Yin Ci packed up the remaining ingredients and made two vegetable egg pancakes for his master. He also cooked a stir-fry dish.
As he carried the food out, Yan Qing was eating steamed buns at a high speed, looking like he was going to choke himself. Su Si was half-kneeling on the ground, while Shi Jingzhi had a serious expression on his face, as if he was contemplating something.
This master had a naturally sinister face, and when he became serious, he could be quite intimidating.
"A killer from the Red Hook Sect?" Shi Jingzhi asked slowly.
"Yes. I promised San-zi to be honest with you. When you went into the forbidden area, I originally wanted to take him and escape."
There were many people who intentionally learned the Red Hook Sect's techniques and concealed their identities, so Yin Ci wasn't sure at first. But now that he took a closer look today, Su Si didn't seem to be lying. He really was from the Red Hook Sect?
He was too inexperienced.
The founder of the Red Hook Sect shook his head and placed the food in front of Shi Jingzhi. Suddenly, the serious expression on Fox Shi's face began to crumble, but he managed to hold it back.
"You've betrayed the sect even before entering it, what an attitude. It's too early to talk about joining us now. Show us what you can do first, then we'll talk about it after we escape."
Shi Jingzhi waved his hand, not putting on too much of an act. "Ah Ci is back, let's talk about Yan Budu's matter first."
Su Si raised an eyebrow, "As a defector from the sect, I am not subject to the Red Hook Sect's 'Thrice Killing Principle'. The Red Hook Sect will always be chasing after me. If you take me in, you will have endless troubles. And you still want to 'see what I can do'?"
"It's okay, San-zi. Let's talk openly. I won't take advantage of your sect leader."
"It's not that, at least be mindful of your tone, sigh..."
With a pancake in his mouth, Shi Jingzhi calmly turned his head and said, "It's okay. I offended the Black Blood Witch in the Ghost Tomb, and she would love to send me to the 18th level of hell. Even if she finds out I took you in, she'll have to dig a 19th level first."
Su Si had a complicated expression. Was this sect really reliable? He felt like he was about to be wiped out by the Red Hook Sect in the next second. As someone who had to avoid the Red Hook Sect, would it be unwise to join them now?
It seemed like Shi Jingzhi could read his thoughts and continued in a low voice, "So if you want to know who in the world wants to avoid the Red Hook Sect the most, it's definitely me. You're just a defector on the run, but I've been stepping all over their sect leader's face."
Su Si: "..."
No wonder Yan Qing's expression was so subtle when he heard he was being chased by the Red Hook Sect. It turns out that the sect he wanted to join was not the Ku Mountain Sect, but the Sewer Rat's Nest.
This was actually quite fitting.
Seeing the discussion was about to go off track, Yin Ci picked up some food with his chopsticks and smoothly fed his master a mouthful. Shi Jingzhi was already low on energy and starving, so he devoured the delicious food in no time.
Shi Jingzhi was no longer talking, and both of them looked towards Yin Ci.
"My treasure for disguise was destroyed in the forbidden area," Yin Ci said nonchalantly.
Seeing his face, neither Su Si nor Yan Qing asked any further questions. One sect leader was enough to attract attention, and even his big disciple looked like this, indeed it needed to be disguised.
However, now the two of them sitting together with their faces unhidden, made people feel dizzy.
"Sect Leader, what should we do next?" Yan Qing asked, staring at Lord Bai with a determined look in his eyes.
"After nightfall, I'll go to the residence of the goddess to take a look. As for Ah Ci..." Shi Jingzhi trailed off.
Yin Ci's new identity made things much easier for him: "I'll come with you and get a look at that formation. When we meet the villagers, I'll just pretend to be mute and let Shizun explain everything."
Now there were two people who needed to put up an act. Su Si rummaged through the bundled white cloth until he managed to fashion two "immortals" with flowing white robes.
As night fell, the two "immortals" walked with their heads held high and chests puffed out, making their way to the residence of the goddess. To add to the atmosphere, Shi Jingzhi kept waving a fiery flag, ensuring that the area was bathed in a golden light.
Unfortunately, the group of four was followed by a swaggering Lord Bai, which diminished their ethereal aura.
The villagers were too scared to approach, so they chose Sister Mian to be their representative and ask for information.
"Yin Deng is much better now, thank you so much for saving her," Sister Mian's eyes were still red. "I heard that Yin-lang* died down there, I really..."
*T/N: Lang is a suffix added as a term of respect and/or endearment to a man's name.
Fox Shi also looked sad, "We came here to rescue the local god and had some fate with the child. With Yin Deng safe, then Ah Ci would also be comforted in the underworld."
Yin Ci followed behind him, expressionless.
Sister Mian wiped away her tears, "From now on, on this day every year, I will definitely offer incense to Yin-lang. Immortal, is the goddess really a demon? I heard from Yin Deng that 'ascending to immortality' was faked, what exactly is...?"
Shi Jingzhi shook his head mysteriously, "Since you're here, you can see for yourself."
The goddess was gone, but her power remained. The courtyard was in a mess from Su Si and Yan Qing's actions, and no one dared to clean it up.
The night was as cool as water, with the trees casting eerie shadows that gave the large courtyard a somewhat ominous feel.
The goddess had set up a powerful guard formation near her bedroom, one that Su Si and Yan Qing, these two young men, would indeed find difficult to break. Shi Jingzhi and Yin Ci exchanged a glance, and the master and disciple duo seemed to have a mischievous plan in mind.
Taking advantage of Sister Mian's distraction, Yin Ci pulled his master over and whispered almost soundlessly, "My grandfather..."
"Your grandfather taught you how to break formations, but you don't have enough internal power." Shi Jingzhi understood immediately. "Come on," he said, "we'll do it together."
Yin Ci nodded in satisfaction. The two of them held onto a flag together, with Yin Ci's hand resting on Shi Jingzhi's and his other hand lightly hooked around his waist. After their battle in the forbidden area, their coordination was almost perfect. Their steps were in sync, like a dance.
Golden flames swirled and radiance scattered, as each small formation in the spell array was broken one by one. The violent wind blades scattered in all directions, devoid of any blood, leaving only white clothes fluttering in the wind and black hair like silk.
As night turned as bright as day, the scene was like a poem, proving the existence of the "immortals" more convincingly than anything else.
The villagers remained silent, while Yan Qing and Su Si wore blank expressions, one looking up at the sky and the other gazing at the ground. Su Si hugged Lord Bai tightly, pinching its mouth shut, afraid it would ruin the atmosphere with its cries.
Lord Bai angrily stretched its neck, its flesh antennae stiffening straight.
Soon, the spell array was broken. The master and disciple finally separated, and Lord Bai regained its freedom. It bit down hard on Su Si's pant leg, not letting go even as the four of them entered the goddess's bedroom.
In the goddess's bedroom, a delicate fragrance filled the air, but upon closer inspection, one could still detect a faint smell of decay that was typical of the elderly. The room was tidy, with many calligraphic and painting works hanging on the walls, giving the appearance of normalcy.
The bedroom was quite spacious, with an altar dedicated to the Divine Emperor Wu at one end. The wall behind the altar was painted a deep red and covered in intricate carvings.
Shi Jingzhi sniffed around the room and repeatedly rubbed his palm against the wall. After a moment, the wall made a soft clicking sound and slid open to reveal a space behind it.
Sister Mian immediately took two steps back, almost collapsing to the ground.
It was blood.
Behind the wall was an empty space, filled with dozens of wooden shelves, each crowded with glass bottles containing fresh blood. With the wall gone, even an ordinary person could detect the faint scent of blood.
On each bottle hung a wooden tag with the name of a villager neatly written on it. This time, Shi Jingzhi didn't tremble. He furrowed his brow and picked out two empty bottles.
The tags on them already read "Su Si" and "Shi Jingzhi," and there was still a faint smell of blood inside, indicating that they had been emptied recently.
"Did the ever goddess take your blood?" Shi Jingzhi examined the bottles and then put them back.
Sister Mian looked at the hundreds of bottles filled with blood and felt her scalp tingle. "Y-yes. During the village entrance ceremony, we have to give blood and take the immortal herb..."
"This immortal herb?" Shi Jingzhi picked up a blood-filled bottle, pulled out the stopper, and handed it to Sister Mian.
Inside the bottle, there was not only blood, but also something that looked like a clump of roots. It was slightly swollen from being soaked in blood and emitted a strange, pungent-sweet smell.
Sister Mian nodded, her face turning pale as if she was about to vomit.
"It's the Twin Roots," said Su Si, his voice no longer disguised as a woman's.
Yan Qing looked at him in confusion.
"It's normal for San-zi not to recognize it. This is something only members of the demon cults would use - it's similar to the Connected Thoughts Beans, but it requires blood as a catalyst. However, while the Beans can only be used to view one's state, this root can kill."
Su Si took a few steps forward and carefully examined the clump of roots.
"The Twin Roots can be divided into two parts - one part is soaked in the blood outside of the host, while the other is consumed by the host. With this blood connection, the two roots are linked and will live and die together.
"If I were to put poison into this bottle of blood and kill this root, the host would also die from the poison. If I were to take this root and burn it with fire, the host would also die from the flames. This thing is a curse that controls people, and it is a very precious one. Even in the demon cult, it is only used to control top-level experts."
Although mentally prepared for the 'ascending to immortality' process being fake, Sister Mian was still stunned by these words.
Shi Jingzhi took over the conversation and reassured everyone, "Don't worry, this is not a divine object, there must be a way to break it."
Yan Qing was still deep in thought, "So, whether it's the Three-Day Injury or the so-called dying in three days after leaving the village, it's all made up by the goddess herself?"
"Perhaps when the time comes, she will mix some demonic material into the corresponding blood bottle. For example..." Su Si scanned around the blood bottle and found a wooden box. "Like this bundle of Anxiety Silk, or other similar things? Do any of you recognize this thing? Anxiety Silk doesn't have a physical form, right?"
Inside the box, a bunch of emerald green threads wriggled and tried to climb onto Su Si's hand, but he quickly covered the box.
"Never mind what it is, just take it with us. It'll keep them away from the blood bottles," Shi Jingzhi made a quick decision.
Su Si readily picked up the box and stuffed it into his pocket.
With a moment of contemplation, Shi Jingzhi quickly sorted out the situation: "Yan Qing's guess is correct. The goddess used the Twin Roots to erode human bodies and bring her statue to life.
"However, she doesn't have a fixed time frame for needing live humans, hence the term 'Three-Day Injury' - she only needs to intentionally harm a few people to obtain the necessary materials, without causing panic."
As long as the villagers believe that "it's the fault of the deceased themselves," and live cautiously, who would question anything else?
"The so-called 'children and women in childbirth can obtain spiritual medicine' without suffering from the Three-Day Injury, is probably because children have less flesh, and women need to give birth to offspring, so she didn't harm them...
"Sister Mian, you were not 'dying because of the Three-Day Injury,' but rather 'the goddess wanted you to die, and used the Three-Day Injury to cover it up.' You got it wrong in sequence."
Sister Mian was left speechless.
"Judging by the age of the houses in the village, it seems that the population has remained relatively constant," said Shi Jingzhi, looking at the row of shelves with a complex tone. "Uncle Liu and Aunt Liu died because Su Si and I have an immortal fate, and we are young enough to replace them."
"But, but the goddess has only been here for over fifty years," stuttered Sister Mian, "the Three-Day Injury has always been talked about, and it has been passed down for hundreds of years!"
Shi Jingzhi put on that mysterious and inscrutable look again. "Yes, there is more than one demon who has come here. That's why the Divine Emperor Wu sent us here..."
Yin Ci let Fox Shi ramble on and continued to search around.
What a joke, the spiritual medicine was nowhere to be found.
Even if the Three-Day Injury was fake, according to the goddess, there really is a spiritual medicine that can cure all illnesses. Since there is such a medicine, maybe it can even turn into a deadly poison. On the road to seeking death, Yin Ci has always been extremely proactive and enthusiastic.
Unfortunately, the goddess is cunning and Demon Lord Yin searched for a long time without success. After thinking for a moment, his evil hands reached out to Lord Bai. While everyone was distracted by Sister Mian, Yin Ci grabbed the big goose by the neck and lifted it up.
Since there is a convenient tool, why not use it?
Lord Bai's hateful cry was stuck in his throat, his eyes filled with anger.
"Since you don't behave when I'm being nice, I have no choice." Yin Ci revealed a cold smile, trying to intimidate the goose in his hand. "The spiritual medicine is crucial to me. If you don't cooperate, I'll turn you into a dish sooner or later."
His intimidating aura, accumulated over three hundred years, was genuine. Although Lord Bai was determined not to bend, he could still be flexible. Yin Ci couldn't help but notice a hint of "revenge is a dish best served cold" in the expression of the goose.
After being released, Lord Bai reluctantly strode towards the bed of the goddess and then sat down on the ground, glaring hatefully at Yin Ci.
This goose demon was naturally inclined to avoid danger and seek fortune. Although it couldn't pinpoint the exact location, providing the direction was enough.
The bed curtains of the goddess were adorned with a large amount of jadeite. Yin Ci carefully examined them and discovered something suspicious - she had wrapped the emerald green liquid in translucent jadeite, making fake jadeite that was blatantly hidden in plain sight.
Yin Ci took off the fake jadeite and hesitated for a moment before taking a few more pieces.
His master did not want to stay here forever, but he could study this spiritual elixir and perhaps find a glimmer of hope for him.
...Although it was because of the Yang flames that he had this person in his thoughts, Yin Ci had been alone for a long time and still couldn't quite adapt to constantly worrying about another person like this.
Oh well, he'll have to be able to bear the consequences, it's just a momentary situation.
This trip was extremely smooth and fruitful. However, Shi Jingzhi couldn't relax and had a worried expression on his face.
"Ah Ci, it's going too smoothly," Shi Jingzhi took the spiritual elixir and muttered to himself. "It really went too smoothly, there must be trouble ahead."
Yin Ci: "..."
Why is he anxious now? If he'd known, he would have given the spiritual elixir to him after they left the village.
Unfortunately, Shi Jingzhi's premonition was correct.
Sister Mian walked out of the goddess's bedroom first and everything seemed normal. But the moment Shi Jingzhi stepped out of the door, a sudden change occurred.
A demon wind suddenly erupted from under everyone's feet, causing the calligraphy and paintings in the room to instantly tilt and shatter. The wind quickly expanded, making it almost impossible to breathe. Countless wind blades poured down, and spiritual energy surged from all directions.
The four members of the Ku Mountain Sect were firmly pressed in place, as if stuck in a quagmire, unable to move a single step.
This formation arose without warning, and even Yin Ci couldn't detect it. It seemed to be connected to the large formation outside the village, ancient and incredibly powerful.
Yin Ci realized what was happening. They had taken the spiritual medicine and the Anxiety Silk-like bundle, plus they were outsiders, no matter how they looked, it'd seem like they came with bad intentions.
This formation was intended to kill them, leaving the secrets hidden.
Anyone who discovers the truth about the village cannot leave this room alive. The formations outside the goddess's house are just a decoy to confuse the enemy. Yin Ci was already wary of this and had thoroughly investigated the surroundings before entering the room, but he couldn't detect the overly massive formation.
This only proves that the person who set up the formation is more powerful and knowledgeable than him.
...Or perhaps even longer-lived.
But Yin Ci was prepared. He grabbed Fox Shi who was wearing an "I knew it" expression on his face, and pinned him beneath his body. Then he crushed a fake jade filled with the "suspected spiritual elixir," drank half of it, and poured the rest on his back.
Finally, he pressed down on Shi Jingzhi's head and said, "Shizun, use the Yang fire!"
There were several people present, but only Shi Jingzhi's internal strength was enough to resist the pressure of the spiritual energy. However, the surrounding wind blades were too strong. Once Shi Jingzhi broke free, the door would inevitably be wide open. He could suffer serious injuries or even die on the spot.
His cheap master was too young and had a strong desire to survive. In an instant, he was bound to make a wrong judgment.
He had to watch out for Shi Jingzhi.
Shi Jingzhi's reaction was always quick. He ignited his Yang fire and used his spiritual energy to resist the wind blades. He had intended to escape with Yin Ci, but Yin Ci pressed him down, causing him to struggle instinctively.
Shi Jingzhi had abundant internal strength and great force. The wind blades were dense around him, and Yin Ci couldn't press his acupoints. He had to bite Shi Jingzhi's earlobe and said, "Behave yourself. I just drank some spiritual elixir. It's a waste not to use it."
Yin Ci used some force when he bit him, and Shi Jingzhi took a breath and said, "You--"
"I'm fine, it was indeed the spiritual elixir within the jadeite," said Yin Ci.
He was already accustomed to the pain of his flesh separating from his bones, and he propped himself up with his hands, his face showing no signs of distress. Shi Jingzhi was protected beneath him and couldn't see the bloody wounds on his back.
"Shizun, just use fire to drive away the wind, I'll protect you."
His white clothes were soaked in blood, dripping down his neck and shoulders, and scattered by the wind blades, splattering onto Shi Jingzhi's face. Shi Jingzhi stared at Yin Ci intently for a moment, then raised his hand and wiped the blood off his own face.
Is human blood really this hot?
The golden flames silently rose a few inches higher.
Seven or eight steps away.
Yan Qing and Su Si walked behind them, and had not yet left the residence. Yan Qing did something foolish - just as the spell formation had frozen him in place, he quickly tore down the curtains and wrapped up all the blood bottles on the shelves, hugging them to him.
Su Si cursed loudly.
He was much more cunning than Yan Qing. Seeing the situation was not good, he immediately grabbed the "jade" bed curtain of the goddess and covered it over their heads like a blanket.
Su Si had gathered all the stock of the goddess's spiritual elixir, and there was quite a lot of it. However, the two young men were not skilled enough and were hit hard by the wind blades, screaming in pain while bathing in the rain of the spiritual elixir.
Fortunately, the two of them had some martial arts skills and were not weak. If it were someone like Sister Mian who had not suffered before, their bones would have been crushed by now.
As the only one who had not suffered, Shi Jingzhi gathered all his strength and his Yang fire clashed with the wind blades with pure force.
For a moment, the dark clouds pressed down, and the earth and stones shattered. The golden fire tornado engulfed everything like a fiery hell.
Shi Jingzhi couldn't express his feelings at the moment.
One of the signs of a "worldly attachment" is when a disciple sacrifices themselves to protect their master. In theory, the master should feel satisfied or moved, but he was not happy at all.
It is said that worldly attachments bring comfort and peace, but his first taste of one brought bitterness in his mouth.
Even though Yin Ci acted as if nothing had happened, Shi Jingzhi heard the sound of the wind blade piercing flesh and smelled the blood rushing into his nostrils. For a moment, he even felt a little confused.
The world is vast, but he only seeks a corner. The running water may be three thousand miles long, but he only takes a sip.
All living beings are like this, and he walks the path of the mundane, with ordinary thoughts and desires. For more than twenty years, he has never doubted this point - he only seeks a glimmer of hope, and even if he cannot obtain it, he still wants to taste the various aspects of human life in the end.
Where did he go wrong?
Is what he wanted not little enough?
This was exactly what he had wanted, so why did he feel no satisfaction now that he had it in his hands?
Shi Jingzhi's head throbbed, as if something was struggling to break free. He groaned and curled up, focusing all his consciousness on resisting the wind blades.
This was not the time for distractions. Shi Jingzhi gritted his teeth.
After two incense sticks' worth of time, the wind blades finally dissipated. The goddess's house was now roofless, and the surrounding area was in shambles. The villagers who had gathered to watch had vanished without a trace.
Those two incense sticks felt like two lifetimes. Even Yan Qing and Su Si had never experienced such hardship. The two young people were hugging each other, covered in blood and had fainted in a disheveled manner. Yin Ci let out a long sigh of relief and released Shi Jingzhi.
"This move was ruthless. If it weren't for Yan Qing's quick reaction to protect the blood bottles, the entire village would have been wiped out," Yin Ci said as he dragged two unconscious young men.
"Su Si also has some skills. He quickly hooked down the jadeite curtain, otherwise, only the two of us from Ku Mountain Sect would be left... Now there are only the few pieces of the spiritual elixir left in Shizun's hands. Shizun, please take good care of them."
"Although your appearance has changed and you have hidden a lot from me, I still have something to say."
Shi Jingzhi's tone was serious, even more solemn than when they were in the Ghost Tomb.
"...Listen carefully, I will never let you down."
The members of the Ku Mountain Sect are: a sect leader who opposed the Red Hook Sect, a descendant of the infamous old Ling Sect Leader, a deserter from the Red Hook Sect, and a supposed descendant of the old Red Hook Sect Leader.
The Dark Blood Witch: ? What is this strange bunch? Call the police.
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!
Give me feedback at moc.ebircssutol@eyks.