Qi Yin rushed down the cliff and headed straight for the library. Qing He and Yun Zhi were sitting across from each other on a small table. The two rogues, Qing Ming and Yun Zhi, never paid attention to any etiquette, with one slouching and the other leaning. Only Qing He was kneeling on a cushion, slowly making tea. The white porcelain lotus petal tea cup was emitting a faint white smoke, and the man’s fingertips on the cup’s rim looked even more transparent.
Fasting included abstinence from food and drink, including tea and water. However, Feng Huan Mountain led the way in breaking the rules. Qi Yin lifted the curtain and ran in, sitting cross-legged opposite Qing He. “There’s something I need to tell you guys.”
“Just in time, I have something to tell you too.” Yun Zhi sat up and put his hand on Qi Yin’s shoulder. “Your cousin didn’t go home; he’s missing.”
“So he’s really missing!” Qi Yin was a little panicked. Yao Xiao Shan was the only son of the Yao family, and if anything happened to him, his aunt and uncle would never be able to rest in peace. Besides, there was the old lady in Wu Tang. What should they do?
Qi Yin frowned and said, “My brother and I found a lot of blood in the stone room on the cliff. The blood was washed away, but the smell was still there. Five different kinds of blood. It just happened to be five people.”
He didn’t mention his brother’s little fish technique, which his brother said was the transformation of divine awareness. But that little fish could hear, see, smell, and even perform some spells, far more than what an average Daoist’s divine awareness could do. Besides, it was the witchcraft of Ba Mountain Temple, and it was better for fewer people to know.
Qing Ming grabbed a handful of peanuts and chewed them loudly. “Wu Fang is indeed fishy.”
“From the looks of it, the recent disappearance of the disciples of immortal sects is likely to be related to Wu Fang.” Qing He lowered his eyes and pondered. “Tomorrow, the pig demon will be moved, and twenty disciples will be escorting them, all under the hands of the four elders on the upper four peaks. They will open a teleportation formation with a talisman at the Execution Cliff and go directly to the southern Forbidden Forest. You two and Yun Lan should prepare tonight and sneak under the Execution Cliff tomorrow. I will disguise the three of you as Ling Xi, Ling Mu, and Ling Jun, Yuan Yin’s disciples. Find an excuse to join the escort team and sneak into the Forbidden Forest.”
“If we disappeared inexplicably, will we be suspected?” Qi Yin expressed his concern.
“No, it’s not unusual for people of Feng Huan Mountain to skip class.” Qing Ming waved his hand dismissively. “I will use your names to buy three prostitutes at Wan’e Pavilion in Jin Xi Town to cover for you. Even if they really investigate Wan’e Pavilion, the three of you will probably just be kicked out of the sect.”
Qi Yin felt depressed. A senior brother taking his junior brothers to consort with prostitutes was a huge scandal. If this news reached that guy Qi Ling Shu’s ears, he would probably look down on him even more.
Qing He took out a Qiankun Bag and poured out three silver-inlaid glass mirrors. “Since you don’t have spiritual awareness, we’ll use Dawn Mirrors to communicate. This is a sub-mirror of my Dawn Mirror, which can transmit messages to anywhere in the world. You must carry it with you at all times. I also made some demon-expelling sachets containing wormwood, which demons dislike. They can ensure that you travel through the Forbidden Forest unimpeded. There’s a sword-restraining spell in the Forbidden Forest, so you can only travel on foot. It will take about an hour and a half from the entrance of the Forbidden Forest to Elder Yuan Wei’s tomb, and it will take another half an hour to excavate the tomb and restore the grave. Altogether, it will take three and a half hours. You need to communicate with us every half hour and report your location.”
Qi Yin curiously flipped the glass mirror over and nodded in agreement.
“Your only task this time is to bring Elder Yuan Wei out, dead or alive. Once you find him, return immediately, without delay,” Qing He said slowly. “However, don’t be too nervous. The only enemies you may face are demons in the Forbidden Forest and the disciples of Wu Fang who may discover your tracks and pursue you from behind. Both of these enemies are easy to deal with.”
With his brother by his side, Qi Yin was indeed confident.
Qing He lifted his teacup and smiled. “Have a safe journey.”
The snow started to fall again. Under the deep black sky, the snowflakes were as light as white down. Fu Lan was earnestly sweeping the snow. He was an honest man. Wu Fang had said to sweep three thousand steps, so he silently counted and remembered in his heart. He wouldn’t sweep the next step until he couldn’t see any snow or ash on the current step. He liked sweeping the snow because the sound of snow falling was very quiet, as if the heavens and earth were whispering to him, saying things that only gods could understand.
The black cat followed him, occasionally rolling around in the snowdrifts. They swept slowly and unconsciously climbed up to the Execution Cliff. Zhu Ming Cang was lying bored in the cage, counting the stars. He wore a large lock around his neck, connected by chains as thick as two arms to two large marble pillars on the cliff.
He caught sight of Fu Lan and sat up with a start. “Fu Lan… no, Your Majesty, I knew you would come to rescue me!”
Without raising his head, Fu Lan continued to silently sweep the snow. The black cat sauntered over, hummed, and said, “Don’t be so self-absorbed. Who wants to save you, you foolish pig?”
As soon as Zhu Ming Cang saw the cat, he gritted his teeth and said, “Fat cat, what did you say!? If you’re not going to save me, then why did you come here?”
The black cat raised his chin towards Fu Lan. “‘Don’t you have eyes?”
“Sweeping snow…” Zhu Ming Cang was so angry that he almost fainted. “Fu Lan, you are the lord of demons, yet you are sweeping the streets for mortals here! Do you have no shame? At the beginning of April, you jumped into Jia Ling River without a word, and I lost ten pounds trying to find you. But here you are sweeping snow!”
“What are you talking about?” The black cat sneered. “You were the one who tried to start a war between humans and demons. Don’t use yourself as an excuse.”
“You damn cat.” Zhu Ming Cang also sneered. “I thought you came to Wu Fang with a plan, and I went to great lengths to help you hide your tracks. Those damn Daoist priests gave me the Five Thunder Punishment, and I endured it without speaking a word. And then you guys…” Zhu Ming Cang looked at Fu Lan, who was sweeping the street like a little servant girl, and he almost exploded with anger. “Fu Lan, have you lost your mind? You ran all the way to Wu Fang just to sweep the streets!”
Fu Lan continued to ignore him. This was how he had always been, like a stubborn gourd that couldn’t be opened. Zhu Ming Cang was so angry that he was panting. He had always said that those who were not of his kind must have different hearts. Fu Lan was neither a demon nor a human, and was therefore unreliable. But the short-sighted people in the southern region were impressed by his power, and they pushed him to the throne, hoping that he would defend the southern region and put an end to internal conflicts and external invasions.
In the end, Fu Lan had slaughtered the Abyssal Dragon, and Zhu Ming Cang had to swallow his pride and follow the crowd. This was the first time in the southern region that they had a common emperor. In the past, each group ruled their own territory, and there were constant disputes. It seemed that they were about to unify the southern region, following the example of human kingdoms, but who knew that this guy, who looked so handsome, was actually a real fool.
He still remembered the first imperial court held by the 28 tribal leaders of the southern region. Fu Lan sat on the Dragon Bone Throne as the leaders proposed to establish demon officials and demon servants, as well as to raise a demon army and seize the human realm. The southern region would then enjoy peace and would no longer be afraid of external enemies. However, the narrow-minded and short-sighted rats from Liang Mountain only wanted to rest and live comfortably, unwilling to invade the human realm. The two sides fell into dispute. When Fu Lan was supposed to make a decision, everyone found that he had fallen asleep on the table.
He slept and slept, only knowing to sleep day after day. The imperial court lasted for three days, and this fool slept for three days straight. As a result, no major decision was made, and even the alliance was not formed. The various tribes remained as divided as before, each crowning an emperor of their own, only treating Fu Lan as a mud figurine on the kitchen stove.
“Fu Lan!” Zhu Ming Cang gritted his teeth and said, “As the demon lord, shouldn’t you make the revival of the southern region your lifelong goal?”
Fu Lan finally reacted, turning around with a calm gaze. “That is not my wish.”
“What is it then? Is it to have demon concubines and witches in the palace, or to revel in the pleasures of the flesh every night?”
Fu Lan shook his head gently and looked up at the falling snow. The air was cold, and his nose was red. He remembered many years ago in a small village by Wu River, where he would often sit under the wide eaves with his puppy, wrapped in a big cotton quilt, cuddling the black cat, and waiting for A Fu, who worked in the fields, to come home. It was also snowing heavily back then, covering the world in white. Whenever he thought of his puppy, his gaze would become gentle and warm. He said softly, “My wish is to raise my little brother to be healthy and happy.”
“Little brother?” Zhu Ming Cang looked puzzled. “Aren’t you a monster born from a crack in a rock? Where did you get a little brother?”
The black cat glanced at him askew, and Fu Lan finished sweeping the snow before hugging the broom and heading outside. Zhu Ming Cang saw him leaving and suddenly thought of something. He pounded on the railing and shouted in a low voice, “Hey, you! You travelled around visiting old temples before you came to the southern region, right? Weren’t you looking for a miracle all this time? There’s a miracle under the Ice Sea Abyss. Go and see it! This information should be enough to save the lives of the group of demons in the Forbidden Forest!”
The snow was still falling, but Fu Lan stopped walking. Zhu Ming Cang had just breathed a sigh of relief when Fu Lan’s expressionless face suddenly appeared in front of him. Zhu Ming Cang was taken aback, and suddenly felt a pain in his neck as Fu Lan tightly gripped him. This man looked thin, but had great strength and he almost couldn’t breathe. Fu Lan looked at him with emotionless black eyes. “Are you lying to me?”
“I wouldn’t dare to lie to you when you hold the fate of the demons in the Forbidden Forest,” Zhu Ming Cang said as he tightly held Fu Lan’s wrist. “When Ye Ku Can first arrived at Wu Fang, he modified the boundary array. When the array was being changed, there was a gap, and some of my brothers escaped from inside. They told me that the river water flowing out of the Ice Sea Abyss often had stones with strange characters carved on them. Those stones were very similar to those found in Ba Mountain. Fu Lan, haven’t you always wanted to know what kind of creature you are? You just need to go down to the Ice Sea Abyss to take a look. If there is nothing there, you can come back. But if there is something, you’d better find a way to rescue our demon brothers!”
Fu Lan looked at him for a while and finally said nothing. He picked up the black cat and left. Zhu Ming Cang held his throat and pounded the ground angrily. “One day I will surpass you in cultivation and stuff your silly head into your pants!” He imagined what it would be like to take Fu Lan’s head off and put it in his pants, and the anger in his chest subsided somewhat.
In the distance, the sound of a quiet guqin could be heard again. Fu Lan stepped up onto the suspended steps and looked down at the vast darkness.
“Are you really going?” the black cat asked, squatting beside him.
“I am,” he said.
“Aren’t you taking the puppy with you?”
“Xiao Yin is too weak and will be troublesome,” Fu Lan said.
“That’s true. The miracle is dangerous and you also have to break through the boundary array.” The black cat scratched his nose. “Then write a note for him and say that we will be back soon.”
Fu Lan took out paper and pen from his Qiankun bag, wrote a note, rolled it up, put it in a bamboo tube, and handed it to the black cat. The black cat took the tube and left, returning after a while. Fu Lan put down the broom, picked up the black cat, and whispered, “We’re going to jump now.”
His body arched backwards, his ink-like hair scattered like smoke, and he fell into the endless night like a lonely and brilliant shooting star.