The next day, the Celestial Court secretly issued a document instructing all levels of government offices to closely monitor households that dote on their children the most.
The order was quickly delivered to counties and villages, down to every household.
An invisible web was slowly spreading.
At noon, the snow was still falling.
Huang Rang was pushed into the Main hall, with a warming basin nearby. Outside the courtyard, heavy snowflakes were swirling, and Di Yiqiu stood under the eaves with his hands behind his back. Huang Rang could only see his back, tall and straight, giving a sense of the snow outside the courtyard being poetic and the person under the eaves being picturesque.
In the courtyard, Bao Wu was leading a group of people in shoveling snow. He had his bare chest exposed, working vigorously. Someone under his command complained, “Deputy Chief, why did you make us shovel snow as soon as the Chief returned? Did you say something wrong in front of him again?”
“Nonsense!” Bao Wu’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s obvious that the Chie is sympathizing with our hard work, which is why he assigned us the task of shoveling snow as a reward. Isn’t that right, Chief?”
He turned his head to ask Di Yiqiu, but Di Yiqiu ignored him.
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Fweeldzu, psxlsdl bwaaklezu yrrasynble qasx swvpkel. Mbl rlsrzl clzso yzz lmnzykxle, “Zswdt Yypvla Hsdt!”
Twydt Sydt’p tygl oyp qkmle sd vbl nldvayz nswavuyae, oyvnbkdt vbkp rlapsd yrrasynb. Fbl jdlo vbyv vbkp rlapsd xwpv cl Hsdt Hkqw, vbl Plrwvu Ubklq sq vbl Jzynj Msavskpl Jwalyw. Gqvla yzz, yxsdt vbl qswa Plrwvu nbklqp, bl oyp vbl sdzu sdl obs byed’v pbsod bkp qynl ulv. Fwal ldswtb, bl oyzjle cakpjzu vs vbl lyhlp yde csole vs Pk Zkikw, pyukdt, “Hkqw ryup alprlnvp vs vbl Ubklq.”
Pk Zkikw xyel y pswde sq ynjdsozletlxldv yde ypjle, “Tso eke kv ts?”
Hsdt Hkqw alrzkle, “Ykys Zwdgbk byp clld vayhlzkdt swvpkel qsa xydu eyup yde sdzu alvwadle vs Ebkvl Jsdl Uzkqq vseyu. Tsolhla, vbkp sze xyd byp y hlau rlnwzkya vlxrla. Zswa pwcsaekdyvl eked’v lhld tlv vs pll bkp qynl; bl fwpv pnszele xl qasx clbkde vbl nzsple essa.”
Gb, kv pllxp bl oyp pldv cu Pk Zkikw vs Ebkvl Jsdl Uzkqq vs jllr oyvnb sd Ykys Zwdgbk.
Twydt Sydt bye plld Ykys Zwdgbk clqsal. Tl zkhle yv Ebkvl Jsdl Uzkqq yde oyp alnstdkgle yp y zlyekdt qktwal kd vbl xleknyz qklze cu vbl Rxxsavyz Flnv. Jsvb Fbk Elduw yde Dkl Nkdtck bye vakle vs okd bkx shla, cwv bl alxykdle kdekqqlaldv, yde vbl vos bye ds nbsknl cwv vs tkhl wr.
Ebyv eke Pk Zkikw oydv okvb bkx?
Hsdt Hkqw oyp lhkeldvzu iwkvl wrplv. Usxkdt qasx y pnbszyazu cynjtaswde, bl bye tykdle y nsdpkelayczl alrwvyvksd yxsdt pnbszyap. Gqvla fskdkdt vbl Ulzlpvkyz Uswav, bl clnyxl vbl Plrwvu Ubklq sq vbl Jzynj Msavskpl Jwalyw, lyadkdt bkx vbl vkvzl sq “Tyzq Mlynbla sq vbl Slyzx.”
With a fair complexion and a neatly trimmed goatee, he appeared highly refined and scholarly. The fact that he was so visibly angry indicated that he had truly been wronged.
Di Yiqiu said, “It’s alright; I will personally go and meet him.”
Zong Zifu hesitated to speak, but after a moment, he said, “I’m afraid that even if the Chief goes, he might not be convinced. Today, not only did he scold this subordinate, but even His Majesty.”
He didn’t continue speaking, as saying anything further would be highly disrespectful.
Di Yiqiu understood the unspoken words and said, “That’s just his nature; we need not mind.”
Having said that, he turned and approached Huang Rang. She was sitting by the warming basin, dressed in a white dress with a fluffy white fox fur collar draped over her shoulders. Around the edge of the fur collar were pearl tassels.
Today, he had styled her hair in an elaborate updo, adorned with a silver flower with gemstone inlays. Around the flower were delicate gemstones, resembling stars, and to complement it, she wore a silk flower with a yellow stamen and white petals on her ring finger. A fine pearl chain connected the silk flower to a silver-threaded pearl bracelet on her wrist.
Combined with her meticulously manicured nails, she looked absolutely perfect. Of course, this entire outfit was a result of the favors bestowed upon her by Di Yiqiu the previous day.
Huang Rang felt warmth radiating throughout her body, and her cheeks were rosy and radiant, exuding an indescribable allure. Di Yiqiu brought a blanket and placed it over her legs, saying, “Today, we are going to meet someone.”
Were they going to meet Miao Yunzhi? Huang Rang didn’t particularly care. At most, she would just be facing rejection. Her current circumstances were such that she remained unaffected and unyielding even when facing imminent disaster. She felt no fear whatsoever.
White Bone Cliff didn’t have its name originally.
It was only later, when Miao Yunzhi established his sect here and people praised him as the “Living Dead” and the “Flesh and White Bone,” that the name came into existence. However, after many years, the unexplained nature of the place made some perceive it as eerie.
Miao Yunzhi had a fondness for traveling, and now that news of his return had spread, the area below White Bone Cliff was already filled with patients seeking medical treatment.
Of course, Miao Yunzhi wasn’t one to easily diagnose others. As a result, the people could only wait at the foot of the cliff. Even if they were fortunate enough to be seen by one of his disciples, it would be considered a stroke of luck.
When Di Yiqiu and Huang Rang arrived, even Huang Rang was taken aback—the area below the cliff was packed with people.
Several medicine boys guarded the path leading up the cliff, wearing cold expressions and a demeanor that discouraged strangers from approaching. Huang Rang sat in her wheelchair, surrounded by the agonizing cries of the dying, as if all the suffering in the world had gathered in this place.
Di Yiqiu approached the medicine boys and said, “I request an audience with Senior Miao.”
The medicine boys paid no attention to who he was and impatiently replied, “Master isn’t seeing patients today, so leave. Staying here is pointless!”
Di Yiqiu’s expression turned serious, and his voice grew louder: “I didn’t come here today for a consultation. I have come to settle an old debt with Senior Miao. How can a senior like him, who is revered in the medical field, owe a debt and avoid meeting to resolve it?”
The medicine boys regarded him as if he were a madman. “Our master owes you an old debt? Let me tell you, my master has a terrible temper. If you’re talking nonsense, you’ll end up dead!”
Di Yiqiu waved his sleeve, and a business card flew out, landing directly in the hands of one of the medicine boys. He said in a stern voice, “Stop the nonsense and go inform him immediately!”
The medicine boy took the business card and grudgingly ascended the mountain cliff.
Huang Rang couldn’t bear to watch—Miao Yunzhi was not someone to be provoked.
Sure enough, after a moment, a thunderous roar echoed from the top of the cliff: “Who is spouting nonsense out there?”
There was a commotion among the people below the cliff as they rushed forward. However, the medicine boys remained calm and unaffected, taking out medicinal powder and drawing a boundary on the ground. Instantly, everyone refrained from crossing the line.
An old man descended from the cliff, appearing like a divine being. He stared at Di Yiqiu, causing even his white beard to flutter. “You little brat, don’t think you can blabber nonsense just because you have the backing of Shi Wenyu. If you dare to speak nonsense today, you’ll end up like her!” He pointed at Huang Rang and said, “You’ll leave with two legs less, sitting in a wheelchair to go back! That way, Shi Wenyu can teach you once again how to speak!”
… It seems he knew Di Yiqiu’s identity all along, yet he didn’t hold back from angrily berating him, showing no mercy.
Surprisingly,Di Yiqiu remained unfazed and said, “Since I made my intentions clear, there must be a reason. Would Senior like to hear it here?”
Miao Yunzhi glanced down at the crowd below the cliff, realizing that it would be inconvenient to speak amidst the onlookers. He waved his hand and said, “Come up and speak.”
Di Yiqiu helped Huang Rang up and followed Miao Yunzhi up the path, soon arriving at White Bone Cliff. The first thing that caught their eyes was a field of medicinal plants, emitting a refreshing fragrance that revitalized the spirit.
Miao Yunzhi, dressed in a Confucian robe with wide sleeves, appeared exceptionally elegant. When he remained silent, he exuded an air of otherworldly wisdom.
“You can now test whether your legs can be preserved!” he exclaimed, crossing his arms with a cold snort.
Huang Rang’s heart trembled, realizing that the old man was very serious. She started worrying about Di Yiqiu’s legs. If he lost his legs, with two wheelchairs, she didn’t know who would push whom.
Behind her, Di Yiqiu spoke: “Over a hundred years ago, Senior traveled to the capital. The current emperor greatly admires Senior’s reputation and seeks an audience with you.” His voice was as clear as a flowing stream.
“The current emperor… Shi Wenyu? Hmph, it seems there is such a thing.” Miao Yunzhi replied, followed by a look of disdain and mockery. “That old man, Shi Wenyu, lacks both innate talent for cultivation and endurance for the hardships of cultivation. Are mortals dreaming if they aspire for immortality?!”
Di Yiqiu’s voice carried a hint of coldness. “Senior laughed at that moment and said that mortals all have their destinies, while exotic beasts can live for a thousand years. It is rumored that in the world, the venomous snake has boundless longevity. If the emperor desires immortality, why not use the blood of the venomous snake to reshape his flesh and prolong his life?”
The mocking expression gradually faded from Miao Yunzhi’s face. He frowned and said, “That was nothing but a joke. Couldn’t that old man tell that I was mocking him? Furthermore, while venomous snakes may live long lives, how can mere mortals withstand the toxicity within their blood?”
Huang Rang was unaware of this matter and listened attentively. Di Yiqiu’s hand pressed on her shoulder, gradually tightening his grip. He whispered softly, “After Senior made those remarks, the current emperor ordered a search spanning thousands of miles and finally found a venomous snake.”
“He… He… Could it be…” Miao Yunzhi’s expression changed to one of alarm.
“Under the current emperor’s rule, there were once over a hundred and eighty princes and princesses. He ordered their blood to be drawn and replaced with the blood of the venomous snake,” Prime Minister Yi calmly explained.
What kind of pain would ordinary people endure after being injected with the blood of such a venomous exotic beast? Miao Yunzhi’s voice changed: “Injecting living people with viper snake blood?”
Di Yiqiu continued, “Within a span of ten years, more than half of these 180 people have perished. Another ten years passed, and only ten remained. Among those ten, nine fear light and heat, transforming into half-serpents and experiencing madness and loss of sanity, neither human nor ghost. Only one person still manages to wear human skin, but… it won’t last much longer.”
Finishing his words, he extended his right hand and slowly rolled up his sleeve. Huang Rang saw that his entire right arm was covered in dense, green snake scales!
“And this person stands before you, Senior.” Di Yiqiu spoke calmly, as if these blood-drenched facts had nothing to do with him. He asked Miao Yunzhi, “Senior, renowned for your righteousness, known as the Lord of Medicine, you have saved countless lives throughout your life. If it weren’t for your words back then, would the emperor have taken it seriously?”
Huang Rang was speechless, unable to process her thoughts. This was a century of bloodshed for the dynasty. Misfortune for the common people, calamity for the royal family
In front of them, all of Miao Yunzhi’s anger was suppressed.
He had never witnessed these events firsthand, but he knew how terrifying they were. The present-day Di Yiqiu was already the Chief of the Celestial Court, representing the imperial court’s status among the Immortal Sect. He spoke eloquently and walked with composure. But how desperate and helpless was he in the fifth year of Chengyuan?
“A slip of the tongue.” Miao Yunzhi approached, raising Di Yiqiu’s right arm and examining it carefully. After a while, he sighed, “A slip of the tongue, indeed.”
Di Yiqiu withdrew his arm and lowered his sleeve, saying, “Since then, the emperor has used our blood to nourish himself, believing he has found the path to immortality and becoming even more obsessed with power. Every year, a large amount of money is spent refining the Elixir of Immortality. Over 180 of my brothers and sisters have endured the turmoil of the dynasty for over a century, yet your words have brushed it all aside.”
Miao Yunzhi let out a long sigh and said, “Today, you have come to seek a cure for your blood poison.”
He raised Di Yiqiu’s arm again, carefully examining it, and said, “Enter inside.”
However, Di Yiqiu gently lifted his robe, knelt on both knees, and bowed, “I have indeed come here to seek something from you, Senior.” He pressed his forehead to the ground, solemnly kowtowing to Miao Yunzhi, “My friend Huang Rang is afflicted with the Soul-Binding Bone Needle. I beg Senior to save her!”
Ah… He was not actually seeking medical assistance for himself.
Huang Rang saw him kneeling amidst the weeds and gravel, and a feeling of indebtedness without any means of repayment overwhelmed her.
Why… she racked her brains but couldn’t recall any connection between the two of them. Over a hundred years ago, there was a proposal for marriage, which she decisively rejected. Since then, they have had no further interactions.
Now he earnestly sought medical treatment, not to rid himself of the snake venom but to help a random woman he barely knew.
If it were for old feelings, it would be too absurd.
It truly puzzled her.
Miao Yunzhi was clearly taken aback as well. His gaze fell upon Huang Rang, and she stared back at him. Of course, Huang Rang desired to be cured; it drove her to madness. But didn’t Di Yiqiu want to be freed from the torment of the blood poison as well?
Where did she merit his actions?
“Come inside first.” Miao Yunzhi turned around, leading the way. Di Yiqiu stood up and brushed off the dust from his clothes. He then gently lifted Huang Rang again, patting her shoulder in reassurance.
He was behind her, and Huang Rang couldn’t see his face.
All she knew was that in the fifth year of Chengyuan, she rejected Di Yiqiu’s marriage proposal and married Xie Hongchen in the early winter, becoming the wife of the Sect Master of the Immortal Sect. As for Di Yiqiu that year, he was injected with the blood of the viper snake, witnessing the tragic deaths of his brothers and sisters before his eyes.
The young man of that time had blurred into a shadow. Huang Rang couldn’t even remember his face from back then.
And a hundred years later, he mentioned the past so casually in front of her, as if it held little significance.