The name Jiu-lang, if called out in a firm tone, sounds brotherly. But read it softly, and it crosses into the sphere of tender affection. Then again, other than brothers of the same sect, how would outsiders know about the word “Jiu”?1
Jing Lin’s hand, which was about to strike the horse, slowed down a fraction. Instead, he patted the side of the horse’s neck. A hundred thoughts had already flashed past his mind in that instant. He paused for a moment and said, “Or just call me by name.”
Almost biting his tongue, Cang Ji said, “Then forget it. But isn’t Jiu-lang your pet name? I remember that’s what the lady called you last night.”
Jing Lin turned his eyes to stare at Cang Ji. He said, “I’m seventh in the family.”
Cang Ji appropriately put on a look of understanding. “It is not easy to survive in the martial fraternity. Jing Lin, you have to be more cautious in the future.”
“You live in the north.” Jing Lin’s horse broke into a run. He said, “How’s the situation there?”
Knowing that he was getting suspicious, Cang Ji gave him a flawless answer. “When I left, the Blood Sea had already inundated the Demon Tower. Canglong summoned water from all over to resist the Blood Sea. My hometown has already turned into a vast expanse of water. The north is now under canglong’s control, so it is not convenient for mortals to remain there. Thus, I rode south to seek shelter at Ninth Heaven Gate, and that’s when I came across your esteemed sect’s Ming Jin Stage.”
Jing Lin went north the year before, and what he knew was just what Cang Ji had said. In truth, the current situation was even more critical. Emperor Cang alone took on the burden of the north. Even if his cultivation were mighty enough to allow him to devour the sky and absorb the sea, he would still end up trapped on all sides sooner or later.
Riding on his momentum, Cang Ji changed the topic. He said, “The Northern Lands is now a flooded area. Yet, canglong still refuses to form an alliance with your esteemed sect. This demon is the evil one here. When can we eliminate him?”
“Canglong must not be eliminated.” Seeing that Cang Ji looked puzzled, Jing Lin pondered it for a moment and continued, “… Gege’s place of residence was flooded. Because of this, gege had to roam the martial fraternity, so it is understandable for gege to hate him. Besides, it was precisely because canglong drew water from all over that countless commoners in the north have to move south. There are already tens of thousands of destitute and homeless people displaced at the border between Ninth Heaven Gate and canglong.”
“Exactly.” Cang Ji said, “How is this still not detestable?”
“It is.” Jing Lin said without thinking, “But his merits make up for it.”
Cang Ji smiled. “Then that’s beyond my understanding.”
“Those who live in the north do not know what is going on in the south, while those who live in the south are not aware of what is happening in the north.” Jing Lin said, “Before I headed north, my brothers back at home met canglong several times to seek an alliance. All of them were met with a cold reception. So I took a trip to the north by myself a year ago.”
Jing Lin raised his finger as he spoke. The wind swept the leaves up into an image in the air. His finger led a current of stream water through it and said, “Gege, look. For years, canglong has been setting up the stage in the northern end. He erected a skyscraping Demon Tower in the Northern Lands. With this as the heart, he constructed several high walls and installed them as myriads of giant, slanting slopes with interlocking openings. He turned it into a bizarre place that looked like a city of maze. The common folks thought that he wanted to set up a boundary around the city so that he could sit back and enjoy his reign as the ‘sovereign’. But that is, in fact, far from the truth. The setups of these massive walls are way too ingenious. The way I see it, he isn’t constructing ‘walls’, but building ‘ditches’.”
The horse under Cang Ji’s saddle suddenly raised its hooves. He reined it in and corrected his posture. His smile faded some. “What is he doing building ditches instead of following others to slay devils?”
“The deviation of the Blood Sea throws Zhongdu into chaos. Those in the world who can fight against the devils by virtue of their cultivation are few and far in between. That is why Ninth Heaven Gate has been running all over to form an alliance. However, the overturning of the Blood Sea is just like the Milky Way flowing in reverse. Not one of the submerged areas has been recovered. This is because the Blood Sea begets evil spirits and devils.2 Even those with cultivation at the Pinnacle Stage do not dare to head into it rashly. And thus, the so-called slight relief in the situation is all but words of false reassurance.” With a stroke of Jing Lin’s fingertip, the map in the air was instantly awash in red. He murmured, “The people are saved, yet they cannot survive. The reason the phoenix has been transferred to the east is because the east has already fallen into the dire predicament of food shortage, and folks dying of starvation have become a common sight. To save the masses from the abyss of misery, slaying demons and subduing evils are but merely small accomplishments; the real feat is to expel the Blood Sea. However, the Blood Sea is boundless, and the Heavenly sluice gate is broken. It’s too late to block its advance, and there’s no way to make it retreat either. Hundreds of years ago, Heaven conceived canglong and bestowed him the ability to devour all things. Perhaps Heaven wants this ultimate merit of the universe to be achieved by him in the days to come.”
The wind scattered, and the image dispersed. Jing Lin’s eyes seemed to shine.
“Lure the surge of the Blood Sea of Heaven and Earth towards the Northern Lands. Then devour the devils to cleanse the world of evil with the power of one man. Such a tremendous feat can only be achieved by canglong.”
Cang Ji’s throat throbbed as he gulped and choked out a laugh. He said, “Since you can understand this, then wouldn’t Ninth Heaven Gate understand it too?”
Jing Lin did not answer. There were way too many words deep in his heart that he had never spoken of to anyone.
Since he could understand this, then wouldn’t his Father get it too? Canglong’s tardy refusal to enter an alliance with them was because he did not want to entrust the Northern Lands to Ninth Heaven Gate. Even those major demons under his command did not allow Ninth Heaven Gate to interfere in the cities they were involved in. Both parties tried their best to remain on amicable terms on account of their mutual goal to fight the devils, but this was becoming harder to do so after Ninth Heaven called the various heroes to arms. The east, south, and west all fell under the command of the sect, yet the north was still like an impregnable fortress. His Father and various brothers were determined to get their way when it came to this matter. Canglong had already become a stumbling block in Ninth Heaven Gate’s quest to achieve greatness.
Jing Lin did not know how he should answer. He had repeatedly put forth his suggestions, and his father had refuted them all. Meanwhile, Li Rong himself was in a desperate situation regarding the alliance with the north. Rumors that canglong was secretly colluding with the evil spirits had already started circulating in the east. Furthermore, canglong’s efforts to build ditches and drainage canals had driven the common folks south, and that by itself had already caused widespread resentment and outcry among the people.
Seeing that Jing Lin looked a little down, Cang Ji said, “Forget it. Let the adults worry about this kind of matter. But from the way you speak, you seem like you really admire canglong, huh?”
Jing Lin swiftly turned his gaze to Cang Ji and said stiffly, “I don’t. I heard that he has a harem, and he’s also savage, deceitful, and a smooth-talker. What’s more, he loves to serve up people as dishes to go with his wine.”
Cang Ji, “…”
◈ ◈ ◈
Both of them kept pace with one another as they rode. It was already the end of summer. The sun was still scorching hot in the south, but hectares of lotus had all but wilted and dried up. Many streams were already clogged, and the land was muddy all over; it was tough to find water the hue of aquamarine. If they were to gallop along the established bridle trail for three days, they would get trapped in a rift of collapsed earth. They had to make a detour before they could reach the City of Huaishu.
Jing Lin and Cang Ji reined in their horses at the rift and looked down from above. The color of the twilight sky was already inseparable and indistinguishable from the Blood Sea. The city in this place was deserted and barren, with dried bones piling up everywhere. Even though they were both parked at a high spot, they could still feel the torrents of putrid stench from the carnage caused by the Blood Sea.
“The evil spirit here is dead, yet there is no one stationed here. It won’t be half a month before another is born.” Although Cang Ji’s words sounded regretful, there was no trace of compassion in his eyes. He sized up the place and said, “Did the Ninth Heaven Gate’s men stationed here to defend this place return?”
Jing Lin’s face sank a little. “Without Father’s redeployment order, they cannot withdraw.”
Since they did not return, they had probably met with bad ends.
“I’m afraid the City of Huaishu has fallen.” Amidst the churning waves of the Blood Sea, Cang Ji saw the swaying movements of a colossal phantom. “The evil spirit revived here cannot be underestimated. If we cannot catch up, then the seven towns and twin cities farther south will also be engulfed by the Blood Sea. Since the Ninth Heaven Gate is unaware of this, then the commoners of these cities and towns have yet to be evacuated.”
As he spoke, a creature abruptly stood up amidst the vast expanse. The horses under both men neighed in unison and instantly galloped along the fissure in a swift charge forward. They had to arrive at the cities and towns before the evil spirit did. Amid the jerks, Jing Lin saw the faintly discernible appearance of the evil spirit with individual scarlet eyes all over its body. He suddenly said, “It’s the evil form.”
If an evil spirit were to transform into the fog like the wind, then that was its “greed form”. It often followed the Blood Sea as it spread to cities and towns. It was extremely dependent on fresh blood and fresh meat, and the more it ate, the more insatiable its appetite would be. It could eat until its stomach burst, then reverted to its original appearance out of flesh and blood and continue to consume its victims tirelessly. On the other hand, if the evil spirit grew eyes like iron, then that was its “evil form”. It had the ability to run swiftly and aggressively ahead, and could barely be hurt by blades. The eyes all over its body could intimidate one’s soul and mind. Even cultivators would not dare to act rashly and face it head-on. Dong Jun belonged to this category.
“Gege.” Jing Lin raised his arm to grip Cang Ji by his shoulder. “Let’s swap horses.”
Cang Ji’s “cultivation wasn’t up to scratch”, so he could only cross paths with Jing Lin in mid-air and landed on the back of the bluish-white horse while Jing Lin mounted the mortal horse. This horse was already shaking in its hooves and could barely stand up straight. Just as Jing Lin corrected its posture, the earth suddenly shook. The eyes of the evil spirit turned as it caught a whiff of Jing Lin’s spiritual energy and came charging over.
Jing Lin reined in the horse and turned around to Cang Ji. He pointed to the mountain and said, “My horse is not an ordinary horse. It can travel hundreds of miles in just a blink of an eye. I can see the aura of swords amidst the chaos. There must be cultivators still hanging on in the seven towns and twin cities. You go on ahead. I’ll come along shortly.”
Cang Ji saw the evil spirit riding the waves to pounce on them with a might so staggering that the rift kept expanding. He sat on the horse and said, “Since you’ll come along shortly, then I’ll just wait here and watch you.”
Jing Lin’s hair was already fluttering in the wind. When he saw that Cang Ji had already decided to stay, he drove the horse forward. Heaven and Earth changed colors. Dark clouds above in the sky pressed down on them, while dust swirled all over as the ground cracked. Jing Lin charged forth towards the evil spirit in a head-on collision. No longer able to bear the overpowering aura of the evil spirit, the horse went weak in the knees and collapsed the instant it galloped its way to the rift. The red eye on the palm of the evil spirit pressed in towards the cliff, and the putrid wind rose along with the neighing of the horse.
Jing Lin soared into the air. His figure was merely the length of a finger compared to that of the evil spirit. The violent gale surged in reverse and sent his clothes and hair flapping all over. Right at this very moment, Cang Ji finally got to see the legendary Yan Quan at close quarters.
The evil spirit wielded its arms and stooped over with a roar. Its massive maw widened forbiddingly before Jing Lin. The gale knocked back the horse, and a slew of plants flew in reverse, swatting against Jing Lin’s side. Monstrous waves rose from the boundless Blood Sea following the howls of the evil spirit. They blotted out the sky as they crashed towards Jing Lin.
In a flash, a ray of azure light emerged among the gray, followed instantly by a “buzz” as Yan Quan slid out of its sheath. The frostiness of the sword body appeared as white light. Jing Lin raised his fingers to grasp the sword. The next moment, there was a loud noise of something cutting through the wind. The glow of the mighty sword fell along with the movement of his arm with a force so unstoppable it was like a hot knife slicing through butter!
Before the massive mouth of the evil spirit could close, it suddenly fell into a dead silence. The next thing it knew, its head tumbled down to the ground. The red eyes all over its body promptly howled in anguish. Foams of blood spurt out from its severed neck like a torrential rain of blood. With a frosty expression, Jing Lin gently shook off the droplets of blood on the blade of his sword. The evil spirit covered its neck and retreated before it broke into a sudden sprint to flee. But a flash of light from the sword instantly enveloped it. The sounds of something being severed, of howls of anguish, and of mournful wails, simultaneously cut through Heaven and Earth along with the billowing of sand and gravel!
The blood rain had yet to stop when Jing Lin landed on the ground. The sleeves of his outfit with azure stripes fluttered in the wind. Even his shoes were clean and free of bloodstains. Yan Quan’s body was like pure snow as it returned to its sheath with a “clang”. Jing Lin stood tall and graceful and said to Cang Ji in an unhurried tone.
Massive waves rose behind him as the severed body of the evil spirit plummeted into the Blood Sea with a thunderous splash. The rain of blood ceased at the same time. The silence of nightfall descended over Heaven and Earth; in that instant, not even the sound of the wind could be heard.
Cang Ji’s neck tingled with numbness. He gripped the reins tightly with his fingers and released them immediately right after. He showed Jing Lin a pale smile.
“Man, that scared the heck out of me.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Tao Zhi rode the horse down the mountain. He was not in a hurry to leave when he arrived at the foot of the mountain; instead, he urged his brothers to organize a banquet to see him off. Li Rong acquiesced to his wish and booked a table for him with excellent wine and food. Tao Zhi acted shamelessly like a spoiled child to each brother and received rewards from many of them. Just as he was about to leave after eating and drinking to his heart’s content, a rascal of a monk blocked his path.
“Eighth Young Master.” The monk rubbed his bald head and said shamelessly, “You are really a hard one to find!”
When Tao Zhi saw that it was him, he took his own time. With arms around each other, he led the monk under the eaves and asked, “How was it? Did you succeed?”
“He drank the wine with the drug.” The monk clicked his tongue. “But he got away.”
Tao Zhi was about to fly into a rage when he heard that. But he thought about it again and said, “That’s not right! It took me a lot of effort to get my hands on that drug. Even if he did it with others, his desire would still overwhelm his spiritual sea to the point that he will indulge in lust. His cultivation will be utterly ruined! But when I looked at him, it doesn’t seem like he had taken the drug. You scoundrel, are you playing tricks on me?!”
The monk was horrified and said, “Such a formidable drug! But you said back then that it was just to let him have his first taste of meat!3 If we incapacitated his cultivation that night and Lord Jiu Tian investigated it, then all of us will not escape death, not to mention you!”
“What are you afraid of?!” Tao Zhi sneered. “He’s fine, isn’t he? Did you see him take it with your own eyes?”
“I was the one who poured the wine with my own hands and toasted it to him. He did not look well when he left.” Regretting his actions, the monk continued, “The strange thing is that I couldn’t find him after he went into the alley.”
“He got lucky.” Tao Zhi gnashed his teeth and said in a hushed tone. “But if he has consumed it, then it’s impossible for him to come out of it unscathed! Perhaps he was intentionally forcing himself to pretend to be fine that day to fool others. I couldn’t even tell. Take some men to the city to see if anyone has died. Then hold on to the body.”
With a sinister and cold expression, Tao Zhi said, “This drug is potent. Not only can it destroy cultivation, it can also kill. If he doesn’t copulate with someone, then he will die. But if he did, how would a mere mortal be able to withstand it? Once I pick up the corpse later, I can still accuse him of the sins of promiscuity and immorality before Father!”
The monk already had the intent to withdraw from this scheme of his when he heard Tao Zhi say, “Once you find the body, give it a few lashings! Of all people to help, this person just has to help him. Whoever it is deserves to die!”
With that, he flippantly threw the money pouch to the monk and mounted the horse. The monk felt it scalding to the touch, yet he could not afford to offend Tao Zhi. He was in a terrible fix. When he saw Li Rong and Yun Sheng coming out, he did not dare to remain there and irk them with his presence, so he hurriedly ran off. He had only run midway when someone pulled his back collar.
A youth holding a pole stared at him and said, “So you are the one who instigated my elder brother to commit evil and caused him to be kicked to death, right?”
The monk raised his arm to strike him back a few steps. He spat. “The payment has been settled to the satisfaction of both parties! I’ve already explained it to your mother when I sent him back that night. Why are you still pestering me?!”
The youth had thick eyebrows and bright eyes, and appeared to be a little of a blockhead even as he looked handsome and gallant. He hauled the monk back. “Bah! Keep your dirty money to buy yourself a coffin! I’ll enforce justice on behalf of Heaven today and beat a crooked heretic like you to death to pay for my brother’s life!”
As soon as he said that, he swung the pole down onto the monk! The monk saw how green he was and had initially thought him to be a hothead lad—one who did not know what was good for him just because he had a little cultivation. Who knew that this blow would send him rolling on the ground? It almost caused him to cough out blood.
The monk hurriedly pushed the gold pearls to him and said, “Young hero, let’s talk it over!”
The lad kicked him to turn him over. He was obstinate to the point that he would never rest until he pummeled this monk to death today. He said in a cold tone, “Pay with your life!”
But then, he heard the clapping of hands and laughter that sounded like the tinkling of bells overhead. He raised his head and saw a girl leaning over the window. He could let that slide, but when he shifted his gaze, he saw… a lady of unrivaled beauty standing behind the girl. For some inexplicable reason, the youth blushed and did not dare to look at that splendidly-dressed lady.
Linlang made nothing of it on seeing this. She merely smiled and said, “Although you are a little silly, your aptitude is outstanding. You are unexpectedly on par with those few from Ninth Heaven Gate. Little young master, do you already have a shifu?”
- 九郎 Jiu-lang. Jiu means nine (or specifically ninth here). A reference to Jing Lin’s supposed rank of ninth among the brothers. (Refer to chapter 73 for a recap)
- 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.
- 开荤 to begin or resume a meat diet after abstinence or break a vegetarian diet (especially as a practice observed in certain religions). It also refers to someone who has a novel experience. Here, it refers to this “him” getting his first taste of ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)