Xie Lian whispered, “…Regardless, it’s impossible for there to be no signs at all and suddenly be behind us, causing such a big commotion.”

Even if Xie Lian didn’t trust his own intuition, he trusted Huacheng’s. Besides, in all honesty, when it came to instincts about danger, he had great confidence in himself. Huacheng said, “Let’s go back. Take a look.”

Side by side, the two retraced their steps. After traversing the twists and turns of the tunnel for a while, they came to a halt.

It wasn’t a voluntary stop, but rather, they had reached a dead end. The path they had taken, although meandering, had only one way. However, they hadn’t reached the end yet and were met with a cold, icy stone wall out of nowhere!

Both of them remained composed. Xie Lian said, “Is this an illusion or is it real?”

A silver butterfly flew forward and tapped the uneven stone wall. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, and the butterfly was bounced back. Huacheng said, “It’s real.”

Xie Lian nodded and said, “That complicates things.”

Ghostly walls were a common occurrence and had two methods: the first was to create an illusion. You might think there was a stone wall, but in reality, there was none—it was just an illusion. This kind of illusion was easy to dispel—just touch it directly, or slap yourself in the face, or splash yourself with cold water to wake up, and then touch it;

The second method was to confuse your memory of the route, your sense of direction, and other sensory perceptions. This one was a bit trickier. For example, at a fork in the road, you might think you chose the left path, but in reality, your mind wandered, and you ended up going right. There was also the so-called “ghost turning in circles,” which was just a small trick: when a person takes steps with their left and right foot, there is always a subtle deviation in stride. Something non-human could confuse your mind and magnify this deviation. Unbeknownst to you, you would think you were walking in a straight line, but in reality, you had made a big circle and ended up back where you started, leaving you puzzled: How did I end up back here?!

But for the two of them, both of these methods were insignificant tricks. This cold stone wall was actually the third kind: it was genuinely present.

As Xie Lian was contemplating whether to forcefully break through the stone wall to see what lay beyond, Huacheng said, “Brother, give me your hand.”

Xie Lian asked, “?” Although he was puzzled, he obediently extended his hand to Huacheng. Huacheng gently held his hand, placed it in his own palm, and covered it with his other hand, as if he was putting something on him.

Xie Lian held his breath for a moment, then raised his hand and asked in surprise, “What is this?”

On the third finger of his left hand, there was an additional fine red thread, tied by Huacheng himself. Moreover, this red thread extended continuously and connected to the red thread between Huacheng’s fingers.

Huacheng raised his own hand to show Xie Lian the identical small butterfly-shaped red knot on their hands, and smiled, “Now we’re tied together.”

Upon hearing this, Xie Lian felt his face heat up. He wasn’t sure if he was being too sensitive, so he vigorously rubbed his face a couple of times, as if afraid that Huacheng would notice his accelerated heartbeat. He smiled and said, “Is this some kind of spell?”

“Hmm,” Huacheng regained his composure slightly, released Xie Lian’s hand, and said, “Although we won’t actively separate, just in case. This thread won’t break, won’t shorten. As long as the thread isn’t severed, we’ll know that the other person is safe. Unless someone is gone, otherwise, we can always follow this thread to find the other end.”

Xie Lian asked, “When you say ‘gone,’ do you mean…?”

Huacheng said, “Dead or vanished into thin air.”

Xie Lian was about to speak when he suddenly heard faint vibrations in the distance. He concentrated and listened for a moment before saying, “Who is punching? That force and frequency… it’s as if someone is repeatedly striking the mountainside.” Xie Lian said, “This kind of power definitely isn’t ordinary. Could it be General Pei?”

Huacheng said, “It’s coming from up ahead.”

By “up ahead,” he naturally meant the direction they had originally intended to go but had to turn back from due to Pei Ming and the others disappearing halfway. But how could Pei Ming and the others suddenly be ahead of them when they had vanished from behind? And if it wasn’t Pei Ming, then who could it be?

The two exchanged a glance and continued side by side, heading accurately toward the source of the sound. However, halfway there, the pounding on the mountainside suddenly ceased, whether intentionally or due to exhaustion.

But since they had come this far, how could they give up halfway? So, Xie Lian and Huacheng continued toward the source of the sound. Several silver butterflies fluttered ahead in the dim and pitch-black tunnel, illuminating their path. Suddenly, Xie Lian caught a glimpse of something unusual on the side of the stone wall and said, “What is that? A red thread?”

From a distance, it was difficult to discern what it was, but it was eerie, resembling a red thread but much thicker, writhing and contorting like a long red worm. Xie Lian walked slowly to the edge of the stone wall, examining it closely, and said, “Isn’t this the lower body of a half-moon scorpion?”

Sure enough, it was the lower body of a purple-red scorpion, exposed outside the wall, continuously wriggling and twisting. Its upper body seemed to be buried in the stone wall. Xie Lian said, “Has it crawled into a hole and can’t get out?”

Huacheng said, “I’m afraid not.”

The scorpion’s entire body was suspended in mid-air. Snakes couldn’t climb walls, so how did it manage to reach such a height and burrow into the wall? Moreover, there were many holes on this stone wall, so even if it insisted on burrowing, why choose such a small one? This “hole” was strange too—it almost perfectly matched the shape of the snake’s body, which caused it to become trapped.

Xie Lian wanted to grab the snake and pull it out to take a closer look, but the snake was extremely alert, vigorously swinging its scorpion tail and thrashing about, nearly striking Xie Lian. So, Huacheng flicked it lightly, seemingly casual, but the snake seemed to be frightened by this flick and didn’t dare to move. Xie Lian couldn’t help but cry and laugh, but just as he was about to speak, he suddenly closed his mouth and said, “Do you hear that?”

Huacheng also said, “I hear it.”

The two looked ahead simultaneously.

In the darkness, a low and steady breathing sound slowly emanated, very calm and gentle.

Two lifeless butterflies played with each other and flew towards the direction of the breathing sound, ascending higher and higher. The silver light grew brighter. Gradually, a pair of hands came into view.

These were human hands. A man’s hands. The back of the hands were stained with blood and covered in scars, hanging down lifelessly. Moving upward, a disheveled head came into view, also hanging down as if lifeless.

However, there was no lower body.

Indeed, this person “hung” high on the stone wall, without a lower body. Only his upper body was exposed, as if it had magically grown out of the stone wall!

In the past, Xie Lian had seen some nobles and aristocrats, who, when hunting rare prey, would chop off the heads of the animals, treat them with preservatives to prevent decay, and hang them on the walls of their mansions for display. The current situation involuntarily reminded him of those tiger, deer, and wolf heads lined up neatly on the wall. But this person was clearly still breathing—he was alive!

Xie Lian took a step closer and said, “What is this thing? The true form of a mountain monster?”

However, there was no response. Suddenly, a chill ran down Xie Lian’s spine, and he turned his head abruptly—Huacheng was gone!

Xie Lian said, “Sanlang?!”

Naturally, there was no answer. The person hanging on the wall mumbled a few words as if half-awake and talking in his sleep. At this moment, Xie Lian had no interest in paying attention to him. He turned around in place, suddenly remembering the red thread that Huacheng had tied to his hand. Overjoyed, he raised it. Indeed, the red thread was still there, unbroken. So, Xie Lian felt somewhat relieved, holding onto the thread and pulling it as he walked. As he continued walking, the thread reached its end.

The other end of the red thread was actually connected to a stone wall!

Xie Lian couldn’t believe it. He tugged a few more times, and longer lengths of red thread continued to be pulled out from the wall, making him suspect, could Huacheng be inside this wall?

At the thought of this possibility, Xie Lian didn’t hesitate. He raised his sword, ready to break through the wall, but before his sword could touch the wall, everything went black. The wall in front of him seemed to suddenly open its gaping mouth, let out a roar, and swallowed him whole!

The darkness didn’t dissipate quickly. Instead, it continued relentlessly as Xie Lian was engulfed in continuous darkness. Sands, stones, and soil pressed in from all directions, causing an unbearable suffocation. And these sands, stones, and soil were constantly shifting. It felt as if he had been swallowed by a giant monster, one that had devoured various miscellaneous objects and was churning inside its stomach. It was like sinking into quicksand, with no place to exert force, the harder he struggled, the deeper he sank. Just as Xie Lian was about to break through the wall, he remembered that Huacheng might be inside, so instead of retreating, he swung his arms to break through the sand and soil, all while gripping onto the red thread and moving forward with great difficulty. At that moment, a hand suddenly reached out from ahead, accurately grabbing his wrist. Xie Lian said, “Who?!”

He opened his mouth and took a mouthful of mud, spitting it out in extreme bitterness. But the hand grabbed him and pulled him into an embrace, and a familiar voice sounded from above, “Gege, it’s me!”

Upon hearing this voice, Xie Lian relaxed completely, hugged the person tightly, and blurted out, “…Thank goodness, the red thread is unbroken. I really found you!”

Huacheng also held him tightly and said with certainty, “Unbroken! I found you too.”

It turned out that the strange encounter they had just experienced was identical for both of them. Xie Lian was observing the half-body person hanging high on the wall, while Huacheng was carefully observing the surroundings, wary of lurking entities in the darkness. Unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye, Xie Lian standing beside him disappeared. Mysteriously, a wall appeared out of nowhere. Holding onto the red thread, Huacheng decisively entered the wall to find Xie Lian.

In fact, initially, there should have only been an additional wall between them. However, both of them thought that the other was inside the wall and independently went in. Xie Lian repeated countless times in his mind how Huacheng always thought ahead of everything and said, “Fortunately, you tied the red thread! Otherwise, it would have been difficult to find each other. No wonder General Pei and the others disappeared so suddenly. It turns out they weren’t attacked by someone, but… swallowed by the mountain monsters.”

Huacheng said, “That’s right. The chosen location was unfortunate, and a shovel happened to dig into the belly of the mountain monster.”

Xie Lian couldn’t help but cough lightly.

Yes. They were currently inside the belly of one of the “old, sick, dead” mountain monsters. At the time, Yingyu asked Xie Lian if he wanted to dig upwards, and the chosen location happened to be the habitat of this mountain monster. Xie Lian gladly agreed, and his unparalleled luck proved not to be deceiving. The sand and soil from all directions pressed against them, narrowing their living space and causing increasing discomfort. Xie Lian deeply felt that this place was not suitable for long stays and said, “How do we get out of here?”

Huacheng said, “It’s not very happy about being pierced through the bottom and is currently digesting us. It’s a bit troublesome. But don’t worry, Gege, we will definitely be able to get out.” He joked, “This is probably what it’s like to share the same grave.”

Upon hearing this, Xie Lian’s mouth slightly twitched upward, but he quickly suppressed it and said, “That half-body person outside was probably swallowed by the mountain monster too. The sound of punching the mountain that we heard earlier should be him trying to escape and hitting the wall in a frenzy. Like that scorpion with the snake tail, he wasn’t completely swallowed, only halfway.” So, it looked extremely eerie. Huacheng said, “But he wasn’t one of the people who came with us this time.”

Xie Lian suddenly remembered the disheveled hair and said, “Wait, I know who that is. It’s probably Qiying!”

Huacheng seemed to recall after a moment and said, “Oh, the one with the messy hair. It must be him.”

Xie Lian said, “I wonder if he’s alright or if he passed out? He didn’t respond earlier.”

Huacheng said, “He’s fine, just sleeping.”

“…,” Xie Lian said, “How do you know?”

Huacheng said, “I had a few silver butterflies outside, and I sent them over just now. I can see the outside with my right eye now.”

As soon as he finished speaking, he made a soft “hmm?” as if he had seen something strange. Xie Lian said, “What’s happening outside?”

Huacheng remained silent, lowered his head slightly, gently lifted Xie Lian’s chin, and pressed their foreheads together. Xie Lian opened his eyes suddenly, then closed them, and opened them again, saying, “This is… incredibly miraculous.”

His right eye was actually seeing a different image from what was in front of him. Although it was pitch black, he could still make out the rough outlines.

The surveillance silver butterfly seemed to be hiding in a pile of weeds, and below the image, a dark figure was slowly approaching. Xie Lian whispered, “Someone is coming. I wonder who it is. Where did your silver butterfly hide? Will it be discovered?”

Huacheng said, “It’s hidden in his hair. The light is concealed, so it won’t be discovered.”

Finally, the dark figure arrived close enough and lifted his face, his complexion pale.

Xie Lian said, “Yin Yu?”