While Cang Ji was still in doubt, Zui Shan Seng had left Zhui Hun Prison. Carrying his staff, he had only taken a few steps when someone pulled him by the back collar. He did not even have to turn his head around. Sure enough, he heard Dong Jun’s voice.
“I want to make a trip to the Blood Sea, but that guard dog blocked my way! He always shows you consideration, so I’ll have to trouble you to go with me.”
“Why are you heading for the Blood Sea out of the blue?” Zui Shan Seng frowned and turned back.
Dong Jun paced between the clouds and said, “I haven’t been to see Li Rong for a long time. I miss him a lot.”
“What a load of crap.” Zui Shan Seng flicked his sleeves and prepared to leave.
“Oh man, please hold on.” Dong Jun went around Zui Shan Seng and stood before him, refusing to let him pass. “What’s wrong with me missing my brother? Why did you turn your back on me again? Come with me. I have something important to ask.”
“Li Rong’s body has sunk into the Blood Sea, and his divine consciousness has descended to the Mortal Realm. Who are you going to ask? You must be planning to stir up trouble again!”
“I always go by the book. I’m much more well-disciplined than you are. You said earlier that his consciousness has descended to the Mortal Realm, but I’ve never heard the Supreme Lord mention it before.” Dong Jun mused, “There’s really a reason why I’m looking for Li Rong.”
Zui Shan Seng noted that he did not seem to be lying, so after a moment of hesitation, he led him there. After the curtain fell on the Blood Sea Battle, the Blood Sea was subdued and confined in Zhui Hun Prison, watched by the Three Thousand Heavenly Warriors. Zui Shan Seng was the Grand Secretariat of Zhui Hun Prison. In fact, he was Li Rong’s custody deity. With him leading, it was naturally easy for Dong Jun to enter and exit.
It was just that they could not blame the gatekeeper deity for being strict. Dong Jun’s origins had always been controversial. In order to avoid suspicion, he should never step foot into this place again. But it was precisely because of this that Zui Shan Seng believed that he truly had something to attend to.
Both of them descended the stairs. Golden patterned spells to subdue devils were everywhere around them, tracing out a path of dark gold as numerous spells flowed along it. Even ordinary devils could not walk through this passage with steady steps, let alone demons. Dong Jun’s original form was terrifying, and yet he still felt a stabbing pain in his soles. The key location was the heart of the incantation, with a heavy spear covered in frost in the center. This was Lord Shage’s Po Zheng Spear.
Dong Jun pulled out a handkerchief from his sleeve and covered his mouth and nose as he passed by Po Zheng Spear. He was already feeling a little sick because of this spear’s overwhelming murderous aura, ferocity, and power. Just going a little nearer to it gave him the chills.
On seeing him covering himself with the handkerchief, Zui Shan Seng clicked his tongue. “Your action reminds me. I’ve been thinking lately about how familiar that man seems to me. Look at your action—he’s indeed imitating you! That disguise, and those peach blossom eyes1… if his cultivation were to be even more unfathomable, he would be exactly you, wouldn’t he?!”
“How rare for you to observe in detail.” Dong Jun passed Po Zheng Spear. Wiping his sweat with the handkerchief, he said, “All along, he has been imitating me. Although he did not master every single one of my movements, he had already more or less learned those mannerisms that would raise suspicions. Hey, if he commits some shocking transgression one day, and some single-minded fool reports it to the higher-ups, I’d be hard-pressed to clear my name.”
“There is nothing in this world that you can’t clear up with your words.” Zui Shan Seng halted in his tracks. The stone slabs under their feet had ended. Before them, the endless redness of the Blood Sea roiled with countless faces of humans flowing within. All they could hear was the howls of those on the brink of death.
“Is he a pig?” Dong Jun whispered. “They are creating such a din, and he could still sleep for five hundred years! If it were me, I’d fricking quit.”
“He was heavily injured that day. His sleeping here was beyond our expectations.” Zui Shan Seng flung his staff out, and golden light forced apart a narrow path. He stepped onto it and continued, “Yan Quan Sword went straight through his chest. Lord Linsong really went all out.”
“Come to think of it, it’s strange. It has been baffling me for a hundred years.” Dong Jun spoke slowly. “It’s one thing for evil to enter a body to deceive a child. For so many years, Jing Lin had been bearing his sword and upholding the way. The most remarkable part of him is his nature. This person wasn’t anyone else but Lord Linsong, whose original form was a sword. How could he have suddenly turned so hostile that he could even stab Li Rong? The entire ground was soaked in blood that day. Good thing Father was in a sound sleep. Otherwise, it’d be another father-and-son feuding drama. That’d be even more exciting than brothers falling out with each other.”
“You’re shooting your mouth off! How dare you say such words?” Zui Shan Seng turned back to reprimand him. “If not for evil possession, then what? Don’t tell me he encountered a ghost. He killed his father and his brother. All his past merits are now nullified. He’s already a devil now.”
Dong Jun tapped his lips with his fan and said. “It’s just some idle chat. There’s no need to take it seriously.”
It was then Zui Shan Seng dropped the matter. Having already stopped in his tracks, he made way for Dong Jun. A few steps beyond, Dong Jun saw a platform constructed out of bluestone. Lord Shage, Li Rong, was lying atop it.
Dong Jun circled around him once and said, “I didn’t notice it clearly that day. Was it Li Rong who picked up the pieces after Jing Lin was pulverized?”
“No.” Zui Shan Seng said. “By then, Li Rong could barely move due to his serious injuries. What’s more, his divine consciousness was too far gone. It was left to the Sage Yining to clean up the mess.”
Dong Jun spread open his fan and said, “I heard that the Sage Yining has been with the Supreme Lord ever since the Ninth Heaven Sect days. I’m afraid he has some personal relations with Jing Lin, too.”
Zui Shan Seng was not a fool. He immediately retorted. “Surely you don’t suspect he had done something on the sly, do you? This remark concerns the various Lords of Ninth Heaven. Don’t bring it up indiscriminately. Besides, the Sage Yining is not acquainted with Jing Lin. During the reign of Lord Jiutian, he repeatedly denounced Jing Lin for being antisocial.”
“So I see.” Dong Jun’s interest was piqued. For some reason, he smiled and said, “This will be interesting. You said Li Rong’s divine consciousness has descended to the Human Realm. Do you mean that he has forgotten all about the past, and his divine mind is now undergoing tribulations?”
“That’s right. That battle with Jing Lin injured him a good deal. I’m afraid he realized that he would bear grudges before he slept, and so he chose this spot to facilitate him in his tribulations. Those so-called inner demons are hard to defeat. It would be better to forget it all, immerse himself into the human world, and re-experience the eight sufferings2 before achieving enlightenment again to regain his divine self.” Zui Shan Seng answered.
“In that case, he should be in Zhongdu now too. Being the authority in charge, do you know where he has been reborn?”
“He has already achieved the Perfection Stage.” Zui Shan Seng said. “How would a bystander be able to track him down? He has already forgotten everything and has descended to search anew for enlightenment. It’s for certain that he wouldn’t want us to look for him. What is it that you want to ask him? Wait for another few hundred years. Perhaps you’ll be able to get your answer then.”
“Why would I want to wait for him? I may have a cushy job, but I’m a warm-hearted, passionate man who can’t stand idleness!” Dong Jun swept a gaze across Li Rong’s sleeping face. “It’s just that there’s something bothering me lately, and I can’t figure it out, so I wanted to ask him.”
“And what is it?” Zui Shan Seng said, “If it’s about Lord Linsong, I’d advise you not to interfere. The Supreme Lord now is all alone. It’s so nerve-racking every time his brothers are mentioned and he takes out his anger on others. Why stir up a hornets’ nest?”
“What are you anxious for?” Dong Jun closed his fan and turned around. “When have I said I was going to interfere? The True Buddha oversaw this matter, and Li Rong made his reports with so many eyes watching. There’s nothing in this case worthy enough for me to review.”
“And that’s it?” When Zui Shan Seng saw that he was only here for a tour, he flew into a rage. “You deceived me! If you dare to do this again the next time, I’ll beat the crap out of you!”
Dong Jun gave an ambiguous, wry smile and said nothing.
◈ ◈ ◈
The sky was getting dark when Jing Lin returned to the room. Cang Ji looked as if he had been waiting for a long time. When he heard him open the door, he turned his head to watch him. They looked at each other for a moment. Cang Ji sensed the moist, steamy heat of Jing Lin’s skin. Both of them hastily averted their gazes away.
Cang Ji said, “Chu Lun is temporarily staying at Chonghua Street.”
Jing Lin’s hair was damp. He uttered a sound of acknowledgment. Cang Ji rose to put on his outer garment and strode past him to head downstairs. Jing Lin arrived later and saw the proprietress, Huashang, leaning against the cabinet with Xiyan painting her nails for her. She exhaled lightly and looked at them out of the corners of her eyes.
“A piece of advice for this young master.” Huashang flicked her tails. “Spiritual energy leaking from the spiritual sea is comparable to an imminent catastrophe. Even if you hide among the common folks, those with an acute sense of smell will still be able to detect it. The Goddess Shengyue is in charge of this place, but whether she saves you or not when the time comes will still all depends on your luck.”
Jing Lin nodded his thanks and stepped across the door to leave.
The night market during the summer was brightly lit, and the streets were dazzling. Although there were few women around, there were many pedestrians. Cang Ji was ahead by Jing Lin by half a step and led him through the sea of people. Jing Lin was so frail that he seemed to be buried by the crowd as he walked among them. He was like a wandering soul, with his complexion looking like fair jade under the light and shadows.
An arm swung out before him, and a veiled, barefoot dancer twirled slowly before him. Those differently colored eyes were bashful and timid. Silver bells jingled as a tune from a pipa3 rang out.
The crowd cheered and cleared out a space around Jing Lin, leaving Jing Lin surrounded by red gauze and silver bells. The dancer spun around as she circled around him. A faint heart-stirring fragrance wafted in the air. The sounds of her laughter accompanied the music as she vaguely traced Jing Lin’s facial features with her fingertips. The tip of her tongue appeared slightly; she was unexpectedly a snake beauty.
She spoke in a soft voice. “You are so dashing. Why not…”
The beauty had yet to finish her words when she saw the frostiness in the eyes of this “dashing” man. It was so cutting she retreated in alarm.
Jing Lin merely said, without laughter or anger, “Excuse me.”
He sidestepped the beauty and coldly brushed past her.
Cang Ji had been watching at the side. He looked on as Jing Lin walked to his side and said, “You’re so unromantic.”
“I could say the same of you.” Jing Lin frowned and sniffed the fragrance on his body.
Cang Ji held him by the shoulder and looked back as he lowered his head to avoid the lantern. The snake beauty was still in a state of trepidation. When she saw Cang Ji’s stare, she unexpectedly took another step back. It was a truly sorry sight. After passing by the lantern, Cang Ji retracted his hand. Jing Lin did not seem to be aware.
Both of them crossed several streets and finally reached Chonghua Street. The place was jam-packed with scholars and learned men, while brothels and carriages were common sights. Cang Ji lifted the curtain and went straight up the stairs. But when they arrived at Chu Lun’s quarters, it was empty.
“The sound of the bell is faint.” Jing Lin looked down from the railings. “He must be nearby.”
Cang Ji’s nose twitched as he reached the door. “What scent is this?”
Jing Lin said, “The scent of a beauty.”
“I’m not talking about your scent.” Cang Ji swept his finger at the edge of the door and sniffed, “There is a non-human scent here. It’s the same scent as the one he left on the cup that day.”
Cang Ji took a step closer and turned his fingertip towards Jing Lin for him to take a sniff. Jing Lin leaned his head toward Cang Ji’s chest. It looked as if he was throwing himself into Cang Ji’s arms.
“A brush demon.” Cang Ji said. “What does he want to do on behalf of Chu Lun? Be an official?”
“We will know when we meet him.” Jing Lin shifted and pulled away from him. He said, “Since he recognizes me, he wouldn’t dare to reveal himself.”
“Since the copper bell has found him, he won’t be able to run. It’s just that you’ve disguised your appearance, and yet he saw through it.” Cang Ji scrutinized the door. “Common demons cannot do that. He has probably seen you before.”
Jing Lin said, “I’ve never used this face before.”
“Could he actually be a formidable character who is just playing dumb to fool his enemies?”
“A brush demon.” Jing Lin repeated. “It is hard for a typical brush to gain intelligence and become a spirit. This must have been a treasure brush. It’s made of raw materials that are scarce. Perhaps it has been in the hands of a deity or immortal before.”
“Acquaintances.” Cang Ji asked. “Do you have someone in mind?”
Jing Lin looked at him. “As it happens, I do.”
“Who?” The instant the words came out of Cang Ji’s mouth, they heard the sounds of footsteps coming up the stairs.
Chu Lun was dressed in a wide-sleeved attire of a scholar. He was holding a packet of oil paper in his hand. On seeing two distinguished men standing in front of his door, he was at first startled before he raised his hands to say his greetings. He asked, being neither obsequious nor supercilious. “May I ask these two gentlemen the reason you are looking for me?”
Cang Ji and Jing Lin exchanged glances as they thought to themselves in understanding.
He’s truly like a different person.
Special thanks to Peach for proofreading!
桃花眼 literally peach blossom eyes, the shape of eyes is said to have an exceptional ability to attract the opposite sex.
- 八苦, the eight sufferings in life – birth, old age, sickness, death, parting (with loved ones), encounter (with hated ones), unfulfilment (of wishes and desires), and inability to let go.
琵琶 Pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments.
经(香) could refer to literary classics or scriptures , i.e. books and scrolls. Books and scrolls in the old days were written in brush and ink. Thus, the scent is similar to brush (and ink), except it also has the smell of paper (or bamboo for scrolls) too. Refer to this image for an example of the inside written in ink.