Chapter 9 Arrogance—Part Four
On the other hand, Lan SiZhui and the other disciples did not find anything in the area of the ancient tombs, and had moved on to search for clues in Goddess Temple.
In Dafan Mountain, aside from the tombs of the Buddha’s Feet ancestors, there was also the Goddess Temple. The being of worship was neither Buddha nor GuanYin, but the statue of a “dancing goddess.”
A few hundred years ago, a hunter from Buddha’s Feet ventured into the mountains, and found an extraordinary stone in a cave. It was around three meters in height, formed naturally, and appeared strangely like a human, with four limbs making a dancing pose. The more peculiar thing was that human features could vaguely be seen on the statue, appearing to be that of a smiling lady.
The townspeople of Buddha’s Feet were all astonished, and thought that it was a magical stone formed by gathering the energy of Heaven and Earth, making up a series of legends about it. Some told the story of an immortal falling in love with the Goddess of the Nine Heavens, and carved a stone statue from the goddess’s appearance to convey the hardships of being lovesick. After discovering this, the goddess was furious, so the unfinished statue had to be left alone. Others told the story of the Jade Emperor and his beloved daughter who died young. The emperor’s longing for his daughter had, supposedly, turned into this statue.
Anyhow, there were all sorts of myths, able to make anyone gawk. In the end, the townspeople themselves also started to believe in these legends which came out of their own mouths. Hence, someone turned the stone cave into a temple, and the stone platform into a holy seat. The statue was named “Dancing Goddess,” and there were worshippers all year round.
The inside of the cave was spacious, similar to the size of an erjin temple, with the statue of the goddess set in the center. At first sight, it did indeed look like a human—the maiden’s waist could even be considered lithe and graceful. However, after taking a closer look at it, it would seem rougher. Then again, a naturally-formed statue being so similar to an actual human was enough to make most people gasp in awe.
Lan JingYi lifted and lowered the compass of evil, but its pointer still didn’t move. A thick layer of incense ashes covered the table for offerings, and disordered candles lay on there as well. A sickly sweet scent came from the plates for holding fruits. Most of the people from the GusuLan Sect had some degree of minor mysophobia. He fanned at the air in front of his nose and spoke, “The locals said that it is quite effective to pray at Goddess Temple, but how can it be this ruined? They should at least come and clean once in awhile.”
Lan SiZhui spoke, “There has already been seven people who lost their souls. Everyone is saying that lightning has let out a fierce creature from the ancient graves of Buddha’s Feet, so would anybody dare to come up the mountain? There is no attendance at the temple and so, naturally, there is nobody to clean the place.”
A disdainful voice came from outside of the cave, “It’s only a stupid rock, given the title of a goddess by who-knows who, and people dare to put it here, accepting incense and worship!”
Jin Ling came inside, with his hands crossed behind his back. The time limit for the silence spell was not long, so his mouth could already open. However, nothing nice came out of that mouth of his, as he looked at the goddess statue and humphed, “These rural villagers don’t work hard when they face difficulties, but instead pray to the Buddha and other things every day. There are thousands and millions of people in the world, but gods and Buddhas are already hands-full with their own matters, so who would care about them? Let alone a powerless goddess without status, like this one. If it’s really that effective, then I’m gonna pray for the soul-consuming creature in Dafan Mountain to appear in front of me right now. Can the statue do it?”
A few cultivators from smaller clans came in behind him, and everyone laughed right after hearing him, agreeing with his words. The originally quiet temple became bustling with noise, after the group of people had rushed forth, and the space also seemed more cramped. Lan SiZhui silently shook his head, turning around and glancing without any aim. His gaze landed on the head of the goddess statue; the features of a compassionately smiling face could vaguely be seen.
Yet, he felt a strange sense of familiarity toward the smile, as if he had seen it somewhere before this.
Where on Earth had he seen it before?
Lan SiZhui thought that it must be a very important matter, and couldn’t help but to approach the statue, wanting to examine the goddess’s features carefully. At the same time, someone bumped into him.
A cultivator who was originally standing behind him had fallen down without any noise. The others were alert with surprise. Jin Ling spoke in a vigilant tone, “What happened to him?”
Lan SiZhui held his sword and bent down to examine it. There was nothing wrong with the cultivator’s breathing, like he had just suddenly fallen asleep. Yet, no matter how hard he was pushed or called, he would not wake up. Lan SiZhui stood up, “He seems as if…”
Before he finished his sentence, the dark cave abruptly lit up. The cave was suddenly covered in a red light, as if a waterfall of blood was rolling off its walls. The candles on the platform for offerings and in the corners of the cave had ignited on their own.
With a few shings, everyone in the cave had either drawn their swords or taken out their talismans. At the same time, a person suddenly burst in from outside the temple, holding a gourd of medicinal alcohol. He threw it toward the stone statue, and raging flames sprouted from it, illuminating the stone cave so that it could even pass for daytime.
Wei WuXian used up all of the items he had found in the qiankun bag. He threw it away and shouted, “Everyone, go back outside! Be cautious of the soul-consuming goddess on the inside!”
Someone yelled in surprise, “The goddess’s pose had changed!”
Before, the statute clearly had one foot lifted and both of its arms raised upward, of which one was pointing directly at the sky, its form graceful. However, amid the crimson and yellow flames, it had lowered both its arms and its foot. There was no doubt—it definitely wasn’t a mistake of the eye!
The next moment, the statue lifted one foot again, and stepped out of the fire!
Wei WuXian shouted, “Run, run, run! Stop slashing around! It won’t work!”
Most of the cultivators ignored him. The soul-consuming monster that they had tried so hard to find had finally appeared, so why would they miss out on the chance? However, even with so many swords chopping and stabbing, and so many talismans and magical tools being thrown at it, the statue’s advance didn’t stop at all. It was around three meters tall, resembling a titan as it moved, giving off a strong sense of oppression. It picked up two cultivators and lifted them in front of its face. The stone mouth seemed like it opened and closed, and the swords in the cultivators’ hands dropped to the ground with two clanks. Their heads drooped. Their souls were sucked away.
With no attack methods working properly, the others were finally willing to listen to Wei WuXian’s words. Everyone gushed outside, scattering in all directions as fast as they could. With so many people and faces, the more anxious Wei WuXian became, the longer it took to find Jin Ling. Wei WuXian rode on the donkey and ran into a bamboo forest, encountering the juniors from the Lan Clan as he turned around.
Wei WuXian called for them, “Children!”
Lan SiZhui replied, “Who are your children? Do you know which sect we are from? Did you really think that you would be considered a senior just because you washed your face?”
Wei WuXian spoke, “Okay, okay, okay, gege-s. Send a signal and get your clan’s… HanGuang-Jun up here!”
The juniors nodded a few times, and ran around while searching for signals. Lan SiZhui spoke, “The signal firelights… were all used up during the night at Mo Village.”
Wei WuXian was shocked, “You guys didn’t restock afterwards?”
The signal firelights were usually only needed once in over eight hundred years. Lan SiZhui replied bashfully, “We forgot.”
Wei WuXian tried to scare them, “Is this a matter that you should forget about? If HanGuang-Jun knew about this, he’s going to make you sorry.”
Lan JingYi’s face was pale with terror, “It’s over. This time, we are gonna be punished to death by HanGuang-Jun…”
Wei WuXian, “Indeed, he should punish you! Without punishment, you wouldn’t remember the next time.”
Lan SiZhui, “Young Master Mo, Young Master Mo! How did you know that it was not a spirit-consuming spirit or beast, but the goddess statue instead?”
Wei WuXian searched for Jin Ling as he ran, “How did I know? I saw.”
Lan JingYi also caught up. They each ran on one side of him, “What did you see? We also saw lots of things.”
“You saw, so what happens next? What things were in the area of the ancient tombs?”
“What else could there be? There were only dead souls.”
“Correct, there were dead souls. This is why it can’t be a soul-consuming spirit or beast. It’s simple—if it was either of these two, with so many dead spirits in the area, would it have chosen to not eat them? No, it wouldn’t have.”
This time, there were more than one person who asked, “Why?”
“Just what can I say about your GusuLan Sect…” Wei WuXian could not tolerate it any more, “Why can’t you teach less annoying, lengthy nonsense like cultivational etiquette, family trees, and history which requires memorization, and teach more practical things? How is this hard to understand? Dead souls are a lot easier to absorb than living souls. The physical body of a living person is like a shield, and if it wants to eat a live soul, it would have to break the shield. For example…” He looked at the donkey, which panted while running, rolling its eyes, “For example, if an apple is put in front of you, and another one is put inside a locked box, which one would you choose to eat? Of course, it would be the one in front of you. This creature only eats living souls, and knows of a way to obtain them. It is both powerful and selective in terms of food.”
Lan JingYi was astonished, “So that’s how it works? It makes a lot of sense! Wait, so you’re really not a lunatic?”
Lan SiZhui explained as he ran, “We all thought that, because the landslide and lightning led to the series of events, it must be a soul-consuming spirit.”
Wei WuXian spoke, “Wrong.”
“What is wrong?”
“The order and the correlation is wrong. Let me ask you—for the landslide and the soul-consuming events, which ones were the first and second, the cause and effect?”
Lan SiZhui answered without thinking twice, “The landslide was the first, and the soul-consumption was the second. The first was the cause, and the latter was the effect.”
Wei WuXian spoke, “Completely wrong. The soul-consumption was first, and the the landslide was second. The soul-consumption was the cause, and the landslide was the effect! During the night of the landslide, a storm suddenly started, and a streak of lightning broke a coffin—remember this. This first person to lose their soul, the sluggard, was trapped in the mountains for the whole night, and married a few days later.”
Lan JingYi asked, “Where is it wrong?”
Wei WuXian replied, “It is all wrong! Where would a good-for-nothing and penniless person obtain the money to form such a grand wedding?”
The boys were rendered speechless. But, it couldn’t have been helped, since the GusuLan Sect was a sect that did not need to worry about matters of wealth. Wei WuXian spoke again, “Did you take a look at all of the dead souls floating in Dafan Mountain? There was an old man who died from a hit to the head, wearing burial clothes that were made with fine craftsmanship and fabric. With such extravagant burial clothes, his coffin couldn’t have been empty, and there must have been a few burial items to protect it. The coffin that was broken by the lightning was most likely his. Yet, the people who came to retrieve the corpse did not find any burial items, which meant that they were definitely taken away by the sluggard, explaining why he suddenly became rich. The sluggard suddenly decided to marry someone after the night of the landslide, so something unusual must have happened during the night. On that evening, there was a harsh storm and he took cover in the mountain. Where on Dafan Mountain is it possible to take cover from the rain? Goddess Temple. And, when most people go into a temple, there is one thing that they would do.”
Lan SiZhui asked, “Pray?”
“That’s right. For example, he would pray for himself to be lucky, to become wealthy, to have enough money to marry, and so on. The goddess fulfilled his wish with the lightning that split open the grave, letting him see the treasures in the coffin. His prayers came true and, as the sacrifice, the goddess came to him on the evening of his marriage, and took his soul away!”
Lan JingYi, “All of these are just your guesses, right?”
Wei WuXian, “Yes, they are guesses. But, following this train of logic, all of the things that happened afterward could be explained.”
Lan SiZhui, “How can this explain what happened with the girl, A-Yan?”
Wei WuXian, “Great question. You guys probably asked around before you came up the mountain. A-Yan had just got engaged during those days. All recently-engaged girls will definitely have the same wish.”
Lan JingYi was befuddled, “What wish?”
Wei WuXian replied, “None other than something that goes like, ‘I wish my husband would love me and care for me for his whole life, attracted to only myself’.”
The boys were at a loss, “Would a wish like this really be able to be granted?”
Wei WuXian held his palms out, “It’s simple. If her husband’s ‘whole life’ immediately ended, wouldn’t it count as ‘loving only one person for his entire life’?”
Lan JingYi finally understood and shouted excitedly, “Oh, oh! So, so, so, the reason behind her husband being eaten by wolves the day after her engagement was that it was highly possible for A-Yan to have been to Goddess Temple to pray!”
Wei WuXian struck while the iron was still hot, “It was hard to say whether he was attacked by a wolf or something else. There is another factor that is unique to A-Yan: why is that, out of all of the victims, only A-Yan’s soul returned? How is she different from everyone else? The difference is that she has a relative who also lost his soul. Or, in other words, a relative replaced her! Blacksmith Zheng is A-Yan’s father, especially one who loved his daughter. So, when he saw that his daughter lost her soul, and there were no ways to deal with it, what was the only thing that he could do?”
This time, Lan SiZhui was quick to reply, “He could only entrust his hope to the Heavens. Therefore, he also went to Goddess Temple to pray, the wish being ‘I wish my daughter A-Yan’s soul can be found’!”
Wei WuXian spoke with appraise, “This is why only A-Yan’s soul came back, and also the reason behind Blacksmith Zheng losing his soul. However, although A-Yan’s soul was given back, it was still slightly fractured. After her soul returned, she had unconsciously started to imitate the goddess statue’s dance and even its smile.”
The similarity of the people who lost their souls was that, most likely, they had all prayed in front of the goddess statue. The prices to pay for their wishes were their souls.
The goddess statue was originally just an average rock which happened to look like a person. Having accepted a few hundred years’ worth of worship without any reason, it had gained some powers. Yet, because it was greedy and its thoughts ventured off the wrong path, it had wanted to quickly increase its powers by eating souls. These were souls that it obtained by means of swapping wishes, and could be considered as the voluntarily sacrificed souls of the people who prayed. The two sides had a fair deal, one wish for another, and it seemed to be just and moral. This was why the pointers of the compasses of evil did not move, why the spirit-attraction flags did not work, and why the powers of the swords and talismans were all nullified—the creature in Dafan Mountain wasn’t any sprite, demon, ghost, or monster, but a goddess! This was an untitled goddess born from the hundreds of years of incense. Using the items used to deal with evil spirits and beasts to deal with it would be like using fire to distinguish fire!
Lan JingYi shouted loudly, “Wait! Before this, in the temple, someone’s soul was also taken away, but we didn’t hear him wish!”
Wei WuXian’s heart suddenly jumped. He stopped his footsteps, “Someone’s soul was taken away in the temple? Describe to me everything that happened earlier, without missing a single word.”
Lan SiZhui repeated the scenario both clearly and quickly. When he heard Jin Ling’s talk of “if it’s really that effective, then I’m gonna pray for the soul-consuming creature in Dafan Mountain appear in front of me right now. Can the statue do it?” Wei WuXian spoke, “How is this not wishing? It most definitely is a wish!”
The others agreed with Jin Ling, so it was accepted that they had all wished the same thing. At the time, the soul-consuming goddess was right in front of them, so the wish was granted. Then, it was time to seize the sacrifice!
Suddenly, the donkey halted, and ran toward the opposite direction. Wei WuXian was, again, swung off unprepared, but grabbed on to the rope no matter what. However, in the bushes in front of him, there came a noise of chewing, complete with crunches and slurps. An immense figure was crawling in the bush, its huge head on the ground and moving using its stomach. Hearing the noise, it immediately lifted its head. Their eyes met.
In the beginning, the soul-consuming goddess’s features were vague, and there were only the shapes of eyes, nose, mouth, and ears on its face, but after it had eaten the souls of a few cultivators all at once, it could already form clear features. It was the face of a smiling woman, with blood dripping down the corners of its mouth, munching on an arm that had been torn off.
Everyone, following the donkey, ran in the other direction.
Lan SiZhui was breaking down, “That is not supposed to happen! The YiLing Patriarch had said before, that high-level ones eat souls, and only low-level ones eat flesh!”
Wei WuXian couldn’t help but to comment, “Why are you blindly worshipping him? Even his own inventions were a mess! No rules stay the same in all situations. You can think of it as an infant—when it lacks teeth, it can only eat congee and soup, but when it grows up, it would, of course, also want to eat meat using its teeth. Her powers had just risen greatly, so naturally she’d want to taste something new!”
The soul-consuming goddess stood up from the ground. Her body was tall. She used her arms and her legs to dance with uncontrollable excitement, seeming like she was extremely pleased. Out of the blue, an arrow came with a whoosh and pierced her forehead, the arrowhead appearing out of the back of her head.
Hearing the sound of the bow’s release, Wei WuXian’s looked toward its direction. Jin Ling stood atop a tall hill, not far away, and already had his second feathered arrow on the bow. He pulled to the maximum, and another head-penetrating arrow was released, the strength causing the soul-consuming goddess to stagger a few steps backward.
Lan SiZhui yelled, “Young Master Jin! Send off the signal on you!”
Jin Ling turned a deaf ear to his words, determined to kill the monster. With a solemn face, he set three arrows onto the bow at once. Although she was shot in the head twice, the soul-consuming goddess was not angered, and advanced toward Jin Ling with the same smile plastered on her face. Although she danced while walking, her speed was terrifyingly fast, decreasing the distance between them by half in just a few moments. A few cultivators appeared from the side and fought with her, hindering her strides. Jin Ling shot each arrow as the goddess took each step, probably intending to use up all of the feathered arrows first, before fighting in a closer range with the soul-consuming goddess. His arm was quite steady, and his shots were accurate, but all magical weapons were useless against it!
Both Jiang Cheng and Lan WangJi were at Buddha’s Feet, waiting for any news, so who knows how long it would take for them to realize that something was wrong and come up here. To extinguish fire, water was needed. Therefore, if magical weapons didn’t work, what about dark sorcery?
Wei WuXian unsheathed the sword on Lan SiZhui’s waist and chopped off a piece of a thin bamboo, swiftly making it into a flute. He lifted it up in front of his lips and took a deep breath. The shrill timbre of the flute was like an arrow, slicing through the night sky and shooting into the clouds.
This should have been a last resort for him, but however, with the situation already like this, it didn’t matter what he summoned. It’d be fine as long as the dark energy was strong enough and the killing intent was keen enough, so that it could rip the soul-consuming goddess into pieces!
Lan SiZhui was shocked to the point that he couldn’t even move, while Lan JingYi covered his ears, “Look at what situation we are in, and you are still playing the flute? It sounds horrible!”
In the battle, three or four of the cultivators who were fighting with the soul-consuming goddess had lost their souls. Jin Ling pulled out his sword. He was already less than two zhang away from the soul-consuming goddess. His heart thumped like crazy and all of the blood in his body went toward his head, if I can’t slice off her head with this blow, I will die here—death it is, then!
At the same time, from within the forests of Dafan Mountain, a tinkling sound appeared.
Tinkle tinkle, tinkle tinkle. It was sometimes faster, sometimes slower; sometimes pausing, sometimes continuing. It echoed in the silent woods, resembling the sound of iron chains colliding and being dragged on the ground. It came closer, and became louder.
For some reason, the sound gave the people an uneasy sense of threat. Even the soul-consuming goddess stopped dancing. It raised it arms, blankly staring into the dark of which the sound came from.
Wei WuXian put away his flute and carefully looked into the direction.
The ominous feeling that he felt became stronger and stronger, but because it was willing to come due to the summoning, it would at least be something that listened to him.
Then, all of a sudden, the noise stopped. A figure emerged from within the darkness.
After having a clear view of the figure and the face, the cultivators’ expressions became twisted.
Even when facing the goddess statue that could suck away their souls at any minute, the group did not cower or show any fear, but however, their shouting voices right now were filled with terror that they could not conceal.
“… The ‘Ghost General’, it’s the ‘Ghost General’, it’s Wen Ning!”
The title of the “Ghost General” was as infamous as that of the YiLing Patriarch’s. Most of the time, the two appeared together.
The word only referred one person—the right-hand man of the YiLing Patriarch Wei Ying, who had helped with the tyrant’s crimes, stirred up wind and waves, played the jackal to the tiger, overturned the world with him, and most of all, was a fierce corpse who should have been turned into ashes a long time ago—Wen Ning!
GuanYin: This is the most famous goddess in the traditional religion of China. She originated from a male Bodhisattva in Buddhism—when the religion was passed through the Silk Road, she somehow ended up becoming a female goddess.
Immortal: An immortal is a heavenly being or someone from the heavens. They can either be born an immortal or become an immortal through practices such as cultivation. All cultivators aim to become an immortal.
Goddess of the Nine Heavens: This is the goddess of war, sexuality, and longevity (“Wikipedia”).
Jade Emperor: He is the monarch of all deities in heaven, from the Daoist religion or just Chinese folklore in general.
Erjin temple: This is a type of temple which is usually set in remote mountains or forests, with monks living in them and few visitors. Because of its nature, erjin temples are usually quite large in size.
Gege: This means “older brother”.
Struck while the iron was still hot: This proverb means to grab onto a good chance/opportunity when it comes
Zhang: One zhang is around 3.3 meters.