With that, Fei Luo sighed and added, “Don’t frown during our wedding tomorrow. I’ll send someone to prepare some wine for you. You’ll feel happier after drinking some of it. If you really can’t forget him, I’ll lead you across Wangchuan once, and you’ll be able to forget him. Let the past be gone with the wind, and spend your future days with me. I’ll naturally treat you well.”
Qianyu suddenly raised his head. His face was mottled with tears through the gap. He said, “Forget? He is the one I can’t forget the most in the world. I’d rather suffer from the pain of pining for hundreds of years to come than to forget him. Since you love this appearance, then I’ll peel off this skin and slice off this face. You can have it!”
“My darling, please don’t!” Fei Luo smiled awkwardly. “Am I such a shallow person? That’s what you don’t understand. What do I need a human skin for? What I want is the real, living you.”
Qianyu looked gaunt. His hair was already disheveled. He would only say, “I’m not marrying you, nor will I marry you. This heart of mine already belongs to another, and I will only share life and death with him in this life. The King of Hell needs not say a word more.”
Having asked for it himself, Fei Luo could only force a smile. As he walked a few steps into the street, he saw that those on both sides had retreated far away. He could not help but lose his temper. “How blind! Prepare the wine and set the table. We will start the banquet tonight!”
He had only just said that when a sudden gale rose above his head. A sharp Fei Luo dodged it, but someone kicked him in the back. He staggered forward and nearly fell to his knees right on the street, but he reacted quickly and braced himself on the ground with one arm. Then, as light as a swallow, he made use of the momentum to spring back up. Before he could look back, he sensed a strong wind rose instantly beside his ear. It went scraping past so hard that the entire street of souls cried out in alarm and covered their faces. Unable to remain steady on his feet, Fei Luo held on to a pillar. Who would have expected something bad to happen as he did so? When he raised both arms to brace himself, the sash on his waist loosened. His robe was instantly blown away by the wind, and his trousers fell to his ankle with a swoosh.
Fei Luo was stupefied for a moment. And then he fumed with a red face, “Which son of a bitch?!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Grasping Cang Ji with both his arms, Jing Lin dragged him back to the window. Cang Ji sneered and said in a sinister voice, “Look at just how few hairs he has. And he still dares to snatch Qianyu from Zuo Qingzhou? What’s more, he’s determined to marry Lord Linsong?!”
Jing Lin stumbled under Cang Ji’s weight and gasped for breath as he uttered an ‘uh-huh’. He said, “We’ll pick Qianyu up after he gets drunk tonight.”
Cang Ji looked unconcerned. “Let’s just beat him up. This place is beyond the reach of the Demarcation Division at the top and the Hall of the King of Hell at the bottom. So what if we seize Qianyu in broad daylight? Just a mere weasel and he wants to revolt?!”
“You are not only going to beat him.” Jing Lin said, “He carries the Ninth Heaven Seal in his bosom. All he has to do is to turn back and give the command, and you’ll be a silly fish in Wang Chuan River.”
“He said he wanted to marry you.” Cang Ji turned back to grab hold of Jing Lin’s hands. He fumed, “Is he even fit to? No!”
Jing Lin smoothed his ruffled feathers and gave him a few pats. Seeing this, Cang Ji seized the opportunity and pressed in closer to rub his head against Jing Lin’s temples. There was no way Jing Lin could hold his own against Cang Ji’s large physique, and so he was repeatedly pushed back until he finally bumped into the wall. The exposed contours of Cang Ji’s cheeks were taut as he asked Jing Lin solemnly, “And you just let them harbor such wishful thinking?”
Noting that he looked a little despondent, Jing Lin paused and said, “I’m not acquainted with him at all.”
Cang Ji said nothing. Jing Lin fell silent for a moment and quietly slipped his palms up Cang Ji’s back. Just as he was about to speak, he felt a heat on his neck. Jing Lin got a fright, having thought that Cang Ji had cried out of aggrievement. He could not help but tilt his head over. He did not expect Cang Ji to time it perfectly and turn his head as well to catch him right on target.
Cang Ji’s palms slid down and propped Jing Lin by his waist, almost wanting to lift him in a hug. Jing Lin had already realized that Cang Ji was merely putting on an act and could not help but want to withdraw his hands. But Cang Ji tightly clamped his arms down to hold Jing Lin’s arms securely in place. He charged in, damp and hot, willfully creating havoc between Jing Lin’s lips and teeth. He remained unmoved even as Jing Lin clutched and pulled at the clothes on his back. Like an immovable mountain, he pressed against him.
“Why marry him?” Cang Ji bit down on the tip of Jing Lin’s tongue and let out a vague laugh. “He has the evil designs but not the guts. I bet he doesn’t even dare to do it!”
It was only when Jing Lin’s tongue felt numb and his lips were hurting that Cang Ji released him. Cang Ji pressed his tongue against his canine tooth. His eyes were black and bright, and his back had been clearly rubbed wet from the sweat on Jing Lin’s palms. Yet he still lowered his head again to chase Jing Lin for a few more kisses.
“The one who can marry Lord Linsong.” Cang Ji’s gaze was brash and wild. “Has to be a man like me.”
Jing Lin kicked him. Cang Ji sandwiched him and hoisted him onto his shoulder to spin a circle around the room. He said, “Since he wants to invite everyone to drink, then I’ll do him a favor tonight. At least he has a good eye.” He patted Jing Lin’s lower back. “When the time comes, you put on a mask and be the ghost.”
◈ ◈ ◈
There was no day or night in Li Jin. But since the King of Hell had spoken, the Ghost Guards followed the timing in Zhongdu. When the hour came, the sounds of suona1 and gongs2 rose from the city and pulled the red sedan along for another round trip around the city. An entire city of wandering souls cried and laughed while reciting words of blessing with their hands clasped. Red spider lilies led the path to the Underworld, and the sedan steamrolled over those riots of red. Qianyu sat within with his head lowered, as if he was merely an outsider and all this excitement was someone else’s.
With his broken tail and silver hair spread over the red garment, the fox actually looked gray and aged.
Cang Ji finally got his wish to lead Jing Lin with a chain in an open and aboveboard manner. He walked a few steps after the sedan and said, “This is bad. The fox has already lost all hope.”
Jing Lin’s lips moved under his mask, but in the end, he said nothing.
The banquet had started, and there was an odd variety of drunkards drinking wine in the city. When they raised their heads, they could see the constant waves of smoke and flames the soul fires kept emitting. A chorus of jubilant congratulations swiftly blended into their surroundings. The sedan had stopped at the ferry crossing, and the distant surface of the river was calm and quiet. All the ghosts were cheering and being boisterous, yet this “bride” was like a prisoner. Without the King of Hell’s orders, no one even dared to hand him a cup of wine.
Seeing that it was almost time, Jing Lin stood up and looked around. He noted that the crowd of Ghost Generals were already tipsy from all the drinking. “Fei Luo still has to sail a boat over to ferry Qianyu across tomorrow, so by all reasoning, he won’t remain here for too long.”
Holding the cup, Cang Ji took the last sip of the wine and rose to his feet. He was about to make his move with Jing Lin when someone suddenly put an arm over his shoulder. He frowned and turned his head back, just in time to see a drunk Fei Luo with glazed eyes pointing at his face. He said, “There are forty-eight thousand souls in this city, and I remember them all. Why can’t I recognize you?”
The chain between Jing Lin’s hands shook and rang at once. Cang Ji promptly let out a natural laugh and said to Fei Luo, “I am a new Ghost Guard here. It’s normal for the King of Hell not to remember me.”
Fei Luo suspiciously supported himself against the table and asked to his left and right, “Who is he?”
But the attendants on his left and right had long gone drunk and were now both lying under the table.
Cang Ji warmly put his arm around Fei Luo’s shoulder and said, “I heard that the King of Hell loves beauties, right? As it happens, I love them too!”
Fei Luo hiccuped a few times and waved his hand wildly. He said, “Just how many have you seen? The charmers in this world are all in Heaven!”
“That’s Dong Jun, isn’t it?” As Cang Ji spoke, he released his grip on the chain between his fingers. Without making a noise, Jing Lin retreated.
Fei Luo said, “Dong Jun! Dong Jun is good-looking! If I were to take up a post in the Ninth Heaven Realm, I’d even be willing to let him scold me every day.”
Seeing that Jing Lin had gotten away, Cang Ji asked quietly, “Then how about Lord Linsong?”
Fei Luo was so drunk he was in a trance. He tried his best to raise his eyes and said, “Good… good-looking too!”
“What a fucking load of bullshit.” Cang Ji suppressed his voice. “Of course he’s good-looking. Do I even need to ask you this?”
“Even if it’s fucking bullshit I still have to say it!” Fei Luo suddenly slapped the table and said righteously, “He’s really good-looking! What does a mere… mere Ghost Guard like you know? Oh my… his allure lies here.” Fei Luo pointed to his eyes and suppressed his voice as well. He said from the bottom of his heart, “How many truly fearless men have you seen? Every stunner has their own difference and flavor. Dong Jun is marvelously gorgeous, but Lord Linsong is what I’d call magnificently wild.”
Cang Ji thought he would say ‘cold’, who would have expected him to throw out a ‘wild’ instead? He savored the word in his mouth, but then he found it odd and asked, “How do you know this so clearly?”
“I cherish all the beauties in this world.” Fei Luo said sincerely to Cang Ji. “You… alas… No one in the world understands me. All the pretty ones should be doted on. Even protecting them in my palms is not enough for me. How could I bear to see them suffer even a tiny bit?” As he spoke, he covered his face and wept. He was drunk to the point of being absurd. “Those lovelies should never touch the word ‘love’. Why bring agony upon yourself? Look at that silly fox. He got his heart shattered into eight fragments. My heart aches so much for him that it has broken into eight pieces too. And that Lord Linsong, pulverized into sand. I was so shocked on hearing the news that I cried my eyes out. You don’t understand. None of you understand!”
Cang Ji patted Fei Luo on the shoulder and persuaded him, “Why torture yourself by liking those two? They aren’t even as awesome as Dong Jun! Look at how witty and mighty he is, and yet he has to shoulder the pains and sufferings of the Blood Sea. Isn’t he exactly a beauty who is in more of a need for you to dote on him?”
“But he…” Fei Luo hesitated, then frowned and said, “He surely doesn’t want me…”
“Pester him.” Cang Ji was exasperated at him for not living up to expectations. “You want to love him and pamper him, so how can you beat a retreat so easily? Go ahead and treat him with all the tenderness you have. As they said, sincerity will move even a heart of stone. You will surely be able to protect him until he secretly promises you his heart.”
Fei Luo had been suckered by Cang Ji so much he kept nodding his head, his intent all but cemented by the latter’s words.
◈ ◈ ◈
Qianyu blew into his hands. Frost covered his shoulders. He was originally a yang fetus,3 and now he had been heavily battered by the double blows of a broken tail and a shattered heart. His cultivation could barely protect him. He could no longer withstand the sinister cold in the Underworld. Leaning against the window, he gazed out and saw the unhurried currents of the ink-black waters of Wangchuan. For a moment, a thousand scenes of the past came to his mind.
The chilly wind caressed the window, overwhelming Qianyu with grief. He reached his fingers through the crack, but in this vast expanse of thick, heavy ink, he could grab hold of nothing. Qianyu’s body was freezing, and his spirit, falling apart. He leaned against the wall and fell asleep while in a daze. He felt his mind floating. He could barely hold on anymore.
Right at this time, he suddenly heard the sound of someone calling out a name amidst the wind.
Qianyu looked back blankly and listened as the voice gradually cleared up. The name the person called out was precisely “Qianyu”. Qianyu suddenly climbed to his feet and looked through the window seam to search for the voice. His tears gushed out in torrents.
“Zuo-lang…” Qianyu’s voice was hoarse and laced with disbelief. “Zuo-lang!”
The intermittent calls in the wind were like an easily broken string. There was no way to tell where it came from. Qianyu pounded on the window, choking with sobs as he responded. He scraped away at the window until his ten fingers were torn, coloring the window with blood. Yet his only fear was that the voice would stray further away from him.
“Let me out!” Qianyu shouted anxiously. “Zuo-lang!”
The originally inebriated Fei Luo suddenly clutched his chest and said to Cang Ji in bafflement, “Why do I hurt so much?” With that, he muttered to himself in answer, “That’s right, I set up a seal to link hearts. Naturally, I’d… Damn!”
The pain sobered Fei Luo up by half. He sprang to his feet and commanded, “Surround the sedan. Don’t let him escape!”
Cang Ji kicked the leg of the chair, sending it knocking into the side of Fei Luo’s thigh, blocking his way. Fei Luo kicked back his foot to lift it and hoist it over his arm before smashing it towards Cang Ji right in the face.
“Who are you?!”
Cang Ji flipped up the table to meet the blow and said, “The darling of your Lord Linsong’s family.”
The wine Fei Luo had drunk all turned into sweat. He dodged in response, nearly getting smashed in the nose. Cang Ji’s fists were swift and forceful, and thus, he did not really take Fei Luo seriously. Who knew that the latter could dodge so fast in a hurry? In a blink of an eye, he had pounced and swept a powerful kick towards Cang Ji’s chest. Cang Ji raised his arm to take the blow with a “thud”. At the sound of impact, the tables and chairs all around them shattered and collapsed. Bowls and chopsticks tumbled over to the ground.
“Outstanding.” Fei Luo lifted his robe and suddenly burst into action. “Cracks” rang out as he smashed his legs and feet onto Cang Ji’s arms, only to hurt from the impact. He spat and said coldly, “So we have us here a character!”
Cang Ji’s arms had gone numb from his kicks. He did not expect Fei Luo to possess such strength under that skinny figure of his. He was far stronger than Zui Shan Seng.
Fei Luo grabbed the wine jar with one hand and soundlessly sent it hurtling towards him. He said, “You’re the one who pulled down my pants today!”
Cang Ji lifted his palm to catch it and raised his head to down all the wine before throwing the jar away behind him. His expression was lazy as he stepped on the stool and showed his little finger at Fei Luo.
“Since you dare to talk big, I thought that you should be a man of some capabilities. I never expect to pry your pants open for a look only to find out that you are merely a little brat who’s still wet behind the ears.” Cang Ji let out an impertinent laugh, and his eyes suddenly went cold. “I’ll pluck out your tongue, lest you spout nonsense again.”
唢呐, Suona. Also called laba, it is a Chinese double-reed woodwind instrument and one of the most commonly used.
锣 The Chinese g/ong is a musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat, circular metal disc which is hit with a mallet.
- 阳胎 literally yang fetus, a child (or person) born on a year, month, date, and time considered to be a yang timing. Yang also tends to be associated with warmth, life, etc. The opposite holds true for 阴胎, a yin fetus, or a child born on a yin year, month, date, and time. Yin is also associated with coldness, death, etc.