The window welcomed in the first light of the morning sun, its first ray of brilliance. The seats in the room were all taken. Jing Lin’s wrist bone peeked out of his white sleeves, giving him an edge of hardness despite his thinness. Chu Lun’s head was lowered, with the sides of his face concealed among the handkerchief he was using to wipe his blood. Even his expression had turned dark. He shifted his gaze towards Le Yan and saw the brush demon sobbing lightly as he gazed back at him. He wanted to open his mouth, but it was as if a ball of unmeltable snow had been stuffed into it, rendering him inarticulate and unable to justify himself.
“I don’t understand all that my Lord has said.” Le Yan murmured, “When I met Shenzhi, he was a mortal. The affairs of mortals have always been inconceivable and unpredictable. So, how could you blame Shenzhi just because of this coincidence? If he were capable of this, there would be no need for him to be tortured by the suffering of ‘illness’.”
“The only one who can blame him, Zuo Qingzhou, has already lost his life. There is no longer anyone in this world who can speak of ‘blame’ to him.” Cang Ji said, “We are merely just asking him some questions. Why does he have to beat around the bush?”
“It is only natural that Shenzhi is unable to answer what’s sheer fiction!” Le Yan suddenly spread his arms apart to block Jing Lin’s line of sight and cried, “Why aren’t you leaving already?!”
“The wind is lovely here.” Cang Ji crossed his legs and said leisurely, “Even if you cry until this building collapses, I still won’t budge.”
His carefree manner infuriated Le Yan so much that he went red in the face. Vexed and furious, all he would do was to shield Chu Lun so that Jing Lin and Cang Ji could not set their gaze upon him.
Jing Lin’s fingertips paused a fraction. He threw Chu Lun a sudden question. “Look at how he protects you every way he can. Aren’t you the slightest bit moved to reciprocate and protect him in return?”
The sound of Chu Lun’s coughing intensified. He said, “If the Divine Lord had not kept pushing us into a corner, we would not have to throw ourselves at your mercy.”
“If you think this is pushing you into a corner, then your suffering tomorrow will be a tempestuous struggle.” Jing Lin said, “Destiny isn’t something he can change with just a mere wave of his brush. He robbed another man of his life for selfish reasons. How would the Demarcation Division let him get away? If both of you were to shoulder all the misery, then that loose-lipped man would be able to reap the spoils of victory without lifting a finger. You sew a trousseau for another,1 but have you ever taken pity on the heartfelt devotion this brush has shown you?”
Chu Lun retorted, “What does the calamity brought about by the deities and devils have to do with us?! Since you want to probe, why don’t you start with the Ninth Heaven above?!”
The words had only left his mouth when he saw a hint of a smile flashed across Jing Lin’s lips.
“If it was possible to get to the bottom of the matter from Ninth Heaven,” Jing Lin mocked. “Then why would he take the roundabout route to come to you?”
Chu Lun stalled for a long time, then looked towards Le Yan. His mind went through a rollercoaster of thoughts before his tongue loosened. He said, “The one who revealed this to me was…”
The morning light suddenly distorted, and they heard a faint “clang” in the air. Cang Ji’s scales abruptly enveloped his arms, and his acute sense of smell kicked in. He burst up from his chair and pounced on Jing Lin, sending them rolling onto the ground. Upon landing, Jing Lin took his time to draw a talisman with a hand and smacked it towards Le Yan and Chu Lun. Azure light materialized and cocooned them within. The roof collapsed with a “BANG”. The instant the wood broke and the tiles shattered, Cang Ji heard that clanging sound break through the wind as it came charging at him.
They took their time coming, yet they moved fast when it came to hunting them down!
Le Yan covered his ears and groaned in pain, unable to bear the sound of it tearing and piercing through the air. Chu Lun placed his hands over Le Yan’s to cover his ears too, but Le Yan was in so much pain that blood trickled out of his ears.
Strong wind poured through the hole in the already damaged roof. Cang Ji saw a long arrow cast out of ice and bearing a surging, chilly aura shooting right towards his face. He shifted his spiritual energy, intending to grab the arrow with his bare hands.
Jing Lin raised his voice. “Don’t!”
However, the long arrow was already right before Cang Ji’s eyes. Cang Ji grasped hold of the arrow to stop it. As he heard Jing Lin’s voice, he saw the body of the long arrow crack and explode apart. An icy blade came right in his face, sharp and threatening. The side of Cang Ji’s cheek slashed open. A blizzard followed right after in an assault. The cold ice between his fingers rose rapidly. Cang Ji’s arm sank, frozen in place by the ice. The next moment, the ice suddenly receded, dragging Cang Ji along as he smashed through the wall and sank into the heavy snow!
Being midsummer now, it was initially unbearably sweltering. But now, the houses in the entire capital were blanketed with white snow, and its lands, frozen in ice.
Who was the one who came? Had Cang Ji ever exchanged blows with such a man before?! He looked up and found the man standing in midair exceptionally familiar.
“When Shuang Xue Arrow and Po Zheng Spear joins, there will be no escape among the Three Realms in Heaven and Earth.” Jing Lin’s voice grew hoarse. “So, he’s the one they sent.”
The white robe of the man among the snow fluttered in the wind. His black hair hung down his back and scattered amidst the frost. There was nothing masking his face. That white ribbon that had initially covered his eyes was now wrapped around his wrist. He revealed a pair of sharp, hypnotizing eagle eyes. He was Hui An, with whom they had parted ways in Xitu.
“I’ve never thought we would meet here again after we parted ways in winter. This little buddy has grown in stature. I expect the food along the way has been wonderful, and you’ve eaten your fill.” Hui An smiled. “Now that you’ve made something of yourself, why not do good for the people instead of being reduced to the likes of demons and devils to bring calamity upon the human world?”
Cang Ji’s arms were frozen solid. Unable to break away from it, he could only contend with Hui An. He said, “A scholar who has been away three days must be looked upon in a different light.2 Is the man before me now the same as the person-in-charge of Xitu whom I’ve seen the last time?”
“Of course.” One had the sense of being bathed in a spring breeze when Hui An spoke. He said, “I’ve been ordered to stand guard over Xitu. A person-in-charge has no use for malicious aura, so I have concealed and restrained this bow in Ninth Heaven Realm and handed it over to Zui Shan Seng to control it on my behalf. But lately, the Realm has been besieged by too many trivial matters. I heard that there’s an evil spirit in the capital that has brought about anomalies in Heaven and Earth. Zhuihun Prison could not spare an extra hand for the time being, so they could only send an untalented person like me to come and take a look. I can tell that this little buddy’s cultivation is already developed. I hope you will go easy on me if you wish to spar and swap pointers.”
Cang Ji raised both arms and said, “I’m now unarmed and defenseless enough for you to take down as you wish. But permit me to ask of you, what does the turmoil in the capital caused by an evil spirit have to do with me?
“It didn’t at first.” Hui An sighed, “But it was already decided that Wu Ying would take over a side in the near future. Although he had yet to be conferred a title, he was already registered in the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods. You devoured his spiritual sea, crushed his original form with your teeth, and tore apart his soul to gobble it all into your belly. You have already violated the law of slaying a deity. It isn’t an injustice to capture you.”
“So I see.” Dragging along the ice, Cang Ji strode a few steps forward and said, “I am already here. Just come and take me down.”
“There’s no hurry.” Hui An’s eagle eyes shifted over to Jing Lin. “The other one…”
Jing Lin gathered force in his fingertips, and an azure light suddenly appeared. A floating, giant talisman materialized above the ground. A stream of warm current poured into Cang Ji’s body all over. His spiritual sea charged forth and shattered the ice with a “crack”. With a sweep of his foot, Cang Ji stirred up the wind, and the white snow abruptly reversed. The snow danced around like scattered flowers and sent Hui An’s hair fluttering all over his eyes. For a moment, he could not get a clear look below him. The metal chimes under the eaves of the various houses in the capital “jingled” as they collided together. The wind wreaked havoc in the streets. In an instant, hanging signboards overturned and went flying all over, while lanterns tumbled against the wind. It was a chaotic mess all around.
Hui An said with composure among the chaos, “I’m here on orders. How could I return empty-handed? If this little buddy refuses to submit, then I can only take you down by force.”
As soon as he said that, Cang Ji burst through the blizzard of snow and sprang up before him. A sudden gust of wind exploded forth from his fist, sending the sleeves of Hui An’s robe flapping!
Hui An raised his hand to thwart his fist. The sounds of punches and kicks as they exchanged blows reverberated through the flying snow. Cang Ji’s strikes were hard and swift, but his moves were elegant and hard to follow. The combination of both flavors as different as chalk and cheese turned it into a stance that was particularly tough to deal with. Hui An welcomed all his moves, countering every single blow Cang Ji threw at him. His footwork changed in response to Cang Ji’s moves. Under the fine snow, they fought until it was difficult to tear them apart.
Not a moment later, Hui An flipped over his hand to grab Cang Ji’s arm. Moving as if he was flowing water, he turned around to jerk against his shoulder. The invisible force of it swept apart the surrounding snow. Cang Ji stalled for only an instant before he turned his arm to cleave a palm down on Hui An, striking out at him until the latter retreated a step.
The instant one retreats a step, the moment one’s weakness will show!
Compared to how he was not long ago, Cang Ji had been trained by Jing Lin into a steady and grounded fighter. His restlessness swept away like floating leaves on the water as he forged on ahead unhurriedly. He saw the weakness Hui An exposed, but he did not aim right for it. Instead, from start to end, he took on a defensive stance and maintained a distance that was neither too far nor too close from Hui An.
The so-called “Shuang Xue Arrow” referred to how this arrow of Hui An could transform into ice and change its form with the wind. When in pursuit of another, it would never retreat even if it had to chase all the way high up into the heavens and deep down into the earth. It would relentlessly continue its pursuit until the person had nowhere to hide. Since his arrow was this powerful, the other side would not allow him to release it!
Cang Ji was lithe yet powerfully built. His legs were long and his body, strong. The moment Hui An neared him, Cang Ji’s scales formed an armor to protect him; so even if he was hit, he felt no pain. He could be said to be the foe toughest to deal with among all the thorny opponents. Cang Ji had long recalled how Hui An was at a disadvantage when they were fighting each other at close range during their encounter in Xitu. It was clear that this man was not skilled at close combat; all he relied on was the advantage his eagle eyes gave him to differentiate his opponent’s moves.
Sure enough, after a long battle, Cang Ji could sense Hui An’s strength weakening. The latter looked as if he intended to retreat. But, now that Cang Ji had fought to gain an advantage over him, how could he let him off that easily?
“The stance ‘Autumn Wind Sweeping Leaves’ may have been incorporated into your strikes, but it cannot deceive my eyes.” A “crack” rang out as Hui An received Cang Ji’s fist. He said, “This little buddy’s shifu is from the Ninth Heaven Gate too. I wonder which of the Divine Lords he is?”
Cang Ji said, “You people love to guess. So just make another guess.”
The azure talisman under their feet was completed by now. The bell rang in Hui An’s ears. As if he had recalled something, he withdrew and bore down on Jing Lin.
The sound of the copper bell rose and fell like waves. Jing Lin pinched his fingers to break off the wind. The azure talisman under his feet sparkled like crystalline water. When Hui An came at him, it pounced on Hui An in an attack. Hui An felt as if he had plunged into a force field of tension. Every single one of his moves became abnormally sluggish. Seeing that Cang Ji and Jing Lin were about to make their escape, he twisted his body to pull at a string. A huge, erected bow that was half the size of a man materialized. The ice string jerked with a “thwack”, and the long arrow shot towards them with a powerful “swoosh”!
That chilly aura made a comeback. The capital grounds swiftly froze into ice at a speed visible to the naked eye as the frostiness followed the trajectory of the arrow. In the twinkling of an eye, it had spread to where they were.
Le Yan’s ears were temporarily deaf. He helped Chu Lun’s body up. There was barely time for him to make a seal, so he threw himself forward, transformed into a brush, and stood upright as if he was the Sea-Anchoring Divine Needle3 standing before Chu Lun to block and shield the latter from the cold. Chu Lun’s hands and feet were already frozen stiff, but his chest felt as if there was a stove on it, warming him up so much it stirred his mind.
Jing Lin saw the arrow coming and waved his hand. The markings on the azure talisman suddenly materialized before his eyes. The azure light dimmed, and golden light surged, with Sanskrit characters intersecting within. A ring of small talismans linked together high in the air and spun around to form a surface. The surging wind swiftly transformed into a massive sword that seemed to hold up the sky, casting a barricade before Jing Lin.
An ear-splitting crash resonated through the air the instant the long arrow struck the sword. Both sides shattered into fragments among the flying snow, turning into blades of ice and specks of azure light.
Not wanting Hui An to figure Jing Lin out further, Cang Ji picked Jing Lin up and withdrew. As he carried Jing Lin under his arm, he shouted, “I’ve never heard you mention this move before!”
Jing Lin replied modestly, “Just a little trick.”
If the two men wanted to camouflage themselves among the flying snow, then they had to cover their tracks. But unexpectedly, Hui An was not the slightest bit concerned by the earlier collision. His eagle’s eyes remained locked on Jing Lin’s back. Even as he saw them turning around, he had already released the second arrow under his fingers towards them.
Shuang Xue Arrow sped forward amid the howling wind. Even when Cang Ji abruptly swapped to a zigzagging route, he could not shake off its pursuit. With a foot, he turned over a hanging banner in the street market and tipped over the long pole to smash the long arrow and break off its trajectory. Who would expect this arrow to behave as though it had eyes? The moment the long pole came hurtling towards it, it swept its tail to change direction and lunged for Jing Lin.
Cang Ji’s fists and arms turned into claws, about to grab hold of it once again! A sudden, frosty snort rang out from the capital, and a jade-white fluffy tail materialized. The tip of the tail coiled around Shuang Xue Arrow and flung it away into midair where it broke.
Xiyan stood on tiptoe to hold up an umbrella for the proprietress, leaving small and exquisite plum blossom footprints in the thin snow. Huashang was luxuriously dressed as she stood on the street with folded arms, with not a single trace of snow on the embroidered shoes on her feet. Nine tails swayed wildly behind her.
Making eyes at Hui An, she said, “Why did they send you here and not Zui Shan Seng?”
Hui An closed an eye so that he would only see Huashang as a nine-tailed white fox. The bow in his palm dissolved away like melting ice. It was only after he gently pulled out his ribbon to secure it on his eyes that he smiled and replied,” For fear that he might alarm you. So they could only send me.”
Seeing that those four had already disappeared, Huashang said smilingly, “I came at a bad timing and disrupted you from discharging your duties. How should I be punished for this crime?”
Hui An, however, turned to gaze in the direction where Jing Lin had vanished. He said meaningfully, “Rather than calling it that, you might as well say it was perfect timing.” Sighing again, he dusted off his sleeves and said, “A pity that without my Lord’s Po Zheng Spear now, this Shuang Xue Arrow of mine is unable to unleash its full power. It can’t even catch a fish.”
- 为他人做嫁衣 to work hard to benefit another with no benefit to oneself; also being a cat’s paw.
- 士别三日，刮目相看 a person who has been absent for some time would have improved for the better and so he must be looked upon in a different light.
- 定海神针 Ding Hai Shen Zhen, literally “The Sea-Anchoring Divine Needle”. According to the novel Journey to the West 《西游记》, this was a divine ‘needle’ (or pole) that could shrink and grow according to its owner’s wish. At first, it was a treasure of the Eastern Sea Dragon King’s Dragon Palace, but Sun Wukong (孙悟空) later took it away to use as his weapon and changed the needle’s name to the Ruyi Golden Cudgel (如意金箍棒)