”If you don’t want to die, hold on tight!” Sweat covered Miaomiao’s back as she gripped one end of the mast tightly. The mast suddenly sunk down as the man grabbed onto the other end of it. The debris flowing rapidly through the river’s surface caused several bloody lines to appear on his face.
Liu Fuyi hugged the injured Mu Yao while sitting on the sails. Their clothes were both completely drenched through. Mu Yao was currently shivering all over unconsciously. Liu Fuyi felt extremely nervous as he twisted his brows down to look at Miaomiao: “Miaomiao, can you do it?”
”Can… possible…” Miaomiao strained herself of all her strength, shin deep in the water, to jolt the man onto the side of the ship.
“Thank you! Thank you young female hero!” The middle aged man scrambled to climb up and collapse onto the deck paralyzed with tears and snot all over him.
Miaomiao crossed over his powerless body to walk towards Liu Fuyi. She brushed off some water of her face: “How far are we from the nearest shore? This ship won’t last for much longer…”
“We’re close.” Liu Fuyi surveyed the area in front of them with a grave expression. Suddenly, a ray of moonlight fell upon his face. Ling Miaomiao raised her head to look and saw that the dark clouds had dispersed. The beautiful and clean moonlight once again covered them.
There was a dense carpet of white bones littered everywhere. The Nine Mysterious Demon Restraining Pagoda still rotated in the sky and the occasional water demon that showed their face would immediately be crushed into pieces once they surfaced.
The Wan River’s water demons, this powerful force, was done for.
”Close to shore… close to shore…” The man who was lucky enough to survive muttered to himself. From afar, the faint outline of the river’s shore came into view. The man repeatedly mumbled ‘Amitabha’ to himself. 1Amitabha: Buddhist phrase which basically translates to… Buddha have mercy on us.
Miaomiao continuously threw glances at the inside of the ship. Even rats and crickets had come running out of the hold by now, but there still weren’t any living humans. She felt her heart beat fiercely, “Brother Liu… Mu Sheng is still inside… I’ll go look for him.”
“Ah Sheng hasn’t come out yet?” Mu Yao suddenly turned startled. Her face then turned a bit less tense once she seemed to think of something. “He has the Demon Restraining Circlets with him, he should be able to deal with everything.”
Liu Fuyi put Mu Yao down and spoke in a warm voice, “Sit, I’ll go take a look.”
Miaomiao wrung a handful of water out of her skirt and lifted up her skirt to her shins to follow him quickly from behind.
Liu Fuyi took a few steps forward before suddenly pausing. Ling Miaomiao was caught unprepared and nearly crashed into him. She heard Liu Fuyi’s voice buzzing: “Ah Sheng?”
Mu Sheng had walked out of the hold by himself.
His appearance caused them all to nearly be scared into a daze. Where he walked, even the water turned the color of blood.
His black hair stuck to the side of his face and his face was paler than paper. Even his lips were the color of ash. Only his eyes were pitch black and the glint of light in them was akin to the flash of lightning right before a torrential downpour. Miaomiao saw the wound that had healed before once again opening and spewing fresh blood out. His right sleeve also had a big circle dyed in blood.
Even more exaggerated was that many water demons, who were fearless of death, were following behind Mu Sheng. They were fighting amongst each other to absorb the fresh blood in the water. It looked exactly like he was being escorted by a massive black cloud.
The moment Miaomiao saw his situation, she knew that the black lotus must’ve suffered a great loss. If he had even the slightest shred of strength left, he would’ve never let the locust like demons behind him live.
“Ah Sheng… what happened?” Liu Fuyi immediately extended his hand to support him but Mu Sheng fiercely pushed him away, “Don’t touch me.”
He passed by the stunned Liu Fuyi. His eyes were filled with an evilness that was slowly growing out of control. His gaze dithered on Miaomiao’s face for a second before he raised his head to look at Mu Yao with an extremely complicated look in his eyes.
“Are you ok…” Miaomiao saw his appearance and hesitated on whether or not she should go over and support him or not.
But, Mu Sheng fell onto her with one step, his entire body leaning onto hers.
”Ai, let me support you properly.” Miaomiao struggled to prop him up, water slowly dripping down, as they ambled their way towards Mu Yao.
“How did you wound open again?” She asked in a low voice but didn’t get a reply even after waiting a long time. Turning back, she discovered that the black lotus’s breath was extremely weak. His lashes were lowered and his eyes were nearly completely closed shut.
“Hold on, don’t faint! We’re about to reach the shore!”
He was so difficult to deal with and was unwilling to let Liu Fuyi carry him. If he couldn’t move, how could she possibly help move him around?
“I won’t die…” His lashes shook and gave her a gossamer-like cold smile, “You won’t die from tiredness.”
“Ah Sheng, I have something I want to ask you.” Mu Yao stared at his face with abnormal seriousness.
Miaomiao felt hesitant: “Sister Mu….”
“It’s fine… Sis, ask away.” The cold moonlight was reflected in Mu Sheng’s pupils. He faced his elder sister with a rare derisory smile on the corners of his lips.
“Just now, I captured a little demon and questioned it. It was only then that I learned their Water Demon King was killed by a Mu family member. That was why they called the entire population of water demons to come take revenge. I was completely unaware of this matter…” Her gaze suddenly turned bright when she specially uttered the three words ‘Mu family member’ with weight.
”I killed him.” His voice was terrifyingly calm as he interrupted her.
“Ah Sheng, you…” Mu Yao became enraged, “What did our ancestors teach us? Do you still remember? Grievances have a cause and debts will be paid. Only those demons who’ve caused evils can be hunted. If you kill without any reason… what makes you any different from those demons!”
She thought of the other half of the ship filled with screams; So many living people were buried alive in front of her eyes. And she could do nothing but watch helplessly. She felt a throb of pain in her heart, pointed at the river’s vast expanse of water and chided him with a near-hate filled severity: “Did you know, because you wanted to show off and prove yourself, how many people lost their lives in this river?”
Miaomiao could feel Mu Sheng’s thoracic activity turn violent so she hastily tried to butt in: “Sister Mu, he wasn’t killing indiscriminately, he was doing it for…”
However, she was harshly clenched on the waist by Mu Sheng and she immediately shut up. She then turned around to looked unhappily at the black lotus.
”Showing off… prove myself.” He slightly raised his eyelids and forcibly gathered his disappearing energy and somehow managed to smile, “My sister is right. It was all my fault.”
Ling Miaomiao felt completely defeated by the brother sister pair.
Why didn’t Mu Sheng explain? Why did he start sulking for seemingly no reason at all? And this Mu Yao, why can’t you look at the current situation? Was this really the right time to start criticizing others…
“Uhm, let me cut in here.” Miaomiao used a lot of strength of prop up Mu Sheng’s body and subsequently a layer of warm sweat drenched her back again, “Hit or scold him if you want, but not now. Sister Mu, look at the degree of injuries on him…”
Mu Yao’s expression slightly grew more warm, “Ah Sheng, come over and let me take a look at you.”
“Sis…” Yet, he pulled on Miaomiao and wouldn’t move, “If I die, won’t everything be fine?”
Mu Yao’s expression changed: “Why are you saying such nonsense?”
Miaomiao clenched her teeth, pulled Mu Sheng forward even though he was in a crummy mood. His warm blood stained her skirt again as she tried pulling him forward. Then, all of a sudden, she felt his body turn heavy….
“Ai ai ai….” Miaomiao turned pale with fright: The black lotus had completely passed out.
Liu Fuyi rushed over in one big stride and supported Mu Sheng onto his back. He raised his eyes to look at them; There was a calmness in his eyes that caused onlookers to feel at ease: “Yao’er, Miaomiao, let’s first take Ah Sheng and get on shore. This place should be a green bamboo forest. We’ll have to take lodging in this bamboo forest for tonight.”
The big middle aged man looked terrified, he hastily crawled with arms flailing about and shouted: “Don’t… don’t forget about me…”
“Having experienced the majesty of the high seas, other bodies of water no longer attract my gaze. After falling enchanted by the dreamy clouds atop Mount Wu…. the scenery elsewhere is no longer considered scenery at all.”2This is just half of a quatrain poem from the fourth(?) poem from a collection of poems lamenting death. By Yuan Zhen, a poet from the Tang Dynasty. The second half of the quatrain is: “Although I find myself in an endless expanse of flowers, I do not care to look back. Perhaps, because of taoism or perhaps, the reason is… you.” The woman’s voice was beautiful and mellow. It was like countless threads of satin sweeping across a bowl of sand, causing listeners to feel their ears grow numb.
She paused for a moment and let out a faint sigh.
“Little Sheng’er3Sheng here is the one the female water demon used. Not the normal Mu Sheng so far. This sheng basically means a wind reed instrument., come. Let me brush your hair.”
The image in the mirror was gloomy. A soft, boneless-looking pair of jade-like palms adorned in crimson satin held onto a black oak comb. Again and again, they brushed through his hair, “My son’s hair is just like his father’s.” A pair of eyes appeared on the mirror. The corners of their eyes were lifted like a pair of limpid, beautiful eyes. It was the woman leaning down to look into the mirror. The gorgeous face of the person in the mirror had a gratified smile on their face. “It’s both black and bright.”
“Your hair is also very long…” Her voice turned quiet at this point, carrying with it the smell of worry: “It’d be great if your hair wasn’t long.”
Her fingers followed the strands of hair and slid down slowly; It was the softest caress imaginable.
“If I just cut off all my hair, then won’t it no longer grow long?” There was a pair of pitch black eyes in the mirror. It looked just like two black grapes. The child chewed on his fingernails and his feet dangled in the air, unable to touch the ground. He sat suspended on the chair, swaying back and forth.
”The words of a child.” The female covered her mouth to hide a smile, “Even if you cut if all off, it’ll still grow back…” Despair suddenly surfaced in her clear pupils, “Just like some things… no matter… no matter what, it’s still impossible.”
He played with fingers while muttering under his breath. His long lashes covered his eyelids.
“Can the sun not set?”
”Can mother let me stay? I don’t want to go on the streets…”
“Vile spawn!” A whip struck down, “Still not admitting your wrongs?”
The whip landed on the child and he flipped over with his back facing upwards. His jutting shoulder blades were especially prominent as he laid on his stomach without a sound
The middle aged man’s face was especially complex as he stared at him. It wasn’t only until a long time later that he spoke: “You are a freak of nature.”
In the dark firewood hut, the servants were gossipping while gesticulating: “I knew he was a natural born scourge….no matter how they teach or lecture him, it’s no use.”
“If it wasn’t for the young miss….”
“Hmph, the masters are benevolent. It’s just this little brat that can’t understand his own identity.”
The two of them shut their mouths. There was a figure standing in front of them. It was the ten-some aged child that had at some point appeared in front of them. He was looking at them with his head raised.
His childish eyes were truly a pleasing sight; Like a pond in autumn filled to the brim with starlight. It was unfortunate that those eyes were actually teeming with chilliness. It made people unable to work up any desire to get near him: “Whose child am I actually?”
”Young Master… you must be joking with us.” The tall and skinny servant smiled so widely he felt his chest throb, “Young Master, when you were three years of age, the masters picked you up from a demon den. It was only filled with bones with not a single living human in sight. How could we know which unfortunate people your parents are?”
He lost his parents when he was three? Impossible, absolutely impossible…
The face reflected in the mirror… that talked and laughed with him for long periods of time… clearly, at that time, she was there.
Then why were these people trying to lie to him?
“…do you still remember your mother laying underground while you’re so happily demon hunting? Little Sheng’er?”
”Mu, like eternal twilight. Sheng, playing a farewell song…”
“Impossible, why can’t I remember a single bit of it at all?”
“Of course you can’t remember…” The female’s voice erupted into a shrill laugh, “You’ve been a dog of the Mu Family from the start. The dirty past, you should all forget, isn’t that right?”
His Demon Restraining Circlets were around his opponent’s neck. The demon congealed out of black clouds being choked and an uncontrollable ruthless glint was in its eyes: “All that you know, spit it out for me.”
The water demon laughed heartily: “If life has no worries, why would I be scared of death? Unfortunately, I didn’t cherish my life enough…”
“Then what do you want?”
”I want your blood in exchange.”
“Cough…” His eyes flew wide open to see a female’s face enlarged in his face. Immediately after, his face was grabbed by the other and roughly turned around to the side, “Cough it out, don’t swallow it. You’ll choke to death.”
“…” Blood flowed down his lips onto the grass below. Only now did he manage to speak with a raspy, sandy voice: “You… be gentler…”
”Oh.” Miaomiao awkwardly withdrew her hand, “Sorry, did I hurt you?”
Hurt him? His neck was nearly wrung off!
His sight slowly grew clearer. The sky was azure and the shore was dense with towering bamboo trees. Occasionally, the sound of crisp birdsong floated down into their ears. The early morning rays of sunlight landed on the tip of his nose. He discovered that he was thickly covered by Ling Miaomiao’s clothes.
“Fortunately, you fought hard and you woke up after just one night.” Miaomiao lifted her head to look at the distant Mu Yao and Liu Fuyi pair leaning on each other. She lowered her voice, “You sister didn’t seem to notice the clues.”
“You looked over me all night?” He raised his eyes to see that Miaomiao still hadn’t changed out of her wet clothes. Her hair was wet and her cheeks rosy from exerting herself. There were two massive eye bags under her eyes and she cut a very very sorry figure.
Ling Miaomiao yawned and then smiled: “Ah, I wasn’t specifically looking after you. You know as well, I have insomnia.”
Footnotes: Amitabha: Buddhist phrase which basically translates to… Buddha have mercy on us.  This is just half of a quatrain poem from the fourth(?) poem from a collection of poems lamenting death. By Yuan Zhen, a poet from the Tang Dynasty. The second half of the quatrain is: “Although I find myself in an endless expanse of flowers, I do not care to look back. Perhaps, because of taoism or perhaps, the reason is… you.”  Sheng here is the one the female water demon used. Not the normal Mu Sheng so far. This sheng basically means a wind reed instrument.