The lights in the hall went out, and the place turned dark. Lord Jiu Tian regained his composure after he was done raging. He was still seated on the high throne, but his gray eye was tightly closed.
“My good son.” Lord Jiu Tian said, “What do you know? The True Buddha and I are one and the same person. He is me, and I am him. I am the one who brought you to Nan Chan, and also the one who sent you to Ninth Heaven Gate.”
“Do you dare to open that eye?” Jing Lin dragged the chain. The slap had left finger marks on half of his face. He said coldly, “Since you are the same person, then why set a boundary and distinguish your eyes between black and white?”
“You believe yourself to have cracked the secrets of Heaven, but in truth, you’re foolish to the max.” As Lord Jiu Tian spoke, he opened his gray eye and stared at Jing Lin with both colored eyes. That weird half-cold and half-benevolent expression appeared again. He said, “Many years ago, when I made no progress sitting in Nan Chan, I took the incarnation of a human and stepped into Zhongdu, wanting to experience the eight sufferings of the world and achieve the stage of great mercy and great compassion. But then I met your mother in the capital. From then on, I came to possess sin. The True Buddha originally had no desires, and all the more mustn’t harbor evil and vice. Thus I split out the portion that loved your mother from the true body1 and let him incarnate as Lord Jiu Tian, the man who brought you up and nurtured you. You yourself have done such a thing before. You sealed your emotions and desires into the stone, thus becoming Lord Lin Song with his feelings and desires severed. Jing Lin, is that stone not you? You are the stone, and the stone is you! Then what is there to lament about the fact that I am both Lord Jiu Tian and the True Buddha?”
The gauze curtains in the great hall fluttered up, casting a veil over Lord Jiu Tian’s figure and rendering it indistinct.
“Lord Jiu Tian is the True Buddha’s ‘wants’. Jing Lin, the True Buddha you revere is a person like Lord Jiu Tian.” Lord Jiu Tian propped up his head and scoffed, “Silly son. The True Buddha did not dare to face up to his desires, and so he produced me. He expelled me from Nan Chan, but he couldn’t harden his heart to wipe out his desire, so he let me become the Supreme Father of all in Zhongdu. It was only when he saw me become the Supreme Father that he understood that there was no stopping desire. So he led you into Nan Chan, wanting to make use of you to kill me. But how could he have foreseen that I could only return to my true body after you killed my physical flesh?”
Lord Jiu Tian raised his arms and sized up his own body.
“You are the one who sent me back. Now that his and my morality are at odds, we naturally have to fight it out in the body. The thing is, I understand him, but he doesn’t understand me. I’ve now become the master of this body; there’s no longer any difference between him and me. I am Heaven and Earth. I have attained Buddhahood. I am the indestructible desire of the Three Realms. You may call me Father or the Revered One.”
Jing Lin looked up at that throne. The True Buddha’s gray eye had long dimmed, but the black eye of Lord Jiu Tian was incomparably bright. It was hard to tell day from night outside the hall, with the scene all topsy-turvy. His spiritual sea was already empty, and he did not know what had become of Cang Ji and his evolution into a dragon either.
Jing Lin did not act rashly again. He said, “Since you want me to die, then tell me who my mother is before I die.”
“How heartless. To think you still haven’t guessed who your mother is. Which other woman in this world can give birth to a child of your appearance other than Shengyue?” As Lord Jiu Tian spoke, he closed his eyes. “Do you know why your mother died?”
Jing Lin did not answer.
“Those prayer beads were originally objects in my hand. Two of them once fell into the lotus pond, where the compassion of Heaven and Earth seeped into them. In the eighth month of her pregnancy, I gifted her one to keep both mother and child safe. Later, I assumed the physical form of Jiu Tian, not expecting the True Buddha to throw the other bead to you. You swallowed that prayer bead before your death, and that became the turning point in the continuation of karma—the cycle of cause and effect. Subsequently, she used the remaining prayer bead to forge a new life for canglong. But how could that be so easily done? Because of this, half of her cultivation was rendered invalid. She hid in the capital, in a deep sleep from which she never woke from.” At this point, Lord Jiu Tian paused for a moment. He wanted to laugh, although he never did. He continued in a hoarse voice, “Silly woman. It was due to a mother’s love that she saved you, but saving that dragon was a redundant move. She repeatedly ruined my great plans. How long can love in the mortal world last?”
“You killed her.” Jing Lin’s voice was like a quiet wind. “You released Tao Zhi, who was bent on revenge and had already been reduced to being a devil. He returned to the human world through the city in the mountains. To gain cultivation, he let the city in the mountains turn into the evil of Zhongdu, but the tree deity thwarted him. He thus took refuge in the capital, and at a point when he was trapped with no way to retreat and starving with no other alternative, he swallowed the sleeping Shengyue.”
“Karma doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Going by your reasoning, canglong is the murderer too.” Lord Jiu Tian said apathetically, “Why did the northern mountain ranges appear? Those were all the high walls canglong constructed. A hundred years after they collapsed, they turned into a mountain range. The evil aura that canglong did not devour clean provided the opportunity for Tao Zhi’s rebirth in that place. If you hate me, you should hate canglong too.”
Jing Lin’s chains slid along. He could not keep down his voice. “You raised Qing Yao; you originally had the chance to save her, but you still turned her into the Blood Sea. You used the calamity of the Blood Sea to cement Jiu Tian’s reputation and prestige. You reduced Tao Zhi to an evil beast in the mortal realm! And you made use of Li Rong to turn brothers against each other. What exactly do you see humankind as?!”
“As the mud under my feet, the clouds above my head.” Lord Jiu Tian reached out his palms and caught the illusory wind, just like how Jing Lin caught the mist back then. “The many twists and turns in this world are all connected to karma; I’m merely giving it a little push. Such are their fates, so how can you blame me? How can you blame me?!”
A great gale arose in the hall. Lord Jiu Tian rose to his feet and raised his voice.
“I am the Supreme Father of all in the world! I am merely seizing the opportunity and going along with the flow. I am desire, but I am not evil. Was I the one who forced the binding of affinity between you and canglong? You can’t blame anyone else.”
“You reap what you sow;2 you will get your comeuppance.” Jing Lin’s eyes were icy.
Lord Jiu Tian’s black eyes were contemptuous, although he had a smile when he said, “I have already become Heaven; I’m not subjected to the precepts of cause and effect. It’s up to me to decide retribution. Just wait for your trial. After you die, I won’t kill canglong—he isn’t a dragon now, anyway. Just a brocade carp dragging out an ignoble existence. He isn’t even worthy to have his scales sliced off and his tendons extracted. That’s all there is to the union between both of you—a mere short-lived moment of pleasure that eventually becomes nothing more than a shadow of clouds. I’ll keep him alive and confine him in the sarcophagus you once stayed. A hundred years, a thousand years. How long can he remember you for? This so-called love is merely fleeting. If he dies, it must be suicide. A pity that neither of you will re-enter the cycle of reincarnation. You have no next life.”
Jing Lin was suddenly dragged out of the hall. He looked at Lord Jiu Tian on the lonesome throne up there which could only accommodate one standing person.
Once again, Lord Jiu Tian closed his gray eye and nodded to Jing Lin with his palms joined together.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin was detained in the sarcophagus. This time, even his eyes were blindfolded. He was securely bound all over, and his hearing and sense of smell had been completely sealed off. All that remained was the sense of touch when he scraped his head against the wall.
Jing Lin could not break free. The wall seemed rough and bumpy. He pressed against those bloodied lines, finding them incomparably familiar.
Jing Lin did not know how long time had passed before he got to see the light of the day again. The long stairway of Ninth Heaven Terrace was already full of people standing. Men in silver armors supported him up as they slowly ascended the stairs. Both sides were dead silent, like cicadas in cold winter.
◈ ◈ ◈
Fei Luo and Yining sat together on the terrace. On seeing Jing Lin, Fei Luo retracted his legs and straightened up in his seat. He pushed the small dish of melon seeds away and said listlessly, “Don’t tell me he’s the one on trial today? But he’s Lord Lin Song! I’ve never been one who can bear to see the pretty ones suffer. I’d better not watch.”
Yining swept a glance at Jing Lin and said to Fei Luo, “Dong Jun is going to be put on trial today too. Weren’t you once humiliated by him? You can watch to your heart’s content today.”
Embarrassed, Fei Luo said, “Since when have I ever been humiliated? Never at all!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin arrived on the terrace. A sea and mountain of monks circled around him, while Lord Jiu Tian sat in the middle in the heart of the lotus. Dong Jun was also standing at the front. Although his hands were tied, he looked as if he was out on a leisurely stroll around the courtyard. He even turned his head back to greet Jing Lin upon hearing the sounds of footsteps.
“With such a grand display of splendor this day, you and I could be said to have died worthy deaths.” Dong Jun said breezily. “Demon Slayer, Lord Lin Song. I have not dishonored my name as a devil of the Blood Sea by dying with you. It’s just that I’ve been someone’s son for a few thousand years, yet I’ve passed for a grandson3 instead. That doesn’t make me very happy.”
Jing Lin exchanged glances with him for a moment. He did not ask about Cang Ji, but instead said, “The winter in Zhongdu is about to pass. If you die, then who is going to summon spring again in the future?”
“Who the hell cares?” Dong Jun laughed out loud. “If those millions of people were to be frozen to death, then they would all be my companions in death, wouldn’t they? That pleases me.”
“A leopard can never change his spots.” Lord Jiu Tian’s eyes were opened. Having become the True Buddha, he naturally would not address himself as Lord Jiu Tian. He said in a mild tone, “The Supreme Father took you in as his son out of a compassionate heart. He wanted for you to repent and turn over a new leaf. Yet you took advantage of the Blood Sea calamity to eat innocent children on the sly. Today, you are stewing in your own juices suffering the consequences of your own actions. Kneel now and receive your death sentence.”
Dong Jun said, “Heaven and Earth isn’t my old man. The mass of commoners isn’t my mom. I am a devil of the Blood Sea. You want me to kneel to you, but are you up to being called father by me?”
Lord Jiu Tian smiled and said, “A glib talker in the art of sophistry.”
LIANYIN @ JADE-RABBIT.NET
Dong Jun raised his neck and burst out laughing from the absurdity of it all. He said, “You’ve mistaken me. I’m the most inarticulate devil in the world.”
“You kill people like cutting down flies, yet you remain impenitent and even collude with the sinner lord, Jing Lin, to hide away an evil being and throw the world into turmoil. Do you realize the error of your ways now?”
Dong Jun’s laughter gradually came to a stop. He said, “I said something that day, but too few people heard it. It wasn’t awe-inspiring enough. With the Three Realms here today, I’ll repeat it to everyone present.”
He turned back and said with a chuckle,
“I am Dong Jun. Such triviality is beneath me.”
The wind instantly rose. Dong Jun’s peach blossom eyes shone brilliantly. In this moment of calamity, he actually demonstrated an immeasurable sense of magnificence and elegance. His laugh was carefree and unrestrained. The wind blew away all the good and evil under that skin of his, turning them into an aboveboard, unbridled willfulness.
“My younger sister, Qing Yao, was born with no one to depend on and died with no place to call home. Heaven and Earth let her down. So I shall let down Heaven and Earth.”
“Qing Yao is the Blood Sea.” Lord Jiu Tian said, “You conspire together to let loose a calamity upon the world, so how can you still say that Heaven and Earth have let her down? Dong Jun, you’ve lost your mind.”
With that, he lifted his finger, and a weight bore down upon both of Dong Jun’s knees, causing him to fall to his knees with a thud.
Lord Jiu Tian looked at Jing Lin again. He opened his gray eye, putting his regret and shame on display before Jing Lin as he imitated the compassion of the True Buddha that day.
◈ ◈ ◈
“Jing Lin, repent, and salvation is at hand.”
Jing Lin answered as he had in the past. “It’s too late.”
Lord Jiu Tian did not seem to have the heart as he said, “You are still unwilling to lay down your blade?”
Cutting a filthy and sorry sight, Jing Lin stared at Lord Jiu Tian and said, “You tell me to lay down my blade, but I have no wish to become a buddha.4 I am willing to degenerate. Many years ago, I didn’t understand why humans love, so I made hatred the one and only thing in my life. But, I raised a fish. And from then on, hatred no longer existed. You want me to lay down my blade, but I was born a sword. To put it down, you’ll need me to die.”
Lord Jiu Tian suddenly rose, and the Sanskrit scripts whirled around and glowed. He looked down at Jing Lin and said, “You are guilty of the most heinous crime. Since you have no desire to attain Buddhahood and cultivate your moral character, then the only path left for you is death.”
“Since it’s the trial today, we might as well finish what we started.” Jing Lin’s wrists swayed lightly; then his voice spread far and wide. “The eight sons and one father of Ninth Heaven Gate are all guilty of sin. Their sins lie in aiding and abetting the evil-doer, in concealing their selfish desires from Heaven, in obstructing and thwarting Emperor Cang, and in indiscriminately killing the innocent. Who present here dares to escape his guilt? We call ourselves the commander-in-chief of Heaven, of Earth, and of the Three Realms, but it’s all a lie loaded with ulterior motives!”
Jing Lin stirred up the wind, which sent his long sleeves billowing. He mocked all of Heaven and Earth. But then he saw Lord Jiu Tian stepping across the golden waves as he came flying down.
“You committed patricide and regicide, and harbored an evil being.” When Lord Jiu Tian raised his palm, a floating image of a giant palm materialized behind him. He said, “You covertly conspired with canglong to bring disaster upon Zhongdu. In this day and hour, there’s no keeping you alive!”
Jing Lin said, “You reap what you sow.”
That magical seal came smashing down on him with a thunderous crash. Jing Lin kicked himself off the ground and saw Ninth Heaven Terrace collapsed with a crash. In the twinkling of an eye, his surroundings descended into chaos.
◈ ◈ ◈
Dong Jun propped himself up with his knees and raised his head to say aloud, “Do it!”
Fei Luo instantly kicked the table and flipped it over, then said to Yining, “Although I’ve been somewhat coerced into doing this, at the end of the day, I still can’t bear to see a pretty one sad! Today…”
How would there still be anyone beside him? He turned his head for a look, only to see Yining brandishing his sleeves. The gargantuan body of Shuran instantly emerged from those Qiankun sleeves.5 Following right after, Fu Li transformed into a bird and charged out. Both beasts kept pace with one another as they dashed towards Jing Lin.
Fei Luo instantly stomped his foot. “So you’re a secret agent too!”
Yining, all prim and proper, humbly said, “What a coincidence.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Shuran was already standing before Jing Lin as a shield the very instant the latter was trapped. He puffed up his cheeks and blew out a gust of wind, and the various monks all tilted back in unison. The gale wreaked havoc in its path as it raged forth. Lord Jiu Tian’s palm was already ruthlessly bearing down on them.
Shuran’s massive body held up against the weight. Then he transformed back into human form with a “poof”. The color drained from his face as he roared, “His strength is too great for me to bear! My lord, please retreat!”
The shackles between Jing Lin’s wrist remained intact. Fu Li swooped down. Holding Jing Lin in her mouth and gripping Shuran in her claws, she made to flee. Unexpectedly, the sky seemed to collapse at just a soft snort from Lord Jiu Tian. The waves of clouds all around came crashing down on them. Even a flying Fu Li could not escape it.
“A motley crew who knows not of their own limitations.”
Lord Jiu Tian’s giant palm came slapping down. Fu Li felt as though Mount Tai was crushing down on her and instantly coughed out blood and tumbled to the ground. Sanskrit scripts scattered and whirled all over in the air. Very quickly, they enlarged and went hurling down the sides of Ninth Heaven Terrace to wall in the crowd securely.
Lord Jiu Tian strode a step out. Jing Lin endured the pressure in silence as he sweated profusely. Both of his knees felt as though they were bearing the weight of a mountain. Even so, he would not kneel.
“I alone reign supreme in all of Heaven and Earth.”
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
Lord Jiu Tian looked askance at the crowd with a smile and enunciated each word.
“Pledge your allegiance to me. All those who oppose me shall perish!”
Jing Lin took a sudden step closer. His sweat trickled down along his temples.
“My son wants to kill his father again. But you have now lost the Lotus of Compassion, and Yan Quan is all covered in dust and rust. You can’t even break free of this chain.” Lord Jiu Tian raised his palm as he spoke, and the cries of an infant rang out at once. “Once I kill him, the Lotus of Compassion will return to my hands. I initially wanted to leave you a path to the underworld, but you just had to do things this way. Jing Lin, everyone here today will all die because of you.”
Golden light instantly erupted before his eyes, and countless illusory giant palms came smacking down upon him. The force and might of it shattered the chain binding Jing Lin’s wrists. He backhandedly drew out Yan Quan Sword through the air. Azure light broke through the clouds and materialized along with the sword and went sweeping with the force of a thunderbolt towards Lord Jiu Tian.
But in a split second, the wind ceased.
Lord Jiu Tian intercepted the sword with a finger, and Yan Quan Sword cracked. He said, “Unrepentant as ever. Time for you to die.”
With that, he lifted his palm to strike.
All of a sudden, the luminous thread on Jing Lin’s wrist lit up. Immediately right after, the blood fog curled up wildly beneath his feet. He heard that wall of Sanskrit scripts instantaneously broke apart as a sudden burst of dragon roar swept across Heaven and Earth.
◈ ◈ ◈
“Since you will die, why not give this entire body of flesh and blood to me? I’ll chew it all up and swallow it. From then on, you and I will never be separated again.”
Strong wind surged down from above. A man in a long, black and red robe stood atop the wall of Sanskrit scripts facing up against the wind. His black hair fluttered backward, revealing a pair of penetratingly sharp and uninhibitedly wild eyes. Blood fog burst apart beneath his feet, pouncing and pounding like the raging sea. Countless devils bowed to his command, and for a moment, demons and the like swarmed rampantly forth. Heaven and Earth were already awash in a different hue.
“You only need to remain in my heart. Don’t go anywhere else.”
Cang Ji descended along with the sound of his laughter. A gust of wind came assaulting Lord Jiu Tian in the face, and he saw that dragon claw burst into view before his eyes. It tore apart the wind and struck Lord Jiu Tian right on target. A thunderous “bang” rang out as Ninth Heaven Realm shook from the impact.
When the wind and smoke dispersed, Lord Jiu Tian merely laughed and said, “The great devil is now born. You ought to be executed in accordance with the laws of Heaven! I thought you would flee, but you serve yourself up on a platter.”
Cang Ji said, “My wife is here. I wouldn’t dare not to come.”
Blood spattered the moment he said that. A dragon claw clutched Lord Jiu Tian by his face and swung him against the wind before smashing him hard into the wall of Sanskrit scripts. The entire wall shattered in response, and Sanskrit scripts danced all over the sky. The various monks behind him struck out their palms in unison, and the manifestation of the spell went blanketing down on Cang Ji.
Cang Ji raised an arm in a block and shattered it with a loud crash, all without turning his head back.
Lord Jiu Tian felt the pressure of his power, but he maintained his composure and waved away the Sanskrit scripts. He said coldly, “I am Heaven…”
Cang Ji hissed, “I am a dragon born to devour Heaven and Earth. The five cardinal virtues6 are, to me, merely amusement; while the precepts are, to me, nothing more than trash. You want to be Heaven.”
His evil aura was forbidding.
“Then that, is some junk for me to tear into pieces and chew to bits.”
Special thanks to Alex and Kotoni ❤❤❤
- 真身 refers to the real body of Buddha or a god/deity
- 孙子 literally grandson, a contemptuous and disdainful term used to cuss someone; kind of like wretch, bastard, etc.
- From the line 放下屠刀，立地成佛 literally, the butcher who lays down his cleaver at once becomes a Buddha, i.e., a wrongdoer achieves salvation as soon as he gives up evil.
- 乾坤 Qiankun means Heaven and Earth, or a universe. Literally, it’s saying there’s another interspatial ‘universe’ in Yining’s sleeves, one which he could use as an interspatial inventory.
- 五常 five constant virtues of Confucianism, namely: benevolence (仁), righteousness (义), propriety (礼), wisdom (智), and fidelity (信).