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Chapter 23

“I…” Tanyin opened her mouth but only managed to utter one word before she couldn’t continue.

Her mind felt as if it had been violently stirred by a hand, leaving it in chaos. She closed her eyes and held her forehead, struggling to calm down. She remembered going to the imperial tomb to see the Concentric Mirror, but then… what happened next? Why couldn’t she remember?

“You suddenly fainted, so I brought you back,” Yuan Zhong said, touching her forehead, which was cold and damp from sweat.

Fainted? How could she have fainted? Tanyin examined her hand closely. Though slender, it was slightly rough—the hand of a mortal. Her consciousness was perfectly aligned with this mortal body; fainting shouldn’t have been possible.

“You’ve slept for a day. Would you like some water?” Yuan Zhong asked softly.

Tanyin rubbed her temples, still feeling dizzy and confused. It seemed as if a force within her was preventing her from thinking about the cause of everything. Exhausted, she nodded, watching Yuan Zhong clumsily pour tea from a teapot and bring it to her lips.

She took a big sip and immediately spit it out.

It was scalding hot!

Tears came to her eyes from the burn, and she couldn’t speak for a while, clutching her mouth.

“Ahem…” Yuan Zhong looked quite embarrassed, fidgeting with the teacup.

“It seems it’s a bit hot…”

He had never served anyone tea before and had not expected to burn someone on his first attempt. He poured the tea into another cup, switching it back and forth between cups. When he saw her still covering her mouth, he gently pried her hand away and looked at her burnt lips.

“Are you okay? Open your mouth and let me see.”

Tanyin shook her head vigorously, but he insisted, “Open it.”

She kept shaking her head.

Impatiently, he pinched her chin, just enough to make her open her mouth. Her tongue was visibly burned red, and her lips seemed swollen.

“Look at you, insisting on occupying a useless mortal body, and you can’t even drink water without getting burned,” Yuan Zhong scolded her, using this opportunity to reprimand her. He leaned in and gently blew on her swollen lips, which gradually healed.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked.

Tanyin shook her head, unable to speak as her chin was still held.

Yuan Zhong suddenly realized their intimate position. He was so close to her, her fair nose and soft red lips right before his eyes. Even though he knew this wasn’t her real body, his heart still skipped a beat.

This feeling emboldened him, making him want to get even closer.

In truth, he hadn’t told her that at noon in the imperial tomb, she didn’t just faint; she suddenly lost her breath and became a real corpse. She would never know how he felt when he held that cold, lifeless body.

The mysteries surrounding her were countless. He didn’t want to ask, knowing that no matter how many times he did, she wouldn’t tell him. She would only look at him with that troubled yet determined expression. He felt defeated, unwilling, and even angry, but he could only keep these feelings buried in his heart.

The appearance of Ji Tanyin had brought a catastrophic change to him. She followed him relentlessly, sticking to him, transforming his initial horror and avoidance into expectation and joy. She was like a goddess descending from the heavens, belonging solely to him.

Then, his goddess suddenly left him, leaving him to sit by her bed for a whole day and night, guarding that cold body. He didn’t want to tell her how he felt, as if doing so would allow him to maintain a tiny bit of pride.

Even though his heart was already soaked in sweetness, he still bared his teeth and acted fierce; even though his claws had long been retracted, he occasionally showed them to her. This ridiculous little bit of self-respect made him realize his own insignificance and helplessness in front of her.

But he had no choice, no way out.

He could kneel at her feet, kissing her shoes like dust, praying for a glance from her. He surrendered to his goddess with all his heart and soul. But he wouldn’t let her know this. She was a goddess—the eyes he had seen in his dreams thousands of times—and he wouldn’t tell her.

Confronted with her concealment of her origins, this was his last bit of pride.

Sensing his somewhat aggressive gaze, Tanyin finally realized he was too close. She subtly moved back, and he immediately let go, sitting upright and looking at her.

Tanyin awkwardly glanced around and stammered, “This, where is this?”

Yuan Zhong stood up and handed her the cooled tea. “This is a cave that I created. I haven’t been here in a long time, so it’s a bit messy.”

As Tanyin drank the tea, she looked around. She saw dust everywhere, with inches of it on the tables and chairs. The curtains even had spider webs! The bedding on the bed was new, probably because she had slept there, but she clearly saw a spider crawling across the headboard, smiling at her. This… this wasn’t “a bit messy”! It looked like it hadn’t been inhabited for centuries!

Tanyin jumped out of bed like lightning, stirring up a cloud of dust with her abrupt movement.

Yuan Zhong remained calm amidst the dust.

“This… I haven’t been back for decades. I’ll clean it up right away.”

Tanyin watched in astonishment as he clasped his hands together and chanted. Suddenly, a dirty broom flew out from downstairs and started sweeping the room, creating a rain of dust that covered them both.

The two dusty figures stared at each other for a long moment before Tanyin suddenly laughed, sighing as she did.

“Let me do it. Let’s go outside.”

Covered in dust, the two of them left the room. Tanyin felt her spirits lift. Behind them was Yuan Zhong’s small, oddly shaped building, resembling the hexagonal pavilion at Fangwai Mountain. In front of them, the courtyard was mostly filled with snow-white flowers with white buds and snow-white stamens with crystal-like petals.

Outside the courtyard was a small lake, surrounded by willows swaying in the wind. Distant mountains stood tall against a clear sky with thin clouds, just as the sun was about to rise. On the opposite shore of the lake, Tanyin could see herb fields and a small grove with a white stone monument in front. With her keen eyesight, she saw the words “Xiexiang Forest” on it.

As she approached the lake, a breeze brought the scent of grass, wildflowers, medicinal herbs, and a familiar, fragrant aroma. Presumably, the fragrant wood planted in the Xiexiang Forest was the spice wood used by the Fox clan to make incense.

This small, delicate paradise, with all its scenic beauty, was nestled within a mountain valley, exuding a unique charm.

Yuan Zhong seemed nervous, coughed lightly, and asked, pretending to be casual, “How do you like it? Is it livable?”

Tanyin couldn’t help but smile. “It’s very beautiful.”

He beamed with joy but tried hard to hide it, gently tugging her sleeve.

“Come with me.”

He led her through the flowers to the lakeside, where a green wooden boat was tied under the willows. They boarded the boat, and just as they untied it, a giant old turtle emerged from the lake, its jade-like color and intelligent eyes suggesting it was close to becoming a spirit.

The old turtle nodded to Yuan Zhong three times in greeting, then dove under the boat, carrying it steadily and swiftly towards the center of the lake.

Tanyin sat at the bow of the boat, gazing into the distance. She saw several herb fields far away. Perhaps because no one had lived here for a long time or tended to the fields, the herbs, despite the abundant spiritual energy of this immortal cave, were wilting. She looked at the position of the lake, then at the fields, and couldn’t help but start planning in her mind how to create a tool to draw water from the lake to irrigate the fields.

(T/N: Immortals frequently chose to reside in caves. These cave shelters were not usual but infused with a mysterious and tremendous spiritual force. Immortals will better absorb and utilize this spiritual energy in such a setting, enhancing their cultivation and capabilities.

Immortal’s Cave is also translated as Cave Estate or Immortal Estate. The abode of a cultivator. Often high up in the mountains in a cave where spiritual energy is abundant. )

In the center of the lake was a small, exquisite island covered in reeds. As soon as Tanyin saw the reeds, she asked, “Can we go over there?”

The old turtle, which was towing the boat, immediately changed direction and soon brought them alongside the small island. Tanyin lightly jumped onto the island and looked around. The island was no larger than a pavilion and was covered in reeds, with only a small clearing in the center. There was a half-worn mat and a small wine table there, suggesting that Yuan Zhong had once come here to drink alone and watch the stars, enjoying a leisurely time.

“May I gather some reeds?” she asked politely, knowing he was the master of this cave.

Yuan Zhong seemed to dislike her politeness. Without a word, he shrugged and pulled out a handful of reeds, throwing them to the ground.

“Not these tender ones; let me do it.” She took a small sickle from her Qiankun bag and began cutting the thicker, longer, and even slightly dried reeds. In no time, she had gathered a lot and sat on the mat, quickly weaving them into four somewhat crude reed brooms.

Next, she took several pieces of ordinary wood from her Qiankun bag, along with some bronze tubes and rods, and dumped them on the ground. Seeing her preparing to make something again, Yuan Zhong sat beside her, watching with interest as she skillfully cut the wood and hollowed it out.

To those who didn’t understand these things, her crafting process might seem incredibly dull—just cutting, carving, hollowing out, and connecting with rivets. It wasn’t interesting, let alone elegant. Even Taihe had once been curious and tried watching her work, but he had quickly grown bored and left.

Tanyin used soft poplar wood to carve internal structures and occasionally glanced back at Yuan Zhong. He watched her every move intently, without blinking, seemingly not finding it boring at all. No one had ever been willing to stay with her while she worked; this was a first.

A warm feeling filled Tanyin’s heart, and she couldn’t help but ask, “Is it fun?”

Yuan Zhong nodded, then shook his head. “It’s interesting, but I don’t understand. Why do you carve internal organs?”

“To make a mechanical person move, you have to make their body just like a real person’s. If you miss even one thing, it won’t work,” she explained enthusiastically.

“But after all, they’re just mechanical people, not real ones. So, to make them do different things, you have to carve the internal structures differently. The wooden people I made last time could only sing and dance. They couldn’t do any work. Those mechanical people who can fetch water and fertilize can’t sing or dance. Of course, you can make one that looks just like a real person, can talk and sing, and also do housework and cook, but such a mechanical person takes at least half a month to make, and the materials are very rare and precious.”

Yuan Zhong listened, fascinated. “Can you make one?”

Tanyin smiled. “I can. What kind do you want?”

Yuan Zhong stared at her fair face. “One that looks like you.”

Tanyin was slightly taken aback, her smile fading a bit.

After a while, she softly said, “Alright, but I can’t make it look exactly like me.”

“Then who will it look like?”

“…I won’t tell you.”

“You’re being secretive.”


No one spoke further.

Tanyin quickly finished making a life-sized wooden figure. Since she was rushing, its appearance was rough and simple. She opened its back, gently inserted a bronze rod, twisted it a few times, and the wooden figure’s limbs moved, grabbed a broom, and ran to the boat, standing motionless at the bow.

She made four wooden figures in total, each holding a broom and standing imposingly at the bow, looking rather amusing.

“Let’s go back.”

Tanyin put away the scattered materials in her Qiankun bag and boarded the boat with Yuan Zhong. The old turtle carried the boat back to the shore, and the four wooden figures dashed to the small building, sweeping busily. They were more efficient than the hired maids at Fangwai Mountain, and since they never tired, they kept working non-stop, scrubbing walls and furniture after sweeping, using dozens of buckets of water to clean the place until it was spotless.

Tanyin’s eyes sparkled as she saw Yuan Zhong’s jaw almost drop. Proudly, she asked, “How is it? Fast, right?”

Yuan Zhong held a bronze rod, examining it.

It was just an ordinary rod with countless tiny grooves carved into it. He opened the back of one wooden figure, saw a hole into which the rod fit, and twisted it several times. The figure, which had stopped moving, began dancing and jumping around the lake, unable to stop.

“Uh…” Yuan Zhong awkwardly fiddled with the rod. Why did the wooden figures obey her commands but go wild with his?

“Because it’s a rush job, they can only perform fixed actions,” Tan Yin kindly explained.

“You twisted it five times, so it will run for five hours.”

Yuan Zhong, reluctant to part with the bronze rod, played with it for a long time before finally asking, “Can you give me these four wooden figures?”

Maintaining a cave’s cleanliness consumed a lot of immortal energy. In large places like Fangwai Mountain, they hired mortals for upkeep. This was his private cave, and he didn’t want mortals intruding. Too lazy to clean himself, he saw these mechanical cleaners as a perfect solution to avoid returning to a pigsty after decades.

“Sure,” Tanyin readily agreed.

Yuan Zhong’s eyes lit up. He suddenly turned and gave her a bear hug, lifting her off the ground. Her shocked expression made him grin.

“Thank you, my little craftsman.”

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