Half a month later, Ning Chen’s hair had begun to turn white, it wasn’t much and mingled almost invisibly amongst the mat of black hair. Only when the wintry wind blew did those strands of snow become visible.
By now, the blood no longer flowed from his fingers even after ripping off the scabs on them. With a ruthless slash, Ning Chen drew blood once more from the only other place left. He ran his sword lightly across his right wrist and finally, blood flowed once more.
The 3000m radius wide lake was stained red once more with Ning Chen’s blood, yet the legendary Crystal Chestnut Flower still didn’t show itself.
On the twentieth day, the signs of life within Ning Chen had begun to recede. While his hair no longer turned white, it instead had an almost death-like greyness to it.
Seated atop the icy lake, Ning Chen coughed non-stop into his palms, his innards shouting in protest with every cough. Recently however, no more blood came from those coughs.
His flaky skin had begun to tear apart under the biting winds but what came out from those tears wasn’t blood. Instead, it was exposed flesh and bone that seemed to have aged from the dryness. The only reason he was alive now was solely because of the Reversing Heaven Pill keeping the flames of his life lit though, that lamp was already starting to dim.
The Heart Severance Herb had almost lost all of its efficacy by now. At the start, it could last nearly two days per serving but now couldn’t even last the day.
Mu Qianshang came over once more and after giving the lake a placid look, said,“ Your life has started running dry a long while ago, there’s almost no chance of cultivating a Crystal Chestnut Flower now. You’ve failed to save him(her), and you’ve ended up destroying yourself in the process.”
At that, Ning Chen merely let out a weary laugh and said no more.
As long as Ah Man was able to live, nothing else mattered.
A month in, he had mostly ran out of blood with his fingers and wrists no longer able to produce anymore of the crimson fluid.
On his fingers and wrists were the scars from his constant scab ripping. Now however, all that surfaced when he ripped apart the scabs were the whites of his bones.
Frankly, Ning Chen should have died long ago but because of the Reversing Heaven Pill, he couldn’t do so.
Had it not been for the fact that he mustn’t die yet, he might have really given up on living.
Amidst the chilly winter winds, the lonely silhouette of the swordsman could be seen half-lying at the entrance of the Gorge, his black and white robes fluttering in the winds as his sword laid similarly prone atop a nearby sword pedestal. As the winds buffeted the deadly instrument, drops of blood could be seen dripping onto the snow, staining it red.
“Are you going to give up?” Mu Qianshang called out from his prone position with eyes half opened, a glint of silver flashing across his eyes as before.
With no more blood to plant, there wasn’t any point in talking about hope.
Suddenly, his body trembled visibly and a change spread across his demonically beautiful face for the first time.
“Mad man.” A look of cold shock crossed his eyes.
Situated atop the Thousand Snow Lake, Ning Chen’s surroundings began to glow, the silvery light becoming more radiant by the second as his frail life force began slowly oozing out of his chest. His black and white hairs began to dance in the air once more as a unusually crimson drop of blood dripped down onto the snow amidst the brilliant light. However, the second the snow turned red, his face immediately paled. No longer could one find a trace of red on his face.
That drop was the lifeblood of his heart; for every drop he used up, that was one drop his body would never recover. The fact Ning Chen was even able to survive till today was because of his unparalleled cultivation base but today, with the loss of that drop of lifeblood, he had undoubtedly destroyed that lifeline.
A drawn-out grunt escaped his lips, his life essence began withering at a speed observable even by the naked eyes. His long hair danced for the very last time before turning deathly grey.
A moment later, his seventh-grade cultivation plummeted to fifth-grade but it didn’t seem to want to stop there either.
There wasn’t many Heart Severance Herbs left and before he could even swallow this last bit of grass, he fainted.
Mu Qianshang grew silent, lying completely still as he stared at a crimson drop dribble down his snowy sword.
The snowy sword laid there horizontally just as it did before — a heavenly divide that separated the realms of the dead and the living. Outside the gorge, the world carried on at a steady pace. Within the gorge however, it shone bright, then went dark. No one knew the fate of Ning Chen; if he lived, that was his fortune. If he died, that was his fate.
(TL: Honestly, this portion made no sense to me in the raws so it was rephrased (bright/dark etc.) heavily to suit the later portion about fortune and fate. The original phrase from the poem refers to the fickleness of humans but the author changed it to mean the inconstancy of the world instead for some strange reason. Either way, I give up and this sort of fit anyway.)
Within the manor of Prince Yue, Ah Man continued her fight for her life as Prince Yan continued sustaining her day after day. It was in such a manner that the days passed and a month passed. Seeing that there was still no sign of that boy’s silhouette, his normally placid gaze finally revealed a flash of sadness within them.
More than a month had passed already, looks like he failed in the end.
With that, the letter that he had prepared long ago was sent out. The prince knew, that in this entire world Ning Chen only had one senior. Thus, it was time for Zhang Sun to see him off.
At the same time that letter was sent out, the postponed war finally broke out between the Mongols in the north and Grand Xia. Having built its strength for over seven years, the strength of the Mongol Horde had reached its peak. In the face of Fan Lingyue’s skillful manipulation of those seven years, the scholars of the world paled.
The title of Lady Strategist was spread throughout the lands once more.
The city of Yan Gui was defended by the Northern Marquis while the Pass of Xing Chao was held by Marquis Qing He. With that, the two roads the Mongols had to take were blocked.
In Yan Gui city, the walls were guarded by the city’s garrison and the 40000 other warriors who had just been defeated and made a hasty retreat. In total, there was over 170000 troops stationed in the direct path of the Mongol Horde. At Xing Chao Pass, defenses were just as tight with over 100000 troops stationed there under the command of Qing He Marquis, his purpose: to prevent the horde from circling around Yan Gui.
Back at the gorge, the swordsman had an awakening of the sword. The snowy sword took to the skies and dived into the grip of the swordsman. The winds and snows stirred as an ink painting unfurled around the swordsman and the snowy sword ascended once more into the skies. The cascading waterfall of white waters cascaded from the heavens amidst a range of black mountains — all was encompassed within his Sword Realm.
The astonishing talents of the swordsman was in the midst of forging legends. Underneath the waterfall, the swordsman danced and with a slash, cut the cascading falls in half and silencing the rushing waters in an instant.
A moment later, the swordsman sheathed his sword and a cold, silvery glint flashed across his pupils. The inky scenery disappeared in an instant and the gorge reverted back to its original form.
In the center of the Thousand Snow Lake, a solitary figure could be seen seated motionlessly on a wheelchair. Beside him, a beautiful flower of frost bloomed with the blowing winds. Its crimson center, as brilliant as fresh blood, danced within the snowy breeze and painted a haunting picture that moved the soul.
Mu Qianshang slowly walked over and looked at the Crystal Chestnut Flower growing out of the frozen lake. Face unchanging, he waved his hands and the flower stalk transformed into a beam of light that flowed into his hands.
Outside the gorge, the galloping of a carriage could be heard bouncing within the stony confines of the gorge. The swordsman frowned and with a flash, disappeared from the lake.
From the ornate carriage, came a regal and graceful figure accompanied by a young girl whose face was wracked by an almost invisible sense of grief.
“This Empress is here to bring him home.” Having said that, she promptly walked into the lake.
Mu Qianshang’s narrowed his eyes at the abruptness but didn’t stop her in the end. The lady was crowned with a gemmed tiara engraved with dragons and phoenixes, her dress embroidered with a similar pattern. Without a doubt, this was the current Empress of Grand Xia, Zhang Sun Wuyou.
Standing in the center of the lake, the grief in her eyes could no longer be contained as she looked at the slumbering figure of the teen.
Mu Qianshang walked up to her and gave her a reminder. “Only by staying within the Verdant Frost Gorge will he be able to live a little longer.”
“There’s no need for that, he’s been out too long already, it’s time for him to return home.” She flatly declared while gazing at the greyish white hair of Ning Chen.
At that, Qing Ning stepped forth. With shaking hands and an unspeakable pain in her heart, she gingerly picked up the boy and softly whispered, “Ning Chen, time to go home.” A tear rolled down her cheeks unknowingly.
Seeing that, Mu Qianshang said no more and watched the pair leave with Ning Chen.
Even in the best of times, time was a cruel mistress. Within the gorge, Mu Qianshang picked up his bladed partner and left heading towards the south. The now empty gorge echoed hollowly with the sounds of the blowing snow. In the center of the lake, the traces of blood had already been buried in snow, leaving nothing behind as proof of what transpired.
He had promised, promised that he would deliver the Crystal Chestnut Flower to the southern region.
In the northwest, within Qinghe city, an ornate carriage galloped through the streets, parting the crowds in an instant as it head unerringly towards Qinghe Manor.
Marquis Qinghe had already left for Xing Chao Pass leaving the manor guarded solely by Marquis Taiping. However, even he had to leave for the northern front soon.
This war was an unpreventable one. With the existence of the Mongol’s Lady Strategist, the unstoppable troops of Grand Xia had suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of her unmatched strategic prowess.
With this perilous backdrop, another piece of nightmarish news came from the western front of Grand Xia. The First Hallmaster of the Eternal Night Cult, the Martial Monarch, had made his appearance in the city of Western Ling. Marquis Xueyi valiantly stood up to the monarch without regard for his heavy wounds and was now in a perilous situation of his own. Whether or not he would survive, no one knew for sure.
Taking advantage of the marquis’ heavy wounds, the cult dispatched their heavy cavalry, led by three generals at the peak of Ninth-grade. With the city of Western Ling under siege, it was only a matter of time before this last barrier between the western front and Grand Xia was breached.
In the face of this sudden and perilous turn of events, the empire which had dominated for over a thousand years started to show signs of collapse.
As if in response to this chain of nightmares, another piece of bad news came out from Revelation Hall. Due to the piling fatigue, the Xia Emperor had fainted after spitting out a mouthful of blood in front of his court. With that, the three Grand Dukes who had remained silent up till now finally had to step into the scene to restrain the ambitious hearts within the court.
The spring of that year marked the rockiest period in Grand Xia’s history with the Mongols and the Eternal Night Cult teaming up to invade Grand Xia. In the initial confrontation alone, Grand Xia suffered 60000 casualties with one military marquis being put out of commission.
Without a doubt, this was an unprecedented disgrace for Grand Xia.
The battlefield where the Martial Monarch fought with Marquis Xueyi had already turned into a field of ruins. While the military marquis of Grand Xia were undoubtedly strong, the Martial Monarch was the strongest man in the world; Xueyi’s defeat was only to be expected.
As always, this undefeated monarch remained invincible. There were few who could injure him and even then, none could kill him.
In the north, there was the Lady Strategist, in the west, there was the Martial Monarch — Grand Xia had a bleak future ahead of it.
With the signs of Grand Xia’s decline imminent, the various military factions of Grand Xia began to stir once more. It was only a matter of time before these tigers turned on the dragon.
Three days later, Mu Qianshang arrived in the manor of Prince Yue. After delivering the Crystal Chestnut Flower, he promptly left.
With flower in hand, a conflicted look crossed the eyes of Prince Yan. This flower, it arrived too late.
By now, Ah Man’s life force had basically been spent. Even with the power of this flower, no one could guarantee whether or not she could be saved.
Even so, the prince placed the flower on top of Ah Man’s destroyed chest and began injecting his True Qi, pushing the bloody flower into the latter’s Heart Meridians. In that instant, the flower bloomed once more and turned an even brighter red that filled the room with a demonic blood red aura.
Ah Man still didn’t wake up, laying there quietly as before. With no other choice, Prince Yan could only continue his daily vigil and injection of True Qi.
Another two days passed and the Man King arrived having received the letter sent out by Ah Man. However, he found that he was too late.
Stepping up to his fallen daughter, he picked her up and left. As he did that, this formidable overlord of the Man Dynasty aged ten years in an instant. At that very moment, words failed him as the pain tore into his heart.
Simultaneously, an ashen haired Ning Chen laid lifelessly on a bed in Qinghe Manor. Every inch of his skin had been torn apart and frozen to the point of turning blue.
As Zhang Sun and Qing Ning stood by his side, neither said a word.
From time memorial, history only recorded names, never emotions. The two figures laid unconsciousness on their respective beds, one in the Man Dynasty and one in Qinghe Manor. Between them was hundreds of kilometers that separated the two youngsters, perhaps for eternity…