Jing Lin did not know what this “bad” was. He did not give a perfunctory answer, but said solemnly, “We are family. Gege need not brood over it.”
Cang Ji averted his eyes as if he could not take it and said, “How can you agree so readily when others say they want to bully you?”
“It’s only when brothers are of one mind that they can cut through gold.”1 Jing Lin said and looked at Cang Ji’s abdomen. “Is it better?”
“It’s nothing serious.” Cang Ji said, “The Blood Sea scared me out of my mind. But I’m all healed after seeing you.”
“A pity I can’t lead you out.” Jing Lin put the porcelain bottle back into his sleeve and said, “If this is someone else’s stomach, then how are we going to make our way out?”
“It’s easy for evil spirits to cloud the mind. Stay here long enough, and perhaps everything we see is an illusion. Naturally, we won’t be able to tell the direction.” Cang Ji covered his stomach. Feeling a little better, he continued, “If I utter any nonsense later, then I must have been hoodwinked by evil beings. Just give me a poke.”
Jing Lin said, “I’ll make a note of it. But what if I’m caught up in it too?”
“You won’t.” Cang Ji rose to his feet. “Your Evil-Subduing Way of the Sword has broken through the Perfection Stage. Even the Blood Sea will have to give way to you, let alone the evil spirits. Furthermore, you have a steadfast mind; you aren’t easily influenced by delusions. The day we were at the City of Bencheng, we saw how odd the corpses in the city were. Now that we are here, we might as well use the opportunity to examine Qixing town. Perhaps, we might be able to find some clues.”
Thus, both men entered the town together. With Yan Quan on his back, even the blood fog kept its distance. Having gotten his advantage, the ache in Cang Ji’s stomach gradually dissipated. He knew that this was all due to Jing Lin’s pure spiritual energy. He could not help but think to himself what a precious treasure Jing Lin was.
Qixing town was originally located along the river. Although the port was not as magnificent as the City of Xuanyang, it was moderately successful. Now, it lay buried under the yellow sand, with broken poles and wooden planks everywhere. The waters of Xijiang was notoriously putrid, with corpses that had been torn to pieces drifting on the river surface. Jing Lin chose a collapsed dwelling to take a glimpse of the corpses within. They were all piled up behind the door. Most likely, these were the people who had been fleeing helter-skelter when the Blood Sea appeared but ended up trampled and crushed to death.
“I’ve seen the Blood Sea raiding a city while I was in the north.” Cang Ji crouched down and pushed aside the rotting corpses and said, “Once the greed form makes its appearance, it will not let even the livestock go. Yet, in the south, the evil spirits are often seen abandoning the dead without consuming them. It’s really very different from how it used to be in the past.”
“It isn’t just the north.” Jing Lin sized up the corpses and said, “When the east first fell, I rushed to the front-line and saw the overturning tides of the Blood Sea. The evil spirits ate everything.”
“They didn’t eat the children in the City of Bencheng, and now they wouldn’t eat the people in Qixing town who have been crushed to death.” Cang Ji pondered over it. “Could it be that they are only here to create havoc and not to eat humans?”
“If that was the case.” Jing Lin looked at him in the eye. “… The evil spirits are no longer just plotting to satisfy their appetites, but to storm and besiege cities. They not only band together, but even came to comprehend the art of war?”
“If he’s just one person, then many of our questions can be easily solved.” Cang Ji said, “We mustn’t generalize. Let’s take a look elsewhere.”
Both men moved into the town again and saw all kinds of corpses everywhere on the abandoned streets. Many corpses have been torn apart. They could discern the evil spirits’ bite marks from the lacerations, but the strange thing was those who had been eaten were few and far between. The carcasses could not soak for long in the Blood Sea, so many of them had already turned into a pool of bloodied flesh and watery blood. Even the bones showed mottled signs of erosion.
“I understand it now.” Cang Ji stood among the remains and said suddenly to Jing Lin, “The evil spirits’ assaults of the cities were not just for the purpose of laying a trap, but possibly for feeding the Blood Sea. Look at this place. So many of those who lost their lives were discarded on the ground. The evil spirits did not eat them, nor did they want them. Instead, they let the bones and meat dissolve amid the Blood Sea. If he’s a person, he wouldn’t have done this without cause or reason.”
“But it is hard for humans who enter the Blood Sea to survive.” Jing Lin looked around and said, “Ordinary people who touch the miasma of the Blood Fog will promptly die.”
“Who said so?”
Jing Lin said, “I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Then, what will happen if someone with cultivation enters?”
With that, Cang Ji moved aside half of his body. It was then Jing Lin saw a bundle of white robe behind him. Many disciples from Ninth Heaven Gate had met their ends here, and this one did not even have a corpse left. Even the robe had been half-corroded. All that remained was a broken sword stabbed into the ground beside the bundle, with its tassel and tag fluttering in the wind. Yet, the sword body stood erect and firm.
Jing Lin approached and bent over to pick up the tag. This tag was hollow and extremely light. Engraved at the top was the name and cultivation of the Ninth Heaven Gate’s disciple it belonged to. He wiped the dust off the tag and gradually got a clear look at the characters under his finger.
“Spiritual Amassment.” Cang Ji read out the cultivation level and said. “He had already cultivated himself a spiritual sea. Look at how shiny the remnant of his sword is. It’s still standing erect even though he has been dead for a long time. Presumably, his original form was also one that should not be taken lightly. Such a person should have the ability to protect himself even if he stepped into the miasma of the Blood Sea. What’s the reason for Ninth Heaven Gate’s continual reluctance to enter the Blood Sea?”
“When the Blood Sea first appeared, the sect dispatched its disciples to head deep into it. But all of them went missing.” Jing Lin said, “It was only later on when the Blood Sea invaded the cities and towns that we learned that there were countless evil spirits within. Even if the common disciples could withstand the miasma of the blood fog, they could not hold on for too long under the pincer attacks of the evil spirits. As time passed, an order was given to prohibit access to the Blood Sea. That’s what the order says. But the various cities at the borders were often attacked, and the garrison disciples could not abandon the cities and commoners to flee for their lives, so using their own bodies to resist the waves became an unwritten rule. There has never been a survivor in all the places the Blood Sea engulfed.”
“Compared to the common folks, the Blood Sea seems to prefer cultivators.” Cang Ji pulled out the remnant of the sword and saw the word “courage” engraved on the sword body. So he flicked away the dust and placed it together with the white robe under a rock.
Jing Lin kept the tag and said, “I’ve once discussed entering the Blood Sea with Dong Jun. He also said this place is rife with danger. It’s tough for humans to survive.”
“Dong Jun.” Cang Ji read out the name slowly. “I have observed his conduct and actions over the years. He often wanders inland, and is reluctant to head to the battle zones at the frontiers to re-enter the Blood Sea. He’s the person in the world who understands the Blood Sea most, and no one ever suspects him?”
“On the contrary, he has always come under suspicion.” Jing Lin said, “In the sect, he’s… somewhat similar to me. He often hits the nail on the head when he speaks. There isn’t a brother he hasn’t poked fun of. He knew his identity made it inappropriate, so he hardly heads for the borders. Father loves and thinks highly of him. “
“That’s what makes it strange.” Cang Ji said, “He repented and came to fathom compassion by the side of the lotus pond in Nan Chan. Why did he join Ninth Heaven Gate instead of becoming a monk?”
“I heard that Father had invited him to join thrice. He originally did not agree. But one time, he came up the mountain and saw Qing Yao playing and chasing after the butterflies, so he played with her among the flowers. Qing Yao was innocent and artless back then, and she asked him two questions.”
“Qing Yao asked him, ‘Where is your home? Will you stay and be my gege?’.” Jing Lin said, “As an evil spirit, Dong Jun has neither parents nor siblings in this world. And yet he succumbed to the words uttered by a child. Come to think of it, it was also probably loneliness at play. After he joined the sect, he treated everyone warmly. It was hard to tell the truth from lies in his words. But he was genuinely good to Qing Yao. That’s something even Father cannot compete with.”
“All of you brothers are so interesting.” Cang Ji smiled, “You said he’s similar to you. In what way?”
Jing Lin went silent, then said, “Unlikable.”
In the town, the yellow wind blew their robes. Jing Lin’s side profile was calm as a few strands of his hair fluttered in the wind. When he was in a fit of pique, the emotion would not show on his face, His fingers would not move either, and even the expression in his eyes would not change. Yet, Cang Ji could feel it as clear as day.
Cang Ji suddenly pressed in towards Jing Lin, causing Jing Lin to step back hastily. He nearly tripped in the process.
“Let me see what’s unlikable about you.” Cang Ji pinched Jing Lin’s chin and raised it up for a look. He said, “The eyes are bright, and the mist over them makes them look like clear rainwater. When you cry… Have you cried before?”
Jing Lin hesitated and said, “No.”
“Then, that will be to my advantage.” Cang Ji lifted his lips into a smile and lightly drew a circle at the corner of Jing Lin’s eye with his fingertip. “When you cry, it’s like the rain raining into the pond. Those amassed pearls fall one at a time along this tofu-like…”2 Cang Ji lowered his eyes slightly as his fingertip paused beside Jing Lin’s cheek. “… and tumble down. Every drop of it seems to contain vinegar as it goes smashing into your gege’s heart, making it ache and hurt.”
“Hurt?” Jing Lin’s tongue paused. He found this gaze of Cang Ji to be like that of an eagle hunting its quarry and a wolf stalking its prey—it was a little fierce.
Cang Ji said nothing. He was trapped in this turbulent spring water. His head felt heavy, so he let it lower as he pulled Jing Lin closer to him.
How could there be such a pretty little thing? Jing Lin was only the size of his palm. He just had to reveal his original form and snort once at Jing Lin, and he would have been able to blow this man over. Jing Lin was so attractive. Pinned between those brows of his was not indifference, but his heart and soul. The reflection in those eyes was not that of “Cao Cang” either, but a stark-naked demon.
A demon with ulterior motives, and desire in his eyes.
Cang Ji softened his breathing, but tightened his grip. He had multitudinous ways in his mind to harass Jing Lin, but these ways all crumbled under Jing Lin’s gaze and turned into a kind of absolute need to possess that made him shudder.
“It doesn’t hurt.” Cang Ji breathed. “I feel jubilant.”
His lips were so near that he could hear his breathing.
He knew all about Jing Lin’s fluidness, and Jing Lin’s moistness. He could even clutch hold of this waist with his eyes closed. Just a little more force, and he could make this body tremble. His cunningness was no longer enough. How would he dare to be wily with this man? He was clearly deeply trapped in the guilefulness Jing Lin never knew himself to possess!
As if he was bewitched, Cang Ji moved in closer to Jing Lin. He was about to kiss him when a palm pressed against his waist and jabbed a finger into the side of his waist.
Jing Lin’s face was hot as he took a sudden step back. Resisting him, he said, “Evil spirits cloud the mind. You are talking nonsense!”
This jab made Cang Ji gasp. He clutched his waist and hissed through clenched teeth, “… Right!”
Cang Ji truly regretted it. His brain must have been kicked by a donkey for him to instruct Jing Lin to poke him!
Jing Lin did not hold back earlier. When he saw Cang Ji enduring it, he immediately asked, “Can you still tell who I am?”
That jab had nearly made Cang Ji reveal his tail. He hung on and responded with a grim laugh, “Jing Lin!”
Being called suddenly by name made Jing Lin straighten his back.
Cang Ji squatted down and said in a hoarse voice, “I’m going to die.”
Jing Lin composed himself and said, “You, you won’t.”
Cang Ji’s voice trembled: “The blood is dripping all over my hand. Soon, it’ll flood through my waist belt!”
“It’s bleeding?” A startled Jing Lin immediately squatted down to see, “Let me see…”
Cang Ji raised a palm to press down on the back of Jing Lin’s head and swiftly pushed his upper body down. He crushed those lips with his own, and chased after that fleeing tongue to suck it hard at the tip. Jing Lin was stunned for a moment before he shoved Cang Ji away and sat back down on the ground.
Shock filled Jing Lin’s eyes. He could neither raise his hand to wipe nor leave it be. There was still some water in his mouth. Very swiftly, his eyes reddened. He blinked his eyes in apprehension, as if he could not understand. He wanted to open his mouth, but his numbed tongue held his words back. For a moment, all that remained was the sound of breathing.
“Delusions are the cause of this.”
Wiping his thumb across his lips, Cang Ji stared fiercely at Jing Lin and barked out a short laugh.
“You wish for me to say this, but how would it happen as you wish? Silly Jing Lin. This is what I am. Did you think I was merely coaxing you for fun with the word ‘debauchery’?”
It was only then Jing Lin understood what Cang Ji had meant by “bad”. He instantly raised his arm to cover his face and tried to wipe his lips. He did not expect Cang Ji to tug at his wrist and grip it in his palm.
“No wiping.” Cang Ji sighed deeply. “Otherwise, I will mean business today and kiss you until you can’t tell north from south!”