Li Rong looked up from the numerous assortments of cases he was attending to and repeated in a raised voice, “Killed?”
“Lord Lin Song killed Emperor Cang of the North.” The garrison guard lowered his head uneasily. Kneeling on the ground, he took a moment’s breather before saying again, “After Lord Lin Song descended to the mortal realm, the heavy snow in Zhongdu has stopped. So he headed north on his own accord. My Lord, the high walls in the north have turned into a mountain range that stretches along the edge of the Northern Lands to the old site of the Blood Sea. Any major demons in between who used the title of ‘Emperor Cang’ to proclaim themselves king were all slain under Lord Lin Song’s sword.”
“It has already been half a month since Jing Lin descended to the mortal realm.” Li Rong stood up. “Why is this only reported today? Are all the Demarcation Divisions of the various lands muddleheaded?!”
“It’s not that the Demarcation Divisions were covering it up by not reporting it.” The garrison guard’s Adam’s apple throbbed. He raised his head and said in a trembling voice, “It’s just that no demon has ever returned alive where Lord Lin Song passed, so no one reported it to the Demarcation Divisions. My Lord! This is no small matter; we have to pass information of this to the Supreme Father. The Demarcation Division in the north has repeatedly requested an audience with Lord Lin Song, only to be ignored by him. If this goes on, I’m afraid trouble will arise in the north!”
“How many did he kill…” Li Rong’s voice stalled, “How many demons did he kill?”
“108.” The garrison guard replied. “All of them were demons who called themselves ‘Emperor Cang’.”
It took Li Rong an instant to compose himself. He said, “Report as per the original message. We cannot hide this from Father. Jing Lin has Father’s verbal orders to slay, and he’s also ranked as a deity lord, so his slaying of the demons isn’t a transgression but a meritorious deed! Go tell the Demarcation Divisions of the various lands in Zhongdu that there’s no need to panic.”
“There’s another matter that must be reported to My Lord.”
The garrison guard shuffled forward on his knees and said urgently, “Lord Lin Song has headed deep into the old site of the Blood Sea to probe into the case of the past! My Lord has ordered us to destroy the old temples a few months back, and Lord Lin Song has already got an inkling of this from his investigation. My Lord, what should we do?!”
This matter was carried out covertly. Even in Ninth Haven Realm, no one knew of it. It had only been a few days since Jing Lin came out of his seclusion, so how could he have traced the places so quickly?
Li Rong considered it for a moment with a worried frown, then hurried out.
Zhui Hun Prison, which was deterring the remaining Blood Sea through intimidation, was quite a distance away from Lord Jiu Tian’s main hall. Li Rong always had to be a few hours earlier when he sought an audience with Lord Jiu Tian. But today, he was not striding in the direction of Lord Jiu Tian’s main hall, but Jinglun Pavilion, where the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods and the various classics and scriptures of the world were kept under lock.
Li Rong swiftly climbed up the wooden stairs and passed straight through the sea of books. Floating in the pavilion were several night luminous pearls so dazzling they were like the sea of stars in the Milky Way. Li Rong, however, was not in the mood to admire them. When he reached the top of the pavilion, he saw a figure in sky blue standing with his back to him. The latter was holding and looking at a book.
“Jing Lin…” Li Rong softened his tone. “You…”
“Hold on.” Jing Lin turned over the page without looking up. “What were you going to say?”
It was only when Li Rong approached him that he realized Jing Lin was not talking to him. The Sage Yining was sitting upright in a small boat among the sea of books. He bowed slightly to Li Rong, then said to Jing Lin, “You’ve repeatedly killed first and reported later, and yet you showed no intent to repent. I’m here to impeach you.”
“The doors of the main hall are open.” Jing Lin read through the book quickly. “Do as you please.”
Yining asked, “Why did you have to kill Emperor Cang?”
“The ones I’ve killed were all nobodies.” Jing Lin swept a glance at him. “Emperor Cang’s virtuous achievements and merits have been recorded in the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods. He’s ranked on the same page as the phoenix. This is a title Father personally took up his brush to confer.”
“But the Supreme Father has never said that it’s strictly forbidden for others to assume this title thereafter.” Yining said, “You are overstepping your authority by carrying out the executions.”
“That’s true. Since Father has never mentioned it, then it’s still not too late for me to bring it up today.” Jing Lin turned sideways slightly and looked at Li Rong, “As luck would have it, shixiong is here. I’ve consulted the archives. Deity Lords have the authority to issue special commands. Therefore, my special command is that, from now onwards, it’s strictly prohibited for anyone in the Three Realms to assume the title ‘Emperor Cang’.”
“How flippant!” Yining said urgently. “The so-called authority to issue special commands must go through the joint trial of the Six Lords before it can be implemented.”
“Then go put in a request.” Jing Lin said coldly.
“Nine hundred years ago, during the Calamity of the Blood Sea, you acted this willfully too.” Yining suddenly rose. “The punishment by flogging has never made you learn your lesson. Even now, you still want to repeat the same mistakes!”
Jing Lin slowly closed the book. The paper pages rustled across his fingertips as it shut. He looked at Yining and said, “You should be addressing me ‘My Lord’ now too.”
Yining stood up. He almost could not recognize the man saying this to him. He said, “You want to discuss seniority with me?”
Jing Lin said, “The hierarchy of our positions has long been clearly distinguished.”
Yining laughed in spite of his fury. “My Lord, please accept my bow!”
He raised both his arms to pay his obeisances solemnly and respectfully, then flicked his sleeves and left without looking back.
“It’s absolutely not a wise move to infuriate Yining over a title.” Li Rong said.
“You have your hands full with the cases of Zhui Hun Prison.” Jing Lin went straight to the point. “So, just speak your mind.”
“Why did you kill them?” Li Rong glanced out of the corner of his eyes at the records Jing Lin had flipped through.
Jing Lin stared at him. “Just obeying the deployment orders.”
“There are countless major-league demons. But you just have to kill those few who take Emperor Cang’s place.” Li Rong said.
Jing Lin said, “It’s Father’s order.”
“I do as I’m ordered.”
“Yan Quan Sword was born to carry out orders.”
The book was suddenly flung onto the ground as Jing Lin turned around. He cut an imposing, overbearing presence, and his gaze was gloomy. Even if everyone pretended that such a matter had never happened despite their investigations, they could not erase the penetrating cold that had been left behind in him during the time he was imprisoned in the sarcophagus. He took a few steps and pressed in towards Li Rong. Li Rong’s breathing grew ragged. This oppressive sensation drove him back a few steps in retreat.
“Don’t take advantage of your ‘xiongzhang’ title.” Jing Lin looked at him coldly and said in a frosty tone. “You have always preferred to sound others out in a roundabout way, and now you are still probing me. What are you afraid of? You have power and authority in your hands now. Don’t evade this. Li Rong, even if you hide your capacities and bide your time, there will still be a battle to come.”
“You still remember him.” Li Rong asked in response, “Right?”
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“What are you talking about?” Jing Lin said derisively. “I merely wanted to ask you, where is Qing Yao?”
“You are still investigating!” Li Rong stopped short.
“I’ve been in seclusion once, and I can remember the past clearly.” Jing Lin took a step back. “Children in the south went missing for no reason. The little ghost in Qixing town can bear witness to it. Why does Ninth Heaven Gate need children for? Or, to be precise, what does Father want the children for? Qing Yao vanished while I slumbered. There’s no trace of her in all the archives I search. Where did she go? You should be well aware of the answer.”
“I’ve said it before.” Li Rong recovered. “I’ve told you before right in front of the sarcophagus. Qing Yao is the Blood Sea.”
Jing Lin raised his hands, and countless books of records instantly flew all over. As far as the eyes could see, the top of the pavilion were all pearls. The illusory realm instantly enveloped both of them. The records suddenly flipped open under Jing Lin’s gaze, and numerous ink writings immediately gushed forth in full force.
“Li Rong.” Jing Lin’s fingertip flitted across a line of words. “Came under Father’s command when Ninth Heaven Gate was first established. Had been through the Calamity of the Blood Sea, and his merit from slaying canglong is immeasurable. Was conferred the words ‘Sha Ge’ and entered the rank of a deity lord even while the establishment of the Ninth Heaven Realm was in the works.”
Li Rong said, “It’s all recorded down in detail in the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods. What exactly are you trying to say?”
“Since it’s all recorded down in detail in the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods.” The wind of ink at Jing Lin’s side instantly charged towards Li Rong. He asked, “Then where is Qing Yao? Where is Tao Zhi?”
“Eighth son of the Supreme Father.” Li Rong said, “Tao Zhi turned his back on morality and betrayed the Way. His name is not worthy enough to be recorded.”
“Even his birth and death are unknown.” Jing Lin said. “And where is Qing Yao?”
“Qing Yao.” Li Rong pursed his lips tightly into a line. “Qing Yao’s identity is unusual. It’s inappropriate to record her into it.”
“You’re always lying.” Jing Lin looked at him with indifference.
“Qingyao is the Blood Sea, and Ninth Heaven Gate was established to subdue devils. Don’t tell me you want Father to state it down explicitly that he killed his daughter to defend the Way?!” Li Rong raised his voice. “What is it that you want to investigate? Stop it. The current situation is already not the same as it was nine hundred years ago. There are no longer any more evil spirits in the world. To Father, that’s all Lord Lin Song is good for. Don’t incur his wrath!”
“How did you all become aware of the fact that Qing Yao was the Blood Sea?” Jing Lin spoke unhurriedly. He was now no longer quick to anger, and he seemed to be able to confront Li Rong with skill and ease. “This segment is also missing from the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods.”
“Canglong.” Li Rong said quickly, “When canglong was greedily consuming the Blood Sea, Qing Yao was struck by the Fire of Heaven…”1
“No one knew before this incident?”
“Of course no one knew.” Li Rong’s voice tensed. “Otherwise, the Calamity of the Blood Sea would not have spread to that extent.”
“You’re lying.” Jing Lin lifted the file and instantly flung it until the paper pages went fluttering. He said, “All of you know—You, Father. You all know.”
“I don’t know.” Li Rong gritted his teeth. “I…”
“Dong Jun was enlightened by Buddhism when he was born. He is the world’s first major-league evil form. If we could take him under our command, then Ninth Heaven Gate’s reputation would surely go up a notch.” Jing Lin turned his head to the side and pulled out a segment from the countless ink traces. “He met Qing Yao in the mountains and submitted to us with only a word from Qing Yao. Someone once asked me before…”
Jing Lin suddenly stopped when he spoke to this point. He frowned for an instant, but he could not remember who this person was. He remembered everything that had happened in the past, but he always felt as though there was a thread of memory that had been erased.
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“… This was no coincidence that happened by chance, but a deliberate, premeditated attempt.” Jing Lin hesitantly finished his words and looked back at Li Rong. “Before you and I headed north to investigate Tao Zhi, you once went to my courtyard and said something.”
Li Rong said, “I have said countless words to you.”
“This was of utmost importance.” Jing Lin repeated, “You said, ‘Qing Yao often dreamed of you lately’. At that time, I had just returned from Qixing town, which the Blood Sea had enveloped. She said this only when I went to see her. How did you know she often dreamed of me?”
“You are her Jiu-ge.” Li Rong was already finding it tough to hold out against his questioning.
“No.” Jing Lin slowly closed his eyes. “It was because I was in her ‘body’. She recognized who I was and left a soul – the little ghost – behind. She left me the clues. She knew that her death was imminent. Father adopted and raised her, but no one knew where she came from. She had never descended the mountain due to her strange illness. What illness is so weird?”
“… Stop investigating.”
“Father feeds her pills all year round.” Jing Lin opened his eyes. “It’s extremely potent, yet she treated them like candied beans.2 After so many years of convalescence, her illness has never gotten better. She’s trapped in a child’s body and restrained in Father’s courtyard. The so-called world crisis, the Calamity of the Blood Sea, was merely just a farce. Father used the fresh blood of millions upon millions of people to spread the reputation and fame of Ninth Heaven Gate far and wide. You and I are the stepping stones under his feet, the swords in his hands. You and I are the chess pieces who have helped the tyrant perpetrate evil.”
“Do you know Father’s origins? You don’t understand how terrifying this man is at all! He has the whole world at his mercy. You think you can move him with just a few words of yours?!”
“Then what were the children used for?” Jing Lin strode nearer, his gaze dark and deep. “The children. Those children of the entire Zhongdu who had been taken in openly and snatched away in secret. What were their uses? Feeding the Blood Sea, or making pills? Or perhaps both. Lord Jiu Tian recruited talents from far and wide in the name of the righteous way. Then, he sent these courageous men who were devoted to saving the masses to the frontline at the borders until they ended up buried under the Blood Sea without even a corpse left. Lan Hai was one of them. He had been watching over Qing Yao all year round, and from there, he got an inkling of what was going on. Who killed him? You? Father? Or some fervently loyal brothers?”
“No.” Li Rong refuted. “No! How would I have killed him?!”
“You can’t do it.” Jing Lin said mercilessly, “So you watched someone else killed him.”
“All of these are mere conjectures.” Li Rong said, “Who are you trying to convince with just these words alone? The lands under Heaven have been demarcated, and Father has become the sovereign of the world. Even the True Buddha has to prostrate himself in Ninth Heaven Realm! Look at the Three Realms. The die is cast.”
“Since the die is cast, then what are you investigating?” Jing Lin said. “All the old temples in the south have been destroyed, and all traces of the Ninth Heaven Gate have been wiped clean. Yet you are still probing the secret right under Lord Jiu Tian’s nose. You have saved me so many times from danger. But what you want was not for me to call you ‘xiongzhang’. You are his most competent son. And you are also the son who is most like him.”
“Shut up!” Li Ron’s expression suddenly changed. “I’ve treated you and everyone else with sincere brotherliness! All the cutting words you have said today runs counter to my original intent! I personally feel Qing Yao’s pain too. Why do you have to be so suspicious to such an extent?!”
“Shixiong wants me to live.”
Jing Lin suddenly said.
“Because my original form is a sword. And the only one in the world who can kill Lord Jiu Tian, is none other than me.”
The records scattered all over the floor. Both men faced each other off in a confrontation with the books in between them. They were only a few steps away from each other, yet it seemed as if they were separated by a chasm. It was this easily that the word “brothers” was broken apart and smashed into smithereens.