The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 22: A Thousand Miles in a Step, Lost Within a Sandstorm
The scorpion tail!
However, right after he was stung, Xie Lian had also grabbed onto its tail. In fact, he had securely caught hold of the whole Scorpion-Tailed Snake in its entirety. Following that, Xie Lian tightened his grip until the snake completely fainted.
Despite having been stung, his expression didn’t change in the slightest. He only tossed the unconscious snake to the ground and said, “Everyone should continue to be careful, there may be more snakes nearby……”
Xie Lian hadn’t finished speaking when he felt something tighten around his wrist. When he lifted his head to take a look, he found that it was San Lang who had grabbed hold of him. Slightly startled, Xie Lian asked, “San Lang?”
The reason why he had asked this was because the expression currently present on the young man’s face wasn’t quite right. It was difficult to use words to describe it, but it basically made others tremble with fear.
San Lang stared intently at the minuscule wound on Xie Lian’s hand. This wound had originally been approximately the same size as a pinprick. However, the poison had spread fast, and thus the back of his hand had swollen into a massive, purplish-red hard lump. That small, pin-sized wound had also been stretched until it resembled a cut from a knife.
San Lang remained composed. Completely silent, he grabbed Ruoye and used it to tie a tight knot around Xie Lian’s wrist, which stopped the poisoned blood from spreading further. Although Ruoye liked to act like a spoiled and pampered child around Xie Lian and wasn’t always that well-behaved, it was incredibly docile in San Lang’s hands, to the point it seemed as though it was dead.
Ever since the two of them became acquainted, Xie Lian had never seen this expression on him before. Just as he was about to speak, San Lang pulled out the dagger hanging at the waist of one of the merchants. Having seen this, Nan Feng instantly understood what he was about to do and called forth a Palm Flame upon his right hand.
San Lang didn’t even look in his direction. Instead, he merely placed the tip of the knife into the fire. After sterilizing it, he turned around his head, before he gently yet swiftly sliced a cross mark onto the wound located on the back of Xie Lian’s hand.
San Lang was about to stoop down when Xie Lian quickly said, “There’s no need. The Scorpion-Tailed Snake’s poison is too toxic, so it’s useless even if you sucked it out. You should be more concerned about getting yourself poisoned……”
However, the young man didn’t allow him to explain. He just held his hand tightly before he pressed his lips to it. Unsure of the reason why, Xie Lian felt his arm, the one San Lang was holding, tremble slightly.
On the other side, Fu Yao said, “How can you even get stung like this? Your luck is truly something else. He might not have been bitten at all, so why would you go and grab it? You’re simply just causing us more trouble.”
These words were actually the truth. In fact, now that Xie Lian recalled San Lang’s carefree attitude as he tried to tie the snake into a knot, even he felt that San Lang wouldn’t have been bitten. And perhaps, even if he had been bitten, San Lang might not have minded it at all.
However, it was better safe than sorry. If the young man truly hadn’t noticed the snake and was bitten, wouldn’t it be useless to regret it then?
He waved his other, unwounded hand and said, “In any case, it doesn’t hurt and it wouldn’t kill me. Don’t mind it.”
Fu Yao asked, “It really doesn’t hurt?”
Xie Lian honestly replied, “Yes. I don’t feel it anymore. ”
This much was true. Xie Lian, being himself, was extremely unlucky. When he traversed through mountains, eight out of ten times he would step on poisonous snakes, startle poisonous bugs, and so on. He has already been bitten by an assortment of poisonous creatures a thousand times over, but his tenacity made it so that he just wouldn’t die. At most, he’d get a fever for three days and nights and upon waking up, he would be completely fine. In addition, Xie Lian was really insensitive toward pain. No matter what kind of pain it was, he would just let it hurt and hurt until he became used to it.
By the time he finished talking, San Lang finally lifted his head. The swelling on the back of Xie Lian’s hand had gone down. From the corner of San Lang’s lips, a thread of blood trickled down. Gaze extremely cold, he moved his eyes toward the Scorpion-Tailed Snake that laid on the ground.
Suddenly, a ‘bang’ sound rung out mournfully. That purplish-red snake had exploded into a pool of purplish-red minced meat.
When everyone saw how the snake had exploded, they were all taken aback. However, no one knew who did it. Although none of the blood had spattered onto them, they were still terrified.
TianSheng still remembered that Xie Lian had also been stung. He anxiously said, “This gege, were you also stung? What are you going to do?”
Xie Lian tightened the bandage around his wrist. With a smile, he said, “You’re a good kid. I’m fine. We’ll follow the original plan. Next, we will enter the city to look for the Kindred Moon Herb.”
A merchant hastily said, “If you guys are going, then what about us? Should we also send someone too?”
Xie Lian replied, “There’s no need for you guys to go. The ancient land of Ban Yue Kingdom is likely very dangerous. An additional person is merely another accident just waiting to happen. After we find the Kindred Moon Herb, we will bring it back and give it to you before the twenty-four hours are up.”
Several merchants exclaimed in succession, “Re…Really?! We would be too grateful….”
“How could we have the nerve……”
However, the moment Xie Lian spoke his next line, the expressions of the merchants immediately changed. He said, “In order to find the ancient kingdom of Ban Yue as quickly as possible, I would have to inconvenience you all to temporarily lend us this brother so he may show us the way. ”
The one he wanted to borrow was naturally A-Zhao. If one said the expressions present on the merchants’ face earlier were gratitude and joy, now the majority bore a look of hesitation.
Xie Lian also thoroughly understood why. The merchants were worried that once they took their guide and found the Kindred Moon Herb, they’d run off on their own. Even if A-Zhao had a conscious and decided to not run off with them while being willing to come back, much time would be delayed.
Yet, the merchants were indeed unwilling to go to the “With every passing, half the party goes missing” damnable place. This made them torn between the two choices.
This was human nature, and was thus understandable. Xie Lian immediately added, “But I’m afraid there may be other things that might come attack you all. So, Fu Yao, stay behind and look after them.”
Since they were leaving someone here, most of the merchants finally nodded and said, “Alright, as long as A-Zhao is willing to go with you.”
Therefore, Xie Lian turned towards A-Zhao and said, “Young friend, are you willing to help us? It’s alright even if you aren’t.”
A-Zhao nodded and replied, “I can. Although, the ancient kingdom of Ban Yue is actually rather easy to find. If you follow and walk down this direction, you will be able to find it.”
After they said their goodbyes to the merchants, A-Zhao walked at the very front to lead the group. Xie Lian, San Lang, and with Nan Feng followed closely behind him.
Having walked for some time, Xie Lian opened his mouth to ask, “A-Zhao, do Scorpion-Tailed Snakes frequently appear in this area?”
A-Zhao replied, “Scorpion-Tailed Snakes don’t appear often. This is also my first time seeing them.”
Xie Lian nodded and didn’t inquire further. In reality, he had lived near Ban Yue Kingdom for a period of time in the past, but this was also his first time encountering a Scorpion-Tailed Snake. Therefore, there was nothing wrong with A-Zhao’s answer.
Nan Feng had sensed something to some extent. He quietly asked him, “You suspect A-Zhao?”
Xie Lian also lowered his voice and said, “In any case, we already brought him out, so just keep an eye on him.”
If it was in the past, the first one to speak to him would inevitably be San Lang. But at the moment, although Xie Lian was unsure if it was because of what had happened earlier, the young man’s expression was still unpleasant. San Lang wouldn’t utter a single word. Xie Lian also didn’t know what was wrong. Since he was unable to talk to him, he could only continue to walk.
The four of them walked in the vast Gobi for slightly less than an hour. The storm had long gone, so without any wind or sand blocking their path, their travelling speed became awfully quick.
Gradually, they were able to make out a few hardy weeds that grew within the cracks in-between the sand and the rocks. It was until the sun had almost set when Xie Lian finally saw the ancient city emerging from the horizon.
This ancient city was difficult to spot because it was khaki in color, which blended in with the vast yellow sand that surrounded it. The city wall had crumbled, and there were a few sections that were buried amidst the yellow sand.
It was only after they had walked closer did they discover that the city wall was extremely tall. In fact, the tallest parts were more than thirty or so meters high, so i wasn’t difficult to imagine the wall in its former grandeur.
After they entered through the city gates, the four of them had officially entered the land of the ancient Ban Yue Kingdom.
Like always, the main street past the gates was wide and empty. Both sides of the street were filled with broken walls, dilapidated houses, and worn-out rocks and wood.
Perhaps repeatedly warning others had already become a habit, because A-Zhao said, “Everyone, be careful. Don’t wander.”
However, the other three naturally didn’t need him to remind them of this.
Probably due to the immense contrast between the ancient city of Ban Yue Kingdom and the one he had imagined, Nan Feng asked in disbelief, “This is Ban Yue Kingdom? How could it be so small? It can’t even be compared to a city.”
Xie Lian replied, “As a small desert kingdom, the bigger the oasis, the larger the kingdom. Even during its flourishing period, Ban Yue Kingdom consisted only of around ten thousand people. It truly is only this big. It had been alright when there was a lot of people around, and was even pretty lively.”
Nan Feng examined the area and said, “Defeating this kingdom was probably a matter that only took a couple of days.”
Xie Lian shook his head. “That hard to say. Nan Feng, don’t underestimate the people of Ban Yue. Although their population had only been around ten thousand people, there were always at least four thousand people in their army year-round. There were more males than females. Apart from the old and the sick and not counting the farmers, practically all the remaining men all joined the army. In addition, all the Ban Yue soldiers were all at least nine foot tall. Their personalities were also brave, fierce, and aggressive. While holding a wolf-toothed club, they still dared to charge forward even with a sword stuck in their chest. The soldiers of Ban Yue were extremely difficult to fight against.”
A-Zhao appeared to be slightly surprised. He glanced at Xie Lian and said, “This young lord seems to know quite a lot.”
Xie Lian kept smiling. Just when he was just about to casually spew some nonsense, Nan Feng spoke again, “What is that wall?”
What he had been referring to was an enormous, yellow dirt building in the distance.
It didn’t seem quite right to depict it as a building, because strictly speaking, it could only be described as four, giant earthen walls encircling something. There was no door and no roof, just four walls, and each was taller than thirty meters high. Stuck on top of the walls was a pole with something attached, and it was so battered that it wasn’t clear if it was a flag or something else that fluttered in the wind. For an unknown reason, the sight sent chills into one’s heart.
Xie Lian turned around, took one glance and said, “That’s the sinner’s pit.”
Just the name made it obvious that it wasn’t going to be anything good. Nan Feng frowned, “Sinner’s pit?”
After muttering to himself for a moment, Xie Lian replied, “You can think of it as a prison. It’s a place specifically for imprisoning criminals.”
Nan Feng said, “It doesn’t even have a door, how are they imprisoned? Don’t tell me they just tossed them down from the top?”
Xie Lian had been considering whether or not to reply when San Lang suddenly said, “They’re thrown in. In addition, what’s waiting for them at the bottom are poisonous snakes and scorpions, as well as starving beasts.”
Xie Lian felt himself relax when he finally heard San Lang speak. He glanced at him, but San Lang’s gaze only met his for a moment before the boy quickly averted his eyes.
Nan Feng cursed, “How the hell is this a prison, this is practically torture! It’s too cruel! If the Ban Yue people aren’t sick in the head, then they must be savages!”
Xie Lian massaged the space between his eyebrows. “Not entirely. Some of the Ban Yue people had been quite cute.”
At this moment, Xie Lian suddenly stopped speaking. While his eyebrows furrowed, he said, “Wait.”
The other three stopped walking. Xie Lian raised a hand and pointed. “Do you all see the pole at the top of the pit? Is that a person hanging from it?”
The sun had set and the night had fallen. Since they were also very far away from it, it had been difficult to tell what exactly was dangling from the pole. However, after they had walked a bit closer and saw the silhouette of the dangling object, it was obvious that it was a scrawny person dressed in black, clothes ragged and tattered. They were hung above the sinner’s pit, appearing rather like a worn-out doll as they were blown back and forth by the wind.
San Lang said, “It is.”
As soon as A-Zhao saw it was a person hanging up there, his face became slightly pale. This scene appeared extremely mournful and strange. Even someone as calm as A-Zhao couldn’t handle it.
At that moment, San Lang inclined his head a bit and quietly said, “Someone’s here.”
He wasn’t the only one to have noticed. Xie Lian had also heard the sound of very faint footsteps. Both sides of the street had dilapidated houses, so the four of them immediately dispersed to hide within them.
Xie Lian and San Lang ducked into the same house, while Nan Feng and A-Zhao hid in the house across from them. After a short while, a female official dressed in white appeared at the end of the beaten road.
The woman wore light, flowy robes that were as white as snow, while a hossu rested in the crook of her arm. As she walked down the street, she glanced left to right with her very bright eyes.
Her expression made it seem as if this place was not a long abandoned ancient city, but a little garden she could visit whenever she liked. Not too far away from her was a young woman dressed in black. With her hands clasped behind her back, she slowly followed behind the woman in white.
The young woman wearing black had facial features that appeared rather cold. Her gaze was not unlike that of an unsheathed dagger, while her long hair was draped over her back. In fact, the woman herself seemed to emit a chilly aura. And although she had been walking behind the woman wearing white, no one would mistake her as an underling.
These two were precisely the people Xie Lian and his party had seen outside the little rundown building at noon.
At that time, these two had flitted past them. The figure of the one wearing black had been very tall, hence Xie Lian had been unable to discern whether they were male or female. Only now did he realize that the two of them were both females. The one wearing white could only be the Ban Yue Grand Tutor, but the one wearing black…..who could she be?
That Ban Yue Grand Tutor swayed the hossu about in a leisurely manner. “Where did those people run off to now? As soon as our attention slipped, they vanished. Do I really have to drag them out one by one to kill them?”
Xie Lian thought to himself, Sure enough, as soon as they entered the city, someone immediately began watching them.
The woman in black walked forward. With an expressionless face, she walked past the woman dressed in white and said, “You can call your friends out to help you kill them.”
By ‘friends’, she could only be referring to the extremely deadly Ban Yue soldiers. The Ban Yue Grand Tutor laughed and said, “Ha ha ha! I don’t like asking other people, I only like to ask you. Doesn’t that make you happy?”
However, the woman in black didn’t leave her with any face. She icily said, “Being asked by you to come here and do these kinds of things isn’t anything to be happy about. Hurry up, let’s go.”
The Ban Yue Grand Tutor raised an eyebrow, although she indeed began walking quicker. The conversation between the two women made it seem as if their relationship were that of good, old friends.
These two definitely couldn’t be ordinary people, and the one dressed in black definitely couldn’t be someone with an obscure reputation. As someone who was familiar with the Ban Yue Grand Tutor, who could they be? A mysterious person from the same sect? Or perhaps, there had been a queen regnant or a female general in Ban Yue Kingdom?
While he rapidly analyzed this, Xie Lian also held his breath. He definitely didn’t want to be discovered right now. At present, it seemed that the Ban Yue Grand Tutor’s temper was very unpredictable.
What if she saw them and in a moment of excitement, called forth a horde of the legendary Ban Yue soldiers who were rumored to be nine foot tall and wielded wolf-tooth clubs? If that happened, they would have to fight for quite a while. And with only a twenty four hour deadline, losing even two hours only meant an increase to the danger.
But who would have thought, with Xie Lian’s luck, the more he didn’t want something to happen, the more likely it was to happen. As the woman in black walked past the front of their house, she suddenly halted. Following that, her perceptive gaze swept towards them.
The Ban Yue Grand Tutor had already walked ahead a few steps. However, upon seeing her companion stop, her body began leaning back. “Hey, are we going or not?”
The woman in black said, “You, move back.”
The Ban Yue Grand Tutor said, “Oh” before retreating. The woman in black had been just about to raise her hand, when suddenly, an explosive noise erupted from across the street!
On the other side, the house Nan Feng and A-Zhao had been hiding in suddenly collapsed. As the house caved in, the buildings beside it followed. In a split second, sand and dust billowed onto the street.
A black shadow suddenly leapt out of the sand and then expelled a stream of powerful flames towards the Ban Yue Grand Tutor. And yet, the woman in black had already turned around and stood protectively in front of the Grand Tutor. Her left hand still remained behind her back, while her right easily contained the stream of flames in her palm with a grab. Then, she immediately shot the flames back.
That shadow was also incomparably quick and nimble like a rabbit. After it dodged the attack by a hair, it left behind a cloud of dust as it escaped into the distance. The Ban Yue Grand Tutor gave chase, but the one in black glanced towards Xie Lian and San Lang once before she followed after her.
This entire event all happened in a single instant. Xie Lian inwardly said, “Good job, Nan Feng!”
He knew that the Nan Feng who had been hidden across the street must have seen that they were about to be discovered. Thus, he created a diversion and helped lead the enemies away. And since Nan Feng had been the only one who jumped out, A-Zhao must still be in the house.
After he confirmed the three of them were far enough away, Xie Lian pulled San Lang out and called, “A-Zhao, you’re still alive, right? Are you hurt?”
Instantly, a muffled sound came from beneath the collapsed house. “……I’m fine.”
Reassured, Xie Lian replied, “As long as you’re alright.”
Although he trusted Nan Feng had used utmost precision and control when he collapsed the house and had thus left enough space for a living person, in the end, Xie Lian still needed to confirm this to assuage his worries.
With a single hand, Xie Lian lifted a rotten roof beam. After a while, A-Zhao crawled out from under the house with some difficulty. His entire head and face were covered in dust, but after he patted himself off, he recovered his usual tranquil expression.
Xie Lian said, “Now there’s only three of us left. Nan Feng is being chased, so we need to act even faster. A-Zhao, do you know where the Kindred Moon Herb is located at?
A-Zhao only shook his head and said, “My apologies. I only know the location of the ancient city. I haven’t actually came here before, so I’m unclear as to where the Kindred Moon Herb grows.”
To the side, San Lang said, “It is said that the Kindred Moon Herb likes shade. It’s a small plant with incredibly delicate roots, yet its leaves are comparatively large. Its shape is similar to a pointy peach. You might as well look for it around a tall building.”
Xie Lian thought it over. “A tall building?”
On the topic of tall buildings, within a kingdom, what kind of building could be larger and more magnificent than the imperial palace? In addition, the legend said that after the banquet, the queen had plucked a leaf from the Kindred Moon Herb. This could also serve as evidence that the Kindred Moon Herb indeed grew within the palace.
The three surveyed the area. Sure enough, at the center of the city, they saw a palace built from stone, dirt and wood.
From afar, the palace looked quite imposing. However, from up close, the decline of the building was only slightly better than the houses on the streets. After passing through the main gates of the palace, there was a large garden. Perhaps it hadn’t been a garden but a plaza or something similar in the past. But now, after years of neglect, only a patch of land remained, one filled with all sorts of greenery.
That was right. What they were currently stepping on was not sand, but mud. It was probably the last vestiges of the oasis.
In fact, the Kindred Moon Herb was probably hiding amongst the rich vegetation. Xie Lian said, “Let’s be efficient. We only have twenty four hours. However, you must be very careful of the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes.”
A-Zhao agreed, while San Lang also gave his consent with a hum. Thus, the three of them all lowered their heads to search.
However, Xie Lian suddenly recalled that the Ban Yue Grand Tutor could control Scorpion-Tailed Snakes. Therefore, after traipsing onto her home territory, the Scorpion-Tailed Snakes should have made more appearances. Yet, after they entered the ancient Ban Yue Kingdom, they hadn’t seen another Scorpion-Tailed Snake.
He straightened his back and was just about to speak. However, at this moment, his hand suddenly touched something cylindrical.
Xie Lian bowed his head to take a look. It was a human leg.