Heavy rain pelted down like the scattering of beans. Jing Lin descended straight down the stairs. The Bajiao Xuanmu Tomb was located at the bottom of the ring of mountains around Ninth Heaven Sect. It was Ninth Heaven Sect’s geomantic treasure land for absorbing the spiritual energy of Heaven and Earth, used to suppress disciples who have attained the Spiritual Amassment Stage. In order to guard against evil spirits, there were not only layers of guards set up, but also several cinnabar-drawn metal talismans erected.
As soon as Jing Lin stepped in, fire from the surrounding talismans flickered and lit up. His face was white as jade, cold as iron. The towering iron talismans before him denied him direct access. In response, a valiant general landed from the air and cupped his hands in a gesture to pay his obeisances.
“Lord Linsong, please hold it right there!” The general was as thin as paper. Even though he was donning an armor, he still resembled a paper man. He was originally a Ghost Guard of the Underworld. But because of the invasion of the Blood Sea, he was reduced to wandering on the outside. So Lord Jiutian took him under his command to guard the tomb. His complexion at this moment was pallid. Under the ghostly fire and heavy rain, he looked to be even more of a malicious ghost. He said to Jing Lin, “Without concrete orders from the Lord, no one can enter.”
“As the Supreme Father’s adopted son, I have the rights to walk around the sect.” Rainwater dripped before Jing Lin’s eyes. He said, “Get out of the way.”
The general rattled aside the iron chain in his palm. Without deferring to him, he said, “Without concrete orders from the Lord, even Lord Linsong cannot enter without authorization!”
Jing Lin suddenly advanced a step. The wind under the step he took rose abruptly, but it was obstructed by Dong Jun’s folding fan.
“Talk it over if you have something to say. Why get angry with our own people?!” Dong Jun stopped Jing Lin and said to the general, “Since you know he is Lord Linsong, then you must have heard about his temperament. You should understand that he is, by no means, a trouble-maker. You should also understand that he’s the one Father dotes on the most! It’s wrong of him to barge into the tomb tonight. Even if Father were to settle scores in the future, he will be the one to shoulder the blame. Do him a favor. There will be plenty of chances for you to ask for it to be paid back in kind another day. So why clash with him over this?”
“I know of Lord Linsong’s character.” The general said, “However, as a garrison guard, I cannot let him in without seeing the order!”
“My brother is dead.” Jing Lin’s eyes were black and bright as he enunciated each word, “I want to see him, and you dare to stop me?!”
“The Lord still has to follow the rules even after losing his beloved son! Besides, Lord Linsong is on the go outside all year round, and I don’t see him being on close terms with anyone. Since it is already too late, then why put powerless people like us in a spot?” The general yanked up the chain and rebuked, “Back down!”
Pines from the mountain ranges instantly billowed in waves, while sudden claps of thunder rang out amidst the rainy night. Caught off-guard by a kick to his chest, the general immediately took a few steps back. Then, he flew into a rage, only to see the sword sheath cleaving right towards the door. He did not dare to put on airs before Jing Lin. Iron chains went whistling through the air as he flung it out in a horizontal arch. Raindrops splashed all over as the chain slashed through it, and the droplets in the air transformed into sharp needles of rain that swarmed right towards Jing Lin!
Yan Quan’s sheath whirled around in a sweeping attack, and the needles of rain crashed into it with a “thud”. An upwards flick of the sheath the next instant sent sprays of rainwater erupting between them. The general’s flying chain struck away the spray of water, but Jing Lin had already sidestepped it to close in on him. There was a muffled grunt, and the general’s body smashed heavily into the metal talisman. He backhandedly slapped the metal talisman and bellowed, “Lord Linsong is bent on killing me!”
His voice pierced through the rainy night. The faint light of the metal talismans intensified, and countless ghostly shadows broke through the talisman. An army of them surged forth and charged as they took up arms and brandished their blades at Jing Lin. Violent thunder exploded, and lightning broke through the night. Like an enraged dragon on a rampage, the churning, torrents of rainwater urgently and noisily smashed onto Jing Lin’s face and into Jing Lin’s heart.
Jing Lin burned with anger as he backhandedly grasped the hilt. There was a thunderous clamor, and Yan Quan frostily left its sheath. The waves of pines swayed violently in the rainstorm, while the entire mountain range around Ninth Heaven shook. As his sword slashed the ghosts, the black shadows dispelled as though they had encountered a bright light that cut them apart. Thousands upon thousands of souls howled with resentment as they were torn to pieces and promptly dispersed.
Jing Lin closed in. The general’s chains wound around Yan Quan, yet the latter would not budge even when he pulled at it. Under the shadows, Jing Lin’s spiritual sea was boiling over. The general seemed to vaguely hear a cry that sounded like the roar of a dragon in this vast expanse of boundlessness. The next moment, a sudden impact sent him flying. The iron talisman behind him creaked loudly and instantly toppled over with a loud bang.
The general rolled on the ground and spat out blood. He saw the door behind open wide. Jing Lin strode in. Dong Jun stuck his folding fan into his back collar, swung aside the corner of his robe, and jumped over the general’s back to make his way across.
Jing Lin pushed his way through with hurried steps and finally came to a stop before a newly erected tomb. The sound of rain intensified. The rocky mud split apart as the tomb rapidly flattened to reveal a large copper coffin with a golden chain of Sanskrit scripts wound around it.
Jing Lin took a few steps closer. He was about to lift the coffin out when someone suddenly sprang up from behind and raised his hand to aim three daggers right at Jing Lin’s Mingmen acupoint.1 Jing Lin looked back and jerked his sleeves, and Tao Zhi staggered back in a retreat.
Tao Zhi said, “Are you mad? To think you want to dig up his grave!2 He’s already dead! What enmity do you have with him that makes you hate him so much?!”
The rainy sky came to a standstill for a split second as Li Rong leaped down and said, “Jing Lin!”
Jing Lin grabbed hold of the golden chain of Sanskrit scripts with his palm and hauled it up. The coffin rose with a “thud”, making a loud clatter as it was dragged.
Li Rong smacked a palm down on it to nail the coffin in place. He shouted at Jing Lin, “What are you doing?!”
Jing Lin said, “I want to see his body.”
Li Rong’s anger was truly stoked now. He said, “Nonsense!”
“Move away.” Jing Lin said in a frosty voice.
“I’m your shixiong!” Li Rong refused to budge. “How can I watch you commit a grave mistake?! Lan Hai has been laid to rest, with golden scripts to guard his coffin. You won’t be able to bear the responsibility for it if you open it prematurely and provoke an evil being!”
“If it’s an evil being inside, my sword will not show mercy!” Jing Lin pressed in a step closer and raised his voice slightly, “Move away!”
“You’re being insane today. I won’t move. Even if you do such a thing again in the future, I won’t let you either! Lord Linsong’s sword has already transcended; there’s nothing he has to fear. So do you have to fight a round with me now before you will be willing to listen to advice?!”
Jing Lin’s voice was tinged with fury. “I must see him tonight!”
Po Zheng Spear suddenly smashed into the ground and stood erect beside Li Rong. Li Rong remained as firm as a mountain. He said, “Then please guide me with your Yan Quan Sword first!”
Lightning flashed and thunder clapped overhead. Tightly strung tension built up around them. Heavy rain that was coming down in pillars poured over their shoulders and hair. Everyone was drenched and cold. Tao Zhi had always been one to act unreasonably. Even so, under this tremendous pressure, he did not dare to breathe loudly. His gaze wandered between both men; he was already harboring the thought to play peace-maker.
Tao Zhi had only just said that when Dong Jun placed his folding fan right before him to block his face. Despite being on tenterhooks, Tao Zhi did not dare to move.
Jing Lin loosened his grip, and Yan Quan slanted down beside his leg along with the raindrops. Li Rong immediately relaxed a little and softened his tone, “If there’s something on your mind, you can talk to me first…”
But Jing Lin unexpectedly pressed his thumb against the sheath, and the cold glint of Yan Quan suddenly shone. A flurry of wind and thunder materialized along with the violent roar of the sword. Li Rong lifted his spear to block the attack, and the majestic sword aura grazed past both of his cheeks, almost breaking his skin.
Enraged and heartbroken, he said in a heavy voice, “Fine! Then may Lord Linsong enlighten me!”
Tao Zhi was already unstable on his feet. If it were not for Dong Jun being on guard with that fan of his, he would have surely been sent flying right this moment. Tao Zhi grabbed Dong Jun’s sleeve tightly. Dong Jun, however, was relaxedly welcoming the gale face-on with his hair fluttering in the rain.
“Your Jiu-ge is incensed. And yet Li Rong thinks he could send him away with just a few words.” His eyes looked contemplative as he said, “He really doesn’t understand Jing Lin at all.”
Muddied rocks tumbled across the ground. Li Rong turned over his spear and slammed it down. His spear weighed a thousand catty,3 and the common man could not even lift it. When he smashed it down, the impact sent the rainwater splashing to both sides. Jing Lin’s outfit billowed, and Yan Quan blocked this earth-shaking spear head-on. The edge of the sword and body of the spear crossed paths with each other. Sparks of fire erupted from the friction as they scraped against each other. Rainwater condensed on Jing Lin’s long eyelashes and scoured his face until he looked increasingly impersonal. He held up his sword and lifted his leg. Li Rong took his blow in silence, as if he did not know of pain in this exchange of blows.
Po Zheng Spear whirled like a fan, and the violent impact caused Yan Quan to buzz incessantly. Shrouded under the dark night, Li Rong was like the towering pillar of strength that showed no signs of weakness under the flying attacks of the sword. Just as he could remain stable like Mount Tai, he could also strike like a rock. Even under this kind of fury, he had no weakness to be found. The Way of the Asura had tempered his heart and mind to the point it was unwavering. Once he had set his heart on a path, he would plunge fully into it and spare no effort to push ahead. In terms of focus and devotion, Li Rong and Jing Lin could be indeed said to be true fellow disciples!
Jing Lin received a cut to the back of his hand as he turned his sword. Blood instantly spattered. There was already a tear in his shirt. His swordplay was swift and forceful, triggering Li Rong so much that the latter would not give way to him.
When Tao Zhi saw that both men meant business, his legs went weak. He clung on to Dong Jun and said, “Gege!”
Dong Jun shivered. He kept his fan away and took to his heels in an attempt to leave.
Tao Zhi hurriedly hugged hold of Dong Jun’s arm. With both feet scraping against the ground, he shouted, “You can’t leave! If they continue fighting like this, Bajiao Xuanmu Tomb will be destroyed. When Father holds someone accountable for it, none of us will be able to escape!”
“What has it got to do with me?” Dong Jun struggled to free his arm. “I’m just one idle man, someone who accompanies and amuses Qing Yao. Even if he wants to settle scores, I’ll be the last person he looks for!”
“Xiongzhang!”4 Tao Zhi dragged him. “Stop them both!”
“I’m not up to it.” Dong Jun replied. “Just a jab with this lousy fan and it will break. You do it yourself.”
“That won’t do!” How would Tao Zhi dare to? He made a scene to prevent Dong Jun from leaving. He said, “I know your cultivation is unfathomable. There is no need for you to do more than you need to. Just break Jing Lin’s leg or arm! Li Rong will definitely not make another move.”
“Why do you hate him that much?” Dong Jun tapped his chin with his fan and said, “If you break his arms and legs, he will be disabled.”
As they spoke, the gale stirred up by both men came steamrolling towards them. Dong Jun brandished his folding fan, and that violent wind instantly distorted and reversed directions, tearing back at Jing Lin and Li Rong until they both simultaneously retreated.
“What madness are you both up to in the middle of the night?!” Yun Sheng quickly intervened and said, “Father is right before you. Kneel now!”
Lord Jiutian stood in the rain with clouds of gloom on his face.
Li Rong said, “Sparring between brothers isn’t any big deal. Why is Father even alerted over this?!”
“Sparring?” Lord Jiutian let out a laugh, looking even frosty in the rain. “The audacity of you both. At this juncture, you still want to fool me! Scoundrels, is this the place for you to behave atrociously?!”
The iron talismans of Bajiao Xuanmu Tomb had been destroyed, and ghostly fires were flying all over. It was a mess all around. Li Rong lifted his spear and kneeled on the ground. He said, “… This son has failed to pay due consideration.”
“How about you!” Lord Jiutian was boiling with rage.
Jing Lin’s chest heaved slightly. The back of his hand had turned dark red from the trickles of blood. Amidst the violent thunderclaps, he suddenly turned his hand over and struck out. Everyone was caught off guard, as they had not expected him to still dare to act so impetuously right this moment! There was a loud rumble as that copper coffin was dragged out of the earth. Following right after, Jing Lin kicked the coffin lid open.
Uproar of anger rose all around.
The coffin lid went smashing to the ground, and the heavy rain poured down. Jing Lin shifted his eyes away from the coffin and swept them across everyone present.
“Where is Lan Hai?” He asked in a cold and detached tone.
Thunder and lightning sliced through the sky, tearing through the darkness. Everyone looked astonished, because the coffin was empty.
Lord Jiutian suddenly felt a stabbing pain in his heart. The color immediately drained from his face, and he staggered a few steps. It was Yun Sheng who held him to support him. He stared fixedly at the coffin and forced out the words through clenched teeth.
Tao Zhi fell to his butt with a thud in the rain. He looked at his brothers and wiped away the rain on his face in disbelief. A startled Li Rong had already risen to his feet. He scrutinized the coffin for a moment with a stunned expression on his face. Only Dong Jun closed his eyes without looking at it. With his hands behind his back, he weighed the folding fan in his palm and said nothing.
Jing Lin stood in the rain and slowly closed his eyes.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin and Li Rong kneeled in the rain. The elixir master went in and out of Lord Jiutian’s chamber, while the rest of the brothers stood on the veranda. As long as Lord Jiutian did not summon them, both of them could only remain kneeling.
Jing Lin lowered his head and remained still. A small bottle suddenly rolled to the side of his hand. He glanced slightly out of the corner of his eye and saw Li Rong waiting in silence with lowered eyes.
“Po Zheng is sharp.” Li Rong said. “It’s not easy to stop the bleeding of the cuts it makes. So bandage it as soon as you can.”
Jing Lin reached into his sleeve, only to recall that he had given his handkerchief to Cao Cang. He could only let it be and uttered an acknowledgment in response instead.
Li Rong wiped his face and said, “How did you discover that he wasn’t in the coffin?”
“I only wanted to see his body.” Jing Lin looked ahead. The heavy rain isolated them from the others’ hearing and sight, providing a partitioned space for both men.
“I closed the coffin with my own hands.” Li Rong said, “This is by no means a trivial matter. Crises are aplenty in the sect. Those who can take the body away without us knowing is not someone to be underestimated.”
Jing Lin said, “He is among us.”
After a moment of silence, Li Rong said, “It’s much easier to fall into the trap when suspicions abound between brothers.”
“How long can you live by playing dumb?” Jing Lin said, “Lan Hai is dead.”
“… Who do you suspect?”
Jing Lin said nothing, but looked towards Li Rong.
In reality, there was only so much to be said about so-called brothers. At this point, they could no longer remain calm and composed. The perpetrator could be anyone, but no one seemed to be it. The fight between them was intense tonight. Had it not been for Jing Lin’s insistence on opening the coffin at the last minute, it would be hard to say when this matter would eventually come to light.
“I can’t believe you are sizing me up this openly.” Li Rong looked at the other brothers behind the curtain of rain. Each of their faces were indistinct. He said, “Unless you are on familiar terms with them, you mustn’t do this.”
Both men kneeled for another two hours before Yun Sheng came out holding a medicine bowl. He stepped into the rain and said to the two of them resentfully for failing to live up to expectations. “You just had to come to blows for something that can be reported with just a word. You two… Father’s anger has yet to subside. Both of you head back to your own courtyard to reflect on your mistakes behind closed doors.”
Li Rong received the order. Together with Jing Lin, he rose to his feet and withdrew. Jing Lin looked at no one when he passed by the brothers and vanished around the corridor with a trace of cold wind following in his path.
Tao Zhi groused in irritation. “He’s the one who stirred up trouble, and yet we are the one to bear the brunt of it here!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin and Li Rong were punished to reflect over their mistakes behind closed doors, but the sect was short of manpower, and so Li Rong headed out only after three days. Only Jing Lin remained in his compound, with only the trees for company. He waited in vain for the amnesty. Everything happening outside seemed to have nothing to do with him. Since he no longer needed to eat now, he was spared the embarrassment of eating cold, leftover food.
He was really self-reflecting while facing the wall. He could sit before the wall for a whole day without moving. The place where Po Zheng had grazed past was slow to heal. Jing Lin carelessly wrapped a strip of cloth around it to block the sight of that conspicuous scar on the back of his hand.
In the end, he had not gone all out. He had only gotten hurt, but he had not drawn blood from Li Rong.
Jing Lin pressed against the wall. His eyes shifted along with the projections of shadow from the broken window. It was rarely sunny outside, with frequent bouts of Autumn rain. The furnishings in his room were simple, and his room became increasingly colder. He counted the days, day after day, and after enduring through it for half a month, it was finally the day of rendezvous.
The cold wind at night brought the rain along with it. Jing Lin held up an umbrella. Before he left, he remembered that he was still supposed to be reflecting on his mistakes in seclusion, so he headed to the wall and flipped over it. Edging along the courtyard wall, he avoided and slipped past the disciples on night patrol. A stone rolled out beside his feet. It held up a plump leaf and skipped as it followed behind him.
◈ ◈ ◈
Ming Jin Stage had long been sealed off. Businesses had ceased operations everywhere around the viewing pavilion. The night was so cold it made one shiver, yet Jing Lin felt a little warm. He came from the side of the derelict pond, with the rain sounding like the pelting of pearls and jades upon his umbrella. He stepped onto Ming Jin Stage, strolled around once, then stood by the side of the railing.
The stone leaned against Jing Lin’s leg and hung up the plump leaf to dry. Then it sprawled in the gap between the stone railing to look around.
Jing Lin put his heart into waiting. He had never waited for anyone like this before, so he did not know of his anxiety. He only felt hot for no reason. He kept his eyes on the railing in the rain and did a precise count of the patterned texture on it.
He waited until the corner of his robe was slightly wet. Until the stone sprawled in the gap stared blankly into space.
Why isn’t he here yet?
Jing Lin rechecked the days again, counting them one by one, over and over. The half-month appointment was tonight. Tonight was the half-month appointment. He had not misremembered. His memory had always been good. The water on the surface of the stage splashed onto Jing Lin’s shoes. He remained lost in thought.
◈ ◈ ◈
The top of his umbrella suddenly lifted, and Jing Lin raised his head. He saw the wind and rain pelting before him, and an arm lifting up the edge of his umbrella. A man suddenly pressed in towards him and turned his head to kiss Jing Lin hard on his lips.
Cang Ji’s breathing was uneven, and his hair was drenched. He carried fruits that he had wrapped up in his robe. His back and legs were all muddy. Ignoring the umbrella after he was done kissing Jing Lin, he rubbed the bundled robe and picked Jing Lin up with both arms. The unnamed fruits tumbled all over the ground. Huffing out warm air, Cang Ji said,
“I finally found you after turning around in circles and falling into mud pits eight times. From afar, I could see that straight back under the umbrella, standing erect just like pine.” Cang Ji gasped for breath and kissed him hard again. He continued, “As expected, it’s my darling!”
- 命门(穴) Mingmen acupoint, or Gate of Life, is an acupoint in the lower back.
- Grave desecration not only destroys any positive Feng Shui of the burial site (the spiritual pulse mentioned in last chapter) but is also a sign of disrespect and open hostility towards the person. Even today, desecrating a person’s ancestral grave is popularly considered as the ultimate act of revenge taken toward another individual.
- 斤 jin, or catty. 1 catty = 0.5 kg
- 兄长 Xiongzhang, i.e. respectful term for an elder brother. Unlike gege, it doesn’t carry an ‘intimate’ connotation between men.