Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
After they finished eating, Ivan was already waiting for them outside.
As soon as everyone got in the car, he couldn’t wait to show an exaggerated, gossipy expression. “I heard you fought with the British and French?”
It was obvious he had his own news channel as he already knew all the ins and outs. Seeing that Dong Zhi and the others were too lazy to speak, he happily talked on his own.
“To be honest, we sometimes hate the British. They like to put on airs and look down on us. They always try to look superior, but I really don’t know what they can be proud of. They haven’t been to the competition for many years. Do they still have any decent demon hunters left?! Last time, a practitioner wanted to immigrate to the United States, but he was detained by them. How ridiculous!”
Seeing Dong Zhi and the others’ lack of interest, Ivan finally stopped and scratched his nose. “Is what I said not funny?”
Liu Qingbo rolled his eyes. “Do you think we still have the spirit to listen to you after a night of staying in that damn hotel?”
Ivan smiled dryly. “Sorry, but that wasn’t arranged by me. If I had the right to arrange accommodation, I wouldn’t let you stay there! However, in previous years, the exchange accommodations for the exchange conference were never good. It’s as if to test the practitioners in a harsh environment.”
The car quickly arrived at the venue.
Everyone was staying in the same hotel, so the time that people would arrive wasn’t too different. When Dong Zhi and them entered the venue, the Americans and Russians had already arrived, and the other teams slowly trickled in after Dong Zhi.
After the meeting started, according to the process, each team would take turns making a regular speech and reporting to each other on some situation in various countries over the past two years. As countries opened their borders, the world gradually became one. It wasn’t uncommon for monsters to occasionally run from one country to another. It was under this premise that the exchange conference was established.
Dong Zhi glanced around and found that George, the Frenchman whom he injured yesterday, and Grace, the British redhead who had just provoked them, weren’t present. The former was most likely recovering from his injuries. If there was no accident, he probably wouldn’t be participating in the competition. The latter was probably forced to stay at the hotel.
This was actually for the best. They were here to participate in the exchange and competition and didn’t want to waste their time on unrelated matters.
The speeches were all written in advance. When it was their turn, Dong Zhi read directly from the script, and the others that followed were no exception.
In previous years, there wasn’t anything unexpected about the meeting and exchange. It was nothing more than everyone chatting and arguing. Some became friends during the exchange, and some clamored to draw their swords against each other in the competition. The ability of a practitioner was stronger than that of ordinary people, but they may not necessarily have the mind that surpasses ordinary people. The strong desire to win was instilled in most laymen and was perhaps even stronger in a practitioner.
On the Chinese side, Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo were the main speakers. They were already prepared to have a big fight with the British. After all, Grace, who hated them to the bone, was from the British team, so most likely the people on her team also disliked them.
Unexpectedly, with White present, the British team was calm and showed no visible hatred similar to that which Grace had for the Chinese. On the contrary, the French team, led by Galan, looked like they were cockfighting. Whenever Dong Zhi or Liu Qingbo would say something, they would always jump out and object or sneer, making their disdain for Dong Zhi and the others clear.
Just when Dong Zhi mentioned the heavenly demon’s doppelganger, a person from the French team questioned, “Since it’s the legendary demon king Mara, even if it’s a doppelganger, how can it be so easily eradicated? I seriously suspect that you’re exaggerating!”
Liu Qingbo refused to bite the bait and directly replied, “Believe it if you want, or don’t! Besides, your leader is a person who relies on his elder brother, who’s the deputy director of the Guardianship Bureau, to become leader of your exchange group. With a group led by such a person, what reliable information can everyone expect from you?”
This information was provided by Ivan. It could be seen that the desire to stir up trouble was truly common in all humans, regardless of race.
The leader of the French team, Galan, angrily replied, “Watch your words! I was able to become captain because of my outstanding abilities, and it has nothing to do with my family’s position!”
Liu Qingbo raised a brow. “Really? Then why don’t you ask your team if they truly believe that? Even if they believe it, do you think the people here really believe it?”
Dong Zhi said, “Why don’t we discuss yesterday’s prank? I heard that in addition to us, there are two other teams who were also victimized.”
“Every exchange conference has a welcome ceremony. This kind of joke is very common. It’s rare for country bumpkins like you to see it. Besides, you have seriously hurt our companion. What else do you want!” someone on the French team said.
Dong Zhi got up and pretended to stop Liu Qingbo. “Forget it. We’re all civilized people. Don’t quarrel with barbarians like them.”
France had long been the center of European culture, and its people were usually the ones who discriminated against others. Having never been called barbarians before, Galan and the others became infuriated.
The teams they teased yesterday, as well as some Americans who were watching the excitement, also followed suit. The topic was successfully transferred from Mara to the French. For a while, Galan and the others became the target of the crowd. They were besieged by various languages and started sweating profusely. In the end, they had to bow their heads and apologize, explaining that it was just a joke made by some in their team and didn’t represent the team as a whole.
However, it was too late. Everyone was so enraged by their alleged “joke” that they continued to mock them. The Russians directly turned yesterday’s suffocation into actual actions as they started a fight with the French. The free discussion then turned into a brawl. Liu Qingbo was afraid there wasn’t enough fuel to the fire and began egging them on, adding more chaos to the scene.
With Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo around, Li Han’er, Liu Si, and the others were happy to watch the show. They didn’t need to lift a finger, but their opponents were already furious. Even Zhang Song felt that Liu Qingbo’s mouth was perfect to use in dealing with outsiders. There was also Dong Zhi, who tried to “make peace”, which simply angered the French even more.
However, this exchange wasn’t all bad. At least Dong Zhi met an old acquaintance, Kenta.
After the death of Master Xinchai, his disciple naturally inherited the mantle and attended the meeting with the witchdoctors from Southeast Asia. However, with his qualifications, he was unable to serve as the leader of the team. The leader of the team was an old man, who was probably the oldest of all the practitioners there, but no one dared underestimate him because this old man was said to be the most famous white-robed witchdoctor in Malaysia. Naturally, he wasn’t here to participate in the competition.
When old friends met, it was inevitable that they would chat. Kenta told Dong Zhi that as vice captain of the team, he would lead the team in the competition, but most of the witchdoctors who came this time were fledglings and didn’t have rich practical experience, so their goal wasn’t to win the competition, but to increase their knowledge and gain more experience. He also hoped that Dong Zhi and the others would successfully defeat the other teams and take the championship.
“I think of the people here, you’re the strongest, so naturally the people you lead are strong as well. No one can beat you,” Kenta said sincerely.
Dong Zhi had spent some time with him and knew that this person was straightforward in the things that he said, and wasn’t just blowing air. Dong Zhi gave a wry smile. “Although I’m happy you look up to me so much, the other teams are very strong this time. It’s unknown whether we can actually win or not.”
Kenta patted Dong Zhi on the shoulder and bluntly said, “If I say you can, you can!”
The three-day meeting and exchange kicked off in a chaotic atmosphere. The Americans complained that this was the most chaotic exchange conference in history, while Dong Zhi thought it was pretty good. After all, they could argue with the French, and the other party couldn’t fight back. It was interesting to watch them suffocate, especially at night when it became more lively.
Ever since Li Han’er took care of the perverted evil spirit, other ghosts didn’t dare harass her anymore. The exorcism talismans from Mount Longhu were affixed to all their doors so they could get a good night’s sleep. It was unknown what method the witchdoctors who were staying on the second floor used, but the evil spirits didn’t dare go to that floor. On the fourth floor, since the Japanese were used to dealing with spirits, they had no issues either. The Americans also seemed to have used some kind of shielding device.
But other teams weren’t so lucky. For the next two days, they spent every night constantly dealing with exorcism. Eventually, an Italian said that for the next event that would be held in southern Europe, he would suggest to the organizing committee to find a cemetery with the most evil spirits in all of Italy and pack the Americans there and let them experience the excitement.
Three days quickly passed in these small episodes. The Japanese were surprisingly low-key this time. They didn’t take the initiative to find fault with the French, and they didn’t put on a high-profile performance. For three days, it was like they were invisible. If people weren’t paying close attention, it was like the team didn’t even exist. However, Dong Zhi didn’t think they were friendly. After all, it was a competition, so every team was a potential opponent, even their allied Americans.
On the last night of the meeting, everyone was called to the hotel conference room, where a middle-aged woman with blond hair wearing black-rimmed glasses was waiting for them.
“Good evening, everyone. I’m Lisa. I’m part of the organizing committee and have been appointed to explain to you the competitive session that’s starting tomorrow.”
Lisa didn’t look young anymore, but she had a unique affinity when she smiled, which made people want to involuntarily listen carefully to what she was saying.
The organizing committee of the Exchange Conference was a cultural institution affiliated with the United Nations, and Lisa was part of this organization.
Unlike other international events, the Exchange Conference had no spectators. There were only practitioners from all over the world. Although it was a competition, it was different from ordinary competitions, because what they were about to face was a world of fantasy on the other side.
“Compared to all of you who are extraordinary, I’m just a normal civil servant, so please be gentle. Even if you like me or want to applaud, don’t suddenly throw a fireball, or conjure a lion. That’ll frighten me.”
Everyone laughed when they heard her opening remarks, which deliberately reconciled the atmosphere.
Lisa thoughtfully slowed down her talking so that the interpreters could pass her words through the headset in everyone’s ears.
“Tomorrow, you’ll be sent to an archipelago in the north of the Atlantic Ocean. That archipelago is called the Senluo Islands. It’s shrouded in fog all year round so it’s difficult for outsiders to find it. The Senluo Islands have a very wonderful landscape and many creatures, so you won’t regret going there.”
“However, since it’s also the research base of Group 51, this time, in order to perfectly reflect the theme of the competition, the organizers have placed various things on the islands. Perhaps you’ll be surprised or frightened.”
“There are four islands in the Senluo Islands. Two to three teams will be arranged on each island. The landing locations are scattered, but for the sake of fairness, the islands are determined by lottery. Now, please come up and draw lots.”
Lisa picked up a box next to her and motioned for everyone to reach in and draw a ticket out.
The order of the lottery was sorted alphabetically by countries. Even if it wasn’t arranged, since the Americans were the hosts, they were eligible to draw first.
Their group leader was a woman named Lilith. As she drew from the box, a golden ball emerged. When it was unscrewed, there was a note inside.
“I got Full Moon Island.”
Lisa smiled and said, “Congratulations. It’s an island with a beautiful name.”
Lilith shrugged. “I hope our luck is as beautiful as it.”
The French drew Princess Island, while Dong Zhi’s team drew Diana Island—the names of these islands were becoming dreamier one after another that Dong Zhi started to suspect a 17-year-old girl had named them.
Coincidentally, they didn’t share an island with the French or the Americans, but in the end got the Japanese.
Dong Zhi glanced at the leader of the Japanese team, who was staring at him. They were both probably in the same mood at the moment. The path of enemies was indeed narrow.
Lisa said, “In this competition, you’ll need to get one prop, the golden apple. It could be hidden in any corner of the island, including underground and in the sky. After 20 days, the team that gets the golden apple will win. In addition, some creatures and specific places will have special silver coins. If no one can find the golden apple after 20 days, then the top three teams will be decided based on the number of silver coins each team has. Does everyone get this?”
Someone asked, “The archipelago is so big. How can we find a small golden apple? Are there any clues?”
Lisa shook her head. “There are no clues, but I promise, it’s definitely something you’ve experienced. It will depend on whether or not you’re paying attention.”
Liu Qingbo said, “If the golden apple is hidden in the stomach of monsters, we can’t just cut open their stomachs every time we kill them, right? Isn’t that such a huge waste of time?”
His words aroused the echoes of others.
Lisa thought for a while and said, “Okay, then let me give you a hint. The goddess shrouded in the clouds will eventually take off her mysterious veil.”
Everyone: …What the hell kind of hint is this?
Seeing everyone’s confused faces, Lisa couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t worry if you don’t understand the hint. Since the golden apple is the key to winning the competition, it must be in a conspicuous place where everyone will notice. Rest assured, we didn’t throw the prop into the sea and have you go diving for it.”
“What about silver coins? Shouldn’t you give some clues for them?” Some people weren’t satisfied.
Lisa refused to reveal more. “There is a large amount of silver coins. Don’t worry. You will find some.”
“What kinds of monsters or difficulties are on the islands? This you can tell us, right?” Everyone was paying full attention, not letting go of any hints.
Lisa smiled awkwardly. “Sorry, I really want to tell you, but I don’t know. I’ve heard that this year’s difficulty is the toughest in history. In other words, this competition is likely to be extremely dangerous.”
Everyone’s expression was calm, and there wasn’t any unexpected reaction to this.
Originally, there would be some people who would die in every competition. The difference was just the numbers. The appalling rules of the game to the mundane world were nothing to practitioners. Those who fear danger and wouldn’t go all out wouldn’t bother signing up. While teams composed of strong individuals naturally had a higher chance of winning, as long as weak teams united and cooperated, they still had a chance to win.
The winner not only received prestige for their country or region, but everyone in the team would also become famous in one fell swoop. For example, since Kenta was acquainted with Dong Zhi, if they could win the competition this time after returning, Kenta would become a well-known witchdoctor and would no longer need to be officially bestowed the title of Master Xinchai’s successor in order to be recognized.
Fame and profit were intuitive benefits that the Exchange Conference could bring. Practitioners were also humans. While their areas of pursuit were different from ordinary people’s, it didn’t mean that they didn’t have the desires and goals of ordinary people. Their human nature was, in essence, still the same.
“There will be a considerable number of speedboats on the shores of each island. If it gets to a point where it’s really unbearable, you can take the nearest speedboat to leave. There’s an automatic navigation system on the speedboat. You don’t need to operate it. It will take you out of the island area and back to the ship that’s staying on the high seas to pick you up. It’s safe there. However, I want to remind you that as long as one person chooses to leave halfway, then that person’s team will automatically be disqualified. No matter what the results or achievements the team has reached, they will all be counted as invalid.”
Lisa looked around for a while, then solemnly said, “I hope you will all be safe and sound, and I hope you will give full consideration to your teammates. This competition is not only your personal show but also represents the honor of your team. Finally, good luck to you all!”
On the last night of staying at the Franklin Hotel, those troublemakers were finally wiped out. Everyone had a quiet night, but on the eve of the competition, many had trouble sleeping.
Dong Zhi picked up his phone before going to bed and opened up a chat window with Long Shen. After looking at it for a few seconds, he turned off his phone.
Long Shen and the others should have arrived in Japan by now if there were no problems. He didn’t know if they had found Otowa Yasuhiko’s lair and slain him, but they were probably in disguise. Most likely, this number was disconnected, and no one would reply to his message.
However, Dong Zhi still sent a text: [Master, everything is going well. I’ll work hard.]
After sending the message, he smiled slightly, with inner strength.
Early the next morning, the organizer sent someone to pick everyone up at the airport. They took a flight to the east coast and then took a boat to their destination.
The person in charge of picking Dong Zhi and the others up was still their old buddy Ivan. He seemed worried that Dong Zhi and the others wouldn’t return, so he kept urging Dong Zhi to fulfill his promise and write the letter of recommendation for him. Dong Zhi found it funny and had to send a short email to Carlos while in the car.
“Honestly, Ivan, do you really think we won’t return?”
Ivan smiled and said, “How could you say that? In my mind, you’re the strongest. Dong, you must get the golden apple. If I can be interviewed by Carlos, I’ll treat you to dinner to celebrate.”
Dong Zhi: “You’re American, but you actually want us to win?”
Ivan winked at him. “Of course. They didn’t write me a letter of recommendation!”
Dong Zhi was speechless. He thought, ‘Buddy, you’re really sincere.’
The plane ride to the east coast took nearly 10 hours. They arrived in Norfolk from Los Angeles and then took a passenger ship from Norfolk to the legendary Senluo Islands.
The teams didn’t bother with any tit-for-tat or pretenses. They quickly found their cabin on the ship and prepared for the competition.
As if to carry the narrow path to its end, Dong Zhi’s cabin happened to be adjacent to the Japanese. This time, the Japanese only came with four people—three men and a woman. They were the least numerous and the most low-key of all the teams. Though they stayed in the same hotel for several days, they didn’t even meet face-to-face with Dong Zhi until now.
The ordinary-looking young man who came face-to-face with him seemed surprised that Dong Zhi was next door. The two nodded to each other as a greeting but didn’t say a word.
After the young man entered his room, Liu Qingbo also came to Dong Zhi’s room.
“They sent so few people this time. It doesn’t look like they’re trying to win the competition. It’s strange. Are they targeting us?”
Dong Zhi said, “There’s no evidence now, and it’ll be too late for the country to check their identities. However, Fujikawa Aoi plays an important role in the onmyoji world in Japan, and we have forged such a deep relationship with him. It’s normal that he would send a few disciples to trip us up.”
Liu Qingbo curled his lips. “There are also the British and the Americans. I’m sure they’re scheming. The Americans say they are allies with us, but they probably know more than they let on!”
Dong Zhi spread his hands. “We cover ourselves to them so how can we expect them to be whole-hearted to us? No one is a fool. We can just take what we need from each other. I think the French are acting dumb this time. Everyone else is quite shrewd. Yang Shouyi and the others have started focusing on the competition, so start paying more attention to it.”
Although the room was small, based on the details, it could be seen that they tried to provide the most comfortable environment possible for the guests. However, given the space, they could at most read a book or sleep. It was impossible to practice swordmanship in it. Dong Zhi didn’t want to go on deck to practice and be watched by others, so he had nothing to do. He decided to sit cross-legged on the bed and practice his breathing technique. Liu Qingbo and the others were also in a similar situation. Everyone tried to reduce the number of times they went out to eat. Since he didn’t have any other friends besides Kenta, it was better to not waste time with fake pleasantries and not say anything at all. Since they were staying on a ship, no matter how big it was, it wasn’t as comfortable as being on land, and the scenery was just the ocean.
The ship traveled through the vast sea, undulating on the waves. After a few hours, it finally sailed into the white fog ahead.
As soon as it entered the foggy sea, the surrounding line of sight was immediately white, and nothing could be seen. Dong Zhi heard from William that the fog that enveloped the islands seemed to have magical properties. It lasted all year and enclosed the islands tightly, like an enchantment. Because the magnetic field was strong, radar was prone to failure. In an era where there was no radar, countless ships that were blinded by the fog would stray into this area and as a result hit the rocks and sank.
After Group 51 discovered this place, they used it as a test base. However, William had only heard about it from his predecessors and had never actually been here before.
Looking around, all the dangerous and unpredictable unknown mysteries seemed to be hidden behind the white mist, waiting for them to be uncovered.
The Changshou Sword beside him vibrated slightly and made a buzzing sound. Dong Zhi noticed it and held it in his hand.
This wasn’t the first time the Changshou Sword reacted like this. There were only two times in Dong Zhi’s impression. The first was when he was facing the Wuzhiqi under the Huai River. The other was when he went to Xianda Village to find the heavenly demon. Both times were extremely dangerous experiences. Now that the Changshou Sword was vibrating again, this meant it sensed tricky and powerful enemies ahead.
Dong Zhi held the sword tightly and whispered, “Don’t worry. If there are any difficulties, we’ll face them together.”
It seemed that, feeling its master’s heat and comfort, the Changshou Sword gradually calmed down and returned to normal.
Anton, a Russian who was in his room, looked up at the vast fog outside the window. Suddenly, his eyes widened.
In the gray-white fog, there seemed to be a few strands of black qi. The black qi slowly drifted away and started to coalesce together, finally turning into a black cloud the size of a human head, which stood out conspicuously in the white fog.
Anton stared blankly. He didn’t feel anything strange from the black qi, but the sweet smell made him involuntarily relax his spirit and body. He stared at the black qi, unable to look away.
The black qi wasn’t blocked by the porthole. It seemed to have noticed Anton and gradually approached him. It penetrated through the porthole and entered his room, smelling like a plate of freshly baked strawberry muffins, exuding a sweet aroma in front of him.
Anton’s eyes became a little blurred. He heard another voice in his head trying to stop him from reaching out to the black mist.
“What are you?” he heard himself ask.
“I am you,” the black mist replied. “I am part of you. I am what you want, and I am what you’re afraid of.”
Anton frowned. His face tensed as he muttered to himself. “No, I don’t need it. I smell death on you. Quickly leave or I will expel you…”
The struggle became more intense. Sweat dripped from his forehead, and his chest was undulating. He was gasping for air as his fists clenched and loosened several times. Finally, he raised his hand, stretched out a finger, and pointed towards the black mist hovering in the air.
“You need me. You need me to overcome your timidity. I can satisfy all your desires and make you the most powerful person in the world. Everyone will kneel down and surrender at your feet. You’ll no longer be a despised psychic but a god that others will worship!”
The bewitching voice echoed in his ears as Anton’s finger finally connected to the black mist!
In an instant, he seemed to see fireworks exploding in his mind, directly stunning him. Various scenes passed before his eyes, and he felt as if hundreds of people were talking into his ears at the same time. The noise of various languages made him involuntarily cover his ears and roll on the bed.
“I like your physique, and I like your weak willpower even more. I especially like people like you who are always complaining and dissatisfied!”
He heard a voice that didn’t belong to him say, but that voice was indeed coming out of his own mouth.
Anton opened his eyes wide in horror, as if he were sober but being involuntarily manipulated like a marionette.
“This body is a bit weak, but whatever. It’s only temporary.”
Anton had typical Eastern Slavic characteristics. He was tall and had a pale complexion. Though he was in his mid-thirties, he had properly maintained his figure and wasn’t balding, which was rare. His appearance was decent and could even be considered handsome. This was the first time someone had commented on how poor his health was, but he couldn’t refute, seeing as how it was his own voice that was saying it.
“Our new journey has just begun, Anton. From now on, I am you.”
Anton struggled desperately. He wanted to resist and even used his remaining consciousness to curse the most unpleasant thing he could say so that this lone evil spirit that came from nowhere would leave his body. As a psychic, he knew hundreds of ways to exorcize an evil spirit, but that didn’t include the situation where one possessed his own body.
Tap, tap, tap.
There was a knock on the door.
In just a moment of distraction, all of Anton’s consciousness was swallowed up by a bloody mouth.
The author has something to say:
[Unrelated to the main text] Small theater:
Under the tossing of all the practitioners day and night, the hotel was finally cleared.
Evil Spirit A was biting a handkerchief at a corner not far from the hotel: Wuwuwu, I dare not go back.
Evil Spirit B: Forget it, forget it. They’re all leaving. I heard they will go to a very dangerous place this time, and there will be something more powerful than us to deal with them.
Evil Spirit C: I checked the internet just now. There’s a not too shabby hotel nearby. Do you want to go there?
Evil Spirit A: No, I like my bed. Forget it. I’ll bear it a little longer. These people are leaving today.
Evil Spirit D came to report: They’re leaving! Those scourges are finally all gone!
All the evil spirits cheered: To celebrate, let’s go to the bar and drink all night. We’ll possess a few more people so we can drink more!