Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Everyone in the party turned towards the direction of Shitu Ping’s surprised gaze, and indeed, about four to five meters away was a skeleton leaning against a jujube tree, its empty sockets looking towards the direction of the party. Everyone felt their hair stood, and they tightened the grip on their weapons.
By rights, Shitu Ping was a woman of the Jianghu, and has encountered her fair share of battles and bloodshed, and should have a wealth of experience of killing, so how could she been frightened off by a mere skeleton? However, given the reputation of the forest, as well as the dense mist which blocked off most vision, coupled with the cold weather made her lose her bearings and shrieked in surprise. Sir Yanming and the party stopped in their tracks, observed their surroundings again, and seeing no movement from the skeleton, they continued in their tracks. Shitu Ping felt embarrassed, but no one blamed her because they knew that it was easy to lose control of their emotions in such an uncertain environment, and thus could sympathize with her.
As they continued to walk in formation deeper into the forest, they gradually began to see more skeletons, some even obstructed their path, but everyone did not dare to circumvent from their path and instead chose to walk straight though. There were many human skeletons, but most of the remains belonged to different types of animals. There must have been many animals in the mountains which had accidentally ventured into this mysterious danger zone, lost their path and never came out. Thinking of these unfortunate beings, the expedition party was conscious of being more careful, and they have long dispelled any notions of adventuring by themselves. After all, these people were handpicked by the respective faction elders, and their hearts that are stronger than most. Thus would not risk their lives to fulfill their own curiosity.
The forest seemed never ending, and even after walking for half a day, there were still no changes to the scenery, and if not for the appearance of more skeletons, everyone would have thought that they have gotten lost. Fortunately, they have not met with any incidents on their path so far, so they have calmed their nerves, while wishing to head on faster and leave the forest earlier.
After walking for a long time with their guards up, Shitu Ping who was in the middle and had the luxury of being less alert started to wonder if the people around here were getting mentally tired. Fierce tiger sect had laid its foundations in Lu town, and five claw peak was within the boundaries of their influence. Even though they were fearful of this restricted area, now that she has experienced it personally, wouldn’t it be like their own personal backyard in the future? However, the four factions who were represented by the people around her were much more powerful, would they have any interests in this forest? What if she is abandoned after outliving her usefulness? Her life could even be forfeited then.
Just as Shitu Ping was running these thoughts through her head, her foot suddenly got caught on a tree root and she fell towards her right, and coincidentally at this moment, they were approaching the outer perimeter of two trees, Shitu Ping felt her body lost its balance and threw a kick into the air to keep her body upright, thus landing steadily back onto the ground. However, the area she landed on was already out of the perimeter of the two trees, and she jumped up a branch and stood beside its trunk, looking ahead. Seeing the sudden turn of the events, Sir Yanming, Ma Xiangyang and Wen Wenhai all turned their bodies towards Shitu Ping, and as Ma Xiangyang stared at the tree root on the ground, his eyes turned bitter. Everyone was waiting for Shitu Ping to get down from the tree, but then, something unexpected occurred. Shitu Ping turned three hundred and sixty degrees, and as her eyes glazed past the rest of the party, she ignored them as if they were not there. An expression of horror appeared on her face, as she looked around frantically, raising her feet yet unhesitant to move from her spot. Her mouth was opened as if she was shouting to get their attention, but none of the party could hear any sound. Observing the situation, Sir Yanming used the voice transmission technique on Shitu Ping, and asked “Can you hear me? Nod if you do.” At his moment, an expression of unbridled joy appeared on Shitu Ping’s face, and she nodded like a chick pecking furiously on a floor of grains. Sir Yanming continued to transmit “Turn left and stop until I tell you to.” Shitu Ping nodded again, and followed Sir Yanming’s directions which led her to walk towards the party. After four to five steps, at the spot where the two trees meet, Shitu Ping’s eyes brightened, because she finally found her way back to the party.
Sir Yanming did not inquire on the reason of her fall, but rather, he asked “What did you see earlier?” Shitu Ping answered with hesitation “When I stood up, I still saw a forest of jujube trees, but I lost sight of you, and there was no reply when I shouted. If you had not spoken to me, I would have walked around to look for everyone instead.
Sir Yanming wrinkled his brows in deep thought, while Ma Xiangyang smiled towards Shitu Ping “Assistant head Shitu should be careful when she walks in the future. One slip could lead to the loss of life, and the business in Lu town would have to be passed over to someone else. So please take care.” Situ Ping lowered her head and said “Gentleman Ma, I understand. I will be more careful from now on.”
For the remainder of the route, everyone kept their vigilance even higher, knowing that the forest was not as peaceful as it appears to be. With a moment of carelessness, one could land himself in a life-threatening situation, and lose their life at this very forest. Shitu Ping was unaware, but everyone else knew that shouting was ineffective, and only the voice transmission technique could be used to communicate, except that not anybody would be able to perform the technique, and rather than to rely on your comrades, it was better to be careful in the first place.
After walking for about four to five incense stick worth of time, the number of skeletons gradually decreased, and the mystical fog also thinned, as they approached the perimeter of the forest. Indeed, not long after, they could see sunlight, but Sir Yunming continued to lead the party towards the exit as instructed without lightening up his guard. There was no further accident, and the line of people finally crossed the last tree and walked out of the forest safely. What welcomed them was a sight that left them dazed.
In front of them was a field in the bloom of spring; the field was not large, but there was a lake in the middle, and white steam was surrounding the lake. There was also a house cut from stone by the lake, and the areas around the house were fields of vegetation, although they could not see the details from afar.
Under the leadership of Sir Yanming, they walked across this patch of land where no one has crossed in a few hundred years.
Sir Yanming then told everyone “According to the booklet, there is no more danger after we entered the secret area, so everyone can lower their guard. However, just to be safe, I propose that we stick together, so I would prefer if you all followed me.” After finishing his sentence, he led the way towards the lake.
When everyone reached the lakeside, a hot rush of air gushed over, and many bubbles were visible on the surface of the lake. Sir Yanming stooped down and took a piece of tree branch and let it into the lake. Seeing no reaction, and wondering how to test the temperature of the lake, he walked up and took out an egg from his breast, smiling “I like eating raw eggs, but there were some leftovers from yesterday. This would be suitable to test the temperature of the water.” Then, he took a piece of cloth and wrapped the egg in it, put it into the lake before taking it out soon after, and as expected, it was already fully cooked. Thus, everyone threw out the idea of exploring within the lake.
It seemed that the unusually warm weather here has something to do with this lake.
Everyone walked along the side of the lake towards the stone house, as they all thought that the precious treasures should be inside. After walking half of the lake’s circumference and not encountering any event or danger, everyone started to calm down as the booklet appeared to be accurate.
There were medicinal fields surrounding the stone house, most of the herbs were unrecognizable because none were specialized in medicine, but they could still pick up the more renowned type of herbs such as Tianqi, gingseng, Baimu, golden sunflower, etc….. Although these herbs are not uncommon in the outside world, the secret area has been left alone for at least three hundred years, so the value of the herbs must have risen with their age. Not to mention those nameless pills, they were probably consumed many years ago. Just based on the value of this medicinal field, it was already worth their effort to come.
Thus, everyone looked blankly at the precious herbs before them, as they thought of how they could bring them back with them. Sir Yanming wrinkled his brows and said to everyone “I did not expect there to be such valuable herbs here, this is truly out of my expectations. Since we are not sure on how to transport them out, let us head towards the stone house for now. After we are done, we can then think of an idea to overcome this obstacle. We do not have to be worried, since these herbs do not have legs or wings to escape.” Everyone chuckled as they followed Sir Yanming into the house.
The house was ordinary, and so simple in design that it did not have a front door. Sir Yanming walked to the entrance, not daring to enter despite the booklet writing that there was no longer any danger within this secret area. Pondering for a moment, he picked up a stone and threw it inside, strained his ears but he could only hear the plop sound of the stone landing on the floor. Only then did Sir Yanming enter, with his hands holding on to his dagger, while the rest followed him inside.
The stone house looked small from the outside, but when they entered, they realized that there was quite a lot of floorspace, similar to hall and not like a normal living quarter which they expected. The floor was not dusty from centuries of neglect; rather, it was clean because the wind could blow through the doorless entrance to sweep up the particles.
The hall was facing smooth blank wall, but it felt as though there should be something hanging on the wall or any other object. There was a square table and a shelf. On the shelf was an incense burner, and further from the burner were many small boxes, and on the table below the shelf were four rectangular silver boxes with antique designs. There were three tables on two sides of the table which were untidily placed, and there were even futons on each chair. There was nothing on the wall at the left but a hole, which should have served as a window, whereas there were three hangings on the right wall. The first picture was of a brocaded robed man holding a sword rushing forward; the second was of a scholar with a sword around his waist walking; and the last was a lady with white powder on her face, a whip in her hands as she stands on the side of a bridge.
The three pictures have faded with age, so their details could not really be mapped out, and there were no traces of words to explain the pictures, so no one could tell if either of the pictures were of the single armed swordsman.