Cang Ji was dazzled by the window when he woke up the next morning. Presumably, it had snowed the entire night. Jing Lin was still sprawled on his chest in a sound sleep. Cang Ji hotly caressed that satiny skin, loving it so much that he was loathed to part with it. The area at the bases of Jing Lin’s legs and around Jing Lin’s waist had been pinched until the finger marks were obvious. Now that he was being touched again, Jing Lin curled up and slid under the blanket.
Cang Ji, though, wasn’t doing too well.
At best, he could be said to be only half-sated last night. He did not even get to put all his skills and techniques to full use. He scooped up this white jade and rubbed against him, poised and ready for action. The rubs made Jing Lin go weak in the legs, and a few gasps escaped from his mouth.
Cang Ji pushed Jing Lin’s legs apart with his knee, where the lingering hum of pleasure from last night had made it soft and hot. He entered with familiarity and ease, then took in Jing Lin’s gasping lips into his own mouth and slowly, gently continued his thrusts.
Jing Lin was still not fully awake, and yet he was already sobbing incessantly as he began to rock in wetness and in heat while hugging Cang Ji’s neck and moaning from the latter’s kisses.
This bout of love-making was clearly not intense, but both men were still drenched in sweat.
“Call me a few more times.” Cang Ji went at it relentlessly while treating Jing Lin with tenderness at the same time. He wiped away Jing Lin’s sweat and tears with his fingers. “Let’s hear it a few more times.”
Having been jolted until he was dazed, Jing Lin let him have his way and cried out many a number of “gege”.
◈ ◈ ◈
The bed was a complete mess when the blanket was lifted. Their hair was so slick with sweat that it stuck to their backs. When Jing Lin propped himself up, the seminal fluid slid down all over his legs. Cang Ji got out of bed – naked to the waist – and hoisted Jing Lin over his shoulder to take him to the bath.
It was only when Jing Lin had a change of clothes that he felt revived. Cang Ji opened the door, and the cold air outside came assailing him right in the face.
It was no longer snowing, but the mountains had been frozen and encased in three feet of ice overnight. When Cang Ji pushed the door open, he saw ice shards stuck in the groove of the door. He put on his shoes, wearing them like slippers, and wandered to the veranda where he saw that the small gravel stone and small pillars in the courtyard were already all frozen.
“Frozen overnight.” Jing Lin covered up his sleeve openings. “It definitely has something to do with Zong Yin.”
“The dragon aura was inadvertently leaked last night.” Cang Ji looked back. “You are soaking in the scent of the dragon all over. He must have gotten a sniff of it.”
Jing Lin sniffed his wrist subconsciously and wondered, “You have yet to pass your tribulation. So how could I have dragon aura on me?”
Cang Ji folded his arms and said, “It was left behind from the past. If I hadn’t died that early, it’d have been even stronger.”
Jing Lin asked, “Will he come?”
Cang Ji turned back from the porch. “Zong Yin has been looking for the opportunity to evolve into a dragon. Now that he had gotten an unexpected whiff of it, he is bound to be drawn to it. It’s so bitter cold today. I guess this is a sign that he has already lost control of himself. Even if he suspects this to be a trap, he will still come to investigate.”
“It doesn’t matter if he comes or not.” Jing Lin walked out from the shelter of the eaves. “If the mountain doesn’t come to me, then I shall go to the mountain.”
Rime in the mountains stood in the white snow. The wild boar ran in search of the scent. It dug its snout into the earth slope it had buried during the autumn and gouged away the ice and snow to drag out its hoard of roots and shoots to chew on.
Its digging collapsed the earth slope, and the tree tilting against it from behind fell over in response. The wild boar ignored it and shook away the bits of snow that had spattered onto its face. It had been hungry for five or six days, as the cellars of the villagers at the foot of the mountain had been emptied out when they moved away, leaving no food behind for it to scavenge.
The wild boar chomped and gulped down the food, gradually digging out a pit.
The sounds of feet treading snow rang out behind it. The wild boar turned its head back and saw a stooping, half-naked man among the fog advancing towards it. The snow had already buried his legs up to the hamstrings, yet he was so warm that his entire body was flushed and he was breathing heavily.
The wild boar had a keen sense of smell and could make out the damp saltiness of ocean tides. It suspected him to be a demon that had come from the sea because he was so warm to the point that both of his arms showed signs of cracks that looked like fish scales. His facial features were obscured by the puffs of warm air he exhaled, although it could still catch a glimpse of his appearance.
He was like a ball of fire—one whose stomach was growling with hunger.
The wild boar suddenly turned around and took to its hooves in a mad dash away. It pedaled in the snow pit and sprang forward desperately. As it bore its way headlong into the undergrowth, its back scraped against a pine branch and broke it off. The footsteps behind him keep up its tight pursuit as that man also began to make a dash for it.
Strong arms wrapped around the wild boar’s hind legs. It howled, tumbled, and crashed into a tree trunk, kicking up a fog of snow. The man’s arms were like iron pliers as he dragged the wild boar back. The wild boar’s struggles had no effect on the man, much like a pebble sinking into the great sea. There was totally no room for maneuver in the man’s arms.
Dragging the now dead boar, the man walked through the mountain with a speed so fast that it was as if something was hurrying him on and preventing him from tarrying. When he broke off the branches and walked out of the thicket, Jing Lin was waiting for him.
“Since you have set foot on my mountain.” Jing Lin said in a frosty voice, “Then aren’t you going to say hello?”
Zong Yin immediately dragged the wild boar around and sprinted. He jumped over the snow pit, and dull thuds rang out as the wild boar bumped against the ground. His speed was lightning fast, but he did not dare to transform into his original form to make his escape. Just as he was about to leap over the narrow mouth of the mountain stream again, a man suddenly pounced at him from the left and slammed him into the snow.
The side of Zong Yin’s face smashed hard in the snow. He gasped and suddenly slammed his elbow back. The elbow strike to the chest knocked the wind out of Cang Ji. He instantly held Zong Yin’s elbow and arm and rammed his knee into the side of Zong Yin’s waist. Zong Yin endured the pain and attempted to crawl to his feet, but Cang Ji held down the back of his head and smashed it into the snow. Gasping heavily, Zong Yin grabbed hold of Cang Ji’s wrist with one hand and pressed his shoulder against Cang Ji’s shoulder to fling the latter over to the ground. Zong Yin propped himself up to make his escape, but Cang Ji grabbed his ankles with both hands and rolled over, sending Zong Yin toppling over as well. Zong Yin steadied himself with one arm and hooked his leg around Cang Ji’s neck.
“Who are you?!” Zong Yin’s strong arms choked Cang Ji as he exerted his strength to strangle him. “Here to catch me?!”
Cang Ji’s veins bulged out. He grasped Zong Yin’s arm with both hands, prying it off him until Zong Yin’s forearm sank from the weight of it. To think he would emerge a notch above Zong Yin in this terrifying trial of strength. Zong Yin could not hold out against him. Cang Ji propped up Zong Yin’s arm and flung him over his shoulder to the ground, sending a dull shock wave through the snowfield.
Cang Ji pulled his collar open. Impressively enough, Zong Yin’s chokehold had resulted in a ring of strangulation mark around his neck. He turned his head while grasping his neck and kicked the wild boar away.
“It has been a year since we last met.” Cang Ji spat out a mouthful of blood from the punches. “And you have already forgotten us? We could be said to be old friends reuniting again.”
The finger imprints on Zong Yin’s arms were horrifying. He held an arm while gasping for breath and demanded, “Which Divine Lord sent you here? Or was it the Demarcation Division?!”
Cang Ji scoffed and squatted down to reply, “There is no ‘Divine Lord’ in this world who can order me around. Are you so scared out of your wits that you can’t even distinguish between us? We’ve waited for you here all night, and there’s tea prepared in the courtyard, so get up and walk.”
“It’s you!” Zong Yin recognized him.
“My wife has never been one to wait for anyone.” Cang Ji said, “Hurry up and get up.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Zong Yin dragged the wild boar into the courtyard, while Jing Lin prepared a small table under the eaves. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t invite Zong Yin into the house. But Cang Ji had already occupied this nest, and his nature would not tolerate the intrusion of another man’s scent.
Cang Ji wiped his face with a hot towel. He had already fastened his collar on the way back. He sat down beside Jing Lin and leaned against the railing to motion for Zong Yin to take a seat.
Zong Yin was unwilling to take a step closer when he saw Jing Lin. Carrying the wild boar, he stood a few steps away from them and said, “So it’s Lord Lin Song! I had a suspicion when I saw how My Lord still looked the same as before that day and when I saw Fu Li lingering around here. Tell me, is My Lord here to kill me or cut me to pieces?”
Jing Lin lifted the teapot to brew tea and said, “I have no grievances nor enmity with you. I have no intention of killing you.”
“Five hundred years ago, My Lord committed regicide and patricide, causing a bloodbath in the Ninth Heaven Realm.” Zong Yin said, “So what words of advice do you have for me today?”
“How would we dare to speak of advising you?” Cang Ji said, “You’ve abandoned your post to go into hiding. The eastern sea has frozen over for thousands of li1 all around, easily freezing millions upon millions of people to death. So how could he, Lord Lin Song, speak of ‘advice’ before you?”
“Since our paths are different.” Zong Yin’s expression remained unchanged. “There’s no need for us to discuss further.”
Cang Ji raised his head a little. “Your scales manifested because you were intimidated into doing so by the dragon aura. The dragon aura is right here in this courtyard, and my wife is the benefactor who can propel you towards the opportunity to evolve into a dragon. We are not the ones who are going to discuss with you today. Rather, you are the one who is going to discuss with us.”
Zong Yin fell silent on hearing this. After a moment, he said, “A few months ago, Dong Jun said that a benefactor would be coming. Turns out it’s Lord Lin Song. Lord Lin Song was obliterated on Ninth Heaven Terrace, so how could he have the dragon aura on him? And Emperor Cang of the North died under Lord Sha Ge’s spear. What is his relationship to My Lord?
“You are now like a clay Bodhisattva fording a river. You can barely save yourself, let alone anyone else. So don’t pry into others’ affairs, lest you complicate matters.” Jing Lin set down the teacup gently and said, “With dusk, comes the snow. Why not drink a cup?”2
“When the esteemed one bestows, one must not decline.” Zong Yin wiped his hands and took a few steps forward to sit cross-legged before the table. He was half-naked, and his back was covered in patterns of scale. Taking such a sudden look at him felt unexpectedly weird. After he was seated, he continued, “I owe Dong Jun a debt of gratitude. I’ve already been hiding in the eastern sea for half a year.”
“So this is all his lousy idea.” Cang Ji sat up straight and said to Jing Lin. “The reason he did not make it clear back then was likely because he was worried that walls have ears.”
“His whereabouts are uncertain, and his intentions are unknown.” Jing Lin looked at Zong Yin again. “If not for the matter already being at the point of no return, then, given his ability and wisdom, he wouldn’t suggest such an unwise move for you to take. What have you done?”
Zong Yin sat upright in silence with fine snow falling behind him. He stared at the teacup on the table. After a long time, he said, “I adore a mortal woman and took her as my wife. She’s already six months pregnant.”
It snowed quietly in the courtyard on the mountain. The copper bell suddenly swung and rang.
Jing Lin sighed inwardly to himself.
It wasn’t going to be easy this time.
◈ ◈ ◈
Zong Yin resided in the eastern sea and held an important post shouldering heavy responsibilities. He had always been known among the Three Realms as an upright and principled man who was intolerant of immoral love affairs. There was no lack of philanderers among the various deities in the Ninth Heaven Realm, all of whom were included in the Register for the Scrutiny of Desire to be monitored and supervised by Zhui Hun Prison. Zong Yin had, in part, contributed to the compilation of this “Register for the Scrutiny of Desire”. He probably never expected himself to fall in love with a mortal woman one day and ended up violating the law to conceal the relationship.
Zong Yin’s courtyard was hidden thirty li from this mountain, with the mountains on one side and water on the other. It was common and simple. Cang Ji noted the beautifully and sturdily built stone walls in this courtyard and guessed that it was all Zong Yin’s own handiwork.
They pushed open the wooden door and stepped in. The courtyard was not big; it was not even half the size of Zhenchan Courtyard. There was a bluestone path paved inside, which had been swept clean. In order to make the path slip-resistant, it was even covered with a layer of long straw mat weaved with coarse hemp. An apricot tree stood to the left, with a swing hanging from its thick, sturdy branches, while a neat field of vegetables laid to the right, with one or two green leaves sprouting from under the snow.
Zong Yin dragged the wild boar to a vacant spot and called out into the house, “Ah-Yue, we have visitors.”
The wooden planks3 in the house were shifted aside, and the hanging screen was lifted to reveal a delicate and innocent maiden. The delight in her eyes intensified when she saw Zong Yin, and faint dimples4 appeared at the sides of her cheeks. Even the syrupy sugar that had been simmered for days could not be any sweeter than her.
To Cang Ji and Jing Lin, the effect was like seeing a mountain creek or a clear spring. It was as if all their distracting thoughts were thoroughly washed away by her smiling, dimpled face, making them feel light and relaxed.
Shan Yue was dressed simply in plain cotton clothing and a thorn hairpin. Supporting her own body, she said in a greeting, “Gentlemen, please hurry and come in. It’s in the dead of winter now. Your legs will go numb if you stand out there for too long!” Then she turned to Zong Yin and pouted, “I gave you a new set of clothes before you head out, but it’s all gone without a trace in just one trip! I’m not going to let you off easily if you fall sick because of the freezing cold.”
Zong Yin could only give her a silly smile. It was inappropriate for him to say a word more before the two men. But even so, such a smile was rare. When had he ever displayed such a silly smile like this before?
Shan Yue led Jing Lin and Cang Ji into the house where she cordially brewed and steeped the tea for them. She said to them, “We hardly have visitors as Zong-ge doesn’t have that many friends. Both of you are rare, distinguished guests of ours. How should I address you?”
Zong Yin hurriedly said, “They are…”
Cang Ji said, “Elder brother.”
Jing Lin said, “Younger brother.”
As soon as the words were spoken, both men looked at each other. Cang Ji lowered his sleeve to tug at Jing Lin and said through clenched teeth,
“I’m his elder brother—Where on earth would you have that many gege5 every day?!”
- 里 li, ancient measure of length, one li = approx. 500m
- 晚来天欲雪，能饮一杯无？ from 《问刘十九》 To My Friend Liu Shiju by Bai Juyi (白居易)
- Doors in the old days were mostly made of wood. The ‘doors’ of some houses and shops, especially of the commoners, were either a set of two-door planks that could be opened from the center (picture 1) or simply several wooden planks to cover up the opening of the entrance (picture 2).
梨涡 differs from 酒窝. Both dimples, but 梨涡 specifically refers to the dimples closer to the mouth.
- Since Jing Lin said he’s the younger brother (didi), it means he would have to address him as xiongzhang or gege, which of course, Cang Ji isn’t happy with.