It was dusk when the clouds cleared and the weather turned windy. The streets livened up. There were puddles of rainwater on the ground. Business at the inn was brisk with endless streams of customers. The main hall was full to the max with patrons, and the waiter was holding a tray as he collected money from the table. Innkeeper Zhu was over the moon as he listened to the “ka-ching” sounds of money. He made his way to the kitchen and watched as his people busied themselves.
The chef was sharpening his knife. Innkeeper Zhu urged him on. “It’s almost ready. Stand in the hall later and remember to drain all the blood into the vat. Many have placed requests for it.”
The chef said, “That person has lots of guts. I’m afraid it won’t be easy to deal with him later. We have to beat him half to death first, or it won’t be easy to slaughter him.”
“It’s exactly because he’s hard to slaughter that everyone wants him.” Innkeeper Zhu said shrewdly. “Put on a fierce fight later and let all the patrons watch to their hearts’ content. There will be no shortage of rewards.”
“What about those two upstairs?” The chef asked awkwardly. “We still don’t know where they are from. I’ll be eaten if they are major demons from beyond the mountains.”
“I’ll take care of it. You need not worry about them.” Innkeeper Zhu grunted. “I have already sent someone to squat and wait outside. If they are here to spoil our fun, I’ll not let them off.”
The chef made a compliant sound of acknowledgment and sharpened the knife even more.
Cang Ji could hear their conversation from where he was upstairs. He raised his foot to step on the window edge and watched as the sky darkened.
“An entire city of demons are all gathered here. What a remarkable man Gu Shen is to entice countless demons to spend money on him.”
“There’s something odd about this city.” Jing Lin said. “Even if they have been cooped up for a long time in the mountains, they still shouldn’t be in such a furor over a human.”
“I have a question.” Cang Ji said, “Does the Demarcation Division usually forbid demon to enter or leave?”
Jing Lin said, “No.”
“But it seems as if the demons here have never seen a living human before.” Cang Ji leaned out of the window, and his long hair fluttered in the wind. He listened to the commotion in the city. The demons who came for the banquet were in high spirits. Even the streets were decorated as if there was a festival going on.
Jing Lin leaned his shoulder against the window and followed Cang Ji’s gaze outside. Tapping his folding fan on his knee, he glanced at the nearby street market all the way to the horizon in the distance.
“Yeah.” Jing Lin mused. “… This shouldn’t be the case.”
This shouldn’t be the case at all.
Since this place was originally a human city, he could more or less guess why it was occupied by the demons now. But if these demons were the ones who ate those humans, then they should not find it strange to see Gu Shen today. But their eyes were so ravenous when talking to Gu Shen that they almost showed their real demon forms.
Both of them were watching when they heard the door next door opened. Gu Shen took a few steps downstairs for his meal. The bell “jingled” and followed in his footsteps as he walked down the stairs. The little stone figure stood on tiptoe and looked out through the gap in the door. It saw a big, dark eye staring at it.
“Gege.” A little wild ghost stuck his face through the crack of the door and giggled. “Stone!”
Startled by the fingers hooked through the door, the little stone figure plopped back onto the ground. Then, it picked itself up and ran towards Jing Lin.
Cang Ji lifted it up and scoffed. “You’re even timider than a ghost.”
The little stone figure slid along Cang Ji’s finger and made his way into Cang Ji’s sleeve. Seeking shelter in there, it refused to come out again.
The moment Gu Shen went downstairs, he was jostled around by the crowd in the hall. He picked Fanshu up, but Fanshu was trembling all over as he covered his eyes with both hands.
“Two bowls of noodles.” Gu Shen threw a pearl at the waiter. But realizing there was nowhere to sit, he said, “Bring it to the room.”
The waiter took the pearl and threw him a malicious smile. “I’ll find you a good seat.”
The hall abruptly fell silent, and everyone cast their eyes on Gu Shen. Fanshu trembled even more. Carrying his blade, Gu Shen took a step and swept his glance across the crowd. He found it weird.
Innkeeper Zhu wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and took small steps into the hall. He smiled obsequiously around him. “What do all of you think? I guarantee that this one will be well worth the money spent! For the sake of ‘freshness’, I’ll send someone to slaughter and cut him up now. How beautiful it is to dip thin slices of meat into a sauce of blood!”
The entire hall cheered. All the men and women, young and old, in this jam-packed inn stared at Gu Shen. Gu Shen felt unsettled when he saw them gradually revealing their fangs. He gripped the table wood.
“How long do we have to wait?” They urged. “Serve the dishes!”
Innkeeper Zhu grunted in acknowledgment and the chef lifted the curtain to walk out. Carrying a knife, he strode towards Gu Shen. Gu Shen took a few steps back, only to find hideous looking demons crowding behind him. He composed himself and looked around, but there was not a single human around. The patrons all shed their skins and revealed their real forms. Demons swarmed all over in the darkness of the night!
Gu Shen slipped his blade out of its sheath and let out a roar. Innkeeper Zhu nearly slipped from the shock. Gu Shen hugged Fanshu with one hand and said, “I thought it was strange. So it’s because all of you are demons!!”
As he was speaking, he felt a slight itch on his cheek. Gu Shen lowered his head and saw the large ears of a mouse right before him. Fanshu covered his protruding mouth and sobbed, “Immortal, flee quickly!”
This one was a little demon too!
Gu Shen was about to release his hold, but Fanshu jumped to the ground before he could do so. Twitching his ears, he pulled Gu Shen by the hand. The wild ghosts shouted and rushed at the chef to pound him on the thighs with their little fists. Taking advantage of the chaos, Fanshu dragged Gu Shen and ran. He was skilled at fleeing and dodged his way through the empty openings.
“Run, run!” Fanshu yelled as he was thrown into confusion. He did not know how he could help Gu Shen escape.
The whole city was full of demons. Where could they run to?!
Sure enough, Fanshu had only taken a few steps when a cat demon caught hold of him. He shrieked and struggled, shouting, “You can’t eat him! You can’t eat him!”
“If we don’t, then are we supposed to raise him and fatten him up?” The cat demon sharpened its claws in impatience. “Before eating him, I’ll eat you as an appetizer.”
A blade flashed as Gu Shen put on a brazen show of strength. He cursed, “Don’t you dare!”
“Take his blade!” Innkeeper poked his head out from behind the table. “This person has no cultivation. All he has is a word of ‘righteousness’. Take him down, and you can divide him as you wish!”
“I’ll cut your pig ears to brew wine!” Gu Shen burst out laughing as he wielded his blade in a show of might. “How dare demons dare to stir up trouble in the lands of Zhongdu! Since I dare to come alone, did you think I wouldn’t have reinforcements?” His fury frightened the mountain demons. Without a trace of fear, he said to the cat demon, “Give me back that little mouse! Since he dares to deceive me, I’ll feed him to my blade tonight!”
“He’s imposing enough.” Cang Ji snorted. “A pity he’s a little lacking in capability. Jing Lin, he’s just like you. Both of you rely on subterfuge to make your way through life. If they eat him tonight, then that’s his fate. There’s no need to save him. All we have to do is to get the bell back.”
Jing Lin leaned against the railing and looked down. Under the shadows of the lanterns, his face took on a more common appearance. He said, “I’m afraid your plans are going to be in vain.”
Cang Ji raised a finger to touch his nose and sneered. “How stinky. That smelly monk is really persistent.”
“Stinky?” Jing Lin’s nose twitched. “Not really.”
“That’s because I’m fragrant from within.” Cang Ji placed a palm on Jing Lin’s nose to let him take a sniff. “It cancels out the stench from his spiritual aura.”
Downstairs, the sly cat demon rolled his eyes. Skeptical of Gu Shen’s words, he shook Fanshu and moved his feet, saying, “What reinforcements? It’s all nonsense! You are just bluffing!”
Gu Shen said, “Truth or lies, try me and you’ll find out.”
The cat demon hauled another demon out and shoved him. “Bite him twice!”
Instead, everyone became courteous. The chef was too busy dealing with the wild ghosts that were hammering him; he had just removed one when a bunch of them pounced on him. On realizing that things did not bode well for him, Innkeeper Zhu poked his head out again and said in an urgent voice. “What reinforcements could a mere mortal have? If he is that formidable, why did he realize we were demons only now? Everyone, attack! Such a good opportunity comes once in a blue moon. If he runs away, we will have to wait donkey years for another one to come along! Besides, when the mountain deity wakes up, you and I will not be able to have such a good, hot meal again!”
The cat demon could not hold it back and pounce. “I don’t want his internal organs, but those breast meat are mine!”
Gu Shen lifted his foot to kick him. The cat demon was nimble as he sprinted and leaped on all fours. Before Gu Shen could swing his blade, the demon bit it into two with a snap. When the rest of the demons saw that he did not have the means to fight back, their beast blood boiled over in excitement as they swarmed towards him.
Fanshu hugged his head and cried, “You can’t eat him! I haven’t found mother yet!”
There was a pressure on Gu Shen’s shoulder as he was thrown to the ground. A stab of pain erupted from his thigh as he was bitten. Lifting his hand to prop himself up, Gu Shen pulled out a talisman from his bosom and shoved it into his mouth with lightning speed. As soon as he swallowed it, the demons cried out in alarm. It was as if his flesh and blood had turned into iron. The mouth of the one who had taken the first bite was all bloodied.
“The Golden Ray of the Ninth Heaven!” The cat demon transformed into a large cat and attempted to flee. “This is bad. It’s the fiend of Zhuihun Prison!”
The golden light in the horizon swelled as the rays shone through the clouds at the peak of the mountain range. Xiang Mo staff came flying in a swing, and cracks appeared on the ground of the street market. Gravel scattered all over. As soon as the staff plunged into the ground, the golden light surged. The group of demons shrieked in unison, and all kinds of beastly howls reverberated in the air. Innkeeper Zhu bent over and transformed into a wild boar, knocking over tables and stools as he fled. For a moment, all they could see were terror-stricken beasts scurrying for their lives.
Zui Shan Seng lifted his wine gourd1 and leaned against a tree as he guzzled the wine and gave a satisfied burp. He walked with an unsteady gait and pointed all around him. “Run, why are you running?! Although I’m a deity, I’ve never been on a killing spree. What the hell are you all afraid of?!”
Cang Ji cracked his knuckles and said in a frosty tone. “Having half his spiritual energy now makes it seem as if I’ve lost to him.”
“He must be truly insane to treat half of those spiritual energy he had thrown to you as a form of amusement.” Jing Lin said, “They should have left him a spot as one of the Six Lords of Ninth Heaven that time.”
Zui Shan Seng staggered and stumbled into Gu Shen. He swept a glance around the inn and scoffed. “The one who should have run didn’t run.”
Cang Ji laughed. “Seeing as you were toiling so hard to pursue us, we took a break to buy you a drink.”
“Kid.” Zui Shan Seng raised his head to take a drink. Then he pointed at Cang Ji. “Just a few short days, and you’ve become more evil. What benefits did he give you to make you hell-bent on going astray?”
“I feel so wronged.” Jing Lin said flippantly.
“Indeed.” Cang Ji laughed aloud. “Righteousness and I do not get along by nature, and now I’ve met such a cold-hearted and cold-faced villain like him. It’s only natural that I’ve turned out wrong.”
“I’ll give you another chance.” Zui Shan Seng put back his gourd and pulled out Xiang Mo staff. “If you come with me, I’ll let bygones be bygones and find a righteous path shifu for you. Other than Lord Chengtian and Lord Shage, I can convince anyone else you may admire. Will you do it or not?”
“He’s baying for blood again.” Cang Ji raised his eyes to look at the sky. He said, “How much of his words should I believe?”
“Eighty to ninety percent.” Jing Lin said. “Zui Shan Seng means what he says.”
Cang Ji said, “Then, I do have a person in mind. Monk, you said anyone will do except for Lord Chengtian and Lord Shage, right?”
“Why?” Zui Shan Seng hoisted the thousand jin2 Xiang Mo staff over a shoulder. “You couldn’t be thinking of accepting me as a master, could you?”
“Not interested in baldies.” Cang Ji said half in jest. “But I admire Lord Linsong.”