Before, Xie Lian had always felt a long absence and missed it very much, even though this “long absence” was only a few days. Unexpectedly, Hua Cheng had been hiding beside him all along. Suddenly, his mood improved, forgetting what he had been concerned about before, and laughed so much that he couldn’t get up. Hua Cheng said, “Brother, you played a prank on me.”

Xie Lian picked up the brush and wooden board and said, “Really dare to say that, it was obviously San Lang who pranked me first. Let me think… you were there when I smashed the stove, right?”

Hua Cheng praised, “Ah, indeed, Brother, how did you know? Truly amazing.”

Xie Lian waved his hand and said, “What’s so amazing about it? San Lang, if you want to pretend to be someone, at least do it seriously. Don’t be so perfunctory. If I couldn’t see through it, then that would be truly amazing. I actually thought there was someone else who could eat… cough, but, ‘Which one is the most handsome? Which one is the most powerful? Which one is the richest? Which one do you admire the most?’ Hahaha…”

“…” Hua Cheng softly said, “Brother, forget about that part.”

Xie Lian firmly refused, “No. I will remember it forever.”

Hua Cheng helplessly said, “Brother, although I’m glad that it made you happy, is it really that funny?”

Xie Lian held his belly and said, “Of course. After getting to know you, I rediscovered that being happy is such a simple thing, hahaha…”

Upon hearing this, Hua Cheng blinked, Xie Lian’s laughter weakened slightly, and he suddenly realized that the previous sentence had been a bit too explicit. After reacting, he found himself being a little cheesy and cleared his throat, rubbing the corner of his eye, and said with a forced seriousness, “Alright, stop being mischievous. Where is the real Lang Yin? Why did you pretend to be him? Change the child back quickly.”

Hua Cheng slowly said, “I temporarily invited him to the Ghost Market as a guest.”

Since it was Hua Cheng who took him away, Xie Lian was reassured and nodded. He was about to speak again when he heard the creaking of the wooden door, and Ling Wen walked out from within Pu Qi Temple with her hands behind her back, saying, “Prince Taizi.”

Hua Cheng had no intention of revealing his identity, and Xie Lian also didn’t mention it. In front of others, they treated him as Lang Yin. Seeing Ling Wen’s serious expression, Xie Lian also became serious and completely put away his smile, saying, “What’s wrong? Jin Yi… Bai Jin, is there a problem?”

Ling Wen said, “No. He doesn’t have any problems. It’s just that I seem to smell a strange smell coming from the kitchen. Is Your Highness cooking something?”

Xie Lian hurriedly said, “Oh, yes, I am cooking.”

After thinking for a moment, Ling Wen used a tactful tone to say something that was not so tactful, “You should stop. Your Highness, no matter what you are cooking, it’s probably already overcooked.”

“…”

An hour later, night fell.

Inside Pu Qi Temple, by the altar, Hua Cheng, Ling Wen, and Quan Yizhen sat in a circle around a small wooden table. Xie Lian carried a pot out of the kitchen, placed it on the table, and uncovered it. Dozens of cute, round, and smooth little balls, called “Jade Purity Snowball,” nestled obediently in the dish.

Quan Yizhen said, “Didn’t you boil it with water? Why did it turn into balls?”

Xie Lian explained, “This is called ‘Jade Purity Snowball.’”

Quan Yizhen asked, “Didn’t you boil it with water? Why did it turn into balls?”

Xie Lian continued to explain, “Because during the process of kneading the balls, it requires a combination of gentle and strong force, so it took quite some time.”

Quan Yizhen asked again, “Didn’t you boil it with water? Why did it turn into balls?”

“…”

Due to Quan Yizhen’s persistence, Xie Lian said warmly, “Originally, it was indeed boiled with water, but due to some small issues with the heat and timing, the pot boiled dry, so I decided to add some additional ingredients and make them into balls.”

Upon hearing this, Ling Wen sincerely exclaimed, “Prince Taizi’s brilliant idea is truly unprecedented. I am deeply impressed.”

Xie Lian said, “You flatter me, you flatter me.”

Ling Wen said, “No. At least I believe that in this world, there will never be another person who can create such a ‘Jade Purity Snowball.’”

Xie Lian handed over the chopsticks and said, “Alright, alright. Everyone, please.”

Ling Wen and Quan Yizhen both took the chopsticks with their right hand, and their left hands instinctively reached for a plate of cold steamed buns at the edge of the table. Only Hua Cheng picked up one Jade Purity Snowball and put it into his mouth. In an instant, he said, “Pretty good.”

Seeing this, Quan Yizhen widened his eyes. Hua Cheng continued, “The taste is a bit light.”

Xie Lian said, “Alright, I’ll take note of that.”

Watching the young man beside him with his face covered in bandages eat several shimmering Jade Purity Snowballs in succession and sincerely evaluate them, Quan Yizhen seemed to be convinced. After thinking for a moment, he also picked up one.

Xie Lian maintained a smile all along. Smiling as he watched him eat, smiling as he saw his complexion turn pale, and smiling at him as he fell to the ground, finally, with a smile, he said, “What’s wrong?”

Hua Cheng said, “Perhaps he ate too quickly and choked.”

Ling Wen smiled. At that moment, Xie Lian suddenly heard a familiar voice in his ear, saying, “Brother.”

It was neither Lang Yin’s hesitant voice nor the youthful voice of the current Hua Cheng, but the voice of the past Hua Cheng, communicating with Xie Lian through spiritual communication. Xie Lian raised his eyes slightly and responded, “What’s the matter?”

Hua Cheng said, “Ling Wen is cunning and ruthless, cold-hearted and vicious. Bringing her back may not be as simple and kind as it seems.”

It was the first time Xie Lian heard someone describe Ling Wen like that. After thinking for a moment, he replied, “I saw a hint of goodwill from her towards that Jin Yi immortal, so it should be genuine.”

Hua Cheng said, “A hint of goodwill doesn’t contradict being cold-hearted and ruthless. She is the top literary god in the Heavenly Court, overseeing all directions and listening to all corners. Her influence reaches far. Brother, be cautious of her seeking assistance.”

Xie Lian asked, “General Pei?”

Hua Cheng said, “Probably not. If Shui Xing Tian were here, she would definitely suppress him because she favors her own people. But if it’s Pei Ming, you only need to explain the situation to him, and he might not choose to assist the unjust. Brother, be careful.”

Xie Lian replied, “Alright, I’ll be cautious. Fortunately, the day will soon be over.”

But Hua Cheng’s voice sounded heavy, “No. Brother, you misunderstood. When I said to be careful, it was about something else. Someone has arrived.”

At that moment, a crisp ringing sound echoed in Xie Lian’s ears. Hua Cheng furrowed his brows slightly, and Xie Lian looked out through the window crack, seeing a middle-aged Taoist priest walking unsteadily from the entrance of Pu Qi Village, shaking a bell as he went.

The Taoist priest wore a splendid Taoist robe and carried a treasure chest on his back, covered with yellow talismans. The bell rang as he walked, and Xie Lian recognized it as a valuable item. Ordinary monsters and ghosts would be headache-stricken and retreat upon hearing this bell. Even before the person approached, several tall monks in yellow robes with white eyebrows, holding staffs, walked slowly and steadily.

Before long, more and more people arrived, as if they had agreed upon it. They didn’t seem surprised when they saw each other and surrounded Pu Qi Temple.

These people were not showy. They were adorned with various magical artifacts and displayed steady movements, indicating that they had some skills. While divinities absorbed power from their worshippers, certain cultivators and monks could also acquire power from the divinities they believed in. These monks and Taoists might have more power than Xie Lian, a divine official. With such a large group suddenly arriving, it couldn’t be a good thing. Xie Lian frowned slightly, sensing that the visitors were not friendly.

Hua Cheng put down his chopsticks and stood up. Xie Lian heard him hum in spiritual communication and said, “The old monk and the stinky Taoist actually followed us here. I apologize for the trouble, Brother. I’ll go divert their attention.”

Xie Lian grabbed him and said, “Don’t move.”

Ling Wen asked inexplicably, “What’s wrong?”

Xie Lian used spiritual communication to say to Hua Cheng, “Don’t leave. Honestly tell me, did the reopening of Tonglu Mountain have a significant impact on you?”

Hua Cheng replied, “No.”

Xie Lian stared at his eyes behind the bandages and said, “Stop lying. You’re the Ghost King of the Endless Abyss, and you don’t need to fear mortals like them. Why don’t you just defeat them directly instead of diverting their attention? You didn’t transform like this just to play a joke, did you?”

When Tonglu Mountain reopened, the higher-level demons and monsters were more severely affected. Xie Lian had personally witnessed how difficult it was for Hua Cheng during the first unrest. Moreover, the closer they got to the day of leaving the mountain, the stronger the impact became. In such a situation, if it were Xie Lian, he would choose to temporarily seal his true form, transforming into a smaller form to conserve power and prevent a rampage. The unsteadiness provided an opportunity for others. Xie Lian cursed and said, “Qi Rong, this…”

On that night, Qi Rong had shouted that he would call all the Taoists and monks who had grievances with Hua Cheng. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t just empty words. Hua Cheng shook his head slightly and said, “Brother, they came for me. I’ll leave. Although I can’t defeat them with this form in one move, making them go away is easy.”

Xie Lian, however, said, “If you leave now, never come to see me again.”

“…”

Hua Cheng said, “Your Highness!”

Hua Cheng had always been calm and collected, revealing nothing. In the past, he had helped Xie Lian so many times, and now that Xie Lian finally had the chance to help him, how could he let him go alone?

Xie Lian said sternly, “Stay seated. I’ll go meet them.”

Quan Yizhen reluctantly opened his eyes and said in a dazed manner, “Are there people outside? Shall I scare them away?”

“…”

His voice was hoarse. Xie Lian helped him close his eyes and said, “Qi Ying, you should lie down. And remember, you must not harm ordinary people randomly; it will deduct your merit.”

Xie Lian leaned against the wooden door, carefully listening to the commotion outside. Some villagers who had just finished work and hadn’t had dinner yet were surprised to see so many monks and Taoists suddenly gathered there. They asked, “What are you masters doing here? Are you looking for Master Xie?”

A menacing monk clasped his hands together and said, “Amitabha. Do you know that this place has been invaded by evil spirits?”

“What!” The villagers exclaimed in shock, “Evil spirits? What kind of evil spirits?”

Another mysterious monk said, “An unprecedented and powerful demon!”

The villagers exclaimed, “What should we do?”

The first Taoist priest who arrived said, “Leave it to us! Today, we fellow practitioners have gathered here precisely for this rare opportunity to capture this monster!” He was about to approach but was pulled back by the village chief. The priest glared and asked, “Who are you? What do you want?”

The village chief said, “Um, esteemed masters, I’m the village chief here. I appreciate your presence, but, hehe, to be honest… you all seem quite expensive…”

“…”

The Taoist priest said, “We are here to subdue demons and exorcise evil spirits. Do you think we are here for a reward?” He tried to move forward again, but the villagers stopped them. The monks and Taoists were somewhat displeased but couldn’t forcefully barge in. With patience, they asked, “What is the matter then?”

The village chief rubbed his hands together and said, “If you don’t require payment, that would be great. Thank you for selflessly subduing demons and exorcising evil spirits. However… well, all the work in this village has already been contracted by Master Xie. It wouldn’t be right for you masters to take over. As the village chief, I have to explain to Master Xie, you see.”

The monks and Taoists exchanged glances. “Master Xie?”

They huddled together and discussed, “Is there any renowned Daoist master with the surname Xie?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ve never heard of one. Probably just a nobody.”

“If they’re not famous, it’s not worth bothering about.”

After their discussion, the Taoist priest turned around and asked, “Is this ‘Master Xie’ you mentioned the person who lives inside?”

The villagers nodded and exclaimed, “Yes!” They called out, “Master Xie! Master Xie! You have fellow practitioners here! So many people! Are you home?”

A venerable monk in yellow robes clasped his hands together and said, “Amitabha, it doesn’t matter if Master Xie is here or not. But that evil thing is currently hidden in this room!”

The villagers were stunned. “What?!”

At that moment, Xie Lian calmly pushed the door open and said, “I’m here. What is the matter, everyone?”

The villagers hurriedly said, “Master, these monks and Taoists claim that there is… a… ghost… in your house.”

Xie Lian smiled and said, “Oh? You’ve noticed that, have you?”

The onlookers exclaimed, “Is it true?”

“You admit it so readily!”

Xie Lian tossed out a jar and said, “Yes, indeed, there is a ghost!”

The Taoist priest caught the jar, initially delighted, but when he opened it and saw its contents, his smile vanished. He said, disappointed, “A half-faced mask?”

Immediately, he threw the jar back, displeased. “Friend, don’t play dumb. This kind of low-level demon doesn’t even qualify as ’evil’! You know very well what we are talking about.”

Xie Lian caught the jar and felt the force behind the throw; it was indeed not weak. This person had clearly cultivated diligently for many years and was no ordinary practitioner. Several monks looked at the Taoist priest and said, “Brother, I see a surge of demonic energy coming from this Daoist. Could it be…?”

The Taoist priest said, “Whether it is or not, I can tell with my heavenly eye!”

With that, he shouted loudly, bit his finger, and drew a vertical mark on his forehead. Suddenly, a third eye seemed to appear on his face. Xie Lian silently praised his skill while leaning against the door, appreciating his spellcasting. The Taoist priest stared at him intently for a moment and said, “Indeed… there is ghostly energy! Such eerie ghostly energy!!! Ghost King, you have changed your appearance again!”

Xie Lian was shocked.

As a celestial official serving the Heavenly Court, how could he possibly have ghostly energy? He had just been thinking that this person had some abilities, but now he was spouting nonsense in an instant?

Upon hearing this, the circle of fifty to sixty practitioners became alert and assumed a defensive stance. Hua Cheng communicated with Xie Lian through their spiritual connection, saying, “These people are so annoying.”

Xie Lian replied, “It’s fine. Fortunately, fortunately. Just stay seated.”

Soon after, the Taoist priest became perplexed and asked, “…Something’s not right?”

A nearby monk asked, “What’s wrong?”

The Taoist priest rubbed his forehead where the blood mark was, as if rubbing his eyes, and said, “Truly strange. This person, at times, exudes a chilling ghostly aura, at times, radiates with spiritual brilliance, and at times, appears dull and lifeless… Truly strange.”

“What? How can this be? Brother, are you sure about this? If you’re not sure, let us have a look.”

“Yes, how can this be so mysterious?”

The enraged Taoist priest exclaimed, “What? I’m not sure? You think you’re better than me? I’ve been practicing ‘Heavenly Eye’ for so many years and rarely made a wrong judgment!”

Xie Lian rubbed his temples and shook his head, speaking gently, “Then, why don’t you see where on my body the ghostly energy is the most sinister and intense?”

The practitioner with the Heavenly Eye rubbed his forehead vigorously, observed for a moment, and firmly declared, “The lips!”

“…”