Sunlight shone on the Repentance Cliff, and the cobblestone path was covered with moss. There was a faint smell of decay in the air, as if it had drifted from thousands of years ago, crossing the ages.
Qi Yin was wrapped in bandages and slumped on a bald rattan chair. Another injured person, Yun Zhi, lay on the daybed with his upper body bare. He was also a pretty boy with a slender and well-toned body. The only flaw was that he was missing an arm.
Qing Shi’s disciples brought out many boxes and cabinets from the room. Four identical disciples pulled open the drawers one by one, some filled with wooden eyeballs, some filled with wooden ears, and others with all the facial features. Qi Yin’s eyes were sharp and he even saw some genitals.
He only found out today that this fat man was also proficient in this kind of technique – mechanical surgery. No wonder Qing Shi had more and more disciples with each passing day, and they all looked exactly the same. They were all mechanical dolls with gears inside. A compass was installed on their heads to determine direction, and a spirit stone was placed in their chest to provide power for the whole body. One swept the floor, one served tea, one combed hair, and one sang a little song.
Ye Qing Ming whispered, “His arm was gone more than ten years ago. When he was a child, he was tied up and used as food by the snake demon. Some monsters are very vicious, unlike your cat, let alone your silly brother. They kidnap people everywhere and turn them into food. Children’s meat is the most tender and they like it the most. When they are hungry, they eat one person per bite. When they are not hungry, they keep them and slowly remove their arms and legs as appetizers. Your senior brother was very pitiful. The snake demon ate his arm in front of him.”
Qi Yin remained silent. He still couldn’t believe that his senior brother was actually a disabled person. After all, this guy was so arrogant and always smiled so cheaply. Qi Yin remembered his charming sword dance and the way he tricked Fu Lan into washing his clothes. He looked like a scoundrel, not like he was missing an arm.
“But it’s okay. Your master made a wooden arm that is impervious to water and fire, and it is even more useful than a normal arm,” said Qing Ming. “It just looks ugly and can’t be disguised as human skin, so your senior brother usually wears a glove.”
Qing Shi compared a wooden arm with Yun Zhi’s left hand, cut off the extra length, and carved intricate runes on the arm. The runes were like vines, climbing up the wooden arm. It looked strangely beautiful. Qing Shi attached the wooden arm to Yun Zhi’s shoulder and sewed the joint with mulberry bark.
Yun Zhi was in pain, his veins bulging. “Master, can’t you give me some anesthetic?”
Qing Shi smiled. “If you know pain, you will practice your swordsmanship even more diligently. Don’t let the demons break your arm next time and then ask me to clean up the mess for you.”
After Qing Shi finished the stitching, Yun Zhi clenched his fist, and the symbols on his arm emitted a fine golden light, making his entire arm more flexible.
After putting on his clothes, Yun Zhi looked at the sorrowful expression on Qi Yin’s face and said with a smile, “Junior brother, don’t be afraid when you encounter demons in the future. Even if you’re left with only your head, our master can make you a wooden body and save you.”
With his carefree attitude, no one could tell that he had a disability. Qi Yin began to respect this rogue senior brother and gave him a fist bump. “Never mind. If that really happens, please let me ascend to heaven right where I stand.”
Qing Ming helped Yun Zhi leave, while Qing Shi sat on a stool and packed up his boxes and baskets. Four disciples helped him, carrying the boxes back to the room one by one. The sun was warm, and the green stone road shimmered with light. The distant mountains were a shade of blue, stretching across the sky and the earth.
Qi Yin moved his fingers and asked, “Did you know Lan Xian’er was a demon all along?”
“To be precise, she’s a half-demon.” Qing Shi picked up his things and said slowly, “Her mother fell in love with a scholar, bore a daughter for him, and sacrificed her cultivation to save the scholar’s life when he was severely injured by a demon. Unfortunately, she lost her cultivation and could no longer transform into human form. When the scholar saw her true form, he was terrified and ran away overnight. Later, he became the top scholar in the capital, and this tapir came to the capital and bit him to death when he was riding a horse through the streets. The emperor at the time asked me to capture the demon, so I trapped her in the Heavenly Boundary Array. She died at the foot of the Repentance Cliff ten years ago. Tapirs usually have black fur all over their bodies, but Lan Xian’er has a human face, which was passed down to her from her father’s bloodline.”
Qi Yin lowered his head, thinking of the girl who looked like a white cotton flower. He kicked the ground with his toe. “I think… this girl is quite pitiful.”
“All things in nature are humble except for the heavens. Who isn’t pitiful?” Qing Shi shook his head with a smile. “This girl entered Chang Le Brothel a month ago and asked about me as soon as she arrived. She had been trying to enter my dreams every night for the past month. Although I’ve gained some weight and lost some hair, I am still the head of a sect. Young people nowadays are too arrogant.”
“Then why did you let me go find Yun Zhi by myself?”
“Yun Lan went with you, didn’t he? You see, with him around, even if you have a big hole in your chest, he can fix it for you.”
Qi Yin was taken aback. “You know that my brother is…”
All along, Qi Yin had thought that Fu Lan was human, but because he had been living among demons for a long time, like a wild man raised in a wolf pack, he could not distinguish his own kind. It wasn’t until Fu Lan had pulled him back from the brink of death that Qi Yin realized that this guy might not be human after all.
But, so what if he wasn’t human?
Qi Yin propped himself up and said, “Master, although my brother is not human, he is a good kid. He used to live with my mother when he was a child, and she recognized him as her godson. You see, he and I have been here in Feng Huan Mountain for so long, and he has never harmed anyone.”
“People think that Fu Lan is a pig demon, but that pig demon is just a fake using the name of the demon lord to show off,” Qing Shi said with a smile, his hands in his sleeves. “The Abyssal Dragon has been lurking in the Nine Layers for thousands of years. How could it be killed by a pig demon with only a few hundred years of cultivation? I know Fu Lan is not a bloodthirsty and cruel pig demon, but I didn’t expect that he’s someone who only loves doing laundry, cooking, and taking care of his younger brother.”
“You’ve misunderstood. My brother is not a demon lord or anything like that. The name is just a coincidence. He’s poor and naive, without even a eunuch or a guard under his command. What kind of demon lord is he? It must be a misunderstanding,” Qi Yin said, laughing along.
Qing Shi kept his smile. “My disciple, do you really know your brother?”
“Of course I do! He is honest, sincere to others, respects his elders, cares for his fellow disciples, and is a rare good young man,” Qi Yin said, giving him a thumbs up.
“I am over forty years old and have read many books, but I have never seen any power that can repair a person’s heart and bring back someone whose intestines are pierced through. Do you not want to know what kind of magic your brother used?” Qing Shi asked.
“I don’t want to know,” Qi Yin answered quickly. “I just know that he is my brother.”
Qing Shi was momentarily stunned, then shook his head with a bitter smile. “You child…never mind, let me tell you a story. In the southern territory, there are many legends about your brother. To talk about him, I have to tell you about a place first. Xiao Yin, have you ever heard of the Ba Mountain Temple?”
Qi Yin shook his head.
“That is a temple located in the heart of Ba Mountain. According to the ‘Record of Southern Territory’, thousands of years ago, when the great deity walked the earth, the shamans built the temple to worship, sacrifice, communicate with the heavens, and seek guidance. Ba Mountain Temple is the largest temple in the southern territory, dedicated to their great deity, the White Deer. It is a deity that protects demons and monsters. We in the central plains call it an evil god or a wild god. Legend has it that this deity likes to eat the hearts of young children. In the southern territory, they sacrifice living children every full moon. The children are all killed by having their hearts cut out.”
Qi Yin shivered. “Are you sure this is a deity and not a monster?”
Qing Shi shook his head and continued, “In the past hundred years, Daoism has been declining, and many techniques have failed one after another. Each Daoists’ lifespan is shorter than the previous generation. Ancient shamans could live for hundreds or even thousands of years, but now even the most prestigious Daoist can only live for a little over a hundred years. Later, some people proposed that Daoism originated from ancient sorcery, and they thought of seeking a way to restore it from the source. So, they thought of Ba Mountain Temple. However, according to the ‘Record of Southern Territory,’ three thousand years ago, the last great shaman died suddenly, and Ba Mountain was suddenly enveloped in dense fog. Since then, no one has been able to pass through the white fog and reach Ba Mountain Temple.”
“Yes, it is a white fog that can eat people.” Qing Shi looked at Qi Yin with deep meaning in his eyes. “Fifty years ago, Wu Fang Mountain gathered a group of cultivators and formed a team of twelve to explore the temple in the Southern Territory. Each of them left a trace of their divine consciousness in Wu Fang Dawn Mirror. Through the mirror, the divine consciousness could connect with their bodies, and the elders of Wu Fang Mountain could learn of their experiences through the mirror. That time, it was led by Elder Zong Lan. The twelve people rushed to Ba Mountain. They entered the dense fog but found that they couldn’t see anything.”
“Because the fog was too thick? But they were so powerful. Even if they couldn’t see with their eyes, they could use their divine senses?” Qi Yin asked.
“Just like you thought, once they entered the thick fog, they released their divine senses, but they still couldn’t see anything. Even if they put their palms in front of their eyes, they couldn’t see anything. If it wasn’t for the fact that their field of vision was white, they would have thought they were blind. In a panic, they had to use ropes to tie themselves together to prevent getting lost. But fortunately, the mirror could still transmit their voices. Although they couldn’t see anything, it didn’t hinder their communication with Wu Fang Mountain.
Since their divine senses couldn’t locate the temple, they had to search on foot. They were afraid of demons in the mountains, so everyone restrained their voices and didn’t light any fires, and they only spoke in low voices occasionally. At night, it was pitch black, and it slowly brightened up in the morning, but still, they couldn’t see anything. They set a direction and headed west, but strange things happened. Every day, one person’s divine consciousness disappeared from the Dawn Mirror. There was only one situation that could make the divine consciousness disappear, which was if the person had already died. Wu Fang Mountain asked them, but they answered that the number of people hadn’t decreased. Elder Zong Lan wanted to confirm that everyone was there, so he made everyone report their number one by one.”
Qi Yin’s heart was beating fast as he asked, “Are they all there?”