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Lord Seventh was in a restaurant, cup of tea in hand as he messed with a heap of sticks on the table. He looked serious, as if his divinings were actually reliable.
Smiling slightly, the Great Shaman sat quietly across from him, feeling extraordinarily calm and delighted as he watched him amuse himself.
However, he heard the other gasp a bit. “This divining… looks a bit interesting.”
Lord Seventh side-eyed him. “Don’t you think me to be inaccurate?”
The other smiled. “When did I ever say that?”
“I gave you a palm reading in the capital ten years ago, but you, as a little brat, said that I was full of nonsense and didn’t even come close,” Lord Seventh answered, counting on his fingers.
The Great Shaman’s eyes curved, showing a bit of a nostalgic expression. “Right, I remember. You said that my bond-signifying heaven-line is long and deep, I’m an infatuated person, and my journey of love will be anything-goes, with great luck and benefits,” he continued, gentle. “You also said that the one I admired was a staunchly loyal woman. I didn’t believe you then, but looking back on it, you actually got it pretty much right. Except for the ‘woman’ part.”
Lord Seventh was taken aback, eyebrows twitching, then seemed to somewhat bashfully lower his head to drink his tea and vainly avoid the other’s gaze. “You remember that pretty clearly, punk,” he mumbled.
Wu Xi laughed. “You divined for Manor Lord Zhou and the rest? What did it say?”
The other paused, his lowered eyes gliding over the sticks again. “One placed within a land of death will fight for their survival. The shape of the divination says…”
He appeared to want to go on and on about this, but upon getting up to there, he unexpectedly trailed off, smile falling. He tilted his head to see down the stairs. The Great Shaman followed his line of sight, only to see a man come in through the door.
He furrowed his brow, as well. The man… had something indescribable about him. He had a head of white hair, a heavy sword on his back, and a small jar in his hand. The instant he entered, the scarce amount of people inside the restaurant all seemed to pause, gazes drawn to him.
As if sensing something, the man looked up to cross gazes with the Great Shaman.
The latter’s eyes focused in, and he let out a small exclamation. “That’s the Ancient Blade of the Dragon’s Back,” he muttered. “This man…”
The arrival was Ye Baiyi. After a stop in his tracks, he suddenly went straight for the two. “Is a guy named Zhou Xu staying here?” he asked.
Lord Seventh sized him up, thoughts turning around and around. “You are… Ye Baiyi?”
Ye Baiyi nodded, sitting next to them without any bit of politeness. “I’m looking for him.”
“He’s tailing the Poisonous Scorpions to Fengya Mountain. You can wait here for him, or I can relay anything you have to say to him.”
The other looked him up and down, thinking about it. “Are you the one the Cao kid said could treat that brat, Zhou Xu?”
Lord Seventh pointed at the Great Shaman. “That’d be him.”
Ye Baiyi’s eyes landed on the latter, slightly inquiring. The Great Shaman was only looking at his white hair. “This is the result of the real ‘six harmonies mental cultivation’, right?”
Turning his head, he saw Lord Seventh looking intrigued, and patiently explained it to him. “One that practices the six harmonies has only two paths; they either qi deviate, or reach the pinnacle, having the alleged arts of being one with the Heavens, unable to construct without destruction.”
Ye Baiyi sneered. “There are no ‘arts of being one with the Heavens’ in this world. If humanity and the Heavens weren’t separate from each other, living would be of no interest.”
The Great Shaman gave him a look. “This cultivation method has reached the top tier, and can be stated to be divine arts that are unparalleled in the world, to the extent that one won’t age or die. However, it has a flaw in that one can never eat warm things from that point on, needing to drink snow water and cold food when passing their days.”
As he said that, Lord Seventh’s eyes went to Ye Baiyi. The latter was in the middle of very casually rinsing out a cup and then pouring himself some hot tea, which he delivered to his mouth. “With your strength, you shouldn’t have a head full of white hair, nor an aura of death,” the Great Shaman said, also watching him. “That’s been caused by you leaving the extreme cold of Changming Mountain and eating the food of ordinary humans, isn’t it?”
Ye Baiyi stiffly pulled up the corners of his mouth into a smile. “You’ll understand once you live to my age, kid — dying after a year of being a living human is much better than continuing to be the living dead for centuries in that place.”
The Great Shaman shook his head. “I’m perfectly alive. I also don’t practice martial arts for turning into the living dead.”
Ye Baiyi paid no mind to his lack of courtesy, merely gazing at the liquid in the cup like he was viewing someplace far away through it, eyes twinkling. It was a long time before he spoke. “Many years ago, a friend of mine had a setback in his martial practice. I wanted to save him, but didn’t have the skills you do, so there was only one road to take. Afterwards, he felt sorry, and brought his wife with him to accompany me in seclusion on Changming. There’s a ruined temple there that people off the mountain have no clue about, and believe that an immortalized monk lives inside.”
As he spoke, it seemed like he had been hiding these words for too long, unable to keep himself from grabbing everything and pouring it out before two strangers he had met by coincidence. He thought about how if he didn’t say more now, there would likely be no other chance for him to say it in his lifetime.
“That friend was a hard-hearted one, but actually had no sense. Their family of three frolicked in front of me all day long, and I hated those eyesores… I taught his kid martial arts, but at some point, the brat started having thoughts about the six harmonies. His mother wasn’t a stupid woman, but… she was a mother, after all.”
Saying as much, he shook his head despondently. “I wasn’t thinking, either. If something was good, why couldn’t I give it to him? I treated him like my own…”
He couldn’t continue, only sighing.
“The Writ of the World once appeared thirty years ago,” the Great Shaman took over. “You are Rong Xuan’s shifu?”
“That’s me.” Ye Baiyi nodded. “Not long after I had come down the mountain, I sought out Qin Huaizhang, the former Lord of Four Seasons Manor, to follow the kid’s trail. Back then, though, the Manor’s wings weren’t filled out yet, so its power was limited; all he found was Rong Xuan’s corpse, and the thing about the five families’ descendants and the Lapis Armor was vaguely touched upon. The investigation later got cut short, owing to my friend, Changqing… he felt that he had let me down, and was suddenly suffering the pain of mourning his own son. Sicknesses of the heart are difficult to treat… he was near death.”
The Great Shaman nodded. “So, that was Senior Rong Changqing.” He thereafter turned his head to fill Lord Seventh in. “Senior Rong used to be called ‘Ghost Hand’, and was a famed craftsman of his generation. Great Famine, which you gave to the child, and the flexible sword, which you gave to Manor Lord Zhou, were both made by him.”
Ye Baiyi’s face was as stiff as ever, but his mouth raised into a smile. He grazed the rim of his teacup with his fingers. “That’s him. That flexible sword is actually the ‘Sword of No Name’. Since it had no name, it changed to ‘Baiyi’ after it got to my hands, but that Zhou guy didn’t recognize the goods the had. He likely still hasn’t learned, either.”
“In the years since… Elder Rong’s death, have you had to face Madam Rong day and night?” Lord Seventh suddenly asked.
The other’s smile suddenly turned somewhat bitter. “Yeah. Changqing is dead, so I don’t know why she still keeps me company in immortality, in that place that’s a coffin for the living. I don’t have anything to say to her, either. Typically, I just practice my arts while she lives her own life. At the start, she could nod or exchange empty pleasantries with me, but later on… later on, we came to be mutually silent. Thinking about it, I haven’t said a word to her in over a decade.”
Lord Seventh took a divination stick and lightly struck it against his teacup, not saying a word.
Ye Baiyi drank down the rest of his tea in one gulp, stood up, and placed the small jar he held onto the tabletop. “I’m not going back. Since you lot are going to go to Changming with that Zhou guy, help me out by bringing Rong Xuan and his wife with. Their family of four can go on by themselves.”
Now done speaking, he turned to leave. Lord Seventh suddenly called out to stop him. “Have you still not let him go after all these years, Brother Ye?”
The man turned back to look at him. “I never held him to begin with. How could I let him go?”
With that, he departed in strides, sword on his back.
I’ve finally returned your son to you, Changqing. Your family can reunite, and Dragon’s Back will accompany me. In our next lives… we won’t be seeing each other in the world.
If not home, where shall I go today?
Meanwhile, on Fengya Mountain, a group suddenly showed up right when everybody was equally exhausted. It was as if they had dropped down from the sky. Their leader was a young man dressed in silks, and behind him was a trailing black mass of Poisonous Scorpions.
Right then, the scarred man that had been by Zhao Jing’s side suddenly came out and knelt down on one knee. “Master,” he called out to the Scorpion.
What a shame that Zhao Jing was already dead, else he would have no idea what to do in this situation. The Scorpion nodded, gaze sweeping across the area; with full satisfaction, he discovered that out of his three customers — Zhao Jing, Sun Ding, and Lao Meng — two-and-a-half out of three were now dead. All that remained was Lao Meng’s bloodied half-self, who was looking at him ecstatically with a face of relief.
The Scorpion laughed coldly. “I trust every hero here has been well since our last meeting,” he stated in a peculiar tone.
The smile on Lao Meng’s face stagnated. He looked on as the Scorpion waved his hand, and then as the black-clothed Scorpions filed up to encircle the entire scene. “What is the meaning of this, Scorpion Master?” he raged.
The other grinned. “I’m collecting my interest.”
Following that, he laughed crisply and loudly, feeling that on this earth, no one was superior to he. Regardless of whether one was of the righteous or demonic faction, they would die while he would live, and none of them could get out of the scope of his manipulations.
He was so overly self-confident, that he didn’t realize that one of the Scorpions he had brought with him wasn’t conforming.
The day before the Scorpions had moved out, Zhou Zishu had snatched an opportunity to become one by substituting for another. He was taking a risk, but luckily, the Scorpion’s desire for control was so strong, his people normally said nothing other than ‘yes’. He had been intending to be close to the Scorpion so that he could easily deal with him when the time came, yet, upon coming to the scene and surveying it, he didn’t see Wen Kexing’s figure at all!
Noiselessly, like an invisible man, he had mixed in with the Scorpions without batting an eye, gaze searching about all over the place. All of a sudden, his eyes widened as he caught sight of a familiar figure behind a huge boulder. It was… Gu Xiang?
His heart jumped rapidly. In the span of a second, all sorts of scenarios streaked across his mind; why was Gu Xiang here? She got injured? Where was Wen Kexing?
He took a deep breath, forcefully controlled himself, and carefully withdrew from the crowd. After slipping behind the boulder, he slowly leaned over, stood there rigidly for a minute, then stooped over to gently search for breath beneath the girl’s nose using his hand. He knew that there was no logic behind such an action — her body was already cold, that ever-smiling face no longer having any life to it.
A long while later, he straightened back up, then let out a breath that had been stuffed up tight in his chest. Savagely tearing both the mask and disguise off of his face, he thought to himself, Damn it all, where did Wen Kexing go?
At this same exact time, the Scorpion had finished gloating, and then couldn’t help but be startled. He had also realized that the Ghost Valley Master wasn’t present.
The Hanged Ghost still hadn’t shown up at this point, and the Ghost Master was nowhere to be seen. A dark cloud seemed to be covering the Scorpion’s head.
The more he thought, the more disquieted he was. Increasingly feeling that the remainder of those left here were nothing to be worried about, he thus called a Scorpion over, ordered such and such from him, and then went to search Fengya Mountain himself with the rest.
If he did not watch the one he was fearful of die in front of him, it would forever be hard for him to be at ease.
Mo Huaiyang believed himself to have escaped. He had fled more than half a shichen away from Fengya before he sighed in relief, yet, all of a sudden, a burst of rustling noises came to his ears. He quickly lifted his head up, then immediately took a huge step backwards in fright.
Wen Kexing was like the King of Hell come to life. His pace was slow as he exited the other end of the forest. In one of his hands was a sword he had picked up from some unknown dead person, and its tip dragged as he walked over, step by step.
“Sect Leader Mo,” he said. “This humble one was entrusted with seeing you off on your journey, if you please.”
With every step he took, his tattered sleeves trailed on the ground, leaving thin traces of blood behind them. His walking posture was a bit off, as if he was stubbornly hauling along half of his immobile body. While he was speaking, a minute wound on his face had split open to seep once more, and he lightly lapped up the blood that fell from it, still approaching.
Mo Huaiyang gritted his teeth. He knew that Wen Kexing was an arrow nearing the end of its trajectory — was the Ghost Valley Master a god? The other had been besieged by several experts, solo, for several shichens, then had been stabbed by Zhao Jing prior to his death. Anyone else would have fainted long ago, so he didn’t believe that the man was capable of doing much.
Even with those thoughts, though, his calves still slightly shook.
Wen Kexing tilted his head to the side, chuckling. Mo Huaiyang suddenly roared madly, and the Qingfeng Sword once held by Sect Leaders past was unsheathed. Exerting everything he had learned in his entire life, he made a maneuver that was air-tight.
The other also made a move. One of his hands was useless, which made the action very sluggish, and his worn-out sword was turned into several pieces by Qingfeng. Mo Huaiyang was delighted, turning his hand around to pare off the arm with the ruined sword, but there was only an afterimage left of the one in front of him, and then, he was gone.
Mo Huaiyang mentally exclaimed that this wasn’t good, and in the next second, there was a chill on his neck. His entire body froze.
Wen Kexing’s broken chunk of sword was stuck in his throat, ice-cold fingers seeming to bump up against his skin. The man sighed. “I’m out of strength,” he whispered.
Immediately after that, he pushed his hand forward, and blood spurted far out of Mo Huaiyang’s neck. The latter convulsed all over as he collapsed, making gurgling noises from his throat. Soon, his blood all drained away, and he stopped moving.
Wen Kexing appeared to be unable to keep on standing. He stumbled, then miserably fell into a sit on the ground. I’m sorry, Ah-Xiang, he vacantly thought, for allowing him to die so quickly.
Ah-Xiang. What an aggravating little girl… for more than ten years, he had lived in darkness, no daylight. The sole living thing that had accompanied him was now gone.
Footsteps sounded out from not too far away, and then a familiar voice was heard to speak. “No wonder I hadn’t seen you, Valley Master. Turns out you’re just here, cooling off in the shade.”
Wen Kexing felt that he ought to stand up, kill this man, and then keep on living, but he didn’t have one bit of power to muster up. All he could sense was weariness. Mutely turning his head, he looked at the Scorpion and his ill-intentioned grin.
After twenty years of bearing with humiliation for the sake of his goals, and everything he had been wanting to do now being accomplished… was he going to die here?
 From ‘Courtyard Full of Fragrance’, by Su Shi. (Full version.)