At the end of the hall, there was a row of stone steps extending downward.
The steps were carved with exquisite reliefs, making people unable to bear to step on them. At the end stood a fan-shaped scarlet gate, with the three characters "Palace of Ease" on the plaque, the strokes soft and adding a touch of tenderness.
The Dark Blood Witch sniffed the door panel and tapped it with her cane, and the door slowly opened.
"There are no traps on the door, as for inside..." She didn't finish her sentence and stepped into the door first.
The team, which was originally slightly less than a hundred people, now had only about forty left. The Taiheng Sect suffered the least losses, while those who came alone were completely wiped out.
After entering the door, everyone stopped in their tracks - the scene in front of them was really not quite right. They seemed to have entered a grand mansion, with swaying tree shadows and soft starlight visible outside the windows. The interior was dimly lit, with a wonderful fragrance of incense burning. Not a speck of dust could be seen around, and the air was filled with pleasant warmth.
On the table were half-eaten pastries and tea, the pastries fresh and crispy, and the tea still steaming. The fruits in the fruit bowl were covered in dewdrops, and the nearby plants were lush and some even had beautiful flowers.
The atmosphere of life here was incredibly strong, as if the owner of the mansion had just left and would return soon. Even if one claimed that Yan Budu still lived here, Yin Ci could believe it for a moment.
For a brief moment, Yin Ci even had a faint hope - could it be that Yan Budu, like him, was unable to die and was hiding in the tomb?
However, this thought only lasted for a moment. Yin Ci had been to too many graves, and he knew better than anyone that no matter how powerful the magic was, it couldn't create water out of thin air.
It was just an illusion.
Before Shi Jingzhi could even tremble, Yin Ci grabbed his hand. The candlelight flickered, and for a moment, no one dared to move, afraid of disturbing something.
"Shizun, should we look for Yan Qing? Senior Shi said he wasn't in the main hall, so he should be here," Yin Ci whispered, diverting Shi Jingzhi's attention.
"Mm, let's find him," Shi Jingzhi's voice was dry.
At the same time, perhaps because of there was too much tension, a disciple of the Yueshui Bureau dropped his brush. The brush fell on the thick, soft carpet, and he hesitated for a moment before deciding to pick it up.
Shen Zhu let out a soft sigh and dusted off the dust on her clothes. "What a fool."
The room was quiet, and the man clearly heard the words.
He stood up straight and grumbled discontentedly, "Don't make a big deal out of nothing. I've been in tombs before, and I was careful just now. I definitely didn't activate anything..."
Before he could finish his sentence, there was a sudden sound of gasping in the room.
The man's face changed.
He didn't turn into another person - his facial features slowly slid around his face like a paper painting floating on water.
One eye slid down to the position of his mouth, while his mouth slowly slid towards his left ear. His eyes, nose, and mouth were all in the wrong places, but the man seemed completely unaware and continued to blink his misplaced eyes.
As if realizing the horror in everyone's eyes, he reached out and touched his own face. As soon as he touched it, his fingers stuck to his face and merged with his cheek.
The mouth that had slid to the side of his face finally opened, letting out a scream of terror. "Help me!"
He stumbled towards the crowd, "Help--" For some reason, with each step he took, his body curled up and shrank a layer. After a few steps, his entire body was twisted beyond recognition, unable to move even a bit.
He didn't make a sound anymore. It was unclear whether his throat had changed shape or if he had died in the midst of his contortions. The brightly colored fabric of his clothes was tightly wrapped around his flesh, making it even more eye-catching.
His body melted into the ground like a colorful wax, and his clothes seeped into the earth, gradually disappearing without a trace.
Shi Jingzhi said, "..."
Shi Jingzhi said, "Ah Ci, be careful, don't move around."
Yin Ci sighed, "I know... Shizun, please get off me first."
Shi Jingzhi's fear overwhelmed his dignity as a master - he clung to Yin Ci like a monkey hugging a tree, too scared to even breathe. Yin Ci even missed the crazed version of Shi Jingzhi. Even if he could spread one-tenth of that madness to his normal self, he wouldn't be so... clingy.
He patiently tore off Shi Jingzhi: "Yan Qing has calculated that Taiheng Sect is lucky on this trip, so we just need to follow them closely."
No one mocked Shi Jingzhi, including the Dark Blood Witch. Everyone's faces were not looking good.
Shi Zhongyu rolled up his sleeves, revealing her Blood Bone Beads Bracelet, which were still pure white. Master Juehui knocked on his iron bowl a few times, but the environment in front of them did not change.
There were no monsters or ordinary illusions here.
The scent of dim sum mixed with incense, and the delicate sweetness lingered. The air was warm and flowed gently. This should have been a soothing environment.
From this spot, one could see the entrance to the study not far away, filled with books. On the weapon rack, swords and knives glinted with a cold light, clearly not ordinary items.
Yin Ci clicked his tongue in his heart - he recognized this situation, but he was probably the only one who could identify what it was.
This technique was called "Dream Bubble Illusion," known as the most dangerous incense illusion. It used the human brain as the main ingredient, along with thousands of materials from monsters to create the incense. If the right incense burner was chosen, the scent could last for hundreds of years.
The "Dream Bubble Illusion" had only two effects. One was to create a dream while a person was awake and mix it with reality. The other was that if one touched something in the dream, they would be directly affected by the dream.
The man just now did not die from the mechanism, but from the nightmares of everyone around him. Arriving at such a eerie place, people couldn't help but feel a bit fearful - fear breeds imagination, and imagination blends into dreams.
The disciple at the Yueshui Bureau became the center of attention, and unfortunately touched an object in the dream, becoming a target that could be "distorted".
As a result, everyone's various fears and imaginations mixed together, and materialized onto the person, erasing him from existence.
Within the "Dream Bubble Illusion", everyone became the unknowing practitioners.
The solution was simple - don't touch anything in the dream, and destroy the incense burner.
Unfortunately, there were many things in the dream, and except for the obviously illogical, it was difficult to distinguish between what was part of the dream and what wasn't.
The most troublesome thing was that Yin Ci didn't want to reveal himself, he needed an someone else - anyone, to discover the solution.
"Is there a problem with the carpet?" Yin Ci deliberately raised his voice. "Shizun, I felt something was off earlier. The carpet has no pattern, it's just pitch black and doesn't match the rest of the house."
Shi Jingzhi: "What are you talking about, Ah Ci? There's a golden dragon and phoenix pattern on the carpet, isn't there?"
Shi Zhongyu furrowed her brow upon hearing this. "I see a red carpet with patterns from the Western Regions. Jin Lan, what do you see?"
Jin Lan stuttered, "I, I saw a plain blue carpet with fortune and longevity patterns..."
Master Juehui pondered for a moment before asking, "What kind of snacks does everyone see on the table?"
"Mung bean cake."
"Lotus seed pastry."
Everyone answered in a flurry, then looked at each other in confusion. As everyone's attention focused, the carpet and snacks twisted and contorted into unrecognizable shapes before finally disappearing altogether.
All that remained was a rotting carpet and a plate of black residue.
"Ah, I see now," sighed the monk, "it all makes sense."
Yin Ci was not surprised.
Dreams were often like this - the power of the "Dream Bubble Illusion" was limited, and most of the details were filled in by the individual's subconscious. But if everyone focused their attention on one thing, it would be torn apart by conflicting imaginations, just like the person before.
However, this alone was not enough to break the "Dream Bubble Illusion". After all, dreams were never just one layer.
"Shizun, the snacks just disappeared completely. It must have been an illusion, right?"
Shi Jingzhi furrowed his brow, as if he had a sudden realization: "What I saw was the remains of rotten dim sum. Wait, Ah Ci, let me think..."
He took a few deep breaths and turned to Master Juehui: "Master, I once read about it in a book. The Evil Pleasure Buddhist Sect seems to have a similar technique, called...what was it called again?"
"The young benefactor is knowledgeable. Yes, the Evil Pleasure Buddhist Sect does have a similar technique. That technique has long been lost, leaving only incomplete records," replied Master Juehui.
Master Juehui closed his eyes: "This technique is born from incense. All illusions are ominous. If touched casually, it is easy to face a backlash by the imaginations of those trapped within."
Shi Jingzhi gritted his teeth: "Ah Ci, hold my hand."
"No problem, why did Shizun suddenly say this?"
Shi Jingzhi didn't answer immediately. He took out the silver bell and cleared away the scraps of paper that had been used to stuff it quiet, giving the bell a shake. The clear sound of the bell rang out, rippling through the room.
"This technique affects the consciousness, it can deceive the eyes, but not the ears." Shi Jingzhi closed his eyes tightly.
"The sound of the bell spreads out and bounces off objects, allowing me to know where the obstacles are. Dream objects have no substance and can be penetrated by sound."
"If I don't even look at the dream, unaware of its existence, I shouldn't be affected by consciousness-based techniques. Master Juehui said that this thing relies on incense to be effective. We just need to find the place with the strongest scent and destroy the incense burner."
His voice was confident and loud, and everyone present could hear him.
...This kid, he really is a sly fox.
Yin Ci's mouth curved upwards.
Shi Jingzhi was just talking nonsense, and started to use the bell as an auditory version of a visual guide. He probably had no idea if the "Dream Illusion Bubble" would count this as him "not touching it."
It would be good if it didn't count. Even if it did count, he had managed to give everyone a subconscious sense of security - they believed he wouldn't have any accidents, and wouldn't end up like the person who had just died a horrible death in their nightmares.
It turned out that what he felt earlier was not entirely his own imagination - there was indeed a hint of madness hidden deep within Shi Jingzhi.
The Dark Blood Witch's tone was serious as she asked, "Kid, do you really think you can do this?"
With a Nuo mask on his face, Shi Jingzhi jingled the silver bell in his hand and replied calmly, "It's just a small trick. I was born with heightened senses."
Despite his steady voice, his palms were sweating. Yin Ci squeezed his hand, signaling him to relax.
"Ah Ci, you follow behind me and don't touch anything," he instructed.
No one dared to search for treasures, and the group followed in the footsteps of Shi Jingzhi, walking cautiously.
The mansion was huge, and they walked quietly for over an hour before Shi Jingzhi finally stopped - or rather, he almost tripped.
Yan Qing lay at the end of the corridor, his body stiff and his arms tightly pressed against his sides. The luggage of the Ku Mountain Sect was neatly stacked beside him, with a letter on top.
This man was sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling steadily.
Yin Ci said, "Brother Yan, wake up."
Shi Jingzhi then made up a story on the spot, "Everyone, this is a new servant that my sect just received. He has been missing for a while. He is blind and perhaps has the ability to break this spell, which is why he was left here alone."
Amidst the noise, Yan Qing woke up groggily and muttered, "Hmm."
Yin Ci whispered, "You didn't touch anything?"
Yan Qing looked bewildered, but eventually showed a glimmer of joy at having survived the ordeal. "This place is extremely dangerous, and I know it. Instead of triggering any traps, it's better to wait here and die... cough, wait for the two of you to come and save me."
Yin Ci: "..." Yan Qing's approach was a bit too pragmatic.
Shi Jingzhi cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Have you found any clues?"
Yan Qing's expression became serious as he took a deep breath and pointed to a nearby bedroom.
"I can hear someone breathing inside."
Although the name "Dream Bubble Illusion" sounds a bit like a magical girl anime, it actually comes from Buddhist terminology, "All phenomena are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, and a shadow."
The name is too fantastical, so I must explain a bit (......)
Happy readers make me float like a cloud in the sky. If you enjoy my translations and want to read them more quickly, I'll translate bonus chapters as a thank you for coffee!
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