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    Chapter 59: Regret - Father

    After that, Jiaomiao selected the corpse of a seventeen-year-old boy who resembled Shen Yuan.

    Jiaomiao said, "This youth was a slave in Shangchicheng, without a name. He's a bit scrawny, but I'll help you. I've arranged an identity for you in the Demon Region – the son of General Leger Guang, Leshi. Not long ago, Hao Chang suspected Leger Guang of plotting to seize power and sent men to raid his household. Leger Guang died, and Leshi's whereabouts became unknown. You'll replace him, and later, I'll assist in clearing your name."

    "Hoping that you won't seek refuge with me in the future." Shen Yuan recalled Hao Chang's words from the day he single-handedly infiltrated Hao Chang's camp to rescue Dian Chai.

    Ironically, Hao Chang's prediction had come true.

    Shen Yuan silently mocked himself before agreeing to Jiaomiao's plan.

    ...

    Eight years had passed since Shen Yuan's death, and he had finally returned to the mortal world.

    The Demon Region had just experienced rain, leaving muddy puddles on the roads. Playful, he splashed through the water as he made his way towards Hao Chang's palace.

    Midway, he heard muffled struggles coming from above.

    Looking up, he saw a seven- or eight-year-old boy suspended in mid-air within a snare, attempting to gnaw through the hunting net with his teeth.

    Shen Yuan called out to him, "Hey there, how did you end up playing up in the sky?"

    The boy crouched in fear, but upon turning his head, his initially fierce expression softened, and he let out a low whimper from his throat, like a young beast vying for attention.

    "Oh, don't cry... I'll get you down right away." Shen Yuan panicked, searching for the ropes of the hunting net. After wandering around for quite some time, he finally found the rope coiled around a tree trunk.

    Fortunately, it was tied with a slipknot. With a gentle tug, the boy, along with the net, descended to the ground.

    The boy seemed to recognize Shen Yuan. As soon as his feet touched the earth, he rushed over, wrapped his arms around Shen Yuan's waist, and nuzzled his belly affectionately.

    Shen Yuan looked down at the boy and noticed that his phoenix-shaped eyes were identical to Wang Pan's. Pushing the boy away, he said sternly, "Don't get yourself caught up in a net like that again. Alright, go home now."

    With that, Shen Yuan quickened his pace, leaving the scene.

    After walking some distance, Shen Yuan turned back to ensure that the child had gone home. Instead, he saw the boy limping behind him.

    Upon closer inspection, an arrow pierced the boy's right leg.

    With a slight frown, Shen Yuan grew concerned. Reflecting upon the situation, he realized that defying the natural order of life and death was no small matter; he had already done his part by saving the child. Deciding against further involvement, he continued on his way.

    As he walked, he suddenly felt an unusual tremor beneath his feet, as if a massive crowd was charging towards him.

    Sure enough, in the distance, a menacing group was rapidly approaching him.

    He darted to the side of the road, allowing them to pass by first.

    As they brushed past, Shen Yuan overheard their conversation: "That child has been living with an untamed pack of wolves. He's fiercely wild. If we capture him alive, everyone will be astonished."

    ...

    The injured boy relentlessly pursued Shen Yuan's direction, determined not to give up.

    However, in the blink of an eye, the very people who had slaughtered his clan rode up on horseback, swiftly surrounding him.

    The boy immediately bared his teeth, emitting a low growl from his throat, resembling a lone wolf trapped but unyielding, issuing a warning to his adversaries.

    When Shen Yuan arrived, he saw one of the group hiding at a distance, drawing back a bow, aiming straight for the boy's heart.

    In an instant, as the bowstring was released, the arrow shot forth with a sharp whistle, piercing through targets a hundred steps away with ease.

    Shen Yuan couldn't afford to hesitate; with a few swift strides, he rushed forward and pushed the boy aside.

    His attempt missed its target. The one lying in ambush rode up swiftly on horseback. As soon as he dismounted, he demanded, "How dare you ruin my plans?"

    "What wouldn't I dare?" Shen Yuan remained defiant. "Tell your Hao Chang to come and meet me. Say that the Divine Messenger has arrived, and he must hasten to greet me."

    Afterward, Shen Yuan took on the role of a priest in the Demonic Realm, despite his reluctance. The boy had attached himself to him, whether he liked it or not.

    "You demons have no surnames. Since you've chosen to follow me, you can't be named according to demon customs. Since you've been living among wolves, let's just call you Ju Lang," he said casually.

    Little Ju Lang had eagerly awaited Shen Yuan to give him a name, but now, disappointed by the lack of effort, he narrowed his eyes, his face expressionless, as cold as ice that no fierce wind could melt.

    Staring at the young Ju Lang, Shen Yuan couldn't help but feel that the boy's demeanor was reminiscent of Wang Pan, the result of some tryst with a female demon.

    For little Wang Pan to be born, and yet the responsible party left it to a dead man like him to clean up the mess – how despicable!

    Unwilling to forge deep bonds with anyone, Shen Yuan also wished to keep his distance from Ju Lang. "You should move out tomorrow. I'll take care of everything, so don't worry."

    With that, he left Ju Lang with a cold and distant back view. In reality, after returning to his room, he secretly slipped out again to drink on the busiest street in the Realm of Beasts, gazing at the world he hadn't seen in eight years from the rooftop of the tallest pleasure house.

    Amidst the bright lanterns and red wine, under the clear moon and cool breeze, he mused, "I'm just a passerby taking a glance, huhu, how nice—"

    That night, a cricket nestled among the Nightshade Orchids, adding a touch of noise to the early summer's still-sleeping night.

    Drunk and unsteady, Shen Yuan stumbled back to his residence and fell asleep immediately.

    In the middle of the night, Ju Lang waited outside the room for a while before entering.

    He saw Shen Yuan curled up in bed, his face pale, a light sheen of sweat dampening his clothes. Strands of hair clung to his cheeks, and his eyes were half-lidded...

    "Did you have a nightmare?" Ju Lang murmured softly.

    Unable to resist, he lowered his head and gently brushed his lips against Shen Yuan's.

    Suddenly, Shen Yuan stirred awake. Ju Lang quickly pulled away, only to see Shen Yuan's brows furrowed in fear as he stared at him. Moments later, his gaze drifted away.

    Ju Lang sighed in relief, it had all been a false alarm.

    The next day, Ju Lang left Shen Yuan's residence and settled into another location arranged for him.

    "Father, it's been so long!" It had been about half a year since Ju Lang last saw Shen Yuan. Spotting him on the street, he rushed over to greet him.

    "Father?" Shen Yuan offered a faint smile, acknowledging him with a nonchalant "Mm," before turning away.

    Their second meeting three years later, "Fath-!" Before Ju Lang could finish, Shen Yuan simply hummed in response without even glancing at him, then proceeded to leave.

    At the age of nineteen, their third encounter transpired, "Fath-"

    This time, he witnessed Shen Yuan surrounded by a group of charming fox spirits, all laughing merrily without any sign of resistance.

    Ju Lang charged through the crowd, grabbed Shen Yuan, and started walking away.

    "Who do you think you are, disrupting others' enjoyment...?" Shen Yuan was about to scold Ju Lang when the latter turned around, revealing a face strikingly similar to Wang Pan's, startling Shen Yuan. "Ju... Ju Lang?"

    "After not seeing each other for years, Father doesn't even recognize me anymore," Ju Lang said, pouting with indignation.

    Ju Lang's cry of "Father" sent a shiver down Shen Yuan's spine. He looked up at the towering Ju Lang and said, "It's been years since we last met. You've grown so much."

    "Yes. But Father, you haven't changed a bit. You're still the same height, but thinner," Ju Lang replied.

    Shen Yuan laughed. "Some people never do change."

    "Only the dead remain unchanged," Ju Lang remarked, reminding Shen Yuan not to form any attachments.

    Silent, he left Ju Lang behind and returned to his residence alone.

    Amidst the bustling crowd, Ju Lang watched Shen Yuan's departing figure with profound desolation.

    But in the next moment, his expression twisted into a ferocious one, like that of a monstrous giant. Filled with grievance and anger, he vented at Shen Yuan's disappearing back, "Years pass before we meet again, and you can't even spare me a few more words?!"

    An Zhi was startled by the unfamiliar expression on Ju Lang's face.

    Then, he witnessed Ju Lang reach out and gently stroke the air where Shen Yuan's back had been, softly reciting, "With golden-hooped rods her hair in rings, she moves as if in a dream. In the warm, perfumed bed, the night is long. Night after night, she attends the Emperor, laughing... Hahaha!" The laughter was sinister.

    "Fragrant drapes warm...” An Zhi grasped Ju Lang's intention. "Chizi's misfortune was true!"

    He stumbled backward, a newfound fear stirring in his heart toward Ju Lang. Yet, in the blink of an eye, another tear fell from the latter.

    Those tears fell to the ground, creating ripples that transformed the scene before my eyes.

    "Seize it!"

    At Hao Chang's command, the soldiers around him fell into two orderly lines, marching in succession.

    Unfazed, Shen Yuan's face remained dark as he fixated his gaze on Hao Chang. "I'll see who dares!"

    Indeed, no one present ventured to make a move at this provocation.

    Hao Chang was undaunted. He said, "Ju Lang told me you're Shen Yuan?"

    "Since it has come to this... yes." Shen Yuan issued a menacing warning. "Back then, I could cut off one of your arms, and I can do it again today. You're welcome to try!"

    "Hahaha!" Hao Chang burst into laughter. "But are you still the same man as half a year ago? Everyone knows your story. Dian Chai has cursed you with a blood oath. It will activate the moment you touch blood. Do you dare?"

    Shen Yuan's face remained stoic. "A dead man has nothing to fear."

    He had never been one known for his patience or refinement.

    Believing in the principle of capturing the king first, he lunged at Hao Chang with his sword drawn.

    Seeing the tide turn, Hao Chang transformed into a massive wolf, baring his fangs and revealing razor-sharp teeth capable of severing a person's thigh with a single bite.

    With a gust of wind beneath his four paws, he leaped into the air, reaching out to grasp Shen Yuan.

    Not one to wait passively for his fate, Shen Yuan dodged aside, avoiding Hao Chang's wolfish claws. He then dove downward with immense speed, aiming straight for Hao Chang's forehead.

    Still mid-air from his leap, Hao Chang was unable to mount a proper defense. He could only protect his head with one paw while keeping the other ready, hoping to swat Shen Yuan away at the right moment.

    In the blink of an eye, at the most critical instant, Shen Yuan swiftly tilted his body, altering his trajectory without directly targeting Hao Chang's vital spots.

    The cold glint of sword blades flashed, followed by a cry of agony. Shen Yuan forcibly shattered Hao Chang's limbs, reducing him to a mere stick figure, who then crashed to the ground with a thunderous thud.

    meanwhile, Hao Chang's soldiers, aware of the situation, rushed at Shen Yuan with their swords, instantly surrounding him and showering him with a flurry of attacks.

    Amidst the onslaught, Shen Yuan dodged the sharp blades. Despite his ability to overcome them all, he refrained from doing so.

    Yet, there were always reckless ones who dared to aim for his vital spots. He deftly evaded their strikes, holding back from taking their lives.

    Suddenly, a whistling sound echoed behind his ear, followed by a chorus of soldiers' screams. The majority of them then redirected their assault elsewhere.

    "Look closely at who I am! Do you dare to kill even me?!" the man bellowed at the soldiers.

    Their actions paused, a momentary lull ensued.

    "One of the Rulers has ordered, it's better to kill by mistake than to let one escape. In critical moments, not even Prince Ju Zhi is exempted!" a soldier's voice rose above the rest.

    Upon this declaration, they once again encircled Shen Yuan and Prince Ju Zhi.

    Shen Yuan turned to see the scene unfolding. Prince Ju Zhi was ruthlessly slashing at their comrades, while a soldier behind him stealthily transformed, raising its razor-sharp claws towards Shen Yuan.

    Fearing the worst, Shen Yuan snatched a sword from a nearby soldier and lunged at the assailant with haste.

    There was a dull thud as the sharp blade pierced through the soldier's breastbone, straight into his heart. The man lifted his head in a piercing cry, collapsing to the ground before his voice could fade.

    At that same moment, the blood curse activated, causing a searing pain in Shen Yuan's own heart. He instinctively clutched his chest, stumbling but barely managing to keep himself upright.

    "Hey, are you alright?" Young Branch, sensing the urgency of the situation, hurriedly asked.

    Shen Yuan, despite the excruciating pain, forced himself to stand and waved her off gently.

    "You saved my life just now," Young Branch said. "My father was the most trusted disciple of the previous Demon Emperor. After killing his master, he ascended to power. He's quite paranoid, and over the years, factions have exploited this to their advantage, implicating many innocent lives."

    "Do you wish for me to kill your father?" Shen Yuan inquired.

    Young Branch replied, "I know you won't do it, which is why I'm helping you."

    Each life taken added another layer to the blood curse. Shen Yuan dared not kill, for even a single layer was unbearable; multiplying that by hundreds or thousands would be tantamount to slow torture – breaking bones, crushing marrow, and reducing one to dust.

    In his momentary lapse, a dark figure dashed past, suddenly embracing him tightly. A muffled groan echoed in his ear, and the figure released him, falling to the ground.

    He stiffly rolled his eyes downward and saw the sapling lying at his feet, a long sword piercing through its abdomen, blood pooling around it.

    The sapling had sacrificed itself to shield Shen Yuan from the sword.

    A dull roar echoed in his mind. Shen Yuan grabbed hold of a person's head and forcefully crushed their skull, snatching the sword from their grasp.

    One by one, a series of "pfft" sounds echoed as heads tumbled to the ground, blood spurting out.

    Silence rang so painfully in the ears that it hurt. The grand hall's floor was covered in a thick layer of blood, with corpses strewn about—no living creature remained.

    The clash of the sword against the ground produced a grating sound, piercing one's ears.

    Shen Yuan's eyes were bloodshot as he dragged his sword, slowly advancing toward Hao Chang.

    Blood droplets stained his cheeks, and both his cataract and heterochromatic eyes took on a crimson hue. A bestial growl continuously rumbled from his throat. His body was littered with countless bloody wounds, each oozing blood, drenching his clothes in a vivid red. At that moment, he resembled a blood-soaked, white-haired demon freshly crawled out of an abyss.

    Hao Chang stammered, "What's wrong with you?... I'm Ju Lang... Don't you recognize me anymore?"

    Shen Yuan's brows knitted, "Residing..."

    In that instant, he came to his senses. The excruciating pain from the blood curse, multiplied a thousandfold, crashed down upon him like an overwhelming tidal wave, filling the heavens and earth, suffocating him.

    He let out a mournful cry. With tears still damp on his cheeks, his mind went blank. Then, he bowed his head, losing consciousness.

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

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