Su Si, who had just returned Yin Deng to her home last night, was the target of Sister Mian's enquiries. His shoulders were grabbed by her and he was shaken until he was dizzy, yet he still didn't forget to change his voice to mimic a woman's: "Yin Deng is missing again?"
"I asked her during the day, but she only said she dreamed of Ah Lu last night, and Ah Lu was crying very sadly," Sister Mian said, her voice choking up.
"I thought the child was just emotionally affected by the dream, but then she disappeared again not long after falling asleep tonight... Her father and I even locked the door... Have you really not seen her?"
Su Si shook his head.
Sister Mian looked haggard, her hair a mess from being pulled.
She stood still for a moment before gritting her teeth: "Her father has gone to ask people to search everywhere. I'm going to ask the goddess for help. If Yin Deng has gone beyond the village boundary and taken the wrong path..."
Her voice trembled more and more, scared by her own imagination.
Yan Qing put on his coat: "Don't think too much, we'll help you find her. Ying Deng has a small stride, she can't run too far."
With the chaos outside, there was no chance for his dreamwalking act tonight. Yin Ci slowly got out of bed and sighed resignedly.
Shi Jingzhi had already put on his sect clothes and picked up his 'Cure All With Medicine' flag: "Ah Ci, we'll also go look for her."
The villagers searched for a long time in a commotion. The good news was that there were no fresh footprints or other traces outside the village. The bad news was that there was no trace of Ying Deng inside the village.
The goddess was finally invited, still in her ethereal appearance, with her hair in perfect order.
After hearing the villagers' account, the goddess's face showed some sadness: "She may have entered the forbidden area."
"Isn't Ah Huo guarding outside the forbidden area?" Sister Mian knelt on the ground, her voice trembling. "She's just a child, how could she possibly get past the dog demon? And there are the people in white clothes guarding the forbidden area, no matter what there would have been some commotion..."
The goddess's expression turned slightly displeased. "This matter is suspicious and requires careful investigation."
"I want to go in." Sister Mian's eyes were bloodshot. "Goddess, please let me go in and find her."
"Sister Mian, you understand the rules. Without anyone ascending to immortality, the villagers are not allowed to enter the forbidden area. If you violate the rules and offend the gods, the only result will be a dead end. Although Yin Deng is young, breaking the rules is breaking the rules, and I cannot help you."
Sister Mian let out a bitter laugh, "I'm going to ascend to the heavens now, and you must prepare for my funeral immediately. Yin Deng is still young, she just disappeared not long ago, she must still be alive. Please help me find her, I beg of you to help me find her..."
After speaking, she rushed towards a nearby tree trunk, seemingly wanting to commit suicide in front of everyone.
Yin Ci acted quickly and held her back, suddenly having an idea in his mind.
"Honoured Goddess, a few days ago I spoke with Bai Wei, he mentioned wanting to enter the forbidden area to accumulate immortal fate."
The goddess finally turned her gaze towards him, "What about it?"
"Bai Wei has no immortal fate, just like me. But he was able to enter the forbidden area with you, and I heard he didn't bring anyone who had already 'ascended to immortality'... May I ask, how long was he able to move normally after entering the forbidden area?"
Shi Jingzhi caught onto Yin Ci's implication and exploded, "Ah Ci, let's discuss this again when we get back!"
"Shizun, time waits for no one," Yin Ci said with a righteous expression.
"Honoured Goddess, 'without anyone ascending to immortality, the villagers are not allowed to enter the forbidden area'. But what about outsiders? If the immortals haven't blessed me, do they have the right to punish me?"
Shi Jingzhi was about to be infuriated by his disciple's nonsense. According to common sense, they would give face to their own people. If a stranger were to jump around on their territory, they would be kicked out as far as possible.
But to their surprise, the goddess pondered for a moment and actually agreed with his nonsense: "If the immortal fate is weak, the power is as insignificant as an ant. Indeed, it will not immediately alarm the immortals. If you act fast enough, perhaps you can give it a try."
Yin Ci nodded happily, finally finding the goddess a bit more pleasing to the eye.
Shi Jingzhi was not a rare saint, and he did not believe that the life of his disciple was worth more than that of Yin Deng.
He shouted with all his might, his tone full of intimidation: "This master forbids it!"
On the other side, Sister Mian had already collapsed on the ground. She hoped that Yin Ci would bring out her daughter, but at the same time, she felt the same panic as Shi Jingzhi.
Countless emotions choked her throat, and she couldn't utter a word. Yin Deng's father had finished searching the surrounding area and finally arrived. He hugged his wife and daughter in a daze, murmuring as if praying.
The little sister of Yin Deng was hanging on her father's chest. She seemed to sense something and cried loudly, struggling desperately. Her cries were almost heartbreaking.
The atmosphere was tense for a moment.
Shi Jingzhi's limbs began to tingle. His rational mind told him that stopping Yin Ci now would only make things harder for the Ku Mountain Sect in the village. But with the still unknown problem on Bai Wei's end and the goddess's ambiguous attitude, Yin Ci's journey there seemed to be more dangerous than ever.
Deep down, an unnamed emotion exploded within him like an unshakable curse.
It had been with him for over twenty years, burrowing deep into his mind and whispering softly - All living beings suffer, envying what they cannot have, and losing what they once had. Even ordinary people experience gains and losses, but you seem to be constantly thwarted, unable to obtain anything you desire.
Don't you feel any resentment?
Look at the panicked and pitiful look of the Yin Deng's family as they stared at Yin Ci with hope. They must have taken their daughter's survival for granted, unable to accept reality. How arrogant.
After taking this for granted, they even wanted to take Yin Ci's life.
Yin Ci was clearly his disciple, his possession, the "worldly attachments" he had nurtured with all his heart. How dare they.
This emotion was like a hunger that had not been fed for seven days, giving birth to a cold fire in his chest. He had to tear something apart, snatch something away, in order to quell it.
Shi Jingzhi had once thought it was a Heart Demon, but it appeared too early. When he was just beginning to understand things, it was already by his side. How could a young child, who barely understood earthly desires, give birth to such a complex vortex of desire?
Fortunately, no matter what this impulse was, Shi Jingzhi was extremely familiar with it. He knew how to control this fierce beast and prevent it from hurting others.
For example, he could crush this strong desire and turn it into anger.
Perhaps it was because Shi Jingzhi had been silent for too long, that the eyes of many villagers were all focused on him. The rise and fall of his chest gradually became more intense, and anger ignited in his eyes.
He was wearing the not-so-gorgeous Sect Leader's robe, slowly emitting a wordless power, with a sense of oppression even stronger than that of the goddess.
Yin Ci's happy mood disappeared in an instant.
Shi Jingzhi usually had a cowardly look, as though he could be accidentally scared to death. Even though Yin Ci knew that this person's background was a mystery, he didn't take him too seriously, treating him like a clingy big fox he was keeping.
As for the loss of control in the Ghost Tomb, he just thought that this master had some personality problems, born with a crazy streak.
Playing like this was more exciting, Yin Ci had no complaints.
It was his first time seeing Shi Jingzhi calmly release a sense of oppression.
Yin Ci slightly arched his back, showing a hint of genuine alertness. He had seen real powerhouses before, and Shi Jingzhi was not even close to being one of them. However, the aura that a person emits when they are serious can reveal a lot about their innate qualities.
The sense of oppression emitted by the Jianchen Temple is mostly heavy, while Taiheng Sect's feels mostly righteous. But when it comes to Demon Cults, it's either cold and piercing or twisted and viscous.
Yin Ci had fought with Yan Budu a few times in the past, but even Yan Budu's sense of oppression was not exempt from this rule.
But Shi Jingzhi was different.
Yin Ci had never experienced such a sense of oppression before. It was almost empty, empty to the point of being pure - without malice, somewhat naive, but undoubtedly carrying an aura that could tear everything apart and crush all things into mud.
"The heavens and earth are unfeeling" - these four words suddenly collided into Yin Ci's mind without warning.
When faced with this cheap master he had stumbled upon, he felt a sense of "apprehension" for the first time.
Shi Jingzhi's expression changed constantly as he stood still for a while before turning to the goddess.
Most ordinary villagers could only discern the strength of one's aura, but the goddess clearly sensed something unusual about this person. She didn't even bother to show a sympathetic expression and her eyes revealed a hint of caution.
Shi Jingzhi stood in front of her and said, "You can enter the forbidden area alone."
"...That's right," she replied.
"If the immortal fate is weak, the power is as insignificant as an ant. Then if the immortal fate is strong enough, can you sit on an equal footing with them?"
The goddess's expression became unpleasant. "How could mortals possibly compare to true immortals? But the immortals will indeed treat you as their subordinate like me and won't act carelessly."
Shi Jingzhi got the answer he wanted: "Then I'll go in with my disciple, you tell that dog demon to move aside. I'll go and explain a few things to my people and will be back soon."
He grabbed Yin Ci's collar and dragged him over to Yan Qing and Su Si. The two of them had just recovered from their shock and looked at Shi Jingzhi as if he were a a bear walking upside-down.
"The situation has gotten so severe, when Ah Ci and I go down, the goddess will definitely watch from outside," Shi Jingzhi said concisely. "You take the opportunity to search for the goddess's residence and look for clues."
Yan Qing was stunned: "But we..."
Shi Jingzhi couldn't be bothered to explain and continued on his own: "This is a chance to find the exit, don't miss it. Whatever you can find out, find out. Got it? Even if you can only see the door frame of the exit, remember the pattern on it."
Afterwards, he pulled Yin Ci aside and gritted his teeth, saying, "Once this is over, just see how I'll tidy you up."
The fox was truly furious, resorting to such harsh words.
Wasn't he afraid of death? He could have just stayed outside. Yin Ci couldn't make sense of Shi Jingzhi's logic, which seemed to be taught by a dog.
Fate had played a cruel trick on him, as he had hoped to find a simple-minded smokescreen. Little did he know that this smokescreen would turn into a wooden collar around his neck, leaving Yin Ci feeling uneasy.
Shi Jingzhi showed no mercy, his gaze stern as he asked, "I'll ask you again, are you really going?"
"Yes," Yin Ci had lived for over three hundred years and was bored enough to grow moss, there was no way he would let go of the mystery of death right in front of him.
"Alright, let's go."
"Shizun, you don't have to come."
"Do you still recognize me as your master? If Sister Mian could sacrifice herself for Yin Deng, could I be inferior to a weak woman?"
Yin Ci let out a hoarse sound and didn't retort. The man's words revealed a mistaken tendency towards the saying, 'one day as a teacher, a lifetime as a father'.
Yin Ci decided to change the topic and act dumb, "We've been inside before. Without the interference of the goddess, we might even find Bai Wei along the way."
Shi Jingzhi snorted in response.
Yin Ci obediently kept quiet.
The black dog demon was sent to the side, and the entrance to the tree was pitch black, like a toothless giant mouth.
Yin Ci couldn't help but speak up again, "Shizun, have you thought this through? You still have a chance to turn back..."
Shi Jingzhi responded with a grunt.
Angry, he was truly angry this time.
...Forget it, he'll take it one step at a time and adapt to the situation.
At the same time, in Yi City.
After Xu Jingming, Prince Rong, returned to the capital, he did not immediately present the Buddhist beads. Shi Jingzhi saw through his intentions clearly - the missing beads were too many, and it would be too embarrassing to take credit for them in front of the emperor.
So he temporarily entrusted the map to the National Teacher for safekeeping.
Although the emperor did not favor the National Teacher's lineage, there had never been any mistakes made in two consecutive generations of National Teachers. The previous National Teacher was a veteran of three dynasties, and this generation was a great disciple favored by the previous generation, with the spirit of a sage.
The National Teacher, Jiang Youyue, had a refined and elegant appearance, looking to be in his thirties, but was actually over sixty. He calmly accepted the Buddhist beads without any change in his expression.
Xu Jingming lowered his head and said, "That troublemaker took on a disciple and is also chasing after Yan Budu's treasure. We are taking the treasure first not only for the emperor, but also to remove the threat from Dayun."
Jiang Youyue spoke gently, "Taking on a disciple may not necessarily be a bad thing."
"Not necessarily a bad thing? That is a monster that will become a disaster for the country. How could he so easily become a proper person? He only has one year left to live, but he still wants to establish his own sect. He probably has ulterior motives."
Jiang Youyue smiled and said, "This child is stubborn and ambitious. The more he has to worry about, the more chains he has. Everything has two sides, so don't make hasty judgments."
"The emperor... no, my eldest brother has already been deceived by him. Have you also been deceived?"
Jiang Youyue didn't answer. He smiled and continued reading his book.
Xu Jingming couldn't catch his breath and felt that he had been worrying too much about Dayun. They all thought they had absolute power and were carefree, but they didn't know the terrifying nature of Shi Jingzhi.
As the saying goes, "one's nature can be seen when they are three-years-old". If they compared this saying to that monster of a brother, they would not be so careless.
"But it's not surprising," Xu Jingming thought to himself, "they must not have carefully observed that monster."
As the youngest son of the late emperor, Xu Jingming was destined for a life of leisure from the moment he was born. His older brothers were all busy with their own affairs, while he, weak and sickly, boldly acted as if he were the ruler of the world.
Aside from studying, Xu Jingming spent all his free time stealing and causing trouble.
He was always curious about Shi Jingzhi. To him, Shi Jingzhi was like a colorful poisonous spider.
Xu Jingming was terrified of it, but couldn't resist the urge to take a closer look. Shi Jingzhi was kept deep in the palace by his father and was bound by countless restraints.
Xu Jingming was too young to remember much, but he had a vivid memory of two of the restraints. Everyone around Shi Jingzhi, regardless of their position, had to rotate every month and could not repeat.
His diet couldn't be too poor, but also couldn't be too good. Regardless of whether Shi Jingzhi liked it or not, his taste had to change every day.
Xu Jingming knew all of this, but still allowed his favorite maid to serve during Shi Jingzhi's rotation. When the maid returned, she was nervous and refused to say what had happened.
With limited staff in the palace and constant rotation of people around Shi Jingzhi, there weren't many people assigned to his residence. Xu Jingming fearlessly took matters into his own hands and snuck in to investigate.
He even had the maid cover for him, afraid of being caught by Shi Jingzhi.
How old was Shi Jingzhi at that time? Seven or eight years old?
He sat upright at the stone table, eating his meal with proper etiquette. The dishes were simple and light, and every dish was only tasted briefly by Shi Jingzhi. He didn't eat much, and there was nothing unusual about him.
It wasn't until the maid removed the dishes and brought out some snacks that things changed. The snack was a new creation from the imperial kitchen. It wasn't expensive, but it was fragrant and crispy, and even Xu Jingming ate several plates.
Shi Jingzhi stared intently at the unfamiliar snack, suddenly waving the maid away.
At first, Shi Jingzhi didn't touch them.
He just stared at them as if they were the most tempting thing in the world. Xu Jingming returned after an hour of wandering, but Shi Jingzhi remained motionless, still locked in a staring contest with the snacks. His eyes were filled with a crazy desire, like a starving beggar watching a feast.
He had just finished his meal, so why was he acting like this? Could it be that he had gone mad?
"Is it possible that these dim sum are a delicacy of the mortal world, and my taste buds are just dull?" Xu Jingming pondered to himself.
Just then, Shi Jingzhi finally made a move - he grabbed a handful of dim sum and stuffed them into his mouth like a starving ghost. He ate so ferociously that he almost bit off half of his finger, and his hands were covered in blood.
In the blink of an eye, there was only one dim sum left on the plate that was once full.
Suddenly, Shi Jingzhi stopped his movements and his face stiffened for a moment.
He took out a short bamboo pole, which was an instrument used to punish people in the palace. The bamboo pole was inscribed with spells that would cause excruciating pain but leave no visible injuries.
Xu Jingming watched as Shi Jingzhi raised the bamboo pole without hesitation and struck his own arm. In the next moment, Shi Jingzhi was in so much pain that he fell off his chair and curled up on the ground.
If it were Xu Jingming getting even a small injury, his servants would have to blow on the wound for an hour. How would he have ever seen such a sight? Xu Jingming was so scared that he ran away.
"Why are they so fierce when they have more than enough to eat?" he wondered. "Big brother was right, Shi Jingzhi is really born crazy."
A few days later, Xu Jingming returned to confirm that what he saw was not an illusion. It had rained and Shi Jingzhi was nowhere to be found, but the pastry he had left behind was still there, soaked and moldy.
Months later, there was a banquet in the palace. Shi Jingzhi sat quietly in the corner, eating and drinking with elegance and grace. He only tasted a few bites of each pastry, showing more restraint than even the other princes.
It seemed that the madness Xu Jingming had witnessed was just a figment of his imagination.
What a fraud.
For over twenty years, Shi Jingzhi had deceived the public, and finally, his eldest brother the emperor relaxed a little, and allowed this "deviant who behaved no differently from an ordinary person" to leave, like a tiger released from its cage and returning to the mountains.
Xu Jingming grew angrier as he reminisced, and with a heavy heart, he stood up and bowed to Jiang Youyue, preparing to leave.
Little did he know that as soon as he turned his back, Jiang Youyue spoke again in a calm voice.
"Your Highness, there is no need to be resentful. I know what's going on... His taking on disciples is not necessarily a bad thing for you and me. It's just that for those young people who become his 'disciples,' it's like setting themselves on fire."
Jiang Youyue closed his book and sighed with his eyes closed.
"The boundless desires and worldly temptations all converge on one person. How can ordinary people resist them? In the end, they can't get any closer, but neither can they escape.
"I wonder if will be the 'master' who falls into madness first, or the 'disciple' who drowns in obsession."
The author has something to say:
Yin Ci: Thank you, but I am not an ordinary person.
However, Demon Lord Yin has indeed brought a lot of trouble upon himself. Fox Shi's charm may be sweet, but it is neither foolish nor innocent.
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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