My Junior Still Hasn’t Killed Me Chapter 11-20

Chapter 11: Fighting the Demonic Lord

Finally shedding off the peaceful image he maintained just then, Cang Luan reached out his right hand, in which a long knife materialized out of the blue. He tossed a scorned gaze at Gu XuanYan standing downstairs, "What a joke. Even mayflies know how ridiculous it is to try shaking a tree."

Instead of replying, Gu XuanYan leaped up and lunged his sword towards Cang Luan.

The sword energy from the lightning-fast attack congealed into frost before whistling across the air towards Cang Luan. Cang Luan simply brandished his knife, chopping it down.

A violent explosion erupted in the air the moment the knife and sword energies collided. Amid the roar of the explosion, Gu XuanYan flew upwards, reaching Cang Luan's line of sight in just a blink of an eye. He launched his second strike straight into Cang Luan's forehead.

Even the thousand-year-old Cang Luan wrinkled his brows from the heavy murderous intent of the attack.

Boasted for being moral, Daoist cultivation strived on following nature and protecting all so as to ascend to godhood. Cang Luan had always turned his nose up at such practice; weren't there black sheep like Li YunJi and Chun Qin still hidden among those so-called moral sects? Despite exchanging blows with several Daoist cultivators, never had Cang Luan feel such brutal, murderous aura from his opponents.

Demonic cultivation fits him more than his current practice.

Letting out a sigh in pity, Cang Luan concentrated his cultivation base. Once he constructed a barrier with his spiritual energy, he sprung up, driving his knife towards Gu XuanYan's chest!

Although Gu XuanYan tried to whirl away, a fraction of the menace-engulfed strike still slashed onto his chest. Blood oozed from the cut instantly. Nonetheless, Gu XuanYan ignored the wound and instead turned his wrist, firing his sword once again!

In just a split second, the two weapons had clashed countless times.

Imbued with a bold, go-hard-or-go-home aura, every strike from Gu XuanYan was brimming with his strong cultivation base and yet was as unrelenting as waves at sea.

Cang Luan furrowed his brows, shockingly a little unable to cope with the string of attack. Finally, after taking a step back when he saw the oncoming sword, he withdrew his sword, replacing it with a palm strike on Gu XuanYan!

Although the palm strike had never come close to Gu XuanYan, it blanketed the entire hall with pressure as heavy as mountains.

As Zhong Yan had his cultivation base suppressed, coupled with his injured spiritual energy, he felt as though every bone in his body had been smashed to smithereens under such overwhelming pressure. Blood even started seeping out from the corners of his lips from the pain.

The cut on Gu XuanYan's chest still bled profusely, drenching his clothes. Although all color drained from his face, his eyes remained as bright as stars. He didn't dodge from the pressure. Instead, his overflowing sword aura ended up knocking down the barrier around Cang Luan! Instantly, Cang Luan tried to receive it with his knife but was a tad too slow.

At that very moment, Gu XuanYan's sword had reached Cang Luan's neck.
Despite being drenched in blood, Gu XuanYan kept his sword perfectly still. Surprised his opponent managed to win due to a mere slip up, Cang Luan darkened his expression.

All of a sudden, Zhong Yan stomached his pain as he yelled out hurriedly, "Wait!"

The two swiveled their gazes onto him.

Unexpectedly, Gu XuanYan stopped his sword aura and paused his attack. A light grin grew on Cang Luan's face as he looked at Zhong Yan, "What a kind-hearted cultivator. Alas, a soft heart is only a hindrance during a crisis."

Zhong Yan tossed a hasty question at the system, [Is killing Cang Luan now considered self-defense?]

After enduring his persistent nagging for an entire day due to the loss of thirty marks, the system got used to his stinginess, [Yup. It's a special case; no marks will be deducted.]

Alrighty. Zhong Yan raised his head towards Gu XuanYan, his tone cordial, "You can continue."
Rendered speechless for a moment, Cang Luan let out a low laugh, unfazed as his line of sight turned to Gu XuanYan, "If you killed me today, your Dao partner's life wouldn't last long."

With a chilled look, Gu XuanYan lifted his sword slightly higher as he asked in a deep voice, "What do you mean by that?"

Cang Luan's tone was unhurried as if he hadn't noticed the long sword on his neck, "I fed him a bit of my blood just now. Once he had my blood, he is bound in a blood oath with me. if I die, he will too."

Zhong Yan froze. Only then did he remember Cang Luan forced a bloody fluid down his throat moments ago.

As icy as frost, Gu XuanYan turned to look at Zhong Yan.
Just a second later, the hall started quaking abruptly. A sea of jade stones and pearls plunged down, shattering once they reached the floor.

The change of situation happened too unexpectedly. All of a sudden, Cang Luan raised his hand and launched a palm strike at Gu XuanYan. Gu XuanYan pulled Zhong Yan over before taking two swift steps back. By the time he lifted his eyes, Cang Luan had already vanished into thin air.

Instead of chasing him, Gu XuanYan grabbed Zhong Yan and started to dodge the endless rain of pillar fragments and pearls, charging towards the door. The moment he set foot outside, an army of demonic cultivators roared as they pounced on them.

The battle with Cang Luan just then had already exhausted most of Gu XuanYan's cultivation base. On top of that, he had to dodge from the falling stones right after, so he had not much energy left by now.

Amid the glint of blades, Gu XuanYan gritted his teeth as he swung his sword, forcing the crowd to step back. Gu XuanYan pulled Zhong Yan along as he whizzed out of the palace.

Only after getting out of the palace did they realize not only did the earthquake shake the palace violently, but also the entire icy plains too. Thick layers of glaciers had already started cracking, their fissures broadening and meandering away by the second.

Tons of ice pieces sunk a split second later, puncturing a multitude of large gaps on the icy plains.

Not only did the injured duo have to fend off their enemies, but also, they had to keep an eye out for any holes beneath them; they just didn't have any extra energy to ride their swords. Seconds later, the demonic cultivators began to catch up on them. Zhong Yan had no choice but to call out the system as a last-ditch effort, [Do you have any more cheats?!]

[Yup, bro.]

All of a sudden, the ice sheets beneath them cracked open, the gaps forming into a large moat instantly. No time to get away, the two missed their footings!

In a predicament, Zhong Yan could only have the time to press Gu XuanYan onto himself, shielding his wounded chest. He recited in his heart, [Story characters never die after jumping off a mountain; miracles await them when they fall off cliffs. I'm putting my trust in you, so don't lie to me!]

In a flash, both of them plunged into the deep dark abyss.

The demonic cultivators hounding on them came to a halt once they reached the edges of the gap, clueless what course of action they should take. Sometime later, Cang Luan materialized in the sky. Caked in dirt, he appeared to be rather battered. After letting out a series of violent coughs, he commanded hoarsely, "Don't bother chasing them. If they die, so be it. but if they somehow survive this..." Cang Luan sneered, his robes thrashing in the wind, "Gu XuanYan will come begging me."

As soon as Zhong Yan woke up, he heard the babble of a stream. He forced his eyes open, realizing the sun had seemingly set quite a while ago as shadows enveloped the whole area.

Only after straightening himself up did he realize he was lying beside a river stream. He was probably at the bottom of the icy plains since the flowing stream swept pieces of ice down the river continually. On top of him was an outer robe, while damp mud was beneath him.

Gu XuanYan was regulating his breath intently beside him. Once he heard Zhong Yan move, his eyes fluttered open, his voice hoarse, "Don't move around; you're injured."

Zhong Yan sighed in relief when his eyes met Gu XuanYan's. Feeling every part of his body in pain, he looked down, just to see a variety of injuries on him.

Gu XuanYan explained softly, "Below the icy plains is a fast-moving river stream. We were swept here."

A sudden realization dawned upon Zhong Yan; he probably got his injuries from bumping and scraping in the river. Although the wounds stung, they were merely superficial. He ignored his injuries as he looked over at Gu XuanYan, asking, "Are you alright?"

Gu XuanYan let out a low laugh, "Thanks to Senior Brother shielding me during the fall; I'm not really wounded. My previous injuries are nothing serious." After a pause, he continued, "Along with the white ape incident, this is the second time Senior Brother saved me."

Yeah, and totaling up to a loss of twenty points. After a sigh, Zhong Yan asked, "Where is this?"

"I have no clue. No one has ever told me a river is on the bottom of the Northern Wilderness's icy plains nor have I seen any records on the lower reaches of the river." Gu XuanYan took a look at the darkened sky, "First off, let's go further ahead to find a place to stay overnight."

After getting up, Gu XuanYan helped Zhong Yan up.

Unable to find a plot point similar to their current situation after scanning the storyline in his mind, Zhong Yan presumed a hidden plotline was triggered yet again. While strolling ahead beside Gu XuanYan, he tried to make the best of things, "Not even you know where this is? I guess we are pretty much doomed. Congrats, you don't have to rack your mind to think of ways to kill me."

After remaining silent for a moment, Gu XuanYan laughed all of a sudden as he replied, "Senior Brother is right."

He let go of Zhong Yan and strode ahead alone. Caught off guard, Zhong Yan almost lost his balance. Only after catching Gu XuanYan up did he notice a trace of indignance colored Gu XuanYan's eyes instead of mirth.

Zhong Yan kept his eyes on Gu XuanYan as he walked, hesitating for a bit before asking, "Are you mad at me?"

Gu XuanYan's line of sight remained forward, "No."

If you aren't, why are you so pissed off...?

Worry coiled around Zhong Yan's heart right then as he started complaining to the system, [Gu XuanYan's temper is getting weirder by the day. He's not even feigning the gentleman act now. Why do I have a feeling he might continue down the wrong path for good?]

Setting his dissing aside, since he lit up a fire of fury in Gu XuanYan, he should be the one appeasing him. Zhong Yan tugged on Gu XuanYan's sleeve, prattling, "Fine, fine, fine. I'm sorry. I know you not only had no plans on killing me but also like me very much-"

To Zhong Yan's surprise, even the fake smile Gu XuanYan forcefully plastered on his face vanished, replaced by a flurry of expressions. In the end, he hollered, "No, I don't!"

Zhong Yan was instantly rendered speechless.

Interacting with villains is as taxing as a minesweeper game; I'll never know what I said made him pissed off. Clueless what he said wrong, Zhong Yan zipped up his mouth, his heart utterly drained of energy.

Chapter 12: Camping in a Cave

 cries of insects and birds, the forest sent chills running down any onlooker's bones.

After entering the mountain, Gu XuanYan and Zhong Yan found a cave that could barely shelter them. They piled up the dried branches and leaves they gathered before lighting up a bonfire with an incantation spell.

Zhong Yan was swept onto the riverside by the waters and lay on the ground for god knows how long, resulting in his clothes being somewhat soaked. Coldness penetrated his very bones as gusts of wind whisked away heat from him. He chanted a dust removal spell to clean his clothes before inching towards the fire to warm himself.

Slightly further away from the bonfire, Gu XuanYan kept his eyes shut and regulated his breath.

Warmth spread all over Zhong Yan's body, lulling him to dreamland. Just when he was about to doze off, he heard Gu XuanYan asking, "What exactly is... that so-called blood oath?"

The question drove off any sleepiness from Zhong Yan. He yawned, "Well, as he said, if he dies, I will too. But he has been living for nearly a thousand years. Even though he's old, if he keeps a healthy sleep schedule and exercises, he should be able to live for a few hundred years more. Come to think of it; this might be a blessing in disguise for me..."

Zhong Yan's voice went softer under the gaze of Gu XuanYan. In the end, he concluded with a murmur, "No need to worry."

Gu XuanYan ignored Zhong Yan's rambling and inquired again, "Is there nothing else other than that?"

Zhong Yan looked straight into Gu XuanYan's eyes as he gave a firm answer, "Nope."

After focusing on Zhong Yan for a few seconds, Gu XuanYan appeared to have somewhat bought into it.

Zhong Yan changed the topic in haste, "I wonder why the icy plains had such a sudden earthquake."

"Just one of the ways Cang Luan used to escape. But he probably weakened himself from doing so too."

Gu XuanYan's tone was indifferent, displaying his disinterest on the topic. He stared straight at Zhong Yan before tossing a question at him abruptly, "Why did Senior Brother protect me when we fell off the cliff? Why did Senior Brother save me?"

He wiped away any traces of a smile, his eyes examining him closely. "Senior Brother might have saved me during the trip back from the Buddhist hall because it will be strange to return alone. But why did Senior Brother save me just now?"

Why did I save you...? I should just let you fall to your death, you motherf*cker!

Zhong Yan's wounds started to sting from the aggravation. He sneered, "Junior Brother, no need to get suspicious. Just assume I'm a fool or am crazy."
Seeming to have noticed Zhong Yan's fury, Gu XuanYan went blank. When he pulled his mind back to reality, he was surprisingly at a loss.

Just as he was about to reply Zhong Yan, Zhong Yan had already closed his eyes.

The only sound left in the cave was the soft crackling of the burning branches.

Sometime later, Zhong Yan heard Gu XuanYan apologising in a low voice, "Senior Brother, I'm sorry." Gu XuanYan seemingly let out a low chuckle, "Senior Brother is the first to lend me a helping hand and save my life; I'm just a little overwhelmed by it. Don't get angry, Senior Brother."

Gu XuanYan's voice sounded pitiful when slowed down, dispelling a large portion of Zhong Yan's anger in an instant. Zhong Yan sighed with his eyes shut, still refusing to look at him. "Just focus on regulating your breath."
With the matter concluded, the tensed air around them eased off.

Finally found a chance to chip in, the system couldn't help reminding Zhong Yan, [You have to drink Cang Luan's blood every month for the blood oath, or else...]

[Shut up, I know.] Zhong Yan rolled his eyes internally, [Gu XuanYan might just head back and fight to the death with Cang Luan if I let him know, making my life even shorter.]

A brief moment of silence later, the system couldn't stop itself from asking, [May I know why Gu XuanYan will fight to the death with Cang Luan for you?]
The definitive yet straightforward question hit the nail on the head.

Zhong Yan froze for a moment before replying, [Uhh... No idea. I just... had a feeling he'll do that.]

Despite their brief dispute just then, such a peculiar hunch seeped into Zhong Yan's mind.

After all, Gu XuanYan's expression became horrifyingly menacing the moment he heard about the blood oath from Cang Luan, as though he was about to slit Cang Luan's throat the next second.

Nonetheless, the moment he heard Zhong Yan wouldn't survive if Cang Luan died, he came to a screeching halt.

Why did he stop himself? The person on the other side of his blade was the culprit who exterminated his clan. Besides, Gu XuanYan used up almost all of his energy to get a narrow victory. He might not get such a great opportunity in the future.

After pondering for quite a long while, Zhong Yan replied, [Maybe Gu XuanYan doesn't want to involve any innocents in his revenge.]

[Huh. When he was searching for you, he stabbed his sword straight through an innocent female demonic cultivator. Oh right, twenty points are deducted. Remember to record that down.]

Words failed Zhong Yan right then. Unable to stay put any longer, Zhong Yan opened his eyes and directed them at Gu XuanYan.

Gu XuanYan didn't look all that ghastly pale under the illumination of the flickering fire now. His brows were merely millimetres apart as he remained seated, regulating his breath. Since no one was around, he stripped off his gentlemanly façade, revealing a hint of aloofness. Rather than lessening his attractiveness, it highlighted his delicate features, as though a refined jade caked in dirt.

After Zhong Yan stared at Gu XuanYan for quite some time, the thought of Gu XuanYan having seriously good looks rose in him yet again.

You can't spell libidinousness without lies.[1]

{1. Literally: On top of the Chinese character for lecherous [色]is the Chinese character for knife [刀]- A Yue Chinese idiom that means being lecherous will lower one's guard against danger.}

Yin SuSu is right, the more attractive the person, the more deceptive they are.[2]

{2. Yin SuSu is the mother of Zhang WuJi, the protagonist in the wuxia novel, The Heaven Sword  and Dragon Saber. The phrase was her last words to Zhang WuJi.}

But Gu XuanYan looks so good it is just too much. Wait, what did I want to ask him just now?

Perhaps due to Zhong Yan's constant staring, at the moment, Gu XuanYan had his eyes on Zhong Yan, his voice gentle, "Senior Brother, what's the matter?"

Awkward...

After being stumped for a short while, Zhong Yan, luckily, remembered his question, "Erm... why didn't you kill Cang Luan when given the chance just now?" Learning from past mistakes, he didn't dare to add 'and you can also kill me while you were at it.' Instead, he followed up with, "Is it because of me?"

Gu XuanYan had his back leaning on the stony cave wall, casting a glance at Zhong Yan silently once he heard the question.

The undaunted Zhong Yan assumed Gu XuanYan's silence as a yes and asked shamelessly again, "Why?"

Amusement twinkled in Gu XuanYan's eyes as he threw the question back, "What do you think, Senior Brother?"

Do you think I would ask you if I knew...?

The cave returned to its tranquillity at once. Gu XuanYan glued his eyes on Zhong Yan, seemingly wanting an answer from him.

In a predicament, Zhong Yan took this as a chance to educate Gu XuanYan about virtues, "Because compassion still lies within you even if your mind is filled with revenge. You don't want innocents to be involved. I know the deepest part of Junior Brother's heart still holds benevolence."

After keeping quiet for a long time, Gu XuanYan let out a low laugh, "Senior Brother seriously goes all out to prevent me from killing, huh?"

Although his laughter didn't contain much joy, it was empty of rage, as though something interesting he had just found piqued his mood. Zhong Yan thought there was potential to go further, "Anyway, murdering is not good." A brief moment of pondering later, he added, "But killing Cang Luan is ok."

After all, their enmity originated from the massacre of Gu XuanYan's clan. Furthermore, killing Cang Luan won't deduct any points. So long as Gu XuanYan had a reason to attack and didn't kill any innocents, Zhong Yan could still stomach Gu XuanYan squandering a few points during a crisis.

Zhong Yan felt his morals rotting more and more ever since he transmigrated.

A smile grew on Gu XuanYan's face as he told Zhong Yan softly, "But Senior Brother is wrong. Rather than compassion, evil intentions occupy my heart."

Great. I lectured for nothing. Zhong Yan leaned his back onto the cave walls, "For example?"

Instead of replying, Gu XuanYan swept his gaze from Zhong Yan's face down to his robes before tossing it back to the bonfire.

Clueless of the swift glance due to its speed, Zhong Yan still focused on getting a reply from Gu XuanYan.

Only after some time did Gu XuanYan start to talk, "Those evil intentions are, of course, a secret of mine. If Senior Brother doesn't want me to kill, just like previously, remember to stick close to my side. It might just work."

Zhong Yan's face was utterly void of any emotions as he told the system, [Oh, I get it. Gu XuanYan just wants an underling.]

The system was rendered speechless right away.

Yet again, silence fell upon the two, who had eyes on each other.

Zhong Yan had his mind on ways to revoke Cang Luan's blood contract, but since the person in front of him was still waiting for an answer, he had no choice but to reply after a sigh, "All right."

A moment of contemplating later, Zhong Yan seemingly found his affirmation a bit too lacklustre as he added, "I swear. But if I follow close to you, you can't kill anymore."

Zhong Yan couldn't really tell, but a smile appeared to have spread on Gu XuanYan's face under the illumination of the flames. Only after quite some time did he hear a light, nearly inaudible whisper, "Sure."

The sun shone brightly the next day. As they were at the foot of the mountain, the full view of the mountain forest greeted their eyes as soon as they set foot outside the cave.

With distributaries branching off along the way down the icy plains, the torrential surging river had turned into a crystal-clear stream of water flowing into a ravine, meandering towards the nearby forest.

Zhong Yan took a look at the mountain in front of him. Under the vast sky, the mountain breeze rolled the shadows of trees into surges of green waves.

Beside Zhong Yan was Gu XuanYan, "It's impossible to take the former route back, so let's try crossing the mountain."

After a nod of approval from Zhong Yan, the two started riding their swords, flying straight towards the peak of the mountain.

A moment later, Gu XuanYan's brows creased a little, "Hmm?"

Gu XuanYan didn't need to explain further; even Zhong Yan found the situation strange too.

They have been riding their swords for far too long. The mountain wasn't sky high, not even taller than the numerous mountain peaks of Green Summit. However, even after sword riding for around the time an incense stick took to burn[3] , they were still halfway up the mountain,

{3. 5 minutes}

Zhong Yan raised his head to take a glance. The upper parts of the mountains were blanketed with fog, cloaking the peak. Both of them had no choice but to return to their original spot.

When Zhong Yan lifted his head towards the sky, he found it completely empty of clouds. Puzzled, Zhong Yan asked, "Does this mountain forbid trespassers? But we did go in last night, so it shouldn't be."

"Because we walked in last night." Gu XuanYan sighed and smiled, "Senior Brother, let's take a walk, just like when we are in Green Summit."

Not allowed to ride a sword in the premise of Green Summit, all disciples were used to walking up and down the mountains. The two strolled leisurely up the mountain, not finding it to be too much of a chore. At first, Zhong Yan presumed the mountain was owned by someone, who might have cast a spell banning sword riding.

However, the moment they entered the mountain, cries of joyful forest animals flooded the mountain. Except for them, not even a trace of human activity could be seen.

"I have not even seen any records of this mountain in the ancient texts I read." Gu XuanYan spoke, "The world works in mysterious ways; everything possesses a spiritual essence. There's no need to look further into it. Anyway, this mountain sure is brimming with spiritual energy."

As they hiked the mountain, even cultivation base circulation came easy to them. Zhong Yan nodded, not thinking much about it as he changed the topic, "If I can still find this mountain in the future, I'll retire here."

Upon hearing that, Gu XuanYan took a glance at Zhong Yan, "Even though Senior Brother just reached adulthood, plans on retirement are already made?"

The daily scheming we have against each other makes me feel like an elderly. Zhong Yan mumbled, "I'm just planning in advance."

The thought of him not even having a month's time to live rose in his mind right after.

Let's just hurry back to Green Summit to see if Qing You has any solutions. After all, Qing You's medicine helped me escape the clutches of death quite a few times.

Noticing Zhong Yan's silence, Gu XuanYan asked, "A penny for your thoughts, Senior Brother?"

Zhong Yan spilled the truth, "I was just thinking about Qing You."

Gu XuanYan appeared not to expect such an answer as he repeated only after a long pause, his tone rather hostile, "Qing You?"

Not wanting Gu XuanYan to find out much about his situation, Zhong Yan gathered himself up right away before wording himself carefully, "Uh... well, he's a junior brother I'm familiar with after all. It's just because I haven't seen him for quite a while."

As Gu XuanYan ended the conversation with silence, the two trekked ahead quietly.

The utterly confused Zhong Yan thought Gu XuanYan didn't quite know who Qing You was, so he tried to introduce him, "Don't you remember? Qing You was the one boiling us medicine the last time we got injured by the white ape. Although he loves nagging, he's an expert in medicine and has a good personality..."

Before Zhong Yan could finish his sentence, Gu XuanYan stopped in his tracks all of a sudden and pulled Zhong Yan's wrist towards him. Caught off guard, Zhong Yan almost fell onto Gu XuanYan, but he steadied himself at once, "What's wrong?"

Zhong Yan assumed the trekking opened Gu XuanYan's wounds once he noticed Gu XuanYan's sullen expression, so he eyed at his front lapel in haste, "Did your wounds start to hurt again?"

Gu XuanYan's face slightly lightened up. After looking at how worried Zhong Yan was for quite some time, he released Zhong Yan's wrist and let out a long sigh before smiling, "Senior Brother, don't anger me any further."

Author notes:

Little Gu: Senior Brother, remember to stick close to me.

Little Zhong: Ok, I swear.

Mischievous author: Hehe.

Chapter 13: Interrogation

As Gu XuanYan remained silent afterwards, instincts told Zhong Yan to zip up his mouth too. Fortunately, the chirping of insects and birds accompanied their hike, dispelling any bleakness in the air.

In a blink of an eye, they reached the peak of the mountain. From the mountaintop view, the valley appeared to extend forever into the distance, as though connected to the horizon. Both of them had no idea what was the name of their current location, but Gu XuanYan's attempt at sword riding there was unexpectedly a success.

With the guide of the morning sun, they flew towards the southwest direction. Only after quite some time of sword riding did Zhong Yan see the indistinct silhouette of Green Summit.

Surprisingly, as they travelled through the silent mountains, the two didn't even chance upon a disciple. Finally, when Zhong Yan returned to his quarters' courtyard, he found Qing You rummaging through medicine herbs. As soon as Qing You detected the two, he straightened up in surprise right away, almost knocking over the basket of herbs he was air drying.

Nostalgia washed over Zhong Yan as if the person in front of him was his old pal. He couldn't help but call out warmly, "Qing You, I'm back with more injuries."

The surprise in the wordless Qing You's eyes spiralled down to helplessness.

After heaving a light sigh, Gu XuanYan greeted gently, "Senior Qing You, sorry for bothering you again."

Qing You glared at Zhong Yan before turning to Gu XuanYan, "My pleasure."

Noticing only superficial wounds on them, Qing You let out a sigh of relief, "The seniors and juniors who went along as well said you two were missing and were all worried sick. Luckily, you two came back unharmed. Both of you are seriously..."

Zhong Yan cut him off the moment he realised Qing You was starting his nagging, "I know; I know. We're sorry. You should focus on the wound on Junior Gu's chest instead."

Gu XuanYan declined, "No rush. Has Senior Qing You seen any demonic cultivators when we were gone?"

Qing You's expression turned grim too, "When you all were in Northern Wilderness, a few demonic cultivators indeed came over here. But since their numbers are small, us disciples who stayed behind could manage it and so, they didn't cause much of a havok." A brief pause later, he continued with hesitation, "But those demonic cultivators were quite familiar with Green Summit. Somehow, they knew the location of Sect Leader's residence, our disciples' quarters, the hall and the book shed."

Stunned, Zhong Yan figured things out instantly. How can they not know since one of our Sect Elders colluded with the demonic cultivators? Cang Luan probably already sees Green Summit as his backyard.
Still, he naturally couldn't spill out his findings.

As it was pointless to continue with the topic, Qing You changed it up, "Let me take a look at your injuries before anything else."

However, before the three of them could enter the house, a disciple went into the courtyard and bowed respectfully to them, "Senior Qin, Senior Gu, Sect Leader has asked for you to come by the discussion hall once he found out you were back."
Zhong Yan asked, suspecting he had heard the disciple wrong, "Me too?" After receiving a nod as a reply, Zhong Yan asked again, "May Junior Gu and I treat our injuries first?"

Although the disciple remained muted, his face revealed a troubled expression.

Gu XuanYan replied in a light tone upon seeing his face, "It's all right. We should be paying our respects to the Sect Leader once we return."

Relief washed over the disciple as he expressed his gratitude, "Thank you, Senior Brother."

Gu XuanYan tilted his head towards Zhong Yan, softening his voice, "Let's go, Senior Brother."

What could be so urgent that they don't even allow us disciples to treat our injuries first?
Despite feeling nothing good would come out of the meeting, Zhong Yan still followed Gu XuanYan after looking at how calm he was.

Oh well, even if the sky collapses, chief disciple Gu XuanYan will get my back, thought Zhong Yan.

To his surprise, the moment he set foot into the hall, the Sect Leader and Elders' blazingly hot glares fell on him.

Clueless why their eyes were on him, he didn't dare to speak.

Only after quite a while did the Sect Leader call out, "MingXi."
Zhong Yan only realised he was called after a brief stun, answering in haste, "Present."

The Sect Leader's voice was loud and deep, "Where were you in the icy plains?"

Uh, obviously? What? Does he think I can just flee away on my own?

Although Zhong Yan knew the meeting was some kind of trap[1] , never could he anticipate himself being the target.

{Literally: Feast at Swan Goose Gate/Banquet at Hongmen: banquet set up  with the aim of murdering a guest.}

Zhong Yan didn't dare to be rash, so he gave a straightforward answer, "This weakly skilled disciple got captured by the demonic cultivators due to a moment of carelessness."

Li WenJi frowned, "Why did they capture you instead of the Sect Elders and chief disciples present?"

He's just one step away from straight-up saying I'm useless. It wasn't as though Zhong Yan could reply with, 'They captured me to blackmail Gu XuanYan since we are Dao partners.' He couldn't imagine the uproar the truth would cause.

Unable to think up a reasonable explanation, Zhong Yan simply kept mum and stood rooted to the floor.

To his surprise, Gu XuanYan lifted his head and eyed straight at Li WenJi, "What does Sect Leader mean by that?"

Gu XuanYan's tone was gentle, as if empty of disrespect. Nonetheless, as this was the first time a disciple dared to throw a question back at the Sect Leader and Elders, the expressions of every elder in the hall darkened in an instant.

The sect leader called out in a deep voice, his glare as fiery as a torch, "XuanYan."

The admonition lining in his voice was apparent. Despite letting out a sneer, Sect Elder Li XuanJi didn't have the heart to say anything harsh to such an outstanding disciple. His voice was slow, "Both of you probably know the demonic cultivators were unexpectedly familiar with every location of Green Summit during their unwelcome visit. We suspect a traitor among us."

He flashed a disdainful glare at Zhong Yan, "Although YunJi was already in his late Golden Core stage, he still got decapitated. On the other hand, Qin MingXi was only in the Essence Condensation stage then, but somehow, he survived. Never do I wish to suspect any of our disciples, but seeing that he came through unscathed from the kidnapping in the icy plains..."

Gu XuanYan cut the Sect Elder off with a clear voice, "I have witnessed Senior Brother's kidnapping with my very own eyes and saved him with my very own hands. Please consult this disciple if there are any further questions." With the bottom of his robes raised, he kneeled and kowtowed, his voice powerful and resonating, "This disciple, Gu XuanYan, would bear all responsibility should any problem arise."

A wave of shock knocked over not only everyone seated in the hall but also Zhong Yan.

In the end, Sect Leader Li XunJi let out a light cough, "The first and foremost reason for summoning both of you over is to check if you two were unharmed; the querying of what happened only comes second. We have no intention of interrogating. Since XuanYan said so, let's put this aside for now."

Although the Sect Leader concluded as such, the matter being raised with such importance meant seeds of suspicion had already started growing within the Sect Leader and Elders; they would never let it go lightly.

'Put this aside for now' sounded as though they were planning to settle things once and for all the moment an opportunity arose. After bowing and getting up, Gu XuanYan swept a swift glance across everyone in the hall. A vicious light glinted in his eyes right then, but it vanished into thin air instantly.

The two stepped out of the hall. During their journey back, Zhong Yan couldn't help suggesting, "If we let the Sect Leader know the blood oath I have with Cang Luan..."

Gu XuanYan cast a glance at him, his tone gentle, "Senior Brother, it will complicate things if you said so."

Awareness registered in Zhong Yan's mind instantly too. A Daoist disciple having a blood oath with the Demonic lord appeared to imply a collusion of the two. Even if, under the most optimistic light, Zhong Yan was deemed to be not a traitor, no way would Green Summit keep a disciple who had ties with demonic cultivators.

The urgency of breaking the contract dawned on Zhong Yan as soon as those thoughts crossed his mind. He couldn't stop himself from heaving a sigh.

Beside him was Gu XuanYan, who apologised out of the blue, "It's my fault for involving Senior Brother in this."

His voice was soft, sounding genuinely apologetic.

Upon hearing that, Zhong Yan started to assure Gu XuanYan awkwardly, "That's not true..."

Zhong Yan had been staying in this world for almost half a year. In the story, Gu XuanYan had already turned utterly evil by that point. However, except for revenge, there was no sign of the present Gu XuanYan stepping into the path of evil. Rather, he even saved Zhong Yan, giving Zhong Yan the impression that he wasn't all that bad.

Other than Stockholm syndrome, Zhong Yan had no idea what had gotten into his mind.

Chapter 14: Drunk


While the bright moon illuminated the quiet autumn night, ZhongYan sat cross-legged by the window viewing the layer of silver frost-like moonlight outside the window. Despite going to great lengths to save the villain, he was deemed as a villain in the end, an absurd yet irrefutable outcome indeed. Nonetheless, ZhongYan's attitude was rather positive, neither downhearted nor resentful.

He just felt a little homesick on such an autumn night. He asked the system, [Can I go home once I'm done with the mission?]

The system probably detected his melancholy as its answer was lightning fast, [Of course. We will return you to the exact moment in time.]

After finding some solace, ZhongYan started pondering again, wondering if Gu XuanYan would miss him if he were gone. After all, they went through thick and thin together. Following which, he began to reason with himself. At the very least, Liang Zheng and Qing You would probably miss him, so why focus on Gu XuanYan?

Just as the thought popped up in his mind, it was knocked away the moment a pine nut hit his forehead, rendering him speechless. The sorrow of parting welling up in him dissipated right then. As expected, when he lifted his head towards the window, he found Gu XuanYan standing in the courtyard with his sword.

Noticing ZhongYan's eyes on him, Gu XuanYan went over to the window side and asked softly, "A penny for Senior Brother's thoughts?"

Since the window sill ZhongYan was sitting on was a tad higher than the floor, ZhongYan had to lower his head a little to meet Gu XuanYan's eyes. ZhongYan found his elevated viewpoint awkward and felt the two were too close.

Still, instead of getting away, Gu XuanYan raised his head as he waited for ZhongYan's reply. As the two locked gazes, the air around them seemed as though they were recreating a scene of a romantic poem, 'Await the moon below the western chamber, Welcoming the wind, the door is half ajar.'[1]

{1. A poem by Cui YingYing in 'Romance of the Western chamber'. The latter part of the poem: 

Brushing the wall, the shadow of flower moves. I think it is my beloved at the door.

The poem depicts Cui YingYing waiting for her lover, Student Zhang.}

Alas, neither was Gu XuanYan the lover described in the poem, nor did ZhongYan feel as though he was the author of the poem. ZhongYan swayed his legs about on the window sill, "I can't sleep, so I'm moon gazing."

Gu XuanYan seemingly let out a light chuckle, "The back of the mountains is a better spot for moon gazing." As Gu XuanYan noticed ZhongYan looking at him, the amusement in his eyes grew, "There aren't much green plums left there. But I plucked a few some time ago and fermented them. The bottle of wine is buried under the tree; does Senior Brother want it?"
ZhongYan's eyes twinkled, but he still let out a cough, "It's past the curfew hours, so it probably isn't a good idea."

Gu XuanYan nodded solemnly, as if convinced, "Well said, Senior Brother. Forget it then."

ZhongYan was stumped for words.

Gu XuanYan chuckled as he saw the regret on ZhongYan's face before taking half a step back, "Let's go, Senior Brother."

The bright moon hung high in the peaceful night sky. Their hangout was still the same—that particular tree in the back of the mountains. The two shared a bottle of plum wine on the tree.
Back then, they snuck away to pick plums there during the afternoon break. Yet again, right now, they snuck out in the quiet of the night to drink.

When the thought crossed ZhongYan's mind, he realised he hadn't been doing much good whenever he was with Gu XuanYan...

Still, their time together was fun.

Although green plum wine couldn't be considered quality wine, the mix of sweetness and sourness gave it a delectable tang. ZhongYan had always been a lightweight drinker. After three rounds of drinking, the helix of his ear started growing pink. The illumination from the dew-like gentle moon rays made the flush even more noticeable.

Completely unaware, ZhongYan began nagging at Gu XuanYan. "Can you stop trying to kill me? Do you know how hard it is to save both others and myself?"

"Junior Brother, can you stop with your killing? I don't have many points left to be deducted."
"I'm starting to miss my home... how can the Sect Leader think I'm a traitor?! What injustice is this?[2] This is just too much!

{Literally: This is just like the injustice of Dou! From Wiki: The story  is about a child bride turned widow, Dou E, who is wrongly convicted of crimes by a corrupt court official for actions perpetrated by a rejected suitor.}

No way would he utter such nonsense if he were sober. Luckily, words of a drunk were never coherent. Moreover, as ZhongYan's voice was soft, Gu XuanYan couldn't make out much of his ramblings.

Gu XuanYan only responded by taking ZhongYan's cup away, "Senior Brother, you are drunk."

A wave of sleepiness coursed through the giddy ZhongYan as he handed over his cup obediently. However, the worry of Gu XuanYan killing others while he was asleep hit him right after.

Truth be told, if ZhongYan were just a little more sober then, he would realise the present Gu XuanYan wouldn't kill anyone willy nilly nor did he have a nemesis he urgently had to tear into pieces. His wild imagination stemmed from both his drunken stupor and the painful lesson he learnt after being fooled by Gu XuanYan.

Thus, he inched closer to Gu XuanYan and tugged at his sleeves.

Presuming ZhongYan had something to tell, Gu XuanYan turned his head over and asked softly, "Senior Brother, what is it?"

Instead of replying, ZhongYan continued grabbing Gu XuanYan's sleeves for quite a while. As a shred of worry still haunted him after pondering, he decided to simply lie his head down onto Gu XuanYan's lap. Let's see how you can escape this time.

Proud of himself for settling the matter with his wits, the satisfied ZhongYan ended up being overcome by his sleepiness and dozed off right on Gu XuanYan's lap.

Meanwhile, Gu XuanYan was utterly stunned by the action ZhongYan took right after, having no response ever since the question he asked when ZhongYan first tugged his sleeves. Only when ZhongYan's breathing gradually stabilised did Gu XuanYan come back to his senses and gaze at the sleeping ZhongYan on his lap.

ZhongYan's clothes were slightly dishevelled due to him fumbling about just then. With his face flushed red and his chest moving up and down slowly, he appeared to be in a deep sleep

Gu XuanYan couldn't help himself from recollecting. When did I first take notice of him?

It was probably during the night Li YunJi was killed. While delivering tea, he chanced upon Gu XuanYan, who was just done with the murder. Even now, Gu XuanYan could still remember the fear in his eyes. Nonetheless, Gu XuanYan didn't give him any chance to cry for help as he pierced his sword through his left chest instantly.

After all, killing a disciple in Essence Condensation stage was a piece of cake to Gu XuanYan.

Gu XuanYan didn't even feel a ripple in his heart when he attacked. The only thought crossing his mind then was how unlucky that guy was for entering the room at the wrong time.

To Gu XuanYan's surprise, he somehow survived. Having no idea what went wrong, Gu XuanYan was compelled to take notice of him as he planned on silencing him when the right opportunity arose.

In the end, things just got utterly out of hand.

Gu XuanYan began pondering as he drank.

What's so attractive about this guy? He isn't stunning; has a mediocre cultivation base; is full of himself whenever he gets smart; and loses his temper, looking as if he's going to bite, when he gets fooled.

The only positive side of him is probably him saying, "I won't abandon you."

That was the first time Gu XuanYan heard that from someone.

Lurking in the darkness alone for years, Gu XuanYan had never once caught a glimpse of light. However, when he came across a ray of light, he began to hunger for any bit of warmth the world could give him.

Cang Luan discovered this Achilles heel of his, so he used ZhongYan's life to threaten him and was certain he would come to him. The sect leader's undiscriminating conviction further ignited the fires of Gu XuanYan's wrath. Surprisingly, the killing intent flashing across his heart then was even heavier than what he felt when he faced Li YunJi previously.

When desire grows, it brings about weaknesses and allows vulnerabilities to be more noticeable. But, so what?

After finishing the bit of wine in his cup, Gu XuanYan narrowed his eyes as he twirled his winecup in his hand absent-mindedly. He lowered his head to gaze at the ZhongYan on his lap before bending down, kissing him on the lips.

The kiss was light; a mixture of sweetness, sourness and faint smell of alcohol still lingering on his lips.

The autumn wind swept across all over, sending the two's robes fluttering.

Who in the entire universe could stop him?

Neither the Sect Leader, Cang Luan nor the Heavenly Way could.

Chapter 15: Blood Oath


Memories of him clinging tightly onto Gu XuanYan's sleeves and audaciously laying on his lap were wholly wiped off from his mind, let alone any remembrance of how he managed to return to his room. As he spent quite a bit of time attempting to recollect his memories while lying on his bed to no avail, he gave up struggling.

After regulating his breath for a while, he went out to look for Qing You.

Qing You seemingly had converted his quarters into an apothecary shop. ZhongYan circled the entire courtyard, arriving at QingYou's place by following the scent of medicine. In the backyard was QingYou, who was keeping watch on his medicine pots while fanning the fire.

ZhongYan approached him, "Is Junior QingYou boiling medicine again?"

QingYou shot a glance at him, "This is prepared for you and Junior Gu."

After letting out a dry cough and giving QingYou a simple compliment for the good work done, ZhongYan was mindful of his wordings as he asked, "Being a practitioner of medicine for years, has Junior Brother heard of blood oath?"

QingYou stopped his hands from fanning as he wrinkled his brows, "Why does Senior Brother mention this all of a sudden?"

The past ZhongYan would probably spill the beans instantly. However, since Green Summit's current attitude towards him was ambiguous, he didn't wish to implicate QingYou in the matter.

Furthermore, no way would he dare to divulge the complicated relationship he had with Cang Luan and Gu XuanYan, so he could only mumble, "I was just curious."

"Blood oath is a method specifically used by demonic cultivators to form a blood contract. Blood from the heart of the demonic cultivator will be given to the contracted for it to take effect. The contracted, also known as their blood servant, will need to drink their blood every month in order to survive."

QingYou tightly knitted his brows, seemingly adverse to continue. "Demonic cultivators utilise blood oaths to confine their blood servants and force them to do their bidding, so it is the most ruthless form of pacts. What makes Senior Brother ask this out of nowhere?"

"I came across it when I'm reading, so I got curious." ZhongYan continued with his question, "If one gets contracted, how should they break the oath?"
QingYou appeared to have bought into his lies as he heaved a sigh of relief, "Ways to break a blood oath... There's two. One, get the demonic cultivator to break the oath on their own."

Unless Cang Luan got senile, no way would he break the blood oath on his own. Holding no hope from the first answer, ZhongYan asked, "What about the second?"

QingYou hesitated for a while before continuing, "Actually, it can't be considered as another way of breaking a blood oath. If a demonic cultivator with a higher cultivation base than the previous demonic cultivator forms another blood oath with the blood servant, the former blood oath will naturally be nullified. But is this even another way to break a blood oath? It's merely finding a substitute."
Not only had Cang Luan lived for thousands of years, but he was also the ruler of the entire northern wilderness. The number of demonic cultivators stronger than him was a definite zero.

Realising the latter path was utterly sealed shut for him, ZhongYan went silent for a moment before asking yet again, still unwilling to give up, "Is there any other alternative?"

QingYou's answer was resolute, "No."

As further probing would arouse QingYou's suspicion, ZhongYan feigned a relaxed look, "It's never too late to learn; thank you for clearing up my question, Junior Brother."

Just before leaving, ZhongYan took a moment to ponder and turned back to QingYou, "if Gu XuanYan asks Junior Brother anything about blood oath, just reply him with 'no idea.'"

While heading back, ZhongYan commented to the system, [I think I've just been given a death sentence, which will happen one month later.] Since the system didn't respond, ZhongYan continued, [Never did I expect to die at the hands of Cang Luan instead of Gu XuanYan's sword.] Disdain blanketed his face right after, [I'd rather die at the hands of Gu XuanYan than that old pervert.]
The system finally replied, [Don't worry, Gu XuanYan will never get you killed.]

ZhongYan froze, [Why?]

The system gave a faint, indistinct answer, [I always thought the genre of the story I'm under is cultivation, but only after last night did I realise it's actually romance.]

Last night? ZhongYan narrowed his eyes in doubt, "What did I do after I got drunk last night?"

Yet again, the system stopped responding, only letting out a beep slowly after ZhongYan's constant urging, [Leaking of anything related to the plot is not allowed.]

ZhongYan was stumped for words. Can I just lodge a complaint?

Without any choice left, ZhongYan tried his utmost to recall his memories of that night for a long while, but still drew a blank. Thus, his legs set out towards a different direction to find Gu XuanYan.
Well-matched to Gu XuanYan's usual mannerisms, Gu XuanYan's place was exceedingly simple and plain. Just as ZhongYan was about to knock on the door, Gu XuanYan was walking out.

Gu XuanYan appeared to be unsurprised by ZhongYan's arrival as he closed his door, "What brings Senior Brother here?"

ZhongYan poked his head out, looking behind Gu XuanYan, "Can't we chat inside?"

After a momentary stun, Gu XuanYan asked in a low voice, "Senior Brother wants to get inside my room?"

... Somehow, ZhongYan found Gu XuanYan's tone to be rather suggestive. He ended up taking a step back, answering drily, "Never mind; here is fine too."

To ZhongYan's surprise, Gu XuanYan chuckled after ZhongYan finished hemming and hawing about his reason for the visit, "Doesn't Senior Brother remember?"

Seeing the bewilderment on ZhongYan's face, Gu XuanYan leaned on the door, looking as if he was on the spot, "Last night, Senior Brother got drunk, clinging tightly on my sleeves saying..."

Gu XuanYan's peculiar expression frightened ZhongYan, who feared he had leaked out his mission. With his heart in his mouth, ZhongYan threw a hasty question, "What is it?"

Gu XuanYan blinked, "...That Senior Brother will definitely be my Dao partner for the rest of Senior Brother's life."

Fury ignited within the momentarily speechless ZhongYan, "Piss off!"

Knowing not to take the teasing too far, Gu XuanYan softened his voice, appeasing ZhongYan, "Senior Brother, I'm sorry. You dozed off right after getting drunk and said nothing."

Just as ZhongYan heaved a sigh of relief, Gu XuanYan continued gently, "Senior Brother, my cultivation base has started to surge, a sign that I'll be elevating to Lesser Vehicle stage soon. From tomorrow onwards, I'll be in a closed-door training[1]  for three days. Senior Brother, just stay obediently in your place during this time. Don't go anywhere or stir up trouble."

{1. Training in seclusion}

Although ZhongYan found Gu XuanYan's childish pacifying tone to be awkward, he responded with a lighting quick nod, "Got it."

He added a warning, "Be careful, don't fall into Qi Deviation[2]  during the training."

{2. From https://immortalmountain.wordpress.com/glossary/wuxia-xianxia-xuanhuan-terms/ : A state wherein the cultivation base becomes dangerously unstable, causing internal damage to the body and symptoms of psychosis. People who succumb to their Internal Demons, who practice cultivation/martial arts incorrectly, or who rashly use forbidden arts are all at risk of falling into this state.}

Despite receiving a warning that didn't sound well-intentioned, Gu XuanYan nodded with a smile in his eyes, "Senior Brother, let me send you back."

Words failed ZhongYan briefly, "Do you have nothing better to do? Since you're at your place right now, you'll have to get back yet again if you send me back."

ZhongYan seemingly waved his hands in annoyance before leaving. Only after seeing ZhongYan's silhouette vanishing into the bottom of the road did Gu XuanYan wipe off the smile on his face and enter his room.

On his study desk was a book of ancient text. Every of the densely packed words that filled the entire opened page was records of demonic cultivators' blood oath. Gu XuanYan picked up the book and recited an incantation. In a blink of an eye, the book floated in the air and burned into ashes, any traces of it completely disappeared instantly.

In the past, ZhongYan enjoyed strolling in the mountains. However, ever since Gu XuanYan's closed-door training, he had rarely left his place, afraid to be caught up in any kind of incident. Even so, during the second-afternoon of Gu XuanYan's closed-door training, a group of disciples waited by his door.

The disciples bowed, "Senior Qin, Sect Leader has invited you to the training grounds.

As ZhongYan followed behind them, he wished Gu XuanYan was there to witness how everything unfolded. It isn't me getting into trouble, trouble is the one getting into me.

Unfortunately, Gu XuanYan was making a breakthrough in seclusion currently, utterly oblivious of the outside world. Second thoughts surfaced in ZhongYan's mind. Perhaps the Sect Leader decided to get the matter done and over with right away just because Gu XuanYan was in seclusion.

After all, Gu XuanYan did look as though he would stick with ZhongYan through thick and thin when defending ZhongYan that day.

Located right in the middle of Green Summit, the wide, spacious training grounds was made out of white quartz. It was the spot for disciples to train their sword skills. Although it was currently noon break, quite a few disciples gathered by it.

In front of the training grounds were the Sect Leader and Sect Elders, who sat in the middle.

When ZhongYan entered the training grounds, Sect Leader Li XunJi took a step forward, his voice as resounding as a temple bell.

"Qin MingXi, there have been countless whispers circulating the sect these past few days regarding the rumors of you and the demonic sect. Following the Green Summit rules, never should a disciple suffer from any injustice nor should a traitor be allowed to walk among us scot-free. Today, a test will be taken in the eyes of everyone to clear things up right here."

He surveyed the surroundings, continuing to holler after whispers from the crowd died down, "Bring in the Mist-like Sword."

ZhongYan twitched his brows as he sighed at the system, "I guess I don't have to wait for a month."

The guardian weapon of Green Summit, Mist-like Sword consisted of seven swords. Each of the swords was tall, fine and needle sharp, yet as thin as mist. Despite its usual inconspicuous nature, it could detect demonic aura before flying towards the aura and piercing into its target's body instantly. Obviously, no way would ZhongYan be a fool and let seven of the swords pierce him into a pincushion.

He decided to simply kneel, confessing in a clear voice, "Sect Leader, there is indeed demonic aura in this disciple."

Chapter 16: Trial

The crowd within the training grounds erupted into a clamor once Zhong Yan's confession reached their ears. The grim-faced Li XuanJi was the first to holler in rage, "So it really is you!"

Zhong Yan dropped with a thud onto his knees towards the Sect Leader, Li XunJi, "The demonic cultivator Cang Luan had forced a blood oath upon this disciple during the kidnapping in the Northern Wilderness, resulting in the demonic aura. Sect Elder YunJi's death truly has no relations to this disciple. This disciple beseeches Sect Leader to look into this matter."

While the Sect Leader kept his silence, the Sect Elder beside him, Li XuanJi snorted coldly, "Dead man tells no tales, so you can spin whatever tales you want now."

All of a sudden, a voice rang out among the crowd, "Reporting to the Sect Leader, I was the one who treated Senior Qin after his narrowly escaped death at the night of Sect Elder YunJi's demise. At that time, there was indeed no demonic aura within Senior Brother. Moreover, just a few days ago, Senior Brother had asked me questions regarding blood oaths. I beseech Sect Leader to look into this matter!"

Zhong Yan lifted his head and sure enough, it was from Qing You, whose face was blanketed with worry and anxiety as he looked over at Zhong Yan. A friend in need is a friend indeed, but this wasn't the time to speak out. Zhong Yan wrinkled his brows slightly before hinting him with a glance, signalling him to keep mum.

As expected, Qing You's protest ignited a fierier rage in the Sect Leader, "Disciples in the grounds are not to interrupt during Sect Leader and Elders' conference!"

Being imbued with the Sect Leader's cultivation base, the thunderous speech resounded throughout the entire training grounds, muting every disciple instantly.

Only then did the Sect Leader turn towards Zhong Yan, "A disciple in his Essence Condensation stage can somehow flee from the killer of a Sect Elder in his Golden Core stage and yet forget the appearance of the killer? How could there be such a coincidence?"

Knowing what Zhong Yan's signalling meant, Qing You clenched his teeth and kept his mouth shut, planning to retreat away from the crowd instead. Zhong Yan figured out what was on Qing You's mind the moment Qing You moved away, yelling out, "Qing You!"

When Qing You hesitated and returned to his spot, Zhong Yan mumbled out in a low voice, "Don't you go looking for anyone."

As the elders of the sect were some distance away from him, Zhong Yan's interaction with Qing You went unnoticed. Sect Elder WenJi raised his hands to calm the Li XuanJi beside him before rising to his feet, "Qin MingXi, here is your chance to talk. Neither are you a sect elder nor a chief disciple, so explain why Cang Luan wanted to form a blood oath with you."

Unfortunately for Zhong Yan, this particular question was his Achilles' heel.
Never would Zhong Yan spill the beans about Cang Luan viewing him as Gu XuanYan's Dao partner in front of the hundreds of disciples and the three elders of the sect.

Besides, Gu XuanYan was highly reputable in the sect and favored among the elders of the sect. Who knew what chaos would unleash nor how Gu XuanYan's reputation would be affected if the truth was revealed.

Moreover, although TongLing had not appeared in any scene ever since she popped out some time ago when Gu XuanYan and Zhong Yan were in the forest, she was still Gu XuanYan's de facto lover in the story. Won't her fated romance with Gu XuanYan be reduced into shambles if such nonsensical rumors of the two leaked out?
The moment such a thought crossed Zhong Yan's mind, discomfort began growing in his heart.

The peculiar discomfort came out of nowhere, as though a pool of water rumbling up in him.

It's probably because I was fed blood due to them ridiculously viewing me as Gu XuanYan's Dao partner and then was made a scapegoat. And yet, I still need to take Gu XuanYan's reputation into account. What a martyr I am.

Nonetheless, the lengthy silence was the very proof of Zhong Yan's guilt in the eyes of everyone else.

Li XuanJi sneered, "How are we supposed to believe you when here you are, remaining silent even when given a chance to explain? With just your side of the story?"

Zhong Yan kowtowed with a thud once more, "I swear upon Patriarch Lü that Sect Elder YunJi's death had nothing to do with me, nor have I conspired with the demonic cultivators. If not, my cultivation base will be utterly destroyed and I will never ascend."
The oath stirred up an uproar among the crowd of disciples. Some scoffed in disdain, "How dare he swear when the evidence is this damning? Does he have no shame?"

Meanwhile, some began hesitating, "He did have the courage to swear in the name of Patriarch Lü after all, so maybe there seriously is more to this matter than meets the eye."

In no time, the cacophony of whispers rang out incessantly. After the elders of the sects exchanged gazes among themselves, the Sect Leader, Li XunJi, took a step forward, "Silence, disciples."

Everyone in the grounds muted instantly.

Looking at Zhong Yan, he declared, "Since you have sworn in the name of Patriarch Lü, let's have Patriarch Lü make a judgement. The Mist-like Sword exterminates evil and upholds justice, so if you are able to pass its test, this will naturally serve as a proof of Patriarch Lü's blessing. If not, this shows that you have already fallen into the path of demonic cultivation, so the ways of heaven should not be violated."

The momentarily stunned Zhong Yan understood what he meant immediately. Since we don't know if you are innocent, we'll just let Mist-like Sword stab you seven times. If you survive, that means you are innocent. If you die, well, you deserve it.
How can he say that in such a justified, righteous manner? Zhong Yan let out a mocking laugh out of anger, "Sect leader, in that case, there is no need to get the sword. Just straight up kill me and let me serve Patriarch Lü."

With a darkened expression, the Sect Leader bellowed, "Bring in the sword!"

The seven swords that were the Mist-like sword were held in the same chest, which was merely an arm wide due to how long and thin the swords were. In half the time taken to drink a cup of tea[1] , a disciple carried over the sword dutifully.

{1. Half of 10-15 minutes}

The moment the seven swords came into contact with the sunlight after the Sect Leader opened the chest, they began to detect the weak demonic aura within Zhong Yan.

Instantaneously, they trembled softly before whizzing loudly towards Zhong Yan in sequence!

Zhong Yan leaped up with his sword in hand, respect for the elders chucked out of his mind. After cutting down the first sword darting towards his face, he pulled himself back swiftly to dodge the second sword.

Li XuanJi thundered, "Qin MingXi, how dare you draw your sword in front of us sect elders?!"

Busy with hacking away yet another sword, Zhong Yan wasn't aware a sword had just reached his back. As he couldn't dodge in time, the sword pierced right through his right shoulder.

Possessing an aura especially effective in subduing evil, the strike from the mist-like sword triggered the demonic aura within Zhong Yan to begin surging in waves and clashing with Zhong Yan's cultivation base. The collision forced out his vital energy and blood, resulting in a mouthful of blood seeping out of the corners of his mouth.

A groan escaped Zhong Yan. Only after chopping down another oncoming sword did he wipe away the bloodstains near his mouth, "This disciple does not wish to end in an unjustified end, so naturally, going all out is a must."

The fury within Li XuanJi blazed up upon hearing the reply. He turned his palm towards the remaining three swords and directed a palm strike to them, attempting to use his cultivation base to manoeuvre them.

Following which, three swords let out shrilling hums that blared throughout every corner of the world before speeding towards Zhong Yan in unison!

Previously, Zhong Yan still had a fighting chance when dealing with the swords. However, Li XuanJi's vital energy being incorporated into them was akin to them gaining thunderous might.

After trying his very best to slash one of the swords away, Zhong Yan drew back his hands to strike again, but it was too late.

In a blink of an eye, the last two swords had already closed in on him!

At the eleventh hour, a long sword whished over, its sword hum ringing out clearly across the horizon.

It caught the eyes of everyone straight away. A cry could be heard from the crowd, "It's Senior Gu's sword! Senior Gu has exited seclusion!"

Zhong Yan froze for a moment. Accompanied by its azure sword energy, the sword bolted towards the two Mist-like swords! Shockingly, Gu XuanYan's fiercely imposing sword disintegrated Li XuanJi's vital energy in an instant. As the swords smashed into one another, sparks splattered all over. The two Mist-like swords broke off upon impact, reduced into pieces in front of Zhong Yan.

Sailing across the wind, Gu XuanYan flew in and stood beside Zhong Yan.

At a loss, Zhong Yan had his eyes on him, stammering, "Why-why are you here? Isn't tomorrow your..."

Gu XuanYan's reply was concise, "I broke through ahead of time." Once he noticed rivulets of blood spewing profusely from Zhong Yan's right shoulder, his overwhelming pressure started coursing all over.

Pressure from a cultivator in his Lesser Vehicle stage was a terrifying force to be reckoned with. Every disciple groaned while taking steps back, almost losing their footing.

Yet, Gu XuanYan lifted his eyes towards the elders on the stage, as if unaware what his pressure caused.

The Sect Leader, Li XunJi, took a look at Gu XuanYan, his tone much friendlier than the one before, "XuanYan has reached the Lesser Vehicle stage, I see? Congratulations to you."

Instead of thanking his elder, Gu XuanYan threw a question at him, "What are you all doing?"

Not only was his tone empty of its usual gentle politeness, but also, he had shown great disrespect to the sect elders by not addressing them with their proper title.

Li XuanJi roared, "The nerve of you! Even if you are a chief disciple, you are not to interfere when the Sect Leader is disciplining traitors."

Gu XuanYan let out a chuckle, "Isn't it obvious for me to inquire when Sect Leader is disciplining my Dao partner?"

Despite not being loud, his reply was as astounding as a sudden clap of thunder. Even Zhong Yan was dumbfounded beyond belief, let alone all of the disciples present, whose faces were coloured with bewilderment.

Zhong Yan tugged on Gu XuanYan's sleeves, asking, "What did you say?!"

Coincidentally, the Sect Leader hollered the exact same question, "What did you say?!"

Gu XuanYan fastened his eyes on the Sect Leader, his gaze neither aggressive nor yielding, "Demonic Lord Cang Luan coerced Senior Brother to form a blood oath with him so as to threaten me. All of this is brought about by me. if Sect Leader wishes to impose punishment, let me in on it too."

A hush fell over the entire training grounds as every single gaze focused on the two.

The Sect Leader's expression was utterly blackened. Only after being shrouded in silence for quite some time did he declare, "Since there is a reason behind this, I can pardon the matter regarding the blood oath. However, since Qin MingXi has demonic aura within him, he can no longer be considered a disciple of Daoist cultivation. He is to exit the mountains today and no longer be associated with us Green Summit."

A moment of silence later, Gu XuanYan replied, "Rightfully so, Sect Leader."

Zhong Yan's heart sank at once, his mind as blank as a white sheet. However, a thought ran through his mind right after. It makes sense. Gu XuanYan isn't obligated to speak up for me.

The status of Green Summit's chief disciple will provide him with much help. Seeing how intelligent he is, of course he will pick the option that is the most beneficial to him.

Only then did the excruciating pain on his right shoulder start to register in Zhong Yan's mind. Zhong Yan gave a frantic answer, completely forgetting to bow due to the pain, "I'll go on and pack my stuff then..."

Gu XuanYan knitted his brows lightly and held Zhong Yan's hand, his tone gentle, "Senior Brother, wait for me."

Chapter 17: Expulsion

 not remember how the sect treated you during your years of training here? Are you trying to walk out on the sect right after gaining some achievements?"

Gu XuanYan lifted his head towards the Sect Leader. Unexpectedly, he let out a chuckle after a while of silence, "Of course I remember how the sect treated me."

Despite saying so, his tone was void of gratitude, nor did he retract his pressure.

A jolt coursed through Zhong Yan upon hearing that. Afraid Gu XuanYan would settle both old and new scores right there and then once the desire to murder started welling up in him, he urged, "Let's go then."

He headed towards his quarters while tugging Gu XuanYan along, paying no mind the need to bow or any other etiquettes.

Only then did Gu XuanYan draw his pressure back in and followed obediently behind Zhong Yan.

Raging with anger, the sect leader exploded towards the backs of the two, "Fine! If you two set foot down the mountains today, no longer are you two Green Summit's disciples, nor do you two have the right to return to Green Summit!"

Zhong Yan took a subconscious glance at Gu XuanYan, whose sight remained straight ahead. Noticing Zhong Yan's eyes on him, Gu XuanYan directed a comforting smile at Zhong Yan.

Calmness fell upon Zhong Yan in an instant. He turned his head back to the front and walked straight ahead. Truth be told, after a few rounds of circling his room, Zhong Yan realised there wasn't much to be packed; only a few fragments of silver money and a sword.

Although his wound stopped bleeding, quite a bit of blood had stained his robes, prompting him to change his clothes.

Gu XuanYan was waiting by the door for Zhong Yan to finish packing. Once he saw Zhong Yan stepping out, he spoke gently, "Senior Brother, let's go."

By the time they got out of their quarters, a crowd of disciples had already gathered by the roadside. Hesitation clouded over their face as they saw the two nearing them. After a moment of faltering, one of them finally started, "Senior Gu, are you seriously going to leave?"

The question opened the floodgates of the crowd's emotions. As urgency surged through every one of them, they began to clamor instantly.
"Senior Gu, perhaps Sect Leader was just speaking in a fit of rage. How would he have the heart to let you go?"

"Senior Gu, what will happen to Green Summit if you leave?"

Some of the female disciples had tears welling up their eyes, "Senior Gu, We don't want you to leave."

A disciple older than Gu XuanYan coaxed with well-meaning advice, "Junior Gu, just wait for a bit and apologise to the Sect Leader. Perhaps the Sect Leader will soften his heart and let you and your... erm...your..." The disciple glanced at Zhong Yan. After a while of stammering, he still couldn't get the word 'Dao partner' out of his mouth, so he switched up his words instead, "...let you and Senior Qin stay."
In contrast to the crowd's outburst, Gu XuanYan gave a calm and firm answer, "The dice has been cast; I thank all of you." Still, his tone was much better than when he faced the Sect Leader.

Knowing any further persuasion would be pointless upon hearing that, the crowd fell into silence.

Only Qing You, who was standing by a side, squeezed through the crowd to hand a bottle of medicine to Zhong Yan, "For your shoulder wound. Remember to apply it."

A warm tingle spread throughout Zhong Yan's heart as he took the medicine. He raised his hand to give Qing You a pat on the shoulders. Just as he was about to say, 'I'll come back to visit you when I'm free,' he remembered the Sect Leader forbidding them from returning. He changed up his reply, "Come visit me when you are free."

The gloom on Qing You's face dissipated, "The nerve of you to say that."

Still, Qing You didn't outright refuse Zhong Yan.

Since Gu XuanYan and Zhong Yan were expelled from the sect, the Sect Leader ordered everyone not to send them off. The gathering by the roadside could actually be considered a violation.

By the time they reached the gates of Green Summit, not a single soul was near them.
A gaze was all it took to realise the danger lying in Green Summit's mountains. The only route down the mountains was a boundless flight of stairs.

Gu XuanYan tugged on Zhong Yan, his tone soft, "Senior Brother, I'll carry you."

Zhong Yan, who was just about to walk down, looked at him with confusion blanketing his face.

After letting out a sigh, Gu XuanYan pointed at Zhong Yan's shoulder, "It isn't a good idea to walk down a steep staircase while wounded."

Only then did Zhong Yan realise what he meant. "I'm wounded on my shoulder, not my legs." After giving an unconcerned reply, he started heading down.

Still, Gu XuanYan's grip on his hand didn't loosen.

The two remained in a stalemate by the gates for quite some time.

Having a full grasp of Gu XuanYan's personality, Zhong Yan ended up relenting. "I'm really heavy." The moment his helpless warning was out of his mouth, he pounced hard onto Gu XuanYan's back.

The unflinching Gu XuanYan piggybacked Zhong Yan, his tone helpless, "Senior Brother, take it slow. Be careful of your wound."

Zhong Yan feigned as though he didn't catch what he said and placed his hands on Gu XuanYan's shoulders while watching him walking step by step down the stairs.

Beside the stone stairs was a forest of maple trees, which blanketed the stairs with leaves. A majority of them retained their lushness, painting the view of the mountains into a magnificent sea of red reminiscent of a sunset. The autumn breeze sweeping by rustled the red maple leaves.

The two's robes fluttered lightly in the mountain wind, which brought about a slight chill. As Gu XuanYan's back was warm, Zhong Yan didn't feel cold at all. After lying flat on Gu XuanYan's back, he began to count the number of stairs out of boredom.

Due to Gu XuanYan's strong cultivation base, piggybacking a person down the mountain wasn't much of a labor to him. Still, he took his time walking on purpose to avoid bumping into Zhong Yan's wound. By the time the two reached the foot of the mountain, it was already nightfall.

As Zhong Yan jumped down Gu XuanYan back impatiently right away, he bumped onto his wounds accidentally, eliciting a groan out of him.

Brows furrowed, Gu XuanYan lowered his head to check on Zhong Yan's shoulder while asking, "What happened, Senior Brother?"

Due to Gu XuanYan moving nearer to Zhong Yan, the gap between them narrowed all of a sudden. Somehow, Zhong Yan found their proximity a little too close for comfort, so he took a hurried step back, "Nothing."

He tossed a look at Gu XuanYan. Instead of stepping away, Gu XuanYan lifted his gaze as well, peering right into Zhong Yan's eyes. Twilight drenched the two in its colors. Zhong Yan had no idea why but strangely, an out of topic sentence escaped his lips. "Turns out there are three thousand and three hundred steps total for the Green Summit's stairs."

Gu XuanYan froze momentarily, seemingly not expecting that from him, before laughing, "Is that so? I've never counted them."

Finally coming back to his senses, Zhong Yan wished he could just plunge his head straight down onto the ground. Am I an idiot?! Why did I say that?! How lame am I?!

Still, he put up a superficial front, letting out a cough before changing the subject nonchalantly, "The sky is getting dark. Let's go on and find somewhere to stay overnight."

Gu XuanYan finally withdrew himself as well, his tone gentle, "There is a small town nearby. Let's head there and rest in an inn."

Thus, the two strolled along. Awkwardness still plagued Zhong Yan during their stroll. Although he chalked it up to him being dumb, his mind still unconsciously floated back to the flight of long, steep, stony stairs.

There were a total of three thousand and three hundred Green Summit steps, every one of them treaded on by Gu XuanYan while piggybacking him.

Indeed, the town was just a stone's throw away from Green Summit. As Zhong Yan's inner cultivation base was still in a weak state, sword riding wasn't suitable for him. Nonetheless, after just fifteen minutes of trekking, the silhouette of the town walls had already reached their line of sight.

The town, named Even Sun, could be considered populous and affluent. Despite the darkened sky, quite a few pedestrians were roaming around the streets while peddlers of tea stalls and noodles shops frequently hawked by the roadside.

Although the two had their swords slung over them, their appearance wasn't much of a shock to passerbys. After all, Daoist cultivators were prevalent in the southwest, so even civilians were accustomed to the sight of them

The two followed along the path in the streets and entered a random inn, in which a quick-witted waiter went over to greet them. With a bow and his face brimming with joy, he asked, "Welcome, sir cultivators, would you be staying in?"

Gu XuanYan nodded, "One room, please."

The briefly frozen Zhong Yan turned his head towards GuXuanYan, "One? "

Gu XuanYan had his eyes on Zhong Yan too, "What's wrong? "

Erm... Truthfully, Zhong Yan planned on asking Gu XuanYan why he didn't ask for two rooms. However, a look at the composed expression on Gu XuanYan's face, as if the number of rooms was just a trivial matter, lodged the question in his mouth.

He could only advise tactfully, "One room might be a bit too small even if we squeeze."

"Senior brother also shared a room with me during our time in Buddhist Hall," Gu XuanYan's tone was gentle, "so what's wrong with sharing again now?"

That was a question Zhong Yan had no answer to as well. He just found it somewhat awkward; perhaps Gu XuanYan referring to him as his Dao partner in front of a crowd gave him some sort of trauma.

Nonetheless, since Gu XuanYan's reply was so straightforward, it would seem rather strange if Zhong Yan persisted. True that. It's not like we have never slept together before.

The two went up the stairs into their room. Only after closing the doors did Gu XuanYan start, "Senior brother, since we are out of the sect, we have become rogue cultivators and will no longer be under the blessing of Green Summit. Green Summit will also broadcast this news to every sect in the Great Wilderness. And when they do, some trouble makers will probably seek us. For convenience sake, we'll have to share a room during this entire trip." 

Zhong Yan got what he meant right away.

The two were considered to be expelled by the sect. According to the customs, due to their dishonourable morals, expelled disciples must report to all sects of the five cultivation practices. They had to state their severed ties with their former sect and so from then on, their actions, be it positive or negative, had nothing to do with the sect. Moreover, the switch to rogue cultivators meant that they would be the target of many nefarious cultivators, who would murder just to get their victims' cultivation base.

After all, no sects would stick up for murdered rogue cultivators nor would any sect members seek revenge for them, making it convenient and practical.

As the thought passed Zhong Yan's mind, he plunged into a deep self-reflection. Look, Gu XuanYan has already begun considering the future problems we might face, and here I am being troubled about us sharing a room; how short-sighted I am!

Conversely, Gu XuanYan didn't seem to mind much at all as he poured Zhong Yan a cup of tea, "Don't worry, Senior brother. Since I'm here with you, I definitely can protect you well."

Instead of 'will,' Gu XuanYan opted for the word 'can.' His tone was confident in spite of the indifference within it. After all, cultivators who could break through their next stage in advance were as rare as a phoenix's feathers. Moreover, he was presently the only one who managed to elevate to his Lesser Vehicle stage at such a young age.

This is perhaps the confidence of the powerful... the thought crept into Zhong Yan's mind. After a sip of tea, he was compelled to remind Gu XuanYan, "You've promised me not to kill ever again."

Seeing how serious Zhong Yan was, Gu XuanYan couldn't stop himself from laughing, "Of course. Everything Senior brother says is etched into my mind."

The lack of flippancy on Gu XuanYan's face calmed Zhong Yan.

After walking to the bedside, Zhong Yan fished out the medicine Qing You gave him. The sight of Gu XuanYan at the table forced a reminder out of Zhong Yan, "Junior Brother, I'm about to apply my medicine."

As though unaware of the meaning hidden behind Zhong Yan's reminder, Gu XuanYan remained seated at the table while giving Zhong Yan a nod, "Sure."

Zhong Yan was rendered speechless at once.

Seeing the cloud of gloom cast over Zhong Yan, Gu XuanYan stopped his teasing as he continued tenderly, "Senior Brother, go ahead and change your bandage. I'll get us something to eat from downstairs."

After Gu XuanYan went out, Zhong Yan waited till his footsteps got further away before removing his clothes and complaining to the system, [Why do I have a feeling Gu XuanYan is getting weirder by the day?]

The system replied, [Oh? How so?]

Zhong Yan spent a moment pondering, [I just can't put my finger on it... Don't you find him weird?]

[I think you are weirder.] The system countered, [Were you this sensitive when living in a dorm in the past? Did you tell your roommates to leave the room whenever you changed?]  

The call-out left Zhong Yan briefly at a loss for words. [Why do I get a Schadenfreude-like feel from your tone?]

The system's tone was justified, [Nonsense. We never bring our emotions to the workplace.]

The interruption of the topic made the speechless Zhong Yan lose any desire to continue, so he changed the subject. [Gu XuanYan's expulsion from the sect means the plot has already crumbled into bits and pieces. Who knows how things will progress now. I guess me being out of character now should be fine, so from now on, I can just act freely.]

[You went out of character a long time ago.] The system sighed. [Do as you like. The genre of this world had changed anyway.]

[What part of the genre?]

The system's reply was quiet, [The demographic.]

Being left with question marks circling above him, Zhong Yan wished to ask further, but the opening door interrupted him. Gu XuanYan had returned with a few dishes in hand. Noticing Zhong Yan had finished bandaging up, he set the table and had Zhong Yan come over to start the meal.

As Zhong Yan had never visited such small towns, he was planning on taking a stroll outside after the dinner. However, just when they had finished their meal, it began to rain. Falling under the curtain of night, the rain was light but continuous.

A gaze out the window revealed a series of lanterns hanging on every house's eaves. The intersecting rays of light shining out of them extended to a great distance away.

Only teahouses and wine stores were operating then. Since there weren't many customers due to the rain, the waiter propped his head and dozed off at his store.

Occasionally, some young night owls strolled the streets with an umbrella on hand and straw raincoats draped over them. Whenever they stepped on the puddles on the ground by accident, low chuckles rang out under their umbrella, drifting through the rain.

During the time typical for Green Summit disciples to take a rest after their night lessons, an Autumn rain descended upon the Even Sun town, drenching thousands of houses.

Zhong Yan plopped down by the windowsill, commenting in satisfaction after spending a moment gazing outside, "I have never seen the night scene of towns. By the looks of it, a civilian's life doesn't seem all that bad."

Gu XuanYan was beside him, "Even Sun is just a small town. In the future, I'll bring Senior Brother to Long River City to view its long string of lanterns along with its bustling streets and bridge."

Curiosity hooked onto Zhong Yan's mind, "When will we?"

"We'll find a time to."

But I might not have the luxury to wait... Zhong Yan thought.

Although Zhong Yan was slightly disappointed after consulting Qing You about the solutions to blood oaths, he plunged obstinately into the books of Green Summit's library in search for any records of blood oaths. Still, his attempt to find other possible methods was to no avail. Not only were there little to no records of blood oaths, but methods of breaking them were also vague.

Empty-handed after the trip to the library, Zhong Yan came to a conclusion. Except for the two solutions Qing You told him, there was indeed no way out. Despite his train of thoughts straying further away, he still asked, "Since we are already out of Green Summit, can we set out tomorrow?"

The wind began rising, blowing streaks of rain in the window. Gu XuanYan let down the window, his voice light, "If Senior Brother wishes to."

The present affability of Gu XuanYan brought discomfort to Zhong Yan instead. He asked yet again, "Really?"

Instead of answering, Gu XuanYan gave Zhong Yan a smile, "Go to bed, Senior Brother."

Thus, Zhong Yan chose not to pursue the question. He stretched himself, his tone laid back, "Let's turn in early then."

Perhaps due to his wounds and over exhaustion, Zhong Yan was sound asleep, failing to realise the person beside him had gotten up in the middle of the night.

The rain had already stopped, leaving only the pitter-pattering of droplets falling from the eaves. Gu XuanYan pushed the window open. A moment later, a northern goshawk flew over from nowhere, landing lightly on the windowsill.

The goshawk was coated in black; the only colors it had was the blood-red in its eyes. Demonic aura blanketing it scattered all over.

However, as though feeling the pressure of Gu XuanYan, it was as still as a statue, at the discretion of him. Only after Gu XuanYan removed the slip of paper tied on one of its legs did it shake its wings and fly into the darkness.

Gu XuanYan opened the slip of paper, revealing six words.

'A clean room awaits upon arrival.'

Gu XuanYan's expression was composed as he read the message. After reciting an incantation, he threw the paper out the window. In an instant, the slip of paper burned into ashes, falling silently into the rainwater.

Chapter 18: Sneak Attack

As ZhongYan's internal vital Qi had levelled and his shoulder wound had relatively recovered during their four days of stay in Even Sun town, in the morning of the fifth day, they headed to Long River City, situated in the northwest, with Gu XuanYan leading the way.

ZhongYan took his time sword riding with Gu XuanYan. Having never been to Long River City, an affluent city of the Great Wilderness, he was brimming with curiosity about the city. Still, he didn't pose any questions about it to Gu XuanYan.

ZhongYan only stopped himself as he felt that Gu XuanYan's memories of Long River City weren't all that pleasant, so he didn't want to get him to recall those poverty-stricken days just to satisfy his curiosity.

As ZhongYan was not fully recovered, their journey was slow-paced. During the late afternoon, they stopped by a woodland for a break. After handing over some rations to ZhongYan, Gu XuanYan got up, "Senior Brother, I'll find us some water. Don't wander around."

Utterly immune to such commands Gu XuanYan repeatedly gave throughout the journey, ZhongYan gestured a yes with a wave of his hands. When Gu XuanYan's silhouette vanished into the distance, the obedient ZhongYan sat cross-legged under a tree, regulating his breathing.

Due to the lack of wind, the woodland was deadly silent, heightening the senses of anyone within it. Not long after ZhongYan shut his eyes, he felt an abrupt change in the air behind him, as though something was darting straight at him.

Instantly, ZhongYan flipped over and dodged to his left. The missed strike annoyed his attacker, who turned his wrist in an attempt to strike once more. Since ZhongYan had already detected the danger approaching him, he naturally had his defences up. He drew his sword before his attacker could strike and lunged ahead!

Seemingly surprised by the retaliation, the assailant took a few hurried steps back.

Instead of giving chase, ZhongYan remained standing on his spot with his sword after forcing him back, shooting him a provoked look, "Which Daoist sect are you from? How could you attack others at random?"

ZhongYan only realised his attacker was a Daoist cultivator when he received a strike from him.

Initially, he assumed the sneak attack was from a demonic cultivator roaming around the central plains to steal others' cultivation base. However, not only did he feel no demonic aura from the attack, but he also detected the sword style used was that of Daoist cultivation.

Before his attacker could reply, two cultivators whizzed over to them, their tone teasing, "Now that you can't even manage to kill someone in the Essence Condensation stage, are you still not going to admit defeat, Junior Brother?"

The ambusher let out a hmph coldly, a little unwilling to admit defeat, "No way. Let's bet one more time on how many strikes I take to kill him."
By the looks of it, the few of them got bored and so, when they noticed ZhongYan was alone, they made a bet on killing him.

In recent years, the number of cultivators had grown to be as numerous as stars in the skies. With just a bit of negligence, even lowlifes like them could slip in the cultivation circle.

ZhongYan sneered in fury, "What's the fun in that? Why not bet how many strikes I'll take to kill you?"

Enraged, the attacker was just about to draw his sword when someone in the middle of the group stopped him, "Junior brother, hold on." His line of sight turned to ZhongYan, "May I ask for your name? From your outfit, may I assume you to be a rogue cultivator?"
As it wasn't appropriate to continue donning Green Summit's robes after their expulsion, the two bought a few sets of clothes during their stay in Even Sun town. At the moment, they wore moon-white robes that were void of any sect symbols.

Apparently, the group guessed he was a rogue cultivator and so decided to pick on the weak.

ZhongYan snarled, "Qin MingXi."

Once they registered his name in their mind, they froze momentarily before bursting into a series of sneers. One of the trio couldn't help himself from adding, "So you are Gu XuanYan's Dao partner? We've heard so much about you."

All of them started breaking into gales of laughter.

With his sword in hand, ZhongYan shot a cold glare at them. Being referred to as a Dao partner didn't bother him all that much; he simply felt Green Summit had released the news rather swiftly, allowing even scums like them to make a mockery of his relationship with Gu XuanYan now.
The trio in front of him seemed to be unaware of his glare. After giving ZhongYan a shady once over from head to toe, the leader of the group mocked, "He neither has the looks nor high cultivation base. I wonder what's so good about him to make Gu XuanYan walk out of his sect?"

The other two shifted their line of sight towards ZhongYan as well, snickering.

Guessing Gu XuanYan would be back soon from the time he went off, ZhongYan let out a sigh, "It's best for you all to stop it."

As all of them had much stronger cultivation bases than ZhongYan, with one of them being in the early Golden Core stage, no way would they heed his advice. On the contrary, their mocking became cruder and more explicit. The attacker from before smirked, "Isn't that obvious? Of course it's when they are practising dual cultivation..."[1]

{1. Dual Cultivation: two cultivating via s.εメ.}

Before he could finish, an azure sword aura streaked towards him and pierced his abdomen from behind! Caught off guard, he vomited a mouthful of blood instantly before plunging his knees onto the ground!

Despite the materialisation of sword aura, no presence could be felt. A mixture of shock and anger clouded over the other two as they helped their injured companion up in a flurry before hollering, "Who goes there?!"
Gu XuanYan landed beside ZhongYan. Instead of looking at the group, he chided ZhongYan gently, "Senior Brother, didn't I tell you not to wander around?"

ZhongYan felt begrudged, "...It seriously isn't me this time."

The addressing of ZhongYan as Senior Brother revealed Gu XuanYan's identity right away.

Despite fear creeping up to them, they still couldn't find it in them to stomach the humiliation. One of the trio scoffed, "Gu XuanYan is just one of those unscrupulous scoundrels who are only capable of sneak attacks, I see?"

ZhongYan couldn't help but laugh, "So you know sneak attacks are unscrupulous too?"

The checkmate soured the group instantly. Still, one of them yelled in preservation of his pride, "No matter what we do, we are disciples of the Dark Mountain Sect, while you two are just ex-disciples Green Summit expelled. How dare you rogue cultivators injure us?"

Not only did his warning point out their sect, but also mentioned Gu XuanYan's current status. Essentially, he just wanted to highlight the two having no sect to back them up, while they were legitimate disciples of a sect. If Gu XuanYan dared to hurt them, their entire sect would regard them as their enemy.

Basically, it was just an empty show of strength out of fear.

Only then did Gu XuanYan sweep a glance at them. To their surprise, he asked curiously with a hint of a smile on his eyes, as if unaware of the meaning hidden behind the warning, "Dark Mountain? Is that a Sect?"

His question darkened the trio's faces.

Instead of waiting for their answer, Gu XuanYan continued, "Well, it's not like any connections to sects would matter for you all after today."

Within the millisecond he took to lift his gaze, his pressure began brimming out, his killing intent about to emerge right after.

Seeing things going south, ZhongYan hurriedly reminded, "You promised..."

Gu XuanYan cut him off with a reply as gentle as a breeze, "Alright."

The trio had no idea what their short conversation meant.

In a blink of an eye, a long sword darted right in front of them, its sword aura overwhelming.

The Golden Core disciple gnashed his teeth while parrying the blow, his mouth began seeping blood immediately. Under a life and death crisis, the two of the trio ended up choosing to abandon the injured, backing away at top speed individually!

Nonetheless, outrunning the sword of a cultivator in the Lesser Vehicle stage was impossible for them. Gu XuanYan's sword didn't pierce them during his second strike. Rather, its surging sword aura plunged with the strength of a tsunami, knocking down the trio continually.

Instantly, the three of them crashed their knees onto the ground.

Still, Gu XuanYan did not withdraw his mountain-like pressure, which ended up breaking their vital energy!

The moment their vital energy broke, their cultivation base began pouring out like a stream of water, dispersing to the earth.

Not only did the cultivation base of the Golden Core disciple seeped out, but his one and only golden core that was formed not too long ago flowed out along with it too. The moment it left him, it was crushed into smithereens under Gu XuanYan's pressure.

In no time, the unconscious bodies of the trio were empty of any cultivation base.

Although the sudden change of events was swift, it concluded even faster.

ZhongYan's jaws hung open, not knowing what to say.

After sheathing his sword, Gu XuanYan returned to ZhongYan's side. Noticing his gaze on him, Gu XuanYan started, "Senior Brother, I didn't kill any one of them. They will wake up a bit later."

There was even a hint of smugness in his tone.

Yeah. When the trio wake up, they will realise there isn't even a drop of cultivation base left within them. Daoist cultivators who had their cultivation base utterly depleted are worse off than civilians.

ZhongYan was at a loss for words. You might as well kill them at this point

Still, the emotionally exhausted ZhongYan had no choice but to negotiate with the system. [Like he said, they didn't die, so points won't be deducted right?] Even he felt guilty for saying that.

After staying silent for a while, the system replied. [You two sure are geniuses in finding loopholes...]

Overwhelming strain blanketed ZhongYan. Although no points would be deducted, ZhongYan still tossed a heavy-hearted look at Gu XuanYan.

Whenever ZhongYan thought he was about to lead Gu XuanYan back to the right path successfully, he would always stir up some trouble, making ZhongYan feel he was just a step away from turning downright evil.

Having no idea what was weighing down ZhongYan, Gu XuanYan suggested gently, "If Senior Brother has rested up, let's continue with our journey."

Chapter 19: Exposed Lies

"Continue on?" After a glance at the unconscious trio sprawling on the ground, Zhong Yan shifted his line of sight to Gu XuanYan, asking with hesitation, "What about them? Within just two days, the entire cultivation circle will know about your destruction of their cultivation bases."

Although the trio were the ones initiating the fight with a sneak attack and threw nasty insults, the current standings of Zhong Yan and Gu XuanYan were too sticky and awkward. Moreover, due to how brutal Gu XuanYan was with his strikes, some within the Daoist cultivation circle might not be on their side.

In all likelihood, a vast majority would not be on their side.

Still, Gu XuanYan only replied with, "Perhaps."

"Don't you mind?"

Gu XuanYan raised his brows a little, "Why should I?"

Zhong Yan had no words to retort. Only then did it cross his mind that, to Gu XuanYan, no one's life mattered much to him, nor did he pay any mind to others' opinions of him.

In the original story, his every step at pretence was just to provide himself with a bit more convenience when going on with his daily life. Now that he had been expelled from the sect, he did not need to put up a facade anymore and so, had even lesser concern when doing anything.

That's not all that bad... At least if I seriously can't find a way to break the blood oath and kick the bucket one month later, Gu XuanYan won't get too upset.

Both of them continued sword riding with Gu XuanYan leading the way and Zhong Yan following him.

The autumn rain has been pouring down continually in the past few days. Although the sky had just cleared up, clouds and mist enveloped the sky. Situated up in the air, Zhong Yan took a look down, but only a blanket of white fog filled his line of sight.

After journeying for god knew how long, Zhong Yan couldn't help but suggest, "Let's go down and take a break."

Gu XuanYan tilted his head, "Is Senior Brother tired?"

"Not really... I just want to take a look where we are now."

A pause later, Gu XuanYan replied, "We've probably entered the borders of the northwest."

Typically, Zhong Yan wouldn't press on after getting such an answer from Gu XuanYan. However, perhaps due to him being unable to catch a glimpse of the ground during the journeying, seeds of unease began growing within him, "I want to head down and rest."

After a while, Gu XuanYan nodded.

The two flew down and landed right on an intersection. Within the wasteland were three branches of roads stretching out into the endless distance.

By the roadside was a tea stall with a straw roof and two or three sets of tables and chairs around it. An elderly in their fifties or sixties was leaning hunchbacked on the counter, fiddling with an abacus.

Gu XuanYan suggested, "Senior Brother, let's have a cup of tea."

Zhong Yan replied with a nod. Just as they took a seat at the table, the elderly carried a teapot and set it on their table.

Perhaps due to the rain from moments ago or him being in the midst of a wasteland, Zhong Yan felt a wave of utterly damp chilliness surging over him, sending slight coldness to his limbs.

Gu XuanYan seemed to have noticed his unease as he asked, "What's wrong?"
A short hesitation later, Zhong Yan answered, "I just had a feeling it's a bit too cold."

"Since it's mid autumn and Long River City is at the northwest, it's natural for us to feel a bit colder than our time in Green Summit during our journey there." Gu XuanYan handed a cup of tea to Zhong Yan, "Here, Senior Brother. Have a hot cup of tea."

After finishing the tea in gulps, Zhong Yan couldn't help but ask, "How long before we get there?"

Gu XuanYan raised his line of sight and smiled, this time gently, "Soon."

Nonetheless, instead of being relieved, his heart was brimming with worry. Yet, he had no idea where the stream of anxiety came from. "Let's hurry along then." He placed the teacup down, before fishing out some silver money to foot the bill.

The elderly stall owner was still fiddling with their abacus, uttering hoarsely without looking at Zhong Yan, "Five copper coins."
Zhong Yan undid his pouch and set down a few coins before tying it back by his waist. However, a moment of inattention resulted in his silver money and coins slipping out of his pouch, falling onto the ground.

Only then did Zhong Yan detect something was amiss.

Beneath the tea stall was soil and dirt, which were slightly damp from the rain. Yet, when the coins hit the ground, crisp clinks sounded out instead, as though they landed on a smooth, hard surface.

Still, the elderly stall owner leaning by the counter wasn't looking at him as they continued fiddling the abacus.

The only response he got was from Gu XuanYan, who called out behind him, "Senior Brother."
A warning alarm began blasting inside Zhong Yan's mind. Instantly, he unsheathed his sword and launched a strike at one of the wooden tables in the tea stall. As expected, instead of breaking into bits and pieces from the sword aura, the table began disintegrating into a ball of mist, scattering away right in front of Zhong Yan's eyes.

Such a scene was no stranger to Zhong Yan, who had seen it once at the icy plains.

He lifted his eyes and hollered, "Gu XuanYan!"

Immediately, the muddy road, tables, chairs, counter, and even the tea stall owner disintegrated into mist before vanishing into thin air. The soil under Zhong Yan transformed into solid ice, icy plains extending out to every direction as far as the eye could see.

At present, the two were in the depths of North Wilderness.

Gu XuanYan got in front of Zhong Yan in a blink of an eye, raising his hand to disarm Zhong Yan. He sighed, "It's indeed a bit too difficult to set an illusionary boundary on the entire icy plains. Just a bit of carelessness and a slip-up will arise."

Is this even the time to care about that?! As Zhong Yan was robbed of his sword, he simply thrusted his raised leg at Gu XuanYan, who took on the kick head-on.

Pressure began pouring out of Gu XuanYan in torrents, immobilising Zhong Yan.

"My initial plan was to let Senior Brother enter Northern Wilderness on your own, but alas, Senior Brother has wised up."

Blazing with fury, Zhong Yan bellowed, "You tricked me into coming here!"

Gu XuanYan's tone was as delicate as can be, "It's my fault."

Despite his apology, he did not withdraw his pressure. Zhong Yan decided to give him a straight punch since he wasn't able to utilise his cultivation base due to his restrained vital energy, but he realised he couldn't even lift his arm.

Gu XuanYan chuckled lightly, "Senior Brother, there's no point struggling."

The thought of the tea Gu XuanYan handed to him moments ago sprung up within Zhong Yan.

Gu XuanYan seemed to have guessed what was on Zhong Yan's mind, "Don't worry, Senior Brother. It's just a bit of medicine. Its effects will go away soon enough."

To Zhong Yan's surprise, Gu XuanYan carried him straight away, cradling him in his arms while flying towards the north. Fury welled up in Zhong Yan as he demanded through clenched teeth, "Let me down!"

Gu XuanYan' tone was still as gentle as ever, "Just wait a bit more, Senior Brother."

As they were conversing, Gu XuanYan had already carried Zhong Yan over to the palace gates.

Any traces of the quaking from their previous battle with the Demonic Lord had utterly vanished from the jewellery-filled palace. A few demonic cultivators were waiting by the gates in advance, serving as their maids. Once they noticed the two, they greeted them with a bow before leading the way in silence.

After passing through two winding corridors, the two arrived at a courtyard, where the guiding maids came to a stop.

Similar to the palace, the courtyard was adorned with ice sculptures and built with jades.

Gu XuanYan pushed open the door of the room inside the courtyard with Zhong Yan in his arms before setting him down and standing by the bed.

Currently, he had withdrawn his pressure. The moment Zhong Yan was released from his immobilisation, he kicked his leg over. However, as his body was still empty of energy, his kick didn't even manage to touch his target's sleeves. Zhong Yan seethed, "What exactly are you trying to do?!"

"Break Senior Brother's blood oath."

Zhong Yan was stunned briefly, "As I said, it doesn't matter..."

Gu XuanYan's expression darkened a little, "Is Senior Brother still planning on lying to me?"

Rendered speechless for a moment, Zhong Yan spitted out, "What do you plan on doing then? Are you seriously going to kill others for Cang Luan?"

Gu XuanYan lightened up his face as he answered unhurriedly, "Since I have promised Senior Brother never to kill anyone, of course I will keep my word." A short pause later, he continued, "I'm going to practice demonic cultivation."

Shock coursed through Zhong Yan's heart as he hollered, "Don't you dare!"

"Senior Brother, there is nothing in this world that I dare not to do." After a momentary pause, Gu XuanYan had a sudden ghost of a smile spreading across his face, "Actually, there is. Evil intentions hide within my heart, but I don't dare to reveal it to Senior Brother since Senior Brother might get angry."

Zhong Yan sneered, flames of fury blazing in him, "Not only did you trick me into entering Northern Wilderness, but you have also set your heart on practising demonic cultivation. What won't you dare to do?"

Gu XuanYan tilted his head with his eyes on Zhong Yan, seemingly pondering for a moment, before laughing out. His voice was tender, "Well said, Senior Brother. Since all has been said and done, there isn't any point in holding back."

Gu XuanYan pounced over, pressing Zhong Yan's hands onto the bedhead. Sensing things had gone south, Zhong Yan inched back, snapping, "What are you-mmph!"

The rest of the question got lodged in his mouth by Gu XuanYan.

Unlike the refined, gentlemanly appearance Gu XuanYan usually had, the kiss was fierce and aggressive, wantonly invading every inch of Zhong Yan's lips.

With his movements restrained, Zhong Yan was forced to have his tongue intertwined with Gu XuanYan's. Frankly speaking, 'forced' wasn't all that accurate in describing his current state, as his mind was as blank as a sheet of paper presently. He could only follow along with Gu XuanYan's movements while letting out a series of soft moans.

Quite sometime later, Gu XuanYan's finally released Zhong Yan from the kiss and slid downwards. He fondled Zhong Yan's neck for a little before biting down hard.

With the pain snapping Zhong Yan back to reality, he lunged his leg at the person on top of him yet again. At last, his kick managed to land on his target.

Instead of getting pissed, Gu XuanYan straightened up a little as he let out a low chuckle. "Senior Brother, during the time we narrowly escaped death at the icy plains, I made you guess why I went over to save you. You said it was because compassion and benevolence lie within my heart."

Zhong Yan lifted his eyes towards Gu XuanYan, his robes in disarray and his breathing rapid.

Seemingly fond of Zhong Yan's appearance right then, Gu XuanYan reached out his hand to tidy Zhong Yan's tousled locks of hair, his tone as gentle as ever, "Senior Brother, you got it wrong. There isn't any benevolence or compassion within my heart, let alone any desire to not get innocents involved. I'll show compassion if that'll win your favor. If I can save your life by practising demonic cultivation, I will not hesitate to do so too."

Gu XuanYan continued, "The goal of a Daoist cultivator is to ascend while a demonic cultivator aims to be immortal. But I have no interest in either of that; Senior Brother is the only person I want."

Waves of emotions surged through Zhong Yan's heart like a raging torrent. He dazed at Gu XuanYan, whose eyes were also focused on him.

Gu XuanYan blossomed out a smile that could thaw snow.

"Senior Brother must always be with me, no matter alive or dead, ascended or demonic."

Author's note:

I thought it would be heart-wrenching during the part when Junior Brother gets caught practising demonic cultivation, but in the end, the two of them went totally out of my control, getting all lovey-dovey. Hmph.

Chapter 20: Venting on the System

All the while, Zhong Yan had been treading his every step with caution, afraid Gu XuanYan would take a sudden turn to the path of evil. However, never would he have imagined such a scenario would play out even if he tried speculating thousands of times.

He propped himself up the bed, a barrage of bolded sans serif comments flying across his mind.

How to deal with a villain that suddenly turned into an utterly love struck gay? Urgent! Staying online for an answer!

Only after some time had passed did Zhong Yan force himself back to reality, his voice hoarse, "When did you..."

He didn't even dare to lift his line of sight towards Gu XuanYan when asking.

Gu XuanYan's low chuckle entered his ears, "When? I had no idea either. Perhaps a long time ago."

Chaos whirled in the momentarily muted Zhong Yan's mind.

Seemingly not minding if Zhong Yan replied, Gu XuanYan straightened Zhong Yan's dishevelled clothes before reaching his hand out to caress his face. "Senior Brother, I have something on. Rest. When the medicine's effect subsides, Senior Brother will be able to move freely. But I still can't release Senior Brother's cultivation base for now."

Gu XuanYan made an incantation gesture right after. Caught off guard, Zhong Yan felt a wave of sleepiness hitting him, not even able to open his heavy eyelids. With his head tilted, he fell onto Gu XuanYan's side

When the person beside him was sound asleep, Gu XuanYan set him carefully onto the bed and tucked him in. With everything done, he exited the courtyard. The guiding demonic cultivators were still waiting by the door. Gu XuanYan swept a glance at them, "I want to meet Cang Luan."

Despite him calling out Cang Luan's name directly, the group of demonic cultivators didn't dare to dissent. Instead, all of them lowered their heads, "My Lord has been waiting for you."

Cang Luan had seemingly gotten even more emaciated as compared to the last time they met, his complexion practically empty of color. He leaned lazily on the jade throne in the palace. When he saw Gu XuanYan, he merely lifted his gaze, "Here you are."

Gu XuanYan cut to the chase, "I want to practice demonic cultivation."

Cang Luan straightened up a little, "I certainly can assist you if you wish to practice it. After all, I assisted Chun Qin and Li YunJi previously. But they were able to get golden cores for me; what can you do for me? Besides, how can I trust you to do my bidding sincerely?"

"I have destroyed three Daoist cultivators' cultivation bases on my way here while crushing a golden core from one of them." Gu XuanYan's tone was indifferent, "Since even those two could get golden cores for you, there's no doubt I can do so as well."

Gu XuanYan raised his eyes towards Cang Luan. "Besides, even though I can kill you right now, I chose not to."

Despite the lack of emotions, Gu XuanYan's reply sounded undisputable. With a piercingly icy expression, Cang Luan flashed a glare at Gu XuanYan, who stared back with indifference instead of averting his eyes.

Quite sometime later, Cang Luan chose to retract his glare first, replacing it with a smile, "I can provide you with the cultivation methods, but I do not need you to murder and get cores for me. You do remember Amoghavajra Buddhist Hall, don't you?" Cang Luan explained, "A total of nine eminent monks had managed to ascend and head west to welcome their ista-devatas(favourite deities) ever since Amoghavajra Buddhist Hall was founded. All of their relics were stored in the Merciful Pagoda of the Buddhist Hall."

Cang Luan shifted his gaze towards Gu XuanYan, slowing down his speech, "I want you to bring their relics to me at Northern Wilderness after you succeed in practising demonic cultivation."

There wasn't much of an expression on Gu XuanYan's face, "No wonder Chun Qin attended Sage Shi Yin's congratulatory ceremony."

Cang Luan sighed, seemingly finding it unfortunate, "That's right. It's a pity he got killed by you before he could get me them. So, I can only have you to finish his mission."
Gu XuanYan gave a nod, "Fine. But I can only give you up to two months to complete it."

"Fine." With a chuckle, Gu XuanYan repeated before heading out of the palace's gates.

When Gu XuanYan's figure vanished into the distance, a black-robed demonic cultivator materialised in the hall. After a respectful bow at Cang Luan, he straightened up, "My Lord, can he be trusted?"

"No." Cang Luan lazed back onto his throne, "But if he wants that Qin MingXi to survive, he has no choice but to take my orders."

A moment of hesitation later, the elder spoke up, "But apart from taking Milord's blood, there is another solution..."
Cang Luan tilted his head at the elder, his voice light, "So you think Gu XuanYan can advance into a stronger demonic cultivator than me?"

In contrast to his feeble tone, a horrifying pressure weighed down the moment he spoke. The elder's knees plunged onto the floor instantly, unable to remain upright due to the pressure. His voice was hoarse, "My Lord, that was not what I meant."

After a moment, Cang Luan finally retracted his pressure, relieving the elder from its massive weight. Only then did the elder notice the back of his clothes was drenched in cold sweat.

Cang Luan let out two coughs. His tone was as soft as ever, as though the pressure descended just then was just a figment of imagination. "Don't you worry. I gave him a deadline of two months and will keep him until he gets me the relics. When I have them, I'll become an invincible immortal. Then, I will..."

The rest of Cang Luan's words were as faint as could be, receding into the palace.

An influx of giddiness still plagued Zhong Yan by the time he woke up. Only after staring at the cotton drapes and bright pearls above him for a long time did he remember his current location.

Under the veil of the translucent bed curtains, Zhong Yan held his breath for a short while, confirming that no one except for him was in the room. God knew where Gu XuanYan had gone off to.

Zhong Yan's head began throbbing faintly once Gu XuanYan entered his mind.

Despite his outburst of rage, he was indeed touched when Gu XuanYan revealed he had gone to the Northern Wilderness with him just to break his blood oath. His thoughts even drifted away to how well Gu XuanYan treated his friends in spite of his apathy to others.

However, Gu XuanYan's subsequent reply and actions shook him to the core, shutting down his mind. His hand reached out subconsciously to touch his neck; the bite from yesterday had left a trace mark that was still there.

Once he was aware of his action, he dropped his hands in a hurry. Somehow, a handful of unease and fury began flooding his veins. Although Gu XuanYan appeared to be brimming with sincerity then, his constant trickery still riled Zhong Yan up. Moreover, being forcefully kissed wasn't quite a pleasant experience for a guy.

Since the culprit of his insatiable wrath was absent, Zhong Yan got ready to unleash his rage on a certain someone. He questioned the system, a detached look plastered on his face. [You knew about this quite some time ago, right?]

He garnered no response from the empty room.

Zhong Yan bellowed, [Don't play dead and come out right now! You are so going to get a beating!]

Knowing that avoiding was not an option, the system finally whispered after remaining speechless for a while, [Calm down.]

[How can I?! I've transmigrated over here just to prevent him from doing anything bad. And now, not only is he doing just that, he plans on doing me too!]

[Come on... I'm just a kid.]

[Oh, piss off...] Zhong Yan wasn't swayed at all. [Did you know about this long ago?]

The system proclaimed its innocence in a hurry. [I did give you some subtle hints. Besides, Gu XuanYan has been acting weird since a long time ago; you just overlooked it.]

Zhong Yan pressed onto his head as he recalled again. Is it when Gu XuanYan piggybacked me during the three thousand plus steps of stairs? Or did it start during the drunken moon-viewing? Or was it even further ahead? When we narrowly escape death at the icy plains? Or was it during the time we encountered the white ape, when Gu XuanYan planned on killing me but ended up going back on it all of a sudden?

...now that I think of it, things had taken a strange turn ever since the beginning!

Bathed in despair, Zhong Yan muttered to himself, "I'm so, so dumb. The only thing I had in mind was to prevent him from turning evil and swing him back to the right path. But in the end, I got him to swing the other way. The butterfly effect sure is scary! I shouldn't have blindly replaced Tong Ling's spot in the story!"

Of course, Zhong Yan knew the only spot he took was the part when he got kidnapped in the icy plains.

Ultimately, things probably developed into the way they were because Zhong Yan practically glued himself onto Gu XuanYan every single day to nip off any chances of him murdering.

It might even be due to the few words he said off the cuff to appease Gu XuanYan.

Such as, 'I won't abandon you here.'

Or, 'I'll be by your side all the time, I swear.'

Why didn't I notice the gust of gayness blowing by then...?

Detecting Zhong Yan was at a loss, the system couldn't help comforting. [Think positive; at least Gu XuanYan likes you now, so he will listen to you.]

Zhong Yan's tone was aloof. [If he seriously listens to me, he wouldn't have tricked me into entering Northern Wilderness.]

As Zhong Yan wiggled his arms and legs, he realised quite a bit of strength had returned to him.

Temporarily chucking all of that nonsense to the back of his mind, Zhong Yan got down the bed and strolled towards the door, attempting to push it open. It was to no avail. Two more attempts still yielded the same result; Gu XuanYan probably cast a spell on the door to prevent Zhong Yan from fleeing.

The unsurprised Zhong Yan withdrew his hand. [Heh... Confessing with this attitude? Will he just lock me up whenever we fight in the future?]

After a moment of silence, the system couldn't help murmuring. [You sure are farsighted, huh?]

Zhong Yan was stumped for words.
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