The First Arc: Blood Rain Reaching Towards a Flower
Chapter 23: A Thousand Miles in a Step, Lost Within a Sandstorm
Xie Lian withdrew his hand, momentarily speechless. He had discovered that every time he saw or bumped into something in the dark, more often than not he would be the one who completely didn’t react to the frightening scene, while the other party would have already started screaming. However, wasn’t he the one who ought to be the most afraid?
The shrubs and grass in the garden had grown to be very tall and dense. Just now, there had been someone who was stealthily hiding among the plants, before Xie Lian ended up touching their calf.
That leg retracted at lightning speed. Rustling noises came from the bush before someone yelled, “Don’t attack, don’t attack! It’s me, big brother!”
Xie Lian stared. Indeed, he had truly not expected that the one screaming ‘don’t attack, don’t attack’, would actually be the thick-browed, big-eyed youth—TianSheng. When TianSheng saw Xie Lian had recognized him, he let out a relieved sigh.
However, Xie Lian didn’t heave a sigh of relief and instead became even more vigilant after he realized who the teenager was. After raising an arm, he held it in front of himself protectively before saying, “Didn’t you stay behind with the others at the previous place to watch over the injured people? Why are you here? Are you truly TianSheng?”
For him to appear under these circumstances, it was more likely that this was something else; a fake passing themselves off as TianSheng. However, TianSheng hurriedly said, “It’s me! It’s really me, and I’m not the only one here. Three uncles also came here with me! They’re right inside, if you don’t believe me, just take a look!”
He pointed towards the inside of the palace. Indeed, not much time had passed before three people came running out of the dilapidated palace. These guys were precisely some of the people from the group of merchants. When they saw Xie Lian, the three looked collectively startled before appearing embarrassed.
Xie Lian sighed, and only then did he stand up. As he dusted off the hem of his white clothing, he asked, “What’s going on, you guys?”
When he asked this, all of the embarrassed merchants stayed silent. After quite a while, Tian Sheng mumbled, “Not long after you big brothers left, Uncle Zheng’s poison flared up again. It was really serious, and we……didn’t know when you would return. We were worried that you might not be able to find it, or that you would come back too late. A-Zhao ge had said before that we would be able to find the Ban Yue Kingdom if we followed that road. We thought that it would be possible to find it faster if there were more people helping, so we also came over…….”
No matter how they explained, the main idea was that they had regretted it. Maybe they were afraid that after Xie Lian and his companions found the Kindred Moon Herb, they would take A-Zhao and slip away. Or perhaps, they just didn’t feel reassured and ended up chasing after them.
Xie Lian was also completely capable of imagining how Fu Yao would become too lazy to stop them if he had been unable to convince them to stay. It simply wasn’t possible to stop obstinate people who refused to listen to advice and rushed toward their own deaths.
Xie Lian helplessly said, “You guys are truly too courageous. It’s not like you don’t know what could be in this city, or what could happen here, yet you guys still dared to come?”
It could be assumed that even TianSheng knew their actions clearly meant they didn’t trust Xie Lian, so he felt a bit guilty. Earlier, the reason he hadn’t dared to make a noise when he was lying in the shrub was probably because he felt embarrassed. TianSheng said, “Sorry. The worth of someone’s life is beyond value. Once we panicked, we just…..”
One couldn’t do anything about it. When it came to matters of life and death, growing another heart was also human nature. In addition, being willing to risk their lives in order to retrieve the herb for someone else was also considered as good comradery.
It wasn’t good for Xie Lian to say anything more about this. Thus, he rubbed his forehead and said, “You guys are truly fortunate to not encounter anything on your way into this ancient city. That being said, how did you know you needed to look for the Kindred Moon Herb near the palace?”
Tian Sheng scratched his head and said, “We didn’t know where to look. However, in the red clothing-gege’s story, didn’t the Empress pick the Kindred Moon Herb? Empresses aren’t capable of casually leaving the imperial palace, so I thought we should try our luck at the palace.”
Xie Lian thought that this kid’s brain worked pretty well, since he actually got it right. At that very moment, San Lang, who had been standing by his side, suddenly spoke up, “Found it.”
When Xie Lian turned around to look, San Lan raised his hand. What he held in his hand was a bluish-green leaf that still had some roots attached to its bottom.
The leaf were only about the size of an infant’s palm, and the roots were incredibly slender. It was shaped like a peach, and the end of the leaf were pointed. There was simply no need to ask A-Zhao for confirmation—Xie Lian intuitively thought that it had to be the Kindred Moon Herb from the legends.
But before Xie Lian managed to speak, San Lang had already seized his injured hand.
When it had been stung, that hand had swelled to the point of scaring people. But after San Lang helped him suck out the poison, although the poison hadn’t been neutralized, the swelling was reduced by a lot.
At this moment, San Lang supported Xie Lian’s wounded hand with one hand, and held the Kindred Moon Herb with his other. He closed his five fingers around the herb. While he appeared to not have exerted any strength, when he opened his fist, the leaf had broken down into a pile of green powder.
San Lang took the pile of green powder and spread it thinly onto the back of Xie Lian’s hand. Immediately, a gentle and slightly cool feeling slowly expanded from the site of the wound. Xie Lian said, “San Lang, many thanks.”
However, San Lang did not reply. After he finished applying the medicinal herb, he let go of Xie Lian’s hand.
Xie Lian kept feeling as if there was something strange about the mood existing between the two of them, but he also didn’t know how to ask about it. No matter how Xie Lian tried phrasing his words, they never seemed suitable.
However, the other people could not sense the subtle mood. Tian Sheng eagerly said, “Big brother, do you feel a bit better? Does this herbal medicine work?”
Xie Lian snapped out of his daze and said, “I feel a lot better, so this ought to be the correct plant.”
When they heard his words, all the merchants became very excited. They all said, “Hurry, let’s keep looking.”
Before long, A-Zhao also raised his hand while holding a bunch of green leaves. He said, “I also found it.”
The Kindred Moon Herb leaves he was holding was much bigger compared to the small and pitiful leaf San Lang had just found. When the merchants took a look and saw that the shape and characteristics were all correct, they all rushed over. One after another, they exclaimed in pleasant surprise:
“There’s a large patch of Kindred Moon Herbs here, ah!”
“There’s so much!”
“Quickly, pick some extra!”
“If we pick a lot, can we sell them after we return?”
As the merchants busied themselves with picking the herbs, Xie Lian turned around and took a look at the back of his own hand. Despite having nothing to say, he forcibly found a topic and asked San Lang, “The field they found, weren’t you looking there before? Did you not discover it at the time?”
After he spoke, even Xie Lian himself felt that the question he asked was pointless. However, San Lang shook his head and said, “You shouldn’t use the herbs from there.”
Finding it odd, Xie Lian asked, “Why?”
Who would have thought that before San Lang managed to answer, they would suddenly hear a miserable shriek, “Go away!”
Everyone was stunned. Actions pausing, they asked one after the other:
“Who is the one screaming?”
“I wasn’t the one ah!”
“It wasn’t me either……”
Once again, they heard that voice mournfully say, “Go away, you’re stepping on me……”
This time, everyone finally noticed—the voice was coming from underneath their feet!
In the span of a split second, the people gathered at the patch of Kindred Moon Herbs all scattered. Xie Lian had already long become used to taking the lead at times like this—when other people retreated, he would advance forward. Thus, he walked over to where the scream had originated from. After reaching out with one hand, he slowly pushed aside the dense branches of the shrubs.
The moment he pushed aside those branches, everyone’s breathing all ceased.
What had been buried under the bushes and within the mud, was shockingly a man’s face.
There was actually a living person buried in the patch of soil here, and he was buried to the point that the only thing left outside was his face!
This scene truly looked incomparably strange. Immediately, the few merchants had been scared to the point that they began huddling together and screaming.
Once again, Xie Lian began comforting them in an extremely skilled manner, “Don’t panic. Everyone, calm done. It’s only a face, it’s nothing alarming. After all, doesn’t everyone have a face?”
That face chuckled. “Did I scare you guys? Sigh……I also frequently scare myself.”
Xie Lian half-squatted down before he began carefully scrutinizing the face buried in the mud.
This was a man’s face. When he wasn’t smiling, it appeared very flat, and when he did smile, there were many wrinkles. One couldn’t tell whether he was old or young, and one couldn’t say whether he was ugly or beautiful.
Xie Lian stared at the face for quite a while, but he still couldn’t make out what this face was. Without a better option, he had no choice but to directly ask, “Who are you?”
The face buried in the mud questioned back, “Who are you guys?”
Xie Lian said, “A caravan just passing by.”
The face buried in the mud sighed before saying. “A caravan just passing by? Once, I was also from a caravan just passing by. Although, that is a matter from fifty or sixty years ago.”
After he said this, the entire affair seemed even more abnormal.
This person had actually been buried in the lands of an abandoned ancient city for fifty or sixty years. Could he still be considered a human?
Trembling with fear and trepidation, a merchant asked, “Then……Then why would Mister……Why would Mister be here……ah?”
The face buried in the mud coughed a few times, before he wrinkled his face and said, “I……I was captured and brought here by a Ban Yue soldier. I wasn’t careful and accidentally entered the city and got captured. They ended up burying me here, so I would become fertilizer for these Kindred Moon Herbs……”
It turned out that these Kindred Moon Herbs had grown using living people as its fertilizer. No wonder they looked so plump and healthy!
Some merchants immediately threw away the Kindred Moon Herbs they had been holding. They felt that holding those herbs was the same as touching corpses. Even Xie Lian couldn’t help but lower his head to look at the back of his wounded hand. However, San Lang said, “There were no problems with that herb.”
No wonder San Lang hadn’t picked any of those plump and healthy Kindred Moon Herbs even when he had clearly searched around this piece of land. Xie Lian was afraid that San Lang had long seen the face buried in the mud and had guessed that these herbs were all raised with this kind of fertilizer.
Thus, San Lang had completely ignored these things before he turned around and left. Following that, he helped Xie Lian apply the medicine only after he had found a clean herb that had grown up normally in a remote corner.
Xie Lian said, “San Lang is so considerate. I truly thank you.”
San Lang shook his head. He still appeared calm and collected.
Ever since Xie Lian had been poisoned by the Scorpion-Tailed Snake before they entered the ancient Ban Yue Kingdom, San Lang’s attitude had continued to be like this. When the two of them had been living together before, San Lang had always been calling him ‘gege’. However, now he never called him that.
Other than the times San Lang had helped Xie Lian suck out the poison and apply the medicinal powder, it seemed as if San Lang was avoiding contact with Xie Lian’s body as much as possible. It truly made Xie Lian feel extremely baffled. Since he couldn’t make sense of San Lang’s attitude, even he felt a bit uneasy.
At this moment, the face buried in the mud began speaking again. “It’s already been many years since I’ve seen living people. You guys……you guys, come closer and let me get a better look, alright?”
Everyone stared at each other in dismay. They unanimously thought that it would be better if they didn’t do what he had asked. After a while, when the face buried in mud saw how no one had replied, he muttered, “What, no one is willing to? Sigh……what a pity……”
Xie Lian turned his head and asked, “Why is it a pity?”
The face buried in the mud said, “Ever since you guys came in, there is a matter I care a great deal about. I want to use my own eyes to confirm this matter before telling you guys. That’s why I told you guys to stand closer and let me take a better look, because I want to carefully get a good look of every one of you.”
Xie Lian asked, “What matter?”
The face buried in the mud smiled strangely, “You guys, don’t be afraid if I say it……I saw someone among you fifty years ago.”
The moment he said this, the hair on everyone’s backs began standing on end.
If it was someone the face buried in the mud had seen fifty years ago, nowadays they had to be at least sixty or seventy years old. However, among the few people here, even the oldest didn’t look over forty years old. How could this be possible?
Unless……that person wasn’t ‘human’!
Xie Lian’s gaze began sweeping over everyone’s face. Starting from A-Zhao, and ending with TianSheng, he saw slightly startled faces, frightened faces, bewildered and stupefied ones. Everyone’s reactions all conformed to reason. If he had to point out someone who hadn’t reacted according to common sense, then it could only be San Lang, who hadn’t responded at all. However, when it came to this teenager, no reaction was probably the normal one for him.
Xie Lian turned his head and asked, “Who are you talking about?”
The muscles on the face buried in mud twitched a few times, before he revealed an incomparably eerie smile. He appeared as if he was doing his utmost to make himself look even a little bit more reliable, but it still couldn’t conceal the sinister smile seeping out from the bottom of his heart. He said in a mysterious manner, “You……You, come a bit closer, and I’ll tell you.”
When the face had first made its claim, Xie Lian had deemed him eighty-percent trustworthy. However, after this line, he deemed him only fifty-percent trustworthy.
How was one to know if this monster wasn’t just trying to coax someone close, before suddenly revolting?
Xie Lian naturally wouldn’t listen to the face. After getting up, he withdrew. The face buried in the mud hastily said, “You guys truly don’t want to know who that person is? He will end up killing all of you, just like how he had ended up killing all of us!”