As dawn broke, the rainstorm subsided.
Beams of light pierced through the clouds and shone down on the City of Death, which now resembled a desolate graveyard.
After Mu Shijing entered the city to hunt down Lin Shouxi, the people of the Tao Gate had encircled the city.
However, after keeping watch all night, Mu Shijing had yet to emerge.
So come morning, under the guidance of the young female leader of the Tao Gate, several elders entered the city to search for her.
Clutching a duster close to her chest, the young Tao Gate leader paced down the main street with measured steps.
As she made her way along the limestone pavement, she couldn’t help but notice the numerous marks that had been viciously slashed by sword energy.
The buildings on either side of the street had their doors and windows shattered, their roofs ripped apart into jagged pieces.
It was a desolate and unsettling sight, as if the street had been struck by a violent tempest or some arcane power.
The battle between Lin Shouxi and Mu Shijing had clearly been fierce.
The aftermath was evidence of their deadly clash.
But despite searching all the streets, the elders found no sign of life.
The young man and woman seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Finally, they arrived at the moonlit platform of Guanyin Pavilion via a staircase.
“This must have been the site of their final battle,” said one of the elders as he stooped down to examine the ground.
The hard stone pavement was riddled with cracks, and debris from the fight, including bits of rock and wood, were scattered about.
It was hard to imagine just how intense the battle must have been to cause such destruction.
“Hmm,” the sect leader nodded her head and continued walking forward.
Until eventually, she stopped in front of the collapsed Guanyin Pavilion.
In the ruins of the Guanyin Pavilion, the thousand-handed and thousand-eyed Guanyin stood unscathed on the lotus platform, forming the Seal of Gentleness and Wonder.
In the face of the clear light and dew, her countenance was kind and compassionate yet cold.
The Guanyin statue gazed upon the earth, seeming to behold the suffering of the world, yet also seeming to gaze upon her.
The elders followed their sect leader, whose face they had never seen, afraid to say a word.
The leader of the Tao Gate advanced with a Mili, a veil that trailed down her hips, enveloping her slender form, leaving only her icy, piercing aura that was akin to a mountain peak piercing through the clouds visible.
As the morning light streamed into the city, a rainbow formed from the mist atop the statue of Guanyin, as if granting divinity.
“Such a shame,” she said, her voice gentle and indifferent, as soft as the snow-white veil that danced in the wind.
“Indeed, sect leader,” a senior elder replied, “who would’ve thought that the young lady’s fate would become uncertain after the ten years you put into grooming her as your successor and the defeat of the Demon Gate.
It is truly a shame, indeed.”
“You misunderstand me.
What I mean is that it’s a shame that she was unable to retrieve the River Luo Inscription,” she said, shaking her head lightly, seemingly unconcerned with Mu Shijing’s life or death.
“Children can never be relied upon to do things properly.
I should have taken matters into my own hands from the start.”
The others looked at each other, unsure of what to say.
“Let’s go back,” the sect leader said matter-of-factly.
“But what about the young lady…”
“She is not dead.”
The confusion only heightened as the elders had searched the entire city and found no trace of Mu Shijing.
How could their sect leader be so certain of her survival? If she was indeed alive, then where was she?
The sect leader remained silent, fixated on the Guanyin statue as if it were a gateway to a realm beyond.
Her imposing presence filled the hearts of those around her with dread, and none dared to question her further.
With a sense of resignation, they abandoned their quest for Mu Shijing and Lin Shouxi in order to get out of this place where one was apt to get into trouble.
As the people slowly dispersed, the sect leader in her white skirt glanced once more at the thousand-handed, thousand-eyed Guanyin statue.
Behind her veil, her eyes held the haughty gleam of one who regards all with disdain.
Her red lips twitched, and she whispered just two words:
Am I still alive? Where am I…
Lin Shouxi felt himself careening through the darkness, something hot on his heels that he could not see.
His strength was waning, his breaths coming in increasingly ragged gasps, yet he dared not slow down, as if even a moment’s pause would allow the darkness to tear him apart.
His leg muscles tightened, numbly pumping, the cold sensation creeping up his back.
It was as if he were a drowning man struggling in a river with no bank, the dark currents tying his limbs, gradually dragging him towards despair.
The feeling of suffocation pressed upon his chest, and just as Lin Shouxi was about to lose consciousness completely, an ethereal voice wafted from behind him.
With that clear rebuke, the feeling of suffocation vanished.
Without a moment to decipher the origin of the voice, Lin Shouxi lunged forward, and suddenly… he jolted awake! Sitting upright in his bed, he felt the lingering ache still coursing through his body.
Where… where am I?
Lin Shouxi looked around, discovering that he was in a narrow wooden cabin, sleeping on a crude grass mat.
The smell of mold and acidity filled his nostrils, like a damp tomb.
It was as if he had just had a nightmare of something chasing him in his dream, and it seemed… as if someone had saved him?
Lin Shouxi shook his head, trying to clear the fog of confusion that clouded his mind.
As he leaned against the wall for support, he pressed a hand against his chest and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the steady rhythm of his heart.
He was still alive, and not yet in the afterlife.
His memories were jumbled, but as he searched through them, he saw glimpses of his past.
He remembered the fierce battle in the City of Death against the dreaded Mu Shijing, and fighting against a foul evil deity with his sword.
The memories were painful, causing a throbbing ache in his head, but he was glad to find that his past was still intact.
Somewhat relieved, Lin Shouxi shifted his attention to his body, not checking for wounds, but searching for the River Luo Inscription, an object of utmost importance that his master had tasked him to guard with his life.
He felt all over himself and scoured the surrounding area, but the Inscription was nowhere to be found.
To his further dismay, he realized that the black scale amulet that had hung from his neck for many years was also missing.
Although it had never shown any extraordinary qualities, it had been his talisman for over a decade, and its sudden loss left a void in his heart.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lin Shouxi soon found himself learning the hard way that “misfortune never comes alone”.
When he tried to quiet his mind and meditate, he realized that his injuries were too severe to allow the flow of his inner energy.
His once-mighty cultivation was temporarily weakened by the extent of his wounds, adding another layer of hardship to his already difficult situation.
But such a dire state of affairs should not have come as a surprise to him.
The injuries that marked his body would have been fatal to any ordinary being, yet his robust physique, a gift of his innate nature, had spared him from certain death.
Still, it would be at least a span of ten days, if not a full month, before his wounds could fully heal and his strength could be fully restored.
That woman really hit hard…
With that thought, Lin Shouxi leaned against the wall, allowing his weary body to rest for a time.
Once his strength had returned to him, he rose from his bed, eager to discover where he was and who had saved him.
Following the faint light, Lin Shouxi made his way to the door.
However, just as he took his first step out of the room, he collided with something.
Having just regained consciousness, his injuries were far from healed, causing his steps to be unsteady and his body unable to maintain balance.
As a result, he quickly stumbled and fell to the ground.
Grimacing in pain, he lifted his head and caught a glimpse of a figure standing before him, their silhouette illuminated by a brilliant, backlit glow.
The delicate figure stumbled backwards after being collided with, and in the light, Lin Shouxi could only make out a few strands of white hair, stark against the shadowy backdrop.
The figure exuded no sense of danger.
Could this old woman be the person who saved me?
With effort, he rose to his feet and, in a slightly hoarse voice, prepared to speak.
But before he could utter the second syllable, he froze.
For there before him stood not an old woman, but a young girl with snow-white hair cascading elegantly down her back.
With a graceful gesture, the girl appraised Lin Shouxi’s form and adjusted her delicate hair, before saying in an unfamiliar language, “The Perfected One sent me to see if you were awake.
Since you are, come with me to see him.”
Lin Shouxi couldn’t help but feel taken aback upon seeing the girl’s youthful beauty.
However, what truly surprised him was his ability to comprehend and respond to words she had spoken.
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