Tens of thousands of charred witch corpses surrounded Aluojin.
The whispers ceased, and they all turned towards the cave entrance, facing Sheng Lingyuan - the memories within and beyond, from three thousand years ago to three thousand years in the future - silently questioning.
Time seemed to freeze.
In this silence, Aluojin, who was holding his head, stood up and asked softly, "Brother Lingyuan, how did my father die?"
Dan Li, who was masked, shouted loudly, "Your Majesty, do not approach!"
"Was it him?"
Aluojin pointed at Dan Li, and his eyeballs followed suit.
At the same time, the roasted witch people also turned their heads in the direction of his finger.
"Or was it you?" What was even more terrifying was that when Aluojin's head revealed a half-smiling expression, all the witch people followed suit with the exact same expression.
The bright and sunny young man had turned into a spider, with a huge web sticking to countless flying insects that he could manipulate at will.
Dan Li shouted, "Your Majesty, Aluojin has been possessed by evil. The corpses of everyone in this cave have become his human-faced butterfly puppets! There are no living people here!"
Upon hearing this, Aluojin burst into laughter, and two lines of bloody tears flowed down from the head in his arms.
All the witch people opened their mouths in unison.
"Are living people really that noble?"
Outside the crowd, Sheng Lingyuan watched the tragic scene with indifference and continued his previous statement, "That pure white flame, also known as the 'Nanming Fire'. Little demon, as the 'Nanming Fire-Keeper', can't you see the difference between it and ordinary fire?"
Xuan Ji, however, answered with a bitter smile, "Your Majesty, have you ever spoken a truthful word in your entire life?"
Upon hearing this, Sheng Lingyuan slowly turned his head and smiled at him, "Oh? Why do you say that?"
Suddenly, Xuan Ji noticed a scar near the outer corner of Sheng Lingyuan's left eye, which had almost healed and was barely visible. It only appeared when he smiled and the skin around his eye wrinkled slightly, resembling a tear drop hanging there.
In the 'Retracing' space, the charred witch people stirred.
They followed Aluojin's will and rushed towards the cave.
On the other side, the masked Dan Li quickly formed a finger seal, and pure white flames flew out from his sleeves, condensing into a large bird that screeched and charged towards the lifeless cave and altar.
But the young emperor stood in front of the firebird, his throat tearing as he shouted, "Stop!"
Dan Li roared, "Your Majesty, if we let them leave this place, what will happen to the billions of people?"
His words had a double meaning.
If the butterflies that had turned into curses were leaked, no one knew what the consequences would be. These butterflies were obviously different from the original species and could become a silent epidemic.
When Aluojin was still a normal person, he had a very extreme temperament. He hated the demon race, regardless of whether they were good or bad, or had their own stance. Anyone with the word "demon" in their name was intolerable to him. Whenever he encountered a demon city, he would slaughter the entire city and leave no survivors.
But now, his hatred has multiplied tenfold towards the human race. He has been torn apart by a curse countless times, unable to live or die, and has already become a demon himself.
Should he be allowed to kill all the people in the world?
Young Sheng Lingyuan understood and with a loud "boom", the snow-white firebird flew past him and rushed into the cave, landing on countless witch puppets.
People screamed and wailed in the raging fire, as if they were still alive.
But they could not be burned or killed. The young Sheng Lingyuan knelt down in despair, watching the charred corpses struggle in the sea of fire, unable to find release.
After a long moment, he suddenly drew a strange short knife from his waist and hacked at the head of the nearest witch.
Only after the head fell to the ground did the witch doctor struggle for a moment before falling down, a small human-faced butterfly flying out of their body.
Aluojin's vision was blocked by the raging flames as he roared, "Dan Li! Where are you? You fraud, where are you! You won't have a good death!"
Dan Li's voice came from outside the cave, "Your Majesty! You personally allowed him to reach this point, how much longer will you continue to indulge him?"
With a mighty roar, the young Sheng Lingyuan charged into the altar.
The raging flames seemed to avoid him on purpose, not even singeing a corner of his clothes.
Even the butterflies that flew out from the decapitated witch avoided him, converging into a beam of white light that flew towards Aluojin. The wings of the butterflies were adorned with countless human faces, forming a face that seemed to express both joy and anger.
Sheng Lingyuan swiftly caught up and cleaved it in two with a single stroke of his short sword.
The blade was as swift and fierce as a white rainbow, piercing through Aluojin's chest. Suddenly, a cold light flashed on the blade, and a string of witch characters appeared on the hilt.
Aluojin looked at the sword in disbelief, "This is the first time I brought my people...out of Dongchuan...the sword I stole from my father...to protect us and ward off evil...brother..."
He had given the sword to Sheng Lingyuan.
In his memories, the young emperor was filled with unbearable pain.
Beyond memory, a thousand-year-old ghost stood with bound hands, as if nothing concerned it.
Xuan Ji quickly stepped back, "I haven't offended you."
Sheng Lingyuan's smile deepened at the corner of his eyes, "Then why do you have a copy of the 'Thousand Demon Bestiary' in your possession? Do you know that the 'Thousand Demon Bestiary' was made by Dan Li himself? No matter what your purpose is for holding onto my body, raising a demon corpse requires preparation for being backlashed--"
Before he finished speaking the words "Dan Li," the raging fire in the cave suddenly stirred up a strong wind, accompanied by Aluojin's heart-wrenching roar, which blew off the mask on Dan Li's face.
Dan Li's mask was blown away by the wind, revealing a face that was exactly the same as Xuan Ji's!
In that instant when the face was revealed, a hand tore open the void behind Xuan Ji and reached out, revealing a bloody hole in the palm as it grabbed onto Xuan Ji's neck.
Almost simultaneously, Sheng Lingyuan moved quickly, using Xuan Ji as a shield.
In his hand appeared a nail, and without hesitation, he drove it down, not caring if his other hand was still gripping Xuan Ji's neck.
Xuan Ji cursed inwardly, "I knew it!"
Relying on the old demon to spare his life was nonsense.
In a critical moment, he had to save himself.
Xuan Ji reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin, which was glowing with fire.
He pressed it hard against the wrist of the hand that was choking him, and with a "crackling" sound, the hand was almost burnt to a crisp. Xuan Ji took advantage of the loosened grip and narrowly dodged the nail that scraped off a layer of oily skin on his neck and stabbed into the palm.
Luckily, he was quick enough to avoid being turned into a candied hawthorn skewer by the old demon.
Sheng Lingyuan insincerely apologized, "Sorry, it was a last resort. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Xuan Ji's reverence for the Emperor Wu was completely gone.
He squeezed out a sentence through his teeth, "Sorry my ass."
In the next moment, a person was suddenly dragged out of the void by Sheng Lingyuan.
It was none other than Aluojin, the one with a bloody hole in his forehead who crawled out of the coffin.
As soon as Aluojin was caught, the Retracing curse shattered, and all the scenes of memories around them were broken.
They were back in that gloomy witch's tomb.
Sheng Lingyuan acted extremely fast and without hesitation.
In the blink of an eye, Aluojin's limbs and chest were all nailed with nails, and his resentful gaze was fixed on Xuan Ji.
"Why are you staring at me?!" Xuan Ji covered his neck in frustration, feeling wronged.
"Haven't you figured it out yet? He used me as bait to lure you out, and that Dan Li in your memory is just his own delusion. Dan Li doesn't look like that at all! How can there be such a foolish deer like you in the demon's circle?"
Aluojin struggled to adapt to the mixed accent of modern Chinese and internet slang, unable to understand a single word.
He continued to glare at Xuan Ji with hatred.
Sheng Lingyuan raised an eyebrow, amused. "Smart little demon, when did you figure it out?"
Xuan Ji thought to himself, clearing his hoarse throat with effort and forcing a smile.
"You said you were easily trapped in memories of your youth because of nostalgia. When I asked my question, I felt something was off - was that memory really yours?"
The memories in 'Retracing' were clearly rich in emotional background, with love and hate intertwined, but the old demon's attitude didn't match.
Xuan Ji had already realized from their first meeting that this old ghost had no humanity at all, so where did all these sentimental scenes come from? Despite the ominous thunder and lightning, he didn't care about the curse that was supposed to bring out his memories.
Why bother dreaming?
Judging from Xuan Ji's expression, Sheng Lingyuan knew that although this little demon spoke somewhat politely, he was probably cursed him in his heart.
Sheng Lingyuan calmly replied, "I understand."
"When Dan Li, an important figure, didn't show up, I suspect you planned to use him as bait," Xuan Ji accused.
"Dan Li never shows his true face," Sheng Lingyuan explained. "Even if he doesn't cover his face, he always wears a human skin mask. The 'beautiful woman' face that you later generations talk about is just one of his most commonly used masks. Even Aluojin never saw his real face. I don't have the power to fabricate false memories in front of the 'Retracing' curse master."
Xuan Ji sneered, "Yes, otherwise how would you bait him? But even though he doesn't show his face, this person has been by your side, playing an important role, yet in your memory, he has less presence than a guard. This shows that you are suppressing your memories, avoiding thinking about him too much, otherwise the later scenes will be easily messed up. Your Majesty, even though my math may not be great, I have at least gone through nine years of compulsory education. With three perspectives in my memory, do you think I don't know how to count?"
The logic is actually quite simple - if the 'Retracing' curse contains Sheng Lingyuan's memories, then all the perspectives must be from Sheng Lingyuan himself.
However, upon closer examination, the memories they just experienced had three perspectives: Aluojin, Sheng Lingyuan, and the most mysterious one - Dan Li.
The perspective of Dan Li was the last to appear, very hidden and with very little content.
It was just a small section about the Witch Clan hiding in a cave and the human skin puppet setting the altar on fire - which was controlled by Dan Li, making it his perspective.
A person's subjective memory always starts from their own perspective, so there can't be a change in perspective, nor can they "remember" scenes they weren't present for. Especially not with such smooth perspective changes like in a movie.
Therefore, the memories in this 'Retracing' are definitely not just one person's.
When they were swept into the depths of their memories in the eddies of time, the first scene they encountered was the young prince being saved by the witch tribe.
It was the first time the young witch tribe leader and Sheng Lingyuan met.
Upon reflection, it was actually Aluojin's memory, because at the time Sheng Lingyuan was seriously injured and was carried up the mountain by the tribe leader in a daze, making it difficult for him to remember the entire scene of the hillside that was awakened by the witch tribe.
The first major character they encountered in their memories was also Aluojin.
The old demon Sheng Lingyuan was so sharp that he should have realized at that time that there was a spell caster hidden in this 'Retracing' memory.
So, the trivial matters of the young days that he couldn't shake off at first were not about the heartless old ghost Sheng Lingyuan at all, but about Aluojin himself.
No wonder when Xuan Ji tried to console him, this old demon trapped in the past reacted so calmly.
Sheng Lingyuan asked him to "ask questions", but it was actually for Aluojin.
Xuan Ji said, "The timing of some major events in my memory matches the historical framework I know, so I judge that the memories should be true... but most of the memories belong to him, right?"
"Oh, how did you know?"
"Although the memories in Suyu are all about you and Aluojin, there are only vague faces of humans like the civil and military officials around you. On the other hand, the witch people are much more vivid, and every detail of the witch people's customs and habits is exhibited. It's like someone can't wait to tell me the truth about the rise and fall of the witch people, almost with a hint of 'confession'. Your Majesty, someone like you, do you even know how to write the word 'confession'?"+
Sheng Lingyuan answered immovably, "Hmm, not bad."
"Besides suppressing memories and emptying your mind, you have to cooperate with his emotions and find ways to make him appear," Xuan Ji said coldly. "The first time I spoke out of turn, did I give you the inspiration to blame me for the fact that you two escaped from the demon clan when you were children?"
Sheng Lingyuan answered candidly, "No, that's not it. It was my negligence that got me caught in the curse. I was a bit rushed, so I just used whatever was at hand."
Xuan Ji remained silent.
Thank you for your consideration, he thought.
"You know that the genocide of the Witch Clan is the most tragic memory for Aluojin. He's most likely to lose his mind at this time, so he deliberately inserted a section from Dan Li's perspective without revealing his own," Xuan Ji explained.
"That's not difficult. Just imagine that I am him," Sheng Lingyuan said lightly.
"After all, he taught me everything I know."
Xuan Ji forced a bitter smile. "Yes, in 'Retracing', there are only three of us: you, me, and Aluojin. Aluojin is the master of the curse, so he can distinguish his own perspective from yours. The sudden appearance of a third perspective can only be my memory. He will naturally think that the perspective of the human puppet belongs to me. When he gets excited, he will come after me as his enemy. I am your bait, hook, and shield! Your Majesty, can you pay me a few salaries since I can play so many roles alone?"
"Dan Li lived his whole life under a mask," Sheng Lingyuan said. "It wasn't until I imprisoned and beheaded him that I uncovered his mask. Underneath was a face covered in blood and flesh, with indistinguishable features. I have never seen his true face. Thank you for lending me your face."
With a clear and melodious tone, his words struck a chord in Aluojin's heart.
"Dan Li has been dead for thousands of years," Sheng Lingyuan gently lifted his hand and covered Aluojin's eyes. "We are no different. In this world, humans and demons are no longer distinguishable, and there has been no war for nearly a hundred years. The Chiyuan fires have long been extinguished, Aluojin..."
Aluojin spoke in the language of the witches, slowly and deliberately, and Xuan Ji could even discern the words he spoke as the last words he uttered before his death.
"What did he say?" Xuan Ji asked.
Sheng Lingyuan did not answer, but instead drove the last nail into Aluojin's forehead.
Finally, Aluojin stopped moving, and the shining light in his eyes gradually dimmed and closed.
Sheng Lingyuan picked up the terrifying body and flew into the stone coffin in the middle of the pool, placing it back inside. With a wave of his sleeve, the Yin Sacrifice text on the stone platform crumbled.
Xuan Ji didn't go over, still wearing the mark left by Aluojin's grip around his neck.
He watched the demon, Sheng Lingyuan, lying on the coffin and staring at Aluojin for a long time, as if he cared.
"I say, Your Majesty," Xuan Ji crossed his arms and said with a hint of sarcasm, "you've been striking poses for five minutes now, enough for a photo op. Let's go."
Only then did Sheng Lingyuan snap out of his trance, pushing the coffin lid back up and slowly straightening his back.
But just then, his elbow gave way as he leaned on the bronze coffin, and Sheng Lingyuan suddenly turned his head, covering his mouth - blood seeping through his fingers.
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