“Jing Lin” scrutinized Jing Lin solemnly, the frost coating the tips of his brows. When he rose, his movements were exactly the same as Jing Lin. Even the way he lowered his eyes as he brushed his sleeves was identical. He was a carbon copy of Jing Lin.
“Slay demons to protect the Way.”1 He let out a light scoff. “If not me, then who?”
“All the talents of the world,” Jing Lin’s voice was a little hoarse, “are replaceable.”
“There is no one else who can rival this heart that can cast sword. Before Yan Quan, all the so-called talents are but reduced to mere mediocrity. “He paused for a moment, mimicking even Jing Lin’s tone perfectly. “It may well be asked who among the various fellow disciples would be able to hold a candle to me?”
“How presumptuous.” Jing Lin lightly spat out two words.
“It’s only by being sufficiently presumptuous that I would live up to the name of Lord Lin Song.” He said with malice. “Lord Lin Song has to be arrogant, haughty, and hard-hearted enough. Otherwise, how could he speak of defending the Way? How could he have taken the lives of the living? How could he have committed patricide?”
Jing Lin gazed at himself. He was keenly aware that the evil spirit was messing with his mind, but there was no way he could stay out of it. He stared at himself coldly. It was as if he was seeing how insane he had been a few hundred years back.
Turn back, and salvation is at hand.
That was what the True Buddha had benevolently said to him that day.
Jing Lin, repent, and you will be absolved of your sins.
But what had Jing Lin replied?
The evil spirit raised his hand to pull out Yan Quan. The cold edge of the blade concealed within the blunt sheath emerged with a “clang”, and the mercury-like body of the sword suddenly came into view inside the dark room. He stepped up the stairs, just like how Jing Lin had ascended the Ninth Heaven Terrace with his sword hanging down to the ground five hundred years ago.
“Upright Lord Lin Song of the Righteous Way.” The evil spirit and Jing Lin looked at each other. It was as if Jing Lin was questioning himself. “How is it that I didn’t manage to keep my corpse intact?”
“Obliterated among the Three Realms.” Jing Lin said. “It was a worthy death.”
“The feeling of knifing Father was really gratifying.” The evil spirit flicked a finger at the sword. “The blade slashed across his neck, and I saw Father’s head fall to the ground with his blood gushing forth like spring water. That was the head of the man that doted on me the most in the entire world. It rolled from the side of my legs down the stairs, tumbling, tumbling. And then, the position for the Lord of the Three Realms changed hands. With my sword in hand, I defended the Way until I was reduced to a beast in human form by slaying my Father and my Lord. I even got myself destroyed. How delightful!”
Jing Lin clenched his fist as he pursed his lips. But still, he continued to respond without skipping a beat. “That’s right.”
“And so, I died.” The evil spirit snapped the sword into two and discarded the pieces beside his feet. He sneered with condescension.
Jing Lin said, “Yeah.”
The evil spirit looked at Jing Lin and let out a mocking laugh. He lifted his neck to look into the pitch-black darkness. Thick fog wafted out behind him and assembled in the dark room. It enveloped Jing Lin’s eyes and covered his face from view. The evil spirit asked, “Why weren’t you fully annihilated?”
“Probably because the old debts have yet to be repaid.”
“How do you even have the gall to keep breathing until now?”
Jing Lin replied, “Guilt.”
The evil spirit transformed into a dense fog. Like the clingy wind, and like the shadow of a nightmare, he wandered beside Jing Lin’s ears. The fog had already cloaked all of Jing Lin’s body until he could not even see his fingers.
The evil spirit murmured, “Guilt? You? No, you are Lord Lin Song. You are the omnipotent and righteous Lord Lin Song. You killed your brothers without blinking an eye. You harbor no guilt, because you don’t possess a heart.”
Jing Lin felt a dull pain, but he did not know where he was hurting. Perhaps he truly had no heart; he did not even frown in the face of this denouncement.
The fog suddenly opened up. Winding mountains and clouds appeared before his eyes. Groves of pine trees swayed like waves among the wind. The Ninth Heaven Gate’s platform welcomed guests from all over. Ten of thousands of people congregated, all to watch a bout of combat. There was a row of sages, each of them impressive-looking with white robes and silver crowns. Yet there was still one who was kneeling on one knee below the Supreme Father’s throne. When he stood up, he stood out among them like a crane among a flock of fowls.
He turned around, and Jing Lin saw himself.
“That day, you guarded the Gate with your sword, never suffering a single defeat for all thirty-three rounds of battles. The way you defeat those feudal lords was truly a sight in itself. You never looked back, so you never knew that we stood behind you for just as long, and yet we couldn’t even receive a single word of solace from Father. He helped you up by the arms and personally put on your crown for you. He even lamented about how there was no one else worthy within the Ninth Heaven Gate. You, Jing Lin, were the Sword of Ninth Heaven Gate. The Face of Ninth Heaven Gate. Then, what were we?” The evil spirit mocked himself. “The way you look at us was just like the way you look at mud and grass. You looked down on your fellow disciples. Did you think we look up to you?”
Jing Lin suspected that a certain part of him that had once scarred over had been, yet again, torn apart. It was now a battered pulp of meat hanging by its skin, dripping blood.
“Doesn’t matter.” He said in a hoarse voice.
“You have always been a cut above the others.” The evil spirit said, “Do you think the Way is within you? When you sent me to my death, you wouldn’t even say a word in passing. How is a person like you worthy of calling yourself the ‘Way’?”
“Killing you,” Jing Lin said, “wasn’t wrong.”
The evil spirit roared with laughter. “You weren’t wrong. How could you have admitted your mistake? Even though you were the most ruthless person in the world, you could still look dignified like a human. How ridiculous, how ludicrous! Did you think that you could be human if you pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes?” The temperature suddenly fell, and the evil spirit said through clenched teeth, “You don’t understand at all. The ordinary human would not slay his brothers, relinquish his human desires, and commit patricide! The common human is made of flesh and blood, and the hearts of the common folks cannot cast swords. You called others a devil, but what about you? What are you? Why don’t you just eat your sword and slice your throat to off yourself?!”
Jing Lin remained as immovable as the mountains. He said, “How about being like you then? Would an ordinary human take another’s woman by force, plunder another’s wealth, slaughter another’s mother?”
The evil spirit replied, “The strong prey on the weak. They deserve it all!”
Jing Lin shifted his gaze and said calmly, “If that’s the case, then there’s nothing wrong with me killing you.”
The evil spirit crackled with laughter and said, “You have a guilty conscience. Oh—you’re guilty. Was your leaving others in the lurch also a case of the strong preying on the weak?”
The evil spirit melted away, and the surroundings darkened. Jing Lin’s sweat had already soaked through his clothes. The sound of a child’s sobbing suddenly rang out from his left side. A little girl wailed, “Jiu-ge, Jiu-ge! Yao-er hurts so much… Jiu-ge!”
Jing Lin tightened his fists until his fingernails broke. He could not spit a word out of his throat. He felt as if his entire body was immersed in fire and ice. It hurt so much he trembled.
The little girl tripped in the black fog and fell. Without her legs, she rolled about in pain. The fog was like the raging flames, burning her up until her voice broke. She cried out, terror-stricken, “Jiu-ge… Jiu-ge, save me…”
Jing Lin took a sudden step closer. His teeth made subtle gnashing sounds. Even his veins were bulging.
A youth suddenly sprang out from the right. There was still a trace of boyishness in his face as he looked at Jing Lin in horror. Hugging his head, he cowered and pleaded as he choked with sobs, “Jiu-ge, Jiu-ge, don’t kill me! Jiu-ge… I beg of you! I’ve realized the errors of my way. I know I was in the wrong!”
Jing Lin cut a sorry figure as he stopped in his tracks and looked back.
The youth cried until his face was all scrunched up. He threw himself down on his knees, hugged Jing Lin’s leg, and raised his head to plead with him in a hoarse voice, “Jiu-ge! I will not do it again! I beg of you, please…”
The girl crawled over too. They grabbed the hems of Jing Lin’s clothes as if they were clutching on to a lifebuoy. Jing Lin remained still. The youth let out a howl of pain as the blood gushed from his chest.
“Jiu-ge… Don’t kill me…” The youth curled up into a ball and sank into the ground. He pawed at Jing Lin’s shoes, leaving behind a few trails of bloodied fingerprints. At last, the ground swallowed him up. His rancorous gaze, full of contempt and hatred, followed Jing Lin until the moment he met his end.
The girl stuck to the ground too, her fingers still clutching at Jing Lin’s clothes. She was, however, no longer breathing.
Jing Lin finally exhaled. He wanted to lend a hand, to help someone up, but there was no one around him. The sounds of footsteps rang out behind him. Jing Lin turned his head back again and saw Li Rong looking at him in astonishment. Jing Lin felt as if he were simmering in this very moment. Because it was precisely this moment that he fell out with his brother, Li Rong. Until the moment he died, he and Li Rong had never again addressed each other as brothers.
Li Rong said, “You can stop investigating. A life for a life. I’ve already brought it back.”
He opened his palm, and dragon scales rained down from his hand. Jing Lin took a step back. The taste of blood filled his mouth.
Li Rong said, “It’s already too late even if you rush your way here. Let us consider this matter closed, alright? Don’t do this again. This is all shixiong can do for you.” He took a step closer, “Jing Lin…”
Jing Lin suddenly shut his eyes and said in an icy voice, “Show yourself!”
All the scenes dissipated, and the evil spirit suddenly turned into the rustling wind. He smiled and said, “Aren’t you greedy? You thought you could save them. How laughable that turned out to be when you ended up harming both of them and saving neither of them! Lord Lin Song, you ended up saving no one!”
“Damn you!” Wisps of spiritual energy surged out of Jing Lin’s spiritual sea, sending his hair fluttering up. A whirlpool rose in the initially empty spot in his spiritual expanse as his spiritual energy boiled over. A mottled old sword covered with blood loomed out of it.
The copper bell jingled, and all the bells in the capital rang together to let forth a wave of tinkling sounds.
The evil spirit re-absorbed the fog and materialized into the youth who had been crying and pleading earlier. His face was as pale as paper. He said with a shadow of a smile, “Looking at how much of a loser you look like now, don’t tell me you still dream of deciding my life and death again? Jing Lin! Did you know? When you pierced my heart with your sword and allowed me to plunge into the Blood Sea, I had to suffer the excruciating pain of tens of thousands of demons consuming my heart! I hate you so much every day. Every single day! I’ve endured so much misery! All for the day I get to avenge myself!”
“Hate.” Jing Lin spat the word out through clenched teeth. His gaze was like frost. “Who in this world dares to speak to me of hate!”
The evil spirit slashed his hand in mid-air, and a sword that was the very image of Yan Quan emerged in response. His arrogance was staggering as he spat with scorn and said, “I swallowed tens of thousands of humans from the mountain city into my belly, and I’ve also devoured half of Sheng Le’s divine body. Even if Li Rong comes here tonight, I’ll still be able to escape unscathed!”
The dark room blew apart. The old emperor coughed up blood and hid himself behind the heavy drapes. Azure light burst forth, and the milky way turned topsy-turvy. Armed with a sword, the evil spirit flashed before Jing Lin. The edge of his sword collided with a “clang”. Jing Lin was clearly unarmed, yet the sword of the evil spirit was stopped in its tracks mid-way. A gale, along with the azure light, whirled between them, engulfing them both from sight.
“I have Yan Quan in hand!” The evil spirit’s sword was like the pelting rain slashing at Jing Lin until the hem of his clothes were torn. He snapped, “I have devoted myself to mastering the sword, and I can already imitate you to perfection! This world can do without you. There’s me to take your place!”
Sparks flew. Jing Lin slid back a few inches amidst the evil spirit’s outburst of violent wind.2 Taking advantage of the momentum, the evil spirit charged. “I want to vilify the name Lord Lin Song even more! Tarnish it further! I don’t want myself to be the only one hating you; I want the whole world to hate you too!” He burst out in maniacal laughter. “Jing Lin! You are the one who killed all those people. You are the one who is completely devoid of conscience! You deserve to die!”
Jing Lin looked at him across the sword and said, “A scrap of metal of unknown origin, is unworthy of its name.”
Both of them separated and crossed swords again. The spiritual energy of the evil spirit was immense. Wind swept through the darkness of the night, while clouds raced to gather as claps of thunder crashed through the sky. Jing Lin was no match for him when it came to their spiritual seas, but he could transform whatever little spiritual energy he had into power. Both his palms had been scratched until red lines dripping with blood had appeared on them.
The color of the sky changed. This devil3 was right. He had devoured tens of thousands of people from the mountains, and he had sneaked a bite of half of the Goddess Sheng Le’s divine body. What’s more, he had received a cleansing by the demonic waves of the Blood Sea. Even if Zui Shan Seng was here, he would not be able to stop him.
Jing Lin’s robe fluttered up. Amid his exhausted spiritual sea, he complied with the ringing of the bells and mobilized the wind to cast the remnant of a sword. Half of the body of a sword instantly materialized in his palm. Yan Quan, who had once held sway over Heaven and Earth, now took after its master. The edges of its blade were chipped all over, effectively dulling its sharpness. It was so battered it could not be any more broken!
The evil spirit turned his blade in his hand and said, “Yun Sheng should thank me! He will never have a moment of peace as long as you are alive! If I take your head to meet him now, then that would be a case of all’s well that ends well, wouldn’t it?!”
Jing Lin gathered his strength to brandish the sword. His sword aura lurked among the wind as he swept his sword through the air. But the evil spirit raised his arm to dispel it and mimicked his move to counter his blow. Violent wind came assaulting him, and Jing Lin’s blade met it head-on.
Jing Lin already had his hand on the fully emerged sword. He cut an imposing, magnificent figure the very moment that old, worn-out sword landed in his palm. Even though there was a wide disparity between his spiritual sea and the evil spirit’s, he still stood as solid as a rock in the face of the approaching storm.
Very, very softly, Jing Lin let out a sigh.
Immediately right after, the palace ground was smashed amid a thunderous crash. Blood mixed with sweat splashed onto the back of Jing Lin’s hand, and boundless power surged through his arms. Jing Lin’s spiritual sea skyrocketed. The rust of blood on Yan Quan instantly vanished, and rays of frigid light abruptly burst forth. The gleam of his sword crashed over like raging torrents of monstrous waves amidst the booming thunders. Fearing its malevolence, the evil spirit’s sword shattered. Against the sudden anomaly in the nebula and the howls of the tempestuous sea, the power of this sword was tantamount to the force of thousands upon thousands of infantry and cavalry leveling ten thousand zhang4 of lands.
When Yan Quan leaves its sheath,
All beings kneel in defeat!
The evil spirit met the blade head-on and hissed. The wind sliced all over him, sending blood splattering. He growled with pain. The sword in his palm shattered into dust and scattered into the wind. Blood spurted from Jing Lin’s cheek. He bent over slightly, gasping, all the while standing firm even as heaven and earth were being torn asunder.
Yan Quan dissipated into the air. Jing Lin took a few shaky steps forward and fixed his gaze before him.
Cang Ji had the urge to flinch under that somber gaze. But this was the first time he saw such a Jing Lin. This Jing Lin, with his eyes full of malice and his body brimming over with murderous aura, actually gave Cang Ji a strange sense of gratification.
Blood dripped between Jing Lin’s fingers. Sliding his hand down from Jing Lin’s arm to his palm, Cang Ji lifted Jing Lin’s hand to his lips and licked it clean. That blood trickled into the cavity of his chest, blooming into an expanse of tenderness so scalding that Cang Ji pulled Jing Lin towards him by his arm and wrapped him tightly in his embrace.
- 道 Dao, or the Way, is an important concept in Daoism where one archives spiritual enlightenment by cultivating the Way, or ‘walking the (right) path’. It’s a bit hard to explain all the nuances in Daoism succinctly but for this novel, you can understand it as cultivating one’s moral principles to defend what one believes in (one’s Way or Path to enlightenment). There are typically several paths that one can choose to cultivate. A common one that appears in wuxia and xianxia novels, especially among sword users, is the Heartless or Merciless Way (无情道).
- 罡风 a strong wind; also astral wind on which immortals may ride in Daoism. It’s also used as a simile for evil forces.
- 魔 devil vs. 邪魔 an evil spirit. A devil has its origin in human souls that have turned evil (Soul → Evil Spirit → Devil according to one source; for details and clarification of the terms demons and devil, please refer to the glossary). Immortals and deities may also descend into evil and turn into a devil. In this novel, I’ll use the terms devil and evil spirit interchangeably.
- 丈 zhang, a measure of length, ten Chinese feet (3.3m)