Qi Yichen laughed loudly as Gu Qingyu turned away from him. "Don't lie to me, your face is already as red as a tomato!"
"You..." Gu Qingyu looked at Qi Yichen with some irritation, then she calmed down and sighed softly. "You asked for this."
"Huh?" Qi Yichen was confused by her sudden shift.
Before he could recover from his confusion, Ye Jin stomped towards him with rage.
Qi Yichen turned and saw Gu Qingyu's gloating grin, and he finally understood what she had meant.
"Um, Brother Jia, we should approach this in a civilised manner, no need for violence or any of that sort... I am but a mere humble scholar, I can hardly fight you anyway..." Qi Yichen laughed nervously as he shuffled backward. Suddenly, his foot slipped and he fell into the lake.
"Help! I can't swim!" He struggled to stay afloat, but he should not have any reason to panic, since he knew how to use the water-breathing technique after all. It was kind of funny to watch.
"Can this be considered as a supported kill?: Gu Qingyu shook her head and sighed. She walked to the edge of the lake, picked up a random stick and poked him. "Hey, Qi Yichen, where did you keep your secret stash of money? I'll help you take care of it."
Qi Yichen barely resurfaced. "Xiao Qing Qing, you..."
Right then, all colour was drained from his face and he sank into the lake completely.
"No!" She reached out and grabbed him immediately, but she too was pulled into the water by a strange force.
"Xiao Yu'er!" Ye Jin jumped into the water to rescue her. The water turned her skin into ice and nipped at her bones as it invaded her lungs and stole away her breath. Then, it was washed away by a warm embrace as air entered her mouth. She heard a faint, gurgling shout. "Breathe, please!" The water all over her body suddenly dissipated, and the biting chill ceased.
After some time, she opened her eyes. The warmth surrounding her was from Ye Jin, who had been cradling her in his arms.
"Xiao Yu'er." He tightened his hug when he noticed that she woke up.
"Xiao Zhezhe?" Gu Qingyu couldn't help looking around, Qi Yichen sat beside them, also looking at her. They were submerged in the water, fishes weaved through the seaweed around them cautiously. "This place is..."
"The lakebed." Qi Yichen said, finishing her sentence. "We are at the bottom of the lake."
"The bottom of the lake? How long was I out?" She looked around and tried to poke the fishes, who avoided her deftly. The water seemed to be repelled from her, but it was because of the film of air that she was encased in. She had never seen anything like this.
Ye Jin rubbed her head. "Half an hour. Xiao Yu'er, you almost scared me to death."
"I was also scared to death..." Gu Qingyu looked at Qi Yichen. "What happened just now?"
"Something seems to be pulling my feet." Qi Yichen gestured with a grimace. "And then it yanked me into the water..."
"Is it the power of the Spirit Gem?" Gu Qingyu tried to stand up and Ye Jin helped her to her feet, his hand remained wrapped around hers as she steadied herself.
Qi Yichen nodded. "It's very possible. After all, the Spirit Gem should be the only power that could manipulate water to such an extent."
His words made her heart quiver.
"What's wrong, Xiao Yu'er?" He sensed her unease and squeezed her hand lightly.
Gu Qingyu shook her head. "Nothing, let's have a look around."
"There isn't anything around. I've already taken a walk around the perimeter, it's not even that deep." Qi Yichen sighed.
"Nothing?" Gu Qingyu looked at him suspiciously.
"Yeah, I've searched everywhere." Qi Yichen pressed his lips into a thin line. "Nothing around here and nothing above us. Where else would the Spirit Gem be?"
Her eyes lit up at his deduction. "Really, Qi Yichen? Is your brain offline or something? Your IQ has taken a nosedive these days."
"Huh?" Qi Yichen didn't react at once.
Seeing Qi Yichen's dumbfounded look, Gu Qingyu couldn't help but let out a chuckle, "Nothing around us, nothing above us. Where else can the Spirit Gem be?"
Suddenly, the lakebed trembled beneath their feet. Gu Qingyu was surprised, but the tremors meant that she was right, the Spirit Gem was somewhere below them. Ye Jin pulled her into his arms. "Careful, Xiao Yu'er!"
As soon as he finished his sentence, Gu Qingyu felt Ye Jin sweeping her off her feet as they slowly fell through the air. A hole had opened up and they were falling right through it. Ye Jin gently let go of her when they had landed safely. Gu Qingyu scanned their surroundings carefully. The lake had opened up to a wasteland. The first thing she noticed was a mysterious white, round object that jutted out from the sandy soil.
"What's this?" Gu Qingyu walked over and poked with some curiosity.
"Xiao Qing Qing, please don't poke my butt..." Qi Yichen's muffled voice came.
Gu Qingyu stepped back in surprise. The mysterious object was Qi Yichen, who had landed face first and had his head stuck in the ground as a result, almost like an ostrich.
"Qi Yichen? How are you buried in the ground? Do you want to plant another you to share this silly mind with the current you?" Gu Qingyu asked "nicely". "Would you like me to help with watering you?"
"No need, just pull me out..."
"Oh, since you asked so nicely, I shall help you then." She shrugged, then grabbed his leg and pulled as hard as she could.
In an instant, Qi Yichen's head popped out from the ground.
Gu Qingyu released him with a light throw, dusted her hands clean and walked back to Ye Jin. "Wow, now I really understand the hard work farmers put in." She commented.
Qi Yichen sat on the ground, his weight resting on his right arm while his left hand rubbed away the dirt in his eyes. His hair was sprawled all over his shoulders. He looked lazy, tousled and oddly seductive, a stark contrast from his scholarly image. But it did not seem out of place. In fact, this looked more like the real Qi Yichen. He looked just like the Qi Yichen she saw in the palace of the new Xiqian. The Qi Yichen that sat in King Zhi Wei's lap with his arms wound around the king's neck and turned to smile at her. That smile was that of a fox, it drew her in and tugged at her heartstrings, just like Yan Zun and Ye Jin, but more sinister than Yan Zun and more captivating than Ye Jin. But that only lasted for a second. That version of Qi Yichen vanished once they left the palace. Aside from then, the scholar gave them the impression of an intelligent scholar or one of the clowns that fooled around with Qi Wan.
Qi Yichen smiled when he noticed her staring. "What's wrong, Xiao Qing Qing? Star-struck again? Are you actually smitten with me?"
"Why don't you go to heaven?" Gu Qingyu rolled her eyes.
Qi Yichen's smile still remained. "I just got back from heaven."
"Why don't you get into the ground?" Gu Qingyu rolled her eyes again.
Qi Yichen's smile remained unchanged. "I am underground right now."
"Why don't you die?" She gritted her teeth at the sight of his unchanging grin.
Qi Yichen's grin remains undiminished. "I am already heading there."
"Hmph!' She crossed her arms with a pouty huff, acknowledging her temporary defeat.
Ye Jin snorted, hugged Gu Qingyu, covered her eyes, and then looked at Qi Yichen. "Pull up your clothes, or I wouldn't mind burying you again."
Seeing Ye Jin's expression, Qi Yichen immediately stood up and tidied his clothes. Only then did Gu Qingyu begin to take in their surroundings. Not a drop of water in sight. The air was so dry it made her skin itch. The soil was sandy and cracked. She bent down and grabbed a handful, but it crumbled in her hands. No wonder Qi Yichen got stuck, the ground just gave when he botched his landing. Wait, they fell through the air...
She looked up immediately. Instead of the azure blue of the sky, water rippled and shimmered above them. The water seemed just within reach. She reached up in a daze and tried to grasp the cool liquid, but there seemed to be an insurmountable distance between them, she could not reach the water at all. But there was no doubt that they did fall from there.
"We are..." She opened her mouth.
"In the true sense, the bottom of the lake." Ye Jin also looked up at the water surface, or specifically, the water above the bottom of the lake.
The lake had opened to a vast wasteland that stretched as far as she could see. The wide open space was disorienting. Without any significant landmarks, they could lose their way in a blink of an eye. Then, what should they do? Where should they go? If they leave this spot, how would they find their way back? Her head spun as she tried to process and plan ahead.
"Follow me, Xiao Yu'er." Ye JIn grabbed her hand and pulled her along as he started to walk.
Gu Qingyu answered with a single word. It was sufficient. She entrusted everything to him. Qi Yichen sighed, shook his head, took out a hairpin from his sleeve to pin up his messy hair, then took out his fan and fanned himself as he kept pace with Ye Jin and Gu Qingyu. It seemed like their walking would never end, and they could faintly feel the earth shaking beneath their feet. Gu Qingyu squeezed Ye Jin's hand with worry and fear.
"Don't be afraid, Xiao Yu'er, I am here." Ye Jin said softly, but his words were firm, "I have seen records of this place. According to the forbidden books, there should be a..."
"Is it a volcano?" Gu Qingyu interrupted him.
"Huh? How did you know?" Ye Jin kept his eyes focused on her.
Gu Qingyu didn't care about his gaze, she was staring at something behind him. "I...it's there."
Ye Jin followed her line of sight and, just as expected, saw a large mountain. It reached up into the watery skies. A thin smoke was coming out from the top of the mountain. The closer they got, the warmer it felt. They were really standing at the foot of a live volcano. A short distance from the volcano was the glistening surface of the lake, along with the beautiful moon. Even Ye Jin, who had travelled the world, was impressed. "There's really a volcano, and it's alive."
"Alive? Right at the bottom of the Moon-view lake? If it goes off, it could destroy the entirety of Yan Yang City, or more..."
"This volcano has been around for a long time, but it hasn't erupted at all. Why is this?" His voice was very soft.
She finally understood what he was referring to. "It's because of the Spirit Gem."
"Yes." He nodded.
Qi Yichen frowned. "Then, does that mean the Spirit Gem is in the volcano?"Previous Chapter Next Chapter