Three years passed in the blink of an eye.

During these three years, apart from occasionally seeking help from Liu Qingge to open his meridians and requesting Mu Qingfang to prepare some medicinal herbs, Shen Qingqiu spent most of his time wandering outside.

He lived a carefree life until Yue Qingyuan sent him an urgent letter, summoning him back to Cangqiong Mountain.

Since the Peak Lord had been absent for a long time, his sudden return attracted the disciples of Qingjing Peak, who gathered at the mountain gate to welcome him. As Shen Qingqiu climbed up the mountain steps slowly, they surrounded him in a rush.

Leading the group was Ming Fan, who had grown into a tall and thin young man. Though he couldn’t be called exceptionally handsome, his features were decent, no longer resembling the narrow-minded cannon fodder he was in his youth. Ning Yingying had also blossomed into an exquisite and charming young girl. As soon as she saw Shen Qingqiu, she pounced on him, pulling his arm and urging him to ascend the Heavenly Stairs.

Although it was a pleasant sight to have a fragrant young girl clinging to him, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t enjoy it. Especially since Ning Yingying had developed quite well and was no longer the petite and delicate little girl from before. If her chest accidentally brushed against him, Shen Qingqiu would remain expressionless, his forehead covered in cold sweat, recalling those two high-rise buildings in the comment section of “Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System” that begged to castrate him.

Ning Yingying pouted, “Master, you’re never on the mountain, and your disciples miss you so much.”

Shen Qingqiu replied lovingly, “Master also misses… you all.”

Wait, no. You should be thinking about Luo Binghe, not obsessing over a scumbag villain. And as one of Luo Binghe’s husbands, shouldn’t you be sleepless, unable to eat, and wasting away to skin and bones for five consecutive years?

Why do you look even plumper now!

The disciples surrounded Shen Qingqiu as they ascended to the summit. Inside the Summit Hall, all twelve peak masters had taken their seats, with one or two trusted disciples standing behind them, except for Liu Qingge.

The Bai Zhan Peak followed a “herding sheep” style of education, where each disciple trained independently. The peak master didn’t teach much besides occasionally popping up to beat a group of disciples until they could fight back. Once the disciples could defeat their master, they could inherit the position of peak master. Therefore, they didn’t have any trusted disciples.

Shen Qingqiu greeted everyone and took his seat on Qingjing Peak, the second seat in the row. Ming Fan and Ning Yingying stood behind him. Across from him were Qi Qingqi from Xianzhu Peak and Liu Mingyan from Liuxian Peak.

Before Yue Qingyuan could officially begin the meeting, Shen Qingqiu played with the folding fan in his hand, scanning each peak master and their disciples. He thought that if Luo Binghe were still here, there wouldn’t be anyone else standing behind him. Among the younger generation of Cangqiong Mountain disciples, there would be no doubt as to who stood out the most.

Lost in his thoughts, Yue Qingyuan spoke up, “Do you fellow disciples know about the city of Jinlan?”

Shang Qinghua said, “I’ve heard of it. It’s located in the central plains and serves as the meeting point for the two major rivers, Luochuan and Hengchuan. The city is known for its bustling commerce.”

Yue Qingyuan nodded, “That’s correct. Jinlan City is well-connected by land and water routes and has always been a gathering place for merchants from all directions. However, two months ago, Jinlan City closed its gates. Not only are the city gates closed, but letters also cannot be delivered.”

A perfectly fine commercial city suddenly closing its gates was as unreasonable as cutting off connections with other regions from a financial center. There must be more to it.

Shen Qingqiu picked up the tea cup in front of him, skimmed off the tea leaves on the surface, and said, “Jinlan City is closest to Zhaohua Temple, and there used to be frequent interactions between them. If something really happened, the masters of the temple should have noticed the abnormalities.”

Yue Qingyuan replied, “That’s correct. Twenty days ago, a merchant from Jinlan City escaped through the water route and sought help at Zhaohua Temple.”

He used the word “escape,” indicating that the situation was indeed severe. The hall fell silent.

“Back then, the middle-aged man was wrapped in tightly bound black cloth, with only half of his face exposed. When he arrived at Zhaohua Temple, he was already exhausted and collapsed before the steps, repeatedly claiming that there was a terrible plague in the city.”

“The monks immediately carried him into the main hall and reported to the abbot. However, when the abbot and several masters rushed out, it was already too late.”

Liu Qingge asked, “Did he die?”

Yue Qingyuan replied, “That merchant had already turned into a pile of bones.”

Just now, he managed to escape with great difficulty and arrived at the temple gate, so how did he turn into a pile of bones in an instant?

Shen Qingqiu pondered for a moment and said, “Brother, you mentioned that the merchant was wrapped in black cloth from head to toe?”

Yue Qingyuan nodded, “Yes. At one point, a monk tried to remove the black cloth, but the man screamed in pain, as if his flesh and blood were being torn apart. So, they didn’t dare to force it anymore.”

“Zhaohua Temple’s abbots are deeply disturbed by this matter. After discussing it, they immediately dispatched several senior monks, including Master Wuchen, to investigate. However, they have not returned to this day.”

The masters without titles, compared to Shen Qingqiu and the others, had a higher seniority and their cultivation levels wouldn’t be lacking. Shen Qingqiu felt slightly surprised and asked, “Not a single one of them has returned?”

Yue Qingyuan nodded solemnly and said, “That’s right. The Huanyu Palace and Tianyi Pavilion also sent more than ten disciples, but like us, none of them have come back.”

With three of the four major sects involved, it was natural that Cangqiong Mountain couldn’t sit idly by. No wonder an urgent summons was issued. Yue Qingyuan continued, “Although we have no choice but to send our fellow disciples, we also need someone to stay behind. This matter is of great importance, and there may be sinister forces behind the scenes. We must have someone here to prevent a repeat of the Sha Hua Ling incident.”

It goes without saying that the “sinister forces” mentioned could only refer to the demonic clans. Liu Qingge was the first to speak up, “Bai Zhan Peak. I’m willing to escort Junior Brother Mu.”

Since the city was plagued, it was necessary for Mu Qingfang from Qian Cao Peak to take action. Shen Qingqiu looked at the two who were chosen for this mission. One was responsible for preparing medicine for him, and the other helped him open his meridians. Now that they were both gone and there was no protagonist halo protecting him, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but worry about their safety. He quickly added, “Qingqiu is willing to go as well.”

Yue Qingyuan said, “Originally, I intended to assign you to guard the mountain.”

Shen Qingqiu didn’t know how to deal with him yet, so he continued to entangle him, “Senior Martial Brother, why do you think of me as so weak? Even though Qingqiu is mediocre, I have some knowledge about the demonic clans. If they are really causing trouble, I can be of some assistance.”

He was like an encyclopedia when it came to matters related to the demonic clans, whether it was the original version or the current version. The extensive collection of ancient texts and documents that piled up behind the bamboo house in Qingjing Peak, which every generation of peak masters had to read before they could take over, was a testament to that. Yue Qingyuan realized that it would be convenient to have him accompany Liu Qingge, Mu Qingfang, and Liu Qingge. It would help suppress the unresolved issue on his body, and even the Peak Lord of Bai Zhan Peak would protect him during a fight. Thus, they divided into three groups: Liu Qingge, Mu Qingfang, and Shen Qingqiu formed the vanguard, investigating Jinlan City first. The second group would act accordingly based on the situation, while the third group would stay behind in Cangqiong Mountain.

With the situation being urgent, there was no time to waste on horse carriages or boats. Although Shen Qingqiu didn’t particularly like using a sword to fly, he knew that he had to keep up with the rest. The three of them departed on their swords. In less than half a day, Shen Qingqiu looked down from above the clouds and called out to his two fellow disciples, “Below is where Luo Chuan and Heng Chuan meet!”

From high above, he could indeed see the two rivers intersecting, resembling two winding and slender silver ribbons that shimmered under the sunlight, as if silver scales were dancing in the air.

One of them was Luo Chuan, named after Luo Binghe, who was just born that year.

The three of them chose an open and flat mountain top as their landing point. From there, they could vaguely see the eaves and corners of Jinlan City in the distance, with its closed city gates and raised drawbridge.

Shen Qingqiu lowered his hand from his forehead, which had been shielding his eyes from the sun, and asked, “Why don’t we fly directly into the city?”

Mu Qingfang explained, “Zhaohua Temple once responded to the city lord of Jinlan City’s request and set up a giant barrier that covers the sky, prohibiting any immortal swords or objects with spiritual or demonic energy from flying over it. Otherwise, they would be knocked off course.”

Shen Qingqiu had witnessed the barrier-setting skills of Zhaohua Temple during the Immortal Alliance Conference, so he didn’t ask further.

Since they couldn’t airdrop or enter through the main gate, there must be another way. As expected, Mu Qingfang, who had been briefed on all the details by Yue Qingyuan, led the two of them into a forest. Concealed by the shade of the trees, the sound of flowing water could be heard.

The sound came from a low cave. Mu Qingfang called them over and said, “There’s an underground river here. It leads to the city.”

Shen Qingqiu understood, “The merchant from the weapons store escaped through here?”

Mu Qingfang nodded, “Some underground merchants meet here or smuggle goods through this route. Not many people actually know about it, but that weapon merchant had a good relationship with the abbots of Zhaohua Temple and had revealed some information.”

The entrance of the cave was covered in green vines, reaching only chest-high. They had to bend down to enter. After walking for a while, they finally felt more space above their heads. The sound of water had become louder. Alongside the riverbed were several worn-out boats.

Shen Qingqiu chose a relatively better boat, one that wouldn’t leak. With a flick of his finger, the dried lamp hanging at the bow of the boat ignited. After a quick inspection, he realized that there was only one oar. Shen Qingqiu made a gesture, indicating to Liu Qingge, “This is against the current. It will definitely require the person with the strongest arm among us to row. Junior Martial Brother, would you do the honors?”

Liu Qingge’s face darkened as he snatched the slender boat oar and began rowing without complaint. With each stroke, the boat shot forward a long way. The light from the boat’s lantern swayed and creaked.

Shen Qingqiu helped Mu Qingfang sit down and glanced at the shimmering water by the side of the boat. He could surprisingly see several fish happily flicking their tails as they swam past. He casually remarked, “The water is so clear.”

Just as he finished speaking, something larger floated in behind the fish.

It was a corpse, face down, submerged in the water.