Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
When Dong Zhi “walked” forward out of the disordered jungle, he could “see” a small path. The road was the most rudimentary dirt road in the countryside, as if it had been formed by being trampled thousands of times by humans. It was muddy and difficult to walk, but Dong Zhi didn’t have much feeling. After all, he wasn’t an entity now. When he moved forward, he got a wider view and could “see” the smoke from the distant village, and nearby was an abrupt and conspicuous stockade.
The stockade stood by the water’s edge, just across from the village. The villagers on the other side of the river were extremely careful when drawing water. They didn’t dare cross even half a step past the river.
Dong Zhi took a few “glances” in a daze, then turned his gaze on the house in front of him. He floated into the house along with his own mind.
The light suddenly dimmed.
A dark-skinned young man was kneeling in front of a middle-aged man, listening to his teachings.
They communicated in the local language. Dong Zhi “listened” but didn’t understand, so he turned to “look” at the surrounding furniture.
Everything around could be considered weird. The walls were hung with skeletons and animal skulls of different shapes and sizes, along with a mess of talisman papers with runes painted on them. Dong Zhi carefully examined it and determined that it wasn’t a Chinese talisman. He couldn’t identify the runes on the talismans at all. There were colorful feather arrows on the table and a row of urns in the corner. Looking at them at a glance, he counted about ten in each row.
The urns’ shapes ranged from fat to thin. Although he didn’t know what was in them, it would inexplicably arouse a feeling that it wasn’t anything good.
Since he couldn’t understand what they were saying, Dong Zhi didn’t stay long and floated from the passage behind the door to another room.
The same darkness.
The furnishings were pretty much the same as well.
The difference was that there was a messy head half-hidden in the dark. Its cheek was still moving like a living person.
There was a mass of trembling flesh on the ground. When Dong Zhi looked closely, it was a fat person. She was holding a rag in her hand and was wiping the floor.
At this time the head actually spoke.
“Ugly woman. Just the sight of you disgusts me. Get out!”
The woman’s fat body trembled for a while, as if trying to get up, but eventually she knelt on the ground and kept shivering.
Before Dong Zhi got any closer, the middle-aged man, who was in the front room just now, came in.
The woman was finally pardoned under the instructions of the other party, and she retreated quickly. The middle-aged man began to communicate with the head and spoke very quickly. For a short time, the two seemed to be having an unpleasant conversation. The head began to speak loudly in an angry tone. The middle-aged man snorted coldly, but didn’t continue to argue with him and instead walked to the back of the room.
At this time, Che Bai’s voice no longer sounded in his ear. Intuitively, Dong Zhi felt he wanted to follow the middle-aged man instead of staying where he was, so he quickly followed him closely. He went through a corridor and came into a hut without a trace of light.
He kind of understood the spell that Che Bai used on him. It was a bit like “clairvoyance”. He was following the breath of the witchdoctor who cursed him and had directly traced it to someone in this hideout, so he was now equivalent to a cloud of illusory consciousness. He had no entity or even a soul.
This kind of spell that could trace thousands of miles was naturally extremely powerful. So far, although Dong Zhi couldn’t identify who the person who cursed him was due to the language barrier, he had received enough information.
In the hut, the middle-aged man, who had been arrogant and calm in front of the young man and the head, had become like a sheep in a blink of an eye. He knelt down on his knees in front of an offering table. Even his tone of speech was pious and respectful. There was a person sitting in the dark with his eyes slightly closed, but the middle-aged man didn’t even dare raise his head as he whispered softly. His forehead remained on the ground for fear of disturbing the other party.
Most of the time, it was the middle-aged man talking. The person in the dark occasionally responded to a sentence or two. His tone was strange. His voice didn’t seem to come from his throat, but rather from the void. With a sense of haziness, there seemed to be an invisible barrier around him that prevented Dong Zhi from moving forward.
However, Dong Zhi wasn’t reconciled. He had a hunch that this person was important and perhaps related to the witchdoctor who cursed him or perhaps even the heavenly demon, so he tried his best to break through the barrier with his consciousness and observe the man closer.
The barrier was like plasticine with excellent elasticity. He tried his best to move forward but was always fiercely rejected. However, Dong Zhi refused to admit defeat. He chanted the spell for the sunlight talisman and finally tore a hole in the barrier. His “entire being” rushed in.
The man suddenly opened his eyes!
Dong Zhi looked straight into it, and his heart couldn’t help but be shocked. He couldn’t help but think, ‘Bad’, believing that he had been discovered.
At this time, he saw the man’s face clearly. It wasn’t the monstrous face that he had seen in his dream, but an ordinary middle-aged face. There were still traces on his face that showed proper maintenance from the past, but now it was green and black, like an evil ghost, and it looked somewhat familiar.
Then he heard the man laugh coldly and actually speak in Chinese.
“Look, you have brought guests. Do you not know how to entertain?!”
The middle-aged man looked up blankly, obviously unable to see Dong Zhi’s existence.
The man in the dark stretched out a hand and pointed towards Dong Zhi.
“He is there. There.”
Before the middle-aged man was ordered to attack, Dong Zhi went straight to the man in the darkness to “attack” him.
He was extremely fast. At that moment, he quickly recited the heavenly thunder incantation, hoping that his consciousness could attract lightning so he could use it to kill this person directly, but at that moment, a sneer suddenly sounded in his ear.
The laughter was even more gloomy than just now. It was cold and creepy, as if the ice and snow covering a rotting corpse in the depths of a primeval forest on a winter’s night were poured directly into one’s bones. Dong Zhi felt his “eardrums” trembling and in pain. His “body” seemed to be blocked by something. He was far from his opponent, but he could no longer move. He guessed that his body was likely to react, but he didn’t put much thought into it. He recited the incantation over and over again, and the cold laughter never stopped, echoing repeatedly in all directions, hauntingly as they got closer and closer.
“You’re so bold. I didn’t go to you, but instead you came to me. It’s better that you stay!”
The last word that was spat out was as if there were a mouth right next to his ear. It felt like a hammer hitting his mind hard, and Dong Zhi’s consciousness started to blur. He could no longer recite the heavenly thunder incantation and was almost led away like this.
But soon, Che Bai’s voice sounded from above.
The morning bells and evening drums and the Sanskrit sounds washed away like dirt. All the turbidity was swept away. His mind was greatly shaken as it slowly returned to clarity from the chaos!
This was the first word from the Dharma mantra1. Legends had it that the bodhisattva2 Avalokiteśvara3 granted this mantra to mortals so that they could cleanse their minds from earthly asceticism, suppress the sounds of demons, eliminate all diseases, purify karmic hindrances, and remove all evil spirits.
1[Om mani padme hum] Six-syllable Sanskrit mantra associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteśvara. The precise meaning and significance of the words remain much discussed by Buddhist scholars. The literal meaning in English has been expressed as “praise to the jewel in the lotus”, or as a declarative aspiration possibly meaning “I in the jewel-lotus”.
2A person on the path towards bodhi (‘awakening’) or Buddhahood. Basically, reaching enlightenment.
3A bodhisattva who embodies all the compassion of all Buddhas. He has 108 avatars, though in Chinese Buddhism, he has evolved into a female form called Guanshiyin.
Dong Zhi clearly saw the man’s face change heavily. The pressure that imprisoned him suddenly became clear.
“It turns out rescuers are brought in. No wonder you have nothing to fear!”
The man sneered again, but Dong Zhi had no time to listen. His consciousness was quickly dragged back by a force, escaping the room, the stockade, and the dense forest.
Dong Zhi’s body shook suddenly. Blood overflowed from the corner of his mouth, but this time it wasn’t black but normal bright red blood. He slowly opened his eyes and saw Long Shen and Che Bai sitting in front of him.
Che Bai also happened to open his eyes and look at him. “How do you feel?”
Dong Zhi said, “My chest hurts a little.”
Che Bai said, “This is normal. You just confronted a heavenly demon. Even if it hasn’t been fully resurrected, it’s still a legendary heavenly demon, nonetheless. Just now, you only had a ray of consciousness, not even your soul. If you rashly try to summon thunder, you won’t attract it and instead will get burned in the end.”
Dong Zhi said in shame, “I was reckless. Thank you, Boss Che, for rescuing me.”
Che Bai said, “You’re not in the wrong. I didn’t tell you what to do in advance just now. I just wanted you to sneak up on the demon. If I had mentally prepared you, he would have noticed your vigilance. It’s just…”
He sighed. “I’m far less powerful now than before. In the end, I still couldn’t lift your curse. I can only suppress it temporarily, so you won’t have an attack for a period of time. Treating the symptoms won’t eliminate the cause. If you want to completely resolve this problem, you have to find the one who cursed you. The demon has not yet formed, and he was just injured again by me, so he won’t recover so quickly in a short period of time.”
Long Shen said, “You’ve bought us enough time.”
Dong Zhi said sincerely, “Thank you, Boss Che. I thought I was going to die. It’s all thanks to your hard work!”
Che Bai waved his hand and smiled wearily. He looked obviously much older than he was just now. The lines in the corners of his eyes became a bit deeper.
“Even if you didn’t mean a lot to Long Shen and was just an ordinary member of the Special Administration Bureau, if I can, I will do my best.”
Dong Zhi suspected that Che Bai had seen through his relationship with Long Shen, but Che Bai had spoken as if it was uninteresting.
Watching Che Bai go back to rest, Dong Zhi couldn’t hide his uneasiness.
“Master, Boss Che’s body won’t be affected because of me, right?”
Long Shen shook his head. “No one in the world can live forever, not even spiritual weapons. This is simply the cycle of life and death. Boss Che is simply reaching that point, and it has nothing to do with you.”
Since Dong Zhi learned of Che Bai’s original form, he had subconsciously regarded the branch director as a walking ancient tree who was extremely precious. He couldn’t help but sigh when he heard this.
Long Shen smiled when he saw that Dong Zhi still had time to worry about others.
“Boss Che has bought us some time. We must use it to find the witchdoctor. What did you see just now?”
Dong Zhi described the jungle and stockade he saw. He had a good memory, and he was an artist. The description was very pictorial, and he could remember it all at once.
“That stockade should be the lair of the witchdoctor, and it seems he worships Mara, so he must have a lot of ties with him… Regarding that man, it should be Han Qi’s gold master, Hong Rui, and that fat woman should be Han Qi’s former agent, Dong Qiaolan. I have seen their photos before. It seems that they also have something to do with Mara!”
Having said that, Long Shen frowned. “It’s strange. The man I saw in my dream last time was shaven and was very young and beautiful. Why does Mara look like Hong Rui this time? Could it be that Mara, like the Archfiend, can wear different human skins?”
Long Shen said, “Mara has not been fully resurrected and formed. What you saw in your dream is the real form of his consciousness condensed, and what you saw just now should be him temporarily possessing Hong Rui’s body. Most likely, it makes it more convenient for him to act.”
Dong Zhi was surprised. He didn’t expect a great demon with an evil nature like Mara would have such a beautiful appearance.
Long Shen seemed to sense what he was thinking and said, “Demons are invisible and colorless, but in order to confuse the world, naturally they will give birth to bodies that appeal to the world so they can recruit more believers. Although Mara hasn’t taken shape yet, it can still fight Boss Che through the void. Most likely, the day for its resurrection is not far off. Once Mara is resurrected, wherever it goes, it will become hell on earth.”
A heavenly demon didn’t necessarily need to kill in person. It could use its demagogue to compel and manipulate human sanity and use them to its will, just like turning Hong Rui into its own believer to set up a pit for Han Qi. Playing with human lives like they were at the palm of its hands. It was true that Han Qi also had weaknesses. If she wasn’t greedy for fame and fortune, wanting to climb over the dragon and attach to the phoenix*, she wouldn’t have been taken advantage of by Hong Rui, but everyone had weaknesses. If someone liked honey today, the demon would transform the poppies into honey. It was tempting to become addicted, and one wouldn’t be able to stop it. Tomorrow, if someone gave birth to traces of evil thoughts, under the influence of a demon, their evil thoughts would expand unknowingly and eventually make them do heartless things.
*(攀龙附凤) Idiom referring to attaching yourself to someone powerful in order to achieve prosperity.
After all, everyone had demons in their hearts. It was only dependent on whether they could stick to their original intentions and prevent evil thoughts from prevailing. However, that was simple to say, but many in the world couldn’t do it.
Although the curse on Dong Zhi was suppressed, they still faced a great problem now.
As soon as they go abroad, the name of the Special Administration Bureau would no longer be useful. It was also in Southeast Asia, which was usually not an issue to travel to. However, once you wanted to do something serious, you would face all kinds of forces, which were bound to make things difficult to move. In some areas where armed forces had seceded, even the local government wouldn’t be good.
Under such circumstances, finding an unnamed black-magic master was tantamount to finding a needle in a haystack. Long Shen had asked the White-Robed Association for help, but it would be impossible to find anything for a while. He was unwilling to tell these things to Dong Zhi as it would only add to his troubles, and Dong Zhi naturally didn’t ask, remaining calm so as not to put any pressure on Long Shen.
When the stone tablet was unearthed last time, the Northwest Branch had become quite lively. Now that the seal on the stone tablet had been strengthened and there were people stationed there to guard it, the manpower had been dispatched elsewhere to look for other stone tablets, so it had suddenly become deserted, which was a good thing as, contrary to what one may think, if it was lively it usually meant there was trouble. Since there was no liveliness, there was no need for Long Shen, a deputy director from the General Administration, to supervise and inspect. He had long been accustomed to working, but now that he was free, he felt a bit out of place.
Dong Zhi proposed they go to the natural history museum. In fact, he had already been to Xi’an. The museum was naturally a must-see place for art students. However, since he became a practitioner, he couldn’t help but look at antiques through a different lens, as they remind him of his master. Though he wasn’t able to witness the moment his master transformed, when he looked at ancient swords, it made him feel a bit better about his regret.
Long Shen shook his head and said he didn’t want to go.
While those artifacts were rare treasures to the eyes of ordinary people, in Long Shen’s view, for various reasons, they no longer had the opportunity to take form and turn into humans. It wasn’t beneficial to look at them but, on the contrary, actually added to the sorrow.
Dong Zhi held his master’s slender hand and felt that his master had not seen enough.
Long Shen thought for a while and said, “Let’s go to the food market.”
The food market, regardless of the season or whether it was a holiday or not, best reflected the eating habits of the people of the country because it was bustling all year round. It was packed with people walking shoulder-to-shoulder. Dong Zhi thought Long Shen would dislike such a place, but he didn’t expect for him to take the initiative to come.
The two of them ate hot and sour dumpling soup and hulatang. After eating a few barbeque skewers, Dong Zhi felt full. He could only look at the roasted chicken he had just packed up with a tangled face. If Kan Chaosheng were here, let alone this roasted chicken, the food market would be emptied.
Though it was Long Shen’s suggestion to come, he didn’t eat much himself. The two of them found a place to sit and watch the noise. White smoke was steaming out, and they couldn’t hear what each other were saying unless they spoke loudly.
In the midst of the excitement, Long Shen’s expression was peaceful and calm. He didn’t care about what to eat or whether it was noisy or not. It seemed he was far more interested in the crowd than the food itself.
Upon seeing this, Dong Zhi joked, “Master, are you here to people watch?”
Long Shen nodded.
Watching the fireworks and the various states of the world, seeing the joys and sorrows of all beings, and truly feeling those living their lives were precious existences that needed to be guarded. Of course, there was countless darkness in the world, which often discouraged the weak-willed, but anyone who put in effort, even if it was like Jingwei filling the sea1, or Kuafu chasing the sun2, one could not say that the world was hopeless.
1The original idiom tells of the god bird Jingwei bringing wood and stones, determined to fill the sea. In the old days, it’s a metaphor for deep hatred and determination to take revenge. Now, it refers to a firm will that’s not afraid of difficulties. You can read the story by clicking the Wikipedia link.
2The original idiom tells a story of Kuafu wanting to pluck the sun, so he began to race against it. Eventually he died of thirst, and after his death, his walking stick turned into a peach forest, and his body turned into Kuafu Mountain. It’s now used to refer to people who are brave and optimistic and willing to overcome all obstacles to reach their goal. You can read the story by clicking the Wikipedia link.
Dong Zhi’s heart was moved.
Somehow, he now understood Long Shen’s thoughts more. With just a look and one sentence, Dong Zhi could understand the other party’s words and what he was thinking.
In fact, Long Shen had never been difficult to understand. He could even be called pure and simple, but no one had ever been willing to patiently understand him before, and he had never stopped to wait for others to understand.
By chance, Dong Zhi became this person, not only because he was willing to take the initiative but also because Long Shen was willing to open up and let him in.
The man he loved had great love in his heart and a heavy burden on his shoulders. His eyes could hold the entire world.
At this time, it would be too petty to make a joke and ask what would be more important, him or the world, but Dong Zhi stilled joked, “Then am I a small responsibility attached to master?”
Long Shen lowered his head and looked at the hands that were tightly clasped together. He suddenly smiled slightly.
“You are a small caprice of mine.”
Responsibility was deeply imprinted in the bones, but capriciousness came from the heart.
Dong Zhi was stunned. The hot feeling immediately spread from the neck up, as if he had just drank a bowl of spicy soup. His stomach was burning, but it wasn’t uncomfortable when it dissipated into every pore of his body.
He used to see Long Shen as cold and stern, but he didn’t know that such a person would be so deadly to pick up. Every sentence Long Shen said could hit the softest part of his heart, take root, sprout, and never be pulled out again.
“Master, when did you change your mind about me and discover that… there is more than just a relationship between master and apprentice?”
After the huge impact from a few days ago, he started to calm down. This question lingered in his heart for a long time. It may not be that Long Shen mistook his sympathy for love, but perhaps out of curiosity or puzzlement.
If he said it was on the beach that night and it was simply a random idea, that would certainly be impossible.
Long Shen talked less and often did more, but every time he did something, he always considered the outcome of his decision. He was by no means an impulsive person.
But if it wasn’t that night, then when?
After thinking about it carefully, when they were separated for a period of time after they became master and apprentice, during that time, Dong Zhi experienced many things in Lucheng. He saw Long Shen’s past from the illusion derived from the Changshou Sword, and his state of mind changed a lot.
But what about Long Shen?
Long Shen thought for a while, then shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Facing Dong Zhi’s faintly expectant and instantly dim gaze, Long Shen smiled.
“I have something to show you when we get back. I can’t explain clearly here.”
As soon as his voice fell, Dong Zhi’s phone rang.
The caller ID displayed Chen Guoliang.
Dong Zhi raised his brows and looked at Long Shen, who motioned for him to answer.
Pressing the accept button, Dong Zhi smiled and said, “Master Chen, are you planning to come to the mainland to develop your business again and are calling me to report in advance?”
“No, no!” Chen Guoliang laughed. He would never set foot back on the mainland for at least another 3 to 5 years. He was afraid that this master would catch him and send him to the bureau for ideological education again. “It’s good news. I found the person you asked me to pay attention to last time!”
Dong Zhi sat up straight all of a sudden. “Qi Rui?!”
After Han Qi’s incident, Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo investigated Qi Rui. She was best friends with Han Qi’s former agent, Dong Qiaolan, and she was the one who was most likely to know the whereabouts of Dong Qiaolan and Hong Rui. She was so addicted to gambling that she owed a lot of debt on the mainland, so she went back to Hong Kong to escape her debts. Since then, her whereabouts have been unknown. At the time, Dong Zhi speculated that Qi Rui might’ve gone to Macau to avoid the limelight. There was a casino there, so she could satisfy her addiction, but after several undercover searches, they didn’t get any news about her.
Now Cheng Guoliang called and said he knew her whereabouts.
Also known as Avalokitasvara, is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He has 108 avatars, one notable avatar being Padmapāṇi. He is variably depicted, described, and portrayed in various cultures as either male or female. In Chinese Buddhism, he has evolved into the female form called Guanshiyin.
a Bodhisattva associated with compassion. She is the East Asian representation of Avalokiteśvara and has been adopted by other Eastern religions, including Chinese folk religion. She was first given the appellation “Goddess of Mercy” or “Mercy Goddess” by Jesuit missionaries in China. Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.”