The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 21 (I): A Thousand Miles in a Step, Lost Within a Sandstorm
Xie Lian didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. He was just about to get Ruoye to try again and grab onto something else, when he suddenly felt the white silk go slack around his wrist. Immediately, Xie Lian was overcome with a sense of dread.
This abrupt feeling wasn’t because Ruoye had loosened its grip on the other end, but because something worse had occurred.
Sure enough, that shade of red from the ground suddenly got a lot closer. It didn’t take long before it was within arm’s reach.
San Lang also got drawn into the sandstorm!
Xie Lian yelled at him, “Don’t panic!”
The moment he opened his mouth, he ate another mouthful of sand. With the way things were at this time, he had long become used to eating a mouthful of sand here and there.
Although he had shouted at San Lang to not panic, in reality, even he had felt that San Lang wouldn’t have panicked at all. Sure enough, after the young man had been caught in the air, Ruoye quickly retracted and pulled the two of them closer together.
Xie Lian got a good look at San Lang’s face. The expression on the boy’s face didn’t have even half an ounce of panic. Almost as if he would be able to read a book serenely even amidst the sandstorm, as long as he was given one. In fact, Xie Lian began to suspect whether or not San Lang had deliberately intended for himself to get rolled up into the air.
Ruoye went wounding around their waists a couple of times, tying them together. Xie Lian hugged onto San Lang before saying, “Go again! This time, don’t grab onto another human being!”
Thus, Ruoye flew out again. This time, what Ruoye had grabbed onto was……Nan Feng and Fu Yao!
Xie Lian felt both mentally and physically exhausted as he told Ruoye, “When I said not to grab onto a human, I didn’t mean for it to be so literal1…..well, alright then……”
He shouted downward, in their direction, “Nan Feng, Fu Yao! Hang on tight! No matter what, you must support us!”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao, who were still on the ground below, naturally wanted to support them. The both of them stood their ground, but it was to no avail. The sandstorm was just too wild and fierce. Not long after and to no one’s surprise, yet another two shadows got rolled up into the tornado.
Now, the four of them were all spinning wildly in the air. Between the darkened yellow sky and the dark yellow earth, the tornado was much like an askew sand pillar supporting the heavens. Furthermore, a strip of white silk now connected four figures within this sand pillar, all of whom ceaselessly whirled about without rest. The more they spun, the faster they went, and the higher up they flew. To one side, Xie Lian ate sand like mad, yet on the other, he yelled: “How come you’re all up here too?”
What they saw aside from sand was still sand, and what they heard in addition to wind was still wind. With no other choice, they had to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. As he ate sand, Fu Yao spat in contempt, “You’ll have to ask this strip of stupid white silk! What’s wrong with it?!”
Xie Lian grasped the stupid white silk with both hands and helplessly said, “Ruoye ah Ruoye, all four of us are counting on you now. This time, you mustn’t grab onto the wrong thing again. Go!”
Carrying feelings of forlorn hope with him, Xie Lian once again let one end of Ruoye go. Nan Feng yelled, “Don’t count on this thing anymore! Think of another plan!”
But at this very moment, Xie Lian felt the end he was currently holding on suddenly tighten. His spirits immediately lifted as he said, “Wait, give it another chance! It grabbed onto something!”
Fu Yao also shouted, “It better not have looped around a passerby again! Better let them go if it did!”
It came without saying that Xie Lian was also worried about this as well. He tugged on Ruoye a couple of times, but discovered that the other end didn’t budge even the slightest bit. Only then did Xie Lian’s heart relax as he said, “No! Not this time! The other end feels very heavy and stable!” He then said, ”Retract!”
Going against the frenzied tornado, Ruoye retracted with great speed. The four figures rapidly sped away from the wind pillar. Gradually, amidst the yellow sand in the sky, Xie Lian was able to perceive the black outline of a semi-circle below them.
This outline was massive, and was approximately the size of a small temple. In fact, the other end of Ruoye was precisely coiled around such a thing. And only after they got closer to the ground did he finally see it more clearly; that thing was a giant stone.
Within a sandstorm of this degree, this piece of stone was like a firm and silent fortress. It was undoubtedly an excellent shelter against the strong winds.
During their entire journey there, they definitely had not seen a giant rock like this. Thus, they really could not tell exactly how far that strange tornado had taken them. The moment the four of them reached the ground, they immediately made their way to the other side of the rock that was blocking the wind. Feeling delighted as they took shelter, Xie Lian said, “This is truly a blessing from the heavens.”
It turned out that the side of the rock that was protected from the wind had a hole. The hole was about two doors wide, while the height was slightly shorter than one. But it was sufficiently large enough for an adult to enter, as long as they bent down and bowed their heads. The entrance wasn’t neatly made, and was rather crooked. However, it didn’t appear like it was formed naturally, so it was more probable that someone had casually carved out this artificial entrance.
Once Xie Lian entered, he discovered that the rock was carved out to be almost completely hollow. The space within the cave didn’t seem to be small, but it was relatively dark. Xie Lian didn’t immediately explore the entire place, and instead sat down on an area that was illuminated by the light streaming in from the outside. He brushed off the yellow sand on Ruoye before wrapping it back around his wrist.
Nan Feng and Fu Yao were both spitting out sand. Sand had gotten into their mouth, eyes and ears, so it was needless to mention the folds within their clothes. Shedding their clothes and giving it a good shake had resulted in a heavy stream of sand and stone.
Amongst the four of them, the one that looked the least affected was still San Lang. After he had bent over and entered the cave, he dusted off a few specs of dust on his red attire, but nothing more. This was done more for show and out of courtesy. With the exception of his hair being slightly dishevelled and his ponytail being combed lopsided, his happy attitude didn’t seem to have been affected at all. In addition, that lopsided hairstyle of his was originally combed crooked by Xie Lian. Hence, even if it became more crooked, it didn’t really matter in the slightest.
Nan Feng wiped his face twice before breaking out in curses. Xie Lian dumped out the sand within his bamboo hat before sighing, “Ah~ I truly hadn’t expected you guys to get blown into the air too. Why didn’t you guys use the Thousand Pound Spell?
While spitting sand, Nan Feng replied, “We did! But it was ineffective.”
On one hand, Fu Yao viciously shook his outer robe, while on the other he spat, “Where do you think this is? This is a barren desert in the extreme northwest. It’s not like it’s my General’s domain. To the North is the territory belonging to the second General of the Pei house. To the West is Quan YiZhen’s territory. Within these few hundred miles, there’s no way you’d find even a single Xuan Zhen Temple.”
It should be noted that there was a common saying within the mortal realm—a powerful dragon cannot crush a snake in its old haunts2. Therefore, since one of them was an official under the deputy general of the Southeast martial god, while the other was an official under the deputy general of the Southwest martial god, using spiritual arts on a territory that didn’t belong to them would inevitably mean that the enchantment in play would be subjected to restrictions. With their current appearances, Xie Lian believed that the two of them were both rather peeved and annoyed. It could be assumed that it was their first time being blown up into the sky by a gust of strong wind, only to whirl around in circles and be incapable of settling back onto the ground. Xie Lian said, “Both of you truly worked hard.”
San Lang sat down on the ground next to him. With a hand propped up against his cheek, he said, “Let’s just stay here and wait for the sandstorm to subside.”
Xie Lian turned towards him and said, “Looks like that’s our only option for now. As powerful as this tornado may be, it’s unlikely that it would also sweep up a rock this big into the sky.”
San Lang said, “But it is just as you said before, this sandstorm is indeed very strange.”
Xie Lian suddenly thought of something and said, “San Lang, I have a question.”
San Lang replied, “Ask away.”
Xie Lian said, “That Ban Yue Grand Tutor, are they male or female?”
San Lang replied, “Have I not mentioned this yet? Female.”
Xie Lian thought, ‘as expected’, and said, “When we were resting in that abandoned small inn, didn’t we see two figures walk by the front? Their steps were graceful yet odd. They definitely couldn’t have been mortals. In addition, the one in white had been a female official.”
Fu Yao was sceptical and said, “It is hard to distinguish whether or not they were male or female just by looking at their robes. Their figure was also taller than an average woman’s. Did you truly see it clearly?”
Xie Lian said, “I saw it clearly, there’s no mistake. So I’ve been thinking, could she have been the Ban Yue Grand Tutor?”
Nan Feng then said, “It’s possible, but there was a person wearing black by her side. Who could that have been?”
Xie Lian said, “That’s difficult to say. However, that person was walking faster than her, so his abilities definitely wouldn’t be beneath hers.”
Fu Yao said, “Is there a possibility that they were the Two Demonic Cultivators’ other member, the Grand Tutor Fang Xin?”
Xie Lian said, “As for this, I think the reason why they’re called the Two Demonic Cultivators is probably because even numbers are easier to remember. Much like how in the Ghost Realm, there are the Four Calamities. Even though there aren’t four in reality, people went out of their way to gather four anyways.”
Hearing this, San Lang laughed out loud again. When Xie Lian looked at him, San Lang said, “It’s nothing, I just thought that what you said is very reasonable. After all, one of the Four Calamities is indeed just there to make them an even number.”
Thus, Xie Lian continued talking, “As a matter of fact, they probably have nothing to do with one another. I’ve heard a bit about this Grand Tutor Fang Xin. They were Yong’an Kingdom’s Royal Tutor. There’s at least a hundred years interval between their appearance and the Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s arrival.”
Fu Yao found this to be unreasonable and said, “You didn’t know the Four Calamities of the Ghost Realm, yet you know of Grand Tutor Fang Xin from the Yong’an Kingdom in the Mortal Realm?”
Xie Lian said, “Sometimes, when I’m passing by places as I collect scraps, I’d learn a few things. And it’s not like I collect scraps in the ghost realm, so of course I wouldn’t have known about them.”
At this moment, the sound of the wind from outside the cave had become a bit weaker. Standing slightly outside, Nan Feng hit the rock a few times to examine the material. After concentrating for a while, he bowed his head and said, “Why would this rock get a hole of this size dug out of it?”
He probably thought it was suspicious to see a rock like this here. However, this didn’t seem too strange to Xie Lian, so he said, “A hole dug out of a rock like this isn’t uncommon. The past people of the Ban Yue Kingdom, as in those who needed a shelter from the sandstorm, like the ones who had been out herding livestock and thus couldn’t make it home in time, or those who needed a temporary place to stay the night, would occasionally dig a hole in a rock like this. Some of these holes were not carved, but were blown out with explosives.”
Unconvinced, Nan Feng said, “How would you even herd livestock in the desert?”
Xie Lian said, “Two hundred years ago, this wasn’t a desert. Instead, this place also had an oasis.”
At this moment, San Lang said, “Gege.”
Xie Lian turned his head to ask, “What’s wrong?”
San Lang pointed his finger and said, “The rock you’re sitting on seems to have something written on it.”
“What?” Xie Lian lowered his head first before he got up. Only then did he discover that the place he was sitting on was a stone slate.
Sure enough, after wiping off the dust, there were indeed words written on the slate. However, they were engraved relatively faintly, so the words weren’t very visible. Half the slate was still buried within the sand. The writing extended upwards from the ground, while fading into the darkness.
Since there were characters written there, then they definitely had to take a look. Xie Lian said, “I’m low on spiritual power. Could one of you cast Palm Flame and help me illuminate this area? Many thanks!”
Nan Feng snapped his fingers. Instantly, a flame appeared on top of his palm. Xie Lian unintentionally glanced at San Lang, who didn’t seem surprised at the sight. After all, the boy had already witnessed the ‘Shrink a Thousand Miles’ array. Xie Lian felt that, no matter what either side revealed to each other in the future, no one would be surprised.
Nan Feng moved his hand to the place Xie Lian pointed at, and the fire illuminated the words engraved on the slate. The words were very strange, as if they were random drawings and scribbles casually scrawled by children. They were even slightly tilted. Nan Feng asked, “What is written here?”
San Lang said, “Naturally, they’re the characters of the Ban Yue Kingdom.”
Xie Lian replied, “I’m afraid Nan Feng was asking about the meaning behind the words. Let me take a look.”
Cleaning the sand off the slate, Xie Lian reached the top row. Several of the characters here were especially large, and appeared to be the title or subject. In addition, the symbols there seemed to repeat many times throughout the rest of the text. Beside them, Fu Yao also called forth some light onto his palm before he asked, “You can read Ban Yue text?”
Xie Lian said, “In all honesty, before the Ban Yue demonic cultivator had appeared, I collected scraps in the Ban Yue Kingdom.”
“Is something the matter?”
“Nothing, I was just curious as to how many other places you’ve collected scraps from.”
Xie Lian smiled, before he bowed his head to continue reading. Suddenly, he said a single word:
Nan Feng and Fu Yao both spoke at the same time, “What?”
- This was a play on words that had both me and my translation checker in tears when we tried translating it. What happened was that Xie Lian said ‘人’, which is a broad word in Chinese for ‘person’. For example, it can also mean ‘people (plural)’, ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘human’, etc. However, Ruoye understood it as the meaning ‘human/mortal’, which can be considered as one of the most literal translations of the word. That’s why it grabbed onto both Fu Yao and Nan Feng; because they’re gods, not mortal.
- 强龙压不过地头蛇: This is an old Chinese adage that basically means, ‘even a powerful man cannot crush a local bully.’