There is no Feng Xiao in this episode. The temple’s hall remained the same.
The scent of sandalwood lingered and the Buddha’s gaze hung low.
Looking absolutely kind and empathic as the zen bells echo in the hall.
The Emperor’s breath hitched. His chest rose and fell frantically until he felt his hands and they were wet, only then did he realize that he was drenched in sweat; it had even stained the cattail mat.
His soul was still intact, but it was still palpitating with fear.
He raised his gaze to study his surroundings. Once the statue of the Buddha came into his sight, he could still imagine the frenzied and sinister look on it from a moment ago.
Even that deep, evil laughter seemed to resound in his ears as clearly as one could imagine it.
“What… What happened to me just now?”
“Your Majesty practically got taken advantage of by the demon in your heart,” said Grandmaster Lingcang. He had never seen such a strong demonic presence in the Emperor before. Even on such holy grounds, bathed in the sounds of sutra-reading, he could still birth such strong demons in his heart. “A moment ago, I seem to be hearing the cries of a thousand ghosts who refused to be at peace. They practically dragged me into the abyss!” cried the Emperor in fear. He instinctively thought that this place was quite haunted, but knew that it wasn’t too possible. The Daxingshan Temple had stood here for a long time; a famed temple for over three hundred years. It wasn’t quite possible for a spirit to dally here for so long and refuse to return to the afterlife.
The Emperor didn’t know what to say as his gaze met Grandmaster Lingcang’s.
“Perhaps I was too tired.”
Grandmaster Lingcang sighed and said, “When this humble zen wandered the lands back in those years, I discovered a method to soothe one’s nerves. His Majesty could allow the Grand Physician to take a look at the prescriptions before using them.”
The Emperor forced a smile and said, “Then, I’ve troubled you.”
Watching how he wasn’t in his best state, Lingcang knew that he had no heart to listen to sutras. And so, he let He Zhong open the doors to help the Emperor into the room to take a rest.
The festival of the Buddha’s birthday would continue for three days.
Another ritual would be taking place in the afternoon.
If nothing went wrong, the Emperor would be fasting here for three days during the ritual and reflect on himself. This will be how the events will be taking place.
All his subjects were waiting outside of the Hall of the Heavenly Kings. They didn’t know what had happened inside the Mahavira Hall. They only know that after the ritual, the Emperor came out with a dejected look.
Daxingshan Temple had occupied an entire street on its own. It had enough empty rooms to accommodate all the Emperor’s subjects that came with the Imperial Chariot. When the next ritual took place in the afternoon, Yu Qingze and the others were all summoned to the Mahavira Hall to listen.
The Emperor, however, had not shown up. He had a very long dream.
There was Yuwen Yong in his dreams, as well as his son-in-law Yuwen Yun; all the people that he had killed before had once more come to life in his dream. Blood flowed down their faces as they urged him to repay the debts of the lives he had taken.
The Emperor, who was constantly on the run in his dreams, had finally struggled awake. He looked once again outside the window and noticed that the dark colour of the night sky fully enveloped the kingdom.
Before anything could come to his mind, the gentle voice of He Zhong’s reached his ears and answered his questions.
“His Majesty had slept too soundly. Grandmaster Lingcang said that it’s a good thing for you to rest more often. As for the ritual, all prayers will be answered as long as one is sincere in his heart. This humble servant hadn’t dared to wake you up. How are you feeling now? Would you like to have dinner?”
The Emperor touched his forehead and felt that his mind was still in a haze as if he hadn’t yet completely woken up from his dream. However, he did look more lively than before.
He answered with an ‘En,’ before He Zhong ran out quickly. After a while, he brought a few people and some vegetarian dishes inside.
“Why is it so cold today?”
He Zhong answered as he brought a mantle for him. “Ah, snow began to fall.”
“Send orders to the kitchen to make some ginger soup for Yu Qingze and the others.” He Zhong bowed and smiled, “How considerate His Majesty is. This humble one hasn’t even thought of that.”
He let a little servant remain behind while he ran the errand for His Majesty.
The Emperor casually picked up a sutra from the bookcase and as he ate, he flipped it open to take a look.
At this moment, from the edge of the world came a massive ring, followed by an earth-shaking roll of thunder.
What? There was snow, as well as thunder?
Taken aback by surprise, the Emperor turned his head to look outside. The good mood he was in just now was destroyed completely.
As thunder struck the snow, Yang Jian recalled that he had met such a sight before when he was young. Back then, he hadn’t thought much about it, but as a series of incidents happened incessantly in the last few days, the Emperor found his mind wandering even at the slightest bit of oddity.
Especially after the scary illusion that had taken place in front of him today; the Emperor’s instincts became sensitive even to the slightest sway of grass.
A thunderstorm was resounding outside. Since it began, the storm befell continuously as snowflakes toiled in the air.
The Emperor wasn’t the only one. Even the common people might overthink about the thunderstorm after the eclipse just a day ago.
The Emperor felt uncomfortable in his heart. He no longer had the heart to read sutras.
He dropped the sutra onto his desk.
“Follow me out!” The Emperor wanted to look for Grandmaster Lingcang.
At this moment, Grandmaster Lingcang was the only one who could soothe him, the only one who could bring him hope.
His sharp little servants knew what the Emperor wanted. Along the way, they asked a few monks who passed by and got to know that Grandmaster Lingcang was still in the Mahavira Hall.
The silence within Daxingshan Temple at night was unusual. Although there were guards patrolling around everywhere, as well as fire torches that lit the walls, the wilted trees that formed forests and the solemnity in the day turned into ghastly presences in the night that made one’s heart thump with fear.
It was unknown whether it was the coldness of the weather or the effects of nature. The little servants felt a cold spasm in their hearts. The Emperor was just up on the side, and he dared not budge an inch despite feeling all his hairs standing on their ends.
The Mahavira Hall drew close.
Firelights lit the inside, yet its doors were shut tight.
Though, the firelights inside would certainly be extinguished by the snowstorm of the night if the doors were opened.
The little servant wanted to proceed to send word of the Emperor’s arrival only to be stopped by the Emperor. Then, he slowly walked forward until he was just outside the hall to silently push the door ajar and reveal a slit.
It’s already so late, and yet Grandmaster Lingcang was still in the Mahavira Hall. Most likely, he wanted to discuss some serious affairs. The Emperor didn’t wish to interrupt him, so he wanted to take a look first.
Who could have guessed that this peak would forever stun him! Grandmaster Lingcang was truly inside the hall. The entire hall was empty yet lit, and he was the only one present in there.
Before Grandmaster Lingcang’s crossed legs was a container.
It looked similar to the type of containers used to burn papers during a funeral, but that was not the Emperor’s main focal point.
Because he had seen something even more terrifying.
That container was filled with bloody innards and flesh. Grandmaster Lingcang was just about to use his hand to scoop a handful of it to put it into his parted mouth.
His throat swallowed. Blood dripped down from the corner of his lips.
He licked the blood from his hand without a second thought.
The Emperor’s mind blanked. He even thought that he was still in his dream. He unconsciously took a few steps backwards and as his knees gave away, he collapsed and fell to the ground. The little servant wanted to help him up, but he had collapsed to the ground with the Emperor instead.
“Your Majesty? Your Majesty, what happened?”
Through the slit in the door, the Emperor could clearly see that Grandmaster Lingcang had discovered his presence. He had even turned around and looked into this direction with a sinister smile.
The Emperor was frozen on the spot. He shouted, “Men! Men!”
The moment his voice rang, the sound of slaughter followed from behind the courtyard where the monks lived.
The ground of crossing swords dully reached them. The Emperor abruptly turned around! “What happened?!” “Protect His Majesty!”
Quickly, the Royal Guards surrounding the Mahavira Hall gathered around.
This had made the Emperor feel a little calmer.
“Xiao Yong, go ahead and find out what is going on!” said the Emperor, as he paused momentarily and pointed into the inside of the palace, “Bring Grandmaster Lingcang out as well!”
The Royal Guards moved separately. There were a few of them who remained to protect the Emperor as he looked around nervously.
The Emperor’s instincts told him that something huge has happened, but he wasn’t especially worried because Yu Qingze and the others were present. These people had accompanied him through the hardest and most difficult moments of his life. They are famed generals who killed their enemies on the battlefield. A couple of trivial tricks like that wouldn’t be a problem to them.
But just as he was thinking, all the servants around him suddenly collapsed to the ground. Before the Emperor could register what had happened, two people in nightgear lifted him up through his left and right and dragged him into the hall!
Hello guys! I’m glad to announce that I’ve finished tling Wushuang’s main story!! Although, unfortunately, the posting schedule won’t be changing because they still need some editting ;; Plus, I’m also busy with inrl and other novels and would still have to translate the extras even though I’ll definitely be taking my time for them!
I’m done waiting!
As the Emperor was dragged into the hall, what greeted him wasn’t a room full of lights, but Grandmaster Lingcang’s gasping mouth dripping with blood.
The windows were opened, and wild winds swept in, snuffing off each and every candlelight.
All around him turned to darkness as a blindfold slipped over the Emperor’s eyes. The sounds of killing grew further and further away until everything fell into complete silence.
He didn’t even know what had happened. After he shouted twice and no one came to his aid, the Emperor knew then and there that he was under someone else’s control.
The dignity of an Emperor made him stomp down all his fright and fear, silently clenching his teeth as he remained silent.
The Emperor felt the grip on both his sides loosened and the force pinning him down had vanished. Without another word, he freed his eyes from the blindfold.
The same old darkness greeted his eyes.
The Emperor turned and looked around. He couldn’t tell what place this
is. When darkness had swallowed everything around them, wherever he was, it no longer made a difference.
The sound of wails was almost surreal, as if they came from the cries of the wronged souls from the Yellow Spring. Those wails were so sinister that it could instil fear from the deepest parts in the hearts of people.
The Emperor hadn’t taken a step forward. He knew that in these kinds of situations, the best course of action was to be inert.
If the enemy had planted traps all around him, then any step taken might bring harm to himself.
If the enemy refused to move, so would he.
The Emperor could hear his own breathing, as well as his own heart’s beating.
His heart thumped at a quicker space, to the point where even his eardrums have begun to follow the beat.
He only noticed as he swallowed that his mouth had run dry.
This torturing silence had been dragging on for very long, that the Emperor who took pride in his patience was also gradually finding it wearing thin.
When he was about to speak, someone blew a puff of air on the back of his neck.
It was a very light sigh, resounding all around him. The Emperor froze where he stood.
He barked, “What wretched demon goes there? If you came for vengeance, then show yourself. To play such tricks are underhanded methods by little nobodies! Laughable!” “How admirable that Your Majesty remains unwavering even in the face of your downfall. You’ve earned respect.”
The other’s voice was very slow and gentle, a fresh comparison to the Emperor’s strict and stern speech.
The light still remained out of reach, but it was as if the enemy could see his every move. The Emperor slanted his body to avoid it, only to find that he could no longer move.
He calmed himself down. “Who on earth are you?”
“Xiao Lu.” The voice answered. He hadn’t beat around the bush and reported his name immediately.
The Emperor was taken aback, but not too much. “The Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai?”
Xiao Lu laughed and said, “It seems like His Majesty has heard much of me from Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu.”
Xiao Lu flicked his finger.
A small little light lit up in front of the Emperor.
The faint little light gradually turned into a cluster of light, dispersing into a few sparks.
The Emperor could vaguely see his surroundings.
He saw Xiao Lu, who stood opposite of him, as well as the young maiden next to him.
The Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was young and handsome. He’d make a good couple with the young maiden next to him.
It was very difficult to imagine that this person with a gentle and kind look, whom a smile constantly sat at the corner of his lips, could build such a massive organization within just a few short years. He had gathered all the intelligent people there are and had formed alliances with both Goguryeo and Göktürk alike. Although he still wasn’t powerful enough to take the Sui Dynasty head-on, in truth they were already no longer a small threat.
Except, the Emperor was not a stranger to that young maiden. He howled, “Yuwen Eying?!”
Even though this granddaughter of his had been born in a family that was an enemy to his own clan, the Emperor had never mistreated her for the sake of her mother.
But who could have guessed that she had long been scheming with the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai with the intention to overturn the Great Sui?
The young maiden smiled, “Your Majesty, my name is Yuwen Yihuan. Perhaps you’ve heard about the Princess giving birth to a pair of twins back in that year.”
The truth struck the Emperor. “Are you that child who died as a baby?
You’re not dead!”
Yuwen Yihuan nodded her head. “Thankfully, my adopted brother came to my aid. Otherwise, I would have long gone beneath the grave and turned into a wronged ghost!”
Since they were humans and not ghosts, then there was no need to be afraid. Although the Emperor held guilt towards the Yuwen clan, he had no guilt for Yuwen Yihuan.
Very quickly, he returned to his usual calmness. When he spoke again, he returned to his usual tone.
“I am thankful towards Pavilion Lord Xiao for saving Maiden Huan, but I was ignorant of her existence before. Since I know of her now, then there is no excuse to let her stray in the wild. Since Maiden Huan owed Pavilion Lord Xiao a debt of gratitude, and I was never known to be thrifty with rewards; why are you so insistent on making an enemy of the Imperial Court and doing things that will neither benefit yourself or others?”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “His Majesty truly lives up to his name. So quickly and you have turned from the defensive to the offensive, and have come to curry favours with me? Would you really grant me just any rewards I demand?”
The Emperor could sense that there was a trap in these words, but remained calm as he answered, “One should also consider whether it is mine to give.”
Xiao Lu exploded into a series of laughter. “Your Majesty possesses all the wealth found in the four seas. What is not yours to give? It’s only a matter whether you are willing to. I suppose you are not willing to give up the throne?”
The Emperor, “The throne of Emperors are only given to those of virtue.”
Xiao Lu expressed a mocking look. “Virtue? Is the present Emperor of the Chen Dynasty a man of virtue?”
The Emperor expressionlessly said, “His forefathers had such virtue. If not for their outstanding capabilities and virtues, how would the throne fall into their hands? If one were to refuse virtuous and moral conducts after the throne is attained, the Heavens will not allow them to sit on the throne for too long.”
Xiao Lu gave him a half-smile, “That’s to say. His Majesty claims himself to be virtuous and capable, and so to be the Emperor is your destiny?”
The Emperor mocked him and said, “I have long been curious of you. All that you’ve done are works on par to heroes of the ancient. Your capabilities proved that you are able to garner a cluster of skilled followers and make them obey your orders. If you had such talents, why are you not using them on the rightful path, but had chosen such a shady route instead?”
Yang Jian was born of a noble household and could have chosen to spend his life in luxury. Yet, he had strived for a huge feat. The suspicions of Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou back then made it even more impossible for him to turn back. It had, instead, pushed him up the path of an usurper.
But ever since his coronation, he had offered the people proper administration and security, wrought anew all the foolish ways of the previous Emperor. Even if he had betrayed the Yuwen clan, he had not betrayed the common people.
In the face of Xiao Lu, naturally, the Emperor had the authority to ask.
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “What is the rightful path? It is all but ‘He who steals the hook gets hanged as the crook; he who steals the country makes himself a duke’.”
The Emperor remained resolute, “There is no need for you to say these things to anger me. I admit that I have stolen the throne which belonged to the Yuwen clan. However, if Yuwen Yun had made use of talents and gave his best to build his country, how would he have lost it? I assume all the illusions I were seeing before were all also your doings? Even if you are displeased with me, Grandmaster Lingcang is innocent. Please let them go.”
Xiao Lu said, “It’s a given I will not mistreat them, but there is no use for His Majesty to buy time. Do you know why you are here?”
The Emperor, “I forgot. I have not asked.”
Xiao Lu, “In the stomach of the Buddha.”
The Mahadiva Hall was the most famous hall of the Daxingshan Temple.
Within the hall was an enormous Buddha statue more than five zhang tall. It was made during the Jin Dynasty, who managed to escape destruction when the late Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou set out to destroy arteifacts of Buddhism. Now, as a new Emperor ascended to the throne, the temple was renovated, and this great statue was remade into one of gold.
The Emperor had watched the Buddha statue from a close distance before, but he hadn’t expected the inside of it to be so spacious. There was even an entry to this place.
If someone had been hiding inside the Buddha statue all this these time, then it was not surprising that the strict and tight patrols surveying around the temple in the last few days had found nothing unusual as they searched in and out of the temple.
The Emperor had even thought: If they didn’t come in from the outside, then was there perhaps a tunnel beneath the Buddha statue that linked to the outside?
Xiao Lu watched as the expression on the other changed. With a smile, he said, “With how intelligent Your Majesty is, perhaps you have already thought of the key events.”
The Emperor, “Even if you have hidden an army of soldiers in this place, it would still be impossible for you to soundlessly make your way out.”
Xiao Lu, “Your Majesty has mistaken. The sounds of killing that came from the outside just now were not from my people, but yours. Your people are killing each other.”
The Emperor splurted, “How is that possible?!”
As events have progressed until the present, there was no need to conceal his intentions. Xiao Lu told him, rather kindly, “The ginger soups have been dosed with gu. Also, there are indeed a few hidden tunnels under this Buddha statue. I have let someone light incense that will drug its victims into seeing illusions under this statue. The smoke from these incenses will find its way out of the statue’s nostrils and blend into the scent of sandalwood that could be found inside and outside of the hall. When they mix, it would be very hard for anyone to tell.”
The Emperor’s expression sank. “That’s to say, you even made Grandmaster Lingcang break a precept?”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “As Your Majesty has seen: As long as there is any distinctive feature there is falsehood1. Lingcang is unaffected by worldly temptations and holds no grudges. That fragrance could do nothing to him. I could only let him lay down quietly for a moment. After all, you, Your Majesty, is the reason I’m here.”
After he finished speaking, he suddenly turned his head sideways and stared into the darkness.
“Are you prepared?”
In a daze, the Emperor also stared at the source of the sound. Within the darkness, someone stepped out.
The Emperor’s eyes widened abruptly!
That person’s looks, from his attire to his posture, looked exactly like him!
Xiao Lu snickered as he said, “How long did Your Majesty think he could stall?”
Xiao Lu hadn’t interrupted the Emperor just now when he was asking questions; he had even answered every question he had. It was all for the sake of allowing this bogus Emperor to learn the details of how the real Emperor behaved.
“We are almost done here. Pavillion Lord, please let him speak a few words.” The other said.
Even his voice was almost identical. The Emperor was both surprised and angry; he hadn’t expected the enemy to use this trick.
Xiao Lu regretfully said, “If someone must take the blame, then blame yourself that the patrols around the palace are far too strict. A few days ago, all the people I’ve sent into it were very quickly found out by the Jiejian Bureau. I am at my wit’s end to make use of such an unfavourable trick. However, rest assured, once this person takes your place in future, they will take good care of the Yang clan and settle them down before he will make the decree to withdraw from his place. Your heroic deeds will not be forgotten. In the future, the scholars will resume to write Your Majesty as the brilliant Emperor who changed the Imperial Entrance Examination, as well as the Emperor who defeated Göktürk.”
The Emperor has already made the decision to not open his mouth. But as he listened, he couldn’t help himself—
“Do you think anyone would believe you?! Don’t take the Empress and all my subjects as fools!”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “First, the ones who defended your usurping of the throne, who helped you forge an Imperial degree, Liu Fang and Zheng Yi, are dead. Then it was the eclipse—this could only mean that the Heavens decided Your Majesty is guilty, and that he should not have stolen the throne from the Yuwens. After Your Majesty spent three days in Daxingshan Temple to reflect on himself, he finally realized his mistakes and decided to follow in the footsteps of the Emperor Wu of Liang of the Southern Dynasty to become a monk and withdraw from his place. If the Empress and your subjects refuse to believe it, so what? As long as the people do, it will be fine. His Highness Prince Qin has already gotten in touch with the Commander of the Royal Guards for me and bought their loyalty. As for Empress Dugu, she is still bedridden, so best let her recuperate her health first.”
The Emperor angrily said, “Dream on!” “It’s enough.” Someone suddenly said. The other walked towards the Emperor, reached out a hand to touch his face as he deftly touched it like he was trying to determine the contour of his bones.
The Emperor felt the hairs on his body stood. There was a frightened expression on his face, yet he could not move an inch. He could only stand there as he let others do as they wished.
As that person repeated the same word, he didn’t stop twitching his tone, grinding out every single last bit of difference he had with the Emperor.
“I am Yang Jian, and Yang Jian is I.”
He gave the Emperor a smile that made his heart turn cold I’ve fallen out of power. The Emperor thought in dejection.
The great Buddha statue was soundproof. Regardless of how the Emperor screamed or shouted, no one could hear him.
How does it feel for one to be in the last moments of his life?
The Emperor only realized now, that he had feared not only death, but also the fact that whether Xiao Lu and his people would be using his face to do other nefarious things. A hand reached out from the back.
It soundlessly approached the Emperor.
Yet, the hand neither belonged to his saviour nor did it belong to the Grim Reaper.
That hand straightened itself before it pressed onto the back of the Emperor’s neck.
Xiao Lu’s expression changed. Suddenly, he moved, and lunged himself over!
Although he’d made a bogus Emperor, there was still some use to this real Emperor. He still didn’t have plans to kill him.
Yet, the intruder had intended to take the Emperor’s life with a single strike.
Xiao Lu was forced to step out to stop him. With the blink of an eye, they’ve crossed a few moves and the intruder’s identity was exposed.
“Tuan Qinghe! You and I have never meddled in each other’s affairs.
Why did you come!”
Tuan Qinghe said nothing. He pushed Xiao Lu away, his knife aimed towards the Emperor.
The glare of his sword turned into a thousand; even that bogus Emperor was frozen fast where he stood.
Naturally, Xiao Lu didn’t allow him to do as he pleased. But as Tuan Qinghe attacked both of them, and that he could save only one, Xiao Lu chose the bogus Emperor.
He wanted a puppet. When the uses of both of them were compared, naturally, the bogus Emperor served him more purpose. The Emperor could only watch as the knife’s glare hammered down on him coldly. Before it hit his body, he already felt the pain. He feared this life of his would be forsaken almost immediately!
In that moment of frenzy, someone held his shoulder and his entire person was dragged backwards.
However, behind him wasn’t the flat land as he’d expected. As if a pit had suddenly appeared in the Buddha statue, the Emperor fell right into it.
From the corner of his eye, he could see that the person who had saved him was the young monk that appeared frequently at Grandmaster Lingcang’s side.
“I’ve waited so long for the lot of you to come out together. I’m done waiting!”
The young monk laughed a very long laugh. But once he spoke, the Emperor knew who he was.
There were some differences to Feng Xiao’s looks under such a dim light, but his handsomeness was still there. How would any ordinary ordained monk carry such an unbridled and wildly carefree look? Those were the characteristics of the Second Commander Feng.
Both Xiao Lu and Tuan Qinghe were still in a vigorous fight, but once they saw Feng Xiao appear, both of them turned to attack him in unison!
With a wave of his sleeves, Feng Xiao turned and placed the bogus Emperor in front himself as a meat shield, sending both their attacks into different directions. He then reached out to toss the bogus Emperor into the spot where the Emperor had fallen just now.
The Emperor was half-conscious when he fell in. He hadn’t expected another person to fall from above, and that he’d fallen right onto him, almost making him spill a mouthful of blood!  皆是虛妄 is originally from the full sentence 凡所有相，皆是虛妄from the Diamond Sutra.  本座忍得差点都⽴地成佛了: This doesn’t work well in English. It literally translates into, “I’m going to wait until
I’ve turned into a Buddha!” because apparently, one must cultivate the virtue patience to the highest extent to become the Buddha. It generally means that Feng Xiao had waited so long it surpassed his limit.
Petition to give poor Yang Jian a break XD He’s legit one of the very few decent emperors in danmei who are not the protagonist he’s a keeper y’all.
It’s Cui Buqu!
Feng Xiao had reasons for his actions.
He knew that the alliance between Xiao Lu and Kuhezhen was not entirely harmonious.
Both of them had only decided to work together to tear down the common enemy they acknowledged as the Great Sui, but right as their goals were about to be achieved, it was even easier to sway them.
To Feng Xiao, this was a manipulative variable.
Because his enemies might turn against each other, or they might not.
But since Feng Xiao and the group are not hiding, they could only wait for the enemy to strike.
When they first discussed it, everyone else had chosen to act first instead of waiting for the enemy to strike. They wanted to dismiss the Festival of the Buddha’s Birthday and initiate a search all over the city.
It was Cui Buqu who ordered everyone to take cover in the dark, and they were not allowed to act rashly.
After the change of events at Prince Qin’s manor, the Jiejian Bureau had already managed to find some clues, but in order to avoid alerting the enemy, they feigned reaching a dead end and pretended that the bureau members have fallen into chaos, making use of this to lower the enemy’s guard.
They acted until this very day.
Cui Buqu is truly capable of seeing through people’s hearts, Feng Xiao thought.
Although both Xiao Lu and Tuan Qinghe had never shown themselves in the Jianghu, they were top martial artists without a doubt.
Xiao Lu’s wounds have not healed. Perhaps his skills would be slightly inferior, but if both of them combined their strengths, even someone as proud and as confident as Feng Xiao wouldn’t dare guarantee that he’d win.
The bogus Emperor’s existence was the key.
Once he was tossed down below, Xiao Lu would immediately give up on Feng Xiao and lunge to the bogus Emperor of Sui’s rescue.
In Xiao Lu’s plans, the bogus Emperor of Sui was an indispensable chess piece. Naturally, he could not allow something to happen to it.
As for what was happening beneath the pit—
The Emperor would never have dreamt that such a vast space existed beneath the Daxingshan Temple, like an entirely different world.
He could not see his own fingers when he reached out with his hand. He felt around that touched patches of soil that were obviously hammered before. This meant that someone had once been working in this place.
The Emperor recalled that Daxingshan Temple had been renovated twice; the first was when the late Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou intended to destroy all that represents Buddhism, and the second was after the Sui Dynasty was established. However, in both times Daxingshan Temple was renovated, it was above the ground to strengthen its structure. They have never meddled with anything beneath it. This place appeared to exist even before the Zhou Dynasty. He used all of his strength pushing that corpse off of him. The bogus Emperor appeared to have passed out.
The Emperor could not clearly see who it was, but it was doubtlessly the bogus Emperor.
He originally wanted to get rid of him, but the Emperor had no weapons in hand, and his limbs were strengthless, and he could not even lift his hand. So, all he could do was to give the other two kicks that probably did not hurt.
The Emperor inhaled frantically, but it did nothing to soothe his worries. How could he leave this place?
Could Feng Xiao free himself and come to his rescue? What was going on up there?
He was lost as he realized he had no answers.
After waiting for a very long time and no one came to his rescue, the Emperor could only rise to his feet alone and fumble the uneven walls as he found his way around.
After fumbling for a while, he paused to fumble the wall next to him longer and realized that the unevenness on the walls was actually a large painting.
There appeared to be handsome horses, and people guiding them. A few people were standing as they were connected hand-to-hand. There was even a Bodhisattva sitting atop a lotus flower.
This is an underground maze! The Emperor immediately decided.
Due to Grandmaster Lingcang situated here, the Emperor knew more about Daxingshan Temple than he did with other temples. And yet, he never knew that there was an underground maze beneath it. Since this is an underground maze, it would definitely be big. It might even be riddled with traps, hiding dangers unknown.
The Emperor could feel his back splattered with cold sweat. He paused his steps.
At this moment, perhaps facing Xiao Lu head-on above ground was more favourable.
However, he was poorly informed about the paths here. It mightn’t be wise to wait for rescue either.
A familiar whimper resounded from all directions, fading in and out and existing from all perceivable angles.
It sounded like the cries of a baby, as well as the purr of a cat in the night.
It was heavy with resentment and dense with hatred.
The Emperor was frozen on the spot as he listened closely to the sound to determine its source.
A hand finally reached out and placed itself on his shoulder.
Blood brimmed to his head. The Emperor instinctively wanted to fling that hand away, only to hear the other’s voice.
It was familiar in every meaning of the word.
“Your Majesty, it’s me.”
After these words were said, there were even a few coughs. It’s Cui Buqu!
The Emperor wanted to say something, but because his heart was beating rapidly just moments ago, he released a series of choked coughs the moment he opened his mouth.
His coughs resounded in the layered darkness, echoing as it made this place feel even more spacious than he imagined.
Once again, another voice rang, “Your Majesty.”
This time, it was the Vice Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau, Zhangsun Bodhi.
The Emperor’s heart calmed, inhaling as he said, “You people….” “Shh!” Zhangsun Bodhbi ignored all courteousness and immediately
clasped a hand onto the Emperor’s mouth, silencing him.
Cui Buqu explained in a whisper, “Your Majesty, there is a beast in these ruins. It’s not wise to speak too loudly.”
The Emperor’s heart leapt into his mouth once again.
“What beast? How did you guys come down here?”
Before the Festival of the Buddha’s Birthday, Cui Buqu had let Ming Yue and Qin Miaoyu do something for him.
He made them enter the maze’s royal library to retrieve the construction plans of Daxingshan Temple.
There were as many manuscripts in the Imperial Library as there are fishes in the sea. It kept not only the ancient records of fallen dynasties, but also the ones that date back to the Han Dynasty. Although many of them were destroyed in the fires of war, the ones that remained were still great in number. It was not an easy task to find the construction plans of Daxingshan Temple within these manuscripts.
All the more, they only had the time of a single night.
However, Ming Yue and Qin Miaoyu did successfully find Daxingshan Temple’s construction plans, even though they were only the draft from the Jin Dynasty because the very first draft had long been lost when the Jin Dynasty was at war with the Southern Dynasty. This copy was only saved because it was passed down by the former Qin Dynasty. On it was recorded the schedules of construction and the floor plans of Daxingshan Temple.
After that, Daxingshan Temple was heavily renovated a few more times.
The current version of it was much more different compared to the plans.
Qin Miaoyu didn’t know why Cui Buqu went through lengths to acquire this object. She had only taken it for Cui Buqu panicking until Cui Buqu pointed at a single sentence imprinted on it.
When the temple was first built, the Emperor of that time had once ordered them to chisel an underground maze to dedicate it to the Ashtamangala1, and that the vastness of the underground maze, as well as the Mahavira Hall, will be linked inside out as one.
It had been just a few words that others wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of.
What does it mean to link them as one? And how will they be linked?
Cui Buqu knew that on the day of the Buddha’s Birthday, the Emperor would be listening to sutras within the Mahavira Hall; everyone else would be outside praying for blessings and burning incense. At that moment, Xiao Lu’s focus would all be on the Emperor. And so, in the day, he’d brought Zhangsun as they quietly searched around the courtyard before finally finding a tunnel beneath the green bricks located at Jingshan Alley where some junk was placed.
As a matter of fact, from the way the dirt beneath the brick looked, this was an entrance that even Xiao Lu and the others had yet to discover.
Only after they entered did they realize that there was a wide space beneath the ground. It truly wasn’t just restricted to Daxingshan Temple on the surface. It made all directions accessible and had Buddhist relics that belonged to the high monks of the former dynasty located in the eight cardinal directions with reference to the bagua. Surrounding these relics were poison animals that could not be named with traps all around.
The two of them had passed through those traps. Cui Buqu knew the arrays and traps well. With the addition of Zhangsun’s martial arts, they were shocked but not injured before meeting up with the Emperor.
However, the Emperor no longer remembered where he had come from. In fact, surrounding them was a more concerning danger. It could be observing in the darkness at any moment, ready to pounce at its chosen victims.
Cui Buqu said, “There is a beast of unknown origin hiding here. It’s very strange, and it appears to be intelligent. Even Zhangsun is no match for it. We could only step back and avoid being detected by it.”
Zhangsun pursed his lips and said nothing.
He knew that Cui Buqu was extremely scarce with his words because Cui Buqu hadn’t yet told the Emperor that, the beast wasn’t only difficult to deal with, but it also had a look so terrifying that he wasn’t willing to recall.
Zhangsun knew very clearly that he was not completely confident in bringing these two people out safely.
 ⼋宝 [ba bao]: These are eight symbols of good fortune the gods made to Shakyamuni Buddha. The symbols are: conch, endless knot,
victory banner, lotus, jewelled parasol, wheel of law, pair of fishes, and vase.
Trigger Warning: graphic descriptions of gore and blood, trypophobia.
The Emperor quickly got used to his surroundings. He had forced himself to calm down after listening to the two of them quickly going through with him all that happened.
After all, he was much better off right now with two more people by his side, rather than standing alone in the midst of the enemy’s countless ambushes.
He mimicked them by suppressing his voice as he asked, “According to Master Cui, how does the situation look right now?”
Had it been someone else, they could not have allowed someone more inferior in status to order them around, but the Emperor knew very well that at this moment, he had no chances of escaping alone, and that among the three of them, although Zhangsun might possess far more superior martial skills, the most reliable figure was none other than Cui Buqu.
Without changing his attitude, Cui Buqu asked, “Does Your Majesty remember where you came from?”
The Emperor’s face was brimmed red from running for his life just a moment ago. How would he spend the effort to remember where he came from?
“Let me think.” He has quite a good sense of memory. Through fumbling on the stone statues that he’s touched before, he gained a vague impression of where he came from.
In order to avoid drawing eyes from the darkness, Zhangsun hadn’t lit a torch. He had instead placed a hand on the Emperor’s shoulder.
Cui Buqu followed behind Zhangsun.
The Emperor felt the engravings on top of the stone. He still remembered the picture he felt just now.
The group of people were riding on horses and camels as they travelled across the seas to pay respect to the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva was sitting on top of their lotus throne, a seal in their hand as they sat high above.
The Emperor felt the cloud that resembles good fortune, and above that cloud was the Bodhisattva in his memory.
He knew he was going the right way, and thus moved slightly forward.
“There should be someone up front who pretended to be me, but he’s fainted.”
Zhangsun said, “Don’t go, Your Majesty. Let me take a look.”
He passed the Emperor to Cui Buqu as he walked on his own to the place where the Emperor had pointed out.
It wasn’t very far.
“There’s no one here, Your Majesty.”
How could it be possible?
The Emperor refused to believe it. Because he couldn’t have woken up so quickly. Even if he had woken up, he wouldn’t have been so silent.
He couldn’t help taking a few steps forward, wanting to be certain of it himself.
As he took that step, his shoulder slipped away from Cui Buqu’s grasp.
“Your Majesty, there are many tunnels here. It’s best not to hastily move around.” came Cui Buqu’s voice from the back.
“That person looks incredibly similar to me, with few differences that cannot be noticed. If not for the fact that I know I am the real deal myself, I would have mistaken it myself. If he escaped, then a series of troubles would follow.”
The Emperor knelt and fumbled around. Other than the rough debris on the ground, there wasn’t anything else.
His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Impossible.
The Emperor knew very well that the bogus Emperor had fallen onto him when he came down. He’d viciously pushed him off and his head was hit against a rock. It was very likely that he bled a lot.
But the scent of blood did not surround them.
He found a spot where the dampness hadn’t dried. It really was here.
Where was that bogus Emperor?
“It should be near here.” The Emperor quietly told Cui Buqu and the others. He felt that the enemy could have slipped away while he was in a daze and hid while keeping silent.
But Cui Buqu and the others did not reply.
“Master Cui? Zhangsun?”
The Emperor felt something was afoot.
Just a moment ago, Cui Buqu and Zhangsun Bodhi were obviously just behind him. How could they have not heard him?
All of a sudden, the Emperor touched something.
It was like a leg, warm yet there was nothing covering it. Its surface felt rough, as if there were scales on them.
Water dripped from above and onto his head.
The Emperor instinctively reached out with a hand to wipe it off. It was sticky and it had a raw scent to it.
It was not water, but blood. He cussed.
A flash appeared next to him.
The Emperor abruptly turned his head to see Zhangsun Bodhi holding a fire starter.
As if he realised what happened, his body froze, and his gaze slowly rose above his head.
There was a person. But that creature was no longer able to be considered a person.
It only had the four limbs of ordinary humans. All its hair had fallen, and from its head to its face, no part of it wasn’t splattered red. It looked like something that was glowing red after being splashed with hot, steaming water.
However, on its skin were tiny holes countless in number near to each other with either black or white worms squirming in and out of it.
Even its eye sockets, where originally two eyes should have been, had been turned into two dark holes like two orbs of black fire. It glared at the Emperor like a poisonous snake setting its gaze on its prey, pinning the Emperor on the spot where he stood.
Scales covered its hands and legs and its sharp nails were stained black.
Although the Emperor had seen many things in his life, he had never seen such a creature in this world before.
For a moment, he was unable to speak. He inhaled a cold breath of air.
When his haze met the worms, the Emperor could only feel the hairs all over his body stand on their tips. He would have given anything to immediately leave his body in the form of his soul and fly to a faraway place, no longer needing to see such a creature.
It was no wonder Zhangsun and Cui Buqu had kept their words scarce just now. No one would be able to contain themselves after seeing such an ugly creature!
The Emperor realized it too late. When he recalled having placed his hand on the creature’s feet, his soul was almost scared out of his body as he immediately withdrew his hand!
The creature emitted a deep growl from its throat. It reached out for his head at the speed of lightning. The Emperor reacted too late. He felt a wind swept into his face and that he didn’t even have the time to take a step back.
This life of his will soon be forfeited!
As this thought surfaced in his mind, fire rose up all around them! Zhangsun’s reflexes were quick. When the Emperor was still in a trance,
he had already tossed the torch from his grasp.
The torch had hit the creature’s brain as it painfully recoiled backwards.
“Commander!” shouted Zhangsun. No one had replied to him.
Cui Buqu was nowhere to be seen.
The torch had fallen onto the ground and lit a pool of blood that came from unknown sources, and yet, Cui Buqu was still nowhere to be seen.
The creature let out a deep growl and lunged itself at them once more. Zhangsun pushed the Emperor backwards as he flew at the creature to fight a frontal battle with it.
He could only use waves and waves of wind from his palm to force the creature to retreat, but he dared not go near it, because Cui Buqu had said before that all those worms on him were gu, and if a gu were to enter someone’s body, they would similarly succumb to the gu poison.
Sly gu would not panic. They would choose to remain hidden in the body and pick the best moment to attack.
Just like how Pei Jingzhe had previously experienced. It was rare for anyone to take them out, because most of them would fall to a similar fate like those people from the Yandang Estate—having the gu infiltrate their brains as they fell into their control, and finally become incurable. And so, it became even more difficult to spar with the creature. For the sake of waiting for Cui Buqu, Zhangsun could have just taken the Emperor and leave, but he was forced to remain here to buy some time.
The Emperor dared not act hastily as he backed himself against a wall.
He, too, was calling out for Cui Buqu.
However, Cui Buqu was nowhere to be seen. Zhangsun Bodhi could no longer delay any longer.
With the Emperor by his side, he must first guarantee the Emperor’s safety.
This was his responsibility, as well as the task Cui Buqu had assigned to him.
The creature went wild. Each time it lunged itself at Zhangsun, the latter had to spend more effort to block him.
He suddenly realized that this creature had human intelligence. Step by step, it had lured the enemy deep into the maze, before finally exhausting Zhangsun’s qi.
Zhangsun gritted his teeth, and with another palm, he forced the creature to take a few steps back. He then turned around to grab the Emperor and retreated, fleeing into the boundless darkness.
The creature flew into pursuit without hesitation.
Cui Buqu was standing quietly, his back against a cold and icy wall.
He seems to be able to feel the contours of the wall, and that it should be a picture of the classic ‘The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils’.
However, he hadn’t spoken, because his throat was being held.
The person holding his throat was extremely close to him. They were just face-to-face, breathing lightly, and from time to time the other’s breath would brush across his cheek.
In the darkness, he could not even tell the silhouette of the other, but Cui Buqu knew who he was.
This person was using their left hand. They had strong and long fingers, dry and cold.
There are many people in the Jianghu who were left-handed, but there was only one who could infiltrate into this place.
Until that creature had chased Zhangsun and the Emperor far away, only then did Xiao Lu gradually release Cui Buqu’s neck and tapped on his meridians instead.
“Commander Cui, here we meet again.” “Pavilion Lord Xiao, nice to meet you.”
Both of them had addressed each other with familiarity, just like friends of old that happened to have reunited without feeling that they have drifted apart.
But Cui Buqu knew that if Xiao Lu could choose, he would be unwilling to come down here.
Eight out of ten it’s probably because Feng Xiao had tossed the bogus Emperor down, and so he was left with no choice but to come down here searching for him himself.
Cui Buqu coughed a few times, and said, “That beast from just now; what was it all about?”
Xiao Lu was still in the mood to joke, “How are you sure that I would know for certain? Commander Cui, aren’t you overestimating me?” Cui Buqu said, “The underground palace was dedicated to the Ashtamangala, so perhaps there might be a few trap mechanisms and a few poisonous creatures, but such an aggressive, demonic beast should never be here. It is covered in gu worms, so the host must have obviously be thrown into a pool of gu and nurtured for seven thousand seven hundred and forty-nine days, so that all his internal organs have rot and the gu have taken over his body, turning him into a walking corpse who only know how to kill.”
The human used to make this creature could not simply be just anybody. They must have a healthy body, and it would’ve been better if they were decent at martial arts as well, only then could they withstand all the gu squirming into their body and drill into their internal organs as they watch them form a thousand holes in their body until they finally die of pain.
In order to create such a devilish, sinister creature, the maker must have paid quite a huge cost.
Xiao Lu remained silent for a moment. “That human gu was the eldest disciple of the Nanhua Sect, Song Yuntao, back when he was alive.”
Cui Buqu was taken aback. “Kuhezhen has only been to the Central Plains for just a few months, and Song Yuntao had been missing for more than three years. How could he have fallen into his hands?”
Xiao Lu sighed and said, “Back in that year, the Nanhua Sect had an internal strife. The Sect Leader took a young and beautiful young woman for his wife, but the one his wife had fallen for was his eldest disciple, Song Yuntao. And so, the Sect Leader had a fight with his wife and they separated on bad terms. In order to search for his Master, Song Yuntao set out for the journey of a single person into the Saiwai and has never shown up ever since. It’s such a pity that Song Yuntao could have succeeded the Nanhua Sect and become its next Sect Leader to once again return it to its former glory, but he had run into misfortune and hence perished.”
Cui Buqu. “Didn’t Pavilion Lord Xiao participate in this matter?” Xiao Lu, “If I denied it, would you believe me?”
Cui Buqu expressionlessly said, “I would. Although you would use any method to achieve your goals, you never lie.”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “If only you could give up aiding the Great Sui, we would have been the best of friends.”
Cui Buqu did not answer him. Instead, he asked, “How did you people discover this place?”
Xiao Lu said, “Ashina.”
He had only mentioned a tribe. Cui Buqu pondered over for a moment, and then finally he recalled how that tribe was linked to the history of the place they’re in.
Xiao Lu applauded him. “Not bad. Fifteen years ago, Ashina, daughter of Khan Muqan, married Yuwen Yong.”
The Göktürks believed in Buddhism, and Ashina was not an exception.
But back then, for to the immense power Buddhism held, it was a threat to the Emperor’s powers. Yuwen Yong elected to demolish Buddhism and arrest its monks. Even Daxingshan Temple had to endure some of its external buildings being taken apart. According to the sayings, someone discovered one of the entrances into the underground palace. When Khatun Ashina knew about it, she ordered a group of people to investigate the underground palace, but it was a pity that those who entered never came out, and this matter had come to an end.
The entrance into the underground palace was very quickly sealed up, yet, Ashina could not put it behind her. She ordered someone to look for the construction plans of Daxingshan Temple and deliver them back to Göktürk. As Cui Buqu listened, he raised an eyebrow, and said, “That’s to say, the construction plans of Daxingshan Temple made during the Jin Dynasty had fallen into the hands of Göktürk, and then into Kuhezhen’s hands?”
Xiao Lu confirmed it, then continued, “When this temple was built, the Buddha statues were generally built with wooden sticks and reeds, and white clay was used to give it colour. Only the statue in the Mahadiva Hall was an exception; this statue was empty inside and it linked to the underground palace. It was wide and airy inside. Before your Emperor sealed this place up tightly, I had already made my way in.”
At first, Cui Buqu had thought that the enemy would disguise themselves into monks, or perhaps disguise as someone who accompanied the Emperor in his Imperial Chariot, in order to make their way into the temple and sow chaos. However, he would never expect the enemy to take this route.
This was wholly unexpected.
Xiao Lu appeared to have guessed what he was thinking. “However, I had not expected the Göktürks would choose this time to sow strife with me. I originally thought that Kuhezhen would at least have waited until the power had fallen into my grasp, only then he’d make things difficult for me.”
But that wasn’t what Kuhezhen had done.
To him, it didn’t matter whether it was Xiao Lu or the Sui Emperor sitting on the throne. Both of them could serve the same purpose of putting his plans into motion and sow discord within the Northern Regions of the Central Plains.
Cui Buqu, “So, Pavilion Lord Xiao, it seems like we are now on the same boat. Let us work together before we leave the underground palace.”
Xiao Lu smiled, and said, “I agree. This way.”
Cui Buqu, “You know where the road leads to?” Xiao Lu, “I do not. Kuhezhen would never give me those plans. So, I can only entrust this to you and allow you to lead the way.”
There was no need to say more. Cui Buqu quietly moved.
The bogus Emperor was sealed mute by Xiao Lu just a moment ago, so he couldn’t speak. Xiao Lu lifted him lightly as he followed behind Cui Buqu.
The tunnel was deep and in the midst of the darkness, only the footsteps of the three of them could be heard. The bogus Emperor bounced in and out of consciousness, his footsteps echoed in an uneven rhythm and gave off an unpleasant sound.
Although the bogus Emperor served a very important purpose, it seemed he didn’t have much power within the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai judging from Xiao Lu’s treatment of him.
What’s more, is that he might only be a puppet that Xiao Lu had found.
A puppet would only need to do their part. What he was thinking of, or whether he hated Xiao Lu in his heart, was not Xiao Lu’s concern.
There were three people and three completely different sets of thoughts.
They were only there for their own needs.
The reason Xiao Lu made Cui Buqu walk in front was so that, of course, if there was any danger present in front, Cui Buqu could be his meatshield.
But Cui Buqu had no comment on that.
He walked very slowly because he was memorizing his routes. But very quickly, Cui Buqu realized that it was futile.
“The stone engravings on the walls are repeating themselves.” Cui Buqu said suddenly.
Xiao Lu raised a brow. “What does it mean?” “⽅才起步时，我摸到的是⼀幅天⻰⼋部听经图，接下去依次是萨捶那舍⾝饲虎、善友太⼦⼊海取宝等，但现在，顺序⼜再重复了。”
“Since a moment ago, I touched what was supposed to be a picture of the ‘Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Listening To Sutras’, and following that was a picture of ‘Vajrasattva’s Self-sacrificing Endeavours To Feed Himself To The Tiger’, then the ‘Kind Prince’s Journey Into The Sea In Search Of The Treasure’, and so on. But now, the sequence has repeated itself.”
Xiao Lu, “Perhaps they were simply the same pictures?”
Cui Buqu, “Unlikely. Even if they were the same pictures, there would be differences in the details. I know what I’ve touched. They were the same pictures.”
That also meant that they were walking around in circles.
Xiao Lu sighed, “Now I am beginning to regret not asking Kuhezhen for the construction plans of Daxingshan Temple’s underground palace.”
However, since Kuhezhen had arranged it this way, even if Xiao Lu asked, Kuhezhen might not give him those plans.
After a moment of thought, Cui Buqu pulled out a firestarter and lit it. The light around them was limited, yet the darkness was infinite.
However, they could all see clearly that they were situated in a circular hall. Not far off in the middle, there was a stone pagoda.
Cui Buqu said, “If I am correct, this centre is also the centre of the entire underground palace. It appears to represent a concept of the Heavens, the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. Eight stars are located around it, but in reality, they represent the bagua. Just now, I had walked past one of them, which is supposedly the Southeast Wind1, and as for this one—” The white marble pagoda located in the centre looked exceptionally clean under the light of the fire, as if there was a layer of white light on top of it that easily made one unable to move their gaze away.
Cui Buqu could not help himself taking a step forward.
The bogus Emperor was in a daze as he moved forward even quicker than Cui Buqu in uneven steps simply to touch the pagoda’s body.
Even Xiao Lu could not hold himself back. On the third step he took, he suddenly stopped, his heart skipped in a warning beat!
He had always been calmer than most people. Even if a demonic woman was dancing in front of him, Xiao Lu had enough self-restraint to close his eyes if he did not wish to see it.
But now, that white marble pagoda was causing him to lose his own self- restraint. What did that mean?
It wasn’t because Xiao Lu did not have enough self-restraint, but that something was amiss with the pagoda itself!
He abruptly closed his eyes.
The firelight in Cui Buqu’s hand flickered and wavered. It was nearing the end of its life.
The white marble pagoda glowed and glimmered under the firelight with a demonic air.
“Don’t go near it!”
Following his words, Cui Buqu’s fire finally died out. Darkness once again befell them.
In the next second, a pained cry filled their ears! Xiao Lu only managed to catch Cui Buqu, who was closer to him and pulled him to his side. He was, however, too late to rescue the bogus Emperor.
If only he could use both his hands, then naturally, he could have done it. But it was a pity that he could only use one.
Cui Buqu’s reflexes were extremely quick. After Xiao Lu caught him by his waist and pulled him into his arms, he fumbled for another firestarter and lit it.
As it burst into light, the bogus Emperor’s silhouette came into sight.
He was strapped by a thousand red threads to the stone pagoda. Those red threads were around his head, neck, and all over his body. It had cut into his flesh, forcing blood out of it.
The red threads had wounded around the bogus Emperor so tightly that his eyes had popped slightly out of their sockets.
There were at least seven to eight red threads on his neck that had cut deeply into his flesh.
At that moment, both of them inhaled a sharp breath of air in unison. They had seen the most chaotic events and they were not frogs in wells,
but this manner of dying had surpassed anything they had ever seen.
Xiao Lu held Cui Buqu’s wrist to move the firestarter forward, while he himself took a few steps closer.
“Those red threads came from within the pagoda.” Xiao Lu said as he raised his sleeve to pat the pagoda.
His qi shattered the pagoda, revealing the source beneath it.
The inside of the pagoda was supposedly empty, a place originally used to hold the Śarīraof high monks, but now, it had turned into a mini human- shaped puppet.
There were a countless number of red threads on it. There was even a faint scent of machilus wood coming from it.
When they touched the pagoda, it had triggered the mechanism, resulting in the red threads inside shooting out. The machilus scent that came with it would make even the most skilled martial artist find it difficult to escape, and so the bogus Emperor had fallen victim to it.
Just now, if Xiao Lu had not pulled Cui Buqu backwards, Cui Buqu would have been greatly wounded even if he lived due to how close he was standing to the pagoda.
After Cui Buqu bent down for half a beat, he finally stood back up.
He said, “Someone altered this pagoda before. Kuhezhen hadn’t only ordered someone to put some gu here. He had even visited this place before to set up such traps.”
Xiao Lu lightly touched the neck of the bogus Emperor. Cui Buqu, “How is he?”
Xiao Lu slowly said, “Beyond help.”
Once the bogus Emperor is dead, Xiao Lu’s plans have failed. Cui Buqu should have been happy, but now that both of them were on the same boast, it was unknown whether or not they would make it out alive at all. Cui Buqu felt that it was imprudent to overexert Xiao Lu and provoke him enough that he’d feed him to the human gu.
He coughed twice, then feigned being sad, “My condolences.”
Xiao Lu twitched his lips. “If you he hadn’t said those words, I could at least pretend that you are sincere.”
Cui Buqu shifted the topic. “Obviously, Kuhezhen has turned this place into his own prison hell. We need to find a way out of this place quickly. Let us go.”
Once he finished speaking those words, he felt something was wrong. That sensation came from beneath his feet.
Cui Buqu lowered his head to look. It was unknown since when the earth beneath Xiao Lu’s feet had split apart.
As the fissure grew wider, Xiao Lu didn’t hesitate as he caught Cui Buqu and flew onto a stone wall, sticking fast to it.
Following afterwards, the pagoda was destroyed and the earth split apart in all four directions as all the earth crumbled and fell.
Xiao Lu emitted a groan, then his hand released Cui Buqu and both of them dropped down!dropped both of them together!
巽卦: there are eight directions in the bagua. The Southeast direction is called the yi, which is also wind elemental.
Sorry for the delay, unfortunately I have a bit of a bad news. Both health problems and inrl stress hit me at the same time so I shrank into a phase of avoiding most things to iron out the stress in my life for a bit ;;; So while I will still be translating, I think my progress will be going a lot slower until I feel better about life and everything in general =v= Thanks for everyone who is being patient!
You are about to die soon.
Trigger Warning: Body horror (Main Villain)
Cui Buqu and Xiao Lu couldn’t have guessed that this underground maze was another universe entirely, to the point where beneath this one layer, another one existed.
Within a short amount of time, mishap once again befell over them. The ground collapsed under Cui Buqu’s feet and he fell from a high place before finally landing heavily onto the ground.
Suddenly, intense pain engulfed his entire body. He wasn’t able to think clearly and couldn’t help but let out a low groan, feeling that his shoulder might have snapped.
Compared to his shoulder, his back sustained an even more intense pain. His old injuries brought up his old diseases and he couldn’t stop coughing. A raw and salty taste surged up his throat and before he could stop himself, he had spat out two mouthfuls of blood.
The sound of breathing resounded within the darkness. It wasn’t only his, but Xiao Lu’s as well.
No longer having the effort to look at Xiao Lu, Cui Buqu quietly laid down as he waited for that wave of pain and the spinning in his head to pass.
After a long time, he heard Xiao Lu say, “You are about to die.” Xiao Lu was neither cussing nor mocking him, for his tone was very calm.
He could hear that piece of truth from Cui Buqu’s breaths.
When Cui Buqu was inhaling, his breaths had been heavy, just like someone who needed to labouringly inhale a breath into their body, yet they weren’t strong enough to do so.
He guessed that Cui Buqu’s lungs were burning like scorching fire, but it were not only his internal organs the only things that were burning—even the last moments of Cui Buqu’s life were gradually burning away.
This person was born defective and handicapped. He should’ve originally been someone that shouldn’t have lived long, but he had insisted on dragging this broken body of his back from the brink of death for a whole thirty-years. He had forcibly stolen thirty years of life from the hands of God.
It was a pity that all that has been taken must be returned. To defy the mandate of Heavens one must endure these pains that were difficult to describe in words.
Xiao Lu knew that not a single day passed in these thirty years that Cui Buqu didn’t have to endure pain from his body. Even if he was in a better condition, it was impossible for him to live the life of ordinary people who are healthy.
What was the faith that Cui Buqu held onto to insist on living such a life? Xiao Lu was very confused.
If everything Cui Buqu did was for the sake of someone else, then how could he cling onto life until now?
Regardless, he wanted an answer from Cui Buqu. Because this person was far too similar to himself. So similar that, even at this present hour, they were in identical situations
—death was near.
Only after half a beat, did Cui Buqu quietly answer him.
If it weren’t for Xiao Lu’s sense of hearing being superior compared to others, it was very likely that he would have missed that answer.
After speaking those words, Cui Buqu fell into another series of violent coughs.
Xiao Lu could almost imagine the sight of him bending over as he coughed so violently that his lunges were about to pop out.
Cui Buqu’s life was like a flickering flame on a candle. Because it was nearing the end of its life, it would glow brightly from time to time to create a false sense of hope, like the last radiance of a setting sun before its light would disappear forever.
Unless the Heavens deemed him worthy enough to grant him a miracle. But, could that be possible?
Cui Buqu even needed to use all the strength from his body before he could exhale a breath of air. Then, the pain radiating from his lungs would keep his mind conscious.
As he was enveloped by this darkness filled with boundless dangers, a person comes to his mind.
That person was born from a good family and had all he wanted in life since he was little. He had the most glaringly beautiful face and the most wayward and unbridled attitude.
It was from him that Cui Buqu realized the true meaning of living in the light of the sun. With each step Cui Buqu took that brought him closer to Feng Xiao, Cui Buqu realized it had also brought him closer to companionship, towards a sense of belonging which made him feel that he was no longer alone.
That person was neither gentle, nor was he kind, he had even annoyed Cui Buqu at all times around the clock.
But it was because of this attitude of his, that Cui Buqu never failed to spend his time on him, to avoid falling into the pits he’d dug for him.
Although he was very annoying, he was also filled with life.
And yet, he would never say these words to that person in question.
Otherwise, it would boost that person’s ego for life and from time to time he’d remind him of it.
For the sake of his ears, he’d keep it to himself.
It was unknown how long had passed before Cui Buqu’s pain greatly lessened.
He slowly raised his elbow as he laboriously fished out a firestarter and lit it bright.
It only managed to make a small ambit around him visible with its light. Cui Buqu very quickly realized that they were fissures very close to each other on the ground, appearing to be the cause of an earthquake. However, if he were to take a closer look, these fissures looked alive. They stacked on top of one another and repeated the sequences without fail.
He calmed himself down and immediately turned away, refusing to look at it any longer.
Taking his current condition into consideration, these few looks had caused him a massive headache and his world had begun to spin so much that he could not even sit properly. “This pattern on the ground appears to be an array…. Cough cough, how much do you know about this underground palace?”
Cui Buqu did not wait for Xiao Lu’s answer.
He realized just then that the other hadn’t spoken for a very long time.
A voice sounded from nearby.
Cui Buqu frowned, “Are you alright?”
If anything happened to Xiao Lu, then it would be even more difficult for them to leave this place.
Xiao Lu’s sigh reached him, yet he sounded so calm that it would make one suspicious of whether he was lying or not.
Cui Buqu paused for a moment, “How did it happen?”
Xiao Lu, “When we fell just now, there was poison on the wall. If you don’t believe me, you can come here and take a look.”
Cui Buqu did not speak.
Xiao Lu smiled, “Why? As things have progressed until this disastrous state, are you still afraid that I am lying to you?”
Cui Buqu expressionlessly said, “You too know that I am about to die.
All the strength I’ve left now is used to talk to you.”
Xiao Lu sighed again, and after a while, he slowly rose to his feet and walked towards Cui Buqu. They were quite far apart. He knew that something was wrong with the ground, and so he trod carefully.
All of a sudden, there was a sneer.
Cui Buqu’s fire lit the place, and he saw sharp needles rising from the ground beneath Xiao Lu’s feet.
Considering Xiao Lu’s martial prowess, it was not difficult for him to avert this trap. However, when he leapt into the air, Cui Buqu caught sight of the obvious freeze of his posture in midair, his skills not as smooth as they were before.
Xiao Lu narrowly avoided the trap in just centimetres and spared himself the fate of turning into the flesh on a stake.
Xiao Lu came to Cui Buqu’s side and slowly sat down, his breath heavy and rushed.
He reached out with a hand.
Under the firelight, Cui Buqu could clearly see the dark spots on his hand. They were splotches of red and purple, and a part of it had already turned black.
Cui Buqu was taken aback. He recalled that after Xiao Lu pulled him away from the pagoda and both of them fell down, Xiao Lu seemed to have used his palm against the stone walls to give himself a push.
“Why don’t you force the poison out?”
Xiao Lu sighed and said, “Because my body had long been poisoned by another kind of poison.”
He used his poisoned hand to pull back his other sleeve.
Under his sleeve was an arm that had dried up similar to a tree branch. It was wrinkled like a wilted plant and as thin as a chopstick. Even if Cui Buqu had seen it before, he remained taken aback by its sight.
This wasn’t a hand that should belong to a human, and it shouldn’t have belonged to someone like Xiao Lu.
But this wasn’t what Xiao Lu wanted Cui Buqu to see. He continued to roll his sleeve up further.
Cui Buqu could see that further up the arm was ordinary, but it was tainted with an unusual purple.
“This toxin has been there since I was born. These years, I’ve only been using martial arts to stop them from acting up. In the last battle I fought with Feng Xiao, after being heavily wounded, I was unable to break through my martial limits and almost went into qi deviation. You should be able to feel that my wounds have not completely healed and my martial arts were only sixty to seventy percent of what it was before. Now, I can no longer control it.”
The toxin that was there before would only continue to spread, and now that he’s poisoned with something else, Xiao Lu almost failed to escape such an easy trap like that one just now.
Cui Buqu, “What’s the worst scenario?”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “There is no worse scenario. I have only one path ahead of me, and it is death.”
Cui Buqu coldly said, “You could have originally chosen to remain in seclusion and nurse yourself back to health, instead of creating troubles here.”
Xiao Lu, “There’s no time for that now. After my secluded mediation failed, I know what state of condition I am here. Since I’ve failed to surpass my martial limits, and the toxin in me is beyond cure, I no longer have the chance to reach higher. Every path would only lead me to death, and that I could only choose to fight for my right to watch everything I’ve schemed for all these years fall into place and fulfil my lifelong wish.”
Cui Buqu coldly snorted, “Your lifelong wish is something that harms others and not beneficial to yourself!”
Xiao Lu started coughing.
Perhaps it was because his toxin had started acting up. He no longer answered Cui Buqu as he turned around to close his eyes, sit down, and regulate his breathing.
Cui Buqu tossed a porcelain bottle over, and Xiao Lu caught it.
“Bingzhi Pellets. It could prolong your toxin from spreading. If you don’t believe it, you can choose not to eat it.”
Xiao Lu uncapped it and sniffed at it. He hadn’t contemplated for long before he tipped his head back and poured all the Bingzhi Pellets into his mouth.
At this moment, among the two of them, neither of them really have a reasonhave much reason to suspect the other anymore.
Very quickly, Xiao Lu felt better.
“This medicine of yours is very effective.”
“Stop talking nonsense. Let us go out first before further discussion.”
After Xiao Lu accepted the firestarter from his hand, he fished out an acupuncture needle and pierced the firestarter with it then threw it into the distance.
The acupuncture needle flew over his head and towards the opposite direction, piercing into the stone walls. The light quickly died out, but it was enough to allow the two of them to see the vague structure of this place.
Cui Buqu and Xiao Lu both were shocked by the sight at the same time.
Feng Xiao and Tuan Qinghe had been fighting for nearly an hour.
Neither of them could defeat the other, neither was it easy to wound the other either.
And Tuan Qinghe appeared to have realized that Feng Xiao’s martial arts seemed to have improved greatly compared to when he was in the streets of Chang’an yesterday.
That was a very strange occurrence.
Because martial arts involved talk of basics, as well as talents, and more than that, instincts.
Ordinary practitioners of the martial arts would find it incredibly difficult to improve drastically within a few days, and practitioners who have reached their highest level would find it difficult even to improve an inch further. They would have needed the advantages of Heaven’s time, advantages of the terrain, as well as the people’s harmony.
Yet, Feng Xiao managed to do it.
If he’d held back during the last time, then within this short period of time, what had he managed to achieve?
How could that be possible?
Tuan Qinghe dispelled all irrelevant thoughts from his head.
He believed that his chances of victory with Feng Xiao were fifty-fifty. Then it shouldn’t be a problem to contest him with just their own capabilities.
Someone had walked up close to them.
Both of them realized it, but neither of them cared.
Because that was Yuwen Yihuan, the person who was next to Xiao Lu just a moment ago. She hadn’t followed Xiao Lu in search for the bogus Emperor and had remained here instead.
She had been observing their battle although very quickly, she wasn’t able to catch up.
All of Yuwen Yihuan’s martial arts were taught to her by Xiao Lu. Her talents were only ordinary, so naturally, she could not achieve the same level of martial arts as Xiao Lu. However, it truly makes one different to have a prestigious teacher. Although she wasn’t distinctively a first-class martial artist in the Jianghu, she was arguably one.
She was controlling her own breathing, using all of her effort to make them undetectable to avoid Feng Xiao from paying her any attention.
As both of their palms clashed once more, Yuwen Yihuan finally found the chance and lunged forward at Feng Xiao’s back!
From her sleeve, the glare of a sword flashed! Translator and Editor’s Note
This chapter is brought to you by our tears.
Cui Buqu, do you dare to take the risk? Yuwen Yihuan was determined to achieve it.
At that moment, she was not even three cun away from Feng Xiao, the flashing item in her sleeve had shot out and was just about to pierce Feng Xiao from behind.
But something unexpected happened.
Feng Xiao, who was originally battling with Tuan Qinghe, suddenly withdrew himself and retreated.
He turned around instead and leapt upwards.
The hidden weapon pierced through the spot where Feng Xiao stood just now and hit thin air!
Yuwen Yihuan revealed an expression of shock and disbelief.
“I don’t need any dirty tricks to obtain my own victory.”
Tuan Qinghe’s ice-cold words floated past Yuwen Yihuan’s ears. She felt a piercing pain from her back and, abandoning everything, she immediately leapt out of harm’s way.
But if Feng Xiao wanted to take her life, how could she escape from it? Yuwen Yihuan’s body fell from the air like a kite whose string had snapped. Even if she had formerly blocked it off with her qi and had managed to save her own life, it was unavoidable for her to spit out a few mouthfuls of blood. Her internal organs have been injured and there was nothing that could be done of it.
Yuwen Yihuan’s chest raised and fell and stared deathly at Feng Xiao and Tuan Qinghe as she laboriously retreated backwards.
“Tuan Qinghe…. You betrayed my adopted brother’s alliance!”
“It was Kuhezhen who formed an alliance with him, not me.” Tuan Qinghe looked at her with an unwavering gaze as if he was staring at a rock or a tree.
Just as Feng Xiao wanted to annihilate all roots of his enemies, Yuwen Yihuan loudly shouted, “I know what ploys Kuhezhen assembled down there. If you want to rescue Cui Buqu, you should let me live!”
As expected, Feng Xiao’s footsteps stopped.
At that moment, Yuwen Yihuan quickly cut an opening between her brows and stuffed a black coloured worm into the wound. Then, she turned to the two of them and flashed a sinister smile before flipping backwards and falling into the deep pit so quickly that even Feng Xiao was a step too late.
Feng Xiao didn’t hesitate as he followed her down.
“Stop!” Tuan Qinghe’s expression changed.
He had not participated in Kuhezhen’s underground palace scheme, but he knew in general how much effort Kuhezhen had placed into it. He wanted to capture everyone in one fell swoop and make sure they died inside, to be locked in for eternity.
Tuan Qinghe was unwilling to watch Feng Xiao leap to his death. To him, that wasn’t only his enemy, but he was also his match. Enemies could be found everywhere, but a fitting match was hard to come by.
But he couldn’t stop Feng Xiao; the latter quickly vanished from his sight.
Tuan Qinghe’s gaze flickered in his eyes and finally, he followed, leaping down together!
A bright light flashed and vaguely lit up a scene.
Not far off from Cui Buqu and Xiao Lu, atop some bronze stairs was a copper pillar standing tall. There were plenty of patterns engraved on it and because the firestarter had flown too quickly, they hadn’t been able to clearly see.
But below the pillar, gathering closely to one another, was a small number of bones. Those bones had changed colours over the years and turned ashen but such a sight was quite impactful to onlookers.
Daxingshan Temple was originally a place of Buddhist ethics. These bones should not have shown up here. Even if Kuhezhen went further, he could not have gathered so many dead people within such a short amount of time. A few years ago, this piece of land was the capital of several dynasties. It was very difficult to turn it into burial mounds. Unless all of these events took place even earlier than they had imagined.
Surrounding the bronze stage was a countless number of cracks spreading apart all the way to where they stood.
“This place must have been a sacrificial altar of our ancestors. Perhaps because the ground had sunk, it was originally intended to be built underground, and most likely, over those years their descendants didn’t know about it before building this temple.” Xiao Lu theorized. “Perhaps the head of the temple knew of this place, and that is why they’d built the temple to overcome malice with kindness.” Cui Buqu said, “However, there’s no need to bother with these things. Why don’t we focus on how we should be leaving this place.”
Xiao Lu bitterly laughed, “No need to place your hopes on me. My current situation is not any better than yours. Let alone you, I’m not even confident of getting myself out of this place safely.”
Cui Buqu coughed, “But you’re smarter than most people, and that is enough. If I’m possessed by an evil spirit later, remember to wake me up.”
Xiao Lu, “Got it.”
As they were speaking, Cui Buqu once again lit a firestarter and stomached the dizziness and disgust as he forced himself to stare at the cracks on the ground.
These cracks looked layered like waves, crisscrossing one another even more beautifully than rippling waters. There was a demonic aura about it making him want to stare at it for eternity.
Not long later, these cracks moved on their own.
They stood up from the ground and lined themselves up systematically.
Most of the lines were gathering themselves to form an object.
Although Cui Buqu had only seen this item for a few times, he couldn’t help finding it familiar.
The Jade of Heaven’s Lake.
In this world, if there was anything that could drastically prolong his life, the Jade of Heaven’s Lake was the only one.
But this unique precious relic had already been used up by Xiao Lu. Or was it trying to say that there was another? It was impossible.
After all, this place had a history even longer than Daxingshan Temple itself. Even if someone had hidden some relics here, they would not be discovered.
It was a crystal-clear stone with flowing waves of green and blue light within it as if the light from the galaxies were flickering unpredictably within a green lake, reaching into the hearts of its watchers with every skip of time.
Even people with stronger determinations could not resist such rarely seen worldly treasures.
Cui Buqu steadily looked at the Jade of Heaven’s Lake. He closed his eyes and opened them up.
His fingers had dug deep into his palms, bringing him pain. The Jade of Heaven’s Lake had not vanished.
It was quietly sitting not far off from him. As long as he reached out with an arm, he could get it.
Cui Buqu slightly wavered and reached out to the Jade of Heaven’s Lake.
With it, there was no need for him to worry that his life would constantly hang by a thread.
Perhaps he could gain ten more years of life, even if his body wouldn’t be in its prime, at least he’s still living.
As long as he lived, there was hope.
He could still sit beneath the sunlight, scheming after Feng Xiao and dig a few more pits for him. He could still protect a few more people like his birth mother, people who were kind and righteous yet were too weak to protect themselves. Simply because he was Cui Buqu; his heart was tough and his methods cruel.
His sharp fingers almost touched the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, and then a warning bubbles up from his chest.
Cui Buqu didn’t know where this warning had come from, just like a shapeless string tying itself to his fingers and made him pause momentarily.
He bit down on his tongue and pain accompanied the scent of blood spread across his lips. His entire person was suddenly awake.
He gathered his senses back and then stared in front to see that the Jade of Heaven’s Lake was gone, and instead, there was a poisonous snake staring at him. Both its eyes were glowing green and it swallowed from time to time, waiting for him to deliver himself to it.
Cui Buqu’s hand froze midway and that snake didn’t move, as if it was trying to see who would give in first.
He reached out with a hand into his sleeves, took something out and tossed it at the snake. At the same time, the snake also launched at him!
Sailing midair, the snake’s body froze and hissed. It twisted its body to avoid the powder that Cui Buqu had tossed.
Those were sulphur. Before Cui Buqu entered the underground palace, he’d made full preparations. He and Zhangsun both were carrying pouches that carried sulphur on them so they could avoid most snakes and insects, but it was obviously insufficient to use against a poisonous snake at least a hundred years old.
Just in case, Cui Buqu had made the Vice Commander Song Liangchen seek out a special formula of cinnabar, mugwort and sulphur—none that weren’t arsenic in the extremes, to use against these poisonous creatures. These poisonous creatures had fled back into the darkness, refusing to show themselves anymore.
As danger died down from his side, Cui Buqu lit his firestarter and turned to Xiao Lu.
This look made his expression change!
Just now, when he was in danger and unaware of it, Xiao Lu hadn’t woken him up.
They were enemies to begin with, and Xiao Lu would have been fine with watching him walking to his death, but to do this during such a moment was a foolish movement. It wasn’t a decision Xiao Lu would make.
Xiao Lu was not next to him, nor was he anywhere at all.
It was unknown since when the other person had finished walking across all four angles of the bronze stage and just as he was walking towards the copper pillar in the centre, he raised his head and revealed a fascinated look.
From the way Cui Buqu saw it, there was nothing fascinating above that massive pillar. It was, instead, a countless number of snakes. Some of them were hissing with their head raised high, some of them were curled around one another, taking their time slithering about. Their scales were flowing under the firelight, making him feel numb just by looking at it.
But Xiao Lu appeared to not have noticed. He walked up closer.
“Xiao Lu!” Cui Buqu yelled and took a step forward, wanting to grab his shoulder.
But then he heedlessly stepped onto a mechanism in the cracks and heard a heavy grinding around them. Suddenly, arrows shot out from all four directions!
Cui Buqu could not find a place to hide. The arrows came in a flash! The moment he was held, Xiao Lu’s body momentarily quivered and turned, leaping into the air and grabbing Cui Buqu.
Cui Buqu rose into the air with him and at the moment those arrows passed by, they narrowly avoided them.
He could feel the howls of those arrows as they wheezed through the air, brushing past their attire. One of them ripped a streak across the fabric on his arms, narrowly avoiding his skin.
Xiao Lu let go of him and Cui Buqu heavily fell down. Xiao Lu fell down next to him as well, his breaths heavy and it was a silent acknowledgement that he had no strength left to hold on to Cui Buqu.
Many snakes on top of the bronze pillar were killed by those arrows and more of them had fallen from shock and slithered around, including to where Cui Buqu and Xiao Lu were standing.
The two of them wasted no time speaking. They forced themselves to their feet and fled as they tumbled.
The firestarter had fallen to the ground and for a moment, it lit up those cracks.
Cui Buqu’s heart quivered.
“Lead me and follow the directions I mentioned!” He quickly urged.
Xiao Lu grabbed his arm without hesitation and leapt into the air, the tips of his toes light as he avoided all the poisonous snakes on the ground.
Cui Buqu, “Northwest1, ten steps!” “East, six steps!”
“Southwest, eight steps!”
Xiao Lu was wealthy in knowledge and he was familiar with arrays. One Cui Buqu began speaking, he instantly knew where he was referring to. “North… No, not north. It’s upwards, upwards in the front!”
The two of them leapt into the air and finally fell onto a cavern above the stone wall.
Xiao Lu was already completely depleted of energy. He stuck himself to an incredibly short stone wall, and couldn’t care less whether they were painted with poison. Sweat poured down his temples like rain and his face was as pale as a ghost’s.
Cui Buqu was nowhere better. But at the very least, he was not a practitioner of the martial arts and the one who injured his qi just a moment ago was not him.
After a while, Xiao Lu regained his strength a little and hoarsely said,
“How did you know there is a cave here?”
Cui Buqu, “The picture of the river. This is a sacrificial altar and it must have been built according to the evolution of the river. Although death traps are all around here, there is bound to be an escape route. This is where nature’s secret lies.”
He closed his eyes and, once more, the Jade of Heaven’s Lake appeared. However, that memory was fast-forwarded and the Jade of Heaven’s Lake shattered, reforming itself into a picture.
A picture that was familiar to everyone who was educated in arrays.
“I managed to get a hint in the illusion just now, and realized that although these cracks appeared to be scattered messily, if they were rearranged, they would form the picture of a river.”
As Xiao Lu listened to him, he remained silent, offering only a bitter smile.
“The arrays you learned were more advanced than mine. When Fan Yun taught me back then, as expected, he hadn’t been fully serious.” Cui Buqu, “No. He was no different when he taught you or me. Moreover, he once valued you and he never held back the number of things he taught you. Only, your heart wasn’t there.”
Xiao Lu was incomparably intelligent and was born with shocking talents. However, there was a flaw to every person of ambition. They set their targets too high and martial arts to them were only stepping stones. Since they had not put in all their efforts on it, then naturally, they had not paid full attention.
“You are right.” Xiao Lu didn’t deny it.
Cui Buqu, “What did you see just now when you were staring at the pillar?”
Xiao Lu, “…Everything I ever wanted. Fame, power, my limbs full, birth from a noble family, raising my fortunes single-handedly, succeeding the Imperial Throne and replacing the Emperor of Southern Chen, ruling it on the other end of the world from the Sui Dynasty before finally unifying the world.”
Cui Buqu coldly snorted, “You are too stubborn with your beliefs.”
He no longer continued chatting with Xiao Lu. He felt his body regaining a bit of strength and surveyed his surroundings.
This was a very clean cavern, albeit small.
One side was empty, leading down to the squarish bronze platform. The other three sides were stone walls and one of them was unusually smooth as if someone had worked on it.
Cui Buqu knelt and fumbled beneath the wall and indeed, he found a slight crack.
Having found the crack, it meant that this wall wasn’t made of natural cause. It was a stone door that someone had chiselled. He wasted some efforts finding the mechanism, a stone ball in the corner which he pulled.
There was a heavy, grating sound and the stone door lifted.
Cui Buqu realized that his enemy and companion hadn’t spoken for a long time.
“I fear that I won’t be leaving this place.” Xiao Lu calmly said. Cui Buqu, “If I can, so can you.”
Xiao Lu sighed, “I’m different from you. My toxin has already infiltrated my bones. Even if I have absorbed the essence of the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, it cannot help.”
Cui Buqu, “Then what do you want to do?”
Xiao Lu said, “Regardless of what I do, I cannot escape heaven’s mandate. Why don’t I transfer the essence of the Jade of Heaven’s Lake to you? Perhaps you might have a chance?”
Cui Buqu, “The Xiao Lu that I know was a person who would not give up until the last moment.”
“To me, it’s already the last moment. Just now, I’ve already expended my last strength bringing you here. Now, I can’t even get to my feet. My legs are in so much pain that they’ve gone numb.”
Xiao Lu smiled, “But, since my entire body is toxic right now, I’m not certain if it will allow me to transfer all of my remaining strength to you.”
Cui Buqu frowned.
Xiao Lu, “Cui Buqu, do you dare to take the risk?”  Here, Cui Buqu was actually referring to the positions on the Bagua, but I decided to use bearings instead for sake of visual convenience.
Double update until the end today because Editor Black Lotus says so!
Cui Buqu, I like you.
Trigger Warning: Dismemberment (secondary character)
As long as Xiao Lu desired it, of all the people he’d spoken to, they all couldn’t help but take him for their confidant.
Even Cui Buqu was not an exception.
But Xiao Lu knew that Cui Buqu was proud at heart.
He would not permit any form of imperfection on himself.
The most preposterous thing from all of this was that the first half of his life, from start to finish, was riddled with imperfections.
He was born from a prestigious clan, but his clan had already declined.
He was intelligent and knowledgeable, but he’d been cursed by an incompetent Emperor and was not highly valued.
He was incredibly talented and had a photographic memory. His martial levels would show up only once or twice in ten to a hundred years, and yet he was born with a toxin in his body. Even if he has a strong martial foundation on him, it could only be used to suppress his toxin at most.
His original plans began forming since he was among the court in the Southern Dynasty, because that was, after all, his place. The Chens’ powers were weak. The Southern Dynasty’s strength was complicated and there were enough opportunities for him to make use of them.
But, what felt like a thousand years ago, Yuwen Yihuan’s appearance changed his thoughts.
Back then, the Northern Zhou was still in reign. As the daughter of the Crown Prince of Northern Zhou, Yuwen Yihuan was the daughter of the future Emperor.
At birth, she was mistaken to be dead and forgotten, but since she was an identical twin of the Crown Prince of Northern Zhou, her identity was extremely useful. Xiao Lu formed ties in secrecy and went on many secret campaigns to finally get himself this chance that would have otherwise been hard to come by.
The Lantern Festival that lasted for three days. The deaths of Zheng Yi and Liu Fang. The massive change of events at the manor of Prince Qin. The festival of the Buddha’s Birthday at Daxingshan Temple. As all these conditions gather together, what could have originally been a plan of perfection had changed within an abrupt spin of events.
If not for Cui Buqu and the others standing in the way, if not for Kuhezhen’s betrayal of their alliance, if not for him chasing after perfection and assassinating the Sui Emperor first, perhaps the world outside would have already begun to change.
Even then, there are not so many ‘what ifs’ in this world.
From the beginning, Xiao Lu knew that the path he had chosen was like a precipice a thousand feet high, like a sheer and steep cliff. He had no choice.
Even if he exhausted all of his strength, scheming and plotting for many years, he could not escape his fate.
To go against the mandate of the Heavens, in the end, was only but a joke. Xiao Lu closed his eyes and, as he briefly recalled all the events in his life, a somewhat comical feeling filled his heart.
He heard Cui Buqu say, “I won’t take the risk.”
Xiao Lu smiled, “You’re afraid.”
“Yes, I am afraid.” Cui Buqu replied calmly, avoiding explaining further. But Xiao Lu saw through his thoughts.
“Cui Buqu, I thought you knew better than others about seizing opportunities or cutting off all means of retreat. But right now, you know that you have no means of retreat left, and yet you still refuse to take the chance given to you. Why is that?”
Cui Buqu said nothing.
Xiao Lu smiled, “You have something weighing in your heart. You’re afraid that if you took my suggestion, you’ll never make it out of this place. There is someone out there that you want to see again, am I right?”
Cui Buqu behaved as though he hadn’t heard it. “Xiao Lu, you said that we are alike. While it is true that both of us had experienced unfavourable turns in life, were born talented and were even taught by Fan Yun before, still, I have no interest in toiling storms under the Heavens, nor do I have interest in usurping a throne. I have no interest in risking my life on something that was near hopeless to begin with.”
After he’d finished speaking, he coldly stated, “If you have the strength to say such words, why don’t you get to your feet and examine the way.”
Xiao Lu sighed, “If there was hope, why does it matter that it’s only a slight possibility of success? The more you try to leave this place now, the more you need to exhaust your strength and your thoughts. Even if you refuse to take a gamble, you won’t make it very far.” Cui Buqu wasn’t in a very favourable condition from where he stood now.
Although he looked calm and his breaths weren’t laborious, that was only because he was quietly suppressing his pain.
At this moment, if he didn’t support his body with the help of the stone walls, he might not even be able to stand.
Every breath he exhaled was like a breath of seething fire brewing in his lungs, practically setting it aflame.
The icy-cold dampness in the cavern mixing with his breaths not only failed to lighten his pain, but it had instead conflicted with it, tossing him into such agonizing state that it was difficult to describe.
Cui Buqu stomped it down, but he finally couldn’t hold it in much longer and spat out a mouthful of blood.
Xiao Lu squinted his eyes.
He was no longer capable of having an excellent vision in the dark like he used to, but by lending the light from Cui Buqu’s fire, he could vaguely see the pool of blood on the ground having a colour that almost made it seem black.
Still, Xiao Lu joked, “I couldn’t have guessed that after fighting for so long, the two of us would be dying on the same year, month, day, and place. Perhaps we might even get to know each other again in the next life.”
Cui Buqu, however, coldly snorted, “But I no longer want to see Pavillion Lord Xiao again. Please die a little further away from me so that I can have peace.”
The fire in his hands began to die out and his surrounding fell into darkness once again. But before the light completely died out, Cui Buqu saw a scenery of light behind the stone door.
That was a tunnel with two candelabra chiselled into the walls of both its sides.
If he wasn’t wrong, they must be located on the first floor of the underground maze. With the existence of candelabrum, it could only mean that this was a path people could use. If they were to follow this tunnel forward, they might find the exit.
But the point was whether or not there would be trap mechanisms waiting for them.
Cui Buqu exhaled a foul breath. He laboriously pushed himself up with his arm and slowly stood straight.
Even if Xiao Lu refused to move forward, Cui Buqu insisted until he was out of this place.
“Don’t leave now. Stay behind with me…”
Xiao Lu taunted him from the back.
His voice was like a shapeless shackle locking up Cui Buqu’s ankles, refusing to let him advance.
It was true that Cui Buqu was truly tired.
This broken body of his could no longer endure any more hardships, and yet it was being dragged by him, crawling out from the gates of the dead, again and again, year after year.
He needed extremely rigid determination in order to command his every movement, his every thought.
But he was still slower than he was before. He felt heavy and sluggish. “Cui Buqu, look at how hard you’re trying to leave this place. If the person you wanted to see again doesn’t want to see you, then whatever will you do?”
“You’ve been living such a hard life for so many years. Day by day you immerse yourself in aches and pain, and yet you aren’t seeking the highest places of power for yourself, so what meaning is there in your life?”
“Why don’t you die with me in this place, so that at the very least, I will not feel lonely when I reach the Yellow Spring!”
Behind him, Xiao Lu coughed uncontrollably in between speaking and laughing.
Cui Buqu didn’t bother himself with him. He didn’t look back. He took step by step with great difficulty as he moved forward.
He passed through the stone gate, entering the tunnel. He couldn’t see his five fingers if he reached out with his hand, it was like he’s fallen into an abyss of a thousand zhang, like he’s fallen into the darkest corners of hell.
Only the pain radiating from his limbs clearly reminded him that he was still alive.
Suddenly, a gentle wind swooped from behind his back.
Cui Buqu could feel it, but he could not avoid it. His nape was quickly seized by an ice-cold hand.
“You don’t want to die with me, but I want to drag you down with me.”
Xiao Lu gently said. He sealed all his meridians and his hands slipped down his nape, supporting his back.
“Cui Buqu, even if you refuse to take the gamble, I want you to take it.” Cui Buqu could not speak, nor move or struggle.
The damp, sinister air from a place underground that hasn’t seen the light for ten thousand years clung onto him, but Xiao Lu’s hand on his back abruptly sent a strong bundle of light into his body. All of a sudden, dozens of his bones burned as if they were turning to ash. Pain bouncing between a state of coldness and warmness repetitively twisted in him and he was unable to free himself.
His flesh and skin seemed to be tugged by invisible hooks as if they intended to tear his entire person apart. Hot waves toiled against his entire body, yet they were unable to melt down the sinister cold in his bones. Both parties could no longer hold on to it as the battle took place in Cui Buqu’s body, trying their hardest to overwhelm the other and refusing to back down unless there was a victor.
But how could the body of an ordinary person sustain such turmoil? Moreover, this body was originally fragile to begin with. It didn’t need such a searing change to take place in the first place; a light push was all it needed to crumble into ashes and dust.
He slowly blinked, aimlessly looking towards the void of nothingness in front. His pale lips involuntarily parted, wanting to let out a groan, but couldn’t in the end.
When the pain had reached its peak, his consciousness and soul could not stand it, shaking free of his body and going ahead on their own.
Just a little bit more. Just a little bit more and he could finally be free;, free from this pain of being forever ill.
Of his birth mother’s undeserved death, he has already avenged her.
The Zuoyue Bureau has Zhangsun and Song Liangchen present in them, he didn’t need to worry too much.
There are plenty of intelligent people in this world. The Imperial Court could certainly find a new Zuoyue Commander and succeed him immediately.
As for this case; Xiao Lu was about to die with him here in this underground maze. Their bones and bodies would rot in this place for eternity and in a few month’s time, they would already be unrecognizable, their faces unable to match their names.
All the love and hatred, all past grievances will slowly drift away, disappearing into nothingness.
All his insistence will be reduced into fabricated thoughts.
Look, isn’t it nice to quietly remain here? You have a nemesis like me.
Even if we went to the Yellow Spring, you wouldn’t be alone.
The voice of someone he didn’t know floated into his ears, sounding persistent and gentle, yet poisonous.
In the midst of the indiscernible and chaotic darkness, Cui Buqu allowed himself to be guided as he passed through the stone door, through the long and piercing tunnel as time ceased to spin. The pain of having a battle of ice and fire in him had faded away. His body felt light, so much so that even his stride was almost surreal.
It’s been such a long time since walking felt so light and easy for him. Those wishful thoughts he harboured in the past resurfaced, even though Cui Buqu never dared to think that there would be a day where he could experience how it felt like to be a normal person again.
No, this felt even more comfortable compared to normal people. If he were to continue walking in such a way, he would be able to walk to freedom not long later…
Then he could—
Even though a shapeless force seemed to be pulling him forward, he stomped down the urge to give in and forced himself to stop. As he stood in the darkness, there was something he seemed to have forgotten.
Something extremely important.
He hesitantly lifted his gaze to look around himself, then lowered his head, but regardless of how hard he thought, he couldn’t recall it.
Then that force came again from behind him, pushing him forward. What in the world had he forgotten?
Panic was born in his heart as he pressed onto it, hoping for an answer in mild despair.
An object slipped out from his robes and fell onto the ground. As the jade stone hit the ground, it resounded clearly in the empty space.
The clear resound of its ringing allowed his consciousness to briefly clear.
It seemed to be a jade pendant.
He vaguely recalled a certain night after he returned to the capital. Perhaps, it was the night of the Lantern Festival. As he was making his way to the Eastern City to meet Feng Xiao, he had passed by a stall and saw a piece of jade, which he ended up buying.
On that jade was engraved the picture of a—
He frowned as he thought hard on it, searching every detail from his memory.
It seemed to be… the picture of a phoenix.
That phoenix had looked as vivid as life itself, proud with its head held high as it flew through the layers of clouds. At a single look, he knew that it reminded him of someone. Cui Buqu was somewhat taken aback. His steps abruptly stopped. Even if that force continued to lure him forward, he refused to take another step.
There was something he needed to do. There was someone he wanted to see. He couldn’t die.
He didn’t want to die. He wanted to live.
With these thoughts in mind, pain once again flowed back into his body from all perceivable angles, toiling like raging waves as if there were no limits to them.
Cui Buqu bounced in and out of consciousness. He was not even aware that blood was continuously pouring from the corner of his lips, and that his body was trembling nonstop.
He couldn’t see that Xiao Lu, who was lying behind him, had already turned into a wilted corpse with a head full of graceful hair.
The hand Xiao Lu had placed on his back had already shrivelled from its originally smooth and slender fingers. They now looked as terrible as wilted bones.
A mouthful of blood fell onto Cui Buqu’s shoulder. Xiao Lu finally let go, limping to one side.
He didn’t even have the strength to open his eyes to take a look at this turbid realm of mortals.
Once, he thought that he would refuse to resign to such fate, but when it really did come, he had instead felt an unexpected calmness, like the snowflakes falling from the sky had frozen in place. This was not a bad place to serve as his grave. At the very least, an underground maze that was prayed to by a Buddhist temple would not be as filthy as other places.
It’s a pity that in the end, he couldn’t fight back against fate.
The corner of Xiao Lu’s lips curled; his wrinkled skin stretched, no longer as beautiful as before. Even the people closest to him might not be able to recognize him now.
His gaze retracted from the distance and fell upon Cui Buqu. Cui Buqu, I wish you luck.
If you can’t make it, then accompany me. Perhaps in the Yellow Springs of hell, we could fight to our heart’s content.
In his muddled memory, someone had vaguely said the same words to him.
Cui Buqu could no longer tell illusion from reality, the same way he could no longer tell whether his soul had left his body, or that he was still in the living realm.
A sinister force seemed insistent on pulling his soul out of his body as his soul fought a battle with his body restlessly with both sides refusing to let go.
He strayed in the boundless darkness aimlessly in an unknown place, refusing to be tempted by that external force simply because of the sheer piece of consciousness he had left, going so far as to drag himself back.
It was unknown how long it had been since Cui Buqu felt himself slowly waking up from his body.
The pain intensified not only in his body, it even spread to his brain, like someone was disturbing the calm waters of his mind.
Without realizing it, he had lightly sighed. That sigh of his reached far into the distance, then bounced back from the walls, resounding in the empty space.
He laboriously opened his eyes.
Naturally, what greeted him was still a sight full of darkness.
But he could sensitively feel that the other presence was no longer there.
Cui Buqu didn’t get his answer.
Quickly, the staggering sound of footsteps came from the distance.
It seemed like someone who was moving unevenly, stumbling, their footsteps sometimes heavy and sometimes light.
Who could it be?
Maybe the Sui Emperor, Zhangsun, or the gu human that Kuhezhen was breeding.
It could be Feng Xiao, or Tuan Qinghe.
But regardless whether it was a friend or a foe, he had no strength left to move.
Those footsteps drew nearer.
They had also brought a bundle of light. As the owner of those footsteps drew close, the light formed a vague silhouette.
It looked like… a girl. Cui Buqu frowned.
His mind now found it difficult to spin its wheels. At first, he thought that it was Qiao Xian, but after a while, he recalled that he’d sent Qiao Xian to another place a long time ago. She would not be showing up here anymore.
It was not Qiao Xian, neither could it be Qin Miaoyu. He quickly got his answer.
The other person’s footsteps stopped, panting, as the light illuminated her face.
There was a crazed look that did not fit in with a face that was originally beautiful and proper.
There was also a vertical shaped scar between her brows, as if slit open by a knife. The skin around it was twisted outwards, a trail left behind by blood streamed down the bridge of her nose. There were little bumps moving in her forehead as if something alive was wriggling in it.
Yuwen Yihuan dazedly stared at him, then moved her gaze onto Xiao Lu next to him who was no longer breathing.
Tears burst out of her eyes. Yuwen Yihuan frantically dropped to the ground and brought Xiao Lu to her arms, not even a little bit afraid of how cold and withered the other person’s body was.
Why didn’t you wait for me?
The young girl gave a soundless cry, the despair she’d experienced for half her living years all seemed to gather in both her eyes.
To her, Xiao Lu was her world. He was her everything in the first half of her life.
While she was born in a family of royalty, she had never lived a single day as a princess.
Princess Leping, Yuwen Eying, Yuwen Yun, the Sui Emperor, the Empress Dugu; these people who were her blood relatives were far too distant to her.
Even if it were Xiao Lu’s orders for her to get close to the princess and her daughter, Yuwen Yihuan had never taken them for family.
Xiao Lu was the only one who could render her completely unguarded.
Because from as far back as she could remember, this man taught her how to read and write, he taught her to fight, to scheme and plot. Even though the two of them passed off as siblings, if Xiao Lu wanted her to shed her clothes and offer herself to him, she wouldn’t have hesitated to do so.
But Xiao Lu had never made such a request. He never lacked beautiful women by his side, but all his efforts have been used in his quest to conquer all under heavens.
So much that the focus Xiao Lu placed on his nemesis, Cui Buqu, was far more than the focus he’d placed on her.
Yuwen Yihuan’s tears have run dry.
As for Xiao Lu’s body, it would never warm up again. She slowly raised her head and glowered at Cui Buqu. The latter looked back at her, fearless.
“Xiao-lang is already dead, but why aren’t you?”
Yuwen Yihuan placed Xiao Lu down, then gorged a very long gu worm from between her brows, and with her other hand, she reached out towards Cui Buqu, slitting the clothes below his neck in a sensual manner.
“You’ve caused Xiao-lang such misery, I cannot allow you an easy death. You should die more horribly than him to pacify the pain he will be going through in the realm of the afterlife!”
She slit open the skin below his collarbone, cutting open a bloody wound. Yuwen Yihuan approached closer with the gu worm in her hand. The latter couldn’t wait to latch itself onto Cui Buqu and suck his blood dry.
As she released it, the gu worm pounced into his flesh, relieving only half an inch of its tail.
Very quickly, its tail vanished under his skin. Yuwen Yihuan ripped his clothes open and watched as the gu worm wriggled down his chest and couldn’t help snickering a little.
“, I want to dig your heart out. But relax, with the gu worm present, you won’t die so quickly even if you lose your heart. Perhaps you can feel how it’s like to have your heart dug out.”
Her voice was flattering and light as she pried open Cui Buqu’s clothes, a pious look over her face.
Cui Buqu felt like his body was dissected into three parts.
One part was being ripped by the illnesses that originally existed within his body.
One part was being ripped by the martial abilities that Xiao Lu transferred to him a while ago.
The one part that remained was being ripped apart by gu poison.
All three sides were taking his body for a warfield with the intention to conquer it. In such a heated battle, no side was willing to take a step back and the result that came from this was the black blood that continuously foamed at the corner of Cui Buqu’s lips. It was obvious that his body had reached its limit, incapable of enduring any more forms of hardship.
But Yuwen Yihuan didn’t care.
She didn’t care about how much pain Cui Buqu was in. The more pain he was in, the happier she was. If Cui Buqu could describe the pain he was in at this moment, Yuwen Yihuan would only happily clap in joyous celebration. She was focusing on fumbling around his chest, searching for the best spot to dig his heart out.
Finally, a satisfied smile spread across Yuwen Yihuan’s face.
She decided to silt open his chest vertically, then reach in to gorge his heart out.
However, all of a sudden, a sword pierced through her back.
Yuwen Yihuan seemed to have felt it, as the death bell toiled in her chest.
The other person had come from the tunnel, and she hadn’t noticed him until it was too late. One could tell how profound his martial abilities were. He was definitely not below Xiao Lu’s level of ability from before.
The moment that thought passed through her mind, the tip of the sword had already pierced her back.
There was a look of despair and confusion on Yuwen Yihuan’s face.
From the time she climbed up from the ground to stuff the gu worm into her own body, she was already prepared to be its vessel and die a painful death.
She knew that her martial abilities were weak, so she had no choice but to rely on this item to help Xiao Lu, even if it meant that she would meet a very painful end.
It’s a pity that when she finally found Xiao Lu, he was already dead. All her efforts, all her sacrifices, were in vain, just like that.
The tip of the sword was dyed in blood, and after a moment, it was swiftly withdrawn. She aimed at him with her foot and the sword brushed across her shoulders. The young maiden’s head left her body on the spot and a splutter of blood sprayed across the stone walls as her head rolled into a distance. An arm, on the other hand, wrapped itself around Cui Buqu’s waist.
He could vaguely hear someone calling his name. The other person repeated his name, again and again, stricken with panic and fear.
Cui Buqu forced himself to open his eyes. He wanted to say something, but instead, he vomited a mouthful of blood.
Then he saw it. Feng Xiao’s entire expression had changed.
How could the proud and arrogant Second Commander Feng ever wear an expression like this in the past?
All of a sudden, Cui Buqu wanted to laugh. He parted his lips to say,
“Help me gorge the gu worm out…”
Feng Xiao couldn’t tear his eyes off the object swimming beneath the skin in his chest. He clenched his teeth. “I don’t dare to do it.”
To think there came a day when he’d say he didn’t dare. Cui Buqu felt an even stronger urge to laugh.
“There are only two paths to choose: To die or to live.” Cui Buqu closed his eyes and calmly said, “To place my life in your hands, even if my end is death, it is something I’ll never regret.”
There was a brief ripple on Feng Xiao’s expression, as if he wanted to say something, but he’d swallowed it down.
He lit the firestarter in his hand, and lending its light, he drew a dagger from inside his sleeve. After heating it up on the fire for a while, he pointed the dagger at Cui Buqu’s chest, but then he hesitated.
The gu worm seemed to wiggle even deeper. Cui Buqu could feel all his muscles cram, his consciousness fading. Feng Xiao didn’t dare to hesitate anymore. He fixed his gaze onto a spot where the gu worm was wriggling, raised his hand, and down the knife went. A black worm was wriggling in a pool of blood, trying its best to hide, but Feng Xiao caught it with both his fingers, then pulled it out.
Cui Buqu was in so much pain that his eyelids unfurled, his pale face oozing with cold sweat, his eyes losing their focus.
After Feng Xiao gorged the gu worm out, he instantly burned it to death with fire. Then he wrapped his arms around Cui Buqu’s waist and helped him up, leaving Yuwen Yihuan’s corpse behind.
Cui Buqu felt himself being taken away in a blur. Those arms holding him were very steady, trying their best not to let him feel bumpy as they moved.
Had it been a year ago, when he first met Feng-er in the City of Six Crafts, Feng-er would have never been so thoughtful towards him. Cui Buqu suddenly caught himself missing it.
The other person seemed to think that the poison in him was taking effect. He stopped and lowered his head to nervously ask, “Is something wrong?”
Cui Buqu, “I’m fine.”
As long as he could still withstand the pain, he deemed all to be fine. Feng Xiao placed him down.
Cui Buqu asked, “How did you find me?”
Feng Xiao, “I followed Yuwen Yihuan along the way. Without her gone, she will fester into a threat. I didn’t expect to run into you.”
After he and Tuan Qinghe leapt into the underground maze, the two of them fought for a while, but quickly lost each other after a brief collapse of the maze. Feng Xiao turned and waddled his way around, managing to escape death a few times. It was owed to his exemplary martial prowess that his dangers only resulted in fear.
At this moment, it was instead Zhangsun who was being pursued by the human gu and ran into Tuan Qinghe.
The human gu could no longer tell who his enemies were, hence he wouldn’t let Tuan Qinghe go simply because he was a friend of Kuhezhen. Zhangsun and the Sui Emperor had instead taken the opportunity to escape after being pursued for so long.
“I met them at the front. Zhangsun has found a way out. I allowed him to deliver His Majesty into safety first, then I continued looking for you, running into Yuwen Yihuan in the end.”
He spoke swiftly, describing these things without going into detail, and speaking of his danger as if it was merely small talk.
Because Feng Xiao knew that Cui Buqu would make up his mind to ask, and Feng Xiao would have no choice but to answer them. However, these were not the things he wanted to spend his energy on.
Cui Buqu has seen Feng Xiao’s many faces, but he has never seen him in such a nervous state.
“That means that Tuan Qinghe is still in here, and he isn’t dead yet.”
Cui Buqu said.
“I hope he’s entangled with the human gu and has killed each other. Best not let him show up in front of me ever again.” Feng Xiao answered.
Cui Buqu faintly smiled. “It seems like this wish of yours won’t be able to come true.”
At the end of the tunnel, a person appeared.
He was holding a lantern, as he slowly walked up to them from afar. If he was killed by the human gu, then Tuan Qinghe didn’t live up to his name.
Feng Xiao sighed, “That persistent geezer!”
But he wasn’t in a hurry to fight with the other person. He instead took out a jade pendant that he’d picked up somewhere, and passed it to Cui Buqu.
“Just now, you dropped this.”
Cui Buqu eyed the phoenix on the jade pendant and shook his head.
Feng Xiao, “Then whose is it?”
Cui Buqu expressionlessly said, “Perhaps it’s Yuwen Yihuan’s?”
Feng Xiao was driven into furious laughter. “Would it kill you to speak the truth?”
Cui Buqu, “I really am going to die soon.”
Feng Xiao’s expression abruptly turned aghast.
Cui Buqu instantly changed the subject. “However, if you win against Tuan Qinghe, perhaps I might speak the truth that you always wanted to hear.”
Feng Xiao, “I hope that when I come back, I will get to see you alive and well, speaking to me.”
Cui Buqu nodded in seriousness. “I will try my best.”
Feng Xiao lowered his head to kiss him. This time, Cui Buqu didn’t pull away, perhaps due to having no strength left in him at all. Leaning against the stone walls, he lifted his head slightly to meet the other’s demand. After a while, both of them separated. Feng Xiao kept the jade pendant into his lapels and walked up to Tuan Qinghe.
Cui Buqu watched his rear as he slowly closed his eyes.
Tuan Qinghe stood in his place. He knelt to place the lantern aside.
“If it was possible, I’d hope that this battle between us could take place above ground.”
Feng Xiao rolled his eyes. “Do you think this old man wants to fight you here at all?”
Tuan Qinghe seriously nodded his head. “Since this is inevitable, then, we could also strive to win with our own capabilities.”
Feng Xiao snorted, and without saying another word, he moved like lightning, lunging himself at his enemy.
Both of them engaged in a ferocious fight.
One of them used pure strength, and the other was using zither strings. With his dazzling sword glares that far outweighed the enemy’s aura,
Feng Xiao leapt in a flutter of sleeves, creating the image of a lonesome figure in the midst of toiling waves and crumbling mountains.
But from inside his sleeve, a zither string shot out, breaking through the screen created by the enemy’s sword. Tuan Qinghe was forced to change his approach. He leapt into the air as well, the weight of his sword clashing down like a gathering of raven-black clouds.
Feng Xiao drew a soft sword from his waist, and with a flicker of his wrist, the sword straightened from the qi that flowed into it with a freezing aura.
The heavy glare of a knife hammered down like a tiger pouncing out of its mountain in a hungry attempt to seize its prey. The force was unstoppable. All of a sudden, it resembled the thundering clouds in the sky, churning in preparation for an impending storm to make all walking lives on earth kneel before it.
Even Cui Buqu, who was sitting far away, could feel its killing intent surging wave after wave, enough to make one dumbstruck with astonishment.
Cui Buqu had never seen Hulugu, who lived in fame for a decade, but he has once heard Fan Yun mentioning Hulugu’s martial approach.
Back then, Fan Yun had even demonstrated it himself. Although he wasn’t like the original and neither could he flawlessly mimic him, Cui Buqu could tell from just a few moves that this was truly the swift and fierce ways of the number one fighter under the Heavens.
As for Tuan Qinghe; this person was a young man who has never once stepped into the Central Plains. Although his martial arts were formerly taught by Hulugu, there were differences.
Tuan Qinghe was someone who spent most of his years training atop snowy mountains. Other than the path of martial arts, his heart harboured nothing else. A heart purely devoted to martial arts was clearly reflected in his martial abilities. Although his manner of fighting wasn’t showy, they had instead made him appear ethereal and otherworldly.
In future days to come, this person would most certainly surpass his master and turn into the grandmaster of his generation.
However, this wouldn’t happen at any time soon.
The enemy in front of him did not look even a little bit inferior.
Although Feng Xiao seldom meddled in affairs of the Jianghu, his talents were not beneath him. Not long ago, he had just managed a breakthrough and alleviated his martial arts to attain a new degree.
As the two of them engaged in a toiling battle of storms, other than Cui Buqu, it was a pity that there was no audience. Feng Xiao could not guarantee that he would win.
He clearly knew that Tuan Qinghe and he had around the same strength.
This also meant that his chance of success was fifty-fifty.
Any small amount of misjudgement or the faintest mistake could turn this fight into a loss.
He couldn’t lose.
There was still someone behind him.
As the sword slowly descended from above, Feng Xiao remained unmoving.
He wasn’t in a hurry to avoid the enemy’s attack. Because he couldn’t find where the enemy was.
When the sword glare filled his gaze, in reality, they were only distractions. If he failed to discern reality and illusion, then the next stab would likely strike on him.
Feng Xiao suddenly leapt into the air.
He thrust his sword into a certain direction.
From where his sword struck, it became one with his body.
His body and the glare of his sword had merged into one, piercing through the screen of the enemy’s knife.
Within an instant, a sphere of light suddenly burst into sight. The two bodies entangled with each other and then separated, landing onto a platform that stuck out from the stone walls.
There was a long bloody wound stretching from Tuan Qinghe’s right shoulder to the left side of his stomach, as blood dripped down. Feng Xiao sustained a bloody scar across his arm, spreading across his clothes.
Both of their faces were pale. It was obvious their wounds weren’t the only external wounds they endured.
If they were to continue fighting, there wouldn’t be a second ending other than a pyrrhic victory.
Feng Xiao didn’t want to die in this place. He still wanted to bring someone out.
But he would never say these words aloud. Instead, he told Tuan Qinghe.
“Something is weighing in your heart. Your spirit is not in this fight.”
Tuan Qinghe’s expression faintly changed, obviously proving Feng Xiao right.
Feng Xiao, “Why don’t we fight again another day.”
After a moment, Tuan Qinghe said, “When?”
Feng Xiao, “In three years. Three years later on this day, I will meet you at the golden peak of Mount Emei.”
Tuan Qinghe said nothing, as he turned and left. He was incredibly quick, vanishing into the darkness within a blink.
Feng Xiao could tell that he was in a hurry since the other person didn’t even care to hide his urgency. He had even refrained from stopping his bleeding wound first.
Feng Xiao observed where Tuan Qinghe stood just now, then saw Yuwen Yihuan’s corpse, and then he seemed to have understood something.
But he didn’t want to spend time thinking about others. He didn’t stop as he limped to Cui Buqu’s side, then abruptly paused as he bent down and picked up the other person in his arms in the most gentle gesture he had ever done in his life. He couldn’t help himself from placing his hand on the other person’s chest, and after feeling a faint warmth radiating from it, he relaxed.
Feng Xiao softly asked, “I’ll carry you out. Alright?”
Cui Buqu stirred and eyed him, then closed his eyes and nodded his head.
Feng Xiao carried him and slowly walked step by step, although he was also in a bit of a hurry.
“Promise me that when we leave the maze, you’ll still be awake.”
A moment passed.
Perhaps, a long moment had passed.
Only then did Feng Xiao hear a sigh coming from his back.
“I promise you.”
Cui Buqu never made empty promises, but once he did, he would keep his word.
However, Feng Xiao not only refused to relax just because of this promise, but he had also become even more worried instead.
No one knew better than him how determined Cui Buqu was about living, but no one knew better than him how gravely wounded Cui Buqu was as well.
Even if he could survive, how much did his body endure to sustain wounds such as these?
Even if he had to beg all the physicians under the Heavens, it was something that can only be done if they left this place.
“If you keep your promise, I will tell you something.” “…Hm?” “Cui Buqu, I like you. If you live, then I can deign myself to spend the rest of my life with you. If you die, then even if the members of the Zuoyue Bureau bury you, I will unroot your grave so that your soul will never be reincarnated.”
Feng Xiao’s voice was cold, so cold that it could freeze anyone in place. Cui Buqu, however, faintly smiled.
He didn’t know whether it was the Jade of Heaven’s Lake from Xiao Lu’s martial arts that was taking effect, or perhaps it was poison combating with poison. After he’d lived through the most painful moments of his life, he didn’t feel so bad right now.
But he had no intention to confess so quickly.
If he could enjoy watching the Second Commander Feng confess and bend his knee, why not enjoy it a moment longer?
At the very least… Once they got out, he’ll pit him one time less and call it a day.
The main story is finished!
 郎: lang with a romantic connotation. Translator’s Note
But with how MXS left the ending, we know it’s only our journey with Fengcui has ended, but they will continue to live the rest of their lives together.
I’m very happy to have taken part in presenting everyone with this novel, I hope you liked it as much as we did! I tried my best to clear out any errors but if you find anything while reading please do comment! Cya ya’ll!