Standing on the last step, Li Rong slowly kneeled and said, “My lord.”
From afar, Yun Sheng tried to read Li Rong’s expression. Just a few of Jing Lin’s words had sown the seed of discord in his heart, but he was unwilling to show any signs of fear too easily. The swaying curtains of pearls on his crown gradually subsided, hiding his volatile expressions behind them. He asked, “Has the evil being been eliminated?”
Li Rong replied, “In the hall waiting for my lord to deal with.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Yun Sheng moved along the golden cage so that Jing Lin was between them. “If he’s not eliminated, he’ll bring forth a catastrophe.”
“And that is why,” Li Rong said, “my lord has to deal with him personally.”
A wedge had already been driven between them on Yun Sheng’s end. He flatly refused to approach Li Rong and smiled, “How big of a deal is it? Xiongzhang can make the decision himself, can’t he?”
“There is a difference between a sovereign and his subjects.” Li Rong raised his eyes and swept a glance at Jing Lin. “The mistake of the former sovereign is here; this lad must not be underestimated.”
“I’m thinking of giving Jing Lin a way out.” Yun Sheng suddenly changed the topic and said with his hand on the golden cage, “The eastern sea begets a great devil. Although Jing Lin had once fallen into the way of the devil, he doesn’t seem to be how the rumors made him out to be. As brothers, it’s inevitable to feel a little compassion for him.”
With his hand propped on his knee, Li Rong said nothing.
Yun Sheng said, “Has your desire to kill him already reached this point?”
“I’ve never once harbored the desire to kill him.” Li Rong did not look at Jing Lin as he said, “It’s just that one will be on tenterhooks for as long as the lurking danger isn’t eliminated. My lord has already summoned the Three Realms over for a trial. Jing Lin has such a notorious reputation; he won’t be able to escape this.”
“I am the Supreme Lord now.” Yun Sheng said, “All it takes is one word from me to kill him.”
Li Rong let loose a long sigh and said, “The way things stand now, my lord is still so soft-hearted. If you hadn’t ordered his capture, then perhaps there might still be a way to do a roundabout. But right now, what you are facing is not one Yan Quan Sword, but a pair of twin swords of undeterminable future potential. That child is exactly the same as Jing Lin. There is already one precedent of patricide and regicide. If you don’t kill them now, they will kill again in the future. My lord, please think twice.”
Jing Lin looked back. He did not understand what Li Rong had meant by “exactly the same”.
Yun Sheng’s Yin Yang beads were tossed to the ground, where they took the form of a black and white Taiji diagram.1 He stepped on the white side and said, “Jing Lin is here. Then who is the great devil?”
“Regardless of who it is,” Li Rong said calmly, “we just have to keep a strict guard over the eastern sea and we’ll find out for ourselves after the trial.”
Yun Sheng suddenly asked, “Where is Dong Jun?”
◈ ◈ ◈
Dong Jun broke out of the water and cut a sorry sight as he crawled his way out. The heavy snow reveled in a wild dance all over. He could not even open his Shan He Fan. The ink had already smudged all over.
“What a misstep!” Dong Jun muttered. He took off his shoes and shook off the small fish inside. “I didn’t expect him to be that good.”
Dong Jun stepped on the snow and limped his way into the mountain. The little courtyard was in ruins. He dug out Zui Shan Seng’s leg from the snow and dragged him out. He could not help but shiver when he saw that Zui Shan Seng’s Xiang Mo Staff was already broken. He patted Zui Shan Seng’s face.
Zui Shan Seng held his breath and remained motionless.
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So Dong Jun untied Zui Shan Seng’s wine gourd, opened it, and took a few gulps. The moment the aroma of wine wafted out, Zui Shan Seng opened his eyes.
“Oh, you aren’t dead yet?” Dong Jun tossed away the gourd.
Zui Shan Seng hissed as he rolled. His back was already about to break. He lay in the snow and said, “He has taken the child away! I’m afraid Zong Yin’s arm is ruined too. Fu Li and Ah Yi have already fled with the woman—Give me some wine.”
Dong Jun sat cross-legged in the snow. Not even caring that he was soaked to the skin, he flung his fan open and fanned himself with it twice, causing the ink to splatter all over his face. He said, “I am never wrong in my calculations. Li Rong is not Jing Lin. It has only been five hundred years; he shouldn’t be this strong. He must have consumed some magical elixir.”
“I can’t beat him.” Zui Shan Seng closed his eyes and said, “Even if you give me another five hundred years, I still won’t be able to defeat him. I saw how stable his cultivation is. He cannot be mentioned in the same breath as he was before.”
“There’s something fishy about that stability too.” Dong Jun composed himself and pondered over it for a moment before continuing, “He clearly concealed his cultivation when he fought with Jing Lin and canglong earlier. If he’s aligned with Ninth Heaven Realm, why would he hide it from Yun Sheng? It is evident they aren’t as close as brothers.”
“He’d go to such an extent for this child.” Zui Shan Seng said, “But why exactly?”
“Because.” Dong Jun wrung his sleeves. “It’s a long story. You just need to know that his intent lies in the Supreme Father’s position, and the only one in the whole world who can kill the Supreme Father is Jing Lin. There hasn’t been another one whose original form is a sword in so many years. Don’t you understand? This is because Father had long known how Jing Lin was born. All these years of suppressing it every step of the way was to prevent the universe from producing another ‘Jing Lin’ who can slay all living creatures.”
Zui Shan Seng quickly sat up and said, “You mean…”
“This child is a creature that transcends deities and humans.” Dong Jun hung his clothes out to dry. “Only those who walk different paths can beget such an anomaly. Ninth Heaven Realm strictly forbids illicit relationships between humans, demons, and deities not because they are terrified of evil beings, but because those supreme ones fear another Jing Lin being born in the world. This is such an obvious and simple matter to understand. Don’t tell me you only came to understand the reason today?”
“The Registry for the Doctrine of Gods is tight-lipped when it comes to Jing Lin’s origins.” Zui Shan Seng said. “Rumor has it that he came from Nan Chan. The Supreme Father said he is a child bestowed by Heaven.”
Dong Jun caught the cold wind head-on. “Calling him the so-called gift from Heaven isn’t exactly wrong. The son born of a deity is naturally bestowed by Heaven. Back then, Jing Lin had the lotus in his palm, and the sword in his heart. Having died once on Ninth Heaven Terrace, he had already lost the Lotus of Compassion, leaving only a broken sword. But these two things cannot do without the other. That is why marriages are mutually connected, and the eight sufferings are mutually linked. I’m telling you. Without canglong’s red thread of fate around their fingers, the suffering of birth today would not be Zong Yin’s tribulation, but Jing Lin’s. What he had lost was brought back to him when the copper bell bound cause and effect together.”
“The Lotus of Compassion is now in the child’s palm. How is Jing Lin going to get it back?” Zui Shan Seng asked with a heavy heart.
“How would I know?” Dong Jun said nonchalantly, “Maybe eat him.”
All at once, Zui Shan Seng’s expression changed.
Dong Jun laughed out loud and said, “I was just teasing you. What Jing Lin lost was compassion, and that was a part of himself he cut away on his own to avoid severing his feelings and desires. When he regains his memory and understands why he was in pain five hundred years ago, then perhaps the Lotus of Compassion will return.”
Zui Shan Seng blanked out for a moment with his knees facing Dong Jun. He suddenly smacked his head and asked, “You mentioned canglong—where is the Emperor Lord?!”
Dong Jun raised his head and motioned to the east. He said, “Down there. I don’t think he’ll survive. There’s naturally a reason for Yun Sheng to send Pu Man over to subdue him. You know, Pu Man’s armor was forged with those dragon scales that Li Rong cut off back then. The Emperor Lord is now merely a brocade carp. Won’t he be dead meat when facing up against those dragon scales?”
◈ ◈ ◈
Dead meat Cang Ji was crushed heavily at the bottom. The thorny whip twisted around his back, at the same time strangling him around his neck, making it hard for him to breathe. Sudden shock waves of red light in the water circled around Cang Ji layer after layer. The brocade carp in his spiritual sea had already become a black-armored monster. Its horns were still showing as bulges, having yet to protrude all the way out.
Heavy seals of barrier came pressing down in succession, and the surrounding grew darker and darker. The water vortex extended all over the place along with the disturbance Pu Man was stirring up to subdue and seal Cang Ji in this perpetual darkness.
Cang Ji’s scales erupted out. In his confrontation with Pu Man, he was tightly bound into a cocoon. Red accumulated before his eyes. Hundred kinds of spells covered him densely and tightened around him.
An armor transformed out on Pu Man’s body as he stepped onto the spiritual light. He lashed out with his whip with a blow so hard that it sent the red cocoon crashing loudly into the bottom. The moment a faint light glinted at the bottom, the incantation began to swirl around in unison.
The dragon claw Cang Ji reached out with was enveloped by the spell. He consolidated his strength to rip apart the red light and sprang up with a sudden burst of speed. The waves surged, and Pu Man’s whip turned into an endless mass of grass to hold back Cang Ji’s catapulting figure.
Having suddenly pounced into the air but missed, Cang Ji felt a pressure on his back as he was once again weighed down into the bottom. The threads of grasses turned into countless chains that grabbed Cang Ji all over his body and dragged him into the pitch-black darkness. The glow from the wall of incantation in the water gradually dimmed. Pu Man wanted to extract himself out, but Cang Ji unexpectedly jerked so hard that the incantation trembled slightly.
“You must not be allowed to live!”
Pu Man brazenly struck out at him.
Cang Ji collided into Pu Man, but he could not even get half a step closer. He saw the armor covering Pu Man’s body. How familiar those patterns on that armor was!
◈ ◈ ◈
While both sides were engaged in a fierce battle underwater, the waves were churning above. The repercussions from their blows struck into the rocks, and for a moment, the sounds of crashing waves rang out incessantly.
“How many donkey’s years are they going to fight for?!” Ah Yi sprawled on the rock and bent his head to watch. “The child is gone. As is Jing Lin! If we wait any longer, we will never be able to catch up and get them back!”
Fu Li said, “Ninth Heaven’s troops abound everywhere within a hundred li.2 It might not be advisable to make a rash move.”
“We can’t sit around and wait for death, either.” Ah Yi rolled up his sleeves. He had yet to make a move when he heard the earth quaking and the mountains shaking.
Birds of prey shot out of the mountains. The ground shook until the earth collapsed and the mountain cracked.
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Ah Yi poked his head out and shouted, “What’s going on?!”
Those Ninth Heaven troops had already started moving. The divine general drew out his blade and stepped onto the clouds, wanting to find out what was going on. No one expected Xiang Mo Staff to be tossed out, slashing apart a path that rose into the sky.
Zui Shan Seng exerted himself and pushed the behemoth with his shoulder forward in a silent dash. He said through clenched teeth, “Go quickly!”
That creature’s body got stuck. Behind it, Dong Jun lifted a leg and kicked it hard, sending it tumbling down with a “thud”.
Leading the demons, Huashang whipped out a tail and followed up with a slap against the side of the tumbling behemoth. She struck it so hard that he bellowed in fury as he plunged headfirst into the water.
Caught off-guard, Ah Yi was splashed head-on by the ensuing spray of water. He wiped his face and asked, “What’s that thing?”
Huashang told the little fox to lift and carry her skirt for her. On hearing him, she leaned against the umbrella and said as she pinched her fingers, “Lord Lin Song’s dowry.”
The very next moment, the gargantuan creature entered the water, the seawater suddenly reversed direction as he sucked them all into his mouth in one breath. Shuran lay prone and exerted himself, and the sea coast went white with massive foams of breaking waves. He did not care about the divine generals on his sides and merely focused on the sea. The seawater lurched, and the incantation swiftly materialized layer upon layer.
◈ ◈ ◈
The very instant Pu Man was distracted, Cang Ji grabbed hold of Pu Man by his chest and jerked him up with both arms. But that armor did not budge the slightest. It was invulnerable.
Pu Man raised his arms and said, “This is the Dragon Scales Armor! It’s best at subduing demons! You’re already trapped in the barrier seal. Don’t even think about escaping!”
Cang Ji smashed hard into Pu Man. His spiritual sea was churning in reverse, and he unexpectedly felt his stomach rumbling with hunger. Seeing that the expression in his eyes had changed, Pu Man could not help but struggle in consternation. “What are you…”
“Might as well send the buddha all the way to the west.”3 Cang Ji sinisterly exposed his teeth.
◈ ◈ ◈
Shuran stopped sucking in the water. Behind him, Zui Shan Seng and the divine generals were engaged in an intense fight. Ah Yi resembled an ant as he stood beside Shuran’s leg. He could only look up at Shuran and yell, “What are you stopping for? He’s not out yet!”
Shuran’s mouth was stuffed with water. He suddenly burped, then turned his head to puke it all out completely. The seawater instantly charged towards the Ninth Heaven troops and crashed into them, throwing the mountains into a complete mess.
Shuran savored the salty taste and said, “The Emperor Lord is in the midst of consuming his meal. It’s not appropriate to spew it out to him.”
Ah Yi looked out at the sea, then said in astonishment, “… He ate Pu Man?”
As soon as Ah Yi said that, the sea suddenly started to boil furiously. He saw a layer of murderous aura come assaulting over, followed by the shadow of a massive creature writhing underwater. It looked like a fish but not a fish, a dragon yet not a dragon.
But that was not all. Muffled thunder rumbled a few times on the horizon. It was originally dead in the winter, and while the heavy snow was dancing all over, the sky suddenly started to rain. Ah Yi raised his palms to catch the raindrops and saw that his palms had been stained red.
“The heavenly dams have burst; the Blood Sea reappears.” Shuran abruptly transformed into human form and dragged Ah Yi and Fu Li back in a retreat. “Withdraw! The Emperor Lord is going to devour the devils and evolve into a dragon!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Ninth Heaven Realm shook tumultuously. Li Rong did not wait for Yun Sheng to speak and rose to his feet first. He saw the blood fog spiraling up en masse in the direction of the Zhui Hun Prison and could not help but furrow his brows.
The black and white under Yun Sheng’s feet reversed and turned upside down. Holding himself up, he retreated and bellowed, “To think you’d actually released the Blood Sea!”
Li Rong turned his head back and said, “It wasn’t me.”
As he spoke, he turned his gaze quickly towards Jing Lin.
The blood between Jing Lin’s arms had already stopped and congealed. He was surprised deep down, but his expression remained unchanged and betrayed nothing.
Sure enough, he heard Li Rong say, “Don’t tell me it’s you?”
Jing Lin raised his eyebrows contemplatively, neither answering in the affirmative or negative.
太极. Tai Chi or Taiji, also the Yin and Yang symbol.
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li = approx. 500m
- 送佛送到西 literally when you see the Buddha off, you may as well see him off to all the way the West (West here refers to the Western Heaven/Paradise of Buddhism), i.e., doing a good deed to the end and not stop midway.