As the bone lizard rose up into the sky, the three ghost faces were tugged unwillingly away from the Celestial and toward the vortex.
However, the laughing-crying ghost face seemed far more defiant than the other two.
“I like this world… I don’t want to leave! I want to stay….” However, no matter how hard it struggled, it couldn’t escape from the control of the bone galleon, and was dragged ever upward.
Soon, the bone lizard was only moments away from entering the vortex. Down below, a look of indescribable longing could be seen on the face of the Celestial.
In terms of attitude, his was the polar opposite of the laughing-crying ghost face. He had long yearned to be able to reach the peak of the world he lived in, and then step beyond it. However, after all this time, he was still stuck in the same place. It was almost as if he were in a huge prison!
He didn’t want to live in this world. He wanted to leave it. If he forced his way out… the world would be destroyed, and everyone in it killed. And yet, he still wanted to leave!
Big Fatty Zhang and the other cultivators stuck on the bone galleon were heading into extreme danger. But for the Celestial, that ship and that vortex represented the future.
The Celestial burst into motion, becoming a beam of bright light that shot toward the vortex!
However… not only did he feel pressure pushing at him from above, but the lands below also tugged him down. It was actually impossible for him to even get close to the vortex!
In fact, the will of the world which was part of him recognized what he was doing, and began to tremble on the verge of collapse. At that point, a howl of defiant rage escaped the Celestial’s lips.
“Gravekeeper, you bastard! One of these days… I will escape this place!!” His words shook the world like heavenly thunder, and even caused lightning bolts to appear in the air around the huge bone lizard.
A sea of lightning appeared, almost like a huge hand that then grabbed at the lizard.
The Celestial was using his last bit of power to try to prevent the bone galleon from leaving!
Tinged with the power of the Heavenspan River, the lightning hand was golden as it closed in on the bone lizard.
However, before the hand could actually touch the lizard, Ghostmother chuckled coldly and performed a double-handed incantation gesture. Instantly, black smoke erupted from the lizard and shot toward the golden lightning hand.
Rumbling sounds filled the air as the two made contact. Clearly, the lightning hand was no match for the smoke, as it began to tremble and fall to pieces. Before it could be completely destroyed, though, the laughing-crying ghost face suddenly used an unknown technique to change directions and shoot toward the hand.
This sudden turn of events caught Ghostmother by surprise, and a murderous aura sprang up from her. Even the Celestial was shocked. However, he reacted quickly, and sent the golden hand speeding toward the laughing-crying ghost face!
A huge boom rang out as the laughing-crying ghost face… was snatched up by the Celestial’s huge hand.
Then… as the hand descended back toward the Celestial, and then opened up, the laughing-crying ghost face was nowhere to be seen….
The Celestial stood there, eyes flickering with thought.
When Ghostmother saw what had occurred, her murderous aura grew even more intense, and yet, she didn’t say anything. Looking back down at the world below one last time, she turned her attention away, and sent the bone lizard into the vortex….
However, it was in that moment that something happened that not even the Celestial could ever have predicted. Down in the destroyed bone sea, a figure shot up into the air at high speed!
It was none other than… Bai Xiaochun!
“Ghostmother, give Hou Xiaomei and my Eldest Brother back to me!!” He had long since decided to throw caution to the wind; he simply couldn’t stand idly by as Hou Xiaomei and Big Fatty Zhang were taken into that vortex.
He moved with incredible speed, shooting up toward the disappearing bone lizard. As for the cultivators who remained down below, they looked on with surprise and astonishment.
The Celestial’s eyes narrowed. From what he could tell, everything that was happening reeked of the gravekeeper’s meddling, and he couldn’t help but be suspicious about why the gravekeeper hadn’t made an appearance.
“The old ghost’s schemes run too deep…. I refuse to believe that he did all this simply to hurt me. There must be some other goal he's working toward!”
Ghostmother looked down from the bone lizard at Bai Xiaochun, and could see the bloodshot madness in his eyes. However, it didn’t matter how fast he was going, there was no way for him to catch up to the bone lizard. Before he could even get close, it was in the vortex and fading away!
In the last moment before it was gone, Ghostmother’s lips moved as she transmitted a message to Bai Xiaochun.
“Don’t worry, I have an agreement with the gravekeeper. Because of that, I will keep your friends safe. The girl has unique qualities that conform to the techniques I cultivate. I will take her as an apprentice. As for the other cultivators onboard, I will keep them safe.”
Bai Xiaochun hovered there in midair, looking powerlessly at the disappearing vortex.
“Xiaomei… Eldest Brother….” At the moment, he felt completely helpless and lonely.
He suddenly thought back to the dream Big Fatty Zhang had told him about…. Clearly, his Eldest Brother had anticipated this moment for a long time.
Bai Xiaochun could only hope… that Ghostmother was telling the truth….
As he grew older, as he advanced his cultivation base and increased his longevity, Bai Xiaochun was coming to realize… that growing up came with a price.
This wasn’t his first time feeling it. He had experienced this same sensation often in the past. And it always left him feeling powerless. The only thing he wasn’t sure about was whether to blame himself or the world around him.
He just wanted to practice cultivation and be happy. He just wanted to live his life and smile and laugh….
Pain and bitterness gripped his heart as he wondered if he would ever see Big Fatty Zhang and Hou Xiaomei again….
“Hopefully so….” he murmured to himself. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice how, as the vortex vanished and the Deadmire collapsed, the restrictive spells in the area began to unravel.
There was now nothing in the Deadmire to cause problems for cultivators. Perhaps, after many years passed, the area would return to its normal state… and people would be able to pass through it freely!
The Celestial left to chase the laughing-crying ghost face, and didn’t take anyone with him, not even Du Lingfei. Du Lingfei looked up at Bai Xiaochun, mixed emotions visible on her face. She seemed to be in a bleak mood as well, but she managed to take a deep breath, fly up, and grasp Bai Xiaochun’s hand.
“Xiaochun, don’t be sad…. I'm sure that you’ll see them again one day.”
Bai Xiaochun looked over, and could tell that, as she clasped his hand, she was trying to pass all of the warmth and hope she could into him. After a long moment, he nodded.
There were less than 200 cultivators left on the shattered bones below. All of them were wounded in one way or another. Even Du Lingfei, despite having been in her father’s bag of holding, had been affected by the battle with Ghostmother and Gongsun Wan’er.
No one was hurt too badly, but all of them would need time to recover. Soon, the entire group began making their way toward the exit of the Deadmire.
Not only did they need to get to a place where they could focus on recovering, but they also needed to determine where exactly they were. Whichever branch of the river was nearest, they would make their way to the riversource sect there, and then use teleportation portals to get home.
They traveled in silence, their hearts heavy. The twin Master Cloud Lightnings, Guru Spirit Immortal and Master Thousand-Ghost were devas, and as such, leaders within the group, but even they were wounded, and were still trembling in shock from everything that had happened. The trial by fire was not at all how anyone had expected it to be. Profound secrets had been laid bare, secrets which surpassed the imaginations of everyone present.
Eventually, they reached the end of the Deadmire, and found themselves looking at a world of snow and ice. When the twin Master Cloud Lightnings felt the frigid qi in the area, their jaws dropped. They weren’t the only ones. The other cultivators from the north all looked around, eyes sparkling with delight.
“The north! We're in the north!!”
“I can sense the frigid spiritual energy of the north!!”
This part of the Deadmire… was attached to the northern Heavenspan River region!
Bai Xiaochun was still dispirited and downcast. However, it was in that moment that his expression flickered, and he looked down at his bag of holding.
“Is something wrong?” Du Lingfei asked curiously.
“No. It’s nothing….” he replied, avoiding the topic. However, waves of shock were battering his heart. Just now, he had sensed that, within the coffin that Patriarch Spirit Stream had given him, the sleeping baby girl… had murmured something to him!
“The aura of home….”