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Chapter 9

Orange Lake used to be a lake famous for its shape resembling an orange. Legend has it that the lake dried up overnight, turning Orange Lake into flat ground, and ghosts started to appear.

There were frequent rumors of hunters and woodcutters disappearing here, slowly turning it into a place rarely visited by people.

Indeed, these were tricks played by the Fox Clan of Orange Lake. Unlike the people of Fangwai Mountain, the people of Orange Lake were more reclusive, not having much contact with ordinary people. In fact, even Yuan Zhong hadn’t been here for nearly a hundred years.

He had just jumped down from the back of the Bird of Paradise when a group of white-robed clansmen had already greeted him on the opposite side.

The leader, an old man with white hair and a long beard that almost reached his waist, stepped forward.

Yuan Zhong greeted him with a smile, clasping his hands together.

“Elder Xinchou, long time no see. Your beard has grown even longer.”

Although he hadn’t experienced the event of this elder leading a group of clansmen to migrate to Orange Lake due to a fallout with Elder Dingxu, he was greatly impressed by Elder Xinchou’s boldness.

After all, there weren’t many people in the clan who dared to oppose Elder Dingxu.

Elder Xinchou returned the gesture of respect, looking intimate. “Little Yuan Zhong, thanks a lot for dealing with the provocation from the War Ghost clan.”

Yuan Zhong chuckled. “Elder Xinchou, that’s a name from many years ago. Let’s not dwell on it now, shall we?”

Elder Xinchou replied lightly, “After following Dingxu for so many years, you’ve learned to be secretive too.”

Yuan Zhong seemed not to have heard him.

His sharp eyes had already spotted a graceful figure behind Elder Xinchou. He smiled brightly and floated over like a flower, not touching the ground, wrapping himself around the girl like a twist of dough.

He exclaimed repeatedly, “Sister Zi Qing, it’s been many years. You look even more beautiful. Did you miss me?”

Zi Qing smiled and patted his shoulder.

“You’re still the same; you haven’t changed a bit.”

“But Sister Zi Qing has changed a lot.”

Yuan Zhong couldn’t help but stick close to her. “You’ve become so beautiful. I almost didn’t recognize you just now.”

Zi Qing held him openly and said, “Your sweet talk hasn’t changed despite your bitter nature. Anyway, since you’re here, stay for a few more days. Talk to me about Zi Fei’s matters. I haven’t had the chance to see him this time; he’s already dead.”

Although she tried hard to conceal her emotions, she choked up a bit when she mentioned Zi Fei’s death.

Yuan Zhong couldn’t help but fall silent.

Slowly straightening his posture, he whispered after a while, “I’m sorry.”

Zi Fei was Zi Qing’s younger brother. When Zi Qing left with Elder Xinchou, Zi Fei was still young and was forcibly left behind by Elder Dingxu.

Yuan Zhong couldn’t let go of Zi Fei’s death, coupled with the inexplicable survival of Ji Tanyin… Thinking of Ji Tanyin, his mood worsened.

Zi Qing quickly grabbed his arm and smiled.

“It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. Stay for a few more days this time. My husband has been complaining that there’s no one to accompany him for drinks since you didn’t come.”

Yuan Zhong didn’t feel like joking. He managed a couple of words and followed the others around the courtyard. However, he noticed that six platforms had been built on the small lake, each occupied by a clansman performing continuous spells to reinforce the outer boundary.

He looked at Elder Xinchou and smiled wryly. “Are you planning to strengthen the boundary to defend against those war ghosts in case I don’t make it in time?”

The Fox Clan’s boundary was formidable, but if six War Ghosts attacked simultaneously, no matter how thick the boundary was, it could be broken in an instant.

If they encountered a perfect War Ghost like Li Chaoyang, who was rarely seen in a century, the boundary would be even less resilient than porcelain.

Elder Xinchou, stroking his long white beard, looked at him with a smile and said, “If you can think of it, do you think I can’t? This time, it’s to welcome you. Once you’re out, if you want to come back in, it might be difficult.”

Yuan Zhong exclaimed, realizing only then that it wasn’t the usual defensive boundary set up by the Fox Clan. It seemed real and unreal, dreamlike, resembling more of an illusion than a boundary. Its nature was somewhat similar to the mist formation around Mount Wanlan’s Imperial Tomb but much more sophisticated.

“Our clan has been at odds with the War Ghost clan for generations, but if Dingxu doesn’t provoke, there wouldn’t be so many issues.”

Elder Xinchou sighed, “These layers of boundaries are just delaying tactics. If someday War Ghosts come looking for us, it can also create an opportunity for our Orange Lake clan to escape.”

Seeing Yuan Zhong hesitating to speak, he understood what he wanted to say and said calmly, “I and Dingxu are on different paths. I cannot submit to Fangwai Mountain. His ambitions are too great, while I only seek two words: freedom.”

Yuan Zhong rubbed his belly, glanced at him, and then suddenly laughed. “I was just wondering, is there any food? I’m starving.”

Elder Xinchou laughed heartily, “Yes! Follow me.”

Yuan Zhong didn’t know what the once glorious Fox Clan looked like, and historical records were nothing but hollow words.

But before his eyes, flowers were in full bloom, their fragrance enveloping their surroundings. The halo of night pearls cast a glow on the faces of the girls, making them look like white jade. The melodious sound of flutes and the gentle singing were faintly audible. It seemed real and unreal. Countless large lotus flowers fell like rain from the sky, and he couldn’t help but feel that perhaps the Fox Clan of the past was supposed to be like this—carefree and leisurely.

Such a scene would never appear in Fangwai Mountain.

Elder Xinchou handed him a bronze wine goblet filled with a wine named “Drunk Life and Dreaming of Death.”

The rich and mellow liquor made his blood boil, and gradually, all the worries in his mind drifted away, and the guilt and sorrow over Zi Fei’s death faded.

Elder Xinchou’s words sounded distant: “Little Yuan Zhong, why not settle down here? You’re not young anymore. It’s time to marry a suitable girl and add more people to our clan.”

Yuan Zhong looked around at the girls with a smile. The Fox Clan had quite a reputation for beauty, and seeing beauties under the night pearls added a unique charm. He also loved beautiful women. Who wouldn’t? He enjoyed rolling around in a pile of beauties.

“But with so many beautiful sisters, I would regret marrying anyone,” he joked tastelessly, resting his head on the thigh of one of the clan girls. It was soft and fragrant. He looked up into the girl’s eyes, bright and tender.

Yet in his mind, he saw the pair of eyes he had seen long ago on the platform of the Celestial God. All his senses opened for those eyes, and he didn’t even know what was happening to himself.

He couldn’t find the same pair of eyes again.

He couldn’t find it; all the beauties in the world seemed the same now.

His time seemed to have stopped on that platform, never flowing again.

“Of course you can’t find it,” a cold, hollow voice echoed in his mind. “What you saw was a Celestial God. How could you find it?”

Yuan Zhong turned over with regret and satisfaction, embracing the waist of the beauty, and began to act spoiled.

“Sister, I’m drunk. I want to eat grapes.”

Suddenly, there was a faint commotion outside. Yuan Zhong, still intoxicated with grapes, turned his neck to listen. A clan member who guarded the gate was reporting to Elder Xinchou, “Someone has broken into the boundary, but it’s not a War Ghost. It seems to be a mortal woman.”

Yuan Zhong jolted up; the grapes that were about to reach his mouth fell on his clothes and rolled onto the ground.

“I’m leaving.” His face changed color.

Elder Xinchou was greatly surprised. “Are you leaving so soon?”

Yuan Zhong transformed into a golden light and, in the blink of an eye, flashed several yards away, leaving behind only one sentence: “Don’t let that woman in!”

He hurriedly found the Bird of Paradise, which was having its meal.

Clearly, this beautiful and arrogant spiritual bird was not pleased to be disturbed while eating and screeched at him in great displeasure.

“Next time, I’ll treat you to the best Tianxia Wushuang wine!” Yuan Zhong promised, in a hurry, “Quickly, fly for me!”

The Bird of Paradise reluctantly flapped its wings and slowly took off. But before it had flown a few steps, Yuan Zhong saw Ji Tanyin behind him again. She was riding on a strange-looking mechanical bird, lazily following behind him.

What on earth was going on with her!

Yuan Zhong felt his scalp go numb. After searching through his body for a while, he found no jade chess piece, but there were several silver ingots in his purse. Without hesitation, he threw one out, and sure enough, the strange bird fell down with a clatter.

But before he could feel relieved, he saw Tanyin take out a palm-sized mechanical bird from her bag, which grew larger in the wind, and mount it to continue tirelessly chasing him.

Yuan Zhong felt as if this nightmare would never end.

He threw another silver ingot, the mechanical bird was hit and fell down, then he urged the Bird of Paradise to fly faster. But as soon as they flew a distance, Tanyin summoned a new mechanical bird and continued chasing him. He continued to throw silver ingots…

And then… he ran out of silver ingots.

Yuan Zhong sighed deeply, looked up to the sky, and whistled. The Bird of Paradise calmly stopped in mid-air.

“Hey!” He shouted from afar, towards Tanyin behind, “What are you following me for?!”

Tanyin thought for a moment and replied seriously, “To protect you?”

“I don’t want you to protect me!” Yuan Zhong was frustrated.

If a high priest of the Fox Clan ended up being protected by a mortal girl, where would he put his face?

Tanyin thought for a moment again and said, “To take care of you?”

“Who asked you to take care of me?”

Tanyin continued to think, then hesitantly asked, “Can I fix carriages?”

“I haven’t used a carriage in a long time.” Yuan Zhong’s voice was indifferent.

Tanyin racked her brains. “I…” She couldn’t think of any advantageous conditions.

Yuan Zhong looked at her coldly. The night wind was strong, and her black hair was blown messy. The two eyes under the black hair were so bright, like… black gems.

He remained silent for a moment, then suddenly asked, “Who are you exactly?”

“Ji Tanyin, a craftsman,” she answered quickly.

“I didn’t ask that,” he said sarcastically.

“You’re quite good at playing dumb. You know what I’m asking.”

Tanyin shook her head silently, then finally said, “…I won’t harm you.”

Is that all she can say?

Yuan Zhong’s anger boiled inside. He accused her of being cunning, yet she acted so foolishly and unattractively in her actions and speech.

He accused her of being innocent, yet she hid her identity so well, he didn’t even realize how capable she was.

“Oh…” he suddenly elongated his tone, chuckling ambiguously, “Are you interested in me? Do you like me?”

Tanyin shook her head, looking quietly at him, her gaze clear.

“Don’t deny it; women love to say one thing and mean another.” Yuan Zhong laughed heartily. “You’ve seen my true face; you’ve looked at my body; you have a crush on me; what’s there to be embarrassed about?”

She still remained silent.

Yuan Zhong casually twirled his long hair and sighed, “I can only thank you for your kindness. Sorry, my heart already belongs to someone else. You should find someone else.”

Tanyin softly said, “Please let me follow you. I won’t harm you.”

The high priest could only smile wryly. No amount of persuasion seemed to work on her. He couldn’t kill her, and he couldn’t outrun her. What could he say?

“Follow me… for the rest of my life?” he asked.

Tanyin’s voice was as light as a breeze. “Yes, until the end of your life.”

Yuan Zhong sighed, then laughed. “I’m so touched. It’s the first time a woman has said this to me.”

After saying that, his expression slowly turned cold again as he stared at her, saying each word slowly, “But I don’t want you to follow me. Get away from me; don’t let me see you again. I don’t want to see you.”

He whistled, and the Bird of Paradise let out a long cry and flew into the sky.


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