Si Tian Guan Chapter 186

Chapter 186: An Ning

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The journey from Dingling Hill to Chengsong Ridge, spanning over ten li, wasn’t an easy one. Once they left the official road, there was no longer a path suitable for riding horses.

They left one person at the foot of the mountain to guard the horses and began their hike uphill.

Liu Zhongming unfolded the map and examined it.

Many herb gatherers and woodcutters claimed they knew the location of the three tombs. After a bit of inquiry, they had a clear direction.

With their pace, it would take them a bit over an hour to arrive in the vicinity. Although they wouldn’t make it back to Dingling Hill before nightfall, spending a night out in this season wasn’t particularly challenging.

Although the sun hung overhead, its rays were mostly blocked by layers of foliage. Only speckled patches of light managed to break through and paint the ground, while the steam rising from the earth obscured the trunks, leaving behind faint shadows.

The forest was exceptionally quiet. Occasionally, a strange bird call echoed through the woods, sending a somewhat eerie feeling.

Surveying his surroundings, Ding Lekang fell a few steps behind, coming to Qu Chenzhou’s side and asking in a hushed tone, “Qu Sitian, with so many trees here, do you think… those tree spirits from the legends might gather in groups?”

Although they previously thought that the odd occurrences here and the strange trees were two separate matters, the news that came in the morning proved otherwise.

Yesterday, the middle-aged merchant that Qu Chenzhou had instructed them to watch over had been lost track of. He vanished when someone went to get water.

The place where he disappeared wasn’t far from Chengsong Ridge, forcing them to be on high alert.

“Impossible,” Liu Zhongming interjected from ahead, “If those things only target individuals, they must have reservations about attacking a group. If there were truly so many of these creatures gathered together, Dingling Hill wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Qu Chenzhou examined the position of the sun and replied, “Likely not. If there were such disturbances, the three Zhou governments would have sent troops already. It wouldn’t have remained just as verbal rumors.”

Ding Lekang echoed his sentiment, feeling slightly reassured.

Despite being in command of the Jinwu Guard, he had never encountered such supernatural occurrences before. He unconsciously relied on these equally eerie “demon eyes” to maintain his composure.

They stopped to rest twice more. When they looked towards the west-tilting sun, Ding Lekang suddenly raised his voice, “Something’s not right.”

“You’re right,” Liu Zhongming remarked calmly while surveying the surroundings, “It’s broad daylight, yet it feels like we’re hitting a wall.”

Not far ahead, in a half-dead tree hollow, a cluster of yellow mushrooms had grown. This was the place they had already passed twice.

“Is it a ghost?” Ding Lekang and the few attendants drew their weapons in response, their gaze vigilantly scanning their surroundings.

“It is indeed a ghost.”

Qu Chenzhou, whose stamina was less than the others, had been shielded by their formation and was now stepping forward. He took the map from Liu Zhongming’s hand.

“There’s a ghost among you,” he pointed in a certain direction, “I’ve been curious for a while. There’s a path there. Why did you keep circling around the same area? Follow me.”

“Wait, over there…” Ding Lekang thought he might be under some curse. Just as he opened his mouth to warn about the thorns and brambles ahead, he saw Qu Chenzhou striding forward. He walked directly towards an ordinary tree. Right next to the tree was a path that became visible when the grass was trampled down.

Even Liu Zhongming couldn’t help but feel surprised, but he immediately followed suit.

In the span of a cup of tea, the scenery around them had changed, and they were no longer in the same place they had just passed. Through the mottled canopy, they could even see dissipating smoke.

Ding Lekang finally exclaimed, “Qu Sitian, you’re truly a divine being among us.”

Qu Chenzhou waved him silent and pointed ahead, asking, “Do you see someone in front?”

If this was the location they were looking for, then the sight before them was consistent with their expectations—a group of people were indeed performing a ritual.

Just as the waiter had said, the only problem was not finding the path up the mountain. It was a shock without real danger.

The fatigue from the afternoon’s climb was dispelled, and everyone quickened their pace. Soon, they could see firelight through the gaps in the trees.

Three tombs stood in a clearing. They had been meticulously arranged, and as expected, two people were kneeling in front of a stone tablet, carefully tossing yellow paper into the fire basin. The ashes of the burnt paper were scattered across the ground by the mountain breeze.

The scene before them was unremarkable. If it weren’t for the bizarre encounter with the barrier and the still figure of a large bird standing motionless on the open ground, nobody would have taken a second look at these two people.

Upon hearing the footsteps, the two individuals raised their heads simultaneously.

They were two young men who looked extremely similar. One of them had a strip of cloth bound around his eyes, with the eye sockets sunken in—he was blind.

Ding Lekang waved his hand, and the attendants behind him drew their swords, encircling the scene, and he exclaimed, “Who are you!”

“Don’t be impudent!” Qu Chenzhou rebuked, waving his hand for everyone to step back.

Before he could approach, the young blind man had already stepped briskly towards him. Despite being blind, his steps were light and steady, as if he could see the path ahead.

Not only could he see the path, but he was heading straight for Qu Chenzhou.

Liu Zhongming considered himself well-versed in various situations, but even he felt a bit unnerved by this sight. Nonetheless, he took a step forward, intercepting the person midway. “Halt!”

“Sir!” The young man stopped amiably, standing in front of Liu Zhongming. He bowed deeply to Qu Chenzhou from a distance and greeted him with a mix of surprise and joy, displaying extraordinary courtesy.

“Sir, it’s nice to meet you again. Do you remember us? Are you here for sightseeing, sir? Have you had a meal? Where are you staying now? What’s your name, sir?”

The young man behind him tugged at him and whispered, “An Ning, your speech is incoherent. You might startle him.”

Everyone’s gaze was fixed on Qu Chenzhou, including Qu Chenzhou himself, who was inexplicably astonished. “You know me?”

“In the past, Sir has taken care of us, and we haven’t been able to encounter you again,” the young man’s voice was gentle but laden with nervousness. He seemed like a sheltered child thrust into the public eye, fidgeting uneasily as he twiddled his fingers. He asked, “May I inquire, sir, have you found Zhongming?”

This time it was Liu Zhongming’s turn to be taken aback. “Found me?”

The two similarly looking individuals exchanged a glance and both breathed a sigh of relief before smiling.

“Congratulations to the two of you for reuniting and continuing your past relationship.”

A jolt ran through Liu Zhongming’s heart.

If he had heard this in a different context, he might have been overjoyed, but it wasn’t the right time. Even Ding Lekang’s expression changed subtly. Even if he was foolish, he should be able to sense that something was off about this statement.

“What nonsense are you spouting!” Ding Lekang scolded, “Who are you!”

“I apologize profusely; I forgot. My name is An Ning.” The man gestured towards his companion, “He’s Yan Guiqi. The token of gratitude for Sir has long been prepared. However, I didn’t anticipate running into you today and haven’t brought it with me. I’ll go retrieve it now. Could you wait here, Sir?”

“I don’t know you, and I’m not the ‘Sir’ you’re talking about. Don’t spout nonsense,” Qu Chenzhou coldly interrupted, then glanced at the wooden bird on the side, “You played tricks on us from the beginning, deceived the public with nonsense, and I won’t care who you are. Come with us to the government office, and we’ll sort this out.”

The young man named An Ning didn’t expect Qu Chenzhou to be so hostile, and he grew flustered. “Sir, I’m not—”

He stumbled over his words, his gaze shifting, which made him even more suspicious. He seemed like he wanted to approach but was held back by the other person.

“An Ning, you should go ahead. He doesn’t remember.”

“Stand still!” Ding Lekang suddenly roared, without saying another word. He swung his blade down at An Ning with full force.

His strike carried immense power, akin to a tornado’s fury. If it landed, An Ning might have been split in half.

However, the sound of metal striking against something resonated as sparks flew, and the blade broke in half, shattered upon impact with something unseen.

The onlookers behind Ding Lekang were filled with terrified exclamations.

Before Ding Lekang could raise his voice to stop, he saw a section of branch, as thick as a finger, entwining around his wrist. It was flexible and durable.

“Dare to touch An Ning?”

“Ah… Guiqi, stop…”

The branch seemed to come to life, rising like a snake’s head, lifting up from its initial trajectory towards his chest and suddenly piercing through his shoulder.

Ding Lekang gritted his teeth in pain and roared, “Surround them!”

Countless roots emerged from the earth, erecting a wall-like barrier, blocking everyone’s path.

Amidst the rising dust, the gigantic wooden bird emitted a creaking sound, lifting off with the two individuals on board, soaring into the sky. The voices from midair drifted down.

“Many thanks for Sir’s previous assistance. Today is not the time for conversation. We’ll meet another day.”

Even before Ding Lekang’s sword had landed, Liu Zhongming had swiftly lunged at Qu Chenzhou, rolling him to the side. He then helped him up before anyone else, while the others were still struggling to regain their footing.

As they watched the roots on the ground retract into the earth, everyone’s faces turned pale.

No one had expected to encounter such a situation in Chengsong Ridge.

“Tree… tree spirits?” Finally, someone managed to overcome their fear and spoke with a trembling voice.

Even Qu Chenzhou’s complexion turned ghastly pale. He stood up, brushed off the dirt from his clothes, but he didn’t speak nor did he look at Liu Zhongming by his side.

The situation had completely diverged from his expectations.

The two inexplicably strange individuals, who were clearly the “tree spirits” they had been half-believing and half-doubting, were completely opposite to what he had previously sworn with conviction.

What was worse, these two individuals appeared to have a rather familiar relationship with him, and they even mentioned Liu Zhongming’s name.

All the events intertwined into an inscrutable knot.

The gazes directed at him were different from just moments ago.

He took a deep breath and ordered, “Search the surroundings, see if there’s anyone else.”

No one complied with his command. Ding Lekang pointed the broken sword half at him, “Qu Chenzhou! Who are they? Who are you?”

Several attendants exchanged puzzled glances before turning their blades towards Qu Chenzhou.

“He recognizes the monster from earlier…”

“The monster’s illusion couldn’t stop Qu Sitian…”

“What Qu Sitian! He’s the monster!” Ding Lekang yelled sharply, “You led us here, what do you want to do?”

Everything had spiraled out of control.


These two words seemed to echo in layers, as if countless people had called him that way before.

Little monster, kill him…

Qu Chenzhou’s hand clenched slightly in his sleeve. He watched as Liu Zhongming, seeming afraid, backed away a few steps to stand on the other side… next to Ding Lekang.

“I don’t know them,” he stepped forward, his legs trembling, “and I’m not a monster!”

Initially, Ding Lekang had involuntarily taken a step back under the scrutiny of those eldritch eyes. But upon seeing Liu Zhongming, he mustered courage again.

“Shizi! Let’s take him down together! Let’s see what he truly is!”

“Alright, together…”

Liu Zhongming’s hand trembled as he drew his sword, and with a swift motion, he unsheathed the blade. Like a rainbow, it descended, slicing directly towards Ding Lekang.

Given their proximity, even Ding Lekang, who was already on high alert, was only able to react in time to angle the strike away from his shoulder, but it still managed to graze his ribs.

“Liu Zhongming! Have you gone mad?” Ding Lekang’s blade fell to the ground as he clutched his wound and yelled angrily, “Attack! Attack now!”

“You dare call him a monster!” Liu Zhongming sneered, “What the h*ll are you?”

Ducking to evade a wind-swept strike aimed at his head, Liu Zhongming spun around, slashing diagonally. He didn’t spare a glance at the person who had fallen with a miserable cry. Taking a few steps forward, he lunged at the person closest to Qu Chenzhou.

Initially caught off guard by the sudden changes, the man remained in a stupor until he saw the gleaming blade pointed at him. Suddenly realizing the danger, a hand hastily grabbed Qu Chenzhou’s shoulder while swiftly raising a knife with the other.

“Don’t come any closer…”

Before he could finish his words, he spat out a mouthful of blood. A short sword had thrust out from Qu Chenzhou’s sleeve, piercing into the man’s chest.

“Nicely done.” Liu Zhongming commended in passing, not bothering to look back, and darted towards another person.

The man collapsed to the ground, vomiting blood and suddenly breaking into tears.

“Qu… Qu Sitian, don’t eat me, I haven’t harmed you… I was just following orders…”

His words came to an abrupt halt as he slumped to the ground, with two swords embedded in his front and back.

“Ding Lekang escaped downhill.” Liu Zhongming pulled out his sword and tossed it over. “We can’t let him get away!”

The ghostly wall had vanished. Following the trail of blood on the ground, Liu Zhongming chased downward. After a stretch, it suddenly hit him: their hands were still joined.

That hand he had held countless times in his dreams was now gripping his own, as if it was the most natural thing. He hadn’t resisted.

He stared at it uncontrollably, his eyes almost bulging out. If he hadn’t been yanked by someone, he might have crashed into a tree.

“At a time like this, why are you daydreaming? Move quickly!” Qu Chenzhou calmly withdrew his hand, casting a side glance and wrinkling his brow in disgust. “What are you laughing at?”

Liu Zhongming quickly composed himself, refraining from further distraction.

Although he had delayed for only a short time, he had thought he would catch up to the injured man quickly. However, the trail of blood suddenly disappeared.

Everything here was full of oddities. They dared not split up and proceeded forward for a while before they had to turn back to find the injured man.

The others might be expendable, but Ding Lekang had to be taken down, even if he is dead, they had to witness his death.

“There are several droplets of blood here, more concentrated than before. He lingered here,” Liu Zhongming observed the traces on the ground and muttered to himself, puzzled, “But from this point onwards, not only the blood, but even the footprints are gone.”

A person so severely injured might be able to dress their wounds, but they couldn’t possibly conceal heavy footprints.

Qu Chenzhou didn’t lower his head to look at the man, but his gaze fell on a tree not far away. Half-dried tree trunk exposed a dark hollow, with yellow mushrooms growing on top.

“Why is it here again?”

He slowly approached, closely examining the cluster of mushrooms. There seemed to be something different about them compared to the ones he had seen before.

Previously, these mushrooms had been a pale yellow, but now their tips were tinged with a faint reddish hue.

Someone tugged at his sleeve.

“Wait, let me take a look here…”

Just as he was about to pull back his sleeve and reach out to pluck a mushroom, his wrist was grabbed. The touch was rough, not like a human hand.

“Chenzhou!” A roar came accompanied by footsteps as furious as a frenzy, “Get away from there! Quickly!”

Qu Chenzhou quickly turned his head and saw the twisted and withered tree branches wrapping around his wrist, slowly climbing up his arm. 

A drop of blood fell from above onto his shoulder.

Startled, he looked up and saw Ding Lekang, his body enveloped in a network of branch-like limbs. Numerous branches descended like a cage, aiming to cover him.

The author has something to say: It’s not good to write too much about An Ning, as it might overshadow the main characters. Just know that An Ning is an ally. He almost got beaten up by Chenzhou a few hundred years ago, but later they became friends. I’m heading towards the ending during my hiatus. Now it’s all in the drafts. If you find it confusing and can’t understand it, as always, keep reading, and you’ll get it. Not confusing PS: An Ning, in terms of being dull and timid, is the best among the bunch [not something to be proud of though…]

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