The long, dark night stretched on bleakly beyond the door, while the cold wind howled as it galloped wildly like a runaway horse. Ah Yi lifted his arms to shield himself from the wind, and a chain of Sanskrit scripts instantly materialized around his arms. He shouted into the wind, “Scram!”
Thirteen layers upon layers of green talisman walls glowed faintly, but they could not stop the chill from pressing in. The flurry of white snow in the wind whirled into half a human form.
Xue Mei lifted his head up and stood floating in the air with his silver hair covering his face. He gently reprimanded Ah Yi, “Rude child! Fu Li left her post without authorization to cover up for the sinful deity, Zong Yin. Now that an anomaly is born, Heaven and Earth will fall into turbulent times again. None of you can escape.”
“I respected you for not being Jing Lin’s watchdog.” There was a loud “smack” as Ah Yi whipped his Sanskrit scripts chain. “Who knew that you’d turn around and make your way to Ninth Heaven Realm to become their dog instead?! Good dogs don’t block the paths of others. Scram now!”
Xue Mei said mockingly, “Even if I get out of the way tonight, you still won’t be able to take a step out! Soldiers from the Demarcation Division are everywhere within ten li1 of the barrier, and Zui Shan Seng will be here in an instant. Who are you going to look for? Jing Lin can’t even fend for himself now!”
Ah Yi’s patience had already worn thin, so he was not really listening. His Sanskrit script chain slashed through the air. A swift rustling sound reverberated through the blizzard and exploded where Xue Mei was standing.
As heavy snow blanketed everywhere outside the house, Shan Yue’s gasps were intensifying inside. She dug her fingers tightly into the edge of the bed and huffed with her neck raised. Sweat ceaselessly trickled down along her neck and temples, but she was terribly icy to the touch.
Fu Li washed the towel and said in a stern voice to Shan Tian, who was holding the basin of water, “Pass her the branch of Can Li Tree and let her hold it in her mouth.”
Shan Tian did as she said and asked anxiously, “How can she give birth if she’s so cold?”
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“Heat up the sleeper wall a little more.” Fu Li clenched her trembling hands. “Keep the hot water coming. Leave the rest to me.”
Before the words fully came out of her mouth, the entire courtyard suddenly shook. Tables and chairs collided with one another, and the hot water nearly spilled over to the ground. They were already coming to blows outside.
Shan Yue stared pale-faced at Fu Li through her long, sweat-soaked eyelashes. She spent a moment catching her breath before vaguely saying, “Li-jie! You… don’t be afraid…”
Fu Li closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she had already calmed down. She wiped off the sweat for Shan Yue and said, “Junior is coming, so his aunt2 shall receive him! Mother and child will both emerge safe and sound tonight.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji was dozing off with his eyes closed when the even rhythm of Jing Lin sleeping soundly suddenly came to an abrupt stop. He opened his eyes and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Jing Lin said out of the blue, “It has gotten cold.”
The residual heat in the room was fading. Cang Ji slowly tilted his neck back and remained that way for a moment before he said, “If nothing happens next year, I will look at you until daybreak without fail.”
The “BANG—” of a collision rang out from the bamboo forest outside the courtyard. Xiang Mo Staff dropped onto the velvety snow on the slabstone along with a pair of straw shoes, leaving no trace on it. The flurry of heavy snow blew so hard that it sent the brown monk robe flapping out loud.
An uninhabited Cang Ji merely put on a wide-sleeved robe over his inner garment. He strode out of the door and folded his arm under his sleeves to watch the snow flying all over the sky. Without going down the stairs in a welcome, he said, “Stand out there beyond the door. There is no room for you here.”
Zui Shan Seng lifted his bamboo hat slightly to reveal that aged mortal flesh he usually used. He stopped outside the courtyard. A thin layer of snow had already covered his shoulders.
“Your body is steeping in dragon aura; you can’t hide it anymore.”
“What a joke.” Cang Ji said slowly in a frosty voice. “All I know ever since I was born was to forge ahead in the face of difficulties.”
“I warned you a year ago in the City of Xitu, yet you still persist in the folly of your ways.” Zui Shan Seng said, “You people harbor and conceal an evil being here. This crime alone merit punishment by execution.”
“If this child isn’t an evil being,” Cang Ji asked, “will you still persist in killing?”
Zui Shan Seng kicked up Xiang Mo Staff and leveled his arm to point it at Cang Ji. The flying snow in the air suddenly burst apart to clear out an empty space between both men. He said, “Kill! I’ll kill anyone and everyone in this world who can breed devils!”
Cang Ji roared with laughter and said, “It’s useless for you to go into seclusion this lifetime. You are already nothing more than a prisoner of your own nightmare, a half-invalid.”
Holding his staff, Zui Shan Seng rose into the air and bellowed, “Come out here!”
Blizzard assaulted his cheeks. The words had only just left his mouth, but Xiang Mo Staff had already struck Cang Ji’s arm. The sleeve on Cang Ji’s sturdy arm ripped apart, and scales abruptly pressed against the staff’s body, countering it. The impact caused Zui Shan Seng to take a step back, feeling as if he had slammed into Mount Tai itself.
“Excellent strength!” Zui Shan Seng cheered. Then he turned his staff over to strike out at him. “You’re about to evolve into a dragon too!”
Once again, Xiang Mo Staff slammed into his arm. But instead of taking even half a step back, Cang Ji suddenly pressed in closer and grabbed hold of the staff. He said, “A year ago on a snowy night, you hit my wife with a strike of your staff. Do you remember?”
Zui Shan Seng sprang up and kicked out at him from the air. The snowy wind instantly swept towards Cang Ji’s right in the face. Zui Shan Seng said, “That’s right!”
“The gall of you.”
Cang Ji suddenly laughed and quickly turned his hand over. Zui Shan Seng whirled in the air while Xiang Mo Staff whistled as it turned. A gust of wind sent his sleeves fluttering up. Cang Ji’s arm that had already transformed into a claw grabbed hold of Zui Shan Seng’s ankle. Zui Shan Seng struggled in the wind and attempted to land. Not letting him have his wish, Cang Ji exerted his strength and flung him hard onto the ground.
Zui Shan Seng used his quick wits and jabbed his staff on the ground, preventing his head from getting smashed. His weight on Xiang Mo Staff made it bend a little. Following right after, Cang Ji kicked down Xiang Mo Staff, and Zui Shan Seng immediately fell. He was keenly aware that Cang Ji’s strength was terrifying. With one palm, he struck out with all the strength he could muster onto the ground. The accumulated snow on the ground sprayed up as the stone slab cracked. Zui Shan Seng jerked himself up, hooked his staff with one foot, and swept it across like a thunderbolt.
In an instant, strong astral wind burst through the bamboo forest, and countless bamboo branches broke off in response. Cang Ji bent his arms to block the blow. This time, he smashed both staff and monk into the ground. The stone slab under his feet shattered. Before Zui Shan Seng could spit out his blood, Cang Ji had already hauled him up.
Cang Ji had only just raised his fist when he heard the sound of a long, bitingly cold arrow pierced through the violent, raging wind. He swung aside to dodge it, and icy snow exploded past his ears. Zui Shan Seng took this opportunity to turn over and strike at Cang Ji with Xiang Mo Staff.
The jolts from the impacts caused an avalanche of snow on this mountain. Cang Ji cast a casual glance at it. The clouds among the snow were jam-packed with people; he even saw the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors.
Zui Shan Seng had only just gained the upper hand. He did not expect Cang Ji to fly into a sudden rage. The battle situation on both sides was worsening. It was inevitable for Zui Shan Seng to act with caution owing to Cang Ji’s ability to bite and devour. His combat style was one of vigor, one that required him to press on boldly. The moment he had misgivings, he would have exposed his weaknesses.
Cang Ji’s scales already covered his entire arms. The more he fought, the more dauntless he was in his attacks, forcing Zui Shan Seng and Xiang Mo Staff back repeatedly into a retreat.
Engaging in a drawn-out battle would be disastrous!
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Zui Shan Seng bellowed, “Hui An!”
The man with white satin blindfolding his eyes drew his bow in response, and cold ice came hurtling out along with the arrow. However, Cang Ji did not even look at the long arrow as he grabbed hold of it mid-air with one palm. A “crack” rang out as the arrow shattered between his fingers. Following right after, Zui Shan Seng was lifted. He wielded Xiang Mo Staff and struck it down upon Cang Ji, but not a single of the latter’s scales was damaged. Zui Shan Seng was then flung down and pressed to the ground, yet Cang Ji swiftly stepped over him and strode several li through the air to press on towards the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors.
The thunderous bellows of the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors rang out. Cang Ji smashed an arm into the clouds, and the wind and clouds coiled around his arm. In a blink of an eye, a force worth ten thousand jun3 raged forth, slamming the swords drawn by the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors back into their sheaths. Zui Shan Seng scrambled out and joined forces with Hui An to act in unison to take down Cang Ji. The unruly wind battered him in the face as he struck out with his staff with all his might.
Right at this time, a red paper umbrella suddenly opened up behind Cang Ji. White tails swayed under the umbrella as the woman standing gracefully brushed her hand across the hair on her temple and looked back.
Zui Shan Seng’s Xiang Mo Staff missed its target. Just this one look, and it was like he had plunged into a nightmare again. Not only did his limbs go cold and his mind, thrown into turmoil, he even blocked and warded off Hui An’s arrow for fear of inadvertently hurting her. Fresh blood from his fingers spattered onto the ground. Zui Shan Seng took several steps back as his expression underwent several changes. He subconsciously threw aside Xiang Mo Staff. Thousands of words bubbled up his throat, but were ruthlessly cut off.
“Shi…” Zui Shan Seng choked with anguished emotion. “Shifu…”
Huashang slowly lifted the little fan painted in gold closer to her, this one glance speaking of all that she had endured these several hundred years. Her imitated bearings and mannerisms, coupled with her strikingly similar appearance, could allow her to pass her off as the real deal; she had even emulated Linlang right down to her expressions.
She shook off the snow on her umbrella unhurriedly, gave Cang Ji a slight bow, and said, “Why didn’t Master pay me a visit after regaining your memories?”
Cang Ji exhaled cold air and said, “I’m a man with a husband now. Got to observe propriety.”
It was as if they had never experienced the tribulation of life and death 1,400 years ago as they greeted each other as though they were merely asking “have you eaten?” despite being surrounded by layers of enemies.
“Congratulations to Master on fulfilling your wish. It can be seen that the red thread is still of use.” Huashang kept away the umbrella and looked back again at Zui Shan Seng. She said in a mild tone, “Ah Shuo, since you are now following Li Rong, you are no longer her disciple. There’s no need for you to call her shifu anymore. Just call her by name.”
Zui Shan Seng was in a muddled daze.
Huashang touched her lips slightly with a manicured finger, looking a little bewitching. “Do you dare to though?”
◈ ◈ ◈
Shan Yue had bitten down so hard on the branch of Can Li tree that teeth marks could be seen. She had raised and strained her neck until it reddened. Her hair was already soaked through.
Fu Li’s hands were stained with blood, and her face was drenched in sweat. She muttered, “Ah Yue, pushed harder—”
Outside, Ah Yi crashed hard into the wall, causing the door and windows to rattle loudly. He choked and cussed, “What a fine dog! Your new master sure has fed you well! To think you even hit me!”
Half of the thirteen green talisman barriers had been breached. Zong Yin was holding the fort on the outside, while Ah Yi still had yet to step out of the courtyard. He was burning with anxiety, but even so, he did not dare to let his expression betray his feelings. Demon incarnates like Xue Mei were masters at attacking the mind. He did not want to give the other party another opportunity to exploit.
Xue Mei drifted around in a carefree manner among the snow. He said, “What kind of decent person did you think you were in the past? You were merely a dog counting on its master’s position and power to bully others. Why? Without your Ah Jie today, you can’t even be a dog!”
The gears turned rapidly in Ah Yi’s head. As he tumbled on the ground, he curled up into a ball and coughed out blood. He could not even brace himself to straighten up. He said, “By virtue of obstructing you with my death today, you… I’ll call you Great Master! Why not you follow me?”
In the blink of an eye, Xue Mei appeared before Ah Yi. He said sinisterly, “Are you worthy? Are all of you even worthy?!”
Ah Yi covered the blood on his mouth and said as he frowned, “Every injustice has its perpetrator; every debt has its debtor! Since you hate Jing Lin, then go find him and kill him to appease your hatred!”
“Who do you think you can fool with that kind of goading?” Xue Mei’s huffed out cold air. “Although my cultivation has improved by leaps and bounds, I still can’t beat Lord Lin Song. But it doesn’t matter. Someone else will deal with him tonight. I just need to deal with you. Tell me, where is my copper bell?!”
Ah Yi could not keep up the defense alone. He pleaded, “My Ah Jie is inside. I don’t care about anyone else. I’ll give the copper bell to you, but you mustn’t make things difficult for her!”
“My Lord will naturally make a decision regarding the five-colored birds.” Xue Mei stretched towards the window. “I only need to break this child’s…”
Before he finished his words, a Sanskrit script chain suddenly looped around his neck. Golden light flared. It was so scorching that Xue Mei involuntarily screamed out loud. Ah Yi propped himself up on the ground with his arms and dragged Xue Mei back by the neck.
“Bah!” Ah Yi spat at him. “Lowly bastard! Since you get in my way, I’ll kill you! What is Lord Cheng Tian? To think you dare to give yourself airs! Back then, the one Jing Lin killed with his sword was his father! Since the old man can’t do it, the son will suffice, huh? Fucking dream on!”
The door suddenly opened. Ah Yi, who was still strangling Xue Mei, asked, “Is the baby born? I’m not done venting…”
The cloth-wrapped pole came nailing down in a split second, and Ah Yi immediately pulled away. He rolled a circle and stared at him.
“Have you gone mad?!”
Shan Tian ripped the fabric away to reveal a long spear.
◈ ◈ ◈
Inside, Shan Yue was already almost in tears. She banged her head back. It was so painful that the taste of blood saturated her mouth. However, the baby still would not come out. Her physical strength was fading. It was as if someone was sapping her life force away from her. If it were not for the Can Li branch in her mouth, she would have already been in mortal peril.
Fu Li held the baby’s head and said, “Ah Yue, Ah Yue! The baby’s coming out!”
Shan Yue strained to move her eyes. It was pitch-black beyond the window. Only the cold was everywhere.