The Blood Sea gushed down, raging against the waves of clouds like a waterfall pouring from the sky right into the eastern sea. Half of the sky had already been stained red. Countless evil spirits fought against each other as they swooped down, instantly throwing the eastern sea into a vast expanse of turbidity.
As the common ruler of the Three Realms now, Yun Sheng’s moral integrity would be called into question if the Blood Sea were to overturn and engulf Zhongdu again. No doubt he would be condemned and denounced by all in the days to come. He suspected that Li Rong was the one behind all these in an attempt to take advantage of the chaos to usurp the throne, so he promptly bellowed an order, “Lord Shage is plotting a conspiracy. Remove his Po Zheng Spear and take him under arrest!”
Li Rong said in a deep voice, “A formidable enemy stands before us. My lord, you mustn’t lose your head.”
“The Blood Sea was guarded by you, and now, it’s running rampage for no reason. Don’t tell me there is someone else other than you who can mess with it without authorization.” Yun Sheng steeled his heart, no longer wishing to keep Li Rong around any longer. Whether or not Li Rong was the culprit, he must be taken down today!
Li Rong said, “With the Blood Sea racing towards Zhongdu, the great devil will surely rise. The Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors are all in my hand. Yet you insist on starting a dispute with me at such a critical moment!”
“You released the Blood Sea into Zhongdu. A catastrophe is about to befall every living being, yet you are talking about dispute with me right this moment in an attempt to absolve yourself of blame.” The Yin and Yang symbol under Yun Sheng’s feet split into twin mirrors of black and white. He proclaimed, “Li Rong, you deserve execution for your ulterior motive!”
In a split second, black and white waves of water rose from all four sides of Ninth Heaven Terrace with a monstrous force that seemed to encompass the sky. On seeing the Blood Sea merging into the eastern sea, Li Rong reckoned that Cang Ji intended to devour the devils.
Li Rong could not help but raise and jerk his feet to flip up Po Zheng Spear. He said, “Look at how challenging it was to kill him 1,400 years ago. Who can stop him once he evolves into a dragon again?! Yun Sheng, don’t believe the words of those who sow discord.”
“Since you are so intent on explaining yourself, then why take out Po Zheng Spear?” Jing Lin said in a mild tone.
Li Rong froze. Yun Sheng’s intent to kill was already evident. He clenched his spear, keenly aware that a battle was inevitable today. An explosion of violent blows between both men erupted on Ninth Heaven Terrace. As Yun Sheng’s twin mirrors intersected, several “Li Rong” broke out of the mirrors, and Li Rong instantly got caught up in a group battle. But then, it was easy to imitate one in the skin, but not deep within.1 Yun Sheng had never thought that Li Rong would be this hard to deal with. Po Zheng Spear broke through the barrier, and Yun Sheng’s realm nearly collapsed.
“You have been deep in sleep above the Blood Sea these five hundred years.” Yun Sheng covered his bloodstains. “I never expected your cultivation to improve by leaps and bounds.”
The more hurried Li Rong’s spear was, the slower Yun Sheng became. When he could not ward off the blows, he would kick the golden cage and use Jing Lin to block the vortex of blows between them.
“But with your divine consciousness in the human realm, where on earth would you find the time to cultivate?!” Yun Sheng’s crown was blown off by the strong wind, revealing the doubt in his eyes. His heart suddenly skipped a beat, and he said in a harsh voice, “You devoured Father!”
Po Zheng Spear smashed loudly into the golden cage, and the bars promptly caved in. Li Rong stared fixedly at Yun Sheng and suddenly raised his voice. “You connive at the deeds of the sinner lord, Jing Lin, and frame me for releasing the Blood Sea. As the current commander-in-chief of Zhui Hun Prison, it’d be my duty to take you into custody!”
Yun Sheng’s expression instantly changed. He said, “I’m the Supreme Father. Who dares to?! Heavenly justice will not permit it if this vile creature isn’t eradicated! Kill Lord Shage, and I’ll heavily reward you!”
Ninth Heaven Terrace was already collapsing, with that endless stairway caving in amid a thunderous boom. The blood fog had become so overwhelming that the various deities who had rushed to the scene were momentarily caught in a dilemma. What they saw instead was the eastern sea already boiling over like water on the stove.
Li Rong’s spear slashed half a circle as he pulled off his token of authority at the side of his waist and tossed it down. His voice boomed, clear and loud. “Kill canglong!”
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
Cang Ji, if evolved into a dragon, would be a calamity.
Lord Jiutian could not even take down this dragon while he was still alive. It would be even harder to deal this dragon a blow once he bounced back after building up power. Furthermore, the enmity of that one fatal strike had turned them into irreconcilable foes. Li Rong had wanted to keep Jing Lin alive by hook or by crook despite all the difficulties only because Jing Lin was the only one who could kill the Supreme Father. Now that the Supreme Father was dead, then leaving Jing Lin or Cang Ji alive would be merely a recipe for disaster.
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Having received the token and command, the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors instantly surged forth like white tides among the divine generals. A moment later, the sound of killing thundered through Heaven. Zui Shan Zeng’s Xiang Mo Staff was already broken, and he was showing signs of exhaustion when the enemies attacked from the front and back. With no water, Shuran pulled back; the beast of Buddha was unwilling to kill the innocent indiscriminately, so he could only shove Huashang forward to command the various demons.
Pissed, A-Yi retorted, “What the hell do we need you for then?!”
Shuran stroked his tummy with trepidation and said, “It’s fine if there’s no use for me. In any case, I’m just here to serve as part of the lord’s dowry. With this one connection, Dijun will definitely not blame me.”
A-Yi promptly punched two fists out and said, “For a man, you’re really too useless!”
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Yun Sheng was no match for Li Rong, but he naturally had his own ways. As he dodged Li Rong’s Po Zheng Spear, he repeatedly used the golden cage to intercept the blows. Li Rong hacked down on it, again and again, denting the bars with his strikes until they finally gave way with a “bang”. In an instant, the Sanskrit scripts vanished.
Yun Sheng brandished his sleeves and said, “Ghosts and deities all submit the moment Yan Quan leaves its sheath! Jing Lin, it’s only by killing him that your towering rage can be appeased. From now on, you and I shall split the Three Realms among us. Lord Linsong will be the revered one of Heaven and Earth!”
Li Rong’s spearmanship was cutting cold. But an arm unexpectedly raised through the break in the cage to hold up the spear with bare hands. A violent wind rose next, and Jing Lin rose out of the cage. A rust-covered Yan Quan Sword materialized. Jing Lin flipped it over into his palm and suddenly whirled around with a swing of his sword to unleash an impressive sweep of sword aura.
Once again, Po Zheng Spear hummed, and the faintly discernible sound of the copper bell enveloped the surroundings.
Li Rong slid his palm to stabilize Po Zheng Spear and struck out with force. Strong wind battered as Jing Lin’s sword moved swiftly and majestically with a flourish. Both men brought billowing clouds in their wakes as the impact of their blows sent up a spray of flying stones all over. Li Rong felt a coolness on his throat and instantly stepped back to dodge the blow. When he touched his throat again, blood had already oozed out.
Jing Lin, however, did not pursue after him, but leaped down instead. The blur of azure instantly plunged in a descent like a sudden downpour of rain. In the blink of an eye, he had already penetrated through layers and layers of obstructions to come face-to-face with the eastern sea. Yan Quan Sword hurled down in an impressive display to position itself above the boiling water. The next instant, a ring of cold and piercing aura burst out from the sword and swept everyone away.
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Jing Lin landed on the water surface, and ripples blossomed where he had trodden past. He drew out Yan Quan Sword and lowered his head to exchange gaze with the gargantuan creature swimming underwater.
Cang Ji had yet to evolve into a dragon. He endured the gnaws of the evil spirits as black fog and blood simultaneously pervaded his spiritual sea. Horns had already popped out of his enormous fish body. Jing Lin was so tiny that he seemed to be standing in Cang Ji’s eyes amidst the sounds of biting and tearing.
I have a dragon.
Jing Lin thought out of the blue, even feeling a tinge of bitterness as he did so. That long finger of his, which had yet to be wiped clean of blood, gently touched this creature in the eye across the water surface.
It was as if they had never been apart.
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Li Rong’s spear came hurtling over, and the strong wind suddenly assaulted Jing Lin. The Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors who had been jolted away once again leaped up and pounced. But despite being besieged on all sides, Jing Lin slowly let out a smile at the creature underwater.
This one smile turned all the pandemonium into a mere illusion. That thousand and hundred years of pain and suffering all vanished like smoke into thin air. This was how the exchanges of gaze between lovers should be—as if they had nothing to fear, even if it was the end of the world itself. All the words they had to say lay concealed in their eyes—words that no one else in this whole world, other than the other party, would ever understand.
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Yan Quan Sword abruptly reversed up and struck Po Zheng Spear with a “clang”. The ensuing surge of wind sent Jing Lin’s hair fluttering. Without retreating a single step, he hit Li Rong back up into the air, preventing him from landing on the water. Then he drew a talisman spell with a hand, and azure light exploded forth, beating everyone around him into a retreat.
Li Rong dropped down, only to see that Jing Lin had already sprung up. Their pasts seemed to flash past as their gaze brushed across each other. Men on different paths would, eventually, have a parting of life and death, with the word “brothers” reduced to nothing more than the souls of the dead under the confrontation of sword and blade.
The water ripples beneath Jing Lin’s feet suddenly rippled apart as Yan Quan Sword transformed into a massive figure. With a sweeping force, it stirred up towering waves that went assaulting violently towards Li Rong with a gale trailing right in its wake. Li Rong’s spear crackled with thunderbolts as the red light went tearing through the air like a sharp arrow. In the blink of an eye, it collided with Jing Lin’s sword.
The wind slashed wildly at both men’s cheeks and hands like a blade. No one could stop within a five li2 radius. Sounds of strikes and blows erupted as blades scraped against one another before clashing again. Everything that had once been imparted to them from the same sect had, in this moment, become a contest of strength between them.
There was a series of “plop, plop, plop” as the water sputtered, but Jing Lin, having already veered up, let fly a kick across the sword. The force sent Li Rong plunging towards the sea, but Jing Lin unexpectedly flashed his way over. Po Zheng Spear latched on to the body of Yan Quan Sword, and Li Rong used the force and momentum to leap up again.
The horde of monks watched in silence. All of them watched this earth-shattering battle between brothers. Then the toll of a bell rang out of nowhere, its lingering echo reverberating through Heaven and Earth.
Cang Ji was just one step short. His fish body had already transformed out claws. As he hissed and devoured his food underwater, the tail he swung up stirred up waves several zhang3 high.
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The situation was at a stalemate when A-Yi suddenly stood up. He raised his head for a look and saw something indistinct flying through the clouds.
A-Yi swiftly leaped up in pursuit of it. He transformed into a five-colored bird and soared towards the ink-stained eagle. The ink of the giant eagle was still wet, with ink still dripping from it as it flapped its wings. And snugly wrapped in the swaddling bundle it held in its mouth was Shan Yue’s child.
A-Yi transformed back into his human form in mid-air and caught the child. He looked and could not help but turned his head back and rejoiced, “Ah Jie—”
Li Rong rose into the air and pressed in towards him. Reaching his arm out, he bellowed, “Give him to me!”
A-Yi raised his leg and was about to kick him when Jing Lin caught up with him from behind. Li Rong thrust his spear out, and A-Yi instantly leaned back. Jing Lin tapped him on the shoulder, and A-Yi promptly turned aside. Po Zheng Spear missed A-Yi, but jabbed right towards Jing Lin in the face. Jing Lin held it down with his sword and moved to push A-Yi away, but Li Rong swept up a gust of wind with his foot. A-Yi staggered forward again, and the child in his arms slid off.
“Oh, no!” A-Yi exclaimed in alarm.
Li Rong and Jing Lin were already chasing after the child, but A-Yi threw out a Sanskrit script chain through the air and wrapped it around the swaddling clothes to lift it. The child in the swaddling clothes struggled and cried, and the lotus in his palm twinkled faintly.
Li Rong made a grab for the child with a lightning move of his hand, and A-Yi yanked the bundle back. Po Zheng Spear propelled forth ferociously and followed hot in pursuit. Inwardly cursing Li Rong’s ruthlessness, A-Yi could only let go. Once again, the child plummeted.
Jing Lin descended at breakneck speed, but it was already too late. The swaddling clothes, already splashed wet with seawater, was about to sink into the sea. Just as he was about to release Yan Quan Sword from his palm, a huge lotus flower suddenly and unexpectedly opened up on the water surface.
Cradling the child, the lotus flower whirled and rose, and the monks’ chanting immediately began to resonate through the air. Golden light instantly materialized between Heaven and Earth as a dazzling golden lotus bloomed open. The True Buddha stood upright and reached out his arms to embrace the child.
The child’s cries came to an abrupt halt. With his pure, clear eyes opened, the child stretched out his palms into the golden light. The True Buddha smiled, and the child let out a smile too.
The crowd immediately heaved a collective sigh of relief. The True Buddha was merciful. Even if he could not return the child to Shan Yue, he would not allow Li Rong to kill him.
“Revered One.” Jing Lin stepped across the lotus towards them. “This child…”
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
The chanting amplified as the True Buddha looked towards Jing Lin and lifted a finger.
Jing Lin’s steps were initially unhurried, but in that very instant, his feet suddenly turned heavy and sluggish. He saw the finger pointing at him, and there was an imperceptible roar in his ears. The myriad voices in the world instantly vanished, and that immense crushing pressure slowly weighed down upon him, but Jing Lin could not move another step.
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The True Buddha, in his ethereal appearance, had one eye pitch-black and unfeeling, while the other eye was a light shade of gray and compassionate. Heaven and Earth were, to him, ephemeral. In that instant, he was the Supreme Father of Ninth Heaven; at the same time, he was also the True Buddha of the Brahma Altar.
Jing Lin turned thoroughly cold in a flash. It was as if someone had splashed him full in the face, dousing whatever little warmth he had left. Before him, the scene distorted and fractured.
The next moment, a spray of blood spattered upon his azure outfit.
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Li Rong stood tall and firm!
Li Rong braced himself with his spear. Bloodied wounds erupted all over his entire body, having intercepted the blow from that deadly calm finger. Po Zheng Spear cracked apart. His throat throbbed as he stared at the True Buddha.
“You didn’t die.”
All of Li Rong’s long-repressed fury bubbled forth. With reddened eyes and blood trickling from his forehead, he dragged his ruined spear and stumbled to his knees on the water surface.
“You didn’t die.” Li Rong’s voice gradually rose and fell as he howled himself hoarse. “To think you didn’t die!”
Amidst the silence of Heaven and Earth, the True Buddha retracted his finger and slowly let out a smile.
“As your father, I feel very gratified that you made it this far. Choosing the Way of the Asura for you was the best choice. Throughout your journey, you’ve used your brothers to the fullest, failed the others, and endured the humiliation to this day, all for the sake of reaching the pinnacle. Your unyielding resolution is something that I, as your father, highly cherish and value.”
Li Rong could not stop the chokes of sobs from escaping his throat as he shuddered incessantly. At this one point of the finger, Po Zheng Spear shattered into fragments. His blood spurted onto Jing Lin’s cheeks. As the redness spread out beneath him, he toppled over.
“He saved your life.” The True Buddha looked at Jing Lin and said fondly, “And that’s all it took for you to be moved. Jing Lin, a century passes at merely the snap of a finger, and yet you have shown no improvement at all. There’s no doubt he intended to kill you today, but it’s also true that he has saved you. At the end of the day, he’s merely doing what benefits him.”
The tip of Jing Lin’s sword trembled.
The True Buddha’s gaze was benevolent as he continued in an unhurried voice.
“If he uses you, you live. Else, you perish. To everyone, you are nothing but a sword.”
A-Yi was suddenly trapped in a blaze of Heaven Fire.4 He rolled over to the ground and cried out in pain. The sea was so, so calm. Just a point of the True Buddha’s finger, and he could shatter Li Rong’s spear and topple him to the ground; he could even make Cang Ji go dead silent in the deep sea. He seemed to have Heaven and Earth in his grasp—as if he was the master of all living creatures.
Jing Lin tasted blood from the tip of the tongue he had bitten through.
“I am Heaven and Earth.” The True Buddha smiled. “My silly son.”
- 画皮难画骨 one may draw someone (tiger in the original) in the skin, but not his bones; one may know a man’s face, but it is difficult to know his heart.
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li = approx. 500m
- 丈 zhang; a measure of length, 1 zhang = ten Chinese feet (3.3m)
- 天火 literally Heaven Fire; a fire caused by natural phenomena, e.g., lightning or a fire whose cause can not be ascertained.