Cang Ji kicked his shoes off and pushed the inner chamber door open. He had been running about outdoors until his cheeks felt hot and he was sweating all over. It was even more sweltering inside the inner chamber. Jing Lin was still asleep. Cang Ji climbed up the couch and watched Jing Lin with bated breath for a moment, exhaling only when he was sure Jing Li would not wake up.
The little stone figure ran in, shook off the bird feathers on its head, and climbed up after him.
Cang Ji asked, “For how long is he going to sleep?”
The little stone figure naturally could not answer. Cang Ji took off his fur clothes and robe, wanting to snuggle up to Jing Lin. He had only lifted the corner of the quilt when someone grabbed his back collar.
He looked back and said, “Do you want to sleep beside him too? No way. Go outside. You usually sleep outside.”
The little stone figure stepped on Cang Ji’s back and dragged him away from Jing Lin, but Cang Ji was unwilling. In a moment of desperation, he grabbed Jing Lin’s neck and forcibly squeezed in next to Jing Lin. He threw a fierce glare at the small stone figure, totally disregarding their earlier camaraderie when they were plucking feathers together. It was not a stretch to say he had fallen out with a friend over Jing Lin.
The little stone figure butted its head against Cang Ji’s back, causing him to grimace even though he did not dare to utter a sound. He could only let the small stone figure thump him on the back. It was so hot in the room, but Jing Lin was not even sweating. Cang Ji closed his eyes, tempted by the neck right under his nose. Even if he just had a full meal, he still wanted to bite off a piece of Jing Lin’s flesh.
The small stone figure punched Cang Ji from behind, which hurt and surprised him although it also cut his desire short. He licked his teeth and touched Jing Lin’s neck. He supposed he would not be able to rip off Jing Lin’s flesh in his current state and thought how nice it would be if he could grow up a little more.
But the strange thing was that he was a fish, not a beast. He should not have been so ravenous for meat, nor should he have been so clear about the vital parts of a body that would have been fatal if wounded. But these were like natural instincts embedded in him, so much that even he found it odd.
Am I truly just a fish?
Cang Ji’s mind was wandering when he fell asleep.
It was night when the fog receded and the snow stopped falling.
The copper bell under the eaves shook as someone rapped urgently and continuously on the door.
Cang Ji curled up and felt the warmth beneath him. He did not want to wake up, but the person beyond the door would not stop knocking. He clung on to Jing Lin and asked, vaguely, “Who is it?”
The person at the door called out, “Jiu Ge.”
Cang Ji was suddenly awake, having recognized Ah Yi’s sister as the person at the door. He had plucked out Ah Yi’s tail feathers during the day, balding him so much that Ah Yi was both ashamed and resentful. Thus, he kept his eyes peeled as he climbed out of bed and put on his robe.
“What do you want?”
Fu Li saw a gap in the door of the inner chamber and poked her head through. She seemed to be in a hurry and simply asked, “Is Jiu Ge still asleep?”
“He’s sleeping, and can’t be woken.” Cang Ji played innocent as he observed minute details about her. On seeing that she was not here to avenge Ah Yi, he continued, “Jiejie, would you like to come in for a cup of tea? It’s uncertain when Master will wake up.”
Sure enough, he heard Fu Li saying, “I’m afraid I have to give the tea a miss. Open the door and let me in.”
“Can’t jiejie enter?” Cang Ji asked.
Fu Li’s expression froze, and her eyes dimmed slightly. “Jiu Ge’s spiritual barrier is everywhere in this garden. I can’t even touch you, let alone enter the inner chamber.”
The copper bell under the eaves corridor shook again.
Fu Li took a step forward. “This is bad! The Eastern Sea Division has caught up with us. It’s inadvisable to remain here. Open the door, fast!”
Cang Ji sniffed; the salty tinge of sea tide was rapidly saturating the air. The sound of the waves seemed to have pervaded the mountainside, and an invisible power surged forth swiftly and violently. The starry sky suddenly darkened, and Cang Ji stared up at it. The sky was not covered by dark clouds, but by a massive body making its way through the sky.
Fu Li knew it was already too late. She shook herself, and there was a great rush of light all at once in the darkness of the night. Her original form was absolutely not something Ah Yi could match up to; she almost stole the brilliance away from the starry sky.
Fu Li waved her wings, and Cang Ji was blown into the room. The doors and windows were shut tight, and the entire garden was blanketed with fluttering, accumulated snow. Fu Li soared into the sky and whistled in a clear voice. The massive object in the air followed the sound, and a head emerged from the clouds.
This was a bona fide Jiaolong!1
“The Northern Deity of Can Li left her place without authorization to come to the coast of the Eastern Sea. What matters of importance do you have here?” The Jiaolong censured in a low voice.
“Zong Yin!” Fu Li spun through the clouds. You have lived in the Eastern Sea for a hundred years, devoted to cultivation with the aim of evolving into a dragon. Now the Dragon Gate2 has yet to appear, but you have left for an inspection tour without permission. So, what brings you here?”
“I’m in charge of the Eastern Sea, and it’s my duty to inspect my land.” Zong Yin’s gaze was deep. “I’ve been frank with you, and I hope you will give me a straight answer. What are you doing here? This place is deserted and barren of spiritual energy. Even if you’re here to go into seclusion, you should not have chosen this place.”
“I am the Deity of Can Li, and wherever Can Li tree points to are my lands to oversee. I am surprised too. There are no aberrations in the stars anywhere else except this place. So I rushed here, but it turned out that you were the cause of it.”
Zong Yin scrutinized her and said, “Don’t deceive me. A snowstorm broke out here this morning. A snow incarnate informed the Eastern Sea that there is evil lurking here. Evil beings are not trivial matters. I need to go through this place with a fine comb. You were from the Ninth Heaven Realms, so you’re well aware of how heavy the consequences of an evil contagion is. Don’t be lead astray, leave quickly.”
When Lord Lin Song had killed his way to the Ninth Heaven, Zong Yin was at the crucial point of his evolution into a Jiao. Therefore, he did not see the tragic state of the Ninth Heaven. All he knew was that Lord Cheng Tian had said that Lord Lin Song had been tainted by evil and was reaping what he had sowed.
“The snow incarnate is cunning, greedy, and fond of inciting trouble. You actually believe the words of such an ill-reputed being?” Fu Li said. “The stars are unstable. I can’t return now. Don’t hinder me doing my job.”
Zong Yin swirled his body around. “There must be a reason you are trying to stop me from inspecting this place!”
As soon as he said that, the Jiaolong suddenly transformed into a topless man and dived towards the ground. Fu Li spread her wings, and five colors cut through the sky as she chased after him.
When Zong Yin landed on one knee, he noticed spiritual energy wandering all over. He stood up and looked towards the garden, saying in a cold voice, “There are demons with such level of cultivation in this place. You hide them instead of reporting them. If my Lord asks about this someday, you and I will be held responsible for it!”
Fu Li raised the wind to obstruct him. He was a difficult opponent to deal with! She would still have countermeasures if the one who came was not Hai Jiao Zong Yin.3 But of all people, it just had to be Zong Yin. Among the lands of Zhongdu, Zong Yin was the most loyal to Lord Cheng Tian. This person was upright and tenacious; he would never give up until he got to the bottom of the matter!
The snowstorm rushed at him, and Zong Yin waved a hand to reverse its direction. In that instant, the soughing of the wind among the pines surged, and the entire mountain of accumulated snow flowed backward and started to quake violently.
Cang Ji could not see outside the house, but he felt the sudden tremor under his feet. It made him dizzy and nauseated. Jing Lin’s sleeping body slipped towards the ground, and Cang Ji hugged half of Jing Lin’s body tightly and dragged him back to the couch. Unexpectedly, the next moment, he staggered and stumbled, rolling off the couch with Jing Lin. As he collided with the small desk and chairs in the room, a fire raged within him; he could not wait to bite the perpetrator to death.
It gradually became harder for Cang Ji to maintain his grip on Jing Lin, so he bent over to protect Jing Lin’s head, saying through clenched teeth. “I haven’t eaten you yet! How can I let someone taste your blood first!”
The small table smashed into his back, pinning him down and making it hard for him to breathe. He did not have any hands free and could only endure and resist it. Among the complete mayhem in the room, he suddenly saw the little stone figure deftly dodging the debris as it came to his side.
Cang Ji almost choked on his blood. “Stop playing! Give me a hand…”
The little stone figure stretched out his arms and stepped on the Cang Ji’s arm to climb onto his shoulder, pressing Cang Ji down even lower. Cang Ji fumed, “How dare you step on my head!”
The little stone figure stomped on him. Cang Ji bent his neck to stick close to Jing Lin. Even at this moment, he was still thinking idly: this man has a romantic air about him when he’s asleep. He’s totally a different person from when he’s wide awake. Even if he were to remain unconscious forever, it wouldn’t…
“What are you doing?!” Cang Ji ground his teeth.
The little stone figure pulled a strand of his hair as if he knew what Cang Ji was thinking. Then, the weight on Cang Ji’s back disappeared as the small table was pushed off him. Cang Ji was gasping for breath when the room was turned upside down. Apparently, Zong Yin could find nothing unusual, so he had intended to overturn the entire mountain.
Even Jing Lin’s spiritual barrier would be unable to withstand this blow. The garden was located at the top of the mountain. If it was flipped over, they would fall to the very bottom. With the weight of the entire mountain on them, even if Jing Lin was able to prop it up, Cang Ji did not want to take the risk! If Jing Lin coughed out blood and the spiritual barrier was shattered, they would all be crushed into a mass of minced meat instantaneously.
Fu Li stomped on the ground, jolting the toppling mountain back into its original position. The birds in the mountain scattered and the wild beasts fled, miserable beyond words.
“Overturning the mountain to destroy a soul! Do you want to end the lives of all living spirits here? Stop at once!”
The slapping sounds of the sea tide permeated the air. Zong Yin said, “I know my own limits. Get out of the way.”
“How can I stand by and do nothing when you are behaving like this!” With a sweep of Fu Li’s tail, a violent wind swept past and pushed Zong Yin off the ground, sending him towards the Eastern Sea.
Zong Yin steadied himself mid-air and tore the wind apart. Scales swiftly sprang up on his arms as he pounded heavily towards the ground. The gale receded and disappeared without a trace, while the ground cracked rapidly as the pine forest toppled over.
“I must see who is hiding here! You must be acting so timidly and cautiously because you’re afraid to alert others. This person is no small fry, who is it? Fu Li, who are you hiding?!”
The ground tilted and collapsed.
Cang Ji crashed into the wall, aching all over. He exhaled in a hoarse voice, unable to stop the situation from deteriorating. Jing Lin lurched towards him following the tremors, and his arms slid to his sides. Cang Ji’s gaze subconsciously followed Jing Lin’s arm down to one of his fingertips when he had a sudden brainwave. He extended his neck, desperately drawing closer to Jing Lin’s finger.
“Hey!” Cang Lin hissed at the small stone figure. “Give me Jing Lin’s finger!”
Just a little closer and he could touch it. But it was tilting even more, and he could only watch as Jing Lin’s fingertip swayed lightly before him.
This body was useless. It was neither tall nor strong. There were no other uses for it except to play dumb and act obedient! He wanted to grow up; he wanted to grow up; he wanted to grow up!
The fingertip was like white jade, and it drooped and came into contact with Cang Ji’s lips. Without even thinking about it, Cang Ji bit down on it! He pressed his milk teeth down hard on Jing Lin’s fingertip and drew blood. The blood entered his mouth, tasting like sweet dew when it flowed down his throat. It turned into a surging wave of spiritual energy, gushing throughout Cang Ji’s viscera and organs. There was pain all over his body as his bones cracked, forced by the spiritual energy to grow within his body.
Cang Ji was like a pine tree that had a sudden and frenzied growth spurt. In the blink of an eye, he could feel the complete difference in his surroundings compared to the past. He could clearly see the texture of the wall corner and hear the waves in the distance. Tempestuous waves rose from his expanse of spiritual energy, and the pain silenced him.
What kind of treasure was Jing Lin?! It was only one mouthful of blood, but it was worth more than a hundred years of pure cultivation. It grew his body in such a violent way, but internal organs were all fine, and he remained in one piece. Except for the pain, he was unharmed.
The rope of the copper bell under the eaves broke, and the copper bell tumbled into the snow and disappeared from view. The spiritual barrier faded away at a speed visible to the naked eye, immediately exposing a garden that had been hidden from sight.
Jing Lin seemed to be heavier. Behind him, Cang Ji heard a “plop”. The little stone figure had somehow turned into two pieces of ordinary stones, rolling to one side.
Cang Ji could think no more of it, because the door behind him was smashed into smithereens before he had time to move.
The overwhelming sense of oppression drew closer as Zong Yin stepped onto the threshold and said in a chilly voice.
But what he saw was a man sitting with his back to him in the shade of the inner chamber, his clothes tattered and barely covering him, and his hair, disheveled. The man looked back. It was clearly the face of a haughty and arrogant youth, yet his gaze was wild and ferocious. He spoke resolutely and decisively,
Zong Yin did not blow his top.
Because that glare unexpectedly gave him a sense of déjà vu.