Bending down, Wang Qian panted and gasped, her eyes filled with deep horror. She checked her fingers—all ten fair, tapering ones as delicate as young spring onions. With the brightly lacquered nails, the shaking hands seemed to be dripping blood from the fingertips.
The ten fingers had all been snapped at the joints, but how come they were all intact now?
She was utterly muddled. The only thing stuck to her mind was the excruciating pain. Just then, a voice came to her from somewhere ahead. "You actually managed to go through all that. You're a very tough woman."
Wang Qian snapped her head up and realized all of a sudden that the man was still there, a few steps away from her and watching her inquisitively. Then, stepping on the cracked brick pavement, he was by her side in a few strides.
The slanting sunlight was cast into the alley like the first beam of street lights, outlining that slender figure of his, which almost felt unreal.
The woman jolted; the horror deepened in her eyes.
She had carried out numerous tasks before and was almost invincible thanks to her stunning appearance and quick mind. This time, however, the defeat came so abruptly that she was starting to doubt her own existence, or her aliveness, for that matter.
Gu Yu watched her with curious eyes. The woman must have been trained, for she had refused to give in even under the situation just then. It was proof enough of the Master's deterrence—he was simply asking for a name.
Speaking of which, what he activated back there was none other than the conjuring technique of " Boundless State 1 ".
It was his official assault technique, practised dilligently with no slacking. With the improvement of his mental power, his understanding and control over the conjuring technique was also growing more thorough.
The monsters and snakes in his illusions before could scary the sh*t out of others, but they were a bit too flashy.
He now preferred the more realistic ones, from which he had expanded to other use. The one he conjured just then, for instance—even after she recovered from it, she would still have a hard time distinguishing the reality from the illusion.
It took Wang Qian quite a while before she managed to squeeze out her next words. "We are truly inviting you with all our sincerity…"
"Ok, as a matter of fact, I am intrigued now." Gu Yu waved at her. "Lead the way."
The woman was delighted. As long as she could take him back, she wouldn't mind even if her fingers were really snapped. Broken fingers could be repaired—anything was better than the Master's punishment.
Right away, she led Gu Yu out of the small valley.
Cities at the border were all very small. The one district and two counties under the jurisdiction of Huo Zhou had a total population of 700,000 only. That, plus the particular custom of certain ethnic group, and nightlife was pretty much nonexistent in the area.
The two of them threaded through dark streets, flitted past the sporadic pedestrians, and finally stopped outside a secluded residential area.
"Are we there?"
"Yes, please follow me."
Wang Qian led him in and walked him to a two-story villa. "His Grace is inside. Please go in."
With that, she stood aside guarding the gate, showing no intention to enter with him.
Gu Yu shrugged, pushed the door open, and entered alone. The interior was spacious and lavishly decorated. Sitting in the living room was a man in his thirties, who had high cheekbones, a large and slightly hooked nose, sharp features, and equally deep-set eyes.
He rose to his feet to greet Gu Yu; even his laughter sounded gloomy. "Mr. Gu, finally!"
Gu Yu was getting tired at the question that he was going to ask for the fourth time today. "And who might you be?"
"You can call me Zhang Wei. I'm a businessman with a little loose money to throw around. I just don't like the limelight."
Gu Yu was relieved that the man did not give him crap like "who I am is not important", or he would definitely be driven mad.
"You know about me, which says you're no ordinary businessman. I don't like beating around the bush, so get to the point," said Gu Yu.
"Great, I like a straightforward man. The reason I invite you here is to ask for a favor."
"To do what?"
"Take me to Flaming Mountain to examine something."
"Oh?" Gu Yu was not surprised. He only asked, "And why should I do that?"
"Do you know the ancient town of Jiaohe?" Zhang Wei answered with a question.
"Not very well. I was planning to go there."
"Haha, the Town of Jiaohe used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Jushi. It was established during the Han Dynasty, reached its heyday during the Tang Dynasty, and fell to pieces during the Yuan Dynasty. Inside the ancient town was a site of remains. You can find it somewhere around where the government offices used to be; it's a cemetery for infants.
Something dawned on Gu Yu. He recalled he had read something along those lines while he was doing the research, only that the text was rather vague and contained merely a few sentences.
"The cemetery was discovered thirty years ago and at least 280 infant skeletons were unearthed. There were neither written records of the cemetery nor any way to trace its origins. The academic circle was also disputing over the subject. Some suggested plague, while others said the babies were killed by their own parents to save them from the slaughter by incoming enemies. A few years back, rumors even went around that there were sounds of babies crying at night. Of course, there was a scientific explanation for that: magnetic sand affected by the wind."
A strange look suddenly clouded over Zhang Wei's face as he said, "I'm from Huo Zhou myself and I grew up listening to these tales. They interested me greatly. It was only a while ago that I came by a scholar who made a hypothesis that the cemetery was not a result of a plague, but a sacrifice.
The Kingdom of Jushi was built on a vital communication line and plenty of cultures mingled there. Various religions such as Taoism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Shamanism all used to preach in the kingdom, and mixed and competed against one another; each took turn to win the trust of the Jushi royals at different times, which enabled their expansion.
According to that scholar, the cemetery was the result of a sacrifice required by a certain sect, which took place right on Flaming Mountain."
"And you want to take a peek?"
"Exactly. To be honest, the moment you arrived at Huo Zhou, we realized that something must be unusual here, but we dared not make any reckless move. I have come here in person just to try to persuade you."
"Haha…" Gu Yu paused a little at these words and suddenly chuckled. "Nope, not enough."
"What?" Zhang Wei winced.
"Your script was not well-rounded enough. At least I'm not convinced."
Gu Yu looked into Zhang Wei's eyes, his tone half-teasing and half-taunting. "Any other crap you can come up with to play the fool? Think harder!"
'Damn you!' Zhang Wei's face darkened at this. "Mr. Gu, what do you mean by that?"
"I see no sincerity whatsoever. See ya…"
Gu Yu had had enough of this nonsense. Rising to his feet, he was ready to leave.
Zhang Wei's eyes flickered as various colors flitted across his face. He had taken great risk in coming out here today, but there was no other way; someone above was at his neck.
Seeing that Gu Yu was at the door already, he gritted his teeth and clapped his hands.
A few shadows dashed abruptly out of various corners of the villa area, surrounding Gu Yu in the middle.
Meanwhile, Mount Song.
Buddhism consisted of ten schools, namely the Schools of Three Treaties, East Asian Yogacara, Tiantai, Huayan, Chan, Pure Land, Risshu, Vajrayana, Kushshu, and Tattavasddhi. The first eight belonged to the Mahayana branch, while the last two belonged to the Hinayana branch.
All ten schools above were in fact localized sects developed after Buddhism was introduced into the country, of which the Schools of Chan and Pure Land were the most influential ones. The eminent Shaolin Temple was the birthplace to the School of Chan.
Place like this was flooded with visitors on a daily basis and it was an extremely popular site for worshippers.
Today was even more so, for a blessing ceremony was to be held. At dusk, the night was just beginning to fall in when countless worshippers and non-local tourists poured in through the mountain gate, wiggling their way up the mountain along with the tightly packed crowd. Among them was a tall woman, who moved effortlessly and was utterly carefree, as if nothing could affect her.
Looking up, she took in the mountain gate and the looming grandeur beyond. A chuckle left her throat.TL/N: see chapter 32