In the blink of an eye, Yin Ci had considered many backup plans.
For example, he could lead everyone to escape first, and then ask someone else to lead him to the Jianchen Temple. As long as he offered enough rewards, finding a naive child or an old man with little desire should not be difficult.
But the thought of getting close to a stranger made Yin Ci feel uncomfortable all over. On the other hand, the group of monks would likely suspect something was amiss if they saw Sect Leader Shi trapped outside the mountain. These high-ranking monks were all very shrewd, and with the status of his disciple, it would not be easy for Yin Ci to ask too many questions.
Yin Ci lowered his eyes.
Thinking to the extreme, there was still some room for maneuvering in this matter. However, he instinctively resisted further contemplation. Having lived for so long, Yin Ci was no longer capable of deceiving himself.
...He still didn't want to give up on Shi Jingzhi.
Shi Jingzhi's hand trembled like it was wrapped in the cold wind of the previous night. Even though he was deeply immersed in his dream, his attacking hand was aimed at himself, but his other hand was held out as if searching for his disciple's hand.
"I won't let you down."
Yin Ci released his grip on Shi Jingzhi, and the empty darkness once again buried him. This time, he didn't panic, but instead smiled. All his worries disappeared, and he knew he had to cut through the tangled mess with a sharp blade.
If Yan Qing and Su Si dared to leak any information, he could just kill them. At least for today, he wouldn't abandon Shi Jingzhi.
Give him a wooden bowl, and he'll repay him with a jade cup. Time had always passed slowly, and he almost forgot this feeling.
Yin Ci tightened his grip on the Hanging Shadow Sword, but didn't draw it from its sheath. He slowly displayed his aura, and the heavy scent of blood instantly enveloped the entire room, causing even the Greedy Butterflies flying in the air to pause for a moment.
The breath was mixed but clear. Under the overwhelming bloodthirst, Yan Qing and Su Si dared not move. Shi Jingzhi, who was stumbling down the mountain, stopped and turned around.
A familiar sense of oppression rose from Shi Jingzhi, competing with Yin Ci's murderous aura. Compared to when they were in Yuanxian Village, there was a hint of childish grievance in this momentum.
The collision of the two forces shook the earth, causing the pond surface to ripple with fish scales and startling countless birds in the forest.
"Shi Jingzhi, I never like to disturb people's peaceful dreams. I only ask you to endure it for the sake of bringing you up the mountain," Yin Ci said.
When they left the Ghost Tomb, Shi Jingzhi had bought him a scabbard made of agarwood. Agarwood had a very subtle fragrance that could clear the mind and calm the spirit. Yin Ci knew that this Fox Shi had a keen sense of smell, and this scabbard probably served as an invisible rope, used as a marker to find his disciple.
Using it at this moment was plain karma.
The scabbard swept across the ground with lightning speed, causing a clash of wood and stone that sparked a small flame. The precious agarwood ignited, emitting a strong and fragrant scent. Suddenly, Shi Jingzhi's movements faltered as Yin Ci soared towards him with the wind.
The scabbard struck Shi Jingzhi's shoulder with just the right amount of force, hitting the three acupoints of Qinghui, Renshen, and Yinjing*.
*T/N: These acupoints are located on the lower leg, on the forehead, and on the inner ankle respectively.
"Suppress your desires and calm the mind, let your true energy flow slowly!" Yin Ci shouted sternly, exuding the authority of a superior.
This was one of the Buddhist techniques derived from the use of a stick and a shout. It could eliminate distractions and guide a person's true nature, leading them to look inward and remove the influence of worldly desires. Shi Jingzhi was an exceptional talent and not easily swayed by Heart Demons, so he would surely find a way to control his desire for power.
That was what Yin Ci had originally thought.
As the saying goes, even the wisest can make mistakes. Shi Jingzhi had indeed revealed his true nature.
However, his nature was like a collapsing mountain and a boiling sea.
The madness from the Ghost Tomb that day suddenly multiplied by thousands of times. Shi Jingzhi's momentum rose sharply, almost devouring Yin Ci's thick bloodthirst.
The imposing aura was like a mountain collapsing and a tsunami raging, and the premonition of destruction rolled over his spine like a needle. After a moment of shock, Yin Ci not only did not retreat, but his cold blood slowly began to burn.
Shi Jingzhi stood upright in place, his hands hanging unnaturally. His cotton coat had long been blown away by the wind, leaving only a thin gray-white long shirt. Now his clothes fluttered in the wind, his black hair flying, but all the butterflies on his head were strangely still.
No fear, no restraint.
The Shi Jingzhi who used to tremble and stutter seemed to be just a shell. Now, this shell was completely shattered, revealing the raging torrent inside.
Yin Ci had seen this madness before.
In the history of Dayun, there was a notorious tyrant who only ruled for a year. In just a few short months, he plunged the world into war and left the people in dire straits. Yin Ci once saw the tyrant's golden carriage pass by, its wheels crushing the corpses and scorched earth, grinding the countless outstretched hands into dust. The rumbling of the wheels drowned out the pleas and curses.
The tyrant, dressed in his yellow robe, laughed heartily, oblivious to the chaos he had caused.
The young emperor, who had once been as beautiful as a fairy, had lost his mind and fallen into madness. His madness was like a sticky vortex that could sweep up all living beings around him and crush any resistance.
It was then that Yin Ci descended from the sky and stood before the golden carriage, his sword slicing through the tyrant's throat. Blood sprayed onto the golden relief, and even in death, the tyrant's face still bore a crazed smirk that defied the heavens and earth.
If one were to compare their strength, the tyrant was no match for Shi Jingzhi, but both of them were equally insane, and their madness was truly terrifying.
At this moment, Shi Jingzhi's madness had no origin or destination, just floating in the air. Yin Ci faced the disaster-like momentum and tore open a gap with his own strength, once again moving forward.
He could still continue.
This set of techniques focused on calming the mind and was harmless to others, but Greedy Butterflies had already started to retreat. At this point, how could he give up halfway? He might as well wait until the smoke and snow cleared to see how his master fared.
The scent of the sword sheath became stronger as it struck Shi Jingzhi's waist, thighs, and neck, hitting more than ten major acupoints. Shi Jingzhi was like a sophisticated puppet, sticking to him like a bone ulcer. Hie palm strike broke several of Yin Ci's ribs, leaving a large area of bruising.
In the midst of the intense pain, Yin Ci's voice did not tremble: "All gods return to one, the wind stops and the rain ceases."
The momentum of Shi Jingzhi grew even stronger, but it was like a fire without a source, spreading in a strange way. His hands seemed to be possessed by a divine force, and even though he had lost his internal strength, every move he made seemed to stir the heavens and the earth.
Using the flow of energy to dodge, Yin Ci narrowly avoided the attack, but the wind blades still left a few cuts on his side.
For a moment, it seemed as if Shi Jingzhi had merged with the world around him, but it could have just been an illusion caused by the inability to see.
Yin Ci didn't stop moving. If his opponent was using the power of the universe, then he couldn't win by force. He had to use softness to overcome strength. He tried to make his movements gentler, turning the sharp hostility into a gentle rain, so as not to provoke the irrational Shi Jingzhi.
"Asking the heavens and oneself, not asking the world."
The sword sheath struck down like burning incense once again. This time it hit his upper arm, chest, forehead, and lower back. The movements became lighter and lighter, like the touch of a lover.
Shi Jingzhi attacked and retreated simultaneously, as if something inside him was struggling and resisting the process of "clearing the mind". Unfortunately, Yin Ci's personified Heart Demon was like a mountain, and Shi Jingzhi had nowhere to retreat. As soon as he collided with the huge Heart Demon, he was bound in place by countless shadow hands.
"All dust is swept away, and all thoughts are calm."
As the sword returned and words fell, Shi Jingzhi's momentum instantly froze.
Butterflies danced and fluttered. The group of butterflies flew away from his head, revealing a tearful eye. Yin Ci couldn't see this scene, but the overwhelming sadness and confusion replaced the pressure, scattered with the butterflies in the sky, and pricked his skin like needles.
In the end, Shi Jingzhi managed to break free.
As his desires converged, his beautiful dreams shattered. The stronger his yearning, the heavier his despair.
But no one knew this despair better than Yin Ci. He sheathed his sword and made an impromptu change to the final step of his technique.
Instead of hitting him head-on, Yin Ci grabbed Shi Jingzhi's hand and pulled him into his embrace.
"Shh," he cooed like a parent to a child. "Don't think about anything. Everything's okay now."
Shi Jingzhi closed his eyes as the waves of emotion finally receded, leaving behind a heart full of ruins.
At first, he was angry at being held back from his desires, which had cocooned him in their soft embrace. All his fears and anxieties were kept at bay, and he didn't want to move, only to continue forward in this state of ease.
He had never felt so at peace since he was born.
Why disturb him?
Didn't he deserve this moment of tranquility?
"Suppress your desires and calm the mind, let your true energy flow slowly. All gods return to one, the wind stops and the rain ceases."
Someone had used demonic power to slowly strip away and reveal his layers of desire. In that moment, Shi Jingzhi wished to destroy everything in the world that breathed, just to have some peace and quiet.
...But why was he able to hear these words?
The familiar headache returned, and amidst the colorful illusions, a red leaf drifted by.
Compared to the overly bright colors, the red leaf was quite dull. It was like a sharp blade that sliced open his heart.
[Little brat, do you not value your life to come to a place like this?]
When Shi Jingzhi saw a man in black, he noticed that the man's clothes were half undone and his black hair was disheveled. He leaned against a huge tiger demon, looking relaxed with several empty wine jars lying beside him. The tiger demon had all six of its eyes closed, sound asleep. The man and the tiger were leaning against a giant maple tree, surrounded by scattered white bones with traces of fresh blood on them.
It was deep autumn, and the ground was covered in red leaves. The sunset cast a golden glow over the entire world.
In his memories, Shi Jingzhi couldn't quite make out the man's face, but he remembered the scent of blood and wine emanating from him.
Just thinking about this scene made his head ache terribly.
It was as if countless voices were questioning him, asking him what he sought in life and what he wanted for the rest of his days.
This person had intruded into his mind for no reason, surely with a thousand threads of connection to his "desires". Shi Jingzhi thought dazedly, his ears filled with the fluttering of butterfly wings.
...No, wait, wasn't what he wanted just to "stay alive"? Where did all these jumbled thoughts come from?
[Suppress your desires and calm your mind, let your true energy flow slowly. All gods return to one, the wind stops and the rain ceases... Kid, think about this mantra more often and don't keep biting your fingers. If you leave a bunch of messy scars, you won't able to attract any girls in the future.]
In the next fragmented scene, he was being held in the arms of that person. The person's voice was jumbled up, but undoubtedly carried a hint of laughter.
But all he remembered was the warmth of that person's chest, and he was busy catching the red leaves in front of him, the words entering one ear and out the other.
Perhaps that was the most peaceful moment of his life.
But did such a moment really exist? Why had he never remembered it before?
As all desires were slowly stripped away, he felt as though he were standing naked in a frozen wasteland. Shi Jingzhi began to panic. His head throbbed, as if determined to prevent him from seeing what remained of his most persistent and profound desire.
In his memory, a person reached out and caught a red leaf dancing in the air, then handed it to him.
[Don't blindly try to grab it, hold onto this one.]
With no hunger in his belly, he saw a world of gold and red. As a child, he had been held tightly in someone's arms, as if seeing the world for the first time.
The red leaves fluttered like butterflies, and the creek sparkled like gold. There were no curious or hostile eyes around, only the warm breeze and an endless sense of security behind. The person gazed at him with great seriousness, eyes full of laughter. Shi Jingzhi played with the red leaves for a while, then let go, watching them fly away with the wind like a cluster of burning flames.
It was as if in that moment, he was truly born into the world.
But only in that moment, did he seem to want nothing more... For over twenty years, was his only desire really just to "stay alive"?
[Asking the heavens and oneself, not asking the world. All dust is swept away, and all thoughts are calm. Remember, little mute. If you bite your finger again, I'll hit you every time I see it.]
At that time, he still couldn't shake off his abnormal desires. Whenever Shi Jingzi unconsciously nibbled on his fingers and suppressed his urges, that person would lift him up, pull his hand out of his mouth, and repeat the mantra... Although that person said a lot of harsh words, he never really hit him.
How could he have forgotten?
"Asking the heavens and oneself, not asking the world. All dust is swept away, and all thoughts are calm."
The voice outside became clearer and clearer.
Yes, this beautiful dream is just a dream. After breaking free from the cocoon of desire, he still has to face the end of his life and the suffocating reality.
But he has to move forward, he has no time to escape.
Shi Jingzi sobbed and finally broke free from the extremely gentle dream. His head felt like it was being twisted, and his heart felt like it was about to burst. Just as he was about to fall, he fell into a warm embrace.
The blurry memory suddenly became clear, like a lever that thrust him into reality.
"...Ah Ci," he instinctively held the person in his arms tightly.
Where did you learn your incantation? Who are you really?
Who am I?
He had a thousand questions to ask, but the excruciating pain in his head almost drove him insane. So he could only hold his disciple tightly, gasping for breath like a drowning man clutching onto the last piece of driftwood.
All his thoughts were in despair, but a small flame of his original aspiration still burned.
The butterflies on his head had more or less escaped, with only a handful remaining. Shi Jingzhi looked at the mess around him, feeling completely drained. He struggled to lift his eyes and looked at Yin Ci's face.
The face was still calm and composed, the ink-black pupils still unfocused, but with a hint of concern.
Unlike before, a butterfly landed on the tip of Yin Ci's hair, quietly folding its wings.
Not far away.
"...Is it over now?" Yan Qing originally didn't attract many Greedy Butterflies, and even though he felt a little dizzy, he was immediately scared awake by the abnormal aura of this Ku Mountain Sect's disciple.
Under the pressure of those two abnormal forces, Yan Qing felt chills all over his body, his knees were as weak as syrup, and he couldn't even stand.
It was one thing for Shi Jingzhi, but wasn't Yin Ci only twenty years old? Did he stay in the Taiheng Sect for too long and develop unnecessary misunderstandings about the martial world?
Normally, Su Si would be jumping up and down, telling him that they couldn't stay in the Ku Mountain Sect anymore - after going through such an ordeal, Yan Qing missed his friend's noise a little, at least it could bring him some sense of reality.
However, Su Si just had a solemn expression, with a furrowed brow.
His condition was no better than Yan Qing's, half-kneeling on the ground with a slightly more dignified posture. Su Si didn't rush to persuade Yan Qing, instead he stared intently at Shi Jingzhi and Yin Ci, murmuring to himself.
"Why...?" He looked at the faint light behind Shi Jingzhi, his expression never seeming so serious. "Why does the Immortal Sect's prohibition exist on Sect Leader Shi's body?"
"Ah Si, what are you talking about?"
"...Nothing, maybe I saw it wrong."
"Give me a wooden bowl, and I'll repay you with a jade cup." This quote is from the Book of Songs, "Wei Feng - Mu Gua."
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