Jing Lin was already awake when Cang Ji kicked the door opened. Not only was he awake, but he was also soaking in steaming hot water. From the doorway, Cang Ji could see Jing Lin’s smooth—no, smooth but scarred back that looked like the cracks on broken porcelain. Those exposed scars formed a light web that caught Cang Ji off guard as if he was a beast trapped in it. He could not even avert his eyes.
“… You don’t bolt the door when you’re taking a bath?” Cang Ji folded his arms. Turning a blind eye to the latch he had damaged, he leaned against the door panel as if Jing Lin would eat him if he took a step in.
Jing Lin cast a sidelong glance at Cang Ji, revealing the exquisite curve of his chin and neck. Cang Ji was jealous of the water droplets. One by one, they accentuated Jing Lin’s facial features, unveiling his allure and elegance for all to see in the bathtub.
“The latch is useless.” Jing Lin closed his eyes for a moment and asked, “What information have you gathered?”
Instead of answering, Cang Ji asked, “Who gave you that many strokes on your back?”
Jinh Lin replied, “No one.”
Cang Ji laughed. “You have already ‘bare all’ of yourself to me, so why hang on to that last fig leaf? In this world, you win some, you lose some. Who have you lost to that you need to keep it under wraps? Even if you don’t say it today, will you still be able to hide it tomorrow?”
“You have a point.” Jing Lin said, “But what has it got to do with you?”
“Our relationship is special.” Cang Ji said, “You sleep with me on the same bed every day. Isn’t it too heartless of you to forget it all when you wake up?”
“What’s wrong with being heartless?” It sounded as if Jing Lin was laughing, but there was no change in his expression. “It’s easier to devour someone if you’re heartless.”
Cang Ji was about to respond when he saw Jing Lin standing up, splashing water droplets all over. With his back to Cang Ji, Jing Lin summoned his clothes and put them on. Cang Ji watched as the inner shirt covered up that snow-white skin of his, casting an obscure veil over the scars. It was as if he was looking at them through a thin fog. He never knew that Jing Lin could look so beautiful from behind. With this covering up, Jing Lin nipped all notions of flirtatiousness in the bud, although a sensual mood had permeated the room as he put on that undershirt. The room no longer felt cold, but hot—the kind that would make one sweat and one’s throat dry.
Cang Ji wanted to avert his eyes, but then he felt that to avert his eyes now was to admit defeat, so he watched on as Jing Lin dressed himself. Although that snow-white skin was cloaked under layer after layer of clothes, it still seemed to seduce him. Cang Ji thought, might as well tear the clothes all off, what’s the point of wearing them? He had not even touched that patch of skin yet.
“No one put those strokes on my back. They just shattered.” Jing Lin looked back and was stupefied to see Cang Ji on his guard. “Why are you clinging to the door?”
“For fun.” Cang Ji let his impure thoughts drift, although he still kept his cool on the surface. “Shattered? What? Are you a porcelain spirit?”
Jing Lin retorted coldly. “Why? Are you one too?”
Both of them faced each other. Jing Lin was evidently shorter than him by a head, but Cang Ji still felt that he should be even taller than Jing Lin. Without giving Jing Lin a chance to speak, he moved in closer to Jing Lin and tilted his head to scrutinize Jing Lin’s neck, brushing his gaze across it.
“There’s none on the neck.”
“It’s partially shattered.” Not wanting to linger on this issue, Jing Lin asked, “What information have you gathered downstairs?”
Cang Ji raised his hand and stood before Jing Lin like an immovable mountain. He said, “There is no free information in this world.”
“The prefectural yamen of the mortal realm will surely investigate.” Jing Lin ignored him and said, “The girl of that household has gone missing.”
Cang Ji hauled the little stone figure out in horror. “Did you tell him secretly?!”
Jing Lin remained composed. “We saw the footprints last night, but there was no body. Someone must have taken her away. This case initially has nothing to do with us, but what happened last night was unusual. I’m afraid the one who has the copper bell is involved, so… stop it.”
Cang Ji threw the little stone figure, which he had been dangling upside down, onto the bed. He plopped down onto the bed as well and rested his head on his hands. With his eyes following Jing Lin, he said, “So, you are going to investigate too. I’ve also heard another piece of news. Beg me if you want to know.”
Jing Lin opened the door, ready to leave. Cang Ji abruptly sprang up and dragged him back from a distance with a luminous thread. Jing Lin raised his waist and saw himself tethered to Cang Ji by the thread.
“I’m only asking you to beg me.” Cang Ji sat down and laughed. “Do I have to use my hands to teach you how to move your mouth?”
Jing Lin lifted his wrist. The thread was tightly secured. It was obviously something that Cang Ji had refined to bind him. Cang Ji clamped his long legs around Jing Lin to sandwich him in between.
Cang Ji threatened. “Time waits for no one. Don’t keep me waiting for too long.”
Jing Lin’s mouth remained tightly pursed.
Cang Ji looked up at him. “You are really strange. Are humans all these strange? I usually can’t tell whether you are cold-blooded or warm-blooded.”
“Cold.” Jing Lin answered. “How can a dead man be warm?”
“Don’t deceive me.” Cang Ji stared at Jing Lin. There was a trace of wickedness at the corners of his lips as he pressed his lips against the inside of Jing Lin’s wrist and slid down to Jing Lin’s palm. “It’s so warm here that you’re sweating.”
With half-closed eyes, he sank into Jing Lin’s palm as if he were a tiger sniffing roses, and yet he also looked like an ignorant, guileless stag. If innocence could go hand in hand with wickedness, then this magnificent appearance was it. Jing Lin’s fingertip shrank back, but Cang Ji did not notice it and simply raised his eyes. He remained this way in Jing Lin’s palm, looking as if he would not release his hand if Jing Lin did not say those words. It was as if he found joy in bullying Jing Lin, in putting Jing Lin in a difficult spot, and in stoking Jing Lin’s anger. Apart from devouring his food, this brocade carp had found delight in the art of seduction.
Jing Lin finally gave in. He was so estranged from others that he could not withstand such candor, so he said softly, “I beg of you—like this?”
Cang Ji happily released his hand and said, “Not too bad.”
Just as Cang Ji was about to give Jing Lin the details, the snowstorm burst the window open, and the sudden sound of howling wind exploded in his ears.
Cang Ji and Jing Lin moved as one in tacit understanding. He fell backward on his back with Jing Lin still between his legs. A staff overflowing with a malevolent aura – the Xiang Mo Staff1 – swung between both of them as the sound of smashing tables and chairs in the room filled the air.
“What impeccable timing.” Cang Ji smiled grimly as he stayed down. With eyes only for Jing Lin, he said, “You can’t blame me. Someone’s here to spoil our fun. Let’s keep the rest for later.”
Who would expect Jing Lin to bend his knees, pressing against the inner side of Cang Ji’s thighs as he threw his upper body into Cang Ji’s arms? Cang Ji welcomed him with open arms and tightened his legs around Jing Lin. By the time Jing Lin fell into his embrace, the snowstorm had gushed into the room, filling the entire room with white flying flakes.
Cang Ji heard the man at the window grinning as he said, “I’m here to offer my respects. This old man is Zui Shan Seng2, of the Ninth Heaven Realm Zhui Hun Prison. Who cut short my Netherworld brothers’ work last night? This old man has made a special trip here to seek advice.”
As soon as he said that, Cang Ji felt the roof of the room suddenly pressing down on him. The scene before him closed in as the surrounding space rapidly shrank. It was as if just one word from this person had trapped him within Wu Zhi Shan (The Mount of Five Fingers)3, gripping him tightly by the throat. As soon as the man dealt a blow with Xiang Mo Staff, a faint blue wave of light rose for several miles. Countless demons covered their faces as they moaned, nearly revealing their true forms with this blow.
How was this someone from the Netherworld? This was clearly a sanctioned deity from the Ninth Heaven Realm!
Cang Ji’s spiritual expanse grew agitated. If Jing Lin had not preempted the man and shielded Cang Ji, Cang Ji would have choked on his blood and revealed his true form. But even so, a fiery pain shot through his entire body as if someone had whipped him in the spine.
Jing Lin had not expected it; they could hide from Hai Jiao Zong Yin, but not Zui Shan Seng. Even if Cang Ji devoured him now, he would not be able to hold up against a blow from Zui Shan Seng!
Cang Ji lifted a finger to wipe away the blood and stood up to beat a retreat. But the opportunity was gone. How could it be that easy to escape from the grip of Wu Zhi Shan? Cang Ji had only just gotten up when the head of a skinny old monk with a bamboo hat dangled upside-down outside the window.
“Is it you? Don’t go. Don’t go. Play with this old man!”
This old monk was none other than Zui Shan Seng from Zhui Hun Prison. This person had experienced Zhongdu for nine hundred years before he ascended to the Ninth Heaven Realm. Because he was a drunkard and a lunatic, he had obtained the name of “Zui Shan”, or Drunken Mountain. Many years ago, because of love, he had renounced worldly desires and bowed before the Fan Tan Buddha. And yet, he had never truly converted to Buddhism because he had yet to cut off all earthly ties. Jing Lin had met him several times while he was still Lord Lin Song, only that he did not know what had happened to him these five hundred years to turn him into the old man he was now.
Blocking off the window with his staff and leaning over to cut off their path, Zui Shan Seng made a sudden grab for Cang Ji. Cang Ji slipped away and evaded him, causing Zui Shan Seng to burst out laughing, “How slippery. As expected, he’s a brocade carp!”
With just a glance, he saw through Cang Ji’s original form and looked past him into the interior of the room. On the contrary, when he saw Jing Lin, he anxiously shook his legs and scratched the back of his neck, shouting, “But what are you? You look neither human nor ghost. I must say you’ve concealed yourself pretty well.”
Jing Lin pressed down on Cang Ji’s shoulder and stepped over to face Zui Shan Seng. As Cang Ji supported Jing Lin, he could feel that it was not just Jing Lin’s appearance that had changed; even his temperament had undergone a sharp change.
“What I am.” Jing Lin said, “Can’t you tell?”
Zui Shan Seng was drunk, and his pair of eyes were cloudy. His gaze lingered over Jing Lin’s face. “I can’t tell. Who cares which one you are?!”
He hit out with his palm, sending a gush of wind hurtling towards Jing Lin. Jing Lin swung his body to dodge it, his steps composed. Zui Shan Seng’s eyes shone, and he sat up with a “hmm?”. Xiang Mo Staff could not be wielded easily, so he could only use his hands to chase after Jing Lin as if he was playing with him. However, he realized that Jing Lin was even harder to catch than Cang Ji. Unable to grab hold of Jing Lin or even the hem of his clothes, the gears in Zui Shan Seng’s mind started turning as he sobered up.
“Who are you?” Zui Shan Seng suddenly hit out at Jing Lin, and a whirl of wind ripped a hole in the hem of Jing Lin’s robe.
“Can you even call yourself a hero, being all secretive like this?” Zui Shan Seng shoved Xiang Mo Staff into the ground and struck a pose with bare fists. “Your techniques are mysterious. How odd! How odd! This old man will exchange blows with you!”
Zui Shan Seng was still speaking when Jing Lin made his moves. The collision between both sides erupted indoors like a flurry of gale and storm, smashing tables and chairs. Although Jing Lin’s spiritual expanse was weak, he had extraordinary skills, and all his moves were ruthless. This feeling restored his spirits. Zui Shan Seng leaned aside to block him, but Jing Lin grabbed and twisted his arm. Zui Shan Seng’s build was thin, and yet he could not move a muscle. Instead, he closed in and brazenly struck out with his fist. This strike was as fast as lightning. He thought he could force Jing Lin to retreat. Unexpectedly, Jing Lin nimbly turned his wrist around and warded off Zui Shan Seng’s blow. Then, Jing Lin pinched Zui Shan Seng’s vitals with two fingers, struck his shoulder and slammed Zui Shan Seng to the ground before dusting off his own hem. His entire sequence of movements was smooth and natural.
Zui Shan Seng lay there for a few moments before getting up. As he stepped on the ground with one foot, the land around them started rocking violently. Xiang Mo Staff whirled as it jingled.
“Who are you?” Zui Shan Seng turned serious as he placed his hand over the staff. He probed again, “The only one who can quash my moves is Lord Sha Ge. Who are you? Reveal yourself!”
The golden rays of the Xiang Mo Staff surged, and demons within a few miles immediately fled in a hurry like startled hares. Jing Lin was not intimidated, but he was up to the chin with Zui Shan Seng’s swift and forceful counterattacks. Snow swirled around Zui Shan Seng’s golden staff, and his sudden moves were powerful like Mount Tai4 crushing down on them; the pressure was impossible to bear. Jing Lin’s spiritual expanse fell short. It was not a problem for him if they were exchanging pure blows, but with this change, he was forced into a retreat.
“For you to be so secretive, there must be a conspiracy! What evil being are you?!”
Jing Lin’s expression was unruffled. “Why? Afraid now?”
Touching Xiang Mo Staff with his foot, Zui Shan Seng twirled the long staff in his palm and struck out at Jing Lin!
“This old man will smash open this skin of yours and get to the bottom of your identity!”
It was as if the body of Xiang Mo Staff was wrapped in gold. As it bore down on Jing Lin, the sound of the wind tearing apart could be heard as everything around him split into two like parting waves. If the blow hit Jing Lin, Jing Lin would shatter yet again! But in this perilous moment, Zui Shan Seng’s wrist drooped, and a massive power hauled his entire person backward. Zui Shan Seng was only negligent for a moment when he saw Jing Lin turning his hand over as the flying snow transformed into a sword and swept across his throat decisively.
Zui Shan Seng immediately made use of the force to lean back as the tip of Jing Lin’s sword brushed past his throat. He was someone who was acquainted with the combat abilities of the various Ninth Heaven’s deities, and yet, at this very moment, he was flustered by Jing Lin’s might. The next moment, the sword transformed back into flying snow. Jing Lin kicked his foot out, and Zui Shan Seng crashed into debris and slammed upside down onto the wall.
Jing Lin gave a slight gasp. Cang Ji grabbed his wrist and pulled him into his arms. Zui Shan Seng had already sprung to his feet, furious. “Fine! This old man must see exactly who you are today!”
Cang Ji was blinded by the golden light. Jing Lin’s cold hand was already patting the side of his neck as he said in a hoarse voice, “Run!”
Cang Ji embraced him and rolled over. The door had already broken apart, and both of them tumbled down the stairs together. Touching Jing Lin’s trembling hands, Cang Ji tugged them around his neck and jumped outside without even thinking about it. Zui Shan Seng snorted coldly, and the golden light surged like monstrous waves towards them. Cang Ji tapped his feet at the threshold of the door and leaped into the air.
Zui Shan Seng said, “Don’t run, don’t run! This old man still wants to play!”
The wind howled between his words as he hurled Xiang Mo Staff out with all his might. The blizzard between heaven and earth split into two, with even the wind making way for Xiang Mo Staff. Like a sharp arrow, it chased after Cang Ji with ease. Cang Ji tried his best to leap, but no matter what he did, he could not deny it its approach. The chill at his back was piercing, and the pressure was mounting. It was as if his blood would freeze at this very moment.
The golden light exploded, brightening up the snowy night. Thousands of miles around, waves of snow billowed as the demons in the town let out shrill cries of pain. Jing Lin rolled over atop Cang Ji and pressed down his head. Right after that, Xiang Mo Staff pummeled into him heavily on the back. There was a heavy weight in Cang Ji’s chest as both men were hammered into the snow amid the turbulent wind. Warm blood splattered onto Cang Ji’s cheeks and dripped from Jing Lin’s body onto Cang Ji’s chest, soaking it. Cang Ji crashed into the ground in great pain and caught hold of Jing Lin as Jing Lin slid off him.
His palms were drenched with blood.
- 降魔杖 Xiang Mo Zhang, literally Subdue Evil Staff.
- 醉山僧 Zui Shan Seng, literally Drunken Mountain Monk. This is like a title or a nickname, it’s not his real name.
- 五指山, Wu Zhi Shan, literally Five Fingers Mountain or the Mount of Five Fingers. In Journey to the West (西遊記), a Chinese classic, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, was trapped by Buddha under a great mountain known as Wu Zhi Shan (also said to be Buddha’s palm and fingers) for five hundred years until the Tang Monk, Xuan Zang, came to his rescue.
- 泰山 Taishan, or Mount Tai, is a mountain of historical and cultural significance located north of the city of Tai’an, in Shandong province, China. It’s one of the Five Sacred Mountains of China.