Chapter 68 – Ink Brush of Virtue (23)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
“Initially, he was pointed on to this path by a sage. You could call it fate, or fortune. But he did not become one of his disciples… and this is not peculiar either; the undead are mostly eccentric and deviant. Chu is a good apple in the bunch; their kind usually struggle to communicate with anyone, which is why most think they are devilish and foul creatures. All those years ago, Chu somehow stumbled into their kind, and he was not aware of a lot of rules and taboos.”
“Professor Shen is a crouching savant, so you must be aware that the foundation of the undead’s cultivation is their tombs. If they have yet to reach a certain level of competence, and their tombs are destroyed, then so would their spiritual essence be damaged. All life is judged by karma. Sabotaging another’s cultivation with no good reason will be met with rightful vengeance, and that aligns with the conscience of the Heavens and no-one can intervene.” Da Qing embraces its precious little dried fish snacks, and says stately with a wiggling tail, “Once, someone was chasing after a cricket into a mass grave, and dug up Chu’s tomb looking for it. In rage of not finding it, they then burned down Chu’s grave. Fortunately, Chu had already passed the Gates of Hell and was on his way to the Doorway to Heaven. He was no longer afraid of the sun and could walk freely out of his grave. So although his grave was demolished, his body was not harmed.”
“No wonder Chu is always so on edge, he is even worse than me,” this seems to be the first time Zhao has heard of this, “I thought it was just because he is an undead. He deals with the dead every day; he is alright though when nothing gets in his way, but if he is mad he will bite anyone’s head off… so what did he do to that person? Cut up the stomach and ate all the insides? Swallowed in whole?”
“Hung up to dry, then gobbled down like bacon.” Da Qing says, “Normally, it would be considered that person’s own fault, and no-one would intervene. But the problem was that the tomb vandal was merely a kid. He was a spoilt one from a wealthy family, and when he did that, he was one day and a half from being seven.”
Zhao doesn’t quite understand here, “Eh, why does it matter that he was not yet seven?”
Shen explains softly, “Small fairies that have yet to complete their cultivation fear young children below the age of seven the most. If they’re hurt by adults they can seek revenge, but kids are innocent, and the saying goes that ‘Heaven chastises not the juvenile, but only accredits rectitude’. So if they are killed by impish kids, they can only succumb to their fate. And if any dares to hurt them, it would be a serious sin. His case had been decided three hundred years ago, and closed cases cannot be re-opened, otherwise I…”
Otherwise, the Ghost Slayer has the power to negotiate his release, perhaps.
“What can I say, Old Chu is really…” Zhao doesn’t really know what to say.
When it comes to cultivation, it is inherently against the Heavens. Only one in a million would ever succeed. There is want of talent, diligence and luck; especially luck.
If it were Zhao, though he must have thought that the kid was a brat, all he would have done was maybe cast a nightmare to scare him a little. After all, no injury or death was caused, he would not have held a grudge against a six-year-old… “Heaven chastises not the juvenile” is a rule with good reason. Does a young infant understand right from wrong? Cultivating fairies can avoid them; play dead, or camouflage. It’s not difficult to hide from kids. As for the ones that really cannot be avoided, perhaps it is karma, perhaps it is a set-up, or perhaps, as the old saying goes, “the Heavens determine all”.
Unfortunately, Chu is as narrow-minded as can be, and when he is out for revenge, he will not let the Heavens stop him.
Indeed, fate is inexorable as it is insidious.
Zhao’s gaze freezes… certainly fate in the Heavens is inescapable, but since when did orders from Hell become the same?
He takes out his phone and hurls it on to the back seat; he says to Da Qing, “Call Chu.”
First attempt, Chu hangs up.
Zhao says blandly, “Try again.”
By the third call, Chu turns off his phone.
Zhao hits the brakes on the side of the road. He takes out a Guardian Order from his wallet, and rapidly scribbles a few words on to the talisman… “Meet me at No. 4 Bright Avenue before midnight”. Then, he folds it into a paper crane.
Before he can send it out, a traffic officer knocks on the window, “Hey, what’s going on, why is your car parked here?”
Zhao bends down and puts on an agonised pretence, “Sorry, I have a cramp in my legs. I need a minute, just one minute.”
He stealthily wipes his palm on the car door, and the paper crane in his hand sublimates into a swirl of smoke, vanishing in the air.
Afterwards, Zhao does not head back to his place. While the sky is not too dark, he drives to their new place near Dragon City University.
The place is only one street away from the backyard of the university. It’s a garden villa with a unique architectural style. Zhao takes out a bunch of keys from a small storage compartment in the car, carefully takes off one set, and hands it to Shen, “I know you don’t need keys to get inside, but let this be a formality.”
Shen is stunned. His hand inadvertently tightens, grasping the keys.
Zhao grabs his hand and pulls him forward, “The walls and ceiling works of our place are basically done. They started work on the floors before the New Year, so it must be quite messy now, but give it one more week and it’ll probably be finished. You can then move your stuff here, put what you use often at my place; then after January, we’ll move in together… come on, the lift is this way.”
His palm is warm and dry. Shen feels as though his heart is dipped in water; aching, softening and swelling.
There are only four floors: one flat per floor. The car park is in the basement, with elevator access; there are still some renovation debris in the elevator.
But inside the apartment, natural lighting is ample. Even at sunset, the afterglow shines through and delineates grubby sundries on the floor with golden contours. From the window, one side is the lush view of Dragon City University, and the other side is an artificial creek. Though the water is sucked away in winter, stains left by the running river is still visible on the river-side stone statues.
Zhao says, “As the saying goes, a wife deserves a golden house. But I don’t have that much money, if I build a house out of gold I’ll probably be investigated for corruption. You will have to settle for this first, when I earn more money we will build a better one.”
Then, he turns around, all smiles, “The master bedroom is in the south, it has a balcony; you can pick one from the other rooms to be your working room.”
Shen’s gaze sinks deep with a few millennia of repressed longing and affection, so effortlessly ignited by his words. Fervour intensifies to the extreme, and awakens inexplicably sadistic desires within Shen; he wants to lock him in an embrace and crush his flesh and bones into dust in his palm.
But Shen knows that he is reluctant to even touch a strand of hair.
Of course, there is always a third wheel, there is always some insolent cat who likes to exert its sense of presence. It is a feline victory that the two lovebirds have been prevented from getting too cosy on the messy floor.
Before Shen can say anything, Da Qing bounces on to the window sill and announces at the top of its voice, “I want a guest bedroom! I want a suspended cat bed! Swing style!”
“Fuck off,” Zhao says with no regard, “suspended your fat ass, can you manage to jump up with all that weight? Let the people downstairs have their peace… besides, I didn’t ask you, don’t you see I want some alone time here, keep your dog nose out of my business, remember that you’re a cat!”
“My jumping power is just fine, and I’m much faster than you. You’re the stupid dog, you blind guy!”
Zhao doesn’t bat an eye, “Fat fuq.”
All this talk of weight problems have gotten Da Qing quite mad, it pounces on to Zhao’s shoulder and runs its claws through his hair.
“I will let you know what a fat guy can do!”
“Fuck, you messed up my hairstyle, you’re a dead fat fuq!”
Man and cat rapidly get into a chaotic row.
Shen slowly sighs, and leans against the window. Afterglow warms his body, and even his forever-pale face is begining to warm up. He quietly watches the bustling living room, and inadvertently smiles.
At this moment, a black shadow emerges in his sleeve. Shen’s smile wears away; frowning, he flickers his fingers and the black smoke turns into a letter. Shen opens the letter, and it reads, “Black clouds have emerged in the northwest of the Thirty Three Skies. It’s an evil omen. Requesting Your Honour’s prompt return.”
Shen crushes the letter into a ball and seizes it in his palm.
“Yunlan,” he suddenly says, which catches Zhao and Da Qing’s attention, “I have some urgent matter, I need to go. If you’re free during holiday go home to spend time with your parents. Have them take care of you so that I don’t have to worry.”
Zhao frowns, “What is it?”
“I don’t know yet. My puppet delivered a letter from Hell, black clouds in the Thirty Three Skies; a big storm is coming. No matter what it is I must go.” Shen gently pinches his frowning brows.
“Black clouds?” Zhao is stunned.
Shen mistakenly thinks that Zhao doesn’t understand, and explains, “Normal clouds never reach the Thirty Three Skies. There are only two types of clouds up there: auspicious ones glowing with a purple aura, or ominous ones in sheer darkness.”
Da Qing licks its paws, “It’s been a long time since black clouds last appeared. From what I know, it was eight hundred years ago when black clouds were last seen up in the Thirty Three Skies.”
Zhao asks sensitively, “What was the cause that time?”
Da Qing is puzzled, “How would I know?”
Shen is speechless. He inadvertently avoids eye contact.
Zhao is almost becoming the god of reading people… especially someone who is bad at hiding their feelings, like Shen. He can’t help but ask, “Is it related to ghost face? Was it him as well last time? Who is he really, why is he so powerful?”
Da Qing is even more puzzled, “Ghost face? Who the hell is this ghost face?”
The slightest tinge of redness from the sunset vanishes from Shen’s face.
Zhao can’t bear seeing him like this; he glares at Da Qing with warning. Then he gives up questioning, “Then go, be careful. I will wait for you at home, come back soon.”
Shen can’t say much since Da Qing is here. He gazes at Zhao longingly; then within three steps, he vanishes into a cloud of black smoke.
Zhao walks on to the balcony, and looks up into the sky; the afterglow is greying out. He lights a cigarette.
Da Qing jumps on to the fence, and asks, “Do you really know Professor Shen’s background?”
Zhao silently nods.
Da Qing’s head tilts to one side, “What are you worried about?”
“A lot.” Zhao lets out a ring of smoke, and squints his eyes in the mist, “Hey, Da Qing, let me ask you something. How come there is this one person I just can’t find anything about no matter how many classics I go through?”
Zhao hesitates, then says, “Lord Kunlun.”
Da Qing opens its mouth, then after while, it closes it. Then it sighs and walks towards Zhao on the fence, “Plants and animals are not like humans, we are not born with intelligence. We need to be immensely fortunate to even have the chance to set foot on the path of cultivation, and only with much experience do we begin to understand humans. Lord Kunlun was around in the times of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. When Mount Buzhou collapsed he was already accorded as a deity. Then afterwards he disappeared, and till now it has been at least five thousand years. Yes, I was there too, but I was like an ignorant infant. Do you remember things that happened when you were a baby? To tell the truth, until you left me, I was only a lazy little cat. You overestimate my cultivation.”
Zhao lights a cigarette impatiently.
Da Qing lowers its head, and whispers, “If I know, I won’t lie to you. We’re different from humans, we’re stupid, we’re naive even after centuries. I only have one owner, and I only need you.”
Zhao flickers some ashes, and suddeny says, “Actually, I saw a portrait of Lord Kunlun somewhere.”
Da Qing looks up.
Zhao doesn’t continue, but Da Qing understands from his expression.
“Little cat,” Zhao is silent for a while, then he blows out smoke, “for how long did you remain a litte cat… what place on earth can impede the growth of a cat?”
Mount Kunlun was the origin of all the deities, as well as the resting place of many gods and devils. Forever shrouded in white snow, on the mountain sprouts a flower that blossoms every millennium. From the dawn of time till now, it is still just a thick branch, but every growth ring marks an era of countless tales.
In that instant, Da Qing grows more and more uneasy… ever since Zhao said “Lord Kunlun”. It can’t help but feel like an invisible hand is pushing everyone towards a destined direction.
Just like all those years ago when Pangu ended Chaos, when Gonggong demolished Buzhou, when the man from Qi Guo apprehended the sky collapsing, when Kuafu halted at Yuan Yu, when Houtu dissipated in the depths of Hell…
Da Qing has goosebumps all over, and its fur stands right up.
All things wax and wane. In the past and at present, in only five thousand years, countless deities have risen and fallen like ants; no different from humans. Nothing can always remain on top in this world.
Did Pangu really put an end to Chaos? Or did it merely assume another form?
Da Qings’s emerald eyes exude unspeakable terror. Most memories from its kitten days are gone, and yet, some memories have found their way deep into its flesh and bones.
Lord Kunlun, the Primordial God of the Mountains, not less divine than the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors; why did he vanish and never came back for some thousands of years?
Da Qing vaguely remembers the green gown, of the colour of mountains in a distance, exuding the aroma of new snow and bamboos between the sleeves. Bellowing laughter marked with rowdiness, warm hands tenderly lifitng its body up… could he really be…
At this moment, a shrieking screech of a bird pierces from not far away. Da Qing and Zhao look towards the same direction. Even in winter, the area near the university is the most replete with vegetation, and many birds reside here. Countless crows soar into the sky after that shriek; all the crows in the city flap their wings and almost cover the entire sky.
Crows foretell calamities.
Zhao asks a serious question amidst the crying crows and howling wind, “I want to tell you something, can you keep a secret?”
Da Qing turns around cautiously, and looks at him, “Nothing comes out of this mouth, tell me.”
Zhao says carelessly, “Shen Wei is the Ghost Slayer. I’m worried about him.”
Da Qing stumbles as if having a stroke and falls straight from the window sill.