Jiaohe Ruin used to be called Gushi in its time and was founded by ancient men of Europa.
Around the time when Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty was on the throne, the Han armies defeated Gushi and changed its name to Jushi, dividing it into Front Jushi, Back Jushi, and six kingdoms north of the mountain. It was Xiongnu's gateway into the Western Regions, and a vital transportation line linking the Western Regions to the middle section of the Silk Road from Yumen Pass, rendering it a strategic military spot for as long as history could remember.
Later, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Xiongnu carried out an eight-year siege of Jushi and the king fled, abandoning the city. From then on, Jiaohe became part of Gaochang and the Kingdom of Jushi was no more.
Time passed by. The Central Plains were unified and Tang Dynasty was established. The communication between the East and the West grew more frequent as a consequence. Gaochang held a vital strategic position that all religions and sects tried to have a slice.
Back then, at least half a dozen forces were engaged in a strife there, including Buddhism, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, etc. Among those, Buddhism and Shamanism were the most active ones.
No record could be found on the specific competitions between the two. All in all, Buddhism was the final winner and Gaochang became a Buddhist kingdom.
The archmage had gathered all of the abovementioned information from reading the classics. As for this underground cavern, it was built by their Shamanic ancestors to fight back the heathens.
Flaming Mountain was a place of natural wonders where Yin and Yang met, giving birth to the most ferocious being. Their ancestors had exhausted their resources, trying to create an unprecedented fierce beast. Unfortunately, they were defeated before they could succeed and Shamanism in the Northwest began its decline ever since.
He had always thought it the deed of the Buddhists, but had found a Taoist jade plate when he examined the body just then. It seemed the two religions had joined hands back then...
The archmage looked at the altar and for a moment there, he was overwhelmed by all sorts of emotions. He had no idea what thing was created here. The ancient books only mentioned it by a name, and a peculiar one: Ghostly Bug.
Ghostly Bug took the form of an insect, had six legs and four wings, and would bring great drought when it was released!
One of the mages went up to him and asked, "Archmage, what are we going to do now?"
"Remove the bones and put them in one place. Watch over the ghostly men. Let them go up there."
The group promptly carried out his order. The dozen broken or intact skeletons were cleared away, revealing the altar in the center. Twelve columns stood on the altar, carved with black patterns on one side and ghostly faces the other—the latter faced the pool of liquid.
There was a small platform at the forefront, which was where the ritual would be performed.
Several mages held chime stones made of bones on their palms and struck them with small white-headed hammers. Twelve ghostly men let out a hoarse, low growl and slowly climbed onto the altar, each standing by a column.
A few men then walked up to them and tied them tightly onto the columns. They then cut the ghostly men on their chests and took a few drops of green blood from each.
The archmage took over the bowl, cut himself, then dropped in his own black blood. He closed his eyes after that. Seeing this, the five mages immediately retreated to stand behind him, where they waited in silence.
The archmage's lips moved slightly as he chanted an ancient spell. He then turned the bowl upside down, pouring the mixture of green and black blood into the pool.
The liquid inside was very thick and of a muddy color, reminding one of a gelatinous soup. Once the blood was poured in, the liquid bubbled almost right away.
The red and black energy circled slowly, then gathered together and expanded. In the end, they formed a whirlpool in the air.
The archmage opened his flickering red eyes and kept on chanting.
The whirlpool was turning faster and faster, joining with the pool, the later sibilant like boiling water. The other members felt their legs quiver but forced themselves to stand still as they watched the mountain wall shaking as if the world was going to collapse on them.
All of a sudden, two long, thick, tentacle-like things erupted out of the water.
Seconds later, there came an even louder splash!
The liquid parted and the tentacles rose abruptly, bringing out a gigantic head. It was reddish-brown in color and densely covered with spines. A pair of compound eyes composed of tens of thousands little eyes grew on either side of the head and nearly took up half of its face.
It had no nose and a very protruding mouth was below the eyes. They could clearly make out four pairs of mouthparts and the serrated sharp blades that grew on its chin.
The moment the head of the Ghostly Bug emerged, hush fell over the group. All were soaked wet in sweat and so scared that they might go mad.
"archmage…" said someone in a quavery voice.
"Don't panic! We continue!"
He made a pressing gesture with much difficulty and resumed his chanting.
The thousand-year-old spell reached the pool and the head twisted slightly. Its gray eyes turned red, then it opened its mouth.
Twelve ghostly men screamed in unison. They bodies could not stand the external pressure and their blood gushed out, breaking through their skin. The blood gathered into twelve streaks of green fluid, which then flowed into the hideous giant mouth.
The group dared not even move a finger, yet their teeth were chattering uncontrollably. They were now fully aware of the utter terror one would feel in the face of a higher form of life. To this savage beast, they were nothing but ants, ready to be squashed in any second.
'Are we really able to control it?'
That idea was ringing in the heads of more than one person.
The twelve ghostly men were sucked dry of their flesh and blood in a matter of seconds, leaving behind shriveled empty shells of skin still tied to the columns. The Ghostly Bug twisted again. A hint of bewilderment, helplessness, and anger crept onto its face.
It almost reminded them of an ill-fed child that did not know how to vent its frustration, which was the most creepy scene.
Whoosh! The red eyes flickered back to gray and the head sank a little, ready to hide back into the pool.
"We need more sacrifice! Give it more!"
The archmage was the first to realize this and yelled at the top of his lungs.
"We don't have any sacrifice left!" a mage replied.
"We don't? How is that possible?"
He turned to look and his gaze happened to land on a sect member, who stumbled back ashen-faced and pleaded, "No, Archmage, please don't— ah!"
A force made the man lunge forward suddenly and the archmage clutched him in his hands. The man was then cut on the chest and tossed into the pool with a plop.
The Ghostly Bug smelled food and promptly jabbed its mouthparts into his body. The man became a mummy in no time.
"Hahaha! The painstaking effort of the past generations cannot be ruined in my hands! We are almost there!"
The archmage was on the verge of going insane as he yelled, "Where is everyone? I need more sacrifices!"
He reached out with both hands and tossed the surviving half dozen underlings into the pool.
They were not as "appetizing" as the ghostly men, but they still had the ghostly Yin energy in them from practicing the occult skills. The Ghostly Bug drained them all in half a heartbeat and raised itself a little higher up, exposing a small section of its body.
It was also reddish-brown and had a flat and wide shape. There appeared to be four pairs of wings on its back.
The archmage was using the right method, only that he had forgotten one thing: the ghostly men he refined were nothing compared to those made in the ancient time. He might have the ghostly men, but the quality was too poor to fill the stomach of that savage beast.
Seeing that the Ghostly Bug stopped moving again, the archmage turned his gaze abruptly towards the five mages.
"For the glory of our ancestors!"
Mages were much higher in their status and were firmer in their faith at the same time. Immediately, three mages volunteered, cut their chests themselves, and jumped into the pool.
The thing screeched with excitement once it absorbed the much more concentrated Yin ghost energy and rose further out of the pool.
The remaining two mages were not as brave. They shook their heads and pleaded, "I'll get some more men in. Aren't they outside guarding the entrance? I'll get them here right away!"
"Right away? It's time for your own sacrifice now…"
The archmage looked as gloomy as a ghost himself. He was about to grabbed the two when he turned abruptly, shouting, "Who's there?"
"Wow, that was some major scene!"
A man and a woman flew down from the upper cavern and landed softly. The man said with amazement, "Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I'd think I've travelled back in time."
"Gu Yu, I knew it was you!"
The archmage fought back his anger and calmed himself down. He had pretty much guessed it, for only a handful of people were capable enough to get into the mountain, and among those, that Gu person was the most likely.
"You know who I am? Oh, you're with Zhang Wei, aren't you?"
Gu Yu did not think much of it and looked around. The Ghostly Bug caught his attention right away. Instantly, an overbearing power even he could not withstand rushed towards him.
His stomach lurched. The beast these people had brought out was so savage that the world would be in chaos should it be let out.
"Humph!" The archmage did not answer his question but only said, "It's good you've come. After I take you two down, I'll feed you to it. That should suffice."
"That was a bold state— Why, you're of innate state?"
Gu Yu was taken by surprise. The energy he sensed from the man was definitely one of the innate state, only that the foundation was unsteady. Either he had just broken through, or he had used some unorthodox shortcut.
"Bwahaha! How hard could reaching the innate state be? Let me show you what I can do!"
The archmage waved his bone staff and the humongous ghostly head flew out. Immediately after that, he threw out ten ghostly imps. The ghostly creatures formed a small army as they roared and pounced at Gu Yu and Long Qiu.
Seeing this, Long Qiu was going to release the Golden Silkworm. However, as she activated her mental power, she got no response for the undead insect.
"Brother, Golden Silkworm is not moving!" she called out in surprise, but soon came to realization. "That thing has probably suppressed it."
"Don't worry. Let me deal with the big guy. You be careful!" Gu Yu cautioned her and strode forward. With a series of popping sounds, thirty-five Flaming Cloud Needles materialized around him.
With a wave, the needles turned into a flaming dragon, which flew at the ghostly head wrapped in scarlet flames, sounding as if its roars could reach the highest heaven.
The ghostly head refused to show any weakness. It opened its mouth widely, puffing out a lump of black fog.
It was the purest energy of Yin ghost, which would erode any ordinary object completely once it made contact. The black fog expanded, filling a small area in the air; the flaming dragon was immediately devoured after it dived in headlong. However, moments later, the dragon dashed out with a banging sound.
The two magical instrument clashed and the flaming dragon proved to be the stronger one. After being pierced through, the ghostly head was visibly weakened.
Xiao Qiu was wielding her long sword on the other side. Green light was flashing as she fought against the ghostly imps. Seeing this, the two mages forgot about their little conflict just then and joined the fighting.
Up in the air, the red and the black wrangled and flew all over the place. It was almost too dazzling to watch.
The Flaming Cloud Needles were made from the green jade of Tianshan and had been refined for 49 days with the spiritual essence of Huo Zhou. Their power and fierceness was unparallelled. Powerful as the ghostly face might be, it stood no chance in fighting against the needles.
Skill was not concerned in such fights. All that mattered was the absolute strength.
"Phoenix Mountain is indeed worthy of its name. Hehe…"
The ghostly face was steadily losing its ground, but the archmage did not seem to worry at all, as if he still had a thing or two up in his sleeves. He croaked out a laughter and moved swiftly, suddenly disappeared into the air.
Gu Yu was still wondering where the man had gone when the ghostly face's eyes started glowing with red light, which was coming from deep inside the head. The glow grew brighter, as if something was going to explode.
He backed away immediately, watching out for its next move.
Momentarily, the eyes radiated with a red color, shooting out something halfway between steam and light, which ripped through the air. The next second, the red light reached Gu Yu and fluctuated, faintly showing the image of the archmage.
It was the most profound occult skill existing in the northeast branch: fuse one's own physical body into the ghostly face and one could switch between the physical and illusionary forms, enabling one constant changes.
"I actually thought you had reached the innate state back there. So, you've given yourself this miserable look by wasting your life expectancy and vital essence."
Gu Yu spotted the nature of this trick right away and was even relaxed enough to add in a sarcastic comment.
The red light turned into a shadow, wrapping Gu Yu inside. Instantly, he felt his mental force stirring as something was forcing its way in, as if trying to attack his mind directly.
A weird smile flashed across his eyes. 'Trying my mental force? You? Seriously?'
If nothing else, the essence-consuming method was next to nothing in terms of training and accumulating one's vital essence. He had full confidence in the amount of his spiritual essence and the capability of his mental force.
Activating his mental force, Gu Yu turned his Boundless State illusion full on and the next second: K.O.
The archmage did not see that coming. In utter horror, he realized he was losing consciousness. Then, everything turned dark.
Two screams made the archmage turn his head. The two mages had fallen into the pool and were drained by the Ghostly Bug. Fully fed, the big guy was now completely out of the pool, revealing its entire body as tall as a small mountain.
It had six long legs, four pairs of pointed wings, and was reddish-brown from head to toe. There was something absolutely savage about it.
He was shivering all over and the will to fight had completely abandoned him. He could only watch as the Ghostly Bug flew into the air, stared at him as if looking at an ant, and sucked with it mouthparts.
It was his turn to scream now. His skin, flesh and blood, bones, internal organs, nerves—every bit of him was overwhelmed by an unbearable tearing sensation.
Inside the cavern, a cloud of red light gradually grew bigger and returned to its human form, which was struggling violently at Gu Yu's feet.
Seeing their boss had been nailed within seconds, the two mages were petrified and turned to flee.
Xiao Qiu soon caught up with them and finished the two with a few flashes of green light. Around her, the ten ghostly imps had all fallen to the ground.
"Good. Luckily, we won…"
Seeing that the enemies were annihilated, Gu Yu stumbled a little despite himself. The archmage had quite a strong mental force, defeating him had cost Gu Yu a great amount of energy.
He paid no more attention to the dying red light and turned to look at the Ghostly Bug alone.
The long absence of food was making the bug impatient. Its tentacles were swaying and it was going to sink back into the pool at any moment. This thing had not been formally refined with sacrifices since it was created by the Shamanic ancestors.
The liquid worked as the amniotic fluid. It would not leave the pool until it had eaten enough sacrifices to support a mature body and would remain dormant.
With the limited capability of the archmage, he wouldn't be able to control this thing even if he had managed to get it out of the pool, so he would die either way.
Gu Yu did not know about that, but he had common sense.
Villains died from talking too much and heroes from being foolishly naive… when every evil creature was crawling the land and devils descended on earth, the hero obviously had the opportunity to stop them, but would make some idiotic mistake and miss the chance, paying for it with the life of a male or female back-up.
Luckily, Gu Yu was not a hopeless fool.
Flaming Cloud Needles!
A flaming dragon circled in the air and dived, crashing onto the altar like a bomb. With a blast, broken stones flew everywhere and most of the twelve columns collapsed, along with a large chunk of the altar.
The Ghostly Bug had yet to gain intelligence and still looked muddled, but the explosion still made it jump.
The two gray compound eyes turned red and switched back to gray again, as if trying to carve the man into its memory. Finally, drowsiness took over it and the big head tilted. The bug sank slowly back into the pool.
Gu Yu felt his heart skip a beat at the stare. He was secretly having a headache again. The grudge from an enemy of such power was the least thing one could hope for.
The fight did not take long but was very energy-consuming. Even he was feeling exhausted. He staggered around and saw that the archmage had been devoured by the illusion, leaving behind a puddle of mush only.
"Why, what are those?"
The sharp-eyed Long Qiu pushed the clothes aside with the tip of her sword and removed a few objects from within. There were a scroll, a bone plate, and a jade plate.