Everyone was startled and quickly backed away. Yun Zhi and a few others stood by Qi Yin’s side. The corpse lifted its head, revealing a pockmarked face resembling a beehive. Its black mouth was wide open, and its contorted face was frozen in a terrifying expression, as if silently screaming in agony.
It didn’t bite anyone, but instead twisted its arms to scratch its own back, tearing it apart. Qi Yin’s back tingled with pain just from watching it. Suddenly, the creature turned its face towards the crowd and crawled towards them. Everyone was terrified, but Yun Zhi bravely stepped forward and kicked it into the swamp.
The corpse struggled in the swamp, sinking deeper and deeper until it disappeared.
Everyone was shaken by the experience. Although they had encountered terrifying demons before, they had never seen anything as repulsive as this.
Qi Ling Shu frowned. “There’s something on its back.”
Qi Yin nodded. He speculated that whatever it was had caused the pockmarks on the corpse’s body. The thing was probably of unknown origin and difficult to deal with, so kicking both it and the corpse into the swamp was the best course of action.
After regrouping, they continued on their journey. By the time they reached Qi Shen Wei’s grave, the sun had risen and the barrier in the sky was visible in the sunlight. Unlike Feng Huan’s barrier, it was like a brilliant rainbow, undulating like waves in the sky. The light filtering through the leaves revealed a subtle and exquisite color.
The snow on the ground had melted, and they walked through puddles of water. It only took less than an hour before they arrived at Qi Shen Wei’s grave. But as they got closer, they were stunned to see that the grave had been completely destroyed.
The white marble tombstone lay broken on the side, and the ground was full of pits and holes. When they looked into the hole, they saw that it was deep and dark, with occasional reflections of light on the water’s surface. On the left was a tomb passage, which probably led to the tomb chamber. A difficult-to-describe rotten odor wafted out, as if something that had been frozen inside the hole for thousands of years was suddenly released.
The area seemed to have lower ground level, and it appeared that the melting snow had caused the grave to collapse. Qi Yin peered into the tomb passage and saw that it was pitch black, with no end in sight. It was clear that Wu Fang had gone all out to build such a spacious grave for his father.
Qi Ling Shu’s face looked very unpleasant. Qi Yin thought it was because Qi Shen Wei’s grave had been washed away, and he was not happy about it. But as he crouched in front of the cave, he said, “This is not Master’s tomb.”
“Strange.” Yun Zhi lowered his head and flipped through the map. “We haven’t taken the wrong path.”
Qi Ling Shu said, “Master passed away suddenly, and the tomb was just a shallow pit dug hastily, not even built with bricks or stones.”
Qi Yin looked down and saw that the cave was at least one person tall.
Zhao Ming said doubtfully, “Did Elder Qi’s tomb change on its own?”
Xin Xiao Xiao also looked around in surprise. The black water reflected everyone’s faces, each looking dark and dead, with an indescribable eerie feeling.
“It didn’t change,” Yun said. “It’s been washed away by water.”
He pointed to a protrusion in the cave wall, where clear soil layers and traces of water erosion could be seen. Obviously, the upper part was the tomb where Qi Shen Wei was buried, and the lower part was the tomb they were looking at now.
Qi Yin complained, “You Wu Fang people didn’t pay enough attention when picking a grave site. How come you didn’t first check if a predecessor had already taken the spot? Crushing someone’s head like this…aren’t you afraid of getting divine punishment?”
Yun Zhi shrugged, “Maybe they were afraid that Elder Qi would be alone and wanted to find him a companion to chat with.”
Qi Ling Shu glanced at him. “The flood may have damaged the coffin. I’ll go down and take a look.”
After speaking, he jumped down. The black water only came up to his ankles. Yun Zhi smiled and said, “I’ll accompany you!”
Just as they were about to jump down, a vague sound suddenly came from deep inside the tomb, carried by a gust of cold wind. The strange sound sounded like a human voice, indistinct and unintelligible. Hearing such a weird sound, everyone looked at each other with a fearful expression, and Qi Ling Shu stood still for a while. But soon everyone figured it out. The water had receded for a long time, and some monster might have entered the tomb.
The sound was murmuring, as if repeating something over and over again. Qi Yin listened carefully, but his spiritual power was weak, and his hearing was not as good as the others, so he had a hard time hearing it.
Suddenly, Qi Ling Shu’s face turned pale, and his eyes went wide. “It’s Master!”
As soon as he said this, everyone was stunned. Qi Yin’s fat master had said that his father was half dead. Could it be that he was really still alive? Qi Ling Shu didn’t say another word and rushed into the tomb. Yun Zhi quickly followed, shouting, “Hei, follow us!”
“Who are you calling Hei!” cursed Qi Yin under his breath. With no other choice, he followed and jumped down as well.
The tomb passage was very cold, and as soon as they descended, a chilly wind blew against their faces. It made Qi Yin feel as though frost was forming in the seams of his bones. The water was ice-cold, soaking their ankles. Qi Yin struggled to move forward, but that little brat Qi Ling Shu had already disappeared like a rat.
They walked together for who knows how long until suddenly the passage opened up. Before them lay a long underground river, with misty darkness on either end, making it impossible to see the source or endpoint. A solitary stone arch bridge was erected to the northwest, leading to a dark hole. Qi Ling Shu held up a lamp talisman at the riverbank, looking down at the dark flowing water. There was an empty peach-wood coffin with a broken lid floating in the center of the river.
It was clear what had happened. Qi Shen Wei hadn’t died; he was buried alive. It was probably the flood that had destroyed the tomb and coffin, finally freeing him. Qi Yin breathed a sigh of relief. He knew this Sword Immortal wouldn’t die that easily.
“Let’s split up.” Qi Ling Shu made a prompt decision. “I’ll go find Master. You guys go up and continue to look for Yun Lan.”
“No way,” Yun Zhi objected. “How could we let you go alone to find your Master?”
Zhao Ming and Xin Xiao Xiao nodded in agreement. Yun Zhi continued, “My Junior Brother and I will go with you.” He gestured at Xin Xiao Xiao. “You two go up.”
This surprised Zhao Ming. After all, Yun Lan was a disciple of Feng Huan Sect. It should have been their job to their own sect members. However, Qi Ling Shu agreed. “I’ll give you the talisman, and if you don’t find Yun Lan nearby, go straight back to Execution Peak and report to the Elder for discussion.”
Zhao Ming stuttered, “Junior Uncle, this…”
“Obey my orders,” Qi Ling Shu ordered.
With Junior Uncle having spoken, Zhao Ming could only nod and accept the talisman, leading Xin Xiao Xiao away with constant backward glances.
As they watched them disappear into the depths of the passage, the remaining three followed the riverbank towards the bridge. Yun Zhi laughed as they walked. “Junior Uncle, since we’re going to travel together, let’s be open with each other. I guess your objective was to come here to Elder Qi’s grave in the first place, right?”
Yun Zhi’s words were correct. All along the way, Qi Ling Shu’s objective had been clear. He was never here to find Fu Lan. However, Qi Ling Shu did not answer, only saying, “You go first.”
“My Master has one of Elder Qi’s life lamps. It’s still burning, but there’s already news of his death from the Wu Fang Sect. My Master is worried about Elder Qi, so he sent us to investigate,” Yun Zhi said.
“We also found bloodstains in your room,” Qi Yin added. “Oh, by the way, did your Master ever practice the Shaman’s Secret Art?”
Qi Ling Shu shook his head. “No, my master specialized in swordsmanship, and never delved into the path of spells.”
“That’s strange… How did those five people die?” Qi Yin furrowed his brows and pondered.
Qi Ling Shu took out a bamboo tube from his Qiankun bag and handed it to Yun Zhi. “I received the bad news in the Northern Land on April 8th, and returned to Wu Fang when my master had already been laid out and was resting in the Wu Fang Hall. I mourned for him, buried him, and returned to the stone room, only to find this in the crevice of the steps.”
Yun Zhi opened the bamboo tube, and Qi Yin also leaned over to take a look. They were immediately shocked to see a small piece of pale bone inside.
“This is not my master’s finger, but I also know that there must be something fishy about his sudden death.” Qi Ling Shu closed his eyes and covered the deep grief in his eyes. “When I left Wu Fang, he was obviously recovering well from his injuries and could walk on his own. On April 8th, however, bad news suddenly came. Since then, I have been secretly investigating, but to no avail, until you came to Wu Fang.”
“How did you know we were looking for Elder Qi?” Yun Zhi asked in confusion.
“Yun Lan disappeared. Isn’t that your plan to sneak into the Forbidden Forest?” Qi Ling Shu said lightly, “Forgive me for being blunt, but you and Yun Yin are too good at acting. Yun Lan disappeared, and the two of you weren’t the least bit panicked.” He looked at Qi Yin and coughed. “Especially you. Your friendship with Yun Lan is deep. You shouldn’t be so calm.”
Qi Yin: “…”
What did deep friendship mean? Qi Yin was speechless. Other than occasionally having some improper thoughts about his brother, he was completely innocent. He finally realized that being serious was just an act, and that this guy was also a perverted scoundrel on the inside.
Yun Zhi smiled while crossing his arms. “To be honest, you guessed wrong. Yun Lan’s disappearance was not part of our plan. My junior brother is a supernatural being, and we can’t control him.”
He spoke vaguely, obviously not wanting to say much about Yun Lan’s matter. Qi Ling Shu didn’t ask much either. He just nodded and said, “However, the reason why I am certain of your goal is because you have brought the real Qi Yin.”
Qi Yin was taken aback and asked in confusion, “How did you find out about me? Um… Was it during the hot spring incident?”
“I don’t know if you have noticed…” Qi Ling Shu paused halfway through and seemed to be weighing his words, as if hesitating whether to say it or not. Qi Yin looked at him in confusion, and he paused for a moment before continuing, “Qi Yin, every time you look at me, your eyes always seem sad. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I always feel like there’s a sense of… abandonment in your eyes.”
Qi Yin: “…”
An awkward silence fell in the air, and Qi Yin laughed dryly, stuttering, “Oh, it’s just because I’m a little envious of you. It’s normal. Anyone would envy you for being so handsome. It’s fine now, I don’t care anymore. Hahaha!”
“Hei.” Yun Zhi looked at him with pity. “You’re laughing uglier than crying.”
Qi Yin choked and glared at him.
Qi Ling Shu said, “I knew about you a long time ago, Qi Yin, since I was very young. They all said that our master had a child outside, and I had wondered why he didn’t go to find you. I still don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that he has been worried about you all this time.”
Qi Yin remained silent. Was he really worried about him? It wouldn’t have been difficult to find him with a sword and just one night’s journey. Even if he couldn’t acknowledge him as his son, couldn’t he at least come to see how he was doing occasionally and send some money to his aunt? That way, perhaps his life would have been a little better. Qi Yin smiled sardonically, his tone both sarcastic and defensive. “Oh, is that so? How did he worry?”
“Don’t you want to know how knew you were Qi Yin?” Qi Ling Shu stopped and whispered, “It was because Yun Lan said that you were called ‘puppy’. In March, I received an invitation from Zhong Gu Mountain to help them vanquish demons, and before I left, I left a piece of Dawn Mirror in the stone room. On the eighth day of April, as our master was dying, he kept shouting ‘puppy’ at the mirror.”
Qi Yin was stunned.
“I didn’t understand it at the time, but I realized it when I was in the hot springs that day. He wanted to see you for the last time,” Qi Ling Shu said slowly. “And the voice that came from the tomb just now, it was calling ‘puppy’ again and again.”
Qi Yin lowered his eyes, feeling as if a pot had been put over his head and he couldn’t express his sadness. What was this all about? He had hated that man for over a decade, and now he suddenly came to tell him that he had his reasons for abandoning his wife and son, and that he still loved him. As if he could be forgiven just because this guy loved him. The past ten years had gone by like flowing water. His mother had passed away, and he had grown up. Did he really expect him to forgive him just because of a word like ‘puppy’?
But the hardness in Qi Yin’s heart seemed to crumble away, leaving behind a small crack. He slowly crouched down, his face reflected in the dark river water. He smiled bitterly at his own reflection.
That man… he really loved him.
Qi Ling Shu and Yun Zhi stood at the edge, silently watching his back as he hung his head, looking like a lost dog. Qi Ling Shu lowered his eyes, remembering the time when Qi Yin stood at the sword competition platform and watched him from afar. When he turned his head, Qi Yin panicked and pretended nothing had happened. At that time, Qi Yin lowered his head, shrugged his shoulders, put his hands in his sleeves, and walked alone in the crowd, but his back was surprisingly lonely.
Every time he saw him, Qi Ling Shu always felt that he had taken his place. Perhaps fate had made a mistake somewhere, and the first disciple of Wu Fang should have been Qi Yin, but another wandering wild child had taken the lead by mistake. Qi Ling Shu silently thought that he owed him.
After a while, Qi Yin stood up and said, “Let’s go find him. I want to ask him why he abandoned me and my mother and disappeared. Why he has not contacted me for eighteen years.” His deep eyes were surprisingly calm and firm. “It’s been eighteen years. It’s time. Today, I will settle things with him.”
Qi Ling Shu was about to nod when there was suddenly a shout from behind him, “Junior Uncle!”
Why hadn’t these two left yet? Qi Yin looked over and saw their panicked faces. Zhao Ming said in fear, “Junior Uncle, the cave entrance is gone.”
“What does that mean?” Qi Ling Shu frowned.
“The entrance is gone!” Xin Xiao Xiao exclaimed. “The entrance has disappeared!”
Qi Ling Shu and Yun Zhi looked at each other, turned back into the tunnel, waded through the water for a while, and finally reached the top. The place where the cave entrance was supposed to be had turned into a rough rock wall. Qi Ling Shu held up a light talisman to carefully examine it. The rock wall was integrated with the surrounding rocks, without any trace of artificial chiseling. It was impossible for anyone else to move a stone to block it while they weren’t paying attention.
“This is damn strange.” Yun Zhi reached out and touched the rock wall.
“Have you tried using the command talisman?” Qi Ling Shu asked.
“Trying it out,” Zhao Ming said uneasily. “It’s no use.”
Qi Ling Shu tried again, but the talisman couldn’t be activated. Everyone stared at each other in disbelief, and Zhao Ming muttered, “Could it be haunted?”
Xin Xiao Xiao shuddered and hugged his arms. “Senior Brother, don’t scare me. I’m afraid of ghosts. When I was young, my siblings would tell me ghost stories, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep all night.”
A strange gust of wind blew over, making people feel chilly and eerie. Qi Yin also felt that this place was a bit sinister.
Qi Ling Shu frowned. “Don’t scare yourself. Maybe it’s an illusion.”
Zhao Ming wanted to break open a way with his sword, but Yun Zhi stopped him and shook his head, saying it was not possible. The rock structure here was intact, and if they tried to break through, the tomb passage might collapse first. Suddenly, Yun Zhi remembered something and quickly took out his Dawn Mirror, polishing it carefully until the vague images of Qing He and Qing Ming appeared inside.
Qing He shook his head and smiled. “Yun Zhi, I told you to open the mirror every half hour. It has been more than two hours now, and you finally remember me.”
“Senior Uncle, you are a grown-up. Don’t bicker with your nephew.”
Yun Zhi explained the situation, and Qi Ling Shu added some details. Qing He pondered for a moment and asked to see Qi Shen Wei’s coffin. Everyone returned to the underground river bank, and Qing He examined it carefully through the mirror for a while. Suddenly, his tone became heavy. “Children, you cannot stay in this tomb for long. You need to find a way out as soon as possible.”