“What happened to Ninth Sister?”
“I was practicing.”
Upon seeing Qian Wanyu glance toward the water cover, Little Color arbitrarily chose a spot and swiftly settled down, seemingly indifferent to the events transpiring in the deep pool. What had they come across just now? Little Color wished to inquire but found it was too late to do so.
As for Toothless, it repeatedly charged like a diminutive cannonball. Each departure was full of defeat, each return like a ball rolling from a distance, going further with each tumble.
“Little Toothless, this is your karma,” taunted Little Color, gloatingly. Little Color, a magic plant, naturally wanted to suppress Toothless, a fire-type spirit beast. After mocking Toothless a few times, and realizing that Toothless paid it no heed, Little Color felt a sense of futile frustration. Thus, it simply maintained a moderate distance from Qian Wanyu and Dongfang Minghui, speculating how many times before Toothless would dutifully return.
Following about three days and nights of bumbling, Toothless’s snout was battered, its face swollen. Its previously glossy black fur now resembled frizzy strands, utterly disheveled.
Little Color observed Toothless slowly rise and charge forward, its movements no longer as agile as before. Toothless’s limbs began to slip in the deep pool. “What a surprise,” Little Color thought. It had predicted that Toothless could only endure a few hours at most, yet surprisingly, it continued after three days.
As Toothless swam past Little Color, both dragon eyes appeared unfocused and slightly disoriented. Still, they persevered, swimming toward the distant mirage. Reaching its destination, Toothless slapped the water surface, unable to control its descent into the deeper end of the pool. Before choking, it weakly cried out at the phantom, “Wow.”
The spectral figure stood before Toothless, looking down on it with a commanding presence.
After enduring for so long, Toothless wanted to ask one question – why are you angry?
Having waited for the time it takes an incense stick to burn, Little Color began to suspect that something was amiss. “Could it be that after rolling for three days, its skin got thicker?”
According to its knowledge of the phantom, Toothless wouldn’t be able to endure a whole incense stick’s time with it, not even half. At most, it would return after a single face-off. Little Color suspiciously looked toward the aperture, spotting only a tiny dot more than ten meters away.
The dot was still there, but the little guy, Toothless, was nowhere to be seen.
From the initial patient waiting to gradual worry, especially when several hours passed with no sign of Toothless, Little Color murmured, “Is there something wrong?”
Little Color glanced at the individuals in the water cover, and then at Qian Wanyu. It had come to understand one fact: its little friend was usually easygoing, but if anything happened to Toothless, its friend would be up in arms. As one who knew the truth but did not report it, Little Color was likely to become universally despised.
“What a minor annoyance.” Perhaps it owed this foolish dragon a favor in a past life, Little Color thought, rising irritably with the intention of going where the pressure was strongest.
“Where are you going?” Qian Wanyu slowly opened her eyes, glancing at Little Color.
“Toothless has been gone for a while, I’m worried something might have happened to it.” Little Color replied, “Since you’re awake, you can keep watch over her.”
Qian Wanyu furrowed her brow slightly. Battling that phantom, she had learned a lot, especially in regard to the cultivation she had neglected for a while. Since she received the Qian Family inheritance, she seemed to have been led astray by the allure of it, believing that unlocking the blood contract and acquiring the other half of the inheritance was paramount.
After this battle, she realized that there were always higher realms to strive for and people who would surpass her. Aside from the other half of the Qian Family inheritance, what mattered more was her personal cultivation and progress.
“Toothless is not in immediate danger.”
The phantom had an exceptional demeanor and immense strength. It could suppress them completely with just the weight of its breath. If it wished to annihilate them, they wouldn’t stand a chance, “We will ascend once the Ninth Sister awakens.”
Little Color was somewhat skeptical. “What’s the origin of that phantom? Even you couldn’t defeat it. What did you encounter in the depths of the pool to provoke such a formidable entity?”
Qian Wanyu reflected for a moment. She had experienced diving into the pool’s depths before. Initially, she had been led into a misconception by the previous black dragon. This time, as she and Toothless delved deeper, they were immobilized by an overwhelming force. Not only her, but Toothless was far worse off. Almost every part of its body was bleeding, and she had wanted to send Toothless back to the surface.
Contrary to her expectations, Toothless had been tenacious this time, stubbornly continuing to swim downstream.
“It’s likely it is a Spiritual Saint’s ruins left by the dragon clan.”
There wasn’t just that black dragon below, but also numerous dragon bones. She had been wary when she first dived into the deep pool, having just been attacked by the nine dragons outside the stone gate. She instinctively resisted the massive entity and perceived the black dragon as a living one.
In fact, the area below was likely a Dragon Clan burial site.
Merely hearing these two words sent a thrill through Little Color. To its knowledge, no Spiritual God had been born on this continent. Below the Spiritual God, a Spiritual Saint was almost omnipotent. The number of Spiritual Saints could be counted on one hand, “No wonder there were nine dragons guarding the stone gate.”
This was a treasure of the Dragon Clan. No wonder the dragon-sealing area was referred to as the Forbidden Zone of the Trapped Dragon Valley.
“It’s just a hypothesis,” Qian Wanyu added. She suspected the phantom at the bottom was likely a hidden Spiritual Saint. Was it too coincidental?
“Ninth Sister once saw Meng Ruoyu talking about the Spiritual Saint, tempting Qian Ziyan and the others in the mirror of the third generation. That is, this was news that got out. But for some reason, that group of people were all trapped in the Trapped Dragon Valley. Unable to find an exit, they perished on the outskirts of Trapped Dragon Valley.”
“How unfortunate,” Little Color commented, with a tinge of schadenfreude. If it had been in their place, it would have surely died of regret.
The actual location of the Spiritual Saint ruins… who was responsible for disseminating this series of news? So many people have been killed, and yet the facts have been deliberately distorted, making outsiders think the news is false.
They’ve blurred the line between truth and fiction, confusing what’s real with what’s not.
Had Qian Yiling not seized the Sleepy Dragon Seal during a desperate counterattack, and if the Sleepy Dragon Seal hadn’t ended up in Dongfang Minghui’s hands, they would probably have dismissed this information as false as well. It would have been even less likely for them to accidentally end up here.
The person pulling the strings played their cards well, but sadly, they made a minor slip-up.
Qian Wanyu shot Little Color a cold glance. If her mother knew that she had crossed paths with that Spiritual Saint back then, leading to the premature death of the head of the Qian Family, her grandfather, and the disappearance of the two most promising geniuses of the Qian Family… This matter wouldn’t simply be left unresolved after so many years.
Qing Mo could sense the violent fluctuation in the other party’s soul wave, “Wanyu, I think there are still people in the Trapped Dragon Valley.”
Upon hearing this, Little Color felt slightly guilty.
Seizing the opportunity, Qian Wanyu caught Little Color’s guilty expression. Her eyes were dark, her expression calm, “Jing Ke is very familiar with the Sleepy Dragon Valley. I suspect there must be someone hiding in here We may have overlooked certain things.”
Little Color remained silent, playing its role as a background character. It had seen in memory fragments that someone from the previous expedition had entered the valley three years ago, but none of those people left, the memory fragments did not record their whereabouts.
Mentioning this was as good as not mentioning it at all.
“Why don’t we take this opportunity to explore the abyss once more, perhaps we can find some clues.”
Dongfang Minghui had an epiphany after a brush with death. Seven days later, she woke up to find herself still encapsulated in the water cover, on a tiny boat, too small to draw anyone’s attention.
“Ninth Sister has woken up.”
“Seventh Sister.” Dongfang Minghui inspected her from head to toe, relieved to see that she was unharmed.
She felt as if she’d had a beautiful dream, and somehow, she had started to advance in her cultivation during the dream. She glanced again, finding Qing Mo and Little Color, “Well, it feels like someone is missing.”
“Toothless…?” Qian Wanyu was wondering how to tell her about Toothless and what lay at the bottom of the deep pool.
“Seventh Sister, what happened to Toothless?”
As soon as she heard that Toothless was missing, Dongfang Minghui immediately stood up, causing the water cover to sway.
With an air of ‘I knew it’, Little Color spoke up first, “Beneath the deep pool are the remains of the dragon clan. Toothless has stumbled upon an opportunity that belongs to it. Just like last time, when it dove to the bottom of the shark dragon pool in pursuit of the Fire Lotus, it was similarly reckless.”
Dongfang Minghui suddenly understood. Toothless was always very persistent in getting what it wanted, “Then where is Toothless?”
“At the bottom of the deep pool.”
“Ninth Sister, why don’t we leave the deep pool alone for now, and wait for Toothless to find what it’s looking for. He will surely emerge soon.”
“But, I’m still worried about Toothless, I want to go over there and have a look.”
Qing Mo felt compelled to warn her, “With your current cultivation base, under that kind of strong coercion, you can only endure for three breaths at most.”
Dongfang Minghui looked at Qian Wanyu eagerly, “Seventh sister.”
Qian Wanyu understood her concern, “I have a proposal. We’ll go over there, take a look, and if we can’t see Toothless, we’ll return immediately. We have to be realistic.”
“Okay, I’ll just take a quick look.”
With that, Qian Wanyu took the initiative to grasp Dongfang Minghui’s hand, a steady flow of spiritual power transferring from her to the other.
The breathless feeling was instantly relieved. Looking at the hand that held her so tightly, her heart felt warm. It helped to purify the spiritual power in both of them.
The water cover in the deep pool was very powerful. Even though it was a relatively short distance, Qian Wanyu and her party struggled for nearly an hour to traverse it.
Getting closer, Qing Mo felt his soul and body start to drift uncontrollably, “Wanyu, we can’t go any further.”
Qian Wanyu held Dongfang Minghui’s hand and stopped in their tracks. The water cover had also already started to deform, “We encountered that phantom here before. Initially, it was two against one, but it probably identified Toothless’s identity and split into two phantoms.”
Dongfang Minghui’s face was creased in worry. After all, Toothless was her pet. When she couldn’t see him, she couldn’t help but worry, “I hope Toothless is alright.”
“Don’t worry, Toothless is very clever.” Qian Wanyu reassured.
The group had struggled to descend, but ascending was much quicker. It took them less than half an hour to climb out of the deep pool.
Sleepy Dragon Seal had been guarding the stone gate. The gate had two locks, one was opened from the outside and the other from the inside. As soon as Sleepy Dragon Seal saw them emerge, he hurriedly unlocked the gate, “It’s good to see you all made it out.”
“Sleepy Dragon Seal, don’t you know what’s in this deep pool?” Dongfang Minghui was still very concerned about Toothless. If she could know something more, it might ease her worry.
“I don’t know.”
“Sleepy Dragon Seal, I need you to take us to the abyss again.” Qian Wanyu requested calmly.
Dongfang Minghui thought for a while, understanding what Seventh sister wanted to confirm. Fourteen years had passed since their encounter with Meng Ruoyu, and they had no idea what lay beneath the abyss, “Sleepy Dragon Seal, take us to see.”
The group set off non-stop from the stone gate, then journeyed down into the abyss. Along the way, Dongfang Minghui noticed that Seventh sister paused every time they passed through a corridor, “Seventh sister, what are you looking for?”
“The places we’ve overlooked.”
Qing Mo, trailing behind them, explained slowly to Dongfang Minghui, “We met the imposter Jing Ke before, and from his words, we deduced that he knew a lot about this Dragon Valley. Not only could he find your Seventh sister smoothly he also knew the time intervals between the changes in Dragon Valley. Moreover, he was aware of Qian Yiling taking the Dragon Seal twenty years ago. This suggests that he is likely someone who once lived in Dragon Valley.”
Dongfang Minghui was a bit dazed after hearing Qing Mo’s long explanation. The amount of information was just too much. The current Jing Ke was a fake, and the one who replaced him was someone who was very familiar with the geography of Dragon Valley and its temporal shifts… She was aware that Seventh sister had been cautious about Jing Ke, but she never imagined that he was actually an imposter, “How could Jing Ke be fake? He was with us when we were in the Beast Race lands.”
Hearing Ninth Sister’s response, Qian Wanyu frowned and warned, “Ninth Sister, the real Jing Ke is probably dead. When you encounter Jing Ke in the future, you must remember that his body is being controlled by someone else. His memories have also been taken over by someone else, it’s not surprising he knows about our past.”
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Dongfang Minghui nodded in a daze, and quickly put the matter of Jing Ke aside, “Aside from the Sleepy Dragon Seal, how can anyone else in this world understand the layout of Sleepy Dragon Valley like that? It doesn’t make sense,” Dongfang Minghui murmured, “Unless he was trapped in Trapped Dragon Valley, with nothing to do but draw a map of the valley over and over…There’s another possibility… unless the builder of this Dragon Valley had a hand in it.”
Everyone fell into silence, deep in thought.
Qing Mo quickly ruled out the possibility of the builder of Trapped Dragon Valley. The valley has a history of hundreds of years. Unless someone had cultivated to become a Spiritual Saint, they wouldn’t live that long.
“What if this person could search for souls?” Qian Wanyu suddenly suggested. She had always suspected that Jing Ke was just Meng Yixiao in disguise. If Meng Yixiao could search for souls and take over others’ bodies and memories, that would put an entirely different spin on things.
“It’s not impossible.” Qing Mo acknowledged, knowing the soul-searching technique was documented in the Qing Lan Sect’s book collection. Despite it being a secret technique, the Qing Lan Sect has undergone many changes, and even the soul-searching technique may have leaked out. “Wanyu, I remember that when you probed Murong Qingyi’s soul back then, you encountered a portion of her memory you shouldn’t have, and then she self-destructed. At the time, I suspected someone had used some memory alteration on her, suggesting Xian and those behind her know how to use soul techniques.”
“What is soul techniques?”
Dongfang Minghui was already bewildered by this onslaught of explosive information. After a moment of thought, she managed to ask about this term.
“Soul techniques is somewhat similar to Priest Larkin’s attempt to alter your memory. He had implanted a suggestion in you. If it wasn’t for me, you’d probably have been exposed by now,” Little Color took the initiative to give a broad explanation within the soul sea.
“In fact, it’s more insidious than soul-searching. They plant a suggestion in your soul sea while you’re not aware, and if the person inadvertently triggers this suggestion, they could end up killing themselves.” Qian Wanyu recollected how this had happened with Murong Qingyi, but she hadn’t encountered such a situation since.
“But when I was searching Xian’s soul, I didn’t find this kind of skill.”
“It may have been erased. After all, Xian was also considered a discarded pawn.”
Dongfang Minghui was a bit confused by their conversation, “Hold on, Seventh sister, Master Qing Mo, what does our earlier discussion have to do with the soul-searching technique?”
“Your Seventh sister suspects that there’s a person who continues to take over other people’s bodies, replacing them and assimilating their knowledge and memories,” Qing Mo explained.
Dongfang Minghui knew that in the world of cultivation, this method of taking over someone else’s body was called body possession. She didn’t expect Jing Ke to have been taken over by someone else, “But, it’s too coincidental that he found someone who knew the layout of the Sleepy Dragon Valley. How did he find them?”
“If he’s not only looking for one person, perhaps he has taken over many people’s bodies and memories over the years we’re unaware of, accumulating a lot of memories. Then it makes sense,” Qian Wanyu even began to suspect that Meng Yixiao was just one among the crowd of people whose bodies were taken over.
She had this suspicion because the other party also tried to opportunistically invade her soul sea while she was accepting her inheritance.
The group exchanged blank looks, as the magnitude of information on this matter was enormous, and too incredible to comprehend.
After a brief respite, they continued on their way, inspecting every path. But apart from the silent monsters in the cave, they saw neither the Spiritual Master of Death nor the group of living dead they had hoped to encounter.
Until they reached the bottom of the abyss, they still found no trace of anything or anyone.
“Seventh sister, why has the blood in this pool turned black?”
There was nothing under the abyss, save for a round black pool, some blackened bones scattered around, and soil pockets soaked by the black pool water that had undergone substantial changes. As the two of them descended, faint traces of the ground being burnt by Toothless’ golden flame could still be seen. It was a striking sight, resembling a half-curved crescent moon.
As Dongfang Minghui approached, she still vividly remembered the events as if they had happened only yesterday. At that time, she was in utter fear as Uncle Mu bit desperately at her wrist, causing her to spring up in fright as though her bones had been rearranged. “I’ve only ever heard of a phoenix being reborn from ashes, but never of a deceased Spiritual Master being burned by Toothless’s flame and still surviving.”
Especially living as a pile of bones, not appearing human, nor ghost. Was such an existence truly better than being human?
“Seventh sister, it seems no one has lived here for quite some time.”
A considerable amount of dust lay on the steps made from bending iron rods. There wasn’t even a trace of living plants at the bottom of the abyss. A pervasive atmosphere of death hung everywhere, especially the black pool water in the middle, which always gave an unsettling feeling of depression.
“It does seem like it’s been a long while since anyone last passed through here.” After Qian Wanyu confirmed that the place was uninhabited, she casually picked a stone from the ground and threw it into the black pool of water. Although the sound it made wasn’t loud, it echoed distinctly in the eerily quiet place.
Following the plop, there was a secondary sound of bubbling and gurgling.
Both of them instantly became alert. Qian Wanyu then threw another stone, and the sound of the bubbling bubbles intensified.
“Seventh sister, there’s still something in this pool…” Dongfang Minghui pulled out her silk umbrella, ready for anything.