Lie Huo Jiao Chou

Lie Huo Jiao Chou

Chapter 66 - Chapter 66

"Did I explain it clearly?" 

A child's voice echoed in Xuan Ji's mind, shrouded in a white mist. His surroundings were pitch black, but the voice sounded familiar.

Despite not having reached puberty yet, the child's voice was clear and lacked any childishness. 

Xuan Ji's past profession had made him sensitive to verbal expression, and after listening for a few sentences, he realized that the child was imitating an adult's way of speaking. 

The boy enunciated his words clearly, while deliberately softening the endings, creating a sense of premature maturity.

The child asked again, "Are you listening?"

Suddenly, Xuan Ji's vision brightened, and a clear starry sky appeared before him. 

Afterwards, the eyes blinked and the scene in front of Xuan Ji was momentarily disrupted. 

Normally, people wouldn't think that blinking would interfere with their vision, but Xuan Ji immediately realized that he was seeing the stars through someone else's eyes.

Then, another absent-minded voice chimed in, "I'm listening, I'm listening."

The boy who spoke like an adult sighed heavily, "Nonsense, you were clearly thinking about eating just now. Do you really want to hear me speak, or are you waiting for Dan Li to teach you another incantation that you won't be able to stop reciting?"

Xuan Ji remained silent.

The case was solved - Dan Li was the culprit behind the sneaky and smoky "Heavenly Heart Incantation." 

At the mention of Dan Li, Xuan Ji immediately realized that the two familiar voices belonged to the Emperor and the Sword Spirit from his childhood. 

It seemed that the Sword Spirit was now hiding in the back of Little Sheng Lingyuan's spine, sharing a pair of eyes to see the world.

It appeared that Xuan Ji had been dragged into the Sword Spirit's memories again. 

He couldn't help but wonder, even with the "Wordless Book" inheritance of the Fire-keeper clan, what were the other thirty-plus ancestors doing when they were alive? 

Were they sitting at the bottom of the Chiyuan Canyon picking their toes every day?

Generation after generation of useless people, neglecting the ancestral tombs, avoiding love affairs, and not even leaving behind a single heir. 

Did they even have any life experiences worth mentioning? 

Why not pass down some ancient recipes instead?

This so-called inheritance was nothing but a waste of time, forcing him to relive childhood memories with a three-thousand-year-old toddler every day. 

Xuan Ji was simply baffled. 

He wanted to turn around and leave. He was resistant to revisiting the memories of the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit. 

On one hand, the content was too private, and he felt a sense of shame for peeking into his ancestors' privacy. 

On the other hand, he had no resistance to the style of the Sheng Lingyuan, and the bone-deep love and hate of the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit would be transmitted to him, which would greatly affect his daily life.

Xuan Ji closed his eyes again, closed off his divine sense, and recalled the way he "entered" here, planning to exit the same way.

The way he "entered"? 

Suddenly, he was stunned. 

Wait a minute, isn't this the deepest part of his sea of consciousness? 

Even he himself had only successfully dived down for the first time. 

The inheritance was mysterious, but it was still an external thing. 

Why would the memories of the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit appear here?

And what about that mysterious iron doors that had appeared in his dreams multiple times... 

A strange speculation arose - the iron doors and seal seemed to be related to these memories. 

The plot in the memory continued to unfold. 

"But I'm so hungry... no, you're so hungry, your empty stomach is making me feel uncomfortable," complained Little Sword Spirit, mixing up the subject and object in his speech. 

Xuan Ji took a moment to understand what the mischievous child was saying. As the owner of the sword and the Sword Spirit shared the same senses, the two children had not yet learned to block each other out, so the feeling of hunger was probably mutual. 

Little Sword Spirit asked with a pitiful tone, "Brother Lingyuan, has Aunt Meng Xia not finished cooking yet?" 

Little Sheng Lingyuan quickly got up and looked around. As his gaze turned, Xuan Ji realized they were in a run-down village, and the place where the little prince was lying was a pile of grass. 

There was no sound of chickens or dogs around, and several thatched houses were huddled together, trembling with burnt marks everywhere, giving off a lifeless feeling. 

Only the starry sky above was hanging low, clear as water. 

Little Sheng Lingyuan withdrew his gaze from the night sky and looked down at the world. The grass was high, and they could see the surrounding courtyards and sheds from above. 

Their group was staying in the most decent courtyard of a farmer's house, which was only considered "decent" because it had a roof. It couldn't block the wind and rain, but at least they wouldn't be stargazing in the middle of the night. 

In the courtyard, the masked Emperor's teacher, Dan Li, was giving instructions to the guards, while a heavily wrapped female attendant stood nearby. 

Her face was obscured, but she was busy lighting a fire on a farmer's stove to cook rice - perhaps the same "Aunt Meng Xia" that the Sword Spirit had mentioned, who was taking care of the children with the army.

Suddenly, voices could be heard from behind the haystack. 

Little Sheng Lingyuan immediately became alert and took a quick peek behind the haystack. 

Upon seeing strangers approaching, the child sprang into action as if he had a voice-activated switch installed on his body, quickly abandoning his lazy posture and entering "business mode" in just one second. 

Xuan Ji saw him slip silently down from the haystack, but he slipped too quickly and ended up sitting on his butt. 

He didn't make a sound, just got up and dusted himself off, straightened his clothes, and finally pulled out his small dagger, using the blade to reflect and examine his appearance. 

He quickly wiped away the dirt on his face and removed the dry grass stuck in his hair. Then he straightened his back, lifted his chin, and in less than half a minute, he turned into a three-foot-high prince. 

The Sword Spirit sarcastically commented in a childish voice, "Brother Lingyuan is admiring himself in the mirror, how vain." 

"Go away. 'Words are trustworthy, actions are dignified, attire is proper, then the subjects will be respectful,'" said the short-legged prince as he put away his dagger and put on a serious expression. 

He then started walking with great dignity. 

At the same time, he spoke to his sword spirit in his mind, "Teacher said that the people are troubled, and I am the hope of the people. I must not disappoint them."

"What does 'doubled' mean?" asked the prince.

"It's not 'doubled,' it's 'troubled.' It means...," the prince hesitated for a moment, perhaps even forgetting himself, before continuing without changing his expression, "it means lacking water and fire to cook and drink."

Xuan Ji couldn't help but burst out laughing. 

As a single adult man, Xuan Ji didn't necessarily hate children, but he certainly didn't have any fondness for those brats in public places who could scream like donkeys at the drop of a hat. 

Whenever he heard a child's voice, his first reaction was always to think of runny noses, slobber, and the tapping of feet on the back of his seat on buses and trains.

But this was the first time he had ever softened at the sound of a child's voice.

However, he quickly remembered that adult version of Sheng Lingyuan.

How did this little cutie turn into that damn old demon?

It was like a complete and twisted development. 

Did the great educator Dan Li hold an anti-social training camp? 

The visitor was a thin and pale village woman, holding a dirty swaddled baby in her arms and leading a similarly emaciated sheep by the hand. 

She was in conversation with a guard when Sheng Lingyuan strolled over at a leisurely pace, coughed lightly, and nodded in greeting to the woman before asking the guard, "What's going on, Mao San?" 

As soon as the woman saw Sheng Lingyuan, her eyes, which had been lifeless moments before, suddenly lit up as if ignited by a spark. 

She promptly dropped to her knees with a thud and prostrated herself on the ground. 

Sheng Lingyuan quickly said, "Madam, please get up. There's no need for such formalities." 

Mao San, the guard with a small mustache, was a young man with a charming set of white teeth. 

He lowered his head and said to Sheng Lingyuan, "Your Highness, this woman wishes to offer you a milk sheep." 

The naive Sword Spirit cheered, "We can drink sheep's milk!" 

"Quiet down," scolded Little Sheng Lingyuan to the Sword Spirit. He glanced at the mother sheep, whose eyes were like obsidian after the rain, glistening with a warm light from the stars and torches. 

Then he looked at the woman, who was barely covered in tattered clothes, with thin wrists exposed, almost skin and bones. 

It seemed that this sheep was her only possession. 

Little Sheng Lingyuan said, "Thank you, madam. Most of our generals are cultivators who have already achieved fasting cultivation. We have enough rations to eat, and it wouldn't be right to take away the food of our fellow villagers. Besides, it's not convenient to bring it with us on our long journey. You were kind enough to take care of it alone, so please take it back now." 

At this age, an ordinary child might still struggle to speak and would be considered clever if they could greet strangers. 

Although Little Sheng Lingyuan was not quite as smooth, he was still logical and reasonable. It was unclear whether he learned this from Dan Li or from growing up in troubled times.

The woman, seeing that he refused to accept her gift, became anxious and emotional. 

Tears welled up in her eyes as she prostrated herself, displaying a fervent devotion that bordered on desperation.

Mao San quickly stepped in to stop her, saying, "Madam, please don't do this."

Xuan Ji thought to herself, "This person is so fanatical, it's like she's insane. Don't scare the child anymore."

The Little Sword Spirit asked, "Brother Lingyuan, is there something wrong with her? She's a bit frightening." 

Xuan Ji could clearly feel the tension in Little Sheng Lingyuan's back, but then the child forcibly restrained his desire to shrink back. 

He bravely walked around Mao San and reached out to support the woman's shoulder, saying in a gentle voice, "How about this, madam? You take the sheep back as if I have already accepted it, and given it back to your child. How does that sound?"

The woman trembled as she lifted her head, staring at him with intense eyes, like a starving person looking at a bowl of porridge.

Little Sheng Lingyuan didn't back down, and even leaned forward to lightly pat the baby in the woman's arms through the swaddling cloth. 

"Madam, please get up. The soldiers are shedding blood to reclaim the world, so that your child can grow up well. How can we take away his food?" 

The woman's face was worn out, her eyes were abnormally large, and as she blinked, a stream of tears flowed down her face. 

She was supported by Mao San and another guard as she tightly clutched the corner of her swaddled baby, and asked in a trembling voice, "Your Highness... will we be able to reclaim our place in the mortal world?"

"Definitely, please wait for me, madam," replied Little Sheng Lingyuan with a smile as he looked up at her. "Let me see, is this a baby boy or girl?"

As he spoke, he tiptoed and gently pushed past the woman's arms holding the baby. 

Mao San suddenly felt something was wrong and his face changed, "Your Highness..."

At the same time, Xuan Ji also noticed something was off - the baby was too quiet. 

Despite being rubbed and patted by his half-crazed mother for so long, he hadn't made a sound. Was it normal for a child to be so well-behaved? 

His heart skipped a beat as he saw the woman smiling foolishly, handing over the tightly wrapped baby in her arms. 

As she opened the swaddling cloth, a limp, purple arm fell out, and the sharp cries of the Little Sword Spirit exploded in his ears. 

Inside the cloth was the face of a dead infant, covered in bruises and already beginning to rot, with a bloodless mouth gaping open as if still crying for help.

It was a face that even a battle-hardened general could get nightmares from. 

Xuan Ji almost wanted to escape from this memory altogether, and the smile on Little Sheng Lingyuan's face froze instantly.

Mao San raised his hand to push the woman away, but was stopped by Sheng Lingyuan's grip on his wrist. 

The woman seemed oblivious, speaking in a soft, eerie voice, "It's a little boy. He'll be able to fight alongside His Highness in battle someday."

She was already insane. 

At that moment, an old man rushed out and pulled the crazy woman away, quickly kneeling down to apologize. 

Xuan Ji didn't bother to listen to what he was saying, as it was probably just another tragic story of being persecuted by demons or the harshness of the world. 

There were too many of these stories in troubled times, all sounding equally miserable - those who survived were barely hanging on, while the dead couldn't even have a proper burial. 

He only noticed that Little Sheng Lingyuan's mind suddenly went silent, as if all his thoughts were frozen by the baby's corpse.

Even the sword spirit realized this and stopped sobbing reluctantly, "Lingyuan, brother?" 

The Sword Spirit cried out three times before finally calling back the soul of Sheng Lingyuan. 

The young prince grabbed Mao San's hand and trembled for a moment before forcing himself to stand straight again. 

He watched as the woman, who was holding a sheep in one hand, was dragged away, still looking back at him with a longing gaze. "Your Highness, the mortal world..."

Through the eyes of little Sheng Lingyuan, Xuan Ji looked out at the devastated land and suddenly understood the malice behind the prophecy of the Emperor's birth, as well as the burden carried by Sheng Lingyuan with his words, "When the people are troubled, he is the hope of the people."

There were too many desperate and insane people, holding dead infants and dragging their broken bodies, who could only survive with a single hope. 

Dan Li had created a living "hope" for them, placing a child on the altar.

But isn't an altar just a place of sacrifice? 

As Xuan Ji recalled the ritual of "Heavenly Demon" he had witnessed at sea, he couldn't help but shudder. 

So, what exactly was the "Heavenly Demon"? 

Suddenly, Little Sheng Lingyuan pushed away Mao San's hand and ran to the corner to vomit. His stomach was empty, and all he could bring up was acid water. 

In his sea of consciousness, Xuan Ji followed him and had nightmares for several days. 

One moment, he was being chased by a horde of zombies, reaching out with their decaying claws to demand his life. 

The next moment, he was being endlessly hunted and fleeing, with countless skeletal claws grabbing him and lifting him high onto the altar. 

The jaws of those skulls flapped, and the same voice echoed out - "Your Highness, you are the hope of the people..." 

What kind of old society was this, without any laws protecting minors? 

Xuan Ji was furious, but he knew he was just an outsider who couldn't change history. 

All he could do was watch as Little Sheng Lingyuan fell into one nightmare after another... until the Sword Spirit woke him up.

At this moment, the Sword Spirit and the little prince shared the same mind. 

During the day, the Sword Spirit could understand his thoughts, and at night, they could share his dreams. While Sheng Lingyuan could endure it, little Sword Spirit couldn't bear the injustice. 

As soon as he was scared awake, he would cry and use his tears to coax Sheng Lingyuan out of his nightmares. It's strange how fragile the human spirit can be. 

Sometimes even the slightest trauma can knock a person down, but other times they can be incredibly resilient. Give them a little support and they'll grow like a blade of grass finding a crack in a rock. 

When there's someone weaker nearby, people tend to unconsciously take on the role of the stronger one.

And so it was that, amidst the cries of the Sword Spirit, Sheng Lingyuan was forced to learn to meditate for one stick of incense every night, calming his mind and forcing himself not to think about the purple and blue corpse of the baby or the withered woman. 

He trained himself like a madman. 

Beside Sheng Lingyuan, the little bearded guard Mao San couldn't bear to watch any longer. 

He felt it was his fault that the young prince had seen the infant corpse, so he used all his ingenuity to carve a wooden tiger to amuse him. Mao San was skilled in mechanical formations, and although the tiger he carved was not very exquisite, it could move. 

Little Sheng Lingyuan was not interested in these odds and ends, but the sword spirit was delightedly coaxed.

When the sword spirit acted coquettishly, it was unbeatable. 

It kept pestering little Sheng Lingyuan until he promised to make a little bird that could fly, and every night before class, he would learn woodcarving with Mao San. 

Perhaps because he was still young, the imperial teacher did not push him too hard as long as it did not affect his studies. 

So, he turned a blind eye to it. 

The little prince was born with a talent for carving, and in just a few days, he learned how to use a carving knife from Mao San. 

Mao San was quite eloquent and knew how to coax children. As he taught the little prince how to carve wood, he also told stories of his own adventures with his brother on a snowy mountain, fighting against the tiger demon. The story was full of ups and downs, and Mao San's storytelling skills were reminiscent of a professional performer, leaving the two children completely captivated.

Xuan Ji could understand the thoughts of the two children through their spiritual consciousness. He watched coldly and suddenly understood what the Heavenly Demon Sword Spirit meant to the young Sheng Lingyuan.

The little prince was always cautious and never allowed himself to act like a child, even though he secretly wanted to play and take a break from the heavy responsibilities of being a prince. 

But he dared not, not even allowing himself to have such thoughts, otherwise those nightmares would come back to haunt him. 

Only the stubborn sword spirit longed for him, coaxing him into listening to stories and playing with wooden carvings. 

It would even cry for him when he woke up in the middle of the night. The sword spirit was his weakness, allowing him to express his vulnerabilities and enjoy his childhood innocence.

As the wooden bird began to take shape, the story of the tiger on the snowy mountain reached its climax. Even the young prince couldn't resist staying a little longer, until the imperial teacher urged them on with his flute.

Mao San picked up his well-crafted wooden carving and asked, "Would the young prince like to give this little bird a name?" 

The sword spirit exclaimed, "It's mine, it's mine!"

But little Sheng Lingyuan said to Mao San, "Let's call it 'Little Chicken'." 

That was the sword spirit's nickname. 

"Haha," Mao San and Little Sheng Lingyuan had become good friends. 

It was rare to see him so playful, so Mao San picked him up and placed him on his broad shoulders, ready to deliver the bird to Dan Li. 

"With His Highness giving it a name, this bird will have spirit. Who knows, with His Highness's noble aura, it might even fly up to the nine heavens."

Little Sheng Lingyuan's heart stirred, and he looked down at Mao San, asking, "Are you from the Bian family in Henei? Do you have a courtesy name?"

Mao San laughed, "I am just a lowly commoner. At home, my parents and uncles called me by my age order. After following His Highness and joining the 'Dizhi Maozi Team,' I became the third oldest, so I am called 'Mao San.' I don't have a courtesy name."

Little Sheng Lingyuan said, "Then let me give you a good one to show..."

"Your Highness," a slightly deep voice interrupted him. 

Sheng Lingyuan looked up and saw that the masked imperial teacher had approached him without him noticing. 

He quickly straightened his back and dismounted from Mao San's shoulder, standing at attention and bowing respectfully, "Teacher."

Dan Li waved him over and whispered, "The soldiers in the Tiangan and Dizhi camps are all referred to by numbers, with no names or identities. How will he handle himself among his colleagues with this special treatment?"

Mao San was quick-witted and immediately responded, "Dan Li is right. I have not achieved anything significant, yet I have received such a generous reward. My colleagues will surely envy me. I will only ask for a title from Your Highness once I have collected the heads of twelve demon tribes and earned the rank of a hundred households."

Little Sheng Lingyuan solemnly accepted their advice and did not say anything more. 

Xuan Ji "heard" him start to twist his hands, calculating various beautiful characters with good meanings in his heart, wanting to prepare them for Mao San.

For a moment, Xuan Ji forgot all the many wicked things about the old demon, and just focused on listening to the suppressed voice in this child's heart, wanting to reach out and hug him, buy him a set of flying, remote-controlled toys, wanting to let him laugh without any burden on the world.

Unfortunately, the wooden bird called "Little Chicken", like its prototype, never really flew.

The next day, they were ambushed by the Feather Snake Tribe, and in the chaos, the wooden carving was lost. Mao San was also bitten in half by a Feather Snake while protecting his master.

The young guard's upper body flew out, but he wasn't completely dead yet. Using his elbows to prop himself up, he desperately crawled forward. 

"Your Highness...forgive me. The story of the snowy mountain's hidden tiger...was just a lie I made up," the guard struggled to finish his sentence. "We brother was taken by that tiger demon and his heart...I was hiding in a tree at the time..." 

His body began to convulse violently, and another guard rushed forward to carry away Little Sheng Lingyuan. 

But the young prince's gaze remained fixed on Mao San, and he understood the unspoken words on his lips. 

"Don't...give me a name...Your Highness...don't do it again." 

Whether it was a person or a wooden carving, once it had a name, it could never be forgotten. 

And not forgetting was a painful thing. 

Then the light in his eyes scattered, and even in death, he continued to gaze at the child prophesied by the human race, hoping that he could provide a refuge for the desperate mortals and bring back the lost world. 

From then on, Sheng Lingyuan learned woodcarving and never gave any of his carvings a name again, nor did he give any of his close attendants a title. 

Some were called "Chen Seventeen," some were called "Wei Two," some were called "Zi First," and some were called "Xu Four"... They came and went - alive when they came, but scattered when they left. 

However, even though they had no names, they still left their mark on Sheng Lingyuan. 

Mao San taught him woodcarving, Chen Seventeen taught him how to play the flute, Wei Two taught him how to play the xun, Zi Chu taught him the Southeastern tune... 

Each of them, with their own knife, carved him into an emperor.


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