Dongfang Minghui cried for a while, and after being exhausted from crying, she simply fell asleep on Qian Wanyu’s lap.
“Ninth Sister, wake up.”
Seeing the sky darken, Qian Wanyu eagerly tried to wake her up.
Dongfang Minghui, who sleeps soundly every day but becomes restless at night, was truly exhausted. She rubbed her sleepy eyes and immediately noticed the dimming surroundings. “Seventh Sister, it’s getting dark. You and Mo—”
Before she could finish, Qian Wanyu covered her mouth.
Mo Ce, understanding the situation, looked up and glanced at them. His fingers habitually caressed the animal skin letter Although the letter’s contents were scant, he had spent two hours reading it and continued to peruse it repeatedly.
“Don’t mention it,” Qian Wanyu warned Dongfang Minghui.
Recalling the scene where she had confronted Mo Ce, Dongfang Minghui covered her face in embarrassment and nodded. “Seventh Sister, I won’t bring it up again. Just stay close to me.”
After saying this, her eyelids drooped with fatigue. She yawned deeply and fell asleep on Qian Wanyu’s lap once more.
Mo Ce placed the letter into a pouch, rose with a long sword in his grasp, and eyed Dongfang Minghui warily. “Where does she intend to lead us?”
Qian Wanyu gently stroked the soft hair beneath her hand. She watched Mo Ce stand up expressionlessly and position himself outside the Nine Dragons Cave, swiftly pinpointing the exact entry spot.
As the pair stepped inside, they encountered the cave’s two guardians. The guardians hesitated momentarily. Qian Wanyu and Mo Ce coordinated an attack from opposite sides. A loud boom echoed from the cave’s depths, suggesting something had been activated.
Standing before a stone gate, Dongfang Minghui unconsciously raised the sleepy dragon seal in her hand towards the gate’s pattern. The seal and the pattern aligned perfectly, causing the stone gate to unlock.
Qian Wanyu and Mo Ce hurriedly entered and were met with an astonishing sight: nine immense dragons circled overhead, their eyes fixated on the duo as if they were a meal.
Mo Ce began to draw his sword, but Qian Wanyu swiftly stopped him. “Don’t be hasty. Haven’t you observed the iron chains on them?”
Mo Ce had indeed noticed.
“No matter how swift your swordplay is, it won’t surpass the speed of these nine dragons. We might handle one dragon, but nine attacking simultaneously? That would require us to have nine lives. These dragons seem to fear something.”
With a click, the trapped dragon seal synchronized with the stone gate’s pattern. The lock emitted a loud sound, and the heavy gate opened slowly. The airborne dragons lunged with open jaws and claws.
Qian Wanyu’s whip soared but tangled with a dragon’s claw, leaving her suspended in the air.
After the gate opened, Dongfang Minghui quickly entered.
Mo Ce hesitated, pondering if he should assist when he heard Qian Wanyu’s urgent voice. “Enter quickly and secure the stone door for me. Ensure it doesn’t close too soon.”
However, the stone gate began to close rapidly. Mo Ce couldn’t prevent its closure, and his sword nearly bent under the force. Due to the gate’s swift closure, five of the nine dragons were yanked back by their chains, resuming their mural positions.
Four remaining dragons attempted to tease Qian Wanyu, who was being dragged by another dragon.
Qian Wanyu noted the narrowing gap in the stone gate, and anxiety clouded her composed face. “Qing Mo, this isn’t working.”
If the gate remained open, the mural’s Nine Dragons wouldn’t return to their places soon. They relied on the chains flanking the gate to reposition. “Mo Ce, protect Ninth Sister.”
Little Color had seen Qian Wanyu in tough situations before. Yet, for some reason, this occasion was particularly exhilarating. It gloated within the soul realm. “Your Seventh Sister might be locked out. Even if I intervened, I’d be nothing more than a plaything beneath their claws.”
The sound of ‘Mo Ce’ might have been too loud.
Dongfang Minghui’s eyes, which were already gleaming with lines, suddenly opened. “I heard it.”
Little Color was startled and remained silent for a while.
She approached with determined strides, placed her hands on both sides of the stone wall, and using the strength of her arms, forced open the stone door that was about to close. The five dragons, previously depicted on the wall, soared into the air, visibly elated.
Her black and white eyes swiftly transformed into sleepy dragon patterns. As she faced the group of nine dragons, the one that had teased Qian Wanyu recoiled, retreating back to the mural. The other eight dragons did the same and soon settled down.
“Seventh Sister, come here quickly.”
Qian Wanyu looked at Ninth Sister in surprise. Meeting those eyes filled with flowing lines, it felt as if Ninth Sister was consciously gazing at her.
“Why are you daydreaming? Let’s move,” Qing Mo urged from the sea of souls.
Once the stone gate was securely closed, the inner chamber reverted to its original state. The Nine Dragons on the wall appeared lifelike. From the shadowy exterior of the cave, a figure emerged and chuckled, “So, a key is needed to open the stone gate, and the Dragon Seal truly is in their possession.”
When all three entered the stone gate unharmed, Dongfang Minghui’s vision blurred and she began to collapse.
Mo Ce was closest to her. But as he reached out, Qian Wanyu swiftly took hold of her. He reasoned, “I just didn’t want to see her hit the stone steps.”
Qian Wanyu simply replied, “Thank you.”
Beyond the stone gate lay a deep pool, encircled by nine dragons. Clear water trickled from the dragons’ mouths amidst a thick mist. Mo Ce retrieved a porcelain bottle from his belongings and collected some water from beneath a dragon’s mouth.
“I’m surprised a killer like you isn’t more cautious,” Qian Wanyu remarked with a hint of mockery. “Clear water isn’t necessarily safe to drink.”
Hearing her words, Mo Ce hesitated, ultimately pouring the water back into the pool. “It seems fresh and untainted.”
Qian Wanyu provided him with a bit of water.
Mo Ce eyed her with mixed emotions. While she seemed to resent him, she had been unexpectedly caring throughout their journey. After a few sips, he examined the blade of his sword, which had been bent by the stone gate.
He tapped it lightly. Its resonant sound indicated its spiritual nature.
Qian Wanyu, after gently cleansing Ninth Sister’s face, noticed Mo Ce attempting to straighten his blade. She kindly advised, “Swords have spirits. Mishandling them can distress these spirits. For now, use it as is. Once we return to the orc tribe, I can ask the dwarves to refurbish it for you.”
“No,” Mo Ce declined without hesitation.
Qian Wanyu’s brows furrowed in annoyance. Why did she continue to engage with someone so unappreciative?
Qing Mo, observing their interactions, commented, “Ever since entering this Sleepy Dragon Valley, something seems off.”
Upon regaining consciousness, Dongfang Minghui first checked on Qian Wanyu, then Mo Ce. Noticing both were unharmed, she murmured with relief, “I’m glad you’re both okay.”
Dongfang Minghui stood, surveyed her surroundings, and inexplicably approached the pool’s edge. As she stepped into the water, Qian Wanyu grabbed her just in time, preventing a potential mishap.
“Ninth Sister, haven’t you always feared water?” Qian Wanyu’s brow creased in concern. She struggled to understand how someone typically terrified of water could enter the pool so fearlessly. Grasping Dongfang Minghui’s face, she looked deeply into her eyes, “This pool is so deep, you can’t even see your own reflection. What were you thinking?”
Visibly shaken by Qian Wanyu’s stern tone, Dongfang Minghui quickly explained, “Seventh Sister, I don’t know what came over me. I was just so relieved to see you both safe. It felt like something was calling me, I couldn’t resist…”
It seemed she had an uncontrollable urge to jump.
Hearing this wasn’t her true intent, Qian Wanyu softened. “Do you still feel compelled?”
Dongfang Minghui vehemently shook her head. Given her aquaphobia, and the manner in which she’d approached the pool, even nine lives wouldn’t have been enough to save her.
That night, Mo Ce and Qian Wanyu took turns keeping watch, primarily concerned about the erratic behavior of the Dragon Seal. While on duty, Mo Ce tinkered with his damaged sword. Seeing its sheath had become useless, he discarded it. Turning around, he was startled to find Dongfang Minghui, who appeared to be sleepwalking, fixated on the pool.
Qian Wanyu was equally vigilant. Noticing Dongfang Minghui’s movement, she abandoned her task. The two watched as she made her way to the pool’s center, moving with a vacant gait.
After exchanging a glance, Qian Wanyu and Mo Ce hurried after her.
Seemingly possessed by the Dragon Seal, Dongfang Minghui looked bewildered. She didn’t understand her compulsion to enter the pool, only feeling it was necessary. But once there, she was at a loss for what to do next.
Standing still, Mo Ce curiously inquired, “What’s come over her?”
Qian Wanyu’s expression grew grave. “Qing Mo, have you noticed the Dragon Seal acting differently lately?”
“Yes,” Qing Mo replied, pointing out that since Dongfang Minghui had awakened, she had advanced several levels in spiritual power. “It’s possible her rapid advancement has made it difficult for the Dragon Seal to control her, leading to these incidents.”
“But I don’t recall when Ninth Sister advanced…” Qian Wanyu pondered, suspecting they both may have briefly fallen under the Dragon Seal’s spell. Turning to Qing Mo, she sought confirmation, “Do you… remember?”
“I don’t,” Qing Mo admitted, suggesting they consult Mo Ce on the matter.
“Mo Ce!” Qian Wanyu called out deliberately, but Ninth Sister didn’t respond.
Mo Ce’s perplexed gaze met Qian Wanyu’s, and he silently let her observe.
“I want to ask, did anything unusual happen after we pulled Ninth Sister out of the wind and sand before?”
“Unusual?” Mo Ze pondered, “Everything seemed normal, except for the tree. That’s the only anomaly I can think of.”
“After descending, did you ever close your eyes for a brief rest?”
“No, I’ve been alert the entire time.” Mo Ce, being a killer, instinctively maintained caution in unfamiliar environments. Especially after the fall, there was no time to rest. He paused, looking at Qian Wanyu with a hint of suspicion, “However, if I recall correctly, you lost consciousness for about the time it takes an incense stick to burn.”
From Mo Ce’s perspective, Qian Wanyu’s spiritual power surpassed his own. He remembered that after their descent, both he and Qian Wanyu had momentarily dozed off beside the rooted tree. “You awoke before she did.”
“Qing Mo, do you remember what happened during the time when I was unconscious?”
Qing Mo was equally puzzled, “I should have been awake when you were unconscious, but I don’t remember the incident Mo Ce just mentioned.”
That was the crux of their dilemma.
For a moment, the trio stood silently in the deep pool. Suddenly, the stable path within the pool vanished, replaced by surging waters. Caught off guard, Qian Wanyu and Mo Ce were swept away. Dongfang Minghui remained stationary, allowing the water to pour over her.
“What’s going on? Cough, cough.”
Dongfang Minghui was awakened by a rush of water, only to be submerged again. If not for Little Color’s timely intervention, lifting her head out of the water, she might have drowned.
“Ahem. Is it dawn?”
“No, ever since entering this valley, the Sleepy Dragon Seal has been temperamental.” Little Color remarked, recalling how startled it had been by Dongfang Minghui’s recent actions.
Dongfang Minghui was disoriented. She swiftly retrieved the Shark Bead from her storage, noting its unusual dark green hue. Without much thought, she placed the bead in her mouth. Moments later, a spherical water barrier formed around her.
“Why does the water appear discolored? Is it due to the pool or the water barrier?”
“It’s peculiar.” Overwhelmed, Dongfang Minghui remarked, “Where are Seventh Sister and Mo Ce?”
Little Color, trying to maintain a low profile, couldn’t dodge her direct question.
“They were nearby just moments ago, but the current swept them away.”
“We must find them.”
Following Little Color’s guidance, Dongfang Minghui noticed the path becoming more treacherous. The water barrier ceased its movement, and the waters below seemed still. Boldly, she stowed the Shark Bead away, allowing herself to float serenely, feeling the gentle water caress her face.
Her call echoed around her. The area seemed to dampen sound. Darkness enveloped her, giving the impression of being observed from a distance.
Growing anxious, Dongfang Minghui called out, “Toothless.”
Realizing its oversight, Little Color felt a pang of guilt.
Frantically searching her storage, Dongfang Minghui’s mood plummeted when she couldn’t find Toothless. “Why isn’t Toothless in my storage? He’s always been there…”
Little Color, regretful, speculated, “Perhaps he wandered off while we weren’t looking?”
But even it didn’t find this explanation convincing. Though Toothless was playful, he always stayed close to them, especially Dongfang Minghui.
She felt the weight of losing Toothless starting to sink in and Dongfang Minghui’s panic deepened.
“It’s odd. I didn’t notice when Toothless vanished.” Since before my memory’s always somewhat disoriented, “Why does it feel like there are gaps in my memory?”
The inadvertent comment struck a chord with Little Color as well.
Little Color shared the sentiment, “Why can’t any of us remember? Did we collectively lose parts of our memory?”