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    Chapter 66: My First Encounter with the Heaven's Rift

    The next day was uneventful.

    Chu Xun had already dispatched people to count the straw dummies in the city to ensure their adequacy. Households began packing meager belongings, preparing to evacuate under Chu Xun's arrangements for refuge on Mount Putuo after nightfall.

    Mo Ran sat at the entrance of the government office, observing the passing crowd. He sighed and said, "Chu Xun has planned meticulously. Without any betrayal, ordinary ghosts and monsters wouldn't be able to quickly distinguish the puppets from real people within the city. It seems there indeed is a traitor. What do you think, Junior Brother?"

    No one responded.

    "Oh? Junior Brother?"

    Mo Ran turned his head. His little junior brother had disappeared without him noticing and was now watching a row of cavalry getting ready. Instead, Young Master Chu's son had quietly come to sit beside him, resting his chin on his hands.

    "Big Brother..."

    Startled by the sudden appearance, Mo Ran asked, "What's up?"

    The child pointed to an old paulownia tree nearby where a kite was swaying. With a slight lisp, he said, "Mama left it to me. It flew up, and I can't get it down. Big Brother, can you help?"

    "Of course, of course." Mo Ran gracefully leaped onto a tree branch, plucked the colorful butterfly kite down, and landed steadily back on the ground. He handed the kite to the child with a smile. "Hold on tight this time, don't lose it again."

    The little one nodded, still a bit dazed.

    Seeing the boy wandering around alone, Mo Ran assumed Chu Xun was too busy to tend to his son. He asked, "Where's your mother? There are so many people here; I'll take you to her."

    "Mama? Mama's in the back mountain."

    Mo Ran was surprised. "What's she doing there?"

    "Sleeping, of course," the little one replied with his round eyes wide open, his voice soft and gentle. "Mama has always been sleeping there. In spring, flowers bloom around her, and Papa often takes me to see her."

    Mo Ran softly exclaimed, "Ah," finding himself momentarily at a loss for words.

    The child, however, seemed unconcerned, perhaps too young to understand the concept of life and death. He happily played with the kite in his hands, then looked up at Mo Ran. Suddenly, he scooted over and said brightly, "Big Brother, thank you. I want to give you... I have something for you."

    As he spoke, he started rummaging through his clothing pockets. After a while, he pulled out half a cake wrapped in reed leaves.

    In recent days, everyone in Lin'an City had been hungry, unable to get enough food. It was a wonder how the child had managed to save such a treat. He broke the cake into two halves, keeping the larger piece for himself and offering the smaller one to Mo Ran.

    "Big brother, you eat... Shh, don't tell anyone, I don't have any more," the little one said, but before Mo Ran could take it, the child changed his mind. He reconsidered and kept the smaller piece, instead offering the larger one to him.

    "It's delicious, with red bean paste."

    This small act of kindness stirred a sudden wave of warmth and sorrow in Mo Ran's heart. He was so accustomed to being treated poorly that he didn't know how to react to unexpected kindness. He reached out to accept the pastry, stammering his thanks. The child beamed with joy, his dark eyelashes curled up in a gentle manner.

    Mo Ran tucked away the pastry, reluctant to eat it, and plucked a camphor leaf from a nearby tree to wrap it up, storing it in his robe. He wanted to say more to the child, but children have short attention spans, and the youngster had already turned around, bouncing away happily.

    At that moment, Chu Wanning approached and saw Mo Ran standing there lost in thought. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "What's on your mind?"

    Mo Ran gazed at the disappearing figure of the child and sighed. "I'm wondering how so many people could just... die like that."

    That night, the sky was shrouded in dark clouds, and blue-purple lightning periodically ripped through the heavens. As the hours passed, a fierce wind began to howl, followed by a mournful downpour.

    Rainwater is Yin, which would strengthen the power of ghosts and spirits. Thus, Chu Xun ordered all survivors in Linan to gather near the governor's residence and not step beyond the Upper Clear Boundary for their safety.

    Due to the heavy rain, many makeshift sleeping areas were now unusable.

    At first, Mo Ran could still keep track of Xiaoman's movements, but as more and more people squeezed in to seek shelter from the rain, he lost sight of the boy when he slunk away low to the ground.

    Mo Ran whispered, "This isn't good."

    Chu Wanning was petite and agile. He immediately responded, "I'll go after him."

    With that, he disappeared into the crowd, instantly swallowed by the dense throng of people jostling against one another.

    After a while, Chu Wanning returned, his eyes dark and menacing. He said in a chilling tone, "He got away."

    "Out of the barrier?"


    Mo Ran fell silent, gazing at the torrential downpour outside and the busy servants of the Tai Shou Mansion.

    All this was merely an illusion from two hundred years ago – everything had already transpired.

    Yet, suddenly, he felt a pang of desolation. The women and children around him wore hopeful expressions, believing that once dawn broke, Chu Xun would lead them out of this haunted land and to Putuo for refuge. Amidst the downpour, the guards in their white robes and red helmets were fully focused on their last line of defense, preparing for the migration at daybreak.

    They were both unaware that their time was running out.

    As the night deepened, those who had been boisterous earlier were now sound asleep, leaning against one another.

    Yet Chu Wanning and Mo Ran remained wide awake. Their task was to slay the Ghost King once it appeared. Since Xiaoman had already escaped the barrier, the transformation was likely to happen tonight.

    Mo Ran turned his head to glance at Chu Wanning and said, "Go ahead and sleep. I'll wake you if anything comes up."

    Chu Wanning replied, "I'm not tired."

    Mo Ran stroked his hair. "Then would you like something to eat? You haven't had anything since we arrived here."

    "I... " The words "I'm not hungry" were replaced by a silent swallow as he saw the flower cake that Mo Ran took out.

    Mo Ran handed him the cake. "Go ahead and have it."

    Chu Wanning took the pastry, broke it in half, and gave the larger piece to Mo Ran, keeping the smaller one for himself. Mo Ran stared blankly at his actions, lost in thought.

    Taking a bite of the cake, Chu Wanning suddenly let out a low hum. Then he asked, "Did you buy this in Peach Blossom Land? It tastes different from the one we had before, doesn't it?"

    "What's the matter?"

    "The scent of osmanthus is so strong."

    Mo Ran forced a smile. "Is that so? It's a gift from Chu Xun's son, probably with a Ling'an flavor."

    "It does have a Ling'an taste," Chu Wanning muttered, taking another bite. But as his lips barely parted, he suddenly froze, as if he had just realized something. All the color drained from his face.

    "That's not right!"

    Chu Wanning abruptly stood up, his eyes wide and his expression terrible.

    Mo Ran was unsure what had gone wrong. "What's not right?"

    Without answering, Chu Wanning went out into the yard, braving the heavy rain as he looked around. He picked up a sharp, angular stone and slashed his arm deeply, blood spurting out immediately.

    Mo Ran hurried to grab him. "Are you insane?"

    Chu Wanning stared at the crisscrossing bloodstains on his arm for a moment, then suddenly lifted his head, his eyes flashing with intense determination. "Don't you know what's happening?" he shouted. "Someone is trying to harm us!"

    Blood trickled down his arm, mixing with the rain into a pale pink hue.

    Amidst the torrential downpour, Chu Wanning's face was deathly pale, his dark brows knitted deeply. Raindrops clung tightly to him, saturating his entire being.

    With a thunderous boom, a bolt of lightning illuminated the dark night as if it were daylight.

    In that startling clap of thunder, Mo Ran abruptly snapped back to reality, involuntarily taking a step backward.

    He now knew what was off.

    In a so-called Illusory Realm, no matter how realistic its contents, they were all fake.

    Pastries couldn't have genuine taste, and sharp weapons couldn't truly harm anyone. In short, nothing within an Illusory Realm could have any effect on them.

    "Someone has made the Illusory Realm tangible," Chu Wanning whispered.

    Manifesting an Illusory Realm was an immensely difficult spell, also known as the "Path of Reality and Illusion." The most proficient in this magic were the Ten Great Sects' "Solitary Moon Night," whose doctrine was "to heal the world and mend broken hearts." The latter half of their motto referred to some of their members specializing in the Path of Reality and Illusion, crafting tangible Illusory Realms. Many people found it hard to accept the loss of loved ones, and through the "Path of Reality and Illusion," these deceased could be recreated in an Illusory Realm to accompany the living.

    However, due to the immense difficulty in creating such realistic realms, they usually only encompassed brief scenes. Like sharing a drink with a departed friend or sleeping beside them, limited to a single event at most.

    But the illusory realm created by the Feathered was vast, enduring, and involved so many elements that it might not even be possible for Solitary Moon Night's sect leader to materialize all of it.

    Mo Ran immediately thought of someone and wondered—could it have been that fake Chong Chen they encountered at Golden Achievement Lake?

    Before he could ponder further, an unusual noise erupted in the sky.

    The sleeping people startled awake like frightened birds, their exhausted eyes darting around in fear. Then, they looked up at the heavens.

    A moment of eerie silence passed before screams burst out like boiling oil splashing into water.

    Everyone scattered, only to find themselves trapped with nowhere to go. Screams echoed everywhere. A crack opened in the sky, and a gigantic blood-red ghostly eye loomed ominously above the barrier.

    The eye was so close, it seemed to be pressing against the edge of the barrier.

    A muddled, cold voice boomed, "Chu Xun, how dare you! A mere mortal dares to deceive Your Highness."

    Mo Ran murmured, "It's the Ghost King..."

    There were nine Ghost Kings, each with vastly different powers. Since this one had yet to reveal himself, it was unclear which king it was. In the sky, the bloody eyeball stared relentlessly down at the mansion below, "You are overestimating yourself, utterly absurd! Foolish mortal—do you wish to save them? I might not have slaughtered everyone in the city, but since you insist on defying me—I will kill every last one of them! Not a single life will be spared!"

    With a screech, a blinding red glow erupted from the center of the Ghost Eye, slashing directly towards the Upper Clearness Boundary!

    In an instant, the heavens and earth transformed, blending golden hues with crimson! Amidst howling winds and torrential rain, sand and stones flew about, while the trees in the courtyard cracked and broke. Under the protective barrier, people were in chaos, hugging each other and weeping bitterly, their wails filling the air.

    The Upper Clear Boundary Barrier withstood the initial assault, but then another bolt of crimson light struck the same spot, putting immense pressure on the barrier once more. This time, it held firm but visible cracks began to form.

    "Overestimating one's own abilities - truly infuriating!!!"

    Burst after burst of crimson light thundered down, igniting clusters of fireworks. As the barrier showed signs of fracturing, Chu Wanning knew they were in peril. Since this illusory realm had become tangible, their opponent's attacks would be no different from those in the real world. If the moves struck home, both he and Mo Ran might very well perish within the illusion!

    Chu Wanning pondered, his fingers already glowing with a radiant golden light.

    If he were to unleash his ultimate move now, his identity would inevitably be exposed to Mo Ran. But with the situation at hand, there was no other choice. He was about to summon his Heavenly Inquiry for a swift resolution when suddenly, a burst of brilliant, fantastical light pierced through the air like a sharp feathered arrow, aiming straight for the breach in the barrier!

    The crowd turned around to see Chu Xun descending from the eaves of the Wameng house, stepping through the rain.

    In his arm, he carried a phoenix-headed konghou, strumming its strings with his fingers. The sharp sound of the zither echoed, akin to the shattering of metal and stone, as streams of light were drawn out, converging upon the sky. In an instant, the fragile Upper Clear Barrier was fortified once more.

    "It's Young Master!"


    The crowd below cried out, some even weeping with joy. Chu Xun held his own against the Ghost King's eye technique, trading blows for over a hundred moves. The Ghost King couldn't even come within an inch of the barrier.

    The cold voice in the air grew increasingly grim.

    "Chu Xun, with your abilities, you could easily save yourself without anyone harming you. Why do you meddle in other people's affairs and make an enemy of my Ghost Realm?"

    "How can it be considered meddling when you intend to harm the citizens of Linan City?"

    "Foolish! Ghosts have always fed on human souls and spirits. Our devouring of souls is no different from your consumption of meat and vegetables. You will understand when you're dead!"

    Unfazed, Chu Xun continued playing his zither without pause. "Then let us see if you have the skill to take my head."

    As he spoke, the strings under his fingers grew more frenzied, reaching a crescendo. Suddenly, a dragon's light illuminated the sky, piercing through the dark rainy night and shining directly into that bloodshot, monstrous eye!


    A blood-curdling howl shook the heavens and earth.

    The eye was seared by Chu Xun's spell, and bloody, stench-filled droplets splattered everywhere, turning the sky into a rain of blood and causing ghosts to wail in the night. Enraged, the other party unleashed a beam of light several times more powerful than before, slashing down amidst the bloody storm. Chu Xun raised his sleeves to block, but this was a fierce slash from the Ghost King. The collision sent him reeling backward under the pressure of the energy wave, his bowstring momentarily frozen.

    "Sir! —"

    "There's a crack! There's a crack in the barrier! It's going to break!"


    Amidst the chaos, the crowd wailed in panic. Family members clung together, weeping, while those without anyone to rely on huddled in corners, trembling with fear.

    Chu Xun gritted his teeth, his gaze fierce, unwilling to give up easily. In the midst of the struggle, two beams of light suddenly illuminated his sides. He glanced over to see Mo Ran and Chu Wanning stepping forward, golden light and red light surging towards him to merge and reinforce the barrier once more.

    A ferocious roar echoed through the heavens.

    The ghostly eye vanished.

    The three of them landed on the ground, and the bloody rain continued to fall from the sky for a while longer before slowly turning back into clear raindrops.

    Chu Xun's face was pale as he bowed to Mo Ran and Chu Wanning. "Thank you both for your assistance."

    "Your politeness is unnecessary," Mo Ran waved dismissively. "Rest for a while; you look quite pale."

    Chu Xun nodded, acknowledging that he had indeed expended a great deal of his magical power. Thus, Mo Ran supported him to rest by the veranda. The previously panicked people, witnessing Young Master Chu filling the gap and saving them from peril, were immensely grateful. They gathered around, some offering water and others clothing.

    One person suggested, "Young Master Chu, your clothes are drenched. Why not warm yourself by the fire?"

    Chu Xun thanked each one of them but, due to his exhaustion, declined their invitation, not wanting to move any further. Undeterred, those people fetched more pine branches and built a bonfire next to Chu Xun.

    The surroundings gradually fell silent, leaving only the crackling of the flames. Suddenly, a city dweller asked, "Young Master, we were so meticulous in our preparations. How did the Ghost King still see through our plan? Oh, what are we to do now?"

    "Yes, yes."

    "How could it know we were planning to move? Young Master clearly stated that this ghost can't differentiate between puppets and living beings. What's going on... Could it be..." The speaker's voice faded as they glanced surreptitiously at Chu Xun, implying that perhaps Chu Xun had made a mistake or misunderstood something.

    The white-robed guards from the Governor's residence noticed this look, and one of them frowned, angrily retorting, "What are you thinking? It must be someone who carelessly leaked information, alerting the Ghost King!"

    The person grumbled, "Who would tell a ghost our plans? There'd be no benefit in doing so..." Seeing everyone glare at him, he sheepishly refrained from further comment.

    After a brief silence, another voice inquired,

    "Milord, that wicked old ghost won't let us off easily. What should we do next?"

    Despite his exhaustion, Chu Xun didn't open his eyes but replied softly, "Just hold on until dawn. After sunrise, we'll leave the city and travel during the day when they can't harm us."

    "But there are so many of us, young and old, some injured. Will we be able to reach Putuo Mountain in one day?"

    Chu Xun spoke gently, "Don't worry, everyone. Rest for now. Focus on traveling tomorrow, I'll think of a solution."

    Their lord had always protected them, and with his assurance, they all nodded obediently. A child approached, holding a small piece of sesame candy to offer Chu Xun. With half-open eyes, Chu Xun smiled, gently stroking the child's hair, about to speak when suddenly, a guard rushed over, panicked, shouting, "Milord! Something's wrong with Milord!"

    "What is it?"

    "The young lord, the young lord—Xiaoman—he's outside the City God Temple—" The man was clearly deeply distressed and unable to form coherent sentences. Stuttering, he fell to his knees and burst into tears.

    Chu Xun abruptly stood up, the last trace of color draining from his face as he dashed into the pouring rain.


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