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    Chapter 54: Dong Niang - Part 1

    Has the task been accomplished?

    An Zhi was also uncertain.

    Currently, there was nothing amiss in the Two Flowers Temple; only the Peach Blossom Killing was speaking: "Hey, tell me, why do you resemble the goddess in the mural so much?"

    An Zhi ignored them and turned to Chi Zi'e, asking, "The Divine Cave... is it gone?"

    Child of Misfortune was also uncertain. "Let's observe Jian Jiaojiao first. If she's unharmed, then that Divine Cave... is likely gone."

    As he spoke, he lifted his foot to leave the Double Flower Temple. Then he suddenly remembered Xuan Zhu still lying unconscious and turned back to An Zhi. "Xuan Zhu came. She came to stop Xia Huan from doing something foolish."

    Speaking of Xuan Zhu, An Zhi found it remarkable and asked, "Xuan Zhu is Chi Huan? What's your relationship with Chi Huan, and why does he call you Master?"

    Chihuo Edo said, "Before Little Happiness became an adult, she was a crested ibis by my side. Do you recall that ship?"

    "Yes," An Zhi nodded. "Xixuan Men was where my divine fall occurred. Long before that, on that ship, I transcended from being human to becoming a god."

    "I'm sorry," Chi Zuo said, filled with regret and self-reproach. "I was supposed to protect you on the ship, but the night before, I was tricked by Ji Yuanshi, who pretended to be in distress. I ended up fighting Island Lord Wang, who had ambushed me. I couldn't defeat him and was forced into the Ghost Realm."

    An Zhi gazed at the very much alive Chi Zuo. "And now?"

    Chi Zuo smiled casually. "As a person, I was thinking of you, silly boy, hoping that you'd quickly regain your enlightenment and return to your rightful place."

    Upon hearing this, An Zhi's eyes welled up with emotion. "Without suffering, there is no realization. You must have gone through so much."

    Chi Zuo replied, "It wasn't too bad. After all, I am Island Lord Wang's disciple, and he helped me a lot. It's just that it's been hard on Chi Huan, who searched tirelessly for me, only to create a complicated and unresolved bond."

    The two then went to find Xuan Zhu under the tree.

    "How are you?" An Zhi asked, assisting him with concern.

    "I'm fine," Xuan Zhu waved away his worries, then turned to Chi Zuo. "Long time no see, Master."

    Chi Zuo acknowledged with a soft "Mm" and a faint smile.

    Xuan Zhu continued, "Ayuan, I want to find Xia Huan. He has transcended worldly emotions, yet he still holds onto me. I shouldn't give up on him, even if it's just for him alone."

    An Zhi disliked imposing on others, and Xuan Zhu was no longer the impulsive child she once was. "Alright. Be careful."

    Xuan Zhu straightened her posture and bowed respectfully towards An Zhi. "I apologize on behalf of Xia Huan for everything that has transpired. Until we meet again."

    After bidding farewell to Xuan Zhu, they returned to Madam Jian's residence.

    The couple's abode nestled against a hillside, overlooking a stream. Weeping willows lined the riverbank, their graceful branches swaying gently in the breeze, creating a serene and tranquil atmosphere.

    An Zhi strolled to the babbling brook, leaning against a willow with his arms crossed, gazing at the fading sky. He muttered to himself, "Three days have passed, and Jian Jiaojiao is still the same... Does this mean the Grotto God is still alive...?"

    Suddenly, a rustling sound came from behind him, and a few strands of silver hair drifted into his field of vision.

    "Who's there?!" An Zhi shouted, turning his head.

    As he did, a whip covered in barbs lunged at him from the side.

    Just as fear gripped him, the whip grazed his cheek and plunged into the stream behind him.

    Then, Chizi E's voice echoed from ahead, "There's someone floating on the surface of that stream."

    Still trembling with fear, An Zhi panted heavily.

    "Scared, huh?" Chi Zi'e asked.

    "It's alright," An Zhi replied. Saving a life was worth more than building a pagoda, so he didn't blame Chi Zi'e at all. However, the shock had left his legs weak, and he leaned against the trunk of a willow tree, turning to look at the person in the stream.

    The figure in the water made no sound; not even a cry for help. They lay motionless, letting the rushing stream wash over their body.

    The Green Whip coiled tightly around the person in the water, while Chi Zi'e held the whip firmly on the shore, preventing the swift current from sweeping the person away.

    Under the tension of the two forces, the whip stretched taut like a thin line on the verge of snapping.

    Seeing this, An Zhi didn't want to observe any longer. He walked to Chi Zi'e's side, placing both hands on the handle of the Green Whip. "Come on, let's pull them up first."

    As soon as he finished speaking, the two of them exerted force simultaneously, dragging the person back to the bank.

    With the momentum, the individual burst out of the water, sending droplets splashing towards An Zhi and Chi Zi'e.

    Concerned that the impact from such a height might injure the person, especially if they hit their head, An Zhi dropped the whip and rushed towards the individual. He intended to catch them, lessening the force of their fall.

    "Thud!" The person landed on the ground, splashing a large puddle of water in a radial pattern from beneath.

    Chi Zi'e said, "Go take a look."

    "Oh." An Zhi responded absentmindedly and went to investigate.

    Just as he squatted down, he caught a whiff of a foul odor.

    Having smelled it several times before, he immediately realized — this was the stench of decay!

    He turned his head in disbelief.

    Sure enough, they hadn't saved a living person but a corpse!

    Judging from her long, raven-black hair without a single strand of gray, she must have been a young and beautiful woman in life.

    But now, the corpse had been submerged in the stream for quite some time. Her face was covered in a slimy, translucent film that clung to her skin, glistening yet resilient.

    Her skin had turned pale and wrinkled, while her puffed cheeks resembled swollen steamed buns, distorting her facial features into mere slits.

    It was as if a snake had slithered across his ankle, a nauseating chill tingling with bone-freezing fear that raced up his spine like a swarm of centipedes. An Zhi promptly scrambled to his feet, leaning against the trunk of a willow tree as he retched uncontrollably.

    After emptying his stomach, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and straightened his back, casting a distant glance at the female corpse.

    Ciji E was crouched beside the body, closely examining and fiddling with it.

    After a moment, he stood up, surveyed the area, found An Zhi, and walked over to him, saying, "This child is missing her left leg. Looks like the Cave God is behind this again."

    As he spoke, he gently patted An Zhi's shoulder and asked with concern, "Are you alright?"

    An Zhi waved him off.

    Unable to contain his amusement, Ciji E chuckled. "So easily frightened."

    An Zhi shot him a silent glare.

    "Alright, I won't laugh anymore," Ciji E said, suppressing his smile. He then proposed, "Shall we hand this female corpse over to the Ang Liu authorities?"

    Recalling his 'intimate encounter' with the corpse, An Zhi's scalp prickled. "You'd better...go by yourself..."

    "Well then, if you want to go by yourself, be my guest. After delivering the female corpse, I'll catch Ju Lang, give him a good beating, and then bring you back to the YunTai Pavilion. No more investigating the truth for you," Chi Zi'e turned and walked away.

    An Zhi caught the underlying meaning in his words and promptly followed.

    ...

    They headed for the Ang Liu government offices on foot.

    By the time they reached the bustling heart of Ang Liu from that couple's home, it was already seven or eight in the evening.

    Ang Liu Bay Street hadn't changed much over a thousand years, as if frozen in that era.

    Their appearance with the female corpse drew quite a crowd.

    "Can't we fly there on swords?" An Zhi asked Chi Zi'e.

    Chi Zi'e shook his head. "No." He then asked An Zhi, "Didn't you hear that couple mention several young women have been murdered in Ang Liu, all of them losing their limbs?"

    Recalling the previous night, An Zhi nodded. "I did."

    Bearing the weight of all eyes, Chi Zi'e halted with the female corpse in tow, standing right in the heart of Ang Liu's bustling marketplace. "Recall three days ago, in the cave beneath the Twin Flower Temple. Were those corpses you saw any different?"

    An Zhi nodded. "The Cave God is marrying, so naturally, it would be a woman. But why were parts of their limbs missing?"

    Chi Zi'e replied, "Strange, isn't it?"

    An Zhi agreed. "A bit unusual, indeed."

    Chi Zi'e continued, "That's why I need this corpse to lure out the families of the other girls so we can get to the bottom of this."

    As the crowd around them grew, An Zhi felt somewhat restrained. "The local government would have records of such incidents. Why do we need to lure people out? Once we deliver the female corpse, we can just ask the authorities for clarity." With that, he attempted to pull Chi Zi'e away.

    Chi Zi'e remained steadfast, turning his wrist to grab An Zhi back. He countered, "Guess why Jian Jiaojiao's parents didn't seek help from the Ang Liu government?"

    An Zhi answered, "This matter involves the supernatural. Seeking divine aid is more effective than relying on humans."

    "That's one aspect," Chi Zi'e said, ignoring the curious glances and whispers around them. "But the crucial point is that the government here in Ang Liu is the Jian family."

    "Ah?!" An Zhi was surprised.

    Chi Zi'e declared, "Due to Wangsi Terrace, the Jians have been trapped in an elevated position, unable to move up or down. Yet, they are mere mortals, incapable of dealing with demonic affairs. Refusing to seek assistance, they can only stand by and do nothing."

    "Ai-" An Zhi sighed deeply.

    Suddenly, two groups of people rushed out from the onlookers, heading straight for An Zhi. They knelt before her, grabbing onto her left and right arms, and pleaded in unison, "Goddess, please bring our daughter back to life!"

    Hearing this, Chi Zi'e choked on his words and responded, "Once one dies, they cannot return to life. It is the natural law of the heavens, not to be defied."

    His words were too definitive, and upon hearing them, those individuals burst into sorrowful cries.

    Amidst the cacophony of wails around An Zhi, his eardrums throbbed in discomfort. Helpless with his wrists held by either side, he couldn't cover his ears. He urgently said, "Though I can't bring her back to life, I can avenge your daughter and prevent more victims. Tell me what specifically happened to your daughter before this..."

    Before he could finish, a voice pierced through the crowd, "The Saint Son of the Jian family is here! Everybody, run!!"

    With that, the crowd dispersed instantly, leaving not a single person behind.

    Jian Fengzi emerged, accompanied by a group of bearded, muscular men. He shouted at An Zhi, "Who told you to cause trouble on Aung Lyu Street?!"

    "Little Feng?" Spotting Jian Fengzi, An Zhi greeted him with a smile.

    Jian Fengzi, however, wore an expression of reluctant disdain, creasing his brow in distaste as he ordered the burly men behind him, "Seize all the troublemakers!"

    Upon hearing this, An Zhi paused.

    Just now, Jian Fengzi's demeanor had reminded him of a city management officer rounding up street vendors – both imposing and self-important, acting as if he was above everyone else.

    Sure enough, the Jian family's mindset had thoroughly infiltrated Jian Fengzi's being, leaving no room for change.

    Considering the cry from the crowd earlier and the speed at which they fled, this likely wasn't Jian Fengzi's first time doing such a thing. Hence, he had managed to instill fear in everyone.

    Just as disbelief settled in, An Zhi felt a tightening around his waist.

    Chi Zi'e released the female corpse, embraced An Zhi, and took to the air with their sword.

    In a breath, the two returned before the couple's residence.

    "Good day," a woman's voice echoed from behind them.

    They turned in unison to see a woman standing there, holding a rather thick file folder in her hand.

    Her features could only be described with the word "average."

    A modest height, an unremarkable figure, and a voice that didn't catch attention – the only redeeming feature was her petite and delicate nose.

    "Who are you?" An Zhi inquired.

    The woman replied, "I am Mu He. I serve the Jian family."

    An Zhi grasped the situation – this lady before him was the girl Jian Fengzi had cried over liking at his tenth birthday celebration, Mu He.

    Encountering Jian Fengzi first and then Mu He right after seemed too coincidental. He found it curious and asked, "You... have something to attend to?"

    With both hands, Mu He held up the file folder and respectfully handed it over to An Zhi, saying, "My young master is unable to come himself. He entrusted me with the documents regarding the Fallen Flower Cave Lady matter, asking me to deliver them to you."

    --------------------

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