Cang Ji lifted his robe and landed onto the ground. A few steps later, he saw what Shuran had meant by “peculiar”. He had dealt with the Blood Sea countless times back at the northern lands, but this night was the first time he had seen such a creature.
Billows of water splashed amid the churning of those red waves. As the waves swept through the land, it turned into wind and fog so expansive that it masked Heaven and Earth. The City of Xuanyang was already shrouded under its shadow. The gap where the wall had collapsed became a passageway for the creature to lean through. Its enormous body crushed the remaining three sides of the wall and the dwellings to smithereens as it wiggled and squeezed its way past. People screamed and fled where its waves washed over, so it conjured out two hands to gather the humans together before it swooped down to gobble them up.
Cang Ji’s feet lightened as he soared into the air. He stepped on what seemed to be the back of this creature’s neck and looked intently at it. There were countless pairs of red eyes at his feet, staring unblinkingly at him. Cang Ji strolled with his hands behind his back as he observed them. Wherever he passed, his soles would leave behind black scorched marks, hurting the creature so much that it stopped swallowing. Without even needing to look back, its eyes followed Cang Ji. Cang Ji gave it a kick and discovered that even though it was shaped like a water wave, it was abnormally solid.
Cang Ji raised a finger and asked it, “Know how to count?”
Its gaze was wooden as it finished chewing up the flesh in its mouth. It seemed to fear Cang Ji and had no desire to play with him. It crawled forward suddenly and sent out a wave out to swipe the humans up to eat.
A sudden gust of wind swept through the air, and an invisible tail unexpectedly whipped down on the wave that was reaching out. The impact instantly broke one of the creature’s arms, and several greed forms trickled out of it as though it was bleeding. It hissed and retreated as its arm melted into the waves. Its eyes stared at Cang Ji as it roared in a fury, spewing forth blood fog.
Cang Ji asked, “Know how to count?”
The creature opened its countless mouths in unison to bare its fangs at Cang Ji and howled. Then it rolled over and turned into a wave that went slapping towards the wall in an attempt to bump Cang Ji off. But even before its wave could curl, that massive, invisible tail came lashing down on it again. This time, the blow split it apart into two halves from the middle. Its plaintive whines quivered through the air.
Cang Ji treasured his tail. Even when he lashed out with it, his scales had to be in the right direction to prevent them from getting scratched. Else, it would not look good when the day came for him to propose marriage. He bent over to pick up a severed arm and turned aside to make use of the faint light to distinguish the wounds.
“Every question I ask is always meant to be answered.” Cang Ji turned the severed part around. “Since the greed forms are in your body, then you should understand my words. Don’t you recognize me? Back at the north, you were so affectionate when you addressed me as grandpa. But once you turned around, you have become such an unfilial grandson. Why is that?”
It gathered into a ball, and the greed forms devoured each other to form a strange shape that circled and erected a towering wave over Cang Ji.
Cang Ji said, “This doesn’t seem to be how a greed form would kiss my ass.”
The words had only left his mouth when that giant wave came crashing down on him and instantly engulfed his body. Countless teeth tear at him. In just a moment, it ate his body until there was not even a scrap left. Blood fog shrouded over. The next instant, a spray of water burst into the air as a dragon claw broke through the wave and emerged. Following right after, canglong swung his tail and soared. He tore apart the half of the evil spirit’s body and flung it several li1 away.
All at once, the Blood Sea bubbled over. Canglong pounced into the fog like a wolf entering a sheepfold. No one could get a clear look at what happened, but they could all hear the surge of the fetid, violent waves, and the screams and pleadings of the evil spirits. The blood fog swiftly retreated south. But canglong’s feral nature had been roused, so how could he let it off?
The city wall was once again rammed as the dragon tossed its head to devour its meal and crashed into the wall together with that strange creature. The spiritual talisman could not hold up any longer and split apart with a “bang”. Caught in a tangle with canglong, it assailed towards the deserted south. Half of it had already been bitten and consumed by canglong. It trickled into the blood fog, as though it was melting. Countless evil spirits in their greed form howled and beat a retreat. Canglong pursued them relentlessly. Both of them rolled into the Blood Sea and rushed towards the dense fog.
For every devil he saw whilst in the Blood Sea, canglong bite down on them. He was far more savage than the evil spirits themselves. He pressed in on them all the way to Qixing town, pushing them into such a corner that the foul-smelling wind gathered again. The monster took on the appearance of a horse and trod upon the fog to dash away. Canglong grabbed hold of the back of its neck in his mouth and flung it back down, sending up billows of raging waves. Then, his massive tail slapped down on it, stirring up a gale so strong it swept towards the sky.
Unable to break free, the monster stretched its neck out and turned its head back. In a split second, its appearance transformed into one similar to canglong. It bit down on canglong, but it was as if those scales were made of iron as they shattered the entire row of the monster’s fangs. Canglong’s claws gouged its body, and under those steel-like claws, it immediately broke down into countless evil spirits and dispersed completely.
Canglong opened his mouth and devoured like a whale until there was nothing left. The dragon’s body coiled and discharged his dragon aura at the remnants of the Blood Sea. He saw the Blood Sea ebbed back from the intimidation, but he still sensed something not quite right. He looked back, only to see several enormous shadows rising from the blood fog. They swelled, then swarmed at him in unison.
By this point, the retreat route was so vast and indistinct that Cang Ji momentarily lost his sense of direction!
Jing Lin sat upright in contemplation. All he could see before his eyes was the boundless lotus pond. The condensation of dew on a lotus petal looked on the verge of falling. Jing Lin sat for a long time. Time froze together with his spiritual sea. He was the only one who still existed in this deadly still world. With his eyes shut, Jing Lin immersed himself in his thoughts among the quietness and stillness.
Where lies the Way?
The Way lies in Heaven and on Earth. Like a cascade of mercury upon the ground; each of it, round. Like the reflection of the moon in the water; visible all around. Where spring water strikes precipitous rocks, where cicadas chirp in the evening wind, where the sun rises above the dark horizon. All that the eyes could see, and all that the ears could hear. They are where the Way resides within, and also where the Way roams free beyond. The sword that is your Way, turns into a sharp blade, yet harbors no killing intent; shines with all its brilliance, yet expunges avarice. Focus your heart, and merge the sword into one with Heaven and Earth.
Heaven and Earth is the sword, and the sword is Heaven and Earth.
Jing Lin suddenly opened his eyes, enlightened.
He saw the dew from that drooping lotus drip onto the water, stirring up rings of ripples that spread out under Jing Lin’s seat. His spiritual sea suddenly surged behind him like the wind and cloud as tens of thousands of Buddha’s lotuses bloomed in unison. In the blink of an eye, they turned into countless azure lights that rapidly swirled and converged into shape to reconstruct the sword body of Yan Quan from those azure lights and Jing Lin’s spiritual sea.
The Blood Sea had already flooded the foot of the bed. The sheath started buzzing. Shuran broke through the door to enter, only to see a flash of snow-white light before him. He heard a “clang” of a sword leaving its sheath. Then, a cool breeze swept through the room, pushing Shuran back until he had to raise his sleeves to cover his eyes. Silence suddenly filled the room. When he opened his eyes again, the Blood Sea at his feet had already turned into clear water.
Dawn had broken, and the fog in the City of Xuanyang dispersed.
Were it not for the searing pain on his back, Shuran would have almost suspected this all to be a dream. A white robe swayed past beside him, and he heard a “thank you”. Shuran looked back again, only to see the ethereal white figure traversing several li in a step as he soared to the sky and rode the wind to depart.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin’s sleeves billowed in the wind. When he stepped out of the City of Xuanyang, he tossed out a few spiritual talismans to guard the city. Then he threw himself into the heavy blood fog and chased after Cang Ji in the direction where he had disappeared. The spiritual energy he left behind on Cang Ji directed him south. With a leap, Jing Lin entered the Blood Sea.
The fog in the Blood Sea was misty. Jing Lin swiftly followed the trail for a hundred li. All the places he passed had been crushed into flat earth. He could not help but leap even faster. His only fear was that Cang Ji had already become a part of the yellow earth.
The town of Qixing had long fallen into disuse. There was not even an evil spirit in sight. Debris from the collapsed walls lay amid the fog, while yellow sand scraped the corners of his robe and turned the view before his eyes hazy. Even though he had just broken through the perfection stage, he still felt uncomfortable after throwing himself into the sea. It’s thick, viscous stench almost clogged his mouth and nose.
Jing Lin traversed across the deserted town and pursued his way to the edge of the town. The vast land for several li around had been razed flat by something. His residual spiritual energy dispersed in the air. Presumably, this was where Cang Ji was.
Jing Lin finally came to a stop atop the yellow earth and used his hands to pry apart the soft, loosened soil, gradually revealing Cang Ji’s face. Without checking him, Jing Lin could tell that he was still alive. Even so, he was startled by Cang Ji’s complexion and could not help but put his finger under Cang Ji’s nose to ascertain that he was still breathing.
Cang Ji let out a muffled groan and coughed a few times. Jing Lin dug out half of his body. Like a man on his last breath, Cang Ji held on to Jing Lin’s arm and, with some difficulty, said in a hoarse voice, “… Jing Lin… I… cough, cough!”
Jing Lin soothed his back with a palm and sent over a gush of pure spiritual energy. But Cang Ji still looked ghastly pale, so he guessed that Cang Ji had yet to recover from being repeatedly thrown into danger last night. He touched Cang Ji all over again, stopping only when he did not find any wounds on the latter.
“There’s no need for you to say a word first.” Jing Lin said and supported him up. “I’ll take you out.”
Cang Ji complied obediently and cooperated. He had eaten too much earlier, and now his stomach was bloated. He could not really reveal this, so he could only let Jing Lin lead him out. Who would have expected both of them to circle back again to the same spot?
“The evil spirits are stirring up trouble, and the Blood Sea is unfathomably deep. I’m afraid it won’t be easy to get out.” Cang Ji’s breathing was disordered as he tugged Jing Lin’s hand over and said, “My brother, I’m afraid gege can’t… can’t go on any longer… This Blood Sea is boundless… To think I have even implicated you and let you get trapped in such a desperate situation…”
Jing Lin said, “Don’t say such cutting words again. This is all because of my shallow cultivation and my arbitrary and presumptuous actions that have pushed Xuanyang and you into such a state.”
Cang Ji sighed. “It’s such a pity that I’m so young, and yet I’m going to die here without even getting myself a wife.”
Jing Lin paused for a moment and said, “Ge… Gege, you are strong and sturdy. It’s just that the Blood Sea has affected you some. Once I expel it later, you’ll be fine.”
Cang Ji grasped him tightly and said, “We are already at this point, and you are still trying to comfort me.”
Jing Lin said, “I’m not…”
“Actually, my heart has already been spoken for in recent days.” Cang Ji looked regretful, “… But I have done something wrong. I’m afraid he will not accept me.”
Seeing his solemn expression, that word “you won’t die” throbbed up and down in Jing Lin’s throat. Unable to voice it out, Jing Lin could only swallow it back down and said, “If you have done something wrong, then you should be honest with him.”
Cang Ji said, “What if he stabs me to death with his sword after hearing me out?”
Jing Lin said without hesitation. “Then, it was a grave wrong you’ve done. The wheel of Heaven turns in a cycle of karma and retribution. Gege, what have you done to another?”
Cang Ji was promptly choked into silence. He grasped Jing Lin’s hand and said, “… I feel as if there’s a knife being twisted in my heart now. I’ll tell you another day.”
Jing Lin whisked his sleeves, clearing out a square-cun2 area of clean space around them. It was only then Cang Ji’s nose felt a little more comfortable. His abdomen was still sore, so he sat cross-legged on the floor and composed himself. If it weren’t for Jing Lin beside him, he would have definitely kicked up a ruckus in his spiritual sea.
Jing Lin said, “This place has already been surrounded by the Blood Sea. I’ve been worried the entire journey. Gege, what happened last night? “
Cang Ji knew that Jing Lin was asking him why he had escaped unscathed. With “Cao Cang’s” current cultivation, he should have been totally obliterated when he stepped into the Blood Sea. It would not be easy to bluff his way through this, but Cang Ji was prepared.
“You saved my life.” Cang Ji took out Jing Lin’s handkerchief from his bosom and spread it open to reveal the prayer bead within. He said, “Last night, the evil spirits invaded the city, and Shuran, who still had his conscience, bravely held back the devils. This was how the thousands of commoners managed to escape a calamity. When I saw you immobile, I guessed that you were in the midst of transcension and so I guarded you for a moment. But Shuran was no match for the Blood Sea and the Blood Sea broke through the city gates. Seeing as you were in a crisis, Yan Quan left its sheath on its own, and I carried you on my back to hide.”
Jing Lin’s scabbard remained silent. He touched it. He still had some doubts, but in the end, he did not voice them out.
Cang Ji noted Jing Lin’s expression. Although the latter did not show it, he could guess that his words sounded too far-fetched to be convincing enough. But then, he was indeed not feeling well at the moment. He had eaten every evil spirit within a hundred li of this place. All of them were now inside his tummy. He could not meditate now, so he could only grind his teeth and bear it.
Consequently, he put his arms over his abdomen and continued, “Then, the Blood Sea overturned, and the evil spirits caught hold of me. It was all because of the manifestation of the power of the prayer bead in this handkerchief that I did not die even though I was trapped. But at this point, I can’t deceive you anymore. Jing Lin—” He suddenly choked out the residues of blood in his mouth and said to Jing Lin in a heavy voice, “I…”
Jing Lin suddenly put his hand on Cang Ji’s abdomen and asked, “Gege, are you suffering from indigestion?”
With Jing Lin’s face in such close proximity, Cang Ji promptly forgot what he was going to say. All he could feel was that palm moving around slightly on his abdomen. Kneading it. Entrancing him.
“Li Rong once said.” Jing Lin continued, “Just give it a rub if you have indigestion, and it’ll soon go down.”