Song Ci stood alone in the darkness for a long time before he calmed down. Just as he was wondering why there was no scene yet, he heard the clatter of footsteps.
He looked towards the sound and saw a man walking out of the darkness, his face becoming clearer with each step.
“Mirror Old Man?” Song Ci asked doubtfully, “Why are you…”
It was indeed Mirror Old Man. He walked up to Song Ci, looked him over carefully, and wondered, “Where are your eyebrows?”
Song Ci touched his eyebrows, but could not feel them. He almost shed tears of sadness. “What am I to do if there’s a need to shave my head?”
“How many scenes have you been through?” Mirror Old Man changed the subject on seeing how sad he was.
His mention of this jolted Song Ci’s memories. Instead of answering, he asked, “Is there a connection between that Jiang Liang and you? Are you old friends?”
He had already sensed something off when he saw how Mirror Old Man protected Feng Yingqiu earlier. No matter how you put it, Mirror Old Man was old. It was impossible for him to have any kind of relationship with a little maiden. The only possibility was that he knew the man who had possessed Feng Yingqiu, Jiang Liang.
On hearing his question, Mirror Old Man looked at him with heavy eyes for a long time before he sighed and said, “Little Song, do you know that out of so many people in the City of Qinchuan, you are the only one I don’t want to learn of the truth.”
Song Ci looked perplexed. “Why?”
“Because you look timid, but in fact, you have lots of guts.” Mirror Old Man said, “You are always able to break away from the plan.”
Song Ci did not know whether Mirror Old Man was praising him or belittling him, so he stood akimbo and said, “What plan do you have? Let’s hear it.”
“Loving someone who would never be yours, and loving someone but falling out with him in the end, which is the most painful?” Mirror Old Man asked.
“How would I know?” Song Ci furrowed his bald eyebrows and clicked his tongue. He said, “Answer my question first!”
“As you know, I’m a mirror demon.” Mirror Old Man said in a heavy voice. “I’m Ah Liang’s dressing mirror. He had performed for decades, but he had never changed his dressing mirror, so I have been by his side all these times. I saw with my own eyes how he fell in love with Feng Zhuojun, was heartlessly cast aside, and ended up humiliated by the Fengs. I saw him heartbroken, secretly wiping his tears in front of the mirror in the middle of the night unbeknownst to anyone else…”
“So… you love Jiang Liang?” Song Ci guessed.
“That’s right.” Mirror Old Man’s eyes lit up in a smile, as if he was recalling the past. “I love him, so I pray day and night to be able to evolve into a human form so that I can protect him from being humiliated. I want him to walk out of Feng Zhuojun’s shadow. Every single day for decades, I watched him grow and age.”
“So did you turn into a human later?” Song Ci asked.
This was obviously a stupid question. Mirror Old Man speechlessly cast him a look and sighed. “I took on a human form, but it was too late. The fire burned Ah Liang’s body clean and left nothing behind. I cultivated a human form in that great fire, but I failed to save him.”
Mirror Old Man’s tone was not that sorrowful, but Song Ci’s heart sank. He said softly, “It can’t be helped.”
“You can never imagine the despair of seeing the one you love die before your very eyes. The day he died coincided with Mo Zun’s return to the world. Both the Demon and Devil Realms were in turmoil. A large batch of demons came to Qinchuan, and their demonic aura scattered his soul. I thought it would be good to send him for reincarnation even if I could not resurrect him, that’s why I have been looking all these years for ways to gather his soul. It was only after I heard that there was a Devil Seal that can gather a scattered soul in Mo Yao Sect that I risked my life to get on Yu Shi Peak.”
“Then you were really risking your life, having been locked up for so many days.” Song Ci admired Mirror Old Man for his foolhardy behavior. “You almost couldn’t get out.”
“It is true that I did not think it through. I never expect Mo Yao’s underground prison to be so solid.” Mirror Old Man smiled as he said spoke. He continued, “When I returned to Qinchuan, I realized that Ah Liang’s soul had been assembled. But it was also at the same time I discovered that he had set the Xingluo Chessboard Array in motion in the city.”
“So what were you doing when you were sneaking around the Feng Residence earlier? You even suggested a wedding to let Feng Yingqiu to counteract the evil aura.”1
“A marriage to drive away evil may seem absurd, but in fact, it is very useful. I just wanted to force Ah Liang out of Feng Yingqiu’s body. It will be too late if we let him activate the Xingluo Chessboard.” Mirror Old Man said, “As a matter of fact, it’s all your fault. Why did you have to barge all the way here? You even brought along Immortal Rong…”
“Hey, what’s with your disdainful tone? You were the one who came to me to drown your sorrows in wine. That was why I wanted to help you. You think I’m so free? Master Rong and I came to Qinchuan to look for the Demon Gate. We are going to the Demon Realm to do great things!” Song Ci fumed.
“If I knew Rong Bai was such a character, I wouldn’t provoke you both even if you kill me.” Mirror Old Man said with a glum face. “This is just great…”
“Make yourself clear.” Song Ci grabbed his sleeve. “Do you know Rong Bai’s identity?”
Mirror Old Man gave him a thumbs-up. “You’re really gutsy. You don’t even know who he is, and you still dare to run around with him.”
“Seriously, what do you know?” Song Ci slapped his hand and asked nervously.
Mirror Old Man coughed and put on a show for effect. “I can tell the past of everyone I ever laid eyes on. It’s true that I couldn’t see through him before, so I guessed that he should be a formidable character. But this time, in the Feng Residence, I gleaned a couple of scenes off Rong Bai. It’s truly impossible to express in a few words.”
“You actually have such a powerful ability.” Song Ci was shocked. “So the first time you saw me, you knew that I was wronged, and yet you still called me Little Lascivious Demon?”
Mirror Old Man touched his nose in embarrassment. “I just found it fun.”
Song Ci wanted to smack the table in anger, only that there was no table for him to smack. So he glared at Mirror Old Man, thinking that he would settle this with him later. He huffed. “Go on. What did you see?”
“I can’t describe it. Take a look for yourself.” Mirror Old Man raised his hand and lightly drew a line before Song Ci’s eyes. Dark yellow light enveloped his entire sight. He blinked and saw a patch of blue and white emerging in the distance.
Then a shocking scene materialized before him. A white cloud that looked like a spear pierced through the horizon, stretching across half the sky as it hovered overhead.
The stench of blood around him was so intense that it was hard to breathe. Song Ci turned his eyes. All he could see was blood red. Dense heaps of corpses filled his entire sight. Rivers of blood flowed down the terrain and under his shoes. He felt a cutting cold under the soles of his feet.
Even if Song Ci was accustomed to seeing bloodshed, this scene was still far beyond his ability to accept. He could not help but gasp, wanting to take deep breaths to calm himself.
There was almost no place for him to plant his feet in this bloody wreckage of badly mutilated flesh. He froze, not daring to move.
“This should be enough, Master Rong.” A familiar voice rang out behind him.
Song Ci instantly matched the voice to its owner in his head. He heard the creak of his neck as he turned around stiffly. He saw the man who had disguised himself as Big Beard earlier, Lu Shaoqing.
His hair was long and as red as the raging fire. It was tied up with a ribbon made of some animal’s fur. There was a pair of horns like looked like black jade on his head. He was dressed in a robe as white as snow. His eyes were glowing blood-red as he stood, untainted, in the midst of the blood with his demonic aura out in full force.
Song Ci took several deep breaths before he dared to shift his sight away. When his eyes fell on the man beside Lu Shaoqing, he froze.
The man’s long snow-colored hair fluttered. His black robe stood out in sharp contrast. There was a prancing animal embroidered in golden thread on his black robe. It looked like a cat, or a… fox.
He was still holding a bloody severed head in his right hand. Half of his arm had been stained red, and the blood dripped down continuously. He threw the head to the ground as if he were casting a stone aside. He turned his head ever so slightly, revealing a face that made this entire land of bright red pale in comparison.
“Any survivors?” Rong Bai’s voice was so cold that it was bone-chilling.
“Not even one.” Lu Shaoqing sighed frivolously and gloated. “Even if you are in a bad mood, you can’t take it out on these demons.”
Rong Bai said, “They asked for it.”
Song Ci completely could not recognize this Rong Bai before him. His murderous aura was flowing unbridled, his fury teeming. Those originally ink-black pair of eyes were now thoroughly blue. He was like a demon that rose from hell. But yet, those long fluttering white hair made him look incomparably dignified, like a deity awash in blood.
The bodies strewn all over this place were the handiwork of Rong Bai. Even if he was eliminating demons, this was a little over the top!
Perhaps Rong Bai was a demon, too? He was not an immortal or Daoist priest at all.
The white Daoist priest attire he had seen him wore on their first encounter was just a guise for the convenience of wandering the world, just like Song Ci.
Song Ci moved his legs, wanting to go up to Rong Bai to take a closer look at him. But the instant he moved, the entire scene vanished, leaving only Mirror Old Man standing before him.
Mirror Old Man noted that Song Ci’s expression was more or less what he had imagined. He said, “You saw it? Is this person someone you and I can afford to offend? If we do not serve him well and it puts him into a bad mood, then would there even be any survivor in Qinchuan?”
“You can’t put it that way…” Song Ci weakly rebutted him.
“He can slaughter demons this easily, what’s more humans? Little Song, if a human heart still exists in you, then keep an eye on your Master Rong. I still want to send Ah Liang to be reincarnated. If by any chance…”
Before he could finish speaking, Song Ci collapsed on his butt to the ground and said, panic-stricken, “It’s over, I’m done for. I’m a goner.”
Mirror Old Man got a fright and hurriedly squatted down in front of him. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t scare me.”
Song Ci was so terrified he twisted his hands together. He looked at Mirror Old Man and asked with a guilty conscience, “Mirror Old Man, let me ask you a question.”
“Go ahead.” Mirror Old Man had a bad premonition.
“That is… if a man forcibly kissed you when you are not aware of it, will you be angry when you come to?” Song Ci asked in a roundabout way.
After hearing this, Mirror Old Man was dumbfounded for a moment before he scooted closer to him and whispered, “That man who is unaware couldn’t be Rong Bai, could he?”
Song Ci simply wanted to smack his thigh, but he tightened his little fist to fight back the urge. He smiled, revealing his white teeth. “It could be him.”
Mirror Old Man’s eyes darkened. He almost fainted. His hand trembled as he pointed at Song Ci. “You could even do such a beastly thing?”
Song Ci spread his hands and said in aggrievement. “I had no choice but to do so.”
“We are done for.” Mirror Old Man collapsed on his back and said in despair, “Let’s just wait for our deaths.”
“Don’t give up hope!” Song Ci cheered him up. “Maybe he won’t remember anything when he regains his awareness!”
“That’s right!” Mirror Old Man gave a start and sat up in delight. “Maybe he has been aware all this time?”
Song Ci frowned in puzzlement on hearing this. “What are you talking about?”
Mirror Old Man glared at him. “You’d better pray it’s the latter. Otherwise, I won’t let you off even if I turned into a ghost.”
Song Ci said nothing more and thought in silence for a moment. He found it odd and raised his head to ask Mirror Old Man. “Why isn’t there any more scenes from the chessboard? It’s been dark for quite a while.”
“Whatever happens within the chessboard is entirely controlled by the chess player. When the array is at a standstill, all the players in the array will remain in a static state. Only those who retained their own consciousness will be in darkness like we are now.” Mirror Old Man explained, “Perhaps Ah Liang is tired of playing now.”
“Isn’t this being a little too flippant? If he goes on an infinite hiatus, then wouldn’t we have to wait like this infinitely?”
“Once the array is activated, it will begin to use up the object used to hold it down. Once the object has been completely consumed, the array will break up on its own.” Mirror Old Man said in satisfaction. “It’s fine this way, too.”
On hearing this, Song Ci pondered for a moment, then looked at Mirror Old Man with a serious gaze. “A question. Is there any restriction on the object used to keep the array under control?”
“No. Any object works.”
“Then, what about a soul?”
Mirror Old Man was stupefied. “That works too.”
Song Ci frowned as he contemplated something. His words were shocking. “I suspect that it’s Master Rong’s soul who is holding down the array.”
It was that Rong Bai who felt unfamiliar to him.
Mirror Old Man’s eyes widened in surprise. “Do you have any basis for your suspicion?”
“No.” Song Ci said, “It’s just my own feeling. You should know that I’m Jiang Liang in the chessboard array, and Master Rong is Feng Zhuojun. So I have seen him several times before. I found him odd. But, this is just my guess.”
“I don’t know about that.” Mirror Old Man’s expression grew heavy. He said solemnly. “The two most important chess pieces in this array are Feng Zhuojun and Ah Liang. Do you know what this means?”
Song Ci shook his head.
“On the basis of Ah Liang’s hatred for Feng Zhuojun, he will definitely kill the chess piece to end the array in the last plot setting of the chessboard. Therefore, it’s very likely you will be directed to kill Rong Bai, who represents Feng Zhuojun. If you don’t obey, this array will never be broken. But if you do as told… Rong Bai will most likely wring your neck until it breaks.”
Song Ci instantly thought back to the scene he had just seen. The head in Rong Bai’s hand turned into his own as it was nonchalantly cast aside.
Song Ci’s blood ran cold as he shuddered. “Let’s think of a way to do Jiang Liang in.”
Mirror Old Man glared at him. “Not unless you do me in first”
Song Ci pushed up his sleeves. “You hold on. I’ll do you in now.”
Mirror Old Man hastily held his hand down. “Whoa—don’t be impulsive!”
While they were making a scene, the scene around them suddenly changed. A long busy street stretched out before them. Under the starry night, the entire street was illuminated with gorgeous, colorful lights glowing from the lanterns on both sides of the street. Every one of the coming and going passerby let out gasps of admiration.
Stunned, Mirror Old Man stood up slowly. All sorts of people walked past him and commented, “These lanterns were hung up on an entire street by Young Master Feng for the theater’s famous performer, Jiang Niangzi. He’s really generous with his money!”
“If this was a girl from a common family, she would have already pledged marriage to him!”
Song Ci rose to his foot. His eyes followed the lanterns as he looked into the distance. He sighed in admiration. “Feng Zhuojun’s thoughtfulness really puts one to shame.”
He did not know whether Jiang Liang was moved by this. But as he looked at the entire street of lanterns, he was captivated by those dazzling colors.
But before Song Ci could see Jiang Liang, the entire scene disappeared, flashing weird scenes that showed the Qinchuan riverbanks one moment and the inside of San Chi Tai Theatre the next moment. Several sounds mingled with one another. It was noisy and grating on the ears.
Song Ci furrowed his cleanly shaven eyebrows again. “What’s going on?”
Mirror Old Man’s expression changed dramatically. “Oh, no! Something happened to Ah Liang!”
- 冲喜 (chongxi) Traditionally, Chinese weddings are regarded as extremely auspicious and can supposedly bring good fortune and drive away evil spirits. So, weddings are sometimes used in situations where a person in the family is ill (or in this case, possessed), etc, in the belief and hope that it might help their recovery or drive away the inauspicious or evil aura.