Tearing their eyes away from the scroll resting on the table, someone raised another issue.
“But what will happen once this formation is activated around the deity?” a sect master asked from the side in puzzlement. “The Grandmaster cannot cast the spell to seal this demonic deity from outside the formation, the spiritual interference would be too big. But the Grandmaster himself also cannot enter the formation lest his own powers get nullified.”
The disciple standing behind this sect master also questioned, “I would also like to know, how will the formation be drawn around the deity in the first place? I doubt he’ll stand still and let us paint sigils around him.”
The others also looked at Qinghe, waiting for his answer. After all, these were all reasonable questions.
Qinghe kept smiling as usual and replied, “Yes, you’re right. The deity will not stand in place quietly to allow the formation to enclose him, which is why I will keep the deity occupied while the formation is quickly drawn around us by a group of disciples from the Silver Moon Sect. Once the formation is up, we will need several very strong power sources to keep it running. The more power we are able to feed the formation, the more securely the deity Xie Xingye will be trapped. As for how this power will be added to it, I suppose Sect Master Wu can explain it better.”
Wu Xiao nodded from the side and began speaking, “The formation can have anywhere from four to sixteen nodal points through which energy can be injected into it…”
Pausing, Wu Xiao suddenly remembered what a disciple of Silver Mist had said to him before while he’d brought the others to visit his master.
‘Sect Master, it’s all eight directions. You have to remember it ah. Using eight points makes it the most stable.’
And so, Wu Xiao said with sudden decisiveness, “Eight points. The formation should have eight points, one each for the north, east, south, west, northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast directions. This will offer it the most stability.”
Also recalling that disciple’s words and feeling that it made sense, Qinghe nodded in agreement, “Then we will need eight of the most powerful people among those present to temporarily stop their battle, step into these eight points, and feed energy into the formation once it’s drawn.”
Then lifting his hand to count with his fingers, Qinghe began, “I suppose the people to be chosen for this would be the Grandmaster, Sect Leader Hei, all the Sect Masters of the Five Great Sects, and…”
“Xiang-er as well,” Feng Huixin added. “Apart from me and Sect Leader Hei, he is the most powerful person here. He is already half a step into the demigod realm, but refuses to breakthrough.”
Hearing the slight tinge of exasperation in his master’s voice, Wei Xiang smiled wryly.
Qinghe blinked at them, then nodded. “Very well, so it shall be then. These eight people will wait for the formation to be drawn while I’m distracting the deity.”
The aforementioned eight people nodded in acknowledgment.
“But why must you be the one to engage the deity?” Chen Xiande asked with obvious dissatisfaction.
Not many of the cultivators present might know about this, but his junior brother’s core was after all damaged. And after getting it tightly patched up, he would be unable to use his cultivation at all. There would be plenty of other people who could fight that deity instead.
Detecting the worry in his senior brother’s gaze despite his annoyed tone, Qinghe’s smile turned warm. “Senior Brother, though I understand your concerns, there are two reasons why it has to be me.
“Firstly, after the formation goes up, everyone within it will be unable to use their cultivation, which means that the person staying inside with the deity will have to match their martial arts skills against the deity and be able to survive. Though the deity’s skills are not the best, that is only when compared to the higher leveled martial arts cultivators of our world. However, when it comes to pure martial arts, I am confident in my ability to go against him and hold my own. I have also fought against him before, which means that I am also the one who is best prepared to engage him in battle.
“As for the second reason, it is also the answer to the question this esteemed sect master just put forth,” Qinghe spoke while turning to face the sect master who had asked how the Grandmaster would seal the deity without going into the formation and getting his own cultivation nullified.
All this while, the sect master had actually thought that Qinghe had just ignored his question because he didn’t know how to answer. Not wanting to make it difficult for the youngster who was already shouldering such a burden that none of the others dared to, the sect master had been quietly breaking his head to find a solution to it. That was why he was more than surprised when Qinghe himself brought up his question again on his own.
Did this young man really have an answer to it?
As if hearing his skepticism, Qinghe began speaking, “The Grandmaster will indeed be unable to seal the deity from outside the formation, and even more so if he entered within. This is why I will need the effects of the formation to be halted when I send a signal. Once the effects of the formation are suddenly lifted, the deity will naturally suspect the Grandmaster to use this small window of opportunity before the deity has gathered his full power to attempt to seal him. Anticipating this, he will be on guard against the person he considers the biggest threat. And so, when the deity has his entire attention focused on the Grandmaster, I will get into his guard and incapacitate him for a few short seconds. The Grandmaster can then take this time to completely seal the deity.”
Though many of the cultivators nodded while carefully pondering over this plan, the people who already knew of Qinghe’s condition only looked at him with disapproving and confused gazes.
Jing Shui frowned and finally spoke up, “As you are now, how are you going to incapacitate the deity? For that matter, how are you going to fight him before his cultivation is nullified? Feng Qinghe, you shouldn’t be this reckless with your own life.”
The other cultivators looked at them askance, but couldn’t deduce much from those words since Jing Shui had deliberately not given away the condition of Qinghe’s core.
Seeing the concern and fear masking as anger in his friend’s face, Qinghe could only smile helplessly and reassure him. “Brother Jing, please do not worry. Unlike last time, I will go prepared with several strong defensive artifacts to ward off the deity’s attacks at least for a few minutes. And as for how I’ll incapacitate him…”
Qinghe shrugged and said simply, “I’ll self-destruct my core.”
Stunned silence resounded after these words were so casually spoken.
Unheeding of the entire room gone quiet, Qinghe continued, “The spiritual energy released due to the destruction of a cultivation core is one of the most potent and violent energies possible to be produced. If I concentrate the entire output of this ensuing spiritual explosion onto the deity Xie Xingye, his spiritual pathways will incur vast damage. However, as a deity, the speed of his regeneration will be too quick, so it will only take him a few moments to heal before he can muster an attack, but those few moments should be enough for the Grandmaster to seal the deity.”
Another thing he didn't add was that since his core was already cracked, it would be much fairer for him to break it the rest of the way for this plan rather than asking someone with a whole and healthy core to blow theirs up instead.
Meanwhile, after hearing his indifferently spoken words, even as most people were still staring at him in shock, Wu Xiao suddenly slammed his palm against the table and shouted, “Feng Qinghe! Don’t you dare!”
Qinghe blinked at this rare expression of Wu Xiao’s fury. “Sect Master Wu, what―”
“I did not patch you up just so you can screw yourself over again! Do you know the consequences of doing something like that?!”
Letting out a deep breath, Qinghe nodded. “Yes, I’m fully aware of the risks. Rest assured that I have taken it into account and feel confident that I can face whatever the end result is. Anyway, when have you ever known me to take a loss that easily?”
Hearing this, Wu Xiao felt like he had nothing more to say to this disobedient brat who refused to listen to his elders. After calming down a bit, Wu Xiao couldn’t help but feel that as crafty as this Feng Qinghe was, he would surely have his own reasons to be this certain. But this recklessness still made him spitting mad!
From beside Qinghe, Feng Huixin suddenly spoke in a conflicted voice, “Qinghe, you…” But unable to put his churning thoughts into words, he trailed away.
He had just found his son and started spending time together. They had just begun to bond as family again. Would he lose him so soon? Even with the fate of the world in balance, would he truly be able to just stand aside and give up his son?
Breaking into these thoughts with a gentle tone, Qinghe said, “Grandmaster, even if you don’t trust in me, at least trust in Heaven. You should have noticed it by now too, yes?”
Feng Huixin froze, then nodded stiffly. How could he not have noticed all the subtle clues till now that showed that Heaven was interfering in his son’s life for some reason?
From Qinghe’s fall into this world that somehow ended up waking a demonic deity who seemed to have some connection with his family, to all the torments and hurdles in between that had honed him into who he was now, and to the present where he was preparing to fight against that same demonic deity he had awakened… there were too many inexplicable coincidences to be believable.
Heaven also seemed to constantly impede Feng Huixin whenever he tried to protect his son from these occurrences, be it when he tried to find his son or when he was trying to report the current circumstances to the Heavenly Emperor. Feng Huixin could at least be sure that the Heavenly Emperor didn’t seem to know of this, which meant that Heaven itself was behind everything.
But what he couldn’t understand was… Why? Why was it focusing so much of its attention on his son?
As if reading his thoughts, Qinghe spoke, “Whatever reason Heaven may have, I am very sure that it is not done with me yet. It will not let me die or waste away. Grandmaster, can you trust in my decision?”
Feng Huixin hesitated, then looked to his other side at Wei Xiang.
Shaking his head, Wei Xiang answered the silent question in his master’s gaze. “I do not know the basis of his confidence, but the fact that he is confident itself is enough for me. He might not treat his own life with as much care as I would like, but he will not play with mine, of that I am sure.”
Qinghe hmphed. “Of course I wouldn’t. I’m reasonably certain that this’ll work.”
Then looking up at the people closest to him, Qinghe resolutely assured, “Since I have a soul bond with Xiang, I will definitely not take risks with his life. Even if you don’t believe me, you should be able to believe in that at least, shouldn’t you?”
With thoughtful expressions, everyone, even Wu Xiao, nodded as if convinced.
For some reason, Qinghe felt wronged after seeing this. Was he really so untrustworthy when his own safety was concerned? Would they only believe him when his Xiang’s safety was also in the picture?!
Wei Xiang amusedly looked at his little lover's expression, making him seem like he would puff up with pouted cheeks at any moment.
“But Xiao He, I still don’t understand,” Liu Xue suddenly asked, “After the formation is lifted, why do you have to distract the deity in the first place? Why not spare your core and just let the Grandmaster directly use his spiritual power to capture him? After all, that Xie Xingye wouldn’t be able to gather enough of his power by that point that it would clash with the Grandmaster's power and cause this world to collapse, would it?”
Feng Huixin gave a light sigh and directly responded to the question in his son's stead, “It’s because my son must have noticed that I am unable to be that precise. My spiritual pathways are too wide and used to channeling too much power at once. Just like how it was at the Battle Arena, if I use my power, the environment will be significantly impacted and damaged, which would lead to that crack in the land under the castle that I mentioned before to widen and swallow the entire surrounding areas, including all the human settlements nearby.”
Qinghe shrugged and admitted, “Yes, I thought it might be the case.”
Liu Xue frowned. “Then rather than using spiritual power to attack or restrain him, Grandmaster, can you directly seal the deity the second the formation is lifted and ceases to interfere with the casting?”
Feng Huixin shook his head. “The sealing spell has delicate foundations. It would be best if there’s the least amount of resistance possible from the subject on who the spell is being cast on. So even if the deity Xie Xingye is not at full power at the moment when I'm trying to seal him, as long as he fights back with even just a little bit of his powers, the casting could be destabilized.”
Liu Xue pressed her lips together. It seemed that there really was no other choice.
Qinghe smiled as he also said, “As you can see, this is the only choice we have at the moment. If anyone is able to come up with something better, then I would be glad to hear it.”
But no matter how much they thought, the others couldn't find another way that addressed all the points like Qinghe's plan did.
Expecting this, Qinghe nodded and declared, “Then this is the plan we will follow.”
This time, although their expressions were reluctant, no one raised any objections.
As for the rest of the sect masters and Elders who had stayed out of the discussion between Qinghe’s group, they were simply not close enough to this Feng Qinghe to think about how shattering his core would affect him. After all, seeing his intelligence and confidence till now, surely he would make sure to not put himself in too big of a disadvantage?
Now that the core tactics of what should be done for the next few days had been discussed, Qinghe straightened his back and faced the entire length of the long table before announcing clearly so that everyone could hear, “We all know what to do now, and everyone has been given their tasks. We will use the rest of this day to begin work on each of our assigned duties. Tomorrow morning, we will meet again to discuss what else has to be done and what other details are left to iron out. And so, this conference is dispersed for today.”
Thus, the discussion finally came to an end.
The folding door to the room opened again and let in the afternoon sunlight pour in, dissipating the weighty feeling of the room a bit.
The cultivators milled around for a while, some going to greet the group of people standing at the head of the table, some chatting about the day’s events with solemn and serious faces. Eventually, they all slowly began heading towards the entrance in groups.
Chen Xiande left first with Zhen YiLan and met in between with Hei NingYu to talk about a few things as they walked away. Lu Feiyu also took his head disciple An YaLing to politely and gracefully bid goodbye to everyone before heading out the doorway, with Fu Cangyun and Lei Zihua following after them with their usual grave and strict expressions. After discussing a few more things with Qinghe, Jing Shui, Wu Xiao, and Liu Xue also left after packing up the map on the table under Qinghe’s envious gaze.
When only Qinghe, Wei Xiang, and Feng Huixin were left, Feng Huixin carefully pulled his son close in a hug and said seriously, “You did well today.” Then after nodding once to Wei Xiang, he also walked out of the room, leaving the couple alone.
Qinghe and Wei Xiang looked at each other, their gazes deep. Without a word exchanged, they extended a hand towards the other at the same time, their palms meeting and pressing together as their fingers entwined. Then the two figures disappeared, having already dissolved into the shadows to head home.
With its solemnity now lightened by the sunrays flooding in, the large room that was finally free of all its occupants was silent and peaceful once more.
The second Qinghe appeared back into his room, he discarded his pants and robes in a heap, undid his hair, and slumped down onto the bed while grumbling, “I hate clothes.”
With an indulgent smile, Wei Xiang also stripped himself and lay beside his beloved, pulling his little lover close and pressing their bare bodies against each other.
Qinghe basked in the comfortable warmth of his beloved’s skin and sighed with pleasure. But soon, he noticed something wrong. Wei Xiang’s heart was beating too fast, and its rhythm was different from when he was aroused or excited.
With a small frown, Qinghe listened more closely and blinked in surprise.
“Xiang, you… Why are you afraid?”
Wei Xiang felt startled at first, then smiled wryly.
Holding his lover tighter and smelling his soothing scent, Wei Xiang finally answered, his voice even and deep, “My instincts warn me that I might end up being separated from you by the end of this.”
Qinghe’s eyes blinked up at him with wide eyes.
But taking a deep breath, Wei Xiang continued, “Qinghe, I trust in you, but I don’t like how much trust you’re placing in Heaven. I thought I could hide it, but who would have known that you’d even memorized the pattern of my heartbeat?”
He truly felt helpless at how less he could hide from his little lover the more familiar they became with each other.
Qinghe looked away and puffed his cheeks slightly. “I didn’t do it consciously. I just end up memorizing certain familiar patterns.”
Wei Xiang laughed and slid his hand down to squeeze his beloved’s butt. “Yes, I noticed this habit of yours. That’s how I was able to guess how you knew what I was feeling.”
Shifting in Wei Xiang’s embrace to pull away that obnoxiously tempting hand still kneading his backside, Qinghe tried to find the words to reassure his beloved that he wasn’t going to leave him just like that.
After a stretch of silence, Qinghe finally spoke, “Xiang, do you distrust Heaven because of…the things that happened to me?”
Wei Xiang’s eyes narrowed as he nodded in answer.
Qinghe sighed and leaned back a little. Looking straight into Wei Xiang’s eyes, he said, “But even though I can guess that most of what I suffered was because of Heaven’s direction, I don’t really blame it. I even feel a little grateful towards it. It was because of Heaven interfering with the transportation array that the Grandmaster entered this world at the wrong time, leading to him establishing the Order of Sentinels that has saved numerous lives since then.
“And it was because of me entering that orphanage due to the lack of the Grandmaster’s timely protection that Yan Lin managed to live. Without me there to protect him, he would have been starved or beaten to death many times over, and Master would have never found that place and notified the Sentinels. All those kids would have stayed trapped in there and possibly died in that orphanage while being horribly abused all the while.”
Wei Xiang frowned, but was unable to say anything in return.
Qinghe continued, “I know that there are several other events where it seemed like I was being pushed into unfavorable circumstances. But Xiang, if you look closer, then it’s easy enough to see that except for my time at the orphanage, which I do not regret now, I have never suffered any irreparable damage because of Heaven’s meddling. I was even able to gain a few things that I otherwise might not have. Every time Heaven pushes me onto a dangerous path, it also makes sure to give me a lot more in return. This is its pattern, and following it, this conflict with the deity will also be the same.”
With his eyebrows raised, Wei Xiang looked at Qinghe with surprise. “Oh? You analyzed even that sort of pattern?”
Qinghe cheerfully nodded. “Of course I did. Anyway, despite everything, Heaven should be a fair existence, it will not make this unreasonably difficult for me. Also, it seems somewhat cautious in its actions against me. It has taken care not to cross my bottom line by hurting the people I care about. For that, at least, I can excuse it.”
Wei Xiang could only give up with a sigh. “I don’t always understand how you think, but I suppose you really do put a lot of thought into your decisions. Yes, I think I understand the basis of your trust now.”
With both of their lives on the line, of course his beloved would have considered everything before deciding on such a drastic option like exploding his own core.
Smiling widely, Qinghe stuck close to his lover again. “See? Things are not as bad as you think, so you shouldn’t feel afraid that we’ll be separated. I won’t leave your side that easily. Even if I do, we’ll always find a way to be together again.”
Wei Xiang felt an inexpressible sense of comfort at hearing these words. He purposefully pushed aside his doubts and decided to enjoy the time he had with his beloved now.
Turning his body to press his little lover under him, Wei Xiang supported himself on his elbows and teased, “Oh? Are you sure you won’t leave me even if someone better comes along to steal you away? After all, my little lover didn’t have much experience with other people before he agreed to be with me. And now that everyone has had a chance to see your true face, I’m afraid you’ll have droves of suitors swarming around you.”
Lifting his hands to lock them behind Wei Xiang’s neck, Qinghe chuckled. “No matter how many people come, my Xiang will always be my only choice, now and forever. Shouldn’t you already know that by now?”
Hearing this, Wei Xiang’s eyes darkened, his heart beginning to beat faster, but for a different reason this time. He leaned his head down to press his lips against another pair of smiling ones, his hand beginning to run over warm and smooth skin.
The couple embraced each other and soon began a sensual, loving exploration of familiar territory.
And so, free of worries for now, another passionate night was happily spent together.