The remaining banquet tables were caught in the flurry of blows. Overturned dishes and wine splashed onto the faces of the crowd under the tables. Yet Fei Luo did not spot a single sober person. It suddenly hit him, and he bellowed, “The audacity of you to drug the wine!”
Cang Ji wiped the corner of his lips clean and pressed in for the attack. All his blows struck flesh. He asked, “Do I even need to resort to drugs to thrash you?”
Fei Luo sidestepped the flurry of winds, relying solely on the word ‘fast’. But even so, it was still a strain for him when confronted with Cang Ji’s strikes. Wine cups toppled over to the ground, stomped into pieces as both men moved back and forth in their sparring. The biting cold wind around them intermingled with the simultaneous sound of fists and kicks to form the only sign of activity amidst the city ruins.
On the other side, the massive ox raised its body to transform into the ax-bearing Ox-Head.1 The ax created a deep gouge before it smashed the sedan. He pounded on the window and said to Qianyu in a deep, muffled voice, “The King of Hell has commanded us not to let you out! Stay here quietly and don’t court trouble.”
The banging inside the sedan continued. Qianyu’s fingers turned sharp as he clenched the wooden window so tightly that powdery scraps ricocheted all over. His appearance changed slightly as his foxy eyes grew more slanted and longer, giving him a somewhat demonic look set against the paleness of his face. His original form of a fox hissed and howled in his body, causing stabbing pain in Fei Luo’s chest even as he exchanged blows with Cang Ji.
This was too good an opportunity for Cang Ji to miss, so he kicked Fei Luo repeatedly in the chest. It was more than Fei Luo could handle, and he fell over backward and crashed into the wreckage of utensils. He clutched his chest in pain and barfed out all the wine he had drunk that night. His vomit splashed over his body, covering it in a stink. Cang Ji turned Fei Luo’s body over with his foot and swept the tip of his foot across the air. Fei Luo yanked up his arms to block the blow even as he went flying with his back scraping against the ground. With a “thud”, he crashed to a stop amidst the tables and chairs.
Fei Luo puked out all the bitter fluid in his mouth and propped himself up from the ground. Cang Ji had already sped over to him, and Fei Luo suddenly dropped down to dodge him. His leg rose to sweep out at Cang Ji’s lower extremities. There was a clatter as shattered pieces of cups and plates were tossed into the air. They went slicing towards Cang Ji’s face like blades. Cang Ji jerked his arms and exerted force, and his spiritual energy transformed into the wind that suddenly charged against the debris. His legs continued their sparring with Fei Luo when he suddenly saw the latter throwing himself to the ground. A tail sliced through the air and came lashing towards Cang Ji. The sound of wind tearing could be heard where the tip of that tail had passed. The lanterns in the sky went flapping.
Cang Ji grabbed hold of the tail and kept his body down as he remained motionless. He flicked a few furs away from his sleeve and said, “You might as well just show your original form and try to devour me.”
Fei Luo merely sneered.
◈ ◈ ◈
Ox-Head released his grip on the ax and raised his hands to pick up the sedan. He shook it in mid-air so violently that Qianyu could hardly bear it as he tumbled and bumped around within. Ox-Head took a few steps before he slammed down the sedan and said, “Take a rest. Just wait for a moment, and the King of Hell will be here.”
Qianyu leaned forward and listened as the voice grew so indistinct it was about to break off. His chest churned involuntarily, and he suddenly bent over to cough out blood.
Ox-Head persuaded him good-naturedly, “You mustn’t attempt to end your life. It’s the Underworld here. All the King of Hell has to do is to cross you out in his records, and you will never perish.”
When Ox-Head saw him turning a deaf ear, he could not help but take a step back with the intention to grasp his ax and stand guard. But then he heard the sounds of chains behind him. He subconsciously turned his head back to see a man dressed in white and with his face concealed under a silver mask standing atop his great ax.
Ox-Head chided, “Return to the city, soul. The ferry crossing is off-limits tonight!”
Jing Lin was only up to Ox-Head’s waist. The chains between his palms began to whirl and turn. Ox-Head had a bad hunch about it and stepped forward in an attempt to grab the chain. Jing Lin’s chain swiftly coiled around one of Ox-Head’s arms. Ox-Head could not break free of it, but it did not matter, because Jing Lin did not have the physical strength to swing him around as Cang Ji could. Letting out a bellow, Ox-Head rammed into Jing Lin.
Jing Lin sprang up and soared into the air. He flitted across Ox-Head’s arm before he flew up onto his head. The chain moved in tandem with Jing Lin and wound its way around half of Ox-Head’s body. With half of his upper body unable to move, Ox-Head was trapped in a trial of strength with himself. He spread his legs open, lowered his body, and jerked his arms up. The chain went taut against him, and a snap rang out as it could not hold him down. Ox-Head shook his body and roared in fury, wanting to fling Jing Lin off, but a few taps of Jing Lin’s feet made Ox-Head so dizzy that he staggered like a drunk. Before the chain split apart, Jing Lin flew down to the ground. Behind him, Ox-Head had already freed his arms to swing up his massive ax.
Jing Lin stomped a foot on the sedan. A violent wind raged behind him, and he abruptly leaned back. The blade of the ax brushed against his hair and struck the sedan with a massive crash, splitting it apart. In response, Qianyu fell to the ground. Jing Lin lifted his leg to kick the blade of ax and used his arms to somersault up. Just as Ox-Head gathered his strength, Jing Lin struck a palm out at him in mid-air.
The wind violently surged in reverse and exploded against Ox-Head’s chest. Ox-Head retreated a few steps. His chest was hurting, and there were already signs of blood. The fury welled up in him, and his vicious nature burst forth. His roar was deafening as he sent the ax swinging in a whirlwind towards that blot of white.
With his body like the frail willows, and with his unpredictable movements, Jing Lin drew Ox-Head into the city. Ox-Head cleaved down onto the city grounds with great force, splitting apart stone slabs and cracking open a chasm in the ground.
Cang Ji abruptly dropped from the air and bumped his back into Jing Lin’s back. His breathing was a little harried, and half of his sleeve had been torn. In such a short time, he had fallen into a disadvantageous position.
“How was it?” Jing Lin asked in a steady voice. “Were you able to experience what’s so formidable about Fei Luo?”
Cang Ji tore away his tattered sleeve and said, “Bah!”
Before they could finish speaking, Fei Luo sprang. Cang Ji kicked out at him, and Fei Luo flipped to the side and rolled onto the ground with his hand latched on to Cang Ji’s leg. Cang Ji felt a heaviness on his leg followed by a chill on the side right after. In a blink of an eye, Fei Luo had already shifted to this side!
Jing Lin gathered the wind with his sleeves and, with a sudden sweep, hauled Cang Ji aside to evade the strike. Fei Luo pounced on empty air, having already missed his chance. How would Cang Ji let him get away again? Two muffled “thuds” rang out as he struck Fei Luo’s waist and abdomen. The latter immediately coughed out bile. Instead of fleeing, he clasped Cang Ji’s fist in his palms and, with a cry of pain, exerted force.
Cang Ji felt the sudden pull of a sucking force. Unstable on his feet, he nearly fell into Fei Luo’s wide-open mouth. Jing Lin grabbed hold of his waist sash from the back to stop him from being thrown forward. However, the massive ax behind Jing Lin was pressing in on him right behind his head with gravitational force so heavy that the ground quaked. Seeing as the situation was bad, the wind began to whirl in Jing Lin’s chest. Yan Quan instantly materialized along with its sheath and blocked the blade of the ax behind Jing Lin’s head. For a moment, they were locked in a stalemate. The shrill grinding sound of ax against sword rang out as the ax came to a stop right before Jing Lin.
Yan Quan’s body shook as it neutralized the force of the ax. Unable to bear it, the originally indistinct scabbard let out a snap. Jing Lin’s face went white as he clenched his teeth.
The blade of the ax pressed down on the fracture, and a very subtle “crack” rang out. All at once, Yan Quan shattered and scattered, and the massive ax came cleaving down on Jing Lin!
Cang Ji grabbed Jing Lin with an arm and turned over to lean back as he raised his leg to kick away the ax. The ax slammed onto the ground beside them with a thunderous boom. Before both of them could gasp for breath, they heard a twisting sound amidst the wind. The sudden re-emergence of the sucking force tore them apart.
Fei Luo opened his mouth to demand his meal. The entire street of lanterns plummeted and the furniture along with the crowd of people all flew back towards him. It was as if a deep abyss had manifested in that mouth—a mouth that did not belong to an ordinary human. It would have posed a problem if Fei Luo swallowed them!
At the crucial moment, they heard Qianyu kicking the sedan over. The sedan and all the various objects went hurtling towards Fei Luo as he sucked them towards him. But Fei Luo shut his mouth, refusing to take them in. He looked to be in a predicament as he asked in aggrievement, “I’ve been sincere towards you. Why do you treat me this way?!”
Qianyu was as thin as paper, and with his white hair fluttering in the chilly wind, he looked vulnerable. He said, “You only did it for this appearance, not for me. Things have already come to this point. Stop pestering me anymore.”
Fei Luo covered his ears and bellowed, “I’m not listening! You can’t leave!”
His figure flashed past as he made a grab for Qianyu. Qianyu’s robe rose behind him as his eyes gazed away. Fei Luo grasped his hand and said sincerely, “I know your love for him is deep. So I’ll ferry you across Wangchuan tonight. Qianyu, forget everything. You and I are newlyweds. We are the husband and husband of the Underworld!”
Qianyu seemed to smile. It was a forlorn smile. He said, “You see Wangchuan as omnipotent. But I feel like even if I take a trip across the waters of Wangchuan, I still won’t be able to forget Zuo-lang.”
Sensing that Qianyu wanted to shake off his hands, Fei Luo could not help but tighten his grip. He was so anxious he scratched his cheeks and said, “Why are you about to cry? You can’t cry. Because if I see you cry, I’ll want to cry too.”
Qianyu could no longer find that barely audible voice. Sorrow overcame him, and life, with all its joy and grief, no longer held any meaning for him. He backhandedly grasped Fei Luo’s hand. Tears had welled up in his eyes, as clear as day, but he never realized it.
Qianyu asked, “You want me to cross Wangchuan River?”
Fei Luo hurriedly replied, “I’ll move the boat over.”
With that, he released Qianyu and took a few steps towards the ferry crossing. When Qianyu saw him move away, he lifted his eyes and looked out into the distance again. He could hear the wind sing, but he could no longer hear those calls earlier.
“I walked through the human world once.” Qianyu murmured, “My feelings and worries are all inextricably connected to my lover of the Zuo Clan. Now that he is dead, my heart is forfeited. Since we cannot meet on the road to the Underworld, then there is no fun in re-entering the wheel of reincarnation. We might as well bid farewell here. Please just let me cry.”
With that, his white hair fluttered as he leaped towards Wangchuan River. Fei Luo panickedly rushed up to stop him, but he did not even get to grab hold of the hem of Qianyu’s clothes. Tears coursed down Fei Luo’s cheeks, turning all the tenderness he had into anguish. All he wanted to do was to sigh and lament. “Why torment yourself thus?”
Cang Ji moved faster than his words. He was already flying through the air. He grabbed hold of Qianyu’s sleeve, then forcefully yanked him back and flung him towards the shore. Having already lost all hope, Qianyu did not expect to be thrown back by Cang Ji. But then he saw Cang Ji’s foot slipped, and the latter fell over backward and plummeted!
Cang Ji himself had never expected that he would suddenly plunge into Wangchuan. In the twinkling of an eye, the surrounding sediment surged up in a wave and engulfed him. The turmoil in the water and the gravitational pull trapped Cang Ji in his human body, making him unable to swap back to his original form. He choked on the water and sank deeper. There were no fish or grass in the water, only infinite human faces mingled with the past life’s memories of countless souls.
Cang Ji’s throat felt as if he was being caught in a chokehold. His ear roared as he heard the murmurs of tens of thousands of people even as a myriad of scenes played out in his mind. Cang Ji’s divine consciousness gradually sank. He could no longer get a clear look at the water surface. In his daze, he silently recited two words. Then he saw that man appear in response and jump into the water, sinking toward him.
Amidst the turbid waters, only that dazzling smear of white stood out.
A “gurgle” rose in Cang Ji’s throat as Jing Lin grasped Cang Ji’s hand tightly and interlocked his fingers with his. Cang Ji saw the tightly furrowed brows on the face that materialized amidst the hair. It was only when Jing Lin tilted his head slightly that Cang Ji managed to breathe from his mouth. He felt as if that heart in the cavity of his chest was about to leap out. He could not tell what he was feeling. He was only aware that Jing Lin’s eyes were close at hand.
Their intertwining upper bodies sank, and the darkness gradually swallowed them whole.
Amidst the muddled ringing in his ears, Cang Ji heard the long-lost sound of the copper bell. His eyes gradually closed. It felt as if they would never sink their way to the bottom. The name he had been reciting with all his heart was slowly being extracted from his mind. It grew vague and indistinct, as if a cloud of mist now stood between them.
He seemed to remember something, and yet it felt as though it was the memory of another man. All he could recognize among these chaotic, kaleidoscopic scenes was Jing Lin, who stood bearing his sword.
As the surging sediment buried them, the copper bell jingled from thousands of li2 away.
This is the end of Book 2. Book 3 starts next chapter! (◑ω◑)
- Ox-Head (牛头) and Horse-Face (马面) are two fearsome guardians of the Underworld in Chinese mythology tasked with the job of bringing recently deceased souls before the King of Hell so that he can determine their fate. Both have the bodies of men, but Ox-Head has the head of an ox while Horse-Face has the face of a horse.
- 里 li, a Chinese unit of length (1 li is approx. 500m)