The waves of clouds dispersed to reveal the sight of Lord Jiu stepping on the lotus. Billowing waves of golden light burst forth from the blood fog with such unsurpassed magnificence that it intimidated the evil spirits all around.
Cang Ji transformed one of his arms into a claw. There was redness faintly discernible amid his jet-black scales. To evolve into a dragon, he had devoured all of the Blood Sea, only for Lord Jiu Tian to seal him in the eastern sea with just one finger. If not for a stroke of luck, he would still be buried underwater. Yet, he did not retreat even a step in the face of Buddha’s aura.
The eastern sea begets a great devil.
The eastern sea yearns to evolve into a dragon.
Jing Lin had never expected these two predictions to be referring to Cang Ji. He saw Cang Ji looking back from where he was amidst the devils, and he unexpectedly felt a twinge of yearning—as though three autumns had passed for each day he did not see him.1
The golden lotus came hurtling over at high speed along with the waves. Sounds of explosions filled their ears. Cang Ji had already sprung up into the air, with the blood fog following close on his heels behind him. The lotus water of Fan Tan churned violently. Both men had a tendency for bold and sweeping moves, and it proved difficult for Ninth Heaven Terrace to bear the brunt of their ferocity. Sanskrit scripts bombarded Ninth Heaven Realm and scattered, while claps of thunder boomed among the sea of clouds.
◈ ◈ ◈
Fei Luo was about to engage in close combat when someone tripped him and sent him tumbling. He did a forward roll and flipped over to his feet. Just as he was about to flare up with rage, he saw Dong Jun retracting his leg and lifting his hands.
“What did you do that for?!” Fei Luo’s wariness of him was pretty severe.
Dong Jun raised his chin and motioned. “Untie me.”
Dong Jun had a handle against Fei Luo, so Fei Luo had no other choice but to remove the chains for him. Then he saw Dong Jun’s slender, fair hands, with wrists that were just the right thickness, spread out before his face. The tip of his nose instantly felt a little hot. He jumped back and said, “What now?!”
Dong Jun said, “Where’s my fan? Give it back to me.”
It was then Fei Luo started digging in his sleeves. Not finding it, he groped around his waist before fishing out Shan He Fan from behind—only to see that he had sat on the fan until its surface was just a big mass of ink.
“You couldn’t have spat saliva on it, could you?” Dong Jun took the fan with extreme disdain and clicked his tongue in wonder. “It has only been a few hours since I handed it to you.”
Fei Luo’s eyes wandered. He did not dare to look at Dong Jun right in the eyes. He snorted inwardly to himself, but he was afraid of seeing Dong Jun’s face, so he kept the snort to himself and merely craned his neck and said, “It’s just a fan…”
Before he could finish his words, he saw the fan come smacking down upon him out of the corner of his eyes. Fei Luo dodged it, wanting to escape the hit, but Dong Jun hauled him back by the front of his clothes. Both men collided into each other.
Fei Luo said, “You hit me!”
With a “thud”, Dong Jun hit away the incoming sword with his fan. But he still wanted to tease him, so he said, “How would I bear to hit you? The little mouse has lost his mind! Go look for Li Rong. The time for Li Rong to redeem himself is here!”
With that, he kicked Fei Luo’s back. Fei Luo promptly rolled away from the glints and flashes of cold steels and dashed nimbly towards Zhui Hun Prison.
Sniffing the scent of the Blood Sea, Dong Jun could not help but feel comfortable all over. He opened his fan to cover his face and said politely all around, “May I trouble everyone to close your eyes? I feel rather shy before such a large crowd.”
He had only just said that when Shuran immediately crouched down and covered his head with his hands, yelling to his left and right, “He’s the Blood Sea’s evil form. Don’t look at him squarely in the face!”
Dong Jun raised his peach blossom eyes. Contrary to expectation, his face did not change, but a towering dark shadow materialized behind him. For a brief moment, the image of that black shadow crystallized into one with evil eyes the color of nightmares all over it. The instant Dong Jun’s evil form appeared, the chanting came to an abrupt stop. He shifted his fan a little to reveal his face, and the black figure behind him spread over the sky to cover up the golden light in an instant. The next moment, Dong Jun sprang off the ground right towards the various monks.
“It’s so boring to deliver humans and demons from suffering.2 Why not deliver me today instead?”
◈ ◈ ◈
Yining landed beside Jing Lin and said, “Is your Yan Quan there?”
LIANYIN @ JADE-RABBIT.NET
Jing Lin spread out his palms and said to him, “It’s already broken.”
“You were born a sword. As long as you exist, the sword exists.” Saying so, he looked at Lord Jiu Tian and Cang Ji in the distance among the thick clouds and dense fog. He said, “The copper could have assisted you in reforging your sword if it’s still with you. But it has already aided the Emperor Lord into evolving into a dragon. To forge your sword, you have to find another way.”
“You know of the copper bell too.” Jing Lin turned his head aside.
“It indeed took me a lot of effort to send you down the mortal realm. That copper bell…” Yining paused, then continued, “This is not the time for idle chat. If you want to reforge the sword, you must get back the Lotus of Compassion. The child is hidden away in the Supreme Father’s Qiankun sleeves.”
Jing Lin looked over once again and saw that Cang Ji had already broken through several walls in a row, while Lord Jiu Tian seemed to be barely holding on. Wind stirred beneath Jing Lin’s feet. The man in azure rose in a few steps and promptly came to Cang Ji’s side.
The luminous thread tied around both men’s wrists lit up in the chaos. Cang Ji’s dragon claw exploded out in an attack, yet his other human hand grasped hold of Jing Lin with precision. He kicked himself off the ground, rising once more.
Black robe flapped noisily in the air. Lord Jiu Tian’s palm came for his face, but then he saw Cang Ji step into the air and turn around. Jing Lin instantly sidestepped past him and used the momentum of his massive strength to charge his way right before Lord Jiu Tian.
Yan Quan was already broken. Yet Jing Lin conjured out a long sword formed out of azure light and swept it hard towards Lord Jiu Tian’s neck. Lord Jiu Tian raised his palms to grab it, and the azure light sword shattered. Rage blazed in his black eyes. “You’re courting death!”
The magic seal came smashing down with a thunderous crash, but Jing Lin did not retreat. Instead, there was a weight on the luminous thread on his wrist, and his entire person was hauled backward into the air. Cang Ji’s dragon claw arrived immediately right after and bore the impact of Ninth Heaven’s magic seal. The next instant, the pressure in the air sank; the magic seal had collapsed.
Lord Jiu Tian pointed to the sky with one finger and to the ground with one finger and recited a series of deafening chants. Heaven and Earth rapidly drew together into an all-encompassing, earth-shattering force. Golden light pierced through the thundering sea of clouds and fell abruptly like steel needles.
The world before their eyes suddenly plunged into darkness.
The sound of killing was far away on the horizon, but Jing Lin suddenly broke out profusely in cold sweat. The unseen intimidating force seemed to be the power of Heaven that no one could resist. He heard something split open. However, this oppressiveness did not pervade any further, because a dragon roar rang out beside him.
In the pitch-black darkness, Jing Lin’s fingers clearly felt Cang Ji’s hand turning into a dragon claw. The feel of those hard and sharp dragon scales pressed up close against him as an icy cold behemoth slid swiftly under his fingers.
◈ ◈ ◈
“What are we to do if we can’t see?” Fu Li, who was kicking over people at the moment, turned her head back and yelled, “Shuran! Fire!”
Before Shuran could answer, he saw a standing umbrella that seemed like a faint, ghostly light. Huachang lifted her finger to point to the front and said, “The Heavenly Fire Furnace is in Zhui Hun Prison. Knock it over, and there will be light!”
Zui Shan Seng hoisted his staff over his shoulder and stepped across the sky to make his way over.
But Fu Li said, “Time waits for no man! At present…”
Their words abruptly turned vague as an earthshaking dragon roar tore through the wind. The strong wind extinguished Huachang’s ghostly light and threw Ninth Heaven Realm into darkness.
A massive dragon sprang out of the boundless darkness at lightning speed. Azure light enveloped his entire body like armor. The moment he soared from the clouds, the convergence of Heaven and Earth was knocked back. That gargantuan body surpassed that of Buddha’s beast, and even Dong Jun’s evil form. It was so colossal that his dragon tail was, for a moment, not visible.
Canglong broke out of the darkness and roared. Jing Lin took up position on the dragon’s head. The imposing air of the combined force of both men actually looked as if they would be capable of tearing apart Heaven and Earth. Jing Lin conjured out an azure light that furiously circled around the dragon body like the wind to become the only light in Heaven and Earth.
Cang Ji suddenly broke through the obstacles, and Lord Jiu Tian’s magical barrier collapsed with a thunderous boom. With open eyes, he watched coldly as Cang Ji roared and charged at him, yet he stretched out his arms to him in a welcome.
“You are a dragon born to devour Heaven and Earth. But have you ever thought what a magnificent sight it will be when you’re being devoured?”
Lord Jiu Tian laughed in the wind. His human form dissolved and gradually transformed into a behemoth with fire revolving all over its body. This beast had four savage horns, four hooves that bore a striking resemblance to dragon claws, and a big and thick tail like lightning and fire.
“It was only after being the True Buddha that I understood that I am Heaven and Earth, as well as all living creatures.” Lord Jiu Tian spoke in human language. “I know the past of the world. You are just a mere dragon. Not seeing an ancient beast before has made you so wild and unruly. I’ll break your scales and head today and save you for my meal!”
The hou3 that Lord Jiu Tian transformed into galloped toward Cang Ji. The roars of the two beasts pierced through the clouds, shattering the rocks. Resisting the wind, Jing Lin looked ahead and saw Lord Jiu Tian’s fire winding around the dragon body, blazing until crackles could be heard. It was only then he understood that this beast was no ordinary creature.
The dragon had already coiled around the hou’s body. Jing Lin’s azure talisman rose overhead, and the torrential rain came pouring at once to assist Cang Ji. Both sides were engaged in battle, and the biting and tearing of this hou penetrated through the scales on the dragon’s body, sending blood spurting.
◈ ◈ ◈
When Cang Ji was born, there were no longer any ancient beasts in the world. As such, he had no opponent that was his original form’s match. Consequently, he was arrogant to the max as he lorded it all over the world. Who knew that this ancient beast Lord Jiu Tian transformed into could not only break through his scales and tear his flesh; it could also consume and spout fire.
Cang Ji had never conceded defeat and submitted to anyone else before. Ruthlessness brimmed in his eyes as he ripped into the hou beast until the latter howled in pain. The rain continued to pour. The distinction between day and night in the Three Realms had already blurred, and the four seasons were all out of whack. While they were locked in a fierce battle in Ninth Heaven Realm, Zhongdu had also plunged into a state of moral4 anarchy.
The hou’s claws flung the body of the dragon down. Cang Ji crashed into the palace pavilion, stirring up a roiling wave of clouds. Lord Jiu Tian pinned down the dragon body with his claws, tearing at him until Cang Ji’s scales went flying all over. Enduring the pain, Cang Ji transformed back into human form. Lord Jiu Tian followed suit. His palms were already badly mangled.
“An ant trying to shake a tree!”5
Lord Jiu Tian scoffed and was about to unleash his killing move when Cang Ji suddenly seized one of his arms and threw him to the ground. Lord Jiu Tian smacked the ground with his palm during his fall and bounced to his feet. The sleeve on that arm was already completely ripped apart.
Countless treasures tumbled down, and an infant’s wail rang out among those treasures. That lotus on the palm swayed in mid-air and followed the child into a plummet down towards Zhongdu.
Lord Jiu Tian strode a step out with the intent to chase after the child. Cang Ji had already flipped over to his feet. He had no weapons, but the force of his punches and kicks beat Lord Jiu Tian repeatedly back in a retreat.
Jing Lin trod the wind and followed in pursuit. But the cries of the child in the darkness faded in and out over the place. As Jing Lin hesitated, he saw a flame blazing in the direction of Zhui Hun Prison as the Heavenly Fire Furnace toppled over to the ground. In that very instant, the Ninth Heaven Realm began to burn.
Breaking free from the clouds, the hai jiao leaped forth and transformed into his human form to catch the child into his arms. Zong Yin swiftly strode towards Jing Lin, who reached out a finger to touch the child’s little palm.
But nothing happened.
The infant’s teary eyes gazed at Jing Lin. Jing Lin’s palm was empty. His spiritual sea was already exhausted, and his original form was still deathly still.
“It doesn’t work…” Zong Yin said in astonishment. “Why is it not working?!”
Jing Lin frowned as he looked at his palm. He wanted to summon the little stone figure, only to find his sleeve empty. Even the stone was nowhere to be seen.
How could this happen?
Zui Shan Seng’s staff was erected below his feet. He squatted on top of it and shouted to Dong Jun from afar, “Did you miscalculate?!”
Even Dong Jun was uncharacteristically dazed. He said, “That shouldn’t be. How can that be? Don’t tell me he really has to eat the child?”
Cang Ji went smashing into the ground. Lord Jiu Tian’s hou form pinned down on him from behind until he could not even let loose a dragon roar. He propped himself up and turned over to let out a kick at Lord Jiu Tian. Evil spirits surged forth towards Lord Jiu Tian.
Lord Jiu Tian’s beast cry boomed out, the force of which even caused the surrounding blood fog to disperse. He said, “I know the world. Even if you’re a dragon, you won’t be able to flaunt your might any longer. Do you know what the beast hou is fond of eating when it still exists?”
He tightened his grip as he clutched Cang Ji’s throat.
“It has an appetite for dragons’ brains. You devour Heaven and Earth, but you’ve never tried for yourself what your own self tastes like.”
Cang Ji gripped Lord Jiu Tian’s arms tightly. His vulnerability lay exposed on his throat.
Lord Jiu Tian said with pity, “You originally had no weakness. If you had killed Jing Lin on that day you met him at Nan Chan, you would not have to suffer this fate today. But, in the end, you didn’t do it.”
Lord Jiu Tian transformed his other hand into the claw of a hou. Blood was already seeping out from Cang Ji’s throat.
Lord Jiu Tian said, “The instant you came to possess a weakness, you’ve lost.”
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
That claw came swiping down in a split second, about to gouge and sever Cang Ji’s throat.
The torrential rain pelted, and it was in this moment that Jing Lin remembered that voice as their foreheads pressed together.
Jing Lin saw the wind coming at him from Cang Ji. It sent his sleeves, robe, and wet hair flapping. A sob suddenly bubbled up his throat, but he swiftly suppressed it. He strode a step out and soared through the air towards him.
◈ ◈ ◈
Those phantom images 1,400 years ago that brushed by him overlapped one another at this moment and merged. Tears had already welled up in Jing Lin’s eyes. Yet, those eyes were also brimming with cold malevolence.
As he stepped across the wind, he gathered the howling wind in his palm. There seemed to be something fracturing with a “crack”. Following right after, his spiritual sea swelled and rose, and the cold glint of Yan Quan materialized and broke through the heavy rain and gale.
Before Lord Jiu Tian’s claw could swoop down, that number one sword in Heaven and Earth was already before him. In the blink of an eye, it struck aside the gold-glowing True Buddha. Jing Lin gnashed his teeth and said in a frosty tone,
“The audacity of you to dare to kill him!”
◈ ◈ ◈
The soughing of the wind in the pines roared, while the snowy glint of Yan Quan dazzled. In this very instant, the luminous thread around their wrists abruptly changed color. Red thread6 came to life like the grasses of spring to wind around them, intimately connecting them together.
The copper bell tinkled.
Special thanks to Kim for pointing out typos!
- 一日不见，如隔三秋 A single day apart feels like a separation of three autumns (three years). i.e., to miss someone very much.
- (超)渡(or 度) redeem lost souls and help them find peace by making offerings and chanting sutras; deliver souls from suffering
- 犼 Hou, a mythical creature, also known as denglong. Some legends have it that hou is one of the Dragon King’s sons and also the mount of the Bodhisattva Guanyin.
- 五常 five constant virtues of Confucianism, namely: benevolence (仁), righteousness (义), propriety (礼), wisdom (智), and fidelity (信).
- 蚍蜉撼树 literally an ant trying to shake a tree; i.e. overrate oneself.
- The red thread is a Thread of Fate or Marriage, which is used by the Deity of Marriages to connect and bring two destined lovers together.