“Didn’t you notice that you woke up later than everyone else?” Wang Erguan asked, his voice laced with a hint of curiosity.
Lin Shouxi certainly had, but he had attributed it to the brutal battle with Mu Shijing and the evil god.
“Do you know why?” Lin Shouxi asked, wanting to know if there was another reason.
Wang Erguan answered with his typical candor, as if pouring beans from a bamboo tube.
“The altar that summoned us was perched perilously on the cliff’s edge, and as we all lost consciousness above it, you tumbled down inexplicably.” Wang Erguan’s words dripped with sarcasm, as he spoke.
“Had it not been for Xiao He, who gazed downwards before Perfected Yun led us away, you would have been devoured by the insatiable bugs in the mud by now.”
I fell down the cliff… could part of my injuries be from the fall?
“Was the cliff high?” Lin Shouxi asked.
“It definitely wasn’t short,” Wang Erguan replied nonchalantly.
Lin Shouxi felt more and more that it was a miracle he had survived.
“Many thanks for your life-saving grace, Xiao He,” Lin Shouxi expressed his earnest gratitude as he turned towards her.
“It was nothing,” Xiao He lightly shook her head in response.
“How did you know I was down there?” Lin Shouxi inquired.
Xiao He closed her lips and pondered for a moment before replying, “I wasn’t certain, but a certain feeling prompted me to investigate.
I never expected that someone had truly fallen.”
Lin Shouxi spoke with genuine sincerity, “I appreciate your kindness.
If the opportunity arises, I will surely repay it.”
“After all that, you still have the audacity to act as if you’re willing to offer yourself,” Wang Erguan interjected with anger.
Lin Shouxi chose not to dignify his rudeness with a response.
“We can discuss repayment at a later time,” Xiao He said softly, her voice like a gentle breeze.
With that, she fell silent and closed her eyes, slipping into a meditative state.
Her pale pink lips moved soundlessly as she recited the core method.
The thin sunlight slid over the eaves and shone onto her hair, which resembled white cloth, shimmering and translucent.
Lin Shouxi also took a cross-legged position.
At this juncture, he knew that attempting to cultivate would be futile.
He didn’t force himself, instead, he turned his attention to recovery.
His robust constitution came in handy; had another person been afflicted with the same wounds, it would have been their demise.
Lin Shouxi gazed at the large cauldron in the courtyard, the slanting aquatic plants, and the classical flying eaves adorned with imposing dragon sculptures.
They appeared through the mist, evoking a feeling that was at once familiar and yet foreign.
When he was a child, he often sat alone on a bamboo chair under the eaves, picking up any book he fancied and reading for the whole day.
Because his martial arts skills improved so rapidly, even when he held forbidden books, others would look at the serious expression on his face and think he was contemplating the great truths of the universe.
When in fact, his face was naturally cold.
Sitting on that bamboo chair, he would often ask himself whether he loved this world, and the answer would always be the same resounding yes.
From the distinct four seasons, the fragrant flowers and herbs, to the people coming and going, he could find a sense of tranquility amidst it all.
Yet, this peace would occasionally be disrupted.
For example, when he was twelve, his senior siblings heard that Mu Shijing had visited the Buddha Gate and, without saying a word, broken countless Zen minds.
His senior siblings felt that the Demon Gate had lost face because they had not accomplished a matching feat and tried to forcibly drag him to the Merciful Navigation House of Tranquility to regain their reputation.
But, he, remaining pure, refused to go.
His kind senior sisters advised him, “Those pretty nuns have no grudges against you.
You’re just going for a visit.
What are you afraid of?”
“I have no grudges against them either,” he responded innocently and wronged.
“Now everyone in the martial arts world is discussing Mu Shijing.
If this continues, little junior brother will be overshadowed again,” his senior siblings said with anxiety.
“Master has said that still waters run deep, and all things can begin to develop from the smallest of seeds.
Why must we fight over a momentary thing…” he said with a blush, and they surrounded him.
He then ran away to the mountains and forests for three days before returning, trembling.
When he saw his senior siblings again, they were all very worried.
His three-day disappearance had frightened them.
They gathered around him and promised never to force him to do anything again.
Lin Shouxi looked at the earnest crowd and said, “You don’t have to be so concerned about me.”
“How can we not be concerned? You’re our sect’s last hope,” they said in earnest.
“Last hope? Am I really…?” Lin Shouxi asked, surprised.
“If not you, then who? Little junior brother, you must never say such pessimistic words again,” they replied, determined to boost his morale.
Me, the Demon Gate’s last hope…
Lin Shouxi’s expression became distant.
Some last hope, he thought.
When the time had come for him to face the flooding tides, he realized that he was even weaker than he had imagined.
During the Tao Gate’s siege on Black Cliff, only a handful of people had managed to escape, while the rest were captured and imprisoned.
Though the Tao Gate, claiming to be a righteous sect, did not slaughter everyone, the lives of his captured sect members were not likely to be any better.
Perhaps they were still waiting for their youngest to save them.
Lin Shouxi felt his injured body and couldn’t help but sigh.
There was nothing he could do for them right now.
“If you can’t cultivate, don’t pretend to.
There’s no need to put on a show,” Wang Erguan said, gloating at his difficulties after hearing him sigh.
As Lin Shouxi cast a dispassionate glance towards him, Wang Erguan felt as though he was being pinned by needles.
Despite the calm and unremarkable appearance of the gaze, he was so frightened that he couldn’t move a muscle.
“You’re right,” Lin Shouxi said after a brief pause.
Rising from his seated position, he strode purposefully out of the courtyard.
Wang Erguan let out a sigh of relief, grateful that the tense moment had passed.
He waited until Lin Shouxi was out of sight before he touched his throat, still feeling the lingering sensation of fear.
Strange…he was just a disabled man, injured to the point of being unable to cultivate.
Why did I feel that way? Perhaps it was just a temporary setback in my cultivation… Wang Erguan, you’re going to be the third young master soon.
You can’t be so timid that anything can scare you.
He glanced at Ji Luoyang and saw that he was looking at him with a mocking smile.
“What are you laughing at? Don’t think I can’t see it.
Your true energy circulation is far from smooth, much worse than mine,” Wang Erguan said proudly.
“How about we fight and see?” Ji Luoyang’s smile remained.
Wang Erguan looked him up and down, feeling like he had some kind of advantage.
“Forget it, it wouldn’t be good to explain to Perfected Yun if I cripple you.” Wang Erguan sat down sullenly, determined to cultivate until he could defeat Ji Luoyang.
Ji Luoyang shook his head and glanced at Xiao He, whose true energy was flowing steadily, without any particular problems.
Outside the courtyard, Lin Shouxi stood on a secluded cliff and looked into the distance.
His gaze passed through the thick fog and could vaguely see the dried-up lake.
The lake looked like a desolate canyon, vast and indistinct, with huge white mist surging up from the lake bed, as if a dying giant beast was breathing under the mud.
The courtyard was built on the wall of the lake and was located around the middle of the mountain, now that the lake water had receded.
There were strange shells attached to the rock walls and chaotic algae hanging from them, emitting a stench.
In a white Taoist robe, Lin Shouxi sat down on the edge of the cliff and meditated for a long time.
After coming back to his senses, he casually picked up a tree branch.
Although his true energy could not circulate, the moves of the White Pupil Black Phoenix Sword Scripture had long been engraved in his bones.
He gestured with the branch a few times and suddenly remembered something.
Previously, aside from the River Luo Inscription and the Black Scale, he always felt like he was missing something.
Now he finally remembered that he was missing a sword.
He clearly remembered that he was holding a sword before he lost consciousness.
It was, ‘Death’s Proof’, the sword his master had given him.
Where had it gone? Had Perfected Yun taken it?
“So you’re here,” a girl’s voice came from behind him, interrupting his thoughts.
Lin Shouxi turned around and saw Xiao He walking towards him, her skirt held up in her hands.
“How did you find me?” Lin Shouxi asked.
“I told you, you have a distinct smell,” Xiao He said, pursing her lips.
“I smell?” Lin Shouxi sniffed himself.
“No, it’s just a feeling, uh…I can’t really explain it.” Xiao He lifted a hand to cover her windblown hair.
Lin Shouxi thought to himself that perhaps this was what his senior brother meant when he said that a woman’s intuition could transcend the five senses.
As he pondered this, he nodded absentmindedly, his gaze once again drawn to Xiao He’s hair.
He found himself increasingly captivated by it the more he looked at it
Bathed in different lighting, the white hue of her long tresses exhibited slight variations, but all were gentle and tranquil, and beautifully long.
“Why do you keep looking at my hair?” Xiao He felt a bit embarrassed.
As a newcomer to this world, Lin Shouxi didn’t want to give her the impression that he was too inexperienced, so he lied with a straight face, “I’m taller than you, so when I look down, I can only see your hair.”
“Oh,” Xiao He frowned slightly, seeming displeased.
She stared at Lin Shouxi, her lips moving but not saying anything.
“What’s wrong? Do you have something else to say?” Lin Shouxi asked, sensing her hesitation.
The cliff wind blew her skirt endlessly, and the endless mist drifted between them.
Her snow-white hair was curled up, and her cheeks were delicately carved and beautiful beyond measure.
For a long time, she stared at Lin Shouxi, gathering the courage to ask, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
Lin Shouxi was completely stunned.
He wasn’t stupid and could sense the undertones in her words.
But they had only known each other for a day.
Even if he had feelings for her, it wasn’t appropriate to be so direct.
Besides, although she was as beautiful as an elf, he really didn’t have any other thoughts.
He now bore deep hatred and anger, and was trapped between life and death.
How could he have the leisure to think about unrealistic romances?
He just wanted to practice and train well, uncover the thick fog of this world, and expel the demons and monsters lurking in the darkness!
Moreover… he didn’t know anything about the other person.
Were all the girls in this world so proactive? Or did she have some ulterior motives?
Lin Shouxi felt that he was alone, apart from his skin and this “smell” she mentioned, there was nothing else about him worth pursuing.
“Is this question difficult? Why are you taking so long to answer?” the girl tilted her head slightly and asked.
“I just don’t understand why you’re asking this,” Lin Shouxi said.
“I… my aunt taught me to ask like this,” the girl hesitated and said.
“Your aunt?” Lin Shouxi asked.
“Uh, anyway, just answer the question,” Xiao He said firmly.
Lin Shouxi didn’t want to continue to be evasive since she was insistent.
He didn’t like telling unnecessary lies.
He planned to sincerely compliment the other person’s appearance, but as soon as he opened his mouth, a gust of cold wind swept past them, and his words of praise were stuck in his throat.
“What are you doing here?” Perfected Yun emerged from the thick fog at the edge of the cliff, carrying a wooden sword.
“We… ” Lin Shouxi was about to make up an excuse.
“Enough, don’t try to deceive me.” Perfected Yun coldly interrupted, “If there’s nothing else, go back.
I don’t care if you have romantic feelings for each other, but if you dare to lose your virginity, you will die without a doubt.”
Lin Shouxi and Xiao He exchanged a glance, and replied with a “we understand” before following Perfected Yun back to the courtyard.
Wang Erguan and Ji Luoyang rose and saluted when they saw Perfected Yun.
Perfected Yun came to inspect their progress in cultivation today.
He had already checked on Wang Erguan, Ji Luoyang, and Xiao He, and nodded slightly in satisfaction.
“No wonder Lord Protector chose you as his disciples.
Your speed of progress is enough to make most geniuses feel ashamed,” Perfected Yun said.
But when he came to Lin Shouxi, he frowned.
“Although you accidentally fell from the god’s altar, did Lord Protector forget to open your spirit veins because of that?” Perfected Yun frowned.
“It’s not that.
It’s because my injuries are too severe.” Lin Shouxi said.
Perfected Yun placed his hand on Lin Shouxi’s shoulder, and after a slight sense, his brows furrowed even more tightly.
“Are you not in pain with such injuries?” Perfected Yun asked.
“I am in pain.” Lin Shouxi said.
Perfected Yun stared at him for a while, and he suddenly had a desire to open his right eye.
But of course, he wouldn’t do it just for a boy.
“Your willpower is good, but it’s a pity….” Perfected Yun sighed indifferently.
“In this world, there are countless cultivators like you who have strong willpower but are unable to achieve anything.
So don’t feel too bad.”
“I will take good care of my injury.” Lin Shouxi said.
“No need.” Perfected Yun said lightly, “There two young masters and young lady can only take one person with them to inherit the divine power.
If you are a waste, it saves me the effort of having to choose who among you will go.”
Perfected Yun no longer looked at Lin Shouxi.
He looked at the other three and said, “Practice well.
I will test you in three days.
This test is very important, don’t disappoint me.”
Then Perfected Yun disappeared once again.
After a few hours, an old woman with a cane walked in and placed the food she brought on the table.
The young men and women, who had endured a whole day without food or water, suddenly realized their hunger and quickly grabbed their share of the food.
After dinner, the sky quickly turned dark.
Lin Shouxi sat on the veranda, following the River Luo Inscription’s breathing method to heal his wounds.
Today, Wang Erguan was particularly excited.
He didn’t feel sleepy at all, so he put on his white Taoist robe and went to the courtyard to practice his family’s boxing style, his movements fierce and powerful.
However, Lin Shouxi, noticing many flaws in his moves, shook his head unconsciously.
Wang Erguan observed Lin Shouxi’s head-shaking motion and surmised that the Perfected One’s words had disheartened him.
Wang Erguan felt that by showcasing his superior boxing technique, he had inadvertently reminded Lin Shouxi of his own predicament, causing him to feel hopeless.
Wang Erguan shook his head and let out a deep sigh.
He had initially believed that Lin Shouxi’s striking good looks hinted at some exceptional abilities or hidden talents.
However, now that Perfected Yun had labeled him a “waste”, Wang Erguan saw no reason to worry about him.
With the psychological advantage and a sense of superiority, he said, “Brother Lin, life is full of trials and tribulations.
Do not be disheartened.
Who knows, perhaps you will encounter some opportunities.
Once you have recovered, I will teach you a set of martial arts as a token of our chance encounter.”
“No need,” Lin Shouxi replied, feeling like Wang Erguan had misunderstood something again.
Wang Erguan’s sudden generosity disappeared without a trace.
He grumbled, “You don’t know what’s good for you.” Then, he fiercely performed several sets of boxing techniques before resting for a while, satisfied.
“Brother Lin, don’t you feel uncomfortable wearing these tattered clothes?” Wang Erguan shook his Taoist robe and complained.
These were the clothes that Perfected Yun had issued to them.
“I think they fit well,” said Lin Shouxi, who had never had many demands when it came to food or clothing.
Wang Erguan saw an opportunity to flaunt his wealth and seized it.
“Hmph, I think you’re just used to wearing them,” he scoffed.
“In Wangye City, I wore only the finest satin and silk.
They were impervious to water and fire, and even demons and monsters couldn’t come near them.
Even our servants don’t wear such coarse cloth like this.
It’s like wearing mourning clothes.”
“Aren’t you in mourning right now?” Lin Shouxi said calmly.
Wang Erguan’s obese body trembled as the gruesome image of Wang Ji’s death flashed through his mind like a nightmare.
He shuddered and swallowed the rest of his complaints back into his bloated stomach.
He glared at Lin Shouxi with anger, his thoughts on boxing forgotten, and turned silently to go back to his room.
Before he closed the door, he couldn’t resist a parting shot: “Wishful thinking won’t do you any good.
Go to bed early, maybe you’ll have a good dream by some miracle.”
The door slammed shut.
The rain had ceased, but the eaves continued to drip.
Lin Shouxi lifted his gaze.
This world, too, had a moon.
Its radiance was exquisite and untainted, like the slender threads of fiber that were as fine as a maiden’s hair.
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