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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 88: Butterfly Dream I

    An Zhi found himself trapped in an utter darkness, where his outstretched hand could not even discern his fingers.

    He sat silently on the ground, lost in thought as snippets of Ju Lang and Shi Huai's conversation echoed in his mind: Jade Mountain Emperor, not forsaking the world, he would eventually vanish in one of these rebirths, perhaps this time, or perhaps the next... better to endure a sharp pain than a lingering one...

    He felt no emotion towards those words; he was tranquil, truly serene.

    Suddenly, a faint glow approached him from afar, drifting leisurely through the air.

    An Zhi gazed at it, trying to discern its identity.

    As the glow drew closer, he finally recognized it - a Peacock Butterfly.

    He remembered that Peacock Butterfly.

    In their childhood, while Qin Huai studied his textbook on a park bench, An Zhi flew kites nearby.

    One day, as he ran past a cluster of shrubs, he stumbled upon the lifeless body of a Peacock Butterfly.

    Exposed to the sun's rays, the butterfly's corpse had dried into a specimen, yet remained intact. He picked it up and, as a gesture of kindness, presented it to Qin Huai as a gift.

    Later, Qin Huai preserved the butterfly's corpse, turning it into an authentic specimen that he placed on his bedside table.

    With an outstretched hand, the Phoenix-tailed butterfly landed gracefully on the tip of An Zhi's finger.

    Upon closer inspection, the notch on the left wing of this butterfly matches exactly with the one on the dead butterfly he had found.

    He couldn't resist asking, "Are you the butterfly I found that day?"

    With that, the Phoenix-Tail Butterfly spread its wings and soared, darting up and down through the darkness before descending towards the shimmering Phoenix-Tail Grass basking in sunlight.

    An Zhi followed closely. Suddenly, his surroundings illuminated brightly. He instinctively shut his eyes tightly and promptly raised his hands to shield himself from the intense glow. After a while, as his eyes adjusted to the change, he lowered his hands and gradually opened them again.

    On such a beautiful night, the crescent moon hung solitary in the sky, casting a pure, bright light. Around clusters of bonfires, people sat in circles.

    An Zhi knew that during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Peng Lai Island had a tradition of staying awake through the night. Everyone would gather to share ghost stories and enjoy some food.

    Observing Shen Yuan's gaze reflecting the flickering flames, he grumbled, "Boring. None of the ghost stories you're telling are scary at all."

    He Mengfang said, "Then tell us an interesting one."

    "As for Ayuan's lack of interest, it's not that the story is dull, but rather..." Xiang Yan glanced at Wang Pan, who was sitting beside him.

    Wang Pan cleared his throat and spoke seriously, "Yes, the Island Lord asked me to come over."

    Then, Wang Wanhe declared loudly, "Like attracts like, and people gather in groups, Little Pan. Hurry, come sit here."

    Wang Pan slightly furrowed his brow, coughing softly to ease the awkwardness, and said, "I...," stealing a glance at Shen Yuan before continuing with an air of indifference, "Twisted my ankle just now, can't get up."

    "Ah?" Xiang Yan asked, "We've been sitting here the whole time. When did you twist your ankle?"

    Shen Yuan chuckled and said, "Our young Island Lord is delicate, perhaps he twisted his ankle on the way here." He stuck out his tongue at Wang Pan and asked, "Right, our fragile young Island Lord?"

    Pausing for a moment, Wang Pan replied expressionlessly, "...Yes."

    Shen Yuan had dug a hole for Wang Pan to fall into, and he did, much to Shen Yuan's delight, which caused his stomach to ache from laughter.

    "Hahaha!" For a moment, his laughter echoed across Peng Lai Island.

    He Mengfang tugged at his sleeve, whispering a reminder, "Stop laughing, everyone is looking at you..."

    Upon hearing this, Shen Yuan let out an "Ouch," pretending to lower his head and seeking refuge next to He Mengfang.

    The scene froze, and An Zhi couldn't help but chuckle, filled with joy yet tinged with melancholy. Gazing up at the bright moon in the night sky, he suddenly heard He Mengfang's sigh and her soft recitation:

    "By the river, who first saw the moon? And when did the moon first shine upon that person?"

    Looking down, he noticed He Mengfang also gazing at the same moon.

    Then, a red figure emerged slowly from the darkness, approaching He Mengfang.

    That woman in red was Jiang Yue, whom they had met during their trip to Xun Wu.

    Back then, Xun Wu was plagued by an epidemic, almost becoming a ghost town. Yet, the Jiang family's apothecary remained open. Shen Yuan, curious, resorted to a weak and sickly beauty act, clinging to Jiang Yue and whining, "Oh, I'm going crazy with longing, suffering from lovesickness... Miss Jiang Yue, you're my cure..."

    This disgusted He Mengfang, who was traveling with them. It also infuriated Wang Pan, who left the ailing Shen Yuan on the street before reluctantly returning to carry him back.

    Standing beside He Mengfang, Jiang Yue also looked at the moon and sighed, "Now, as we gaze at each other, we cannot hear one another; I wish to follow the moon's glow and illuminate you."

    He Mengfang turned to look at her, asking, "Was it worth marrying me for Ayuan?"

    Jiang Yue countered, "Do you think it was worth marrying me for Ayuan?"

    Understanding dawned on He Mengfang, who smiled and let the matter rest.

    After admiring the moon for a while, Jiang Yue presented a small, lustrous bottle to He Mengfang. "Water from the River of Forgetfulness. If you see Ayuan, make him forget."

    "Ayuan," He Mengfang agreed without hesitation, reaching out to take the bottle. "Ruomu Huating is already built. What method do you suggest I use to let him live there? He's already dead, and I'm greedy; I don't want just his corpse to reside there."

    Jiang Yue replied, "I can teach you the Immortality Spell. But it comes with a price: your life."

    He Mengfang reminisced, "Not long ago, Xiang Yan went to the Realm of Demons. When he returned, he mentioned something about a mass grave, but more importantly, he said he met Ayuan and asked if I wanted a reunion. I agreed and secretly brought a sword specifically designed to slay malevolent spirits. Thinking of how my parents were cruelly killed by him, I plunged the sword into Ayuan the moment I saw him. He was once the strongest prince of Jiu Li and still is. He evaded the attack without any injury, but I was determined to avenge my family. Upon seeing how much I hated him, Ayuan stepped forward and apologized... I couldn't care less about his apology because it couldn't bring my family back to life! That sword avenged them. Later, Xiang Yan bound me to go to the Realm of Ghosts to seek the Ghost Lord's help in saving Ayuan. Little did I know that you, Jiang Yue, were the Ghost Lord, and you revealed the truth behind those events."

    He Mengfang regretted deeply, "So Ayuan and I were both deceived, blindly fighting each other... I sought revenge, and he was willing to atone. Teach me the Immortality Spell, Jiang Yue."

    "Alright," Jiang Yue consented promptly.

    Observing this, An Zhi commented, "No wonder He Mengfang has the Water from the River of Forgetfulness and knows the Immortality Spell. It all came from Jiang Yue." He scoffed. "A thousand years, merely a staged play; one's mistakes, one's burden to bear."

    After some discussion, Jiang Yue and He Mengfang returned to their dormitory together.

    An Zhi was contemplating whether he should follow them or not.

    At that moment, the Peacock Butterfly flew from behind him, hovering closely behind the two girls.

    Seeing this, he decided without hesitation to trail behind them.

    Jiang Yue inquired, "Why would you risk your life to help him?"

    He Mengfang replied, "Because I had been wrongly blaming him all along."

    Jiang Yue responded, "I don't believe that's the only reason."

    He Mengfang smiled, "I can only tell you it's because of that. As for the rest, I – I don't wish to speak of it. Let's let it remain buried deep."

    Jiang Yue reluctantly agreed, "Alright then."

    An Zhi thought to himself, Could there be other reasons?

    Lost in thought, his world spun around him, and he was once again plunged into the tranquil darkness.

    Suddenly, a beam of white light illuminated before him.

    Instinctively, he stepped back and turned to avoid it.

    After a moment, no danger presented itself.

    Turning around, he saw He Mengfang lying motionless in the glow, suspended in mid-air. A peacock butterfly rested on the tip of his chiseled nose, its wings fluttering as if inviting An Zhi to touch it.

    An Zhi approached cautiously, hesitating for a moment before slowly extending his hand. The moment his fingertip grazed the butterfly's wings, the scene transformed dramatically.

    The Jade Mountain Hall lay concealed within the serene snowy landscape, where the wind had its melody, snow its rhythm, and camellias bloomed. The hall's great bell and wooden fish added to the natural symphony that harmonized with the heavens and earth.

    Before ascending, He Mengfang, in his mortal form, had climbed to the summit of Jade Mountain and knocked on the hall's doors.

    Thud, thud, thud — the sound echoed swiftly through the tranquil expanse of snow.

    He Mengfang pulled his golden-threaded cloak closer around his shoulders and declared in a clear voice, "The Lord of Heng Yao requests an audience with Lady Jiaomiao of the Jade Mountain Hall!"

    As the words faded, a fierce gust of wind swept snowflakes, forcing open the grand doors.

    The Jade Mountain Hall shimmered with gold and was illuminated by eternal red candles, grandiose yet eerily desolate.

    He Mengfang exhaled a breath of frosty air onto his frozen hands, then clasped them together in a respectful gesture. "Apologies for my hasty arrival, my shoes might have brought in snow and dirtied this sacred hall," he said before stepping into the hall.

    His footsteps echoed through the vast golden chambers.

    Suddenly, Jiaomiao's voice rang out from an unseen location, resonating against the stone walls.

    "You've come all this way, Lord Heng Yao, even before the appointed time of ascension. What brings you to the Jade Mountain Hall seeking me?"

    He Mengfang pulled back his robe and knelt. "I humbly request that Your Majesty grant Shen Yuan another chance at life."

    Upon hearing this, An Zhi was surprised. So He Mengfang had already sought help from the Jade Mountain Hall on his behalf!

    "Life and death are the rules set since the dawn of creation, and I cannot defy them," Jiaomiao replied, her tone shifting. "However, I can allow him to reincarnate through another body. But know that he will never enter the cycle of rebirth again."

    He Mengfang was conflicted. After a moment's pause, he asked, "Can Your Majesty permit him to enter the cycle of rebirth?"

    "No, I don't," Jiaomiao replied. "So you've made up your mind, then?"

    After a moment of hesitation, He Mengfang said, "No afterlife, only this life. It's better for this life to last forever."

    Jiaomiao asked, "Have you asked Shen Yuan's opinion? Has he expressed a wish to live forever in this life?"

    "He hasn't—" He Mengfang shook his head, troubled once more. "I believe no one in the world is averse to living longer. Since Uncle is a demon god, his obsession with life should be even greater than others'."

    Jiaomiao countered, "Think as you may, but I want to hear Shen Yuan's will."

    He Mengfang said, "But Uncle is already gone. How can I ask him?"

    Jiaomiao let out a long sigh. "Ah—never mind—"

    The main gate of Jade Mountain Hall was blown open again by the fierce wind.

    He Mengfang lifted his arm to shield against the snowstorm. When the wind subsided, he looked out and saw a figure standing with its back to the light.

    In an instant, a smile lit up his face. He immediately got up and rushed forward. "Uncle!—"

    An Zhi observed the man from head to toe.

    Dressed in green with white hair, he indeed bore an uncanny resemblance to Shen Yuan.

    However, this person had thin, sullen features and a gentle, restrained demeanor.

    In contrast, despite being falsely accused and ultimately killed, it was clear from Shen Yuan's epitaph that his nature was bold and expressive. Even if weighed down by immense sorrow, he would not easily reveal it on his face.

    After experiencing such upheaval, Shen Yuan would have become even more cunning and devious, seeking validation externally; not inwardly retreating and introspecting.

    An Zhi was certain that this identical twin-like figure was not Shen Yuan but Jing Long.

    "Ahaha—" Upon reflection, An Zhi wasn't too angry, only finding the situation rather amusing.

    "Uncle!" He Mengfang's eyes sparkled with excitement.

    Not knowing how to respond, Jing Long simply nodded and offered a faint smile.

    He Mengfang continued, "I've only taken three days off from my duties at Heng Yao's court. Ascending Mount Jade took me two full days, and descending will likely take another day at least. I won't have time for a proper catch-up with you this visit, Uncle. Next time, when I take a longer leave of ten to two weeks, I'll bring several jars of Yi Zi Chun wine and a pile of candied chestnuts to have a good chat with you."

    Jing Long nodded and whispered, "Alright."

    He Mengfang asked, "Can I tell Xiang Yan about this?"

    Jiaomiao answered for Jing Long, "The more people who know, the worse it is for him. You might as well keep it from them for now. When he has completely rid himself of his demonic heart in my Jade Mountain Hall, you can surprise them with the news when he comes down the mountain."

    Jing Long concurred, "Mm."

    "Heck yeah!" He Mengfang beamed. "In that case, I'll have to be cautious when buying Yi Zichun and candied chestnuts so no one finds out."

    "Idiot Mengfang! If you're going to hate, hate all the way. Why let them manipulate you with your fluctuating emotions—ah—" An Zhi heard Shen Yuan's lament from within the Demon Subduing Pagoda.

    However, apart from Jiaomiao and himself, He Mengfang seemed oblivious to the sound.

    Before leaving, he glanced back at the Demon Subduing Pagoda but didn't give it much thought before striding away.

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

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