of poisonous creatures. One was a poisonous viper spirit, while the other was a scorpion spirit.
These two poisonous beings cultivated deep within the mountains. They paid no attention to the affairs of the world and had never harmed anyone. However, the Emperor of Ban Yue kingdom wanted them dead because they were poisonous creatures, and were thus bound to harm others sooner or later. So, the Emperor wanted to kill them first.
The two spirits pleaded for the Emperor to spare them a single way to survive, but the Emperor was a ruthless man. During a banquet, he forced the two spirits to mate in front of an audience of ministers as a means of entertainment, while the Emperor himself and his ministers drank to their heart’s content.
And after the banquet had ended, the Emperor still had the two poisonous spirits killed. Only the Empress couldn’t bear for this to happen, but she didn’t dare disobey the Emperor either. In the end, she only picked a scented leaf and tossed it over, covering the two spirits’ corpses.
The poisonous viper and scorpion turned into evil spirits, full of resentment. They cursed their descendants born after their forced intercourse to remain there forever and kill the people of Ban Yue Kingdom. Therefore, the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes appeared exclusively within Ban Yue kingdom. Once bitten or stung, the poison moved quickly and violently, and one’s death would be miserable. However, because of the Empress’ benevolent action that night, the scented leaf she had tossed over to cover their dead bodies became the antidote to their poison.
After he finished explaining, San Lang said, “That particular scented leaf is from a plant called the Kindred Moon Herb. It only grows within the borders of the past Ban Yue Kingdom.”
After hearing this, the merchants began talking one after another. “This……This kind of legend, can it really be trusted?”
“This young friend, someone’s life is on the line, you shouldn’t be joking with us now!”
However, San Lang only smiled and didn’t say anything. After telling this to Xie Lian, he didn’t say much afterwards. Seeking proof, TianSheng turned to face A-Zhao and asked, “Zhao-ge, are the things the red-clothed gege said true?”
After muttering to himself for a moment, A-Zhao said, “It’s uncertain whether or not legends and myths are genuine or fake. However, within Ban Yue Kingdom, the Kindred Moon Herb truly exists, and this plant can indeed cure the poison of the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes.”
Xie Lian said, “In other words, there’s only a single way to survive for those who are bitten by the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes. Yet this one glimmer of hope can only be obtained within the former Ban Yue Kingdom.”
No wonder there were so many passing merchant caravans and travelers who were fully aware of the saying, ‘With every passing, half the party goes missing’ but would still enter the former Ban Yue Kingdom. It was not because they were determined to send themselves off to death. Rather, perhaps if they didn’t enter the Kingdom, they would just meet certain death.
The Scorpion-Tailed Snakes were the Ban Yue Demonic Cultivator’s totem and thus could be controlled by her. In that case, the appearance of these Scorpion-Tailed Snakes definitely could not be a coincidence. Just relying on the few Heavenly Officials here would not guarantee the safety of all the people currently present. They also did not know whether or not more Scorpion-Tailed Snakes would appear.
Hence, Xie Lian lifted two fingers to his temple and tried to enter the spirit communication array. He wanted to see if it was possible to thicken his skin and borrow a few more little officials.
But who knew that his attempt to enter the array was completely unsuccessful. He lowered his hand and felt that it was odd. Xie Lian thought to himself, “I shouldn’t have used up all my spiritual energy that quickly? I calculated it this morning and I should still have some left.”
He immediately turned towards Nan Feng and Fu Yao before saying, “Could either of you try to enter the spirit communication array? I can’t enter it from my end.”
After a moment, the two martial gods’ expressions both became solemn. Nan Feng said, “I can’t enter it either.”
In places with extremely strong evil auras, part of a Heavenly Official’s spiritual energy could be affected; temporarily weakened or perhaps even blocked. Xie Lian was afraid that right now, they had encountered a predicament that was precisely just that.
Xie Lian paced back and forth for a while, before he lifted his head and said, “It might be because this place is too close to the former Ban Yue Kingdom, so the spirit communication array became blocked……”
At this moment, he suddenly glimpsed an exceptionally dazzling smear of red from the corner of his eye.
On one side, Nan Feng and Fu Yao were still trying to enter the spirit communication array, while the other merchants were all busy checking their bodies for small wounds. Only that young man TianSheng was solely preoccupied with holding onto Old Man Zheng and worrying. He completely did not notice the purplish-red Scorpion-Tailed Snake that had silently crawled up his back.
And yet, when the Scorpion-Tailed Snake coiled up at TianSheng’s shoulder, what its fangs were aimed at wasn’t the young man’s neck, but rather the arm of the nonchalant San Lang standing to the side.
The snake leaned back, and then shot forward!
Right before the fangs pierced San Lang’s arm, Xie Lian flung out his hand, before he incomparably accurately grasped all seven inches of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake.
With the strength of his hand alone, he could have choked the Scorpion-Tailed Snake to the point all of its organs would explode, bursting out in a splatter of guts and brain. However, Xie Lian wasn’t sure whether or not the blood and flesh of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake were also toxic, so he didn’t want to risk making the wrong move.
He was just about to grab onto its tail, but who knew that the snake’s body would be so slippery, making it very difficult to grab onto. Although Xie Lian went to pinch it, he only felt something ice-cold, round and soft slip through his fingers.
And the very next moment, Xie Lian felt a sharp pain, like the prick of a needle, on the back of his hand.