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    Chapter 96: Dao Sheng - The Conclusion

    The gates of the Jade Mountain Hall stood wide open, with winds and snow swirling fiercely beyond. Stray snowflakes drifted into the hall, while mist crept into every corner, imbuing the grand chamber with an eerie chill.

    An Zhi was rushing towards the scene, his forehead's crimson devilish seal and the depths of his eyes shimmering with a starry, scarlet glow.

    Jiaomiao sat at the center of the hall, her eyes concealed by a veil of white gauze, making her resemble a hibernating creature, unaware of the impending danger closing in.

    After a moment, a vague, ethereal green light appeared in the frame of the great hall's entrance. It was An Zhi. He asked, "Have you been toying with me all along?"

    His voice echoed softly throughout the vast Jade Mountain Hall.

    Jiaomiao smiled. "Yes, it was me."

    Fixing his gaze unwaveringly on Jiaomiao as she approached the hall, An Zhi stepped back, maintaining a safe distance between them. He surveyed the hall's interior with a sidelong glance, scoffed, then lifted his chin slightly, looking down at her with arrogance. "I wondered who could have been playing tricks on me."

    Jiaomiao removed her veil, revealing those eyes.

    An Zhi gazed into them, shaking his head repeatedly. "Tsk tsk, you can exchange everything with me, but not those eyes, right? You'll have to wear that veil all day long."

    Jiaomiao's eyes were utterly astonishing.

    Her pupils were a dull gray, filled with vast amounts of black. The darkness resembled ink spreading in water, slowly floating about.

    Staring into those eyes for too long, it was as if one could see the shadows within and even hear their shrill screams.

    Unperturbed, she said, "I've gained all of you. I am a true deity. It's just a pair of eyes, no one will pay it any mind."

    "No," An Zhi shook his head. "Look into my eyes – this is what true darkness looks like. You, my dear, are only half a devil, not fit to be one; and as a god, those eyes don't seem divine at all, only barely so."

    "Ha!" Jiaomiao laughed it off. "The Book of River Lo, which spans past and future, reads: Today, you die, I live."

    "So you remain calm..." An Zhi nodded, somewhat understanding.

    An Zhi continued, "You've been in my body for too long. Have you forgotten? I am an ancient god; I can rewrite the future."

    Jiaomiao sensed an inexplicable sensation, her brows slightly furrowing.

    An Zhi continued, "Today, we can cast aside 'He Luo' and write a new chapter." With that, a glint flashed in his eyes as he suddenly leaped, landing right in front of Jiaomiao.

    He grabbed her neck with force, lifting her off the ground until her feet dangled in the air. The thrill of killing and bloodlust spread swiftly through his brain, causing the crimson demonic seal between his brows to flicker joyfully. Gradually, he tightened his grip.

    Suddenly, his wrist was constricted as it became entangled in Jiaomiao's white veil. Now, the veil was like an iron band, holding him in place, rendering him immobile.

    "I advise you to let go immediately," Jiaomiao whispered.

    Recalling the image of being toyed with until death, An Zhi found himself no longer afraid or timid. He had no intention of releasing his hold.

    "You have indeed succumbed to the darkness," Jiaomiao stated.

    Just as she spoke, a few rustling sounds emerged from behind An Zhi. He could sense a powerful gust of wind heading straight for him from behind.

    Panicked, he quickly released his grip and turned sideways. The sudden attacker streaked past his chest like lightning, darting before his eyes, and finally landing in Jiaomiao's grasp.

    This is bad!

    His heart jolted, and An Zhi seemed to sense something, staring blankly at the object in Jiaomiao's hand.

    It was the Concealment Trinket.

    "Shi Huai was right. You're indeed Lian Zhou Yin," An Zhi muttered to himself.

    With a swift swing of her sword, Jiaomiao sent out a wave of sword energy. He flew away as light as a kite with a broken string, landing directly in the thick snow outside the Jade Mountain Hall.

    Before he could stand up, the white veil whipped towards him.

    Cold sweat drenched his body, and he gritted his teeth. After a moment of hesitation, he rolled aside just before the veil touched down.

    In that instant, the veil hit the ground, sending snowflakes flying and bursting into fragments in all directions.

    "Master!"

    Still in a state of shock, An Zhi suddenly saw another black figure flying towards him. He cursed inwardly, "Damn, how does Jiaomiao have so many deadly weapons?"

    As soon as he finished his thought, the man swept his cloak, forming an elegant arc, and knelt before An Zhi, saying, "I, Rong Wu, have waited for my master for countless years, and finally, today, I meet you."

    An Zhi wore a perplexed expression.

    Jiaomiao, however, clarified for him, "The Demon Blade Soul Merge has only one master in this lifetime – Lian Zhou Yin."

    "I?" An Zhi pointed at his own nose in question.

    Soul Merge nodded and promptly unsheathed the sword, forming seals with his hands. In an instant, a radiant glow illuminated everything around them.

    He transformed into the Demon Blade, surrounded by a dense aura of black malevolence that was too intense to behold for long. A low chant could be heard, akin to a demonic incantation, capable of unsettling one's mind.

    He spoke, "Master, take me up."

    Looking at Jiaomiao, An Zhi asked, "Was he originally your sword?"

    Jiaomiao nodded, lifting Concealed Trace and gently tracing her finger along the blade. "Demon Blade Soul Merge, Divine Sword Concealed Trace. Concealed Trace fears neither gods nor demons, acknowledging only me. Yet, Soul Merge recognizes only a demon lord."

    With that, she set down Concealed Trace and urged An Zhi, "Take up Soul Merge and fight with me. Today, we must determine a clear victor or loser."

    "Soul Merge—" The blade hovered mid-air, calling out to An Zhi.

    Pausing for a moment, a thought struck An Zhi, and he reached out to grasp Rong Wu.

    In an instant, his bones creaked, his qi and blood roared, and his vision turned a bloody red. A cacophony of buzzing filled his ears, with voices calling out to him, hurried breathing, pounding heartbeats, and a howling wind that echoed like the wails of ghosts and wolves.

    Exorcising evil... Purging impurities... How did he become the very devil he was meant to vanquish? The embodiment of sin and filth?

    Heaven's laws, Earth's principles — this vast universe was bound by countless rules that governed all living beings. He set the game, yet was ensnared in it, unable to resist or escape... Since he couldn't see through these constraints, since he was but a drifting piece of driftwood in this world, unable to break free...

    Then what was the harm in destroying everything?

    A tumultuous mix of emotions surged within An Zhi's chest like an incoming tide: frustration, regret, arrogance, indifference, compassion, self-deprecation...

    The demonic seal on his forehead pulsed frenziedly, an irrepressible impulse yearning to be unleashed.

    Perceiving this, An Zhi lifted his gaze abruptly to see Jiaomiao wielding Lianji towards him in a swift attack.

    When that divine sword danced, the heavens and earth seemed to shift, its radiance and sword aura capable of immobilizing ordinary men.

    But he had to move!

    He gripped Ryuu, his voice resonating like shattering jade as the blade met the edge of Kenji. A sudden gale swept through, sending their garments swirling, as the essence of divine and demonic forces erupted from their beings.

    Jiaomiao commented, "Truly, heroes emerge in every generation."

    Disregarding her words, An Zhi manipulated his blade with lightning speed, clashing against Kenji as if slicing through tofu. Nothing could deter him.

    Abruptly, he swung the blade horizontally, creating a shower of sparks against Kenji's edge.

    Jiaomiao appeared nonchalant, casually lifting the sword's body to form a graceful arc before gently releasing it.

    A metallic clash echoed as Kenji bounced off Ryuu's blade. An Zhi stumbled three steps back, his grip on the hilt trembling uncontrollably. He couldn't discern whether the tremors originated from the thrill of the fight or Jiaomiao's impact.

    The demonic seal on his forehead pulsed with intense excitement, and his heart pounded fiercely, as if ready to burst from his chest at any moment.

    It had to be the exhilaration.

    "You may defeat me," Jiaomiao said, "but no one will spare you. You'll still end up buried with me."

    An Zhi was indifferent, for an inner voice craved more – thirsting for blood, more battles, more combat.

    More, more, even more...

    "Hahaha! I know!" An Zhi stepped forward with his blade raised.

    Jiaomiao leaped over, raising her own weapon simultaneously.

    An Zhi paused, veering the grip of his sword. A harsh cracking echoed from his chest, as if his bones were being split and shattered in an instant, causing excruciating pain. Blinded by the agony, he lost his grip on the sword and fell to the ground like a powerless leaf.

    Jiaomiao froze mid-air, staring at the sword that pierced through her shoulder. Her blood trickled down the blade; it was painful, but not fatal.

    Moments ago, she had impaled An Zhi's heart with her weapon.

    ...

    "No!!" The immense sorrow threatened to overwhelm Ju Lang, nearly sweeping him off his feet. He couldn't bear to look at the screen, all his millennia of bravery evaporating in an instant.

    "Why?! Ah?! ——" The vengeful spirit, Wen Yan, suddenly appeared behind him. "Don't you want to know everything about the Misfortune of the Untainted Child anymore?! Can you really, truly, ignore the lives of those people?!!"

    Qin Huai strode forward, grabbing Wen Yan by the collar. "Where is your authority? Save him, pull him back!!"

    Wen Yan shook her head, her eyes fixed blankly on the screen. "It's too late, everything is too late—there will never be another Asura in this world, nor will there be an An Zhi anymore."

    Ju Lang's eyes bulged with rage. "No, we have a Soul-Saving Covenant. I won't let him die, so he can't."

    ...

    "Why...?" Jiaomiao didn't understand. "Why didn't you kill me? Weren't you here to do just that?"

    As she spoke, she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder. She could distinctly sense Rong Wu slithering through her flesh, pulling out, and then shooting out of her body in a blink, hurtling towards its master with irresistible force.

    Silver strands of hair danced wildly, and An Zhi felt a heavy weight on his chest, making each breath feel like suffocation, leaving him unable to move, yet he managed to force his eyes open.

    Yet, he sensed an inexplicable force holding onto him, preventing him from departing this world.

    He silently recited the sword formula.

    In front of him, Rong Wu flew closer and closer, her apricot eyes blinking as she smiled, "I'm so tired..."

    Before she could finish her sentence, Rong Wu's blade pierced straight through the center of the demonic seal, completely penetrating it.

    A bitter sweetness rose in his throat, but before he could spit out a mouthful of blood, the bright almond-shaped eyes dimmed completely.

    Jiaomiao, on the other hand, felt an immense suction force dragging her away. In the blink of an eye, she found herself standing before Ju Lang, Qin Huai, and Wen Yan.

    At that moment, her once-human-like, hazy eyes regained remarkable clarity.

    ...

    After an indeterminate amount of time, Dixiu made a grand celebration on Mount Leishan for Ruo Mu's coming-of-age ceremony.

    From a distance, Ju Lang watched the newly transformed Ruo Mu, who seemed to be following Dixiu in a daze, like a puppet.

    At that moment, Wen Yan spotted Ju Lang from afar and called out loudly, "Emperor of Jade Mountain in the Far West! — Shi Huai and Jiaomiao have had a child! In a few days, let's all go together to celebrate with wine! —"

    Upon hearing this, Dixiu turned to look.

    Ju Lang hastily averted his gaze and started to walk away.

    Dixiu's sleeves fluttered as he leaped up, intercepting Ju Lang. "As you said, he was originally heartless. Yet amidst a thousand years of entanglement, he has somehow grown a heart of flesh and blood."

    Speaking of this, he handed a letter to Ju Lang, "Back in Yu Yuan's depths, Xiang Yan sacrificed a finger to retrieve Shen Yuan's physical body. After An Zhi passed away, he gave it to me, asking me to save him. Now, he's lucid only briefly, but managed to write this letter for you, piece by piece. He said he should've given it to you earlier, but never had the chance."

    Ju Lang took the letter:

    In the midst of swift snow and clearing skies, distant concerns may find solace.

    A cold blade’s sheen, a sword's flash, life and death hang by a thread.

    Qin Huai, the world is a stage of sorcery, its wisdom lies in self-realization. It's time to let go of some matters.

    Wen Yan, human schemes can override divine plans. Do not impose upon others what they do not desire; if I am unwilling, your scheming cannot be forced upon me. Regarding Wen Yu, I hold no blame against you. Cherish her. Also, release those people, alright?

    Jiaomiao, or perhaps you should be called Lian Zhou Yin. As time shifts, places change, people come and go. In this ancient game of chess, we're both players and pawns. Sigh, go find Shi Huai. I may not know what transpired between you two, but I'm aware that he has been waiting for you.

    Zhe Dan, don't lose yourself further. Take a chance, and you might encounter true love.

    Ju Lang, better to forget each other than to cling together in hardship.

    For myself... I wish to make a choice. Regardless of the outcome, I won't have regrets.

    Since time immemorial, heroes have emerged in their youth. Behold, though the young heroes of old have passed, new ones arise from the eastern city gates.

    Laughter erases all grudges and enmities...

    Wishing you peace and unending prosperity, until we meet again in the realm of adventure.

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

    Extra Chapter 1: Memories of the Past

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