"On top of that altar, a black spherical body floated."
adultery, canon-typical fight scenes, non-graphic mentions of cannibalism
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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Hongjun and Lu Xu stood outside the garden, in front of a lone palace hall once shining with splendor on this desolate plain. The “Deer King Jātaka” described the story of a hunter who had inadvertently come across the Nine-Colored Deer in a forest. Later, he had reported this to the king, who had brought his men with him to hunt down this deer king whose duty was to protect all living beings.
But right now, the mural had already been polluted by the black qi.
Lu Xu said to Hongjun, “I saw before that in the middle of the hall, there is an array. Xuannü and the Plague God entered the mural through that array before, and you should definitely be able to leave through that as well.”
As they spoke, Hongjun suddenly remembered something -- the incantation that the fox yao had used when it was creating that sea of blood!
“Is it like this?” From his memories, Hongjun sketched out that array.
Taken aback, Lu Xu asked, “You’ve seen it?”
Hongjun immediately understood, this place perhaps was not the mural in its entirety, but rather an illusory realm that Xuannü and the Plague God had created!
But just at this instant, two meteors streaked through the sky, plummeting into the forest behind them!
Lu Xu unconsciously turned his head towards the source of the noise, saying, “Someone has come in!”
In the grove, Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen stood there facing each other, both completely naked. As they began to study their surroundings, Hongjun and Lu Xu had already come barging in, and Hongjun immediately let out a loud shout.
Li Jinglong strode forward, grabbed Hongjun’s wrist, and shouted, enraged, “What exactly are you two doing?!”
“Lu Xu?! You’ve woken up?” Mo Rigen also swiftly came over, but Lu Xu retreated half a step, hiding behind Hongjun.
Li Jinglong’s forehead was furrowed deeply as he said earnestly, “Hongjun, in these past few days, what exactly has been going on with you?”
But Hongjun did not reply. Lu Xu had seen Hongjun’s dreams, and naturally knew what he was emotionally conflicted over, so he replied, “You guys… how about you put on clothes first, then keep talking?”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Lu Xu raised a hand and snapped his fingers. The white light billowed forth, granting Li Jinglong a set of cloth robes, but Mo Rigen shook himself out and turned into the Grey Wolf, sprouting hair all over his body. He said in a low tone, “I’m fine. Lu Xu, is this your dream?”
“I don’t know,” Lu Xu responded.
“What exactly happened?” the Grey Wolf then asked.
As soon as Mo Rigen and Li Jinglong had arrived, Lu Xu seemed to have put his guard up, and he was unwilling to speak much. Hongjun looked at him, before he described the gist of what had happened before this to the two. From the beginning to the end, Li Jinglong only had eyes for Hongjun, his eyes seemingly able to see right into the deepest part of his heart. Hongjun felt a little self-conscious under that gaze, and he looked away.
“This is a pocket dimension within the mural,” Li Jinglong said after a moment of pondering as Hongjun finished.
Though Hongjun had kept thinking about the matters of the past, when he saw Li Jinglong, he had to say that he did feel much more relieved. After all, with him here, many things could then be resolved.
The Grey Wolf asked, “This place and the cavern that the Nine-Tailed Heavenly Fox opened up, are they built on the same principle?”
“It’s possible,” Li Jinglong said. “But this is definitely more complex.”
After a short discussion, Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen then looked at Lu Xu at the same time. Li Jinglong said solemnly, “Lu Xu, you must explain the situation clearly, otherwise we are in no position to judge what is happening.”
Lu Xu frowned. “I really do not know.”
What Lu Xu knew about this place, he had gleaned in snatches from Xuannü and the Plague God -- after all, ever since he was born, he had been living in this mural. Only on a few rare occasions, he had been able, through that body in the human realm, to sense his surroundings, and he didn’t even know how to read Han characters. For this question, he racked his brains, trying to recall as much information as possible to give them.
Back in the day, when the Buddhist monk Lezun built the Mogao Caves and carved out the first cavern, he used a secret art to etch many scriptures into the rock wall. The scriptures’s messages were, “In the three thousand realms, there are three thousand Prajna Bodhis”, “Mt. Sumeru is contained within a single mustard seed”, and so on, and they contained limitless power. And these scriptures, as the amount of time since their creation lengthened, had eroded and been made smooth by craftsmen, so they slowly vanished with the passage of time. However, its power had been preserved.
Even the paintings in the many caverns, which were opened up above the scriptures, became pocket dimensions through that miraculous power. When Lezun experienced parinirvāṇa, the White Deer had come west and chosen a cavern to settle its spiritual beast soul. Afterwards, when the painters of the Mogao Caverns saw that the patterns in the stone of this cavern were very mysterious, they created the “Deer King Jātaka.”
“And what is the heart devil?” Li Jinglong gave voice to the question that everyone was most concerned about.
“It’s me… or perhaps, it would be better to say, it’s the resentment of my past lives.” Lu Xu no longer remembered what had happened before he was reborn, and all his memories were from after that moment that he was reborn - and much of those bits and pieces of knowledge he had obtained from exchanges between Xuannü and the Plague God.
“I’m afraid it isn’t resentment,” the Grey Wolf said, watching Lu Xu. “It is the nightmares that you have taken away from the living beings of the world, in those long years.”
“Perhaps,” Lu Xu said. “Just like how in this life, we’ve forgotten our past lives, they have turned those nightmares into something new.”
Instantly, Hongjun thought of something, and he asked, “Have you seen the yao king?”
Lu Xu thought for a bit, before replying, “There was a black snake that would appear sometimes, just in front of the altar. They did indeed call him ‘Your Majesty the Yao King’ too.”
Li Jinglong looked consideringly at that palace. The Grey Wolf replied, “There’s a protective barrier around it.”
“The heart devil isn’t here,” Lu Xu said. “I imagine it’s currently flying around, trying to find me and Hongjun.”
“Let’s go in to take a look!” Li Jinglong said. “Hongjun doesn’t have his magic, so you two follow behind us.”
With the Grey Wolf leading the way, they leapt into the garden. Li Jinglong walked in rapidly, even as Hongjun said, “Don’t you also…”
But as soon as the four of them approached, the black blaze circling around the hall seemed to sense their intrusion. It whistled through the air, rushing towards them!
That black blaze looked like a flying snake, undulating through the air as it rushed towards them, but Li Jinglong lifted a hand. With a single move, the power of the Heart Lamp erupted forth. The flying snake let out a roar of terror as that white blaze blasted it away!
“You…” Hongjun was shocked.
“Seems like the Heart Lamp has already entered my three hun and seven po.” Li Jinglong lowered his head to observe his own right hand, before lifting his head to look at Hongjun.
Hongjun thought to himself, no wonder when I funneled my Pentacolor Sacred Light into Li Jinglong’s meridians, I couldn’t find where the Heart Lamp was at all!
Hongjun was still reeling over that, but Li Jinglong said, “Go!” Immediately, he raised the bright light of the Heart Lamp as a ward, sprinting towards the inside of the hall. After everyone had entered the mural with only the power of their souls, Hongjun, who was very well-versed in using artifacts, had become the weakest. Mo Rigen could become the Grey Wolf, while Li Jinglong had the Heart Lamp, so they shielded Hongjun and Lu Xu behind them.
In that instant, flying snakes filled the air, but under the power of the Heart Lamp, they kept coiling and fleeing. Just then, Li Jinglong raised his hand up high, and the light exploded outwards, protecting them all the way into the palace. Right after, the thousands of black flying snakes on the roof of the palace once again rushed at them, funneling wildly into the hall.
A bright flash of light exploded outwards, sending the black snakes flying backwards.
“Close the doors!” Lu Xu shouted.
Hongjun and Mo Rigen pushed the great doors to the hall closed. When they turned back, they saw that an altar had appeared in the middle of the main hall, and on top of that altar, a black spherical body floated. The air around the sphere was filled with multiple black flames, which coiled all around it!
“This is your heart devil?” Li Jinglong asked.
Lu Xu watched that black ball, a look of incomprehension appearing in his eyes.
“Speak!” Li Jinglong shouted.
“Yes, perhaps,” Lu Xu immediately responded. “I haven’t seen it for a long time now, how has it grown so quickly?!”
“Destroy it!” the Grey Wolf roared. “Only then can Lu Xu’s three hun and seven po be purified!”
Li Jinglong immediately reacted. Every time Lu Xu left the mural, he would be swallowed up by the heart devil, and only within it would the heart devil be separated from his three hun and seven po. This was also the best chance to get rid of that devil!
With a wave of his hand, the light in his palm shed its brilliance in all directions, and the Heart Lamp immediately turned into a longbow. As he drew the string, an eye-wateringly bright arrow of light appeared. That black sphere seemed to sense the danger and began to tremble violently. A rumble of thunder came from the horizon, and the heart devil that had been hunting Hongjun down sensed that something was wrong, so a huge wave of black qi rushed in from all the windows of the palace.
Li Jinglong’s back and shoulders were bare, filled with vigour and power. When he drew the bow, the muscles along his arm bulged to their maximum, and he let out a loud shout, “Hit!”
The arrow left the bow, speeding through the air. The devil qi surged towards that black qi, and as a huge boom rang out, it blocked the arrow shaft! That attack was swept aside, before darkness billowed forth, blanketing the sky and the earth, colliding head-on with the light of the Heart Lamp!
Li Jinglong: “....”
Countless times before, with the Nine-tailed Heavenly Fox, the king of the corpse ghosts that fell in battle, countless yaoguai and demons, as long as they had devil qi, they would all either retreat or be purified under the light of the Heart Lamp. Li Jinglong had never expected that this heart devil would actually be well-matched in strength with its light!
The Heart Lamp burned away the devil qi like a blazing fire, but even more darkness came rushing forth, instantly enveloping the entire palace. The heart devil let out a shriek, spewing out black, flame-like qi!
“Watch out!” the Grey Wolf shouted.
Hongjun rushed forward, grabbed Lu Xu, and tumbled to the ground. Li Jinglong turned the Heart Lamp into a sword of light, and he pulled it to him as he ran forward. The heart devil, however, laughed coldly. “You are unable to even call out the image of Dīpankara, yet you wish to use the Heart Lamp to exorcise me?! Like a moth to the flame, you are too over-confident!”
In a flash, the heart devil contracted in on itself, before releasing the thousands of nightmares on the altar. They went everywhere, like meteors of darkness flying rampantly through the hall, crisscrossing in the air, chasing after the four of them!
Hongjun grabbed Lu Xu. Though, at this moment, he had the urge to fight, he did not have the ability to do so, so he could only take Lu Xu along in dodging. He shouted, “Lu Xu! Do you have any ideas?!”
Lu Xu replied, “Head to the altar! There is an array there! Let me activate that array!”
Instantly, the roof of the palace collapsed in on itself from the force of the black qi colliding with it. The Grey Wolf rushed in from the side, knocked the two of them out of the way, and roared, “Get outside!”
The heart devil had already gathered up the black qi, and now it circled in place in front of the altar, constantly spewing dark energy towards Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong held his sword up in front of him, barely managing to brace against the attack, as he shouted, “Leave this place!”
Hongjun shouted, “Mo Rigen! Protect us!”
The Grey Wolf’s pupils immediately contracted as Hongjun grabbed Lu Xu, charging towards the altar in the center.
The black qi surged like a tempestuous wave towards them, heading right for the Grey Wolf. The Grey Wolf rolled in mid-air as the black qi coiled around him, but countless soldiers wielding polearms appeared from the black qi and charged at him! With a wild roar and several sounds of impact, the Grey Wolf caused the nightmare illusions to slowly vanish.
Hongjun dodged the black qi, getting as close as five steps away from that altar. The heart devil, however, let out a shriek. It turned, splitting from its own body an image of sword-wielding Liu Fei, who charged viciously towards Hongjun!
Hongjun immediately shielded Lu Xu behind him and lifted his arm, forcefully blocking black shadow Liu Fei’s attack.
“Don’t mind me!” Hongjun shouted, before pushing Lu Xu towards the altar.
The Liu Fei whose half-body was created from gathered devil qi, raised his sword and let out a loud shout, bringing it down towards Hongjun! But when the devil qi collided into Hongjun, things were completely different from how they were with Mo Rigen and Li Jinglong. Instantly, a black flame flashed in Hongjun’s chest, sucking in Liu Fei’s nightmare!
With a loud bang, Hongjun saw Liu Fei’s dreamscape for a short moment.
Just like the dream that first night he had when he arrived in Liangzhou, the yard was filled with bright sunlight, and the handsome young general strode slowly by the girl in the corridor… they met on that summer night, and shared a kiss under a starry sky… right after came a fierce argument, and the girl turned and left.
“Naoji...” Liu Fei laid on his sickbed, tightly holding onto the girl’s hands.
The eyes of that beautiful woman who was named Naoji were bright red, and she sobbed, “I will leave together with my lord…”
Liu Fei finally closed his eyes, his heart at peace. Countless images flashed before Hongjun’s eyes; as Liu Fei‘s body was brought into the royal mausoleum, Naoji had actually walked towards another young person’s bed, slowly untying her mourning robes.
In that instant, in the deepest part of Hongjun’s heart, a surge of rage roared as it rushed out! After his death, because of his lover and his own son’s fickleness, Liu Jian hanged himself on a beam, and Naoji rushed out in horror, but was pulled into an embrace by his own brother… until the ghost king pressed a hand to Liu Fei’s forehead.
“Those matters of the past are but clouds drifting across your vision. If you come into my service, from now on, you will exist outside of the paths of life and death…”
“Hongjun --!” With a furious roar from Li Jinglong, bright light came shining through, and Hongjun suddenly jolted awake to the sounds of a wolf howling.
Lu Xu had landed in front of the altar, and he lowered his head to study the array on the altar. But with how things were now, the heart devil had already chosen to disregard the rest of them, turning its body towards Hongjun. Within the cloud of black humanoid silhouettes, a pair of blood red eyes appeared.
“You can actually absorb this nightmare?” the heart devil snarled darkly. “Devil seed!”
Hongjun took a half step back, lowering his head to stare at the black qi coiling around in front of his chest. Black smoke slowly seeped out from his chest; Liu Fei’s pain had already entered his soul. That heavy hurt of losing his loved one, and all those emotions that he had felt after his death, which had caused him to feel the most primal, deepest kind of pain that existed in this realm!
The heart devil shrieked, once again shooting out devil qi like black meteors. In a flash, Li Jinglong appeared in front of Hongjun, shielding him. With a bright flash of light, he blocked all of that black qi rushing towards them. He never expected, however, that Hongjun would press down on Li Jinglong’s shoulder and push him to one side, heading fearlessly towards the heart devil!
Consecutive shots of devil qi shot towards Hongjun, the loud blasts unending as they each sank into his body. In that instant, Hongjun felt an endless amount of despair and rage -- fathers cooking their sons and consuming them, riders cutting down their own comrades with the weapons in their hands, scouts leaping off the cliff in front of them - betrayal, assassination, starvation, treading upon others!
“No --!” Li Jinglong shouted wildly.
In that instant, Lu Xu and Mo Rigen froze, dumbfounded, only to see the devil qi around Hongjun circling him wildly as it danced around. He closed his eyes, his expression twisted in a grimace, before they shot open again, and he roared, “Disperse!”
In the next instant, Hongjun reached a hand out, and countless nightmares circling around the hall turned at once, shooting towards his palm. They then turned into a sharp blade that sliced down towards the heart devil!
The heart devil shrieked, “Devil seed --!”
Its voice suddenly cut off as the entire world shook. With that, the palace completely collapsed. The pillars snapped, exposing the sky and land, roiling with a dark haze. In that instant, Hongjun and the heart devil both rose into the air. In these thousands of years, the grief and suffering of those nightmares that had gathered together in the human realm gathered into a vortex, which spun rapidly around Hongjun and the heart devil!
Blood-red devil marks appeared on the bare upper half of Hongjun’s body, and his eyes glowed with red light. The heart devil took on the outline of Lu Xu, wildly drawing the nightmares back into its body, afraid that they would be absorbed by Hongjun instead.
“Foolish devil,” Hongjun said slowly, his voice getting deeper and hoarser. “The pain of the mortals should have long since been buried in the darkness. How did they come to be mere playthings in your hands?”
Upon seeing that the situation had changed, Li Jinglong had no time to think about what to do next. He shouted, “Lu Xu! Quickly! This cannot go on! Send them out --!”
On the altar, Lu Xu spread his hands, a silvery white light glowing from his hands, entering the altar.
Outside the mural, the ghost king, A-Tai, and Ashina Qiong were all silently watching the “Deer King Jātaka.”
At this moment, a horrifying change had already come over the “Deer King Jātaka”. The original colors and images on the mural had become twisted, and two half-naked youths appeared within, black qi coiling around each of them. Below them was a wolf and a man who was glowing with light, both of them circling around the battle above.
“They’re almost out,” the ghost king said solemnly.
Ashina Qiong turned his head and glanced towards the four people who were lying next to each other. The carp yao was holding a towel and wiping away the sweat on Hongjun’s forehead.
Within the mural, the power emitting from Lu Xu’s hands poured endlessly into that array, which began to activate. Hongjun and the heart devil turned their heads at the same time, looking towards Lu Xu!
With an angered roar, the heart devil rushed towards Lu Xu, but Hongjun was right behind it. Lu Xu was hovering in the air above the altar, and Li Jinglong and the Grey Wolf rushed up at the same time.
In a flash, the heart devil collided heavily with Lu Xu, and Hongjun let out a loud shout. “Lu Xu!”
Lu Xu responded quietly, “After you get out, kill me. Death does not scare me. Protect your innermost heart, gege.”
Lu Xu spread his arms, hugging that heart devil that was emitting black qi everywhere. Hongjun shouted, “No! Lu Xu!”
Suddenly, the Grey Wolf howled, and the vibrations sent the heart devil, which was about to enter Lu Xu’s body, flying away. In the next instant, Hongjun reached a hand out and stuck it directly into Lu Xu’s chest, pulling out a black humanoid figure by the hair. The black qi in his hand exploded, and thunderingly, he mercilessly tugged that heart devil out of Lu Xu’s body!
As soon as Lu Xu froze, the array collapsed, and a ring of light rippled outwards.
At the same time, the “Deer King Jātaka” mural glowed with a bright light, spewing out afterimages of hunpo and black qi that filled the sky. The ghost king raised the rattle drum in his hand, and he shouted, “All of you, rise!”
Right then, Li Jinglong, Lu Xu, and Mo Rigen opened their eyes at once. However, Hongjun’s three hun and seven po, brimming with black qi, entered his body.
“Hongjun --!” the carp yao exclaimed in horror, before it hopped aside.
Li Jinglong immediately flipped over, ignited the Heart Lamp, and expelled the black qi in Hongjun’s hunpo. But they were already nearing the end, and almost all the devil qi had been sucked into Hongjun’s heart. He opened his eyes, and they were filled with hatred!
In the next instance, a heart devil erupted from the mural, its claws and teeth flashing. A-Tai and Ashina Qiong struck at the same time, but the heart devil, surrounded by blazing devil flames, rushed out of the Mogao Caves!
“Chase after it!” Mo Rigen shouted.
Everyone rose and rushed after it, out of the Mogao Caves.
In the dark of the night, the stars above were dim. The heart devil flew out from the third story, but the Grey Wolf trod on light as it raced towards it, roaring at it, and the heart devil was sent crashing back down. A-Tai pressed one hand on the railings as he vaulted over them, waved his Godly Hurricane fan, and sent blazing flames billowing forth.
The ghost king led a group of his bodyguards in leaping over the railings, flying out of the Mogao Caves. Lu Xu was right behind them, and he shouted, “Cleanse his nightmare!”
“Where’s Zhangshi?!” A-Tai called back.
Hongjun pulled out his throwing knives, but just as he was about to rush out of the cavern, a hand reached out from behind him, latched onto his wrist, and roughly pulled him back!
“You listen to me,” Li Jinglong said solemnly. “You must not take in the nightmares of the heart devil…”
Before he could finish speaking, Li Jinglong suddenly fell victim to a solid, clean punch of Hongjun’s. That punch landed firmly on his eye socket, and it sent the world around him spinning dizzily as he almost fell over.
“You’ve ganged up to lie to me…” Hongjun said, squeezing his fists tightly, so angry that he couldn’t stop shaking. “You all knew long before… that was the devil seed…”
With great difficulty, Li Jinglong coughed a few times, using one hand to cover his eye. He said, “It’s my fault, I lied to you, but no matter what, you cannot take in any more devil qi… Hongjun, promise me, promise me…”
He managed to lift his head, his vision spinning. Anger had twisted Hongjun’s face into a grimace, but now his expression slowly smoothed out, yet in his eyes there was a trace of iciness.
“Nod,” Li Jinglong said. “I promise you that I will defeat it. You will. Definitely. Not. Become like how you were in the mural again… Nod, nod for me, otherwise I will never let you leave this place!”
Hongjun panted harshly, before finally nodding once and rushing right out of the Mogao Caves!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.