Lie Huo Jiao Chou

Lie Huo Jiao Chou

Chapter 64 - Chapter 64

Freedom is the beginning of exile, the source of pain. - Foreword.

Xuan Ji lay in the special care ward, lost in fathomless sorrow and loneliness. It was late at night, and the hospital ward was silent and dark.

Suddenly, a voice broke the stillness. "Are you awake?"

Xuan Ji was caught off guard and nearly jumped out of his skin. 

He scrambled to gather his wits and saw a dark figure by the window. 

It was the same male protagonist from his dream, or was it just a hallucination?

He didn't say a word, but pressed his hand to his chest to calm his racing heart. The shock had left him feeling like he had been hit in the chest, and he wondered if he could file for workers' compensation for the emotional trauma. 

The rooms at this hospital for special ability users are all single rooms, facing north and south with clean windows. The thick curtains are half-drawn, with only a thin layer of gauze hanging in the middle. 

Moonlight, starlight, and lamplight mix together, sneaking through the gaps in the gauze and avoiding the people by the window, as if afraid to touch them.

Xuan Ji looked over with furrowed brows, as if he had lost his soul. His eyes were still watery, as if he had just been bullied. 

He looked a bit aggrieved, a bit shrunk, and vaguely carried some indescribable longing.

Sheng Lingyuan looked him over and asked, "Are you hungry again?"

Xuan Ji: "..." 

Why did he have to say "again"? 

Xuan Ji knew that he had completely lost control of his facial expressions and had also left a strange and rigid impression on him. He quickly tore his gaze away from Sheng Lingyuan and forcibly suppressed his turbulent emotions. 

"Yan... cough," he couldn't think of anything to say, so he randomly pulled out a topic to cover up his embarrassment, "Where is Captain Yan and the others?"

"They're all alive. I wouldn't break my promise over such a small matter," Sheng Lingyuan sat down lazily on a wooden chair and replied. "Don't worry."

How should Xuan Ji respond to this? 

He could only close his mouth in confusion and go pour himself some cold water. The special abilities medical team probably thought that all fire-elemental users needed physical cooling, so they made the ward as cool as a morgue. Even the drinking water was icy cold from the air conditioning. 

Xuan Ji shivered uncontrollably and let out a sigh of relief, finally waking up. The memories were fragmented and lacked crucial details, leaving the cause and effect unclear. 

Lost in his memories, Xuan Ji felt like he was the spirit of the heavenly demon sword, experiencing all the pain and suffering firsthand. 

Now, far away from the fantastical underwater tomb, he had returned to reality and regained his sanity, like a turtle slowly retreating back into its shell.

Xuan Ji couldn't make sense of why he had sent that death glare to the emperor while at sea. After all, Sheng Lingyuan was already a demon, and although Xuan Ji didn't understand the difference between "heavenly demons" and "normal demons," he knew that the emperor was a formidable force amongst all demons.

He was not indiscriminate in killing and paid great attention to maintaining public safety. He respected the confidentiality rules of the bureau, which he had established himself. 

What was most commendable was that despite his limited proficiency in Mandarin, he still insisted on using polite language, earning him the title of a "model villain with good behavior." He was the emperor, and it was his duty to let "non-humans" like Zhi Chun perish. 

The good deeds were all done by this big demon, so what were the people's police doing? 

Besides, they had no other way to deal with King Wei Yu at the time. In order to contain the tricky demon king and minimize the risk of King Wei Yu escaping into the crowd, Zhi Chun had to break the contract. 

Others may have been hindered by personal feelings or political correctness, and even if someone had thought of this, no one dared to mention it. 

Sheng Lingyuan took on the role of the villain for everyone without hesitation, which actually relieved everyone. 

Although it was inconvenient to publicly express gratitude for this, to complain about it would be both powerless and shameless. 

Xuan Ji drifted along with the currents of the mortal world, his personality polished to a smooth roundness. When he calmed down and looked at his burning anger from an outsider's perspective, he quickly realized that he had only been influenced by the Sword Spirit's unattainable desires.

Because of his own greed, he had developed a twisted expectation of others. This secret expectation had always been a sharp knife hanging over his head, and when it fell through, of course he would be heartbroken.

But there was no insurance for heartbreak, after all, this was not someone else's fault. 

What did the Sword Spirit's feelings have to do with Sheng Lingyuan anyway? 

The emperor was certainly ruthless, but he had no issues with the sword spirit during their days together in their youth. 

Later, when he was forced to break the sword by his courtiers, the emperor himself was a victim. The heavenly demon sword was not something he wanted to destroy, and he did not hide it away. Whether it was because the sword spirit did not live long enough to be hidden or because he simply did not care about it, the fact remained that he did not do it. 

As the saying goes, "judge actions, not intentions; no one is perfect." 

The sword spirit was tormented by desire, but the emperor was innocent. He simply did not wrong the sword spirit and did not owe it anything. 

"Perhaps I got too caught up in the role," Xuan Ji swallowed the last sip of water and calmly adjusted his mindset. 

He then glanced at Sheng Lingyuan. 

In his memory, the Sword Spirit was young, still a teenager. 

By the time he turned twenty, he had never experienced a moment of freedom. In this world, there were no other creatures besides Sheng Lingyuan. 

It was normal to become obsessed with it to the point of losing control. After all, who hasn't gone a little crazy in their youth?

But if you really think about it calmly, according to Xuan Ji's personality, he should have kept his distance from someone like the Emperor. 

Although every strand of hair on Sheng Lingyuan was in line with his aesthetic, it's worth noting that he also drooled over the mansions he passed by on the bus every day. 

However, he never had any improper thoughts. After all, he couldn't even afford the property fees.

Appreciating beauty is one thing, but being unable to attain it is another. There are so many beautiful things and people in the world. It's not necessary to be so shocked and amazed like a lovesick teenager. 

"At sea, I had a bit too much sea breeze and my attitude was not good. It was my fault. If it weren't for you, we might have been left behind. Thank you," Xuan Ji apologized to Sheng Lingyuan politely.

Sheng Lingyuan was interested and propped his head up to look at Xuan Ji. After parting ways with Dongchuan and seeing this little demon again, he felt like he had undergone a transformation. 

If it weren't for the fact that he still had the aura of the Fire-keeper, Sheng Lingyuan would have thought he was a different person.

"My deal with the Sword Spirit was a mutual agreement. It has nothing to do with anyone else," Sheng Lingyuan said calmly. "As for that Wei Yu, I was going to kill him anyway. It's just a coincidence. You don't have to be polite." 

"Thanks still need to be given," said Xuan Ji, although he had adjusted his mental state and glanced at Sheng Lingyuan a few more times, his hand still unconsciously rubbing his pants. "Also... cough, I vaguely felt like you were the one who brought me back, that..." 

Sheng Lingyuan raised an eyebrow, "So how do you plan to thank me? Do you want to build a temple and burn incense for me, or do you want to offer yourself as a gift?" 

Xuan Ji's hand slipped and almost rubbed a hole in his pants. Seeing the old demon's face with that smirk that resembled a human-shaped poppy, he suspected that he had heard his heartbeat and was teasing his maliciously. 

So he quickly launched a defense project to fix his leaky heart - he repeated slogans like "Cherish life, stay away from drugs" and "One person using drugs affects the whole family" in his mind several times, determined not to lose face. 

He squeezed out a smile and said, "I can't set up a shrine and burn incense, that's feudal superstition. As for offering myself to you, I have no objection, I just don't want Your Majesty to think I'm taking advantage of you."

Fortunately, Sheng Lingyuan let him off with a joke. 

He sat up straight and said, "It's only right that I save you. Back then, Chiyuan was sealed by my order, and the Vermilion Bird's bone was carved by my own hands. Since you are the spirit of the Vermilion Bird's bone and guarding Chiyuan, you are also working for me. I won't let you die, not just for your family's achievements, but also for the peace of Chiyuan."

Xuan Ji was stunned. "What?" 

What bone? What spirit? 

Isn't he a Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit?

Seeing his confusion, Sheng Lingyuan asked, "What's wrong? You're always confused about everything, don't you even know your own origins?" 

Xuan Ji thought he knew about 50-60% of his "origins" and 20-30% of his "history", but he wasn't sure if that counted as "knowing", so he vaguely replied, "Probably..." 

Sheng Lingyuan then asked, "Why do you call yourself the 'Fire-keeper'? Do you even know what that means?" 

Xuan Ji: "..."

Turns out, he couldn't even answer the first question. 

The 'Fire-keeper' is the title given by the spirit weapons in Chiyuan. Dao Yi referred to him as the "36th Fire-keeper and leader of their clan." As for exactly what that title entails, with this bunch of spirit weapons with Alzheimers, there's no way they would know enough to explain that to Xuan Ji.

Seeing his silence, Sheng Lingyuan chuckles and asks, "I saw you use your sealing magic with ease and thought your clan had its own inheritance. Could it be that it has been lost over time?" 

Upon hearing the word "inheritance," Xuan Ji suddenly remembers something and asks, "Wait, Your Majesty, which kind of inheritance are you referring to?" 

Sheng Lingyuan responds, "It seems you understand. Yes, I am referring to your clan's 'Book Without Words.'" 

The word "inheritance" has two meanings in the world of special abilities. One is the ordinary inheritance, such as "cultural inheritance" and "belief inheritance", which are passed down to future generations through oral transmission or written works. 

But besides that, there is also a special non-verbal "inheritance". It is said that some special races in the past were able to directly pass on all their power and memories to the next generation, which is called "wordless book". 

At first glance, it seems like a real-life version of "memory transmission", which is pretty cool. However, everything cannot be judged by appearance alone. For example, this kind of memory inheritance can cause ethical problems - besides the body, a person is also made up of the "past", and if all the memories in their mind belong to someone else, then whose soul do they belong to even if they change their body? 

So generally, those who inherit this kind of thing are in situations where their entire family has died out, leaving only a single sprout... 

An entire family dead, leaving only a single sprout - that would be him! 

Xuan Ji remembered a vision that flashed before his eyes at the Dongchuan Hotel. 

He was facing the Chiyuan altar, kneeling on the ground, apologizing to his life-bound sword, saying, "It's been about 232 years, and it's probably the longest I've ever persisted. I really can't go on anymore," and then there was a burst of excruciating pain as his body was shattered into pieces. 

At that time, he even thought about how 232 years was exactly the lifespan of the oldest ancestor in his "ancestral" stone tablet. If what he saw was the memory of that long-lived ancestor, then could these frequent "memories" he's been having lately also belong to some ancestor? 

So he was never really the heavenly demon sword spirit from three thousand years ago. Those inexplicable memories were probably just a mysterious legacy left by his ancestors. 

Sheng Lingyuan said, "If I'm not mistaken, each generation of fire-keeper is destined to never meet the next generation. So your clan's secrets must have been passed down through such "wordless books". But I see that you're confused, perhaps the wordless books have been damaged over the years." 

It turns out...those "memories" were carried within the wordless book legacy. 

Xuan Ji's thoughts raced, this could explain a lot, it made more sense than him being the heavenly demon sword spirit from three thousand years ago. 

Regardless, knowing that he wasn't the vengeful heavenly demon sword spirit, Xuan Ji breathed a sigh of relief. 

It was like he had just lifted a thousand-pound weight off his shoulders. However, soon after, a strange feeling crept in. 

A thought flashed through his mind: "Ah, it turns out I was just being foolishly in love." 

"The wordless book is usually passed down during intergenerational transitions, but your clan's situation is a bit special," Sheng Lingyuan's words brought Xuan Ji's attention back. "What I'm about to explain not only concerns your life and death, so you must listen carefully." 

The emperor is usually impatient with explanations, Xuan Ji knew that today's lesson was so important that even punctuation marks were emphasized. He quickly suppressed his wandering thoughts and listened attentively. 

"The Fire-keeper, guards the Chiyuan. Let me first explain the origin of the Chiyuan - it is the source of demonic energy. Apart from humans, whose seven orifices are blocked, all other races can consume the power of the Chiyuan to varying degrees. Therefore, even though the humans won a tragic victory in war, the world is still unstable. 

"Let's not even talk about the remnants of the demon race. As for the human allies - the half-blooded demons, the Mountain people, the witch people, etc. - if they were to use the power of the Chiyuan to expand their influence, how could they not have conflicting interests? At that time, the human race will suffer, and it may even lead to another catastrophic war. As to how to deal with this matter, Dan Li and I had different opinions."

Sheng Lingyuan's voice was gentle and low, and Xuan Ji couldn't help but feel a little dazed. 

He remembered the night conversations between the young man and the sword spirit in his dreams, and his heart ached as if a thin needle had pierced into his flesh. He quickly turned his head and switched on the light in the ward, then adjusted the air conditioning to the lowest temperature. 

The "buzzing" sound of the air conditioning became clear, and the incandescent light dispelled the old atmosphere. The electrical appliances, representing the contemporary technological power, collectively showed their presence, barely keeping his sanity in the 21st century.

Xuan Ji wiped his face: "Dan Li's intention must be to eliminate all these allies and cut off future troubles, right? I think he arranged it for the Witch Clan."

"First the Witch Clan, then the Mountain clan." Sheng Lingyuan nodded, "Wei Yu's fate was due to his own greed, but it couldn't have happened without Dan Li's instigation and indulgence. I know all about these things."

Xuan Ji maintained his expression, but the needle that had been stuck in his heart twisted a little deeper. 

It turned out that the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit was a tool used by Dan Li to provoke the relationship between the Emperor and King Wei Yu, a sacrifice of power.

Sheng Lingyuan continued, "Back then, the demon race was greatly injured, scattered in all directions. The three major human races - the witch race, the Mountain race, and the nightmare race - the witch race was exterminated, the Mountain race was lured into an irreversible situation, and the shadow race was unable to develop. Dan Li believed that it was a good opportunity to exterminate them all. My teacher was decisive in killing throughout his life, and I am inferior to him. In comparison, I do have some unrealistic ideas."

Xuan Ji tentatively asked, "Do you... want to preserve species diversity?"

Sheng Lingyuan seemed to find his wording interesting, and after pondering for a moment, he continued, "I want to suppress the earth's veins and seal the Chiyuan. Let all things find their own way without any advantages or disadvantages." 

Xuan Ji had intended to say that Dan Li was not just morally corrupt, but downright insane. However, before he could utter a word, he suddenly heard a familiar, slightly hoarse male voice in his ear, as if in a hallucination. 

The voice came and went, murmuring, "The heavens and earth have their own forces, and all things are bound by fate. Legend has it that in ancient times, there were several great calamities - the sky collapsing, the earth sinking, floods, ice, and a thousand miles of barren land. Each calamity caused countless prehistoric spiritual creatures to disappear without a trace, but also gave birth to new creatures to face the calamity..." 

Xuan Ji pressed hard on his Laogong acupoint in his palm, and the hallucination suddenly disappeared, leaving only the voice of Sheng Lingyuan in the hospital room. 

"...The 'Great Decline' before the first Pingyuan Battle was actually the beginning of the rise of the human race and the decline of other races. Thousands of years later, the human race may also have a day of decline, as fate has its own plan. Decline is not a matter of one generation, it should be a long and gradual process, but the Demon King Jiu Xun defied the heavens, slaughtered gods, forcibly seized the Chiyuan, and released the power of the earth's fire, making the demon race temporarily strong, but also burning several generations of luck. It is their fate to be destroyed in this generation." 

When Sheng Lingyuan said the word 'fate,' there seemed to be a hint of sarcasm at the corner of his mouth. 

He continued, "In this world, there is yin and yang, light and shadow, and where there are spirits, there must be demons. Dan Li warned me that forcibly suppressing the Chiyuan is like using a sand dam to block a flood. No matter how strong the dam is, it will eventually collapse. My attempt to exercise divine power in human form is following in the footsteps of Jiu Xun, and it is too stubborn and arrogant.

"If we continue to use this method, there will be disaster in the future. He spoke with reason, and I had no way to refute it," the emperor thought to himself. 

Xuan Ji looked at him in surprise. He didn't expect Sheng Lingyuan to speak up for Dan Li, and even provided some simple explanations as if he was afraid that Xuan Ji wouldn't understand. 

Emperor Wu had done almost everything in his life, and had a complete set of "disloyalty, unfilial piety, unrighteousness, and injustice", but there are still people who admire him and call him the "Emperor of Humanity" with respect and fear. It seems that there is a reason for this. 

Just being able to objectively and fairly convey the opinions of political enemies to his descendants shows that he had ruled for twenty years with great skill and could still listen to others. 

Anyway, Xuan Ji was surprised to hear Dan Li's reasoning in his retelling. Starting from the modern perspective, "life is precious and equal" is already a politically correct statement that goes without saying. Even animals have organizations fighting for their rights, let alone non-human races with intelligence like humans. 

However, in the context of the chaotic period of the past, Dan Li's actions seem understandable - they had just ended a long and devastating war, the population had decreased to one-tenth of its original size, and the world was in a state of crisis. 

Meanwhile, the power of Chiyuan could penetrate into the body of every living creature except for humans, healing and strengthening them, preparing them to rise again. 

In the long run, this was a competition without hope or suspense, and the only chance for the human race was to eliminate the others while they had the chance. 

In the end, the downfall of the divine bird clan and the chaos in the Chiyuan were caused by the greed of the demon clan. 

What wrongdoing have the mortals committed? 

Xuan Ji asked, "Since there is no way to refute it, did you finally listen to his reasoning?" 

"I couldn't argue back, so I just didn't." Sheng Lingyuan absentmindedly brushed aside a strand of hair that had fallen in his face and smiled. 

Xuan Ji shuddered at the sight of his smile. 

"In the fourth year of my reign, I fulfilled Dan Li's wish and launched a rebellion. I then headed south to conquer the region. On the way, I switched places with a straw doll and had it take my place in the mountains, where I slaughtered the Mountain royal family. I returned to the capital in secret and conspired with Prince Ning to overthrow the imperial tutor. I killed 130 officials and their families for treason, leaving no room for dissent in the court. 

"The following year, I killed Dan Li and collected 36 phoenix bones to create a seal and set up a phoenix bone formation to cut off the earth veins. After six years, on the eve of the New Year, the fire was extinguished, and 25 years later, the remaining heat of the earth veins was depleted." 

Xuan Ji was speechless. It was midnight and Sheng Lingyuan spoke softly, but every word he uttered was stained with the ancient blood of the past, sending shivers down the spine of those who listened.

"It turns out that the Vermilion Bird clan is truly an ancient divine bird. I never thought that even the bones of the Vermilion Bird could give birth to life. Your so-called 'fire-keepers' are the thirty-six Vermilion Bird bones that seal the spirits," Sheng Lingyuan glanced at Xuan Ji and spoke gently, "When you were young, you were rooted in the ground like a tree and couldn't move. It was because you hadn't transformed yet. The Vermilion Bird bone seal is inserted into the Chiyuan earth vein. The Vermilion Bird bone seal bears the responsibility of guarding the Chiyuan, and the fire-keepers can use the Vermilion Bird's flame. No wonder Aluojin said that you have the scent of the Vermilion Bird bird."

Upon hearing this description, Xuan Ji felt that he might have a folk nickname, "White Bone Demon." 

"When the turbulence in Chiyuan reaches a certain level, the grand formation cannot hold it and will shatter. One of the Vermilion Bird bones will be used to seal it, and the fire-keeper attached to the bone will naturally perish. Thirty-six Vermilion Bird bones were used back then, and after three thousand years, they have all been destroyed. Only you have managed to preserve your achievements," said Sheng Lingyuan, putting away his playful smile and speaking seriously. 

"You bear a heavy responsibility, so it's better to act with caution at times." 

"I had originally thought that after a hundred generations, the mixed blood of various clans would become a part of the human race. By then, even if the Vermilion Bird Bone Seal were to be broken, no one would remember the past. The descendants of the few demon clans affected by the Chiyuan would only be considered as 'different people', at least not causing another war. I never expected the Vermilion Bird Bone Seal to be damaged so quickly, and the turmoil in the human world for the past three thousand years has far exceeded my expectations. Now, there are people lurking behind the Yin Sacrifice ritual, and for the peace of Chiyuan, I need you to live a few more years." 

Although the words were spoken in a gentle and tactful manner, if it were during the reign of the Qi Dynasty, the listener would have already knelt down in fear and begged for forgiveness. 

The Emperor was essentially holding the Fire-keeper tribe accountable for their poor performance. 

Xuan Ji, with his clever and agile mind, had not only understood the hidden meaning behind the words, but also had not been bound by the traditional concepts of "loyalty between ruler and subject" or "father and son relationships", and therefore did not take the retired emperor's accountability seriously. 

He was busy digesting the enormous amount of information he had just received - that he was not only a rare and protected animal, but also an endangered species, with only him left in the world. 

If he were to become extinct, it would have serious consequences.

"No wonder," he thought to himself, "no wonder when the leadership of the Bureau changed, and Old Xiao made a move, I came here."

Xuan Ji had known the Bureau for many years, serving as an "external consultant" all this time. He had always been indifferent to their strict rules and regulations.

Xiao Zheng had tried to recruit him several times, but he had always casually brushed it off. 

Although the industry hasn't been doing well in the past two years, good salespeople never worry about finding a new job. 

After all, they have the gift of gab and a network of connections. Plus, Xuan Ji isn't too picky about future prospects or salary, so finding a job shouldn't be too difficult. 

So why did he suddenly have a change of heart this time?

Looking back now, it seems like he had a sudden moment of inspiration and impulsively agreed to it. It's as if some kind of intuition was pushing him towards it. 

"Because my fate is connected to the Chiyuan, when the Chiyuan is in turmoil, I am at risk of facing danger such as the risk of being blown out like a candle or being crushed to pieces. Therefore, my peaceful life will be disrupted, and I will be forced to accept that... 'wordless book,' right?" Xuan Ji asked. "By intuition, I am also attracted to things related to the Chiyuan for the same reason - but why did the Vermilion Bird bone seal become a spirit?" 

"I don't know," Sheng Lingyuan said. "The Vermilion Bird is one of the few remaining innate spiritual objects. It was worshipped as a divine bird in the past and this clan controlled the earth's veins and suppressed the Chiyuan. There is something magical about it, but the human race knows very little about it. Not everyone is like Jiu Xun, who goes against the norm and dares to covet the power of gods and demons." 

Xuan Ji fell silent. 

If that's the case, then why does he have the memories of the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit before it was born? 

Could it be because the original form of the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit was also the Vermilion Bird, and the Emperor couldn't find all thirty-six bones, so he used the Sword Spirit's previous form as a waste product?

And what exactly is the "Spirit of the Vermilion Bird Bone Seal"? 

It doesn't seem right to consider it either human or demon. Could it be that the "Fire-keeper" is the world's earliest artificial intelligence?

If the Vermilion Bird bone was destined to be shattered, then why did it develop intelligence? 

Why did it have self-awareness? 

Was it just to experience the pain of being destroyed during sacrifice, adding a bit of irrelevant tragedy to this burial? 

What is its purpose for existing? 

Sheng Lingyuan glanced at him and rested his fingers on the armrest of the chair, vaguely recalling the confusion he felt years ago when he suddenly learned of his own origins. 

He couldn't help but feel a sense of melancholy and longing for his own kind. For a moment, he even wanted to pat the little demon's head.

But then he saw Xuan Ji's furrowed brow suddenly relax, and he spoke with a surprisingly open-minded attitude: "The fate of our race is not something we can blame on the heavens or others. After all, humans only live for a few decades, while cats and dogs only live for a little over ten years. Our average lifespan is at least a hundred years, so we're not at a loss. In the end, everyone who lives must die, right?"

Sheng Lingyuan couldn't help but think that Xuan Ji was a carefree creature, and he silently withdrew his hand. 

"That won't do. Back when we were setting up the Vermilion Bird Great Formation, I already dug up the entire Vermilion Bird tomb. If you disappear without a trace, where am I supposed to find more Vermilion Bird bones?" The Emperor issued a cold decree. "You cannot die for the time being."

"Of course not. I'm still young and haven't had my fill of food, drink, and fun. Who wants to die? Natural disasters and wars are one thing, but being schemed against and killed is too suffocating. I declare that the members of the True Nature Sect are now public enemies," Xuan Ji's eyes darted around, his mind becoming active again. 

"Your Majesty, since that's the case, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so..."

He had originally wanted to suggest that they could "exchange information and cooperate in a friendly manner," and even sign a mutual assistance agreement to try and pull this unstable element into the control of the Bureau. 

"I'll take you with me for now until we catch the person behind the Yin Sacrifice ritual. We'll train you properly before anything else," the emperor said. 

Xuan Ji: "..."


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