The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 21 (III): A Thousand Miles in a Step, Lost Within a Sandstorm
Shocked, TianSheng exclaimed: “Ah! How did he die? Did he really get killed by his own people?”
Xie Lian mulled over this for a moment, but still decided to say it, “That’s not entirely it. On the slate, it says that during one battle, whilst both parties were busy fighting one another, this man hadn’t tied his boot laces properly and had stepped onto his own laces. He tripped and fell, and then……”
Everyone in the cave had originally thought that this general must have died in an incomparably tragic yet moving manner. Thus, having heard what was said, they were all taken aback. They all thought to themselves, ‘What kind of death was this?’ before laughter broke out amongst them, “Hahahahaha…..”
Xie Lian: “..….And so he was trampled and slashed to death by both enemy and friend, whose eyes were glazed crimson from murder.”
San Lang raised an eyebrow and said, “Is it that funny?”
Xie Lian also added, “Cough. That’s right, it’s rather tragic. Everyone, let’s show some sympathy and not laugh. Especially since we’re in front of his tombstone, we should give him some face.”
TianSheng hurriedly said, “I don’t mean any harm, but this is still……a little……haha……”
Xie Lian felt helpless because when he had read up to this part, he had also wanted to laugh a little. However, he decided to not bring that up. Instead, he continued to translate and read out loud.
Xie Lian said, “In short, although this military official had a bad reputation within the army, the citizens near the border of Ban Yue Kingdom and the people from the Central Plains who had been somewhat under his care started to call him ‘General’. Then, they built him a simple mound here and set up a tombstone to commemorate him.”
San Lang added, “Afterwards, the people of Ban Yue Kingdom discovered a miraculous part to this tombstone: As long you kowtow in front of this stone slate three times, you’d be able to turn an inauspicious start to a good blessing in the Gobi desert.”
His tone was really too enigmatic and unfathomable, which easily led people to believe him. The expression on his face was also deadly earnest. When people heard this, quite a few had immediately started to kowtow. It was better to believe that it existed than for it to not. However, Xie Lian found this rather baffling and said, “Ah? Is there really a sentence that said that? How wondrous.”
San Lang faintly smiled before he whispered, “No, I made that up. Since they had laughed at him before, making them kowtow to him now wouldn’t be asking too much, right?”
Xie Lian looked and saw that it was really true. There was already no more text left to translate on the stone slate. He had originally wanted to sigh, but now he just found it funny. Thus, he also whispered, “Why are you so cheeky?”
San Lang stuck out his tongue. The two of them were laughing when suddenly, someone screamed, “What is this!!!???”
This one shout resounded extremely sharply within the cave. Noise vibrating, it made people feel their hair stand on end. Xie Lian looked toward the direction where the shout had come from and asked, “What’s wrong?!”
Those who had been kowtowing in front of the ancient tombstone frantically got up and fled. Convulsing with fear, they exclaimed, “Snake!”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao both moved their hands in that direction. The two Palm Flames illuminated that spot of the ground from afar. Shockingly, a long and gorgeously coloured snake slithered upon the sandy soil!
Everyone all panicked, “How could there be snakes?!”
“Why doesn’t this snake make even the slightest bit of sound? It’s completely impossible to tell when it had crawled in!”
When the snake was illuminated by the flames, it’s body rose. It appeared to be extremely vigilant, and seemed as if it was ready to attack at any moment. Nan Feng was just about to strike it with a Palm Flame when he noticed someone slowly making their way toward it. The person casually caught it and soon had the entire seven inches of the snake’s body pinched within their grasp. Lifting their left hand, they brought it to the front of their eyes and carefully observed it while saying, “Aren’t snakes in the desert something common?”
Someone with this kind of unscrupulous attitude could only be San Lang. This was the so-called saying, ‘hit them where it hurts’1; if all seven inches of this snake was pinched to death, regardless of how poisonous its fangs may be, they would still have been powerless.
The tail of the snake weakly wrapped around San Lang’s left arm a few times. At this moment, the distance between San Lang and Xie Lian shortened, and thus Xie Lian got a good look at the snake. Its skin appeared to be half-translucent, and one could see wispy strands of black mixed within a bright, purplish-red colour. This colour made people associate it with that of internal organs, which rendered feelings of uneasiness. Moreover, the tail of the snake was actually the colour of flesh, and sectioned off as if it had layers of hard shell. In fact, the tail didn’t resemble that of a snake’s, but more of a scorpion’s.
Having seen that part more clearly, Xie Lian’s expression abruptly changed before he exclaimed, “Watch out for its tail!”
He had barely finished speaking when the tail wrapped around San Lang’s arm suddenly loosened its grip. The tip of the tail seemed to have become another snake head. After snapping backwards, it suddenly thrust out!
That tail stab came abruptly, yet San Lang casually reached out with his right arm and caught that tail with ease. He pinched the tail as if he was holding something entertaining, before he showed it to Xie Lian. Laughing, San Lang said, “This tail is rather amusing.”
Xie Lian saw that the pointy end of the snake’s tail actually sprouted a sharp and fleshy red thorn. Letting out a breath, he said, “Good thing it didn’t stab you. As expected, this is a Scorpion-Tailed Snake.”
Nan Feng and Fu Yao also came over to take a look at the snake. They asked, “Scorpion-Tailed Snake?”
Xie Lian replied, “That’s right. This is a unique, poisonous animal exclusive to Ban Yue Kingdom, and they are quite rare in numbers. I have never seen one before, but I’ve heard of it. With a body of a snake and a tail like a scorpion, the poison is more toxic than the two combined. Regardless of whether one was bitten by its poisonous fangs or stabbed by the poisonous tail, they will all……”
After speaking up to that point, Xie Lian saw San Lang begin tormenting the snake wrapped around his hand by turning it about repeatedly. He would sometimes stretch it, sometimes squish it, and sometimes he would even wring it out like a towel. By now, San Lang was only a step away from tying it into a bow. After a moment of speechlessness, Xie Lian softly persuaded, “San Lang, stop playing with it. It’s very dangerous.”
However, San Lang laughed and said, “It’s okay. There’s no need for gege to worry. These Scorpion-Tailed Snakes are the Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s totem. Opportunities like these are rare, so of course I have to carefully examine it.”
Xie Lian gave a slight start and said, “The Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s totem?”
San Lang replied, “That’s right. It was said that it was precisely because the Ban Yue Grand Tutor could control these Scorpion-Tailed Snakes, for the people of Ban Yue to think her powers were boundless. This was why they worshipped her as the Grand Tutor.”
The moment he heard the word ‘control’, Xie Lian felt that something was off. He thought to himself, speaking of control, the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes had always moved in a herd, one that would cover a large expanse of ground. Immediately, Xie Lian said, “Everyone should make haste and get out of here first. I’m afraid that there isn’t just a single Scorpion-Tailed Snake here…..”
He hadn’t even finished his sentence when he heard a scream. “AH!!!!”
One after another, several people all began screaming in fear.
“So many snakes!”
“Over here too!”
In the midst of darkness, seven or eight purplish-red Scorpion-Tailed Snakes silently slithered out. They emerged extremely abruptly, so it was absolutely impossible to tell which hole they had crawled out from. In addition, they didn’t attack, and instead just stared silently at the group of people, as if they were examining what they were. These snakes’ slithering and attacks were all soundless, and they didn’t even have the hissing sounds a normal snake made when it flicked its tongue. They were truly extremely dangerous.
Nan Feng and Fu Yao’s palm flames shot out at the same time, causing a massive ball of fire to explode within the cave. Xie Lian yelled, “Get out!”
No one dared to stay in the cave for any longer and all but frantically fled outside. Fortunately, the sky reflected the beginning of a sunset and that tornado had long gone away. The sandstorm had also died down significantly.
The group of people evacuated toward an open area. As they ran and ran, someone said, “That tombstone is really frightening! How is it that we kowtowed three times in front of it, yet we still encountered something like this despite all that!”
Xie Lian thought that it was a good thing they didn’t know the last part had been entirely made up by San Lang. But then he also heard someone else say, “Yeah! The results are relatively the same as worshipping that rubbish immortal! The more you worship, the unluckier you become! “
For an arrow to hit the bullseye despite being in a place so distant and unrelated, Xie Lian was left with no words. Suddenly, TianSheng shouted in fear, “Uncle Zheng!” The elderly man he had been supporting collapsed. Xie Lian rushed over and asked, “What happened?”
The expression on Uncle Zheng’s face was filled with pain and suffering. He raised a trembling hand, which Xie Lian caught to take a look. Immediately, his heart sank when he saw a purplish-red colour appear between the elderly man’s thumb and forefinger, and even the bump from the swelling was already very big.
Around the swollen area, one could, with some difficulty, make out a tiny hole. For such a tiny wound, one could surmise that it wouldn’t be noticed within a short period of time. Xie Lian immediately said, “Everyone, check if there are any wounds on your body. If there are, quickly tie the part up with some string to prevent the poison from spreading!”
He flipped over the man’s wrist to check his meridian, but saw a purplish-red strip visible to the naked eye crawling up Uncle Zheng’s arm. Xie Lian mentally thought that this snake’s poison was incredibly potent and was just about to untie Ruoye, only to see A-Zhao rip off a piece of cloth and tie it around the middle of the the old man’s forearm. It was tied extremely tightly, preventing the poisoned blood from flowing back into the heart. His movements were also incomparably fast, something Xie Lian internally praised.
Xie Lian lifted his head. Without having to say anything, Nan Feng had already taken out a medicinal bottle and poured out a single pill. After Xie Lian made the old man swallow the pill, TianSheng frantically shouted, “Uncle, are you alright?! A-Zhao ge, Uncle won’t die, right?”
A-Zhao shook his head and said, “If you’ve been bitten by the scorpion-tailed snake, within four hours, death is inevitable.”
Stunned, TianSheng said, “Then……what can we do?”
Uncle Zheng was the leader of the merchant caravan. Thus, many of the merchants were also anxious and asked, “Didn’t this young friend just give him some medicine?”
Nan Feng said, “What I gave him wasn’t the antidote, and it’ll only temporarily prolong his life. It would help keep him alive and extend the four hours to twenty-four.”
All the merchants felt agitated and at a loss.
“Only twenty-four hours?”
“If you say it like that, doesn’t that just mean he has no other choice but to wait for death?”
“Is this poison incurable?”
At this moment, San Lang slowly made his way over and said, “There’s hope.”
One after another, everyone looked at him. Overcome with happiness, TianSheng turned his head around to say, “Zhao-ge, if he can be saved, why didn’t you say anything earlier? You scared me to death!”
However, A-Zhao did not reply, and only silently shook his head. San Lang said, “Of course it’d be difficult for him to say. If those who were poisoned could be saved, but others might lose their lives as a result, how could one explain this?”
Xie Lian asked, “San Lang, what do you mean?”
San Lang replied, “Gege, do you know the legend of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake?”
It turned out, legend has it that hundreds of years ago in Ban Yue Kingdom, there had been an emperor. He went deep within the mountains to hunt, and inadvertently caught two sinister spirits whose true forms were that of poisonous creatures. One was a poisonous viper spirit, while the other was a scorpion spirit.
These two poisonous beings cultivated deep within the mountains. They paid no attention to the affairs of the world and had never harmed anyone. However, the Emperor of Ban Yue kingdom wanted them dead because they were poisonous creatures, and were thus bound to harm others sooner or later. So, the Emperor wanted to kill them first.
The two spirits pleaded for the Emperor to spare them a single way to survive, but the Emperor was a ruthless man. During a banquet, he forced the two spirits to mate in front of an audience of ministers as a means of entertainment, while the Emperor himself and his ministers drank to their heart’s content.
And after the banquet had ended, the Emperor still had the two poisonous spirits killed. Only the Empress couldn’t bear for this to happen, but she didn’t dare disobey the Emperor either. In the end, she only picked a scented leaf and tossed it over, covering the two spirits’ corpses.
The poisonous viper and scorpion turned into evil spirits, full of resentment. They cursed their descendants born after their forced intercourse to remain there forever and kill the people of Ban Yue Kingdom. Therefore, the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes appeared exclusively within Ban Yue kingdom. Once bitten or stung, the poison moved quickly and violently, and one’s death would be miserable. However, because of the Empress’ benevolent action that night, the scented leaf she had tossed over to cover their dead bodies became the antidote to their poison.
After he finished explaining, San Lang said, “That particular scented leaf is from a plant called the Kindred Moon Herb. It only grows within the borders of the past Ban Yue Kingdom.”
After hearing this, the merchants began talking one after another. “This……This kind of legend, can it really be trusted?”
“This young friend, someone’s life is on the line, you shouldn’t be joking with us now!”
However, San Lang only smiled and didn’t say anything. After telling this to Xie Lian, he didn’t say much afterwards. Seeking proof, TianSheng turned to face A-Zhao and asked, “Zhao-ge, are the things the red-clothed gege said true?”
After muttering to himself for a moment, A-Zhao said, “It’s uncertain whether or not legends and myths are genuine or fake. However, within Ban Yue Kingdom, the Kindred Moon Herb truly exists, and this plant can indeed cure the poison of the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes.”
Xie Lian said, “In other words, there’s only a single way to survive for those who are bitten by the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes. Yet this one glimmer of hope can only be obtained within the former Ban Yue Kingdom.”
No wonder there were so many passing merchant caravans and travelers who were fully aware of the saying, ‘With every passing, half the party goes missing’ but would still enter the former Ban Yue Kingdom. It was not because they were determined to send themselves off to death. Rather, perhaps if they didn’t enter the Kingdom, they would just meet certain death.
The Scorpion-Tailed Snakes were the Ban Yue Demonic Cultivator’s totem and thus could be controlled by her. In that case, the appearance of these Scorpion-Tailed Snakes definitely could not be a coincidence. Just relying on the few Heavenly Officials here would not guarantee the safety of all the people currently present. They also did not know whether or not more Scorpion-Tailed Snakes would appear.
Hence, Xie Lian lifted two fingers to his temple and tried to enter the spirit communication array. He wanted to see if it was possible to thicken his skin and borrow a few more little officials.
But who knew that his attempt to enter the array was completely unsuccessful. He lowered his hand and felt that it was odd. Xie Lian thought to himself, “I shouldn’t have used up all my spiritual energy that quickly? I calculated it this morning and I should still have some left.”
He immediately turned towards Nan Feng and Fu Yao before saying, “Could either of you try to enter the spirit communication array? I can’t enter it from my end.”
After a moment, the two martial gods’ expressions both became solemn. Nan Feng said, “I can’t enter it either.”
In places with extremely strong evil auras, part of a Heavenly Official’s spiritual energy could be affected; temporarily weakened or perhaps even blocked. Xie Lian was afraid that right now, they had encountered a predicament that was precisely just that.
Xie Lian paced back and forth for a while, before he lifted his head and said, “It might be because this place is too close to the former Ban Yue Kingdom, so the spirit communication array became blocked……”
At this moment, he suddenly glimpsed an exceptionally dazzling smear of red from the corner of his eye.
On one side, Nan Feng and Fu Yao were still trying to enter the spirit communication array, while the other merchants were all busy checking their bodies for small wounds. Only that young man TianSheng was solely preoccupied with holding onto Old Man Zheng and worrying. He completely did not notice the purplish-red Scorpion-Tailed Snake that had silently crawled up his back.
And yet, when the Scorpion-Tailed Snake coiled up at TianSheng’s shoulder, what its fangs were aimed at wasn’t the young man’s neck, but rather the arm of the nonchalant San Lang standing to the side.
The snake leaned back, and then shot forward!
Right before the fangs pierced San Lang’s arm, Xie Lian flung out his hand, before he incomparably accurately grasped all seven inches of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake.
With the strength of his hand alone, he could have choked the Scorpion-Tailed Snake to the point all of its organs would explode, bursting out in a splatter of guts and brain. However, Xie Lian wasn’t sure whether or not the blood and flesh of the Scorpion-Tailed Snake were also toxic, so he didn’t want to risk making the wrong move.
He was just about to grab onto its tail, but who knew that the snake’s body would be so slippery, making it very difficult to grab onto. Although Xie Lian went to pinch it, he only felt something ice-cold, round and soft slip through his fingers.
And the very next moment, Xie Lian felt a sharp pain, like the prick of a needle, on the back of his hand.