There was a chill in the night air. The luminous moon hung high above in the sky, blanketing the ground below in silvery light.
Song Ci stood in front of the entrance to Le Yu, looking at the dark fog in front of his eyes. It was brimming with an aura of evil.
He gripped his life-saving scimitar and took a step into the city.
At that moment, the evil aura stirred and started to circulate in the air. The surroundings were so silent that even the sound of wind could not be heard.
Song Ci followed the path before him. It was not long before he saw a man kneeling on the ground with his hands tied behind him and his head hanging low.
He approached the man and whispered, “Hu Qi.”
The man in front of him raised his head, his red eyes staring at Song Ci. His mouth was gagged with a piece of cloth. He made a whining sound as if questioning him.
It was Hu Qi.
Song Ci was amused. “What are you whining about? This is the debt you owe. Now that the debtor is here, it’s time for you to pay off the debt.”
Hu Qi squeezed his eyes shut, and tears rolled down as he shook his head. He actually kind of looked pitiful, but Song Ci was unmoved.
“If I can’t stop this demon, the entire city will be buried with you.” Song Ci looked up and gazed at the luminous moon through the black fog. It was vague and dim, and it seemed unreal. “But I’m not confident of succeeding.”
He could sense the demonic energy in his body, but he was still unable to use it at will. After being turned into a demon for four years, he could only use a fragment of that energy in his body. Every time he came up against another demon, he would either flee or somehow win by a fluke.
If he were able to use half, or even a third, of the demonic power in his body, it would have been enough to deal with Sun Yunniang.
After all, the blood of the Demon King also ran in his veins.
Hu Qi was still sobbing. Song Ci pulled the cloth out from his mouth. As soon as it was removed, Hu Qi cried out, “I was wronged! Sun Yunniang’s heart was vicious. She caused my mother’s death and burned down everything, leaving me with nothing. For twenty years, I had been living in poverty and hardship, and she still refused to let me go! Daozhang, please don’t be fooled!”
Song Ci stuffed the cloth back in and said, “This is only your side of the story.”
“Are you really that concerned about who’s right and who’s wrong?” A familiar voice rang out from above him.
He looked up and saw the bearded man, who had disappeared all day, sitting on the roof with his knees to his chest. He smiled and said to Song Ci, “Are you here for the Demon Gate or to do a good deed?”
Song Ci replied, “I thought you have already left.”
“I’m a trustworthy person; I still remember my promise.” Big Beard stroked his beard. “But first, answer my question.”
“I’m here for the Demon Gate, of course.” Song Ci replied.
Big Beard nodded slightly and snapped his fingers. “Listen.”
As soon as he snapped his fingers, noise from all around flood his ears; men and women, old and young. It was as lively as a bazaar. Song Ci could not help but be surprised.
“In fact, the Demon Gate has already been opened.” Big Beard said, “Come up, and I’ll tell you where.”
Song Ci was thrilled when he heard that the Demon Gate was opened. He immediately flipped onto the roof and came beside Big Beard. “Where is it? Where?”
Hu Qi saw him jumping up the roof and was just about to shout out to him when he abruptly caught a waft of fragrance. His chest tightened as he turned his head around. He saw a woman in red walking towards him gracefully. She had red lips, shapely eyebrows, and charming eyes. Her complexion was as white as snow.
Hu Qi froze and stared at her.
The woman swayed her slender waist as she walked towards him. Her red lips opened slightly, and she asked in a soft voice. “Hu Lang1, do you like seeing Yunniang like this?”
Hu Qi let out a plaintive roar. His bloodshot eyes were opened as wide as copper bells.
However, the two men above were not concerned. Big Beard lightly raised his eyebrows and stood up to point in a direction. “Look over there.”
Song Ci looked at where he pointed. It was as if he could see the faint glow of thousands of lights in the night. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a massive pillar gate had suddenly appeared in front of him.
Entwining around the two pillars were birds with their distinctly clear wings spread wide open as if they were soaring into the sky. An endless stream of people was also coming in and out of the gate; the boisterous noise came from them.
Song Ci was stunned.
“That’s the Demon Gate.” Big Beard said.
Otherworldly mist enveloped the magnificent gate of twin pillars. It was so close at hand as if one could step into it with just a few steps forward.
“Don’t you want to go in? Here’s your chance.” Big Beard said.
Song Ci fixed his eyes on the Demon Gate as if deep in thought.
Below, Sun Yunniang approached Hu Qi, stretched out a finger with red nail polish, and gently glided her finger across Hu Qi’s face. “You love beautiful women so much that when you see me, you would always humiliate me in every possible way. You should have liked my current looks. But why do you show such an expression? It makes me sad.”
Saying so, her sharp fingernail scraped across Hu Qi’s face and left a scar. A drop of blood dripped out and blended onto her red nail polish. Lifting the drop of blood in her finger, she put it in her mouth before she suddenly spat it out. She said with a look of disgust, “The blood of a beast is really tough to swallow.”
Hu Qi started sobbing again. His pleading eyes looked at Sun Yunniang as if asking for mercy.
Sun Yunniang laughed when she saw his state. “What’s the point of pleading? In those days, I kowtowed until my head bleed to plead with you. But you? You had an iron heart! You poisoned your own mother but pushed the blame to me. You then skinned my face and tortured me to death. Did you even feel sorry?!”
Her facial expression became extremely resentful, and her beautiful eyes were filled with hatred. She raised her hands to rip apart her face, revealing a bloody mess underneath and exposing an entire maw of sharp fangs. She growled, “Look at me now! This is all thanks to you!”
Hu Qi was so horrified by her looks that his body shook uncontrollably, tears and mucus flowing down his face. A shrill cry escaped his mouth. Warm liquid seeped out from the lower part of his body, wetting his pants.
His voice finally startled Song Ci. He drew his eyes away from the Demon Gate. As soon as he turned his head, he saw Sun Yunniang extending her sharp claws and skinning Hu Qi’s face. Not a drop of blood was spilled.
He looked almost indifferent as he asked Big Beard, “Do I get a chance every month?”
“The Demon Gate opens once a month, but its whereabouts is ever-changing. It can be discovered, but not sought2. If you missed this one, it would be near impossible for you to find it the next time.” Big Beard said, “You are a demon, so why bother the affairs of these mortals? Just leave.”
“I may be a demon.” Song Ci touched his chest. “But I still have a human heart.”
He still remembered the writings of sages he had read, and he never forgot the principles he had learned when he was still a human being.
He turned around, turned his back on the Demon Gate, and jumped off, leaving a confused Big Beard behind. “A benevolent heart??”3
Song Ci dropped down in front of Sun Yunniang.
In the face of this horror, his heart was full of rejection. He forced himself to maintain his composure and said, “Sun Yunniang, you have avenged yourself. It’s time to stop.”
“Stop?” It was as if she heard a joke. “I want the whole of Le Yu to be wiped out. Not just this one lowly life.”
She shook the skin in her hand and cast it aside on the ground in disdain. Looking contemptuously at Hu Qi, who was still screaming and convulsing, she said, “I want all of them to pay with their lives!”
Song Ci took a deep breath. “The people in the city are innocent.”
“Innocent? And I’m not innocent?” It was as if Sun Yunniang was triggered by the word ‘innocent’; she went insane. With her two hands touching her face, she wailed. “Just because I was born ugly, I have to put up with the contempt of others? Even when I faced their scorn, I always naively thought they were all people with kind hearts despite their foul mouths. But in the end? All I got when I died was a tombstone with the line “Sun Yunniang does not deserve to be a human being!”
“When I got married, I was looked down upon. On my first return to my parental home after my marriage4, I was shut out of the door. I tried my best to please everyone around me, but all I got in return was never-ending abuse because I was born with an ugly face!”
“If just one of them had stepped forward and put in a word for me, I wouldn’t be in this situation, and I wouldn’t have harbored such hatred!” Sun Yunniang’s despairing howl brought tears to her eyes. “What did I do wrong?!”
Song Ci looked at her with pity. “Your death was caused by Hu Qi’s evildoings. It had nothing to do with the others in the city. Everyone only has one life, a few short decades. It would be unfair if you decide their life and death just because of a few vicious remarks they made.”
“I don’t care whether or not it’s fair, I just want to do whatever I want to my heart’s content!” The satisfaction of having taken her revenge showed on Sun Yunniang’s face, and she burst out in convulsive laughter, “Did you think I won’t be able to find them if you hide them? I’m going to strip them bare of their bones and skin, and wash away my hatred with their blood!”
Big Beard, who was sitting above them, shook his head.
“I’ve burned Madam Hu’s coffin.” Song Ci said calmly.
Sun Yunniang’s shouts came to an abrupt end. She was momentarily stunned, with alarm and panic registering on that horrifying face. “What did you say?!”
“I guess you might probably be thinking of sacrificing the lives of everyone in the city to bring Madam Hu back to life, so I burned her coffin just before coming.” As he said this, he threw a green jade bracelet at Sun Yunniang’s feet. “I took this off her hand.”
Song Ci knew that he was being heartless by doing so. He also understood the injustice and agony that Sun Yunniang had suffered. This was why he handed Hu Qi over to her. However, the hundreds of people in the city were innocent. They should not be sacrificed just to appease Sun Yunniang.
Sun Yunniang lowered her head and looked at the bracelet. She slowly bent over to pick it up. Right at the moment when her finger touched the bracelet, that kind old lady appeared before her eyes.
She smiled kindly, with the tenderness of a spring breeze in her wrinkled eyes. She said to Yunniang, “Yunniang, you are really a good child.”
Tears of blood gushed out again. Sun Yunniang’s shrill cry suddenly turned into an ear-piercing howl, “Why?! Why?! Heaven is unfair!!”
A violent gale started blowing, sending sand and gravel flying, and clothes flapping. Song Ci stood still. “Sun Yunniang, the dead cannot be revived. If you persist in your obstinacy, your soul will scatter one day, and you will not reincarnate. You will always remain in hatred.”
But she turned a deaf ear. Hugging the bracelet, she cried herself hoarse. “Mother, Yunniang is useless! Yunniang is incompetent!”
Thick, black air rose from around her, which made the demonic aura in the air even heavier. It was so suffocating it made one breathless.
Seeing that, Big Beard tsked, “She’s turning into a devil.”
Just as her cries reverberated in the city, a long sword flew from the sky, piercing straight in and out of Sun Yunniang’s back. The tip of the sword met the bracelet head on, and the bracelet instantly broke into pieces. The pieces fell from Sun Yunniang’s hands.
Sun Yunniang let out a scream. She looked down at the shattered bracelet and froze.
Song Ci was surprised by this sudden change and raised his head. The two Mo Yao disciples who had been tricked away by Big Beard the night before were riding their swords over. The senior disciple with the frosty look shouted to his Shidi, “Shidi, close off the city!”
They came at just the right time.
Song Ci thought, since the professionals are here, he should step aside for the moment.
Just as he raised his heels, Sun Yunniang suddenly exploded into an outburst of fury. Large volume of black fog gushed out from her body and swirled into a whirlwind, blasting towards the surrounding in a rampage. Song Ci was the closest to her, and so he was the first one to be swept into the black fog.
That oppressive air intensified. Everything darkened in front of his eyes. Sun Yunniang seemed to have lost her mind as she giggled and kept harping on and on about something.
Song Ci intuitively felt that things were getting out of hand. He retreated and placed his scimitar in front of his chest, assuming a defensive posture.
The two men above looked at each other. One of them said, “Shixiong, this demon has turned into a devil, it’s not something you and I can subdue. Why don’t we report to Shifu first, then hear what he has to say.”
“A demon-turned-devil will surely bring disaster everywhere. If we leave now, many people would have died by the time we find her again. We should seal the city first and think of a way to deal with it.” The senior disciple raised his hand, and the sword that was protruding from Sun Yunniang’s back was withdrawn back into his hand.
Sun Yunniang let out a sharp and shrill cry, like a bird with its throat strangled; her cry was filled with endless hatred and despair. She spread her arms, and the black fog completely enveloped the entire City of Le Yu.
“I want all of you to die!” When Song Ci finally heard what she had been mumbling, she was already in front of him, her sharp and long fingernails aiming for his neck.
Fortunately, Song Ci was always on the alert. He raised his hand to block her claws with his scimitar and forcefully pushed it aside. At the same time, he leaped into the air, somersaulted, and stepped on Sun Yunniang’s back to land at the other side.
Sun Yunniang was much stronger than before, and her reaction and speed had improved by leaps and bounds. Before Song Ci landed, she grabbed his left foot, swung him around, and flung him right into a house.
The violent impact made Song Ci’s insides ache. He fell among some wood debris, with his arms protecting his eyes from being blinded by wooden spikes. There was the taste of blood among that sharp pain; he coughed several times before managing to suppress it.
The two Mo Yao disciples stood in the air. The light from the tip of their swords shone onto the ground, forming a superficial wall of light which slowly moved along the city edges of Le Yu. Both of them were sweating, and their faces were flushed. They looked as if they were struggling.
It was not until the left, and right sides of the light wall converged at a point that the light wall lit up and completely encircled the City of Le Yu, successfully sealing the city after the disciples’ struggles.
The senior disciple gasped for breath and rushed into the black fog with his sword without even taking a break, while the junior disciple conjured up a bird the size of a thumb. It glowed with a glittering white light and flew towards the sky.
Big Beard looked down at the intense battle taking place below, then raised his head towards the sky. But the black fog was so thick he could no longer see the moon. He murmured in a low voice, “Hard to tell the time now, but he should have already arrived.”
It was a big mess within the city, while it was bustling with noise and excitement outside of it.
Thousands of demons exited the demon world and looked at the human world as if it was all a novelty to them. The older ones were used to the sight of these small demons, and came and went in an endless stream.
Amidst this commotion, a man, treading on moonlight and riding the breeze, arrived. The breeze gently lifted the hem of his snow-like Daoist robe, revealing a pair of black golden silk boots underneath.
His eyebrows were like ink, and his eyes, like stars. His long, soft hair fluttered. When he was shrouded in a layer of moonlight, he did not look like a Daoist priest from the human realm, but like an immortal who had descended from the Heavens. There was an air of indolence among his delicate looks. He was incomparably handsome. All the wandering demons could not help themselves but stop in their tracks to watch him.
He took a casual glance at the demons on the ground and unreservedly walked forward as if this was a common sight to him.
Suddenly, an old demon knelt down silently with his head to the ground. His reverent gesture was similar to a commoner kowtowing to their king. The Daoist priest calmly walked past him as if he did not notice it.
As he walked to the front of Le Yu, the light wall seemed to sense something and glowed brighter. The Daoist priest ignored it and took a single step into the entrance of the city. The moment his foot landed, the light wall that was surrounding Le Yu instantly shattered into powder and disappeared into the air.
He did not stop or slow down; he simply swaggered into the city.
After he disappeared from view, the demons recovered their senses. Some spoke in low voices, while some shook their heads and left. A little demon that was with the old demon helped him up and asked in a whisper, “Grandpa, why did you kneel to a mortal priest?”
The grandpa, with his face full of awe and admiration, was still looking in the direction the man had disappeared.
“I once had the privilege of seeing him on the throne.” The old demon slowly lowered his voice and said, “The Demon King.”
- 郎 Lang, young man; a form of address. Also used as a term by a woman to address her lover or husband.
- 可遇不可求 can be discovered, but not sought. To come by something with luck or by chance, but not by searching for it.
- Song Ci meant 人心 (rén xīn), which meant ‘human heart’, but Big Beard thought he said 仁心 (rén xīn; same pinyin), which meant a ‘kind heart’ or ‘benevolent heart’.
- 回门 a tradition where the bride returns to her parental home for the first time after her marriage, usually with her new husband. (Though I doubt Hu Qi when with her).