The golden chains shot in all directions, connecting to the various corners of the high platform to hang up the golden cage in the center of Ninth Heaven Terrace. Sanskrit scripts materialized and swirled around the golden cage to form a barrier.
Angry clouds churned amidst the thunderous sound of chanting.
With the luminous pearls on his crown hanging over his face, Lord Chengtian, Yun Sheng, ascended the stairs. He stood before the golden cage, then pushed the pearls aside and leaned forward to look at Jing Lin in the cage.
“Who is this?” Yun Sheng fiddled with the Yin Yang beads in his palm. “To think I can no longer recognize you.”
Jing Lin grasped the bars. Half of his shoulder was already drenched in blood.
Yun Sheng’s eyes moved back and forth. He said with a sigh. “I didn’t expect the birth of the evil being on the eastern sea to lure you out. Jing Lin, to think you would lead a life in shame and dishonor. Lord Linsong was so high and mighty back then. And now he’s all down and out to such an extent. How would Father think if he were to know of this in the Underworld?”
Jing Lin said, “Insincere much?”
“This is the way the world is.” Yun Sheng said, “Dare you claim to speak from your heart without having harbored contradictory thoughts?”
“I draw blood when I kill.” Jing Lin looked at him through the gaps of the bars. “You people kill without a trace.”
“That’s how those who are swords ought to be.” Yun Sheng said, “I’m not a sword, so naturally, I have to find another way. It’s just that your sin from all those killings runs too deep. Heaven and Earth can no longer tolerate and accept you. If I mete out justice on behalf of Heaven, I can still grant you a good name on this Ninth Heaven Terrace.”
“Grant.” Jing Lin said a little mockingly. “You’ve granted the wishes of so many people, and you’ve never thought of yourself?”
Yun Sheng let out a few laughs and said, “Do you really understand the meaning ‘Supreme Father’? All these years, you have never truly entered Ninth Heaven Sect. You have absolutely no idea what it means to be the ‘Supreme Father’ at all. Once you sit in this position, you are the common ruler of the entire world. The Supreme Father is one who grants the wishes of others. And now, I am the Supreme Father. Saying that I’d grant your wish is a kindness bestowed upon you by Heaven. Back then, Father called you a sword, the entire world thought it was the highest compliment ever. But, in fact, we know fully well that it was merely a mockery. In this heart, you aren’t even qualified to be a person.”
Jing Lin pressed against the cage and said nothing.
Yun Sheng took a few steps out. His magnificent and extravagant robe trailed behind him as he circled the cage as though he were admiring the sight of a rare, precious beast.
“From the way Heaven bestowed upon you with such an appearance, I knew that you would one day encounter a tribulation of love. I repeatedly advised Father to take preventive measures, but he was certain that you wouldn’t stir up any waves. A man who has been standing at the top for a long time will let down his guard. He was too headstrong and opinionated to listen to advice, and sure enough, he met his end in your hands. Having committed patricide and regicide, you are guilty of the most heinous crimes. But if you ask me, wasn’t this enforcing justice on behalf of Heaven too? Father was already old, and the well of his natural aptitude had dried out. To him, the Great Accomplishment Stage was a beautiful but evanescent illusion, much like the moon in the water and the flower in the mirror. How would he have been able to reach for it? He was merely using the name of the ‘Supreme Father’ to kill batch after batch of innocent children to make up for the lapses in his cultivation. Even until today, you still don’t understand your purpose; you were no different from the Blood Sea—you were all Father’s stepping stones. Killings in troubled times were aplenty where bloody waters breached city walls. The more upright your reputation was, the more righteous his reputation grew. You were not Ninth Heaven Sect’s sword; you were merely a sword that belongs to him and him alone. The morality you sought wasn’t the righteous path of the world, either. You were just an accomplice on a bogus path who helped a villain commit evil. Jing Lin, you killed him, and he killed you. And this was how both of you could be truly considered to be real father and son!”
Jing Lin suddenly said. “To kill others to fill up his spiritual energy, he would need a trusted aide to seek out young children. I have once gotten a testimony that this person was someone ‘with a folding fan in hand’.”
“Dong Jun was born out of the Blood Sea.” Yun Sheng said, “It’s not surprising for Father to order him to kill.”
“He doesn’t have the intent.” Jing Lin’s eyes were dark and deep. “If he were to commit evil, he would definitely see it through flawlessly and leave no one alive. What’s more, he’s fully aware that his identity is special. Every single one of his words and deeds would be analyzed and judged, so he would have acted with prudence and not killed in such a brazen and blatant manner.”
“You have someone in mind.” The Yin Yang beads in Yun Sheng’s palm made a sound as they knocked against one another.
“You’re fond of embellishments. As a mirror, you’re skilled at imitating human forms.” Jing Lin said.
“You have no proof or evidence.” Yun Sheng smiled as he looked at him. “Are you in such a hurry to die?”
“You repeatedly advised Father to nip the problem in the bud. It wasn’t that he did not heed it, but that he handed it over to you to deal with it. The curse to sever all feelings and desires was in my body. The reason it was so well-concealed was that it was always with me, day and night.” Jing Lin said with calm and composure.
“Only Yan Quan Sword is at your side day and night.” Yun Sheng said, “Yet, its sheath was forged by Lan Hai.”
“That’s right.” Jing Lin said.
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
“So you suspect Lan Hai.” Yun Sheng swiftly continued from him.
“I’m without proof or evidence.” Jing Lin said unhurriedly. “Why are you so anxious? It’s indeed true that the sheath was forged by Lan Hai. But the tassel was a gift from you.”
Yun Sheng paced back and forth and said, “I’ve gifted away so many trinkets. Are you going to pin every single blame on me if something were to happen?”
“You were in charge of the sect’s internal affairs, and you concocted pills for Father. Giving us the pills for consumption was just to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes; your original intention was to have it fed to Qing Yao. Qing Yao was hiding in the sect, and the daily supply of flesh and blood she needed was insufficient. To prevent her from exposing her real form, she was fed that pill every day. Dong Jun always refused it, probably because he sensed something fishy about them. Lan Hai remained in the compound for a long time with Qing Yao for company. You didn’t do a clean job of it, and he noticed.” Jing Lin paused for a moment, then continued, “You killed him.”
“He had the Heavenly Thunderbolt Hammer. How would I have been able to defeat him?” Yun Sheng turned the Yin Yang beads. “Even at this stage, you are reluctant to put your guess on Father. Your father-and-son ties run so deep that it deeply moves me.”
“You killed him.” Jing Lin repeated.
Yun Sheng put a finger up to silence him. He said, “Don’t make me out to be such a person. Jing Lin, I’ve never gone onto the battlefield bearing real swords and spears. The one who killed him was Father.”
“So it was you.” Jing Lin leaned forward a little. The darkness in his eyes deepened, like a deep, cold pool. “You were flustered—Did you kneel before him to beg him to let you off? But he wouldn’t. He wanted to get to the bottom of it. You were Father’s dog, and so you were most afraid of coming clean. Because the moment you dared to sell Father out, the one to die would be you.”
Yun Sheng finally revealed his fangs under that mild and gentle facade of his. His Adam’s apple throbbed as he said to the cage, “He was the one who kneeled before me…”
“Father never saw me as a person.” Jing Lin said, “And you think he treated you like one?”
Yun Sheng suddenly flung his sleeves. Holding on to the bars, he said through gnashing teeth, “Shut up!”
“You know so much.” Jing Lin closed in on him. “So how could Father have let you live? Once the die was cast, and his sovereign status was secured, the first one he would go for was you. He wasn’t willing to kill me, and the credit for this goes to you. You should have been afraid when I came out of seclusion. So many of our brothers have died under your blade. You committed so many evil deeds for him; it should have been your turn. So he wanted to use his fastest blade.”
“That’s right.” Yun Sheng clenched the bars tightly and forced out a laugh. “Jing Lin, he wanted to use you to kill me! How laughable is it for him to raise eight sons, each with their own uses, but he never had the intent to keep anyone at all. He wanted everyone beneath his feet. We all outlived our usefulness when he reached the top. He severed your emotions, remember? Li Rong was the one who did it! They sliced off the scales of that dragon and extracted his tendons, while you were crying in grief day and night. If you were a goner, and I were done for, then how long could Li Rong live? How long could Pu Man and Dong Jun live? All of you regarded him as a wicked man. I was the only one who saw him as my own father. I treated him as Father! I did my utmost to support him, and I went to great pains to kill for him.” Yun Sheng’s eyes were cold. “He transferred me away from his side when he ascended to Ninth Heaven. He grasped on to Li Rong instead—that was his shield. The killing intent in him had already been roused. He merely lacked a sword.”
“You poisoned him.” Jing Lin said.
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
Yun Sheng smiled and said, “Not me. Us.”
The blood on Jing Lin’s fingertips had already cooled. He looked at Yun Sheng, but he could no longer remember his appearance as a youth. They grew up in the same place, yet they were like insects in a jar. At first, they thought what Father wanted was venom, but in the end, they realized that Father himself was the poison.1
A group of sons killed their father.
“We are all murderers.” Yun Sheng rose. Having already reined in his emotions, he continued with elegance and self-control, “How clean is Li Rong? He’s been wanting to kill Father for a very long time. And how clean is Dong Jun? After Qing Yao, he’s been bearing it in silence. Pu Man is even more despicable. He hates you and resents Father for his favoritism. How could a tenth of medicine and one kind of poison kill Father? It was hundreds and thousands of poison! Layer upon layer, seeping in from every pore. Father had long been besieged on all sides, and he still thought that we were all within his control. We had everything all ready—except for a blade.”
Jing Lin looked as if he was finding it hard to bear.
Yun Sheng said, pleased, “Brothers weren’t brothers. Father and son weren’t father and son. We were the most ruthless group of people in the entire world. But so what? We were merely chasing after our own goals together! You treated all the brothers like fools, but what about yourself? Jing Lin, you were the silliest fool there was! Ninth Heaven Sect was already gaining momentum in its attempt to take over command of the various heroes, so why would we want to make the unnecessary move of opening up Ming Jin Stage? Because canglong would surely hear of it and come. This dragon was the wall Father could not surmount. All dragons would grow a reverse scale under their throats, and Father once mulled over him for several years. Yet he saw that it was all black under his throat; there was none of the so-called reverse scale at all. To defeat him, he had to give him one first. It was when the scale under his throat turned into the shade of pale blue that the time was ripe. You were the sword; you broke him. The one who killed him was none other than yourself.”
Jing Lin lowered his head, revealing the bloodstained fairness of his nape. It looked so fragile, as if it could not withstand a single blow.
“That’s all it took to stir up the universe.” Yun Sheng laughed. “From then on, there’s only one common ruler of Heaven and Earth. All beings prostrate themselves at my feet. I’m Lord Chengtian. I’m also the Supreme Father!”
The chanting had long ceased. It was quiet all around.
Jing Lin suddenly raised his head to stare at Yun Sheng. After a moment, he smiled and said, “Do you truly think that everything has been proceeding according to your plan all these years?”
Yun Sheng lifted his arms, showing his attire in its full splendor. His crown swayed. He said, “Of eight brothers, I was the only one who killed his way out of the siege to secure this position here. You didn’t enter the reincarnation cycle, so I guessed you’d live. Having come all the way here, who are you still hoping to come and save you? Father is already dead. The reason I had you captured here is to summon the Three Realms over to convene for a joint trial. Li Rong was close to you back then. How would he not know you’d kill Father? Both of you were the ones who schemed to usurp the throne. If not for the wise judgment of the True Buddha, the one to die on Ninth Heaven Terrace that day would not be just Father. You have already sunk to the Way of the Devil, and Li Rong is an accessory to your crimes. Both of you deserve to die. I’m not a lawless person; I want your deaths to be justified.”
Jing Lin said, “Lan Hai died because of you, yet he also wrote my name in your palm. Don’t you understand why?”
Yun Sheng said, “He was simply intending to give you a tip-off while at death’s door.”
“No.” Jing Lin said resolutely and decisively. “He wrote my name not only to tell me that there’s a traitor among the brothers, but also to tell you that besides you, there’s still another person in hiding—one whose identity was unbeknownst to him.”
Yun Sheng’s expression suddenly grew frosty. He said, “You’re trying to confuse me!”
“Tao-di died in the Blood Sea. Who aided him in turning into a devil? Who let him down the Human Realm?” Jing Lin’s tone quickened. “And who was the one to mention the sword tassel to me right before we set off?”
Yun Sheng suddenly jerked back, but it was already too late. He listened to the rising sound of footsteps from the stairs as Li Rong, dressed in a crimson robe, ascended with unhurried steps.
Jing Lin said softly.
“What you have said is true. A man who has been standing at the top for a long time will let down his guard. Will you be the one to die today, or him? Yun Sheng, the oriole2 is here.”
- Specifically refer to 蛊 gu, a poison that was collected by sealing venomous creatures like centipedes, scorpions, and snakes in a jar and forcing them to fight and devour each other. The last surviving creature would contain a concentrated toxin. Gu was used in black magic practices such as manipulating sexual partners, creating malignant diseases or spells, and causing death.
- From the idiom “the mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind.” (螳螂捕蝉，黄雀在后). i.e., to covet and pursue gains before oneself without being aware of (or neglecting) a greater danger behind.