“Why?” Qi Ling Shu took the Dawn Mirror and asked, “Master is still in the tomb.”
“Since you entered the Forbidden Forest, everything you’ve encountered has been abnormal. Not following normal rules means unpredictable dangers. Do you know what unpredictable dangers mean?” Qing He sighed. “It means danger.”
Qi Ling Shu pondered for a moment and said, “Senior Uncle, please go and ask Elder Yuan Ji to send someone to rescue us. I’ll go into the tomb first to find my Master.” He looked at Qi Yin and the others. “You guys wait here.”
“We share a bond of having worn crotch pants together.” Yun Zhi grinned and hooked his arm around Qi Ling Shu’s neck. “How could I possibly leave you?”
It was supposed to be a caring remark, but Yun Zhi just had to say it in such an annoying way. Qi Ling Shu resisted his shameless behavior and coldly pulled away from him, standing further away.
Qi Yin raised his hand. “I’ll go too.”
After all, that jerk was still his father, and he had to go check on him.
Zhao Ming had always followed Qi Ling Shu, and wherever Qi Ling Shu went, he followed. He also said he wanted to go. Xin Xiao Xiao was still worried about her missing Lan Gege. They decided to search for both Qi Shen Wei and an exit, and they had to stick together and not act alone. So, they decided to go forward and explore. The underground river didn’t flow in a straight line, but had distinct turns.
The black water’s ripples blinked like pupils, flowing silently into the dark. They crossed the bridge and arrived on the other side of the river.
Light symbols illuminated the surrounding area, and Qi Yin’s eyes widened. This place couldn’t be called a tomb. It should be called a palace. The ground was paved with ice-cracked patterned tiles, and the patterns were complex, with an ancient and solemn feel to them. The surrounding rock walls were polished smooth and decorated with colored rock paintings, many of which had faded. In the center was a large bronze cauldron, covered in talismans, with a faint rosy light emanating from the mouth of the cauldron. Above it hung twelve golden-handled daggers, with the blades shaped like a golden cross, each one only slightly longer than a palm, sharp and shining with star-like cold light.
“This is so grand. Could it be the tomb of the founder of Wu Fang?” Qi Yin exclaimed in amazement.
No one answered him, as everyone was curious about the twelve golden short swords that were rotating in the light.
Qi Ling Shu furrowed his brow and said, “Cross Guard Short Swords?”
“What?” Qi Yin asked.
Qi Ling Shu furrowed his brow without saying a word. Yun Zhi explained for him, “The Cross Guard Short Sword is a legendary artifact that only gods can wield. Once it pierces flesh, it cannot be withdrawn without the owner’s will and remains there for eternity. In ancient times, there were three major metals: gold, silver, and bronze. The Cross Guard Short Sword has a gold handle and a silver blade, making it very powerful. Look at the blade of this Cross Sword. There is no such blade in the Central Plains. Master Qing He once speculated that it was a sword of the Southern divine beings. However, this sword is only recorded in ancient books. Whether it is a weapon of gods or not, it remains to be seen. It’s possible that the tomb owner replicated it according to the records.”
Qing He exclaimed, “Yun Zhi did not sleep in my class. I shall give you a reward.”
Yun Zhi smiled. “No, no. That won’t be necessary.”
Qing He lowered his voice and said, “At the hour of the Rabbit, I will have Qing Ming disguise himself and follow you to the tomb in the Forbidden Forest. If you find Yuan Wei, return to the other side of the river and wait for Qing Ming.”
Yun Zhi sighed. “My master is not as reliable as you are. He would have already burned paper for me by now.”
After examining the sword, everyone scattered throughout the hall to search for any openings. The silence in the dark hall was a bit frightening. The dim golden light of the lamp symbols reflected on everyone’s faces, as if they were wearing golden masks. Qi Yin touched his cold hand and felt like someone was lurking in the darkness. Unconsciously, he walked over to the mural, where the ancient colors caught his eye.
The colors of the mural were very simple, mainly black rock with red and white accents. The first painting depicted a moonlit night. The pure black color of the rocks represented the night, and a white paint blob represented the moon. A group of roughly sketched people knelt on the ground, some with horns. They devoutly worshipped the moon with piles of offerings of fruits and vegetables in front of them. In the second painting, the moon in the sky extended a winding ladder of light to the ground, and everyone jumped and danced joyfully. Qi Yin turned to the other side of the wall and looked at the third painting. At first glance, he widened his eyes.
In front of the moon, at the top of the light ladder, stood a tall and upright deer. Its antlers bloomed with flowers, and its hooves were wrapped in the spring breeze. It overlooked all living beings below, as if it were the ruler of the world.
It was the White Deer.
“You guys, look at the dome!” Xin Xiao Xiao suddenly exclaimed.
Everyone looked up, and Xin Xiao Xiao released a lamp talisman. The talisman floated up and illuminated the dark dome. A huge colorful painting was painted on the dome of the hall. The deep and flowing lines outlined a tall and upright white deer, running on the winding light ladder, towards the moon that occupied almost half of the night sky. Countless ants-like creatures crawled in a corner of the mural, kneeling and sending off the white deer.
“This is not a Wu Fang Elder’s tomb.” Qing He sighed softly. “This is a shaman”s tomb.”
In the Ice Sea Abyss.
Fu Lan quietly dived underwater, the silent water enveloping him. It was so cold here that even with his protective barrier, he felt like he might freeze instantly. The black cat in his arms trembled with cold. The water was pitch black and the depths were unfathomable. It was still too early for the sun to provide enough light to penetrate the deep sea.
He looked down at the abyssal depths below and released some small fish. Countless light blue flying fish surged out of him and swam into the silent depths, their faint glow illuminating the vast expanse of the sea. He saw a bronze giant pillar standing beneath him. It was an array of countless square bronze pillars, with the bottom submerged in the mud of the icy sea, leaving only the part exposed to the water towering high above.
Ancient mortals, demons, and monsters believed that the higher they built their houses, the closer they would be to the gods. They built these bronze pillars to try to get closer to the gods. If anyone dared to blaspheme the gods, the shamans would remove their heads and embed them in the bronze pillars while casting them, pouring molten bronze over them until they were fused with the pillars. Wherever his gaze fell, he saw many dark blue heads like solemn statues.
Fu Lan slowly dived down, his toes landing on the top of a bronze pillar, overlooking the ruins.
In front of him was the huge remains of a double-eaved building, with seaweed wrapped around the beam and rafters. The main body of the temple had long been buried in the mud. The black cat approached a bronze pillar, and a small fish swirled around it to provide light. He saw densely engraved gold characters on it, but the gold paint had long since faded and turned into a dull wax yellow.
The black cat slowly read the text:
“Jie Bai Lu, disobedient to heaven.
Rebellious and obstinate, defying heaven’s will.
The Emperor has eight directions, and his majesty is supreme.
The bell and drum are resounding, and the gods are on the march.
The chime and the guan are clanging, and the White Deer has crumbled.
Heaven and earth return to clarity, and all the gods return together.”
“This is probably an ancient battlefield,” the black cat explained. “The other bronze pillars don’t have the golden script on them. It was probably carved after the war. ‘Emperor’ refers to Fu Xi. They sounded the war drums, and Fu Xi led the gods of the Central Plains to defeat the White Deer. When the chimes rang, they won.” The black cat touched the dim words with his paw. “Our gods are dead, fool. The great gods are transformed by the qi of heaven and earth, and after death, they return to heaven and earth without physical form or reincarnation. We haven’t had any gods in the Southern Region for a long time.”
“Is it very bad?” Fu Lan asked in a low voice.
“It’s very bad,” the black cat said gloomily. “This means that when we pray to the great gods and make wishes, we are just talking to the air. There are no gods to hear your wishes or grant them. Xiao Yin was right. We found him by luck.”
Fu Lan didn’t answer. The black cat turned his head and saw the quiet man staring into the dark abyss, looking absent-minded. After a moment, more blue fish surged from his body, and the black cat could see that he was using this technique to the fullest.
The small fish spread silently over the entire ice sea, and Fu Lan’s eyes suddenly contracted.
Heartbeats. The entire sea resounded with heartbeats.
At the bottom of the ice sea, countless strong heartbeats were buried in the mud, ancient and solemn, like ringing bells and drums. To the east of the ice sea, countless weak heartbeats thudded faintly, as if they were wrapped in cloth and almost inaudible. The small fish swam through those heartbeats, and he saw frosty, cold and pale faces with their eyes closed. The low temperature suppressed their blood flow and heartbeats, sending them into a quiet sleep. These things were strange in shape, with human upper bodies and deformed lower bodies. Some even had sharp claws and it was hard to tell if they were human or demon.
The small fish did not stop, continuing to dive. To the north of the ice sea, there was a huge heart thudding like muffled thunder, belonging to a young dragon. There was another heart like this that died by his sword.
The heartbeats sounded like a concerto of different instruments, with a faint ripple in the dark water, as if vibrating with them. Suddenly, among all the heartbeats, one stood out. Among the myriad of heartbeats, it resonated only with Fu Lan’s heartbeat, as if it belonged to an old friend he not seen for many years.
It was calling out to Fu Lan.
Fu Lan lowered his gaze and reached out his hand.
The vast waves and the silt at the bottom of the abyss shook suddenly, and a pitch-black object broke out of the seabed and rose into the waves at a steady speed. It floated towards Fu Lan and eventually stopped in front of him.
It was a black scabbard sword with strange cross-shaped blades. The black scabbard was not decorated in the slightest, and it was so black that it seemed to absorb all light. Fu Lan grasped the handle of the sword, and his dignified heartbeat pulsated from the body of the sword, throbbing in his palm. After a moment, the scabbard automatically fell off, and a cold, shimmering mercury-like substance spilled out.
The black cat stared at the sword and exclaimed, “This sword is made of silver. Look, it has been buried underground for so many years, yet it doesn’t have a trace of mud on it. This must not be an ordinary weapon. Is this a sword from our southern region?”
Fu Lan whispered its name, “Bone-Cutting Sword.”
The black cat widened his eyes. “How do you know?”
Fu Lan shook his head lightly.
He didn’t know why, but he recognized this sword. When he held the handle of the sword, it felt like he was reuniting with an old friend.
He carried the Bone-Cutting Sword on his back, bent over, and swam towards the edge of the Ice Sea.
“Where are we going now?” the black cat asked.
They arrived at the wall of the Ice Sea, and there were countless holes in front of them, resembling a huge beehive. Each hole led to an endless darkness. Countless small fish passed through the shimmering water barrier and swam into the cave. A complex map appeared in Fu Lan’s mind, with tunnels and caves connecting to each other like a huge spider web. Countless Wu Fang disciples walked on the spider web. In the center of the spider web was a huge golden magic array, with eight men meditating.
This was a secret location in Wu Fang, the Heavenly Abyss Spider Web.
The black cat clung to Fu Lan’s shoulder, and they both entered the cave.
“Let’s fight,” Fu Lan said.
“Shaman’s tomb?” Xin Xiao Xiao asked, “How can there be a Shaman’s tomb in the mortal world?”
Qing He said, “In ancient times, the territory of southern region was much larger than it is today. According to the ‘Records of the Southern Region,’ the current location of Wu Fang was the northernmost part of southern region at that time. Many ancient shamans are buried here.”
Qi Yin remembered what Lord Cat said about southern region’s curse, and felt a little uneasy. “Master, are we trespassing in someone’s tomb? Will they hold a grudge against us and curse us?”
Qing He laughed softly. “As long as you don’t mess with things, like the short swords, I’m sure the predecessors won’t mind.”
“Don’t worry. I heard that White Deer God only eats the hearts of children. You are so tall. They won’t choose you as a sacrifice,” Zhao Ming sneered.
“…” Qi Yin frowned imperceptibly and said, “It’s just a rumor that the White Deer eats the hearts of children. On the contrary, according to the legends of demons, it especially likes children. If a child gets lost, it will even lead them back home.”
Zhao Ming was unwilling to accept this. “Where did you hear that? You’re speaking up for the evil god of demons?”
Qi Yin rolled his eyes at him and ignored him. Seeing his reaction, Zhao Ming became even more angry and was about to say something else. Qi Ling Shu furrowed his brow and said, “Be quiet.”
Yun Zhi casually laughed and said, “The evil god of demons? I don’t think so.” He gestured towards the dome and said, “You see, those with horns represent demons, and those without horns should be humans, right?”
Qing He agreed. “In ancient times, the gap between humans and demons was not as deep as it is today. There were many human settlements in the southern regions that worshipped the White Deer God along with demons.”
“Elder Qing He, does the White Deer live on the moon?” Xin Xiao Xiao asked curiously.
“More accurately, it lives in the Lunar Heaven,” Qing He said. “According to the ‘Records of the Southern Regions,’ on the night of the full moon, the shamans and believers will offer sacrifices and await the arrival of the White Deer God. Look at the second rock painting. The person in the corner is dancing. That is not just a simple dance. It is a shaman’s ritual dance that can only be performed to welcome the gods. Only the ritual dance can invite the arrival of the god and the moonlight ladder. I have heard that the dance is solemn and elegant, but unfortunately, the steps have been lost, and we have not had the opportunity to witness it.”
“Wait a minute.” Qi Ling Shu suddenly pointed to the dome. “What is that?”
Following his direction, Qi Yin found several thin scratches on the painting. They were of varying lengths, with five scratches in each group, as if they were made by human hands. Yun Zhi snapped his fingers, and more light talismans floated up, illuminating the entire dome. Everyone was stunned to see that the dome was covered in scratches.
“What crawled in here?” Zhao Ming asked nervously. “A monster?”
It was likely that monster was trapped here too. Qi Yin furrowed his brow, wondering how Qi Shen Wei was doing. Qing He said he was half-dead. Could he have encountered a monster and been injured?
Just then, there were rustling sounds coming from the end of the hall, which sounded particularly abrupt in the silent darkness. Everyone was startled, and Qi Yin quickly took out his sword. Even though it was rusty, it was still a sword, and could be used for self-defense.
Qi Ling Shu lit a light talisman, and it floated towards the source of the sound. The dim light gradually dispelled the darkness, and they saw a skinny and shriveled figure hiding behind a red pillar, seemingly staring at them.