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Cang Ji heard Caoyu’s cries receded into the distance. His body felt as if it had plunged into the water. The surrounding scene shattered into fragments of light. It was as if he had just woken from a dream. There was a sudden burst of coughing beside him and a heaviness in his arms. He saw Jing Lin curling up in pain.
“What’s happened?” Cang Ji scooped him up. Jing Lin was icy to the touch.
“Just a relapse of an old ailment.” Jing Lin covered his mouth. “The hour is approaching. Dong Lin’s end is near.”
“He is bent on dying. Even if we save his life, we can’t restore his will to live.” Cang Ji pried open Jing Lin’s clenched fists. He frowned upon seeing the residual smudge of red on Jing Lin’s lips. “It’s just a walk in an illusionary scene. Why are you so weak?”
A fatigued Jing Lin said, “… This isn’t right. Even if Qian Weis.h.i.+’s hatred was enough to sp.a.w.n the Luocha bird, it was not enough for it to rush all the way here.” He gradually closed his eyes. After a while, he continued. “Dong Lin must have done something. I want to see him before his head rolls. “
Dong Lin sprawled over the ground and listened to the din below the platform. The sun was too glaring. His nape came into contact with the crude board.1 The executioner stepped on his back. Dong Lin gasped for breath. His forehead was soaked with sweat.
The ground of the market was filthy with discarded chicken heads, dog blood, rotten vegetables and fruits covered by the snow. Now, the stench was overwhelming Dong Lin’s senses. It would not be long before he would be a part of them—a mess of rotten meat and a pool of dirty blood.
“Dong Lin!” A cry rang out from among the mob of people. There was the sound of a woman’s unreasonable swearing as she pushed her way through the crowd. Standing on tiptoes, Huadi saw Dong Lin’s face through the myriad of humans’ heads. She was beside herself as she looked at Dong Lin and began to shove the others with even more force. “Make way… make way! All of you, make way for me!”
“What are you jostling for?!” A man in the crowd pushed her back and rebuked her, “I was wondering which woman is so shameless to squeeze in among the men! So it’s the wh.o.r.e from the alley!”
“Bah!” Huadi spat at him, pulled her clothes back, threw out her chest and said with her head high, “So what if I’m a wh.o.r.e? Did a wh.o.r.e dirty your bed? Look at those s.h.i.+fty eyes of yours wandering over my body. You are even more low-down than a wh.o.r.e! Get out of the way! Otherwise, I’ll slap you until you can’t tell the directions!”
“Hear, hear!” The man pulled Huadi’s hand towards his own face to give his cheek a gentle pat. He said with a glib tongue. “I’ve let you slap me for free, then are you also going to let me…”
He had yet to finish talking when he let out a wail. Huadi kicked him and slapped him right in the face with her palm. It threw the crowd into disorder. No one could hold Huadi back as she gave the man several hard slaps. She adjusted her lapels, then pointed at the crowd with the other hand on her waist.
“Get out of my way! Look at you all getting in the action and creating a disturbance! Bah! All of you are in such a rush to watch the beheading. What’s the rush? Who knows whose head the blade will fall next? You said I’m low down, but all of you are even more despicable than me! It pleases you to see someone in distress. You can’t wait to see everyone in this world to live just like me! Wastrel! Pervert! The mud on the sole of a wh.o.r.e is even cleaner than all of you!”
Huadi could scarcely catch her breath as she swore at them. She rubbed her face and wiped her tears, then said unreservedly. “I’m not a wh.o.r.e today. I’m not here to be part of the spectacle.”
She exchanged looks with Dong Lin. Dong Lin heard her say.
“I’m here to send off my husband.”
The man burst out cussing, “Do you know who that is? He’s the evil man who killed the Chens! Oh well, only such a savage can put up with you! You still dare to hit people? Your lover deserves to die for ma.s.sacring an entire family!”
“The fart you know!” Huadi shrieked, “What nonsense!”
“The prefectural yamen’s notice had it down in black and white! Are you going to deny it?” The man incited both sides of the crowd. “How good would the woman of an evil man be? No doubt she’s malicious too! For all we know, she has something to do with this case too! Beat her up! Four of the Chens are dead. Why should the murderer pay with only his life? Beat her to death! A life for a life!”
“Beat her to death!” Some of them shouted in excitement, “Avenge the Chens!”2
Huadi could not dodge in time and was struck by the miscellaneous items flung at her. Countless faces flashed before her as the mob dragged her into the crowd and pushed her down so hard her bones hurt. They pulled at her hair. She could barely suppress her cries as she crawled towards Dong Lin even as she kicked and bit them back.
Dong Lin’s hands were bound behind his back. The executioner was afraid that he would escape and stepped on him even harder. Dong Lin pushed against the wood. His eyes were bloodshot.
“Stop it!” Dong Lin roared. “f.u.c.king stop it! A life for a life. Cast your blades at me! I’m the one who killed and dismembered them. What does it have to do with her?!”
He straightened his neck and gasped for breath, gritting his teeth so hard they made a sound.
“Come on. Come after me! Not only did I kill the Chens, but I also cut them opened one at a time and trampled over them.” Smiling intermittently, he struggled against the restraints until his neck reddened. His insane appearance conformed to everyone’s idea of what an outlaw was like. “I killed one! Then another! Chen Ren’s legs were broken first. I was the one who crushed them. I didn’t kill him with a blade. I used a wooden staff3 to smash that beast’s face into a pulp. Why did I dismember them? Because I don’t want them to make their way to the Underworld! What Path of the Beasts?4 I want them to be wandering ghosts with no chance at reincarnation!”
Dong Lin burst into laughter as his tears trickled down. He said, “How refres.h.i.+ng. This has to be the most delightful action I’ve ever done in my life! What can you do to me? Kill me, kill me!”
The whole audience was horrified, even those who had been braying for justice had all been scared into silence. Like frightened quails, they retreated in a panic. Huadi stumbled to her feet and staggered her way to the front of the platform.
“I’ve asked you so many times, but you never take me away.” Huadi spat and slapped Dong Lin. She choked on her sobs and shed silent tears as she scolded him. “Look at what happened now?! You are going to become a real ghost! What am I to do with you gone? What about Nan-nan?”5
“There is a bag of gold hidden under your chest.” Dong Lin bit on her sleeve and finally lowered his head to kiss Huadi’s palm. He whispered, “I know you are too much of a spendthrift to save money, so I hid it under the chest. Go back and take it to the procuress to redeem yourself. There should be some balance. Take it with you. It doesn’t matter where you go, you…”
Huadi threw him a hard slap.
Dong Lin’s head tilted to the side, but it only made him more gentle.
“I’ve let you down.” He turned his eyes. “I dragged it on for too long, and make you wait for me year after year. Silly woman, don’t be so harsh with your words when you marry someone else.” He gave a hasty smile and continued. “Forget it. Don’t change yourself. Let that man put up with it. After receiving all my good fortune, he deserves to be scolded by you for the rest of your lives.”
Huadi turned Dong Lin’s head back to her and clung on to him without a care. She said bitterly, “I won’t be stupid this time around! You want to abandon me and leave so you can live freely with that dead woman of yours? Well, I never! I insist on following you! They behead you here; I’ll bang my head and die here. I want to go with you. I want to go with you!”
“I’m not taking anyone along.” Dong Lin turned and propped his forehead against Huadi’s. He let out a sudden burst of laughter. “Nan-nan is just before me. This feels so good. I’ve searched all over Zhongdu, and I thought I would never meet her again in my life. The funny thing is, I forgot that I can see her when I die.”
“I forbid it!” Huadi hugged him. “You forgot about me again. You always forget me! You heartless man. You want to forsake me to live happily with your family?!”
Dong Lin said, “There are many men with two legs in this world. Each one of them is better than me.”
“That’s right, everyone is better than you.” Huadi said, “But who asked me to meet you and not anyone else? Your creditor is your lover. You owed me this half of your life, anyway. Now you have repaid me, you’d have also freed me from my concern.”
“That won’t do.” Dong Lin said, “We’ll talk about it next life. You have to tide over this life. Meeting me has delayed you. It’ll be easier for you without me in the future. You should live a carefree life. Go. Go home. Take that gold and redeem yourself. I’ll wait for you.”
The hour had come. The attendant on duty from the prefectural yamen came forth to haul him up. Huadi held on to him and refused to let go. The attendant was put on the spot and could only get a few people to haul Huadi back. Huadi choked on her sobs and cursed, but she could not stop herself from being hoisted away. Her feet dragged on the ground as she moved farther and farther away from the platform.
There was a heaviness on Dong Lin’s back. He saw his name plate6 fall to the ground. Behind him, the executioner raised his blade and the wind swooshed as he brought it up. The burning pain on his forehead made him grind his teeth and shout out loud. There was a “crack” from the blade, and the head tumbled to the ground. Huadi let out a shrill scream and collapsed to the floor in a faint.
The Ghost Guards who had been waiting for a long time on both sides shook their chains together. After securing Dong Lin’s soul, they prepared to leave.
“This is bad.” Jing Lin appeared in mid-air, whirled around and threw out a folding fan. “Leave his soul behind!”
The wind shot forward together with the fan. The iron chains of the Ghost Guards were pressed down and held in place by Jing Lin from a distance away. He looked up and saw Jing Lin’s beautiful peach blossom eyes. He had never seen them before and knew that Jing Lin must have used some kind of camouflage to hide his appearance. A Ghost Guard sank to his feet and bellowed, “Who dares to stir up trouble when the Underworld is executing its duties? Thieves like you must have been waiting for a long time!”
As soon as he said that, he saw countless sc.r.a.pes of shadows on the ground. The pack of Ghost Guards shook their chains together and stood ready in formation. Xiang Mo Staff hurtled towards at the heart of the town where Zui Shan Seng stood on one foot with both palms together. With a hard push, golden light instantly filled the sky.
“You’ve sure kept me busy looking for you!” Zui Shan Seng removed his bamboo hat, revealing his green tangerine peel head.7 He gave a cold smile. “Let’s see where you can run to this time.”
The golden light surged like a ma.s.sive wave, and Jing Lin took a step back and pulled out Cang Ji with one hand. Cang Ji soared into the air and plunged into the mouth of the wave. Like kicking a ball, he kicked the golden wave back in a counter-attack.
“It has been a while since we last met.” Cang Ji’s evil aura was imposing. “Old man, teach me a few more moves.”8
Zui Shan Seng turned the raging waves into clouds of smoke and said, “As expected, you are not an ordinary demon.”
“That’s natural.” Cang Ji shrugged it off. “There’s only one of me in heaven and earth. I’m very precious. You are just in time. I’m hungry today. Why don’t you give me your remaining spiritual energy? You’ll be considered half of my s.h.i.+fu.”
“A teacher for a day, a father for a lifetime.”9 Jing Lin whispered behind him, “Do you want to call him father? He is not as old as I am.”
“If you want to be my father,” Cang Ji gripped Jing Lin’s shoulder and leaned on him as he enunciated, “You’ll need to have a certain charm. Why? You want to try since he can’t make it?”
“It’s my first time being a father.” Jing Lin said, “Call me once. We’ll see if it sounds right.”
“If it sounds nice,“ Cang Ji leaned over and spoke into Jing Lin’s ears. “Will you let me eat?”
Jing Lin’s eyes followed Cang Ji’s gaze and dropped to his own half-opened collar, where his collarbone could be vaguely seen. He raised his eyebrows and said in a light tone. “Brittle bones are easy to chew. You can try.”
He had only just said that when the wind howled behind Cang Ji. Cang Ji smiled at Jing Lin and bent over abruptly. Xiang Mo staff swept across over him. Jing Lin raised his arm to open the fan in his grip and took several steps back.
“I’m frail and weak.” He raised his slightly exposed chin from under the fan. “I’m counting on you, my good son.”
“You have to pay me back double for taking advantage of me.” Cang Ji stopped Xiang Mo staff with an arm, steadied himself and lifted it.
Zui Shan Seng felt as if golden staff in his palm was wedged in a ma.s.sive wall, and yet Cang Ji managed to move it. Although he did not show it on his face, he was internally alarmed.
This brocade carp was truly remarkable. Not only did he devour his spiritual energy, he even merged it into him. In just a few short days, even Xiang Mo staff could not tell from his aura whether he was foe or friend!
“Hui-an!” Zui Shan Seng shouted. “What are you waiting for?! Come quick. Join forces with me to take them down!”
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Some Rights ReservedFootnotes
Prisoners slated for execution by decapitation would be restrained by either rope or a wooden board around their neck with a wooden plaque with their name placed on their back or behind their neck to indicate that they were due for beheading at a specific time (usually high noon).They remind me of this meme lmao
To recap, the wooden staff here is a bolt in the shape of a horizontal bar, or rod, that’s used to hold a door closed in ancient days. Could be long or short. Something like the above. 畜生道 Path of the Beasts. The Six Paths or Realms of Reincarnation is a cycle of death and rebirth in Buddhism, where a person is reincarnated into one of the six paths or realms depending on their acc.u.mulated karma from their past life. They are the Paths or Realms of h.e.l.l (Underworld), Hungry Ghosts, Beasts, Asura, Humans, Heaven. Dong Lin wanted them to suffer for eternity, with no chance for redemption and reincarnation. 囡囡 Nan-nan. The words itself actually meant “little darling” or “baby” although Dong Lin apparently used it for his daughter’s name.
It’s that wooden plaque behind their neck or back, as mentioned earlier. The executioner would remove it and cast it to the ground right before he does the beheading.
青皮 Qing Pi or green tangerine peel. Basically saying the top of his head looks like the picture on the right. He’s referring to martial arts strokes or moves. 日为师终生为父; he who teaches me for one day is my father for life. Basically saying a teacher, no matter how long he teaches a person, is like a father for life.