Dawn had yet to break over the horizon…
“Monk, they’re here.” Having said that, Xiao Se stood up, yawned and walked up to the edge of the cliff to peer at the sea of monks standing below. All of them were currently seated in an orderly fashion, each beating a Buddhist wooden fish in an equally orderly rhythm. In a desolate wasteland like this, the abrupt departure from silence seemed almost zen-like. Even a lazy person like Xiao Se couldn’t help but tense up. “With three hundred monks chanting in unison for a funeral service, even the imperial family’s Day of Heavenly Offerings seem less holy than today.”
“That’s…” Suddenly, Lei Wujie pointed into the distance where the stark of figure of broad monk wielding a knife stood behind the three hundred chanting monks. The figure threw a sharp look ahead where nine steeds currently rode towards him, each bearing a rider.
“It’s Wang Rensun.” Xiao Se turned towards Wuxin. “Seems like he didn’t do as you asked and step aside. However, my guess is that he made a different decision than twelve years ago.”
“Let’s go.” Wuxin coldly glared in that direction but said nothing more before slowly walking towards the dilapidated temple.
Down below, Wang Rensun stabbed his Buddhist monk’s knife into the ground, shut his eyes and sighed deeply.
Standing before him now were the seven masters of the Nine Dragon Temple, each representing a Buddhist ideal: Da Jue, Da Huai, Da Wei, Da Guan, Da Mo, Da Wang, and Da Pu. Accompanying them was the monk, Wuchan, and Tang Lian.
“Who is that?” Tang Lian asked.
“Venerable Fa Ye of the Grand Sanskrit Temple.” Wuchan furrowed his brows slightly. In his memories, this Venerable had always been a free spirit. Even during the scant few sightings of him, the rumors speak only of his appalling actions such as drinking or eating meat, and naught of his martial prowess, let alone why he would be standing in their path right now with a knife in hand.
It was then that Wang Rensun suddenly opened his eyes, violently pulled out the knife from the ground and swung at all nine of them, tearing apart the ground in a slash of bloody knife qi. The nine figures immediately leaped off their horses which were instantly bifurcated in half!
Blood fell like rain, as Tang Lian couldn’t help but exclaim, “Such murderous intent! Such force!”
Wang Rensun stabbed his knife into the earth once more and yelled, “HALT!”
Standing at the head of the pack in his yellow cassock and eyes benevolent, Master Da Jue softly chanted, “Amitabha.”
Behind him, the rest of the masters lowered their heads and chanted as well. “It has been twelve years since Venerable Fa Ye has lowered his butcher knife, why has he committed the sin of murder once more?” Da Jue sighed.
“What do I have to say? The plan was to spend the rest of my life as a monk, repenting for my wrongdoings. But soon I realized, actually, it is already too late to turn back. Then, after going back and forth about this for a long time, I finally came to the conclusion that only by swinging this knife of mine, will I have a chance of repenting.” Wang Rensun shut his eyes once more. Different from his usual self, every swing of his Space-severing blade seemed to be laden with his memories.
“This old monk has already had a taste of Venerable Fa Ye’s knifeplay those twelve years ago. But, has the Venerable had a taste of this old monk’s nine demon subjugators? With that single Space-severing knife, does the Venerable think that he will succeed in stopping us?”
“I’m afraid not. But how many do you think I will succeed in keeping here forever, monk?” Wang Rensun gently caressed the hilt of his knife.
“Your heart is full of murder, Venerable Fa Ye.” Da Jue’s voice turned graver.
“That’s right! It’s full of murder!” Wang Rensun clamped down on the hilt of his knife with vice-like strength before pulling it out once more.
“Wuchan, you and the benefactor from Snow Moon City have to keep him here!” Da Jue leaped forward and threw a palm strike at Wang Rensun. An instant later, countless silhouettes of his palm burst forth. In all likelihood, each of these palms had already been trained to point where any one of them could inflict damage. Not daring to receive it head on, Wang Rensun forcefully withdrew his knife upwards and stepped aside. Seeing that, Da Jue chose not to chase after the man, instead choosing to rush up the hill with the other six masters.
Wang Rensun quickly righted himself, but just as he was about to give chase, a whistle of air came whizzing from the side. He hurriedly swung his knife to block, knocking that needle, clad in an icy cold glimmer, down into the ground.
“Tangmen’s Bone-piercing Needle?” Wang Rensun frowned slightly. “There’s actually a Tangmen here, does the martial world desire that child’s death so badly? Who’s disciple are you? Tang Huang? Tang Xuan? Or is it Tang Lianyue?”
Tang Lian paused in surprise for a second. Though he had never heard of the name, Venerable Fa Ye, but those three names the monk just uttered were all Tangmen elders who had long since stopped involving themselves in the martial world, choosing instead to focus on training new disciples -this monk seemed familiar with Tangmen.
Tang Lian cupped his fists together and said, “This lowly disciple is known as Tang Lian, before the age of sixteen, he studied the arts of the outer hall under the tutelage of teacher Tang Lianyue. Because of teacher’s orders to head for Snow Moon City, Tang Lian is now under the tutelage of the Citymaster of Snow Moon City, Baili Dongjun.”
“You’re that fellow’s disciple? Good, I won’t kill you then. What about you, monk? You look familiar, are you Da Jue’s disciple?” Wang Rensun turned around to face Wuchan.
Wuchan clasped his hands together. “This humble monk is a disciple under the tutelage of Master Wangyou, his name is Wuchan. For now, this humble monk has taken up temporary residence in the Nine Dragon Temple to train in the arts of the Vajra Demon Subduing Divine Skill.”
“Wangyou? Looks like there’s another disciple of an old acquaintance. So that person up there is your younger martial brother?” Asked Wang Rensun.
“That’s right.” Wuchan admitted openly.
“Then let me ask you, are you here to save him, or to kill him?” Wang Rensun asked in a low voice.
“I do not know.” Wuchan shook his head.
“Do not know?” Wang Rensun frowned at that point.
“This humble monk would be grateful if the Venerable could give him an answer.” Wuchan bowed.
“Your answer is in this knife then, come find it yourself.” Wang Rensun’s eyes narrowed, and he gripped down on his knife once more.
“May I know what the Venerable’s name might be before he left the mundane?” Tang Lian asked, having suddenly thought of a person.
“The Space-severing knife!” Though he had already prepared himself for the answer, Tang Lian still couldn’t contain the surprise within him. A knife to sever all space… it was said that with just one swing of his overwhelming knife, the essence of his knife would be left at that very spot for three days and three nights. Twelve years ago, he was a figure famed for being one of the top three blades in the world, alongside famous bladesman like Snow Moon City’s elder, Ye Mubai of the Kunwu Blade!
Wang Rensun viciously swung his knife forth, and in a clear voice, yelled, “Come, your answer awaits!”
Back at the dilapidated temple, Wuxin had just fished out a pouch from his robes. Brows knitted together and eyes grave, he slowly walked forward, opened up the pouch and left it atop the Buddhist altar.
“What’s that?” Lei Wujie asked.
Xiao Se squinted at it for a long while and said, “Is that the so-called relic that the legends speak of?”
“When a particularly accomplished monk passes away and is cremated, the pearl-like remnants which survived the fire are known as relics. Within the Buddhist texts, they state that these relic beads are cultivated through merits like the Parami or the Trisikkha. The force of their merit cultivation coalesces into the relic, a representation of the union between their heart and Buddhism. Every single relic bead is an extremely valuable and sacred treasure.” Xiao Se explained.
Upon laying down the relic, Wuxin slowly walked down the platform. “Everyone said that the old monk turned into ashes in an instant, but within those ashes was, in fact, a single relic. It then occurred to me: no matter how long the journey might end up being, I was going to bring this relic back to Khotan. In life, the old monk wasn’t able to return, in death, he should at least be able to.”
Having said that, Wuxin sat down cross-legged, closed his eyes and began counting the rosary beads in his hand, even chanting in unison with the monks down below.
As the sounds of chanting filled the temple, that relic bead actually began to emit a golden light, and soon a vague figure reminiscent of a Buddha appeared on the platform…
“Xiao Se, that’s…” Lei Wujie couldn’t help but ask as his eyes remained glued to the scene. However, his words were immediately blocked off Xiao Se’s hands, followed by a gentle shake of his head. “Don’t say anything.”
The silhouette on the altar grew more corporeal as the chanting continued -it was an old monk, clad in grey robes, with white hair, white brows, and a benevolent face. It started to descend the altar platform slowly. As it did so, it looked at Wuxin who was still seated on the floor, bent down and gently rubbed his head. “Child…”
“Teacher!” Having referred to the monk as ‘old monk’ up till now, he finally addressed the silhouette, Master Wangyou, as ‘teacher’. As he kneeled on the floor, tears began to flow unbidden.
“Good children shouldn’t cry,” Wangyou said with a gentle smile. “What are you doing here? You should be at home.”
“Wuxin’s home has… and always will be… the Snowy Peak Temple.” Wuxin managed to force out a reply through his choking tears.
“Silly child, that is nothing more than a temporary shelter. Now that you have grown up, it’s time you returned home. Your home is in a free place, a place beyond reach, a heaven outside of heaven.” Wangyou shook his head.
“But your disciple only yearns for the Snowy Peak Temple.” Like a stubborn child right now, Wuxin repeated his previous words.
“Such a silly child… only those people would ever see you as a spark that would light the world on fire.” Wangyon sighed, stood up, and walked past him.
“Teacher! Please point the way ahead for your disciple, Wuxin!” It was then that Wuxin finally looked up to look at his teacher’s back.
“To be honest, I had always felt that we weren’t a pair of teacher and disciple, but merely just companions on a journey. Now that my journey has ended, all that’s left, is up to you to walk. All you need remember is this: do not turn back.” Wangyou continued walking onwards, no longer turning around to regard his disciple as his silhouette slowly faded away till it was finally gone.
“Your disciple, Wuxin understands and heeds your instructions, teacher!” Wuxin forcefully kowtowed.
“Was that a…ghost?” Even now, Lei Wujie was still a little shaken from the encounter.
“It was said that of the six Higher Knowledges, one exists, known as the Extinction of Mental Intoxications, or the Asavakkhaya. Though a person may be dead, their consciousness remains active, never dying till the last shred of his will vanishes.” Though he said that, this was the first time Xiao Se had witnessed such a miracle as well. For the consciousness to remain undying, all that could be said was this: the secrets of Buddhism defied knowing.
Wuxin stood up then, wiped the tears off his face, then with a whip of his long robes, returned to that elegant monk they all knew, as if that monk who was just crying on the floor wasn’t him at all. He cleared his throat, and in a heavy voice, said, “Let’s go.”
“Is there even a point now in putting up that elegant front? We all saw that just now.” Xiao Se made sure to tease him.
“Sigh, and here I was, trying to be a flippant but aloof monk, who would’ve thought that the old monk would actually turn out to be so clingy, such a miscalculation,” Wuxin jokingly replied. “But didn’t the old monk just say so himself, the journey ahead, is one I have to walk myself. Even though the very first step I have to take after his death is a precipitous walk off a cliff.”
“The master Wangyou’s Buddhist arts are profound and mysterious, but there is one thing he was wrong about. The journey ahead isn’t just for you to walk alone.” Xiao Se said in a knowing manner.
“Oh?” Wuxin smiled.
“There’s still us.” Lei Wujie smiled and took a giant stride out of the door. Hands still in his sleeves and lazy as always, Xiao Se left as well, with a head-shaking but smiling Wuxin in tow. Just like that, the three of them left the temple, shoulder to shoulder. One was dressed in a blood red garment that drew the stares of any present. Another, dressed in white robes and always grinning. The last wore a luxurious coat and was still yawning as he walked out with the other two. The only thing they had in common was this: all three of them held within their eyes the sparkle that only youngsters like them would have.
“That’s them?” Having reached the entrance, Xiao Se lazily asked.
“That’s them,” Wuxin answered with a smile.
Standing outside of the temple were seven monks, clad in the standard Buddhist frocks as they sat crossed legged on the floor in front of them. Some had a benevolent but silent countenance, yet some had a furious glare like a fierce arhat, then there was one who had his eyes closed and head lowered like he was asleep.
The Arhat Array!