The village wasn’t too big, having only just dozens of families or so.
It was already nightfall by the time they finished circling the perimeter of the village. The men working on the fields had returned home, and joyous laughter could be heard from some of the residences. Of course, there were also unfortunate ones filled with shoutings and sighs.
In any case, this was indeed a typical historical village.
Zu An and Qiao Xueying snuck into the village and listened in to the conversations from various households, hoping to gather some clues.
“Hm? There are some weird noises coming from there.” Qiao Xueying tugged Zu An’s sleeves and pulled him toward one of the residences.
Soon, when they were right by the residence, they were finally able to figure out what those weird noises were—heavy breathing and the creaking of the bed. There were also some flirtatious whispers between a man and a woman too…
Qiao Xueying’s face reddened. She clicked her tongue and said awkwardly, “How lewd it is of them to do this at such an early hour.”
“You’re too accustomed to the extravagant life of rich clans that you don’t understand the hardship of commoners. Most of them are too poor to afford oil lamps, so what else do you expect them to do after sunset?” replied Zu An.
Qiao Xueying covered her ears as she scoffed, “Spoken like a true expert in the topic. Enough, let’s head to the other residences.”
“Ah, this reminds me of a quiz. Do you want to give it a try?” asked Zu An.
“What quiz? Tell me about it.” Qiao Xueying refused to believe that her intelligence was lacking, and the atmosphere was still quite awkward after hearing those amorous sounds coming from the residence. Thus, she decided to give it a try.
“Divine Physician Ji invented a medicine where the woman will succumb if the man ate it, and the man will succumb if the woman ate it. If both the man and the woman took the medicine, who do you think will succumb first?” asked Zu An.
Qiao Xueying’s face reddened. She cursed softly, “That old man really is a darned pervert! To think that he’s actually respected as a divine physician! Instead of bringing solace to those suffering, he wastes his time coming up with this sort of weird stuff!”
Zu An burst into laughter. “You can criticize Ji Dengtu all you want once you return to Brightmoon City. So, what’s your answer to that question?”
“How could I possibly know the answer to a question like this?!” Qiao Xueying turned her reddened face away.
“Heh, I knew that there’s no way you can figure out with that small brain of yours. Alright, I’ll give you the answer. Naturally, it’s the bed that succumbs first!” Zu An laughed heartily.
Qiao Xueying glared at Zu An and sneered, “If you dare to speak of such crude jokes before Chu Chuyan, she’ll definitely chase you out of the Chu clan.”
“Heh. She might chase anyone away from the Chu clan, but definitely not me,” replied Zu An.
“I sure do wonder where your confidence comes from.” Qiao Xueying harrumphed before stomping away to look for more clues.
Zu An shrugged leisurely as he quickly caught up with her.
A while later, they arrived at the village chief’s residence, which happened to be the brawny man Chen Wei’s home. It turned out that his father was the village chief.
As the village chief, it went without saying that their family was much better off. At the very least, they could afford oil lamps. The shadows of their silhouette could be seen on the walls as they chatted by the windows.
With a fearful voice, the village chief said, “Antares Occupying the Heart; that’s the omen of an impending crisis!”
However, Chen Wei thought nothing of it. “Father, ‘Antares Occupying the Heart’ is nothing more than an ancient legend exploited by those in power to achieve their goals. How could something like this foretell disaster?”
“You don’t get it because you’re too young… When the world believes in it, even something that’s false can become true. A crisis can be made to happen by human will,” replied the village chief with a shake of his head.
“Even if ‘Antares Occupying the Heart’ does happen as the legends foretell, the one to suffer would just be the emperor. What does this have to do with ordinary civilians like us? In fact, it’ll be a day of celebration for us all if that tyrant dies!”
“Shush! Are you tired of living?!” The horrified village chief immediately muffled his son’s mouth. “That’s a crime that warrants nine familial exterminations! If someone hears your words and reports it, we’d all be goners!”
Chen Wei harrumphed in response, “It’s not like there’s anything wrong with what I just said. The phenomenon of ‘Antares Occupying the Heart’ is something for the emperor and the nobles to worry about. It has nothing to do with us.”
“I hope so…” The village chief’s voice was filled with worry.
The two of them lost their mood to continue the conversation, so they soon retired for the night.
“What does ‘Antares Occupying the Heart’ mean?” Zu An was perplexed by the conversation. He was just about to ask Qiao Xueying when he noticed that she was staring at the sky in a daze.
“What’s wrong?” Zu An also turned to look at the sky, only to see stars scattered amidst the cloak of darkness. He couldn’t see anything amiss.
Thinking back, it had been many years since he saw such a starry sky due to light pollution in the city.
With a worried look on her face, Qiao Xueying pointed to a certain part of the sky and said, “Do you see the two brightest stars over there?”
Zu An looked in the direction where she was pointing toward and saw two stars that were visibly brighter than the others.
“The one on the upper left side is Antares, an ominous star thought to be the omen of disaster and death. There are three stars on the lower right side of it; they form the Heart Mansion of the Twenty-Eight Mansions. The brightest one at the center represents the Son of Heaven, the emperor, whereas the two by the side represents the crown prince and the common populace. Right now, the Antares has halted inside the Heart Mansion, positioned right beside the star representing the emperor. This is one of the most ominous celestial events known as Antares Occupying the Heart.”
“Celestial event?” scoffed Zu An. “Do you believe in such superstition too?”
Having been brought up in a world of science and logic in his previous life, there was no way he would believe in such stuff. But on second thought, his Keyboard system, the existence of cultivation, and all of the supernatural elements in this world weren’t things that could be explained scientifically.
“How can that be called superstition? Every time this phenomenon occurs, it would end with the sudden death of an emperor or a prominent official. Sometimes, it could even result in great bloodshed!” Qiao Xueying was displeased with Zu An’s nonchalant attitude.
This is a common knowledge everyone knows of, so why does that fellow think nothing of it at all?
A thought suddenly surfaced in Zu An’s mind. “Say, could the trial of the Heaven Seal be related to this Antares Occupying the Heart?”
Qiao Xueying’s eyes widened in astonishment. “I hope not, or else we’ll be in grave danger.”
As she spoke, she suddenly realized that Zu An’s face was inexplicably getting brighter. She quickly turned to the sky and saw that the night sky had suddenly brightened up. A burning ball of flames was descending from the sky.
“A meteor!” exclaimed Qiao Xueying.
“You actually know of meteors too?” asked Zu An in surprise.
“Of course! Don’t you know that powerful fire element and earth element cultivators have a forbidden art where they can summon meteors?” Qiao Xueying felt that Zu An was making a huge fuss out of nothing.
The fireball grew larger and larger in their eyes, such that they could see the layer of flames cloaking its surface. Zu An murmured, “Where do you think the meteor will fall? Surely we can’t be so unlucky as to have it fall right where we are, right?”
Barely after he said those words, the meteor suddenly exploded, fragmenting into multiple smaller fireballs. The impact of the explosion seemed to have affected its trajectory, resulting in it descending toward their direction instead.
“You and your wretched mouth!” roared Qiao Xueying angrily. She grabbed his arm and immediately fled the scene.
The flames might appear to be faraway at first sight, but the speed of its descent was incredible. It took only a few breaths to appear right before their eyes.
Qiao Xueying’s face paled in horror. Such naturally formed meteor shower was far more powerful those produced by a cultivator’s forbidden art. It might look no more than a speck earlier in the sky, but as it came into proximity, the span of the flames turned out to be so vast that there was no way they could escape from it in time.
It was Qiao Xueying pulling Zu An away at the start, but it soon turned into Zu An pulling her away instead.
Using Sunflower Phantasm, Zu An weaved around the inferno rain and escaped. While it was easy for Zu An to avoid getting hit by the meteor shower, it was hard for him to cope with the shockwave produced when each fragment struck the ground. One must know that this bundle of flames was as destructive as a missile!
On top of that, the heat swiftly engulfing the area was threatening as well, swiftly devouring the oxygen in the area.
If Zu An had been a normal person, just a single bundle of flames falling in his vicinity would be able to take his life. Fortunately, his body was far more resilient than it used to be, allowing him to withstand the shockwaves ravaging the surroundings for the time being.
It was just that the meteor shower was endless; the flames kept pattering down, and it looked like there was no end to them. Zu An felt his entire body aching, and the air he breathed in was so hot that it felt like it was going to sear his lungs.
Qiao Xueying flicked her arms, and countless green leaves swiftly wrapped around them, forming a barrier that shielded them from the impact of the shockwaves.
“I feel like the wisest decision I have made today is to bring you in with me. I didn’t know that you have so many functions to you,” remarked Zu An.
“And the dumbest decision I have made today is to come in here with you. I feel like I’ve made a huge loss,” grumbled Qiao Xueying.
Another loud explosion occurred, causing Qiao Xueying to let out a groan from the impact. She tumbled into his embrace as the leaf barrier she produced showed signs of scattering. However, she quickly rechanneled her ki to stabilize the barrier.
Noticing the blood sipping from her lips, Zu An quickly said, “Stay closer to me and make your barrier slower. You’ll be able to better conserve your energy this way.”
“No way in hell!” Qiao Xueying took a step back and intentionally made the barrier even larger.
“The hell! Are women all that unreasonable and irrational?” Zu An couldn’t understand why she was doing this at all. So, he reached forward to wrap his arm around her waist and pulled her in toward him. By keeping a close posture, they could reduce the surface area of the barrier significantly, thus reducing the impact of the shockwave on them.
“What are you doing?!” Qiao Xueying struggled.
However, Zu An held her arm tightly and snorted impatiently, “What are you making such a huge fuss for? It’s not the first time we’re hugging and kissing anyway. There’s bound to be more dangers further on in the Heaven Seal, so don’t you think you should save up some energy to deal with the threats that’ll be coming our way later on?”
Qiao Xueying knew that he was making sense here, so after a moment of hesitation, she decided to follow his instructions and decrease the size of her leaf barrier.
It took a while before the explosions finally subsided. Qiao Xueying finally dispelled the leaf barrier, and the two of them headed out from their hiding spot to take a look around. The surroundings had been utterly ravaged. The village had been set ablaze, and human figures could be seen rushing around to rescue the injured and put out the flames. Cries could be heard here and there.
Zu An fell silent.
The meteor shower was earlier was terrifying, but it’s not enough to be considered as the trial of the Heaven Seal. Could there be more to this?
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