Translator: TransN Editor: TransN
Their silly smiles seemed exceptionally white against the snow white forest. Their smiles were so infections it could be felt by each snow particle on every branch and every strand of grass beneath the snowy ground. However, the burning flames from the Fu paper in the snow pit before the two did not catch on. The flames did not grow any larger as the bitter winds blew across it.
Ning Que looked at the tiny flames on the black robes covering the body of the Judicial Department's deacon. It was then, when he discovered, rather awkwardly, that his abilities were very much beneath the young Talisman Master beside him. The talisman that Mo Shanshan had drawn without much thought yesterday had reduced the Judicial Department's deacon into ashes without a single scorch mark on his black robes. However, the fire talisman he had worked hard on in Chang'an City was very weak compared to it. How many days would it take to burn the corpse completely?
Mo Shanshan noticed the awkward expression on his face and could barely stop herself from laughing out loud. She lowered her head in order to hide her smiles. Her fingers which were left outside her robes made a flicking action and the flames in the snow pit grew larger.
The dazzling white embers flickered. Ning Que who was standing by the side had barely been able to feel the warmth of it before he realized that the snow had melted and was seeping through the ground. The body of the deacon had already burned completely, this time, together with the black robes and could no longer be seen.
Ning Que sighed as he looked at the sight before him. The art of drawing talismans depended on one's potential. Using a talisman depended on how one applied it. His talismans were a far cry from the Calligraphic Addict's and felt rather resentful when he couldn't even understand how she had applied it.
"Master Yan Se said that I was a rare genius in Talisman Taoism in over one thousand years. But now that we have been together for some time, I feel that he hadn't been truthful. Either that or his views must be really different from the Master of Calligrapher."
He looked at Mo Shanshan's beautiful clear eyes and was certain that she was about his age. However, he couldn't ask for her age without feeling awkward. So he shook his head and said with regret, "You are a true Talisman Taoism genius."
Mo Shanshan looked at him and asked in a serious manner. "Senior Brother XIII, when did you start studying Talisman Taoism?"
Ning Que counted back and replied, "In spring. It's been almost six months."
Mo Shanshan looked into his eyes quietly and sighed softly after a long while. She said, "Well, Master Yan Se is indeed right. You're indeed a genius in Talisman Taoism."
Ning Que was very happy when he heard that. This was especially so when he thought of his bragging to Chen Pipi. He felt much more secure about his abilities and he smiled while asking seriously, "Am I really very strong?"
Mo Shanshan nodded. She thought of something and asked curiously, "What is your teacher like?"
Ning Que thought for a while before he replied honestly, "He is a creepy and perverted old man."
Mo Shanshan was slightly surprised. She thought of it for a moment before coming to a conclusion. She said softly, "I was asking about the Headmaster of the Academy. I am very curious as to what kind of person could teach the students of the Second floor."
Ning Que smiled bashfully. He replied, "You might find it hard to believe. Even though I am traveling through the Wilderness as a core disciple of the Headmaster, I have yet to meet him."
Mo Shanshan blinked. She did not seem to think that this would be his reply.
Ning Que considered the question for a while before he said seriously, "According to the Senior Brothers and Sisters of the Second floor, I imagine the Headmaster must be a very proud, showy and amazing dude."
Only the guys from the Back Mountain of the Academy would dare to address the Headmaster as a dude. Ning Que's description was mostly nonsense though. Someone like Mo Shanshan, the Calligraphic Addict, would, of course, be well aware of how the Headmaster was like. Wouldn't someone in a high cultivation state like the Headmaster have every right to be proud and showy?
"How is your master, the Master of Calligrapher, like?" Ning Que asked curiously.
A mix of emotions appeared on Mo Shanshan's face upon hearing the mention of her teacher. There were respect and uncertainty. She lowered her head slowly and turned to walk towards the snow forest, unwilling to talk about this.
Ning Que looked at her retreating back and frowned. He turned back to look at the snow pit to make sure that the corpse had been destroyed completely before speeding up to catch up with her.
Hooves landed on white snow. The Big Black Horse lowered his head and trotted on with the heavy luggage on his back.
He looked at the clear prints on the snowy ground of the forests and the young man and woman before them. He wondered to himself why they weren't worried about leaving prints when leaving but had to drag grass behind them when they came.
The Big Black Horse had a sudden epiphany and could not help but be annoyed. He shook his head angrily, kicked up his hooves and sped towards the periphery of the forest just like the way he did on the way there.
Ning Que tied the branches and some firewood that the Big Black Horse had searched high and low for behind the horse. He patted the back of the horse in satisfaction before drawing an odd grass from the front of his robes and stuffing it in the horse's mouth as a reward.
Mo Shanshan looked at this display curiously and thought to herself that those from the Second floor of the Academy were really odd. Even their beasts were odd. It seemed as if it could understand humans. She wondered how this was possible.
Ning Que spoke, "We have to clear all traces of our journey from the snow. The best solution would be if Haotian deigns to send snow. However, if it doesn't snow, we have to be more cautious. We mustn't take the same road we took when coming here."
Mo Shanshan did not understand. She asked, "I know that the grass used previously was for this, but why did you burn them and have Big Black search for branches?"
Ning Que explained calmly, "Because I wanted to try writing my own fire talisman and see how strong it would be. But I wasn't certain if it would burn, which was why I used the grass as fuel. It seems that it didn't work, so you have to help again."
Ning Que was really shameless to be able to speak about his own incompetence in such a calm manner. However, the Big Black Horse who had tried his best to suppress his need to hurry while erasing all traces of their journey got even sadder.
Mo Shanshan did not notice the shamelessness in his statement. After a moment of silence, she sighed. "I grew up in the Ink Lake and was brought up by Teacher Qu. He had never allowed me to explore the secular world. If not for the edict of the Divine Hall and that I've grown up, I might not have left the mountain."
Ning Que could see, from her description, an old Grand Cultivator watching a child of five or six by the lakeside, sternly ordering her to clear her heart and hold a pen.
Mo Shanshan looked at the mountain ranges a distance away and said quietly, "The three addicts of the world are addicted to Talisman Taoism and Calligraphy. They are addicted to cultivation and to plants. If they really wanted to enter the human realm, they would be easily defeated by a clever and artful person like yourself.
Ning Que shook his head and said, "I am not being humble, but even if I were more sly and practical, I would never be able to beat you guys. One's state can easily defeat all plots."
Mo Shanshan softly replied with her head lowered. "I have suddenly understood something. I don't understand the things of the secular world. Lu Chenjia is like me, she might not understand as well. If I were the person sitting on the horse carriage on the meadow and the people who were being attacked by the Horse Gang were from the Yuelun Kingdom, perhaps I might not be bothered either."
Ning Que looked at the strands of hair that strayed in the wind by her face and said, "No, you are different from the Flower Addict. She is addicted to flowers and can think of people as fertilizers or mud that will benefit her flowers. You may be addicted to calligraphy, but the world you see is a normal world. You do not think of the blood we ordinary people shed as ink to use."
Mo Shanshan thought that his description was gory but appropriate. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes and said seriously, "Am I really different with the Flower Addict?"
"Of course." Ning Que smiled. "Even though both of you are ignorant, you are kind and ignorant."
Ignorance was not gory, but not completely appropriate either. Nobody would like to be called ignorant. Mo Shanshan furrowed her brows while retaining a trace of happiness in her eyes. She asked, "Are you joking?"
Ning Que wanted to say that he was being truthful. But when he looked at the beautiful face before him, he nodded.
Mo Shanshan turned around and did not say anything else. Her thin red lips were pursed and her cheeks puffed out. She was not trying to control her anger, but her laughter instead.
"If only... you weren't such a liar. Of course, you are already very good, because you know how I feel, which was why you lied."
Mo Shanshan lowered her head and continued walking as she thought to herself. She did not leave any trace of her steps in the snow even though she stepped in it. She did not intend for it to happen, but she felt that she was really floating in the air.
Back at the tents, Ning Que and the woman from the Desolate Man tribe entered a serious discussion. He asked her to do some things. The woman who participated in the Winter Etiquette and followed the rules of never returning to her tribe left her child to the young man and woman from the Central Plains and returned to her tribe.
After two days, the woman brought back relatively bad news. Ning Que did not care because he knew that it was a difficult thing trying to gain the trust of the Desolate Man tribe as a person from the Central Plains.
It was lucky that he still managed to gain some rather useful information. For example, he knew of recent happenings such as the traveling merchants from Tuyang City and how the Desolate Man tribe had taken over the Wilderness.
The temperature dropped as they left the winter forests and headed north. This could be because they were about to enter the foothill in the extreme north of Tianqi Mountain. Mo Shanshan's roan horse would definitely not be able to bear the cold. As such, they left it with the mother and son from the Desolate Man tribe.
Once they had bidden their farewells, the two teens and a black horse began on their journey once more.
Mo Shanshan asked, "What shall we do next?"
Ning Que replied, "We shall enter the mountain."
Mo Shanshan was slightly shocked. She asked, " Are the Tomes of Arcane in the mountain?"
Ning Que looked at the snow-capped peak in the distance and stayed silent for a while before saying, "I am not sure. But I am sure that someone from the Divine Hall is on the mountain."
There were no plants due to the extreme cold and high altitude. The mountain gales were extremely strong, blowing away all dust and snow on the ground, revealing the back rock beneath.
There was a young man dressed in the robes of the Judicial Department standing on the cliff protruding from the black rock walls. He looked at the clouds, wind, and snow afar as if he was part of the rock wall.
Even goshawks would not have been able to get onto the cliff he was standing on. However, it posed no difficulty to him. There was not a trace of pride on his pale flawless face because he was Prince Long Qing.
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