Secret Sect, Immortal Cave.
Jiang Xue Ya opened her eyes.
In front of her was a square stone chamber. Her hands were tied behind her back with a rope, and her feet also bound. The furnishings in the stone chamber were very simple, with a single-person stone bed leaning against the wall, covered with old bedding. Jiang Xue Ya recognized it at a glance. This was the place where Su Ru Hui was detained before, and now Dan Tai Jing had temporarily moved her here. There were no talismans or star formations in this stone chamber, and the overwhelming sense of oppression on her body finally dissipated, instantly making her feel refreshed.
Xia Jing was in charge of moving her, and on the way he handed Jiang Xue Ya a blade, which she hid under her tongue. Jiang Xue Ya slowly passed her bound hands over her hips and to the front, from behind her feet. She spat out the blade and held it between her teeth, cutting the rope. The guards at the prison were too strict, making it difficult to escape. Although there were still many guards at Immortal Cave, at least the ban on star formations had been loosened somewhat, giving her an excellent chance to escape.
Jiang Xue Ya stood up, stretched her muscles, and walked stealthily to the door, listening closely to the voices outside. It was quiet, with no sound at all. It was strange. As far as Jiang Xue Ya knew, there were always medical officers stationed in Immortal Cave, making medicine Su Ru Hui’s empty shell. It was too quiet. Something was wrong.
Jiang Xue Ya found a spirit fire gun and a dagger inside the stone bed, both of which were prepared by Xia Jing in advance. The route had already been arranged, and all she had to do was follow the predetermined path. At the fourth watch, Xia Jing sent someone to open a Gate of Nothingness on the left wing of the palace, and she could leave the Secret Sect. Jiang Xue Ya pushed open the door and sneaked out like a cat. The scene before her was brightly lit, the guards were gone, and there were broken fragments all over the ground, as if they had experienced a fierce battle. The boiler was overturned on the ground, and black medicinal juice was splashed all over the place. The air was filled with a bitter medicinal smell.
She walked past several unconscious doctors and guards and picked up a sword. She went around the narrow stone passage and came to the entrance of the Immortal Cave. The people on the ground were lying in all directions, all unconscious. Jiang Xue Ya stepped over them, turned the corner, and saw Su Ru Hui lying in the center of the cave. There was a man standing still next to him.
It was Sang Chi Yu.
She hadn’t seen this guy for a long time and didn’t expect to meet him here. Moonlight spilled over the black-clad man’s shoulders, like flowing water pouring down along his fair hand, and flowing all the way to the sword he was holding. He lowered his gaze and silently gazed at Su Ru Hui who was sleeping on the bed. Jiang Xue Ya inexplicably felt a depressing atmosphere, like a gloomy weather.
“Uh, are you here to kill Su Ru Hui?” Jiang Xue Ya asked.
She squatted and crawled to the window, cautiously peering out. In the pitch-black night, she saw a warning sky lantern rising in the air. The lantern was a dazzling red, which meant that the Secret Sect had activated Class A alert, and the guards would arrive here soon.
“Do you have an escape route?” Jiang Xue Ya asked him.
“No.” Sang Chi Yu was still staring at the person on the bed.
“You… you’re still so crazy after more than a decade.” Jiang Xue Ya urged him, “If you want to kill, kill quickly. Cut his throat and bleed him to death, just like killing a chicken. After killing him, come with me. I’ll help you out of here, considering our past friendship.”
Sang Chi Yu lifted his hand and pulled out the intravenous vein from Su Ru Hui’s body, leaving red marks and blood stains on Su Ru Hui’s almost transparent body. Sang Chi Yu took off his black coat and put it on Su Ru Hui.
“What are you doing?” Jiang Xue Ya asked.
“He’s afraid of the cold,” Sang Chi Yu replied.
“He’s going to die. What’s there to be afraid of?” Jiang Xue Ya was about to go crazy. “Are you okay? Hurry up and come with me.”
Sang Chi Yu carefully buttoned up Su Ru Hui’s coat, all the way to under his chin. He whispered, “You go. I still have someone to kill.”
“Dan Tai Jing.”
Sang Chi Yu even called out his master’s name directly, which surprised Jiang Xue Ya. She asked, “When did you have a grudge with your master?”
Jiang Xue Ya couldn’t understand this guy. During the time she was imprisoned, she seemed to have missed many important events. When she got out, she needed to catch up on everything. Sang Chi Yu picked Su Ru Hui up on his back, bent down to pick up the knife, and turned around to leave.
“Aren’t you going to kill Su Ru Hui? Why didn’t you kill him?” Jiang Xue Ya followed him, still holding her knife. “Why are you taking him to find Dan Tai Jing? You are obviously seeking death by challenging the grandmaster.”
Sang Chi Yu’s hand that was pushing the door stopped. Suddenly, a profound sadness surged in his icy eyes. Jiang Xue Ya choked up, and couldn’t speak at this moment.
“He likes to talk,” Sang Chi Yu said softly. “Someone needs to listen on the road to the underworld.”
As he opened the door, he heard the breathing of three soldiers in the dark forest. As the door opened, he pulled the trigger of his gun. The muzzle sparkled like fireworks, and three consecutive shots blasted into the night. The three men were shot in the forehead and fell backward.
Amidst the sound of gunshots, he seemed to hear Su Ru Hui gently calling his name from his back.
“Sang Chi Yu.”
He must resent him, Sang Chi Yu thought.
Five years ago, Su Ru Hui’s heart was cut open, and Dan Tai Jing transferred him out of Immortal Cave to secretly maintain Su Ru Hui’s life through intravenous veins while sending Lang Ya Guang to probe Su Ru Hui’s memories. They didn’t hesitate to let Su Ru Hui suffer, just to get his puppetry techniques and spirit fire gun. Although they had already acquired his puppets and spirit fire gun, and both of those things were now monopolized by the Secret Sect, they were still not satisfied. They wanted the Puppet Key.
A month ago, Sang Chi Yu accidentally returned to Immortal Cave and witnessed Su Ru Hui being toyed with like a dead body. That day was the second time in his life he violated his master’s order. He pulled out the intravenous veins on Su Ru Hui’s body, and allowed Su Ru Hui’s breathing to become weaker and weaker. He was expelled and stripped of his title. Perhaps he was still unwilling to believe that Su Ru Hui had truly died. When he met Jiang Que Xie, he naively believed that Su Ru Hui had used unknown means to return from the dead. In the end, it turned out to be a puppet – a puppet made by Su Ru Hui himself.
He once again left Su Ru Hui alone in this cold cave. Su Ru Hui was afraid of the cold and loneliness.
Years ago, he was ordered to guard Immortal Cave. He rarely entered the cave, guarding outside the door. Su Ru Hui often hugged his fox fur blanket and leaned against the door, beckoning to him. “Come in and sit down. It’s so cold outside.”
He didn’t respond, but Su Ru Hui didn’t give up.
“I say, Sang Chi Yu, it’s boring to stay with me all day. Why don’t you let me go, so you don’t have to listen to me blabbering every day, and we both win?”
“Sang Chi Yu, I’m asking you. Come in and keep me company. I’m bored to death. Do you want me to teach you how to play cards? I’ll let you win three games.”
“Wife, wife, wife. If you don’t agree, I’ll call you my wife from now on and let everyone in the world know that you are my wife.”
Sang Chi Yu ignored him, as steady as a rock.
Su Ru Hui pleaded pitifully, “How about if I let you sleep with me once. Will you let me go?”
Sang Chi Yu finally reacted, gripping his sword hilt and saying in a low voice, “Su Ru Hui, have some self-respect.”
“What self-respect.” Su Ru Hui sneered. “It’s not like we haven’t slept together before, and the thing in your crotch is much warmer than your face.”
Sang Chi Yu could no longer tolerate his vulgar language and turned to leave. Suddenly, there was a cry from behind him. Su Ru Hui seemed to have fallen. He quickly turned around, only to see the man standing upright in front of the cave, with a dry grass stem in his mouth.
Su Ru Hui smiled. “You came after all.”
“You came after all.”
In the dim night, the voice with the same smile sounded in Sang Chi Yu’s ear. He put down his smoking spirit fire gun and turned his head, meeting a pair of familiar eyes.
Su Ru Hui woke up, as if by a miracle. His once empty eyes now sparkled with a glimmer of light.
Su Ru Hui smiled helplessly. “Where are you taking me, Sang Chi Yu?”
Bian Du, Qing He District, Official Post Station.
Yan Jin Yu sat cross-legged in the tent, half-naked. His waist, abdomen, and arms were wrapped in gauze. His face also had bruises, and a maid was applying ointment to him with soft cotton. He stood up, and the maid respectfully bowed and slowly backed away with the gauze. Another maid who had been waiting came forward to put on his purple robe, carefully folding the collar under his chin, and tying his waistband and jade pendant meticulously.
It was already midnight, and all the attendants left the warm pavilion. Yan Jin Yu held up an oil-paper umbrella and walked down the stone steps, standing in the snow and looking up at the northern sky.
The snow blurred his vision, and a rustling sound filled the world, as if a lover was whispering in his ear. Just then, he heard a tune played on a xiao flute. The melody floated through the snow, smooth and clear, like a child’s singing voice. He turned around and saw a person standing at the end of the snowfield. This person was dressed in white linen, wearing a snow-covered hat, holding a xiao flute in his mouth and an ivory fan in his waist.
The Official Post Station was heavily guarded, with more than ten checkpoints from the gate to Yan Jin Yu’s warm pavilion. However, this person seemed to have no effect on the guards, appearing out of nowhere and strolling through the snow.
Yan Jin Yu remained calm, putting down his oil-paper umbrella and kneeling on the ground to pay tribute to the deity.
“The Yans of You Zhou, Yan Jin Yu, respectfully welcomes the arrival of Elder Shen Tu to the mortal realm.”
The sound of the flute stopped, and a low, hoarse voice came from under the hat, as if not yet accustomed to the pronunciation of mortals. His tone was twisted and strange. “You are a child of mortals. Why do you want to pledge allegiance to us, who are mortal enemies of humans? Didn’t Su Gou tell you when he was alive that humans are quite tasty food to us?”
Yan Jin Yu bowed his head, far from the arrogant and domineering attitude he had in front of Bei Chen Palace. He said, “Demons eat people, and people also eat people. The nobles treat the common people as cattle and horses, letting them use their blood and sweat to cultivate the nobles’ fields. If humans are equivalent to livestock for demons, then the common people are even worse than cattle and horses for the nobles. If we only consider whether to eat humans or not, I don’t see any difference between humans and demons.”
“Aren’t you afraid of being eaten by us?” Shen Tu asked.
Yan Jin Yu spoke word by word with a strong and powerful voice, “Cattle and sheep need sheepdogs, and hunting requires falcons. Yan Jin Yu is willing to become your hound. When Shen Tu descends to the mortal realm, the mortal realm will be in chaos, with the Black Street rampant, the aristocratic families divided, and the Snow Territory invading from the south. The mortal realm will surely be defeated step by step. Those who know the times are wise. I do not have high hopes for the Secret Sect. Moreover, I have a great grudge against them. If the world is not chaotic, my heart will not be at peace.”
“Oh? Tell me about your grievances,” Shen Tu asked with interest.
Yan Jin Yu straightened up, untied his belt, and revealed his bare chest. He placed his hand on his chest and tore open his own flesh and skin little by little. The expected blood did not appear. That layer of flesh and skin was actually made of cowhide and painted – fake skin. The inside of his chest was exposed through a bowl-sized hole in his chest. His ribs and lungs could be clearly seen. Meteorite iron bones were connected to his skeleton. The wind and snow poured into his chest, and the hot air turned them into white mist.
“I was fourteen years old when the Secret Sect’s Sang Chi Yu killed my parents, crippled my spiritual power, and turned me into this inhuman state. If it weren’t for my good fortune, encountering the real Yan Jin Yu when I was wandering, snatching his token and joining the Yan family, I wouldn’t be here today. Dan Tai Jing’s mouth is always advocating righteousness, but he shelters and protects his disciples.” Yan Jin Yu gritted his teeth and said, “I swore I would destroy the Secret Sect and kill Sang Chi Yu to comfort the spirits of my parents in heaven.”
Yan Jin Yu once again prostrated himself on the ground. “Elder Shen Tu, as long as the world is in chaos, the aristocratic families consume each other, the Secret Sect collapses, the Snow Territory can sit back and reap the benefits. I have a plan to offer to you.”
Shen Tu looked interested. “Go on.”
“I believe you have received a message from Lord Su Gou. Su Ru Hui secretly escaped from the Secret Sect and changed his name to Jiang Que Xie. Earlier, I met him and observed his words and actions. His behavior of considering himself the smartest one in the room and playing with others was indeed no different from Su Ru Hui. Su Ru Hui is the leader of the Black Street. If we can kill him and hang his head on the walls of Bian Du City, the Black Street will surely be furious and rise up in arms.” Yan Jin Yu said, “I have found out where this person lives. I will send someone to cut off his head.”
As he spoke, he suddenly noticed that the snow around him had stopped.
The sound of snow disappeared, and everything fell silent.
Yan Jin Yu was stunned.
In the silence, he heard the strange and eerie voice again. This time, it was not at the end of the snowy field, but right beside him.
“That name, say it again,” the voice said.
Yan Jin Yu finally realized that he was facing a demon from the depths of the snowy world, the natural enemy of mortals. Perhaps it didn’t care about his plans or grievances at all, and acted as it pleased.
He forcibly suppressed his fear, and dared not turn his head to look at Shen Tu’s face. He trembled and said, “Su Ru Hui.”
“How much do you know about this person’s background?” the voice asked.
Yan Jin Yu took a deep breath. “Jin Yu knows a little about him. His mother was Princess Su Wu of the Secret Sect, the sister of Dan Tai Jing’s mother, Dan Tai Xun. His father was a commoner from a merchant family, named Su Guan Yu.”
“I heard that Su Guan Yu was handsome and eloquent, especially good at music, and Princess Su Wu was pleased with his appearance. The princess was violent and often killed palace servants at will. Only Su Guan Yu was tolerated to be around her all day long. Later, he fell out of favor with the princess and was expelled from the palace by Dan Tai Jing.
“Su Guan Yu fell into poverty and wandered around, teaching, selling grass shoes, or carrying big bags, doing all kinds of lowly jobs. It is said that he had a whimsical idea of using asceticism to awaken spiritual power, but it was just a childish fantasy. Sometimes he would return to Su Luo Mountain to visit Su Ru Hui, and I have met him a few times.” Yan Jin Yu remembered something and sneered. “Someone spat on his face in front of him, but he was probably used to serving others with his body and his bones were soft, so he never dared to argue.”
Shen Tu asked, “Do you have the grass shoes he made?”
Yan Jin Yu was taken aback. “No.”
“It’s a pity.” Shen Tu’s tone was regretful. “I really want to wear the grass shoes made by Su Guan Yu.”
Yan Jin Yu tentatively asked, “Does my lord know Su Guan Yu?”
Shen Tu nodded. “I used to be his guide wolf. At that time, I hadn’t become a demon god yet. He said I was the most beautiful little wolf in the snow world, and he knew I was perfect for roasting meat.” He tilted his head. “What’s roasting meat?”
Yan Jin Yu was stunned, thinking he had heard it wrong.
Shen Tu said again, “Don’t provoke Su Ru Hui. We’ve been keeping an eye on this child for a long time, and Su Guan Yu must have left something for him.”
“Left something?” Yan Jin Yu didn’t understand Shen Tu’s words.
“That’s right. Do you think Dan Tai Jing spent many years investigating Su Ru Hui’s memories through his dreams just to get the puppet key? That’s because Dan Tai Jing believed that the puppet key was something left by Su Guan Yu for Su Ru Hui. Don’t provoke Su Ru Hui. He’s a person even our demon clan fears. As a young human with delicate skin and tender flesh, how could you possibly defeat him?” Shen Tu laughed.
Yan Jin Yu clenched his fist. “I know Su Ru Hui is a genius, but how can we know the result if we don’t try? Please, let me try, Elder.”
“We’ll see. I also want to kill him, but I can’t make a decision about Su Ru Hui.”
Yan Jin Yu hesitated and gritted his teeth.
“By the way, you also need to help me find…a cat.”
Yan Jin Yu slowly turned his head and finally saw Shen Tu’s appearance. He was a little stunned because underneath the hat was a comical monkey general mask – the kind that was commonly sold on street stalls and carried by children.
“A cat?” Yan Jin Yu asked.
“Yes. That San Chiyu who killed your parents? He’s our clan’s Holy Child, the adopted son of the old king, and also a cat who forgot he was a demon.” Shen Tu kindly patted his head. “Little human, you can’t kill him. Otherwise, I’ll cut off your head right now. Tofu pudding from your world is delicious. I wonder if human brains are equally tasty?”