Since the day Feng Changyue’s youngest daughter returned home after a trip outdoors, he found her behavior abnormal.
She was initially a lively young maiden, but now, she would lock herself up in her dark room all day long. She would even put on an icy expression when she spoke to others.
Feng Changyue doted on his youngest daughter the most, so he was very anxious when he saw her like this. He sought the help of Daoist priests to find out what was wrong with her. But whether they conducted rituals or treated her with medicine, nothing worked even when they did all they could and she ate all she should.
In the middle of the night on this day, Feng Changyue went to bed with his mind full of worries. While he was in a deep sleep, he was jolted awake by a soft sound. He turned his head to look and saw that there was a small gap between the opened door and the wall.
Could it have been blown open by the breeze?
He got off the bed, wrapped his clothes around him and groped in the dark to close the door. But who knew that the moment he turned around, he would suddenly see a raised knife in the air slashing down on him.
Feng Changyue was so frightened that he immediately let out a shrill scream. Under the dim moonlight, he saw that the person who attacked him was his little daughter with the same cold expression on her face.
The spring breeze was warm.
Song Ci was dressed in an almond-colored robe with a wooden hairpin in his hair. With his hands hidden under his sleeves, he stood under the largest brothel in the city as passersby cast inquiring gazes at him.
The courtesan standing at the entrance of the brothel accosted him four times in the space of ten minutes, each time covertly and overtly inviting him in.
Song Ci said, “A gentleman should conduct himself with propriety.”
The courtesan left with a puzzled expression on her face.
If he had to explain the reason he ended up standing here, then he should start from a few days back.
He had listened to Lu Shaoqing’s advice and headed East. He managed to find Rong Bai in the City of Pingyang and planned to observe him for a few days to get a feel for his temper.
At first, all was well. Rong Bai simply toured around the street and idly played with the birds as if he had nothing to do.
Later on, wearing a serious expression and still in his white Daoist robe, he turned a corner and actually went into a gambling den. This really put Song Ci in a difficult spot.
Song Ci considered himself a gentleman, so he had never stepped into places of carnal pleasures like brothels, pubs, casinos, and the likes. But he was afraid of losing Rong Bai’s trail, so he kept guard at the door for the greater part of the day until Rong Bai came out.
This happened several days in a row. Song Ci was helpless.
Tired of standing, he yawned and sat down on the stone seat beside the road as he obediently waited for Rong Bai.
At a window on the third floor, Rong Bai leaned lazily against the window frame. He looked down and saw a man with a hunched neck and an expressionless face.
“Is the one standing below the Great King’s new lover?” There was a man who looked like a fancy peacock sitting beside Rong Bai. Dressed in bright, colorful robes, he leaned lazily against two courtesans and enjoyed their massages with contentment.
Rong Bai tapped a finger on the table and drawled, “He has been following me for several days. He’s unexpectedly patient.”
“Why don’t you call him in?” The peacock said. “I assure you that my girls here will serve him well.”
Rong Bai chuckled and did not answer him. His gaze shifted. Surveying a mountain peak in the distance, he asked. “Is there anyone living on that mountain?”
“There is a cultivation sect called Mo Yao on Yu Shi Peak. Their leaders are all capable, and their skills have been passed down for a hundred years. They are extremely renowned in Dong Wang.” The peacock replied.
Rong Bai squinted his eyes slightly, thinking about something.
The peacock thought about it, then waved his hand. On seeing his gesture, the courtesans beside him silently withdrew from the room and closed the door. He then asked, “Great King, I suppose you are going there to retrieve the Devil Seal?”
Rong Bai looked up slightly when he heard that. He did not answer; he was too lazy to even make an expression.
“The news of Mo Zun’s return has already spread among the Six Realms.1 In those days, he was so formidable that he turned the Six Realms upside down. If it were not for the Devil Seal, no one could have destroyed him. After Mo Zun was annihilated, you split the Devil Seal into four fragments and buried them among the Human Realm. You are not the only one looking for those four pieces of stones now. All the realms from the Divine Realm at the top to the Netherworld at the bottom are hunting for it.”
“Great King, please listen to a piece of advice from this subordinate. The fewer who knows about your trip to Mo Yao to retrieve the stone, the better.” The peacock continued. “Mo Yao is a sect established in the Human Realm by the Immortal Realm. If something were to happen to Mo Yao, the Immortal Realm would create so much of a stink that all the Six Realms will take notice. If that happens, there will certainly be many stumbling blocks appearing on your path. Although these ants are nothing to be afraid about, it’s still really annoying to have too many of them swarming around you.”
He had followed Rong Bai for the longest time and knew best how to persuade this Empress Dowager. If he had not, then Rong Bai would definitely charge on ahead alone to Yu Shi Peak on a killing spree and raze the entire mountain to the ground to retrieve the Devil Seal fragment.
There was no benevolence in Rong Bai’s heart at all; he would not care if the people were innocent or if his action was justified.
Rong Bai’s finger was still tapping slowly on the table. Not knowing if his words had sunk in, the peacock persisted. “A good opportunity has just presented itself. Every twenty years, Mo Yao Sect will hold a meet to recruit disciples. People from all parts of the world, whether rich and poor, noble or humble, can participate. As long as they have good aptitude, they will be accepted into Mo Yao Sect. The probationary period lasts two months.”
He glanced tentatively at Rong Bai. “Great King, you can make use of this opportunity to gain access into Mo Yao Sect.”
This method was the safest if they did not want to alert the enemy. The only thing was that it was somewhat troublesome. And the thing that annoyed this Master Rong the most was troublesome matters. So it was hard to say whether he could convince Rong Bai.
Rong Bai thought for a moment and nodded slightly. “It’s indeed a good opportunity.”
Tears of joy immediately welled up in the peacock’s eyes. He thought, I’ve done another good deed for mankind!
The sun sank behind the mountains in the West, and the day quickly drew to an end.
Song Ci looked at the setting sun in the sky, sighed softly and muttered, “Why isn’t he out yet? He should have been done by now……”
As he was muttering, a stooped old woman came up to him. A drab-colored headscarf was wrapped around her head, revealing a pair of gray eyes. She was carrying a stick stuffed full with skewers of candied hawthorns.2
“This young master, would you like some candied hawthorn?” She interrupted Song Ci’s thoughts. Her voice was rough and hoarse; it was extremely jarring to the ears.
Song Ci cast a glance at the brightly colored candied hawthorn as a sweet smell wafted across his nose. His appetite was suddenly whetted, so he took out a copper coin from his sleeve and said, “Please give me a stick.”
“Oh, oh. Alright.” The old woman responded. But instead of picking up a stick of candied hawthorn, she held out a hand as if to take the copper coin.
When their hands neared each other, the old woman suddenly grabbed Song Ci by the wrist. Song Ci was shocked and subconsciously withdrew his hand. It was then he saw that what had grabbed him was not the hand of an old woman but a big paw full of gray fur!
The old woman threw away the candied hawthorns and ripped off her headscarf. Exposing a mouthful of fangs, she launched herself at Song Ci’s wrist without giving him a chance to speak.
Song Ci reacted swiftly, almost on reflex, and threw a hard slap at the old woman’s face. The force of it instantly hurled the old woman aside, and Song Ci grabbed the chance to retract his hand and jump to the other side.
At this commotion, the passersby around them stopped in their tracks one after another to take a closer look. When they saw a demon with sharp fangs and fierce-looking eyes standing by the roadside, they screamed and went running for cover.
Song Ci clutched his wrist and asked with his heart still pounding. “What’s the matter with you? It’s unreasonable of you to bite people the moment you approach!”
“Blood… blood!” The demon growled in a low voice. It took a deep breath and said, sounding somewhat deranged, “The blood of Tu Shan. I smelled it…”
It turned out that the demon’s target was Song Ci!
Song Ci thought, I’m in trouble now. He did not have that scimitar in his hands now. How could he fight with just his bare hands?
Remembering that Rong Bai was in the building, Song Ci immediately retreated and rushed in, frightening a group of delicate maidens in the process. He yelled as he dashed in, “Run! Run! There’s a demon!”
Song Ci’s intrusion broke the enchanting view inside the brothel. Not only that, a demented demon followed him inside. It smashed the door down and raised its neck to let out a howl, almost scaring the people in the brothel to death.
Where is he?! Song Ci’s eyes swept around his surroundings, but he never found the man he was looking for. He had only paused for a while when a chilly wind brushed against the back of his head. He had no time to think and simply rolled onto the floor. Then he heard a loud explosion.
When Song Ci turned around, he saw that the ground where he had just stood had been smashed into smithereens. The demon that had been pretending to be an old woman had already revealed its true form. Its arms and chest had turned burly, its face was almost overgrown with gray fur and its big fluffy tail wagged.
It was a demon that had yet to cultivate enough to take on a human form.
It drooled as he looked at Song Ci. With outstretched arms, it pounced.
Song Ci hastily dodged it and rolled to the bottom of the stairs. Scrambling up the stairs, he yelled, “Master Rong! Help me!
The demon leaped three feet high into the air and smashed the stairs with just a casual brandish of its hand. It jumped up again at lightning speed and stayed close behind Song Ci as it grabbed his ankle.
Song Ci cried out in horror and tried to shake his foot off. He had to throw off his shoe and sock before he could get away. With one foot bare, he continued to sprint up the stairs.
The demon clenched its hand, and the boot in its hand was torn to shreds. It bellowed as if enraged and sped up the stairs. It was even faster than before, even looking as if it would overtake Song Ci.
“Oh heavens!” Song Ci was scrambling on all fours. His posture was not that different from the demon’s. He quickly scurried to the top of the third floor, hitting the last step of the stairs at almost at the same time as that gray paw did.
“Arowooooo!” The gray-fur demon howled as if it was rejoicing. But before it could finish howling, a black brocade boot stepped on the back of its paw, changing its howl into a shriek.
Song Ci looked up. His eyes immediately filled with tears on seeing Master Rong, the man he had been thinking of. He wailed as he threw himself at Rong Bai intending to hug his leg. “Immortal, save me!”
Rong Bai turned aside, causing Song Ci to pounce on empty air and fell flat onto the ground. He squinted and smiled at Song Ci. “I remember you’re a demon too.”
Song Ci hurriedly got up from the ground and grinned as he moved behind Rong Bai. “We are not the same. This demon eats humans. I don’t.”
Rong Bai looked down at the wolf demon he had trodden under his feet. Under the inhibition of Rong Bai’s demonic energy, it had slowly turned into a gray wolf pup. It was trying its best to pull out its paw as it whined pitifully.
When Song Ci saw that the burly, ferocious demon earlier had turned into this small pup, he was filled with anger. “You still want to eat me like that? Can you even bite?!”
The wolf pup whined twice.
Rong Bai released his foot, and the wolf pup immediately tried to escape, but Song Ci lifted it up by the back of its neck and said, “Where are you running to? I will roast and eat you today.”
The wolf pup flailed its limbs about, its black eyes were misty as if it was about to cry. Song Ci did not relent and coldly snorted as he pulled out a red rope and tied it around the pup’s neck like a dog’s leash. He said, “Behave yourself!”
It pawed at the red rope, wanting to howl to express its dissatisfaction. But when it stole a glance at Rong Bai’s back, it fought back its impulse.
Song Ci realized that Rong Bai had already stepped out of the brothel when he was done. He hastily followed after Rong Bai while dragging the wolf pup along. “Master Rong, wait for me!”
“Hey, young master, please don’t go yet.” The procuress stopped Song Ci when he reached the entrance. She looked pissed as she said, “You smashed everything you could smash, and now you want to just walk away?”
“I wasn’t the one who smashed them! Don’t block my way!” Song Ci wanted to reach out a hand and brush the procuress away. But she was so scantily dressed there was nowhere he could touch.
Rong Bai did not wait for him as he left the brothel and disappeared around a corner.
The procuress refused to budge and argued back, “You were clearly the one who brought that demon in. Whether or not you smashed the stuff, you still have to pay for it!”
Song Ci dug into his sleeve. All he got were a few pieces of silver and copper coins. He stuffed them all to the procuress. “That’s all I have.”
“Then you can’t leave.” The procuress grabbed him and said, “If you leave, I’ll report you to the authorities!”
Song Ci was anxious and scratched his cheeks. Just when he was at a loss, a man suddenly stood out on the upper floor and said, “Let him go.”
As soon as the voice rang out, the procuress released him and retreated to one side.
Song Ci turned his head and saw a man dressed in bright colors standing atop the broken stairs on the second floor. He did not see his face clearly and simply thanked him in a hurry before he rushed out of the building to chase after Rong Bai.
After looking around, he saw Rong Bai’s back. He hastily dragged the wolf pup along as he raced up to Rong Bai, calling out after him. “Master Rong! Master Rong!”
- 六界 Six realms. There are six realms in Fox Demon Cultivation Manual: Divine (God), Immortal, Human, Demon, Devil and the Netherworld (Ghost). You can read more about them in the Realms Glossary.
糖葫芦 Tanghulu, aka. candied hawthorn that comes on a stick. It is a traditional Chinese snack.