“Yes, you’ve been sleeping for a long time,” Pei Jia gently stroked Tao Yuan’s face.
Si Lan and Haowei watched the scene of intimacy between the two, feeling strangely eerie and shivering.
“Can you tell who’s controlling Tao Yuan’s body now?” Si Lan asked Haowei in a hushed voice.
“Right in front.”
Si Lan looked ahead as instructed and indeed saw a man in a black suit manipulating an invisible puppet before him with eerie finger movements.
Tao Yuan suddenly coughed, his breath frail as a thread, scaring Pei Jia into helping him and gently easing his discomfort.
His body was already delicate, and after “sleeping” for so long, it appeared even more fragile, like a withered branch that might snap at any moment.
Pei Jia carefully held him in his arms. “Tao Yuan, do you feel any discomfort?”
Tao Yuan shook his head. “Pei Lang, I’m fine now.”
Upon hearing this, Pei Jia suddenly stood up, drew his sword, and pointed it directly at Tao Yuan on the bed, the sword’s tip trembling slightly.
“Who are you, really?”
“Pei Lang… I’m Tao Yuan…”
“You’re not Tao Yuan because Tao Yuan never calls me Pei Lang.”
Upon hearing this, the person on the bed stopped pretending, his face no longer showing grief or weakness.
Other cultivators drew their long swords from their waists and confronted the Pei family guards.
“General, this actor is already dead; there’s no way he could be resurrected through magic in this world.” The person on the bed slowly stood up, shattering Pei Jia’s illusions.
Pei Jia couldn’t contain his anger. “Get out of Tao Yuan’s body, or don’t blame me for killing all of you.”
The man burst into laughter. “General, why deceive yourself? When I entered this actor’s body, I could already smell a rotting odor on him, a scent no incense could mask.”
This statement pushed Pei Jia to the edge. Rather than attacking the man, he turned and stabbed a nearby cultivator who couldn’t evade the strike, hitting him in the abdomen.
In the next moment, Pei Jia’s hand gripped the man’s throat, his nails sinking in, a fierce expression on his face. “Get out of Tao Yuan’s body, or don’t blame me for killing your comrades!”
“I don’t have the patience to repeat myself a third time!”
Seemingly reluctant, the man cast a spell and left Tao Yuan’s body.
Tao Yuan instantly closed his eyes, falling backward. It looked like his head was about to hit the ground, but Pei Jia immediately rushed to catch him. “Tao Yuan…”
However, at that moment, Tao Yuan in his arms suddenly opened his eyes, and a dagger appeared in his hand, stabbing directly at Pei Jia. Instinctively, Pei Jia leaned back to avoid the attack, but the dagger struck his abdomen.
“General, don’t blame your subordinates for being heartless. It’s because you keep making mistakes!”
Seeing this, Si Lan felt a shock in his heart and quickly cast a spell to rescue Pei Jia from the man’s grasp.
The other cultivators nearby, seeing this turn of events, brandished their swords and advanced towards Si Lan.
Haowei secretly cast a spell that immobilized their movements.
“Why can’t we move?”
“Is it the spirit of that actor causing trouble?” They instinctively placed the blame on Tao Yuan, who had long since passed away.
Si Lan was about to force the man’s spirit out of Tao Yuan’s body when he saw the man take something out of his pocket and swiftly put it in his mouth. In the next instant, Tao Yuan’s body exploded with a loud bang.
Pei Jia stood there in shock, blood pouring from his abdomen, yet he remained unaware, his eyes fixed on the spot where Tao Yuan had just stood.
There was nothing left but a rush of fresh blood.
In that moment, utter despair overwhelmed him. All his hopes and dreams were shattered.
How could this happen?
Tao Yuan had never done anything wrong in his entire life.
Why was the world so cruel to him?
Pei Jia lost his sanity, roaring as he raised his sword and charged at the cultivators. Fortunately, Haowei had noticed his impending madness and immediately used a spell to seal his acupoints.
Pei Jia was rendered motionless, his eyes filled with malice. “Release me, release me! I’ll kill them!”
“General Pei, you’re injured. Please calm down!” Si Lan swiftly pressed on Pei Jia’s abdomen a few times to stop the bleeding.
Pei Jia couldn’t feel any pain at all. At this moment, his mind was consumed with the desire to kill those people, no, to kill everyone.
He suddenly burst into wild laughter, tears mixed with blood rolling down his face. His black jade crown fell off his head, and his jet-black hair turned completely white in an instant.
Pei Jia’s eyes also underwent a transformation, shrouded in black mist, with only a glimpse of blood-red irises visible. His face turned as white as paper, and his lips were as red as blood.
Seeing this, Si Lan furrowed his brow in alarm.
Something was wrong.
Pei Jia was being consumed by dark forces.
Unbeknownst to Pei Jia, tendrils of black mist began to appear around his body, sliding like eels and entering his body. As these currents of dark energy entered him, they instantly unraveled the seals placed on Pei Jia.
After regaining his freedom, Pei Jia immediately swung his sword towards the fake cultivators.
Si Lan quickly used his whip to coil around Pei Jia’s sword, and Pei Jia glared at him. His voice had changed, now sounding sinister, filled with exhaustion and a hint of hoarseness, as if it came from the depths of hell. “Doctor Si, if you try to stop me, don’t blame me for showing no mercy!”
With that, a surge of black mist transformed into a razor-sharp blade and attacked Si Lan’s neck. Haowei swiftly pulled Si Lan away, creating a protective barrier to ward off “Pei Jia’s” subsequent attacks.
“Pei Jia has fallen into darkness!”
Si Lan, realizing that Pei Jia couldn’t be reasoned with, decided to take action. He drew his whip and flew into the air, positioning himself in front of Pei Jia.
Song Cheng and Song Ye, upon seeing this, stood behind Si Lan, swords raised, confronting Pei Jia.
The tension between the two sides was palpable, and a battle seemed imminent when suddenly, in the distance, a melodious tune wafted through the air.
“In the vermilion gates and jade-carved door frames, Pei Lang leans against the wall, sipping from a flower-shaped wineglass. Please tell me, when it comes to love, who is to blame? Loving and hating, he’s a beloved husband…”
Hearing this song, the black mist gradually dissipated from Pei Jia, and his gaze cleared. He dismounted and rushed toward the source of the voice.
The trace of obsession left by Tao Yuan had taken on a phantom form. This nearly transparent illusion stood on a theatrical stage, softly chanting the song.
Pei Jia reached out to embrace Tao Yuan, but his arms went through empty air.
He couldn’t hold onto the phantom.
“Tao Yuan, is this your soul?” Pei Jia stared blankly at the translucent figure, feeling as though his heart had been sliced open multiple times, making it difficult to breathe.
Si Lan hadn’t expected that Pei Jia, who had already fallen into darkness, would regain his sanity upon hearing Tao Yuan’s voice. Only Tao Yuan’s matters could affect Pei Jia.
Si Lan asked Haowei, “Haowei, if we kill Pei Jia, will it break the curse of Da Yang?”
“No, Pei Jia and Da Yang are linked through a sacrificial bond. Even if we kill Pei Jia, it won’t break the curse of Da Yang.”
“In that case, can sealing Da Yang release the curse?”
Si Lan didn’t dare to ask directly if Da Yang could be killed, as even the previous Heavenly Emperor hadn’t killed Da Yang but had instead sealed him away.
Haowei furrowed his brows and shook his head. When he was young, he had seen his father’s work, “Sealing the Demon Incarnate,” in the library. It detailed the method to seal Da Yang but didn’t mention how to break the curse or suggest that sealing Da Yang would automatically dispel the curse.
However, the information on curse-breaking might be found in other books. It seemed like a trip to the library was in order.
While Si Lan could sense a strong presence of dark magic in the General’s residence, he couldn’t detect Da Yang’s aura. If this ancient demon truly lurked within the General’s residence, it would have been teeming with dark energy. So where exactly was Da Yang hiding?
Haowei seemed to guess what was on Si Lan’s mind and said, “The scattered pockets of dark energy in the mortal realm are, in fact, fragments of Da Yang’s body.”
Si Lan was taken aback. Any curse usually had time and space constraints. This Da Yang’s curse had seemingly enveloped the entire mortal realm, but it turned out that Da Yang had torn his own body into countless pieces, scattered throughout the world to complete the curse.
Si Lan was at a loss for words.
The only medium through which Da Yang could be communicated with was Pei Jia. However, Pei Jia’s thoughts were entirely consumed by Tao Yuan, and he was speaking to that invisible obsession.
To make Pei Jia change his mind, they needed to first dispel Tao Yuan’s obsession.
Si Lan approached Tao Yuan’s obsession. Immediately, Pei Jia drew his sword, blocking Si Lan’s way. “What are you trying to do?”
“General Pei, now that Lady Pei’s physical form has dissipated, this obsession won’t linger in the mortal realm for long. Do you want him to leave with regrets?”
Pei Jia maintained a defensive stance.
Si Lan recalled that Tao Yuan had a good relationship with the Twin Masters of Tuo Shan. He continued, “General Pei, when Lady Pei was alive, she once told us that the greatest fortune of her life was having your care during her childhood and her love for you when she was young.”
Pei Jia’s eyes flickered, as if something in those words had struck a chord. “Did she really say that?”
Pei Jia smiled bitterly. Clearly, his love for Tao Yuan was the greatest misfortune in Tao Yuan’s life. If he hadn’t met Pei Jia, Tao Yuan’s life might have been difficult, but he could have continued living.
He glanced at Tao Yuan’s phantom, which was growing increasingly faint, and the singing voice was fading as well. Would it disappear entirely?
“Tao Yuan, whatever it is that you want, or whoever it is, I’m willing to do it for you…” Pei Jia reached out to touch the phantom’s face, spoke with deep affection, then turned to ask Si Lan, “What should I do now?”
Si Lan extended his hand to touch the obsession, realizing that it was very fragile and couldn’t hold many memories.
He needed to perform the “Return Curse” and go back in time to see what Tao Yuan’s obsession was all about.
“General Pei, during the casting of the ‘Return Curse,’ I need an absolutely safe and quiet environment.”
Pei Jia didn’t ask too many questions. Perhaps he trusted Si Lan or maybe, in his current state, he had nothing left to lose.
He ordered his servants and soldiers to guard the General’s residence from all directions, forbidding anyone from disturbing them. He stood guard outside the room himself.
Inside the room, Si Lan felt uneasy. He considered having Haowei and the Song brothers maintain the protective formation.
The Song brothers readily agreed, but Haowei, with a grim expression, neither consented nor refused.
“Your Majesty, does casting the ‘Return Curse’ cause any harm?” Song Cheng inquired with a furrowed brow.
Si Lan chuckled, “No, I know my limits.”
In truth, he didn’t have a clear grasp of his limits. Casting the “Purification Curse” once had cost him three layers of his cultivation. The “Return Curse” was likely to be equally taxing.
The last time, Nine Infants’ aura dissipated after using the “Return Curse.”
Song Cheng was about to ask more questions when Song Ye interjected, “Big Brother, the way he’s fussing is just like His Majesty’s Lady. But alas, our Majesty is not someone to be tamed.”
“…,” Si Lan.
Song Cheng’s gaze turned sharp, shooting a look at Song Ye, who pursed his lips and turned away, crossing his arms and adopting a fearless expression.
“Your Majesty, he has always been outspoken. Please don’t take it to heart,” Song Cheng said.
Si Lan responded with a simple “Hmm,” and set up a protective barrier around the room.
He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and interlaced his ten fingers in front of his chest. He silently recited an incantation. In the next moment, he found himself standing between the gears of the Six Paths Reincarnation, with 333 gears spinning rapidly.
Then, a multitude of white light spilled from between the gears, obscuring his vision.
When he opened his eyes again, Si Lan found himself in an unfamiliar place. All around him was a vast desert, with billowing sandstorms obscuring the sky.
Behind him, a shadowy figure followed him.
Si Lan turned around in surprise to see that it was Haowei.
“Chong Wei, why are you here in this illusion?” Si Lan asked.
“I don’t know,” came the faint reply from within the hood.
Si Lan had a sense of déjà vu. Every time he entered an illusion, there was always a follower.
Before, it was a little follower, and now it was a big one.
“Listen, men,” a group of men’s voices in the distance played out, accompanied by the eerie sound of the wind and sand. It was like a devil’s incantation.
“The lead actor, this little performer, his mouth is small, but his cheeks are fairer than a woman’s.”
“I wonder if he’s as fair in the back?”
The men’s conversation grew increasingly lewd, intermingled with faint sobs and pleas for help.
Si Lan and Haowei immediately followed the sounds and saw a group of men in crude linen clothing, wearing gray head covers, huddled in a circle, laughing and teasing each other.
A slender and fair ankle poked out from among them.
“Tsk, tsk, truly a famous actor, such fair skin, truly to be pitied!”
“Do you know how men do it with other men?”
“I heard they use the rear!”
“Disgusting, isn’t that very dirty?”
“You don’t understand, a few rounds with that mouth and it’ll be clean…”
The conversation of those men grew increasingly shameless. Si Lan, hearing it, couldn’t help but blush, and he unconsciously looked at Haowei beside him.
With a hood covering his face, it was impossible to discern any reaction from Haowei.
“Enough, I can’t wait any longer. We don’t need the filthy details!”
“Hahaha…” The men laughed uproariously.
Si Lan clenched his fist, his body hovering in the air, and he gazed at the young performer surrounded by those ruffians. After getting a clear look at the person’s face, his expression slightly froze.
It was indeed Tao Yuan.
Tao Yuan’s clothes were torn, and he shielded a group of younger actors with his hand, even though his own face was red, he still extended his hand to protect those younger performers.
“Brother Yuan, should we…”
“Don’t be afraid; I’ll protect all of you.” Tao Yuan’s voice quivered with determination, as if he had made a decision in his heart. He pursed his lips and, after a moment, took off the tattered cloth hanging from his shoulder, addressing those rowdy bandits, “These young ones are probably too delicate to handle, gentlemen. It’s better to let me take care of you.”
Hearing this, the men’s throats moved, and they chuckled.
“Haha, since the little beauty is so eager, we won’t be polite…”
The leader of the men grabbed Tao Yuan’s clothing and pulled him into a tent, and a few other bold men followed suit, joking that they wanted to be the groom.
Si Lan clenched his fists and, floating in mid-air, he looked towards the group of black-armored soldiers who had ambushed the area.
If they delayed any longer, things might take a turn for the worse!
Si Lan was so anxious that he wished he could snatch a sword from the soldiers and slash the tent open to rescue Tao Yuan.
Fortunately, the soldiers didn’t waste any time either. They moved in for an attack on the bandits. Most of the bandits outside the tent couldn’t react in time and were killed instantly.
A small group of them attempted to resist, passing on the message to those inside the tent.
“Boss, run! There are soldiers…”
“Soldiers? What soldiers?”
One bandit lifted the tent flap and was about to speak, but his words were cut short by a sword.
The one who struck him down was Pei Jia.
Pei Jia’s face was splattered with the bandit’s blood, but he remained expressionless. He lifted the tent flap, entered the tent, and a moment later, the sound of a scuffle, followed by the bandit leader’s pleas for mercy, could be heard. Yet, the last sound was eventually drowned out by the snapping of bones.
Si Lan finally breathed a sigh of relief. He murmured, “Thank goodness we saved him.”
This was likely the first time Tao Yuan and Pei Jia had seen each other after many years apart. After all these years, would their feelings still be as pure as they once were?
Haowei glanced at Si Lan and remembered how Si Lan had wanted to draw his sword and kill the bandits earlier. He couldn’t help but remark, “You seem to invest quite a lot of genuine emotions.” They were just spectators, and no matter how urgent they felt, it wouldn’t change anything.
Si Lan chuckled and said, “I’m a person with strong empathy.”
Haowei remained noncommittal.
Within the illusion, Pei Jia removed his clothes and dr4p3d them over Tao Yuan. He held Tao Yuan and walked out of the tent.
Tao Yuan’s face was pale, but his eyes shone brightly, and he couldn’t take his eyes off Pei Jia’s side profile. The tenderness in his eyes seemed as if it could melt into tears.
Pei Jia patted Tao Yuan’s shoulder and said, “I’ll go take care of some business and be back later.”
Tao Yuan finally released him, but his gaze still followed Pei Jia as he walked away. Then, a faint smile appeared on his face.
Si Lan looked at the Tao Yuan in front of him, who had grown even more dazzling and alluring than eight years ago, with skin almost translucent. He gave off a fragile, delicate aura, making Si Lan want to protect him.
This lively Tao Yuan, compared to the one who had been bedridden and turned into a living corpse, was like two different people.
The thought of their inevitable ending filled Si Lan with mixed emotions.
His empathy resurfaced once again.
“It seems that at this point, Pei Jia doesn’t seem to like Tao Yuan very much, while Tao Yuan is the one who’s deeply entangled.”
Si Lan cleared his throat and said rather pensively, “I’ve read many love stories between generals and actors in books, and none of them have had a good ending.”
Haowei looked at him, unsure why he had brought this up all of a sudden.
“Do you think love with a significant class difference can have a good ending?” Si Lan asked this question, and as he did, he suddenly looked at Haowei.
Haowei fell silent, his life had never been troubled by such a question, and no one had ever bothered him with it.
“In the Demon Realm, despite being free-spirited, there are many unspoken rules that still shape people’s beliefs. For example, a chicken, cough, is not as good as a phoenix.”
So that’s what it all boiled down to.
Haowei spoke gently, “Comparing things in such a manner is a self-inflicted torture.”
Si Lan was at a loss for words, feeling that Haowei’s words didn’t strike him, and he didn’t know the pain. Over these thousand years, he had eaten so much hardship and suffered so much injustice in his quest to perform as a divine phoenix.
He had quietly promoted the idea of equality between demons and spirits in the Demon Realm, but it had little effect. The demons in the Demon Realm still only recognized birth and cultivation, and the elderly and frail demon beings were seen as food or trash.
“Do your sects adhere to these hierarchical rules? Do they have issues related to social standing?” Si Lan inquired of Haowei.
Haowei gazed intently and slowly replied, “Not mine.”
“Oh.” Si Lan’s lips curled slightly.
Inside the illusion, time had silently progressed into the deep night. After Pei Jia had finished his business, he thought of Tao Yuan and went to check on him. Tao Yuan had just fallen asleep, but when he heard the sound of the curtain being lifted, he woke up instantly, his eyes filled with fear as he looked outside.
Pei Jia felt that he had scared Tao Yuan, and he wanted to step forward to explain but also felt like leaving, caught in a dilemma.
When Tao Yuan recognized him, he immediately got out of bed without shoes and rushed into Pei Jia’s arms.
The joy of reuniting after such a long separation finally revealed itself at this moment.
The countless reunions in his dreams had finally come true. The missing piece in his heart had finally become whole.
Tao Yuan couldn’t help but choke up. So much had happened over these years, and there were so many things he wanted to tell Pei Jia, but he couldn’t find the words. So, he could only sob softly, like a child, his voice trembling with each sob.
Pei Jia’s hand hung in the air, and after a moment of hesitation, he gently placed it on Tao Yuan’s back, giving him soothing pats.
“Don’t be afraid; those bandits have been eradicated.”
Si Lan shook his head. He hadn’t expected Pei Jia, who had grown up, to be so unromantic. Tao Yuan wasn’t crying because of the bandits right now; it was because of him. At this moment, Pei Jia should have just embraced Tao Yuan and confessed his feelings, not stood there like a piece of wood.
It seemed that as he grew older, Pei Jia had forgotten how to be charming.
Perhaps these years in the military had changed Pei Jia’s character.
T/N: Hey there! There is plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned! And stay healthy! Straighten your posture, so some stretches and drink some water before continuing hehe~
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