Took you bloody well long enough!
The Phoenix’s ire was directed at both the Dragon crouched before a fallen Qing Cang and the orchid’s glow within him.
Zhe Yan’s ears buzzed. Silver filaments began streaming from his core into his veins. And once again, he experienced that same dizziness as when he’d blown up Mo Yuan’s chamber door and shattered his barrier spell back on Kunlun.
He felt the sucking black force of the veil of shadow give way, repelled by the orchid’s radiant power. As for what should have been the radiant power of the Dragon… Mo Yuan must know not to use his magic openly here
Maniacal laughter erupted from Qing Cang who rose onto his knees and leered at Mo Yuan.
“So the worm does crawl underground!”
It was just then that Zhe Yan’s body slipped out of the veil’s hold. Falling forward, his hands braced inadvertently against the cold, stiff side of the Shaman’s corpse. Rigor mortis had set in that fast?
The Phoenix yanked his arms back to pull himself sideways as best as he could given the lack of feeling in his legs from having been bent in such an awkward position for so long.
“Qian Qian is somewhere behind this infernal curtain, Mo Yuan!”
Qing Cang’s crimson eyes widened then grew shrewd.
“Well now, Mo Yuan. Has the fox become something more to you than just some royal nuisance upon your time on Kunlun?” The Demon chuckled. “Indeed, she is behind the veil of shadow. So what will the God of Worms do? Waste time losing in a hand to hand fight with me here or go and rescue her, if he can?”
A powerful tremor shook the area, causing rubble to rain down from above. Mo Yuan dove over a nearly prone Zhe Yan to shield him from the cascade of rock and dust.
Qing Cang lunged for his fallen halberd and bolted up to run back into the tunnel of darkness.
Mo Yuan watched him go. Coward.
This will all end here today, I swear, Qing Cang.
He shifted his attention back to Zhe Yan whose head he sheltered with his chest. Despite being free of the veil, the Phoenix’s essence was still flickering in and out of Mo Yuan’s perception. It was being eclipsed by something… something familiar to Mo Yuan from his midnight strolls through Kunlun’s gardens. The silver moon orchid’s light. How is that possible?
Why is the light of that flower glowing within you, Zhe Yan?
“Never mind me!” Zhe Yan spat grit from his mouth as he shoved at Mo Yuan. “We need to get to Qian Qian!” Mo Yuan’s gaze raked over the dead Shaman then the veil of shadow extending from wall to wall.
“A flute! Is there a flute anywhere?!” Mo Yuan shouted over the rumbling din, slipping his knife back into his boot.
“It’s in that one’s blasted pocket!” the Phoenix shouted back, jerking his chin at Diao Wu.
“Qian Qian?! Can you hear me?!” Mo Yuan yelled out at the veil as he tore through the dead shaman’s robes.
“She’s under some kind of deep hypnosis,” Zhe Yan coughed as he struggled to sit upright on the shaking ground. The power of the silver moon orchid’s light may have broken the veil’s hold on him but it wasn’t doing anything to help his numb body get over the effects of being immobile so long. “The devils used her eyes to be able to see inside.”
Mo Yuan examined the bone flute he wrenched from Diao Wu’s robe pocket.
“Did Diao Wu play some tune to open the veil? A lock spell of notes?”
Zhe Yan nodded. “Yes!”
Mo Yuan scrutinized the finger holes on the instrument made from the wing bones of a crane. “The tune, what was it?!”
“Argh!!!” Zhe Yan clasped his forehead. “I can’t carry a tune to save my life!”
“You better carry one now to save Qian Qian’s!”
Screwing his eyes shut, Zhe Yan pursed his lips and warbled a tortured air.
“Again!” Mo Yuan demanded, concentrating solely on Zhe Yan’s attempt. He demanded it twice more before bringing the flute to his lips and blowing tentatively across the open end. The difference of fingering from guqin to flute felt so strange but after a few false starts Mo Yuan managed to render the Phoenix’s dissonant whistles into a recognizable string.
“No, no, no!” Dust flew from his hair as Zhe Yan shook his head. “I’m a stupid dodo! It’s a different tune to open than to close it. That last note you played is the first note of the former.”
Mo Yuan frowned. The last note was the first again… the tune played in reverse?
Blowing again, Mo Yuan played the notes in reverse order and both men’s heads snapped up when the veil undulated then drew partially aside, revealing the sanctum doorway.
“Qian Qian!” Zhe Yan shouted, stumbling to his feet.
“Stay here against the wall!” Mo Yuan yelled at him, already at the doorway.
“Wait, Mo Yuan!”
Zhe Yan raised his hand as he backed into the wall. “You can’t look while you’re inside! There’s some black spell that will drive you mad if you use your eyes. Whoever built this hellhole, the Nine, are supposedly in there in some way, shape, or form too.”
Mo Yuan took in as much detail of the doorway dimensions and distance therein as he could in a glance. Then closing his eyes, he entered with arms raised before him, advancing as steadily as he could.
The stench of decay was stomach turning but it made Bai Qian’s peach blossom fragrance all the easier for the Dragon to scent.
“Qian Qian?! I know you’re here. If you can hear me, keep your eyes closed!”
She’d been listening peacefully to her mother’s song when it cut off with a sudden jolt. Bai Qian’s ears were now assailed by a jarring cacophony of rumbles, cracking, and deep booms.
But the noise in her ears was nothing compared to the flood of chaos she was drowning in… from her eyes? Her mind reeled from the onslaught. Every sound, taste, smell, and touch she’d ever known bombarded her all at once and all wrong. A storm of discordant sounds with too many chords played at too many different volumes all at once.
Whimpering in pain and in fear, Bai Qian staggered from the nonsensical barrage. She pushed at her eyelids with her fists, trying to shove the mayhem out of her throbbing head.
“Qian Qian?! I know you’re here. If you can hear me, keep your eyes closed!”
The rupturing rock and quaking of the ground was deafening, yet if anyone could hear his voice through it, it would be Bai Qian. But what if she was still under the influence of the curse?
When his foot caught on something hard, Mo Yuan turned his stumble into a pitched roll. And the scent of fox blood rose sharply off to his left.
Mo Yuan steeled himself. I have no choice.
Channeling his essence as hard as he could through his eyes, he dared to look where his instincts told him –and found her instantly.
Bai Qian stood on the far side of a stone table, around which were seated nine skeletal forms. Green vapours rose from openings in the surface of what he surmised to be an altar. Bai Qian’s head hung low. She was knuckling her eyes. Blood seeped from her nose and down the sides of her neck from her ears.
An explosive bolt of pain sliced through his head, dropping Mo Yuan to his hands and knees. Slamming his eyes shut, Mo Yuan tried to breathe through the agony as he struggled to get back up to reach Bai Qian.
There came movement in front of him before he could stand, movement which carried the scent of peach blossoms. The familiar weight of fox tails draped across him.
Mo Yuan grasped the loose fabric that brushed against his face… the skirt of Bai Qian’s gown. His hands found their way to her waist as he staggered to his feet. Trembling fox tails slipped off his back to wind loosely around his middle and arms. He did not dare reopen his eyes for fear he would become completely debilitated this time. He needed to get them out of there.
Mo Yuan slid his hands up Bai Qian’s arms to her shoulders then her face, his fingers drawing across hot, sticky cheeks. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her into his embrace.
“Mo Yuan. I-I don’t know where I am. My head hurts and my eyes are…” her voice trailed off weakly.
“Hold on, Qian Qian! Hold on. Zhe Yan is here. He’s outside waiting. He can help you.”
The smell of Bai Qian’s blood coupled with her whimpers of pain were triggering him, threatening to rip away the control Mo Yuan barely held over the edge of wildness ever present within him. Not yet, not yet, not yet, he repeated to himself.
“Qian Qian, I can’t see in this place,” Mo Yuan whispered tersely into her ear. “To do so is to court madness. I don’t dare open my eyes to find the doorway.” Mo Yuan realized he’d become disoriented and no longer knew in which direction the doorway lay.
Bai Qian pulled out of his embrace and the tugging of tails around him forced him to turn. Step by step, Mo Yuan followed where Bai Qian’s fox tails pulled him.
For in the darkness, the blind have the advantage.
With the shaking of the ground, nine hooded skulls tilted at identical angles.
As the Nine collectively watched the pair of immortals leave, their skeletons broke apart, the dried husks of bones crumbling into dust upon the surface of the altar.
Mo Yuan knew the very moment they emerged from the sanctum, the dank air current returning just as Bai Qian’s tails went limp and fell from him.
“Qian Qian!” Zhe Yan’s panicked voice cried out and Mo Yuan opened his eyes in time to see her collapse in front of him.
Mo Yuan rushed to her side as Zhe Yan did, the Phoenix having regained his mobility.
Deep angry growls emerged unbidden from Mo Yuan as he took in Bai Qian’s ghastly pallour. Her eyes were shut, her face streaked with blood from her ears and nose.
“Do something!” he snapped at Zhe Yan.
The Phoenix cupped his hands around Bai Qian’s head. For the very first time, Zhe Yan sensed the curse that had been hidden within her. It had lain dormant all the years of her life, waiting for the day the Shaman would call it forth. Zhe Yan was able to acknowledge what the curse was and what it had done to her.
Diao Wu’s black magic had made Bai Qian blind only so when he needed, it would force her brain to work in a manner it couldn’t sustain.
Studying the curse, Zhe Yan came to a bleak and heartbreaking conclusion.
Bai Qian’s blindness was a permanent state that could never be cured.
Her only hope was to be able to break the curse that Diao Wu left working on her cortex. The devil was dead though. Why hadn’t the curse lifted the moment Diao Wu had been killed? What foul trickery was involved now?
Zhe Yan did his best to heal the broken blood vessels and damaged nerve endings in her brain. But it was only a temporary fix. Filthy, disgusting black magic. An abomination of nature!
“Her tails…” Mo Yuan’s tone was anguished. Bai Qian’s tails were badly charred at their ends, and one bore a bloody wound in the middle where an area of fur and flesh was missing.
Dragon growls grew menacing.
“Her brain is the most pressing issue at the moment,” Zhe Yan muttered with his eyes closed in concentration. “Her tails will have to wait.”
“Qian Qian, hold still,” Zhe Yan said as she started coming to.
Without disturbing the Phoenix’s ministrations, Mo Yuan gently wiped the blood from her face with the edge of his shirt, reaching for her hand to hold within his.
The rumbling of the earth had subsided and though the ground still shook slightly, a lull had descended.
It is always quietest before the storm, Mo Yuan recalled telling Tianjun.
“We need to get out of here. Now.” Mo Yuan spied green vapour spilling out of the sanctum doorway, oozing along the ground.
The scant torchlight was being choked by rock dust which thickened the air. “We have to get to the top of the tunnels by foot,” Mo Yuan said. “We can’t use magic before that point. Unless the orchid’s light…?”
The Phoenix shook his head angrily as he continued rushing to heal Bai Qian’s bleeding brain.
“That damn moon weed of yours has a mind of its own, Mo Yuan! It was waiting the whole time for you to show up before breaking me out of the veil. And now that I can feel my essence once more, it’s playing hide and seek again!”
“Zhe Yan… Are you ok?” Bai Qian’s trembling free hand rose to cover the Phoenix’s on the side of her head.
“Ha!” Zhe Yan smiled. “Nobody’s going to roast this old chicken any day soon. Don’t you worry, Qian Qian.” Then his face took on a hesitant look. “Qian Qian… Can you–can you open your eyes for me?”
Both men tensed when, with a ragged intake of breath, Bai Qian slowly opened her eyes, only to cry out in pain and squeeze them shut again.
Zhe Yan instantly realized his mistake. Berating himself fiercely, he swiftly placed a soothing palm over each of her eyelids. “Keep them closed, Qian Qian, keep them closed.”
Blind since birth, Bai Qian had no catalogue of visual memories stored in her brain. What would she understand of the incoherent brightness?
A ripping of cloth startled Zhe Yan out of his thoughts. Mo Yuan had torn a strip off his shirt and Zhe Yan withdrew his hands for him to be able to tie it over Bai Qian’s eyes.
An icy gust shot past them, snuffing out the torches.
They would have been plunged into total blackness had it not been for the green vapour at the sanctum doorway now aglow. In the sudden chilled silence, Mo Yuan and Zhe Yan watched as eddies swirled upwards to form into translucent bodies of demon soldiers; their figures condensing from the putrid fog took shape in restless, rasping waves. The dead soldiers made of mist and malice paid the trio no heed as they flew upwards and vanished through the rock.
Eddies continued to swirl.
“The slaughtered and the sacrificed demons in all those attacks,” a sullen Phoenix observed to Mo Yuan. “Qing Cang and Diao Wu’s great plan. An army of specters that cannot be stopped by you or anyone else since they’re already dead.”
Mo Yuan’s gaze narrowed. The demonic scripture on the onyx slab.
This was why Qing Cang had used this temple as his hideaway.
They had to get to the surface, and from there, Mo Yuan would have to find some way to destroy the malevolent power used to reanimate the dead.
Would there be enough time? How long before Qing Cang’s new army amassed completely on the surface where the Demon surely waited?
Mo Yuan could no longer see the tunnel opening. He suspected all the torches had gone out the entire length back.
“Qian Qian, I know you’re not feeling well.” Mo Yuan took hold of her shoulders to cradle her to his chest. “There’s no time to explain everything but we need your help to get us out of here.”
⇛ Next part: 38(第三十八章) The Colours Upon the Wind
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