At this moment, several thoughts flashed through Song Ci’s mind. He froze for a moment, then blurted out, “Where?”
Looking blank, Wen Changchu subconsciously pointed to the other side. “Over there…”
Song Ci looked in the direction he had pointed to and saw only bloodstains on the wall and debris scattered all over the floor. Not a single spot in the large room was clean, apparently the aftermath of the fight between the demonic beast and Wen Changchu.
There did not seem to be any place that could contain the Devil Seal fragment.
Wen Changchu saw the doubt on Song Ci’s face and said, “Not here. I’ll take you there.”
His robe was soaked in blood. Just a little closer, and Song Ci could smell the overpowering stench of blood. Song Ci’s nose was sensitive, and the stench overwhelmed him as he followed Wen Changchu across the broken wall. “Where have you been these past two days? You didn’t get caught by Qingyuan, did you? Is the injury on your back better?”
“It has long healed.” Wen Changchu made nothing out of it and said, “I used my quick wit to escape to Zhu Yishu’s room. He saved me.”
That day, Zhu Yishu had been alarmed when he emerged behind the screen with his robe draped around him and saw a bloodied Wen Changchu.
Wen Changchu was still vigorous and making vicious remarks about Qingyuan a moment ago. But as soon as he saw Zhu Yishu, he coughed out a big mouthful of blood and looked so weak it was as if he was on the verge of dying. He cried out for help pitifully, “Zhu shizhang, save me…”
Then he closed his eyes and passed out, thumping his head on the ground with a loud thud. Zhu Yishu was so startled his eyelids twitched.
He hurried over to Wen Changchu’s side and saw a terrifying slash on his entire back. He was still bleeding, and his breath was weak.
Elder Qingyuan was the only one in Mo Yao who used the whip as a weapon. Zhu Yishu furrowed his brows. Without any hesitation, he crouched down, turned Wen Changchu over and carried him up. The warm blood stained his clean robe, but he paid no attention to it as he carried Wen Changchu straight to the bed.
The incense burner was still lit in the room, and everything in the room, including the candlewick of the altar lamp, was infused with a faint fragrance. It smelled just like Zhu Yishu, gentle and pure.
The quilt still had lingering warmth on it, and Wen Changchu’s blood stained it red. Instead of bemoaning the ruined quilt, Zhu Yishu used two fingers to tap both sides of Wen Changchu’s shoulders. A pale blue light spread and instantly stopped the flow of blood on his back.
It was only at this point Wen Changchu breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing that he was in good hands, he passed out for real.
When he woke up, he was still lying on Zhu Yishu’s bed. His clothes had been changed, and even the wound on his back had been bandaged. Zhu Yishu was sitting at a side reading.
Sensing that Wen Changchu had woken up, he first asked Wen Changchu whether he was hungry or thirsty before asking him why he had escaped here with serious injuries.
Naturally, Wen Changchu did not say that it was because he had run into Qingyuan when he sneaked into the back mountain in the middle of the night instead of sleeping. So he casually made up a lie, saying that he had peeked at Elder Qingyuan bathing and gotten himself a whipping when he was found out.
Song Ci sighed when he heard this. Although Wen Changchu usually seemed like he was out of his mind, he still had some smarts. If he had told the truth, then it was likely that Zhu Yishu would haul him by his neck to Qingyuan to apologize and receive his punishment.
But when it came to peeping this kind of matter, it was inconvenient to make a fuss of it. After all, the fewer people know, the better. Zhu Yishu would understand the need to keep others from finding out that Elder Qingyuan had been peeped at while she bathed.
Zhu Yishu was obviously an honest man. He thought back to the day he had caught Wen Changchu red-handed. Then, Wen Changchu had been furtively peeping through Elder Qingyuan’s window. Thus, he did not doubt Wen Changchu’s words this time and frowned. “This is simply ridiculous!”
“Indeed.” Wen Changchu pretended to be chagrined. “Elder Qingyuan’s body is only so-so. It doesn’t protrude where it should and doesn’t stick out where it should. Especially those pair in front…”
He extended his hand and gestured before his chest, making a show of an appraisal. “They are so saggy they almost touched the floor—”
Before he could finish his words, Zhu Yishu whacked him hard on his head. Wen Changchu let out a yelp of pain as he shielded his head. He looked up and saw that Zhu Yishu’s ears were red even as he pushed himself to remain calm. “You’re young, and yet you’re learning all the bad stuff. You’re simply, simply…”
After repeating “simply” for half the day without finding a suitable description, he said in exasperation, “You are too disrespectful to Elder Qingyuan. You must be severely punished!”
On hearing this, Wen Changchu immediately tucked his head into the quilt and wailed, “Oh, gosh—my back hurts!”
Zhu Yishu was at a loss. Afraid that Wen Changchu would make a scene on the bed and tear his wound open, he could only come to a temporary compromise and wait for him to recover before deciding. Thus, he let Wen Changchu stay in his room for a few days to recuperate.
But the Mo Yao bell rang and chaos broke out before he could take Wen Changchu to admit his guilt. So, Zhu Yishu arranged for him to remain in the room while he took his sword to join the battle on the frontline.
Wen Changchu seized the chance to sneak out, coming across Song Ci in the process.
Song Ci’s face burned when he heard Wen Changchu speak of Qingyuan. He said nothing.
As he followed Wen Changchu, he saw signs of combat the entire way. It was evident that Wen Changchu had a big fight with the demonic beast. The two had fought for quite a long distance.
Wen Changchu seemed to guess what Song Ci was thinking. He grunted, “If it weren’t for my injuries, that kind of minor demonic beast I…”
“You can eliminate it just by moving your fingers. I know. I know.” Song Ci continued Wen Changchu’s sentence, then probed him. “Where are you taking me? Where is the Devil Seal fragment you mentioned?”
“What’s your hurry? Aren’t we on the way now?” Wen Changchu quickened his pace and led Song Ci around a corner before stopping in front of a courtyard. He raised his chin. “Here we are.”
Saying so, he raised his hand to push the door open and stepped in without a care. “Right here.”
Song Ci looked up and saw that the house in front of him was not the same as the other houses. In fact, the residences of each elder and shizhang were different. This place was obviously much simpler; it seemed like a place that an aged elder would like.
But then, the plaque on the door read: Li Yan Pavillon.
“Is this Dai Yanxing’s residence?” Song Ci followed him into the room and asked, “Will that thing be here?”
“It can’t be wrong.” Wen Changchu said, “Zhu Yishu’s residence is not that far away. I searched for it a building at a time.”
“You’re indeed a blind cat stumbling upon a dead mouse.1 Your luck is pretty good.” Song Ci shook his head and sighed.
They stopped in front of a lantern as they spoke.
Dai Yanxing’s room was extremely simple. The room was illuminated by several lanterns. Other than a table, a chair, and a bed, there was nothing else.
There were some lanterns hung on the pillar, but there was nothing special about them. Wen Changchu stopped before this particularly common lantern. Song Ci looked it over several times but could not tell what was so special about it. He wondered in astonishment, “Here?”
Wen Changchu nodded. “In the wick.”
“Then take it out.” Song Ci was skeptical.
Unexpectedly, Wen Changchu fell silent on hearing this. He cast a glance at Song Ci and whispered, “I want to take it out too, but it’s not that simple…”
Seeing that Wen Changchu looked as if he was in a spot, Song Ci remembered what he said earlier and asked, “Is it because you can’t dispel the Demon King’s seal?”
“That’s one reason. The second reason is more crucial.” Wen Changchu’s eyes dimmed as he said slowly, “There is still a wisp of a living soul sealed in this lantern.”
Song Ci raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Living soul? As in a human soul? Someone is in this lantern?”
He nodded. “I don’t know how this living soul is connected to the Devil Seal fragment. If I forcibly removed the fragment, it would likely scatter that wisp of living soul.”
That was why Wen Changchu was unable to do it.
It stupefied Song Ci to hear this. On one hand, he suspected whether the Devil Seal fragment was really here. What were the possibilities that Wen Changchu had made an error in judgment? On the other hand, if the fragment was really here, then where had Rong Bai gone? Was the one he was looking for the genuine Devil Seal fragment?
He was lost in thought when he subconsciously reached a hand out to touch the hanging lantern. The moment his fingertips came into contact with the surface of the lantern, a dark red light burst forth from the wick.
Song Ci’s surprised expression instantly froze as his black eyes reflected the red light. Then, everything turned black before him. He could see nothing.
The sounds in his ear vanished. Song Ci panicked and was about to shout when he found himself unable to utter a sound. He could not sense the existence of his body either.
This kind of feeling was both unusual and mystical to him. Just when he had no idea what to do, he heard the wind.
There were the rustling of the leaves as the wind blew through the trees, the tolling of a bell in the distance, and the voice of a youth near him. “Shixiong! Shixiong!”
Song Ci suddenly felt his eyelids lifted. The entire world brightened. There was a wilderness before him and a massive tree with a lush treetop beside him, casting a cool shade on the ground. The remnant of the setting sun dyed half of the horizon red, with the red ends gradually merging into the azure sky.
“Shixiong, why are you sleeping here again? Be careful not to catch a cold.” The youth before him crouched on the ground with his back to the red sky. His long hair clung to his soft blue and white robe and cascaded off it onto the grass. A faint glow plated the beautiful contours of his face. The smile lighting up his entire face was like the blooming pear blossoms of spring, pure and wild.
It was an unfamiliar face to Song Ci.
“It’s fine.” Song Ci heard himself say. It was not his own voice, but Dai Yanxing’s.
He stood up and gathered his robe as his gaze drifted toward the intersecting buildings of uneven heights. His eyes wandered all over. Song Ci did not know what he was hoping to see.
“It’s the after-class bell.” The youth rose as well, the smile on his face was not in the least diminished by Dai Yanxing’s frostiness. He reached out to brush away the fallen leaves on Dai Yanxing’s shoulder. “Shixiong, let’s head back to dinner, in case shifu discovered we played truant again…”
Dai Yanxing’s mood remained unchanged even as he raised his hand and patted the shoulder that the youth had touched earlier. He said with indifference. “Fu Chi, don’t keep following me.”
Obviously, Dai Yanxing did not like this shidi.
Fu Chi seemed accustomed to getting the cold shoulder and simply stayed close behind Dai Yanxing, following the latter when the latter left. He said smilingly. “Oh, Shixiong. Don’t walk so fast…”
On hearing that, Dai Yanxing quickened his pace.
The scene before them suddenly changed into that of a pavilion. In Song Ci’s line of sight, there were only two books tightly clenched in a hand with whitened fingertips.
“I still prefer Li Chi.2 That child smiles all day long and is so likable. Plus, he’s such a rare talent. No matter what he learns, all he needs is a little nudge in the right direction to grasp it.” A voice clearly sounded in his ears.
“Exactly, the last one who was just like Li Chi has already become a respectable immortal, unlike that boy Li Yan who looks sullen all day long. I feel uncomfortable just by looking at him. His aptitude is not that good, yet he’s unwilling to study hard and runs wild all day long taking Li Chi with him…” This time, Song Ci could tell that this was Qingyuan’s voice.
“It won’t be long before Li Chi ascends and becomes an immortal. As for Li Yan, just chase him off the mountain during the next round of recruitment. There’s no need to waste any effort on him…” There was no hiding of the contempt in the remark even as the person added, “I really don’t know how he even got recruited in the first place. Sect Master shidi even accepted him as a disciple.”
Song Ci could more or less guess that these two people were Elder Qingyi and Elder Qingyuan.
He felt his eyes blurred. It was only when the cold tears fell that he realized the person standing here eavesdropping was Dai Yanxing himself.
It suddenly dawned on Song Ci that this was perhaps… a fragment of Dai Yanxing’s memory.