Amidst a chorus of opposing opinions, Xiao Yuan successfully stepped on Gu Louyin’s nameless sword. The two flew towards Pangu Mountain, and the closer they got, the hotter it became. Heat waves rushed head-on, hot enough to scorch human skin. Fortunately, no matter how hot it was, Gu Louyin’s body was always slightly cool. As long as he was by his side, Xiao Yuan would not be unbearably hot.
As they entered the boundary of Pangu Mountain, the heat rose again. Gu Louyin asked the person behind him: “How are you?”
Xiao Yuan nodded weakly, too hot to speak.
Gu Louyin said, “Hold onto me.”
This was not the time to be shy; Xiao Yuan moved forward, put his face on Gu Louyin’s back and put his arms around his waist. The coolness suddenly enveloped him, as if a long drought ended with sweet rain, and he couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
Gu Louyin’s body felt so comfortable, but it was too stiff – was he usually like that? Or was it because Xiao Yuan was holding him?
Xiao Yuan was thinking about it and suddenly realized that he had also become stiff, not daring to move his head and not knowing where to put his hands.
Stupid, too stupid, where was the wanton and unrestrained, easy going Xiao Yuan?
Xiao Yuan thought that forlornly, and his arms holding Gu Louyin tightened a little bit.
The two landed halfway up the mountain. Xiao Yuan saw Gu Louyin sweating a little bit and said in surprise: “Can you be hot too?”
Gu Louyin was born with a cold body and after his demonization, he stayed in the ice and snow. His sword was made of ice and snow and according to reason should not heat like them.
Gu Louyin put the sword in its sheath and said, “No.”
“But you are sweating.”
Gu Louyin’s cold white face flushed slightly, as if he was a little uncomfortable. He whispered: “I’m not sweating because I’m hot.”
Gu Louyin didn’t continue and said, “Let’s go.”
Li Yanzhi had already explored everything halfway down the mountain, so they just needed to search the upper half. Xiao Yuan squatted down, touched the scorched rock under his feet, smelled the smell again and immediately coughed violently. No one hindered Gu Louyin this time. Gu Louyin supported Xiao Yuan and said, “You don’t have to do this yourself.”
“Don’t get in the way.” Xiao Yuan said, “Mountain fires are common but is it possible to burn a mountain into such a state? Everything was burned, not even the remains of the bodies were left. The burning smell hasn’t dissipated for decades, there is no grass within ten miles, and resentment is soaring. This is not something that can be done by an ordinary mountain fire.”
Gu Louyin said, “Qingyan.”
“I guess so.” Xiao Yuan looked up at the top of the mountain. The bright moon was hanging high on it and ashes seemed to be floating under its brilliance. Xiao Yuan seemed to be able to see the scene of the great fire back then, with living creatures struggling and screaming in the sea of fire. The pain from Qingyan was ten times worse than that from an ordinary fire. They suffered the ultimate hell on earth, their hair, skin, flesh, blood and bone marrow all burned to ashes, leaving no trace, as if they had never existed in the world.
Gu Louyin’s voice pulled Xiao Yuan back from the illusion. Xiao Yuan withdrew his gaze, his heart beating a little fast. “Don’t go too far,” he said, “don’t leave me behind.”
Gu Louyin was startled slightly and said, “I won’t.”
The two of them went all the way up without seeing anything strange. Xiao Yuan gasped: “Did Gu Hang dig a hole in the middle of the cliff to hide Qingyan and the earth souls, like before?”
“Then it will be difficult for us. Pangu Mountain is so big, who knows where he had dug a hole.”
Gu Louyin said, “Let’s go to the top of the mountain first.”
Xiao Yuan kept using Bihai Chaosheng to fan himself. His face was flushed, his long eyelashes wet with sweat and his lips brighter than usual, as if he was slightly drunk and his makeup was half removed.
Gu Louyin’s heart was surging and his voice was hoarse: “Is it very hot?”
“Do you want to hold hands?”
Xiao Yuan felt that his face was getting even hotter and was almost incoherent with the heat: “Ah this…… is not necessary, I can still bear it. When I really can’t stand it, you can…… it’s not too late.”
A dark shadow quickly flashed past the giant rock behind the two of them, and Xiao Yuan put the matter of holding hands out of his mind, “Who is it?”
Gu Louyin said, “It may not be a human being.”
The two chased after the dark shadow. Gu Louyin was right. This thing was indeed not like a human being. With all four feet on the ground, it ran even faster than a leopard, and Xiao Yuan could only see a vague shadow when he followed behind.
Gu Louyin’s eyes narrowed; a chill rose suddenly and a thin layer of ice condensed on the scorched ground. The black shadow ran slower and slower, and after a while, it seemed to be frozen, completely still.
Gu Louyin was the first to catch up, and after seeing the true face of the dark shadow, he frowned and said, “Xiao Yuan.”
“Don’t come over yet.”
Xiao Yuan stepped forward and then stepped back again: “Why?”
“You may feel unwell.”
Xiao Yuan sneered, “Do you think I’m a weak little girl? What haven’t I even seen!”
Even though he was mentally prepared, when Xiao Yuan saw the dark red in the black, sticky flesh and blood, festering with fluid, he almost vomited. He made a strong effort to calm down and said, “A fawn?”
Gu Louyin said, “The ghost of a deer, this is its last appearance before it died.”
The only part of the fawn’s body that was intact was its eyes. Its eyes were dark and round and looked at Xiao Yuan and Gu Louyin as it was making a faint, pitiful sound.
Xiao Yuan said, “It doesn’t seem to be malicious?”
The fawn blinked slightly as if it had understood Xiao Yuan’s words.
Xiao Yuan asked, “Why did you suddenly appear here?”
As he said that, the fawn began to struggle, lowered its head and licked its frozen hooves, whining.
Xiao Yuan thought for a while and said, “Gu Louyin, let it go and let’s have a look.”
Gu Louyin said “en”, the ice and snow melted away, and the fawn stood up, nodded at Xiao Yuan, walked forward a few steps, stopped again, and turned to look at them.
Xiao Yuan said, “Does it want to take us somewhere?”
Gu Louyin said, “It may be a trap.”
Xiao Yuan smiled and said, “If Qingyan is really in Pangu Mountain, the most dangerous place must be where Qingyan is. Even if this is a trap, if we can’t deal with it, then we might as well stop looking for Qingyan and our earth souls and go back and cultivate for another twenty years. Moreover, we have no other clue.”
Gu Louyin had no objection. The two followed the charred fawn for about half an hour and came to a stone formation. This formation was obviously deliberately made by someone in order to block people.
Xiao Yuan bent over and asked the fawn, “Do you remember the way?”
The fawn blinked, slowed down, walked into the stone formation, took the two of them to go round and round and finally stopped in front of a dark cave.
Xiao Yuan said, “There is something in the cave?”
The fawn lowered its head towards Xiao Yuan as if bowing, then suddenly turned around and plunged into the cave.
Gu Louyin didn’t stop it this time, “It’s here.”
“Well, it should be here. “Xiao Yuan looked at the dark entrance of the cave with great interest, “I don’t know what the scene will be like inside the cave.”
Gu Louyin said, “Follow me closely.”
As soon as they entered the cave, the heat dissipated, as if it had changed from summer to autumn, making them feel cool. Xiao Yuan said, “There shouldn’t be an iceberg inside, right? Or will it be the same as the last time we tried to take Qingyan, a dense forest that can’t be walked out?”
Gu Louyin said, “Yes or no, we can find out when we see it.”
Xiao Yuan thought about many possibilities and was ready for everything. But when he walked out of the cave behind Gu Louyin and saw the scene in front of him, he was still shocked.
He and Gu Louyin were standing on high ground, while below them was a small, prosperous and noisy city with bright lights and people bustling about. A long street ran through the city from south to north, and there were two rows of red lanterns hanging under the eaves of the houses, illuminating the whole street as if it were daylight.
Xiao Yuan was in a daze when he saw it and it took a long time before he said, “Is this another illusion?”
Gu Louyin shook his head and said, “I did not see an opportunity to enter the illusionary realm.”
They would not enter an illusion for no reason. An illusion required a switch, just like the sound of guqin heard in the secret passage or Gu Louyin’s soul summoning technique.
Xiao Yuan guessed: “Maybe this is a relatively advanced illusion, so you and I didn’t notice it.”
Now that they were here, they had to go to the city to explore. Xiao Yuan said, “Do you think the people inside… are human beings?”
Gu Louyin said, “Whether they are or not, pay attention to everything and be careful.”
The city looked small, but the city walls were sturdy and tall, and there was only a narrow juncture that reminded Xiao Yuan of a bird cage of the same design. The owner of this city didn’t seem to want the people inside to come out. In other words, these people were most likely to be locked up inside.
The situation here had not yet been clarified and Xiao Yuan did not want to alert the enemy. There were only two of them and it was best to get what they wanted secretly. If they fought with Yunjian Pavilion again and exposed their purpose and whereabouts, their previous efforts would be in vain.
There were many guards with swords standing on the city wall. Looking from the top, they could have a panoramic view of the scenery inside and outside the city; but they didn’t know that two figures were quietly approaching behind them. They took advantage of the moment the guards turned around and slid into the city.
After landing, Xiao Yuan said, “Let’s go to the most lively street first.”
Gu Louyin’s eyes flashed. “Someone’s here.” After that, he took Xiao Yuan and hid behind the boulder on the side.
The city gate slowly opened, and a carriage drove into the city. The person driving was wearing a black cloak and a hood, and his appearance could not be seen. Based on his figure, he should be a man. The man stopped the carriage, took off a lantern on the door, and after he tapped on the door twice, a pair of slender hands opened the door, and then a man and a woman got out of the carriage one after another.
Xiao Yuan recognized the two of them and looked at Gu Louyin in amazement. Gu Louyin pressed his shoulder and motioned him not to act rashly.
Xiao Yuan felt a little relieved. The man in the hood he thought was only responsible for sending the two people over, unexpectedly, did not get back to the carriage after the two got out. Instead, he carried the lantern and led the man and woman towards the market. The horse pulling the carriage consciously turned around and left the city.
Gu Louyin whispered, “Wait for me here.”
Xiao Yuan nodded silently and obediently stayed where he was, watching the hooded man fall to the ground without Gu Louyin even drawing his sword. He walked out from behind the rock, went straight to the two people and said, “Master Shen, Miss Cai, why are you here?”
Shen Fugui and Cai Xunnian stood upright, their faces calm and indifferent, as if everything that happened around them had nothing to do with them. Xiao Yuan’s heart sank; he bent over to look at the man on the ground, removed his hood and said in surprise, “How could it be him.”
Gu Louyin said, “Do you know him?”
“This guy is a sword cultivator of Tianhe Sect. I pretended to be Shen Fugui and got quite close to him when I stayed at Baihua Palace.”
“He is not a human being,” Gu Louyin said, “this is not Shen Fugui or Miss Cai.”
Xiao Yuan straightened up, looked at the lively market and said in disbelief: “This is a… soul city?”
“Gu Hang not only took our souls, he also took others’.” Xiao Yuan’s voice trembled, “He… he took the souls of the whole city of people.”
Gu Louyin picked up the lantern that had fallen to the ground and said, “Soul-attracting lamp.”
Xiao Yuan had heard of soul-attracting lamps. The oil for this lamp was refined from corpses, and when ignited, it emitted the same smell as the flowers and plants on the side of the Yellow Springs, so it could control a human soul.
“What should we do now,” Xiao Yuan said, “should we continue to move forward with the souls of Shen Fugui and Miss Cai?”
Gu Louyin said, “Let’s find them a secret hiding place and come to pick them up after the matter is over.”
Xiao Yuan agreed to this approach. Using the soul-attracting lamp, Gu Louyin took them to a natural cave, just big enough to hide the two of them. Xiao Yuan also set up an enchantment around the mountain pass to ensure that ordinary demons and ghosts could not approach them. After doing all this, Gu Louyin put on a cloak and a hood to block his silver hair. Xiao Yuan changed to An Mu’s face, and the two walked towards the market together.
After learning that the ‘people’ all over the city were human remnant souls, Xiao Yuan felt cold all over when he was in the middle of the city. In appearance, these people seemed no different from ordinary people. They could talk and laugh, and even the shouts of street vendors were the same as what he heard in the outside world. Xiao Yuan even felt that they didn’t know that they were just remnant souls.
Xiao Yuan walked for a while, then couldn’t help but say, “Gu Louyin, don’t you find it a little strange?”
Xiao Yuan frowned, “I can’t tell what’s weird, I just think something is wrong.”
Gu Louyin slowed down, glanced at the passers-by and vendors one by one, and said, “They use their left hands.”
Xiao Yuan realized it immediately. Gu Louyin was right. All these people seemed to be left-handed. All things were placed on the left hand side and everyone held things with their left hand.
Gu Louyin said again: “Do you remember what Qian Sang said after we brought the ancient mirror back to Yunjian Pavilion two years ago?”
Xiao Yuan said, “I can’t even remember what you said two years ago, let alone Qian Sang.”
Gu Louyin said: “The ancient mirror is not just able to capture the soul, but also attach the soul to the mirror person.”
“So these are all mirror people?”
When passing by a tea shop, Gu Louyin suddenly stopped and pointed to an old man sitting in the tea shop and said, “This man is the True Lord Shang Wen, who had one of his hands destroyed by me.”
Xiao Yuan knew what Gu Louyin wanted to remind him, and said, “You mean the list we saw in Yunjian Pavilion?”
Gu Louyin nodded, “Those with marks after their names are all in the city.”
Xiao Yuan thought of Lu Yueyao and said, “Lu Yueyao’s body was poisoned badly. The True Lord Shang Wen had his hand ruined… Gu Hang is taking advantage of waste?”
“More than that.”
Xiao Yuan chuckled and said, “That’s right.” Shen Fugui and his shimei were not a waste but Gu Hang still took their souls, not to mention other innocent ordinary people. “There are so many ‘people’ in the city, how can we find ourselves?”
Gu Louyin said, “It’s not too difficult to find us.”
Gu Louyin glanced at him and said, “With your appearance, it’s hard not to be noticed.”
Xiao Yuan smiled, “The same goes to you.”
The two entered a restaurant and deliberately asked for a table at the window on the second floor. As they looked from upstairs, the long street below was busy with endless traffic; who knows if it was so lively all night long.
The waiter served them tea. Xiao Yuan didn’t dare to drink here. He pretended to hold the cup and looked at the faces of passers-by.
Suddenly, a figure dressed in crimson walked into his sight. It was a tall man with a noble and relaxed demeanour, looking handsome and elegant. His long untied black hair was falling like a waterfall,.
Xiao Yuan’s eyes widened, “It’s… it’s him.”
Gu Louyin followed his gaze. He remembered this man. He had seen him in Baihua Palace. He remembered that the man’s name was Xiao Du.
A crack appeared on the cup in his hand as Xiao Yuan held his breath and looked at Xiao Du intently. He saw Xiao Du stop in front of a vendor selling lanterns and bought a lantern from the shop owner.
Xiao Yuan noticed that Xiao Du used his right hand whether he paid or picked up the lantern.