Madam Hong’s shocking words caused Yun Ruoyan and the others to turn toward her.
“I, A Fei, and Xiao Qing, along with the other courtesans of the troupe, were all women from respected families,” Madam Hong continued. Her gaze shifted slightly, but there was no other visible change on her face. This sort of control over her expression and emotion had only been achieved after long periods of training.
“But our families were destroyed to the last by the Pi family,” A Fei continued, trembling with rage. “And from then on, we became homeless, powerless, and useless.”
According to Madam Hong and A Fei, the Pi family had followed an aggressive policy of suppression as they grew in power, and all the families which refused to submit to them suffered gravely and cruelly. Except for the children, none were spared. Boys were taken as slaves, and girls as prostitutes. The women of the troupe were the young misses of the families that had refused to cede power and authority to the Pi family.
“We were sold off to different brothels to serve as prostitutes,” Xiao Qing added, her eyes lowered. “It was only thanks to Madam Hong and A Fei that we’re all gathered here today, freed from hell, with a place to which we belong.”
Yun Ruoyan turned to Madam Hong, whose emotions were perfectly hidden behind a mask. Her face was as calm as it had always been. Yun Ruoyan knew that ‘Madam Hong’ was just a name that the other women used to show respect to her; Madam Hong wasn’t past her twenties, and she looked only a few years older than Xiao Qing. However, maturity seeped from her every pore, as though she had experienced trials and tribulations that had forced her to grow and adapt. Her natural appearance was demure and graceful, but it was made seductive by her red dress and rather elaborate makeup.
“I’m Madam Hong’s slave,” A Fei explained. “We were both rather talented cultivators, so we managed to escape the fate of being sold as prostitutes.”
After their escape, they retrieved a few possessions that had been hidden by Madam Hong’s family and began wandering the Mingyuan continent. It was during this time that they saved Xiao Qing and the twenty or so other women in the troupe. In order to more easily free and disguise these prostitutes, Madam Hong started a courtesan troupe, one that had quickly come to life.
“The Pi family is truly evil,” Lin Qingxue muttered angrily. “I thought they only treated us cultivators from lower realms poorly, but to think they would even prey on the original inhabitants of the Mingyuan continent!”
“They care only for power and profit,” A Fei replied. “Anyone who dares run afoul of them in pursuit of these goals will face retribution.”
“It’s not just the Pi family,” Xiao Qing snorted. “The same can be said for all seven great families, but the Pis are the worst of the lot.”
The troupe of courtesans had always harbored an intense grudge for the Pi family, but it was so strong, and the courtesans themselves so weak, that they could only bury their hatred and wait for an opportunity.
“Why not try to ally yourself with the other six great families? Surely at least one would be willing to go against the Pis?” Yun Ruoyan asked.
Madam Hong sighed. “We considered that possibility, but the Pis control most of the spirit crystal veins on the continent. None of the other families are willing to completely sever relations with them, and we don’t dare to stake our lives on an uncertain outcome. If we choose poorly, what’s at stake isn’t merely my life, but the extinction of the last descendants of over twenty families on the continent.”
Madam Hong’s words made Yun Ruoyan slump. It was already difficult enough to survive on the Mingyuan continent given the lack of centralized power. If there were also a powerful enemy seeking to thwart your every move…
“Our hatred for the Pi family has never diminished. It’ll only grow stronger and stronger with time,” Madam Hong continued. “So you don’t have to worry. We won’t betray you to the Pi family.”
Even Zhuo Yifeng had let down his guard, and the three of them began to stay with the troupe of courtesans. Yun Ruoyan’s wounds, both internal and external, had almost completely healed, and her cultivation had advanced to peak ninth-rank. However, she also discovered a few peculiarities in her body that even she found inexplicable.
The spiritual energy in her spiritual vortex had always been a pure white; when she converted it to fire-attuned spiritual energy, it was a deep red. Now, however, part of her spiritual energy had turned black, a change that left Yun Ruoyan quite discomfited.
In addition, she had discovered that she possessed self-healing capabilities, but when she deliberately cut herself with a dagger, the scales that she had seen before didn’t appear.
These changes left Yun Ruoyan quite ill at ease, and she sought answers from Qiuqiu. However, Qiuqiu only knew that they were related to the demonic dragon bloodline that flowed within Yun Ruoyan’s body, and it couldn’t explain the specifics. However, it was certain that the changes were closely tied to the dragon’s art technique that Yun Ruoyan was cultivating.
The demonic eye had left Yun Ruoyan with a small quantity of demonic dragon aura, which had allowed her to begin cultivating the dragon’s art. It was this cultivation that had sparked the changes in her body.
In the end, Yun Ruoyan and Qiuqiu concluded that they would have to find Li Mo as quickly as possible, so as to find the reason for the change from the manual that was still in Li Mo’s hands.
The troupe was temporarily staying in a small town between the Pi and Feng cities. The town was governed by the Pis, and the troupe’s next location was the Feng city. However, Yun Ruoyan had to head to the Pi city in search of Li Mo, so she bade Madam Hong farewell and prepared to leave in two days’ time.
The next day, however, as she went out shopping with A Fei, she saw a few swordsmen putting up a wanted poster for an escaped slave: Yun Ruoyan.
Yun Ruoyan and A Fei immediately returned to the inn, where they had another discussion with Madam Hong. It would be too dangerous for Yun Ruoyan to travel to the Pi city at the moment, so her plan to return there would have to be delayed.
It had been a few days since Li Mo had locked himself within his coal cellar. Three nights ago, the richly dressed man had brought him a horrifying piece of news: that Yun Ruoyan had been wholly annihilated by Pi Yan’s lightning storm, that nothing remained of her body.
Li Mo had spat out a mouthful of blood, but he quickly noticed an inconsistency: Yun Ruoyan couldn’t be dead, because he could still sense his spiritual sword, weak though the connection was. His spiritual sword was with Yun Ruoyan, who had likely kept it in her silver bracelet. If Yun Ruoyan were to die, her silver bracelet would become ownerless and seal itself. In that case, Li Mo wouldn’t be able to feel the presence of his spiritual sword at all until someone else managed to unlock the bracelet.
Because Li Mo had been able to sense his spiritual sword this entire time, he judged that Yun Ruoyan was still alive, but simply too far away for him to gather more information about her. He had locked himself in the coal cellar, concentrating his mental energy to the fullest, and then using it to try to sense the location of his spiritual sword, and hence Yun Ruoyan.
It was only when Yun Ruoyan’s portrait had been plastered all over the Pi city that Feng Bo and the richly dressed man discovered that Yun Ruoyan hadn’t died. That night, the man once again snuck into the Pi manor to inform Li Mo of the news, only to be told by Lin Qingchen that Li Mo was in secluded cultivation.
The man couldn’t help thinking back to the shocking sight of Li Mo spitting out a mouthful of blood from nowhere, and he had had to rethink Yun Ruoyan’s importance to him. When he returned to the Feng manor, he had requested that the head of the Feng family help Li Mo search for Yun Ruoyan, a request that the head accepted.
After a few draining days, Li Mo finally narrowed down his spiritual sword’s location. When he awoke, he left the Pi manor in the direction of his sword. At midnight, he appeared by the small town in which Yun Ruoyan and the others were currently staying.
Yun Ruoyan was cultivating in her room. With the sage-grade spirit crystal buoying her reserves, she didn’t have to spend time refining spiritual energy from the air into a form that she could use, but part of her spiritual energy would keep turning black. In the last few days, Yun Ruoyan had been trying to experiment with this spiritual energy to determine how it was different from its white cousin.
She was concentrating on the behavior of her spiritual vortex when Qiuqiu suddenly chirped, “Mistress, Mistress, I can sense Li Mo’s aura!”
Yun Ruoyan immediately opened her eyes. She too could sense his aura, at a location not too far from hers. She got off the bed and opened the door. A red sword aura appeared underneath her feet, and she soared to the skies.
When a familiar aura drew near, Li Mo instantly perked up and looked all around him, at a scarlet beam of light that was swiftly approaching.
“Yan’er!” Li Mo shouted hoarsely.
Yun Ruoyan could sense his spiritual sword, still in her silver bracelet, trembling with excitement at being reunited with its owner once more. She retrieved it, and it immediately morphed into a green beam of light that flew toward Li Mo.
When Li Mo touched the sword, he triggered a resonance that took the form of a dragon’s howl. “Thank you for helping me find Yan’er,” Li Mo whispered, stroking his sword, then sheathed it.
“Li Mo!” Tears were beading in Yun Ruoyan’s eyes from their long, harrowing separation. Li Mo rushed toward her as she flew toward him; before her tears could fall, Li Mo had already embraced her in a warm, expansive hug.
“Yan’er, Yan’er, Yan’er…” Li Mo’s hoarse voice repeatedly called out Yun Ruoyan’s name, as though he were afraid that she was just an illusion.
Yun Ruoyan raised her head and looked into Li Mo’s eyes, so filled with longing and affection that Yun Ruoyan was drawn into its depths. She couldn’t help reaching out to stroke Li Mo’s hair, and face. His skin, paler than usual, accentuated his thin red lips.
“Li Mo, I missed you so!” Yun Ruoyan stood on tiptoes, then pressed her lips to his.Previous Chapter Next Chapter