At sunrise, three rooster crows could be heard from within the Red Hook Sect's quarters.
Shi Zhongyu explained everything that happened last night in a clear and straightforward manner.
Surprisingly, the Red Hook Sect remained calm despite gaining nothing from the situation.
The only request made by the Dark Blood Witch was, "That boy surnamed Shi, bring out the Buddhist beads for me to see."
It is said that every profession has its own area of expertise. When it comes to things found in tombs, no sect is better than the Yueshui Bureau, and the Yueshui Bureau couldn't compare with the Red Hook Sect.
Without hesitation, Shi Jingzhi promptly presented the Buddhist beads.
The Dark Blood Witch did not immediately take them, but instead looked at Shi Jingzhi and asked, "What, are you not afraid of me anymore?"
Shi Jingzhi replied, "If this thing can catch the attention of Grandmother, then it must be extraordinary. I have offended you with the matter of the jade bead, so if Grandmother likes it, please take it as compensation from our sect."
He smiled faintly and bowed in front of everyone, "I have only one request. If there is any mystery in this thing, please tell me the content."
"Chen Qu, that kid always likes to cause trouble. If you killed him, then that's it. This matter won't be pursued further with the Ku Mountain Sect, so Sect Leader Shi can rest assured."
Dark Blood Witch responded calmly, her sharp nails picking up the wooden bead and throwing it back into Shi Jingzhi's hand, "My Red Hook Sect has the upper hand here, how could we snatch a junior's thing in public? This thing does have a mystery, and there's no harm in speaking it out."
Everyone's gaze returned to the Buddha bead.
No matter how you looked at it, the Buddha bead was unremarkable, like it had been dug out from a pile of old things, with no special features.
Dark Blood Witch signaled to her subordinates, and a Red Hook Sect disciple brought a small jar of glutinous rice wine. The old woman held the wine jar in her hand, and in no time, the wine boiled up. After waiting for the wine to boil for a moment, Dark Blood Witch threw the Buddha bead directly into it.
In the next instant, the wine jar exploded with a bang, revealing a strangely shaped hollow wooden carving. The carving was small but exquisitely crafted, with details as fine as hair.
Shi Jingzhi exclaimed in surprise, "It's a map carving."
Dark Blood Witch replied, "Just a fragment of a carving. This bead is the style of the Jianchen Temple, each string has fourteen beads."
She splashed some cold water on the carving, and it quickly curled up, transforming into a smooth and round Buddha bead. Dark Blood Witch flicked the bead, and Shi Jingzhi raised his hand, catching it steadily.
"You're a good kid," the old lady said with a sinister smile. "If you want to play tricks on your elders, you'd better weigh your own abilities first. But I like to see rascals who have good eyes. I'll spare your life this time."
Shi Jingzhi seemed not to understand. He took back the Buddha bead and smiled as usual, "Thank you, Grandmother. I have learned a lot from you."
After the morning meeting, each sect needed to discuss separately. The group agreed to depart in an hour, and the two disciples of the Ku Mountain Sect returned to their room.
The Dark Blood Witch stood still for a moment and snorted coldly, "I underestimated him."
Her subordinate next to her was puzzled and asked, "Master, what's the matter with that person?"
"He dared to steal the Jade Bead, and I thought he was just a reckless person. But now it seems that he is quite a good opponent. That kid knew there was more than one Buddha bead, and he took advantage of my knowledge while knowing I wouldn't shamelessly steal the treasure."
Dark Blood Witch leaned on her crutches, her voice hoarse.
"He pretended to be harmless all the way, and now he apologizes opportunistically. With so many eyes watching, I had to promise not to target the Ku Mountain Sect. That kid is very cunning, very cunning indeed."
Dark Blood Witch's subordinate's blood pressure skyrocketed, "Shouldn't we-"
"No, look at Shi Zhongyu's attitude, she's probably been bought over by that guy. That group of fools from the Taiheng Sect will most likely be played by him. Besides, making a promise in public and then going back on it would ruin the rules set by our predecessors."
"But if we just let him go like that..."
"Ultimately, you may not be his match. I used five percent of my strength to shoot that bead just now." Dark Blood Witch rubbed her fingertips. "Just keep an eye on that kid and don't provoke him."
The subordinates trembled in fear and replied, "Yes!"
On the other side, in the room of the Ku Mountain Sect.
"For the next two days, we'll stay here and not go anywhere," Shi Jingzhi sat on the edge of the bed. "Anyway, all the sects plan to keep their people here, so it won't be deserted..."
"Shouldn't Shizun go find the Buddhist beads?"
Shi Jingzhi took off the Nuo mask and smiled, "We just got one, if we keep looking, we won't have any luck left. The Taiheng and Red Hook Sects don't have any yet."
Yin Ci knew what he was getting at, "But didn't the Grandmother say there were fourteen Buddhist beads?"
"Don't forget, Yan Budu was the one who intentionally led this Buddha bead to us. He wants us to think there are fourteen beads and start fighting over them. After all, everyone can see the treasures in the tomb and probably knows their value. This way, everyone has their own calculations and can barely cooperate. But this wooden Buddha bead..."
"No one knows what the Buddha bead treasure map hides, it's hard to give up directly," Yin Ci continued.
"Exactly." Shi Jingzhi stretched lazily. "So, this layer of Buddhist beads is just a sweet deal, at most there are one or two more. The rest of the beads will only be hidden deeper and guarded more tightly."
As he spoke, he gave Yin Ci a cold glance.
"Just relying on 'good luck' won't be enough to escape. Take these next few days to rest and recover, got it?"
Yin Ci forced a smile and nodded in agreement.
Everything went smoothly. He had immediately recognized the secret of the Buddhist bead and was planning how to get his hands on it when Shi Jingzhi took the initiative to pick it.
Later, the Dark Blood Witch revealed the secret in public, so he didn't need to bother with any hints.
As for the other function of the Buddhist beads, it wouldn't be long before Jianchen Temple made it public for him.
The only downside was that Shi Jingzhi had been sticking around the whole time, and Yin Ci couldn't confirm the identity of the person who had been following them the night before.
Yin Ci lifted his eyes with interest to observe his master, who was preparing to go back to sleep. Shi Jingzhi was definitely not just a simple "martial arts genius."
First was him noticing the smell of blood, followed by him choosing the golden hairpin.
It had been so long since Yin Ci had experienced this kind of thrilling pressure. Before he could grow tired of the new excitement, it would be a shame if this person died.
"Sect Leader Shi?" A knock suddenly sounded at the door.
Shi Jingzhi crawled out of bed and put on his mask. "Yes, yes, who is it?"
"Come in quickly. Ah Ci, do we still have any rice cakes left? Bring them out for our guest."
Blind Yan Qing entered the room nervously. "I came to apologize to both of you."
"What happened?" Shi Jingzhi asked.
"I intentionally bumped into Little Brother Yin Ci that day...I didn't want to end up in the tomb, so I purposely twisted my ankle. I'm really sorry for causing trouble for the both of you."
"I thought it was something serious. It doesn't matter to me at all. Ah Ci, what do you think?" Shi Jingzhi asked.
"It's okay," Yin Ci shook his head.
Yan Qing visibly breathed a sigh of relief and seemed to have made up his mind.
He took out two strings of coins and said, "Can you help take a look at Jin Lan's injury? Jin Lan's position in the sect is not high enough to see a good doctor. With Sect Leader Shi's expertise, this little bit of money may not be enough, I..."
Shi Jingzhi cleared his throat and interrupted, "Is Jin Lan your friend? He doesn't seem very friendly towards you."
"We're not friends," Yan Qing immediately denied. "When I was young, I tried to become a servant in Taiheng. Jin Lan didn't mind that I was blind and let me in. Although he has a temper, his nature is not bad, and..."
His face turned a little ugly.
"Yesterday, when I said I heard strange noises, only he believed me and was willing to report it to Senior Shi. I dragged him into this mess."
"Sure, no problem," Shi Jingzhi agreed readily. "This money is enough. After we finish this cake, I'll go help him out."
Jin Lan was naturally gifted, and more importantly his meridians weren't leaky, which gave Shi Jingzhi some confidence back. For the remaining time, Shi Jingzhi tried various methods to treat Yin Ci's "heart failure."
Two days later, the agreed-upon day for the rendezvous arrived.
The Red Hook Sect found a new Buddha bead, and everyone else also obtained some treasures. With wounds and spoils of war, they set out on the same road they had come from.
While the wounded were being transferred, Yin Ci pulled out the short hairpin from his heart and threw it into some blood-stained rags.
The meeting point was at a fork in the road, and the other group arrived on time - both groups had similar situations, with a few casualties, but nothing that affected their fundamental strength.
Jin Lan whispered, "The Ling Sect didn't lose anyone, so Yan Budu must have given them a backdoor."
After receiving treatment, the distance between Jin Lan and the two master and disciple had narrowed. Yan Qing remained as quiet as ever, following behind them.
As they walked, a monk approached them from the opposite direction, holding out his palm.
"Have any of you seen this?" he asked, revealing a Buddha bead resting in his hand.
"That's Master Juehui," Jin Lan eagerly explained. "He's the head of Jianchen Temple and very powerful."
Juehui was around forty years old, with a simple and austere appearance, resembling an oppressed farmer. Despite his unsteady gait, his voice was remarkably steady.
"This Buddha bead has been imbued with our temple's Breaking Evil spell, but the spell formation is only one-third complete. I believe there are three Buddhist beads in total, and only when they are all gathered can the spell be activated and the way out be found," he explained.
The Dark Blood Witch sneered, "No wonder you're the bastard leader of the Ling Sect. You even use Buddhist beads as keys and won't let anyone else have them... Speaking of which, you guarded the Breaking Evil technique so tightly, yet it was still stolen by Yan Budu?"
Juehui did not answer. The Dark Blood Witch coldly snorted and threw out her Buddhist bead, "Forget it, just keep them."
Juehui clasped his hands together and bowed, then turned to face the Taiheng Sect.
The Taiheng Sect members looked at each other in confusion, "Sorry, we really don't have it."
Shi Jingzhi cleared his throat, "Master, the third one is with me."
With all three Buddhist beads gathered, Juehui placed them in the iron bowl and struck the edge with a copper hammer. An annoying low sound rose and lingered, licking over everyone like a tongue. The forked road slowly split open, revealing a brand new path in the middle. The new street was decorated with colorful lights and bustling with excitement. Paper figures faced the same direction, their backs to the crowd. The once silent atmosphere was now filled with music and the sounds of opera singing.
Near the entrance of the tomb, however, it remained quiet and still. There was no sign of any food or water supply, nor any reinforcements.
The spell was broken, and the monk returned the prayer beads, whispering a Buddhist chant.
"I'll leave some people here to deal with the tomb entrance," said Dark Blood Witch, breaking the silence. "Why don't we split up and continue forward? Will the Taiheng kids come with us?"
Shi Zhongyu nodded calmly.
Shi Jingzhi trembled.
Yin Ci was used to his master's frequent tremors and held onto Shi Jingzhi's wrist.
"Shizun, don't worry. I'll go with you."
"Suddenly, a gust of chilly wind blew in. But I'm not one to back down," said Shi Jingzhi stubbornly. "We've already obtained the Buddhist beads, so we must continue on."
The others shared similar thoughts. Each sect settled their wounded and spoils of war by the entrance of the tomb and prepared for battle.
"The Golden Jade Gang has already surveyed the perimeter. The Ghost Tomb is shaped like an inverted triangle and has three levels. This is the first level, and the space gets smaller the further down you go. Even if we only have four days' worth of rations left, we can make it last by rationing," said Jin Lan with a serious expression.
"Previously, Senior Sister said she would only guarantee your safety on the first level. But now, we have a life-and-death relationship, so we can venture into the second level together."
Yin Ci was unsurprised. Shi Jingzhi was strong and knew when to advance or retreat, making him an excellent ally.
The Ku Mountain Sect would not refuse the protection of a major sect, resulting in a perfect mutually beneficial arrangement.
It seemed that last night's impressive display was all part of Shi Jingzhi's plan. Going deeper, he may have already discovered the Anxiety Silk and only spoke up after entering the coffin shop to learn the Green Maiden Sword technique.
This jittery master always manages to surprise him.
Just then, Shi Jingzhi suddenly grabbed Yin Ci's hand and said, "If I really die here, you must see it through to the end."
Yin Ci laughed and replied, "How could that happen? Shizun said that I will survive great danger and we will share good fortune together."
Shi Jingzhi didn't answer, but just looked towards the end of the street.
The mournful singing and the flickering flames illuminated the colorful silk. The crowd swayed forward, carefully avoiding the paper figures.
From behind, it was difficult to distinguish between the living and the paper people due to their identical postures.
At the end of the street stood a building. People walked towards the entrance one by one, as if being swallowed by the door.
A plaque hung above the door with the words "Hall of Ascending Immortals" written in bold, powerful characters, as bright as blood.
The author has something to say:
Shi Jingzhi: I'm about to scare myself to death if I keep going, but in order to survive, I have to keep going.
Yin Ci: I guess I've had a narrow escape. You're going to have a lot of good fortune to enjoy.
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