Chapter 260 The Snake in the Grass
The arrival of dusk saw the beginning of bloodshed in Mount Tianlong. Crimson spilled forth, blending into the dark ambience surrounding the temple. The sounds of bones crushing and flesh rupturing drifted into Zi Yuan's ears.
First blood had just been drawn.
And Zi Yuan found herself questioning the entire purpose of Cultivation. Was this really the so-called path to transcendence? Or was the world of Cultivation long past its glory days?
In the olden days, master Cultivators sought to spread the truth and cultivate virtue amongst humanity. Nowadays, Cultivators associate themselves with pointless squabbles and petty crimes.
When had things come to this?
Above the bloody corpse on the ground, the glowing chakram gyrated, reveling in its first kill of the night. A second later, the chakram abandoned its victim and returned to its master's waiting hands.
"She's pretty strong, isn't she?"
Zi Yuan turned sideways to face her companion, the man whose company was anything but welcomed.
Zhang Tianhé zhenren's broad smile remained visible in the dark, much to Zi Yuan's displeasure. Why couldn't this man leave her alone already? She didn't even want to see his face. Zi Yuan curled her lips. She knew exactly why the man was so intent on bugging her.
"The seven-tailed fox spirit, Ye Yu," Zhang zhenren continued as though he didn't have a single clue of Zi Yuan's bubbling annoyance.
Sometimes, Zi Yuan wished she couldn't hide her emotions so well.
Zhang zhenren chuckled. "And it's my first time seeing the Adamantine Chakram of Magnificence in action too."
Zi Yuan frowned and returned her gaze to the front.
A green apparition rose from the misshapen corpse on the ground; the man had managed to activate his Yin Spirit in time.
"Ye Yu! You demon witch! How dare you destroy my body!"
Ye Yu released the chakram in her hand and let it circle above her head.
"We can go for another round if you're not satisfied," Ye Yu taunted. "Though I assure you that it will be the end of you this time."
"You witch!" the apparition growled.
A ruckus spread over the crowd of Cultivators gathered outside the barrier. Boos and hisses drowned out the apparition's angry curses.
Heathens, Zi Yuan concluded, curling her lips in disdain. The majority of the Great Six consisted of heathens.
As though to prove Zi Yuan right, a brouhaha erupted among the crowd.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk… The Quanzhen Dragon Sect has become rather weak, hasn't it?"
"Hmph. Just look at the man. His body is in tatters! And the fight barely lasted three seconds. How pathetic."
"Right? Leave it to the Quanzhen Dragon Sect to ruin the Great Six's reputation."
"You mean you folks never saw this coming? Hah! Lemme tell you something. The Quanzhen Dragon Sect is a mere shadow of its former self."
A sardonic smile spread across Zi Yuan's lips. The entire Cultivation world was a mere shadow of its former self. Not that these people cared.
"I suppose you're right. Its glory days were back in Qiu Chuji's time."
"Oh, yes. Definitely."
"Indeed. Master Changchun was the most famous among the Seven True Taoists of the North."
"But sadly, his legacy was ruined by Yi Zhiping, Li Zhichang, and their cohorts…"
"Mm-hmm. It gets worse generation after generation, doesn't it?"
"Shut up! Who are you people to be bad-mouthing our sect!"
"Yeah! You people from the Golden Elixir Sect are no better than us!"
"What the hell did you say?! How dare you lump our sect together with the likes of yours!"
"Tch! Which powerful Cultivator has the Golden Elixir Sect produced since Zhang Bóduān and Bai Yüchan? Oh, that's right. No one. Heh. No one worth mentioning anyway."
"Hey, hey… Relax… My fellow friend from the Golden Elixir Sect. Just let it go, eh?" There was a sneer. "It is not worth your time arguing with these weaklings."
A chorus of yells and curses broke out. Someone from the Quanzhen Dragon Sect stepped forward to quiet the ruckus.
"Yeah. You're one to talk. The Donghua Sect is even worse than the Golden Elixir Sect!"
"Well said, shīxiōng! Well said! The Donghua Sect hasn't produced a single worthy Cultivator ever since Ning Quanzhen died nearly a thousand years ago! These hacks have no right to even open their mouths here!"
Zi Yuan heard a loud sigh beside her.
"Well. I guess that's my cue to step in." Zhang zhenren let out a resigned chuckle. "It's best if I do something before they start killing each other."
Zi Yuan smirked. Good riddance, I say.
Zhang zhenren gave her a pointed look which rubbed her the wrong way. "I expect you to join us soon, Zi Yuan zhenren." One of Zhang zhenren's brows rose. "The Zhengyi School thrives on the loyalty of its subsidiary sects." A slow smirk crept onto Zhang Zhenren's lips. "The Linggong Sect has been rather… quiet, of late."
Zi Yuan's skin crawled.
"The Linggong Sect's loyalty has always been with the Zhengyi School." Zi Yuan gave Zhang Tianhé a smirk of her own. "Perhaps you have forgotten how much my master had sacrificed for the sake of the Zhengyi School all those years ago."
Zhang Tianhé's smirk faltered instantly.
"I will step in when the time is right, Zhang zhenren." Zi Yuan quirked a brow. "And when I'm actually needed." She tilted her head towards the quarrelling crowd.
Zhang zhenren regarded Zi Yuan for a moment before he nodded. "See that you do, Zi Yuan zhenren. See that you do."
Zi Yuan watched through narrowed eyes as Zhang zhenren floated away from the grove they had been hiding in. Zi Yuan had picked this grove due to its density—she could use the trees for cover. The fact that it was located on higher ground helped as well, since it would give her a good vantage point of the temple.
Zi Yuan didn't like what she had seen so far. There hadn't been a single sign of Mo Ahshi.
The noise from the crowd dwindled when Zhang zhenren rejoined the crowd.
"Calm yourselves, my fellow comrades." Zhang zhenren's voice resonated through the night. "Tonight, we, the members of the Great Six have convened for a common goal and to take down a common enemy! We…"
Zi Yuan stopped listening when she felt a familiar presence in her vicinity. Relief coursed through her as Hongling's figure scoured through the dark foliage and landed beside her. The damask hovered above her protégé's head after she landed.
Hongling opened her mouth to speak but Zi Yuan silenced her with a finger.
Realization crept into Hongling's wide eyes, and her mouth clicked shut.
Zi Yuan pulled out a talisman and went through a series of hand signs.
Water Element: Sound Barrier.
The talisman on Zi Yuan's palm began to glow in red; the surrounding water vapor shifted and gathered until she and Hongling were enclosed inside a transparent bubble.
"Did you find her?" Zi Yuan asked once the spell was in place.
Hongling shook her head dejectedly.
Zi Yuan frowned. "I see."
Hongling glanced down at her feet guiltily. "I… I'm sorry, Zi Yuan jiějie."
Zi Yuan reached over and rubbed her protégé's arm affectionately. "Don't be silly, Hongling. It's not your fault that she isn't here."
Hongling nodded weakly.
Zi Yuan released a soft sigh. Hongling had been walking on eggshells around Zi Yuan ever since their yelling match the other night.
"What did you find, then?"
Zi Yuan turned her head instantly, almost wishing that it was a joke. Alas, Hongling's grave expression bespoke the significance of that finding.
"Five. All of them belonged to the members of the Great Six."
Zi Yuan mulled over Hongling's findings in silence. "The Heir's doing?"
Hongling shook her head. "Doesn't seem like it." Hongling pulled out something from her pocket. "I also found this."
Zi Yuan took the paper and studied it.
It was a talisman.
"The Divine Fist School." Zi Yuan frowned. "I see."
Zi Yuan shook her head in disgust. The talisman burst into flames courtesy of a Fire spell.
"It was brutal, Zi Yuan jiějie." Hongling shuddered. "One of the corpses didn't even have a head."
Guess we now know what happened to Zhang zhenren's trusted patrol unit.
"Any Yin Spirits flying around?" Zi Yuan asked.
"No." Hongling paused. "I doubt any of them had reached the Yuanying phase, Zi Yuan jiějie."
Zi Yuan hummed in agreement. It made sense. Zhang Tianhé would choose to keep the powerful ones here for the assault.
"Any signs of the Heir?"
Hongling shook her head again.
Zi Yuan nodded. "Good."
If Hongling couldn't detect his presence, then it meant that he had hidden the Jindan's Aura well.
"Do you think he's here? In Mount Tianlong?" Hongling asked tentatively.
"Of course he's here," Zi Yuan said. As if there could be any doubt about that.
Hongling nodded meekly.
A companionable silence filled the space between them.
"What about you, Zi Yuan jiějie?" Hongling stared up at her. "Did you manage to find anything?"
Disgust welled up inside Zi Yuan's throat as she shook her head. "I was being watched."
Hongling visibly tensed up. "By whom?"
"By Zhang Tianhé and his people, no doubt." Zi Yuan glanced at Hongling from the corner of her eyes. "It's another reason I chose to hide here."
Hongling began to glance around fearfully.
"Don't worry," Zi Yuan said. "Nobody's watching now."
Hongling stopped her frantic glances. "Oh."
"He was testing me, Hongling." Zi Yuan chuckled humorlessly. "Wanted to see where my true loyalty lies."
Hongling sighed. "So what do we do now, Zi Yuan jiějie?"
"Have you searched the entire mountain?"
"Yes," Hongling mumbled.
"Even the summit?"
"And there were no signs of her aura?"
Zi Yuan hummed thoughtfully. The damask would know if Su Chan was in fact nearby. "Either she isn't in the mountain. Or…"
"Or she's in there?" Hongling pointed at the temple.
Zi Yuan nodded. "Mo Ahshi hasn't made her move yet."
"Wait. You mean she hasn't shown herself?" Hongling sounded surprised. "Not even once?"
Zi Yuan shook her head. "The barrier is still up." Zi Yuan paused in thought. "At least we know that Liu Ye is still alive."
Hongling sighed dejectedly. "I guess it's pointless to ask where Bahuang is then…"
"The barrier will come down once Mo Ahshi makes her move." Zi Yuan paused, holding Hongling's gaze. "He's expecting us to fight." Zi Yuan tilted her head towards the crowd where Zhang Tianhé appeared to be giving a lecture on teamwork and the pride of the Great Six.
A conflicted look spread across Hongling's face, the sight of which made Zi Yuan smile.
"Why? Having scruples about killing fox spirits now, Hongling?" Zi Yuan teased. "That's a first."
Hongling's face crimsoned when she looked away.
"Hasn't it been your wish to wipe out these so-called foul creatures from the face of the earth, hmm?"
Zi Yuan knew she shouldn't teased the poor girl so much, but she just couldn't help herself.
Hongling's blush deepened.
"T- They aren't all bad," Hongling mumbled.
Zi Yuan's smile widened. Zi Yuan had known for a while now that Hongling's view on fox spirits had changed. To be exact, she had known since the night the twins died at the hands of Hé Shao. Zi Yuan didn't think she could ever forget the look on Hongling's face that night when they both saw Su Chan, a supposed demon witch, trying desperately to save the life of a human girl.
Something warm bloomed inside Zi Yuan's chest.
You've grown, Hongling. And I'm so proud of you…
"Don't worry, Hongling."
Hongling's gaze suddenly returned to Zi Yuan's face.
Zi Yuan gave her protégé a firm look, hoping that it would reassure the girl. "All eyes will be on me once the fighting starts." She paused and cast a glance towards the temple. "I'm not expecting you to take part in the battle."
Zi Yuan glanced at Hongling. The poor girl looked puzzled.
"I have another mission for you."
The red damask faltered in its flight and landed on Hongling's shoulder.
"This is important, Hongling." Zi Yuan gave her a protégé a serious look. "And you must not fail me."
Hongling stood up straighter. "O- Oh." Hongling cleared her throat. "I- I'll try my best, Zi Yuan jiějie."
"All hell's going to break loose once the barrier is down." Zi Yuan paused pointedly. "When the fighting begins, I want you to sneak into the temple."
Hongling's eyes widened slightly.
"Infiltrate the temple." Zi Yuan nodded firmly. "See if you can find out where Su Chan and Bahuang are."
Zi Yuan slipped a talisman into Hongling's palm, then gave her a pointed look. "This will summon me to you when activated."
Hongling stared at the talisman for a moment before she pocketed it.
"If you encounter Mo Ahshi inside the temple and she happens to have the sword, do not engage," Zi Yuan said sternly. "Do not attempt to take Bahuang on your own." Zi Yuan paused. "Instead, you are to summon me with the talisman immediately. Do you understand?"
Hongling gave her a shaky nod.
"Good." Zi Yuan sighed and looked towards the temple. "With any luck, the Heir would arrive and stop this mess before a carnage breaks out." Zi Yuan shot Hongling a glance. "He's probably going to start his search from the temple."
"But what if she isn't even here?" Hongling stared at Zi Yuan for a moment. "We've run out of leads, Zi Yuan jiějie." Hongling sighed. "It's like she's gone without a single trace."
"There is another option," Zi Yuan said thoughtfully, then shook her head. "But I fear we might not have the opportunity."
Zi Yuan glanced at Hongling briefly. "Liu Ye."
Recognition flashed inside Hongling's eyes. "I- I see…"
"The Great Seer might have ways to find her." Zi Yuan paused. "But Mo Ahshi might take him out before we even have the chance to ask him for help." Zi Yuan let out a heavy sigh. "And then there's the fact that he hasn't found Wushuang-qiánbèi yet, which is very worrying." Zi Yuan shook her head. "Either he hasn't suspected anything yet, or…"
"Or what?" Hongling asked.
Zi Yuan shook her head instead of answering.
Or Wushuang-qiánbèi's captor had managed to conceal Wushuang-qiánbèi's location from the Great Seer's sight. There were certainly ways to accomplish that. Powerful sealing spells could pull it off; so could magical objects such as the Purple Gold Jade Plate.
"Zi Yuan jiějie?"
Zi Yuan waved a hand. "Never mind—"
A bright flash appeared below. Zi Yuan looked towards the temple. A human-sized gap was slowly forming on the barrier's surface.
"That's a counter-spell, right?" Hongling asked.
Hongling stepped forward until her face was less than an inch away from the sound barrier Zi Yuan had erected earlier. "Hey… I know that man." Hongling turned around to look at Zi Yuan. "He's the one whose conversation I overheard back at the guesthouse."
Zi Yuan stepped in to take a closer look. A short, plump man was sliding through the gap. "Which sect is he from?"
"The Jinshan Sect."
"I don't know who his opponent is though," Hongling mumbled.
"Ye Yu," Zi Yuan answered quickly. "She's a seven-tailed fox spirit."
The battle began when Ye Yu's chakram hurtled towards the short man.
"You know we can't just walk up to Liu Ye and ask him about Su Chan, right?" Hongling said all of a sudden. "Zhang zhenren will be watching."
"Of course we can't," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the battle. "Hopefully the Heir would show up before anything happens to Liu Ye."
"You'd think he'd be here by now," Hongling grumbled, "given that he's fast enough to dodge lighting."
Zi Yuan smiled at that remark.
"He'll be here, Hongling."
The glowing chakram morphed into a blue streak, chasing its enemy back and forth. As the battle continued, Zi Yuan began to wonder if things would've been different had Master not left them so soon.
A giggle escaped Ruan Hongling's lips despite the gravity of the situation. Below them, the plump man's limbs had withdrawn into his torso, which had swollen up like a gigantic, round, spherical…
A meatball. The man had just transformed into a human meatball.
"What kind of spell is that, Zi Yuan jiějie?" Ruan Hongling burst into giggles again. "It looks like something from that cartoon show!"
Zi Yuan jiějie raised a brow.
"Oh, you know." Ruan Hongling bit her lip to stifle a smile. "Teenage mutant ninja turtles."
Zi Yuan jiějie looked like she had no idea what Ruan Hongling was talking about, so Ruan Hongling decided to let it drop.
The human meatball began to roll around on the floor to avoid the chakram's vicious slashes.
"Pfft! Hahaha…" Ruan Hongling clamped her hand over her mouth and then stole a quick glance sideways.
Amusement shone in Zi Yuan jiějie's eyes, much to Ruan Hongling's relief.
"Do not underestimate that spell, Hongling." The corner of Zi Yuan jiějie's lips twitched. "It's actually a pretty decent Earth-style escape spell."
Ruan Hongling let her hand drop from her mouth and gaped at Zi Yuan jiějie.
Zi Yuan jiějie smiled. "Watch," she said, indicating the ongoing battle with a slight head tilt.
The meatball rolled again. Sparks flew as the chakram scraped against the ground.
"I don't get it, Zi Yuan jiějie." Ruan Hongling bit her bottom lip. "He's just… rolling around."
Zi Yuan jiějie chuckled. "You'll see soon enough."
"Soon" turned out to be one minute later.
The chakram struck empty air.
"Hey—" Ruan Hongling was rendered speechless. The meatball had just vanished into the ground. "W- What? How did he do that?"
Zi Yuan jiějie answered with a cryptic smile.
The chakram continued to circle Ye Yu, who looked just as surprised as Ruan Hongling felt.
"Here it comes," Zi Yuan jiějie said.
Ruan Hongling leaned forward slightly and squinted through the darkness. "Whoa…"
The man rose from the ground a few feet behind Ye Yu, who didn't seem to be aware of his presence yet.
Suddenly, Ye Yu turned around, but she was too late.
The man's thick arms wrapped around Ye Yu's body, successfully trapping her in a tight bear hug. Something was happening to the man's arms, like they were turning into rocks.
"It's called the Earth Transformation Spell."
Zi Yuan jiějie's voice brought Ruan Hongling out of her trance.
"That huge boulder just now is actually an earth shield," Zi Yuan jiějie explained. "The user can also harden his flesh, effectively turning his flesh into stone."
"But how did he… how did he go underground?" Ruan Hongling asked. "There wasn't even a hole on the ground. It's like he…" Ruan Hongling gestured with her hands wildly as she searched for the right term.
"Like he could move through the earth?" Zi Yuan jiějie said.
Ruan Hongling turned to face her mentor. "E- Exactly."
Zi Yuan jiějie nodded. "In its most advanced form, the Earth Transformation Spell allows its user to become one with the earth. You could move through the earth, or even conceal yourself in the ground as long as you have to spiritual energy to maintain the spell. It's a very good escape tool."
The sound of roaring laughter drew Ruan Hongling's attention back to the battle.
"You're done for, demon witch!" the short man snarled. "Now you can't use that chakram of yours unless you want to slice your own body in half." The man snickered. "Meanwhile, I'm just going to crush your body with my bare hands."
"The battle is over." Disdain colored Zi Yuan jiějie's tone. "He's too careless. Too full of himself."
The crowd's cheers turned into screams of horror when Ye Yu transformed into her fox form. Seconds later, a seven-tailed fox with fire red fur towered over the temple. One of Ye Yu's tails rose and plucked the short man off her back. A loud crack sounded when the man's body slammed into the ground.
Ruan Hongling winced internally when one of Ye Yu's paws squashed the man's body into a bloody pulp.
The short man's Yin Spirit rose from under Ye Yu's paw.
"Uh-oh," Ruan Hongling said.
A soft sigh was Zi Yuan jiějie's only reply.
They both knew what was coming.
Ye Yu's mouth opened wide.
The crowd went into an uproar: some were screaming in anger; some were screaming in fear.
The short man attempted to flee with his Yin Spirit, but he was too late; his Yin Spirit was sucked right into the seven-tailed fox's mouth.
"You goddamned demon witch!" someone from the crowd yelled.
"Release this barrier now so that we can kill you properly!"
The crowd was silenced when all of Ye Yu's seven tails slammed into the ground. A feral grin formed on the giant fox's mouth.
Someone broke the silence.
"The Jinshan Sect will not tolerate this!"
"Release the barrier you cowards!"
The fox's body glowed in red as it begun to shrink in size. Seconds later, Ye Yu was back in her human form, grinning smugly at the members of the Great Six through the barrier.
Ruan Hongling looked towards her mentor. "She's strong…"
"This is nothing," Zi Yuan jiějie remarked. "Wushuang-qiánbèi is far more powerful."
Ruan Hongling nodded. If this was what a seven-tailed fox spirit could do, she couldn't even imagine what kind of power a nine-tailed fox spirit like the Mystical Silver Fox possessed.
Suddenly, Zi Yuan jiějie took a small step towards the sound barrier. "Hongling…"
Ruan Hongling's stomach dropped when she noticed the tensed set of Zi Yuan jiějie's shoulders.
Ruan Hongling quickly followed Zi Yuan jiějie's gaze to see what was wrong.
Something was happening at the temple.
Below, the crowd had parted to two sides to make way for Zhang Tianhé zhenren, who was moving towards the temples protective barrier. On the other side of the barrier, an old man was stepping out from the temple. A long, grey robe enveloped the man's dwarfish figure. The robe billowed and fluttered around the old man with every measured step he took. Trailing after the old man was his entourage, which consisted of the members of the Fox Zen School.
Ruan Hongling noted with interest that aside from Liu Ye and one other man among the entourage, the rest of them were all women.
Zhang Tianhé zhenren unsheathed his sword. A golden radiance emerged from Zhang Zhenren's right hand, dispelling the gloom in the temple's vicinity.
"Z- Zi Yuan jiějie…" Ruan Hongling never thought she would have the opportunity to see that sword with her own eyes. "I- Is that…"
"Mm," Zi Yuan jiějie said. "The Sword of Seven Stars."
Zhang Tianhé zhenren's clear voice resonated through the night. "So you have finally shown yourself, Liu Ye."
"Round up your people and leave, Zhang zhenren." The old man stopped beside Ye Yu. "Before more blood is spilled." The old man flicked the sleeve of his robe. "I see a lot of young faces here. It is such a waste for them to die in such needless scuffles."
A woman stepped forward from the entourage, stopping on Liu Ye's right.
Ruan Hongling felt Zi Yuan jiějie shift beside her.
"There you are," Zi Yuan jiějie whispered to herself, "you snake in the grass…"
Frowning, Ruan Hongling observed the woman on Liu Ye's right. The woman's posture and facial expression bespoke a regal air and a dignified comportment. Compared to Ye Yu, this woman looked far less threatening.
Then, it clicked.
"Wait… You mean that's Mo Ahshi?!" Ruan Hongling practically screamed. Pretty sure the entire mountain would've heard her voice by now if they didn't have the sound barrier.
"I think so," Zi Yuan jiějie answered after a moment.
"But I thought you've never met her before," Ruan Hongling said with a pause. "How could you tell?"
"Take a closer look at the woman's hair."
Realization swamped Ruan Hongling. "The hairpin…"
"Mm." Zi Yuan jiějie's gaze remained fixed upon the scene below them. "It's her, Hongling. There's no mistake."
"B- But she looks so… so…" Ruan Hongling shook her head. "I mean, she's like a Bodhisattva!"
"Never judge a person by their appearance, Hongling," Zi Yuan jiějie said, sounding unimpressed.
"I know… It's just…"
Ruan Hongling didn't manage to finish her sentence as Zhang Tianhé zhenren's voice sounded again.
"We will leave once your walls are reduced to ruins."
"Your plan has been foiled, Zhang zhenren," Liu Ye said. "There is no way you can breach this barrier. It is futile."
It surprised Ruan Hongling a little that a frail old man could speak that loudly.
"Oh, I beg to differ, Liu Ye," Zhang Tianhé zhenren said in a smug tone.
"Is this what you call a successful assault, Zhang zhenren? Sending in one man at a time to face all of us?" Liu Ye gestured at the army of battle-ready fox spirits behind him. "You are sending your men to their deaths."
Zhang Tianhé zhenren's elegant laughter sounded below.
"It would seem that your fears are unfounded, Liu zhǎngmén," Ye Yu sneered, ignoring Zhang Tianhé zhenren's laughter. "At this rate, I alone can dispatch these weaklings." A look of disdain spread across Ye Yu's face. "We don't even have to count on that despicable woman to show up."
Ruan Hongling frowned. Despicable woman? It took Ruan Hongling a second to realize that Ye Yu was referring to Ao Wushuang.
"None of them knew," Ruan Hongling commented. "None of them suspected anything."
"Wushuang-qiánbèi never got along with any of them," Zi Yuan jiějie answered. "I doubt anyone bothered to look into her disappearance."
Not even Liu Ye?
Ruan Hongling looked towards the temple, where Liu Ye and Zhang zhenren appeared to be having a heated argument with each other.
"Get ready, Hongling." Zi Yuan jiějie's serious tone interrupted Ruan Hongling's observations. "Things are about to go south."
Ruan Hongling squared her shoulders and gave Zi Yuan jiějie a firm nod.
I can do this… I can do this…
"Do you know your mission?"
Ruan Hongling nodded. "Sneak into the temple. Find Bahuang. Find Su Chan."
"Tell me your plan," Zi Yuan jiějie said. "What's your strategy?"
Ruan Hongling answered in a heartbeat, "I'll let the damask find the girl while I myself search for Bahuang."
Zi Yuan jiějie seemed impressed. "That would be wise."
"If I find Bahuang, I will summon you with the talisman," Ruan Hongling continued to outline her plan. "If I find Su Chan and her life is in immediate danger, I will summon you with the talisman. If her life isn't in immediate danger, I will take note of her location and then report it back to you."
Zi Yuan jiějie suddenly turned her head. "And in the event of an emergency?"
Ruan Hongling forced herself to meet her shījiě's stern gaze. "I will activate the talisman and summon you to my location immediately."
"Good." A thoughtful look spread across Zi Yuan jiějie's features. "When you're looking for Bahuang…" Zi Yuan jiějie trailed off as though she was considering her words carefully.
"What is it, shījiě?"
"Avoid the common areas in the temple." Zi Yuan jiějie frowned. "If she has the sword, she's most likely going to keep it hidden somewhere to avoid Liu Ye's suspicion." Zi Yuan jiějie glanced at her briefly. "I'm not sure about the rest of his disciples, but I think Liu Ye knows that Wushuang-qiánbèi had Bahuang."
"Understood." Ruan Hongling nodded. "I know what to do."
Zi Yuan jiějie's expression remained thoughtful when she returned her gaze to the temple. "The battle is probably going to take place in front of the temple. However, the Great Six has the number's advantage, so they're probably going to spread out to cover more ground."
"And to prevent anyone from escaping," Ruan Hongling added.
The Great Six had made things pretty clear back at the guesthouse: slaughter everyone; leave none alive.
Ruan Hongling turned her head when she felt Zi Yuan jiějie's gaze on her.
"You need to infiltrate the temple from above."
Zi Yuan jiějie nodded. "Once the barrier is down, fly up high and then lower yourself to the temple's compound. Make sure to be quick."
"Roger that." Ruan Hongling froze, suddenly remembering something. "When do you think—"
Zi Yuan jiějie raised her hand and pointed at the temple below them. "Something's going on."
Zhang Zhenren's voice was too soft to be audible, but Ruan Hongling knew that he was speaking to a few members of the Great Six. What surprised Ruan Hongling a little was that nobody was working on the counter-spell.
Maybe because they know they won't be needing the counter-spell soon, an ominous voice sounded inside Ruan Hongling's head.
"Leave, Zhang zhenren!" Liu Ye said loudly. "It is over."
Zhang zhenren stopped speaking and turned around to face the barrier. The Sword of Seven Stars suddenly stabbed itself into the ground.
"That's where you're wrong, old man," Zhang zhenren said in a confident tone. "The game's just about to begin!"
"You're wasting your time!" Liu Ye snapped.
Zhang zhenren laughed. "Am I?"
"What is the point of all this, Zhang zhenren?" Liu Ye said. "The Fox Zen School has never harmed anyone!"
"You shouldn't waste your breath on the likes of him, Liu zhǎngmén," Ye Yu sneered. "These people are just a bunch of lunatics."
Zhang zhenren suddenly stopped laughing, and a confident smirk spread across his handsome features. "The barrier is coming down, old man."
Liu Ye slid his hands under the sleeves of his robe. "You're out of your mind."
Zhang zhenren suddenly grabbed the hilt of the Sword of Seven Stars. "And you, Great Seer, are blind."
It all happened so fast that Ruan Hongling almost missed it: Liu Ye's body flew backwards until it crashed into wall of the temple; Ye Yu sank to her knees, her chakram rolling uselessly on the ground.
Mo Ahshi's hair had come loose, though it wasn't the woman's hair that struck terror into Ruan Hongling's heart.
It was the woman's face.
The face of a female rakshasa.