Li Rong immediately stopped him. He said, “We still don’t know Jing Lin’s intent. Don’t alarm…”
“His intentions are clear.” Yun Sheng surveyed the waves of clouds in the distance. “He who indulges the enemy will only invite calamity and great harm upon himself!”1
In between their conversations, the Ninth Heaven Realm shook violently, especially Zhui Hun Prison. Evil spirits ran amok under the pagoda suppressing them, while the warning bells of Heaven rang incessantly. The deities held on to the stone pillars of the veranda in a fluster and watched as the garrison troops were repeatedly beaten into a retreat. Suddenly, they heard the monks of the Brahma Altar chanting sutras as they hurried over.
The light of Buddha’s aura dispelled the haze, and a point of his finger stabilized the quaking of the Ninth Heaven Realm. The True Buddha stood soundlessly while holding a flower between his fingertips.2 In an instant, the panicked chaos in the hall vanished. He was still smiling as he gazed silently at Lord Jiu Tian.
“The Supreme Father has been afflicted with the Wulun3 Poison. He must be placed in the Great Coffin of Golden Rays and protected with chains of Sanskrit scripts fortified by a hundred monks. Then it has to be submerged in the the Brahma Altar’s lotus pond to be cleansed for forty-nine years before the poison can be purged.
“Revered One, help us!” Yun Sheng bowed and kneeled. “Lives are at stake! Jing Lin came bearing down on us so menacingly. I’m afraid he has already fallen into the Way of the Devil. If we can’t stop him, there will be bloodbath in the Three Realms!”
The True Buddha looked askance at him. The sounds of killing on the horizon were deafening. He said, “Dong Jun’s Way is the Way of Life.4 The only one who can stop him now is Lord Sha Ge.”
Li Rong instantly stepped back. His hand holding the spear trembled. He said in a hoarse voice, “I can’t do this.”
“If you don’t kill him.” Yun Sheng suddenly raised his head. “Then he will kill Father and us all!”
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“If Father isn’t guilty of sins,” Li Rong said, “Then why would Jing Lin do this?!”
“What sins would Father be guilty of? Father wiped out the Blood Sea, established the Three Realms, and conferred titles upon the various deities! Without evidence, it will be just a rebellion! Don’t tell me you want to keep on condoning his act even if he wants to bear the sin of killing Father?!” Yun Sheng had already risen to his feet. He said, “Besides, do you truly believe that he can really forget what happened with canglong? Dage! He’s here for revenge… He’s here to exact revenge on us!”
“That’s not it!” Li Rong was caught in a dilemma. He said, “I have already warned him…”
“He went on an errand with you, and Father suddenly fell over ill. You returned to the realm to attend to matters, and he pressed in on us. If you don’t stop him, then there will be no way you can explain and defend yourself in the future.” Yun Sheng grasped hold of one of Li Rong’s arms and said sincerely, “Dage, he who hesitates is lost.”5
His words could not be any clearer at this point. Whether the Supreme Father died or not, someone must be held accountable for this. Jing Lin came just at the right time. Pin both patricide and regicide on him, and they would all be absolved from blame.
Li Rong had once advised Jing Lin not to draw his sword that readily, because they had no legitimate and justifiable reason to. Yet, this bout of illness was such a rare occurrence that it would be even more difficult to kill Lord Jiu Tian if they missed this opportunity. If there has to be someone to bear all the sordid filth of this world, then here comes Lord Lin Song.
◈ ◈ ◈
He knew it would be hard for him to survive this trip. But he came all the same.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin’s sword rapped against the ground. He wiped off the blood between his fingers with a handkerchief. By the time Po Zheng Spear came hurtling through the wind, he had already been waiting for a long time. The sea of dark clouds was just right under his feet, and the heavy rain of Zhongdu dampened his fingertips. It felt a little slippery when he grasped the hilt of his sword.
The storm surged as Po Zheng Spear came hurling right in his face. Yan Quan Sword parried it with a “thud”. The impact sent the others in armors and everyday clothes slamming into the sea of clouds. Spiraling clouds of mist around them dispersed completely, and both men stared at each other through the tip of the sword and shaft of the spear. The next moment, Li Rong said in a hoarse voice, “Retreat. There will be another day!”
In the twinkling of an eye, Li Rong was suddenly lifted. Po Zheng Spear, which weighed a thousand catty,6 could not get even an edge over Yan Quan Sword. The violent wind raged along with the deluge of strikes that were too much for Li Rong to handle. He was beaten back and sent smashing into the ground. The momentum and power of Jing Lin’s sword flashed through the sky. In an instant, it had already come slashing down right before Li Rong’s eyes.
Li Rong held his spear level to receive the blow. His back crashed into an obstruction, and the entire stairs instantly collapsed and caved in with a thunderous bang. He shoved the sword back with his spear and kicked Jing Lin in the chest with a foot before flipping up. Jing Lin retracted his sword and spun around, and both men fought a perilous battle with feints and ambushes upon the debris and gravel. Amidst the changing situation, Jing Lin raised his sword and slashed up when he drew closer to Li Rong. Li Rong was caught off-guard by this move, and a slash in the chest area shattered his armor in a split second. The tip of Yan Quan Sword had already pressed against his throat. Sprays of blood erupted. Before Li Rong could brace himself, a kick from Jing Lin sent him flipping over to the ground.
Li Rong held on to the edge of the lotus pond and stumbled as he attempted to climb up. His throat and mouth were all filled with blood, and the bloody gash from his chest to his collarbone was a jarring sight to behold.
◈ ◈ ◈
The long stairways of Ninth Heaven Terrace extended upwards. The Blood Sea had already spread unchecked all around. Jing Lin cast off the blood on the tip of his sword. He looked at the True Buddha, and the True Buddha also looked at him.
“What do you see?”
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“A mountain of corpses. A sea of blood.”
“Why have you come?”
Jing Lin’s hair had already come loose. The fingers he had only just wiped earlier trickled with watery blood again. He saw countless deities and buddhas in the back. The compassion in the True Buddha’s expression was exactly the same as the one he had when he guided him into Buddhism. Jing Lin raised his head slightly. The tip of his sword scraped against the stairs along with each step he took.
“Jing Lin.” The True Buddha sighed. “Turn back, and salvation is at hand.”
Jing Lin set foot on the stairs, forcing the crowd of silver armors back in a constant retreat. He did not know if the blood sliding along the spine of his blade belonged to others or to him. Having already walked to this point, he no longer had the option of turning back. He knew the kind of sins he would have to bear from this point on, but he no longer cared.
Jing Lin said softly, “It’s too late.”
Nine hundred years earlier, Li Rong said that the die was cast and advised him to wait.
Nine hundred years later, Li Rong said that the die was cast and, as before, advised him to wait.
But Jing Lin could not wait any longer.
He had lost everything in this wait. Morality, love, and agony—they had all vanished. The instant he woke up in the sarcophagus, he lived to kill. Severing all feelings and desires would never, ever hurt him again; it had killed this man called Jing Lin.
◈ ◈ ◈
The lotus flowers of the Brahma Altar bloomed as the group of monks sat solemnly in a lotus position. Lord Jiu Tian lay guarded within the Great Coffin of Golden Rays. Jing Lin stepped up the stairs, and azure and golden lights intersected among Ninth Heaven Terrace. The resulting wind from his sword howled as it slashed apart the murkiness of heaven and earth. Dragon aura and the blade merged into one. They split apart the obstacles before Jing Lin as he pressed in rapidly. He was unstoppable. The voice of the True Buddha rang out, and the Four Lords all sprang up simultaneously.
Silver armors surrounded him, and the voices of the monks swept over him in waves. The Sanskrit chains securing the coffin let out a thunderous clank in unison. Dong Jun summoned the wind with his Shan He Fan in an attempt to obstruct him, only to see what seemed to be a black fog spiraling out from Jing Lin’s sword. A dragon roar resonated across the heavens!
The urgent chanting of sutras was noisy among the howling of the evil spirits. Ninth Heaven Realm had already been awash in a shade of dark red. Jing Lin’s clothing was slashed. He suddenly soared high into the air to charge his way out of the countless obstacles. Yan Quan’s azure light dazzled the eyes, and blood spurted out from Lord Jiu Tian’s neck. The blade of the sword slashed all the way down, even cracking the Great Coffin of Golden Rays.
Li Rong cried out involuntarily in grief. “Jing Lin!”
The man in an azure outfit landed on the ground. Above him, the broken chains of Sanskrit chains linked up again. Violent wind came assaulting his face. The Four Lords bellowed, and the deities and buddhas of Heaven and Earth made a concerted effort to cast a seal. In that very instant, the sea of clouds went still.
Li Rong saw Jing Lin looked back.
Following right after, the storm howled unbridled. The entire Ninth Heaven Realm went crashing down heavily. It suddenly started shaking violently among the clouds. Yan Quan Sword shattered into fragments with a “crack”, and that azure clothes melted away into the gale at a speed visible to the naked eye. Torn pieces of cotton went flying all over, and a prayer bead, now seeped in fresh blood, fell into the lotus pond tainted in red.
Ninth Heaven Realm plunged into darkness.
The downpour engulfed the earth. It came pelting down so hard that droplets of water bounced noisily on the water surface. The waves of the great flood went wild as it surged forth, ripping apart all the past into specks of light. Countless faces floated among the raging waves, closely accompanied by cries and laughter. Amidst the rapidly retreating frenzy of images, the young man in a white robe and silver crown became increasingly clearer.
◈ ◈ ◈
Under the partially raised oil-paper umbrella, Jing Lin’s eyes broke the ice as he reined in the smile in them. He pressed his cheek against Cang Ji’s back through the curtain of rain and said unhurriedly, “… Not Lord Lin Song.”
The copper bell jolted and started ringing rapidly.
That man transformed into one choking with sobs uncontrollably under the heavy rain. With his arms around the dragon scales, he raised his head in the rain and cried in anguish, “Please…”
The illusory scene broke up at a touch. The stooped figure in the coffin repeatedly scratched out one bloody line after another on the wall and muttered out loud like a man gone mad, “Qixing Town… Ming Jin Stage… Come and take me home… Gege.”
The various illusory scenes suddenly shattered, and luminous light danced in the dark night. The sound of the river reversing rang in his ears. His consciousness, which was suddenly yanked downward, began its continual descent into the endless darkness. His body plunged headlong along with his consciousness. It was only when his fall broke through the mirror surface that the copper bell stopped midway in its ringing.
“My Way has disintegrated.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji suddenly broke through the water surface. He exerted himself to climb to his feet and waded through the icy cold waters of the river to search.
Cang Ji’s hands trembled as he groped around in the water.
Wangchuan River circled around Mi Jin.7 The Underworld was so cold that both of Cang Ji’s arms felt weak. His hands failed to find the man he was seeking. Already forgetting where he was, he stumbled around in a panic to look for him.
How many years had this heavy bout of rain poured? Heaven had never stopped wailing ever since a thousand and four hundred years ago. Cang Ji remembered the first look he had taken as a fish. Jing Lin had sat idly by the window for half the night, looking like white porcelain that someone had clumsily pieced together, but had missed out on something of vital importance.
All along, he had never wanted to eat Jing Lin.
He was merely longing for the reverse scale8 he had lost.
◈ ◈ ◈
The copper bell kept ringing. Cang Ji seemed to be trapped in Wangchuan River. The more he walked, the heavier he felt as the sludge dragged at his legs. The cold intensified. Cang Ji parted the waves of water and suddenly plunged headlong into the water.
Wangchuan River turned into a bottomless abyss. Cang Ji sank down. When he hit the bottom, the sludge that he had stirred up enveloped him. He began to cough.
Cang Ji struggled with all his might. The water of the river was exceedingly muddy. He pulled off the fetters, but he had already been swallowed deeper in by the sludge. Cang Ji had difficulty breathing. He bumped against the wall of mud and listened as the sound of the copper bell receded far away into the distance.
A moment later, Cang Ji suddenly opened his eyes.
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He stared at the roof and gasped for breath. The dimness and abrupt change of scene made him unable to distinguish reality from illusion for a moment. All of a sudden, the teacup in the room toppled over. On hearing the sound, Cang Ji sat up.
Jing Lin was looking at his fingertips that had been scalded red by the splash of hot tea. On hearing movements, he turned his head to the side and looked over. Cang Ji unexpectedly stood up with a “clatter” and hurried over without even wearing his shoes. He knocked aside the table and chair, and the teapot and teacups on the table shattered all over the floor. He suddenly grabbed hold of Jing Lin’s arms.
Cang Ji’s eyes reddened. In that moment, he did not even know how to speak. He grasped this man tightly, as if Jing Lin would disappear as soon as he loosened his grip.
Jing Lin’s arms were hurting from the grip, but he took a step closer with his usual expression and asked softly, “What’s the matter?”
Cang Ji embraced him in his arms in one swift move. His palms urgently felt all over the back of Jing Lin’s head and Jing Lin’s back. It was as if he had nowhere to place them. At the same time, it also looked as if he did not dare to use too much force as he hugged Jing Lin and swayed gently. His arms tightened around Jing Lin as he nuzzled his cheek against Jing Lin’s ear and hair.
Cang Ji said his name in a hoarse voice.
“Hm?” Jing Lin lowered his face and laid his hands gently on Cang Ji’s back.
“Mine.” Cang Ji turned his head aside to rub away the dampness. Pressing against Jing Lin’s ear, he called out in a hoarse whisper. “Jing Lin.”
Jing Lin could feel the damp heat on his ear. He seemed to know what it was, so he remained still with his head lowered and merely soothed Cang Ji’s back with his palm.
Cang Ji had hugged Jing Lin off the ground. He nuzzled the side of Jing Lin’s face and said sorrowfully, “It’s my Jing Lin.”
It’s the Jing Lin I treasure and hold dear in my heart.
This is the end of Book 3. Book 4 starts the next chapter! (◑ω◑)
If you enjoy this novel so far, please also consider supporting the author by buying the novels/chapters on JJWXC! (Guide to buy on JJWXC). Thank you!!
Credits: Many thanks to Cheshire (@ivory_and_horn) for pointing out the inconsistency in wordings!
- 养虎为患, 终成大害 asking for trouble by nurturing a tiger; he who indulges the enemy will only suffer the consequences.
- 五伦 Wulun, the cardinal relationships in Confucianism (between the ruler and the ruled, parents and children, husband and wife, siblings, and friends.
- Since he’s in charge of calling forth Spring after Winter (which represents a new lease of life).
- 当断不断，必受其乱 he who hesitates is lost, i.e., indecision invariably leads to trouble.
- 斤 jin, or catty, 1 catty = 0.5kg
- 迷津 also known as the Ford of Delusion in Buddhism.
- 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.