Leaving the clever-tongued pavilion, Di Yiqiu returned to the Black Tortoise Bureau with Huang Rang.
At this time, it was already getting late. The topics discussed by the tea stalls and street vendors had all become strange dreams from the previous night. Clearly, people had noticed something unusual. However, the dream came suddenly, and its scope was too wide. People argued and discussed, but they couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
However, one person faintly sensed the key!
Yuhu immortal sect.
As soon as Xie Hongchen woke up from his dream, he immediately realized something was wrong. His eyes stung from being sensitive to light, and he saw blood flowing. When he opened his eyes, he even thought he was still in the dream. It was only when he saw the surrounding furnishings that he suddenly reacted—it was unmistakably a dream from ten years ago.
The discomfort in his eyes prompted him to immediately check his cultivation. After all, in the dream, not only were his eyes injured, but his cultivation was completely lost! And with this probing, Xie Hongchen became even more shocked—his cultivation had decreased by thirty percent.
Recalling everything in the dream, Xie Hongchen naturally attributed the root cause to one person—Huang Rang.
Thinking of this name again, Xie Hongchen couldn’t distinguish whether the slight pain came from his eyes or his heart. But he didn’t have much time for reminiscing. After leaving the Yeyun Hall, the most urgent matter was, naturally, to find Xie Lingbi.
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At this time, the Luofu Hall of Dark Thunder Peak opened.
Xie Lingbi’s voice came, “Come in.”
Xie Hongchen knew something was amiss and didn’t forget to close the hall doors after entering. Xie Lingbi’s face was pale and covered in sweat. In these years, he hadn’t been paying much attention, living leisurely. It had been a long time since he had appeared so disheveled.
His sweat soaked his clothes, wetting his hair against his forehead. He was breathing heavily, as if he hadn’t fully recovered from that nightmare.
Xie Hongchen’s heart sank, and he said, “It seems that Master also had a nightmare.”
Xie Lingbi couldn’t care less about being surprised. He said, “Did you also dream about what that scoundrel Xie Yuanshu did?” At this point, he suddenly remembered something and said, “You were injured in the dream too! Your eyes…”
Xie Hongchen removed the gauze from his eyes, and in the candlelight, Xie Lingbi finally saw his eyes. At this moment, Xie Hongchen slightly turned his body, intentionally avoiding the direct light of the candle. However, the blood vessels in his eyes were entangled, making his eyes bloodshot.
“Come here!” Xie Lingbi beckoned.
Xie Hongchen stepped forward, and Xie Lingbi carefully examined him, saying, “No external injuries. Can you still see things?”
“Yes, but I’m sensitive to light and wind, and it stings. I easily tear up,” Xie Hongchen said, remaining relatively calm. He paused and continued, “My cultivation is less than seventy percent. How about Master?”
Xie Lingbi’s anger was almost about to burst out from the top of his head. “No different from you,” he said.
Losing thirty percent of his cultivation for no apparent reason was an extremely heavy blow for someone with his level of cultivation. What was even more infuriating was the lack of understanding regarding the cause.
Xie Hongchen remained much calmer and asked, “I remember in the dream that Master was hit by the Soul-Locking Bone-Setting Needle. Does the injury have any effect?”
Xie Lingbi was taken aback, and he instinctively reached out to touch his lower back, but then he quickly froze—he felt numbness in his lower back. He had no sensation there. Seeing his expression, Xie Hongchen knew that things were not looking good.
Indeed, Xie Lingbi stood up and took a few slow steps.
After a long while, he said in a deep voice, “There’s no sensation in the waist and abdomen area.”
For a practitioner whose cultivation involved the flow of internal energy throughout the body, such an injury was a hidden sign of illness, waiting to erupt at an unknown time. Under extreme anger, Xie Lingbi regained some rationality. He asked, “This matter is suspicious, as if someone is targeting both of us!”
Xie Hongchen lowered his gaze. He certainly knew who it was.
In the dream, Huang Rang tearfully recounted her own dream to him.
At the time, Xie Hongchen found it absurd. How could she do such unreasonable things because of a dream? He had always believed that Huang Rang had fallen into a state of confusion and was trapped in a delusion.
But what if what she said was true?
What if she really was struck by the Soul-Locking Bone-Setting Needle and trapped in Dark Thunder Peak for ten years?
Xie Lingbi raised his head, about to mention Huang Rang’s matter. However, outside the Luofu Hall, a disciple reported, “Elder ancestor, Master, the Eldest Young Master is seriously injured and bedridden. He can’t come here!”
Xie Lingbi was greatly shocked, only then remembering the outcome of Xie Yuanshu’s dream. Although he was unable to move in Dark Thunder Peak in the dream, he could clearly hear the discussions of the disciples outside the hall.
Xie Yuanshu had attempted to establish himself as the sect master but was besieged and killed by Di Yiqiu, He Xijin, and others.
Considering his current injuries, they are likely much more severe.
Xie Hongchen was also taken aback and said, “He is probably seriously injured. Master, you should go and check on him.”
“That wretched scoundrel!” Xie Lingbi cursed loudly: “If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be in this situation!”
Xie Hongchen could only persuade, “Elder Brother acted foolishly for a moment, but after all, he is Master’s own flesh and blood. From what I see, he was also manipulated by someone.”
“Manipulated?!” Xie Lingbi furrowed his brow, and he immediately thought of one person—Huang Rang. Could that despicable maid be behind this? It couldn’t be possible. She was struck by the Soul-Locking Bone-Setting Needle, and no one in the sect could remove that needle.
Who could save her?
Xie Lingbi quickly dismissed this suspicion and said, “I will go and check the outer sect.”
Xie Hongchen accompanied him out of Dark Thunder Peak, watching him descend the mountain, but he himself did not leave. The Luofu Hall was silent, and Xie Hongchen stared at the deepest part of Dark Thunder Peak, which extended deep into the mountainside, never seeing the light of day.
In the dream, Huang Rang’s voice echoed in his ears, rising and falling.
“Hongchen, I had a dream. In the dream, I was subjected to the punishment of the Soul-Locking Bone-Setting Needle and imprisoned in the deepest secret chamber of Dark Thunder Peak. I couldn’t speak, nor could I move. I could only day and night recite your name, begging you to find me.”
“There are many others imprisoned with me. They are all as quiet as me, never making a sound. It’s especially dark there, with only occasional flickers of light from the symbols of the array. Just that tiny bit of light. Rats gnaw at us, and centipedes and ants crawl over our faces. Their wounds are rotting, and their noses are filled with maggots.”
Xie Hongchen’s steps faltered as he walked towards the deepest part of the Luofu Hall.
As the sect master, he naturally knew what lay within the depths of this mountain. Since the establishment of the Yuhu Immortal Sect, there has been a supreme disciplinary instrument—the Soul-Locking Bone-Setting Needle. This instrument consisted of two needles: the Soul-Locking and Bone-Setting needles. If it pierced the skull, it would render a person in a state similar to a living corpse. Until now, no one has been able to remove this punishment. If one forcibly removed the needle, the culprit would turn to ashes, completely obliterated.
Over the years, all the evildoers who fell into the hands of the Yuhu Immortal Sect were subjected to this punishment and imprisoned in the depths of the Luofu Hall.
Xie Hongchen walked through a long corridor, hearing the person’s words filled with sorrow and pain.
—”At the beginning, I still had hope. I kept recalling our past over and over again. I thought that no matter what, even if a woman you knew disappeared, you would at least search for her. Emerald Peak and Dark Thunder Peak are just a stone’s throw away from each other. I believed that, as the esteemed sect master, it wouldn’t be too difficult for you to find me. I recorded time with flickering symbol lights, as you told me. Each flicker of light represented a breath. I counted them meticulously, not daring to make a mistake, for an entire year.”
Xie Hongchen quickened his pace, and in the dark corridor, there was only a faint flicker of symbols that disappeared in an instant.
Each flicker of light represented a breath. Did I ever say those words to you? Xie Hongchen exhausted his memory but couldn’t recall those exact phrases. His time with Huang Rang was actually quite limited, mostly spent on the Qilu Terrace.
In countless fragments of memory, their time together seemed like a repetition of a single page.
He couldn’t find those subtle differences.
“The second year, I can’t remember the time anymore. Rats ran over my head, and I was too scared to continue counting. At that time, I slowly realized that you wouldn’t come. Even if it was just across a mountain, you wouldn’t come. You wouldn’t offend your master for me. Actually, I shouldn’t resent it. I know you despise me.”
Xie Hongchen arrived in front of a stone door and reached out to open it.
The stone door creaked open, as if unveiling a segment of buried history. Inside the secret chamber stood rows upon rows of people, their expressions vacant and hollow. Xie Hongchen walked slowly past them, their bodies covered in dust, making it impossible to discern their true appearance.
Their clothing was also indistinguishable in color.
So many people almost filled the entire mountainside, yet it was eerily silent here.
Only faint symbol lights flickered irregularly. Xie Hongchen carefully observed them—the former heinous criminals who were now like lifeless puppets. Sometimes, their eyes slowly turned and looked in this direction, emanating a terrifying and eerie feeling.
Of course, Xie Hongchen felt no fear. He maneuvered among them and finally stopped in a corner.
There was once someone standing here, and there were footprints and scattered dust on the ground.
Xie Hongchen bent down and closely examined the footprint.
Undoubtedly, it belonged to a woman.
He lifted his head and saw that the person opposite him had their nose and ears completely devoured by something. Their wounds had decayed, emitting a foul smell. Maggots wriggled and rolled out of the wounds.
“I married you for a hundred years, enjoying the glory of being the sect master’s wife. You have given me what I sought. I told myself I shouldn’t hate you. But with you as my only husband, who has wholeheartedly served you for a hundred years, I still thought I could rely on you.”
Xie Hongchen stood in that corner for a long, long time.
“Huang Rang.” He softly called out her name, and the echo reverberated on the mountainside, layered and distant. Xie Hongchen closed his eyes, feeling the room fill with dust and lifelessness.
From here to Emerald Peak, it was only a few miles away. With his speed, he could reach it in an instant.
But he was ten years too late.