The flood in the north had receded. High walls rose from the ground, standing tall between heaven and earth. Hawks and birds in the sky had all gone into hiding, while thick, dense clouds settled into the shape of a boundless, surging sea.
Cang Ji surveyed tens of thousands of li1 worth of land from a height with the wind groveling under his feet. His hair and robe billowed. A thin-as-gossamer red thread was tightly bound between his fingers. It fluttered in the wind, with one end concealed among the violent gale and dark clouds, leading to an unknown destination.
Ah Shuo sat cross-legged under the tower. He wiped his pole and raised his head to gaze at that figure who was almost hidden among the clouds.
“The Blood Sea in the world will all gush past this place.” Ah Shuo said, “Isn’t it dangerous?”
“As they say, a man of nobility does not involve himself in dangerous situations. I know what you mean. But looking at the state of the world now, only the Emperor Lord will be able to swallow the sky and absorb the sea. Huachang imitated Linlang’s tone as she bent over with her hands behind her back to look at Ah Shuo. “If that wily old man Lord Jiu Tian had not transcended so quickly, the Emperor Lord would not be in such a hurry now. But time waits for no man. Lord Jiu Tian’s cultivation in the Great Accomplishment Stage is still unstable. But once his cultivation comes to fruition, it will be even harder to do this in the future.”
“I have seen many people deployed to other places.” Ah Shuo had cut this pole himself, and he had refined it until it was straight and smooth. “The watchtower is empty. If Lord Jiu Tian comes right now, then wouldn’t we be too powerless to ward him off?”
Huachang lifted her skirt and squatted before Ah Shuo. She said, “If you can think of it, what makes you think the Emperor Lord won’t? When the Blood Sea pours into the wall, the spiritual barrier of Heaven and Earth will be triggered. There will be no way for the evil spirits to escape, so they can only follow the ditches and charge their way across to converge at the central watchtower. The Emperor Lord will then swallow the sea and devour the evil spirits there. Ah Jie and I will stand guard at the sides to guard against vile men and to ensure that the spiritual barrier does not collapse. In addition, major-league demons of various lands are guarding Ninth Heaven Gate’s strategic points to make it hard for their garrisons to move even a single step. A barrier of ten thousand demons has also been set up before the northern wall. The Emperor Lord has been planning and preparing for this for so many years. When it comes to the crunch, no one will dare to be careless.”
Ah Shuo looked at those high walls that resembled a range of mountains and said, “This kind of impregnable walls are indeed tough to construct. I can already tell that such walls needed to be fully built with gold even while I was begging for food at the mountain foot of Ninth Heaven Gate. I have great respect for how hard all of you are working to eliminate the devils. It’s just that Ninth Heaven Gate is also established to fight for righteous causes. So why isn’t the Emperor Lord willing to make peace with them?”
“How can a bunch of people out to fish for fame and recognition be compared to the Emperor Lord?!” Displeased, Huachang made a face at him. “They are really hateful. Just because they’ve read some books on morals, they spout nonsense all day! You’ve seen that Tao Zhi too. How is he even considered someone here to save the masses? He’s clearly even more repulsive than evil spirits! Ah Jie hates them too, so you aren’t allowed to like them either!”
Ah Shuo felt a little uncomfortable now that Huachang had mentioned Linlang. His eyes drifted as he cut at his pole with his small blade, but he still put on a front and pretended to say off-handedly, “I haven’t seen her today…”
“It’s a major undertaking to establish and set up the boundary step by step. Ah Jie won’t be sloppy.” Huachang jabbed at the wood shavings with a finger and said, “Do you really like my Ah Jie so much?”
Ah Shuo instantly blushed, and his blade went crooked. He said in a fluster, “How would I dare…”
“What’s there not to dare?” Huachang hung her head down. “Ah Jie is beautiful, and she’s good-tempered. I like her, too.”
Ah Shuo scratched the back of his head. His voice was as soft as a mosquito. “… I’m not worthy of her.”
“Of course you aren’t!” Huachang suddenly raised her head and threw a tantrum. She grabbed the soil and scattered it all over Ah Shuo. Inexplicably annoyed, she said, “Men are all nothing good! You have to speed up your progress to cultivate out an original form and reach the Great Accomplishment Stage! When that time comes, no one will be able to find fault with you.”
Ah Shuo said, “I know that, but why throw soil over me?”
Huachang’s eyes reddened. She got up to stamp her feet and said, “You don’t know anything!”
Baffled, Ah Shuo picked up his pole and rose to his feet to follow after Huachang. He said, “Did I somehow offend you? I apologize.”
Huachang ignored him and transformed into a fox, then leaped up the stairs and made her way to the watchtower. Helpless, Ah Shuo carried his pole and looked at the dark, overcast sky. With such a tense atmosphere, he did not dare to wander around, so he simply crouched with his pole over his shoulder at the foot of the stairs to keep watch.
◈ ◈ ◈
Linlang reckoned that the time had arrived. She reached the top and saw that Shuran’s preparations were already all in order, so she kneeled before Cang Ji and kowtowed.
“You have worked hard.” Without looking back, Cang Ji said, “Once this is all over, I’ll invite everyone to my wedding banquet.”
Linlang said, “I’m afraid the day Master drops by to propose marriage will be the time his old man’s liver and gut rupture.”2
“Lord Jiu Tian is not young anymore. He could be said to have been a hero for half a lifetime. It’s not worthwhile for him to lose his temper over such a trivial matter.” Cang Ji said, “Since he wants to be the ‘Supreme Father’ of all living beings in the world, then he will be dying to be my old man when I go over to propose marriage. Let’s put the idle chat aside for now. It’s not advisable to delay this matter any further. I expect every one of you to do your best.”
Linlang and Shuran replied in unison, “We shall heed the Emperor’s command.”
As soon as they said that, they saw the sea of clouds suddenly burst wide open. The blood fog poured forth in torrents from top to bottom, like ferocious beasts that had just broken through the sluice gates. The major demons from all over held the ground together. A beam of intersecting red light rose and illuminated Heaven and Earth, forming a tall and impenetrable wall. With the Blood Sea from the East, South, and West suddenly obstructed, countless evil spirits bumped against one another in an attempt to scale the wall. This blood wall was fortified with canglong’s wrathful aura. It rang out in response to the collisions, but did not budge the slightest.
Shuran took a few steps and sprang into the air, changing into his original form midair. The entire ground shook the moment the behemoth from Buddha’s pond landed on the ground. He opened his mouth and roared, and tens of thousands li worth of Blood Sea came surging towards him.
The blue dome of Heaven was reduced to a shade of bloody red. Endless evil spirits floated among the foggy waves of the Blood Sea. The clouds in the sky whirled as though it was a raging whirlpool suspended in reverse. Tempests of wind swept past. The Northern Lands were already reduced to a bloody red sea. It was as if cavern walls had been chiseled out of row upon row of high walls as all kinds of evil spirits were imprisoned in those long, narrow paths, trapped in a quandary where they could neither advance nor retreat. Tens of thousands of li worth of land instantly caved in, and the Blood Sea surging along the walls mingled into one with the sea of clouds, momentarily making Heaven and Earth indistinguishable from one another.
Huachang had already climbed her way to the top of the watchtower. She simultaneously transformed into her original form together with Linlang. Nine tails instantly spread out in a display among the strong wind and thick fog. Both foxes fanned out and howled. Greed forms and evil forms roared and clamored their way out, blotting out the sky as they swarmed over.
Cang Ji stood alone at the peak where the Blood Sea assaulted. That savage, evil creature a hundred times bigger than him crashed down from above. There was a “thud” as it squashed into a shield right before the lone arm he held up. Cang Ji’s hair suddenly fluttered back. Amid the tearing and biting of the evil spirits, he sprang up and transformed into a dragon. The roar of the dragon exploded in their ears along with lightning and thunder that crashed through the sky. A gargantuan, black-colored dragon let out a long cry as it charged out from the Blood Sea towards the wavelike sea of clouds in the sky and reduced the myriad of evil spirits into a sumptuous feast!
Linlang remained fixed in position to defend a side when she suddenly sensed her spiritual sea going haywire; it felt as if she was lacking in strength, as though her spirit was willing but her flesh was weak. She did not dare to think too highly of herself, so she blocked the tidal waves of the Blood Sea with a sweep of her tail, then turned around to rush up to Huachang. “You …”
She had only just spoken when she heard the high wall near the south being smashed broken. A ray of scarlet red instantly sprang forth, and a long spear sliced through the wind, whistling fiercely for thousands of li. Li Rong suddenly leaped through the air to stand before her.
“Bastard!” Linlang cursed in a towering rage as she whirled around to take on human form. A curved blade went slashing through the air and collided with Li Rong’s Po Zheng Spear with an intense crash.
A swift rise of Li Rong’s Po Zheng Spear overturned the blade Linlang had been pressing down on him. Both of them battled intensely amid the howling of heaven and earth. The angry waves of the Blood Sea swelled after both of them soared into the air.
“Luring the Blood Sea from all over to gather all the evil spirits in the world together. All of you deserve to be put to death just for your intent alone!” Li Rong bellowed in a deep voice as the copper spear in his palm slapped up bloody waves several zhang3 tall.
Linlang swiped her blade up to ward off the blow as the spear aimed right for her chest. She wound her blade around the spear to hook it. As she turned around, her long tail whipped through the air and smacked into Li Rong, sending him flying several li away. The instant Li Rong retreated, three thousand white robes suddenly leaped into the air from behind. On hearing his command, the Three Thousand Armors immediately came killing towards them.
Linlang coldly spat out blood as a horde of demons stood up behind her to obstruct Li Rong and his Three Thousand Armors. She said, “Cut the crap. Scram!”
Li Rong erected his spear in silence. His gaze swept past Linlang and the chaos to land upon that indistinct dragon figure. He crossed his arms and faced her to say, “Emperor Cang is deceitful and crafty. I must take back that head of his today. Although you are a demon, you are a deeply righteous one. Linlang, move…”
In a flash, the curved blade came cleaving down right before Li Rong. The copper spear blocked the blow and steadily received her next blow. Once again, both of them engaged in a battle. The situation had changed greatly by this time. Heaven and earth completely melted away into the blood fog. Cang Ji alone took on the magnificent army among the clouds. Dragon claws tore the clouds and fog apart. He devoured until the Blood Sea was half drained. All of a sudden, a dragon image, modeled after Cang Ji’s figure, solidified out of the Blood Sea and collided into him.
The blood dragon was covered with eyes all over its body. The remaining evil spirits had appended themselves to this dragon. It was roughly twice as big as Cang Ji. Canglong straightened up and engaged in a battle with it. Both of them tore at each other amid the surging sea of clouds, with sudden claps of thunders and urgent flashes of lightning as backdrop. In this fierce battle, the blood dragon let out an anguished wail as canglong tore off one of its claws. It swiftly split into two dragons and wound around Cang Ji’s claws together in a hold.
Huachang suddenly cried out in alarm.
“The western side has collapsed!”
With Linlang distracted, Li Rong jerked his spear. The blow instantly sent her flying several zhang away. Then he turned around and leaped towards the blood fog. Huachang used her body to block the collapsed opening. An evil form reached its hand out, only to be sliced off instantly by a curved blade! Linlang lifted Huachang by the back of her collar and tossed her out of the way.
Huachang leaped into the air and grabbed hold of the corner of Li Rong’s clothes. Her tail wound around him, and she dragged him down in a plunge towards the Blood Sea below. Li Rong’s spear struck the ground, sending up massive waves. Following right after, he turned his leg and sent Huachang tumbling with a kick.
Huachang knew that she could not stop him. She had to find an opening for Linlang to move in. But when she looked back, she saw her Ah Jie still not making any moves.
The evil form at the collapsed opening pounced with its mouth wide open. Bloody waves spurted and splashed onto Linlang’s body. Her shoulder and arm had been bitten, and her entire person was being dragged towards the collapsed opening. At the most critical juncture, a pole suddenly came striking down from the air to hit the evil form right on its head with a force so great that it exploded apart amid a foul stench.
Ah Shuo grabbed hold of Linlang’s hand and dragged her out. He shouted, “Shifu!”
More evil forms hissed in response and lunged out of the collapsed opening. Ah Shuo’s wooden pole was broken. He grasped hold of Linlang’s hand tightly, only to sense her fingertips trembling slightly. Feeling an ill sense of foreboding, he wanted to take a step closer, but Linlang immediately withdrew her palm back.
“I reckon you have a bright future.” Linlang’s complexion turned pale as she calmly patted Ah Shuo on the chest. “As master and disciple, I won’t hold you up. Ah Shuo, go!”
Ah Shuo jerked up. He saw one of Linlang’s tails whipped him right in his body. The blow sent him flying through the air and out of the Blood Sea. Ah Shuo tumbled onto the ground, only to hear Huachang let out a heart-wrenching “Ah Jie”.
The moment he raised his head, he saw the wall collapsing. Countess evil spirits swarmed in. Linlang turned around and spread out her arms. Her spiritual sea had already disintegrated and was now surging in reverse, forcing her to stagger a step. She struck a palm out in the air, unleashing a bloodied wind that forced the mob of evil spirits back in a retreat to the wall for several li.
Ah Shuo crawled to his feet and dashed forward.
“Shifu…” Ah Shuo frantically sprang up and threw himself forward. “Shifu!”
Linlang seemed to glance back at him. This glimpse was too hard to come by. In the next few hundred years, it would become Ah Shuo’s inner demon for his entire lifetime. His shouts were all but engulfed in the raging waves. He watched with wide-open eyes as Linlang fell into the bloody waves where she was torn to shreds and reduced into nothing but bloody rain.
The curved blade tumbled to the ground, and the mist splashed all over Ah Shuo. He felt as though someone was strangling him by the neck. That “come back” he wanted to say turned into a sob, then broke into a wail.
◈ ◈ ◈
Losing its intimidator with the collapse of the high wall on the west, the Blood Sea began to flood south. The rain started falling as the tides of blood fog moved to engulf the whole of Zhongdu.
Canglong broke through the clouds in a charge and bent over to swallow the sea. He devoured the evil spirits and chased his way to the collapsed spot. The blood dragon flipped up to bite hold of the back of canglong’s neck, then fell headfirst into the Blood Sea with a thunderous crash. Canglong’s sharp claws tore the blood dragon’s chest and belly apart, but what trickled out were countless serpents and pythons that covered up this dragon’s movements.
Cang Ji raised his neck and let out a long roar. He had partially risen when he heard the biting cold sound of the wind. Evil spirits climbed over his dragon’s body. Cang Ji had already swallowed the Blood Sea for half a lifetime, and to think that he could not struggle free now that it was at the crucial moment. He did all he could to swing his head around to bite off these shackles, then suddenly charged upward.
If the momentum of the Blood Sea’s surging tides were not stopped, then Zhongdu would be completely flooded the moment the high walls collapsed. Tens of thousands of commoners towards the south would all lose their lives together. Every living creature under this heaven would have no hope of escape.
Cang Ji swept his dragon tail over and slapped up waves of the Blood Sea. He swallowed ten thousand zhang of the sea and lunged into the blood fog to run rampant within. The ground surface was churning as well. Lightning split across the vortex of clouds with an explosion of thunder. The evil spirits tore at canglong, eating away at him until his dragon body was covered in wounds. The Blood Sea suddenly flared up, and Cang Ji’s spiritual sea felt scalding hot as though it was boiling. He summoned up an unexpected spurt of brute force that swept away the mobs of devils, forcing the momentum of the blood sea waves to turn towards himself. A thunderous noise that sounded like muffled thunder rang out as both parties collided against each other.
The gale suddenly shifted as Po Zheng Spear hurtled down from above and pierced into Cang Ji’s dragon body!
Canglong plunged violently into the Blood Sea. All at once, an anguished roar rang out. His dragon tail slapped and smashed into the surface of the high wall, and the evil spirits swarmed in, tearing at him until scales spattered and blood spurted all over.
Cang Ji immediately transformed into his human form. He propped himself up on the ground, but failed to climb to his feet. Po Zheng Spear had penetrated his chest from behind, and blood gushed forth from the wound in torrents. He watched helplessly as the high walls collapsed in unison. The remaining Blood Sea spread all over without restraint. Years of painstaking effort, destroyed in a moment.
“Stop the Blood Sea…” Cang Ji said in a hoarse voice.
But the high walls all collapsed with a thunderous bang. The blood fog obscured his vision as the evil spirits gathered in all directions. It took just an instant for him to fall short of success at the last stage. Raindrop dripped onto his forehead, soaking Cang Ji’s brows and eyes.
◈ ◈ ◈
He’s not dead yet.
Li Rong wanted to pull his spear out, but it would not budge. Cang Ji grabbed hold of Po Zheng Spear tightly and suddenly straightened his back to stand up. He staggered forward and saw a figure in white swiftly leaping his way over.
◈ ◈ ◈
So far away.
Cang Ji thought.
◈ ◈ ◈
That man was getting closer and closer, and the rain and fog were so, so heavy. Cang Ji raised his forefinger slightly to touch Jing Lin’s silhouette from a distance away. The blood on his fingertip slid down along his wrist and dripped off. Cang Ji moved a few steps closer to him. He swallowed his own blood and vaguely called out his name as he let his body crash into Jing Lin’s body.
Po Zheng Spear was swiftly pulled out of him, and warm blood trickled all over his hand. Cang Ji knocked his forehead lightly against Jing Lin’s forehead. He stared at Jing Lin and stroked Jing Lin’s cheeks hard with his palms, leaving behind deep, bloody imprints of his fingers.
Cang Ji said fiercely through clenched teeth. He kneaded Jing Lin’s cheeks so hard they reddened. He suddenly shed a tear and repeated.
The next moment, Cang Ji shoved Jing Lin aside. The prayer bead tumbled into the pool of blood. He took a few steps forward, choking on his sobs as he laughed aloud in a raspy voice in the rain.
“Heaven gave me a great responsibility, but thwarted me with the likes of scums. Even so, I can stop the Blood Sea!” He said in a trembling voice before springing up.
Amid the pouring torrents of rain, a black dragon5 let out a haughty roar and charged forth. Blood fog stirred in agitation as he devoured the bloody waves. Then his immense body fell and slammed into the end of the Blood Sea with a thunderous crash, forming a high wall ten thousand li long, and prompting the remaining evil spirits to retreat in horror. Not even one drop of the billowing waves of blood could venture beyond it! Countless innocent lives behind his dragon body were thus saved from a calamity. The high walls in the north had all fallen; only this wall alone remained standing tall!
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li= approx. 500m
- 肝胆俱裂 literally gut and liver all rupture. i.e. to be heart-broken or terror-stricken.
- 丈 zhang, a measure of length, 1 zhang = ten Chinese feet (3.3m)
- Personally, I feel like this line carries both the connotation of “you’re alive + you must live.”
- i.e. canglong