After the thunderstorm, the air in the Chiyuan Grand Canyon was full of ozone. As the gloom dissipated, the mutated trees that were creating chaos everywhere also died, as if their vitality had been overdrawn. They turned into several piles of dead branches and withered leaves, and the fallen petals fell into the flowing waters. The Bureau still couldn't relax, and several field teams were still patrolling back and forth in the Grand Canyon - this was what Xuan Ji saw from a high place, and he was in mid-air.
Xuan Ji's back wings, which had protected from the thunderbolts, were completely unfolded, with a wingspan of seven or eight meters and a height of more than one person when rolled up. However, although it was huge, it didn't seem too heavy. Every feather on the wings was condensed with flames, and it moved with the wind. The scorching fire roasted the air around him, folding the light and shadow, giving a feeling of virtual lightness, like a burning cloud passing by in a mirage.
Anyway, airplanes could not fly in the sky above Chiyuan, and even the Bureau's special planes had to stop nearly a hundred kilometers away in the north, so he was not afraid of being seen.
Xuan Ji claimed to be “free and unrestrained, loving freedom”, a “wild” special ability person, which was actually a lie.
No matter how marginal, special ability people are still “people”, he is not.
He didn't know what he was, so the demon summoned by the Yin Sacrifice called him "Little Demon". He had no objection.
He never had a childhood, nor would he age. He was born with this face and seemed to never change. He looked at all beings with eyes that saw the Thousand Demon Bestiary, and could see their "orders, families, and species", but when he looked into the mirror, the blank paper formed by the white mist always had nothing, only a lonely line of words: Nanming Fire-keeper.
As for what kind of species the "Firekeeper" is, whether it is a human or a demon, an imported or a local species... the useless Thousand Demon Bestiary knows nothing.
Ten years ago, when he first came out of the mountain and into the world, he was staring at the magnificent mountain road and couldn't find his way north when he heard an ominous roar. Following the sound and flying over, he encountered a car accident - the tire of the car burst, and the driver handled it improperly, flipping off the mountain road. Xuan Ji rushed in before the car exploded and dragged the people out.
The car was a father and son. The father was driving, and Xuan Ji gave him a breath. The child in the back seat did not fasten the seat belt in time, and died on the spot before rescue.
Around him were wild mountains and ridges. When Xuan Ji first came, he didn't know how to save them or who to call, so he thought of a secret method called "Listening to the Corpse". "Listening to the corpse" means that within one or two minutes after the person just breathed, a feather is inserted into the ear of the corpse, and the feather turns into a ball of fire and drills into the corpse's brain. He can hear part of the deceased's memories before death, but how much he hears and what content he hears depends on what the deceased was thinking before his consciousness dissipated.
Generally, people who die in accidents will instinctively try to seek help in extreme fear before death. Xuan Ji wanted to take a chance and see if he could find any clues on how to seek help. Unexpectedly, the teenager might have hit his head hard when the car overturned, and he passed away without any reaction. In his last moments, he was only filled with some mundane daily trivialities.
Xuan Ji, in a daze, tried to save his unconscious father's life, and half-understood the mortal youth's longing for worldly matters.
The teenager had just been accepted to university and was on his way to a school in another place when the accident happened. Home, school, the longing for the future, the longing for the girl he had a secret crush on, all these vivid youth flooded into Xuan Ji's ears, and in a very short time, disappeared with the corpse becoming colder.
At this moment, the unconscious father opened his eyes briefly. Due to excessive blood loss, he mistakenly thought Xuan Ji was his child, tightly gripping his hand and mumbling "Don't be afraid" again and again, and covering Xuan Ji's hand with blood in the process.
Sticky and warm, like a spiderweb, Xuan Ji was dragged into the mortal world.
Xuan Ji followed the father's muddled instructions and, by sheer luck, managed to turn on their phones and fiddled with them for half a day, eventually successfully calling the police.
Then he buried the teenager's corpse and, with a little sleight of hand, replaced the teenager's identity - not completely changing his face, but just changing his clothing and temperament according to the teenager's appearance, confusing people's senses and making people who knew the original owner feel that he had been like this before.
"Xuan" was the original owner's surname, which he liked upon hearing it, so he kept it.
"Ji" was what he changed when he understood the modern household registration system and went to the public security bureau. As his identity was over 18, the process was quite troublesome - but even though it was troublesome, it still had to be changed, because "Ji" was his real name, he didn't know who came up with it, and it was born with him. Ancient people said "names and fate are connected", and modern psychology also believes that names are related to the subconscious. He felt like he should be called this.
Just graduating from high school is a major turning point in life, especially for teenagers who go to university in another place. After a semester, their character and habits often change a lot, and their family and friends won't pay too much attention. Consequently, "Xuan Ji" had an identity and became a person with a background story. Even the investigators from the Bureau hadn't been able to detect any problems with his resume.
Xuan Ji swooped over the Chiyuan Grand Canyon from high altitude, flew directly into the depths of the canyon that the Bureau didn't dare to enter, and plunged into the depths of the dense forest. When he descended, he brought down a few leaves, and the bright leaves were instantly ashes before they even touched the ground.
The eerie silence here allowed one to see the half-empty sky, the ground, and even the spiderwebs solidified in the bushes through the "Thousand Monster Bestiary"... All of them were ancient formations, layered upon one another, full of murderous intent.
Xuan Ji flew through the canopy of trees blocking out the sky, landing and folding his wings. Putting on his shirt, he fastened the mother-of-pearl buttons as he walked in, each step precisely falling in the gaps of the formations, passing through the alarming clusters of them with ease.
Following a intermittent stream, he arrived at the foot of a mountain deep in the Chiyuan Canyon. Xuan Ji mumbled something, and with that, a flame rose from his palm, quickly disappearing into the ground. Immediately after, the ground shook, a sigh coming from the depths of the canyon as if a barrier had been opened. The formerly silent forest suddenly became alive with noise, countless whispers of bird cries and bug hums. Vines like snakes dangled down, rubbing against Xuan Ji affectionately as the ancient trees slowly moved to the sides, making way for a path.
Passing through the path made by the ancient trees, the view suddenly opened up. It was a hundred-zhang-wide canyon, lush with grass and trees and streams flowing. On both sides were steep cliffs, and in the middle of the canyon was a vast... ancient city.
This was the Chiyuan Canyon where "all living things must stop and any intruder will be crushed to dust".
This was the place of his birth.
The ancient city in the canyon was like the Pompeii buried under volcanic ash, or the Atlantis hidden in the depths of the sea. It was full of deathly aura, and not a soul to be seen.
In the center of the ancient city was a pitch-black stone carving of a giant tree, dozens of meters tall. Every branch and leaf was extremely realistic, as if they could sway in the breeze. South of the stone tree was the highest point in the whole valley, upon which a large hall stood facing south, with two wings each with a temple, engraved with huge flame totems. The totem was identical to the mark on Xuan Ji's forehead.
Following the large hall and temples, there were large and small courtyards, corridors and bridges, stone monuments, and murals faintly visible.
Like a specimen frozen in place.
As soon as Xuan Ji stepped into it, the ruins-like ancient city suddenly "came alive". Black fog came out from the ground, cliffs, stone gaps and dense forest, dispersing into the air and taking various forms. Some were human-shaped, some were just bones, some were half-human half-beast... and some were just a bunch of limbs put together, circling him merrily.
Then, a piercing neigh sounded, and from the black fog, a group of cavalry rushed out, galloping through the air and quickly arriving in front of Xuan Ji. The iron hooves of the warhorses were lifted high, and the riders on the backs of the horses, like ghosts, alighted and formed bodies, bowing to him.
Xuan Ji waved his hand: “Don’t make it so grand every time, the times outside are no longer the same, you are making me feel like an old feudal lord.”
The leader of the swordsmen stepped forward, pushing away his black mask on the face, revealing a face that could scare people to death—only one eye, the rotten skin on the face sticking the five senses together, and the left lower jaw revealing mottled white bones.
He smiled at Xuan Ji with this face and made a hoarse voice from his throat: “Clan leader...back...home...safe?”
“Oh, it's been a while since you’ve come back,” Xuan Ji responded, “Dao Yi, you’ve worked hard to take care of the family. Has that crazy person digging graves in the nearby disturbed you all?”
“Not yet,” Knight “Dao Yi” said, “I was about to...dream...of you.”
“‘Fu Qi’ and ‘Jian Shi Er’ want to...return their souls to the heavens and earth.” As Dao Yi spoke, the evil face showed a complex expression, both desolate and seemingly yearning, and two swordsmen stepped forward, taking off their armor and kneeling at Xuan Ji's feet.
One of them had no head, his neck was empty and there were only some wafting mists; the other was blackened, and there were occasional red spots on his body. Looking closely, it turned out that those "red spots" were all sparks - he was like a charcoal in a fire pile, and when a gust of wind swept through, he would suffer from the pain of burning.
Xuan Ji sighed. In his eyes, the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" that was not closed marked the identity of these "swordsmen" — "weapon spirits".
It is said that the ancient battlefield in the Chiyuan area once left a large number of ancient cold weapons. One of them was a special weapon, which was called "Divine Weapon" in ancient books. In Xuan Ji's opinion, it should be called "Ghost Weapon". It greatly reflects the persecution of the people by the old society - they are all “refined” with living things.
Using secret techniques to merge living creatures alive into the refining furnace, after the device is formed, there will be “weapon spirits”, these weapon spirits are imprisoned in the device body forever and ever, enslaved by people.
In ancient times, smelting technology was limited, and even the "divine" knives would rust after years of use. Once the weapon that served as the body had a problem, the weapon spirit would almost be abandoned - some weapon spirits would rot with the weapon, and some wouldn't be rotted in time and lost their minds first...until the device body was completely rotten, these weapon spirits would follow suit.
Xuan Ji didn't know how powerful the "Divine Weapon" was at the time, but he knew how tragic these weapon spirits were.
These weapon spirits abandoned in the ancient battlefield had no master, they were his neighbors, his people and his friends. From birth, Xuan Ji was only accompanied by them. He didn't know why, but all the weapon spirits spontaneously submitted to him, even those who had gone crazy, and could be quiet for a while around him.
The spirits called him "Chief of the Fire-Keeping Tribe", and when they could no longer bear the torture, they would go to Xuan Ji for help to destroy their own bodies and beg for relief.
"Alright," Xuan Ji said softly, "Then... let's go to the altar first."
The altar was behind the great hall in the south, surrounded by thirty-five stone tablets, inscribed with the birth and death dates of the deceased. According to Dao Yi, they were Xuan Ji's previous thirty-five "Fire-Keepers", which could be roughly equivalent to "ancestors and ancestors".
After the death of the previous Fire-Keeper, the next one was born, and Xuan Ji himself was "born" in this cemetery. His early memories were already blurred, he only vaguely remembered that he couldn't move at that time, and he seemed not to need to eat, drink, or defecate.
Listening to Dao Yi's description, he felt that he might be a slow-growing sweet potato or potato - germinating on the corpse of his predecessor.
The altar was spotless, and the bodies of two seeking relief spirits had already been arranged in the middle of the altar: a broken axe and an ancient sword corroded beyond recognition.
The spirits were all very familiar with this matter, and they all stepped forward, bidding farewell to the Fu Qi and Jian Shi Er.
Most of these crippled spirits could no longer speak, so they just silently gathered together to each send the other on a journey, and then dispersed to stand around the altar. Fu Qi and Jian Shi Er knelt down to Xuan Ji, and then their bodies flashed and disappeared into the broken axe and ancient sword.
Xuan Ji was like a delicate craftsman, taking the white cloth from Dao Yi. He knelt on the ground and meticulously wiped off the dust on the two wounded soldiers. He didn't know how he knew all this. Suddenly, a cloud in the sky was blown away by the wind, and the brilliant sunshine fell on the altar. Just then, the rust on the sword was wiped off by the white cloth, and a corner of the sword engraving was exposed in the sun. The characters were not clear, only the head of the grass character was left.
There were too many characters in the grass character, so it was impossible to guess. Anyway, it must not be "Moxie". The spirits of these weapons are all nameless and insignificant, neither beneficial nor harmful to the world. It seems that they were born just to suffer in this fate.
After Xuan Ji wiped the body of the rusted weapons, he asked, "No regrets?"
The wounded spirits were silent.
Xuan Ji asked the same question three times in a routine manner, and after waiting a moment, the two spirits did not come out again, which meant they had no regrets.
"Thanks for your care over the years. I'll send you off," Xuan Ji said softly as he pressed his hand to his chest and said, "Brothers."
He then pinched his chest as if plucking out a fireball. Xuan Ji held the fireball in his hands and the two broken weapons on the altar flew up by themselves, circling around him with a hint of reluctance before diving into the fireball.
Xuan Ji closed his eyes.
When the fireball touched the weapons, it immediately surged and swallowed the weapons cleanly. The flame suddenly turned pure white and could melt gold into jade. In the blink of an eye, the two broken weapons melted into Xuan Ji's palm.
Two vague figures rose from the flames in mid-air. One was tall and the other was short. They were not the shadowy forms of dark spirits.
The tall one was a thin scholar with patched clothes but neatly trimmed beard, looking poor yet dignified. The short one was delicate and petite, her hairstyle and posture vaguely resembling a young girl, a stark contrast to the blood and fleshy weapon spirits - this was what the spirits looked like before being refined into cutting weapons.
Through the flames, Xuan Ji caught a few glimpses of their lives as living beings, but it was as chaotic and short-lived as “Listening to the Corpse”, and the scenes of the past disappeared with their figures in the flames.
The other weapon spirits stared at the flames on the altar for a long time until it gradually dimmed and extinguished in Xuan Ji's palm. Then they dispersed like wandering souls.
Every time, Xuan Ji found it hard to guess what the weapon spirits were thinking. At first, he was afraid that after watching the funeral, they would line up to borrow fire from him, after all, death has a demonstration effect. But later he found that it was worrying too much. Although the weapon spirits could not understand the joys and loves of life, they were still willing to continue living.
Until they really arrived at the end of the mountains and rivers, they would carefully choose their own end and bid farewell to the world solemnly.
Xuan Ji sat alone on the altar, his thick, smooth outer shell briefly peeling away. His expression was indifferent, and the brilliant sunlight revealed a hint of loneliness. He listened to the sound of insects chirping in the stone forest, suddenly feeling the urge to light a cigarette.
At that moment, there was a "crack" sound in his ear, and Xuan Ji suddenly paused and looked towards the sound.
A crack had inexplicably appeared on a stone tablet in the stone forest.
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