Yan Zhengming’s words left Li Yun and Cheng Qian stunned. Li Yun blurted out without thinking, “Then… isn’t that our senior martial brother?”

As soon as the words slipped out, he felt as if he had been possessed by Han Yuan and quickly regretted it, pinching his brow in frustration.

Yan Zhengming spoke solemnly, “Of course not. Have you completely disregarded the rules? Practices like the Ghost Path and the Path of Slaughter that go against the principles of heaven and humanity will result in immediate expulsion from the sect. They can never return.”

The room fell silent.

After a while, Cheng Qian regained his senses and said, “So you mean… the person Boss Wen mentioned might be…”

He paused involuntarily, seemingly unsure of how to address that person. After a long while, he managed to say, “Um… our former senior martial brother.”

“Besides him, who else could it be?” Yan Zhengming said irritably. “Mount Fuyao is not the headquarters of demonic cultivation.”

Li Yun cautiously suggested, “Senior brother, what do you think? Should we ask Master tomorrow?”

Yan Zhengming immediately shook his head in rejection. While their Master had plenty to say, most of it was nonsense. As soon as they touched upon a serious matter, he could transform into a chatterbox who could talk about anything. Yan Zhengming didn’t believe that the three of them could extract any useful information from their Master. After contemplating for a moment, he held onto a glimmer of hope and said, “Is there any way… we can somehow find out his whereabouts when Master tries to shake us off?”

Cheng Qian, who spent most of his time in the Nine-story Scripture Hall, had a flurry of countermeasures rushing through his mind. However, he quickly discarded most of them, realizing that their hope was extremely slim. After all, to track their Master, one of them would have to possess greater supernatural powers than him.

“I don’t think it’s feasible,” Cheng Qian said. “Unless Second Martial Brother transforms into a toad again and carries the scent of Golden Toad Divine Water on Master… But I suspect that if we encounter a formidable demon, Second Martial Brother’s guiding toad might pretend to be dead.”

“Don’t look at me, I can’t help. Beings with intelligence will become cautious in the face of danger, and those who aren’t cautious are undoubtedly foolish. Finding someone won’t work,” Li Yun said, throwing up his hands.

“It must be someone with intelligence who isn’t cautious…” Yan Zhengming pondered his words for a moment. “Hey, what about a water pit?”

Cheng Qian rolled his eyes. He couldn’t see any “intelligence” or “fearlessness” in his junior martial sister, but the next moment, he realized that they didn’t have the ability to track their Master. Couldn’t they find a way to gather information from their junior martial sister instead?

Regardless, that foolish child who had always been by their Master’s side couldn’t understand human speech. They would definitely go unnoticed.

After discussing for a while, they found a wooden stick and carved it into a thin and delicate strip. Cheng Qian provided the method, having browsed through countless books, while Yan Zhengming took up the knife and clumsily began inscribing tracking talismans.

This tracking talisman was very basic. Cheng Qian hadn’t seen any advanced ones, but Yan Zhengming’s hand was unsteady, failing over and over again.

Lord Yan shook his sore hand, feeling like he had never put so much effort into learning talismans before. He couldn’t help but angrily stare at Cheng Qian, “What kind of rubbish is this? Are you reliable or not?”

It was like blaming the privy for being unable to produce feces — Cheng Qian swallowed the crude remark, stuffing it into his eyes with a contemptuous gaze as he scanned Yan Zhengming from head to toe.

Despite the bickering, Li Yun, mentally exhausted, tried to mediate. The three of them struggled until the middle of the night to barely finish carving the wooden strips.

Yan Zhengming handed the wooden strip to the yawning Li Yun. “I don’t care anymore. You find a way to put it on her because of this insignificant matter. I can’t believe we wasted the whole night on this.”

Who was to blame in the end?

Cheng Qian, feeling weighed down, left the complaining Yan “Goddess” behind and walked unsteadily toward his own thatched hut. Just as he reached the door and was about to enter, Yan Zhengming suddenly called out to him.

“Hold on, Xiao Qian. I have something to tell you.”

As Yan Zhengming grew taller in the past year, his voice also gradually deepened, no longer retaining the clarity of a young man. Unless he was shouting and making a fuss, he sounded just like an adult man.

Cheng Qian rarely heard him being so serious and turned around, looking at him with confusion.

Under the moonlight, the young man behind him stood tall and upright. His usual impatience and capriciousness seemed to be suppressed by the profound darkness of the night. For a moment, he didn’t seem like himself.

After hesitating for a long time, Yan Zhengming spoke, “I omitted something earlier. Actually… I heard that person with the surname Wen say something else.”

Furrowing his brow, Cheng Qian waited for him to continue.

“He said that the Fuyao Sect is known for its ’extraordinary and exceptional’ disciples, and each generation produces demonic evildoers…” Yan Zhengming’s voice trailed off. He stared at Cheng Qian for a moment, feeling that his junior martial brother was as fragile as a bamboo pole, seemingly about to snap at any moment. Yet, he was actually cold and tough, concealing who knew how many complicated emotions. Yan Zhengming lowered his head slightly and whispered, “You have discretion, right?”

Upon hearing this, Cheng Qian didn’t mock him or retort. He sensed the genuine seriousness in Yan Zhengming’s words, whether his senior martial brother was overly worried or not. He could tell that he said those words for his own good. With their senior martial brother’s usual laziness and indulgence, most of the time it was the junior martial brothers who accommodated him. Cheng Qian rarely felt the presence of an elder brother in him.

Until this moment.

So Cheng Qian didn’t say anything, just silently nodded.

Yan Zhengming let out a soft sigh, reached out, and gently pushed the loose hair on Cheng Qian’s head as he guided him into the thatched hut.

“That’s good,” Yan Zhengming whispered. Then he snapped back to his usual self, pointing sternly at Cheng Qian’s crumpled clothes. “Get yourself a new one tomorrow. Don’t you feel like a rag?”

Cheng Qian probably disagreed with that. His response was to shut the door on Yan Zhengming.

It was an eventful night. After dismissing Yan Zhengming, Cheng Qian collapsed onto his bed, feeling like he had just fallen asleep when he was abruptly awakened again.

Compared to his door being kicked open by his senior martial brother and being dragged out of bed, Han Yuan was even more annoying. He seemed to have transformed into a bird that loved pecking at wood, sneaking around and tapping on the wooden window frame. It irritated Cheng Qian to no end as he woke up.

Even on horseback, Cheng Qian never abandoned his talismans for a moment. The forcibly widened meridians in his body merged with the bones that had grown during his growth spurt, causing aches that made it difficult for him to sleep well at night. Now he was awakened twice in a row, and he wished he could take a sharp weapon and kill these noises.

Han Yuan didn’t use the main entrance and climbed in through the window, completely ignoring Cheng Qian’s impassive gaze. He plopped down on his bed without hesitation and whispered, “Hey, guess what I saw earlier?”

Cheng Qian didn’t want to guess. He lay face-up on the bed, covering his head with the blanket without saying a word.

“Hey, don’t sleep. Get up quickly. I’ll show you something interesting,” Han Yuan pounced on Cheng Qian, using both hands to snatch away his blanket. “You’ve probably never seen it, Xiao Qian. Xiao Qian!”

Cheng Qian stubbornly refused to show his face and shouted through the blanket, “Go bother Yan ‘Goddess’!”

Han Yuan looked horrified. “Are you kidding? I dare not. He would burn me in an incense burner.”

Cheng Qian rolled into the bed. “Then go bother Li Yun!”

“Already tried,” Han Yuan said in a dejected tone. “I almost set off fireworks next to his ear, but he wouldn’t wake up.”

Cheng Qian: “…”

It turns out he was the easiest to wake up, and he also had the most subtle anger.

Han Yuan successfully lifted his blanket, ignoring Cheng Qian’s subtle anger. He whispered in his ear, “Have you ever seen a ghost?”

Cheng Qian was about to explode, but upon hearing those words, his tightly furrowed brow twitched. “What?”

After the time it takes for an incense stick to burn, Cheng Qian followed Han Yuan as they sneaked out of the dilapidated inn.

“I was a little late strolling around because there’s been a fair in town these past few days,” Han Yuan said as they walked. “So, when I came back, I took a shortcut—this way. Watch your step.”

Dizzy and disoriented, Cheng Qian walked behind Han Yuan, carefully avoiding the muddy ground. He couldn’t understand how Han Yuan managed to familiarize himself with the surroundings in such a short time. Could it be a skill possessed only by wandering beggars? Han Yuan led him to a more remote location. Cheng Qian held his wooden sword in one hand and his small knife for practicing talismans in the other, unable to fully trust Han Yuan. He made small piles of pebbles as markers wherever they went, not comprehending Han Yuan’s reliability.

As the cold wind blew, Cheng Qian’s hazy mind began to clear. He realized that he had been influenced by his senior martial brother’s words about ghost cultivators before going to sleep. Just hearing the word “ghost” made him absentmindedly follow along.

Going out in the middle of the night with a little beggar to meet ghosts, truly…

He must have been infected with foolishness by Han Yuan.

Suddenly, Cheng Qian shivered all over.

Han Yuan led him to the bank of a small river. Cheng Qian didn’t have spiritual perception, but he sensed that the chill there wasn’t ordinary coldness. He also faintly smelled an ominous stench.

Cheng Qian trembled, and the last trace of drowsiness was completely gone.

“It’s impossible that there’s any real danger,” he thought, pinching a leaf that fell on his shoulder, calmly reasoning in his mind. “If there were, why would I let Han Yuan run back freely?”

Han Yuan cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Hey, where are you? I brought my junior martial brother here. Come out.”

Cheng Qian stood on his tiptoes and covered Han Yuan’s mouth, gritting his teeth as he asked, “What did you provoke?”

Han Yuan: “Mmm… Mmm…”

Muffled by Cheng Qian’s hand, Han Yuan squirmed and glanced behind Cheng Qian, gesturing with his eyes. Cheng Qian followed his gaze and almost gasped in shock.

Behind him, a flickering ghostly fire had appeared at some point. A pale-faced male ghost stood there with an empty look on his face.

Cheng Qian blocked Han Yuan behind him and asked, “Who are you?”

Finally breaking free from Cheng Qian’s grasp, Han Yuan patted his shoulder casually and said, “It’s fine, don’t be afraid of him. I was startled by him at first too, but then I realized he’s just vacant-looking, quite amusing.”

As he spoke, Han Yuan bent down and picked up a stone. Before Cheng Qian could stop him, he threw it, and the stone passed straight through the ghost’s body, bouncing on the ground twice. The male ghost looked perplexedly at the pebble, appearing as if he were lost in some dream.

Han Yuan grinned at Cheng Qian and said, “See?”

Cheng Qian only wanted to smear Han Yuan’s face. When the stone passed through the ghost’s body, he distinctly smelled that odor—foul and mingled with a nauseating stench.

Corpse oil mixed with virgin boy’s blood…

At this moment, Cheng Qian had no time to think about why the other party had let Han Yuan escape earlier. He had only one question in his mind—was this little beggar still human?

Encountering a turmoil among demons in the Demon Valley was one thing, but going out for a stroll in the middle of the night and stumbling upon a ghost-cultivating demon?