As they spoke, the memories began to slowly push forward.
Sheng Lingyuan and Xuan Ji were also swept up in the flow of time.
The young prince, who was exiled with his people, was still recovering from his injuries and resting by the window.
Suddenly, a strange and ugly bug flew in and landed directly on his forehead, causing mischievous laughter from the children.
Although Sheng Lingyuan was only ten years old, he had already been fleeing in endless fear for ten years and had long lost his childishness. He neither had the same experience as the naughty children nor was he interested in indulging them.
Calmly, he pinched the bug and released it outside, speaking in the unfamiliar language of the witch people, "If you cause trouble again, I'll tell your father."
The snickering ceased and, after a moment, Aluojin's head popped out from the tree.
He glared at Sheng Lingyuan with a puffed-up chest and then scurried down the tree with his little entourage.
As a young boy, Aluojin was filled with curiosity about Sheng Lingyuan and wanted to play with him, but he didn't know how to approach him.
Being the only son of the tribe leader, he was spoiled by the tribe and had always been the center of attention. The other children in the tribe followed him around like little ducklings.
In his mind, he didn't even consider the concept of "putting aside his pride and actively making friends."
He believed that simply walking around someone's window was already a huge favor, and that the prince of the human tribe should be thrilled to join them.
Little did he know that the fallen prince of the human tribe didn't want to bother with him.
Aluojin was infuriated, but at the same time, his "the more you can't get, the more you want" mentality was growing stronger. The more Sheng Lingyuan ignored him, the more he wanted to show off in front of him.
So every day, he led a group of followers to harass and disturb the peace of the Great Sage's small wooden house.
The young prince's temperament had long been honed. He remained calm and collected, and when he was annoyed, he would use his ultimate move: "I'll tell your dad."
It never failed.
Aluojin's frequency of being beaten by this increased rapidly, and his love-hate relationship with the human prince was one-sided, leaving him gnashing his teeth in anger.
Before he could even set foot on the ground, Sheng Lingyuan had already learned to communicate in the language of the Witch Clan and even learned their writing.
The history books say that the Emperor Wu was "enlightened and intelligent," but they didn't mention that this monarch could mimic the speech of a parrot faster than anyone else.
At first, Xuan Ji thought that Sheng Lingyuan was just a natural genius with an incredible memory.
He couldn't help but compare him to the group of college students who had spent over a decade memorizing grammar rules but still couldn't speak English clearly.
It wasn't until later that he realized that Sheng Lingyuan's ability was simply a matter of survival.
During the chaotic era of the Nine Provinces, no one had the luxury of promoting "Mandarin".
The languages of different ethnic groups and regions were vastly different, some not even belonging to the same language family.
In order to survive in this turbulent world, young Sheng Lingyuan had to quickly master the dialects and blend into unfamiliar environments. It was a skill he needed to stay alive.
However, even for the prestigious Sheng Lingyuan, learning the written language of the witch people was a great challenge.
Their script was written on a type of local tree leaf and at first glance, it resembled ancient Egyptian writing. The characters were all large circles enclosing smaller circles, lacking the sharp strokes of Chinese characters.
Like their houses, the script was endearingly simple yet incredibly complex, revealing a deep cultural heritage.
At the top of the mountain, next to the Great Sage's wooden house, there was a place that resembled a modern library. It housed a vast collection of texts, and even outsiders were free to come and go as they pleased.
Even to contemporary people like Xuan Ji, the openness and level of civilization of this ancient tribe were quite astonishing.
After only a few rounds of exploration in the Dongchuan area, he had already overturned all of his previous impressions of the witch people. The witch people were the birthplace of parasitic butterflies, and they possessed all sorts of unimaginable spells.
From the name "witch," there was an eerie feeling that emanated from it.
Adding to that was the eccentric Aluojin.
Xuan Ji couldn't help but have preconceived notions about the image of the "witch people," thinking that they were similar to the "dark wizards" in movies - everyone dressed like Arab women, only revealing their eyes. They would then gather around a bonfire day and night, discussing who to curse to death tomorrow.
But in reality, Dongchuan was not at all gloomy. The way of life for the witch people was even lively and warm.
Everyone was quite lazy, leaving their cows and sheep halfway through grazing to take a nap somewhere, but if they got lost, it didn't matter because in a few days, someone from the tribe would help find them.
Children here began their education at the age of five or six, and the entire tribe was literate.
In the evenings, when there was nothing to do, everyone would gather at the square on the mountaintop to have fun. The tribe leader and the great sage would also attend, and everyone would sit together without any distinction, singing, dancing, telling stories, and even debating some primitive philosophical questions endlessly.
"I think this place is just as impressive as the ancient city of Athens," Xuan Ji muttered to himself.
"Why do they have to call themselves the 'witch people'? It sounds so scary."
"In their own writing, they refer to themselves as 'people who live in the forest on the hillside'," said Sheng Lingyuan. "The term 'witch people' was what outsiders called them. Does it sound scary? Perhaps those who called them that had their own fears."
"The children of the witch people also call you..."
"I thought it was a pseudonym."
"I don't even remember my real name, let alone which one is a pseudonym," Sheng Lingyuan raised his eyebrows and smiled. "My given name is rarely mentioned by others. 'Lingyuan' is a milk name given by my elders. It sounds more familiar and rolls off the tongue easier."
It is said that ancient people placed great importance on the meaning behind names, but the two characters 'Lingyuan' sound rather ominous... especially for someone who was born during such a special period.
Xuan Ji thought to herself: What kind of ill-intentioned elder would give such a name?
He followed the young Sheng Lingyuan around the witch people's tribe, watching the boy enjoy his days like a vacation. Every day was spent resting, reading, consulting with the Great Sage, or helping with herbs. His biggest annoyance was the mischievous child, Aluojin, who constantly bothered him.
The curse of the past can trap people in their memories.
Xuan Ji thought he would see gruesome scenes in the memories of the Emperor, but instead, they were endlessly following a young boy in their daily routines.
Sheng Lingyuan in these memories always looked like a ten-year-old child, with no signs of growing up.
"Wait, Your Majesty," Xuan Ji hesitated for a moment before speaking up. "You said that if there is something that cannot be shaken off, then we will be trapped in a memory and keep going in circles. Are we trapped now?"
Sheng Lingyuan glanced at him with an indifferent expression that said "this doesn't concern me."
Suddenly, Xuan Ji realized that the more agitated this person became, the more distant his attitude became.
If Xuan Ji didn't know that he was currently trapped in a young man's dream and unwilling to wake up, he would almost think that this person was flawless.
Could he also be weak and self-deceiving?
Could he also be trapped in a certain memory, unable to escape?
For a moment, Xuan Ji felt that the Martial Emperor, who had always been put on a pedestal, was like a flesh-and-blood person.
The fragility of the strong and the courage of the coward were equally thrilling.
His tone involuntarily softened, "But we still need to find a way out, right? What do you think..."
Before he could finish speaking, Sheng Lingyuan nodded lightly and said, "Hmm, makes sense."
Xuan Ji: "..." He didn't even have a chance to give a long-winded persuasion.
"It's human nature to avoid the difficult and focus on the easy, and I'm no exception," Sheng Lingyuan thought for a moment, then calmly said, "These events from my past are too distant, and I can't make sense of them at the moment. So, why don't you just ask me what you want to know, and I'll try to recall along with your questions, and see if we can jump out of these irrelevant trivialities."
"Your Majesty," Xuan Ji couldn't help but speak up, "If it's something that can trap you, how can it be irrelevant?"
Sheng Lingyuan seemed to find this little demon's sensitivity inexplicable, and looked at him with a smile, "Alright then, how do you want to proceed?"
In front of him, Xuan Ji always felt a sense of helplessness in wasting emotions - to discuss his weaknesses in such a matter-of-fact way, this mysterious and inscrutable Majesty didn't seem like a person at all.
Without waiting for him to speak, the surroundings began to shake as if awakened by his words.
Obviously, Sheng Lingyuan had strong self-control and had abandoned this warm and peaceful memory of his youth.
Suddenly, the peaceful village of the witch people shattered into countless pieces in front of them, like a smashed vase. They fell into a dark night, and before Xuan Ji could steady himself, he saw the back door of the chief's house creak open.
Little Aluojin was holding a bundle in his arms and slipped out, heading straight down the mountain.
He looked aggrieved, with a red and swollen palm on his left hand.
He must have been beaten up thanks to the "tattletale" for some unknown reason, and couldn't take it anymore, so he ran away from home.
Xuan Ji asked, "What's wrong with him now?"
"He stole the 'Soul Shock Spell' from the Great Sage and put it under my pillow," said Sheng Lingyuan. "The Soul Shock Spell can stir up the most fearful things in one's heart, but it's actually a good thing. Fear and terror are both illusions, once you see through them, they will pass. It was originally used by the Great Sage for his own cultivation, and later on, I often carried it with me. However, at that time, the clan leader and the Great Sage were too cautious with me because of my young age, fearing that they would scare me. When the clan leader found out, he was furious and publicly punished Aluojin. He couldn't bear such injustice and secretly ran away that night."
Xuan Ji heard a slight movement next to him, turned his head, and saw the young Sheng Lingyuan coming down from a big tree, looking at Aluojin's back.
After hesitating for a moment, Xuan Ji followed him.
"I couldn't sleep that night," Sheng Lingyuan said calmly. "The spell may be effective, but it's still a strong medicine. I was startled the first time I tried it and didn't dare close my eyes at night."
The Witch Clan had some contact with the outside world.
Regularly, people would dress up as ordinary civilians and go out to buy and exchange goods. Although Aluojin had never gone with them, he clearly knew the way.
As he cried, he crawled through the barrier set up by his clan at the foot of the mountain and left the protection of the Witch Clan.
He thought the outside world was vast and boundless.
Otherwise, why would an outsider's child be so precious?
He didn't expect that he would experience the harsh reality of the world just after leaving the Witch Clan.
The Witch Clan lived peacefully and without conflict with the world, but their mysterious magic and supernatural powers made the human race afraid of them, and even the demon race was intimidated by them.
Therefore, even though they knew that Sheng Lingyuan was hiding in the mountains of the Witch Clan, no one dared to act rashly.
In this situation, Aluojin, who ran away from home, was like a gift sent to them from a thousand miles away. As soon as he appeared, he was caught in a net.
The demon race had been at a loss for months, knowing that Sheng Lingyuan was in the Witch Clan but unable to enter. Unexpectedly, they received divine assistance when they accidentally captured Aluojin, and were overjoyed.
That night, they hung Aluojin in a cage and celebrated, eating and drinking in front of him - of course, they were eating people.
The wine of the demon clan was mixed with blood, and in the big pot, they stewed soup made from the bones of infants. The tiny skeletons floated in the boiling water, some still with bits of flesh clinging to them, revealing their appearance before death.
The main course was a beautiful young girl, still alive, with her organs cleaned and her life suspended by demonic magic. They sliced meat directly from her body and boiled it in the water, half-cooked and served with blood, accompanied by her screams.
After the meal, the girl's legs were reduced to white bones, yet she was still alive, her face pure and flawless.
The girl who was eaten alive went insane, and Aluojin, who witnessed everything, was on the brink of madness.
Little Aluojin was thrown into a thatched hut with the girl whose legs were now just white bones. The girl's eyes were empty, staring straight at him, and she laughed all night.
Aluojin cried all night in front of her.
As Xuan Ji was forced to watch from the sidelines, his whole body went numb. His wings instinctively spread out from his back, but as soon as his fiery wings
appeared, they were pushed back down by a cold hand that was unafraid of fire.
"It's always been like this, there's no need to panic," Sheng Lingyuan said coolly.
"If we were in your position, the human race wouldn't show any mercy either. This is an old debt from thousands of years ago, and it has nothing to do with you younger demons."
"I'm not..." Xuan Ji blurted out, wanting to say that he wasn't a "demon," but he swallowed his words halfway through.
What was he if not a demon?
He definitely couldn't be considered human.
Xuan Ji felt a sudden sense of loneliness for no reason, as if he had no clan, no peers...and no history.
Just then, little Aluojin from the memories had annoyed the little demon who was watching over him, and the demon was about to kick him.
But suddenly, a dagger appeared from behind the demon and cleanly sliced his neck.
The demon fell silently to the ground, and Aluojin, who was lost in his emotions, stared numbly at the person who had just arrived - the human prince, known as the "tattletale".
He wiped the blood from his face, skillfully caught the demon's body, and dragged it to the side, as if he had done this a thousand times before. His dagger was inscribed with a spell to subdue demons, and he used it to easily cut through the iron cage that had trapped Aluojin.
With one hand, he lifted Aluojin out and handed him a jar of spells, saying, "Go."
Aluojin stumbled out a few steps, but found that Sheng Lingyuan had not followed.
He hurriedly turned around and saw Sheng Lingyuan covering the girl's eyes with his hand. He leaned down and whispered something softly in her ear.
The girl trembled and muttered nonsense unconsciously. Sheng Lingyuan stared at her for a moment, then raised his hand and gave her a swift death.
The spell that had been hanging over her was cut off by the dagger, and the girl was finally liberated from the muddy world.
Her eyes even cleared for a moment.
If there were such things as spirits, would she dare to come back and be reincarnated again?
Sheng Lingyuan put down the girl's body and grabbed Aluojin, "What are you standing there for?"
Aluojin was being dragged along, tears streaming down his face that he couldn't wipe away.
He choked out a small plea, "I...sob...want to make her a piece of clothing...brother, can I make her a piece of clothing?"
It was the first time Aluojin had called him anything other than "hey," "annoying ghost," or "tattletale."
Sheng Lingyuan didn't let go of him, nor did he look at him.
He spoke softly in the language of the witch people.
Xuan Ji couldn't understand the language of the witch people and asked, "What are you saying to him?"
Sheng Lingyuan didn't answer.
What he had said at that time was, "One day, I will close the eyes of all those who died unjustly, and collect all the unburied bones."
He was shamelessly boastful, and that sentence would haunt Aluojin for the rest of his life.
The ancestral motto of the witch people was "never leave Dongchuan."
But after this battle, the young clan leader's heart had already drifted to the vast and cruel human world.
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