He actually just casually sat across from him.

Xie Lian blinked, took a moment to confirm that this man was indeed talking to him.

He immediately reacted, reminding himself not to be overwhelmed by the man’s presence and maintaining his composure. He politely said, “Unfortunately, I have given up drinking. I’m afraid I can’t afford to offer you a drink.”

The man in the red robe laughed heartily, leaning even more casually. He said, “Is that so? You, Daoist, seem to be carrying some troubles. Perhaps a drink could help ease your worries.”

Xie Lian calmly replied, “I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me.”

Although his biggest vow had already been broken, he couldn’t abandon all his other smaller vows. Xie Lian’s expression remained calm, but the man didn’t show any intention of leaving. On the contrary, he seemed to have settled in, saying, “Since the Daoist won’t offer me a drink, shall I help myself?”

Xie Lian glanced at him and then around the surroundings. It was strange. There were other empty seats, so why did he insist on sitting here? But there was no reason to refuse. Xie Lian said, “Please go ahead.”

With a lazy gesture, the man beckoned. The servers in the teahouse had never seen such a grand guest before and didn’t dare to be careless. They quickly brought over a wine pitcher and cups, wiping the table vigorously, afraid of any slight neglect.

As the man in the red robe sat leisurely, pouring himself a drink, Xie Lian couldn’t help but ask, “Does this mean that whenever you meet someone for the first time, you expect them to offer you a drink?”

The man smiled and said, “Oh? Not at all. To be honest, ordinary people rarely get to see me.”

His tone was quite arrogant. However, Xie Lian didn’t feel averse to it.

They sat quietly, each minding their own business. After a while, it was the man who spoke first.

Resting his chin on his hand, he asked, “May I ask the honorable Daoist’s surname and how should I address you?”

Without hesitation, Xie Lian came up with a fake surname, “My surname is Hua.”

The man raised an eyebrow and said, “Oh—Hua Daoist.”

Xie Lian asked, “And how should I address you?”

The man replied, “You can call me Sanlang.”

Xie Lian knew that this person didn’t want to reveal his true identity, and he didn’t insist. After thinking for a moment, unable to recall any character with the rank of “third,” he didn’t bother guessing. At that moment, he suddenly noticed that on one side of the man’s cheek, a strand of black hair was tied into a thin braid, with a red coral bead hanging at the end.

The glossy bead was small but clearly invaluable. Yet, Xie Lian had a vague feeling that he had seen this bead somewhere before, perhaps in his own palace filled with scattered pearls and gems?

However, he wasn’t certain. Sanlang noticed his gaze and said, “Do you like this?”

As he spoke, he raised his fair and slender fingers, lightly pinching the coral bead. For some reason, Xie Lian felt a sudden pain in his chest, as if something sensitive on his body had also been pinched, causing him to jerk back.

The movement was too sudden, and several customers nearby looked in their direction. Sanlang raised an eyebrow in surprise and asked, “What happened, Daoist?”

He reached out his hand, as if wanting to help. Xie Lian, of course, didn’t accept his assistance and quickly composed himself, saying, “It’s nothing. That bead…”

“Oh.” Sanlang’s smile remained at the corner of his lips as he continued, “This bead? It was a gift from my beloved wife. What do you think of it?”

“…” Xie Lian replied, “Um… It’s very nice, very nice.”

In truth, he had no idea what he was saying. He clenched the hand that was on his leg, feeling as if he was sitting on pins and needles.

That unfamiliar man in the red robe was clearly attractive, but an inexplicable allure emanated from him, making Xie Lian’s heart race. It was abnormal. This was definitely not normal.

This man who called himself “Sanlang” was indeed handsome, but he emitted an eerie aura that made people shudder. Xie Lian’s internal alarm bells rang loudly. He forcefully calmed his mind, his breathing returning to normal, and stared at the man without fear. He asked, “May I ask, why did you approach me so actively? What is your purpose?”

Sanlang smiled and leisurely replied, “Why be so cautious? There’s no particular reason. I simply couldn’t help but be captivated by the Daoist’s charm. If I have offended you, please forgive me.”

…"

Xie Lian didn’t know whether or not to believe him. He shifted his gaze, feeling regretful that he had allowed this person to sit across from him and disturb his peace of mind. Just then, the singing girl finished her performance, bowed to the crowd, and gave Xie Lian a smile before gracefully leaving. Since she had gone, there was no need for Xie Lian to stay any longer. He stood up and said, “Excuse me. You can enjoy your drink.”

The last sentence was meant to be a provocation, but as the words reached his lips, he politely bid farewell instead. Xie Lian dared not look at the man in the red robe and almost rushed down the stairs. He aimlessly wandered for a while, making sure no one was following him before he finally breathed a sigh of relief.

But once he stopped, he felt lost.

His clothes were gone, his belongings were gone, his sword was gone, his attendants were gone, and even his spiritual power was gone. In his seventeen years of life, he had never encountered such a helpless situation. Xie Lian shook his head and stopped a passerby to ask where he was. The passerby answered, but Xie Lian had never heard of this place before. He asked again, “How far is it from the Imperial City? In which direction is it?”

He didn’t mention the Xianle Imperial City, but the passerby replied, “The Imperial City? This place is to the south of the Imperial City. It’s quite far away!”

Indeed. The accent and architectural style of the people here were strange, unlike the vicinity of the Imperial City. Xie Lian guessed that it must be far away. He didn’t know the purpose of the person who brought him here.

After walking for a while, Xie Lian encountered a new problem.

He was hungry.

However, as mentioned earlier, his belongings were all gone. The insignia that could prove his identity as a prince had also vanished. He hadn’t even taken out anything to give to the earth deity, not even a few gold leaves. He had sat in the teahouse for a while, and one tea seat had already depleted the few coins he had scraped together. Moreover, he couldn’t bear the sight of the aged tea stains and hadn’t taken a single sip. Now his stomach remained empty.

It was truly difficult for a hero without money.

Just as he furrowed his brow in distress, he suddenly noticed something sparkling on the ground beside a piece of paving stone ahead.

Xie Lian walked over, squatted down, and was surprised.

On this shabby alleyway, several gold leaves had fallen!

In addition to the gold leaves, there were also silver leaves and some miscellaneous small coins. Finding money on the ground in broad daylight felt like a stroke of good or bad luck, he wasn’t sure.

After picking them up, Xie Lian’s first reaction was to wonder if someone had dropped them. He walked out of the alley and asked the passersby, “Did anyone drop their belongings here?”

Most people shook their heads. A idle beggar came forward with a face full of flattery and said, “I dropped them! I dropped them!” Xie Lian asked, “How much did you drop?” The beggar stammered and couldn’t give a clear answer, then ran away amidst laughter.

Worried that the owner might come back to look for them, Xie Lian patiently waited in the same spot. After nearly an hour with no one in sight, his hunger grew, and he sighed after a long while. He looked at the wealth in his sleeve and thought, “Perhaps I can borrow a little and pay it back tenfold later.”

There was no other choice. After waiting for another stick of incense, he bought a steamed bun from a street vendor.

Xie Lian had never eaten a steamed bun before. Let alone a whole wheat steamed bun like this one, which looked big and tasteless. But he didn’t want to use too much of the money he had picked up. If someone urgently needed it, it would be bad if he took it all. So he only took a small amount of money.

It was the first time he held such a large steamed bun in his life, and it felt a bit novel. As he walked past that small alley and arrived at a quieter street, he was about to put the bun into his mouth when a hand reached out from the side and took the bun away.

The speed at which it was taken was astonishing. Xie Lian was stunned, his hand was already empty, and when he turned his head, he saw the man from the teahouse standing beside him!

Xie Lian was astonished.

He didn’t expect this person to follow him here, let alone snatch his bun!

After a moment of shock, he remembered to retrieve it and jumped up, saying, “Give it back to me!”

He moved quickly to take it back, but the man’s agility was even faster. With his taller stature, he easily dodged Xie Lian’s grasp and said, “Don’t eat this.”

As he said that, he took a bite of the bun himself, leaving a missing piece. Now Xie Lian couldn’t eat it. As he widened his eyes, he said, “You!”

After a pause, he angrily said, “What kind of person are you?”

Despite his initial impression of this person as an extraordinary individual, he never expected him to be such a boring rascal!

The figures of the two men, one in red and one in white, moved so swiftly that it was dazzling. It was hard to believe that such a thrilling struggle was happening over a steamed bun. Although Xie Lian vaguely felt that he could be faster, fast enough to catch up with this man called Sanlang, he seemed to lack confidence in the technique, his limbs not quite obeying. Coupled with the fatigue, annoyance, and confusion he had endured all day, feeling sore all over, he stumbled and fell to the ground, emitting a low cry of pain through gritted teeth.

Pain.

Unspeakable pain spread from an unspeakable place.

The pain had always been there, but the wound had been carefully treated and Xie Lian had deliberately ignored it, so it hadn’t been noticeable. But with this fall, his complexion changed immediately. Sanlang’s expression also changed, and he immediately bent down and grabbed Xie Lian’s arm, saying, “Brother…”

Then immediately changed his words, “Are you alright?”

Xie Lian felt extremely embarrassed and wished he could bury his face in the ground. He forcefully pulled his hand back, his face turning red, and said, “Please don’t call me that and don’t grab me like this!”

Sanlang indeed let go of his arm, but it was only for a moment. He then grabbed Xie Lian’s shoulder and said, “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

His tone was very concerned, not like a pretense. As the saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Xie Lian should have appreciated it, but when he thought about where it hurt and why, he felt embarrassed and annoyed. All the frustration from the whole day surged up within him. He slapped away Sanlang’s hand and got up on his own, saying, “I’m not hurt anywhere, not at all!” With those words, he turned and ran. However, he was caught by the man from behind, holding onto his wrist tightly. Xie Lian couldn’t bear it any longer. He turned around in anger, his eyes wide open, and saw Sanlang gazing at him, sighing softly, “Ah, Daoist, it’s all my fault. Please don’t be angry with me. How about I take you for a drink to apologize?”

For some reason, Xie Lian felt uneasy when he looked at the man’s face. He wasn’t accustomed to this feeling and just wanted to escape quickly, saying, “I don’t want you to take me anywhere. I never drink! Let go of me.”

Sanlang said, “Alright, alright, no drinking. How about I take you for a meal? You must be hungry.”

Xie Lian became angry. What was the tone of this person’s voice? He was treating him like a child. He had never experienced such humiliation before, saying, “I don’t want you to take me for a meal either. I’m not hungry. Show some respect!”

Embarrassingly, just as he finished speaking, a weak protest came from his stomach.

Xie Lian froze in place, growing even more angry. His face turned red with rage, and his speech became stuttered, “You… you… you, why are you pestering me? Stop bothering me!”

However, Sanlang continued to stare at him and said, “Daoist, haven’t you realized?”

Seeing his suddenly serious expression, Xie Lian asked, “Realized what?”

Sanlang said, “There’s an evil presence on your body.”

Xie Lian was stunned. Suddenly, his wrist loosened, and the white bandage wrapped around it slipped down like a white snake, rising high in front of him. Then, it pounced toward him!

But before it could reach him, it was caught by Sanlang, who said, “Take a look.”

“…”

The white cloth, like a venomous snake held by Sanlang, writhed and sent shivers down one’s spine.

There was actually such a monster hidden on his body!

Xie Lian finally understood.

@无限好文,尽在晋江文学城

He blinked and said, “So you approached me because you discovered this evil presence on my body?”

Sanlang’s expression became even more serious, and he said, “Hmm. This thing is quite strange, so I paid a little attention to it. Luckily, it didn’t harm you.”

The truth was revealed. Xie Lian realized that he had been less than polite to this gentleman earlier, giving him an icy face and a dismissive attitude. Now that everything was clear, he felt extremely embarrassed. He bowed sincerely to him and said, “Thank you. I misunderstood earlier.”

Before he could bend down, Sanlang supported him and said, “No need, no need. It was just a small favor.”

As he looked up, Xie Lian felt a slight confusion. For some reason, he always felt that although this man appeared serious, there was a smile in the corners of his eyes and eyebrows. Perhaps all his disheveled and embarrassing appearance had been seen through by the other party, making him feel rather uneasy.

Strangely enough, among people of the same age, Xie Lian was considered quite steady. But when he saw this man, he couldn’t calm down and it made him feel restless. However, Sanlang didn’t seem to notice these things and said, “Now that it’s resolved, I’ll take my leave. Daoist, until we meet again?”

Xie Lian instinctively said, “Yes, until we meet again.”

Sanlang waved his hand and turned to leave. Surprisingly, Xie Lian followed him for a few steps.

Perhaps because he had no idea where to go, or perhaps he was just confused. When Sanlang turned his head, Xie Lian was startled and quickly stopped, pretending to look elsewhere. However, it was already too late.

Laughter came from over there, and Xie Lian blushed with embarrassment.

Forced to look over, Sanlang smiled with his arms crossed and said, “I think we don’t need to wait for another meeting. I believe the time is right now. How about it? Daoist, are you willing to join me for a drink?”

·

It was still the magnificent restaurant from before.

This red-clothed man he had just met was very generous. He ordered the best dishes and drinks in the restaurant, which were no less impressive than those in the imperial palace. Many of the preparations were new to Xie Lian. As he hungrily ate, he noticed Sanlang sitting across from him, propping his chin with one hand, staring at him intently. That gaze made him feel like he was the main course on the table.

“…”

Xie Lian was once again uncomfortable under such scrutiny, and he was certain that he hadn’t shown any uncivilized eating manners due to hunger. He put down his chopsticks, cleared his throat, and said, “…I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Sanlang said, “Huh? What’s there to apologize for? Don’t mind me. Please, continue.”

He then took out the steamed bun they had fought over earlier and ate it without changing his expression. Seeing this, Xie Lian became even more embarrassed.

He sat up straight, glanced at the white cloth, and decided to talk about serious matters. He said, “Why was this evil presence hidden on my body? I didn’t even notice its existence, as if… as if it had been there for a long time and I had gotten used to it.”

The white cloth kept shaking its head and wriggling toward him. If it hadn’t been firmly held down by Sanlang, it would have wrapped around him like a dumpling. It seemed to… like him.

Sanlang used a chopstick to kill it and prevent it from pouncing on Xie Lian. He smiled and said, “It seems that this evil presence has some very bad habits. It needs to be disciplined.”

Xie Lian said, “Before disciplining it, we should first find out where it came from.”

The two of them talked for a while. Xie Lian, who grew up in the Xianyue Imperial Palace and later practiced at the Imperial Extreme Temple, had never encountered someone so interesting and knowledgeable in conversation. He listened to Sanlang with shining eyes, feeling all his troubles temporarily forgotten. After a while, he suddenly remembered that they were currently in a strange vortex and said seriously, “Sanlang, may I ask you about someone?”

Sanlang threw the white cloth on the ground and used some method to make it lie there, unable to jump up. He asked, “Who?”

Xie Lian said, “Well, I am looking for someone named Huacheng.”

When Sanlang heard this name, he raised an eyebrow.

He asked, “Hmm. Can I ask, what do you want to do when you find this person?”

Xie Lian honestly said, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know.”

Judging from Sanlang’s tone, he guessed that Sanlang probably knew who Huacheng was. He continued, “You might think I’m hiding something, but it’s true. I don’t know why I need to find him. When I woke up today, I found myself in a very strange situation.”

He explained everything in one breath, omitting the embarrassing parts. Finally, Xie Lian said, “So I think this person must be very important. If you know who he is, could you please tell me?”

Sanlang smiled and said, “Ah, there’s no problem. Since we have become acquainted, I naturally want to help you. As for Huacheng…”

Xie Lian listened attentively and asked, “What about him?”

Sanlang said, “He’s a madman.”

Xie Lian asked, “What do you mean by mad?”

Sanlang poured a glass of wine and held it in his hand. He said, “He is a believer.”

“A believer in whom?”

“The Xianyue Crown Prince.”

“Cough, cough, cough—”

Xie Lian hurriedly swallowed a mouthful of tea and coughed before saying, “Wait, wait. I, I am… I am the Xianyue Crown Prince, but I haven’t become a god yet. How can I have a believer?”

Sanlang casually said, “You will become a god sooner or later. Besides, being a god is nothing special. If you say you are a god, then you are a god. If you say you are not, then you are not. He believes you are, so you are.”

Xie Lian couldn’t help but laugh and said, “That’s too casual!”

After a pause, he continued, “…But does he really believe that I, the Crown Prince, will become a god?”

Sanlang slowly said, “He doesn’t believe it.”

Then he smiled and said, “He firmly believes it.”

Xie Lian also smiled and thought, “I won’t let this person down.”

He crossed his arms and said, “So, where can I meet this Huacheng?”

Sanlang asked, “Daoist, do you really want to meet him?”

Xie Lian said, “Yes.”

Sanlang seemed to disagree with his idea and said, “Huacheng is a very bad person.”

Xie Lian furrowed his brows slightly and asked, “Very bad? How bad?”

He was not inclined to believe that someone who firmly believed he would become a god could be a bad person. Sanlang said, “Well…”

At that moment, Xie Lian noticed something.

He had been cautious and hadn’t looked directly at Sanlang before. But now, after spending some time together, he relaxed a little and let his gaze wander.

Sanlang’s hand was resting on the railing, and his fingers lightly tapped the edge. His fingers were slender, and on the third finger, there was a thin red thread, like a vibrant bond.

Xie Lian immediately recalled the chaotic images that flashed through his mind when the songstress sang in the building above: hands intertwined beneath the gauzy curtain.

And on the hand above, there was a red thread just like this one.