“I advised you to repent, but you still refuse to realize the errors of your ways.” Zui Shan Seng’s face was ashen. “Lord Lin Song succumbed to evil and committed patricide. He deserves to be punished. His soul had been obliterated before the True Buddha altar. Since you want him as your master, I’ll send you on your way tonight! “
Xiang Mo Staff whirred as Zui Shan Seng leaped. There was a wave of golden light, and the furnishings in the inn were pulverized. Jing Lin dropped to the ground and threw his folding fan out. It hit Cang Ji at the back of his head. Cang Ji caught it and slapped the fan shut.
“Since you want what’s left of him.” Jing Lin said, “Then, help yourself.”
Zui Shan Seng had already sprung over to him. The entire wooden stairs collapsed. Xiang Mo Staff swept past the broken wood and aimed right for Cang Ji’s waist, but then the top pillar of the inn snapped. The instant the roof of the inn went tilting, Cang Ji drew closer to him and pointed the fan at the tip of Xiang Mo Staff. Then, he rebounded in the wake of Zui Shan Seng’s tremendous power. The building shook, and the ground caved in hot on Cang Ji’s heels. Zui Shang Seng slammed the staff onto the ground and used the momentum to pursue him relentlessly.
Cang Ji suddenly stopped in his tracks and Xiang Mo Staff swept past him. There was a stab of pain as the golden light scraped the side of his face. Scales emerged, and he looked back. Tiles scattered wherever Zui Shan Seng treaded. He saw Cang Ji come to a halt. This was too good an opportunity to miss; thus, he slammed the staff towards the side of Cang Ji’s waist.
A burst of wind rushed towards him. Everything around him was a blur!
Cang Ji’s hair fluttered backward. He staggered under the overwhelming power; his entire body was vulnerable with open weaknesses. Cang Ji held Jing Lin’s folding fan in the palm of his hand and twirled the sword1 as he swayed his body and brandished the fan. As it turned out, it was the swordplay the drunken stone figure had demonstrated that night. Following the fluid movements of the tip of the fan, the strong wind turned its head, changed sides, and shoved aside Zui Shan Seng’s Xiang Mo Staff.
Apart from water, the wind was the only thing in the world that could conquer strength with gentleness. Zui Shan Seng’s staff technique was like himself; once wielded, it would be powerful and devastating. But coming across this Drunken Swordplay2 had made a mockery out of his strength; his blows were not fatal, and his strikes did not injure.
It was a pity that Cang Ji was only imitating the swordplay crudely, so the wind kept breaking up. It was all by the virtue of his quick-wit that he could block the blows. One moment, he turned the wind too much; the next moment, he could not pull back his punches. Although there was a certain beauty in it, it was also a bumpy fight. Zui Shan Seng had long lost his patience and struck out at the wind like a ferocious tiger. The folding fan was just a common object Jing Lin had bought from a street shop for fun. There was a ripping sound, and the paper of the fan tore. The impact of the staff on Cang Ji’s body was so forceful it rattled his internal spiritual energy and made him dizzy. He retreated swiftly as rubble was strewn around.
But beating a retreat was the last thing one should do when facing up to Zui Shan Seng. Sure enough, Zui Shan Seng’s power grew. The more he fought, the more ruthless and intense he was!
The wood of the fan cracked. It was only a matter of time before it broke.
Cang Ji’s sleeves billowed. He was about to turn his hands into claws when there was a tightening on his wrist as someone pulled him back. The luminous thread was so fine it was barely visible in the night. Yet this was the one Cang Ji had previously tied it on himself.3 Zui Shan Seng stayed hot on his trail. He let out a “heh” just as he was about to strike Cang Ji.
There was a blast of chilly wind at the nape of Cang Ji’s neck. Jing Lin had somehow come up behind him. His palms slid over Cang Ji’s shoulders and arms before nudging him between his wrists. “Still your heart like deep water. To deal with this person, you can’t be impatient.”
The fan twirled, and the original noisy and chaotic atmosphere quieted down in an instant. The night wind swirled around his arms like swirls of water. Cang Ji’s turbulent spiritual sea went still. Even with his back against Jing Lin, he felt boundlessness all around him. The wind sounded unhurried in his ear, and the indistinct sound of the whistling of the wind among the pines rose like tides. Jing Lin’s chilly fingers gently led Cang Ji by his wrists. With just a wave of the fan, he used the wind and dispelled Zui Shan Seng’s thousand jin4 force; it was as if all that power had simply sunk into the boundless sea.
Cang Ji could not see Jing Lin, but he could feel Jing Lin everywhere. He could sense Jing Lin’s breathing near the nape of his neck. Those warm sensations surged like torrents into Cang Ji and spread to his limbs. He was initially sober, but now he felt a little tipsy. Those icy hands led his chaotic spiritual energy and circulated it through his entire body, turning them around for his own use.
“Put what you’ve learned into practice.” Jing Lin instructed him. “Everything in this world can be conquered. Even the most formidable person will have weaknesses.”
Xiang Mo Staff struck Cang Ji, but Cang Ji remained as steady as Mount Tai.5 With a sweep of the folding fan, the wind reversed and nudged away that renowned staff. The staff toppled to the ground, and the ground around Zui Shan Seng caved in. He steadied himself and struck back against the force. Debris was strewn all over the ground as he bellowed, “I’ll disperse your soul. We’ll see how you can delude others with heresy!”
A gale hurtled towards them in an attack, and Jing Lin’s sleeves flew backward. He looked like a white bird so light he could be blown away anytime. Scales rapidly covered Cang Ji’s arms. His sleeves ripped into pieces under the immense pressure as both of his arms transformed into savage claws. Zui Shan Seng advanced towards them, and Cang Ji’s arms gave a violent jerk as he took on the staff with a claw and stepped on the ground.
The golden light struck his arm. The sharp sound of scales being scraped was piercing. Zui Shan Seng gritted his teeth and pressed down on him. Cang Ji’s feet sank into the ground, and he heard and felt the pain of crushing bones. The golden light swelled on both sides, and sweat rolled down Cang Ji’s temples. When he heard Jing Lin say, “It’s coming”, he pummeled the ground with his other claw!
Violent wind and spiritual energy exploded under Zui Shan Seng’s feet. His golden staff slipped and shook, exposing his weakness. Cang Ji grabbed onto Xiang Mo Staff, making it difficult for Zui Shan Seng to beat a hasty retreat. Cang Ji slid over in an approach. The two men confronted each other with their legs. Cang Ji’s force was terrifying as he struck Zui Shan Seng’s shoulder and threw him backward. As a vast expense of spiritual energy converged at this very moment, Zui Shan Seng felt as if he were reliving that nightmare from that night. His own spiritual energy reversed and gushed all over as the impact from a similar spiritual pulse overturned his internal organs. Right after that, Cang Ji dealt a blow to the back of Zui Shan Seng’s head and flung him down!
The inn could not hold up any longer and collapse. Zui Shan Seng could hardly prop himself up with his head pressed against the ground. He coughed out blood among the chaos. It was only then that he realized his head was bleeding. Xiang Mo Staff clattered to the ground. Zui Shan Seng propped himself up for a moment. There was an unbearable pain in his shoulder; it was as if it had been seared by fire.
He could battle anyone. But he had never expected to cross sword with half of himself!
“What a remarkable demon…” Zui Shan Seng clenched his teeth and pushed on. A sneer escaped his throat. “To devoured half of me… How very remarkable!”
Cang Ji’s breathing was irregular, and the strength had left his arms. He did not expect the blow to be so forceful. It was obvious that he might be quick in consuming spiritual energy, but he might not necessarily be able to turn it around for his own use. He was now like a rough, unpolished diamond. Zui Shan Seng was right; he needed a shifu.
Jing Lin pushed through the rubble and stopped before Zui Shan Seng. Zui Shan Seng raised his head to stare at him and hollered, “Where are you running to? I’ll chase you down like a mad dog! Who are you… who exactly are you?!”
Jing Lin lowered his eyes to look at him and said, “Why belittle yourself? There are countless mad dogs in the Ninth Heavens. You are the only one who can still be considered human.”
“You’re nurturing a tiger6 on intention.” Zui Shan Seng gasped for breath. He looked at Jing Lin but pointed to Cang Ji. “For you to be raising a demon deliberately, you must be harboring evil intentions. What are you scheming?!”
“Give a dog a bad name.”7 Jing Lin said, “He is still ignorant of this world. He is not evil.”
“We are just taking preventive measures!” Zui Shan Seng wiped away his blood. “When he grows, he can devour heaven and deities and create havoc. How will he be innocent by the time there are countless casualties?!”
“You can’t figure it out yourself, so why act rashly and determine others’ futures on their behalf?” Jing Lin said coldly. “Since you want to seek refuge in religion away from mundane affairs, why don’t you look within your heart and do some soul searching?”
Zui Shan Seng blew up in fury. “I shaved off my hair8 to show my will. I’m not tied down by love.”
Jing Lin did not answer. His silence made Zui Shan Seng even more furious. He gripped his chest almost insanely and said in a fierce tone, “I’m free from the shackles of love. In this world, “love” is the only word that’s hard to deal with. I’ve never laid my hands on it…” He gritted his teeth and said bitterly, “Never!”
“The bald donkey9 is lying.” Cang Ji raised his arms and pulled back. But the malice in his eyes was deep. “From the way it looks, you’ve been deeply touched by it. You said you’re free from human desires, and yet worldly affairs remain on your mind.” Cang Ji sneered. “How shameless.”
Zui Shan Seng rebutted in anguish. “… Shut up!”
Cang Ji had sniffed out an even bigger weakness. He was accustomed to doing this. Compared with physical pain, it was even more satisfying to literally give someone grief. Once he found an opening, he would relentlessly press on until he scored a victory. The more pain the person felt, the more gratified he felt. However, because Jing Lin was here this time, he played it smart and did not move in for the attack. He did not want to complicate matters at this point in time. But whether or not he might do so in the future was hard to say.
Zui Shan Seng scratched his green tangerine peel head.10 He had an implacable hatred for the word “love”. He was not like the common human; when he suddenly went crazy, he would even forget where he was. He muttered to himself, “Don’t you slander me! I’ve had a tonsure so many times,11 I’ve already cast aside earthly desires and eradicated the root of love! I, I!” He shouted frantically, “I don’t remember who… I’ve never harmed anyone… Why won’t you leave me alone? !”
He cried and laughed so hard it was absurd; he even rolled on the ground as he rambled on ceaselessly.
Cang Ji pressed down on Jing Lin’s shoulder and let Jing Lin supported him as they moved on. Silence reigned in the city. All the demons had darted into the mountains. Collapsed buildings were everywhere, all thanks to the impact earlier.
“I thought he was a cut above others.” Cang Ji’s sleeves was all ripped away. Placing his bare arm on Jing Lin’s shoulder, he said, “Turns out he’s a lunatic.”
Jing Lin said, “He wasn’t mad in the past.”
“How would I know how he was like in the past?” Cang Ji leaned against Jing Lin. “Tell me.”
“… It was too long ago.” Jing Lin propped Cang Ji up by the waist and said, “Why do I remember that you’ve only hurt your arm earlier?”
“Who says so?” Cang Ji lifted his left leg. “It hurts all over. Where are we going? What about Gu Shen?”
“He can’t leave this city.” Jing Lin said. “Let’s find a place to sleep. Zui Shan Seng will be here for a while.”
“My arms are weak.” Cang Ji said, “I won’t be able to change my clothes later.”
Jing Lin replied, “Use your legs.”
Cang Ji snorted. “Why don’t you ask me to use my mouth?”
“You still have such a special ability?”
Cang Ji asked in a roundabout way. “Was Zui Shan Seng called Zui Shan Seng then?”
“He should have a layman name before ascending. But he forsakes it all when he kneeled at the Fantan Altar. From then onwards, he only goes by Zui Shan Seng.”
“Jing Lin.” Cang Ji cast a sidelong glance at him and asked, “Is the word ‘love’ that hard to deal with?”
Jing Lin’s profile was calm as he kicked open a door that had not yet collapsed. The demon of this home had run away in so much of a hurry that carrots had toppled all over the floor; likely, it was a rabbit spirit. Jing Lin supported Cang Ji and made his way in, then released his hands and turned around to look for the stone figure.
Before Jing Lin could finish his words, Cang Ji grabbed his wrists and bore down on him. He secured Jing Lin’s wrists above his head and pinned him against the wall. Jing Lin’s sleeves slipped down, exposing both wrists along with his neck. The wild beast’s nose hovered around Jing Lin’s smooth nape, causing Jing Lin to shudder.
A person might disguise his expression and control his words, yet he could not and would not be able to spur his body into pretending that nothing was wrong. For instance, right at this moment, Jing Lin’s expression might not have changed, but the nape of his neck had already betrayed him.
“Put what you’ve learned into practice.” Cang Ji repeated Jing Lin’s words. “Everything in this world can indeed be conquered.”
Jing Lin said nothing. Cang Ji buried his back in Jing Lin’s nape and took a deep breath. His breath blew on Jing Lin. “What exactly is your motive? Are you thinking of being my shifu or my father? Satisfy me. Make it clear early on.”
- 挽剑花 Literally ‘draw a sword flower’. It’s a technique in swordplay, although the exact stance may differ from sect to sect. Something like this video.
- 醉剑 Drunken Sword(play); It’s a swordplay technique, although the exact stance may differ from sect to sect. Generally though, it was meant to imitate a drunkard wielding a sword and supposed to throw off opponents with its unpredictability. Something like this video.
- Refer to Chapter 13
- 斤 jin, a unit of weight (=1/2 kilogram)
- 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.
- 养虎 from 养虎为患 asking for trouble by raising a tiger
- The full idiom is 欲加之罪，何患无辞 If you want to condemn someone, you can easily make up a charge to accuse them. The English proverb equivalent is “give a dog a bad name, then hang him”, i.e. a negativity bias.
- In Buddhism, a tonsure (shaving of hair and beard) is performed as a part of the ceremony of ordination as a monk to symbolize the person’s renunciation of worldly desires and affairs.
- 秃驴 literally bald donkey; it’s also a mocking term for a Buddhist monk.
青皮 Qing Pi or green tangerine peel. Basically saying the top of his head looks like the picture on the right.
- Tonsure’s explanation as mentioned above. The tonsure is renewed as often as required to keep the head cleanly shaven.