It was late at night. The moon that had been obscured by dark clouds quietly revealed its face and cast a bright sheen of light upon the earth.
Song Ci’s eyebrows were still tightly knitted even after bidding farewell to Mirror Old Man. He said to Rong Bai, who was behind him, “Are you able to find the Devil Seal from here?”
“The Devil Seal can be damaged but not destroyed. It is a rare treasure handed down from ancient times. When it seals itself, divine consciousness would not be able to find it. If it is really in this dungeon, the entire dungeon would need to be uprooted for us to find it.” Rong Bai’s eyes wandered slowly along the gaps of the stone bricks before finally stopping on Song Ci’s face. He smiled and asked, “What should I do?”
Song Ci immediately recalled how the former city of Le Yu had been crushed to a pulp. He shook his head. “Forget it. If you dig up the prison but didn’t find that fragment, you would burn your own bridges.”
Rong Bai lowered his eyes as if in agreement with him. He raised his hand to stroke the wall. His movements were gentle as if soothing a frenzied beast.
The next moment, the enraged demons in prison instantly quietened down, panting occasionally. It was a different scene from before.
Song Ci thought, for Master Rong to make such a sudden move, could it be…
As expected, his eyes met Rong Bai’s smiling eyes when he looked up. He heard Rong Bai said, “About that Little Lascivious Demon name…”
There are some things you can never hide from, no matter what.
Song Ci sighed. Sitting down along the wall, he said to Rong Bai, “Master Rong, have a seat. I’ll tell you the details.”
It was a painful past that Song Ci was unwilling to bring up.
Back then, before Song Ci came to the country of Dong Wang, he had been heading East after leaving Xi Liang. He had passed through a small town and made a stop there.
At that time, Song Ci had just turned into a demon. He knew that as long as he did not bleed, no demon would know that the blood of Tu Shan flowed within him. So, no matter what he did, he was always very careful.
In addition, he knew nothing about his own demonic power. Other than protecting that scimitar in his hand, he ate and drank, pooped and slept like any other normal human being.
It was only later that he learned that the small town was located at the junction between the Realm of the Dead and the Realm of the Living.1 Not only would hundreds of demons run rampant all over the town once night fell, but there were also countless demons hiding right next to the mortals.
It was a place where even deities and immortals would take a detour to avoid; even Daoist priests or Zhenren who have nothing to do knew better than to go there to court death.
But Song Ci knew nothing of this back then and foolishly charged in. The good thing was that he slept in the wild for several days in a row. If he was hungry, he ate wild fruits or caught some fish. If he was thirsty, he drank water from the streams and rivers. He lived like a savage.
But as soon as he stepped into the town, everyone thought he was a beggar that had roamed there from another place.
Song Ci had long given up arguing his identity with others. Whether he was a scholar in a flowing white robe, a court official in fine attire, or an ostentatious young master, he would all eventually end up as an unkempt beggar.
It was only after entering that small town that he learned that a demon had been recently creating havoc in the town.
There was a demon by the name of Menglang.2 It was said that he was dressed in a white robe and red undershirt, carrying a wooden fan in his hand. Tall and dignified, he was a flirtatious, handsome young man. Appearing only in women’s dreams, he would have a rendezvous with the woman in her dream every time he showed up. Upon waking up, the woman would wholeheartedly fall in love with him.
Many maidens in the town have been bewitched by him. For the whole day, they remained in a trance, neither eating nor drinking, all the while incessantly calling out for Menglang.
The townsfolk had wanted to get someone to eliminate this demon, but too bad this town had a bad reputation, and no one dared to take up the job. Finally left with no choice, the town master sent a letter to Mo Yao.
The men from Mo Yao came swiftly. When they arrived in that small town, Song Ci had received his first-ever hard-earned silver — from catching mice.
When he received the money, the first thing he did was to clean himself up and buy himself a new outfit. As luck would have it, it was a white robe with a red base.
So, while the Mo Yao disciples were trying their best to set up arrays to capture the demon, Song Ci was busy filling his stomach and eating his first decent meal in days.
When he came out of the restaurant after eating and drinking his fill, it was already dark, and the streets were empty. Doubts filled his mind. A few days ago, the streets were not even this thoroughly cleared out when night fell. How could it be so empty today?
As he was walking in bewilderment, he bumped into the Mo Yao disciples who were patrolling the streets. When they saw Song Ci, a malicious expression came over their faces.
One of them pulled out his sword without any preamble.
Song Ci had been so frequently pursued that he had grown extremely sensitive. When he saw that those people before him did not have good intentions and had even drawn their swords, he immediately turned around to flee with nary a moment of hesitation.
Those few from Mo Yao were initially sizing Song Ci up with uncertainty. But seeing him run instantaneously validated their guesses, and they all raised their swords to chase after him.
At that time, Song Ci had yet to master the art of fleeing. He did not even take two steps when he was grabbed by the collar. “Lascivious Demon! Where are you running?!”
Frightened out of his wits, Song Ci had only one thought in his heart: he must not get caught. The only thing he could do was to strip his robe to save his life at the crucial moment. So, like a slippery loach, he resolutely shook his robe off and leaped onto the roof.
Mo Yao’s disciples chased after him, sticking so close behind him he had no chance to escape. Everyone was shouting, “Lascivious Demon! Lascivious Demon!”
When the townspeople heard the commotion, some bolder ones left their houses to watch the drama, only to see a man in red running in front with the Mo Yao disciples hot on his trail.
The chase on the roof did not last long, because Song Ci jumped onto the roof of Old Zhang’s house. The roof tiles on that house had been broken before, and they did not have the time to repair the roof when Song Ci stepped onto it. Naturally, and most tragically, he fell into the room below.
What made it worse was that Old Zhang’s little daughter was taking a bath in the room. Song Ci fell right next to the wooden basin,3 slamming his chin hard on the wooden basin. The pain made his eyes swim, and he felt as if his chin had been separated from his head.
Then the sounds of screaming and door breaking rang in his ears. Song Ci was hoisted up. When he looked up, the room was packed with people, and the girl who had been bathing was standing in a corner with her clothes draped over her as she covered her face and cried.
On seeing her partially exposed collarbone, Song Ci instantly blushed and hurriedly covered his eyes. “See no evil. Lady, please step back quickly.”
His learned manners and scholarly character had been so deeply ingrained in his bones that it could not be eradicated regardless of where he was. Even in such a difficult situation, Song Ci still firmly upheld his sense of propriety, justice, integrity, and honor.
“You Lascivious Demon, what are you pretending?!” A man next to him gave him a hard knock on the head and said fiercely, “Today is the end of your lucky days now that you have fallen into our Mo Yao hands!”
So, it was under the cussing and swearing of the townsfolk that Song Ci was restrained and taken to Mo Yao, all the while looking lost. Without being given a chance to explain himself, he was then thrown into prison and locked up right next to Mirror Old Man.
He had been imprisoned for most of the day when Mirror Old Man scooted over to him. The first words he said to Song Ci were, “Little Lascivious Demon, I heard you’ve slept with many maidens?”
He really hadn’t…
Song Ci helplessly sighed and wiped away a handful of bitter tears. “Never mind if they captured me. But they even pin such a filthy label on me. It truly makes me sad.”
Rong Bai chuckled. “So, you were caught by mistake, and that’s why you’ve been here before?”
“That’s right!” Song Ci retorted. “These Mo Yao people can’t tell right from wrong. They didn’t care if they caught the wrong person, and they couldn’t be bothered to listen to others’ explanations. They caused me to be locked up for so many months.”
His tone was full of resentment.
Even so, Song Ci’s ears still reddened as he spoke about falling into the maiden’s room while she was bathing. He had to brace himself and forced himself to stay calm. Rong Bai reached a hand out to pinch Song Ci’s ear lightly, feeling that scorching heat from his ears.
Song Ci’s ear was suddenly stimulated by the warmth from Rong Bai’s fingers, and he shrank back to dodge his hand. He cast a puzzled look at Rong Bai, but the latter found nothing wrong with touching other people’s ears. He asked with his usual expression, “Then, how did you escape later?”
Song Ci replied, “Mirror Old Man helped me. He gave me a push out of the barrier one day when the seal was weak. After getting out of prison, I went straight down the mountain and left Mo Yao.”
Saying so, he lowered his head as his face sank. “But I…”
After he left Mo Yao, he had relied on the treasure given to him by Mirror Old Man and returned to the small town. Since then, he had led a wandering life. He had thought of ways to return to Mo Yao to rescue Mirror Old Man, but the truth was that he could not do it on his own, and he could not find someone else to help him either.
For a very long time, Song Ci had wanted to just find the Demon Gate and forget about Mirror Old Man, as well as his promise to him.
He even came up with a noble reason to comfort himself: Mirror Old Man was a demon too. Who knew why he had been captured? Maybe he had previously harmed humans?
“You gave up on the idea of saving him, is that right?” Rong Bai suddenly asked.
Sitting inside the prison, Mirror Old Man cast a pair of sparkling eyes at Song Ci, staring fixedly at him.
Song Ci looked at him and slowly nodded his head, “Yes.”
“I can’t do it at all. If it weren’t for Master Rong, I wouldn’t even have been able to get through Mo Yao’s gate.” The hands hidden under Song Ci’s sleeves gripped the fabric with uneasiness. He wanted to explain himself further, but in the end, he could only say, “I’m sorry, Mirror Old Man.”
Mirror Old Man looked at him in a daze, a complicated expression on his aged face.
Rong Bai gently touched the back of his head. His voice was light and slow, almost merging with the soft light of the night luminous pearl. “That’s why you have to become strong and make it a breeze to do all the things that you couldn’t and wasn’t able to do before.”
Song Ci’s heart stirred. He pursed his lips and said nothing.
For a minute, he had the desire to be as strong as Rong Bai, where nobody could hurt him, and nothing could get in his way.
But deep down, he knew he was but a mere mortal. Eventually, he would turn back into a human being. It was impossible to have that kind of exceptional capability, let alone hanker after it.
Rong Bai looked at Song Ci’s ears which were so red they seemed to drip blood. He could not help but touch them again. Song Ci was wallowing in despair this time, so he did not evade Rong Bai and simply let Rong Bai knead his ears gently.
“Little Lascivious Demon, you did nothing wrong.” Mirror Old Man suddenly said.
Song Ci and Rong Bai both looked at him in surprise. Mirror Old Man said, “The moment I sent you out, I had never expected you to return. To see you again was just one of my many wishes. Now that you have come, I should thank you instead.”
- 阴界, 阳界 Literally, The Yin Realm and The Yang Realm. Used to refer to the Realm of the Dead (including demons and ghosts) and the Realm of the Living (the mortals) respectively.
- 梦郎 Menglang literally means Dream Boy LOL
In the old days, people used a big wooden bucket or basin as a bathtub for bathing.