Half of San Chi Tai Theatre was turned into ashes after the great fire swept through it. Almost half of its people died in those blazing flames. Jiang Liang was one of them.
A long and simple yet elegant pale blue robe was draped on his body as he sat on the ashes with dull eyes as if thinking about something.
He was still holding on to a badly burned folding fan.
A pair of beautiful brocade boots stepped across the ashes and sauntered towards him before stopping before him. The stranger said, “Jiang Liang.”
Stunned, Jiang Liang looked up and saw a handsome man standing among the ruins. His pure white robes were embroidered with golden thread and red silk, while his long hair was strung up with a fire red hairpin.
The man smiled. “Are you interested in making a deal with me?”
“Who are you?” Jiang Liang asked blankly.
“My name is Zhu Yun.” Zhu Yun pointed to the sky and said in a mild tone, “I came from up there.”
“So you are an immortal.” Jiang Liang looked up at the sky and added, “Is it because I’ve activated this array that you want to kill me to quash it?”
“Those trivial matters do not concern me.” Zhu Yun walked up to Jiang Liang and bent over him to look at him. His voice was suppressed and infused with boundless temptation. “I’m here to help you.”
“Help me with what?” Jiang Liang asked.
“Haven’t you been puzzling over why Feng Zhuojun made a promise to be with you for life but then changed his mind to marry someone else?” Zhu Yun said, “Although you hate him for it, you still can’t figure out why. Am I right?”
Jiang Liang kept his face mostly neutral. But after hearing this, he frowned. “You know everything about me?”
“Not just you, but Feng Zhuojun too.”
“What deal do you want to make with me?” A ray of light dotted Jiang Liang’s eyes. It looked as if he was pressed for time.
Zhu Yun smiled in satisfaction. “I can tell you why Feng Zhuojun broke his vows to you back then. But in exchange, I want that mirror in your hands.”
Jiang Liang thought for a moment and switched the folding fan to his left hand. His right hand reached into his sleeve and fumbled around for a small copper mirror with a handle. The mirror frame was inlaid with several dark-colored gems. Although it was ancient, there was no wear and tear in the more delicate parts.
He asked, “Is this the one?”
Zhu Yun glanced at it and nodded. “That’s the one.”
Jiang Liang stroked it with his finger. His eyes wavered with hesitation. This mirror had followed him for decades. He felt a little reluctant to part with it now that he had to give it away so suddenly. But when he thought about the opportunity to find out the truth, he severed the last bit of hesitation and said to Zhu Yun, “You have to tell me first, then I’ll give it to you.”
Zhu Yun was not the slightest bit afraid of him going back on his word. He said magnanimously, “As you wish.”
As he spoke, he lit up the index finger of his right hand with red light and slowly touched the spot between Jiang Liang’s eyebrows.
There was a gush of chilly wind, and a sudden ray of red light flashed from the side and made a beeline for Zhu Yun’s fingers. He sensed the sudden attack and calmly withdrew his fingers. A piece of red silk passed in front of Zhu Yun and circled around him before it returned to the direction it came from.
A dangerous smile appeared on his face after this interruption. He looked to the side and saw a maiden dressed in red walking over.
The maiden was petite and exquisite. Her long hair was tied with a red ribbon, and the eyes on her fair face were black and bright. However, her expression was hostile.
The piece of red silk that had a strong attack power floated around her.
Zhu Yun narrowed his eyes. “What can I do for you?”
The maiden took a few steps and broke into a run. At the same time, she waved her right hand and the red silk slid down the side of her body to the front. She leaped, stepped on the red silk and sprang up into the air.
Zhu Yun’s eyes followed her up and watched as she lingered in the air for a moment. Then the red silk suddenly turned into a sword heading right for him. At the same time, the maiden juxtaposed her hands together before pulling them apart to conjure out a long sword to slash down on Zhu Yun.
Zhu Yun was calm as red light congregated in his right palm and turned into a long arrow. He thrust it out, hitting the red silk head-on.
The long arrow conjured out of red light pierced through the red silk and broke through the maiden’s long sword, leaving a wound on the side of her neck.
The maiden cast aside the broken sword and flipped back in pain, maintaining her half-crouching attack posture even after landing. She wiped her neck with her palm, staining it bloodied. She frowned and bit her lower lip. After understanding the disparity in their strength, she stared at Zhu Yun, no longer daring to act rashly.
“Qinyu, what are you doing?” Jiang Liang recognized the maiden. Seeing that she was hurt, he hurriedly stood up to take a step towards her. However, he was barefoot. He had only just stepped on the ashes when it sizzled with white smoke as if he had placed his foot on a scalding hotplate. He retracted his foot in agony.
The maiden named Qinyu stood up and said to Jiang Liang. “You mustn’t believe what others say.”
Zhu Yun was so infuriated he laughed. “The one rare time I do a good deed to make a fair, honest trade with him, you had to come and cause trouble for me.”
“Who knows what you are plotting?” Qinyu snorted at him. “It’s obvious that you are up to no good by wanting that mirror. And you still say you’re an immortal? I’ve never seen you before!”
“Oh, you’re from the Immortal Realm too?” Zhu Yun looked at her in surprise and swept his eyes over her with evil designs in his mind. “If I kill you, do you think the Immortal Realm will send someone to hunt me down?”
Qinyu moved her finger and restored the torn red silk to its original state. It floated to her. She hid the fear that had welled in her in that instant and said to Jiang Liang, “Ah Liang, hide the mirror well. Don’t hand it to this person.”
Jiang Liang was on good terms with Qinyu. After hearing her words, he hurriedly put the mirror back into his sleeve.
Zhu Yun clicked his tongue, shattering his gentle expression and exposing his impatience. “Seldom do I have the urge not to kill, but you force my hand.”
Red light swirled in the air again and gathered into a whirlpool in Zhu Yun’s palm. A sudden gust of wind sent his long hair and robe fluttering as his murderous intent surged out in waves.
Seeing this, Qinyu mobilized the red silk and sent it flying towards Jiang Liang, but Zhu Yun caught hold of it midway. He smirked and clenched his fist. Massive force struck out in all directions and smacked right into Qinyu’s chest, sending her flying. She crashed into the charred wall, breaking it into fragments of debris. She collapsed to the ground, and the rubble buried her.
Jiang Liang was struck by the force too, but it did not send him flying. It was as if a barrier had blocked the attack. He kneeled on the ground feebly and coughed out a mouthful of fresh blood.
Zhu Yun was surprised to see this and commented, “I didn’t expect you to be able to cough out blood even after becoming a ghost.”
Jiang Liang coughed up all the blood in his mouth. “Kill me, and the array will be messed up. You’ll end up being implicated.”
Zhu Yun smiled and said nonchalantly. “Then I’ll just kill everyone in the array to destroy it. In any case, this is what you wanted, isn’t it? As it happens, you’ll benefit from it.”
Jiang Liang said through clenched his teeth, “I don’t…”
“Oh, that’s right.” Zhu Yun smiled happily. “You hate Feng Zhuojun the most. I’ll capture him and torture him brutally before I kill him. This will fulfill your last wish. Then your soul can depart in peace.”
This agitated Jiang Liang. Before he could say a word, the acute pain in his chest stopped him. Blood trickled down the corner of his mouth. A tear fell. He pushed himself to say, “Don’t touch him…”
Zhu Yun did not hear him clearly and asked, “What did you say?”
Jiang Liang had yet to reply when the sound of collapsing debris rang out behind him. Zhu Yun raised his eyebrows and turned around to see a dusty Qinyu climbing unsteadily to her feet. She wiped the blood at the side of her mouth with the back of her hand and said to Zhu Yun. “Don’t even think about it. Unless you kill me first.”
“Do you dare to shoulder the crime of murdering an immortal?” She asked.
“Why not? I don’t even know how many immortals I have already killed.” A wicked smile emerged on Zhu Yun’s handsome face. His gaze was bloodthirsty. “It doesn’t matter if you are added to the list.”
With that, he conjured out a second arrow with the arrowhead swirling with an intense color of fire and aimed it at Qinyu.
“Good heavens, he’s a tough one.” Qinyu gritted her teeth and mumbled. She braced herself and formed a seal with her fingers, and the pieces of red silk on the ground that Zhu Yun had torn earlier floated up and reverted to its original state. Then, it split into more than ten strips of similar red silk.
Red silk filled Zhu Yun’s sight. He grinned and gave her a nasty smile. “I like red best.”
With that, the arrow burst free of his hand. Like a thunderbolt, it shot through the wind towards Qinyu. At the same time, the dancing red silk in the air came flying towards him. Zhu Yun swiped his hand, tearing all the red silk into pieces. They fluttered down like red flower petals.
Zhu Yun looked through the dancing fragments of cloth at a resolute-looking Qinyu. Suddenly, there was a heart-wrenching pain in his heart. The mighty arrow came to a halt right before it was about to hit Qinyu’s chest.
The resulting strong wind sent her long hair and red skirt flapping, but it did not harm her the slightest. The arrow paused for a moment, and then it vanished.
Qinyu heaved a sigh of relief and cursed him. “Son of a bitch, you’re finally under my control.”
With a look of disbelief on his face, Zhu Yun clutched his chest and frowned. He lowered his head and saw a red string secured on his left wrist. His astonished eyes followed the red string and saw the other end secured on Qinyu’s right wrist.
“Damn woman. What is this?” Zhu Yun swore in anger. He raised his hand, wanting to break it, but the moment he used force, that penetrating pain in his chest struck him. He was so frightened he released his hand.
Zhu Yun was not afraid of anything, except pain.
Qinyu was thoroughly relieved when she saw this. She glanced at Jiang Liang, who had passed out, and took a deep breath before cursing. “You blasted bastard. Accept your fate now that you’ve fallen into my hands.”
Zhu Yun had never been cussed at so brazenly before. His eyes widened in a glare. He was so enraged that it put him at a loss for words. “You… you damn woman. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you!
After hollering, red light amassed in his palm again. But the instant he revealed his intent to kill Qinyu, his chest started to hurt again. In a split second, Zhu Yun dispelled the power. Only then did the pain fade away.
Qinyu could not help but burst out laughing when she saw this. But her laugh soon turned into a pout as she started to cry in aggrievement. “That’s my Thread of Marriage1—Jerk, just you wait. I’ll take you to the Immortal Realm and ask the Immortal King to throw you into jail and lock you up for a thousand and eight hundred years.”
Zhu Yun’s shoulders sank after he heard this. He stared stupefied at the red string on his wrist as the world darkened before him. With a face full of despair and incredulity, he looked at the wailing maiden before him. “Thread of Marriage? You are the Immortal of Marriages in the Immortal Realm?”
Few people among the Six Realms knew about the Thread of Marriage. It just so happened Zhu Yun was one of those who knew.
The Marriage Immortal, commonly known as Yue Lao2, was in control of all marriages in the Human Realm. By the means of a Book of Marriages and red strings, he would create touching love stories in the mortal world.
However, the Immortal of Marriage had a powerful tool, known as the Thread of Marriage, in her hands. It had always been the case that the Marriage Immortal would secure the thread to the person she or he had taken a shine to. No one in the Six Realms could resist the power of the Thread of Marriage, unless they were willing to endure pain similar to that of their hearts being gouged out.
As such, Zhu Yun, who was most afraid of pain, near about lost all hope when he found out that this was the Thread of Marriage. He gnashed his teeth and said, “I’d rather rip away the thread by force than to fall in love with this ugly lass!”
Being connected with the Thread of Marriage was the same as signing a contract. The moment Zhu Yun harbor the intent to kill her or make a move to hurt her, he would have to bear with the surge of pain from deep within his heart. So even though he was so incensed that he wanted to smack her to death, he still forced himself to rein in his murderous intent.
“Go ahead and rip it off. I don’t mind if you want to have a taste of the pain of your heart being dug out!” Qinyu sniffled and sat down to start healing herself.
She was left with no choice but to make such an unwise move. One end of the Thread of Marriage had always been bound to her hand. She had kept it like a treasure so that she could one day choose an ideal husband for herself. But now that she had used it to save her own life, she could only feel heartbroken and aggrieved.
Zhu Yun turned his head away in anger and disdain as he inwardly persuaded himself to calm down and think of a way.
He could not kill her, hit her, or even scold her. It was then Zhu Yun realized he was in big trouble, having fallen into a deep pit.
When Mirror Old Man rushed over, he saw an unconscious Jiang Liang lying on the only clean spot among the ashes. Zhu Yun was standing beside him, his face even blacker than the charred wall. Qinyu was sitting in meditation on his other side, healing herself.
He ran over to Jiang Liang in a panic. When he looked up to question them, he saw Zhu Yu glaring murderously at him as if saying: I’m in a freaking bad mood, don’t provoke me.
Mirror Old Man chose to keep his curiosity down as he lowered his head to check Jiang Liang’s injuries.
Seeing that he was still in a coma, he gently placed him on the ground and walked over to Qinyu. He squatted and touched her shoulder, “Qinyu.”
With her healing interrupted, Qinyu opened her eyes. When she saw him, she asked, “Where are we at now in the Chessboard Array? Have you found a way to break through it?”
Mirror Old Man shook his head and asked, “What happened to you? Are your injuries serious?”
“I’m fine. But this asshole was going to tell Ah Liang everything.” Qinyu threw a frosty look at Zhu Yun.
Zhu Yun wanted to fly into a rage upon hearing his, but he curbed his temper and put on a superficial smile. “Lass, stop calling me bastard one moment and asshole the next. I have a name. It’s Zhu Yun.”
Qinyu’s eyes widened in shock. “The Vermilion…”
Before she could complete her words, her eyes rolled up and she fainted.
Frightened, Mirror Old Man called her twice but failed to rouse her. He turned to Zhu Yun. “It’s the honor of a small city like Qinchuan to welcome the presence of the Vermilion Bird3 divine clan. Why make things difficult for these mortals and minor immortals?”
Zhu Yun finally found someone reasonable to speak to. “I just want to borrow the mirror. It’s this lass who wants to kill me indiscriminately.”
“Why do you need the mirror?”
“To look for someone.” Zhu Yun replied.
“Who?” Mirror Old Man asked.
“Lou Muge.” Zhu Yun did not hide it from him.
“I can help you look for him. But in exchange, you can’t interfere in this matter.” Mirror Old Man lowered his voice.
Zhu Yun could not wait to wash his hands of this matter. He pointed to Qinyu and said, “Get her to undo the red thread.”
“Once the Thread of Marriage is attached, there is no way to undo it. Unless….” Mirror Old Man’s words were cut off midway by a thunderous boom.
Both of them simultaneously looked towards the sound and saw thick smoke rising into the air as red light lit up the sky at the same time. A strong oppressive power swept over them, causing Mirror Old Man to drop down.
Zhu Yun, however, stood firm. He uttered an ‘oh’ and said, “My elder brother4 is here.”
- 姻缘丝 (Red) Thread of Fate or Marriage, which is used to connect and bring two destined lovers together. There are a few versions of how the strings are usually bound to each other, but some of the more common ways are around the finger or the wrist, or even around the ankle.
- 月老 Yue Lao, or 月下老人 (literally, the old man under the moon) is a deity who matchmakes lovers and unites humans in marriage. He links them to one another with the red string of fate. Although this deity is commonly a kindly old man in Chinese mythology, it’s a ‘she’ in this novel.
- 朱雀 Zhu Que, or the Vermilion Bird, is one of the four mythological creatures that are viewed as the guardians of the four cardinal directions. Not to be confused with the phoenix.
- 兄长 Xiongzhang; a respectful form of address for one’s elder brother, or a male friend.