Phoenix’s Requiem - Chapter 33
Chapter 33: We’Ve Been Had!
“Damn it!” Yun Ruoyan couldn’t help but curse.
This cave network was long and winding, and the further inside they went, the darker and dimmer it got.
She had already been very careful to follow Pei Ziao closely, but she hadn’t expected that a fork would suddenly appear beyond the next bend.
Despite Pei Ziao’s shadow only having left her field of vision for an instant, by the time she rushed up two steps to catch up, there was already no trace of the group ahead.
“Ruoyan, why did you stop moving?” Lin Qingxue, who was directly behind Yun Ruoyan, asked.
Yun Ruoyan moved aside in silence, allowing Lin Qingxue to see the fork in the path ahead.
“Where are they? Which route did they take?”
“I don’t know; they’ve ditched us!”
“What?! What a nasty group! We saved them, and they’re leaving us behind just like that? If I ever see them again…”
Because she was anxious to get out of the array, Yun Ruoyan risked trusting Yun Ruoyao’s group. Although she had been very careful the entire way, she had still fallen into their trap in the end.
“I was the one who underestimated them.” Yun Ruoyan slowly clenched her fist. In truth, she had also overestimated herself, thinking that she would be able to deal with any of their tricks.
Clearly, there wasn’t a perfect defense against people seeking to cause her harm.
Lin Qingchen and Zhuo Yifeng, who were walking behind the others, were also infuriated upon seeing the sight.
“Based on their familiarity with this area, it’s clear that they’ve gone through the entire cave network. But what’s the purpose of their ditching us behind here?” Lin Qingchen pondered.
“Surely nothing good!” Lin Qingxue was confident in her own analysis. “Let’s turn back now.”
“No, we can’t!” Zhuo Yifeng disagreed with Lin Qingxue’s suggestion.
“Lin’er said that there’s a very strong snake scent behind us, likely from the snake horde that’s still guarding the cave. The saber-toothed tiger’s scent from these canines won’t last forever, and when they react, they’ll be sure to keep attacking us.”
“Not only that,” Zhuo Lin’er continued from Zhuo Yifeng’s back, “I can hear them starting to move again. I think they’re starting to rouse once more!”
Zhuo Lin’er’s words made everyone anxious.
“In that case, we can only keep moving forward,” Lin Qingchen concluded. “There are two paths ahead here, and Yun Ruoyao’s group must have chosen one of them. In that case, we have a 50% chance of being able to walk out safely, but which path should we take?”
Everyone’s gaze landed once more on Yun Ruoyan.
If there were only one path ahead, then no matter how dangerous it was, they would forge through it. But this was a fork, a branching path, one leading to an exit, and the other to an unknown danger. How were they to choose?
Yun Ruoyan didn’t have any ideas in the heat of the moment.
“Qiuqiu,” she called for help mentally, “Are you able to discern which of these paths leads to safety, and which to danger?”
“Mistress, I’m sorry, but I don’t have any clue. Regardless, you have to choose quickly, because those snakes are approaching.” Qiuqiu’s tone was somewhat embarrassed.
Zhuo Lin’er made the same warning.
“Ruoyan, you should choose. We’ll all follow you willingly,” Lin Qingchen said calmly. “If we can get out safely, then that’s ideal, but if we end up on the wrong path, then I’m sure we’ll be able to overcome it working together as a group.”
“That’s right, Sister Ruoyan! If you were even able to defeat as tough an opponent as a saber-toothed tiger, I don’t have anything to fear if I’m with you,” added Lin Qingxue.
Yun Ruoyan turned back to her companions, three bright eyes in the darkness. No, four pairs—Zhuo Lin’er peeked her head out from behind Zhuo Yifeng’s shoulders, quietly looking at Yun Ruoyan.
Yun Ruoyan opened her tightly clenched fists, a smile by her lips. In her past life, she had ended up estranged from those who truly loved her, entrusting her heart to a man worse than a beast, dying in despair.
This time, when she once again faced danger, she had friends and family who trusted her.
Her agitated heart suddenly calmed down, and she felt as though she had entered a state of transcendent clarity. She could hear the slow, rhythmic beat of water dripping from above, a faint gust of wind, and an ominous rustling from behind.
She turned her head and pointed to the path on the left. “We’ll take this one.”
“Alright!” Everyone said in unison from behind her.
“I won’t let anything happen to any of you,” Yun Ruoyan promised once again as she turned back and looked at her party.
At the same time, Yun Ruoyao, Yun Ruoyu, Yi Qianying, and Pei Ziao walked out of the cave.
“Look, there are people over there.” Yun Ruoyao pointed at a nearby stream, where people were starting a campfire and cooking. Night had once again fallen while they were walking through the cave.
“It’s Liu Sheng and Wang Kuang!” Pei Ziao’s expression brightened. “I recognize them; they’re disciples from the Yue kingdom who sought my father out to have a blade forged half a month ago. It looks like we’re out of the array, everyone.”
Pei Ziao glanced back at the cave, a complicated expression on his face. Before entering the real, to ensure his safety, Pei Yingxiong had specifically told him how to find the exit to a misdirection array.
He’d never revealed it because he wanted to find an opportunity to get closer to Yun Ruoyan, but that woman had been too distrustful.
No matter how he tried to help her, she continued ignoring him.
As a result, while they were being attacked by the saber-toothed tiger, he hesitated only a little before running away with Yun Ruoyao and the rest, and they found the exit quite shortly afterwards.
Halfway through the caves, however, it suddenly occurred to him that if Yun Ruoyan and the others hadn’t died, they would surely reveal the details of the incident to everyone as soon as they left the imperial territory.
To run away while discarding your teammates wasn’t honorable, and even if he wouldn’t be punished by his family for doing so, it would be a stain on his reputation for good. He would never be able to hold his head high to others of his generation.
Coincidentally, Yun Ruoyao had thought of the same thing. After a short discussion, the group decided to head back and confirm their demise: if they were dead, that was for the best; if not, then they would find a way to get rid of them.
There was a secret to the exit that not many people knew about, so even if they found the exit, they might not be able to get out. This was the key to his scheme.
He had originally hesitated a little, but when he revealed his plan to test the waters, he actually received unanimous approval from the rest of the group.
If you’d just given me a little hope, this wouldn’t have been your demise, Pei Ziao sighed in his heart.
Seeing his expression, Yi Qianying thought he was worrying about Yun Ruoyao’s group.
“Don’t worry, Brother Ziao.” Yi Qianying clutched Pei Ziao’s hand tightly. “They won’t have a chance to hurt your reputation.”
Pei Ziao looked at the seemingly gentle Yi Qianying in front of him and nodded coolly, but his hand silently crept toward her waist.
“But they still have a 50% chance of walking out, don’t they?” Yun Ruoyu added.
Yi Qianying smiled coldly, a vicious spark appearing in her eye. Even if they chose the right path, the snakes hidden in the cave wouldn’t let them go.
It turned out that Yi Qianying had a latent talent for beast taming, which was partly why the Yuns had paid so much attention to her even though she was from a branch family.
However, she was particularly lazy and slow-witted when it came to cultivation, and she’d been stuck as a fourth-rank blademaster for two whole years. This was why she was unable to start training as a summoner.
Nevertheless, based on her talent and intuition, she could already concoct powders that would attract all sorts of magical beasts. The reason the saber-toothed tiger only attacked Yun Ruoyan was because she had spread this sort of powder on Yun Ruoyan’s body.
She recalled her pretending to stumble as she sprinkled the powder on Lin Qingxue’s body, followed by the expression of disgust that Lin Qingxue shot her. The memory left Yi Qianying with unparalleled joy. Don’t blame me for being heartless. You’re the one who tried to steal my Brother Ziao away from me despite being so ugly, so you have to die!
By this time, Yun Ruoyan and the others had gone deeper and deeper into the cave network, but they were still far from the exit.
At the start, there was still some sunlight in the cave, but it got darker as they proceeded onward until it was pitch-black.
Lin Qingchen took out the saber-toothed tiger’s monster core from her bag of holding and handed it to Yun Ruoyan. The golden-yellow core gave off a faint white light, barely illuminating the path ahead.
The others all held firehound cores in their hands. The light emanating from those cores were weaker than the tiger core, but it was better than nothing.
“How long more do we have to walk? I hope it’s not a bottomless cave,” Lin Qingxue muttered, unable to help shivering.
“Brother…” A quieter voice piped up from Zhuo Yifeng’s back.
“What’s the matter, Lin’er?” Zhuo Yifeng turned around and looked at his sister.
She shook her head, not saying anything, and Zhuo Yifeng began plodding onward once more.
Zhuo Lin’er’s forehead was slightly scrunched up. She could smell a faint snake scent, but one so faint that it seemed to vanish whenever she tried to discern it more carefully.
There shouldn’t have been anything wrong with her nose, so what was the problem?
While Zhuo Lin’er was still mired in her doubts, Lin Qingxue suddenly felt a slippery patch beneath her feet.
“Ah!” She called out as she stumbled. “I think I stepped on something?”
Everyone stopped as Yun Ruoyan brought her core closer to her feet. All they saw was a little green snake, only as wide as a finger, its head squashed by Lin Qingxue’s soles.
“Oh, it’s just a little snake! I was so frightened!” Lin Qingxue patted her chest in relief.
No one paid much heed to this small interlude, but, after a few more steps, Lin Qingxue shouted once more. As she did so, she flung an object toward the person in front of her, Yun Ruoyan.
Yun Ruoyan immediately pulled out her sword and sliced the little snake in the air into two.
“Why do these creatures keep coming after me?!”
Yun Ruoyan also found it a little strange, so she used the core in her hands to illuminate the surroundings. All of a sudden, she found that the walls seemed to be embedded with many curiously shaped stones.
As she walked closer to inspect them more carefully, the hairs on her neck rose up.
Those round “pebbles” stacked all around the cave walls were clearly snake eggs.
“Everyone, be careful!” Yun Ruoyan shouted, and along with her shout came the ominous crackling of eggshells reverberating throughout the entire cave.