Book 3: No Paths are Bound
The blade penetrated deep into the stone floor, and Xie Lian, both his hands gripping the sword, bowed his head and rested his forehead on the hilt, his teeth gritted so hard they might grind to powder in his mouth.
Qi Rong laughed out loud: "WHAT USELESS TRASH! I knew you wouldn't dare to kill me! No matter how much I ridicule you, no matter how I drag you through the mud, as long as I have a knife on someone else's throat, you can't do anything to me. You useless coward, for what do you need to live for, a god like you?"
However, Xie Lian had already completely calmed down. He looked up, his eyes cold, "Don't be too happy too soon. I can't do anything to you, but there will naturally be someone who can."
Qi Rong humphed, "Are you thinking of hugging Jun Wư's legs to beg him to help you out again? Dream on. Did he care then? Hm?? And you still shamelessly follow his lead, are you really that stupid?"
Xie Lian peeled off that set of stately, glamourous God-Pleasing costume off of Qi Rong, called forth RuoYe, bound him and threw him aside, "You better keep your mouth shut."
"I'm not afraid of you, you've got nothing on me!" Qi Rong retorted.
"Then are you afraid of Hua Cheng?" Xie Lian said.
Qi Rong's smile froze for an instant, and in that instant, Xie Lian said lightly, "Just to give you a heads up, if one of these days I get into a bad mood, maybe I just might hand you over to Hua Cheng, and have him think of a way to deal with you. So you watch yourself, hear me?"
Hearing this, Qi Rong couldn't laugh anymore. He said, terrified, "What the f.u.c.k, you're vicious! I can't believe you'd come up with something like that! Why not just hand me over to Lang Qian Qiu?!"
Xie Lian knelt on the ground and used his hands to pick up small, coarse granules from the ground and from under the coffin one by one. Truthfully, he wouldn't be handing Qi Rong to the Heavenly Court for the time being. The reason being Lang Qian Qiu. If he handed Qi Rong over and Lang Qian Qiu learned of Qi Rong's whereabouts, he would charge immediately with his sword to kill him. Should he be killed? A headache; if killed, then what's next? Another headache. Thus, it wasn't wise to hand Qi Rong over to the Heavenly Court at the moment.
All things considered, requesting for Hua Cheng's help seemed like a pretty good idea. But really, he was only using Hua Cheng's name to scare Qi Rong a little bit. After all, he already troubled Hua Cheng too many times, and every time something happened he'd think of Hua Cheng first; it'd almost feel like he was being overly familiar. Just using his name to scare Qi Rong made Xie Lian feel rather embarrassed.
Qi Rong turned his head and spat some spit laced with blood at a different direction, and that child reached out pathetically to pat his forehead, "Dad, are you ok? Does it hurt?"
Qi Rong seemed to really enjoy this game of father and son, and responded derisively, "My good son ~~ Daddy is ok ~~ Hahaha."
The rims around Xie Lian's eyes were red as he picked at those granules and he placed them with the utmost care onto the God- Pleasing costume. That child quietly crawled over and helped Xie Lian pick too. Xie Lian saw those little hands and looked up at him, and that child said in a small voice, "Gege, won't you stop beating my dad up? Let us go. I won't steal from you again."
Xie Lian's heart tightened and he forced the feeling away, "What's your name, little one?"
"My name is Gu Zi." That child replied.
Xie Lian had finished collecting all the ashes and wrapped them in layers of that costume, tying it up neatly before placing the bundle within the coffin anew, closing the cover. He then slowly replied, "Gu Zi, the one over there is not your dad, but someone else. He's been possessed. He's currently a bad guy."
The child couldn't comprehend what he said and looked confused, "Someone else? No? I recognize him, he's my dad."
Qi Rong commended, "Not bad, not bad, I've picked up a cheap son, what a great value! Hahaha... oof!" Xie Lian kicked him.
Gu Zi was still young and had always lived dependent on his father, so he was quite attached to the body Qi Rong had possessed, refusing to leave it alone. Xie Lian couldn't think of a way to take care of him for the moment, so he carried the sword Fang Xin on his back, kowtowed solemnly towards the two coffins thrice, then with Qi Rong hung from his left hand and Gu Zi under his right arm, he left Mount TaiCang, returning speedily back to PuQi village.
Having left for many days, by the time they made it back it was deep into the night, and the doors to that PuQi Shrine were wide open, clouds of incense rolling out, and upon the altar the incense burner were filled to the brim with incense sticks, and the table itself was covered with offerings. Xie Lian entered, swept a look, and grabbed two meat buns from the altar, passing one to Gu Zi, and rudely stuffing the other into Qi Rong's mouth. That body was alive after all, and until Xie Lian figured out how to pull Qi Rong from that man, he still needed sustenance. Qi Rong spat out that meat bun and cussed at how bad it tasted, and yelled as if a little worried, "I say! You won't actually hand me over to Hua Cheng, will you??"
Xie Lian sneered, "Are you scared?" He didn't have time for his nonsense, and turned around to rummage through his pickle jars on the ground. Qi Rong was petulant, "Me? Scared? You should be the one scared. As a heavenly official, you'd dare get so chummy with a 'Supreme'. You..." As he talked, his eyes suddenly focused and locked on to something. Turns out, when Xie Lian bent down, something slipped out of the front of his robes.
It was a crystal clear ring. That was what Qi Rong was staring at.
Xie Lian didn't notice his gaze, but Qi Rong's face grew suspicious behind him. After a while, he spoke up, "Cousin crown prince, what's that thing on your chest??"
Xie Lian was going to keep ignoring him, but what Qi Rong brought up was something he himself sort of minded so he turned around, his finger hooking onto the thin silver chain, "This? Do you know what it is?"
"Bring it here, let me see and l'll tell you." Qi Rong beckoned.
But Xie Lian said, "If you know then say it. If you don't then shut up."
Qi Rong grumbled bitterly, "You're always so nasty to people who are close to you, if you're so amazing, why don't you go show off how cool you are to outsiders?"
Xie Lian stuffed the silver chain back into the inner layers of his robe, pressing it against his skin and straightened it. "If you're so amazing, keep talking. Every word you say I will keep count, and with every count you'd be one step closer to Hua Cheng's blade."
Somehow without him realizing, he'd gotten used to using Hua Cheng's name. Qi Rong sneered, "Don't you use him to scare me, maybe one of these days you'd be the one dead Boundlessly affectionate, the tender voices twisted and turned, filled with lingering yearning.
Thus, from below, Xie Lian saw with his own eyes, goosebumps popping up on over half of Shi Wu Du and Shi Qing Xuan's bodies.
Shi Qing Xuan jumped to her feet, "GE--! HURRY AND CUT IT OFF!" *Gege: older brother
Shi Wu Du immediately shouted, "DROP IT! DROP IT RIGHT NOW!"
Even without seeing one could easily guess the play picked must be the folklores of husband and wife between Lord Water Master and Lady Wind Master. Tales of love and hatred would always be a fan favourite when people tell stories. If either was already there, good. If not, even better, because then anything could be made up. Technically, whatever the gods had done themselves were the conventional legends, but sometimes when they saw what the mortals came up with for them, they couldn't help but be amazed by what was truly legendary.
The moment Shi Wu Du spoke up the curtains really did drop down. The heavenly officials in the audience all wanted to laugh but didn't dare to, suffering from holding in their mirth. Xie Lian however, smiled and asked, "Lord Wind Master, I didn't know you can call for the curtains to drop?"
Shi Qing Xun was still shaking and replied, "Yea, iť's no big deal. Just donate a hundred thousand merits!"
Xie Lian sat, speechless, and the third round began. This time, the thunder didn't rumble for very long, and that wine cup was passed to the young man sitting next to Xie Lian.
Seeing this, the reaction from the crowd of heavenly officials was odd. It wasn't fervent, but it wasn't cold, more like they were very interested in seeing the play but didn't want to be so obvious about it. That young man didn't seem to be too interested in the game but still drank that wine. He put down the cup and the curtains were raised once more.
Two stood upon that stage; one was a young general with hair curly like that of a stone lion's mane, and although exceedingly exaggerated, he still looked heroically sprightly, so he must be portraying that young heavenly official; the other one had pointy lips and monkey cheeks, the very portrayal of a wretched clown, jumping all over the stage. When the young man faced him, he'd act serious but greasy and loathsome, when that young man turned around, he'd make faces and take a sword to backstab, no doubt the role of a two faced, cunning villain.
That clown performed with vigour and over embellishment like it was a silly, comedic play, but the reactions from the heavenly officials in the audience were vastly different. Xie Lian noticed that the officials in the lower ranks all laughed uproariously while the higher ranking officials like Shi Qing Xun and Shi Wu Du all frowned wordlessly, not thinking it amusing whatsoever. At the same time, he also noticed veins popping suddenly on the fists of that young man beside him, and Xie Lian became alarmed. Although he couldn't understand what was going on on stage, he could still guess it was ridiculing another. Besides, even if he didn't know who was who, just the way the play was enacted made one feel extremely uncomfortable. That young man seemed ready to throw a fit, so Xie Lian took a chopstick from the table and hurled it towards the rope controlling the curtains.
The not-so-sharp chopstick brushed by the rope and actually snapped it. The curtains dropped noisily, and the officials all cried in shock, "How can this be?!" "What's going on!" They all looked to Xie Lian, some even rising to their feet. Xie Lian was about to open his mouth when the next second, something exploded next to his ear. It seemed that young man had shattered that white jaded wine cup in his fist.
It appeared that play had provoked his outrage, and he threw away the shards of that jaded cup in a fit, jumped to his feet, sprang onto the table, pushed off with his feet and leapt onto that pavilion, barging through the curtains. A number of heavenly officials rushed to lift the curtains but there was already no one inside. The crowd was in an uproar, "OH NO OH NO, HIS HIGHNESS QI YING WENT DOWN TO BEAT PEOPLE UP AGAIN!"
Xie Lian wondered, 'Qi Ying? The Palace of Qi Ying? The Martial God of the West Quan Yi Zhen?' and he hurriedly asked Shi Qing Xuan, "Lord Wind Master, what's going on? What's with His Highness Qi Ying going down to beat people up again?"
Shi Qing Xuan snapped out of it and replied, "Beating people up is just... beating people up. Ahem. You might not believe it, but, Qi Ying frequently beats up his own worshippers."
That really was the first time he'd ever heard of a heavenly official who dared assault their own followers, since that was something that could destroy their image in a believer's mind. He wanted to inquire some more but heard a lower heavenly official further away speak up in displeasure, "Lord Quan really is too immature. Everyone was just having fun, doesn't he know to cooperate a little? Who hadn't been picked on? Did General Pei and Ling Wen Zhen Jun not get laughed at? Besides, it wasn't even him who was being made fun of, so why so angry?"
"Yea, he really thinks too much of himself. Even if he's mad there's no need to throw a fit right this second? The banquet is a fun occasion, no one's here to watch his temper! Really.."
"Alright, alright, a kid is a kid. He's not even here anymore, and it'd be more fun without him anyway."
Xie Lian mused while listening to them talk. The feast was only temporarily disrupted, and Ling Wen seemed to have already sent someone to take care of Quan Yi Zhen's affair. After some officials came out and assuaged the others, the banquet and games continued. Thus, the thunder rumbled and the fourth round of Drummed Flower Passing began.
At first, Xie Lian was only watching other people play; he couldn't blend in and was happy others didn't bother him. He was just about to chat with Shi Qing Xuan when unexpectedly, just then, a hand was suddenly extended to him, and passed him that white jaded wine cup.●[天上白玉京，十二樓五城。仙人撫我頂，結髮受長生] are verses from the longest autobiographical poem by the renown Tang poet Li Bai, lamenting his life and political aspirations while in exile. Li Bai was known to be obsessed with becoming an immortal. Point of Interest: [結髮受長生] “Hair bound to receive immortality” – in ancient China, for the Han, binding hair and tying it up symbolized coming of age. Boys tie their hair up into a bun at fifteen and are crowned at twenty. Girls are given a hair pin for their bun at fifteen, and once married, hair must all be tied up into a bun. ●‘Drummed Flower Passing’ is just hot potato. ●‘Noble Jie’ - the ‘noble’ here didn’t mean Ling Wen’s status, but an expression of endearment.