Heavenly Soul Chapter 122: Their Own Struggles
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In the giant front hall of the Castle of Echoes, the battle raged on.
Qinghe methodically cut his way through the ghouls, aiming to meet the demonic deity Xie Xingye as he descended the staircase. And once he began engaging him in a fight, Wei Xiang would also target his companion, the black dragon, and keep it occupied.
While Qinghe was thus pushing forward, the others were busy fulfilling the tasks he'd given them, each facing their own struggles.
Quite a bit away from the staircase and somewhere near the center of the battlefield, Chen Xiande and Hei NingYu had finally decided on the most appropriate place for Hei NingYu to cast his Enchantment from.
Standing by the area they'd chosen, Chen Xiande finally summoned his spiritual artifact, and an unpolished wooden shield materialized in front of him. Its edges were sharp and gilded with gleaming bronze, more of the metal forming a layer of designs over the front of the raw wood, the details simple yet intricate. A large, uncut yellow-green stone was set into the middle of the shield, its shape round and the depths of the gem seeming to give off a faint yet steady radiance. On the whole, the shield exuded a primitive elegance, containing a careful balance of both refinement and an untamed wildness.
Using this spiritual artifact, Chen Xiande focused his power and made a large section of the scorched wooden floor in front of him break apart, its edges curling upward and throwing off the ghouls atop it to reveal the black earth beneath the castle. As someone who could wield the earth element, Chen Xiande could also control wood and metal to a small degree, but most of his expertise of course lay with the earth element itself.
Soon, Chen Xiande finished peeling away the wooden floor to uncover around a hundred meters of the dark earth underneath. Gathering his power, he then imbued his spiritual force into the large patch of exposed ground and forced the earth at the center to rise, then shaped and molded it according to his will. Once it had formed into what he wanted, Chen Xiande ceded his control over it and let out a breath.
Standing beside his lover and having been watching him all this time with interest, Hei NingYu asked with bemusement, "Little Sheep, is that a…chair?"
Indeed, what Chen Xiande had just now labored to create out of the earth was a comfortable and plush looking chair with a high back, wide seat, and curved armrests. And though it still looked hard due to being formed out of molded earth, its shape was clearly made to specifically conform to Hei NingYu's body, aiming to give him maximum comfort.
Chen Xiande seriously nodded and spoke, "Yes. I want you to sit as comfortably as possible when you're using your ability."
Hearing that it was out of consideration for him, Hei NingYu felt warm in his chest. Except for his little sheep, who else would show such care for his comfort in the middle of a raging battlefield?
Smiling as he thought this, Hei NingYu followed his lover as Chen Xiande promptly began heading towards the newly made earthen chair. After reaching it, he immediately made Hei NingYu sit on it.
Once his beloved was comfortably seated, Chen Xiande then used his shield to focus his power on the ground below once more.
Slowly, large petals of earth detached from the ground in an even circle around the couple, rising up from the tip inwards even as their base remained firmly attached to the ground. Each of the petals was taller than the length of five men on top of each other and shaped like that of a plump lotus's.
The earthen petals slowly rose and curled up to form a gigantic flower with the chair with Hei NingYu in the middle, then continued to close in further, furling around the patch of ground around the couple to form a tight bud enclosing them.
This large flower bud of earth would now act as a strong shield, protecting those inside from the ghouls and any stray or deflected attacks that may head their way.
Inside this bud, Hei NingYu looked at the dark and quiet confines of the shield and casually remarked, "It feels like we're inside a big egg. Hopefully it won't hatch too soon."
The corners of Chen Xiande's lips twitched up in an amused smile despite himself. "Don't worry, it won't break that easily."
Then taking out a campfire talisman, Chen Xiande fed it some spiritual energy. A ball of bright golden flame soon lit up the inside of the small space.
Sticking it to the inside of the flower bud's wall, Chen Xiande said, "At least it isn't completely dark now, and you also have a comfortable chair to sit on. So NingYu, you can rest assured and just stay here."
Saying so, Chen Xiande began striding towards the junction between two petals that had already begun to shift as if about to part to let him through.
He NingYu asked in a strangely quiet voice, "Xiande? Where are you going?"
Not noticing anything wrong, Chen Xiande simply answered, "I'll stay outside this shield and make sure that the ghouls don't damage it. Don't worry, it's just a precaution. They won't really be able to get in anyway, but I still don't want to take chances."
After Chen Xiande explained, he began walking towards the small gap that had just been created between the two petals.
Watching that straight back slowly striding away from him, Hei NingYu felt something inside him clench in dread.
As he kept walking forward, Chen Xiande suddenly fell something pulling on his robe. Looking back, he saw that Hei NingYu's arm was stretched out, his fingers holding on to the white fabric. Hei NingYu himself was looking down at his own extended hand with a blank expression as if it had reached out to clutch at his beloved without him knowing.
In a puzzled voice, Chen Xiande called, "NingYu? What's wrong?"
For a short moment, Hei NingYu's hand on the cloth clenched, then he casually let go of his lover's robe as he sat back on the chair and put on his usual playful smile. "It's nothing. I just wanted to ask if my little sheep wasn't going to give me a sweet goodbye kiss~"
However, Chen Xiande frowned, unconvinced. His instincts told him that something was definitely wrong with his beloved. And after puzzling it over for a few moments, something clicked in his mind as he finally realized―
Was Hei NingYu afraid to be left alone?
Chen Xiande's eyes widened in disbelief, but it wasn't that much of a leap in logic.
After all, Hei NingYu had been shut in alone with the darkness for a long time before because of his master. And even after that, from the time he had freed himself from his master to until recently, Hei NingYu had borne the entire weight of managing and suppressing the demonic faction on his own. Even if he'd had any companions or confidants he'd deemed trustworthy, they must have either died, abandoned him, or betrayed him, leaving him alone as he had been when Chen Xiande had found him.
According to Hei NingYu's own confessions once, Chen Xiande knew that until Hei NingYu met and fell in love with him, he had never depended on anyone's presence. But now, except for the rare occasions when Chen Xiande left for sect matters, he spent the rest of his time with Hei NingYu, be it while he was training or Hei NingYu was working. After getting used to his presence and understanding that he wouldn't leave him, Hei NingYu must have finally felt not so lonely anymore.
And then Chen Xiande was about to walk away, leaving him alone in this dark, cramped space that was so similar to that lightless room Hei NingYu's master had chained him in, leaving him to use his ability and lay vulnerable like an abandoned doll on that chair.
Seeing Chen Xiande striding away and leaving him behind, how must Hei NingYu have felt?
Thinking all this, Chen Xiande's heart hurt as if it was being squeezed by a vice.
Chen Xiande knew all too well what it felt like to live one's life isolated and cut off from human warmth, but Hei NingYu had lived in those circumstances for far longer than him. Compared to his beloved's hundreds of thousands of years, what was his own three hundred years of solitude?
Realizing all this, there was no way Chen Xiande could walk away anymore.
And so, closing the gap in the shield that he'd planned on exiting through, Chen Xiande strode back to a befuddled Hei NingYu and sat on his lap sideways, his feet hanging over the armrest while he hugged his lover's head to his bosom.
As he felt his lover's heartbeat through where his head was pressed against his beloved's chest, Hei NingYu only felt confused. Trying to keep up his cheerful teasing, he asked again, "Little Sheep, does this mean you're going to give me that goodbye kiss now?"
"There is no need for a goodbye kiss," Chen Xiande replied. The leaning down to press his lips to his beloved's temple, he explained softly, "I changed my mind. I don't want to leave you alone here after all. If something happens, I can just reinforce this earth shield while staying inside."
Though Hei NingYu didn't quite understand what had brought about this sudden change in his lover's plans, he still felt grateful.
Carefully hiding his relief, he smiled and happily hugged his beloved close. "Oh? Is my little Xiande so loath to part with me? Am I that irresistibly charming?"
Chen Xiande solemnly answered, "Yes, you're right. That's why I chose to stay behind."
Not knowing what to say for once, Hei NingYu wondered why he suddenly felt as if he was the one being teased.
Seeing his lover's speechless expression, Chen Xiande smiled amusedly. Then lifting a hand to cup his beloved's cheek, he said in a warm voice, "NingYu, when you use your ability this time, I hope you can be at ease. I'll be here and I'll protect you from everything. I won't let anyone hurt you, alright?"
Hei NingYu looked up at the sincere and determined expression on Chen Xiande's face with a deep gaze, a rare look of vulnerability in his eyes. But he hid it quickly as he looked away and nodded. Yes, with his little sheep by his side, he had nothing to fear or worry about. As long as he had his beloved by his side, his steady and caring presence keeping him company, what was there for him to hesitate about?
And so, clearing his mind, Hei NingYu finally settled in to begin casting his Enchantment, with Chen Xiande keeping him company on his lap.
Resting back on the chair and letting it support his full weight, Hei NingYu let his body go loose as he kindled his ability and opened his senses. A sea of minds immediately appeared before him, some bright and vivid, shifting with colors as thoughts and sensations circulated in their brains, while others were dull and grey, representing the dead minds of the ghouls.
His lips curving into a smile, Hei NingYu directed his ability towards them.
Outside, the battling cultivators suddenly witnessed a strange sight.
From that large flower bud of earth that had formed in the middle of the battlefield, pulses of energy languidly spread outwards, washing throughout the front hall of the castle in gentle, beguiling waves.
When hit by these waves, the ghouls paused whatever they were doing and stood still, lightly shuddering. Their eyes closed as they swayed in place, seemingly listening intently to something only they could hear.
On the staircase, Xie Xingye abruptly paused as a dull ache began throbbing in his head. He could feel his control over several thousands of his ghouls gradually yet steadily sliding away from his grasp.
Though Xie Xingye fought to hold on to the blank minds of those ghouls, the one he was struggling against seemed to have some sort of an ability specifically geared towards controlling minds. When compared to Xie Xingye's learnt technique, an inborn ability in this area would obviously be more powerful.
With a grimace, Xie Xingye finally chose to let go of those ghouls, since if he kept grappling with this other person who seemed to have an affinity for this, his own mind could incur damage. If this other person managed to forcefully wrench away his control over the ghouls, then Xie Xingye's mind might even suffer a severe and debilitating injury that could then be taken advantage of by his enemies.
And so, keeping all this in mind, Xie Xingye had no choice but to allow his control over these ghouls to be taken away by Hei NingYu.
As a result, the thousands of ghouls around the giant earthen bud immediately showed marked changes. The grey splotches gathered near the center of these ghouls' foreheads immediately darkened to a deep black, indicating that the control of the one they were now under was far deeper than the one before.
Once the minds of these ghouls were firmly in his grasp, Hei NingYu made them target and fight against the ghouls that were still under Xie Xingye's control, greatly lessening the burden of the fighting cultivators.
Meanwhile, the disciples of the various sects had combined forces. Once they gained some breathing space due to Hei NingYu's contribution, they quickly put up traps and formations to capture and annihilate the ghouls, just as they had done in the Battle Arena. But this time, their ideas had been adjusted and reinforced by Qinghe's strategies beforehand to be far more efficient than the last time. And due to prior practice, the disciples worked together seamlessly and with far more cohesion, minimizing their errors as they steadily began reducing the ghouls' numbers.
At the same time, outside the castle, Jing Shui was tirelessly holding up the huge Water Prison, with Wu Xiao and the Silver Moon Sect's disciples offering support.
Many ghouls had already exited the castle after getting agitated by the presence of the cultivators within. They were now crowded against the inside of the barrier, beating against its transparent walls as if trying to break it down and go outside.
Because of this, whenever the cultivators of the Drifting Clouds Sect wanted to bring out the wounded, they would first have to clear the ghouls in a particular section temporarily so that that part of the barrier could be opened without worry. But a few minutes after the cultivators deposited the wounded into the Lightning Sky Sect's care and returned, the ghouls would have already started swarming at the just-cleared patch of area once again.
Though the assault of the ghouls on the inside of the barrier would not threaten its stability by much, having to hold the dome of water up against this for prolonged periods of time naturally wore down on Jing Shui. And so, he had Wu Xiao feed him pills to keep up his spiritual strength so that he could keep sustaining the barrier.
Just as Wu Xiao fed his Ah-Shui another pill, he suddenly sensed a disturbance behind him.
Turning back, he saw that the cultivators of Lightning Sky Sect, who were treating the wounded outside the barrier, were looking with wariness and alarm at a group of dark-clothed people who seemed to have just exited the Forest of Echoes.
Wu Xiao narrowed his eyes. He could clearly perceive the demonic energy around this group, denoting that they were a part of the dark arts faction.
Why were they here?
With alertness, Wu Xiao carefully surveyed the new arrivals.
The demonic cultivators all wore dark clothing and held various types of weapons, ranging from the standard knives and swords to the not-so-standard farming scythes and wooden poles. As they stood there in front of the boundary of the Forest of Echoes, their postures were irreverent as a sly glint flashed in some of their eyes, while a few others had their lips quirked up in a crafty and smug smile.
At the lead of this crowd of mid-level demonic cultivators was a robust man carrying a broadsword, looking ready to slice in half anyone or anything standing in his way. He wore a plain and heavy black coat over his blue robes and had on worn leather shoes that were pointed at the tips. Long and polished bits of metal dangled from his ears and a necklace strung with jangling metal charms hung from his neck.
Looking around with a frown, he demanded, "Who's in charge of this place? Ask them to take down this barrier and allow us entry into that castle at once!"
Wu Xiao sighed, then slowly let go of his lover who had his entire effort concentrated solely on holding up the barrier, not noticing the disturbance due to his focused daze.
After asking a few nearby Lightning Sky Sect disciples to take over the job of feeding spiritual energy replenishing pills to his beloved, Wu Xiao leisurely walked towards the group of demonic cultivators who were making a ruckus.
Looking straight at the cultivator in the lead, Wu Xiao spoke crisply, "I am the one with the highest authority here, and I refuse to lower the barrier until I hear a proper reason. So quickly state your business if you have any."
The leader of the group looked faintly miffed at the irreverent way Wu Xiao spoke to him, but still replied, "We are here to assist our Sect Leader Hei. You might not know this, but using his ability leaves him vulnerable. We are only here to protect him when he's weak."
A few demonic cultivators nodded their heads behind him, looking as if they were earnestly here to help Hei NingYu.
Seeing this, Wu Xiao smiled, his eyes glittering with a cold light. "Oh, then how come you didn't arrive with your Sect Leader? And why did Sect Leader Hei never mention you or ask me in advance to allow a group of people such as yourselves to pass inside?"
The leader glared at Wu Xiao. His gaze then briefly flicked to the long stretch of silver hair on the head of the other man. Realizing his identity, the leader directly addressed him, "Sect Master Wu, I hope you are not trying to plot against our faction's Sect Leader by hindering us from giving him our aid."
Wu Xiao rolled his eyes. If he let these people in, he was afraid they would try to 'aid' their Sect Leader to death and then fight over his position. Did these people really think he was stupid enough to not realize this?
In an unnoticeably snarky tone, Wu Xiao enlightened him, "Well then, I have good news for you. Your Sect Leader Hei already has someone he trusts watching over him, so there is no need for you all to be here. You can go back now."
His implication was clear—the Sect Leader Hei they all claimed to be here to protect had specifically chosen not to trust them and had brought someone else with him instead.
Understanding this, the leader of the group scowled harshly, his gaze finally stripped of all trappings of civility as he dropped his pretense. "What if I say we won't go back? Will you send us back yourself then? Or what, do you have the backbone or the ability to go against all of us? Can you take us all on?"
"If that is what you wish for, then yes," Wu Xiao replied with an unconcerned smirk.
Baring his teeth in a snarl, the leader spat, "Then come and show me what you've got first!"
And so, as the other demonic cultivators simply watched as if looking forward to enjoying a show, their leader charged at Wu Xiao like a mad bull, swinging his sword and aiming for the kill.
A tranquil smile spread over Wu Xiao's face as his half-lidded eyes flashed an eerie silver.
Before the swing of the blade even reached him, Wu Xiao had already sidestepped it, his hands casually held behind his back and his smile unfading.
Growling at missing his opponent, the leader turned and continued to swing and slash, stab and slice at Wu Xiao again and again. But like the elusive mist, Wu Xiao always managed to slip away at the last moment. His feet stepped nimbly on the blackened ground as he led his opponent here and there, gradually circling around the group of demonic cultivators without making it obvious while the clueless leader chased after him, his broadsword wildly cutting at him as his expression grew twisted with increasing fury.
All the while, Wu Xiao's eyes remained a gleaming silver as he used his ability freely. He might only be able to see a few moments into the future, but that was more than enough for him to have his fun leading his opponent around like this.
Though Wu Xiao would like nothing more than to use his silvery threads of spiritual power to quickly craft a formation and take care of this group of demonic cultivators, all the threads he was able to muster were already busy supporting his Ah-Shui's Water Prison. And so, he could only use a more creative way to fight this time.
And his way of fighting was not merely to run around and evade his opponent like this.
Once he'd carefully led his opponent around on a merry dance around the group of demonic cultivators who were still spectating the fight without any intention to participate, Wu Xiao abruptly stopped and stepped a certain distance away.
"I guess that should do it," he murmured to himself in satisfaction.
Not knowing about whatever Wu Xiao was planning, the leader of the group charged towards him with gusto as he saw his opponent finally standing still for once.
But as the leader neared him, Wu Xiao extended a hand without any change in his expression and easily gripped the wrist that was holding the broadsword. With a simple twist, Wu Xiao broke his opponent's wrist, causing the other man to howl at the pain.
Before the leader could even think of retaliating, he felt a boot firmly land on his stomach and push him back with brutal force, causing him to fly up and crash right into the watching group of demonic cultivators who had already lost their smug smiles, realizing that this Sect Master Wu was not as easy to contend with as they'd thought.
However, before the demonic cultivators could react to this revelation, the ground around them suddenly lit up in a circle of silver lines and runes with the group in the middle. A heavy force of gravity suddenly weighed down on them, pulling every single demonic cultivator in the formation down to their hands and knees as they struggled to stay up.
Suddenly trapped like this, the demonic cultivators froze with confusion and fear. Just when had this Sect Master Wu had the chance to draw this complicated formation enclosing them?! How did he do this?!
But looking closely, they saw that the lines of the formation in actuality were formed entirely of…boot prints?
They could only look at it with befuddled speechlessness.
With a cheery expression and an airy tone, Wu Xiao decided to take pity on them and explained, "If you're curious to know how this formation came to be drawn, then let me tell you that your leader who was fighting with me very considerately helped me by drawing half of it himself."
As the others turned to him with questions in their gazes, the leader could only look at Wu Xiao with wide eyes, not understanding what he meant.
Wu Xiao continued in his light voice, "While we fought, I made sure that every step of our feet and every drag and scuff of our boots fell exactly in the right place. I used my precognition to understand how you'd react to my movements and kept evading in a way that I knew would make you step in the places I wanted you to. All this was so that, in the process of our battle, the sigils and characters necessary for this formation would end up being drawn on the ground around your group, just waiting for me to activate it and trap you all."
The demonic cultivators, and even the righteous cultivators from the Lightning Sky Sect at the side who were taking care of the wounded, along with those from the Drifting Clouds who were transporting the injured here, and the injured cultivators themselves from a variety of different sects, all looked at Wu Xiao with a strange mixture of disbelief and shock.
Seeing this, Wu Xiao smiled at them amicably. "Come now, there's no need to look so startled. As a sect master of one of the Five Great Sects, how could I not be able to take care of even a small group of mid-level demonic cultivators like this while holding up my beloved's Water Prison?"
The eyes staring at him only widened as they realized: Yes, he was even supporting Jing Shui's Water Prison on the side! That in itself should be draining a lot of his power, so where did he get the energy to cook up this sneaky strategy?!
However, the disciples of Silver Moon Sect only shook their heads. They, more than anyone, knew how sharp and resourceful their sect master was. It was only in front of his lover that he turned into a grinning fool.
Meanwhile, now that the group of demonic cultivators was inescapably trapped in the formation without a chance of getting out, Wu Xiao just left them there and happily sauntered back over to his beloved Ah-Shui and hugged him from behind once again, resuming his duty of feeding his lover his spirit replenishing pills as the trapped demonic cultivators watched on balefully.
If their sect leader found out that they'd come here to make trouble, the group of demonic cultivators were afraid that he'd show them some very special treatment in their faction's punishment room that they wouldn't be able to forget throughout their very long life. Damn, they really should have thought this through better!
In the meantime, inside the castle, Qinghe had already reached the base of the staircase and was waiting for a grim looking Xie Xingye to finish descending so that he could finally put his plan in motion.
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