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The Scorpion used his toes to lift his chin, beginning to laugh. “Ooo, it’s Sect Leader Yu.”
Yu Qiufeng shook all over. His eyes were dull, as if somewhat delirious. Struggling hard to raise his head, he looked at the Scorpion. “I… I’m not… not in my pl… not in my…” he uttered, stopping and starting.
The other shook his head, leaned in close, and spoke right into his ear. “That night, outside of Lake Tai’s Zhao Manor, there were actually three total people that had died. One was Mu Yunge, Duanjian Manor’s owner. One was Yu Tianjie, your precious son. There’s one more… that none of you knew, as he died in a cave. He was the Long-Tongued Ghost of Ghost Valley. Do you want to hear about what happened with that, Sect Leader Yu?”
Once he brought up the name ‘Yu Tianjie’, Yu Qiufeng resembled a quickly-dying fish placed out of the water, twitching all over. The whites of his eyes were about to bulge out as he stared dead at the Scorpion.
“You had all long known about the Lapis Armor’s existence before you went to Dongting, so you had your dear son wait at Lake Tai to intently watch the Zhang brat, and also take the chance to lie in wait for the Armor. Unexpectedly… Mu Yunge, that nervous wreck, coincidentally discovered that the Zhao’s had a piece, and used the night to steal it. Yu Tianjie had believed himself to have been the only one watching him, but in reality… there were two others doing so that night, as well.”
Yu Qiufeng seemed to understand something, but also understand nothing. He felt that this was all getting absurd. It seemed like there was an unseen hand holding a plan in the dark, and each and every of them was just an endlessly struggling pawn on an immense qi board.
“One was the Delighted Mourning Ghost. The reason why he hadn’t the time to take the Armor was because he sensed the presence of someone else, someone he couldn’t provoke at the time — the Ghost of Impermanence that represented the Ghost Valley’s Master, Meng Hui. Unluckily… he’s also another client of mine. Your son, believing himself to be clever, stupidly took the Armor off of Mu Yunge, and then, right as he excitedly thought to leave, Lao Meng had someone kill him. That someone had once been subordinated to Xue Fang, a general that later changed sides in Ghost Valley’s internal strife — the Long-Tongued Ghost.”
The Scorpion paused. Tears evenly flowed down Yu Qiufeng’s windworn face, as did various unknown fluids, making him look both revolting and pitiful.
“What’s even more unlucky is that the remarkable Ghost Master was meeting with his little paramour when the moon was above the branches of willows, so Lao Meng was too afraid to show his face. The traitorous Long-Tongued Ghost used his old Master’s stunt to kill Yu Tianjie, then shift the blame for it, wanting to deliberately mislead the Ghost Master. Who’d have thought that the gentleman’s pace would be too fast; so fast, the Long-Tongued Ghost couldn’t dodge in time, and thus… he boldly made use of his murderous aura, resulting in…”
The Scorpion gently laughed coldly, shoved Yu Qiufeng away, leaned askew against the back of a rattan chair that a Poisonous Scorpion had gotten from wherever, and sighed with quite a bit of lament. “What type of person is the most tragic? Those who don’t know their own weights, rashly entertaining high aspirations… Sect Leader Yu, do you know what’s different between the heart grown in your chest, and the heart grown in mine?”
He lightly patted his own chest, looking at the man with a set-up-on-high pity, and shook his head. “The one I grew is a heart of ambition. The one you grew… is a heart of wish-ful thin-king.”
Yu Qiufeng’s expression cleared up a bit, and he suddenly spoke up with a mosquito-like voice. “I… Daoist Huang, Feng Xiaofeng… every one of us, the vague information we received before… had actually been all you… all you…”
An aloof smile appeared on the others’ face. “That’s right. How difficult it is… Lao Meng is my client, wanting to utilize me to silently kill. Zhao Jing is my client, wanting to utilize me to impede his partner, Lao Meng. Sun Ding is my client, too, wanting to utilize me to fabricate a bunch of falsehoods, frame Xue Fang — whose whereabouts are still unknown — for the things he had done, and thus eliminate his nemesis via the Valley’s rules and the Ghost Master’s hands… as for me, I was originally a businessman that relied on killing people and selling things to grow my enterprise. If one can’t fish up some money in troubled waters, how could they be worthy of the title of ‘Poisonous Scorpion’? …Wouldn’t you agree, Sect Leader Yu?”
He shook his head, then stood. An underling immediately stepped forth and draped a large cloak over the Scorpion, who no longer looked at Yu Qiufeng. “Four Seasons Manor has lied low for over ten years. I heard that it was playing lackey for the Dynasty. Heh… what are they, even? This martial forest is now in the palm of my hand… you’re really lucky, Sect Leader Yu, to be able to come across me when things have gotten to this extent. What a shame that I can’t give any mercy, as Lao Meng and Zhao Jing have both told me to get rid of you. I really can’t bear it, ah… but what’s to be done? All I can do is try my best to make you an understanding ghost. No need to feel grateful.”
Once he was finished speaking, he had since walked quite far away, the Poisonous Scorpions immediately following after him. Abruptly, Yu Qiufeng’s whole body jolted, and he lowered his head — a Scorpion’s hook had penetrated his back, pierced through his body, came through to the front of his chest, and jabbed apart his raggedy shirt, exposing a blue-tinged tip.
Acute pain enshrouding him, he hissed and shrieked. The Scorpion restraining him expressionlessly drew the hook out, a large amount of flesh and blood flying out with it, and then, without looking at him, turned to follow his companions.
Yu Qiufeng spasmed all over. He knew that he was going to die. Never before in his life had he been so hopeless. The sensation of sharp pain slowly dulled, numbing at first, then spreading cold throughout him. He fought to keep his eyes wide, but his vision continued to fade, as if there was an irresistible force pulling him downwards.
His hand unconsciously gripped the grass growing on the ground, pulling it up by the roots in his convulsion-like grip. All of a sudden, he saw a pair of shoes stop before his eyes. He tried hard to raise his head, but couldn’t clearly see who it was. Several piecemeal sounds came from his mouth: “Help… help… help…”
That someone seemed to crouch down next to him. “Level waters green the color of the willows,” the other said. “The moon and the flowers keep distant mutual watch. Year upon year upon age upon age, every time… every time, what?”
Those few, understated verses were like thunder, instantly exploding in his ears. At a loss, he looked up, but still couldn’t see their appearance clearly. As if hallucinating, he couldn’t even say whether they were male or female, only vaguely recalling… that there had been a giggling maiden, who loved to wear green.
Liu Qianqiao. Such a hard-to-look-at woman. Why had she gotten high hopes with him? She’d been a fool. One fan, and one verse, had been enough to make her dead-set.
“Every time… the ice vanishes later.” Those phrases, long forgotten and once recited casually, were suddenly awakened from his memory in this instant of intersection between life and death. “Several times, the blue sea is calm. Mountain snow… is separated from cloudy peaks. One glance… one glance sees infinite youth. Only this… this heart… is so… old…”
One glance sees infinite youth; only this heart is so old.
He had blurted that out. She had kept it in mind unto death. All his life, he calculated against others, and others calculated against him. Only one such woman had treated him sincerely — missed, then gone.
Yu Qiufeng’s slightly-parting lips finally stopped moving. Hand clutching the muddied grass, his eyes looked blankly to one side, pupils unfocused — they bore his pledge of eternal love of questionable validity, and reflected a road that was infinitely dark, sinister, and cold.
Dust returned to dust. Earth returned to earth.
Zhou Zishu crouched beside him for a time, looking down as if in deep thought, then sighed, reaching out to close his eyes. “Thanks for letting me know,” he said, not very sincerely.
He stood, and followed the Scorpions’ trail.
Zhao Jing amassed heroes of all sorts in the Central Plains, about to strike Fengya Mountain in the name of rectifying the righteous path, taking revenge, and eliminating grudges. The oath of ‘no one comes in, no one comes out’ from thirty years prior was already broken. In this world, where evildoers were to all be thrown out, a thorough purge would begin.
Simultaneously, a figure that had not been in anyone’s view for a very long time arrived at Fengya Mountain.
The mountain was as tall as a thousand blades. Surrounded on all sides, Green Bamboo Ridge was in its middle.
It was the midst of early summer, where plants were just starting to flourish, and birds were going on riots. A small path wound straight into the valley. Were it not for the gigantic sign saying ‘Those with Souls, Do Not Pass’, it would resemble a paradise of gorgeous scenery.
This was Ghost Valley.
A tall figure appeared beside the giant stone signboard. Tilting his head back to view it for a minute, the faint trace of a smile suffused his face.
This was Wen Kexing. He himself wasn’t even sure what route he had taken, to have reached the Valley a step ahead of everyone else. He was leading a straight-black horse along; the beast seemed to have intelligence, pacing fretfully near the sign like it was unwilling to enter.
He smiled, reaching out to pet its face. He took off both its bridle and saddle, then pat it on its body. “Go on.”
In a human-like way, the horse blinked its big eyes as it watched him for a time. After trotting a few steps away, it looked back at the man, as if somewhat reluctant to part from him. Upon witnessing him wave at it, it sped off in large strides.
Wen Kexing stood in place for a second. “Those with souls, do not pass…” he sneered. With a raise of his hand, there seemed to be a strong gust wrapped inside his sleeve as he harshly swiped the stone sign, thus erasing three-fourths of its words with a bang. Detritus fell down in succession. That enormous sound barged into the Valley as it was carried along with the wind, reverberating non-stop.
Shortly after, a gray silhouette appeared out of thin air. The shouts coming from his mouth were extremely sharp, like pieces of iron slashing against each other, and hearing them could give one goosebumps. “Who dares to trespass…”
His subsequent words got stuck in his throat, that gray shadow halting three zhang away from Wen Kexing. After getting a good look at who had come, an indescribable, utterly fearful expression appeared on him in an instant, gurgling sounds coming out of his larynx. He almost couldn’t form any sounds. “V-V-V…Valley Master.”
Quickly reacting, he knelt onto the ground with a plop, then buried his head down low, as if he was soon about to be buried, period. “Respectful greetings to you, Valley Master,” he trembled out.
Wen Kexing didn’t even glance at him. “Have Lao Meng and Sun Ding come back yet?” he asked, indifferent. “Tell them to come and see me.”
Not waiting for the minor Ghost to answer him, he passed right by him. The gray-clothed man nevertheless seemed to have just endured a life-and-death catastrophe; it wasn’t until the other had gone far away that he shakily looked up, his entire back already soaked with cold sweat.
Slowly, he betrayed a hateful expression, stood up, and soundlessly slipped into the woods. Ghost Valley’s Master — that was a genuine lunatic, a real evil demon. His moods fluctuated, where one moment, he would be chatting with someone, all smiles, and the next, he might have snatched the other’s head.
Apart from Purple Danger, who he had raised since childhood, no one else dared to make too loud of a noise before him, since he was a lunatic. He loved nothing, and appeared to have no desires. His entire being was akin to a machine that could only massacre.
No one could bribe him. No one knew what he was thinking. No one knew what he wanted. No one knew when he would create disasters. No one knew how to avoid his blows.
Outsiders knew not a thing, but this place was the land of evil Ghosts.
No morality, no humanity. The weak were only meat for the strong to feast upon — and he was strong, so he could do whatever he wanted. Even if he was just standing around to survey the land, jabbering about household matters, he would still make people act like they were facing a huge enemy.
That was because, in general, wolves would not have the patience to jabber with rabbits.
Yet, even if this madman didn’t look like a human, he still was one. The gray-clothed Ghost’s eyes flashed — the madman had just walked himself into a dead end, but he didn’t even know it.
After less than three quarter-hours of time, Lao Meng hurried to Yama Hall. There was nobody else idly waiting within it, sans the lone Wen Kexing, as well as the unfamiliar maid standing beside him. The man had already changed out of his travel-dirtied clothes, now wrapped in dark, long robes, and was seated languidly atop a spacious chair.
His hair was loose, as if it had just been washed. The maid was cautiously combing it.
Less than half of his face was concealed beneath his crow-black hair, but the corners of his mouth still held a smile, crimson, and those robes had been hastily tied with a dark red belt. His whole body gave off a bit of a ghastly aura.
Lao Meng worked him out in his head. He knew himself to have the upper hand, but upon seeing how he was, a chill seeped through his bones, for some reason. Barely able to settle his emotions, he knelt deferentially, then lowered his eyes to dodge Wen Kexing’s gaze. “Respectful greetings to you, Valley Master.”