Chapter 72 – Ink Brush of Virtue (27)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
The Ghost Slayer – Shen Wei is at the end of his tether; his hand begins trembling inadvertently.
Zhao doesn’t seem to realise that he is making the other’s blood boil… or perhaps he is pretending. He sits on a rock with less snow, finishes his cup of coffee, and nabs out the piece of cheese in the burger and hurls it away.
Shen silently waits for him to finish his breakfast, and asks with a restraint, almost inaudible voice, “What did I tell you?”
“No matter what Hell asks for, don’t agree to it, and wait for you to come back.” Zhao wipes his mouth.
Shen’s voice gets deeper and deeper, spouting one word after another, “Then what are you doing here?”
Zhao looks around, making sure that there is no-one else besides the black cat. He walks forward, and wraps his arms around the ice sculpture that is the Ghost Slayer. On his toes, he gives the head behind the large hood a light kiss, “Are you mad?”
Da Qing looks away, not wanting to watch this disaster.
Shen doesn’t move, but remains still as a rock, “Do you really like getting on my nerves? I… I really wish…”
Zhao lets go of him, and looks at his shrouded face. For a moment, he can find where his eyes are beneath the black mist, and he can even feel the glare. Zhao sighs, grabs Shen’s hand, but then lets go, and whispers, “You can punish me however you want, alright? There won’t be a next time, I promise… Besides, this is not entirely my fault, you can ask Da Qing, it’s all because of Chu Shuzhi; that brat, otherwise Hell wouldn’t have the goods on me…”
When in fact it’s Zhao who has the goods on Hell, and even managed to bargain for Chu’s release… the black cat ignores him, and begins cleaning its face with its paws… if this deceitful man can be trusted, pigs can fly.
“And there’s no going back at this point.” Zhao puts his palms out in helplessness, “Hey… don’t be mad, I can’t bear seeing you mad… Shen Wei? Ah Wei, Little Wei, baby…. don’t ignore me, say something.”
Shen makes no sound, his fists clenched with pain underneath the sleeves.
This “baby” thing got Da Qing shuddering and its head bumping on to its tail. It silently walks away, not wanting to hear anything else.
Zhao is about to lean forward, but the next moment, he rapidly returns to normal, and steps back a few… not long, a crowd following the judge approaches, with ox-head, horse-face, black ghost, white ghost, and numerous others, including the fairy tribes, and perhaps a few saints. Zhao takes a glance… none of these people are of the ordinary.
The Ghost Slayer remains his enigmatic mien, while Zhao stands on the other side emotionless, perhaps due to the cold, or lack of oxygen; his face is pale and his lips with no colour. He turns around, with a slight frown, and nods politely, “Morning.”
The judge can’t tell for how long has Zhao been here, or what is going on between the two.
Yet, for Zhao and the Ghost Slayer to meet first was their plan after all… the Ghost Slayer wouldn’t let Zhao go back on his own, so he has no choice but to bring him along. With his sweetheart here, even if he has second thoughts, he wouldn’t do anything.
But with such a plan, Hell is blatantly prodding the Ghost Slayer’s reverse scale…. they have utterly infuriated him.
The judge tries to work out the Ghost Slayer’s enshrouded figure; his heart pounding with fear.
Despite his title, the judge is under the Ten Kings of Hell, and has no real power. At times he feels like his job is nothing but running tiresome errands and being the scapegoat… now that the ones in power are the younger generation, they know little to nothing about the ancestors. The judge thinks that those ten are simply idiots who think they have great power.
Zhao is better, but someone like the Ghost Slayer… forget cosying-up and flattery, they are deliberately locking horns with him; haven’t they heard of “dogs that bite don’t bark”? If the Ghost Slayer gets seriously mad, not only Hell, but even the Thirty Three Skies might not survive his blade.
The judge laughs dryly, his heart almost jumping out of his mouth, muttering, “The Guardian arrived quite early.”
Then he turns towards the Ghost Slayer, bows almost to the ground, and says most reverently, “Your Hon…”
Before he can finish, the Ghost Slayer heads up the mountain without a word… he is throwing his manners out the window; he really is enraged.
The judge makes haste to bring the crowd forward; he knows that the Ghost Slayer is only constraining his anger because Zhao is present.
The sky grows darker and darker. Violent gales rush through the thundering Nine Heavens; looking up, there seems to be a black dragon swiveling and dancing behind the clouds.
Perpetually snowbound, endlessly lofty, magnificently jagged and steep, Mount Kunlun pierces through the clouds. Countless hills see not a bird fly by, numerous paths bear not a footprint in sight.
As they enter the mountain ranges, Da Qing suddenly moves around restlessly on Zhao’s shoulder; it seems to have recognised something.
All his suspicions and speculation are resolved as soon as Zhao sees Mount Kunlun.
He has never seen Kunlun before. Not in a million years would he ever think that a gigantic snowy mountain could have any connection with him. And yet, as he enters the Kunlun range in his sleep-deprived state, he instantly feels the inborn blood-bond.
It’s a mystical feeling, like a data line deep in his soul suddenly connecting with the entire mountain range as one elaborate network.
For one moment, Zhao forgets about all the complications, all the strange creatures behind him, and doesn’t even look at the infuriated Shen anymore.
He walks forward, guided by instinct; the Guardian Order burning with increasing heat against his chest.
Zhao is startled, and breaks out from his trance. He turns around towards the judge, eyes widened with perplexity.
Without him realising, the group has reached a plain covered in untrodden snow. On the side are giant boulders, each taller than an average person, arranged in the 64 hexagrams formation. Tiny cyclones occasionally rush through; tranquil to the point of solemnity.
The judge continues cautiously, “Beyond this is the entrance to Mount Kunlun, would the Guardian please lead the way.”
Though Zhao can’t see Shen’s face, he feels his gaze. But when he tries to find it, Shen turns around as though he doesn’t care.
Zhao smiles miserably, and gives Da Qing a pat on the butt; it jumps off his shoulder. He takes out the Guardian Order, and walks into the huge rock formation.
With every step he treads, the crowd holds their breaths, and the wind stops blowing as he reaches the centre of the boulders. A long trail of footsteps are left behind Zhao, marking a track of solitude and serenity.
He shuts his eyes, wearing a face as calm as a rippleless gulf; echoes throughout the boundless ranges reach his ears and resonate.
North of the Scarlet River, pillar of Heaven and Earth; great hill of immensity, the birthplace of deities.
Upon the colossal peak, vista of the vast plains within the seas and beyond; the root of all mountains and rivers, the fabric of the world and all things in it.
Thus named Kunlun.
No-one is telling him what to do, nor has he asked anyone – and yet Zhao simply knows, as if a voice in his heart is guiding his every move. He opens his eyes, and glances through the giant boulders, which revolve around him along with his mind and soul; capricious like the galaxy, flashing before his eyes.
Finally, some people begin chattering, wondering who is inside the formation; Shen ignores all, and only looks at one person.
Though he is wearing an unfashionable jacket and hiking shoes, his short hair blown into an unpleasant bird nest, but in Shen’s eyes, this figure miraculously fuses with that in the long blue gown from years and years ago.
He begins to lose control; dark mist oozes from his sleeves, engulfing Zhao and blocking out everyone else, as if they are the only two left in the world.
Momentarily, Shen laughs mirthlessly at himself. A few thousand years ago, all he wanted was for the other person to look at him; he would have died for him, and yet he feared that he was unworthy and too filthy. Now his greed overflows, wanting to have him all for himself, not wanting others to even lay an eye on him.
Without him noticing, from centuries ago, a seed had been sown, sprouted and spread throughout him into an unbreakable obsession.
Perhaps it’s his nature, perhaps it’s instinct, but Shen has been fighting against them since he was born, and yet, one fateful encounter has had him spiraling down ceaselessly.
The earth trembles, a thundering echo comes from far away up in Mount Kunlun. Lightning strikes through thick clouds, reaching the earth in a threat of destruction. Upon the barely visible peak, an eerie mask flashes and flickers; it seems to be ghost face, standing up above coldly glaring downwards.
With a tremendous rumble, the palace of giant boulders sink into the earth, and in an instant, the group is brought to the peak of Mount Kunlun.
Most have yet to keep their balance, and the black cat in Zhao’s arms screeches, as the group follows its gaze towards the holy tree, that which has lived as long as the universe. The entwined branches have almost completely withered; no leaves, no flowers, only a sense of death.
The black cat breaks free from Zhao’s embrace. The instant its paws touch the ground, its body abruptly elongates, transforming into a human.
Zhao never knew that Da Qing can transform. He flinches in shock; the man before him has long black hair flowing down behind, a pair of cat eyes sparkling like precious gems, gleaming with dazzling and freezing light. He speaks; still Da Qing’s voice that Zhao is familiar with.
It… he says deeply, “Who dares to desecrate Mount Kunlun?”
Da Qing stares at the withering tree, his eyes reddening with tears.
At this moment, countless spirit beasts emerge from the soil, absorbing energy from the roots of the holy tree, jumping on to the ground in a giant horde, screeching and wailing.
Violent gales whip through, as ghost face’s gigantic head emerges behind the thick clouds, of some several thousand metres long, covering the sun and the sky, grinning devilishly.
Then, his mountainous limps flicker in the darkness, his hands barely visible as a humongous cauldron rises up from behind him, as tall as a multistory building, whirling rapidly. Wind howls aggressively, bombarding the ears to the point of agony.
Someone screams with fright, “Soul Cauldron! It’s a Soul Cauldron!”
The hand behind ghost face’s back suddenly comes crashing down with a ginormous axe.
Zhao is pushed aside in a pinch, almost losing balance; when he manages to stand still, a blood-scented cyclone is whirling in front of him as he struggles to open his eyes. The axe strikes down like a mountain, but is stopped by a thick blade only three feet long.
The Ghost Slayer is like an ant holding up a giant boulder. With a blast of vicious gust, his sleeves are torn, revealing his bare hands. Then, with a slight crack, the Ghost Slayer’s wrist twists, leaving a fracture in the gigantic axe.
Then he adds another swing, and with a resonating clang, the gigantic axe is swung away as the small fracture spreads like wild fire. The axe crumbles to the ground, making a hundred-metre-long abyss on the peak of the snowbound hill. Numerous spirit beasts perish in the abyss under the axe of their master.
“Soul Cauldron.” After this petrifying duel, the Ghost Slayer bellows, “You’re out of your mind.”