There was a loud bang. Ruan Zhan hadn’t shot the flaming handprint at Huang Bo Heng. He had struck the ground instead.
Yet that casual wave of his hand caused dust to billow from the impact. Even the plants along the ground was instantly burned, revealing two square meters of soil.
As the circular patch of soil was revealed, an invisible ring swiftly expanded from it. It swept forth like a wild gust of wind. Wherever it blew, plants were blown over. It reached the edges of the boundary in an instant and stuck to the walls. Then, with a roar, it burst into raging flames.
Everyone present was encircled within them.
Since Ruan Zhan was there, Xiao Xia wasn’t scared at all. However, Huang Bo Heng let out a startled cry. He ran forward a few steps, hurriedly flinging off his shirt which had caught fire. In his panic, he couldn’t be bothered to control his “helpers”.
Once those snakes and supernatural plants were no longer controlled by magic, they reverted to their natural instincts when faced with walls of flame in every direction. They started fleeing in panic. No plants of animals could remain unafraid in the face of the raging flames that could destroy everything. Therefore, the clearing devolved into chaos, but none of them were able to get out!
Ruan Zhan stood still and watched for several seconds. He frowned and finally moved. He stared Huang Bo Heng down as he took large steps towards him.
He walked over directly in a domineering manner, filled with murderous intent. He formed hand seals as he walked, flinging his hands out without even looking. With crisp crackling sounds, clumps of fire erupted where he gestured, burning those venomous snakes and bundled branches as they screeched. They danced and convulsed like demons within the conflagration.
“Stay away! Stay away! I want to have a battle of Gu techniques!”
Seeing Ruan Zhan approaching, Huang Bo Heng was like a startled bird. He was terrified of Ruan Zhan who looked ready to swallow him whole, and started running wildly within the ring. However, Ruan Zhan sent a flaming handprint wherever he went, reducing the amount of space he had to move. In the end, he was trapped between two trees.
“This isn’t fair! I wasn’t prepared!” Huang Bo Heng was panic-stricken, grasping around his body while speaking. He had forgotten that he’d taken off his outer jacket as it was burning. He was no longer able to take out any of his strange bottles from his robes.
“When you ambushed us at the wilderness inn, did you give us time to prepare?” Ruan Zhan walked forward again.
Huang Bo Heng didn’t respond, and merely shrank back desperately. He stumbled backwards between the two trees, falling to the ground. He continued scrambling back on his hands and feet, but was dragged up by his collar as Ruan Zhan reached him in a couple steps.
“Don’t make me look down on you!” He flung Huang Bo Heng back between the two trees. “I have no choice but to kill you, but I don’t wish to humiliate you!”
“No, don’t kill me!”
“Unfortunately, the moment you afflicted Wan Li with a Death Gu, you cut off your own path of survival.”
“I can give you any amount of money if you don’t kill me. No…I can give you a third of all my wealth! Or, even half! Fine, I’ll give you everything!” In his despair, Huang Bo Heng started negotiating. “How much can a life be worth? If you have me, you’ll have all the friends you want. Women too. Everything will be yours. Take it. Just let me live, I beg you!”
“Enough nonsense, I don’t have time for it. Besides, someone heartless like you wouldn’t understand.” Ruan Zhan spoke expressionlessly. He was almost close enough to touch Huang Bo Heng. He used his body language to clearly express how much he disdained the offer of money!
Huang Bo Heng was speechless from fear, his expression panicked. He remained silent for several seconds. He finally understood the man before him couldn’t be bribed and also couldn’t be defeated by him. Therefore, he completely resigned himself and prepared for a life and death struggle.
He schemed in his heart as he continued to scramble backwards. Although his expression was incomparably panicked, one of his hands was subconsciously groping around behind him. His hand suddenly brushed against something, giving his sinister heart a trace of hope.
Attached to his waist was the decorative-looking yet effective sharp dagger. Ruan Zhan was too close to him, essentially offering himself up for the killing!
“Don’t blame me for this!” Huang Bo Heng gripped the hilt and shouted. He whipped out the coldly gleaming dagger and cut desperately at Ruan Zhan.
The distance was so close and he used so much strength in the blow. Ruan Zhan should have been dead for sure!
Yet the feeling of cutting into a soft body didn’t come, and there was no warm splatter of fresh blood on his face. His wrist was caught in a vice-like grip and the pain felt like it was about to break, making him cry out. He involuntarily loosened his hand.
The knife had already fallen into his opponent’s grasp!
“I was waiting for you to offer your weapon. Using my own hands to kill you would only dirty them.” Ruan Zhan’s expression was cold as he traced the blade against Huang Bo Heng’s neck. “Hopefully you’re worth killing!”
“What do you mean?” Huang Bo Heng asked in a trembling voice. He had merely asked instinctively since he had already lost his ability to think.
Ruan Zhan didn’t respond. He struck without hesitation, swiftly, ruthlessly and accurately. There was a flash of silver under the moonlight and the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. Huang Bo Heng’s head thus parted from his body and rolled into the bushes.
Xiao Xia couldn’t see anything from within Ruan Zhan’s shadow. He had intentionally faced the moon the entire time so Xiao Xia would be safe behind him.
Although she couldn’t see anything, Ruan Zhan saw everything clearly. He watched as Huang Bo Heng’s severed head come to a stop after rolling in the grass. It was facing his body, the eyes still open and even blinking. There was a look of disbelief and horror.
“You’ve died. Might as well fall over.” Ruan Zhan sighed softly.
The severed head opened its mouth, seeming very angry. Yet before it could speak, it “watched” as the headless body in front of Ruan Zhan collapsed. He knew he was looking at himself. No matter how unwilling he was, he had still died. Yet he felt as if something was a little off.
Was his life fading away? Why didn’t he feel any grief? Why did it feel so weird? It was as if he had died long ago!
He had many questions, questions that couldn’t be answered even in death. Yet he didn’t have the chance to ask, because he could never move or think again. He had already become a corpse.
Ruan Zhan sighed again, though not at Huang Bo Heng’s death. That was something he should be happy about. His death meant Wan Li’s survival. Yet there was an unexpected problem: Huang Bo Heng wasn’t the real mastermind!
He had sensed this during their battle. Although Huang Bo Heng knew high-level Gu techniques, his proficiency was clearly lacking. It felt completely different from that day at the wilderness inn. It wasn’t something that could be explained with words. It could only be felt in the details when both sides exchanged blows.
The difference was very small, even undetectable to laymen. Yet those involved in the battle would be well aware.
This was probably why Huang Bo Heng was very scared from the get-go while Ruan Zhan was a little uneasy and doubtful. If the Gu caster from the wilderness inn had fought him today, the scene would absolutely have been different!
Who was secretly helping Huang Bo Heng harm them? Why did that person not come tonight? Eliminating the witness or getting others to do their dirty work? Was Huang Bo Heng played like a fiddle? Was he also a puppet, just a piece of the puzzle?
Yet he had admitted to putting the Death Gu on Wan Li. He was also able to use those strange secret arts. However, why weren’t they as powerful?
Perhaps he should immediately go back and check on Wan Li. If his Gu was dissolved, it would prove Huang Bo Heng’s words weren’t empty. If his Gu wasn’t dissolved, it would prove Huang Bo Heng had been tricked by someone. He had thought himself the caster of the Death Gu, but it wasn’t really the case!
Yet why would he think he was? Even when he lost his life, he hadn’t known he had been tricked!
Regardless, Ruan Zhan decided to check on Wan Li. There wasn’t much time left. He had less than an hour to live!
He glanced around. The flames he shot out had already wiped out almost all the snakes and supernatural plants. Only ashes were left. There was a mess within the ring of fire while Xiao Xia’s body lay next to the stream completely unharmed.
He thought it best to have her soul return to her body first. It was harmful for a normal person’s soul to leave their body for an extended period of time. Yet before that, he had to get rid of Huang Bo Heng’s corpse.
He formed a flaming handprint and shot it onto the staring decapitated head. Then, he formed a second one to burn the body. Yet as he waved his hand out, a flash of realization hit him. He stiffly forced his hand back.
No, something was wrong with Huang Bo Heng. He had been very normal when he was alive, but why didn’t his soul leave his body after death?
Ruan Zhan was born with a Yinyang Eye. As his powers became unsealed and grew stronger, he should be able to see everything unseen. When he killed Huang Bo Heng, he had used a spell. He had intended to destroy both body and soul, but showed mercy in the end. He merely left Hueng Bo Heng’s soul incomplete to prevent him from harming others after death. He didn’t completely eradicate him.
Yet why didn’t he see any trace of his soul?! Furthermore, there was a pitiful amount of blood when he died. There was no warm splatter of blood like that of a human.
He paused for a moment before striding towards the corpse. He picked up the murder weapon that had a trace of blood on it and directly cut open Huang Bo Heng’s chest!
Empty. His chest was actually empty. It was clean, smooth and clear, like a mummified corpse. It wasn’t the corpse of someone who was trying to bribe him with money a minute ago.
Where his heart was supposed to be was an orb the size of a fist. It was beating like a heart, inside a headless corpse!
That orb had a pale yellow outer membrane. It was very thin, so thin it seemed like it would burst at a touch. It was so thin that something could be seen squirming inside, which was the reason it looked as if it was beating.
It was already strange for a human corpse’s chest to be empty. How did he function normally? What was weirder was this orb. It looked too bizarre!
Ruan Zhan muttered to himself. He made sure the moon was in the right spot so that Xiao Xia would be behind him. Then, he cut at that orb with the dagger.
He wasn’t a gym rat like Wan Li but he was still very strong. Yet the merciless strike was unable to cut open the incredibly frail-looking orb. He gritted his teeth and cut again but it still didn’t split. Only when he struck a third time did the orb suddenly split apart. It made him feel like he was cutting at an extra-hard coconut.
Inside, the orb was actually filled with eyeballs! It was packed densely with eyeballs!
They were clustered together, some with the whites facing up and others with the pupil. They pushed at each other, trying to get to the front, as if they were bubbles inside a boiling pot of water. This was why the orb had been writhing.
Xiao Xia would definitely have been terrified at this scene, but Ruan Zhan wasn’t afraid. He was just a little shocked. He didn’t know what secret art this was. It seems that there was always a taller mountain in this world. There were too many unimaginable things out there. His powers were still far too lacking!
“Abomination!” He mumbled, shooting over the second flaming handprint. The corpse and the bizarre orb started burning. He didn’t know what it was, but knew that leaving it behind would definitely result in trouble. Might as well cleanse it with fire.
The orb made crisp crackling sounds as it burned and gave off an indescribably foul and bloody scent. Ruan Zhan frowned and stepped back a few meters, seeming unable to put up with the smell. He threw the dagger in his hand.
The dagger pierced through the black smoke of the burning corpse and dug into the ground.
Ruan Zhan pretended not to notice that within the black smoke was a trace of something with the color of blood. He just increased the flames, turning these things that shouldn’t be left in the world into ashes. Then, he calmly walked away. When he walked by the dagger, he secretly twitched his fingers. The talisman he had stuck on the hilt was withdrawn back into his hand.
“Xiao Xia, close your eyes. It’s a little uncomfortable when the soul returns to the body, but it won’t hurt this time.” After speaking, he had Xiao Xia’s soul merge with her body. “You might not be able to move for a bit, but I’ll carry you back.”
Xiao Xia really wasn’t able to move, but she could speak. “Has Wan Li’s Gu been dissolved?” She asked urgently.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to go back and see.” He knew that despite not having seen the crux of the situation, she still knew some bits and pieces. Therefore, he didn’t keep anything from her.
“Then…if it can’t be dissolved…what should we do?”
Ruan Zhan remained silent for a few seconds. He looked firmly at Xiao Xia who seemed about to cry. He suddenly reached out and stroked her face, his expression extremely tender.
“You don’t want him to die, right?” He asked, his eyes very close to hers. He seemed to be looking into her soul. His breath tickled her face. For an instant, Xiao Xia thought he was going to kiss her. Her heart actually skipped a beat at such a tense moment.
“Even if it can’t be dissolved, I still have a way to prevent him from dying.” Ruan Zhan continued speaking. His hand lingered on Xiao Xia’s tender face. “You will have your wish. I won’t let him die.”
Looking at his firm expression, Xiao Xia believed him.
As it turned out, Wan Li’s Gu wasn’t yet dissolved.
He was still unconscious and his breathing was getting weaker and weaker. There was less than half an hour until midnight. He seemed to have reached the end of his life, his body without any hint of vitality.
Yet Xiao Xia trusted Ruan Zhan!
He said he had a way. He said he wouldn’t let Wan Li die. Therefore, she had nothing to worry about. He had never broken his word before. He always kept his promises. Therefore, when Ruan Zhan asked her to wait on the second floor for a bit so she wouldn’t disturb him in forcibly removing the Gu, she agreed without thinking.
Ruan Zhan had carried her back and she still couldn’t move. Therefore, she needed Ruan Zhan to carry her to the second floor and place her on the altar. Although it was only a short period of time, she was very happy she could stay in his arms a few seconds longer.
Watching Ruan Zhan hurriedly set up formations and talismans around her, she suddenly recalled the bloodwood sword’s hiding place.
“There’s a secret compartment there.” She was able to move her arm slightly and pointed it out with some effort. She told Ruan Zhan how to open it. “I’ll be fine if I have the bloodwood sword. Don’t waste any more time on me. Hurry and go save Wan Li.”
Ruan Zhan smiled and didn’t respond. He took the bloodwood sword out and placed it in Xiao Xia’s hand. However, he still continued setting up protective measures. Xiao Xia felt he was being too careful. She didn’t think anything would ambush them. She wanted to hurry him again but held it back seeing Ruan Zhan looking confident.
After finishing his preparations, he stood and looked at Xiao Xia for a while. Although his expression was very calm, not much different from usual, he felt an indescribable loneliness in his heart.
In the end, she wouldn’t belong to him. Well, it was for the best!
He looked at her solemnly, wanting to engrave her in his heart. Then, without giving her the chance to ask anything, he walked upstairs resolutely.
Wan Li lay in bed. The black aura on his face was extremely dense, and had started gathering between his brows. Ruan Zhan checked if he was still breathing. He knew he had to do what he was about to do.
He bit open the skin on his middle finger and drew a symbol between Wan Li’s brows. Then, using all his powers, he brought him back to consciousness. He spared no spirit and magical powers to do this and in just a few minutes, his clothes were soaked with sweat. However, his efforts were not in vain. Wan Li, who seemed like he would never wake up, slowly opened his eyes and let out a long breath.
Ruan Zhan cast a small restriction to prevent his words from being overheard by Xiao Xia.
“I know you aren’t able to speak. However, I woke you because there are things I need to say.” Ruan Zhan stood by the bed. “Don’t look at me with such an inquisitive expression. Trust me, you haven’t died. However, you aren’t far from death. You have around half an hour left. But as I said, I won’t let you die. Even if the king of hell himself comes to fetch you, I won’t allow it. I always keep my word.”
He took out a small dagger. “I learned a technique in the past called the “Grafting Technique”. It’s not something used for gardening, but the concept is a little similar. It takes something from one person and moves it to another. I’m not able to dissolve this Gu. This matter is too complicated and time is too short. I’m unable to do it. You only have until midnight to live. Therefore, I’m going to use this technique to move your Gu into my own body.”