Bai Xiaochun looked down at the army camp from his position on the mountain, and sighed. “Too overbearing…. All I'm doing is a bit of flame conjuring….”
Pulling out Bai Hao’s soulhoarding pagoda, he continued, “They forced me to come all the way out here to work. What happened earlier was an accident…. Isn't that right, my apprentice? Master is completely innocent!”
Bai Hao was about to respond, but after a moment, he simply shook his head and smiled wryly. He was beginning to understand this petty Master of his a bit more. However, despite the fact that he seemed very unreliable, Bai Hao couldn’t hold back from trying to offer some more advice.
“Master, why don’t we just take a break for a bit. What happens… what happens if there’s another explosion…?”
Thumping himself on the chest, Bai Xiaochun said, “Don’t worry, your Master has a lot of experience.”
Almost immediately, Bai Hao began to get nervous, and was about to continue to try offer more persuasion when Bai Xiaochun pulled out a fifteen-colored flame and a horde of vengeful souls.
Worried that further interruptions could cause problems, Bai Hao swallowed his words, sighed, and prayed that everything went smoothly.
Before long, three days had passed. Bai Xiaochun was taking things very slowly. Apparently, he was also afraid of causing another explosion, so when even the slightest unexpected variation cropped up, he would stop.
Sticking his chin up, he proudly said, “Look, didn’t I say we’d be fine? After three days, there hasn’t been a single explosion!”
Despite how slowly he was working, he was already seventy percent finished.
By this point, Bai Hao was feeling a bit less nervous, and also very grateful that Bai Xiaochun was listening to him and being more careful.
“Master, when conjuring sixteen-colored flame, the most difficult part is in the end. You need to be a bit more careful from here on out. Absolutely, positively do not do anything impulsive.”
“Yeah, yeah, don't worry.” Bai Xiaochun waved his hand and continued working. A few more days went by, and Bai Xiaochun’s eyes were completely bloodshot. Once again, he seemed bedeviled. No matter what he did, he was still stuck at seventy percent completion, and could tell that if he pushed things ahead prematurely, he would fail.
“Just what exactly am I doing wrong…?” he muttered, tugging at his hair and staring fixedly at the tongue of flame in his palm. Then, the flicker of augury appeared in his eyes. Bai Hao looked on, also unsure of what to do. However, the sight of Bai Xiaochun in this state had him nervously thinking back to the explosion.
Before Bai Hao could contemplate what that meant, Bai Xiaochun’s eyes shone brightly, and he said, “That must be it! These vengeful souls have too many impurities!”
With that, he started working again. However, Bai Hao couldn’t help but think that the explanation sounded too simple. He was going to give voice to his reservations, but hesitated when he saw how excited Bai Xiaochun was to try out his new idea.
“Ah, whatever. I’ll just let Master give it a shot. Who knows, maybe he’s right.”
Bai Xiaochun was indeed very excited. Considering that the problem had to do with impurities, he immediately thought back to how he had solved such problems when concocting medicine. Eyebrows dancing up and down in anticipation, he waved his hands and started working again.
As he worked, the fifteen-colored flame gobbled up the vengeful souls, and then black tendrils of smoke began to rise up. When it happened with the first soul, it was hardly noticeable, but as more souls poured in, more black smoke appeared, and Bai Hao started to get more nervous.
Although Bai Hao wasn't sure exactly what it meant, he was sure that the black smoke which resulted from burning away impurities could not be a good thing. “Master, wait, there’s too much of this black smoke. Something’s wrong. Give me a minute to figure out what it is….”
“A little bit of smoke like this is nothing. Don’t worry, my little apprentice. Master has a lot of experience in things like this.” Laughing heartily, he continued his work. As he did, more and more black smoke appeared, and Bai Hao continued to get more nervous. In the end, he was actually trembling in fear.
Bai Xiaochun was so focused that he had forgotten himself. The flame gobbled up the souls, and an entire day went by. By evening the next day, it was eighty percent complete!
“So it does work!” Excited, he was just about to continue working when, all of a sudden, signs of instability appeared in the fifteen-colored flame. Terrifying fluctuations began to build up in the flame. However, before they could roll out, Bai Xiaochun decisively closed his hand into a fist, extinguishing the fifteen-colored flame in an instant!
As he did, massive quantities of black smoke escaped through the cracks between his fingers, making a black mushroom cloud that rose up into the air.
“Hmmmphh. Did you see that, my apprentice? Decisive, wouldn’t you say? I told you there wouldn’t be any explosions. The only thing that happened was we saw a bit of smoke, that’s all.” Bai Xiaochun looked over proudly at Bai Hao as the last bit of black smoke swirled away from his hand.
Bai Hao really felt like he was going to fall apart this time. Sighing, he pointed up into the sky.
“Master, we have to get out of here…. Look up there!”
Bai Xiaochun’s jaw dropped. He had been so focused on the flame conjuring that he hadn’t been paying attention at all to what was happening overhead. After looking up, his eyes went wide, and his face fell.
The black mushroom cloud overhead was growing bigger and bigger. In the blink of an eye, it had turned into something like an enormous thundercloud, floating slowly toward the army camp. It seemed extremely heavy, and was slowly sinking down toward the ground.
“Why does that black cloud look so familiar…? Wait. No way. Black clouds appeared back when I used to concoct medicine. But conjuring flame shouldn’t produce the same result!” By this point, his heart was beginning to pound as he watched the black cloud slowly cover the entire army camp. It continued to sink until it was only about 300 meters above the camp itself. It almost looked like it would make ground fall soon.
The soul cultivators in the camp noticed the cloud, and began to fly up into the air and attack it with magical techniques in the hopes of driving it away.
However, no attacks did anything to the cloud. In fact, it even began to drop down faster. To Bai Xiaochun’s shock, the black cloud… quickly enveloped the entire camp.
Then, coughs began to ring out, along with screams. Clearly, the camp was devolving into pandemonium.
“Heaven damn you, Bai Hao!!”
“Cough-cough. What is this… cough-cough… Bai Hao! You did this!!”
“Heavens, first was that explosion, and now this black cloud. Cough-cough… My eyes! My throat! Bai Hao… I’m gonna kill you!”
More and more voices filled the air, creating a deafening cacophony of sound that pushed Bai Xiaochun right to the brink of tears. After all, he truly felt innocent in the matter.
“I did everything to prevent any explosions. I didn’t think that there would be any black smoke. You people can’t blame me for this!” Bai Xiaochun was extremely nervous, so much so that his heart was pounding. As for Bai Hao, he stood off to the side in soul form, also scowling on the verge of tears.
“Master,” he said in a pleading tone, “can we talk this over a bit? How about you change your name? I wanted to bring this up in Giant Ghost City, but now…. You caused the disaster, but they're calling out my name, demanding that I die….”
Bai Xiaochun was in no mood to deal with Bai Hao at the moment. He was staring anxiously at the black cloud, and listening to the increasingly ferocious shouting coming from inside. Soon, people emerged from within and began to fly toward them with murderous auras surging.
“I'm finished. Kaput….” He quickly pulled out a jade slip to send a request for help to the Giant Ghost King. More people were howling in rage and pouring out of the smoke in his direction. Then, Bai Xiaochun gasped as Mistress Red-Dust appeared, shooting out of the smoke like a bright red arrow, right toward him.
Mistress Red-Dust felt like she was about to go crazy. At this point, she was absolutely convinced that her father had sent Bai Hao to her because he was a living disaster!
It hadn’t even been half a month yet, and he had already instigated two mutinies within the camp. Mistress Red-Dust almost couldn’t believe it. In fact, even if she had intentionally set out to do the things that Bai Xiaochun had done, she wouldn’t have been able to….
“Feeling suicidal, Bai Hao?!” she roared, flying toward Bai Xiaochun on the low-lying mountain.