In truth, she might not necessarily be able to find the Demon King if she had simply packed up and left. So she obediently continued to follow behind both men while taking in the sights of the Demon Realm she had never set foot on.
They were wandering idly in the streets when two people dashed past them. “Hurry, it has been a while since it started.”
One of them bumped against Song Ci’s shoulder and knocked off the bamboo glutinous rice1 in Song Ci’s hands. It ended up as a lump on the ground.
Song Ci was stupefied for a moment before he looked down at the bamboo glutinous rice. He sighed. “Oh man, I only took one bite. What a pity!”
The person who bumped into him heard him and turned back to apologize and compensate Song Ci. “This little buddy, I’m really sorry. Go buy another one. I’m in a rush…”
Instead of accepting his money, Song Ci grabbed his wrist and asked, “What were you guys talking about earlier?”
He could smell the fun and action in it.
“It’s an auction run by Capital Chief Hua himself. It’s said that everything auctioned there is rare. We are heading there to join in the fun.” The man replied.
Song Ci raised his eyebrows and turned to look at Rong Bai. “An auction?”
Rong Bai went along and said, “Let’s go and have a look.”
Qinyu came up from behind. “I heard that the auction house in the Demon Realm has a mishmash of crooks and honest folks. There’s nothing that can’t be auctioned. We are really lucky to come across it when we have only just arrived.”
Song Ci perked up with joy. He smiled and said, “Then, let’s take a look.”
The man said forthrightly, “Sure, let’s go together.”
With that, he hurried on. Song Ci and the rest closely followed him to a massive palace.
It was the first time Song Ci got to see such a magnificent building in the city. Generally speaking, no one would build such a big house, whether it was for business or for their own residence. Even the two massive pillars before the palace were taller than the average building.
“This is Baihua Yao, the most famous and reputable gold-lettered signboard2 in the demon capital of Baihua.” Qinyu whispered, “It is used for pleasure and merry-making. Demons and immortals from all over may enter the palace as long as they can pay up.”
“Exactly how much money have they earned to have such a resounding signboard?” Song Ci took a glance at the people coming and going and wondered how much fortune it would cost to build this palace.
“The boss of Baihua Yao is Hua Wuneng.” Qinyu said.
Song Ci said, “No wonder.”
“There is another reason.” Both of them spoke as they walked inside. “Back then, the Demon King left his Crimson Pearl Umbrella in the palace. Everyone who came and went all seemed to have seen this treasure with their own eyes. And that was how Baihua Yao made its name.”
When both of them entered, Rong Bai was already standing inside the palace. He turned around when he heard their voices. It seemed as if he was waiting for them.
Song Ci and Qinyu were both dumbfounded when they saw him.
The inner hall was ablaze with lantern lights, while gauge curtains fluttered everywhere. The picturesque scene in their sight spoke of prosperity. However, the most conspicuous object was an exquisitely carved crystal cabinet behind Rong Bai. An open umbrella was displayed in the cabinet. Its surface looked as if it had been soaked in blood. It was so red that it was alluring. A bell the size of a red date hung on the ink-black handle of the umbrella with a red tassel secured at the bottom.
The umbrella was especially stunning under the refraction of light and crystals.
Dumbstruck by the sight, Song Ci took a few steps forward and raised his head to look at the umbrella in the crystal cabinet. He sang its praise. “This is the Crimson Pearl Umbrella? How could the Demon King have the heart to leave such a beautiful umbrella here?”
Rong Bai lifted the corners of his mouth into a smile. “Who knows? You like it?”
Song Ci nodded his head honestly. He had liked this umbrella at first sight.
“It’s not something you can get your hands on.” Qinyu doused him with cold water. “Maybe you can just simply think about it.”
Song Ci was well-aware of his own place, so he said nothing about wanting the umbrella. He sniffed and said. “Forget it, let’s go and take a look at that auction house.”
Rong Bai glanced pensively at the umbrella in the cabinet. The umbrella looked as if it could sense its master. It twitched a little before it went still.
The auction site was underground. The steps of the stairs leading down were embedded in the wall. There were no handrails. As Song Ci stayed close to the wall and headed down, he could see Light-Bearing Pearls of various sizes inlaid in the wall, brightly illuminating the path down.
The moment he reached the bottom, he could see a huge underground space packed with demons and ghosts. There was a platform about five or six chi3 high among them. In the center of the stage, there was a large iron cage with bars as thick as human wrists. Instead of a ferocious beast, a young man in old, shabby clothes was locked within the cage.
The man looked as if he had wallowed in a mud pit; there was not a single clean spot on him.
Even though the man was imprisoned in the cage, there was no trace of panic and fear on his expression. Instead, he was looking around with a bewildered look. It did not seem as if he knew why he was in this place.
Song Ci walked down and stood behind the crowd. With his eyes fixed on the man on the stage, he asked, “Are they going to auction off this human?”
“Not a human.” Rong Bai said in an indifferent tone, “Nothing sold here is common.”
But the man on the stage looked no different from a mortal. That perplexed expression on his face even looked a little silly.
“Take a good look, everyone.” A middle-aged man with a black whip in his hand stood beside the iron cage. He circled around the cage, speaking while lashing out with the whip at the same time. “This is a novel commodity that we have just caught. Even our chief can’t tell what species it is.”
“Isn’t that a human?” Someone at the bottom of the stage shouted.
“Aye?” The middle-aged man said, “That’s a good question. See this whip in my hand? It’s the renowned Candle Dragon4 Whip. Irregardless of immortals or demons, just a lashing will make them bleed profusely. But look!”
He had not even finished his words when he mercilessly swung his hand and whipped the young man through the gaps of the cage.
The loud crack of the whip startled many people, including Song Ci. The young man looked dazed, but there was no sign of an injury on his body.
He closely rose from the ground and touched the spot on his neck where he had been whipped. He looked at the gasping audience below, then said to the middle-aged man, “Let me out.”
The middle-aged man ignored him and said, “He’s not the slightest bit injured. If he were a human, he would have already died from this lashing.”
“Is that whip of yours fake?” Someone in the audience questioned.
The middle-aged man smiled affably, “Why don’t you come up and have a taste of it?”
No one in the audience took up the offer. Instead, they all started to guess the man’s identity. He was not a mortal, but he did not have a trace of demonic aura on him either.
“Could he be from Heaven?” Someone voiced their doubt.
This made many people excited. The entire scene was abuzz with the sound of discussion.
“Peddling immortals is not a small crime. If the Divine Realm finds out, they will likely raze this Baihua Yao to the ground.” Qinyu whispered. Half of her face was hidden in the shadows. Her gaze was heavy.
“You’ve seen it with your own eyes now. Lodge a complaint when you return to the Immortal Realm.” Song Ci found this inappropriate too. He knew that this kind of behavior was common in the mortal world. Some slaves even changed hands many times. But it was one thing to hear about it and another to see it with his own eyes.
But with so many people here now, meddling in it would be akin to asking for trouble.
“It’s too late. Even if I head back to the Immortal Realm now to report this matter, by the time it makes its way up into the hands of the Deity Emperor, this man would have already been sold away somewhere.” Qinyu said, “Besides, I find this person rather familiar. I think I’ve seen him in the Immortal Realm before.”
“Consider him down on his luck.” Song Ci said, “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Unless some kind-hearted person was willing to step forward to save him. But come to think of it, if this man was truly an immortal, how had he come to be captured in the Demon Realm? He even ended up on display for sale.
“Looks like there are already some who have been convinced. If there is an offer now, we will start bidding. If not, I’ll let him put on more show for you.” The middle-aged man bellowed.
“Looks like this Baihua Yao isn’t a decent establishment.” Song Ci muttered, “But then again, how many people associated with the Demon King are actually decent?”
Upon hearing him, Rong Bai turned his head to look at him, puzzled. “How did the blame for this ended up being pinned on him?”
Rong Bai’s sudden question stumped Song Ci for a moment before he answered, “Wasn’t this operated by the Demon King and his subordinate? He must have given tacit permission for all these to happen. Perhaps this was even his idea.”
“No.” Rong Bai thought for a moment and answered. “Maybe this is the first time he knew of this too.”
Song Ci was having misgivings over it when a sudden sound on the stage drew his attention away. He saw the young man in the cage reaching out his hands to grab the middle-aged man by the collar and yanked him over towards the cage. He said, “I’m telling you to let me out, didn’t you hear me?”
The middle-aged man shouted, “Are you rebelling?! Release your hands!”
At the same time, he brandished the whip so hard it made cracking sounds.
“Men! Men!” The middle-aged man yelled hysterically. It seemed as if he was afraid of the man of unidentified species in the cage.
Two men ran up the stage, carrying something that looked like long awls in their hands. They stabbed the man on each shoulder, piercing his flesh. He let out a cry of pain and released the middle-aged man.
The freed middle-aged man was so furious that he let fly the whip at the man several times, although it did not leave any wounds on him. Having vented his anger, he spat and cursed, “What the hell!”
The audience burst out laughing.
The man in the cage frowned and took a few steps back. The expression on his mud-caked face was unreadable. He raised his hand and pulled out the long awls from his shoulders and threw them on the ground. This time, he did not make a scene. Instead, he turned his head and looked around the noisy crowd as if he were looking for someone.
As he was searching, his eyes met Song Ci’s eyes.
It stunned Song Ci to see this pair of familiar-looking eyes from a distance away. Before his brain could react, his body had already charged ahead.
That was a pair of eyes that closely resembled Wen Chan.
The audience had yet to realize what was happening when they saw a man stepping across the crowd to fly over to the cage. Qinyu was shocked when she got a clear look at who it was. She turned her head, only to realize that the spot beside her where Song Ci had been standing was now empty.
Countless eyes at the bottom of the stage stared at him all at the same time. The hoots of laughter stopped.
The middle-aged man frowned as he looked at Song Ci. “How insolent can you be? Is this a place where you can simply come up?”
Song Ci ignored him and strode over to the cage. He stared at those eyes through those thick bars. His heart pounded, and his fingertips turned cold. He asked nervously, “Ninth… Wen Chan?”
The man did not answer him, but looked at him doubtfully before asking, “Are you here to save me?”
On hearing this answer, Song Ci instantly knew that he was mistaken. These eyes were similar to Wen Chan, but upon a closer look, they were much better looking than Wen Chan’s eyes. These were not the eyes of a mortal. Plus, their voices were different.
At the same time, he felt relieved. He had no wish to see Wen Chan put up for sale while locked in a cage.
But now that it had finally hit him what he had done, he was like the man who found it hard to dismount after riding a tiger.5 He could only raise an embarrassed smile and say, “When I looked at you from a distance away earlier, I thought you look like an old friend of mine. It was only after coming closer that I realized it was a case of mistaken identity. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
With that, he nodded slightly and apologized again in his heart. It’s not that I don’t want to save you; I really don’t have the chops to.
The displeased audience wanted to chase him off the stage after hearing his words. The middle-aged man did not hold back either as he raised his whip, looking as if he was itching to whip him. Song Ci hurriedly beat a hasty retreat and turned around to flee, but unfortunately, something happened at this critical juncture.
A warm stream trickled down his nose.
He paused and silently cursed. Shit! What’s this familiar sensation?
Song Ci: Come, catch your cauldron of blame.6
竹筒糯米 sticky rice in a bamboo tube.
金字招牌 literally gold-lettered signboard. Most shops and establishments in ancient times typically have a signboard with their name written in gold characters. So he’s saying here that Baihua Yao is the most famous and reputable establishment in the Demon Realm.
- 尺 chi; a Chinese foot, about one-third of a meter.
- 烛龙 Zhulong, or literally candle dragon, was a giant red solar dragon and god in Chinese mythology. It supposedly had a human’s face and a snake’s body.
- 骑虎难下, lit. he who rides a tiger finds it difficult to dismount, i.e., to have no way to back down (or find it hard to stop what one is doing).
- 背黑锅 literally to shoulder/carry a black pot. i.e., to take the blame for others or to be made a scapegoat. Poor Rong Bai!（ಠ__ಠ)