Everyone who cultivates would beget themselves a spiritual sea1. Depending on the temperament of the cultivator, his spiritual sea could be a turbulent expanse of raging waves or a placid expanse of calm waters. Thus, it was Zui Shan Seng’s hot temper and abhorrence of evil that caused his spiritual energy to run amok in Cang Ji’s body.
Cang Ji was unwilling to enter a state of meditation as long as Jing Lin remained unconscious. Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy was like fish bones piercing through his throat, pricking him until he could not quell it from within. Cang Ji furrowed his brows as spells after spells of stinging pain erupted from the stimulating exchange between spiritual seas. He sat on the edge of the bed. Unable to stretch his legs, he could only curl up in aggrievement. He was in such torment that he had black circles under his eyes even as he leaned against the back of the chair and stared unrelentingly at Jing Lin.
Huadi had called for a physician last night, but how could an ordinary physician have an idea of Jing Lin’s injury? He had only crudely cleaned up and dressed Jing Lin’s wounds. Early this morning, Cang Ji had felt Jing Lin’s temperature raise.
With two fingers, Cang Ji parted Jing Lin’s hair and saw that Jing Lin’s sideburns were wet and soaked with sweat. He touched Jing Lin’s ear with his fingertips, then slipped down to the side of Jing Lin’s neck, finally feeling that velvety spot. Cang Ji’s fingers stayed there for a long time, his expression gloomy.
Just a little more force and he could take Jing Lin’s life. Once Jing Lin died, he could tear apart this ice sculpture’s skin to examine precisely how unfathomable Jing Lin’s heart was.
“Are you a man or a ghost?” Cang Ji asked in a low voice. “Were they only hoodwinking me when they praised you to the sky?”
His voice dropped as he spoke. His fingertip raked across Jing Lin’s skin, leaving behind a faint red mark. The red line was faintly indiscernible under his fingertip, extending along Jing Lin’s white neck like a piece of string, putting Jing Lin’s fate in his hands.
Huadi squeezed through the door, carrying a fat five-colored bird in her delicate hand with painted nails. As she unbuttoned her coat, she looked towards the bed.
“Since he won’t be waking up for a while, don’t keep standing watch over him. My good didi, the house is only so big, you don’t have to keep your eyes on him all the time. He can’t run away, anyway.” Huadi said and picked up the money pouch with her index finger. Swinging it in mid-air, she said with joy and complacency, “Those stingy medicine hall fellows! They made me wasted so much effort just to negotiate the price. I bought a chicken on the way back. We can stew it in the evening for nourishment.”
Cang Ji tiredly turned his head. Before he could thank her, his eyes met the eyes of that five-colored “chicken”. The chicken was stunned, then it angrily kicked its claws and flew into a rage.
“You despicable fools!” Ah Yi was so furious that he hiccuped. “You’ve put me in such a terrible state!”
Initially, Ah Yi was sold away by the thief. At first, he had attracted onlookers because of the rare colors of his feathers. But after a few days, the novelty faded and still, no one came to buy him. He was also too picky about his food and looked weak and weary all day long. The seller was afraid he would not remain alive for long, so he sold Ah Yi away with the pheasants in a hurry. Poor Ah Yi. He was a small colored bird of the magnificent Can Li tree, and yet he was almost pecked bald by the pheasants in the cage. Ah Yi’s tears were like the pouring rain as he cried and flapped his wings. He looked up, wanting so much to drown everyone in this room to death.
Cang Ji rose abruptly, took Ah Yi, and smiled at Huadi, “How would I dare to bother jiejie with such rough chores? I’ll do it.”
There was a chill on Ah Yi’s neck. He suddenly looked like a quail although he put on a bold front with his words, “I’m not afraid of you! We’ll see if you really dare to butcher me!”
Cang Ji picked up a knife and carried Ah Yi out of the door. There was no one in the lane, and the winter cold showed up as ice at the edge of the eaves. He threw Ah Yi onto the ground and squatted with his face to the wall. Without waiting for Ah Yi to speak, he stabbed the knife into the ground beside Ah Yi’s claw, with the edge of the blade sticking right next to the claw. Ah Yi shivered.
Ah Yi said, “I won’t yield even if you put the knife on my neck!”
“Call your Ah Jie over.” Cang Ji said.
“You think my Ah Jie is someone you can see on a whim?! I can still consider it if Jing Lin was the one to ask for her. But you? On what grounds?” Not daring to pace around, Ah Yi could only give a few heavy snorts.
“You have only two uses today.” Cang Ji said, “Call your Ah Jie, or be slaughtered for stew.”
Ah Yi wanted to make impertinent remarks when he saw Cang Ji’s cheerless eyes. He subconsciously shuddered under the intimidating pressure and cautiously retracted the claws that had been ready to make a run for it.
“You… you, why do you want to see my Ah Jie? At least give me a reason!”
“Jing Lin has not woken up from his sleep.” Cang Ji paused.
Ah Yi saw his expression getting heavier as if he were suppressing something. After a moment, Cang Ji continued, “I want your Ah Jie.”
“Doesn’t this invalid need to sleep all the time? What’s so strange about it?” Ah Yi pondered. “Oh, I know. You must have encountered Zui Shan Seng. I was wondering why there was such a big commotion the night before. How was it? He must have been terrified when he saw Jing Lin. Now that he has seen you, why haven’t you flee with Jing Lin? No, that’s not right. If the Ninth Heaven Realm finds out that Jing Lin is still alive, you wouldn’t be able to escape at all. Even calling for my Ah Jie would be pointless. But I didn’t see the Demarcation Division making any moves. I guess they didn’t recognize him. Why? Is Jing Lin hurt?”
Cang Ji’s heart stirred. “Did your Ah Jie mention anything?”
Instead of answering, Ah Yi said, “I can call for my Ah Jie, but you have to tell my Ah Jie to release me from my original form.”
Cang Ji gently pulled the knife out. “That can be easily arranged.”
Jing Lin was like the deep, abysmal sea. His body transformed into fluorescent stars and disappeared into a boundless sea of blood. Influenced by the sounds of the copper bell, his mind gradually moved away from its original position and drifted towards the dense, hazy light. He seemed to see someone swinging the copper bell, frolicking and dashing around with little black plaits fluttering in the air. Finally, a pair of sincere and bright eyes revealed itself from the fog.
Who is this?
Jing Lin did not recognize this person, nor had he seen this person before. He was about to take a closer look when someone behind him gently called out to him, “Jiu Ge”. His spiritual sea surged and swiftly reunited with the vast expanse of spiritual energy, hauling his wandering mind back.
Jing Lin suddenly opened his eyes and found himself lying between unfamiliar pillow mats. With his mind restored, he took a moment to refresh his spirits and memory.
“Jiu Ge.” In the shape of a small colored bird, Fu Li hopped beside the pillow. “That was a close call! If you hadn’t sealed your mind and soul at the critical moment, you probably wouldn’t survive the blow from the staff long enough for me to arrive.”
Jing Lin propped himself up and asked, “What did you feed me?”
Fu Li replied, “The fruit of Can Li Tree is the best for nourishing the spiritual expanse, so I’ve brought some.”
No wonder Jing Lin had found his spiritual sea abundant.
Fu Li added, “That fish could not digest all those Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy that he had consumed, so I gave him one too, only that I don’t know how much he can ingest. But with this mouthful of Zui Shan Seng, his cultivation has improved by leaps and bounds. So, we can see it as a blessing in disguise.”
Jing Lin saw Cang Ji with his eyes closed and knew that he was assimilating Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy. So, he put on his clothes and said, “Zui Shan Seng dedicates his life to Zhui Hun Prison. He wouldn’t descend to the mortal world without reason. What happened up there in Heaven?”
Fu Li’s gaze dropped. Huadi was still sleeping soundly on the couch, and there were no other outsiders around. She said, “Not to deceive Jiu Ge, it was Lord Cheng Tian who sent me. Recently, the water current of Li Jin is flowing in reverse, and the underworld fears the birth of evil beings. The King of Hell truthfully reported it to the Ninth Heaven Realm. Lord Cheng Tian thus sent Zui Shan Seng down. Who would expect him to come face to face with Jiu Ge?! Zui Shan Seng is both righteous and evil, and he had exchanged blows with Jiu Ge. I’m afraid he…”
She was speaking when she suddenly saw Jing Lin putting a finger to his lips. She stopped talking and followed Jing Lin’s gaze. One of Cang Ji’s eyes was opened, and there was a shadow of a smile on his face.
“I can’t even listen?” He raised his hand to prop his head up and looked at Jing Lin with a deceptive smile. “You and I have made a trip to the Gate of Life and Death once; we are so intimate we can’t be any closer. Is there still a need for you to hide anything from me?”
“Children are innocent.” Jing Lin said. “I’m just afraid it will scare you.”
“What would I be scared of?” Cang Ji said. “I have you to protect me.”
“I can take the first blow from the staff, but I can’t take a second blow from it.” Jing Lin’s smock was unfastened, so he raised his hand to fasten the clasp on the lining as he spoke. “How was the taste of Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy?”
“Bad.” Finally able to stretch his legs from his spot, Cang Ji lazily lounged in his chair, looking relieved. “His is nothing compared to yours.”
Fu Li jumped up. “Frivolous lad!”
Having been nourished by the fruit of Can Li Tree and having ingested Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy, Cang Ji’s entire body was now vigorous, and his spiritual expanse was brimming with spiritual energy. Thus, he was not afraid to face off Fu Li and merely smiled at her. “Jiejie, I’ve always been honest.” Turning serious, he continued. “Many thanks for jiejie’s gift of fruit.”
Appropriately dressed now, Jing Lin said, “Hui’an’s eagle eyes are extraordinary. It isn’t suitable for you to remain in this place.”
Fu Li said, “Even if this is my double2, I’m still better than this fish. Jiu Ge, given Zui Shan Seng’s presence here, I’m afraid he will eventually notice something. Why don’t you leave with me?”
“It’s too late even if I want to leave.” Jing Lin turned to gaze out of the window. “Besides, there is something I need to do.”
Unable to persuade him, Fu Li could only give up. When she took Ah Yi away, she heard Ah Yi ask, “I remember he always brings along a stone man when he goes out. Ah Jie, what is that stone?”
Fu Li was still worried and replied offhandedly as she looked back again, “What stone? That’s just Jiu Ge’s double.”
Hearing this, Ah Yi blurted out, “WHAT?!”
Even after Fu Li left, the atmosphere in the inner chamber was still precarious. Cang Ji sat on the chair. Tall and strong now, he struck a domineering presence even though he was stuck in a corner.
After being stared at for quite a while, Jing Lin asked coolly, “Don’t recognize me already?”
“You know I’ll eat you.” Cang Ji got straight to the point. “Why did you take the blow for me?”
Jing Lin gazed at him for a while and replied, “I just felt like it.”
“You sound hesitant, but your actions are decisive and clear-cut.” Holding on to the bedpost, Cang Ji stood up and said cynically, “Even if you treat me this way, I still won’t spare you. Jing Lin, I’ve put you deep in my heart. I know you seek death, but it’s for me to decide when you should die.”
“As it happens,” Jing Lin fastened his collar, put on his coat, and said, “the words I hate most are ‘life and death are predestined by Heaven’. This suits me just fine. From now onward, my life and death are in your hands.” He rose and took a step closer without touching Cang Ji. “——There’s a scar on my neck. Why? You’re already at the last step, but you can’t deal the last blow?”
Cang Ji’s smile disappeared, and something sharp and cold flashed in his eyes. His pretense evaporated, exposing the savage callousness of a demon. Yet, his tone was gentle and soft. “Yeah, I changed my mind. I feel that our friendship has not reached the endpoint yet; it could go even deeper. It hasn’t been long since I evolved into a man, how in the world could I bear to leave you alone?” Then Cang Ji whispered into Jing Lin’s ear. “I don’t think you understand. You will stay with me while you’re alive. Even if you die, you will die in my belly. Since you raised me, there is no reason for you to abandon me.”
Jing Lin conjured out a paper fan out of the air and propped it against Cang Ji’s chest to push him away. He said, “Before I die, we still have something to do.”
Cang Ji went along with him and raised his hands to back off. He said, “Where are we going?”
Jing Lin replied, “The dead man’s place.”
He had just finished talking when he transformed into a frivolous young master with upturned eyes. He closed the fan and tapped Cang Ji on the chin.
“May I trouble you,” The young master had a pair of smiling peach blossom eyes3, and yet he was expressionless when he said, “to put up with it for a moment.”
Before Cang Ji could reply, there was a “poof”, and he turned into a man the size of a palm. He climbed up Jing Lin’s shoulder and hid in Jing Lin’s hair. Just as they were about to set off, he suddenly said into Jing Lin’s ear, “Hold on. Where is the stone?”
Jing Lin did not answer, but there was a rustle in his sleeve, and the head of the little stone figure popped out. It blinked its little eyes at Cang Ji and withdrew back into the sleeve.
Cang Ji slipped down the sleeve and followed it in. He somersaulted and pounced on the little stone figure. With a “thud”, Cang Ji pinned it under him, causing it to hit its head.
“I’ve been looking for you for so many days, but you have been hiding in his sleeve.” Cang Ji clutched the little stone figure’s grass crown, “What’s wrong with following me? Why follow him? Does he take you out to play?”
The little stone figure lowered its head and struggled.
Cang Ji sat down on its lower back and said, “You are another heartless one!”
- 灵海 the literal translation is spiritual sea although I’ll be using spiritual sea and spiritual expanse (as in a vast expanse of spiritual energy) interchangeably.
- 分身 a double or doppelgänger. Double here refers to the same person but in separate form. E.g. he may split himself into two identical selves or take on a different form from his original, but they are both him.
桃花眼 literally peach blossom eyes, the shape of eyes is said to have an exceptional ability to attract the opposite sex.