A long howl broke through the sky as the beast that had been sealed for years finally broke through the earth to see the light of the day. It was even taller than the towering trees in the forest by a zhang1 when it stood. Red spikes, similar to the one that had just popped out by Song Ci’s feet earlier, grew all over its back, while thick fur covered its massive head.
A pair of cloudy beast eyes lay concealed under its fur. It opened its eyes and shook off the heavy dirt, sending them falling like a rain of dust. Fangs exposed themselves when it opened its jaws.
There was a pair of black crow-like wings on its back. As the beast unfolded them for the first time after they had been closed for so many years, it stirred up a howling wind that sent the trees swaying dangerously and strewn soil all over the sky, turning heaven and earth upside down.
Song Ci was almost at the feet of the demonic beast as he went all out to chase after the sprinting youth.
Amidst the assault of the wind and sand, a faint odor of blood wafted towards him. Before Song Ci could think about it, he saw the little youth come to a stop in his tracks. He stood there blankly as if he had seen something.
The beast spread opened its wings, and the howling wind came hurtling over. Song Ci flung himself forward and pulled the little youth along as he tumbled a few rounds on the ground, narrowly dodging those enormous wings.
The wary youth turned his head right after being tackled and threw him a fierce gaze. But when he saw that it was Song Ci, he retracted his sharp claws and asked in astonishment. “Why are you here?”
“Cut the nagging. It’s more important to flee for our lives!” Song Ci grabbed his wrist, not even lingering for a moment. They had only just taken two steps when the little youth threw him down hard. Both of them fell behind a tree.
Song Ci ate a mouthful of dirt and immediately crawled to his feet. “What are you doing?”
The little youth pulled him and said in a deep voice. “Hide yourself! It’s turning around!”
Song Ci hurriedly squatted down again and used the tree to conceal himself as he partially poked his head out for a look. Sure enough, the beast was turning around, its cloudy eyes sweeping all over the place as if looking for something. Little by little, it looked towards them. Startled, Song Ci quickly shrank his head back.
“What’s it looking for?” Song Ci mumbled.
“Zhu Yishu.” Feng Zhuojun put himself to use. “This beast smelled the scent of Zhu Yishu’s blood. It’s considering making a meal out of him.”
“The blood of Divine Beasts has always been precious. This beast has sensed the presence of many deities here and knew it couldn’t rival them. Naturally, it won’t miss the chance to get Zhu Yishu’s blood. In fact, whether it could escape alive today all depends on whether it could successfully drink Zhu Yishu’s blood.”
“Then, did it get to drink it?” Song Ci asked.
“Of course not.” Feng Zhuojun replied, “But why are you worrying so much? You should just think of how to flee. With your mediocre skills, it’s either you flee for your life or send yourself to your death at this point…”
“Stop, stop, stop. Shut up.” Song Ci did not want to listen to him prattling on and on like a broken record, even if what he said was true and made sense.
Just as he was about to pull the youth to make their escape, he saw the latter stick out his butt and poked half of his head out on the other side of the tree. Song Ci moved closer to him out of curiosity and got a shock.
Zhu Yishu was sitting back behind a tree. His left shoulder was covered with blood—blood that had stained his white robe red. He was covering his wound with one hand, and his entire face was wet with tears of terror. He was also biting down hard on his lips for fear that he would startle the beast if he made a sound.
Zhu Yishu had been looking all aloof and distant the last time Song Ci saw him. But now, he cut a sorry figure as he huddled up into a ball. He looked so frightened that one could not help but pity him.
Song Ci’s intent to flee wavered.
Although Zhu Yishu had been somewhat hostile to him the last time they met, the Zhu Yishu at this moment was clearly young. The way he looked as he hid and shivered was hard for Song Ci to bear.
Soon enough, the beast found the source of the blood. Its eyes remained fixed on the tree where Zhu Yishu was hiding as it clumsily turned its gargantuan body around, crushing the trees at its feet in the process. Every step it took, the earth shook. Sihuang Mountain groaned under this heavy burden on its back.
“What are you blanking out there for?!” Feng Zhuojun yelled, “Run!”
“But Zhu Yishu…” Song Ci faltered.
“What has it got to do with you? Leave quickly! He won’t die!” Feng Zhuojun said fiercely.
His words woke Song Ci up. Of course, Zhu Yishu would not die here. Otherwise, he would not have existed in the future. Furthermore, Feng Zhuojun had said earlier that the beast did not get to drink his blood. This meant that Zhu Yishu either found a way to escape, or someone else came to save him.
In that case, there was no need to waste his time here.
Feeling relieved, Song Ci patted the little youth on the head. “Stop looking. Let’s go!”
“Just go on your own! Why do you need to drag him along?!” Feng Zhuojun said anxiously.
Confused, Song Ci blurted out, “Should I not take him along?”
The little youth paid no heed to Song Ci’s words. He revealed only a pair of eyes as he hid behind the tree and stared at Zhu Yishu with his light-colored eyes. He looked pensive as he took in the sight of Zhu Yishu’s terrified look.
The beast closed in, taking only a few steps to reach the tree where Zhu Yishu was hiding. It lifted its sharp claws.
Zhu Yishu suddenly raised his eyes and looked towards them with his eyes brimming with tears. Those eyes intensely conveyed a plea for help the instant they met the little youth’s eyes.
Song Ci froze.
Right then, the little youth charged out like an arrow released from a bow. His figure quickly became a blur of shadows. Song Ci was neither in time to react or stop him.
“The word ‘decent’ isn’t worth a cent.”
The little youth’s words in prison rang again in Song Ci’s ears. Song Ci’s astonished gaze followed his figure as he saw him leaping up the branches before springing into the air. His entire body glowed white as he kicked the beast’s swatting claw away into another direction.
Aware that someone had jumped in to help him, Zhu Yishu finally burst into tears from the fear. In a bid to put up a fight for his precious blood, he broke into a desperate run.
Behind him, the little youth stood on the treetop. He was stepping on only a few pieces of leaves, and yet he remained steady on his feet. His little figure was as straight as a ramrod as he faced the beast, showing no sign of fear at all.
On seeing that the meat within its reach was about to escape, the enraged beast widened its entire jaws of fangs and let out a thunderous roar. That sound was extremely grating on the ears. It shocked Song Ci so much that he fell onto the ground and covered his own head with all his strength he could muster as he curled up into a ball.
It was like a needle piercing through his ears as the sound bore its way into his ears. His eardrums and head hurt so much that even the veins bulged on his neck.
That roar affected the youth even more. He trembled and fell from the treetop and coughed out a big mouthful of blood. His body spasmed uncontrollably even as he covered his ears firmly.
The sound spread so far that even Zhu Yishu, who was on the run, could not bear it. He tumbled to the ground and screamed as he hugged his head.
The blood oozing out from the little youth’s ears stained his palms red. He thrashed around on the ground like a dying fish out of water.
At the critical juncture, a black arrow with blue flames suddenly burst through the air and headed right for the beast’s eye.
The beast could only stop its roaring to dodge it. It eyed the formidable character who had appeared before it.
This formidable character had a headful of soft, long hair and a pair of snow-white fox ears among those gorgeous hair. His entire golden attire was dazzling as the violent wind sent the hem of his clothes flapping. Nine impressive and fluffy pure white tails swayed behind him. They were so beautiful they were enchanting.
The hair on his forehead curled in the wind and swung past his bright and clear blue eyes. The murderous intent in his eyes, suffused with a deadly air of danger, was in full display for all to see.
Even though the flying sands and tumbling rocks had turned the sky dark, it could not mask his peerless beauty among the chaos.
Bathed in a layer of pretty blue flame, the black bow in his hand slowly transformed into a long black sword2 the width of a palm. Golden motifs materialized on the surface of the blade as it glowed with a dark light.
This man and blade both reeked of blood.
Legend had it that the appearance of the nine-tailed fox in the world would bring good fortune upon it and rid it of calamities.
Song Ci forcibly suppressed his dizziness and light-headedness. The jolt from the ear-piercing sound made his chest ache. He swallowed the blood in his mouth. The instant he looked up, he saw Rong Bai in the air with his robe fluttering and those nine beautiful tails of his swaying lazily and leisurely in the wind.
He felt something resonated within him. His heart jolted as he slowly rose to his feet.
Only one thought remained in his mind: Rong Bai is here.
All the deities and immortals had withdrawn from Sihuang Mountain the moment they heard the bell. But Rong Bai had not left. Instead, he came deep into the mountain forest to stand before the beast.
What does he want to do?
“Is Rong Bai rather fond of fighting as well?” This was only the logical reason Song Ci could think of.
He made an arduous turn on the ground and clutched his chest as he gasped for breath. “No matter what, we should be safe now. The beast’s singing is so terrible it’s killing me.”
“You did it.” Feng Zhuojun suddenly said.
His voice was low and deep. Song Ci’s eyelids twitched when Feng Zhuojun’s voice wafted into his ears. “What?”
“Change history.” Feng Zhuojun replied. “This is a truly memorable moment. Someone has, for the first time since the Devil King created the Yin Yang Time Reversal, managed to use this array to change the past. Song Ci, you could be said to be the first person in history.”
Song Ci was bewildered to hear this. Feng Zhuojun’s words sounded as if he was praising him, but there was no congratulatory intent in his tone. He asked, “What did I change?”
“Back then, this incidental pandemonium was quelled by combined efforts of all the various deities. Not once had Rong Bai made a move to help. He left this mountain with His Majesty the Divine Emperor at the first toll of the bell. But because of your appearance, he is now here.” Feng Zhuojun said, “So from this moment onward, history will stray from its original course.”
“Because of me?” Song Ci raised his head and saw that brilliant color standing erect among the flying gravel. His breathing deepened, and he murmured, “Was it because of me?”
Rong Bai tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade and caressed the carved motif on the hilt with his thumb. It took merely a split second for his figure to flash past. The storm raged wildly between his robe and hair, bringing out his murderous intent in full force.
The cloudy eyes of the beast reflected Rong Bai’s figure with his nine tail swaying. It retreated half a step before flapping and brandishing its gigantic wings towards Rong Bai as if it wanted to smack him flat.
The moment those black wings closed upon him, an intense blue flame erupted from within like lightning flashing between thunder clouds. Flames rapidly spread up the black wings, leaving behind splendid flames in its trails.
The burning beast raised its head to the sky and let out a long howl. It knew it was no match for the man before him, but it still put up a last-ditch struggle for its life.
It frantically flailed its wings that were ablaze with blue flames. As its voice reverberated far into the distance, the howling wind uprooted all the trees within a few li.3 Then, with its two sharp claws, it made a grab for Rong Bai.
Knowing that Song Ci could not bear the sound of this noise, Feng Zhuojun quickly cast a spell to help him mute the sounds.
Silence descended upon Song Ci. The sounds of the wind, roars, cries, all vanished. Song Ci’s hands were latched onto the roots of the tree, and so he did not get uprooted by the wind. Amidst the frenzy, he saw the little youth’s body curled into a ball as he painfully resisted the roars of the beast.
He also saw Rong Bai raised Du’e as he leaped high into the air. His nine intersecting tails were like a snow lotus blooming amidst the mud. He paused for only a moment before a colossal flame blazed through the petals of the snow lotus and enveloped him.
He landed onto the ground and charged at the beast. His sharp blade came slashing down on its head and split its flesh open in one smooth move. The beast’s roar turned into a blood-curdling screech that pierced through the horizon. The blue flame set it aflame and blotted out the sun until it seemed as if the clouds in the sky had changed its hue.
Even Song Ci’s black eyes were awash in a pretty shade of blue.
The scorching flame purged the strewn rocks in the air and all that remained of the trees. When the wind stopped, there was no longer any sign left of the mayhem.
Song Ci heard voices coming from all directions, but all his eyes could contain was that golden figure.
He could only see the peerless contours of that figure’s face, and his charming movements as he kept his blade.
The lands as far as Song Ci’s eyes could see were all bare after calm was restored. Only the tree where Song Ci was hiding was still standing firm; it did not even show any signs of having been battered by the gale.
Song Ci walked out from behind the tree. Although his chest and ears were still sore, and his steps were unsteady, he still wanted to walk over—to make his way to Rong Bai’s side.
But Song Ci had just taken two steps when he saw several people jumping down from the air and landing not far away from the little youth.
“Is that right? Did it emanate from here?” Someone asked.
“No doubt it’s here.”
“Are you sure you didn’t get it wrong? That was so many years ago. “The voice sounded doubtful.
“Why are you so long-winded? It is better to kill a thousand by mistake than to let one go. As long as there is a pinprick of suspicion, he must be annihilated.”
“Stop arguing. Just do it.” The man standing in the middle of the group drew out a long sword that was slightly glowing with white light and walked towards the little youth.
Song Ci stopped in his tracks. “What are they doing?”
“The Devil King’s weapon is as famous as the Devil King himself. No one knew the whereabouts of the weapon after the Devil King had been sealed away. Those among the Six Realms fought tooth and nail for the weapon. But later, rumors had it that the weapon had already broken into pieces and was just a useless scrap of metal. Only then did the hype over it die down.” Feng Zhuojun explained. “The truth is that weapons have the ability to summon their masters, so the various deities naturally do not dare to take this risk. As long as they encounter a similar aura, they will eliminate it.”
“But he did it to save a person earlier…”
“So what?” Feng Zhuojun retorted, “His very existence is a great threat… Don’t interfere in what has already happened.”
Song Ci signed powerlessly as he looked at those few deities and immortals. Even if he wanted to interfere, he might not necessarily be able to.
Just as he was feeling depressed, someone bumped into his shoulder. He saw Zhu Yishu sprinting over.
His face was smeared with blood, and his tears had yet to be wiped away. With reddened eyes, he charged over to them. “Don’t kill him! He saved me earlier!”
“Hey, is this a child from the Zhu Clan?”
“Why does he seem unfamiliar? He’s probably not of distinguished birth.”
“None of the Zhu is likable. They are all annoying.” One of them raised his hand and shoved Zhu Yishu to the ground. He said harshly, “Scram! Don’t get in our way!”
Zhu Yishu was already injured to begin with, and the beast’s voice had badly shaken him. He immediately coughed out a mouthful of blood. His arms trembled as he struggled to get up.
“You’re too heavy-handed on him. No matter what, he’s still a Zhu. How are we going to account for it if you hurt him?”
“I didn’t use that much force!”
The deities all paid no attention to him. The one holding the sword stepped forward and kicked the little youth on the head to prod his cowering body open. His second kick landed on the little youth’s abdomen, lifting him off the ground.
The little youth was startled awake by the sharp pain. Seeing someone with a sword before him, he hurriedly extended his hands to ward off the attack. Although the white light emitted from his palms was weak, it fended off the man’s sword. He collapsed back to the ground.
The expression of the deities changed the moment they felt that white light. Someone yelled, “The power of ten thousand devils! It’s him all right!”
Even though the little youth was already weak at this point, the deities did not dare to drop their guards. One by one, they formed a seal with their hands.
The indomitable little youth climbed to his feet. Unyielding fury burned in his eyes. Blood from his ears had stained his neck red, making him look like a malevolent ghost.
Those deities each threw out a spell to cast a white ray of light to bind the little youth’s limbs. Then they pulled the light in four different directions to spread his limbs wide open.
The man with the sword wielded it again as he moved in. The little youth struggled desperately as he bellowed in pain and fury in that hoarse voice of his. Song Ci could not tell if it was a cry out of the fear of death or hatred for those people. Or perhaps, he was regretting exposing his identity to save someone else.
Zhu Yishu let out a miserable scream as he wailed and crawled towards him. But all he could do was to watch helplessly as the sword pierced through the little youth’s body right in his heart!
Life seeped out of the little youth’s body swiftly. The instant the sword was pulled out from his chest, his cries weakened.
Afraid that he would not thoroughly die, the man wanted to give him another stab. But he suddenly felt the impact of a tremendous force striking his back. The force of it knocked him over to the ground, almost causing him to cough out blood. The sword slipped out of his hand.
Song Ci was nimble. He caught them off guard and knocked over the few deities who were not skilled in physical combat. In the time it took for them to turn their heads, they had all received a kicking from Song Ci.
Song Ci took down the little youth and placed him lightly on the ground. His robe was instantly stained with blood.
The man with the sword flipped up from the ground and glared at Song Ci. “Where did this little demon come from?!”
“Stop it.” Song Ci said. “He is already on the verge of dying.”
How would those deities pay heed to his words? The few of them swiftly gathered, planning to exterminate Song Ci together with the little youth. However, just as they were about to strike, a man suddenly descended from the sky.
Rong Bai had already retracted his nine tails. He looked at those few people coldly.
Looking startled, those deities hurriedly stayed their hands and retreated a step to half-kneel on the ground. They lowered their heads and paid their obeisances. “This humble deity pays his respects to the Divine Lord Rong Bai.”
Rong Bai ignored them. Instead, he turned sideways to look back at Song Ci, who was sitting on the ground.
Song Ci was looking at the little youth with his head lowered. He saw the same old hatred and wariness in his light-colored eyes, except that those eyes no longer had any vitality in them. With half-opened eyes, he looked at Song Ci and raised his hand to grab Song Ci’s sleeve.
“Did I… do wrong?” He spoke in a feeble voice as crystal clear tears trickled down his eyes.
“You didn’t.” Song Ci scrunched up his eyebrows slightly and tried his best to suppress his emotions. He wiped away the little youth’s tears lightly and repeated, “You did nothing wrong.”
“Thank you…” He said with an inexplicable trace of stubbornness. It was as if he was speaking to someone else and trying to prove himself to said person. “I know… how to say thank you too…”
Song Ci played along and nodded his head. He felt a twinge of heartache. “Yes. You’ve done well.”
“……” The little youth mumbled something. Song Ci could not hear him clearly, so he bent over to put his ear to the youth’s lips, only to hear him say, “Changchu…”
Perplexed, Song Ci asked, “What?”
“My name… is… Changchu…” The little youth said with intermittent pauses. “You have to remember it… I, I don’t want to, die without leaving a trace of myself behind…”
The moment the words left his lips, the light went out of his beautiful, light-colored eyes. The hand that had been clutching onto Song Ci’s sleeve released its hold and dropped back down.
Song Ci widened his eyes, stupefied. A thin layer of what seemed like water glistened in them. His lips curved into a smile as he said softly in a low, gentle voice, “Yes, Changchu. Sleep well.”
“You’ve already… left your mark behind in this world.” He whispered.
Ps: I fabricate that line about the appearance of the nine-tailed fox bringing good fortune upon the world. The one whose appearance is an auspicious sign is the qilin.4
- 丈 zhang; a measure of length, ten Chinese feet (3.3m)
Specifically a changdao, or a two-handed, single-edged Chinese sword.
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, approx. 500m
- 麒麟, or Qilin (Kirin), a mythical Chinese creature said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler.