Chapter 351: The Elders
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
Deciding to leave for Heart-Forgotten Cottage in Yanshan would risk deviating Meng Qi’s group from their main task, distracting them with another new pursuit and compromising the success of the primary task. The matter of safety was also another underlying factor. With or without the arrival of the Skyscraping True Devil, the quandary of the stranger responsible for the disappearance of the Fate-Protecting Tripod appeared to have kept their hands full.
Using the Secret Voice-Sending technique, Meng Qi and the others had a little discussion as they weighed their options. Meng Qi then looked meaningfully at Zhao Heng and shook his head gently, hinting that he would decline on their behalf while checking to see if he has any interest in joining their party.
Zhao Heng stood proud and tall with his sword sheathed on his side and turned to face Taoist Baizhang with his hands clasped. “Respectfully Senior Baizhang, speed shall prove to be the essence of this quest. Numbers do not matter here. Our collective strength might be useless in the face of might like the Skyscraping True Devil or foes of equal power. With your finesse in body movement techniques, even if you reach Heart-Forgotten Cottage at the same time as the enemy, the rest of us would still be far behind.”
Zhao Heng need not underline the fact that if they were delayed and the Taoist had to put up with their speed, the quest would have been for naught but regret and despair would be waiting in the empty cottage.
“Senior Baizhang, you are capable of traveling with the swiftness of the mountain winds. We would only be a hindrance if we were to accompany you to Yanshan. Instead, we might as well mount a direct assault on the Skyscraping Palace whilst the great devil is pre-occupied in this journey to the Heart-Forgotten Cottage. And a strike to their heart to wipe out the rest of the other demons,” added Meng Qi.
The three remaining demons that can presently be found at the Skyscraping Palace were the Water, Shadow, and the Blood Demons. Two of them relied on Devil Qi to enhance themselves, presumably to the degree of the Oneness of Heaven and Man but would be inferior to Jiang Hengchuan who had trained to this level through the conventional method. The Water Demon was estimated to have attained the level of Heaven-Man Connection via forced enhancement using Devil Qi, just the same as the Iron Demon. Anyone of Jiang Zhiwei, Zhao Heng or Meng Qi should be sufficiently powerful to make short work of them, whereas Qi Zhengyan and Ruan Yushu could also pit against them equally.
Despite the fact that the Corpse Demon was on its way back to Skyscraping Palace, Meng Qi and the others could mount an ambush and instantly neutralize one of the three demons before concentrating on the remainders while Meng Qi kept the Corpse Demon occupied. Zhao Heng could deal with another of the three whilst the trio of Jiang Zhiwei, Qi Yanzheng, and Ruan Yushu could quickly dispatch the final one.
The number of enemies could be effectively reduced at little to no cost. Moreover, the fact that only six Demonic Crystals were required also meant that they might not have to directly encounter the Corpse Demon after all.
Besides, there was also the Demon-subduing Pagoda!
“You’re right! I have been too hasty!” the Taoist admonished himself facetiously, “Donors Master Zhao and Master Su, what you’ve said is most definitely true. By removing the rest of the other demons from the chessboard, even the Skyscraping True Devil’s influence would be reduced to insignificance, regardless of his invincibility.”
The Seven Great Demons have been exerting their influence far and wide collectively. Their dominion over many flourishing cities in the land were bolstered by the horde of demon-possessed entities and sentient evil spirits. Even the Three World-Saving Sages would still be outnumbered and overwhelmed by the sheer number of the demonic mob if they were to slay one or two of the Great Demons together. In fact, the Three had once fallen into a trap and had almost perished at the hands of the Skyscraping True Devil. Not even the Three would risk such a gamble anymore, not without an actual opportunity that was guaranteed of success.
However, if the Seven Great Demons were to be fully uprooted and neutralized, the remaining rabble would scatter in fear, and the threat of the demons would severely dwindle.
As devastating as his invincibility might be, the Skyscraping True Devil remained but a lone Demon. By avoiding direct conflict, forces of Good would still be able to drastically diminish whatever influence the Demon had. The tide would gradually be shifted to their favor as they continued shaving whatever domination the lone Demon had left.
“Madam Tong and Mr. Zu,” Taoist Baizhang turned to the Thunderous Sword God and the Eight-Finger Heavenly Palm, “You both have been valiant in battle but you are both injured and infected by the Devil Qi and the poison mist. It is best that you return to your domains and recuperate. There shall not be any need to accompany me to Yanshan. I am concerned that the injury might worsen and the Devil Qi would conflict with your Vital Spirit, resulting in permanent damage. The influence of the demonic sense will continuously corrupt your temperament and personality.”
He reminded them all of the dangers of Devil Qi: The essence of evil corrupts the mind and flesh, and will also warp the personalities of the infected. Entities being possessed by demons or spirits suffering under the taint of the Devil Qi grow evil. There were, however, minorities that were able to provide aid to forces of Good although they agonize from the occasional seizures or convulsions as well as cravings to spill blood and wreak carnage.
Meng Qi was glad for himself that they had Filth-Extracting Pills prepared beforehand. Jiang Zhiwei and the others were fortunately unscathed in the earlier skirmishes save for himself. As long as his Eight Nine Mysteries and Golden Bell Shield techniques remained functioning, he would still be able to dispel the Devil Qi without any permanent damage to himself later on.
Tong Yao understood her predicament and agreed readily. She cupped her hands together in salute, “Everyone, the forces of the Skyscraping Palace would not suffer our destruction of the three Demons. There will come a time of reckoning for everything. I shall return to my domain to make arrangements for my disciples to provide distractions. I shall take my leave for now. Farewell.”
“I am confident that the Blood Demon shall not be of any further threat, with heroes like you to dispense justice with divine vengeance,” regarded Zu Wenzhong courteously before leaving.
A fog of silence soon blanketed the ruins like a black cape, with only the cawing of crows echoing in the darkness.
“Donors, our paths converge on the Water Valley City on the journeys to Yanshan and Skyscraping Palace. I say we journey there together before we separate. We can also collect some useful information together,” suggested Taoist Baizhang with a welcoming gesture.
“Of course,” Zhao Heng agreed with a laugh.
The scene in the Water Valley City did not seem to be as terrible as how Meng Qi had imagined. The streets were not deserted nor were the windows and doors shut. Residents still flocked to the streets to conduct daily activities and life continued as usual, but sentiments of gloom and melancholy clearly gripped everyone in the city leavung the mood rather insipid.
“The people here were initially terrorized by the invasion of the demons. They fled the city and sought refuge in the woodlands and mountains, but it was also dangerous out there. Seeing that the demons that invaded were not large in numbers, fatalities did not mount high every day, therefore they chose to return to the city. Still, the prosperity and happiness of this city were but mere shadows of its past splendor. The citizens here remained horrified and intimidated by the malice and bloodshed. The ruler of this place is possessed with a personality that has yet to be fully corrupted. He thirsts for blood once or twice a month, and he normally selects only the old or the afflicted. That explains why things are still running here,” Taoist Baizhang lamented with a sigh, hating himself for his inability to make a difference.
Meng Qi and the others sank into a mournful silence by his accounts of the situation. They followed the Taoist out of the main street and into a small alley until they had reached the back door of a large residence.
With a great leap, the Taoist jumped across the wall into the gardens of the large house. Meng Qi and the others followed suit. Once in there, they were led into the depths of the residence, past the garden and halls and into the study. The Taoist had deliberately led them away from any prying eyes, avoiding all servants and maids.
“The demons are brutal and cunning. Possessed humans are constantly watched by others of the same kind. They watch and spy on each other and would not hesitate to betray one another if they had a chance. Therefore we cannot risk being seen,” explained Taoist Baizhang when they reached the entrance of the study.
Meng Qi and the others immediately understood that Taoist Baizhang had led them to meet with the possessed ruler of the city.
Without a word, the Taoist knocked on the door with a series of rhythmic beats and waited. But no response came.
He opened the main doors of the study and led the others inside. He motioned to them all to remain quiet and wait patiently.
Moments later, they sensed a person with strong energy approaching. When he reached the corridor before the study, the person instructed his servant to remain there. The person then walked through the corridor alone and entered the study.
His brows arched in amusement as he noticed the presence of Meng Qi and the others. Unalarmed, he remained silent as he closed the door behind him.
“Senior Baizhang, they are?” He inquired to Taoist Baizhang, who he was familiar with, in a hushed tone.
Clad in brocade robes and a jaded belt with two neatly-trimmed mustaches, the ruler looked to be of middle age.
“I believe you’ve heard of Zhao Heng, the Shocking of Heaven and Earth, Castellan Xiong?” Taoist Baizhang introduced with a smile.
“The Shocking of Heaven and Earth? I have heard of your name,” nodded the Castellan awkwardly with a slight surprise. His dignified bearing and imperious demeanor resembled Taoist Baizhang a little.
“And these heroes are the assistance that Donor Zhao here had enlisted from abroad.” Fearing that delicate information about Meng Qi and his party might be inadvertently spilled during one of his seizures, Taoist Baizhang had intentionally omitted a detailed introductory to their host.
Castellan Xiong surveyed Meng Qi and his party for a few moments. Then he asked, “What have you done recently? The Corpse Demon passed by yesterday. Looking sullen and grumpy, he killed almost 300 people in a fit of rage, but he spoke of nothing to me.”
“We’ve slain the Fire, Soldier, and Iron Demons at the ruins of the Evergreen Temple. This was accomplished with the help of all the heroes here.” Taoist Baizhang was overjoyed to report the success of their efforts. It would have been a perfect victory, if not for the disappearance of the Fate-Protecting Tripod.
“What?!” The Castellan’s eyes grew wide in amazement. His gasp had nearly turned into a scream.
It took him a few gulps of breaths to douse his shock as he calmed himself. Stammering, he asked, “The Fire, Soldier, and Iron Demons? All dead… By you?”
“They are,” explained Taoist Baizhang with frankness. “The Soldier and Fire Demons were killed by these heroes. Some others and I helped slay the Iron Demon as well.”
The news struck the Castellan with shock and wonder. He could not believe his ears that the Demons have been slain by none other than the ones before him.
“It is true then, there is always a sharper blade,” he thought silently. Recollecting himself, he smiled weakly, “I see. These heroes are great champions indeed.”
“My lord, have you heard any news recently?” asked the Taoist. There was no merit in dwelling on events of the past.
“I’m afraid there are,” the Castellan turned solemn, “The Buddhist Monk Sanity has passed on.”
“What?!” The Taoist’s voice had nearly turned hoarse by his exclamation.
“The Buddhist Monk Sanity of the Three World-Saving Sages has passed on?”
The thoughts of Meng Qi and the rest were instantly diverted to another object, the Country-Stabilizing Seal. “Was the demise of the Buddhist master connected to the legendary artifact?”
As if hearing their thoughts, the Castellan continued in detail, “I received word that the Buddhist Monk had encountered a mysterious stranger ten days ago. He was defeated and killed in the fight with this stranger and the Country-Stabilizing Seal was taken.”
“A mysterious stranger?” The Skyscraping True Devil was the first that came to mind when it came to enemies capable of committing such atrocities.
“We have no knowledge of the identity of the stranger,” nodded the Castellan. “The stranger wore a mask and possessed terrible powers and strength.”
“The Myths? Or the Immortals?” At the Castellan’s description, Meng Qi’s party immediately thought of the two mysterious organizations. “Might there be a conflict between our mission and theirs?”
“Could it be that their mission is to acquire all three artifacts of the Fate-Protecting Triratna?”
“But, surely the task would be too easy for them?”
“So the Country-Stabilizing Seal had been taken… It appears that the masked stranger might be affiliated to the one who was behind the disappearance of the Fate-Protecting Tripod…” murmured Taoist Baizhang. This would also mean that they would also be after the Imperial Jade Bell in the Heart-Forgotten Cottage. Dreading even more woeful tidings, the Taoist hoped that the strangers had yet to be informed of the location of the cottage, lest they already be hastening to Yanshan.
The news had come too suddenly. The Taoist was still overwhelmed by the sudden appalling news and its implications. Finally, deciding that he should move on and try to get ahead of the other pursuers, they took their leave and left the mansion. They separated at the entrance of the city gates and the Taoist embarked on his hurried journey northwards.
“I can’t believe we could actually encounter actual members of the Myths or the Immortal,” said Meng Qi. The revelation of the involvement of the two mysterious groups baffled them. Members of the Myths and Immortals professed of astounding powers and strength that dwarfed all of them.
They relocated to a secluded area and continued their huddle.
“That might not actually be the case,” assured Zhao Heng, shaking his head, “actual members of the Myths and Immortal might not be really strong. In normal cases, nurtured Samsara Travelers are eligible for evaluation once they complete their Death Tasks. Once they’ve passed their evaluations, they will be actual members. But non-Samsara Travelers are rumored to have attained levels on par with the Heaven-Man Connection.”
“The task may be extremely difficult and the qualification is definitely grueling, but it does not mean that those with only the levels of Oneness of Heaven and Man or Half-Step of Exterior techniques would be certain to fail. We cannot overestimate the strengths of the actual members. We might still be able to compete with those who are fresh and inexperienced, as long as they are not the elders of these groups.”
“Think about it. The strongest in this world is the Skyscraping True Devil, and the Dominator of the Six Realms of Samsara would most likely refrain from assigning them to a cakewalk. Therefore, we can realistically estimate the extent of their strength. We would most certainly avoid crossing paths with them, but we need not be overly fearful of them!”
“I guess you’re right,” Meng Qi and the others agreed with Zhao Heng’s assessment. With a temporary respite from their anxiety, they set off for the Skyscraping Palace.
They were on their way when Meng Qi recalled the description of the main task,
“Seal the Demonic World channel within a month and stop the Primogenitor Devil from completely awakening…”
He halted in his steps and turned to Jiang Zhiwei and the others said in a deep voice, “I believe, there might actually be elder members from the Myths and Immortals that arrive, but their main target is not the Skyscraping True Devil.”
“Then who is it?” asked Zhao Heng, bewildered.
With a light breath, Meng Qi revealed, “The Primogenitor Devil.”