"The one-thousand troops cooped up in that island have finally decided to leave."
In the Western Constellations Palace, Ji Meimei chuckled as she stared at the astrolabe.
Everyone cast their gazes over and noticed that the cluster of white lights had indeed left the island they had stayed on for the past three years.
Yun Guang clicked his tongue and said, "I wonder if they were forced to leave or if they're planning to display their might to the competition by relying on their large numbers."
"Display their might?" Hei Yun laughed maniacally. "I think courting death is more like it."
Everyone had only casually paid attention to the matter. Most of their focus was still on the six bright red dots on the astrolabe. Only Zuo Nanchun and Fairy Hong Chen had kept a close eye on that island's large number of troops the entire time.
The major movements on the Western Star Sea were in full display before them. From what they could see on the astrolabe, the 180,000 participating cultivators were now reduced to less than 50,000. It was less likely for the various groups to bump into each other now, but it also signified that the remaining participants were much stronger than those that had perished. It would undoubtedly be a heated battle once these participants crossed paths.
The islands in the Western Star Sea were as numerous as the stars in the sky. It was impossible for the participants to scour every single island. It was even more dangerous for the forces of the Fifth Earthly Branch now that they'd started to run around. A trace of worry involuntarily flashed through Fairy Hong Chen's eyes.
She had always wondered whether that Miao Yi was the same young man she had chanced upon in the Ancient City back when the Boundless Secular World had opened.
Her junior sister Yue Yao had once told her that she and her two brothers had hidden under an old willow tree by the city walls and had managed to see Hong Chen up close.
Remembering this incident, Fairy Hong Chen seemed to recall something similar. At the time, when she'd stood upon the walls of the Ancient City, she did remember seeing three people hiding under a willow tree. She just never paid much attention as it had merely been a passing glimpse.
If that Miao Yi of the Fifth Earthly Branch really was her junior sister's big brother, she wouldn't know how to explain to her afterward if anything were to happen to him in the Sea of Constellations.
She could see that her junior sister cared very much for the big brother separated from her for so many years. She had also heard her junior sister talk about her past and how her big brother had been the one who, despite not being much older than them, supported them throughout the toughest time of their lives, when they had no one else to rely on.
From a young age, he'd taken up a butcher's knife to support his family. In the beginning, he couldn't kill a single pig and would always end up getting knocked over by a giant boar as it charged at him. He would have wounds all over his body, but that big brother of hers would always stand back up every time he stumbled.
Contrary to what one would expect, a pig's bite was terribly painful. The two younger siblings had seen a giant boar frantically biting their big brother's arm and caused it to bleed profusely.
The two younger siblings couldn't do anything to help. They were hungry and had to watch their big brother stand back up time after time as he fell, his arm dripping with blood no less. The two younger siblings cried as they waited outside the pig sty.
That relentlessness in standing up every time he stumbled was the exact reason why that big brother of theirs eventually managed to support their family.
To prevent his little brother and little sister from being sent to the Manor of Merciful Hope, that same big brother had even stabbed himself with the butcher's knife.
Every time she listened to her junior sister talking about this story of her past, her junior sister would always end up bawling in front of her.
Their family was poor at the time, so that big brother would use whatever resources they had on his little brother and little sister. He would always leave them with the delicious food and worked hard to give them an education so that they'd have a future ahead of them. However, in doing so, he'd forsaken his own opportunities, and could barely read a few words.
He didn't just forsake his own education. The existence of his two younger siblings had similarly jeopardized the big brother's love life. No one would wish to have their daughter marrying a poor brat with two kids in tow.
Her junior sister remembered how her big brother had been kicked out along with his dowry when he proposed to marry Old Li's daughter from the tofu shop on the opposite side of the street. After that, many would point fingers at her big brother and mock him every time they passed by the butcher's stall. The two younger siblings had heard plenty of baseless remarks against their big brother. Because of this, the second brother would always pick fights with other people. He even tossed stones at the tile roofs of someone else's house in the middle of the night, causing it to leak. Meanwhile, standing behind the butcher's stall, their big brother would look as he normally did, setting up shop as though he wasn't concerned at all. He would ignore all the mocking comments and baseless rumors.
At the time, the little sister would always comfort her big brother and tell him that none of the daughters from the other families were good people and that they didn't deserve her big brother. She would tell him not to worry, and that she would marry him once she grew older. The big brother would laugh in response and rub her head as he called her an idiot. Afterward, the little sister swore upon the heavens that she would become her big brother's wife once she grew older and asked her big brother to wait for the day to come. She would never agree to her big brother marrying anyone else. Her big brother would always just smile and shake his head as he said, "How can I let my little sister marry a butcher?!"
Maybe anyone else would think it was simply a child's promise. However, Fairy Hong Chen knew that her junior sister had always kept it in mind. Many years ago, she couldn't stand her junior sister's nagging and ended up accompanying her back to her home, both disguised as men. Afterward, her junior sister turned the entire City Lord's manor upside-down and almost killed the daughter of Old Li from the tofu shop who'd once rejected her big brother's proposal many years back.
When they returned, her junior sister managed to calm herself down. She repeatedly mentioned how Old Li's daughter was not good enough for her big brother, and that she would be the one to marry him.
All Fairy Hong Chen could do was listen to her rant, and maybe offer a few comforting words. It was because she understood that women of their status and beauty could never marry a normal man. Their Master Mu Fanjun would never agree to them marrying an average cultivator, let alone an average mortal. Those lacking in status could never even dream of getting their Master's approval.
So many years had passed. According to her calculations, her junior sister's big brother should have passed away already. Unexpectedly, another Miao Yi popped out in this Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade. 'Didn't Junior Sister's big brother fail to obtain the opportunity for cultivation?'
She wasn't sure if this was the same Miao Yi as the one she knew. If they really were the same person, then it would be much better for him to die at someone else's hands. In case these two siblings couldn't recognize each other after so many years, and if her junior sister were to accidentally kill her own big brother, what should Hong Chen do then?
She hated not being able to leave the Western Constellations Palace to go to the Western Star Sea and find out the truth. However, to ensure fairness in the Subjugation Crusade, all those sent from the six nations to the Western Constellations Palace had been cut off from all communications with the outside world and were not allowed to leave as they pleased. They would have to wait obediently until the Subjugation Crusade was over...
On the island, after finding their own resting places within the fort, Miao Yi and the others gathered together once more.
"We can finally relax." Sikong Wuwei looked at the empty fort and laughed, giving the impression as though—'It's my territory and I can do whatever I want with it'.
Zhao Fei said somberly, "Don't celebrate too soon. We should still keep up the basic precautions!"
"Zhao Fei is right!" Miao Yi nodded. He raised his hand and pointed to the tallest peak as he told them, "From this day forth, aside from Qi Xiuhong, we shall take turns keeping guard."
Everyone nodded as it was something that needed doing.
Wang Yuetian smiled, "I noticed the small lake at the bottom of the waterfall by the mountains has quite a good clarity to it. Come! The three of us should go and take a bath together." He pulled on Zhao Fei and Sikong Wuwei's wrists and dragged them along as he said this.
"Hey, surnamed Wang. It's fine if you want to bathe, but why are you taking us with you?" Sikong Wuwei yelled and insisted on not following.
Zhao Fei also didn't have the habit of bathing together with a couple of brawny men.
Wang Yuetian winked at him and said, "Sikong, since we've just managed to escape danger, now is precisely the time to let loose. Let's not interrupt Brother Miao and Sister Qi and let them rest." His tone was full of innuendo.
Looking as if they'd suddenly realized something, Sikong Wuwei and Zhao Fei turned their attention to Miao Yi and Qi Xiuhong.
Even though Qi Xiuhong had always tried to maintain her distance from Miao Yi while in public, but after living together for so long, everyone could see the nature of their relationship. They weren't fools after all. Qi Xiuhong and Miao Yi's relationship had long been an open secret.
'Did Wang Yuetian notice that Miao Yi wanted to do it with Qi Xiuhong? Then we really shouldn't be bothering them!' Sikong Wuwei and Zhao Fei exchanged glances and nodded repeatedly. "Let's go for a bath! Come, let's go!"
The two of them quickly followed behind Wang Yuetian.
How could Miao Yi and Qi Xiuhong not understand what they were implying? Qi Xiuhong blushed in embarrassment, and Miao Yi didn't know whether he should laugh or cry as he thought, 'I don't have that kind of intention at all. We've just found a place to rest. How can I be in the mood for that?'
"I'll have Qi Xiuhong prepare us some wine and a few dishes and wait for the three of you to return from your bath!" Miao Yi shouted, trying to prove his innocence.
The three of them paid him no heed and headed straight to the mountain. Miao Yi looked helplessly at Qi Xiuhong, who immediately turned around and left after leaving him with a single sentence, "I'll go prepare the dishes!"
At the lake in the mountains, Sikong Wuwei and the other two had already taken off half their clothes and were soaking their bodies in the cool waters.
"Refreshing and relaxing!" Sikong Wuwei let out a deep breath and leaned by the edge of the lake.
Wang Yuetian poured water over his shoulder as he chuckled. "Brother Miao is the one most relaxed right now. He still has the mood to have a woman serving by his side even when he's in the Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade. We cannot contend against such nonchalance."
Zhao Fei laughed. "This simply means that he doesn't feel threatened by the dangers of the Sea of Constellations. If he can enjoy such leisure, doesn't that mean it's safer for us who follow him?"
Given the situation they were in, the three of them couldn't help discussing their futures, especially now that they'd left the Red Scarves Alliance.
Wang Yuetian's eyes flashed with a sudden glint when he saw smoke rising from the fort. He turned to the other two and said, "Aren't we a little too relaxed? What if an enemy suddenly attacks? You two can slowly enjoy your bath. I'll take up sentry duty on the mountain today."
Waving his limbs about in the water, Sikong Wuwei nonchalantly replied, "We've circled around the island just now and couldn't see any traces of people. I think we should be fine for the moment. You don't need to be so nervous."
"Better safe than sorry," said Wang Yuetian as he got up and invoked his arts to dry himself. Then, he picked his clothes up and started putting them on.
"There's no harm in being a little more cautious." Zhao Fei nodded, then continued, "We'll take turns each day. Tomorrow, I'll switch with you."
Since Zhao Fei was saying the same thing, Sikong Wuwei could only resign himself and replied, "Then I'll take the day after tomorrow."
After getting dressed, Wang Yuetian nodded to them and rushed off, disappearing into the forest.
However, he didn't show up at the highest peak of the island where they were able to get a bird's-eye view of their surroundings. Instead, he rushed through the forest and back to the fort.
Seeing Qi Xiuhong busily working in the kitchen, Wang Yuetian didn't interrupt her. Instead, he headed straight for Miao Yi's cave. Standing outside, he asked, "Brother Miao. Are you free?"
Miao Yi was in the midst of sorting out the loot he'd obtained from Zhao Lingtu and his fellow disciples. When he heard Wang Yuetian calling to him, he kept the items away for the moment and replied, "Come on in."
Wang Yuetian came in with a flask of wine, placing it on the table as he took a seat opposite Miao Yi.
Confused, Miao Yi asked, "Didn't you all go to take a bath?"
"Aii! Zhao Fei was being overly cautious and said that we shouldn't be too careless, so he went to patrol the island one more time. And that bastard Sikong said that it was pointless taking a bath with a man, so he followed Zhao Fei. In the end, I was the only one. Then, I saw smoke rising from the fort and figured we must have misunderstood something earlier on. That's why I just washed myself quickly and came back." Wang Yuetian smacked the flask of wine on the table and said, "I heard you say that Sister Qi will be preparing some food and wine. Then I remembered I just so happened to have a flask of fine wine in my hands, so I quickly brought it out to share with you, Brother Miao."