Shades of gray and white cloaked the night as the North Wind stirred up the snow. Bits of snow poured into Cang Ji’s collar and rubbed against his skin, the cold penetrating his bones.
Why did it hurt so much?
Cang Ji tightened his grip. Jing Lin’s back was a bloody mess. He climbed up, turned Jing Lin’s face over and wiped Jing Lin’s cheeks with his bloodstained thumb. Jing Lin was still trembling earlier on, but now, Cang Ji was the only one shaking. It was then he realized that shivering was sometimes beyond humans’ control.
Resentful, Cang Ji gritted his teeth so hard they made a sound. He should be jumping for joy as he devoured this jumble of blood and meat into his belly. But for some unknown reason, he wanted to rip Zui Shan Seng’s throat apart right this very moment.
Xiang Mo Staff returned to its master’s hand. Zui Shan Seng had removed his hat earlier, revealing a head that looked as if there was a layer of green tangerine peel1 on it. He was initially haggard, but now he looked young. Zui Shan Seng carried his staff and approached, all traces of playfulness gone. Snow drenched his tattered clothes. His dark brown cassock was worn out, but on his body, it seemed like a stolen article.
“You are just a fish that has just come into existence. Even if you had accidentally gone astray, there is still a chance for you to return to the right path. This man is strange. It is not surprising for him to confuse your heart with some heretical remarks.” Zui Shan Seng stood still. “When I finish him off, you will get your way out.”
With this change in appearance, he had even stopped addressing himself as “this old man”. But those pair of eyes were still cloudy and at odds with his facial features. All traces of drunkenness had also vanished. It was as if his earlier appearance was all just a facade, and this was the real Zui Shan Seng.
Zui Shan Seng was very much aware of Cang Ji’s cultivation. If Jing Lin was still of value enough for him to be willing to watch out for him, then Cang Ji was not worth mentioning at all. With just a slight movement of his finger, he could wipe this brocade carp out. However, he did not see himself as a murderer, so he was unwilling to deal another killing blow to Cang Ji.
Cang Ji did not reply. When Zui Shan Seng saw that he had no intent to mend his ways, he raised a hand to urge him to step aside. Cang Ji sprang up like a wolf, his strong and long body pouncing on Zui Shan Seng like a sharp flying blade.
Zui Shan Seng rebuked, “You’re overestimating yourself!”
Cang Ji broke through the snow barrier and grabbed Zui Shan Seng’s left shoulder. Zui Shan Seng remained as firm as a rock as he retracted his shoulder and hit back with his bare hands. Cang Ji’s fingers were taut as he took the blows without retreating, using pure brute force to force Zui Shan Seng back. Zui Shan Seng did not expect Cang Ji to know such a crude and relentless way of combat; he was totally disregarding his own life. Zui Shan Seng immediately dodged the blows.
Crumbled snow flew all over, blanketing the ground with misty snow. Thumping sounds incessantly popped up from Zui Shan Seng’s arms. He had always despised this kind of fight-to-the-death struggle, but he never expected to encounter such a troublesome opponent today! He was unwilling to kill people at will, so he kept giving in again and again. Scales had emerged on Cang Ji’s shoulders, arms, and neck. Hitting Cang Ji with his fists only made Zui Shan Seng feel as though Cang Ji was impregnable and indestructible.
Zui Shan Seng took a step back and steadied himself, then suddenly whirled around and thrust his knee up. Cang Ji blocked the blow with his arm, but the impact still made his internal organs turned, and his whole body ached. Jing Lin’s blood melted between his tongue, and the fire in Cang Ji burned more intensely. It seemed as if he was ready to fight to the end.
Cang Ji tasted his own blood. With tightly clenched teeth, he abruptly head-butted Zui Shan Seng on his head. Even Zui Shan Seng had never seen such a rogue move! He immediately saw stars. Cang Ji pushed him down into the snow and punched him on the cheek with a fist before tightening his hands around his neck. Zui Shan Seng decisively raised his legs and struck Cang Ji on the back with bent knees. It felt as if a mountain was crushing down on Cang Ji, but Cang Ji refused to release his grip.
Zui Shan Seng had difficulty breathing. He smacked the ground with a palm and Xiang Mo Staff came flying diagonally. Cang Ji stomped down on his palm, his entire person like a hungry wolf pouncing on its prey. Xiang Mo Staff fell to the ground in response as Zui Shan Seng’s face gradually turned green.
“Re… repent, and you’ll be delivered from… sin.” Zui Shan Seng gnashed his teeth in anger. “Otherwise, I…”
Cang Ji’s breathing was short as he tightened his grip.
Zui Shan Seng dug his fingers into the snow and messily drew an array. The snow came to a standstill as gloomy clouds swirled overhead. Suddenly, an inverted immortal mountain descended on them. The wind swept over the mountain as it plummeted and broke into a massive image of a fist mid-air and swung towards Cang Ji. But it was already too late. The enormous shadow was nearing Cang Ji when pain shot out from Zui Shan Seng’s arm. Zui Shan Seng hissed in pain as his spiritual energy burst forth from the part that had been gnawed opened and surged uncontrollably towards Cang Ji.
Zui Shan Seng had never experienced his spiritual energy being consumed by demons before. For a while, he shivered all over as his spiritual expanse poured out of him. Even as he shook Cang Ji’s grip off, the intent to kill had already taken hold of his heart.
This demon was abnormally evil! He should not let him live, or he will become a calamity in the future!
The Demarcation Division’s horizon rippled, and the deity-in-charge of the sacrificial temples suddenly spoke up. “Zui Shan Seng, stop!”
The likeness of the giant fist smashed apart the barrier of the town, and the light dispersed. Houses collapsed in unison and the streets caved in. Everyone, human or demon, all scampered off like frightened rats. Zui Shan Seng’s metaphysical spirit and pseudo-form were tremendous enough to shroud the sky; if this punch hit its target, it would likely wipe the town off the map.
A white figure suddenly appeared in the air with one hand behind him. The man’s long hair swayed as his robe fluttered in the wind. He met Zui Shan Seng’s pseudo-form head-on with a hand. The gigantic fist struck the man’s palm, shattering into rays of light before dispersing.
With his eyes blindfolded with a piece of white cloth, Hui’an said in a low voice, “Zui Shan Seng, do not hurt him.”
Zui Shan Seng was lying in the snow, his arm soaked with blood.
“You’re obstructing me again!” Zui Shan Seng pressed his head into the snow and banged his head against the snow a few times. He cursed, “I was too careless to make such an error of judgment!”
Hui’an dropped beside him and reached out a hand to help him out, but Zui Shan Seng slapped his hand away and grabbed Hui’an by the lapels. He raged. “Chase him quickly! That boy must not be kept alive! Whether we live or die, it all depends on tonight!”
The nose below Hui’an white blindfold was straight. He raised a hand to cover his eyes gently, and the white cloth slipped off. Then, he opened a pair of sharp, eagle eyes.
Cang Ji banged the courtyard door open with all his might, and the door panel finally gave way. He tumbled in with Jing Lin in his arms and lay on the snow, breathing painfully. The spiritual energy that he had devoured was not what he had expected. Unlike Jing Lin’s sweet and gentle energy, this was a penetrating cold running amok in his body.
Cang Ji finally felt chilly. He touched Jing Lin’s back; Jing Lin’s blood had already congealed into ice. He lowered his head and grabbed the back of Jing Lin’s collar with his mouth and pulled him into his arms.
“Jing Lin.” Cang Ji shouted into Jing Lin’s ears, “Jing Lin.”
Jing Lin looked lifeless. Cang Ji dragged him to the corner of the wall. Zui Shan Seng’s spiritual energy was still creating havoc in his body, causing Cang Ji’s hands and feet to shake. He leaned his forehead against Jing Lin’s temples and licked the blood on Jing Lin’s cheeks clean. The cooling sweetness was like handfuls of hot springs water, rising from the Cang Ji’s throat with gentle warmth. The heat calmed his tremors and gradually suppressed Zui Shan Seng’s energy. However, what Cang Ji could not see was that the fish form in his spiritual expanse had changed. Its shape was slightly different from before, only that the change was still not as obvious.
Having regained some of his strength, Cang Ji had to find a hiding place immediately. He knew that Zui Shan Seng would not let them off easily, and there was also Hui’an conducting strict patrol around this place.
Cang Ji looked around, it was a humble and narrow courtyard. He closed the door with a foot but did not linger for long. Instead, he picked Jing Lin up, somersaulted onto the roof with a hand and fumbled around in the darkness of the night to a short lane that was even darker. He silently hopped down into the lane and moved along the wall to enter the interior.
There was a low door that was tightly secured. Cang Ji listened but heard no signs of life inside, so he heavily banged it open. The excess heat in the inner chamber was like waves caressing his face, driving away the cold and simmering his body. He closed the door and placed Jing Lin down on the bed amid the debris.
The room was small, but the dressing case was full to the brim. The makeup mirror was wiped clean, and the flimsy upper garment and thin fabric spilling out from the old cabinet was mostly gaudy. The small stove was still warm, as was the jug of wine.
Cang Ji lay down next to Jing Lin and looked at Jing Lin’s pale lips. He rubbed them with his fingers a few times as his face gradually took on a ferocious expression. He rubbed Jing Lin’s lips with force until color gradually returned. Then, avoiding Jing Lin’s wounds, he drew Jing Lin into an embrace.
He held Jing Lin this way as if it was enough to warm and wake Jing Lin up.
Huadi was so frozen from the cold that she wrapped herself tightly in her woolen coat and stumbled to the door wanting to take a rest. Her body was still filthy, and she reeked of alcohol. She was so nauseated, she almost vomited. Unexpectedly, she had only just leaned against the door when she toppled over into the room.
“Which fucker burgled my house…” She swore as she climbed up and propped herself up against the dresser. Clutching her waist, she continued to curse, then stopped abruptly and said awkwardly, “… Fucker is still sleeping on my bed.”
Huadi turned her head and raised her voice in a shriek, “Catch the thief!”
She had only just yelled when Cang Ji nimbly covered her mouth and shut the door with a foot as he heaved her back. Huadi struggled like a quail. She felt the tremendous strength in Cang Ji’s arm; she would have died if he had gripped her tighter.
Cang Ji said in a low voice, “Let’s make a deal? We can talk about money. How about letting us stay for a few days?”
Huadi opened her mouth and said, “That’s a nice way to put it! Are you avoiding your enemies? Uh, if they find and hack their way to my house, whose shoulders should I cry on?!”
Cang Ji relaxed his arm and finally let Huadi fall to the ground. Huadi crawled to the other side, grasping her hairpin tightly as she swiftly retreated. She touched her neck, gasping.
Cang Ji squatted down. The feral look in his eyes had been completely wiped clean, leaving only a trace of embarrassment and hesitation lining the face of this fledgling young man.
His gaze was earnest as he pleaded, “Jiejie, can’t you give me a way out?”
Huadi was not a gullible person, so she did not relent. “My dear didi, I’m just a woman trying to make a living in the three contemptible trades.2 There is no reason to put me in a spot, right?” She looked up, “Turn right a few steps outside the door, and you can put up at the available inn.”
The lines on Cang Ji’s face gradually loosened and turned into a distressed expression. He pointed at the bed, and it took him a long time to get his words out, “Please save a life.”
Huadi would not have believed him if he had said some honeyed words. But his looking as though he had some unspeakable trouble had roused a sense of compassion in Huadi. Huadi was not without children at this age, but as she said, for a woman trying to make a living in the three contemptible trades, how would she dare have a child to demand repayments from? She would not even know who the father is.
Cang Ji understood it at a glance. He had even perfectly imitated the uneasiness of a youth right down to the details. Thanks to this face, his expression did not look strange or out of place.
Huadi’s wariness receded slightly although she remained seated. Instead, she gazed at the bed and asked, “Brothers?”
Cang Ji looked awkward and tongue-tied. Huadi was worldly-wise and raised her eyebrows slightly as she said, “What’s so hard about saying it? Cut sleeve3, right? There are many such people behind closed doors, although they are all just pretending to be what they are not on the surface.” She inserted her hairpin back into her hair and got up as she clutched her waist in an obviously artificial manner. “Were you driven out?”
Cang Ji did not know what “cut sleeve” was, but he was used to putting on an act, so he merely nodded his head in response without revealing any emotion on his face.
Huadi looked at the bedding , and the color abruptly drained from her face. “Why is there so much blood!” She lifted it with a finger and forgot all about keeping up appearances as she exclaimed in shock, “He’s so badly hurt. If we don’t get him a physician, he will die!”
Cang Ji’s heart felt stifled as he furrowed his eyebrows.
青皮 Qing Pi or green tangerine peel. Basically saying the top of his head looks like the picture on the right.
- 下三滥, refers to the three contemptible trades in the ancient days, i.e. courtesans (prostitutes), scholars, and beggars. Here, it’s suggesting that Huadi is in the flesh trade.
- 断袖 literally cut sleeve. It is a euphemism for gays and homosexuality, originating from History of Western Han. The story goes that Emperor Han Aidi was in bed with his lover Dong Xian when he had to attend a court audience that morning. Rather than waking up Dong Xian, who was sleeping with his head resting on the Emperor’s sleeve, Aidi used a knife to cut off his sleeve. “Cut sleeve” was then used to refer to gays in those days.