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Chapter 283 - Dirty Face, Frosty Hair
The slightly warm dawn light illuminated the water at the edge of the plains, giving it a dull luster. Nanke stood at the edge of the water, her indifferent gaze looking forward. She lifted up her right hand, bringing fresh water to her mouth to help the medicine go down. Her two maids attended to her, handing her a wet towel with which to wash her face. After a while, she felt her spirit had somewhat recovered, and lightly waved her hand in the air in front of her.
Although there was nothing but wetland around them, the Garden of Zhou did not have many mosquitoes. Her actions were not to shoo something away, but rather to produce a black curtain. On this black curtain was a rough map of the Garden of Zhou, as well as several flickering points of light. Those lights were the life lamps that had been lit by Black Robe, indicating the positions of their targets.
Two of those life lamps were in the plains. At times, they would be in the east, then they would be in the west, suddenly teleporting dozens of li. It was like there was some powerful interfering force that prevented their exact locations from being found. Those two lights should be Zhexiu and Qi Jian. They were already deep within the plains, so if all went as expected, they had no possibility of survival, so Nanke was not worried. Her gaze was more focused on the other two life lamps.
Those two life lamps were Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng. On that black curtain, their two points of light were exceptionally eye-catching. They were very far away from those several gardens that the human cultivators had gathered in, and in addition, they had not moved for a very long time. This seemed to indicate that the pair already had no more strength to run. It seemed that the task which Black Robe had assigned to her would soon be complete.
At some point, the zither-playing old man had come down from the summit of Sunset Valley and met up with Nanke and her two maids. As he looked at those life lamps on the black curtain, he was not as confident and easy-going as Nanke. With concern in his voice, he said, "Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng are both heavily injured, so they shouldn't be able to make it back to those gardens, but...there are still some human cultivators that have concealed themselves in the mountains of the Garden of Zhou for all this time, and most of those human cultivators are at the peak of Ethereal Opening. What will we do if Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng manage to meet those human cultivators while they're escaping?"
The plan that Black Robe had personally formulated made full use of the Garden of Zhou's special conditions and geography. He was exceedingly thorough in his understanding of the human cultivators' greed for wealth and merit, and his grasp over the human psyche was perfect. All this meant that it was sufficient for him to sneak only a few demon experts into the Garden of Zhou to throw the entire garden into chaos. If it were not for Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng, then perhaps the Garden of Zhou would have already turned into a slaughterhouse. The problem was that the human cultivators had now caught on to the demons' plan and the vast majority of them had gathered together. In a head-on battle, regardless of how powerful the demon experts were, they still would not be able to stand up to several hundred human cultivators.
Nanke's expression was still as cold as ever. Not bothering to explain, she only said, "In their situation, if Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng really did meet up with some other human expert, they might even die a bit sooner."
The water that was being splashed around as Xu Yourong made her way from that patch of reeds to the cliff gradually calmed down, then became covered with a thin layer of ice.
Chen Changsheng's body was soaked by the water, all of which quickly froze into ice. His eyebrows and the hair at his temples were dyed with snow, as if his hair had grown gray ahead of time. He was already very mature for his age, but now seemed to have grown even more so.
Xu Yourong naturally noticed the peculiarities of his body and slightly raised her brows. She once again took his pulse. She sensed that while the person's true essence was still as lacking as ever, the wounds on his internal organs had stabilized. It was just that his pulse and breathing were much slower than a normal person's, and she didn't know whether this was because of this person's cultivation method or if it was an omen of death.
Her vision was still blurred from the poison, so she could only faintly make out that this person's face was covered with a layer of frost, making him seem rather mature. After a moment of silence, she suddenly stretched out her hand and rubbed the ice off his face, then she just stared, not understanding why she had just done what she did.
Walking into the forest that was bathed in morning light, she noiselessly walked over those soft and tender fallen leaves. After advancing dozens of zhang, she stopped and gazed at the distant cliff in front of her.
The people of the past had once treaded a path through this forest, and even though it was now covered by the leaves, its traces were still faintly discernible. It continued forward, then began to curve its way up the cliff, making a 'Z' shape.
She carefully placed Chen Changsheng down on the leaves, then took out the Tong Bow, pulling the bowstring out in a semicircle and silently aiming it at some place.
The morning wind accompanied the morning light into the forest, but while the morning light was blocked by the tree leaves, making the forest dark and quiet, the morning wind was not sliced into pieces by the tree branches. The gentle wind caressed the hair at the side of her face, which would occasionally brush lightly against the bowstring and yet not make a sound. It was like the gentlest finger lightly pressing down on the bowstring, ready in the next moment to explode with a powerful music.
A leaf was blown off its branch by the wind. It slowly descended through that blurry world in front her eyes, eventually resting directly in front of her feet.
Her longbow did not move, her eyes did not blink, her expression was calm and focused. She only stared at the cliff, at that place devoid of any human life.
Just as that leaf rested in front of her foot, an elderly voice sounded out from the cliff. "Are you a friend?"
Along with this voice, a hand appeared, and around that hand's wrist was a gray string. The hand held a wooden plaque, upon which an extremely complex sect insignia was drawn in vermillion red. The insignia was drawn with some sort of strange paint. Even from such a distance, she could clearly feel the dry heat coming off of it.
All the human cultivators that entered the Garden of Zhou would possess the gray string. The sect insignia on the wooden plaque was evidence of identity. It was only a simple action, but it contained many meanings and did as much as possible to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings. From this detail, one could tell that the owner of this elderly voice was exceedingly cautious.
Xu Yourong could barely make out a blurry image and could not see any details, but the calm expression on her face certainly did not show it. She felt an intense vigilance from that voice, then she thought of the usual practice of the Garden of Zhou and the bloody battles that would usually take place. She remembered that her clothes were stained with blood, and decided that it was easy for there to be a misunderstanding, so she said, "Not an enemy."
At their first meeting, they naturally could not be friends, but that did not mean they were enemies; this was the reasoning for her choice of words.
After a moment, a man walked out from the direction of the cliff. With his white hair and elderly face, he must have been at least a hundred years old. While both his expression and pace seemed to be calm, it was not sufficient to hide his wariness. Although he had walked out, the right hand hanging by his waist held a magical artifact, ready at any time to take action, and he maintained what he considered a safe distance between himself and Xu Yourong.
The distance had been very carefully chosen so that it would make both him and her feel safe. If he was not a senior who had experienced many years of tribulations in cultivation, he would have definitely not displayed such an exquisite sense of propriety.
Xu Yourong felt the aura that the man took no effort to conceal, and yet was not purposely emitting. From this aura, she could confirm that this old man was a peak level Ethereal Opening expert. Her mind grew tense, but the expression on her face relaxed.
She let go of the bowstring and gripped the longbow as she said, "May I ask Senior for his distinguished name?"
The rules of the Garden of Zhou had always been bloody and violent, and moreover, the cultivators who were not in the three gardens and remained concealed in the mountains were often experts. They were more inclined towards the treasures and legacies of the Garden of Zhou. To meet with this sort of person, perhaps there might be a fierce battle. It was even highly probable that the person did not know of the demons’ presence in the Garden of Zhou!
So she very calmly and directly continued. "Demons have infiltrated the Garden of Zhou. We were injured when they ambushed us."
This was still an explanation, but this explanation had an additional meaning. The demons that infiltrated the Garden of Zhou were inevitably strong, but they needed an ambush to inflict injuries on her, so this meant that she was also strong.
Whether or not that old man had come to the conclusion she had wanted him to come to from her seemingly careless explanation was a mystery, because it was very obvious that this old man was just as she had guessed. From the time he had entered the Garden of Zhou, he had hidden himself away in places that were rarely visited, purposely avoiding contact with other cultivators. Up to this point, he did not know that demons had entered the Garden of Zhou, so upon hearing her words, he was very shocked.
"How did demons get into the Garden of Zhou?"
The old man was very surprised, but he did not show any fear. As he looked at the gray string on his wrist, he sneered, "No wonder so many strange things have been happening."
It was very obvious that he had already found the treasure he had been looking for on his treasure hunt, and so had attempted to light the gray string and depart, only to be met with failure.
Xu Yourong did not explain, because the plan of the demons was too complicated, and there was no need to.
The old man turned his gaze to Chen Changsheng on the fallen leaves behind her, his entire body covered with frost, and asked with some astonishment, "Is this person your companion?"
Xu Yourong shook her head. "I don't recognize him. I just happened to see him being attacked by the demon experts and luckily rescued him."
"At such a time, to still remember to save others. Little girl, you're not bad."
The old man looked upon her with admiration, then said, "Anyways, where did you two intend to go?"
Xu Yourong replied, "The human cultivators are currently gathered at three gardens. I originally intended to take this fellow daoist there, but because my injuries are too heavy, I can't go very fast. It would take me at least half a day to get there, and I worry that the demons will catch up. I didn't imagine that I would meet up with Senior. I would trouble Senior to let other fellow daoists know and have them come over to rescue us."
The old man evidenced his disapproval on his face and declared, "As a fellow cultivator, I will send you there. How can I leave you here to face such risks?"
Xu Yourong replied, "The demon experts that infiltrated the Garden of Zhou are very strong. With Senior protecting the two of us, I'm afraid.. ."
These words had endless meanings, but it had a good intention.
The old man smiled. "If this was outside the Garden of Zhou, then I really might have to be careful, but within the Garden of Zhou, I don't think those demon experts will be as strong as you think they are."
His smile was very free, his expression calm and easy-going. His eyes were warm and bright, and as he said those words, he seemed extremely confident.
Within the Garden of Zhou, a peak level Ethereal Opening expert should be an existence without rival, so this old man's self-confidence had a basis.
For some reason, Xu Yourong did not tell the old man that the demon experts that had entered the Garden of Zhou were even more frightening than the average peak level Ethereal Opening cultivator—nor of the terrifying presence of Nanke.
She looked at him with curiosity and admiration, asking him, "May I ask who Senior is?"
The old man replied, "My last name is Bai, my first name is Hai. I've cultivated within the Setting Sun Sect for more than two hundred years. It's not very often that I leave the sect, so you most likely have not heard of me."
Xu Yourong seemed somewhat at a loss, as if she was rather perplexed by this name.
In truth, she felt somewhat cold.