LOOG Chapter – 61

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Chapter 61: Chrysanthemum Lake

The two sects fared well in what later came to be called the Battle of the Cat Demons. Only a few unlucky members of the sects lost their lives in the fighting, whereas casualties among the enemy were relatively high.

After the flood of cat demons was destroyed, the tide of battle instantly turned. Before Bao and Sunan even returned from their pursuit of Geng Long, the bandits and Demon Emperor soldiers had turned to flight. The Golden Immortal was had long since fled.

After regrouping and tending to the wounded, the two sects emerged from the ravine and resumed their march south.

The Eyes of the Phoenix confirmed that the enemy forces were not regrouping, and that they were not being pursued. As night began to fall, they made camp on a stone shelf outcropping.

After the evening meal, Sunan lay in his tent trying to find sleep. However, his mind was filled with the events of the day, and slumber eluded him. Even as he lay there pondering whether or not to practice some Wu-Sunan forms under the moonlight, a voice spoke from outside the tent.

“Sect Leader Sunan, are you awake?”

It was Mao Yun.

Sunan grabbed his Ox-Tail Dao from the ground next to him and then emerged from the tent.

Mao Yun nodded in greeting. “Sect Leader, it’s Bao. She went off on her own. To think, she said. I’m worried about her being out by herself. Remember when she stayed out all night on Mount Fohe?”

“She refused to let you accompany her?”

Mao Yun nodded. “She headed up there,” he continued, pointing up to the mountain ridge that loomed above them.

“I understand,” Sunan said. “I’ll go check on her.”

With that, he left the camp and began to climb the mountain. Thankfully, the moon was bright, and although there was no path, the vegetation was sparse, making the way up relatively easy. After enough time passed for two incense sticks to burn, Sunan had reached the summit, where he saw Bao sitting cross-legged on a boulder.

Taking a deep breath, he approached the boulder. When he was a few paces away, Bao looked over her shoulder, and when she saw Sunan, nodded slightly. Taking that as an invitation, or at least a lack of dismissal, he hopped up onto the boulder and sat down next to her.

She said nothing, so neither did he. He placed his Ox-Tail Dao down next to him and then put his hands onto his knees. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath of the crisp night air, then performed some breathing exercises. After some time passed, he opened his eyes again. Stretching out as far as the eye could see was a wilderness of scattered trees and rugged rocks. Far off in the distance, a river was visible, which Sunan assumed was the Fei.

More time passed, and the silence grew weighty.

What should I say? he thought. Or should I say anything at all? Should I just sit here?

Before he could make his decision, Bao spoke.

“Have you ever wanted to kill someone?” she asked.

He was a bit taken aback. “Well, I’ve killed people before in battle.”

She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, have you ever wanted to hurt someone. To make them scream as they die.”

He shivered inwardly. “I…. I guess not.” She didn’t say anything in response, so after a long moment passed, he continued, “I suppose you’re thinking about the man from earlier today. What was his name?”

“Geng Long,” she replied in a voice that sounded like metal grating on rock.

“Gong Long….” he echoed. “From Yu Zhing? What… what happened with him? Was he… a friend?” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and could see that her hands were clenched into fists as they rested on her thighs. Her jaw was tight, and she was breathing heavily. Her hair was somewhat in disarray, as if she hadn’t even looked in a mirror since the fighting earlier. For some reason, it made her seem particularly attractive.

“He was more than a friend. I loved him. Or at least, I think I did.”

Sunan had absolutely no idea what to say in response, so he simply looked out at the moonlit landscape.

After a long moment passed, Bao continued. “Back when life seemed like nothing but a monotonous chore, I met him, and he made everything wonderful. We explored the city at night, and had adventures. At least, they seemed like adventures back then. After everything that happened since then, I think they were more just child’s play. One night, we got into a fight, and then… he kissed me.” Her voice quavered at that point. “After that night, he kissed me more. I used to dream about leaving the city with him.”

Sunan saw her clenching her fists even tighter.

“I dreamed of running away with him to the south. Of having a family. It was stupid. So stupid. Agh!” Despite her bellow of anger, Sunan could see something glistening on her cheek.

She’s crying…?

“It was all a lie, Sunan. He was toying with me. Getting me to trust him so that he could sell me. That fucking bastard!”

Her tone was that of fury, but Sunan could see more tears streaming down her face. “Sell you?” he asked.

She laughed bitterly. “Yeah. To a gang in Yu Zhing. A project. That’s what he called me. I’ll never forget what he said. I set her up for a whole year. He sold me to a gang so that they could ransom me for money. I was only there for a few days before the Bone General came. Mao Yun was there. He was the one who set me free. And then I ran.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “I’ve been running ever since. I never thought much about it afterwards; there was never time. But then he showed up here and….” Her voice broke, and she began to weep. It started out softly, but grew louder and more choked, until finally she leaned over, placing her hands flat down onto the boulder to support herself as her tears poured down her face.

Without even thinking about it, Sunan reached and put his hand on top of hers.

Time passed, and slowly, her crying faded. Sunan pulled his hand away, and she straightened up. After wiping her face dry, she breathed in and out a few times.

“Am I wrong to want him dead?” she asked.

“No,” he responded immediately. “I would do it for you if I could.”

She sniffled and chuckled at the same time. “You’d do that for me?”

“Sure.”

The two of them sat there for some time looking out at the wilderness.

“Bao, let’s join forces.”

She looked over at him. “What do you mean? Aren’t we already allies?”

Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot from the weeping, but for some reason, it only made her look more charming.

“I mean more than just allies,” he said. “Let’s combine our two sects. It will only make us stronger.

“This won’t be the last time we face a powerful opponent. Whether it’s the Bone General or the Demon Emperor or that bastard Geng Long, we’ll be stronger if we’re united. What do you say?”

She looked away from him, turning her gaze to the stars above as she thought. “Okay.”

“We can call it the Phoenix Dragon Sect,” he said.

She smiled. “I took the Phoenix Dragon Strike. Let’s make it the Dragon-Phoenix Sect.”

**

The following morning, they informed the top leaders of both sects regarding the decision. However, no official announcement was made. Everyone agreed that it would be best to wait until reaching the Banyan Region before discussing the particulars of how to restructure, and then hold the necessary rites and ceremonies.

The sects proceeded south. Generally speaking, the traveling was uneventful. A minor stir occurred when people noticed that the Zhen Bird which had been following them since the early days fleeing from Daolu, had suddenly disappeared. Many took that to be an ill omen. However, a few days later, the Zhen Bird was spotted again, and hearts went calm.

Crossing the Banyan Mountains proved more difficult a task than they had imagined, especially considering that most of the peaks of the mountains in this area were snow-capped year round. They ended up winding their way deeper into the mountains to the west before finally finding a passage through.

When they finally began their descent into the Banyan Region itself, the temperature began to rise sharply, and the air grew more humid. After weeks of trudging about in icy winds, it was a bit of a relief.

Even before they reached the foothills of the mountains, a lake became visible off in the distance. It was enormous, almost a sea.

“Chrysanthemum Lake,” Sun Mai said. “The most tranquil body of water in the empire. They say that even during thunderstorms, not a wave can be seen on its surface.”

As they proceeded down into the foothills, the trees grew more dense. It took a full day of travel to reach the shores of the Chrysanthemum Lake. Just as Sun Mai had said, the lake was so still it almost looked like glass. The waters were clear, making it possible to see ancient fallen tree trunks at the bottom of the lake, a multi-colored spectacle that seemed almost like another world. The lake stretched so far that the opposite shore wasn’t visible.

After reaching the shore of the lake, the sects rested while the Eyes of the Phoenix scouted for a suitable location for a permanent camp. By evening, they were setting up tents in a forest clearing near a waterfall that fed into the lake.

As the camp began to take shape, a Zhen Bird landed onto a nearby tree.

**

Later that evening, Ruan the Flamingo was standing at the lake shore, looking out at the water, when he heard footsteps behind him.

It was none other than Du Qian, who came to a stop next to him.

“I’ve given you your chance to think,” Du Qian said.

Ruan nodded. “Can I see it again?”

Du Qian looked at Ruan with narrowed eyes for a moment, then reached into his robe and pulled out a withered tree limb, only about as long as his own forearm. It was so dark as to almost be black, except for the thin silver veins which ran up and down its surface. He handed the tree branch to Ruan.

Ruan carefully took the branch and began to examine it closely. “You’re absolutely sure of its origins?”

Du Qian nodded. “It’s a branch of the Epoch Tree, of that I’m certain. As for how the Hen-Shi Sect got their hands on it, I can’t say for certain. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they simply stole it. In any case, can you work with it?”

Ruan sniffed the branch. “I can. Based on the power flowing through it, I can tell you that it will be a long process. And the final result… will probably be something large.”

“Neither of those matter, as long as I get results.”

“You’ll get results. Shall I begin work?”

Du Qian thought for a moment, then nodded in the affirmative.

Ruan tucked the tree branch into his sleeve.

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