As the snowstorm raged, the house began to collapse. A-Yi immediately set up a barrier formed out of Sanskrit scripts and lifted his arms to hold up the caved roof. His figure sank from the weight. With some difficulty, he propped it up again and said, “Ah Jie, take them and run!”
Li Rong turned and held up his spear. His imposing might and power, even while invisible, was so intimidating that both of A-Yi’s knees trembled. A-Yi half-kneeled onto the ground with a thud, and the entire house slanted over, about to collapse. He swept his leg out to kick up the table and sent the table surface smashing towards Li Rong.
Fu Li huddled over to carry up the baby, then struck the bed towards A-Yi and said, “Hold the bed!”
Li Rong’s face was still flushed. It was as if he had caught a cold. Sweating profusely, he said, “Give me the child, and I won’t kill anyone tonight!”
“Who are you going to kill?” A-Yi’s arms, which were both individually bearing the roof’s weight, were already reaching their limits. He said, “This is your Ah Jie! Who are you going to kill?!”
“The Lord’s orders cannot be defied.” Li Rong said, “This child is ominous. We mustn’t let him remain in Zhongdu! Fu Li, give the child to me, and I’ll let the three of you leave.”
Shan Yue was at death’s door, but he showed not a single regard for their sister-brother ties. A-Yi was gradually finding it hard to bear the weight of the house. He swung the bed over with one hand and rolled over to pick up Shan Yue from between the blankets. The roof instantly collapsed on his back. A-Yi protected Shan Yue and scrambled on all four limbs to crawl his way out. Seeing that the person in his arms was scarcely breathing, he could not help but yell, “Ah Jie!”
Fu Li stirred up a wave of snow a zhang1 high and swiftly swept it out. Li Rong held his spear upright to parry it. Carrying the baby in one arm, Fu Li knew that she could not defeat him, yet she could not disengage from battle either. She shouted, “The branch of Can Li!”
A-Yi reached out to grope around the debris. He nudged away the broken pieces of wood with his shoulder as he reached for the branch. Shan Yue nestled against his bosom. The frost receded to the point a little color returned to her ghastly pale face. She strained to gaze into the night, her hands drooping by her sides. With some difficulty, A-Yi reached the Can Li branch. Beside him, his Ah Jie sprang back for half a zhang in a retreat and tumbled to the side.
With one arm supporting herself on the ground, Fu Li finally sensed something wrong.
This child had never once made a sound since birth!
Fu Li swiftly lowered her head and saw that the baby’s complexion was purple. There were no signs of breathing. Fu Li instantly panicked and blurted out, “How can it be… How can it be?!”
Behind her, Li Rong had already tossed out his spear and sent it flying towards her. A-Yi instantly bared his tail feathers and bumped away the spear with the help of the wind. Then he tugged Fu Li over and pulled her under his body.
“Breath, breath!” Fu Li’s eyes reddened as she clasped the swaddling clothes tightly with her bloodstained palms. “The branch of Can Li and A-Yi are both here. So how can this child die?!”
“Died?!” A-Yi covered his Ah Jie with one arm and shielded Shan Yue from the snow. He said at lightning speed, “Let me hug!”
On hearing them, Li Rong suddenly grew anxious and asked urgently, “The baby’s dead?”
He made to move nearer. The atmosphere seemed to tense up, and then a dragon claw suddenly broke out from the darkness. Cang Ji sprang off the ground, grabbed Li Rong by the neck with his claw, and flung him out.
Caught off-guard, Li Rong retreated several zhang back. He turned his spear over, wanting to hold his ground, but he felt an unexpected gust of biting-cold wind behind him as the azure light of Yan Quan Sword came slashing at him at a diagonal angle. Li Rong bent over to dodge the attack, and a wisp of his long hair was sliced off in a split second. He looked back and called out, “Jing Lin…”
Strong winds swept past along with the movements of Jing Lin’s sword, and its assaults forced Li Rong to respond hastily to Jing Lin’s attacks. He whirled around and collided into Yan Quan Sword with a “bang”, while Cang Ji’s dragon claw sank into his back. For a moment, he was trapped with no room to advance or to retreat. He did not dare to get distracted.
Jing Lin bore his sword down and questioned, “Who is the great devil?”
Lianyin @ CANGJI.NET
Facing him, Li Rong asked in astonishment, “What are you talking about?”
Behind, Cang Ji leaned over to draw closer, and Li Rong raised his spear to hold him back. Cang Ji grasped hold of the shaft of Po Zheng Spear and said, “I’m afraid the reason Ninth Heaven Realm is so persistent when it comes to this child is not just because of Zong Yin’s transgression of the law. Lord Chengtian sent you to Shan Yue’s side is not without the intention to monitor—so what exactly is the reason?!”
Li Rong sent a flying kick up against the spine of Yan Quan Sword. He did not answer, but instead looked at Jing Lin, “I knew both of you would surely encounter each other again. That prayer bead. That reverse scale! Jing Lin, although I killed him, I have done nothing to let you down! For all our brotherhood, are you going to kill me today?!”
Jing Lin’s sword instantly slipped. He asked, “What did I forget?”
Li Rong wanted to reply, but his shoulder suddenly sank. Before he could counter-attack, half of his body had already been hammered by Cang Ji into the snow. Po Zhen Spear tilted over with a crash.
Revealing his ferocious nature, Cang Ji said, “Don’t talk to my wife.”
The snowflakes at their feet rose into the air whirling before sweeping away. Cang Ji dragged him and brutally flung him behind him. He moved his shoulders and arms to block Li Rong’s view of Jing Lin. Pressing the tip of his tongue against his sharp teeth, he smiled and said unhurriedly, “Brotherhood. We have that between us too. The enmity of slicing off my scales 1,400 years ago has always been on my mind. Since you like to talk about brotherly affection so much with others, then have a good discussion with me tonight. My wife is very precious now. When it comes to uncouth matters like killing others, I make the final decision.”
Crashing suddenly into the snow, Li Rong waved away the fragments of snow and said, “It’s true that I acted on the Lord’s order to kill you! Kill me back tonight if you can. But I can see that Dijun has yet to pass your tribulation. It’ll be tough for you to fend off Po Zheng in that brocade carp body of yours.”
Cang Ji ducked his head to dodge the incoming stab and raised his hand to grab hold of Po Zheng Spear. He said, “I can see that your cultivation is unstable too. Tonight, you and I are both six of one and half a dozen of the other. So why make such presumptuous remarks?”
Po Zheng Spear seemed as if it was nailed into a rock; it wouldn’t budge.
Cang Ji leaned closer to him and whispered, “And why would I kill you? My habit has always been to chew the person into pieces and have him digested into my spiritual sea.”
With that, he pulled closer to the shaft of the spear. His eyes were fiendishly cold with malice.
“I’ve been thinking of this spear. I wonder which is harder—this spear or me!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Po Zheng Spear let out a long hum, and the snowstorm intensified. A “bang” erupted as both men collided among the blizzard. Then, thick clouds in the sky whirled around rapidly into a cloud pillar rising all the way to the sky. A hue of red, like the color of the Blood Sea, washed over this anomaly.
Amidst the sound of “thud, thud, thud”, several bronze mirrors came falling down in succession to form a circle around Jing Lin. Bearing his sword, Jing Lin raised his head and saw a group of monks sitting cross-legged as they rode the clouds. The sound of chanting came pouring down like heavy rain.
“The coast of the eastern sea spawns an evil being.” The old monk opened his eyes and looked at Jing Lin. “And the evil being expedites the appearance of a great devil. Lord Linsong has already fallen into the Way of the Devil after having committed patricide and regicide five hundred years ago. And tonight, he obstructed the course of heavenly justice by hindering the execution of its official duties. This lord is already a great calamity of Heaven and Earth. The great devil is here, take him down!”
The moment the words left his mouth, the chanting amplified. Several Dharma seals formed out of golden light materialized in the clouds. Layers upon layers of them stacked together to form a giant palm of the Brahma Altar, which went crushing down towards Jing Lin with a thunderous crash. Jing Lin’s robe and sleeves went flapping. Azure light in the form of a massive sword instantly burst forth from Yan Quan Sword and went sweeping towards them in a mighty swing.
The rays of golden light and azure glow flashed towards each other and exploded on contact. Following right after, several “Jing Lin” in the mirrors broke through the water and stepped out. Each of them was holding Yan Quan Sword in his hand as they pounced at Jing Lin in unison.
Cang Ji swatted Li Rong away with one claw and turned around to chase his way over. But the way Li Rong wielded his spear changed dramatically, with his moves becoming abnormally hard to deal with.
Jing Lin warded off several Yan Quan Swords with his one sword. Azure light flickered from within the encirclement. For as swift and fierce Jing Lin’s swordsmanship was, the other “Jing Lins” were even faster and fiercer.
“I have the Lord’s orders here in my hand.” A man weirdly dressed in a green hat and yellow robe walked out among the monks. He said, “Seize the great devil and take him back to Heaven! Yining, what are you waiting for? Do it!”
Jing Lin brazenly killed his way out and saw that the other party was none other than Lord Pu Man, the other remaining Divine Lord aside from Dong Jun. As soon as the other party spoke, a dragon roar broke through the wind.
“Who dares to touch him?!” Cang Ji punched Li Rong with force so hard that the ground cracked, and the mountain shook. Scales materialized over half of his body. Under the dragon roar, even the wind did an about-turn and surged in reverse.
Yining moved his brush with vigorous and graceful strokes. A black dragon roared in a fury and charged out of the clouds from the paper. Cang Ji collided with the dragon at one spot. Yining had drawn the dragon by copying Cang Ji’s bearing of yesteryear, and now that they suddenly encountered each other, Cang Ji was vaguely no match for it.
Dragon claws smashed Cang Ji to the ground by his back, and its massive body crushed down on him from above, with the intent not to defeat him, but to obstruct him.
Cang Ji spared no effort as he struggled to lift his body. Surprisingly enough, he managed to lift the dragon’s body a few inches. His breathing was hurried as he reached out his palms to crawl towards the azure light and hissed, “Jing Lin!”
Jing Lin rose to kick aside the fake goods. He had already stretched his hand out from where he was in the bloodied water through the gap in the mirror realm.
The distance between both men’s fingertips was so, so close.
Cang Ji wanted to pull him over, hold him, and take him into his arms!
Unexpectedly, the golden barrier separated the next moment, and a golden cage rose up from the ground and extended. As Jing Lin was lifted off the ground feet first along with the golden cage, his fingertips lightly grazed past Cang Ji’s fingertips. All of a sudden, both men were several li2 apart.
In the blink of an eye, traces of ink splattered as Cang Ji gouged the belly of the dragon. The dragon immediately dissolved, and the ink splashed all over Cang Ji. Having already climbed to his feet, he sprang up and slapped down on the edges of the golden cage with both palms and clung on to it as it took him straight up high in the clouds.
“Return him to me!” Cang Ji’s furious voice reverberated through the sky. He smashed his fists so hard on the bars of the golden cage that they dented.
Lord Pu Man lifted his hat and tossed it down. The hat suddenly magnified and transformed into a long whip with thorns that ruthlessly whipped Cang Ji on his back. Cang Ji maintained a tight grip and tugged at the golden cage; he had already gone berserk with rage. The whip swiftly wound around Cang Ji and yanked at him, trying to make him release his grip.
Cang Ji ignored it and paid it no mind. But a wind came pouncing towards him from behind. Li Rong’s spear was already pressing in toward the middle of his back. In the cage, Jing Lin suddenly smacked his palm at Cang Ji’s side and used the wind to grasp hold of the sharp tip of Po Zheng Spear with his own flesh.
Blood sputtered from his palm, but Jing Lin did not loosen his grip. He stared at Li Rong and furiously turned his palm over to hurl Po Zheng Spear at Li Rong’s feet with a “thud”.
Cang Ji clutched at the empty air as he was dragged down with the combined efforts of three men. As he fell headfirst, he watched helplessly as the golden cage swiftly disappeared among the clouds. Those long, blood-soaked fingers reached out and grabbed at empty air too, then vanished without a trace.
Lord Pu Man let out a bellow and hurled Cang Ji towards the sea. Cang Ji instantly plunged into the water. The whip with thorns twisted around his body to bind him, then led him into a mad descent down the sea.
Thousands of seals dropped down in unison. The sea raged with angry waves, then returned to calm to form a mirror-like barrier that thoroughly sealed Cang Ji within.
◈ ◈ ◈
A-Yi held the baby in his arms and repeatedly lowered his face to listen closely, but there were no signs of the baby breathing. Breaking out in cold sweat, he kneeled on the ground and murmured as he embraced the child, “I’ll call you Grandpa!3 Please, wake up! Wake up!”
Fu Li turned over and wiped away her blood, then grabbed Zong Yin’s arm and strained herself to say, “Place Ah Yue beside A-Yi too!”
Zong Yin collapsed to his knees beside A-Yi. Shan Yue was able to gasp for breath when she leaned against A-Yi. Zong Yin propped his body up, already exhausted.
“Lord Shage…” Zong Yin gritted his teeth. “To think it’s Lord Shage!”
“Why isn’t it working?” A-Yi huffed warm air on the baby. He carefully grasped the baby’s hand and discovered a lotus motif imprinted in this small, little palm. A-Yi did not have the luxury of time to think it over carefully. He repeatedly pleaded, “Ah Jie! It’s not working!”
Fu Li said dazedly, “If even you can’t do it…”
Zong Yin suddenly straightened up and looked back to say, “Let mother and child leave here alive tonight. I’ll give you my life.”
Li Rong lifted his spear and strode a step over. He said, “I only want this child.”
“Then go find a woman to make one!” A-Yi was nearly driven insane by this succession of commotion. He was so vexed that he lost control. “You fucking want one, go give birth to one yourself! What kind of hero do you call yourself for seizing someone else’s child?! Bah! I despise you!”
Li Rong said, “So what if you look up to me? And what of it if you look down on me? I’m only acting upon orders.”
Lianyin @ CangJi.Net
He walked closer, and A-Yi said in dejection, “Ah Jie! This is no good. The baby is a goner…”
◈ ◈ ◈
The ground suddenly sank as a strong wind came roaring down. Just a jab alone at Po Zheng Spear with Xiang Mo Staff forced Li Rong to stop in his tracks and turned aside. Behind him, Zui Shan Seng promptly struck out at him with his staff.
Li Rong lifted the hem of his robe and exerted force to jolt Zui Shan Seng back in a retreat without actually touching him. Zui Shan Seng’s bamboo hat broke apart with a “whoosh”. As he skidded back while kneeling on one knee, he braced himself and propped up Xiang Mo Staff to break the momentum.
“What exactly is righteousness in this world?” Zui Shan Seng raised his head to reveal his original appearance. He looked at Li Rong. “I once thought that the only thing the lord has ever lost to was to be ‘forced by circumstances’.”
Li Rong turned his head back. He held Po Zheng Spear upright and said, “I’ve never lost.”
Zui Shan Seng lifted his arm and tossed aside his bamboo hat. He said with a severe countenance, “There’s a load weighing on my mind that remains unresolved. I’ve been waiting for 1,400 years, and I ask of the lord tonight to indulge me to my heart’s content.”
Li Rong said with pity, “Your natural aptitude is outstanding. You have a bright future ahead of you. What you call righteousness naturally lies in your heart. Once the time comes, you will be an immeasurable variable. Yet, you let your pent-up feelings fester for so many years and refuse to eliminate your inner demons. Thereupon, you can only be a mere ‘Zui Shan Seng’.”
Under the falling snow, Zui Shan Seng closed his eyes. What floated into mind was still Linlang’s glance before she met her end.
That glance became his inner demon in this life.
He could not transcend, because she was his tribulation—the one thing he could never have.4
Zui Shan Seng lifted his staff and rose to his feet. He said, “I’m Ah Shuo. The principal disciple of the Northern Lands nine-tailed fox, Linlang. During the battle at the Northern Lands 1,400 years ago, the lord harmed my shifu. And tonight, I want payback for that battle.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The snowstorm grew in urgency. A-Yi had already lost all heart. The baby in his arms gradually sank to his knees as he lowered his arms. Just at this time, he suddenly saw a winter jasmine flower5 in the snow. A-Yi thought he was seeing things. He focused his eyes again for another look. A cluster of winter jasmine flowers popped up under his feet.
Startled, A-Yi lifted his legs.
The flowers falling among the snow made everyone raise their heads. Winter jasmine flowers danced in a flurry all over in the wind until it was everywhere all over mountains and wilderness.
Li Rong’s eyes turned cold and severe. He asked, “Are you going to turn your back on heaven’s rules like this too?”
Shan He Fan closed gently with a “snap”. Dong Jun trod on the flying snow and landed with natural poise before A-Yi. He scratched the tip of his nose, not wanting to answer.
Li Rong bellowed, “Are you going to turn your back on heaven’s rules like this too?!”
Dong Jun laughed out loud in the snow. Then he turned his folding fan, looked into Li Rong’s solemn face, and said in a powerful, resonating voice,
“I am Dong Jun. Such triviality is beneath me.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The moment he said that, A-Yi felt a warmth in his arms, and that baby, who had already ceased to breathe, gurgled out a breath and began to cry softly.
I want to spoil all of you every day I read the comments. It’s been so hard for me to hold myself back. Why hasn’t anyone made the correct guess for the big BOSS? This is making me so anxious!
Thank you for reading w
- 丈 zhang, a measure of length, i.e., 1 zhang = ten Chinese feet (3.3m)
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, approx. 500m
- He actually said “you’re my grandpa” (你是我爷爷), a switch from “I’m your grandpa” (我是你爷爷). The latter is kind of rude and disrespectful, like a provocative taunt or insult bratty A-Yi would say when he wants to start a fight lmao
- 求不得 unfulfillment (of wishes and desires), one of the eight sufferings in life (八苦) along with birth, old age, sickness, death, parting (with loved ones), encounter (with hated ones), and inability to let go. So far, the corresponding sufferings are: Dong Lin’s ‘death’, Gu Shen’s ‘parting with loved ones, Chu Lun’s ‘sickness’, Zuo Qingzhou’s ‘inability to let go’, the old emperor’s ‘old age’, Jing Lin’s encounter (with hated ones), Zui Shan Seng’s unfulfillment (of wishes and desires).
- 迎春花 winter jasmine flower, but the characters in Chinese are literally “Spring-welcoming flower”