It is said that on that night, the deep pool dragon kept at the entrance of the Xixing Palace floated up with a white belly.

The main hall of the Locking Immortal Platform was reduced to debris. With the withdrawal of the Locked Dragon Lock, only an empty platform remained. It was washed by pouring rain, and the flowing water carried a bloody scent.

The demons and monsters at the foot of Shizhou Mountain rampaged aimlessly throughout the night, fighting each other and clashing with the cultivators in the mountains. They caused chaos, causing the wild beasts in the forest to flee in fear, and countless villages at the foot of the mountain were affected. Strangely enough, this was not the result of bandits or robbers, and the government officials not only couldn’t control the situation, but also had to flee with the common people.

The imperial court reacted swiftly and sent people the next day, but their impact was minimal. The esteemed cultivators from prestigious sects considered themselves superior and refused to heed the imperial court’s summons. The demonic cultivators from the Southern Region were even more chaotic, numerous in number, and constantly moved from one place to another. Their actions seemed without purpose, purely causing havoc according to their whims.

The once prosperous Shizhou Mountain, with its magnificent scenery, fell into calamity. There were dead bodies scattered for miles, and the contamination of corpse toxins and diseases spread widely, contaminating water sources. Countless ordinary people were displaced.

The fighting among the various sects disregarded everything, stirring up the qi of heaven and earth, causing the disruption of the five elements in the area. There were floods and fires, snowfall in clear skies, and summer flowers forcibly blooming in the snow. Sickly-looking grasshoppers puzzledly observed everything in the soil.

For three or four days, the world seemed to be in chaos, and finally, it provoked the anger of heaven and earth. One divine thunder split the Locking Immortal Platform in two.

This seemed to herald the beginning of a fierce battle between gods and demons and the collapse of order.

Bian Xu didn’t stay behind at all. After descending from the Locking Immortal Platform, he turned and returned to the Xuanwu Hall. He immediately announced seclusion and refused to appear again no matter who sought him.

The Lord of the Baihu Mountain Villa himself had never appeared from the beginning. Whether it was the secret investigation in the Southern Region or dealing with the incidents on the Locking Immortal Platform, only a few disciples and an elder who cursed people as “turtle sons” were sent. There were even rumors that the reason the Lord of the Baihu Mountain Villa didn’t show himself was because he had long since perished.

At this point, the Four Saints who once guarded the four directions fell and disappeared silently. With their departure, it seemed that a long and peaceful era had also come to an end.

The world was in turmoil, and both mortals and cultivators were in danger.

The bustling scenery of the thousand-zhang high towers and endless revelry seemed like a fragile and beautiful relief on ice. As soon as a pot of boiling water was poured on it, the image immediately became blurred.

However, Cheng Qian didn’t have time to pay attention to these matters.

On that day, he and Tang Zhen immediately left the Locking Immortal Platform and took refuge in a simple inn halfway up Shizhou Mountain. It was the first time he experienced the taste of backlash from his own true essence.

When the backlash occurred, veins popped on Yan Zhengming’s forehead, as if they were about to burst through his skin. His palm unintentionally gripped the edge of the stone bed, and the suppressed groans escaped from his throat. The stone bed, half a palm thick, was crushed into a pile of rubble by his grip.

Tang Zhen exclaimed, “Everyone get out! This is not a game. Stay away if you don’t have your own primordial spirit… Mmm!”

Before he could finish speaking, a tremendous sword intent suddenly burst forth from Yan Zhengming. It was an ice-cold and ruthless sword intent from the domain of the Sword God. No one could withstand it in close proximity.

Tang Zhen’s breath was cut off, and he took a few steps back with an ugly expression, pressing his hand against his turbulent chest.

The entire inn was on the verge of collapse. Several thumps could be heard from the roof beam. The pervasive sword intent was silent but left a few-inch-deep gash on the wood and stone surfaces it grazed. Tang Zhen reached out with his elongated arm and grabbed Cheng Qian’s shoulder. His thin fingers fiercely dug into a wound on Cheng Qian’s shoulder, making Cheng Qian shudder.

“Don’t just stand there! I can’t withstand his sword qi. It’s up to you. Don’t let his true essence pour out completely. Otherwise, not only will his physical body not withstand the injury from the Locked Dragon Lock, but also everyone within a few li will be affected. No one can escape!”

Tang Zhen formed a complicated hand seal with both hands. In the next moment, Cheng Qian felt a gentle breeze flowing past him like warm water, sweeping away the wounds and bruises on his waist, instantly restoring them to their original state.

The breeze entered Yan Zhengming’s body as it was, and he moved slightly. His back rose and fell violently, as if he had regained some consciousness. Tang Zhen’s face immediately turned ashen, as if he had experienced death.

Seizing the opportunity while he still had consciousness, Tang Zhen hurriedly said, “Master Yan, retract your sword qi!”

Yan Zhengming actually heard him, but he was powerless. He felt as if every inch of his flesh and blood had been sliced by a razor. He felt confused in his heart, thinking, “Master, practicing the sword hurts so much. I don’t want to practice anymore.”

Tang Zhen, covered in cold sweat, turned to Cheng Qian and said urgently, “We can’t delay!”

Gritting his teeth, Cheng Qian suddenly forcibly tightened his own true essence and forcefully pushed back the scattered sword qi. The sword qi collided back and forth within the unseen net, and he felt the sharp ringing of blades in his inner courtyard and Qi Sea. He had a momentary illusion of being pierced by countless arrows.

Li Yun, waiting at the door, suddenly saw a burst of bright light inside. The window frames shook violently, and in the blink of an eye, a layer of ice flowers spread, freezing everything solid.

Li Yun pushed aside the waterlogged wooden plank and opened the frozen inn door—

Cheng Qian knelt on the ground, tightly embracing Yan Zhengming. Half of his tattered clothes were soaked in blood, and Li Yun trembled as she took a step forward and whispered, “Xiao Qian?”

Cheng Qian seemed to want to stand up, but he staggered. Li Yun hurriedly rushed into the room and helped him up. “You are too reckless!”

Cheng Qian couldn’t say a word for a moment.

“It’s fine for now.” Tang Zhen, in a sorry state, stood up and glanced deeply at the unconscious Yan Zhengming. “The rest depends on luck.”

They didn’t stay long in Shizhou Mountain. Cheng Qian just took a brief rest and returned to the Fuyao Villa early the next morning with Tang Zhen’s flying horse carriage.

The flying horse was agile but timid, scared to run. Li Yun had to drive the carriage herself and used two balls of crimson crane true fire to roast the horse’s buttocks, urging the two flying horses to jump and flutter like sparrows with their heads down.

Tang Zhen had already grown tired and leaned against a corner, falling asleep. When he was awake, his features were gentle and elegant, but when he slept, his breathing became extremely faint, emitting a decadent ghostly aura.

Nian Dada pecked at his food like a chick, Liu Lang remained silent, and Li Yun sat quietly against the carriage door, enveloped in an indescribable heaviness.

Cheng Qian held the unconscious Yan Zhengming, leaning against the carriage wall. From Yan Zhengming’s face, he couldn’t detect any signs of pain. It was as if he was just impatiently listening to a sermon, dozing off in a misty preaching hall.

Cheng Qian recalled when he was a child, his master let him live in Qing’an Residence to find peace and tranquility, to think less and worry less. So why did his eldest senior brother live in “Gentle Township”? Did his master foresee that in his life, there would only be a fleeting moment of carefree?

Outside the carriage, the wind and rain poured down. The true fire of the crimson crane was like a flickering oil lamp, faintly passing through the damp night sky.

At this moment, Liu Lang, who had been gazing out of the window all along, broke the silence and spoke, “When I discovered that I had become this indeterminate, neither human nor ghost appearance, there was a time when I didn’t want to live anymore.”

He rarely spoke in front of others. Over time, everyone suspected that he had damaged his vocal cords after being possessed by a demonic cultivator, becoming half mute.

“Being an ordinary person isn’t so bad,” Nian Dada yawned, slightly sobering up. He continued, “Living through the cycles of life, getting old, getting sick, living a peaceful country life, and in old age, enjoying the company of grandchildren. Finally, being buried with ancestors in the ancestral tomb, and in the next life, being a cherished child once again.”

Liu Lang’s face, hidden by a mask, showed no expression. He just looked at Nian Dada heavily and said in a low voice, “You don’t understand the taste of being an ordinary person. Just by performing a hand seal, you can cause storms, floods, and destruction without caring where it ends up. The mortals living below, who were fine when they went to sleep, wake up in the morning to find their homes and farmland destroyed overnight, the fruits of their lifelong toil gone.”

Nian Dada paused, “This…”

“These are the luckier ones. At least they still have their lives. Others may be crushed under collapsed houses while they sleep, accidentally killed by flying blades, or blocked by a demonic cultivator, dying without a burial place… When they look back, people will only talk about who won and lost in that battle, how many demonic cultivators were slain. No one will mention the rest.”

Liu Lang laughed softly and said, “It’s like stepping on ants while walking on the street. Ordinary people don’t intentionally step on them, but if they get crushed, no one pays attention.”

“This is nothing,” Li Yun said weakly. “All beings are like ants, and some people treat others as ants, just to temporarily forget that they themselves are also ants. The joys and sorrows of the world are beyond our control. Live one day at a time… Look at our Sect Master Senior Brother, a sword cultivator who has entered the realm of Sword God. Others avoid him when they see him, but he still lives in pain every day, right?”

The words “pain” seemed to touch a nerve in Cheng Qian. He lowered his head and held Yan Zhengming’s wrist with one hand, feeling the weak pulse. He had always understood the hardships of his eldest senior brother before, but he had never felt that this person was so fragile. Cheng Qian just watched silently, feeling restless and upset in his heart.

After a while of probing, Cheng Qian couldn’t figure out anything. His own cold true essence couldn’t casually explore someone else’s inner courtyard. He didn’t even care if Tang Zhen was asleep and asked, “When will he wake up?”

Tang Zhen replied with closed eyes, “I don’t know. Being counter-attacked by one’s own inner courtyard, combined with the influence of the inner demons, he might spit out blood and wake up on his own in a moment, or he might never wake up again, it’s hard to say.”

With these words, silence fell once again in the carriage, and even the noisy Nian Dada didn’t dare to make a sound.

Tang Zhen’s crow mouth struck again. After the group returned to the Fuyao Villa for over a month, Yan Zhengming remained like a living corpse.

Although Tang Zhen didn’t promise anything, he probably felt responsible since he was the one who taught the forbidden technique. So he stayed with Nian Dada and Liu Lang in the Fuyao Villa, occasionally guiding Li Yun on how to construct and reinforce the formations outside the villa, and checking on Yan Zhengming’s condition every few days.

Tang Zhen entered the small bamboo forest, picked up the cold water on the table, drank it all in one gulp, and said to Cheng Qian, who had been waiting on the side, “You’ve already passed your Seven Tribulations of Heaven, your physical body is complete. Why do you still make yourself so detached?”

“I’m used to it,” Cheng Qian sat quietly, and after a while, for some reason, he added, “Before, I thought that living as a detached person would be tasteless. Now it seems that being overwhelmed by the seven emotions and six desires may not be a good thing either.”

“I saw someone from your villa just now,” Tang Zhen said. “Your place seems to be bustling recently—well, it’s natural. The great powers from all sides have fallen to a similar state. Your senior brothers’ commotion at the Locking Immortal Platform has already become famous throughout the world. In these troubled times, of course, everyone is flocking to you.”

Cheng Qian didn’t even lift his eyelids and sarcastically said, “In the mountains, there are no tigers. The monkeys are the kings.”

It seemed that he didn’t care at all that he was being scolded as well.

Tang Zhen glanced at him and said, “It seems that someone from the White Tiger Villa came. Won’t you go and meet them?”

Cheng Qian replied indifferently, “Their sect master pretended to be dead. Why would they come looking for me?”

Tang Zhen continued, “It seems there is also an invitation from the Tianyan Pavilion.”

Cheng Qian’s expression suddenly turned cold, “Drive away anyone from the Tianyan Pavilion. If anyone doesn’t know their place, make sure they have no way to return. What does their future have to do with me?”

What does it have to do with him?

It wouldn’t be long before Han Yuan’s identity as a member of the Fuyao Sect became known to the world. At that time, did they still want to stay out of it?

However, with Yan Zhengming still unconscious, Cheng Qian became more and more restless and anxious. Tang Zhen didn’t touch on that sore subject again and didn’t mention it. He stepped forward and probed Yan Zhengming’s inner courtyard with his divine sense.

That person who had just been talking about being detached immediately leaned forward and asked, “How is he?”

Tang Zhen didn’t speak for a long time, and Cheng Qian couldn’t sit still. He paced back and forth in the room several times, wanting to ask questions but fearing to disturb him, swallowing his words back.

After a while, Tang Zhen withdrew his divine sense, carefully tucking Yan Zhengming’s hand back under the blanket. His face looked solemn, and he hesitated for a moment.

Cheng Qian said, “Tang Xiong?”

“I think… it’s better for you to call your senior brothers and senior sister here,” Tang Zhen finally spoke, his expression uneasy.

Cheng Qian stood motionless for a while.

He had never felt his heart so cold before. It was as if someone had hollowed out his chest and filled it with unmelting ice chips, making his blood run cold.

Perhaps, when the sky thunder strikes, it’s nothing more than this.

Tang Zhen looked at him with difficulty and said, “Young friend, there will always be times when things don’t go well in life, and there will always be joys and sorrows. After all your detachment, can’t you see through it?”

“No…” Cheng Qian managed to say one word, his voice splitting. He stood still in a daze for a moment, seeming to want to take a step forward, but his feet stumbled and he staggered. His gaze slowly fell on Yan Zhengming, and for a brief moment, Tang Zhen felt his eyes welling up with tears—but… can a piece of jade cry?

Can the gaze that has never been shaken by heavenly tribulations also be in chaos?

But his momentary collapse was short-lived. Tang Zhen didn’t have a chance to speak before Cheng Qian’s gaze suddenly became firm, and he said resolutely, “No, don’t tell them for now, Tang Xiong. You are knowledgeable and resourceful, you must have a way. No matter what, even if it means sacrificing my life for another life, I’m willing…”

Tang Zhen interrupted him, saying, “Listen to the nonsense you’re spouting. If your senior brother heard this, he would first strike you with a sword, then strike me.”

Cheng Qian stared at Tang Zhen with an almost intimidating calmness and said, “I can turn the Spirit Gathering Jade into a physical body. As long as you show me the way, there’s nothing I can’t do.”

Tang Zhen looked back at him directly, and Cheng Qian’s gaze showed no hesitation.

“To ascend to the highest heights… or descend to the depths of the underworld,” Tang Zhen muttered these words softly, then he chuckled softly, “Young friend, the deep bonds among sects in the world are indeed a good thing, but rarely have I seen such profound bonds as yours.”

Cheng Qian calmly replied, “This place is called ‘Fuyao Villa,’ not ’the world.’”

“There are many places in the Sword God Realm that are breathtaking, which outsiders like us cannot comprehend,” Tang Zhen no longer dwelled on the previous topic and said, “He has just advanced to a new level, and his cultivation realm is still unstable. He has already encountered the inner demons, which is extremely dangerous. Moreover, he is skilled in forbidden techniques—considering the battle on the Locking Immortal Platform, can you tell how much he forcefully elevated his cultivation?”

Cheng Qian replied, “I’m not as perceptive as him, so I can only make a rough estimate… At least one realm.”

Tang Zhen said, “Correct, it’s like borrowing at a high interest rate. He borrowed without repaying, and while advancing rapidly in the Sword God Realm, the backlash naturally becomes dangerous.”

Cheng Qian immediately understood Tang Zhen’s meaning and said, “So as long as he catches up to the borrowed part of his true cultivation within a short period of time, it can alleviate the pain of the backlash? I can give him all of my true essence. If necessary, I can train for another hundred years. After all, the Heavenly Tribulation is something that becomes easier with each repetition.”

Tang Zhen chuckled and sighed, “Do you really think true essence is like a bowl of rice that you can distribute to anyone you want? Even if you were a sword cultivator, it’s not guaranteed that two sword cultivators’ true essences can blend together.”

Tang Zhen continued, “If he wants to overcome this obstacle, he must reach the ‘Sheathed’ realm before his physical body collapses. But you should understand that cultivation requires accumulation before breakthroughs can occur. Even the demonic cultivators who seek shortcuts need time to accumulate power, not to mention he is a sword cultivator who undergoes arduous training with every step. There are no external forces that can assist his cultivation. What you and I can do is very limited. Even if you have the intention, you lack the ability.”

In an instant, Cheng Qian’s gaze dimmed.