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    Chapter 71: Rebirth II

    There must have been a purpose behind Liu Zhu's deception in luring An Zhi to the Joyous God Bureau. He should leave, not wander around with Chi Zi'e inside. However, he couldn't find Wen Yan, and he had no idea if Xia Huan and Xuan Zhu were also there.

    Unease filled An Zhi's heart, creasing his brow deeply.

    Suddenly, Chi Zi'e, who was walking ahead of An Zhi, halted and exclaimed, "They're all here."

    Following the sound, An Zhi saw three enormous crystal boulders in a spacious area. The boulders emitted a hazy glow in the dimness, and within them were Wen Yan, Xia Huan, and Xuan Zhu.

    Their eyes were tightly shut, their arms crossed over their chests. Their serene expressions resembled a deep slumber.

    Seeing this, An Zhi immediately rushed forward to save them.

    "Ah, a trap..." Chi Zi'e cried out in alarm, trying to stop him, but it was too late.

    As An Zhi stepped into the space, a blinding flash of light swept across, leaving him unable to open his eyes. After blinking a few times to adjust, he found Zhe Dan standing right before him when he opened them again.

    His face turned ashen with sheer terror in an instant.

    To his surprise, he was abruptly spun around to face He Jingfeng and Dian Chan!

    He Jingfeng pressed An Zhi relentlessly, barking fiercely, "Speak! How did you know Shen Langhuai?! Who told you?!"

    What?

    Confused, An Zhi scrambled to make sense of the situation. Shen Langhuai... Shen Langhuai... Hao Chang mentioned it once. Shen Langhuai was the one Dian Chan loved! So, what the hell was going on here? Before the Double Flower Temple murals were created? Wen Yan's plot was a chaotic mess, barely readable.

    Over on that side, Shen Yuan kept stepping back. An Zhi could sense that he was reliving the immense injustice, pain, and helplessness he had felt that day at Xixuan Men.

    He Jingfeng's eyes narrowed, and with lightning speed, he firmly gripped Shen Yuan's throat, lifting him off the ground by sheer force.

    Dian Chan stepped forward but stopped abruptly after two steps, turning her back to them.

    "Fa... Father..." Shen Yuan looked pitifully at He Jingfeng, calling out to him in a hoarse voice.

    But He Jingfeng replied coldly, "Who is your father?! You share the same surname with that willow spirit from the Shen family!"

    Cold and devoid of emotion, even bordering on disdain.

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan put on a sorrowful, tearful facade, but no tears actually welled up in his eyes.

    He Jingfeng said, "See, you have no idea what sorrow or pain is. You lack the capacity for physical pain and tears. Your attempt at mimicking such emotions is nothing more than a clumsy imitation."

    As he spoke, two blood-red tears trickled down from the corners of Shen Yuan's eyes.

    The striking red liquid slowly slid down, causing He Jingfeng to pause briefly in surprise. Then, with renewed force, he tightened his grip around Shen Yuan's neck.

    With a snap, Shen Yuan's throat shattered, and blood trickled from the corners of his mouth.

    He was already dead, a corpse that knew no fear of further harm.

    As the dust settled with the wind, Zhe Dan's towering black silhouette emerged behind He Jingfeng.

    The shadow was at least two heads taller than He Jingfeng.

    Shen Yuan attempted to warn He Jingfeng, but his shattered throat prevented any sound from escaping.

    The dark silhouette revealed its sharp, curved fangs and swiftly bent down, sinking its teeth into He Jingfeng's neck with a sickening crunch. He let out a pained cry and his grip on Shen Yuan's wrist loosened gradually.

    Shen Yuan tumbled to the ground. Though he felt no pain, he still couldn't help but cough.

    As soon as he coughed, He Jingfeng and Dian Chan both thudded to the floor in front of him, their eyes closed, unconscious, their lips turning purple, and two bloody punctures on the sides of their necks.

    Then, the sound of fabric tearing echoed, and a long, red strip of cloth landed in front of Shen Yuan's eyes.

    "Take it. Your neck looks terrifying now, it scared me," Zhe Dan said with a low, mocking tone, sounding like an adult child. "I remember twenty-five years ago, you also foolishly trusted these so-called family members. They claimed you were insensitive to pain and didn't know suffering, but that doesn't mean you don't understand joy. You knew they were your family, and you couldn't hurt them—wasn't that joy? Yet, despite knowing you were their child, they still struck you down, proving that even those who deeply comprehend suffering might not grasp empathy."

    Shen Yuan's hands trembled as he reached out and took the red cloth, silently wrapping it around his neck.

    With his wound concealed, he lifted his head to look up.

    Zhe Dan was a tall, slender man dressed in a black-red outfit. He wore his hair in a high ponytail, with a swaying red ribbon, and a purple bamboo ruler tucked into his belt.

    His eyes, sharp as an eagle's, fixated intently on Shen Yuan, a soft chuckle escaping his lips.

    The man had a handsome, alluring appearance, but there was something off about his demeanor. When he wasn't smiling, he exuded an eerie, untamed air, and when he did smile, it was devious, like that of a mischievous child hiding a bag of pranks.

    Looking at him, Shen Yuan's scalp tingled with an inexplicable aversion.

    Zhe Dan crouched down, studying the bloody tear hanging from the corner of Shen Yuan's jaw, shaking his head repeatedly with a tsk-tsk.

    He rolled up his sleeve, reaching out to wipe away the tear, but his wrist was suddenly grasped firmly.

    Shen Yuan glared at him and threw his arm away with force.

    "Not bad, you've got quite a grip – that hurt a bit..." Zhe Dan rubbed his wrist.

    Shen Yuan touched the red cloth wrapped around his neck; his larynx was shattered, leaving him unable to speak.

    Is Zhe Dan some kind of philanthropist? Of course not – he was Jiaomiao's most contented snake charm.

    Recalling the days spent trapped in the Demon Subduing Pagoda, Zhe Dan would constantly spout vulgarities and make inappropriate physical advances, behaving like a crazed predator eager to devour him.

    With a brief accumulation of power in his hand, Shen Yuan was poised to strike at Zhe Dan with deadly intent.

    "Ahh! ——" He Jingfeng suddenly let out a shrill cry, curling up and rolling on the ground, groaning in agony.

    Dian Chan was no different.

    It seemed they were both undergoing some form of torment.

    Just a finger's breadth away from Zhe Dan's neck, Shen Yuan retracted his hand in time.

    Throughout the encounter, Zhe Dan maintained an air of certainty, his lips curling into a faint smile as he made no attempt to dodge. Upon seeing Shen Yuan hold back, he chuckled triumphantly, "See for yourself. After being bitten by me, their lips turn black – a clear sign of poisoning. Their lives are now in my hands. If you kill me, there's a chance they'll end up buried with me."

    Shen Yuan stood up, taking a step back to distance himself from Zhe Dan.

    Zhe Dan followed suit, rising to his feet and approaching Shen Yuan. He continued speaking as if to himself, "Yingzhou Island is my domain. There's a freshwater spring here, and all the islanders fetch water from it. My dwelling lies within a cavern beneath that spring. So if I were to contaminate their source of sustenance, you wouldn't just have sunk two islands."

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan's anger flared.

    Zhe Dan's expression turned aggrieved, "I was captured to be used for raising parasites, a snake parasite that emerged victorious from battles with various poisons. I carry toxicity within me; a single drop of my blood can render a hundred square miles barren, turning it into a swamp. However, it's ineffective in water, which is why uninhabited islands are more suitable for me. Initially, this island was empty, and it suited me well. But after you sank those two islands, the surviving islanders migrated to Yingzhou Island."

    Shen Yuan understood Zhe Dan's implication – blaming him for the sinking of the two islands. He shook his head weakly, explaining inwardly: It wasn't me who did it...

    Zhe Dan said, "I know it wasn't you, it was Jing Long. No matter how similar you two may look, I can still tell the difference. I can even help you, revealing that Dian Chan was personally sent by Dian Shan. That man is a natural-born villain; even our mother is wary of him."

    In the blink of an eye, Zhe Dan made a proposal, "Want to know more? Then you'll have to play with me. I'll only help you and lift the curses on your parents, Xiang Yan, and the inhabitants of Yingzhou Island when I'm in a good mood."

    With millions of lives at stake, Shen Yuan had no reason to refuse. He nodded, agreeing to Zhe Dan's terms.

    Zhe Dan warned, "Don't even think about killing me when I'm not paying attention."

    His poisonous blood, once mixed into the soil, would turn a hundred-mile radius into a swamp. If Shen Yuan killed him, he would find it even more difficult to clear his name.

    Shen Yuan repeatedly nodded at Zhe Dan, assuring him that he would never commit such an act.

    Seeing this, Zhe Dan grinned widely like a child, embracing Shen Yuan's waist and positioning his hand on Shen Yuan's lower back, ready to push him off Yingzhou Island.

    Those hands were anything but well-behaved, wandering recklessly across Shen Yuan's waist, descending downward...

    A chill ran down his spine, and he pushed Zhe Dan away, as if touching something filthy and revolting, his face filled with horror.

    He slightly regretted agreeing to Zhe Dan's request.

    Unabashed, Zhe Dan approached again, looping his arm around Shen Yuan's shoulder, and leaped upward.

    The two flew towards Ang Liu Bay.

    In Zhe Dan's embrace, Shen Yuan felt awkward, his entire body tense and stiff, highly uncomfortable.

    Zhe Dan chuckled. "Accept your fate obediently, Ang."

    How many times had he submitted obediently?

    Of course, he wouldn't do that willingly!

    Yet, he always seemed to drift along with the current into outcomes predetermined by others.

    Lost in thought, Zhe Dan suddenly kissed him.

    Shen Yuan startled, jerking his head to the side to evade.

    Zhe Dan's expression darkened. With a disdainful "pfft," he spat something into the East Sea and said, "A healing pill."

    There was no need for such an intimate method of administering medicine!

    Staring wide-eyed, Shen Yuan fixated on Zhe Dan.

    Zhe Dan chuckled and reached into his robe, fumbling for a moment before indeed pulling out a pill. "No poison can kill a dead man. Just take it with ease."

    With hesitation, Shen Yuan took the pill and swallowed it whole.

    A warm current gathered in his throat, swiftly mending his injuries.

    Shen Yuan untied the red cloth around his neck and casually tossed it aside. He then asked, "Why did you appear at the Yuwen Mansion all those years ago?"

    Zhe Dan gazed at the side of Shen Yuan's neck where the artery lay, mesmerized. He sighed, "Not only do you look identical, but your voice is the same too..."

    Losing patience with Zhe Dan's nonsense, Shen Yuan abruptly turned his face away.

    Zhe Dan ceased his chatter and replied, "Jiaomiao arranged it. As a snake gu she crafted, I naturally follow my master's commands."

    Why could Jiaomiao so effortlessly determine someone's life, death, honor, or disgrace? !

    A pang of pain struck Shen Yuan, who continued, "Were you the flood dragon that caused chaos in the Ang Liu Straits and severely sickened Yuwen Fengyao?"

    Zhe Dan nodded. "Indeed."

    Shen Yuan queried, "Was it also your plan that Long Bo coincidentally informed Wang Pan about the truth behind the sunken island, luring us to secretly leave and head to the Yuwen Mansion to aid Yuwen Fengyao?"

    Zhe Dan replies, "Yes."

    Shen Yuan then asks, "What's the relationship between you, Long Bo, and Jing Long?"

    Zhe Dan recounts, "Not long after I was born in the Huai Forest of the Demon Realm, I was nearly burned to death in a great fire. Fortunately, I was rescued by the Empress. But to my utter surprise, right after being saved, she threw me into a pit filled with countless venomous snakes and scorpions. It was pitch black there, with no food. I don't remember how long I was trapped, only that I was starving to death, just like the other creatures. We fought and devoured each other until eventually—I ate them all."

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan's scalp tingles.

    Zhe Dan continues, "After defeating them all, a beam of light suddenly illuminated my dark world. Jing Long pulled me out from amidst the corpses. At that time, I was in a killing frenzy and bit him. But he didn't hit me or violently push me away. Instead, he stroked my head and spoke to me gently, 'You've suffered—'"

    "He noticed the semicircular red birthmark on the back of my neck and named me Zhe Dan," he shared.

    Shen Yuan inquired, "Did that mean you were free from then on?"

    "No," Zhe Dan shook his head. "The Empress said the time wasn't right, so she locked me in the Demon Subduing Pagoda. And Long Bo was the one assigned to guard it."

    With a faint smile, he continued, "Jing Long would visit me from time to time. Whenever he came, he'd bring many interesting things, like a toy with four fan blades that spun when blown."

    Shen Yuan clarified, "A windmill?"

    Zhe Dan looked puzzled. "What's a windmill?"

    Shen Yuan explained, "It's exactly what you described – a toy with four fan blades that spin when you blow on it. When I was young, during Jiu Li's Spring Grand Ceremony, I'd always buy a windmill with Xiang Yan and Meng Fang. We'd run around screaming and laughing. Meng Fang was quite shy, so he'd trail far behind us. Eventually, he'd lose sight of us and have to return to the palace alone, sulking until we returned after our fun."

    Unintentionally, Shen Yuan had revealed too much.

    Zhe Dan remarked, "Oh, so that's called a windmill—"

    As they approached Ang Liu Bay, Shen Yuan attempted to ask, "Can you persuade Jing Long and Long Bo to come and help us?"

    With a frown, Zhe Dan grew solemn and firmly said, "No."

    Suspecting a hidden truth, Shen Yuan asked, "Why?"

    Frustrated, Zhe Dan grasped Shen Yuan's shoulders tightly, landing with a thud on Ang Liu's beach, stirring up sand around them.

    Lying beneath Zhe Dan, Shen Yuan gazed at him indifferently.

    Zhe Dan gritted his teeth in anger, "It's precisely because Jing Long is your Companion Spirit that he looks like you! Originally, he had black hair, but now it's turned white as snow! Why does Jiaomiao keep him? To hold you back, to bury you with her! You only have half a year left, and so does he! I'm helping you not for your sake, but for Jing Long. Only if your soul exists can his exist! We're both bound by Jiaomiao. Don't be naive and overstep your bounds, or else..."

    Zhe Dan stood up, scanning Shen Yuan lying on the beach with eagle-like eyes from head to toe. Suddenly, his gaze flickered, and his pupils dilated, turning into golden snake-like irises.

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

    Emmm, once I finish this part, I'll release the previous storyline involving Shen Yuan and Wang Pan as a side story... It feels abrupt without it, especially the entrances of characters like Mu Shi, Long Bo, and Ning Wenming.

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