As they left the mountainous area, the ground beneath their feet was still mixed with rocks and stones. The surroundings were desolate, with sparse weeds and no sign of any village. The shadows of the mountains loomed close, making the night even darker.
The cold of the winter night was like a sharp blade, slicing through their fear and penetrating their bones.
Watching the panicked expression on Shi Jingzhi's face, Zheng Fengdao seemed to be enjoying himself. "Have you thought it through? Tell me," he said.
Shi Jingzhi clenched his fists. "If I give you the Buddhist beads, will you really not harm us, senior?"
Zheng Fengdao's long face broke into a smile. His small triangular eyes looked down from above, as if he were sizing up three dead dogs. "Ah? Oh, probably."
"Swear to your Holy Leader. Otherwise, I'll burn the Buddhist bead to ashes, and no one will be able to take it," Shi Jingzhi said firmly. With his five fingers slightly spread, a ball of flame appeared in the palm of Shi Jingzhi's hand.
He didn't remove his mask, but his resolute expression was clear, and from head to toe, he was covered in the four characters "perishing with the beads."
Zheng Fengdao let out a puff of white steam and his smile turned cold. "Tsk... I swear to the Holy Leader that after obtaining the Buddhist beads today, I will not harm the three members of the Ku Mountain Sect."
He glared fiercely at Shi Jingzhi, revealing his slightly sharp teeth.
"Is that enough?"
Yan Qing whispered, "Sect Leader, he said he won't harm us within today. You should think carefully... ah!"
Suddenly, Zheng Fengdao flashed in front of the two of them and struck Yan Qing's abdomen with the back of his knife. Despite his tall stature, Yan Qing was sent flying three zhang away and fell to the ground, vomiting in the snow.
Yin Ci almost let out a fake cry. This Elder, you just sent the endangered heir of your Holy Sect flying.
Shi Jingzhi didn't have the focus to spare for any wild thoughts. He swallowed a mouthful of saliva - if Elder Zheng had used his blade, Yan Qing would have been literally cut in two.
"After receiving the Buddhist beads today, I won't harm the three members of the Ku Mountain Sect," Elder Zheng stepped back two steps and slowly repeated, dragging out the word "after" for emphasis.
Shi Jingzhi took a deep breath and took out two Buddhist beads with a sticky rice wine flavor. His fingers were stiff and his palms were trembling, either from the cold or from fear.
"I'm still not happy, you have too many tricks up your sleeve. Sect Leader Shi should also make a vow, hurry up."
Shi Jingzhi closed his eyes and said, "If these Buddhist beads are fake, I, Shi Jingzhi, will have no descendants."
Zheng Fengdao took the Buddhist beads with satisfaction and sniffed them hard. "Not bad, you have some sense."
He put away his Nine-Ring Blade and swaggered away. Shi Jingzhi hurried to Yan Qing's side to check his injuries.
Yin Ci was watching the scene with some displeasure. "Master, you just gave them to him like that?"
Shi Jingzhi replied, "How could I? Those were fake."
Yin Ci: "..."
Yan Qing asked: "?"
Shi Jingzhi's panic disappeared in an instant. "Thanks to Dark Blood Witch, I gained a lot of experience in fear. Ah Ci, did I look convincing?"
"Very convincing." Fox Shi was gifted in deception, even fooling him.
"I suspected that the Ling Sect would target us, and Zheng Fengdao had been lurking around here for the past few days. I got an old Buddhist bead that looked similar from the monk and boiled it in glutinous rice wine. Now that it's so dark, since he's not from the Red Hook Sect, he can't tell the difference."
Yan Qing trembled as he spoke, "Sect Leader, you never mentioned this before."
"If you two knew and didn't react properly, wouldn't we have been exposed?" Shi Jingzhi handed Yan Qing a bottle of medicine and his relaxed attitude returned.
Yan Qing was a bit dazed, "But you vowed..."
"Vow? I don't believe in those messy things. The Ku Mountain Sect has been mixed up with Taiheng for too long, and Zheng Fengdao really thinks we're the same righteous types."
Yan Qing became even more confused, "Aren't we?"
Shi Jingzhi smiled, "When did I ever say I wanted to join the righteous path?"
Yan Qing groaned, unsure if it was from the pain in his abdomen or the stomachache from getting on the wrong boat. He curled up like a lonely shrimp, emitting a faint sense of hopelessness.
Yin Ci was satisfied with the plan and began to accompany the performance, "Shizun, we should escape quickly. Once Zheng Fengdao realizes something is wrong, he will hunt us down and kill us all... Now that things have come to this, should we still go to Qizhou?"
Although the Ling Sect was in decline, its followers were like mad dogs. Even if they suffered a small loss, they would bite back fiercely. Zheng Fengdao, as an elder, was played around by a young and inexperienced guy like Shi Jingzhi, and he would probably see this as a deep insult.
Qizhou was prosperous, but there were definitely Ling Sect spies there. It was possible to go, but it would inevitably lead to chaos and trouble, with many twists and turns.
Being cautious against thieves for a thousand days can still make one tired and anxious. Shi Jingzhi and Yan Qing were both fragile, and if he didn't keep an eye on them, they might disappear in the blink of an eye, which would be a huge disappointment.
As Yin Ci thought about it, he approached Shi Jingzhi and softened his voice: "Shizun, let's not go to Qizhou. It would be better to find a small place to hide for a while."
Shi Jingzhi, with his kind heart as a teacher, was particularly receptive to his suggestion. "Yin Ci makes a good point. Let me think..."
Yan Qing, who had been curled up on the ground, finally got up when he heard the key point. "I, cough, I know a place where we can hide for a while."
He brushed off the ice chips on his body, which made his pale face even more apparent against the black and gray ground.
"Sect Leader, this mountain is connected to the Zongwu Mountain and we can walk along the mountain. There is a village called Xizhuang in the Zongwu Mountain, which is usually isolated from the outside world and is very difficult to find. Almost no one knows about it."
Shi Jingzhi's eyes lit up. "How do you know about it?"
Yan Qing looked down at his feet. "I am half a Xizhuang person."
This was practically a gift of charcoal in winter, and Shen Jingzhi immediately perked up, bombarding Yan Qing with questions, almost making him recite the genealogy of the villagers in Xizhuang Village. Yan Qing answered honestly and straightforwardly, but there was no hint of nostalgia in his words.
Yin Ci had never heard of Xizhuang, but he knew about the vast Zongwu Mountain. It spanned a large area, with Yongsheng to the west, Qizhou to the east, and Ling Sect to the south. The northern side was characterized by high mountains and treacherous waters, with jagged peaks and barren land that was basically uninhabited.
To travel from Qizhou to Yongsheng, one had to take a long detour to the north. However, the Ghost Tomb was not far from Zongwu Mountain. If they turned southwest, they could enter the Zongwu Mountain range directly.
According to Yan Qing, he knew a shortcut - if they were willing to take risks and endure hardships, they could reach Xizhuang in three or four days. Once they had determined their destination, Shi Jingzhi was eager to survive and led them on a night-time escape. They ran until the sun was high in the sky before settling down in the mountains.
They were by a river, where the water was clear and still visible at the bottom. It had not completely frozen over, making it the perfect place to rest.
After their trip to the Ghost Tomb and with one more mouth to feed, there was hardly any food left in their bags. Shi Jingzhi looked at Yin Ci earnestly and said, "My good disciple, I want to eat fish, but a mountain chicken will do."
He even managed to order dishes now.
However, with the desolate winter forest, there were no wild fruits and they would have to hunt for meat. Yin Ci, with his background as a mountain dweller, could be seen as returning to his roots.
Yin Ci stood up and said, "Martial artists can withstand the cold. Shizun, you go catch some fish. I'll look for some mountain chickens and rabbits, while Yan Qing can gather some firewood. I'll cook for you later."
An hour passed.
Yin Ci carried three mountain chickens in his hand and looked up to see his pitiful master, Shi Jingzhi, sitting by the river, using his inner strength to dry his clothes.
His whole body was emitting heat, like a freshly steamed bun.
Demon Lord Yin asked, "Shizun, where's the fish?"
Steamed Bun Shi, with a sad look in his eyes, pointed to the red mark on his chin and said, "I caught a big one, but... cough, it almost knocked me out."
Yin Ci's lips twitched, "If there's no fish, then there's no fish. The chicken is enough to eat."
It was true, this cheap master had amazing internal energy, but lacked practical experience and life experience. He definitely didn't take the strength of the fish seriously and ended up getting his dignity hurt.
"You're laughing at me," Shi Jingzhi said bitterly.
"No, Shizun is mistaken," Yin Ci replied.
Halfway through their argument, Yan Qing returned. Upon seeing his spoils, both master and disciple fell silent. Yan Qing had a bundle of firewood on his back and a small, skinny wild boar in his hand. His neck and head were covered in sweat and mud, clearly indicating a tough battle.
Receiving the surprised looks from the two, he explained while panting, "I saw it while gathering firewood and decided to try catching it."
Shi Jingzhi's eyes widened in shock, "Does the Taiheng Sect have this kind of training?"
"I was taught when I was young," Yan Qing shyly smiled, "I don't know how to cook, so I'll have to trouble Brother Yin. Oh, there's no fish?"
Shi Jingzhi glanced at the chicken in Yin Ci's hand, then at the wild boar Yan Qing brought, and lifted his head, "I suddenly don't feel like eating fish. It's too extravagant in the wilderness. Let's have it another day."
Master Zhuang could never have imagined that his masterpiece would be used to slaughter chickens and butcher pigs a hundred years later. Yin Ci drew out his sword, the Hanging Shadow Sword, and deftly handled the prey.
Three chickens were stuffed with hay and spices, salted, smoked with pine branches, and then roasted. The whole pig was quickly dissected by Yin Ci into neat pieces of meat. He smoked the ribs, fried spices and salt on a stone slab, and instructed Yan Qing to boil water and peel the intestines to make sausages for dry rations.
The aroma of roasted meat wafted through the air, and golden oil dripped into the flames, sizzling and crackling.
Yan Qing watched in awe and respect, "As expected of a hunter, I thought using a sword would be troublesome..."
Yin Ci didn't even lift his head, "As long as you're familiar with the connection of bones and flesh, you can pick the meat off even with your bare hands."
Shi Jingzhi finally tore his gaze away from the roasted chicken, seeming to have gained some insight. But when he started eating, any sense of seriousness vanished into thin air.
Sect Leader Shi, with a mouth full of chicken and a rib in his hand, said to Yan Qing, "You have the ghost eyes, why not join the Ling Sect? If you open your eyes in front of Zheng Fengdao, he will never hurt you."
Yan Qing's face turned red from eating, "I would rather die than have any relationship with the Ling Sect."
"Why?" asked Sect Leader Shi.
"The people in the demon cults are all crazy, and the Red Hook sect worships Su Zhi, while the Ling Sect is fanatically obsessed with the Yan family bloodline. As a servant, I don't understand anything. Even if I were to obtain a high position in the Ling Sect, I would only be a puppet and have countless enemies for no reason."
"The so-called 'benefits' are just being able to eat, and having innocent women thrown at me, being treated no better than a beast," Yan Qing said, feeling more and more aggrieved.
"It's better to be a good citizen. You can earn an honest living and spend your life with the one you love."
Yin Ci: "..." This child is realistic and sees things clearly.
It was ironic. Yan Qing was the most talented among the descendants of the Yan family that he had ever met, yet he had no interest in learning from the Ling Sect.
Shi Jingzhi was also satisfied with this answer. After they had eaten their fill and set out on the road again, he helped Yan Qing carry a lot of sausages and smoked meat.
With this wild boar, the group had no shortage of food. They were all young and strong, and had a foundation in martial arts, so they walked quite quickly. Just two days later, they arrived at Xizhuang.
However, the situation in Xizhuang was somewhat strange.
The small village lay quietly in the snow, with no smoke rising from the chimneys. The crops in the fields were flattened by the snow. The houses were well-preserved, with dried meat and fish hanging under the eaves, fresh rice in the jars, and cold leftovers on the stove.
The livestock lay dead in the sheds, already frozen stiff.
The villagers seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
The author has something to say:
Although Demon Lord Yin was skilled in everything, he really didn't know how to give birth... The fox's vow can be counted as the truth.
Also, as modern people in reality, we should stay away from so-called "wild game"! Only quarantined meat is truly safe to eat ☆-∑(>ω0)b.
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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