Chapter 256: Bottom Line
The blank look in her eyes made it seem as if she had lost her soul, as if her spirit itself had been injured.
Her pale skin did not seem to contain even the slightest trace of blood, like that of a corpse which had been entombed in a coffin of ice for a thousand years. The wind which blew across the pillar she stood on was incapable of blowing away her look of confusion.
Her garments were stained with blackened spots of dried blood that seemed to have been there for a very, very long time. Never having been washed away, they had dried and branded themselves onto the fabric.
On her forehead was a wound, a gash that had clearly been there for some indeterminable length of time. It looked like a sword wound… that hadn’t healed.
As her garments fluttered in the wind, her right wrist became visible. It had a second sword gash on it.
Xu Qing was thinner.
She was thin, and even colder than before. She looked as if she had just emerged from the midst of a frigid snowstorm. Her garment was blue, her long hair draped around her like a cloak. Her skin was so delicate it seemed as if a breeze could puncture it. Meng Hao stared up at her beauty, seemingly unwilling to even blink.
If he blinked, everything would go dark, light would disappear, and he would no longer be able to see the beautiful figure in front of him.
He saw the sword wounds, as well as her blank look. He also saw that her blood vessels had been damaged. In that moment, the entire world seemed to disappear, except for Xu Qing, standing there on the mountain peak amidst the wind.
Meng Hao suddenly felt a twinge of pain in his heart.
He could ignore Han Bei’s secret. He could ignore Zhou Jie’s bizarre behavior. The Demon Sealing Jade had spoken to him twice, but be it Han Bei or Zhou Jie, Meng Hao felt as if it didn’t have much to do with himself. Their life or death, their bizarre situations, were things he didn’t want to get involved with.
After all, the root of all the various situations was none other than the Black Sieve Sect itself!
Meng Hao had grown up as a scholar, and was innately intelligent and farsighted. How could he not understand the meaning of the words of the Demon Sealing Jade? It was especially obvious considering the divine ability Zhou Jie had used at the end of their battle that year, and the discarnate souls which had appeared. How could he not understand… what had happened to Han Bei and Zhou Jie? And how could he not understand the terrifying power of the Black Sieve Sect?!
He did understand. In fact he knew that the Black Sieve Sect’s forces were much greater than the people who walked about on the surface of the land!
“Discarnate souls possess the body,” he thought to himself. “The discarnate souls are like those which appeared along with Zhou Jie’s divine ability that year, Cultivators who have long since died. It seems countless discarnate souls exist underneath all of the Hundred Thousand Mountains of the Black Sieve Sect….
“This Black Sieve Sect, is a Sect of the underworld!
“Returned from the afterlife, desiring to rejoin the world of men, possessing the bodies of Cultivators and living parasitic lives. Zhou Jie exists in this very state, his body having been possessed. He is incapable of recovering his own mental faculties, and should not have been able to seek out death as he did that day. Clearly, something unexpected had occurred after his possession.
“Because of that unexpected event, the discarnate soul that had possessed him was injured, which allowed his own soul to reawaken. That was what had caused his confusion, his madness, and his struggle.
“As for Han Bei, there is clearly nothing wrong with her. However, she wants outsiders to think that her body has been successfully possessed. This is because there are not two souls within her, but three! One is her own, one is a discarnate soul from the Black Sieve Sect, and the third… is the Han Clan Patriarch which emerged from the statue in the Black Sieve Sect’s Blessed Land, and then entered her body!”
How could Meng Hao not understand these things!?
It was because he understood, that he didn’t want to get sucked into the situation. But as time passed, and he hadn’t been able to track down Xu Qing, he’d started to get nervous. Finally today, he was able to see her….
And now he understood that… he could not ignore the situation. Xu Qing’s soul possession was a bottom line that Meng Hao couldn’t accept.
He took a deep breath, then strode forward, heading directly toward the peak of the mountain. His body transformed into a prismatic beam. In an instant he had arrived behind the pillar upon which Xu Qing stood.
He looked at her back, and was about to approach her, when she turned. Her cold features were no longer filled with a blank look. Instead, a grim expression appeared.
In that moment, a sense of impending crisis welled up from the bottom of Meng Hao’s heart. As he looked at Xu Qing, he couldn’t see a Foundation Establishment Cultivation base any more. Instead, everything was blurry.
Meng Hao’s expression did not change. He looked at her, and at the same time surreptitiously performed an incantation gesture with his right hand. Within his mind floated the Eighth Demon Sealing Hex. Because of the way he had performed the incantation, the Hex changed. It floated about in his mind, and stayed there, not moving out even the tiniest bit.
However, as soon as the Eighth Demon Sealing Hex appeared in his mind, his eyes, though they didn’t look any different, now viewed the world in a completely different way.
The mountains were still green; the land below was the same land as before. But, the greenness of the Hundred Thousand Mountains was now covered with a black aura. This black aura roiled up from all the mountains to circulate about in the air. In this moment, it looked to Meng Hao as if the Black Sieve Sect really had become a Sect of the underworld.
Strands of black aura drifted up off of Xu Qing’s body and swirled around her. Its nucleus seemed to be in the pit of her stomach, where a flickering globule of black mist existed. Deep within that black mist, Meng Hao could see Xu Qing’s soul, sleeping, as if it had been sealed.
The black aura emanated out constantly, and in fact, behind Xu Qing, it congealed together to form into the blurry image of a woman.
The phantom figure emanated a seemingly endless ghastly aura. It was bizarre, and emitted thick an aura of death as it looked at Meng Hao along with Xu Qing.
“Who are you?” said Xu Qing, her voice unhurried. From Meng Hao’s perspective, this voice did not belong to Xu Qing, but rather the gruesome discarnate soul which floated behind her.
As her words drifted out, Meng Hao suddenly sensed that the surrounding black aura was rushing toward them. It swirled around, forming into countless faces that grinned hideously as they stared at Meng Hao.
Of course, they were unaware that Meng Hao could see them as they floated around.
“I am Fang Mu of the Violet Fate Sect,” Meng Hao replied with a smile. “Elder Sister, are you a Conclave Disciple of the Black Sieve Sect? I’ve been here for a few days, but this is my first time seeing you.” As he clasped hands and bowed, he allowed the Eighth Demon Sealing Hex to dissipate, and the world around him returned to normal.
“Oh, so you’re Grandmaster Fang,” Xu Qing said coolly. “This is a prohibited mountain, please leave immediately.” She turned, ignoring Meng Hao and staring off into the distance. A blank look once again filled her face.
His expression the same as usual, Meng Hao bowed again and then turned into a beam of light that shot away from the mountain. He took his time going back, enjoying the sights along the way. By the time he got back to Black Welcoming Peak, the moon hung high in the sky.
He entered the building and immediately settled himself in the protective shield of the Furnace Lord medallion. His face instantly grew grim. He had been extremely cautious on his way back, careful to make sure nothing at all seemed amiss about him. However, there were still some discarnate souls who followed him. They had swirled around him the entire way, finally disappearing when he arrived at Black Welcoming Peak.
“To save Xu Qing, I have to get close to her,” he thought. “Furthermore, I can’t let anyone find out about it. This Black Sieve Sect is obviously an underworld Sect, with discarnate souls flying around everywhere….” Had he made an open move just now, not only would he have been unable to save Xu Qing, but he would also have broken his own cover.
He sat thinking, his eyes flickering. After some time passed, he closed his eyes.
Early the next morning, his eyes snapped open. He lifted up a jade slip, branded it with some information, then flicked his sleeve to send it flying out of the building.
His cool voice echoed out: “I have a matter to discuss with Patriarch Violet Sieve regarding pill concoction.”
As soon as the jade slip flew out into the air, a Cultivator appeared out of nowhere to grab it. It was impossible to determine his Cultivation base, but he wore a black robe. He immediately disappeared off into the distance.
Inwardly, Meng Hao gave a cold laugh. Ever since his alchemic showdown with Chen Jiaxi, he had sensed an aura outside of the Black Welcoming Mountains. Obviously someone was there watching him.
A few moments later laughter could be heard, followed by Patriarch Violet Sieve, who had come in person to discuss things with Fang Mu. He stood there with a smile on his face, clasping hands and bowing to Meng Hao.
“Grandmaster Fang,” he said with a smile, “please don’t take offense. I arranged for a disciple to stand watch outside to ensure your safety. After all, our Sect is a complicated place, and I’m incapable of controlling everything. According to the information in this jade slip, you say you can concoct the Soul Refining Pill. Well….”
Meng Hao sighed and then in an embarrassed voice said, “Elder Violet Sieve, actually, I’ve never heard of the Soul Refining Pill. Considering that, along with its strange name, it obviously has something to do with souls. I fear that the concocting such a pill would be extremely difficult. With so many variations, it would be very draining. That is why I hesitated to agree.”
Patriarch Violet Sieve didn’t reply. Instead, he stood there waiting for Meng Hao to continue, which he did. “Any other ordinary medicinal pill would be simple, but for strange new pills, even if I wanted to concoct them, I’m worried that it would really be too draining. Furthermore, I don’t really have the appropriate pill furnace….” He gave a wry smile, and looked even more embarrassed. “Also, I don’t think I really have enough of the medicinal plants that would be required. And I’m sure that the medicinal plants required are very valuable….
“Of course, I’m actually happy to help out, sir. I don’t mind getting tired. However, what I’m more worried about, would be the wasted time…. Furthermore, I don’t want to bother anyone during the concoction process, which will require one hundred percent concentration on my part….”
Patriarch Violet Sieve frowned for a moment, then suddenly laughed. “I understand, Grandmaster Fang. I can provide all of the medicinal plants you need. Even if you aren’t able to concoct the pills in the end, it won’t matter. Furthermore, I have the authority to provide you with some Spirit Stones as a way of thanking you for your work. As for a pill furnace… the Black Sieve Sect’s treasure storehouse happens to have a Ten Thousand Refinements furnace. We can gift this treasured furnace to you, Grandmaster! In addition, I can guarantee that no one will disturb you during your pill concocting. It will be just the same as if we sealed Black Welcoming Peak.
Meng Hao’s eyes glittered, but his expression was one of shyness, as if he was still embarrassed. “Sir, I am here at the Black Sieve Sect as representative of my own Sect. How could I possibly lay claim to treasured items of your honored Sect…?”
As soon as Patriarch Violet Sieve saw his expression, he smiled and raised his hand to cut off Meng Hao.