Before Jing Lin could answer, he heard a moan next door. Cang Ji was about to turn his head when Jing Lin blocked his face with a hand.
“The sound of the bell.” Jing Lin broke away from Cang Ji’s hold on him in time. “Liu Chengde is here.”
Cang Ji was still in a daze, and Jing Lin made his escape while he was not on his guard. He put the painting scroll back into the vase and strained his ears to search for the tinkling of the bell amidst the din and ruckus. The intriguing panting next door intensified. That hot and wet sensation was like a hook tickling Cang Ji’s ears, interrupting his search.
“It’s too noisy.” Cang Ji got up and brushed aside the bead curtain facing the stage. His sense of smell had also lost its effectiveness amidst all those rouge powder. He swept a look around. “If he was hiding on the second floor, we wouldn’t be able to find him.”
Furthermore, there were dancers in this brothel. The silver bells on their ankles tinkled along with their wavelike sashaying, sending a tingle of numbness down one’s spine. The jingles of the copper bell were neither striking nor prominent, and so it was swiftly buried by the other sounds until it all but vanished.
“He’s in the building.” Jing Lin turned the teacup upside down, spilling the tea over the table. The little stone figure picked up the tea leaves and pieced them into several little tea leaves figures before running out.
At this moment, those on stage were striking the drums and tapping their feet away to the rhythm. Cang Ji suddenly took a few steps back. Enduring the fragrance of rouge, he made out the scent of the classics1 from it and said, “Qianyu!”
“Where?” Jing Lin asked.
“Upstairs.” Cang Ji lifted the drapes and stepped out.
The corridor was still crowded. The scent of classics was dissipating fast. If they don’t hurry, they would never be able to catch up to it. Cang Ji shoved aside the people in the crowd to move forward. The wooden stairs to the third floor a short distance away were totally obstructed by the crowd. The assault of rouge and powder made him sneeze non-stop. He did not expect the little stone figure to turn back all of a sudden. The little tea leaf figure jumped onto Cang Ji’s shoulder and jabbed its hand at a room on the second floor.
Now we are really all fucking packed like sardines!
“I’ll head upstairs.” The jostling of the crowd had already shoved Jing Lin to the front. He took a step up the wooden stairs. “You …”
Cang Ji held on to Jing Lin’s sleeve across the human heads. His eyes had turned red from all the sneezing. He said to Jing Lin, “Don’t you run away!” Before Jing Lin could answer, Cang Ji released his grip and said, “Wait for me. I’ll catch you later.”
Both men were suddenly thrust apart. Jing Lin looked at him for a moment before turning around to continue up the stairs. Cang Ji rubbed the tips of his fingers, and a tiny sprinkle of luminous light slid off. He turned back to continue in the little tea leaf figure’s direction and squeezed his way through until he came to Liu Chengde’s door. He reached out to lift the curtain, but felt a searing heat on his fingertips. A door guardian deity2 materialized and glowered at him.
With a horsewhip in his hand, the door guardian deity rebuked Cang Ji, “Little demon, retreat!”
The crowd behind him surged, nudging Cang Ji a step nearer. The door guardian deity’s expression instantly changed as he struck out a blow at him, disregarding the entire corridor of mortals.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin headed upstairs. The crowd had thinned out. All that crowding and jostling earlier had made him break out in a sweat. His face was slightly flushed, and there were drops of sweat on his forehead. He looked like he had drunk wine. He had only just started scrutinizing his surroundings when a girl came up with quickened steps to him. She pouted at him and stamped her feet. “You’ve been drinking again, right? You jerk. You know jolly well what day it is today, and you still covet those few drops of drinks? Hurry and come over, they are waiting over there!”
Having said that, she indiscriminately led Jing Lin away by his clothes. Jing Lin caught a waft of the scent of classics in her direction, and so he went with her without saying a word. Along the way, he passed by many doors. Some were open, and some, closed, but inside all the rooms were pretty men and women putting on their makeup and changing their clothes. From all appearances, it looked as if they were going on stage.
“I told you repeatedly to hurry! But you just had to drink!” The girl turned back to fan her hand and looked askance at Jing Lin. “Fortunately, you don’t reek of wine! Otherwise, you will be reported to Madam and end up getting a beating from her tonight! What good are those gold and silver? Are they worth being so short-sighted to such an extent? Go change your clothes and tidy yourself up. Someone will pick you up right away. Your good life in the future will all depend on this night!”
With that, the girl pushed open a door. There was already a person sitting with his face to the mirror. The girl nudged Jing Lin in and said softly to the person inside, “Yu-jiejie, he’s here. Please take a look at him and tidy him up. I’ll wait outside.”
The door shut with a “thud”. From the mirror, Jing Lin looked on as the fox turned his head to him. His playful and joyful self in the illusory realm was now all locked away under a veil of gloom, adding a touch of mystery to his beauty even in that female getup.
Qianyu sized Jing Lin up and asked, “Why is there a change of people?” Without waiting for Jing Lin to answer, he rose and put a chain of precious gems around Jing Lin. He said, “But you’re of better quality than the original one. Time waits for no man. Strip.”
Jing Lin asked, “Have you hidden Zuo Qingzhou’s body?”
The color drained from Qianyu’s face. Jing Lin heard the bell rattling wildly downstairs and realized that something must have happened over at Cang Ji’s side. He took a step forward and asked Qianyu, “If you stop now, there will be a chance to turn things around. Although Zuo Qingzhou lost his life, his soul has yet to disperse.”3
The jeweled chain between Qianyu’s fingers broke into pieces. He stepped back to hold himself up himself against the table and stuttered, “You, you…”
“Just your effort alone will not be enough to deal a blow to the man hiding in the capital.” Jing Lin looked up at the room, “Even Huachang would not dare to confront a man from the Ninth Heaven Realm head-on. So why continue doing this?”
“But Liu Chengde is a mere mortal!” Qianyu said in a cold voice. “This old beast has let down Zuo-lang’s4 years of respect and adulation. And now he even wants to bank on the backing of deities to get away scot-free? I want his bloodline to be severed, and his entire clan to be exterminated!”
“Liu Chengde is but a worthless pawn. The real perpetrator who killed Zuo Qingzhou is someone else. You must have already guessed it yourself. If you persist in continuing, then even his soul will be hard to preserve, let alone his remains. “Jing Lin said.
Tears welled up in Qianyu’s eyes. He endured it and said, “Since he’s a deity, then why make things difficult for Zuo-lang?”
Jing Lin fell silent. He could only say, “Why did you come here? Huachang is waiting for you at the inn.”
On hearing the word Huachang, Qianyu knew Jing Lin was no outsider. He said, “Liu Chengde is an official of the imperial court, but he is in fact entrusted with the task of nabbing beauties. However, I still don’t know whether he is working for a human or for a deity. That’s why I came here to approach him to find out who the mastermind behind this is.”
“You don’t have to go anymore.” Jing Lin heard footsteps coming from the stairwell and asked, “Beauties? What beauties are he looking for? “
“Men and women of ravishing appearance…”
Before Qianyu could finish his words, the girl at the door started to say her greetings ardently. “You’re early, Master Liu. He’s not ready… Hey!”
Qianyu opened the window with the intention to let Jing Lin escape. Who would expect Jing Lin to hit the fox on the back of his neck and knock him unconscious? Immediately right after, an azure light circled around Qianyu a few times to bind him tightly before rolling him under the bed.
The door smashed open, and Liu Chengde’s quickened steps came to a stop. His eyes froze.
He saw a maiden sitting on the edge of the bed. She looked frosty, and yet she had a blazing brilliance about her. She was so stunning, she dazzled.
The girl clapped her hands together with a smile. “Take a look. Is this one all right?”
Jing Lin was indifferent as he scattered the gems in his hand. The frostier he was, the more bewitching and captivating this appearance was.
A few laughter bubbled up Liu Chengde’s throat. “She’s rather… unique.”
Before the old lecher could utter a few more words of praise, the ground shook beneath him. A pillar on the second floor had been smashed broken. Liu Chengde saw that the door guardian deity was unable to hold off Cang Ji and feared that he would be hard-pressed to explain a deviation in their plans, so he said urgently, “Get him into the sedan chair! Leave quickly!”
“Don’t you dream of running!”
Below, Cang Ji hooked an arm around the railing and was about to flip himself over. He did not expect a grip to tighten around his ankle. That door guardian deity had been pummeled until he had all but turned paper,5 but even so, he did not forget to fling the whip to haul Cang Ji back. Cang Ji plummeted down. He heard the “crack” of the railing on the third floor as they exploded into pieces. The entire room tilted.
Liu Chengde scrambled to prop himself up and tried to drag Jing Lin with him. Jing Lin sidestepped him to the window, but before he could leave, the entire wall panel near the window was smashed rotten by those downstairs. Caught off guard among the panicking and dodging people on the stage, Jing Lin fell.
Cang Ji could hardly be bothered about the door guardian deity on seeing that plunging figure in white. He caught the whip to cast off the obstacle and leaped out of the second floor.
Jing Lin fell into the crooks of Cang Ji’s arms. Cang Ji pressed the back of Jing Lin’s head onto his chest and held out an arm to protect him as he somersaulted a round on the stage before coming to a stop and to a big round of applause!
“I finally caught you.” Cang Ji lowered his head and froze. He could not even speak coherently. “… Jing Jing, Jing…”
Jing Lin threw away the pearl hairpin. There were still some traces of makeup left on his face. A tint of red remained on his lips as it did on Qianyu’s appearance. He clearly looked effeminate all over, yet his frosty expression was teeming over with a murderous aura.
“Jing your head.” Jing Lin said. “Liu Chengde is taking him away!”
There was a slash of wind behind Cang Ji’s neck. He immediately lowered his head and grabbed the chance to take a sniff at Jing Lin’s neck. He said, “Babe, you smell so good.”
Jing Lin pushed his chest, and Cang Ji released his hands. Both of them parted in an instant. With his free hand, Cang Ji caught hold of the heavy blow that came smashing down on him from above. The stage beneath his feet split apart. He raised his head for a look and saw a group of ferocious demons charging at him with their fangs and claws out!
Cang Ji gave a few cheery laughs and spread his arms open to wait for them.
“Look at how anxious you guys are to be my wine dishes.” He exposed his sharp teeth. “I’ll give you a chance.”
All kinds of demons swarmed around him, concealing him from view. “Crunching” sounds that made one’s tooth ache rang out incessantly. But no one could clearly see what was happening within.
Jing Lin knew that Cang Ji would not refuse any of them, so he surveyed his surroundings to search for Qianyu, whom he had stuffed under the bed. All the mortals in the building scrambled over themselves to flee. Jing Lin saw Liu Chengde’s figure scurrying out of the building with his escorts. The man they were carrying with them was precisely Qianyu.
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji’s spiritual sea surged endlessly. Under Jing Lin’s guidance, the original way he had been crudely devouring and absorbing his ‘meals’ had been refined into a delicate kind of fine dining. The brocade carp amidst his spiritual sea seemed to have doubled its size. Its color had also darkened. Dark crimson wandered along its scales as it swung around. The two bulges on its head were even more prominent.
Cang Ji wiped the corners of his mouth with his thumb. The stage was completely dark now, and half of the rotten brothel had collapsed. All that remained of the nest of demons Liu Chengde had released were scraps and dregs. Cang Ji was feeling good all over, although he felt inexplicably hot. He said, “Why did he release a horde of demons? If…”
The spot where someone had been standing earlier was now empty. Cang Ji gnashed his teeth and fumed, “Jing Lin!”
Jing Lin’s body rocked inside the speeding sedan chair. An unconscious Qianyu was leaning against the wall of the sedan. With his fingertip, Jing Lin scraped a thin layer of dust off the sedan chair’s window. He had finally figured out what had felt so strange about Liu Chengde and his cronies.
They had just as many demons as there were deities mixed in their syndicate.
They could provide Liu Chengde with a door guardian deity for protection, and they could summon a mob of demons to follow Liu Chengde’s orders. The deity behind this was so mysterious and unfathomable, it reminded him of Lord Dong.
This was too much of a coincidence.
Jing Lin had been imitating Lord Dong all the way. Was this person imitating Lord Dong too?
◈ ◈ ◈
Lord Dong was sleeping soundly in the Ninth Heaven Realm when he suddenly sat up, pulled out his handkerchief, and sneezed. He kicked the sentry before the palace hall and asked, “Is the Supreme Lord still not willing to see me?”
The sentry folded his arms in helplessness. “Even if you sleep here again, the Supreme Lord will still not see you.”
“That’s really strange.” Lord Dong picked up his fan to fan himself with it. “He usually loves me most. Why is he suddenly snubbing me? I won’t hear of it~~”
The sentry broke out in goosebumps. He said with a headache, “No one is allowed to disturb the Supreme Lord when he sleeps.”
“Oof.” Lord Dong tapped his temple with his fan, his words barely sufficient to express all that on his mind.
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji had taken to his heels to give chase. He had rubbed his own luminous light onto Jing Lin’s sleeve, so he would be able to see it glittering under the darkness of the night. He had only taken a few steps when he heard a bellow. That Wu Ying stood atop the building with a whip in his hand, looking like a dung-stirring rod6 as he stood in Cang Ji’s way.
“A good dog doesn’t block the way.” Cang Ji said. “Scram.”
Wu Ying flung his whip high up into the air, and an army of generals emerged behind him. Holding himself high and aloof, he said coldly, “This demon conspires with the fox demon to throw the capital into chaos. I’m here upon orders of Ninth Heaven to arrest him. Take him down, alive or dead!”
“Who is your master?” Scales covered Cang Ji’s arms as he said in a frosty tone, “He went around in such a big circle. Does he really think that I don’t know who he is trying to lure?”
Wu Ying said, “With just your level of cultivation, you aren’t even worthy to hear my master’s name.”
“Those who pry into my affairs,” Cang Ji’s intent to kill surged in the sudden gust of wind. “I don’t care whether he’s a man or a dog; they will all be greeted with my fists!”
The long streets in the capital quaked throughout the night. Wu Ying’s army pulled out their blades and somersaulted onto the ground before charging towards Cang Ji. Cang Ji caught hold of the whip and slid it across his arm to flung Wu Ying up. He stomped on the ground, and a surge of wave rose. The building shattered with a resounding bang, shocking the generals into a retreat. His demonic aura boiled over. Cutting an imposing and commanding presence, he bellowed, “Out of my way!”
Bricks and tiles collapsed, and hordes of demons lay low and quivered.
When Huachang opened her eyes, her nine tails had already appeared. She rolled over to get off the crouch, and pushed open the window to gaze out. Xiyan was so frightened he had transformed back into a fox trembling uncontrollably. Huachang clutched her chest with a hand. She heard herself speaking in a choked voice.
“… That’s the roar of a dragon? Did I hear it wrong?”
经(香) could refer to literary classics or scriptures , i.e. books and scrolls. Books and scrolls in the old days were written in brush and ink. Thus, the scent is similar to brush (and ink), except it also has the smell of paper (or bamboo for scrolls) too. Refer to this image for an example of the inside written in ink.
镇门神 a door god or divine guardians whose main duties were to protect a building, threshold, or household against evil influences or to encourage the entrance of positive ones. Usually, stickers or papers of these deities are pasted on the door to signify their protection.
- In Daoism, it’s believed that man has three immortal souls and seven mortal souls (baser instincts that motivate a human being) that contrast the spiritual and carnal side of man. (三魂七魄). So a man, if missing a part of the soul, might not be dead, but would be lacking in the sense corresponding to the soul or spirit that has gone missing (e.g., his emotions might be flat.) It’s also possible to recall and reclaim the MIA soul to a living person, but a man is truly gone for good (with no chance for reincarnation) when all his souls dispersed. Basically,
• Alive + complete soul = living person
• Alive + lacking a part of soul/spirit = alive but lacking in certain senses/emotions (e.g., flat emotions)
• Dead + complete soul = dead; now a soul/ghost with the possibility to re-enter the wheel of reincarnation
• Dead + scattered soul = cease to exist; no chance for reincarnation.
- 郎 Lang, young man; a form of address. Also used as a term by a woman (or a man in this case) to address a lover or husband.
- 纸糊 is literally paper (kind of a word play since door deities are usually placed as paper or stickers on door) but here ‘paper’ also refers to being so weak he is unable to withstand a blow. From the phrase 纸糊老虎 which is literally translated as a paper tiger. It refers to something that appears strong and powerful but is actually ineffectual and unable to stand up to any blows.
- 搅屎棍 literally a shit-stirring stick used in the old days to mix and even up the poo (the toilet is usually a vat buried underground) to use as fertilizers, etc. It’s now used to refer to someone who’s a troublemaker and who always screw up others’ affairs, etc