Chapter 182: Insistent Pest
“Here I am.” Nan Xun took a deep breath and walked up to her, pretending to be oblivious to her conversation with Ji Bo. He reached out for her forehead to take her temperature. She wasn’t running a fever. He pulled away and let out a relieved sigh.
The old man cleared his throat. Nan Xun exchanged a look with Jun Huang before turning to the old man. “The door of life is the door of death,” Nan Xun said in a dignified tone. “We’ve found the door of life and survive the trial. Before we entered, however, the gentleman said that we must find the token of Heavenly Fiends in order to pass the trial. Where is this token?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” the old man said. He got to his feet and walked outside. Nan Xun came up to Jun Huang to help her up and draped a robe over her shoulders. The three of them followed the old man out.
Jun Huang only realized then that this wasn’t the inn she and Nan Xun had moved into even though it looked very similar. This seemed like the small building they had gone through. When she mentioned it to Nan Xun, the old man piped up, “You’re right. This is the building you’ve gone through. It’s also the headquarters of the House of Heavenly Fiends. Normally we only enable the traps when we’re defending against outside enemies. The traps are disabled now, so you don’t have to worry.”
“Alright.” Jun Huang nodded. The walls were scarred by blades. Under the dim light, the room looked terrifying.
After about the time for a pot of tea to brew, they reached the outside of a sealed room. The room was cast with black iron. It was freezing to the touch. Jun Huang flinched before her fingers came in contact with the wall, and yet it took a moment for her hand to warm back up.
The old man pulled a lever and thud! A small door opened up to the room. The old man took the lead, and the three of them followed him in.
“The token is hidden inside this room,” the old man explained. “However, it only appears when there is no sign of life within the room. That’s why you didn’t see it.”
He knocked on the wall and revealed a small hidden compartment. He pulled out a token made of black iron.
Jun Huang took the token. It was all black with the symbol of the House of Heavenly Fiends on it. She could make out the word “Heavenly Fiends,” but it was faint. Crawling along the edge of the token were thorny vines. Coldness started to seep into her body in the short amount of time she held the token in her hand.
Nan Xun took the token from her. “Black iron such as this radiates cold air. You haven’t fully recovered yet. You shouldn’t hold this for too long. It’s bad for your health.”
Nan Xun handed the token back to the old man. “It seems that this token has always been stored here. It’s not meant for us, is it?”
The old man nodded. He used the token to open another hidden compartment. Inside were two other tokens with “Heavenly Spirits” and “Earthly Fiends” written on it respectively. These two tokens were smaller in size, and they were made of different materials. The token of Heavenly Spirits was all white with the pattern of the Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper etched into it. The token of Earthly Fiends, on the other hand, was all black. On it was the star of Northern Sea Nan Xun and Jun Huang saw in the first stage of the trial.
The old man handed the token of Heavenly Spirits to Jun Huang and the token of Earthly Fiends to Nan Xun. He then returned the token of Heavenly Fiends to its original place. The hidden compartment disappeared without a trace. Nan Xun felt around the wall and couldn’t find any triggers.
“I have something to tell them, Ji Bo,” the old man said as he lead Jun Huang and Nan Xun to the stone room. “Wait outside for us, please.”
Ji Bo knew that the old man was going to tell them the secrets of the House of Heavenly Fiends. As an outsider, he shouldn’t be present. He nodded and watched the three of them leave.
Once inside, Jun Huang saw piles and piles of books around the room. Jun Huang was going to pick up one before she stopped herself.
“You can read the books,” the old man said. “These are all yours from now on.”
Jun Huang threw a glance at Nan Xun before picking up a book. Her eyebrows drew closer as she read. Written in the book was important information about the House of Heavenly Fiends, including its origin. It was difficult for her to sort through at first glance, however. Jun Huang put down the book after browsing a few pages.
“You have to understand all these,” said the old man. “I’m not saying that you have to become adept at everything your positions entail immediately, but you’re going to be in charge of the organization. You’ll have to play the part. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how to do your job.”
Jun Huang nodded. She and Nan Xun sat down cross-legged across from the old man. The old man started telling them confidential information that only the leaders of the organization could know.
After the time for an incense stick to burn, the old man stopped and drank some water. “Do you understand everything?”
Jun Huang nodded. “I have a question,” she asked after some hesitation. “Why did you suddenly need new leaders? From the book I just read, it says that the leaders are replaced every hundred years.”
“The leader of the Earthly Fiends suddenly passed away,” the old man said. “Both the Heavenly Spirits and the Earthly Fiends need a leader. There would be a power imbalance if one of them is missing, and the House of Heavenly Fiends will fall into chaos. That’s why we were so eager to find replacement.”
Jun Huang nodded in understanding and cupped her hands. “If so, I’ll leave the matter of locating my brother to you.”
“Don’t worry,” said the old man. “I’ve sent out some men to look for him while you two were unconscious. I’m sure we will hear something soon.”
Jun Huang let out a sigh of relief. When they were going to leave the room, Jun Huang grimaced and spat out a mouthful of blood, dyeing the floor red. Nan Xun hurriedly put an arm around her to support her. Her face was pale as she doubled over with a hand on the wall.
“What’s wrong?” the old man asked. He shut his eyes and took her pulse.
Jun Huang had regained her composure after spitting out the blood. She took a deep breath and said, “The gentleman doesn’t have to do this. This is an illness I can not be cured of.”
The old man didn’t let go of her until he had made his diagnosis. “Some of your blood has gone in the wrong direction because of the two kinds of poison in your body. It’s not untreatable. There must be a way to cleanse the poison. Don’t jump to conclusions before things are set in stone.”
“Do you mean it?” Jun Huang looked up in surprise and asked in an urgent tone.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but you are now the leader of Heavenly Spirits. It’s the House of Heavenly Fiend’s mission to look for a cure for you. We will do all we can to save you.”
The old man didn’t give her a guarantee, but it reassured her all the same. She nodded while her eyebrows remained furrowed.
After the time they had spent together, Nan Xun could tell what Jun Huang was thinking about. He took her hands and said, “Don’t think too much. Since there’s a way for you to be cured, you should take care of yourself. You don’t want your brother to see you in this state, do you?”
Jun Huang looked up at him and met his determined gaze. She nodded. “Alright. I will try to improve my health.”
Tension drained out of Nan Xun’s body. He was worried that Jun Huang would be possessed by her desires to find Jun Hao. He bid the old man farewell and helped Jun Huang out of the room.
Ji Bo ran up to them and asked worriedly, “What happened? Weren’t you alright before you entered? Why do you seem so weak now?”
“It’s nothing,” Jun Huang said, waving a hand at him. “It’s an old problem now. I’ll be fine after a short rest. Don’t worry.”
Ji Bo was reminded of the poison in her body. It was best for her not to overtax herself. He cursed at himself for forgetting that.
Fear crept into his heart belatedly. It was fortunate that she had not been hit by the poison during the trial. If she got sick when they were fighting the tigers, she might have died.
“By the way,” Jun Huang looked up at Ji Bo and asked, “Why is the gentleman here?”
Ji Bo didn’t keep anything from her. “After you left the imperial city, I got wind that the House of Heavenly Fiends were in Yun Town. I left the city as well. The road was difficult to traverse, so I didn’t try to catch up with you.”
Jun Huang made a sound of understanding. They walked out of the basement and returned to the spot they had come from. Ji Bo and the old man were old friends. They had more to talk about. Therefore Jun Huang and Nan Xun took their leave first. The tea house owner and the clerk were waiting for them outside.
“I was ordered to wait for you here,” the tea house owner said. “It’s late now, and the gentlemen are not familiar with the area. Let us take you back to Yun Town.”
“Thank you.” Nan Xun accepted the offer. It was dark now. Traveling at night was difficult enough in itself. Now that Jun Huang was injured, he didn’t want any accidents to happen. He helped her get into the coach.
On the way back, Jun Huang kept her eyes shut and didn’t say a word. Nan Xun knew she was awake. She was simply resting because she wasn’t feeling well.
The clip-clop of the horse’s hoofs came from outside the coach. The path they traveled on was a smooth one. They soon reached the inn they were staying in.
The coach came to a stop. Jun Huang opened her eyes and let Nan Xun help her out. They bid farewell to the tea house owner. When they turned around, they were surprised to find Rong’er waiting for them.
“You’re finally back!” Worried that Jun Huang and Nan Xun would ignore her, Rong’er continued without a pause, “I’ve been waiting for you two for a while. I was thinking about coming back later, but I didn’t want to miss you again.”
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