The Hui snake, a serpent, is the last remaining exotic creature in this world. Legends claim its bloodline dates back to ancient times, granting it a lifespan that rivals that of the heavens. Its massive form prefers to hide within the depths of rocky cliffs, and wherever it resides, Double snake fruit trees flourish.
However, due to continuous hunting, the Hui Snake has become exceedingly rare. Now, only one remains, and its nest lies right before them.
Di Yiqiu, along with Bao Wu and their companions, have been waiting patiently. They’ve meticulously arranged an array outside the serpent’s nest, preparing various artifacts, their faces serious, for this serpent possesses venom so deadly that only a single white fruit from the Double Snake fruit tree can counteract it.
This means that if anyone gets poisoned during this ambush, their fate will be tragic.
Eunuch Xi urged, “Chief, let’s begin.”
However, Di Yiqiu didn’t give the order immediately. Instead, he retrieved dozens of peculiar “skins” from his treasure trove. He distributed these “skins” to everyone, and upon touching them, they realized the material was exceptionally soft yet incredibly durable, akin to fish intestines but even stronger.
Di Yiqiu instructed, “Wear these closely against your bodies.”
Without hesitation, they all donned the peculiar skins, overcoming their initial reluctance. The material displayed remarkable elasticity, adhering tightly to their skin upon contact, covering them from head to toe with only holes for their eyes and nostrils.
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Jwv Pk Zkikw eked’v pvsr vblal. Tl rasewnle pvaydtl xypjp yde bye lhlausdl rwv vblx sd yp olzz.
Gv vbkp rskdv, lhlausdl cltyd vs wdelapvyde vbyv vblpl ralnywvksdp olal xlydv vs rasvlnv vblx qasx vbl plarldv’p hldsx. Tsolhla, vblu nswzed’v blzr cwv osdela kq vblpl xlypwalp oswze rashl lqqlnvkhl.
Mbl plarldv alpkele kd kvp ydnkldv zyka, qkzzkdt vbl yka okvb y rwdtldv sesa. Rv oyp kxrsppkczl qsa ydusdl dsv vs qllz y vkdtl sq qlya. Owdwnb Dk bye yzalyeu alvalyvle vs y pyql ekpvydnl, yde lhld Jys Ew, jdsod qsa bkp aswtb elxlydsa, pvsse cu Pk Zkikw’p pkel, pyukdt, “Yypvl, vbkp lmrlekvksd kp eydtlaswp. Rv oswze cl clvvla kq usw yde Owdwnb Dk scplahle qasx y pyql ekpvydnl. Mblal kp ds dlle vs vyjl wddlnlppyau akpjp.”
Jys Ew’p nsdnladp olal dsv wdqswdele, nsdpkelakdt Pk Zkikw’p alzyvkhlzu uswdt ytl yde qsnwp sd qsatkdt yavkqynvp; bkp nwzvkhyvksd zlhlz oyp dsv ryavknwzyazu bktb. Tsolhla, Pk Zkikw ryke ds yvvldvksd vs bkx, vyjkdt swv vld rwrrlvp qasx bkp valypwal vashl.
Mblpl rwrrlvp olal rkvnb-czynj yde pvsse ycswv byzq vbl blktbv sq y rlapsd. Oynb rwrrlv csal y zyatl nbyaynvla sd kvp nblpv, pvyavkdt qasx “甲” (fkǎ) yde rastalppkdt vbaswtb “乙” (uǐ), “丙” (cǐdt), “丁” (eīdt), yde ps sd, wdvkz “癸” (twǐ).
Wkapv Gwvwxd wple y rkdnb sq xkaytl ypb vs eayo vld nkanzlp sd vbl taswde, lynb sdl xyajle okvb vbl nbyaynvlap qasx “甲” vs “癸” kd vblka alprlnvkhl saela.
Ohlausdl oyvnble bkx pkzldvzu, alqaykdkdt qasx ypjkdt vss xydu iwlpvksdp.
Xdnl lhlauvbkdt oyp yaaydtle, Pk Zkikw kdpvawnvle Jys Ew, “Slzlypl vbl rwrrlv, yde usw iwknjzu alvalyv kdvs vbl nsaalprsdekdt nkanzl.”
Bao Wu felt somewhat embarrassed and said, “Master, your favoritism towards this subordinate is too apparent. If I alone retreat, others may find it disheartening.”
Di Yiqiu replied earnestly, “They won’t. Go.”
As expected, Bao Wu took the lead and charged forward. However, he soon realized that the others weren’t concerned about Di Yiqiu’s favoritism.
because no one else made a move!
Am I the only one risking my life here?
Bao Wu swung his sword at the serpent, but he struggled visibly. His formidable cultivation level within the entire Celestial Court might be unmatched, but facing this serpent, particularly one with six snake patterns on its body, he found himself at a disadvantage. Despite striking the serpent twice, its scales remained unscathed. This approach wasn’t going to work.
At this critical moment, the puppet with the character “甲” emitted a crisp sound and swiftly advanced towards the serpent. Bao Wu, sensing the situation, swiftly turned and jumped into the circle marked with the same “甲” character.
Just then, the “甲” puppet had closed in on the serpent. The serpent snapped its mouth shut, ensnaring the puppet inside. However, as the puppet’s eyes opened wide, it exploded with a thunderous blast.
Countless needles scattered in all directions, expertly avoiding the “甲” circle.
The angle was simply perfect.
Bao Wu was dumbfounded—Di Yiqiu is impressive!
Like a calf wagging its tail!
Meanwhile, in the palace,
Eunuch Lu led a group of princes and princesses to gather on the lower levels of the Yuanrong Tower.
The princes and princesses were unsure of what was happening but obediently followed. Inside the tower, many physicians were busy, seemingly testing some new medicine. However, when asked by the princes and princesses, the physicians remained tight-lipped.
Eunuch Lu watched as all the royal offspring gathered and explained, “Recently, His Majesty has fallen ill with a slight ailment, and the imperial physicians are uncertain about the dosage of the medicine. Therefore, His Majesty would like all of you to take the medicine in place of the emperor.”
Confused and anxious, the princes and princesses had no choice but to patiently wait in the tower.
Meanwhile, in the serpent’s nest, the second puppet self-destructed once again.
At this point, the serpent realized the purpose of these small puppets. It swung its massive tail, and everything in the vicinity was flattened. Several puppets were flung away, landing with a thud in the distance.
The serpent’s snake crown was blood-red, and its eyes were ablaze like torches. It spewed a mouthful of venom, forcing Bao Wu to retreat hastily. Di Yiqiu raised his voice, asking, “Anyone poisoned?”
Bao Wu, in a state of panic, replied after some time, “No! Master, these artifacts of yours really work!”
Upon hearing this, Di Yiqiu waved his hand, and the elite warriors of the White Tiger Bureau immediately surrounded and began to capture the serpent. Eunuch Xi stood at a distance, watching Di Yiqiu command the situation.
With hands behind his back, though young, Di Yiqiu appeared composed, quick-witted, and calm. Over the years, he had crafted countless ingenious artifacts, and now he was showcasing them all to deal with the serpent.
Such a remarkable youth, like the rising sun. Truly astonishing!
Despite this, there were still many severely injured personnel from the Celestial Court.
The serpent possessed boundless strength, and its scales rendered blades and spears ineffective. The members of the Celestial Court were like ants before it, and this was only a serpent with six snake patterns. One can hardly imagine the challenge posed by a serpent with nine patterns.
Eunuch Xi had distanced himself significantly, but when the serpent’s tail swept past, it seemed as if it could move mountains and level seas. He could only keep retreating, no longer able to see the ongoing battle.
The fighting sounds on the mountain finally ceased late at night.
Eunuch Xi waited anxiously for a long time. Just when he thought that everyone had been consumed by the serpent, a group of people slowly descended the mountain, carrying a massive iron coffin. Leading the way was Bao Wu.
Eunuch Xi hurriedly rushed over, asking eagerly, “Where is Chief?”
A voice from behind the group replied, “Everything is fine; do not worry, Eunuch.”
Eunuch Xi let out a long sigh of relief and said, “As long as the chief is safe.” Despite Di Yiqiu’s expulsion from the imperial family, he was still highly regarded by Emperor Shiwenyu. If something were to happen to him, it would be hard to explain.
He walked over and noticed the bloodstains on Di Yiqiu’s robe, so he asked anxiously, “Is Chief injured?”
Di Yiqiu was covered in blood and dust, looking exhausted. Of course, the entire team was in bad shape. Two-thirds of the group had been lost, and the remaining were wounded.
Eunuch Xi sighed and said, “Chief, you’ve endured so much.”
Di Yiqiu shook his head and ordered everyone to bring the heavy iron coffin down the mountain.
Two days later, a carriage from the Celestial Court arrived at the palace, carrying a massive iron coffin, black and wrapped with iron chains, looking both mysterious and eerie. Bao Wu followed alongside the carriage, showing off the gains of this expedition to the Imperial Guards.
Leading the way, Di Yiqiu hesitated slightly when they reached a fork in the road. Going this way would lead to the east garden, where Huang Rang currently resides.
However, he realized that he needed to report to the emperor first.
Continuing on, Di Yiqiu arrived at the bottom of the Yuanrong Tower.
Eunuch Xi ordered the carriage carrying the black iron coffin to be taken inside the tower and then said, “Chief, His Majesty would like to speak with you. Please go in.”
Di Yiqiu acknowledged him with a sound and followed him into the Yuanrong Tower. Meanwhile, Eunuch Lu led him to the lower level of the tower. Di Yiqiu sensed that something was not right as he looked around and saw guards stationed everywhere. Eunuch Lu urged, “Chief, please proceed.”
Reluctantly, Di Yiqiu followed him down and found all his brothers and sisters gathered there.
As he turned back, the door closed behind him.
Eunuch Lu stood on the side and said, “By order of His Majesty, please wait here, Your Highnesses.” It was absurd; the title “Your Highness” was no longer used within the palace. Yet here it was, spoken by Eunuch Lu.
Among the crowd, the fifth prince could no longer contain his curiosity and asked, “Eunuch Lu, we have been waiting here for a long time. What illness does His Majesty suffer from? And what medicine do we need to try? At least, please tell us.”
This was what everyone wanted to know. However, Eunuch Lu chuckled and replied, “Fifth Prince, don’t be impatient. His Majesty has his own arrangements.”
Shortly after, the imperial physician arrived with a bowl of medicine. Since none of them were medical practitioners, they had no idea what kind of medicine it was. But with Eunuch Lu’s persistent urging, they had no choice but to drink it.
Holding the bowl of medicine, Di Yiqiu had a bad feeling in his heart. Yet they were all born into royalty and had never experienced setbacks in life. They were accustomed to obeying imperial decrees. So, despite hesitating, he still drank the medicine.
The medicine was bitter, and in just a moment, all the princes and princesses fell unconscious.
Eunuch Lu glanced at the waiting imperial physicians and said, “Let’s begin.”
Outside the Yuanrong Tower, Bao Wu waited for a long time but still didn’t see Di Yiqiu come out.
As the sky darkened, he wanted to inquire about someone, but there were only guards outside the tower. What could he possibly ask?
He paced back and forth and finally gave up, returning to the Celestial Court.
In the Celestial Court,
Li Lu was also waiting, and when he saw Bao Wu return, he couldn’t help but ask, “Didn’t the Chief come back with you?”
Li Lu and Bao Wu were much older than Di Yiqiu, so since Di Yiqiu took charge of the Celestial Court at such a young age, they treated him like a younger brother and cared about him more.
Bao Wu scratched his head, equally puzzled, and said, “Once Master went into the tower, he didn’t come out again. Maybe His Majesty kept him from having dinner. After all, he made a great contribution by capturing the serpent. Who would dare to make things difficult for him?”
Li Lu thought about it and found this reasoning plausible. So they didn’t think much more about it.
But as the days passed, Di Yiqiu remained missing for five days.
Li Lu became anxious and sent people to inquire several times. He had good relations with people in the palace, so usually getting information was no trouble. However, this time, there was not a single piece of news.
But he learned that, just like Di Yiqiu, other princes and princesses were also missing.
What could have happened?
No one knew.
When Di Yiqiu woke up, he found himself lying on a narrow bed. He tried to move his hands and realized that they were bound with chains! Was he imprisoned here?
He attempted to sit up, but an iron collar around his neck kept him firmly restrained on the torture bed.
“Who’s out there?” Di Yiqiu spoke, his voice dry and hoarse. In response to his words, someone immediately entered. The person approached the torture bed and looked down at him. It was the Chief Physician of the Royal Medical Bureau, Qiu Shengbai.
Qiu Shengbai leaned in and asked, “Chief, are you feeling uncomfortable?”
Struggling, Di Yiqiu moved his hands and said, “Let me go!”
Qiu Shengbai extended a hand and shook it in front of him, asking, “Chief, take a look; what is this?”
Di Yiqiu turned his face away, and a sudden surge of restlessness engulfed him. He angrily demanded, “Release me!”
Qiu Shengbai had to step back a bit and say, “Wait until you calm down, and I will come back.”
After saying that, he turned and left the small prison cell. Outside, Eunuch Lu asked in a low voice, “Physician Qiu, how is he?”
Qiu Shengbai replied, “At the moment, he is clear-headed but a little agitated. What about the sixteenth prince?”
Eunuch Lu sighed and whispered, “He… just passed away.”
Qiu Shengbai fell silent for a long time and said, “Intensify the medicine for Chief.”
Eunuch Lu immediately instructed his subordinates to do so.
Inside the cell, Di Yiqiu felt agitated but refrained from shouting and struggling. He had been obsessed with forging artifacts since he was four years old, and his temperament had long been as steady as his hands. He suppressed the restlessness in his chest and said, “Physician Qiu.”
Qiu Shengbai was startled and asked, “Chief?”
Di Yiqiu took a deep breath and said, “What has happened? At this point, I should know something, right?”
Qiu Shengbai looked pitying and, after a moment, re-entered the prison cell. He sat beside the torture bed and said, “Chief, don’t ask. How is your condition now?”
Di Yiqiu carefully assessed himself and replied, “Restless and itching all over.”
Qiu Shengbai quickly noted his words in his medical records and then said, “Chief, don’t be anxious. You need to stay here for some time since you have taken the medicine. These days might be relatively idle. If there’s anything you like, I can arrange for someone to get it for you. With some entertainment, the days here might be easier to endure.”
Di Yiqiu stared at him for a while and said, “When I look into your eyes, I see snake scales covering my face.”
Qiu Shengbai was stunned and fell silent. Di Yiqiu continued, “His Majesty used us to test the venom of the serpent, isn’t that right?”
His tone was very calm, and Qiu Shengbai could only reply, “Chief, you should worry less and take care of yourself.” Avoiding the question was an answer in itself.
Di Yiqiu said, “Unlock the collar around my neck. I want to sit up.”
Qiu Shengbai was very hesitant and said after a while, “Your Highness, your current condition is not good. It’s better not to see.”
Di Yiqiu said, “Unlock it.”
Helplessly, Qiu Shengbai had to instruct Eunuch Lu, “Unlock the collar around Chief’s neck, but keep his limbs restrained.”
Eunuch Lu complied and stepped forward to unlock the collar as instructed. Di Yiqiu managed to sit up and lower his head to look at his own hands. Almost instantly, he understood why Qiu Shengbai had restrained him to the torture bed.
— Just so he wouldn’t see what he looked like now.
His hands were covered with light blue scales, newly grown and in disarray. They appeared dense and chaotic—utterly terrifying!
It was simply horrifying!
He was itching and in pain all over his body. Apparently, those snake scales were still growing all over him. This terror and strangeness made him want to tear off his own skin. Seeing the pity in Qiu Shengbai’s eyes, among all the princes and princesses, the 86th prince was amiable, and his craftsmanship was superb.
He should have been a great artisan, but why is he suffering so much now?
Pitying his talent, Qiu Shengbai tried to comfort him: “Chief, don’t panic. Once your body adapts, the situation may improve.”
“May improve?” Di Yiqiu retorted.
Qiu Shengbai lowered his head, and after a while, he said, “Chief, please forgive my incompetence. I can’t completely control the effects of the medicine.”
Di Yiqiu understood. He said, “His Majesty captures serpents to study the elixir of immortality. So, we are being used to test the medicine?”
Qiu Shengbai didn’t dare to continue but merely said, “In any case, Chief, you must take care of yourself. I will be here every day, and if you need anything, just let me know.” After saying that, he left the prison cell and closed the door.
The light from outside penetrated, making the cell less dim.
Di Yiqiu struggled to sit up; his hands and feet were now covered in snake scales. He brought his face closer, using his fingertips to explore, and indeed felt the cool, disorderly scales.
What had he become?
He didn’t know. Someone carried a corpse outside, covered in white cloth. Only one hand was visible, swollen, and turning dark purple. On the back of the hand, the fine, snake-like scales were clear to see.
Di Yiqiu stared with wide eyes as the palace servant carried the body away.
He didn’t even know which sibling it was.
From one of the cells came a hoarse cry. The voice was sharp, but the words were unclear. Following that cry, the entire prison cell seemed to wake up suddenly, and countless cries and wails filled the air.
Di Yiqiu sat in silence on the torture bed, gripping the black chains tightly with both hands. Eunuch Lu couldn’t bear it, and though Di Yiqiu was young, he treated people kindly and had unparalleled skills. Many people in the palace had benefited from his kindness, which naturally made them care for him.
After all, he was still just a child.
Eunuch Lu approached and asked, “Chief, what do you need? I’ll bring it for you.”
Di Yiqiu was bewildered for a moment and finally said, “White ice silk, red coral pearls.” He lowered his head and looked at his hands, trembling and swollen, and said after a while, “The silver needles used for lacework.”
Normally, he rarely used such items, but now… it seemed inevitable.
Eunuch Lu nodded. “Alright, I will arrange for someone to get them for you.”
He was efficient, and the items were soon delivered.
Di Yiqiu sat in the cold and oppressive prison cell, using the lace needles to weave bead strings.
His hands were swollen, trembling, itchy, and painful. The delicate and hard scales covered them, no longer as dexterous as before. He could only use the needles to slowly and laboriously weave the pearl strings.
He had promised five hundred strands of pearl strings, and he didn’t want to break that promise.