Duan Jin cried out in shock, finally showing a reaction.
However, she was also quite impressive. Facing the tattered banner that had absolute power over souls, she was not immediately sucked in. Instead, under the light of the illumination talisman, she floated in the air like a red kite, resisting and struggling, refusing to be sucked in.
She thought Ruan Zhan was still the young brat with slight supernatural ability from many years ago. She didn’t expect that in ten short years, he had become so formidable. She immediately panicked a little.
“If you trap me in the banner, your formation will be broken!” She screamed.
”That’s something for me to worry about!” Ruan Zhan remained uncompromising. He forcibly endured the pain and added a bit more force to the banner.
He didn’t want this to happen. After all, he had asked Duan Jin to help him. Moreover, he didn’t even know if he could suppress Duan Jin in his current condition. Dealing with her meant breaking the formation. His meticulous entrapment would fail, and they might end up paying an even higher price. But the sound of swishing water was like a deathly pressure in his ears. She firmly refused to help, giving him no other choice.
This time, Duan Jin practically screamed, her entire body pulled into a long strip, like a wrung-out rag. However, she still stubbornly refused to give in, forcibly bracing herself.
And behind him, the sound of water indicated Guan Zheng was about to reach the shore!
”You promised to cooperate with everyone to trap the bastard in the formation.” Ruan Zhan said, his heart burning with anxiety but his voice still calm as usual. “If the life-gate is broken through, this formation will certainly fail. What is the point of keeping someone who betrays her vows?”
”I didn’t! I’m not! I’m guarding the formation and haven’t left! Ah…..” Duan Jin cried out and was almost pulled from her position.
”Sophistry!” Ruan Zhan said, taking the risk of spitting blood as he increased the force even more. “Your efforts in the past ten years have been wasted. If you let him escape, you’ll be harming even more people. Your sin would increase and won’t be cleansed even after a century of cultivation. Don’t even think about blessing those who died, let alone try and reform your son’s soul!”
His words were too ruthless, and they just happened to strike Duan Jin’s sore spot!
She had cultivated this whole time for the sake of redeeming her sins, and to reform her child’s soul which had been scattered. It would be fine even if the result was just a half-formed soul. She’d be willing to cultivate for millennia to achieve this. Was she going to cut off her path forward just for the sake of a grudge? Due to the slight hesitation, her strength wavered and she immediately lost her footing. She was sucked within a few meters of the tattered banner, her splendid red clothing already making contact with its surface.
At the same time, the air within the four-way formation started to abnormally flow in the opposite direction, moving the black fog along with it. This meant that the formation was about to break due to Duan Jin having moved from her spot.
Ruan Zhan gritted his teeth.
The current contest was both mental and physical. He clearly heard the splashing stop, and knew Guan Zheng was deciding whether to attack Wan Li and Xiao Xia in the east or preserve his strength and wait for the faltering formation to collapse before swaggering out. Duan Jin was hesitating and struggling, wavering between compliance and resistance, vengeance and freedom.
It was like two speeding drivers coming face to face on a narrow road. Neither side was willing to yield, so all that was left was to see who was willing to persist despite the result being mutual destruction. Who would maintain their speed and ruthlessly collide head on!
These few seconds seemed to drag on for hours! Finally, at the point of collision, Ruan Zhan won!
Right as Duan Jin was about to be sucked into the banner, she unleashed the power of her Yang Eye. A thin but bright ray of light pierced through the thick darkness and shot towards the sky. It was as sharp and cold as a dagger, leaving a long and deep wound on the black fog!
Seeing this scene, Ruan Zhan didn’t dally. He waved his hand and retrieved the tattered banner. At the same time, he quickly shot an illumination talisman onto the beam of light. Previously, the talisman was only able to illuminate a small area. Yet after touching the beam shot from the Yang Eye, the light multiplied countless times, sweeping outwards and turning the four-way talisman bright as day in the blink of an eye! Free from the tattered banner’s pull, Duan Jin immediately returned to her position. The formation returned to its original state.
Ruan Zhan looked to the east and saw Guan Zheng had already reached the opposite end of the pool. He was raising his black wooden stick towards Xiao Xia who hadn’t adjusted to the unexpected brightness yet. He immediately drew urgently in the air and pointed towards the ground beneath Guan Zheng’s feet. A streak of blue sparks exploded from beneath his feet. Before Guan Zheng’s blow was able to hit Xiao Xia, he was shot up into the air and landed screaming into the water!
All this happened in an instant. If Ruan Zhan had been half a second slower, the outcome would have been completely different. It was really a close shave. Although he managed to block Guan Zheng’s first wave of attacks, it had been extremely dangerous. Ruan Zhan broke out in cold sweat.
”Thank you.” He said sincerely to Duan Jin.
Duan Jin snorted coldly. She still wore her mask which now covered the expression on her face that was temporarily missing an eye.
“Yo, what are you doing? Hitting a dog that’s fallen into the water!?”1 Wan Li said loudly from the side.
Guan Zheng got up, both angry and resentful. He was clearly stronger than Ruan Zhan. Why did things always go wrong at the last second whenever he seized an opportunity? What was going wrong? Just where were things going wrong?
He held the black wooden stick and stood still in the water. He stood on guard, afraid he would be attacked the moment he moved. He hadn’t cultivated his physical body before. The two vines that had been hidden in his sleeves allowed him to move as if in flight. Yet Ruan Zhan had unexpectedly cut off his precious treasures back at the octagonal building, preventing him from turning things around.
The formation was a defensive one that prevented joint attacks. Back at the octagonal building, he hadn’t felt it was anything special. Yet now that he was in the middle, he finally realized it wasn’t just meant to keep him trapped. The longer he stayed inside, the more clearly he felt his whole body heating up. The heat wasn’t dispersing from the top of his head. Instead, it scurried towards his feet and seeped into the ground. This made him feel his body’s stamina trickling away bit by bit.
The octagonal building’s formation hadn’t been the real thing. It was only meant to waste his strength and destroy his treasures. The formation now was the truly powerful one! Ruan Zhan’s strategy was basically to “eat things piece by piece.” He only realized this now!
The parties guarding the west and north were beings who couldn’t stand the sunlight, so it meant the formation couldn’t be maintained for long. However, he knew that he couldn’t last until daybreak. Even if he didn’t get sucked dry by then, he would be severely weakend.
The reason Ruan Zhan didn’t make a move first was to let him attack first and react accordingly! After all, only Ruan Zhan and that female ghost Duan Jin had the power to attack him directly. The other two were decorations used to guard the formation.
Under such circumstances, he had to find a way to escape as soon as possible. He grew weaker with every minute he delayed. In terms of intelligence and toughness, he knew that he was no match for Ruan Zhan. He relied on his power. If he weakened, he would lose tragically!
Thinking of this, he hardened his heart and unleashed his final attack. He pulled open his collar with his left hand and drew a crooked cross on his chest using the wooden stick in his right hand. He howled loudly in pain.
The front end of the black wooden stick looked dull, but as he marked his chest the skin split and the flesh tore as fresh blood flowed. It looked like he was almost eviscerated. Even the pool next to him was swiftly dyed red.
His cry was so tragic that it sounded like some trapped beast in throes of insanity. Along with the cry, his eyes started changing, turning from a normal person’s into orbs that glowed white, like two silver balls.
Ruan Zhan immediately recalled the village chief’s tale of when Guan Zheng killed dozens of villagers that night. He knew they were about to battle a cornered beast. Although Guan Zheng hadn’t made careful preparations this time, he was staking it all. His powers could not be underestimated.
Guan Zheng carefully took out a piece of paper from his inner pocket and rubbed it against his bloodied chest. Then, he cast a spell and threw it out. The light piece of paper shot out like an arrow from the bowstring. It crossed over the pool and turned into a black shadow that swiftly scurried off as it landed.
The black cat!
It was that black cat which had appeared repeatedly, and one that Witch Doctor Ah Bai had mentioned previously. Guan Zheng was actually able to replace it with an origami version! Just what sort of witchcraft had he cultivated? It was essentially magic at this point!
The black cat shot towards Ah Wu like the wind. However, as Ah Wu prepared to attack it, the cat twisted and shot towards Duan Jin. Right before it reached her, it did the same thing and moved towards Ruan Zhan.
Only after it got close did Ruan Zhan see it wasn’t running around randomly. It was dragging a thin thread behind it. It was hard to notice since the thread was transparent. Yet this thin thread didn’t break and it shone very faintly red. It stretched from the pool like a lasso. Upon closer examination, it was actually made of vapor from the pool that had been mixed with Guan Zheng’s blood!
The black cat flashed by like lightning, running towards Wan Li. It had thus taken the incorporeal thread around the four-way formation and returned the end to Guan Zheng.
Guan Zheng held one end of the vaporous thread as his lips moved. At the same time, he pulled back a little on the thread. Ruan Zhan felt a wave of fogginess in his mind as he involuntarily raised his foot. Yet before he took a step, his heart quivered and he immediately retracted his leg.
No. Guan Zheng was using the vapor mixed with his blood that his origami black cat brought him to hypnotize the people guarding the formation!
His hypnosis was too supernatural and profound. Back then, when he was well prepared, he could affect people at a distance and make them swiftly jump off a cliff. Today, he had been pressed and didn’t have time to prepare. Yet using his own blood as the catalyst, he had almost affected Ruan Zhan.
Looking around, he noticed everyone else had been enthralled by Guan Zheng’s move. Ah Wu’s feet desperately moved forwards while she clung tightly to a small tree with her hands. Her body seemed about to split in two. One half wanted to move while the other half wanted to stay. Duan Jin was a ghost with very strong spirit power. Although she wasn’t immediately affected, she still swayed uncertainly in place, clearly unsure whether or not to move. Wan Li was the most heavily affected. He became completely vacant as he walked step by step. One foot had already stepped into the water despite Xiao Xia desperately pulling at him from behind!
Perhaps because Guan Zheng was in a rush or perhaps his powers were weakened, but only one person was affected in each direction. There were two in the east, so Xiao Xia hadn’t been included.
Although she didn’t have Ruan Zhan’s knowledge, she still understood what had happened. Therefore, she desperately tried to wake Wan Li, but he was far stronger than her. Not only did she fail to hold him back, she was also dragged towards the pool!
In desperation, she no longer cared about anything and bit hard onto Wan Li’s bare arm. She used so much force that blood immediately started flowing.
In his daze, Wan Li suddenly felt a sharp pain. His muscles instinctively spasmed and his arm jerked outwards, flinging Xiao Xia to the ground next to the pool. When he snapped out of it, he saw Xiao Xia getting back up. Her entire head was wet and she coughed continuously. She had landed face first into the water.
“Did I do this?” He hurriedly helped support her.
Xiao Xia wasn’t able to speak at all. Her face was pale as she clutched Wan Li’s arm tightly, looking towards Ruan Zhan.
Wan Li also looked over, saying loudly: “Everything is ok over here. You worry about other things!”
Ruan Zhan saw they were fine from the distance and calmed down. With each flick of his hand a palm of lightning shot out. As the blue sparks struck Ah Wu and Duan Jin underfoot, they both suddenly awakened.
”What other moves do you have?” He said loftily.
Guan Zheng didn’t speak, merely making a gesture towards the black cat. After receiving his orders, the black cat got up and started running around with the strand of vapor once again. This time it was incredibly fast. The black figure was almost indiscernible as it ran from one spot to the next.
”Let’s see how many more lightning palms you can send out!” Guan Zheng sneered.
He knew that his hypnosis technique couldn’t break this formation since Ruan Zhan would definitely wake them up somehow. However, he had plenty of water vapor from the pool and he had enough strength to make the black cat run the entire night. Ruan Zhan would have to continuously send out lightning palms, which would use up a lot of stamina. He figured Ruan Zhan was reaching his limits and decided to proceed. Ruan Zhan wanted to exhaust his strength? What goes around comes around. He was going to return the favor!
Yet Ruan Zhan didn’t do as he expected. Although he did shoot several lightning palms, he didn’t aim for Ah Wu and Duan Jin who had been hypnotized again. Instead, he aimed for the black cat. After all, Guan Zheng needed the black cat to cast his hypnosis technique. Dealing with the root of the problem was better than addressing the symptoms one by one!
Seeing the situation, Guan Zheng hurriedly grabbed one end of the vapor stream while controlling the black cat with the other. That black cat was agile to begin with. Under his control, it became as slippery as a loach. It seemed about to get hit several times but always managed to dodge at the last moment.
After several rounds of this, Ruan Zhan started feeling the strain a little. His body had already reached its limits and he was also injured. He was holding on due to his tenacious willpower. It was still fine when he had time to rest between attacks. Now, he wasn’t even able to catch his breath.
”Idiot! Why don’t you use a talisman to burn it? Wouldn’t that save a lot of strength?” Wan Li’s voice sounded from the side, “The damned cat is just a piece of paper!”
Apparently Xiao Xia had bitten him too ruthlessly. The piercing, painful and stimulating sensation helped him maintain his consciousness, and he didn’t fall under hypnosis a second time.
Ruan Zhan had been too focused on eliminating Guan Zheng and hadn’t realized this point. With Wan Li’s reminder, he immediately thought things through and sent a fire talisman shooting over!