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The piece of black wood in Nanke's hand suddenly began to glow.
She lowered her head and gazed at that black wood that now seemed like a piece of jade for a very long time, her expression abnormally focused but indifferent as usual. Even her somewhat dull eyes gradually began to grow brighter.
Through this black piece of wood, she clearly perceived that a connection had been formed between her and that tall and distant mausoleum.
There was something within the mausoleum that was incessantly calling out to the Soul Wood, and at the same time inviting her.
Before she entered these Plains of the Unsetting Sun, she did not know what this black wood her teacher had given her was made of, but now she knew everything.
This was the core of the Mausoleum of Zhou, or a part of its core. The other part lay within the Mausoleum of Zhou.
She could not use this black wood to control the Mausoleum of Zhou, but she could use it control that tide of monsters behind her.
The connection sent out by that distant mausoleum made her feel certain that it was the Mausoleum of Zhou. Simultaneously, if her expectations were not off, Xu Yourong and Chen Changsheng were also in that mausoleum.
At this moment, she felt some gratitude towards Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong.
If Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong were not in front of them leading the way, she would have never found the Mausoleum of Zhou, and she would never have been able to get close to it and thus form a connection between the Soul Wood and the Soul Pivot.
It must be known that not even her teacher could overcome these dense grasslands and find the location of the Mausoleum of Zhou.
Nanke's eyes shone brighter and brighter. They no longer possessed their normal dullness. It was as though a flame had been lit within them.
The mausoleum contained Zhou Dufu's legacy.
Only she herself could know just how important Zhou Dufu's legacy was to her master.
From her standpoint, the legacy within that mausoleum, even the mausoleum itself, these Plains of the Unsetting Sun, and the entire Garden of Zhou should all belong to her teacher.
The world that had been accidentally left behind by her teacher. Today, she would finally take it all back.
Different from Nanke, the Demon General couple of Teng Xiaoming and Liu Wan’er felt even more sorrowful that Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong were able to find this mausoleum.
It must be known that ever since the Garden of Zhou had first appeared, several hundred years had passed. Countless human and demon cultivators, brimming with talent and possessing staunch wills, had come to this place in search of the Mausoleum of Zhou, but not a single one had succeeded.
The Military Advisor's understanding of the Garden of Zhou far surpassed that of the human Saints, yet even he could not do it.
Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong had done it.
Indeed, they were truly worthy of being the future of humanity.
For the Military Advisor to plan so far ahead, to consume so many resources and expend so much effort, all to kill these young humans in the Garden of Zhou, it really was very reasonable.
At a certain place in the Plains of the Unsetting Sun, the reeds and grass had been cut down by some sort of sharp implement and had been thickly spread out to form an extremely large island. It seemed like resting upon its surface would be very comfortable.
Qi Jian leaned against a pile of grass, her pale small face filled with terror as she stared at a certain direction in the sky. Her eyes, which were already rather gloomy from her severe injuries, grew even darker.
At the moment, it was almost twilight. Logically, the sky should have been filled with a warm and red glow, but it was dark and gloomy at present.
It was not dark and gloomy due to clouds bespeaking rain, but because there was a massive shadow that blocked out the entire sky.
In the strong winds of the high heavens, the massive shadow seemed to slowly move up and down just like a pair of wings.
Only… how in the world could there possibly be such a massive bird that its wingspan alone could obstruct ten thousand li of the sky? How could the world possibly contain this sort of being?
Could it be that this was the legendary… no, the mythological great peng?
It was said in the far west, past the Great Western Continent, upon the boundless sea, there lived a strange beast called the great peng. It was said that when it opened its wings, they stretched out for ten thousand li.
It was said that the great peng was incredibly powerful, already half a step into the Saint realm. Even the powerful Saint experts of the human world would find it very difficult to prevail against it.
How did this terrifying great peng end up living in the Garden of Zhou? Where did it normally conceal itself? Why did it not break out of the Garden of Zhou and leave? If it could not, what sort of strength within these plains forbade it from doing so?
The more Qi Jian thought about it, the more she was shocked and the paler her small face became.
Over these successive dozens of days of continuous flight, the wound on her abdomen had already healed, but her internal injuries had not improved and even gradually worsened. Her mind received such a shock that she began to laboriously cough.
At some point, Zhexiu had come over with a bowl of herbal soup, which he now put in front of her and said, "Drink."
Still as concise and straightforward as ever.
It was easy to see that in journeying together over these weeks, Qi Jian had grown very familiar and dependent on him. Coupled with her weakness from her injuries, and she very naturally began to give off the appearance of a daughter at home. Like the whining of a spoiled child, she said, "So bitter, and it's not like it does anything."
Zhexiu had said before that if Chen Changsheng were here, he would assuredly be able to treat his poison and cure her injuries; but in fact, he lived out his childhood in the snowy plains, battling for a living, so whether it was injury or sickness, he had always had to find medicinal herbs on his own. If this was outside the Garden of Zhou, even if Qi Jian had suffered an even worse sword wound, he was still certain that he could have cured her. The problem was that they were in the Plains of the Unsetting Sun. The variety of plants that grew between the pools of water and dry land was not diverse. The vast majority were weeds or reeds, and it was difficult to find appropriate herbs. The herbal soup that Zhexiu had made for these past few days was made from kudzu leaves and tubers, which he worked very hard to find. The taste was truly awful and the medicinal strength was average, but… drinking was always better than not drinking.
So upon hearing Qi Jian's grumbling and whining, he answered very simply and directly. "If you don't drink, I'll spank you."
Qi Jian's small face blushed and her left hand subconsciously reached behind her back.
It was obvious that this dialogue—the whining and complaining, the short and concise answer—had already taken place many times over the past few days.
There was an even a chance that he really had spanked her, just like spanking a small child.
Zhexiu's way was very useful, and in addition, Qi Jian did not seem to have a bad reaction to it. She seemed to like him lecturing her with a few cold words.
Like a small animal, she drew close to his hand and began to drink the soup. For some reason, she felt that there was a hint of sweetness in that medicinal brew.
After finishing the medicinal soup, her wounds were aggravated by the medicine and she began to cough once more. On her pale face appeared two ominous patches of red. It seemed extremely painful.
Zhexiu moved behind her and used his right hand to grasp her neck. In accordance with the method Chen Changsheng had described to him in the Mausoleum of Books, he began to slowly insert true essence into her body.
He had already done this many times and was very practiced with it.
The island formed of reeds and weeds was silent.
Qi Jian's eyes were closed as her body trembled, her face pale.
Zhexiu would occasionally open his eyes and gaze into the distance.
He could not see anything, but he was used to being vigilant.
In addition, it was only when Qi Jian closed her eyes that he could open his.
Because deep within his eyes, the dark green flame indicating the poison had grown even deeper occupied nearly the entirety of his irides. It was so gorgeous a sight that it would make one's heart beat faster.
If he could not leave these plains and could not leave the Garden of Zhou, perhaps his eyes would never recover.
He did not tell Qi Jian about this.
After some time, Zhexiu removed his hand from Qi Jian's back.
Qi Jian gave two light coughs and sensed that the true essence was flowing a little more smoothly through her body and not as aggravating as it was before.
"What do we do next?" She softly asked Zhexiu, her expression rather sheepish, as though she was worried that this question would affect his emotions.
Zhexiu turned his eyes to that terrifying shadow that hung over the distant horizon but said nothing. In the past few days, they had not met a single monster, and the plains had been abnormally quiet. He knew that it definitely had something to do with that massive shadow in the sky, but he just did not know what was happening in the distance.
"There must definitely have been other human cultivators that came in." Qi Jian said, "Perhaps that shadow is part of the demons' plan. Should we head over there to help out?"
"No." Zhexiu said, "Regardless of it being a ploy by the demons, it has nothing to do with us."
Qi Jian opened her eyes wide and said in confusion, "But… there might be human cultivators that are being attacked at this very moment."
Zhexiu replied, "First of all, that place is too far away, so we wouldn't make it in time. Secondly, we can't beat that great peng. Thirdly, I am not a human cultivator, so I have no obligation to help those people. Lastly, if I'm not wrong, this matter is possibly our only opportunity to escape from these plains."
Qi Jian gazed at his profile, wanting to say something, but in the end she chose to keep silent.
She had been raised in the Mount Li Sword Sect since she was a child, and the teachings that had been passed on to her made it impossible for her to ignore seeing humans attacked by demons. However, Zhexiu's words were far too reasonable. Moreover, the most crucial point was that she knew very well that in fleeing through these plains, she had been his burden, so she had not the slightest qualification to request that he take on even more risks.
"The most important thing is that your injuries are too severe. If we don't think of a way, you will die very quickly." Zhexiu said impassively to her.
Seeing his face, Qi Jian was suddenly very aggrieved. She thought to herself, I'm about to die, so how can you remain so calm?
Zhexiu had no idea what she was thinking as he continued, "I just smelled upon the water that two li ahead of us should be several stalks of Drunken Sour Grass.
Qi Jian's expression was a little strange. "What's that?"
Zhexiu replied, "A sort of weed. If a monster or warhorse mistakenly eats it as food, they'll fall unconscious."
An unpleasant idea suddenly popped up in Qi Jian's mind. "You… who are you planning on feeding that to?"
"Of course it's for you to eat."
Zhexiu felt that this question of hers was extraordinarily stupid and slightly creased his brow. "Right now, you’re consuming too much of your mental strength. For some reason, you've really enjoyed talking these past few days. It's very obvious that it's because your injuries are gradually worsening. Just eat the Drunken Sour Grass and sleep for a while. Although it won't do anything for your wound, it will at the very least allow you to hold on for a bit longer."
Qi Jian was quiet for a while and then very carefully asked, "This weed… have you eaten it before?"
Zhexiu expressionlessly said, "After eating this weed, you'll fall into a state of deep unconsciousness. Even a little earth mouse could eat you, so of course I wouldn't have eaten it before."
Qi Jian was a little angry. "But you want me to eat it."
Zhexiu said, "I won't be sleeping, so you will naturally be safe."
This was a simple and objective explanation, but in the ears of a fourteen-year-old girl, it seemed just like a promise. This made her feel very warm.
“After I eat that grass, how long will I sleep?" She asked.
After a moment of silence, Zhexiu replied, "I've never seen a human eat it before, so… I don't know."
Qi Jian was also quiet for a while and then faintly said, "But you want me to eat it?"
These were the same words, their meaning was the same, but the emotion behind them had subtly changed.
"There's no poison, so there won't be any problem."
"I don't want to eat it."
"If my predictions are correct, eating that grass will let you hold on for another ten days."
"But I might sleep for a hundred days or a thousand days."
"Do all humans like to exaggerate so much?"
"Anyway, I don't want to eat it." Qi Jian firmly said.
Zhexiu did not know why she was so stubborn. After silently pondering on this matter, he once again used his tried and true method. "If you don't eat it, I'll spank you."
In the past few weeks, there were many occasions, such as when eating bitter herbs, or her insisting on holding him before she would sleep; or her stubbornly insisting on washing his face every morning and then at night just as stubbornly insisting that he did not need to help wash her feet; the moment where their opinions diverged and were incapable of meeting together. At the very end, he would always use this method.
Over the course of their journey, he had long ago realized that this last disciple of the Mount Li Sword Sect's sect master, the most junior lady of the Divine State's Seven Laws, was not at all like the cute and spoiled girl that he had imagined. She had a stubborn nature, firm and persistent, even pigheaded. Let alone hitting her, even threatening to abandon her would not change her mind.
She was only afraid of getting spanked.
Zhexiu did not know why this was the case. He clearly knew that it was the place where the flesh was most abundant and thus beating it was the least painful.
Perhaps it was because she was a girl.
He had read human books before and knew about these sort of things, but he still could not understand.
Recalling Qi Jian's attitude on this journey, he felt that humans were truly vexing, especially women.
Why did she insist on washing his face every day? On the snowy plains, one could never find this much water. Isn't it fine to just randomly pick up a chunk of snow and rub it over your face? And if not, then so what? It's not good for your facial skin? You've suffered such severe injuries that you're on the verge of death, so what does worrying about such things matter? Why is it that she won't let me wash her feet every night? Could it be that she doesn't know that on a long and difficult trek, the most important thing is to ensure that your feet are clean and dry, and that only this way can you walk even farther? Fine, this entire time it had been him carrying her, so she didn't need to walk, but then there was really no reason for why she should care so much about this feet-washing business.
It was a good thing that women would always be afraid of something.
Hearing Zhexiu's words, Qi Jian's small face blushed in shame. Yet beyond expectations, she continued to insist on being unwilling. In a huff, she replied, "Don't want to eat is don't want to eat."
Hearing her clear and young, but unhappy, voice, Zhexiu was a little surprised. He thought to himself, what's happened, today you aren't even afraid of getting spanked anymore?
He thought about how, a few days ago, on the first and only occasion he had spanked her, he was somewhat dazed, so his right hand had subconsciously brushed against her legs.
Seeing his action, Qi Jian ashamedly and angrily threw a fist at his shoulder.
However, she was simply too enervated, so this fist naturally had no power, nor did it seem like she was throwing a tantrum.
"Don't be afraid."
Zhexiu thought he had guessed at the reason for her unwillingness and attempted to make his voice as soothing as possible. "As long as I'm alive, I will absolutely carry you out of here."
Qi Jian stretched out her hand and grabbed at the hem of his clothes; she then opened her eyes wide and gave him a miserable look. "But who will give you directions?"
Zhexiu couldn't see her appearance. "The shadow is over there, so we travel in the opposite direction."
Having said that, he stood up, put her on his back, and walked out of that island formed of reeds and weeds towards those stalks of Drunken Sour Grass.
Qi Jian hugged him, her small face leaning on his shoulders. She said nothing, making her thoughts a mystery.
Right now, she was very feeble and would often get tired. In the past few days, when on his back, she would very quickly fall asleep.
He was not very tall and his shoulders were not very broad, but they gave her a very steady feeling, just like a boat that would never capsize in the ocean.
But today she did not want to sleep. She resisted the exhaustion and the weakness and calmly gazed at the sky.
Zhexiu sensed it and stopped walking. After a moment of silence, he asked, "You really don't want to sleep?"
Qi Jian tacitly approved of his thoughts.
She always felt that if she ate those stalks of grass and fell unconscious, then she would only wake up after a very, very long time.
Who would give you directions?
When I wake up, will I be able to see you?
If we don't leave these plains, could it be that I will die in my sleep?
I don't want to.
If she had to die, it would be best to do so while awake. Only in this way could she be certain that they were together.
Because of her silence, Zhexiu was also silent.
He did not know what she was thinking, but he knew that she was definitely thinking about a lot of meaningless things.
Humans were truly vexing, especially women.
No matter the age.
It was now the time when the twilight should be dying the sky a bloody red, but the distant sky was dark and gloomy like a cloudy day.
He lifted his head and gazed into the distance, sensing and confirming the direction.
After doing these preparation, he lifted his right hand, wielded his palm like a knife, and chopped down on Qi Jian's neck.
With a light slap, Qi Jian fell unconscious.
The entire world was quiet.
In the Garden of Zhou, there was a plain. The plain's sun did not set, but it had been covered up by a terrifying shadow. Outside of the Garden of Zhou was a snowy plain. The sun did not rise over this snowy plain, and a shadow similarly hung over the night sky. Compared to that terrifying shadow in the plains, this shadow covered an even larger area. It did not seem angry, but it was even more frightening in terms of its cold presence. It faintly emitted an unequaled Qi.
The shadow was the Demon Lord's will. Under this shadow, the already awesome strength of the Demon General grew even stronger. This shadow turned array spread several dozens li out to those normal demon soldiers, inspiring them with incredible bravery. Regardless of how dazzling those sword glows in the snowstorm were, they would not feel the slightest fear.
The only people who could remain completely uninfluenced by this shadow were two people. One of them was Su Li, while the other was the demon Military Advisor whose entire body was cloaked in a black robe.
Black Robe sat cross-legged on a snowy hill. In front of his knees was an iron plate. In this plate were mountains, plains, and rivers, a cold pool and a wetland, and even a setting sun, but there were no stars. It was the Garden of Zhou.
Suspended above the iron plate were four life lamps. Those four life lamps were already extremely weak, the two life lamps in the middle were especially so, their life flames like thin threads. At any time, they could be blown out.
More than ten li away in the snowstorm, a magnificent sword glow shuttled back and forth between heaven and earth, but it could never escape.
The mountainous figures of several Demon Generals towered in the snowstorm. They led tens of thousands of demon troops in pursuit of the sword glow, in pursuit of that human at the head of that sword glow.
Su Li was not very old, but he was actually the Mount Li Sword Sect's martial granduncle. His seniority was unusually high, but what was even higher was his swordplay and cultivation.
He was not a Saint. He was a wastrel, wandering the four seas, occasionally revealing himself to the world.
He was not ranked in the Storms of the Eight Directions because no one knew where his desires lay.
Yet everyone knew that his cultivation was ranked at the very top of the human world, at eye-level with the Saints, on par with the Storms.
It could even be said that because of his temperament, solely based on his battle power, killing ability, and his menace towards the Demon race, he was second only to Zhou Dufu.
In order to kill Su Li, the demons had prepared for a very long time and had mentally prepared to sacrifice countless experts. In fact, right now, one Demon General had already been killed, while three Demon Generals were heavily wounded.
Even the Demon Lord spared no expense in exerting his black night, transforming his will into a shadow that enveloped the sky.
Yet Black Robe seemed very calm. From beginning to end, he had sat cross-legged on the snowy hill. Only when Su Li would express killing intent towards him would he take action.
The reason he was so calm was because he believed in himself.
The assassination using the Garden of Zhou had been personally planned by him. There were no gaps and he had calculated everything precisely.
No matter how strong Su Li was, he was still a man and not a god. He was not Zhou Dufu.
Only if in his desperate straits, the fear and pressure brought on by being between life and death causing him to have a breakthrough, was there a chance. Otherwise, there was no way for him to escape alive.
Yet Black Robe did not give him even this chance.
Black Robe had prepared a pot of warm water for Su Li, a slowly moving grindstone.
Of course, he logically would have to always keep his full attention on this assassination in the snowstorm. After all, the person he wanted to kill was Su Li.
Yet, a few moments ago, a change had suddenly occurred in the square plate in front of him.
In the dense grassland in that place that was impossible to search or infer, which from beginning to end had been a place of nothingness and mirages, something suddenly exploded with brilliant light.
This light illuminated Black Robe's face, penetrating through his pale skin and making the green color hidden within grow even richer before revealing two smears of red.
The intersection of these three colors was very pretty and very strange.
Those two eyes that were as deep as the netherworld were also illuminated by the light.
The blood on his face, the light in his eyes; all of this signified his excitement.
What sort of thing would cause a person like Black Robe to grow excited?
Previously, when he saw Chen Changsheng's life lamp and Xu Yourong's life lamp head into the plains together, his expression had become solemn.
But now, he had already forgotten about that matter.
Even if Xuelao City were to abruptly collapse, even if Su Li was to suddenly pierce through the snowy sky and escape, he would not be the slightest bit moved.
There was nothing new under the night sky. No matter how outlandish a thing was, they were all just the result of small probabilities, but this light was different.
He gazed for a very long time in silence at that ball of light in the iron plate.
He had already given up any hope he had for this miniature world, which was why he could look at it all so indifferently.
Yet he had already waited for this light to appear for many years.
The plot involving the Garden of Zhou was obviously not the best plan Black Robe had ever created.
Several hundred years ago, the combined forces of the humans and demi-humans had successively broken through five of the demons' defensive lines and were only five hundred li from Xuelao City. At Mount Qilian they died in battle, and at Mount Helan they died in battle. The situation was exceptionally grave.
He developed an extremely enjoyable plan.
This plan was him playing with the human heart. He used the relationship between Emperor Taizong and Wang Zhice.
The entire continent knew what he aimed to do. Emperor Taizong and Wang Zhice were even more clear on it, and yet they could not stop him.
Because problems of the human heart, once they appeared, could never be wiped away.
Wang Zhice sadly resigned from his post.
Xuelao City was safe and sound.
Compared to that plan, whether it was in terms of structure or ideas, the plot in the Garden of Zhou could not even hope to match up.
But to Black Robe, the plot in the Garden of Zhou was even more meaningful than the one from prior.
To lose, and then to bring back. This had always been the most meaningful matter.
All the things he had done over the countless years was for this.
The light in the iron plate was not in his plans. It was the greatest variable in this plan and also the most welcomed variable.
Because it meant that the Garden of Zhou's most precious object was about to see the light of day once more.
Killing Su Li. Killing off the greater part of humanity's future.
Retrieving his lost past.
What could be more perfect than this conclusion?
Deep within the mausoleum, on the obsidian coffin.
The Soul Pivot shone no more and the precious jewels had all been stored away. The obsidian coffin was pitch black like a dark night.
Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong walked into this darkness and came before the marks.
The characters comprised letters and pictures.
Each one was matched with a corresponding picture. Other than a child's most beloved picture-book, there was another most commonly seen possibility.
These characters and words were a secret technique.
Chen Changsheng and Xu Yourong glanced into each other's eyes. Because of their shock, they did not know what to say.
The secret technique engraved into the coffin was a blade style.
This blade style had the same name as that blade.
The halving of the one blade, two halves.