“So… what did you see after you were charmed?” Feng Zhuojun asked him rather curiously.
Song Ci’s ears could not help but burn as he recalled the earlier scene. He coughed twice and vaguely dismissed it. “It’s really nothing. Just what you imagined.”
“What a pity.” Feng Zhuojun said. “It was pretty rare for you to get your first taste of meat.1 If it weren’t for the fact that you were on the street, I’d have let you continue dreaming.”
“Am I that kind of man?!” Song Ci yelled with a red face.
Which made Rong Bai cast a sidelong glance at him. “What kind of man are you?”
Song Ci hurriedly waved his hands. “Nothing, nothing. I’m just mumbling to myself.”
Rong Bai did not probe further. It was only when they returned to the palace that they realized someone had been waiting there for a long time.
There was a big tree planted in another courtyard in Rong Bai’s palace. Song Ci could not tell the species of tree it was, but its branches and leaves were so lush that it almost covered half of the palace courtyard. The visitor was standing under the tree.
It was a maiden with a very graceful view from the back. She was dressed in a light pink skirt that fluttered in the breeze as she stood quietly.
The moment Rong Bai saw that figure, the trace of the smile in his blue eyes diminished. Indifference replaced it.
Song Ci noted Rong Bai’s expression and came to the realization that he did not seem to like this maiden. So he pursed his lips and retreated half a step, prepared to leave anytime while Rong Bai was dealing with his private affairs.
“What are you doing here?” Rong Bai came to a stop, looking all distant and wary.
When the maiden heard his voice, she immediately turned her head around in elation. “Brother, you’re back?”
When Song Ci saw this maiden, he realized that he knew her. It was the maiden who was wounded by Qingqiu Yu in the Demon Realm earlier. The other maiden had called her Ah Lian.
This was Rong Bai’s younger sister.
But Rong Bai did not put on a display of brotherly-sisterly affection. His expression was still as cold as ever. It was full of loathing. “I seem to have said before that I don’t like you coming here.”
Tu Shan Lian pouted and tears of aggrievement brimmed in her eyes. “But I came here to find you only because of something important.”
Rong Bai said nothing, but his patience was wearing thin. Song Ci looked up and saw the displeasure on his face, looking as if he was fed up with this Tu Shan Lian.
However, he noted that this Tu Shan Lian did not display any overt signs of malice or hostility towards Rong Bai. She piteously wiped her eyes and whispered, “Brother, Father is furious that you beat up those few guests from the Qingqiu Clan. Please hide away for a few days, or he will definitely discipline you with the punishment of whipping.”
“Are you done?” Rong Bai did not appreciate her kindness. “If you’re done, then leave.”
“I’m telling you the truth. Brother, don’t keep treating me this way..” Tu Shan Lian could not hold back her tears. A pair of big watery eyes looked at Song Ci pleadingly, appealing for his help.
Song Ci thought for a moment and called out to him, “Rong Bai.”
Rong Bai’s attitude towards others was very obvious. One moment he was so frosty it was cutting. But the instant he heard Song Ci calling him, the sharp thorns around him immediately softened, although there was still no hint of a smile on his face.
He responded in a light tone. “Hm?”
“I’ll return to my room first.” Song Ci braced himself against Tu Shan Lian’s gaze and said.
Rong Bai furrowed his eyebrows and inexplicably blew his top at Tu Shan Lian. His eyes looked as if they were covered with shards of ice. “Do you think I wouldn’t dare to lay a hand on you just because your surname is Tu Shan?”
This time, Tu Shan Lian was truly frightened. She cast an indignant glare at Song Ci before crying and leaving Rong Bai’s inner chamber. Song Ci asked innocently, “Why is she glaring at me?”
“Ignore her.” Rong Bai said, “I’m going out for a while. I’ll be back soon.”
As if he was leaving instructions to a child, he added, “Be obedient and wait for me here.”
Song Ci nodded. “Go ahead.”
After Rong Bai left, Song Ci sat alone in the inner chamber and thought back to Rong Bai’s earlier attitude towards Tu Shan Lian. He could see that Rong Bai really hated this younger sister of his very much. Looking at Tu Shan Lian’s long black hair, she probably was not born of the same mother.
But why was there such a big contradiction between brother and sister? Furthermore, it was Rong Bai’s one-sided attitude towards Tu Shan Lian.
Song Ci sat thinking about it for a moment, then suddenly rubbed his knees with his hands. “I can’t be sitting around like this all the time.”
“What do you want to do?” Feng Zhuojun asked.
“How about…” Song Ci curled up the corners of his mouth and said, as if he was up to no good, “… going to rectify a big issue?”
“…” Feng Zhuojun said,” Maybe we are thinking of the same thing.”
Song Ci would never let himself idle around. Although he sometimes enjoyed an easy and comfortable life, the situation now was different. There was no way he could let himself sit around and simply wait for food and death.
Feng Zhuojun was a smart person too. He knew what Song Ci was thinking. And he knew what Song Ci had to do.
Thus, both men put their heads together and slipped out of Rong Bai’s palace.
That huge nine-tailed fox statue in Tu Shan was the most visible Tu Shan landmark. It was also the object of faith of the Tu Shan people. And beneath this statue, there was an average-sized underground palace.
The entrance to the underground palace was a narrow brick path. Every hundred meters, a light-bearing pearl would emit yellow light to shroud the deserted and silent tunnel with a shade of warm color.
Song Ci’s footsteps were so light they were soundless. Every one of his steps was wary. There was a trace of solemnity on his fair face.
“Tu Shan’s characteristic disciplinary whip is well-known among the Six Realms. Its body is made of the bones of the black dragon, while its hilt is a dragon horn. It couples strength and gentleness. Its greatest feature is that the wounds caused by its whip cannot be healed with magical power, so the person receiving the punishment has to endure the pain of being torn apart every single moment until the wound heals itself. That’s why it’s called discipline.”
Feng Zhuojun followed behind Song Ci without opening his mouth, but his voice reached the latter’s ears.
Song Ci listened in silence with a neutral expression, but the hands covered under his sleeves involuntarily clenched themselves into fists.
No wonder those two wounds on Rong Bai’s back have yet to heal…
“The solidness of the dragon bones and dragon scales has always been well-known among the Six Realms. So destroying this whip is something ordinary people have no way of doing. You have two options. Either you burn it with Tu Shan’s blue flame or use Du’e to shatter it.” Feng Zhuojun continued. “The choice is yours.”
Song Ci said nothing for a long time, lost in his thoughts. He asked, “No one is guarding this thing?”
“Of course, there is.” He said, “A five-tailed Tu Shan fox named Tu Shan Yue. He’s the bloodline of an external branch of Tu Shan. The threat he poses isn’t that deadly, but you will have enough of a hard time if you face up to him.”
“I thought he would be more formidable.” Without turning back, Song Ci said in a voice devoid of emotion.
“The garrison troops at the Tu Shan’s border are much more formidable than this. The clan rules are strict, and the division of ranks is clear. Internal thieves do not have the guts to come and touch this, so the garrison duty here is a little more relaxed.”
Song Ci fell silent for a moment. Feng Zhuojun did not know what he was thinking. He simply followed quietly behind him without uttering a sound until Song Ci spoke again. “Why aren’t you stopping me this time?”
“I know what you are thinking, Song Ci.” He smiled. “Your thoughts are too easy to guess.”
Song Ci did not continue the conversation, so Feng Zhuojun said, “When you agreed to Ze Chen’s sparring earlier, you have probably already decided to start training yourself. Actually, I find it surprising too, because you are too timid. You’re afraid of getting injured, afraid of pain, afraid of death, and even afraid of monsters. I never thought you would one day come to possess such determination.”
“I’ve always been very careful. It’s either fleeing or cowering. But eventually, I have to become stronger. Otherwise, there will be nothing I can truly do.” Song Ci said in a hushed tone. After the last word left his mouth, he reached the end of the tunnel. His eyes focused, and he saw the man standing before him.
The man was dressed in a black robe and had a tall, sturdy figure along with a face as cold as frost. Murderous aura began pouring off his body the instant he saw Song Ci. It was so malevolent it struck fear into Song Ci’s heart.
“Fight to your heart’s content.” Feng Zhuojun said. “I’ll set up a barrier to seal this place off. No one will come to disturb you. But whether you live or die depends on yourself.”
After he finished this sentence, he transformed into yellow light that dispersed to envelop the entire underground palace.
Song Ci looked at Tu Shan Yue, who was a head taller than him. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Just standing at such a distance alone was enough for him to feel the oppressive aura pouring out of Tu Shan Yue.
Was he afraid?
Of course, he was afraid. This awareness and fear of danger had long been deeply etched in Song Ci’s bones, leaving behind trails of brutal scars. He was terrified of these kinds of dangerous situations. He could still vividly remember the pain of his bones being broken, and the stench of blood from his split flesh.
“One more step forward, and you will be trespassing.” Tu Shan Yue said in a cold voice.
Song Ci closed his eyes slightly, and several images flashed past before him until it stopped at the scene where Wen Changchu shut his eyes. His heart calmed. When he raised his eyelids again, his black eyes had turned a brilliant blue. He whispered, “I am trespassing. Sorry.”
A pair of ears on his hair stood erected almost at the same time the last word left his mouth. Red patterns on the left side of his face swiftly crept up from his ear. It was not as glaringly red as before by comparison, but it was still bright and vivid.
Tu Shan Yue bellowed and charged towards Song Ci at lightning speed. His figure moved like a flash of lightning. Without another word more, he went straight for Song Ci’s throat, ruthlessly and decisively wanting to kill him in a single blow.
Fortunately, the distance between them was not that close. So no matter how fast he was, there was still time for Song Ci to react. Song Ci swiftly rolled to a side, and Tu Shan Yue pounced at the empty air.
But when the distance between them closed up, it became more troublesome for Song Ci to deal with his speed. Before he could steady himself, he glimpsed Tu Shan Yue speedily changing his direction to lunge at him; he did not give Song Ci any chance to catch his breath at all.
Song Ci was focused on avoiding taking damage to his fatal points, but he did not manage to evade Tu Shan Yue’s attacks. A massive force crashed into his shoulder blade, and a loud “CRACK” rang out. His bones immediately dislocated, and a brutal stab of pain shot through his body.
Song Ci could not hold back a painful gasp from escaping his mouth as his body was sent flying from the impact. He tumbled a few rounds on the ground before coming to a stop. The pain blossomed through his body from the wound. It did not take long for cold sweat to drench his entire back.
But Song Ci understood that this was just the beginning.
When Tu Shan Yue saw that Song Ci was nimble enough to dodge two of his deadly blows, he increased the speed of his third strike. There was just a flash of shadow, and he was already right before Song Ci.
With his sharp claws ready to pierce through Song Ci’s neck.
There was no time for Song Ci to think about anything else. With his right hand, he conjured out Du’e to meet this slash of Tu Shan Yue head-on. The incomparably sharp blade did him proud by instantly slicing away several of Tu Shan Yue’s fingernails, causing the latter to quickly retreat.
This gave Song Ci time. He half-crouched on the ground, still maintaining an offensive and defensive posture. He felt for the dislocated shoulder blade and hardened his heart and gritted his teeth. There was another loud “crack” as he forcibly twisted the bone back into position.
Feng Zhuojun previously said that the Tu Shan foxes and Qingqiu foxes were originally of the same clan. But the Tu Shan bloodline came to inherit a formidable combat power and gradually became the overlord among the Six Realms.
A five-tailed fox of the Tu Shan clan was enough to be a self-proclaimed tyrant in the Demon Realm. If Song Ci wanted to survive him, he had to push himself beyond his own limit.
Tu Shan Yue recognized the Du’e in Song Ci’s hand in just a single glance. Anyone in the Six Realms who had a little worldly knowledge all knew what Du’e represented—absolute power.
In ancient times, there was a tai chi2 stone with a body of black and white. Later, someone separated it into two, with the white stone made into a straight-blade dagger, and the black stone made into a scimitar the length of a palm.
Later, the white stone dagger became the weapon of the Devil King and went by the name of Changchu, while the black stone scimitar had only recently made its appearance as Tu Shan Rong Bai’s weapon by the name of Du’e. At this point in time, these were the only two weapons in the Six Realms that could shapeshift at will.
These two weapons recognized their own masters. Only power in the blood could make these two weapons yield in submission. If the spiritual consciousnesses in the weapons did not acknowledge the holders as their owners, then even if a person got their hands on them, they would be nothing but mere scraps of junk.
So even if Tu Shan Yue could not understand why Tu Shan Rong Bai’s Du’e would appear in this man’s hands, he was instantly on the alert. His eyebrows scrunched up as his sharp eyes sized up Song Ci several times. He took up an offensive stance.
Song Ci clenched Du’e tightly. The pain on his left shoulder was even more vivid. His chest heaved heavily. Whether or not it was because of his injury, the blood rushed to his head and the fear on his face all but faded completely. As his thumb caressed the hilt of the blade, he thought: bring it on.
As if hearing Song Ci’s thoughts, Tu Shan Yue charged up without warning. He was burly and his fists, solid. He could draw blood even without using his claws. Furthermore, he had such astonishing speed that there was simply no time to dodge his attacks.
Song Ci’s eyes focused. The instant he saw him strike, he turned sideways to dodge the blow. At the same time, he turned around the Du’e in his hand with the reverse side facing up and thrust it towards Tu Shan Yue’s chin.
Not only did Tu Shan Yue dodged it quickly, but his distance was just right. The blade slid across his chin, barely scraping it. Just an inch more, and he would have cut his chin open.
He spread open his fist and made a side grab for Song Ci’s neck. His cool touch instantly enveloped Song Ci’s neck. One of his palms was right before Song Ci’s throat, while the other was behind the back of his head. All he had to do was to exert a little force, and he could twist Song Ci’s neck broken.
Or he could exert pressure with his fingernails and easily punctured Song Ci’s skin and dug them into his throat.
But Song Ci did not give him this opportunity. He slammed the hilt of the blade hard into Tu Shan Yue’s wrist. The sounds of bones dislocating rang out as he flung the latter’s hand off his throat.
Tu Shan Yue did not even let out a grunt. Before Song Ci could withdraw, he folded his arm and smashed his elbow into the side of Song Ci’s face.
The blow dazed Song Ci and caused him to stagger several steps to the side. The world turned white before his eyes as the unbuffered pain shot into his mind. Half of his face went numb.
Song Ci suspected that his chin had been shattered from the slam, but fortunately, his facial bones did not disappoint him. After a lick around, he only felt a few loosened teeth.
He did not know if he had bitten himself somewhere. As he rolled and tumbled to dodge Tu Shan Yue’s attacks, he coughed out a mouthful of blood. The rich taste of blood saturated his mouth.
Song Ci had no chance of victory if he were to engage in close-quarter combat with Tu Shan Yue. This was because he had never learned martial arts at all. He was injured all over with visible and invisible injuries after exchanging about ten blows with the latter. Pain spread all over his body, and he gritted his teeth so hard he successfully managed to secure those few loosened teeth in place.
But Song Ci was a fast learner, and he grew more agile and sharp. The pure blood of Tu Shan bestowed him with a never-ending flow of power. The more he fought, the more he could sense the exuberant heat in his body. That inherited battle power and nature shielded him from exhaustion.
Du’e was a divine artifact with its own spiritual consciousness. Sensing the strain on its master during the battle, it took the initiative to absorb Song Ci’s power and ignited a scorching blue flame that began to burn and spread from the hilt, turning the short scimitar into a long blade and eventually, a long black sword.
When Tu Shan Yue saw this blue flame, his expression underwent a drastic change. As someone from Tu Shan, he was very well-acquainted with this blue flame. With a spread of his arms, he extracted a long-hilt browdsword3 from the white light.
The broadsword stood taller than Tu Shan Yue when erected. Its blade glinted with cold light and reflected Song Ci’s battered appearance. It also reflected Song Ci’s unwavering and resolute eyes.
A fierce wind rose as Tu Shan Yue brandished his broadsword. Yet such a clumsy weapon did not slow down his speed by even a fraction as he slashed it down on Song Ci right in the face.
Song Ci raised his sword to meet it head-on. He had experienced Du’e’s sharpness and sturdiness before. When the two blades collided, there was no doubt that Tu Shan Yue’s blade would be the one shattered. But Tu Shan Yue knew this too and did not connect directly with Du’e. Just as the blade was about to land, he suddenly lifted it.
The long hilt swiftly swung half a circle and struck the softest part of Song Ci’s abdomen with precision and ruthlessness!
This strike was even more brutal than all the previous blows Song Ci had taken. All the organs in his abdomen seemed to have shifted out of position, mercilessly torn and crushed. It was as if that massive force had punctured through his stomach and broke his spine as it sent him flying from the impact.
A deafening crash rang out as his body slammed into the stone wall. He could not hold on to Du’e, and Du’e was flung away. It let out a crisp clatter as it landed on the ground. As Song Ci dropped to the ground, a big mouthful of fresh blood gushed out from his mouth and nose, instantly staining his chin red.
The pain was indescribable and hard to pinpoint. It was as if his bones had been smashed into smithereens, inch by inch. He could not summon even an iota of strength. His body curled up on reflex. The severe pain in his abdomen triggered an intense bout of retching that cleaned out every blood clot in his throat. Physiological tears drenched his face.
I’m going to die.
All the thoughts took leave of Song Ci’s mind, instinctively leaving only this one behind.
He had yet to finish thinking this when a sudden mass of massive energy weighed him down from behind and pinned his huddled body onto the ground. A scream escaped Song Ci’s throat.
He could feel the plaintive cries of his bones as they rattled from the pressure. The broken ribs pierced into his internal organs, and the blood spurted out of Song Ci’s mouth and nose.
Tu Shan Yue stepped on Song Ci’s back and sneered. “That’s all you have, huh? Tu Shan Rong Bai.”
He lifted his broadsword high and aimed it at Song Ci’s neck, preparing to hack off this head in one swift, clean move.
Amidst the trance brought about by the pain, Song Ci heard Tu Shan Rong Bai’s name.
A bright lantern suddenly lit up amidst the pitch-black environment, and Song Ci saw himself fleeing and hiding all over the past four years from the other demons’ pursuits. He had weakly cowered again and again because of his fear of danger. He could even abandon all those great principles of being a gentleman he had read in those books of the sages without hesitation just to beg for his life.
Song Ci thought, haven’t I always been like this?
It was as if he could see his little self hiding in an underground hole covering his ears. His entire body was trembling. Even when his face was soaked with tears, he continued to bite down on his lips, not once uttering a single sound.
That terror deeply concealed in his heart let loose a plaintive cry out of fear. In over twenty years, it had turned into a piece of rotten meat that had dug its roots deep within his heart.
He saw his little self gradually turned into a little Changchu lying on the ground motionless, his half-open eyes gleaming with unwillingness.
Song Ci finally cried out. He did not know if it was because of fear or pain, or even because of his disappointment in himself and of his deep regrets.
Rong Bai once said, to be strong is to be without fear.
If he were strong, he would have nothing to fear.
Tu Shan Yue pressed down even harder with his leg, pushing Song Ci into the ground and almost breaking Song Ci’s spine. But just as his broadsword was about to fall.
Song Ci suddenly reached his hand out to grab hold of Tu Shan Yue’s ankle. The strength of his grip made Tu Shan Yue blurt out a bellow of pain. With his other arm, Song Ci propped himself up against the ground and began to push his body up from under Tu Shan Yue’s foot.
There was no spot on his body that did not hurt. His countermove caused every part of his muscles to let out ear-piercing wails as his body visibly trembled.
Tu Shan Yue was both startled and furious. His ankle felt as if it was being crushed. He brandished the broadsword and hurriedly slashed it down. But Du’e suddenly came flying over from the side and crashed into the broadsword’s blade. By the time Tu Shan Yue corrected his broadsword’s position, it was already too late.
In these four years, this was the first time Song Ci finally experienced the existence of Rong Bai’s blood. The formidable, warm power intertwined with his limbs and bones and poured into his muscles and veins. Bit by bit, it melted into his body.
With an enraged roar, Song Ci grasped Tu Shan Yue’s ankle and flipped him over. Just as Tu Shan Yue was still stunned over why Song Ci had come to possess such a strong power, Song Ci had already climbed to his feet.
Blood stained half of his face. The impact had opened up a half-a-finger long gash on his forehead, soaking his left eye with blood. But the pattern on his cheek had dimmed plenty. Song Ci was like a ferocious beast cornered in a dead-end as he gasped strenuously. He raised his hand and clenched his fist, and Du’e flew into his palm.
Tu Shan Yue did not dare to lie on the ground and quickly bounced to his feet to stand firm. He could see that Song Ci had clearly reached his limit. The latter looked as if he could push him over with just a finger. But the penetrating pain on his ankle unmistakably told him that the man before him was still far from collapsing.
Song Ci let out a long breath of air that reeked of blood. Then, he suddenly opened his mouth and laughed.
Tu Shan Yue could hardly fathom the mood Song Ci had to be in to let out this laugh.
It was as if his entire person had undergone a change. A touch of malice appeared out of thin air in his smile, making him look quite like an evil ghost climbing his way up from hell, unrestrained and fearless.
He said in a hoarse voice, “I forgot to introduce myself.”
“My name is Song Ci. ‘Song’ as in requiem for one’s death, and ‘Ci’ as in farewell to the world.”4
Tu Shan Yue, “???”
- 开荤 to begin or resume a meat diet after abstinence or break a vegetarian diet (especially as a practice observed in certain religions). It also refers to someone who has a novel experience. Here it refers to Song Ci getting his first taste of ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
太极 Tai Chi or Taiji, also the Yin and Yang symbol.
长柄大刀 literally a broadsword with a long hilt, also known as a guandao (关刀). It’s a long pole like weapon with a broadsword-like blade at one end.
- The entire quote: “我叫宋辞，宋是送命的送，辞是辞世的辞。” 送命 is to lose one life, to get killed, while 辞世 is to die, to depart this world. The character for the 送 in 送命 is different from the 宋 in his surname, but they both sound the same (sòng).