The spiritual sea begets one’s original form, and in the original form resides one’s heart.
Jing Lin’s original form was Yan Quan Sword. The day Cang Ji devoured the sea, the remnants of the evil spirits invaded him, and his spiritual sea near about collapsed. This consequently caused Yan Quan Sword to crack all over. He was already on the verge of breaking away from his Way. But because Cang Ji’s dragon aura still lingered on, Jing Lin’s spiritual sea had never suffered a leak despite being thrown into turmoil.
One thing Li Rong had said was true. That was, as long as Yan Quan did not break, Jing Lin was still Lord Jiu Tian’s son. Lord Jiu Tian had spent so many years casting this one sword, so he would definitely not let him fall apart that easily. The nameless curse’s prohibition of all thoughts and feelings of love was to allow him to keep a tight rein on a Jing Lin whom he could still use. If the curse was not removed, then there would be no way for Jing Lin to still his heart and exorcise evil. But to dispel the curse, he had to sever the root of love.
And this, was to sever all feelings and desires.
◈ ◈ ◈
Seeing the sarcophagus tightly shut, Li Rong lowered his head and exhaled. He walked out of the forbidden area without leaving any traces on the snow. Thin snow blanketed the bluestone slabs. He stood before the terrace and looked down. The scenery of Ninth Heaven Gate was no longer as it used to be. The “Nine-Heaven Gate” amid the continuous stretch of mountains was long gone. This place was now the upper realm of Zhongdu, also known as the land of the various deities and immortals—Ninth Heaven Realm.
Lord Jiu Tian was no longer addressed as “Father”. Li Rong and the rest had to address him with the esteemed title of “Supreme Father”. When Ninth Heaven Realm was first established, they were all conferred titles according to their merits and contributions. Jing Lin’s name ranked above all the brothers, with the name “Lord Lin Song” fixed permanently in the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods. Li Rong followed right behind him, and he was now called Lord Sha Ge.
The north wind assailed Li Rong’s robe and scraped past his cheeks. There were already some changes in his facial features, with his youthful inexperience giving way to maturity. He stood at this spot and surveyed the mountain range shrouded in snow and fog amid the backdrop of the boundless sea of clouds.
A speck of brown waded through the snow towards him.
Dong Jun’s shoes had been soaked through by the snow, but he paid it no mind as he held up an oiled paper umbrella and walked up the steps. He shook the snow off the surface of his umbrella and gave Li Rong a perfunctory nod before saying, “A bald lad has come to Fan Tan. He shaved his own head with the intention to become a monk, but a pity they didn’t want him. The Supreme Father treasures this person’s innate talents and wants to recruit him into Zhui Hun Prison for you to guide and supervise. Make a trip there when you are free later.”
Li Rong remained solemn. He was not carrying his spear today. His wide robe hung down into the snow, bathing it in a swathe of dark red. On hearing this, he considered it for a moment, then said, “I’ve heard the Bureau of Human Lives speak a little of it a few days earlier.”
“This person used only about 900 years to achieve the Perfection Stage. He’s bad-tempered. If he offends you in any way in the future, please show him some understanding.” Dong Jun said, “I want to safeguard him.”
Li Rong commented, “How rare.”
“He’s a rare talent.” Dong Jun kicked out his wet shoes. Hoisting his umbrella over his shoulder by the handle, he said, “900 years. Even Jing Lin wasn’t that fast. I’ve also examined his original form. It’s a mountain. Steady.”
“You said you wanted to safeguard him.” Li Rong looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. “You must have something on him.”
“Not exactly.” Dong Jun said, “Just a love tribulation. He used to be under the command of the nine-tailed fox, Linlang. Although he has never annoyed anyone in the face before, it’s hard to say if there might be some slanders against him in days to come. Linlang was a major-league demon under Emperor Cang. It’ll be tough to deal with if the Supreme Father starts looking into this. So I’m entrusting you to safeguard him.”
This concerned Emperor Cang. Thus, it was no small matter.
The evil spirits in Jing Lin had yet to be dispelled, and there was only a pool of Blood Sea left. Emperor Cang was already dead, and yet Ninth Heaven Realm had yet to communicate news of these to the Three Realms. Lord Jiu Tian’s thinking was unfathomable. No one could guess what he was planning to do.
“I’ll give you an answer when I’ve met him.” Li Rong said, “What’s his name?”
Dong Jun said, “His past has been shed along with his hair. The Supreme Father bestowed him with the name ‘Zui Shan’. He called himself Zui Shan Seng.”1
Li Rong nodded and said, “Understood. You may leave.”
But Dong Jun continued, “It isn’t easy to come up here once. Aren’t you a little too heartless to dismiss me just like this? The last I heard, Jing Lin wanted to go into seclusion. It has already been a few hundred years.” His eyes shifted backward to look at the forbidden area. “There has been no news of him to date. Who knows if he’s alive or dead?”
“Yan Quan Sword stands on Ninth Heaven Terrace. You can see in just a glance whether he’s alive or dead.” Li Rong said, “This isn’t a place you can poke your nose into. Don’t even think about trying anything funny.”
“Whether or not I’m thinking of trying anything can be left aside for the moment.” Dong Jun paced a few steps and said, “You risked universal condemnation to kill Emperor Cang. All these years, you’ve stationed yourself here to defend this place without allowing anyone else to replace you. Most likely, you harbor guilt over it and can’t let it go. My guess is that you have had a conversation with Jing Lin. He’s probably in terrible shape and no longer willing to acknowledge you as his elder brother.”
“Mortals have to go through the cycle of life and death through reincarnation. They take one wrong step, and they still have the underworld to go. But once they get to the stage we are now, one wrong move will consign them to eternal damnation with no hope of reprieve.” After a moment’s pause, Li Rong continued, “It’s of little significance whether or not he acknowledges me. The important thing is for him to live.”
“Live.” Dong Jun twirled out his folding fan and tapped it between his eyebrows. “After this tribulation, he wants to ‘die’, but all of you want him to live. Little would you imagine being unable to seek life and not allowed to seek death is even more of an agony. There are eight sufferings in the world. The way I see it, his suffering fits perfectly into the ‘encounter of resented ones’!”2
“His state of mind is different.” Li Rong gazed at the still and silent sea of clouds. “After this tribulation, he will surely be reborn anew and ascend into deityhood.”
“Being an elder brother sure is tough.” Dong Jun said.
Li Rong had already descended the stairs. He walked slowly, his footprints deepening the more he walked.
Behind him, Dong Jun suddenly said, “It’s better for you to show some restraint these days. There aren’t many of the brothers alive already.”
Li Rong looked back and suddenly raised his arm. The snowflakes in the wind swirled, and Po Zheng Spear landed onto his palm in response. The surrounding waves of snow instantly dispersed. He stood with his spear erected and said, “What do you think is the reason I lived to this day for?”
Dong Jun smiled. “I don’t answer questions that will cost me my head.”
Li Rong smiled too, albeit a little mockingly. “Since you understand, then don’t intervene.”
Dong Jun reined in his expression. “The snow is heavy today. Xiongzhang, the path you’re taking isn’t an easy one to walk.”
“All the Great Paths3 under Heaven…” Li Rong lowered his voice amid the snow, “…aren’t any different from one another.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Spring went and autumn came in Ninth Heaven Realm—the Heaven in the skies above Zhongdu. Looking down upon the mortals from above were like looking at mayflies. Yan Quan Sword was covered in dust and rust on Ninth Heaven Terrace, and the half-exposed part of its sheath was densely covered in cracks. It had already been left aside in the cold for many years.
Lord Jiu Tian had set up an Immortal Meet to listen to the various monks chat sutras near Fan Tan. It was the period for the awakening of insects4 right at this time. Dong Jun was dead drunk under his seat, leaning against the stairs in a sound sleep.
Lord Jiu Tian sat on his seat at the top and asked, “Where is Dong Jun?”
Zui Shan Seng kicked under the seat and sent Dong Jun rolling out, rendering the latter, who was still not completely awake yet, bewildered.
Lord Jiu Tian frowned slightly and said, “It’s your responsibility to call forth Spring. The time has passed, and it is still snowing in the north and south of Zhongdu. For indulging in the pursuit of petty pleasures and disregarding your duties, you should be severely punished!”
Without paying his obeisances, Dong Jun presumptuously sat cross-legged and said, “To reply to the Supreme Father, it’s not due to my negligence. Instead, it’s an anomaly of nature. That unbroken spell of heavy snow simply won’t stop.”
“Anomaly?” Lord Jiu Tian shifted his body slightly and said in a deep voice, “I’m the only one who reigns supreme in heaven and earth today. I’m Heaven itself! If there is an anomaly, how would I not know of it?”
“Father.” Dong Jun acted shamelessly and said, “Even the Will of Heaven has its moments of oversight. Seeing how that heavy snow blots out the sky and blankets the earth, it’s clearly spurred on by the chill. If we can’t find the source of this chill, then this snow will not thaw even in summer.”
“Could it be the work of evil spirits, or due to the birth of a major demon?” Yun Sheng said from his seat, troubled. “If that’s the case, it is better to eradicate it as soon as possible.”
“We still don’t know if what he said is true or not.” Li Rong set down the wine goblet and said, “Let’s ask him again when he’s sober.”
“Every word I’ve said is the truth.” Dong Jun did a forward roll wanting to stand up, but the wine got to his head and caused him to end up lying on the ground instead. Thus, he remained lying like this and raised a hand to point at random in the air. “See. It’s snowing heavily all over, freezing a great number of humans to death. I’ll be frank. No matter who here goes, the outcome will all be like wooden dummies throwing themselves into the river—it won’t work!”5
Lord Jiu Tian had been sorting out mortal affairs lately. He did not expect such a matter to happen. He was displeased with Dong Jun for not reporting it despite knowing of the matter, but he still put on an amiable expression and said, “Then, in your opinion, how should this be dealt with?”
With his fingertip, Dong Jun drew out the virtual scene of Zhongdu—a frozen landscape stretching on for countless of li.6 He smiled broadly and said, “It’s easy to resolve. What’s the coldest in this world?”
Yun Sheng smiled and said, “The dead of winter in the twelfth lunar month.”7
“Nope.” Dong Jun’s hiccups persisted. He covered his face with his fan and took a short breather before continuing, “That’s a natural phenomenon. It doesn’t count.”
“The Underworld.” The newly appointed King of Hell not only had a young and delicate face, but was also a refined youth to boot. He said eagerly to the people at his sides, “No one can sleep in the King of Hell’s Palace. It’s penetratingly cold. The cold is real.”
After he was done speaking, he peeked at Dong Jun out of the corners of his eyes and was swept off his feet by the latter’s countenance.
Dong Jun’s peach blossom eyes8 shone. He said, “Although the Underworld is cold, it can’t do anything to those with almighty cultivation. Why can’t anyone understand? There is nothing colder in the world than a man who possesses neither a heart nor tender feelings. He’s stark cold. And he will be the coldest deity in Heaven and Earth after this several hundred years worth of seclusion, when his cultivation improves by leaps and bounds, and when he comes to embrace the Great Way!”9
The instant the words left his mouth, the color drained from the faces of everyone presented, Only a worldly-wise Lord Jiu Tian said softly, “You’re spouting nonsense again! That’s your brother.”
“That’s why I said this matter is easy to resolve.” Dong Jun suddenly sat up with one hand on his knee and looked in the direction of the forbidden area. “My brother Lord Lin Song is about to come out of seclusion. Everyone has long heard about Yan Quan Sword, but hardly have the chance to catch a glimpse of it in its glory. Those who have come today have truly made a worthwhile trip!”
Dong Jun had only just said that when the dishes on everyone’s table suddenly jerked. Ripples materialized in the wine goblets, and the chanting of sutras in Fan Tan suddenly intensified. Following right after, the lotuses in the lotus pond for several li around fell over themselves in their eagerness to bloom. Yet, a bold, cold wind swept out of the sea of clouds, leading the snow-covered evergreen pines beneath their feet to billow violently even as the sound of pines reverberated through Heaven and Earth.
Li Rong stood up. A few snowflakes fluttered out from an unknown source. The wind followed right in its wake and gushed through the entire realm. He shielded himself with his sleeves from the waves of wind and watched as azure light broke through Ninth Heaven Terrace.
Yan Quan Sword let out a long, trilling whistle, and the mottled streaks of rust fell off. Cold glint burst forth as it left its sheath with a clang!
◈ ◈ ◈
The brightness in the realm was slightly dazzling.
Jing Lin closed his eyes a little before he slowly stepped out.
Light shielded his entire body. That black hair of his had already grown to the back of his legs, and he was no longer wearing a silver crown. Sky blue fluttered amidst the wind; his white robe had all but became a thing of the past. He was no longer the young man he once was, his coldness having been reduced to a solitary frostiness. He seemed to have grown a little taller, but that skinniness of his was still the same as ever.
The reed music in the realm had already stopped, and the sound of chanting came to a halt. The pine wind calmed along with Jing Lin’s footsteps. Not one drop of water in the lotus pond splashed, and the wine remained absolutely still. The various deities prostrated themselves and kneeled. In this malignant cold, they did not even dare to shout out the words “Lord Lin Song”. For a moment, silence reigned.
The wine goblet on Li Rong’s table was knocked over as he pushed his seat aside and called out, “Jing Lin…”
Jing Lin brushed past Li Rong and kneeled on one knee before the stairs. With a slight lift of his hand, Yan Quan Sword instantly returned to its master.
That pair of heartless, desireless, and emotionless eyes gazed up.
“Your son has come.”
Lord Jiu Tian had been initially leaning to the side in his seat. But Jing Lin’s gaze filled him with apprehension. He rose slowly with his hands on the armrests. The pearls before his face swayed violently. Calming himself, he stepped down the stairs in a welcome and said with a laugh, “My son, please get up. Father has been waiting a long time!”
- 醉山 Zui Shan literally means “Drunken Mountain”. Thus Zui Shan Seng (醉山僧) can be literally translated as “Drunken Mountain Monk”.
- 怨憎会苦 the suffering that occurs when one associates with those whom one dislike. E.g. when people have conflicts or hate each other but they have to associate with one another despite it being best for them not to. Unable to forgive one another yet unable to part, they continue to experience extreme misery.
- Refers to 大道, or the Great Dao, or the Great Way. Explanation in footnote #9.
- 惊蛰 Jingzhe, literally the “awakening of insects,” is the 3rd of the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunar calendar.
- 木头人投河—不沉(不成) is a 歇后语 or Xiehouyu, a two-part allegorical saying, of which the first part, always stated, is descriptive, while the second part, sometimes unstated, carries the message. Literally a wooden dummy throwing itself into the river—it won’t sink (不沉). Dong Jun went straight to the point and said won’t work (不成), which is a homophone of 不沉. i.e., it won’t work just like trying to make a piece of wood sink into the river. (Funnily enough, 木头人 also refers to a blockhead).
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li = approx. 500m
- 腊月 Layue; the twelfth month in the lunar calendar.
桃花眼 literally peach blossom eyes, the shape of eyes is said to have an exceptional ability to attract the opposite sex.
- 大道 the Great Dao/Tao, aka the Great Way/Path in Daoism/Taoism, is an important concept in Daoism that refers to the Way (of the natural order of the universe). In Daoism, the goal is to return to one’s original, true self and achieve spiritual enlightenment by cultivating the Way, or ‘walking the path’. (i.e. one’s Way or Path to enlightenment).