Song Ci sat back in the corner. The nape of his neck was still aching.
His right wrist was shackled with an iron lock about the width of half a finger. The chain extended downward, connected to several other people like him.
It was quiet all around. Feng Zhuojun was still unconscious. Occasionally, the undulating sound of breathing could be heard amid the dim environment. The cage was full of demons with horns or tails, but everyone was curled up into a ball in a defensive and self-protective posture.
Song Ci did not know what this place was. He only remembered that someone had held a blade to his neck the moment he had emerged from the array. But before he could speak, he was knocked unconscious. He was already in this cage when he woke up.
He could see that there were many cages in here, each with demons inside.
His imagination ran wild. He had heard that some Daoist priests liked to use little demons to cultivate bizarre skills. And some deities and immortals who abhorred demons loved to capture a bunch of them to slaughter in groups.
Frightened by his own thoughts, Song Ci shivered. He wanted to find someone to talk to so that he could understand the situation.
He looked around and found a little youth sitting beside him. He looked like he had wallowed a few rounds in a mud pit. He was black and swarthy all over and sat hugging his legs in his arms. Song Ci could not tell if he was sleeping or thinking about something.
Song Ci gently prodded him with a finger. “This little buddy…”
His voice was already very soft, but in this quiet environment, it was still abrupt. Several people looked at him. The little youth shifted his body and looked up at Song Ci.
Those light-colored eyes momentarily stunned Song Ci. A familiar sensation hit him in the face. Twitching his nose, Song Ci moved in closer to sniff the little youth. He muttered. “This scent…”
The feeling of the little youth’s blood gave him a sense of familiarity, but at the same time, it also felt somewhat unfamiliar.
Startled by Song Ci, the youth shrank back. He let out a tiny whine in his hoarse voice and shrank even smaller into himself.
Seeing that he had scared him, Song Ci quickly gave him a kind smile and said in a gentle tone, “Don’t be afraid. I just want to chat with you.”
But the little youth turned his head away in obvious rejection, leaving Song Ci with only the sight of the back of his head.
Song Ci exclaimed in surprise and said, “I’m really not a villain.”
The youth ignored him. Song Ci waited for a while, then persisted. “I think we must have met before. Look at me carefully. Maybe I am your long-lost brother.”
“…” Still silence.
Just as Song Ci was about to speak again, the youth’s gruff voice rang out again.
“I have been alone ever since my birth.” He said slowly, “I don’t have any brothers.”
“How could anyone be alone from birth? Even if you have no siblings, you would have parents, right? Perhaps I’m your parents’ brother.” Song Ci felt hopeful when he saw him responding and hurriedly grabbed ahold of the topic to continue the conversation.
Upon hearing him, the youth slowly turned his head and looked at Song Ci again with his light-colored eyes. “Are you trying to take advantage of me?”
“I have no intention of doing that.” Song Ci waved his hands innocently. “I really feel as if I have seen you before.”
Song Ci could tell that the youth was also a lively person by nature. His wariness diminished after a couple sentences of exchanges. He turned his body around and whispered, “Which part of me do you find familiar?”
“Blood.” Song Ci replied truthfully. “It’s both familiar and unfamiliar.”
The youth was about to respond, but Feng Zhuojun, who had woken up, cut him off. He tugged Song Ci’s hand, rattling the chains as he moved, and said in a cold, hard voice. “Song Ci, don’t say too much to him.”
Feng Zhuojun was rarely this serious. When Song Ci turned to look at Feng Zhuojun, he saw the wariness in the latter’s eyes as he stared at the little youth like he was their foe.
Hurt flashed through the little youth’s eyes. He pursed his lips, turned his head away, and shrank back into the corner as if he was accustomed to this.
Although Song Ci did not understand why Feng Zhuojun reacted this way, he knew that he must have his reasons for doing so. Thus, he stopped chatting with the little youth and moved closer to Feng Zhuojun to ask in a hushed tone. “You know him?”
Feng Zhuojun looked up at the demons around them, then lowered his eyes. Although he did not open his mouth, his voice reached Song Ci’s ears.
“He’s evolved from the blade of that man’s sword. He’s brimming with a malicious aura all over. It’s better not to mess with him.”
Song Ci was stunned for a moment and asked subconsciously, “Who is that man?”
“The ancient Devil King.” Feng Zhuojun’s answer was succinct and to the point.
“Doesn’t he have a name?” Song Ci had heard of this character so many times, but to date, he still did not know the name of this renowned Devil King.
“Yes, but I can’t say it.” Feng Zhuojun said, “The ancient Devil King was born with a devil body that can never die or get destroyed. Back then, in order to deal with him, the Azure Dragon and White Tiger Divine Clans were nearly wiped out. One or two descendants are all that remains of their bloodlines now. Even so, they could only seal away the Devil King. Before he was sealed, he set up his own name as a spell. If anyone, not including mortals, reads out his name, it will turn into a summoning. So, to prevent the Devil King from breaking the seal to resurface in the world, his name was deliberately erased. So far, only a handful of people know his name.”
After this explanation, Song Ci was even more in awe of this Devil King. Gathering the power of all living creatures to break the seal for him… he was truly an intelligent and formidable villain.
“Then, does he have a name?” Song Ci asked.
“The Devil King’s sword.” Song Ci said. “He should have one, right? After all, he’s so famous.”
Feng Zhuojun looked at him in silence. “Why are you asking so many questions? It has nothing to do with you, anyway.”
He retorted without answering. But Song Ci knew that Feng Zhuojun must have known it. He would not say it for some reason, so Song Ci did not probe further and merely leaned his head against the wall to ponder it over for a moment.
Then, as if he thought of something, he moved to jab the little youth. On seeing that, Feng Zhuojun raised a hand to smack him and motioned for him to behave himself.
Song Ci twisted his body away, leaving a pissed Feng Zhuojun in a corner. The rattling of the iron chain broke the peace again. Several pairs of eyes simultaneously looked at him this time. Finally, someone could not help but ask, “Aren’t you guys afraid? They are going to unchain us later. ”
Seeing that someone had initiated conversation, Song Ci hurriedly asked, “Isn’t that a good thing? Are they going to release us?”
The man’s expression was complicated. “Looks like you don’t know what place this is.”
Song Ci nodded his head repeatedly. “Yes, yes, that’s right. Mind if you tell us? It’s my first time getting caught and sent here.”
“This will probably happen only once in your entire life.” The man said with a wry smile, “This is the Sihuang Mountain.1 It’s the designated area where the Divine Hunt Meet will take place. We are all prey.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the color drained from Feng Zhuojun’s face. He blurted out. “We are done for.”
Song Ci had a bad feeling when he saw Feng Zhuojun’s reaction. Alarmed, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Sihuang Mountain, Divine Hunt Meet…” Feng Zhuojun clenched his back molar tooth. “Our luck is seriously lousy. We came here only to encounter this right on arrival.”
The man did not explain further when he saw that Feng Zhuojun knew about this matter. He simply looked at the two men in silence, with despair and fear concealed among his bitter expression.
It wasn’t just him. Even the others looked the same way, as if they were resigned to their fates.
Before Song Ci could ask, Feng Zhuojun explained to him in hushed tones. “The Divine Hunt Meet originated from the Divine Realm of ancient times, where demons and devils ran rampant. To eliminate evil and defend the Way,2 the Divine Realm would hold a Divine Hunt Meet every one thousand years. The participating deities and immortals would compete against each other to hunt down and kill demons and devils. Whoever kills the most will emerge the victor. Later on, peace returned to the Six Realms and the Divine Hunt Meet changed its rules. They would designate an enclosed land as the venue and release demons and devils who have committed sins and evils for students who lacked actual combat experience to practice on.”
Song Ci frowned. “We didn’t commit any crimes, did we?”
“We are all innocent people who have been caught here. We don’t know why the Demon King caught decent demons like us this time instead of offering up the demons in prison to be sacrificed…” The man said resentfully. He had not even finished his words when someone started to weep.
“What’s there to cry about?” The little youth in the corner said, “We still have to die in any case. The way it is in this world, the word ‘decent’ isn’t worth a cent.”
His voice was cold without mercy.
But when he was done saying it, he sucked in a hard breath and turned to look at Song Ci. Tears brimmed in those beautiful light-colored eyes of him. Then he snorted and turned his head away.
Presumably, Feng Zhuojun’s behavior earlier had hurt him.
Song Ci’s heart softened. He could not help but stroke the youth’s head. The youth’s body froze for a moment before he shook his head like a rattle drum3 to shake off Song Ci’s hand.
“Isn’t there a way to escape?” Song Ci did not take it to heart and continued to ask.
“There won’t be a chance. Since the Sihuang Mountain has been designated as the venue, those immortals would have set up a powerful barrier around it. There is absolutely no way to escape.” Feng Zhuojun said.
“Then we can hide and sneak out once the hunt is over and those deities have left.” Song Ci said again.
Feng Zhuojun looked at Song Ci as if he was looking at an idiot. “If you can think of this, so will they. Once the hunt is over, there will be a battle deity leading others to sweep the venue clean. Not a single demon will be left alive.”
“If it’s like what you said, then aren’t we all dead meat?” Song Ci could not help but raise his voice.
Feng Zhuojun squeezed his arm. “Keep your voice down. Don’t draw the guards here.”
“Then what should we do? I haven’t seen Master Rong yet! “Song Ci yelled in a hushed tone.
Feng Zhuojun scoffed at him. “Don’t worry. You’ll see him soon. Rong Bai will definitely participate in this event, and he will even emerge the victor. You should just worry about yourself.”
Song Ci wilted a little. He kept yelling this is bad, this is bad in his heart. He had to face such a dangerous situation the moment he arrived. They really did not give him any chance to breathe at all.
Song Ci was the only chatterbox in the prison. Now that he had fallen silent and there was no one else around them speaking, all that remained was a scattering of sobbing sounds. This situation lasted for a while until the sounds of footsteps could be heard.
Immediately, the rattlings of the chains rang out. As if realizing something, the demons all crowded together in fear. The sound of them stirring restlessly completely broke the oppressive silence.
Song Ci turned to ask Feng Zhuojun, “What if we explain to the deities…”
“It’s no use.” Feng Zhuojun laughed at his innocence. “This is the beginning of the time when peace was restored to the Six Realms. The notion that all demons are evil is deeply rooted in their minds. No one will give a hoot about whether you are good or bad.”
Song Ci was shocked by his remark. It was only then that he truly realized what the danger Feng Zhuojun had spoken of was.
It was where the strong prey on the weak. Where only the fittest survive.
The footsteps closed in on them until a soldier in silver armor came and stood beyond the iron bars. With a neutral expression, he swept his gaze across the people in the prison. Under the fearful eyes of the crowd, he raised a bronze mirror.
“That’s a teleportation mirror.” Feng Zhuojun’s voice rang in his ear.
Light burst out of the surface of the mirror. Song Ci subconsciously blocked it with his sleeve. He felt his right wrist getting lighter as the wall behind him disappeared. Unable to maintain his balance, he toppled over to the ground. When he picked himself up, there was no longer a dark cage around him. Just a lush scenery.
He was alone.
Song Ci hurriedly rose to his feet, looked around, and wondered, “What is this place?”
“Sihuang Mountain.” Feng Zhuojun answered and emerged from the mirror hanging around Song Ci’s neck to stand beside Song Ci. His gaze was sharp. “Buddy, I’ll always be by your side!”
“What if I were to get hunted down…”
“I won’t save you, but I’ll take you back.” Feng Zhuojun said.
“Uh, fine.” Song Ci shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Where is Master Rong? I’m going to look for him.”
“There are four peaks on Sihuang Mountain. One of which will have a barrier within a barrier. When the hunt begins, all the deities will be there. If they are injured or want to quit in the middle of the hunt, they will have to return there. So, if you want to find Rong Bai, you have to go there. But, you won’t be able to get in.” Feng Zhuojun tried his best to clear up Song Ci’s doubts.
“There is another way.” He continued, “Of the remaining three peaks, demons will be released on two of them, while devils will be released on the one further in. If it’s someone like Rong Bai, they are bound to head deep into the mountain instead of a place like this. You can make your way there to look for him.”
Song Ci weighed his choices in his mind and decided on the latter. After getting Feng Zhuojun to point out the direction to him, they headed into the mountain.
Sihuang Mountain was indeed big. But they had also released a substantial number of prey. Song Ci had only walked for a short while when he came across several hiding demons.
Then, the bell tolled in the distant horizon, signifying the start of the hunt.
Song Ci looked up at the fleeing birds that the peals of the bell had startled away. He continued to walk deep into the mountain in silence, deliberately slowing down his pace.
Before encountering Rong Bai, he had no wish to bump into the other deities who were all revved up and raring to go.
Feng Zhuojun chatted as he walked. “There are schools in the Six Realms except for the Underworld. Mortals study the Four Books and Five Classics,4 while the Demon Realm learns all about hunting and survival. The Divine and Immortal Realms, on the other hand, cultivate both their literary skill and martial prowess. After the peace was restored in the Six Realms, the Divine Realm established an academy for both demons and immortals to study. It was the symbol of a peaceful era. Most of those participating in this hunt are from that academy.”
“That’s to say, there are not only immortals among the hunters, but demons as well?” Song ci asked.
“Yeah.” Feng Zhuojun nodded his head. “But there would be few of them. At present, there aren’t that many deities and immortals willing to coexist peacefully with the demons.”
Song Ci let out a sigh and said nothing more.
Feng Zhuojun was about to continue speaking when Song Ci held out a hand to stop him. Both of them halted in their tracks.
Song Ci stared at the person before him. His throat throbbed as he swallowed his panic.
A young youth in a white robe sewn with golden threads stood before them with his back to them. He was not tall, and his black, long hair was all tied up. He raised his head blankly as if he was looking at something.
Song Ci could tell at first glance that this child was not a demon!
Feng Zhuojun sized him up. Doubt crept over his face.
The young youth heard their movements and turned around in a daze. A pair of clear golden eyes appeared before them. A gush of the breeze gently lifted the little youth’s robe, exposing that half a chi5 long scimitar in his right hand.
Song Ci’s eyes widened.
“Oh damn!” Feng Zhuojun’s expression changed dramatically as he shouted, “Run!”
Credits: Many thanks to saed (@saedee_) for the correction! ♥
- 四荒山 Sihuang Mountain, or literally Four Barren Mountain
- 道 Dao, or the Way, is an important concept in Daoism where one archives spiritual enlightenment by cultivating the Way, or ‘walking the (right) path’. It’s a bit hard to explain all the nuances in Daoism succinctly but for this novel, you can understand it as cultivating one’s moral principles to defend what one believes in (one’s Way or Path to enlightenment).
拨浪鼓 Bolang Gu, also a Chinese rattle drum or a pellet drum, is a typical child toy in China. It’s shaken or rotated from left and right quickly to produce a drumming or rattling sound. You can see it in action in MDZS Drama, Chen Qing Ling, ep. 30 (Jin Guangyao) and ep. 31 (Jiang Yanli).
- 四书五经 the Four Books (the great learning, the doctrine of the mean, Confucian analects, and the works of Mencius) and the Five Classics (the book of songs, the book of history, the book of changes, the book of rites and the spring and autumn annals)
- 尺 Chi, a Chinese foot, or one-third of a meter