Jing Lin’s forehead was stained with blood as he suddenly looked back.
Li Rong had already taken a step out. He had yet to complete his task of slicing off the scales and extracting the tendons. But he had only just moved when the white figure before him stepped out of the gale. Following right after, he felt a heaviness on his chest as a kick unexpectedly sent him flipping over.
Jing Lin ran towards the dragon body. To think Lord Lin Song would actually stagger. He cut an extremely sorry figure as his body swayed and stumbled. The rain flushed away the blood on his face, and the dazed expression on it was very much like a lost child.
“Stop it…” Jing Lin babbled and muttered helplessly. “Please…”
Canglong remained still with his head bowed. The rainstorm came pouring down in torrents, masking Jing Lin’s voice. There seemed to be something pressing down on his back, hunching it over slightly as his entire person slid down against the dragon to his knees. His palms touched the dragon’s body all over at random to cover up those injured spots, as if doing so could make Cang Ji revert to his original state.
Bloody water seeped through his clothes and soaked his knees, staining his white robe in splatters of blood. Jing Lin could not stop trembling. The heavy rain roared in his ears. That “you’re alive” was so stinging that his vision blurred.
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How could it be blurred?
Jing Lin drew closer to him, wiping away at the rainwater as if he had erred. But this rain was just too heavy. No matter how he tried to wipe it away, everything before his eyes was all a blur.
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It rained cats and dogs as the greed forms bore into canglong’s wounds and gnawed away at his flesh. The evil spirits swarmed around him as they attempted to split this dragon up to eat. Li Rong stepped forth bearing his spear and pulled off a greed form. He watched as Jing Lin was buried under the sordid filth and reached out an arm in an attempt to pull him up. But just as his hand was about to touch Jing Lin, Yan Quan suddenly stabbed itself into the ground, separating Jing Lin from the man nearing him.
Strong wind whirled and circled around his body. Jing Lin kneeled for a long time without getting up. Yan Quan Sword slanted over to hold everything else back from him, while he desperately pulled away the evil spirits climbing all over the dragon body. The remaining Blood Sea submerged him up to his waist, and the evil spirits locked in an impasse with him let out a furious cry of ensuing bloody wind that enveloped Jing Lin in the boundless hue of bloody red.
His sleeves had been completely torn to shreds, and his exposed arms had been slashed until fresh blood flowed freely. Jing Lin did not feel the pain as he used his hands, and even his teeth, to tear apart those filths and seize back those dragon scales that had been gouged away. He grasped them all in his palms, unwilling to lose even a single scale. His breathing quickened. Both of his palms had been badly mangled after being cut by the dragon scales amid the biting and gnawing of the evil spirits.
An anomaly materialized in the heavens. The sea of clouds that had been stirred up by canglong suddenly condensed together and whirled. The evil spirits that had all gathered here grew restless. Cang Ji was dead, and the remaining Blood Sea had nowhere to dwell. They writhed and squirmed as they engulfed Jing Lin, while the blood fog frenziedly crept upon Jing Lin’s wounds to dig its way in.
Yan Quan suddenly buzzed aloud. The towering pillar of clouds came collapsing down and poured inexorably towards Jing Lin. Azure light scattered among the chaos of heaven and earth, while red light broke through the water, illuminating the tempestuous waves.
“The main body of the Blood Sea is already damaged!” Li Rong suddenly jerked Po Zheng Spear and shouted. “It wants to swallow Lord Lin Song! Hold it down!”
The Three Thousand Armors dashed forth. Jing Lin’s figure had already been completely covered by the blood fog. The red light moved to hide within. In that very instant, the patterns of the curse speedily materialized on Jing Lin’s neck and arms, strangling him so hard that he could not breathe. He pressed his forehead against the dragon body. The suffocating feeling when his heart was stirred by love flooded over him like tidal waves. Suppressing the sound of pain in his mouth, Jing Lin suddenly braced himself with his arms. The blood fog seeped into him along those patterns and ran rampant throughout his vital organs like sharp ice stalactites.
Jing Lin immediately choked on his blood as his spiritual sea surged in reverse. The lotus motif on his palm had been slashed until it was all a bloody mess. There was a “crack” as Yan Quan shook, and several cracks appeared on it.
“Jing Lin!” The color drained from Li Rong’s face.
Jing Lin’s forehead slid down and knocked onto the ground. The broken pieces of scales pressed so painfully against him that it hurt. He felt as though someone was strangling him by his throat. Only the dark red his fingertips were soaking in still had residual warmth. Evil spirits poured into his body, just like Cang Ji devouring the devils and swallowing the sea. That dismally cold sensation roamed all over his four limbs, causing Jing Lin to dig tightly into the ground with his fingertips. It was hard to hold in the blood in his mouth. Patterns had already covered one half of his face. He gasped in a rough voice as he propped his body up. He was already about to plunge into the Way of the Devil!
Li Rong swiftly jabbed out with two fingers to stop the momentum of the evil spirits, then hoisted Jing Lin out from among the bloody water. This rain seemed as though Heaven was wailing. Li Rong straightened up, pulled out a crack-covered Yan Quan, and did all he could to retreat.
Tears were already streaming down Li Rong’s cheeks. He muttered, “Don’t be afraid! Shixiong will never let you die!”
The veins on Jing Lin’s neck bulged out suddenly. He struggled to gasp for breath as his fingers grasped the curtain of rain. Some kind of sound seemed to spill out from his throat. At first, Li Rong could not hear it clearly. It was only when they withdrew out of the bloody water that he understood.
That was the sound of Jing Lin crying uncontrollably.
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This downpour, followed by ice and snow, settled upon the north for the whole of seven days. Jing Lin’s spiritual sea collapsed in these seven days. The evil spirits had consumed him until Yan Quan had rusted into a piece of useless sword. There was no part of him that wasn’t hurting, and his abdomen and chest felt as though an icy awl was stabbing away at them. The shackles of the curse tightened around his neck. All ten of Jing Lin’s fingers had been scraped into a bloody pulp of flesh amid this excruciating pain.
There were a few instances he suspected he was going to die.
But the dragon aura was still hiding in his body. They tirelessly wandered after the evil spirits, protecting Jing Lin’s original form round the clock. Just like their master, they constructed an impenetrable wall of defense in Jing Lin’s body. They protected the life force in him so that it would never extinguish, and they shielded and defended him so that he could still continue to gasp for breath.
This whisper kept repeating in his ears on a never-ending loop. Jing Lin opened his eyes, but he was trapped in endless darkness. It was pitch-black and empty before his eyes. His cheek was pressed against a cold, stone bed. Jing Lin moved his hands. His four limbs were all shackled by heavy chains.
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“Are you awake?” The sound of something sliding rang out from above as Li Rong pushed open a gap enough for an arm to pass through. He leaned over the gap and said, “Jing Lin! Do you still recognize shixiong?”
Jing Lin’s eyes remained still. His throat felt hoarse. The curse held him in captivity. Even now, he was still in a trance.
Above, a bowl of water was slowly handed down. It swayed as it knocked into Jing Lin’s face. Li Rong leaned over and stretched his arm as far as he could to tip the bowl over a little. The clear water swooshed. Jing Lin’s eyes shifted, and he gradually turned away.
“Drink some water. If you are hungry, tell me.” Li Rong looked at him and said, “… Your cultivation hinges on just one thought. You mustn’t think of anything else again.”
Jing Lin remained apathetic and said nothing.
Li Rong could only press the rim of the bowl against Jing Lin’s lips, then slowly poured the water into it. But Jing Lin would not open his mouth, and simply let the water wet his chin and left temple. He clenched his teeth so tightly that it was as if he would tear at Li Rong with his teeth if he so much loosened his grip a little.
“Jing Lin.” Li Rong said, “There are remnants of evil spirits in your body. As long as they aren’t eliminated, Father will not let you out again. Yan Quan is already damaged to the point it’s like a blunt blade, but it has yet to break… Do you understand? You’re still not a useless son.1 You’re just.” He paused for a moment. “You are just in seclusion. The spell will help you to forget Emperor Cang and re-cultivate the Way of the Sword.”
Jing Lin slapped over the bowl. Water splashed over the stone bed and trickled down.
Li Rong retracted his hand in disappointment. He leaned up there in silence for a long time before saying, “You and I have guessed wrong. Father is not the Blood Sea.”
“You wouldn’t say a word to me. But I still have to tell you. Jing Lin, the one who died is Qing Yao.”
“When Emperor Cang was devouring the sea, the Fire of Heaven2 set Qing Yao ablaze and trapped her within. Yun Sheng happened to be elsewhere at that time, and you were the only one at home. Xue Mei chased after you for several dozens of li,3 wanting to beg you to turn back to save her. Jing Lin, you never even looked back.”
Jing Lin’s breathing suddenly grew rugged. He pressed against the wall and said hastily, “You’re lying!”
Li Rong said, “You will understand once you come out.”
Jing Lin pounded his forehead against the wall. He curled up in this narrow place and feebly covered both of his ears. The chains lay heavily across his body. He felt so cold his entire body was trembling.
“You’re lying…” Jing Lin murmured, “Deceiving the people… Duping them for fame… Killing them like flies… You and I are all but jackals and wolves4… We are scums with undeserved reputations!”
Li Rong closed his eyes. After a brief period of silence, he said, “The die is cast.”
The chains rattled. Jing Lin said through clenched teeth, “Scram!”
Before Li Rong rose to his feet, he hesitated for about an hour.5 Eventually, he took out an unwashed handkerchief from his bosom and set it on the stone bed through the gap.
“I’ll come every day.” Li Rong said, “… You must never let anyone else see this item.”
Li Rong closed the gap before leaving, and the bottom plunged into darkness once again.
Jing Lin remained fixed in place for a long time before he groped along the wall to climb up. His fingers touched the handkerchief, which was emitting a slight glow. Jing Lin bent over and pulled the handkerchief apart. A piece of bluish-white dragon scale leaning against a prayer bead was lying within.
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“Have you ever heard of the dragon’s reverse scale?”6
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It suddenly began to rain on the handkerchief. Tears dampened the bloodstains on it. Jing Lin bowed over and embraced the handkerchief in his bosom. He sobbed in a small voice, like a little beast that had suffered a setback for his impetuous act.
They sliced off the scales and extracted the tendons of his beloved.
They turned the moral principles he believed in into presumptuous lies.
There was hardly anything in this world he was loathed to part with, and now this world had turned into complete gloom. The fire he once possessed for his cause had thoroughly cooled. And the Way he cultivated had all fallen apart.
Jing Lin grasped the reverse scale and the prayer bead tightly. The curse kept pestering him, haunting him. He slammed his forehead on the ground in despair, and rolled about with difficulty in this increasingly strangulating suffocation. The chains bound his arms tightly, holding him down in this cramped and cold room where no one paid him any attention even as he choked on his sobs in anguish.
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Li Rong came again the next day, but he did not come alone. Lord Jiu Tian opened the barrier, and the rays of light stung Jing Lin’s eyes. He tucked the handkerchief into the crevice of the stone wall and blocked it with his body as he lay on the stone bed and struggled with the chains to block his eyes from the light.
“Jing Lin.” Lord Jiu Tian looked down at him and said with compassion, “Can my son still recognize Father?”
Jing Lin’s black hair was disheveled. His red, swollen eyes watched Lord Jiu Tian soundlessly through his fingers.
Lord Jiu Tian’s gaze turned all the more tender. “My son is still young. After going through this setback, you will surely become a great man. Father will keep watch over you until you eliminate all the evil spirits and obliterate all impure thoughts.”
Jing Lin looked as though he did not hear him.
“Jing Lin.” Lord Jiu Tian’s voice choked a little with emotion. “You are still young, so how would you know of the evil in the world? That Emperor Cang bewitched you and deceived you, causing you to degenerate into such a state. This really makes Father sad.”
Jing Lin dug his fingers into his hair and buried his head in his arms. He said in a hoarse voice, “Don’t say a word more.”
“Don’t be afraid.” Lord Jiu Tian said in a gentle tone. “Father will definitely let you return to the Righteous Way.”
Jing Lin felt as though he was being stabbed in the back by thorns.7 He repeated in agony, “Don’t say a word more.”
“Alright. We won’t talk about these.” Lord Jiu Tian wiped his tears and reached out a hand in an attempt to stroke Jing Lin’s hair.
He did not expect Jing Lin to slap his hand away abruptly and rebuked him amidst the rattling of chains. “Don’t touch me!”
Lord Jiu Tian’s eyes looked hurt. He said in grief, “My son is delirious. To think he doesn’t recognize me. Lao-san.”8 He glanced sideways. “Hold down your younger brother quickly. Don’t let him hurt himself.”
Lao-san was originally standing woodenly at one side. On hearing this, he did not dare to hesitate and reached his hands down along that gap to forcibly hold Jing Lin down. Jing Lin struggled hard against the chains on his wrists as his head was pressed down against the stone bed. The chains swung haphazardly from all the pulling.
Lord Jiu Tian towered over Jing Lin and stroked his hair. His tone grew even gentler. “It doesn’t matter even if you can’t recognize me. Father will be able to make you remember… Many years ago, my dear son came alone to Ninth Heaven Gate. At that time, you were only as tall as my waist, but even so, you already had impeccable etiquette. Don’t be afraid, Father is doing this all for your own good.”
Jing Lin struggled in dejection as his gasps intensified. He felt as if the palm sliding among his hair was like a venomous snake. The curse swept through him again, choking him until it was hard for him to breathe. Yet, he felt a wave of nausea and could not help but dry-heave amid this chaos.
“Everything will be all right.” Lord Jiu Tian said benevolently. “Jing Lin.”
- 废子 It’s also a term in Weiqi to mean a useless stone (worthless chess piece). But it can also be literally read as useless son (废+子) especially since the author used the word 爱子 (beloved son) prior to this in chapter 98.
- 天火 literally Heaven Fire; a fire caused by natural phenomena, e.g. by lightning, or a fire whose cause can not be ascertained.
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li= approx. 500m
- 豺狼 literally jackals and wolves, i.e. the cruel and wicked
- 一炷香 literally the time an incense stick takes to burn. Some sources suggest that one stick (一炷香) takes 30 minutes or one hour (one hour is the generally agreed time), but it really depends on a variety of factors (the environment, wind, length of the stick, etc). So one stick is presumably anywhere from 30 to 60 mins.
- 逆鳞 reverse scale; a piece of scale that is reversed on a dragon’s throat or neck that’s considered to be precious and important to them. It’s said that the dragon will kill anyone in fury if they touch that scale. It is now used to refer to someone’s weakness, sore spot, or most cherished and important thing. For example, touching one’s reverse scale is an idiom that could be said to be touching someone’s sore spot, attacking their weakness, or rubbing someone the wrong way, etc.
- 背如芒刺, play on the word 如芒刺背 or 芒刺在背 Feeling prickles and thorns in one’s back, i.e. to feel panic-stricken and uneasy
- 老三 Lao-san, address for the third child, or third in rank. This would have meant San-di (whom Li Rong addressed as) in the earlier chapters.