Chapter 53 Courage—Part Three
The ‘islet’ moved quickly toward the shore.
The approach of the foreign beast brought upon them formless tension. Aside from a few—Lan WangJi, Jin ZiXuan, Jiang Cheng, and Wen ZhuLiu—everyone else kept on staggering backward. Just as everyone thought that the underwater creature would flip out any moment, it halted.
The dormant beast had been awakened because Wei WuXian jumped onto its back. Now, Wei WuXian didn’t dare move rashly. He remained where he was and waited.
Above the dark water that surrounded the ‘islet’ were a few maple leaves of an unusually bright shade of red, slowly floating by.
Below the leaves, within the depths of the pool, was something that looked like a pair of glowing bronze mirrors.
The bronze mirrors grew larger and larger, nearer and nearer. Wei WuXian exclaimed under his breath. Dragging Wen Chao, he stepped back just as the surface below his foot shook and suddenly began to rise. The ‘islet’ rose into the air. The large, coal-black head of a beast, atop it the couple of maple leaves, soared out of the water!
Under the screams varying in pitch, the beast slowly turned its head around, staring with its massive eyes the two humans on its back.
The round head of the beast appeared rather strange, similar to both a turtle’s and a snake’s. Simply looking at its head, it’d be more like a gigantic snake, but looking at its body, which had largely risen out of the water already, it seemed more like a…
Wei WuXian, “… What a large… tortoise…”
This wasn’t the average tortoise.
If the tortoise were to crash onto the Lotus Pier’s training ground, its shell alone could fill up the entire martial arts field. Even three burly men wouldn’t be able to put their arms around its dark crown. Much less, the average tortoise couldn’t extend out of its shell a snake’s long, winding head, within it a full mouth of yellow, criss-crossed fangs, let alone grow four sharp claws that seemed quite agile.
Wei WuXian met the pair of large, golden eyes. Its pupil was just a slit, its thickness shifting, as though its eyes were switching in and out of focus, not completely able to tell what exactly was on its back.
It seemed like that the beast had the eyesight of a snake as well—not too good. As long as they didn’t move, maybe it wouldn’t be able to notice.
Suddenly, two streams of water vapor shot out of its hole-like nostrils.
The maple leaves that had been floating in the water just happened to be near its nose. It spurted out the air likely because they were itching it. Wei WuXian was still motionless, standing as if he was a statue. However, the slight movement scared the life out of Wen Chao.
Wen Chao knew that the beast craved slaughter more than anything. Seeing that it suddenly shot vapor from its nose, he thought that it was about to go into a rage. Disregarding the sword by his neck, he screamed toward Wen ZhuLiu, who was at the shore, “Why aren’t you helping me yet?! Help me now! What are you waiting for?!”
Jiang Cheng cursed through clenched teeth, “That idiot!”
Among the two strange things before its eyes, one suddenly started twitching like a worm and let out ear-piercing sounds. The beast was provoked at once. Its snake-like head pulled back quickly before immediately springing up. Its yellow and black fangs parted wide as it lunged for its back!
Wei WuXian flicked his arm. Wen Chao’s sword flew with the speed of an arrow toward where the heart of the beast should be.
However, as it was covered in black scales, the head of the beast was as hard as armor. As though it had hit a piece of iron, the blade of the sword sent off a trail of sparks with a clang before it plummeted into the water. The beast seemed to hesitate. Its large eyeballs turned down to look at the slender object that glowed even when it was underwater. Grabbing the opportunity, Wei WuXian pushed down with his legs and lept into the air along with Wen Chao, onto one of the other islets, thinking to himself, Please don’t tell me that this one is a huge tortoise as well!
Suddenly, he heard Jiang Cheng call out, “Watch your back! The Core-melting Hand is coming!”
Wei WuXian spun around only to see a pair of large hands loom over him without a sound. Involuntarily, he struck out to fend against Wen ZhuLiu’s attack. He could feel a power come from Wen ZhuLiu, unusually forceful and dark, as though something was about to be sucked out of his arm. Wei WuXian instinctively took his hand back, while Wen ZhuLiu used the chance to snatch Wen Chao away, landing back on the shore. Wei WuXian cursed under his breath and followed them to the shore. All of the Wen Sect’s disciples took down the bows that had been on their backs and retreated as they aimed at the beast. Arrows shot through the air as though they were rain, clinking as they hit the beast’s scales and its shell. Sparks flew everywhere. Although the battle appeared to be quite intense, in reality, there was no use. Not a single arrow had proven a fatal hit. They did nothing more than scratch the beast’s itches. The large head waved left and right. The skin outside of its shells seemed to be black rocks, filled with lumps. Even if arrows hit, they couldn’t go any deeper.
Wei WuXian watched one of the Wen Sect’s disciples pant as he set an arrow onto his bow. Struggling to draw the bow, he just couldn’t pull it all the way back. Finally unable to tolerate it, Wei WuXian grabbed the bow and kicked the disciple to the side. Three arrows were left in the quiver. He set them onto the bow all at once, drew the string to the fullest, and aimed. The string of the bow squeaked by his ear. Just as he was about to let go, a cry suddenly came from behind him.
The cry was full of fear. Turning around, Wei WuXian saw Wang LingJiao give orders to three servants. Two of them brutishly held MianMian in place, clenching her face, while the other raised the branding iron in his hand and thrusted it toward her face!
The tip of the iron was so heated that it sizzled and shone with red light. Wei WuXian was some distance away from them. Seeing what was happening, he immediately shifted the direction of the arrows and let go of the string.
The three arrows shot out at once and hit each of the three people. Without making a noise, they fell backward onto the ground. Yet, before the bowstring even ceased to vibrate, Wang LingJiao suddenly grabbed the iron that had fallen as well. Gripping MianMian’s hair, she again shoved it toward her face!
Even though Wang LingJiao’s level of cultivation was extremely low, her move was both swift and cruel. If she really did it, even if MianMian could keep her eye, her face would be completely ruined. A woman like her, even under such dangerous circumstances where people were prepared to flee at a moment’s notice, still kept her persistent thoughts of harming others!
All of the other disciples were setting up their arrows, handling the beast with all of their attention. Nobody was near these two. There were no more arrows on Wei WuXian and there wasn’t enough time to grab someone else’s. Under the urgency of these circumstances, he rushed over, one hand striking away the arm that Wang LingJiao grabbed MianMian’s hair with and the other landing forcefully at her chest.
Having undertaken the strike, Wang LingJiao heaved up a mouthful of blood and flew backward.
However, the tip of the iron had already pressed onto Wei WuXian’s chest.
Wei WuXian caught the odor of clothing and skin being scorched, along with the horrifying scent of cooked meat. Below his collarbone, near his heart, came a pain that drowned out everything else.
He gritted his teeth, but still couldn’t hold back the aching roar, finally letting it out of his throat.
His strike wasn’t in the least soft. Wang LingJiao flew out, blood spurting everywhere, and wailed as soon as she hit the ground. Jiang Cheng’s palm went toward the crown of her head. Wen Chao screeched, “JiaoJiao! JiaoJiao! Quick, get JiaoJiao back here!”
Wen ZhuLiu frowned slightly. He didn’t say anything as he hurried over, fended off Jiang Cheng, and carried Wang LingJiao back, tossing her at Wen Chao’s feet. Wang LingJiao threw herself into his arms, still retching blood as she bawled her eyes out. Jiang Cheng chased over to fight Wen ZhuLiu. Wen Chao saw that his eyes were bloodshot and had on a terrifying expression. The rest of the disciples had also been excited, and there was still a gigantic beast inside the pool, the front-left claw of which had already stepped onto the shore. Wen Chao finally began to fear, “Retreat, retreat. Retreat right now!”
Those who served him had been holding it up with much effort, waiting for him to give orders of retreat since a long time ago. Hearing those words, they hopped onto their swords and flew away at once. Wen Chao’s sword was thrown by Wei WuXian into the water, so he grabbed someone else’s and leapt onto the sword with Wang LingJiao in his arms. With a whoosh, they disappeared within the blink of an eye. All of the disciples and servants followed closely behind him. Jin ZiXuan shouted, “Stop fighting! Let’s go!”
The disciples had never intended to continue the fight anyway, especially against the beast that was like a mountain of boulders. But, dashing along, as they arrived at where the hole was, they found the vine that they had used to climb down in a pile on the ground like a dead snake.
Jin ZiXuan fumed, “Those dog-thieves! They cut off the vine!”
Without the vine, they had now way of climbing up the steep dirt wall. The hole was a little more than thirty feet above their heads, its white light hurting the eye. Not long afterward, half of the light had withered, as though the tiangou had taken a bite out of the moon.
Somebody cried, “They’re blocking up the entrance!”
Just as he had finished speaking, the rest of the white light had been blocked up as well.
Deep underground, all that was left was a couple of burning torches, igniting the young, hesitant faces. Nobody could say anything.
A while later, Jin ZiXuan’s cursing broke the dead silence, “That hell of a couple can really do such things, can’t they?”
One of the boys murmured, “It’s alright even if we can’t get out… My father and mother will come find me. If they hear of this, they’ll definitely search for me here.”
A few of the people agreed. Immediately after, somebody replied in a quivering voice, “They must think that we’re still undergoing indoctrination at Qishan. How could they possibly search for us… Besides, after the Wen Sect’s people ran away, they definitely won’t tell the truth. They’ll definitely make up some excuse… And we can only stay down here…”
“We can only wait down here in the cave… without any food… along with a beast…”
As Jiang Cheng slowly walked over, propping Wei WuXian up, they happened to hear the ‘without any food’ part of the conversation. Wei WuXian, “Jiang Cheng, there’s a piece of cooked meat here. You want to eat it?”
Jiang Cheng, “Get lost! You really haven’t learned your lesson, have you? Just what situation do you think we’re in? You don’t know how much I want to sew your lips together.”
Lan WangJi’s light-colored eyes landed on them. Immediately after, they landed on MianMian, who followed behind them, at a loss as to what to do. Tears stained her face as she continued to sob, hands clenching her robe as she said ‘I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry’ over and over again. Wei WuXian plugged his ears, “Hey, stop crying, alright? I’m the one who was burned, not you. Don’t tell me that you want me to cheer you up? How about you cheer me up? Okay, enough, Jiang Cheng, stop carrying me. It’s not like my leg is broken.”
The girls circled around MianMian and began to sniffle together.
Lan WangJi’s gaze returned as he turned around to leave.
Jiang Cheng, “Young Master Lan, where are you going? The beast is still waiting in the pool.”
Lan WangJi, “Return to the pool. There is a way to leave.”
After the boys had heard that there was a way to leave, even the crying stopped. Wei WuXian, “What is it?”
Lan WangJi, “There are leaves within the pool.”
Although the sentence sounded rather strange, Wei WuXian understood at once.
Atop the dark pool that the beast dwelled in, there were indeed a few leaves. But, inside of the cave, there were neither maple trees nor the trace of any human activity and, near the entrance, there was only a banyan tree. The maple leaves, however, were as red as fire, flaunting how fresh they were. When they came up the mountain, they had also seen the sight of leaves drifting along water in a creek.
Jiang Cheng had realized as well, “At the bottom of the pool, it’s likely that there’s a hole connected with water from the outside. That would’ve brought in the maple leaves in the forest creek.”
Someone spoke in a timid voice, “But… How do we know if the hole is large enough to let people through? What if it’s really small and it’s only a slit?”
Jin ZiXuan frowned, “And the beast is still watching stubbornly over the pool.”
Wei WuXian lifted the lapel of his robe, one of his hands fanning at the wound under his clothes, “If there’s hope, then let’s move. No matter what, it’s better than waiting for our parents here and doing nothing. So what if it’s watching over the pool? We can just lure it out.”
After some negotiation, a while later, the group of boys again went off the same way they had come.
Hiding in a hole within the cave, they quietly peeped at the beast.
Most of its body was still soaked in the pool. The long body of a snake extended from its turtle shell. It approached the shore, opened its jaw, and softly clenched the corpse between its teeth before it shrunk back, dragging the corpse back into its dark, castle-like shell. It was as though it wanted to savor it in there.
Wei WuXian tossed out a torch. It crashed into one corner of the cave.
The sound was especially exaggerated within the dead silence of the underground. The head of the beast slid out of its shell at once. Its thin pupils reflected the eagerly burning torch. Instinctively attracted to things that gave light and heat, it slowly extended its neck out.
Behind it, Jiang Cheng noiselessly dove into the water.
The YunmengJiang Sect settled near water. The swimming abilities of its disciples were all exceptional. The moment that Jiang Cheng had dived, the ripples disappeared immediately. The surface of the water didn’t even do so much as to crease. Everyone stared at the water, glancing at the beast at times. Seeing that the large, black head had always been hesitantly circling around the torch, debating between approaching or not, everyone’s hearts tightened.
Suddenly, as though having finally decided to get a taste of what this really was, it moved its nose close. Yet, it was slightly scorched by the searing flames.
The neck of the beast shrunk away at once. Two streams of water vapour shot out with rage from its nostrils, putting the torch out.
At this point in time, Jiang Cheng just happened to have swum out of the water and took in a deep breath. Sensing that its territory had been intruded, it shook its head and plunged toward Jiang Cheng.
Noticing the situation at hand, Wei WuXian bit his finger and drew something illegible on his palm. Rushing out of the hole they hid in, he slapped his palm onto the ground. As his he removed his hand, a fire as tall a person sprouted from the ground!
Surprised, the beast turned around and looked over. Jiang Cheng used the opportunity to climb ashore, shouting, “There’s a hole at the bottom, not too small!”
Wei WuXian, “How small is not too small?”
Jiang Cheng, “About half a dozen can pass at a time!”
Wei WuXian shouted, “Everyone, listen up. Follow Jiang Cheng and swim into the underwater hole. Those who aren’t injured watch out for those who are, those who can swim watch out for those who can’t. Half a dozen can pass at a time, so nobody rush. Now, go!”
As soon as he finished speaking, the flame that had sprouted slowly died down. He backed off ten-or-so steps into another direction, then hit the ground with his palm again, letting out another bout of fire. The beast’s golden eyes appeared reddish through the light of the flames. Burning mad, it waved its limbs and climbed toward the fire, dragging above it its mountain of a body.
Jiang Cheng raged, “What are you doing?!”
Wei WuXian, “What are you doing?! Get them down there!”
He had already successfully lured the beast out of the water and onto the shore. If they didn’t leave now, what were they waiting for? Jiang Cheng clenched his teeth, “Everyone, come here. Those who can swim alone, stand on the left; those who can’t, stand on the right!”
Wei WuXian was inspecting the area of the cave as he backed away with the fires. Suddenly, pain burst through his arm. Looking down, he saw that he had been shot by an arrow. It turned out that the Lan Sect disciple that Lan WangJi had glared at picked up one of the bows the Wen Sect had left and shot at the beast. However, perhaps realizing how fearsomely agile it was, his hand had slipped and the arrow had lost its aim, landing on Wei WuXian instead. Wei WuXian had no time to pull it out, hitting the ground with his palm again. He only cursed after the flame had appeared, “Back off!! Don’t cause me any trouble!”
The disciple had originally wanted to hit the beast’s vital spot with just one shot, so that he could save some of the face that he had lost. However, he never expected it to turn out like this. Face paler than ever, he threw himself into the water and fled as fast as he could. Jiang Cheng hurried Wei WuXian, “Get over here!”
Wei WuXian, “I will!”
Jiang Cheng still had three disciples who couldn’t swim beside him. This could be considered the last batch. He knew that they weren’t able to wait and had to dive into the water without Wei WuXian. Wei WuXian only realized after he had pulled the arrow out of his arm, Oh no!
The scent of blood had provoked the beast. Its neck suddenly grew in length faster than ever and its fangs had opened wide!
Before Wei WuXian could think of what to do next, his body tilted as somebody shoved him to the side.
Lan WangJi had pushed him out of the way.
With this opportunity, the jaws of the beast had closed, biting down on his leg.
Wei WuXian’s right leg hurt from simply watching the scene. Lan WangJi’s face was still expressionless. He had only frowned slightly. Afterward, he was immediately dragged away!
Judging from the size and the bite strength of the beast, it could easily be able to sever a person from the waist into two pieces. Fortunately, it seemed that it didn’t like to eat broken ones. After it had bitten someone, it would shrink into its shell, no matter if the person was dead or alive, so that it could savor it slowly. Or else, if its jaw had just used some strength, Lan WangJi’s leg would’ve been broken already. Its shell was extremely hard, impenetrable by any blade. If it dragged Lan WangJi inside, then he’d most likely never come out again!
Wei WuXian broke into a sprint. Just as the head was about to shrink inside, he threw himself over, clinging to one of the teeth on its upper jaw.
His strength could never have been able to compete with such a monster’s. Yet, under the life-or-death situation, superhuman strength had exploded within him. His feet were propped up against the shell of the beast while his hands clung onto the fang no matter what. Like a prick of some kind, he used his body to block its path, preventing it from shrinking inside, from getting the chance to enjoy the delicacy.
Lan WangJi didn’t expect that he could catch up even under such circumstances. He was utterly shocked.
Wei WuXian was afraid that the beast might break out, either eating them alive or biting off Lan WangJi’s leg. His right hand continued to grab onto the upper fang while his left hand clenched onto a lower fang. His hands pushing in opposite directions at the same time, he forced strength into his arms as though his life depended on it, the vein at his forehead protruding so much that it seemed to be on the verge of bursting. His face was blood-red.
The two rows of fangs were already deep into Lan WangJi’s blood and bones. Yet, its jaws really were being slowly forced open!
Its jaws ceased to be able to clench its prey. Lan WangJi fell into the pool. Seeing that he was safe now, the almost deity-like strength of Wei WuXian disappeared at once. Unable to hold the beast’s jaws in place any longer, he suddenly let go. The jutting fangs from both rows bit down on each other, creating an echo as loud as the fissure of a boulder!
Wei WuXian had fallen into the water as well, landing beside Lan WangJi. With just a flip, he had positioned himself and, holding Lan WangJi in one hand, he swam with the other. In an instance, he had travelled a few feet forward, creating a long, sweeping wave within the pool. Rolling onto the shore, he threw Lan WangJi onto his back and began to run at once.
Lan WangJi blurted out, “You?”
Wei WuXian, “It’s me! You’re pleasantly surprised?”
Hovering on his back, Lan WangJi’s voice possessed the rare emotional fluctuation, “How could this be pleasant?! Let me down!”
Wei WuXian’s mouth refused to rest even as he was running for his life, “If I let you down just because you say so, doesn’t that really make me lose face?”
The roar of the beast that had come from behind them vibrated within their ears and their chests. Both felt blood rush up their throats. Wei WuXian hurried to shut his mouth so that he could focus on running away. In prevention of the beast catching up with fury, he purposely chose to duck into thin holes that the turtle shell couldn’t pass through. Without having any rest, he didn’t even know how long he had run. He had finally slowed, after unable to hear anymore sounds.
His guard lowering, as soon as his speed decreased, Wei WuXian could smell the scent of blood. Feeling behind him backhandedly, his right hand was covered in a wet crimson.
Wei WuXian, Oh no, Lan Zhan’s injury will worsen again.
Heart: In China, it is often assumed that the heart is seven inches down a snake’s neck. Here, the Chinese noun “seven inches” is used to refer to the heart of the beast.
Tiangou: The tiangou is a hound that is passed down through Chinese folklore, supposedly causing the moon to wax and wane by eating it and then throwing it up.