Lord Jiutian held Jing Lin by the hand up to the seat. He scrutinized Jing Lin and sighed with emotion. “Although you obviously look thin, your cultivation has improved much. You have been stranded in the Perfection Stage for hundreds of years. Now that you are out of seclusion, you should be able to stride into the Great Accomplishment Stage after another round of experiencing the world.”
Jing Lin said nothing and kept his eyes straight ahead as he let Lord Jiutian lead him by the arm. Yan Quan returned to his side, its earlier burst of glory having already vanished without a trace. The bells of the Brahma Altar reverberated in the air along with the slow-flowing water of the pond, while the monks’ chanting gradually resumed. Lotuses bloomed and fell in just an instant amid the heavy mist. The old monks falteringly pushed aside the clouds for a look, only to see the hems of Jing Lin’s outfit swaying as he smoothly ascended the stairs to the seat at the top.
At the foot of the stairs, Fei Luo raised his head to peek and saw an apathetic Lord Linsong sitting upright. There was not even a hint of a smile or even smugness in his expression. His eyes were as flat as the water in a well, and he did not give off the vibe of being a living person at all.
The various immortals were initially tipsy and merry. Although the banquet was a little restrained, there was still some pleasure to be derived from it. But when Lord Linsong sat at the high platform, everyone at the foot kept wiping at their cold sweat. It was so quiet one could even hear a pin drop.
“Lord Linsong—A rare sight one can see only once in a hundred years.” Dong Jun covered his face slightly. He had drunk a little too much, and now he felt a little nauseous. Giving no regards to his image, he propped himself up and climbed to his feet. He choked as he said around him, “What are you all laughing secretly there? Laugh out loud if you must! Look all you want openly and above board! After this, you won’t…”1
Before finishing his words, Dong Jun scrambled away to puke.
Fei Luo could not kneel any longer. He found the heavy atmosphere uncomfortable. Thus he seized the opportunity to climb to his feet as well and shook open a handkerchief to hand it to Dong Jun.
Dong Jun took the handkerchief. After he rinsed his mouth, he covered it with the handkerchief and winked at Fei Luo. He said with a smile, “My good man, I’ll borrow the handkerchief. See you at the east side later. I’ll return it to you once I’ve washed it clean.”
Fei Luo’s heart thumped wildly from the wink, and Dong Jun’s pat to his back almost sent his soul soaring in ecstasy. He nodded hurriedly in a fluster and followed Dong Jun around like a puppy.
Dong Jun wiped the corners of his lips. He still reeked heavily of wine, but he looked a lot more sober. He bowed to Lord Jiutian at the top of the stairs and said, “Jing Lin has only just returned, and it’s inevitable that the Supreme Father would not bear to order him around. In that case, I’ll take advantage of this opportunity to be the one who does!”
“It’s most likely about the heavy snow in Zhongdu.” Lord Jiutian beamed in high spirits. He turned his head and said warmly to Jing Lin, “You sealed your consciousness while in seclusion, so you aren’t in the know about this. Zhongdu has already been beset with a snow calamity prior to the conclusion of your seclusion. He couldn’t summon Spring forth, so he needs your help. “
On hearing this, Jing Lin looked at Dong Jun.
Dong Jun laughed and said, “You don’t recognize me anymore after a sleep? Your stare flusters me.”
Jing Lin only swept a glance at him before turning his gaze back. He gave a slight nod and said, “I’m at Father’s command.”
Dong Jun reined in his smile, finding it boring. He folded the handkerchief in his hand and said, “In that case, once the banquet ends, you and I will make a trip together.”
“There’s no hurry.” Lord Jiutian said in a clear voice to everyone at the bottom. “There’s another pressing matter. Several hundreds of years ago, Ninth Heaven Sect joined forces to fight the sea. Every one of you here abhors the evil spirits, and we have also lost a good number of men. The good thing is that Heaven has entrusted a great task upon my Ninth Heaven Sect. Although we’ve encountered hardships, we finally made great achievements. Back then, canglong occupied the lands in the north and refused to cede them over, causing countless innocent commoners to starve to death. However, in order to achieve our great undertaking of resisting the sea, Ninth Heaven Sect has always exercised tolerance and gave way. A pity greed is always insatiable, like a snake wanting to swallow an elephant.2 In the end, canglong failed to safeguard his true heart and intent.”
Li Rong had already guessed what Lord Jiutian was going to say. He abruptly raised his eyes to look at Jing Lin opposite him. Jing Lin glanced at him out of the corners of his eyes, but there was no joy or rage in them.
“… On account that canglong was once devoted to the masses, it isn’t proper to wipe his merits clean. However, he later went on to absorb the blood sea out of greed and ended up being attacked by the various devils. It’s such a disgrace, that’s why we have yet to notify the Three Realms…”
“… Lord Shage is devoted to defending the Way. So he had no other choice but to do what he did. The assembly of the major demons of the north isn’t an easy issue to deal with. Delaying it to this day was because we were waiting for Lord Linsong’s seclusion to end.”
Lord Jiutian glowed with radiance as he firmly held Jing Lin by the arm and said, “And now Jing Lin has emerged from seclusion, this matter cannot be delayed anymore. You and Dong Jun shall descend to the human realm and make a trip to the north to announce the death of Cangdi to the various demons. If anyone stands in your way, then just…”
◈ ◈ ◈
Cangdi was dead.
Countless people silently read these words to themselves. Whether it was the few remaining people in the know, or the bewildered transient guests, they all watched Jing Lin attentively, as though they wanted to pry something out from Lord Linsong. However, Lord Linsong showed no signs of evasion, nor revealed any emotion.
It was at this moment Li Rong remembered that bout of heavy rain. He was hoisting Jing Lin over his shoulder, and Jing Lin was crying uncontrollably in the rain. Even though he cut a sorry figure, he was still a person. But now, as he sat upright opposite Jing Lin, he could see that this was not a man, but a tempered sword of the Heaven.
Lord Linsong had no heart.
◈ ◈ ◈
Midway through the feast, Dong Jun slipped away. He lay on the old stone with Fei Luo’s handkerchief covering his face. He blew up a corner of the handkerchief in dissatisfaction and said, “What’s so good-looking about a dead man? To think I’ve been looking forward to it. Look at him. Is that still a person? He even lost the ability to cry or laugh.”
Zui Shan Seng sat facing the pond. He held Xiang Mo Staff in his arms and replied, “He looks pretty upright and solemn. He must be a respectable man.”
“Don’t judge a book by its cover. I’m a respectable man too.” Dong Jun said.
Zui Shan Seng scorned, “You are merely wearing a human skin.”
“It’s still better than hiding a freak in your heart.” Dong Jun ridiculed him. “You went to seek refuge at the Brahma Altar a few days ago again. They think little of you. I’ve long told you that your heart is still trapped in the secular world. Your break from worldly affairs isn’t a clean one.”
Zui Shan Seng remained still for a long while. Looking at the ripples in the pond, he said, “I’ve already forgotten it all.”
“What’s your staff called?”
“Who are you going to subdue now that there are no more devils in the world? It’s the knot in your heart that’s hard to undo, and it’s tough for you to surmount your love tribulation. Your heart is stuck in the mirage of your past.” Dong Jun pillowed his head on his arms and said, “My conclusion is that there is no way you can achieve nirvana in this lifetime.”
“Who says there’s no more devil in the world?” Zui Shan Seng turned his head back partially. “For as long you aren’t dead, I won’t leave.”
Dong Jun suddenly burst into laughter. He said, “What a bald donkey!4 You made such a hypocritical speech, and it turns out you merely want to seek eternal life by profiting off me! You have been lingering in the Perfection Stage for a hundred years. Why are you not ascending into the Great Accomplishment Stage?”
Zui Shan Seng gazed at the lotus flowers, but did not answer his question. He shaved all his hair,5 but found the ties of love deeply entrenched in his heart. He was often dead drunk, and often insane. Each time he kneeled before the gates of Buddha,6 he was merely masking his pain in vain. The moment he closed his eyes, he would see a glimpse of that backward glance of hers. When he opened them, he would see several hundred years of solitude. It was too hard to be human. He had long built a prison around himself, limiting and restricting himself. Even if he had exceptional talents, he would never, ever step into the realm of Great Accomplishments.
Dong Jun shut his eyes to doze and listened as Zui Shan Seng rose to his feet and left. He knew that there would be no answer to this question, yet he seemed to have already understood why. He was merely an evil spirit donning human skin to mingle among Heaven and Earth. But even with the passage of a thousand years, he still barely understood it.
◈ ◈ ◈
After lying for an unspecified period of time, Dong Jun reckoned it was time for Jing Lin to arrive. But when the corner of the handkerchief on his face was lifted, he saw a pair of ardent eyes spying him instead.
Dong Jun immediately smiled. “Little King of Hell, apologies for the shabby treatment!”
Fei Luo had always loved beautiful people. Even when he saw Dong Jun lazing around with his head pillowed on his hands, he did not feel as if he had been shabbily treated at all. Instead, he asked with surprise and delight, “Have I disrupted My Lord from his break?”
“Oh man.” Dong Jun slowly sat up and held on to the other corner of the handkerchief, with the corners of his peach blossom eyes oozing an enchanting beauty. He said, “How is coming to look for me considered a disruption? I’m here because I’m waiting for you.”
Seeing that his joyous expression was poles apart from the rumors, Fei Luo could not help but look zealous as he enthused, “Wait, waiting for me?”
“Is this face of mine good-looking?” Dong Jun propped his elbows on his knees and raised his face to let Fei Luo see as much as he wanted.
Fei Luo nodded hard without blinking for an instant.
“Then do you want to have a taste of it?” Dong Jun craftily edged along the handkerchief to hold Fei Luo’s fingers and slowly moved closer.
Fei Luo suddenly covered his nose, feeling as if a current of heat was going to gush out of it. He was getting weak in the knees as he watched Dong Jun draw closer to him. Unexpectedly, just when the atmosphere was getting sensual, Dong Jun suddenly hauled Fei Luo hard onto the old stone. With lightning speed, he pinned the latter beneath himself and gave him another wink.
“Since you love appearances so much, I’ll reward you with some eye candy.”
His intimidating evil form burst out and closed in on Fei Luo. The stimulation that very instance startled Fei Luo so much that he involuntarily let out a scream and flipped over in an attempt to flee. Dong Jun grabbed his ankle and easily pulled him back.
Fei Luo covered his face and wailed, not daring to take another look at him.
Dong Jun roared with laughter. He propped his head up to scrutinize Fei Luo and said, “The world forbids an aging beauty.7 You’re such a hateful imp. Hey, my original form is this—incomparably ugly.”
Fei Luo peeked through his fingers and saw that Dong Jun had already reverted to his gorgeous self. But he was already feeling weak all over. Dong Jun’s original form was so ferocious that even canglong would be shaken. And he, Fei Luo, was merely a weasel. He was so frightened that he almost let loose a “squeak”.
“When you come to the upper realm in the future, you must remember that beautiful people come with thorns. Who knows if it’s the bloody, gaping jaws of a predator under that face? Take me, for example. Those who still have to feed from time to time are even more terrifying.” Dong Jun released his hand. “Leave now. Or are you waiting for me to tear away your clothes and marinate you to eat?”
Dong Jun said marinated, but Fei Luo thought he said castrated!8 His heart and mind were thoroughly wounded this time. Without even bothering to be afraid, he indignantly kicked off Dong Jun and bawled as he ran away. Midway through, he almost knocked into Jing Lin. Jing Lin turned sideways to dodge him, but Fei Luo did not even look at him. All he could think of was Dong Jun, that jerk. He felt as if this Ninth Heaven Realm was the source of his grief and broken heart; he never wanted to come here again!
◈ ◈ ◈
Dong Jun blew at the handkerchief, finding this handkerchief to be as shallow as its owner. Just one jab and he could tear through it. On seeing Jing Lin walking towards him, he bundled the handkerchief into his sleeve.
“Just teasing him for fun.” Dong Jun said. “Don’t you even know how to smile?”
Jing Lin stood still and said, “Let’s go.”
Dong Jun jumped off the stone embarrassedly and walked side by side with Jing Lin. He fanned himself with the folding fan and said, “Zhongdu has been buried under heavy snow for nearly a month. You only need to make the snow stop. I’ll handle the rest.”
Jing Lin uttered a sound of acknowledgment.
Dong Jun said, “This assignment in the north won’t be an easy one. Trouble will arise when the group of demons is without a leader. I’m afraid you will need to put in some effort. But looking at how your fingers are already on your sword, I presumed you have already made up your mind.”
Jing Lin retracted his fingertips a little and said, “You are very unlikable.”
Dong Jun smiled, “Right back at you. If we can finish this task earlier, then you and I won’t need to get into each other’s hair again. But speaking of which, which part of me is loathsome? I’m nothing but beautiful.”
Jing Lin headed out of the realm with him. When the guards of the Demarcation Division saw both of them, they did not even ask to see their name tokens. Instead, they merely prostrated to pay their obeisances and allowed both of them to pass.
Dong Jun asked, “How does it feel to have everyone kowtow to you?”
“Doesn’t feel any different.”
“How sanctimonious.” Dong Jun swung his folding fan. “This taste of it is clearly so addictive that one can never get enough of it and quit even if they want to. Otherwise, why would each and every human want to reign supreme above all the other humans?”
After a moment of silence, Jing Lin said, “You and I aren’t human.”
Dong Jun said, “Just hearing this word makes one feel so much comfortable. It wasn’t convenient for me to disturb you while you were in seclusion, so I can only show some brotherly love now. My dear didi, do you still remember the past?”
The wind brushed past both men’s long hair. There was no one else in the sea of clouds.
Jing Lin replied, “I remember it all clearly.”
“I don’t think so.” Dong Jun tilted his head and said viciously, “Jing Lin, Cangdi is dead.”
Without a change in his expression, Jing Lin countered with a question. “Do I know this man?”
◈ ◈ ◈
With his sleeves billowing in the gale, Lord Linsong repeated calmly.
“Do I know this man?”
The bell suddenly rang. Dong Jun backhandedly covered up the sound of the bell and said with a smile, “You don’t. I’m just telling you. He could be said to be a formidable man with noble ambitions, but he died a tragic death. How pitiable.”
Now you know why Fei Luo is so afraid of ghosts.
- 过了这村(可就)… He meant to say 过了这村没这店; literally, you won’t find this shop again past this village. i.e., this is your one/last chance to do it.
- 贪(人)心不足蛇吞象 Greed is forever insatiable; a man who is never contented is like a greedy snake trying to swallow an elephant.
- 降魔 means to subdue devils.
- 秃驴 literally, bald donkey; it’s also a mocking term for a Buddhist monk.
- In Buddhism, a tonsure (shaving of hair and beard) is performed as a part of the ceremony of ordination as a monk to symbolize the person’s renunciation of worldly desires and affairs.
- 佛门 also Buddhism
- 世间不许美人间白头 The world doesn’t allow, or want to see, a beauty grow old with white hair; i.e., see a beauty tainted by anything ugly like old age. A variant of 自古美人如名将，不许人间见白头, (beauties are like famous generals who doesn’t allow/want the world to see them aged). The latter which focuses on the viewpoints of the beauties themselves, while t97 adapted it to focus on the world’s viewpoint in the former.
- Dong Jun said 腌 (yān), i.e., to salt (preserve in salt), pickle, marinate, or cure (meat).
Fei Luo thought he said 阉 (yān; same intonation as the above), i.e., to castrate.