Phoenix’s Requiem - Chapter 104
Chapter 104: Accident
Coincidentally, the day Yun Ruoyan left Madam An’s residence with the fox pelt in tow, she ran into Xi Lan and Ling Lan on the way to the storeroom to retrieve some silk. The girl and her two servants had laughed a little about the entire affair.
Not long after, as Xi Lan and Ling Lan returned to Yun Ruoyan’s residence with the silk in tow, they saw the spiritual master walking down the path that Yun Ruoyan had been on. Xi Lan didn’t pay the stranger much heed, but Ling Lan did.
Because she was often sent in for questioning by Madam An, she was very familiar with the paths and passages close to Madam An’s residence. That was the path that led directly to Madam An’s quarters, and Ling Lan took note of him.
Why had a Daoist priest followed Yun Ruoyan out so quickly after she had left Madam An’s quarters? Yun Ruoyan had only told them that Madam An had given her a fox pelt out of nowhere, but she hadn’t mentioned the presence of a priest at all!
When they returned to Yun Ruoyan’s rooms, Ling Lan quickly informed Yun Ruoyan of the incident.
Yun Ruoyan had also found her encounter with Madam An quite unusual: she could sense an unfamiliar presence during their talk, but she had only thought it a new servant. When she heard Ling Lan’s report, it became quite clear that the stranger she had sensed was this unusual Daoist priest.
At the time, Yun Ruoyan hadn’t realized why Madam An had summoned a priest. Although she was quite curious, she didn’t press the matter further.
When she next went to the Lin estate, Yun Ruoyan brought the fox pelt and the wine that Ling Lan had given to her. Lin Qingchen confirmed that the fox pelt was not only perfectly safe, it was even a somewhat precious treasure: it had come from a fox with some achievement at cultivation.
Humans weren’t the only species gifted with the ability to cultivate: any living creature could, and once such a creature was able to convert the spiritual energy from the heavens into a form it could use, it was termed a spirit beast. Naturally, the pelt from a fox spirit was far more precious than that from an ordinary fox.
When Lin Qingchen heard that the pelt was given to her by Madam An, however, she too felt that there had to be some problem she hadn’t noticed.
Next, Lin Qingchen sniffed the flask of wine and quickly pronounced it to be realgar wine. It wasn’t alcohol brewed for consumption: only demon hunters knew how to make it, and, as a result, it wasn’t widely available on the market. Such wine could only be bought at a high price from a demon hunter.
Regular folk might have heard of realgar wine, but they surely wouldn’t have been able to afford any. At any rate, it was a precious commodity. This was the first time that Yun Ruoyan herself had seen it. Lin Qingchen even told Yun Ruoyan that realgar wine, consumed in small quantities, would actually boost her physique.
But why would Madam An task Ling Lan with putting such a precious substance in her food? She couldn’t be trying to make amends, could she?!
“She thinks you’re a demon, of course!” While Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen remained puzzled by the series of events, Lin Qingxue had solved the mystery. Although her two sisters had been ignoring her presence, Lin Qingxue had heard every word of their conversation.
Lin Qingxue loved stories about demons, beasts, spirits, and all sorts of mythical creatures. She would often pester her grandfather and Lin Bo about such stories, and the storyteller who spoke at length about demon hunters in the teahouse was an old friend of hers.
As a result, Lin Qingxue knew far more than her sisters did about mysticism and the occult, and she naturally understood the intent behind Madam An’s actions.
“Sister Ruoyan, your stepmother must think that you’ve been possessed by a fox demon!” Lin Qingxue explained. “First, she tried to get a servant to pour realgar wine into your food to make you show your true form. When it wasn’t effective, she called in an old priest to deal with you. This fox pelt must have been to frighten you into revealing your demonic origins so that priest could have gotten rid of you.”
Lin Qingxue’s words made Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen gape. When Yun Ruoyan thought back to her recent interactions with Madam An and her curious fear of her, she was all but able to confirm Lin Qingxue’s hypothesis.
After realizing Madam An’s ploy, Yun Ruoyan did nothing. Although she did die and return to life with a vengeance, it had nothing to do with demons. No matter what sort of demon hunter Madam An sent after her, it would all be a farce.
But coincidences happened more often than one might expect in the world, and the spiritual master was one such coincidence. Not only did he realize that Yun Ruoyan wasn’t a demon, he had even identified her as a human furnace, a legendary presence that he might not have met even once in a millennium.
In a side room by the reception chamber, the spiritual master was impatiently waiting to snatch Yun Ruoyan up and begin to cultivate with her.
“Spiritual Master, the time is nigh,” Madam An attempted to placate him. “You’ll soon be able to reveal her for the demon that she is in front of the entire gathering, and then you can both increase your fame and reputation while snatching her up!”
“Oh, she’s no demon,” the spiritual master corrected. “In fact, not only is she not a demon, she’s a rarity I’d be lucky to possess!”
When the spiritual master said these words, his eyes were half-lidded, as if he were lost in his desires.
Madam An had become greatly disturbed by this seemingly ascetic old man, but she still maintained a polite facade. “Spiritual Master, if she’s not a demon, how do you plan on capturing her in front of the crowd?”
This was what worried her most.
Rather than replying, the spiritual master waved a hand at Madam An. She suddenly saw a fox emerge from within his sleeve, a fox with fiery red fur, almost as if the fox pelt that she had given to Yun Ruoyan had come back to life.
The fox clawed at Madam An’s head as soon as it emerged, and she was so scared that she leaped to the floor.
“Spiritual Master, please save me! The fox spirit’s coming for me!” Madam An clutched her face as she called out.
But the man only laughed. “There’s no need to fear, Madam. This is only a little trick of mine, and it won’t be able to harm you at all.”
Madam An slowly removed the hands covering her eyes: indeed, the fox had vanished. “Where is it?” She looked all around her.
The spiritual master shrugged. “There’s never been a fox spirit. I simply have the ability to conjure one up, or to mask a perfectly normal human as a demon.”
Eight hundred miles from the capital, a few half-breed flaming steeds were galloping in haste. One of the riders was the Slaughtering King, Li Mo.
“Slaughtering King, with your injury, you should refrain from using any spiritual energy,” a black-robed man quickly advised. Seeing that he was about to miss the Yun matriarch’s banquet, Li Mo was about to try to fly on his sword instead.
“That’s right, Slaughtering King, it’s only a banquet, and you’ll be fine even if you’re a little late,” another black-robed man advised.
Li Mo looked toward the capital, his icy-cold eyes narrowing. His spiritual vortex had been recently injured, and the injury was rapidly growing worse as a result of his harsh riding the past few days. If he were to employ an ability as taxing as flight, it would significantly worsen the state of his body.
The best thing for him to do would be to rest, but a niggling, ominous discomfort plagued his mind.
He hadn’t expected that the old shaman who’d possessed the information he was searching for would choose to self-destruct in order to take Li Mo down with him. Luckily, he had noticed the attempt early enough to be able to escape without too severe an injury, but two of the guards that had travelled with him weren’t as lucky.
Outside the entrance to the Yun manor, Yun Lan was standing and waiting for more guests to show up. It was almost past noon, and the guests were mostly assembled. They were simply waiting for an auspicious hour for the start of the banquet.
“Master, it’s almost time for the banquet to start. Why don’t you head in and prepare?” Housekeeper Wu walked out from the manor and urged him inside.
Yun Lan waved his hands at him, ignoring him and continuing to wait. A moment later, Yun Feng walked out. “Brother, the banquet’s almost about to start! Why are you still here?!”
“The Slaughtering King isn’t here yet.”
“Did he state that he would come?”
Yun Lan nodded. “I met him in the palace, and he asked me about the upcoming banquet. I personally delivered an invitation to his manor, and he promised to attend. But why isn’t he here yet?”
“Don’t you know about the Slaughtering King’s personality? Just because he promised to come doesn’t mean that he’ll actually do so,” Yun Feng replied. “At any rate, Brother, you should head inside. Mother’s already seated, and we’re all waiting for you to start the ceremony. If you tarry, you’ll miss the most auspicious timing!”
The etiquette for which the Li kingdom was famed naturally came into play during such a formal occasion. The head of the household would lead all its descendants in kowtowing to the person of honor at the start of an auspicious hour. This so-called auspicious hour referred to the time at which the person of honor was born, and the Yun matriarch was born right after noon.
Yun Lan glanced up at the sky once more before huffing in exasperation, “Alright, let’s head inside.”
The great hall was filled to the brim with guests, and the Yun matriarch naturally sat at the seat of honor. Her descendants, in order of seniority, filled up the tables ahead of her. All of them were standing, preparing to kowtow to the matriarch.
Including the concubine-born, the Yun matriarch had seven children in total. Her eldest daughter had passed away, and the two concubine-born daughters had been married off to nobility in the Yue and Chen kingdoms. Neither of them were able to rush back in time for the celebration.
Madam An stood at the very front. Next were her two concubine-born sons and their wives. Behind them was solely Yun Ruoyan; Yun Moxiao’s seat was empty. And behind Yun Ruoyan were Yun Ruoyao, Yun Ruoyu, and about an additional ten or so concubine-born grandchildren. Because Yi Qianying was a member of the Yis, she could only stand with that crowd. Yun Ruoyan glanced at the empty spot next to her. In her past life, Yun Moxiao had failed to return in time for the banquet.
Although most of the events that took place in her past life continued to do so now, many of the smaller details had changed. Yun Ruoyan’s dramatic shift in personality had caused a cascade of effects, and she couldn’t be sure whether Yun Moxiao would make it back on time, or if he would do so at all.
Right then, Yun Lan stepped into the great hall, quickly followed by Yun Feng. The guests began to murmur pleasantries and auspicious greetings as they entered. In response, Yun Lan smiled and cupped his fists.
Yun Feng stood together with his half-brothers, whereas Yun Lan stood right in front of the matriarch herself. In a sonorous voice, he began chanting the appropriate rites. Finally, he recited, “The auspicious hour is come. Descendants, kneel and kowtow!”
With Yun Lan taking the lead, all the descendants of the Yun matriarch bowed to her as one.
After doing so, Yun Lan stood and declaimed, “Mother, may your life—”
Yun Lan’s well wishes were interrupted by a loud cry, one so loud that it must have come from a high-ranking cultivator. The crowd stirred and turned to the entrance to the great hall in shock, seeing a slender, thin man dressed in Daoist robes.
Naturally, this was none other than the scheming spiritual master!