"I want father... to accompany me down the mountains, can you?"
One could even hear a pin drop in the side palace. After a long while, Qing Xiong said, "I command you to go to the human world to do three things, Hongjun. Your father has raised you for 12 years. Could you fulfill your father's wishes with these three tasks?"
Hongjun looked at Chong Ming, then at Qing Xiong, before looking back at Chong Ming again. Finally, he nodded. "If you say it that way, I'll go."
Qing Xiong took out a letter and said, "Di Renjie, when he was alive, had a governmental office called 'The Great Tang's Exorcism Department'. Take this letter and report to the Exorcism Department. In time to come, slowly uncover the identity of the enemy who killed your biological father, Kong Xuan. That's the first task."
After thinking about it, Hongjun asked, "Who's the enemy?"
"I don't know." Qing Xiong got up. Another peacock feather made of jasper appeared between his fingers, and he handed it to Hongjun. "What kind of person your biological father used to be, what kind of life he had in Chang'an, who he had hated, who he had loved, who he was indebted to, who he had animosities with -- these are all things we don't know, and are unable to talk about. Only you can find the answers to all of this."
Hongjun hesitated for a moment before taking the peacock feather.
"The four Zhanxian Throwing Knives have been passed on to you when you were little." Chong Ming raised his hand and threw out a manual, then continued, "Now, yaos run amok in Chang'an. All of the yaos on that manual can be killed."
"'kay." Hongjun caught it and opened up the manual. He couldn't recognise a single word on it about the yaos.
"You're holding it upside down." Chong Ming reminded him.
Hongjun immediately flipped the manual over and pretended to seriously read through it, yet he kept sneaking glances at Chong Ming, who was situated high above. Chong Ming didn't look at him.
"Who's Di Renjie?" Hongjun asked when he saw that Chong Ming's expression had softened a little.
"A human." Chong Ming answered, "Your father's former friends are long dead."
"The exorcism department specialises in capturing and exorcising yaos." Qing Xiong explained, "Now, Chang'an's yao tribes are the mortal enemies of Yaojin Palace. After you join the department, you just need to listen to them. If you can drive away the yao king occupying Chang'an, your father and I might return to the human world to accompany you in the future."
"Really?" Hongjun suddenly looked up.
"When did I say that?" Chong Ming's brows furrowed as he said coldly to Qing Xiong.
"Two hundred years ago." Qing Xiong paced about within the palace for a few steps as he said slowly, "A war between Yaojin Palace and the Sacred Land of Mara had broken out which lasted for a long time, and in the end…"
"You don't need to tell him." Chong Ming interrupted, "It's impossible for him to do."
Qing Xiong replied, "He's your child too, he's a part of Yaojin Palace!"
"You need not say anymore!" Chong Ming's anger spread out.
"I'll defeat the yao king." A smile could be seen on Hongjun's face again. He answered, "That's the second task ba, it's a promise!"
"Even if you were to chop that black jiao's corpse into ten thousand pieces." Chong Ming was practically saying through gritted teeth, "I still won't return to the human world. You don't need to waste your time and end up losing your life over it!"
"Also, this pendant." Qing Xiong continued just in time and placed the pendant in Hongjun's hand. He explained, "After you arrive in Chang'an, find someone called Chen Ziang and tell him that this is the Blazing Lamp… forget it, you don't need to tell him anything. Just open it like this in front of him…"
After he spoke, Qing Xiong's slender fingers grasped that pendant. Runes lit up on the gold hoop under the pendant and automatically separated, came undone, and the piece of crystal slowly flew up.
"...then crush the crystal in front of him."
Hongjun looked surprised and asked, "Why?"
"This is the Heart Lamp that the King Kun of Xuandu handed to me." Qing Xiong said, "Its successor should be the Chen family of the human world, but something happened two hundred years ago and there was a small accident, so the power of the heart lamp couldn't enter the body of the Chen member… it's time to return the item to its original owner. When the crystal is crushed, the heart lamp will automatically enter one's body."
"It's not certain if that mortal's still alive." Chong Ming sneered.
"It doesn't matter even if he's dead. Any of the Chen family's descendants can inherit it." Qing Xiong said, "In any case, Hongjun, you must find the successor of the Heart Lamp. Pass him the light inside, then make friends with him. That's the third task. Once you're done with these three tasks, you can return to Yaojin Palace, and your father naturally wouldn't chase you down the mountain again."
"Okay." Hongjun kept it carefully and replied, "I'll finish these three tasks in a year and come home."
Chong Ming sneered.
"You have Kong Xuan's Pentacoloured Sacred Light in your body." Chong Ming couldn't help but say, "It's sufficient for self-preservation. You have the Zhanxian Throwing Knives in your hands, so you definitely won't have a problem in killing humans or yaos. I've raised you for 12 years, so we do have some predestined affinity. If I don't ask you this, Qing Xiong would probably blame me for being cold again… consider it carefully now…"
Hongjun opened his mouth slightly and looked straight at Chong Ming. Chong Ming finally shifted his gaze towards him again, then enunciated each word clearly,
"You can pick one item of your choice in Yaojin Palace. As long as you can ask for it, I'll give it to you."
The light of day shone into the palace and sprinkled down between the two of them. White clouds beyond the windows were as white as snow, and the azure skies were clear.
After a long time passed, Hongjun finally replied, "I want father… to accompany me down the mountains, can you?"
Chong Ming fell silent for a long time, then he got up and walked to one side.
"No." He had his back to Hongjun and never turned around.
"You said that you'd give me whatever I pick." Hongjun said with a smile, "So I picked you."
"Don't fool around." Qing Xiong said, "Hongjun, this is for you."
Qing Xiong handed Hongjun a bundle. Hongjun accepted it, slung it over his shoulder, and slowly walked towards Chong Ming. Yet Chong Ming refused to look back at him. He turned around and walked to the platform on one side of the side palace, so Hongjun could only stop walking. Chong Ming said, "If you're not going to say it, then leave now ba."
Hongjun fell silent for a while, then said, "Then I want nothing."
Hongjun turned around and walked out of the side palace in disappointment.
"He's exactly like how Kong Xuan used to be." Qing Xiong sighed.
Chong Ming's voice was hoarse for the first time in a long while, and his shoulders trembled a little as he said, "He's him, and Kong Xuan is Kong Xuan. After all these years, I've let it go, yet you never have."
Qing Xiong was stunned.
With a small bundle on his back, Hongjun slowly descended as he walked through the winding road of Taihang mountains. The carp behind him hopped and skipped as it chased after him.
"Your highness! Your highness--!" The carp was out of breath from running. It said, "Why did you leave without waiting for me?"
Hongjun suddenly looked back before remembering that he had forgotten it.
"Why are you here?" Hongjun said, "Quick, go back! Go back! Father said that the human world is too dangerous…"
"Lord Qing Xiong asked me to follow you." The carp plopped its butt down on a rock and wagged its tail, then asked, "Do you know where Chang'an is?"
Hongjun scratched his head.
"Do you know how many copper coins can be exchanged for a tael of silver?"
"Do you know where to buy a horse?"
"Do you know the difference between asking for a meal or lodging? Do you know how to say hello when you see humans? Do you know that the more good-looking a man is, the more deceitful he is? Do you know…"
"Okay okay stop talking!" Hongjun answered, then put his bundle aside and sat down as well.
The carp yao continued, "You have to wash your hands before a meal, wear more clothes when it's cold, the human world has spring, summer, autumn, and winter, compared to Yaojin Palace…"
In the distance, at the summit of Taihang mountains, cries of birds rang out in waves. The golden wheel shone splendidly upon the world, in contrast to surging rays through the sea of clouds.
The prattling of the carp yao ringing next to Hongjun's ear gradually faded. He thought about how he had never left his father throughout the 12 years he had spent in Yaojin Palace. Even though he had always yearned to go to the world of mortals below the mountains, now that he did leave home, he thought about how Chong Ming seemed to want to bid him farewell before he left and suddenly felt incomparably terrified. For a moment, he couldn't help but feel sorrow welling up within him.
"After finishing those three tasks, you'll be able to return home." The carp yao said, "Don't cry."
"I'm not crying!" Hongjun refuted angrily.
"Then let's go ba." The carp yao said, "My feet hurt from walking on this mountain road."
So Hongjun had to pick up the carp yao. The carp yao consciously pulled his hands and feet back a little, then Hongjun stuffed him into his bundle. He couldn't help but look back at the summit of the mountain one more time. As of this moment, a lot of complex and inexplicable emotions filled his heart.
"Let's go." The carp yao said, "It'll turn dark soon."
So Hongjun had to turn around and stride along the mountain road.
Three days later, in Yaojin Palace.
"Why is it that after turning round and round for three days and nights, they still haven't walked out of Taihang mountains?"
Chong Ming stood in the atrium, facing the pond with an impatient expression. There was a reflection in the pond -- Hongjun was squatting beside a stream as he drank the water he had cupped with his hands. With a sloppy look from head to toe, he was horribly unkempt.
"I told him before that he can't drink water just like that, he has to boil it first before drinking or he'd get diarrhea. Why does he become so improper the moment he leaves the mountain?!" Chong Ming was utterly indignant.
"He should be lost ba." Qing Xiong replied.
"I told you that carp was unreliable!" Chong Ming was all jittery as he said, "Never mind, never mind. You go down and send him out of the mountains."
"I won't go." Qing Xiong said, "If you want someone to go, you do it."
Chong Ming glanced at Qing Xiong. Qing Xiong suddenly said, "He almost found his way. Look, he'll be able to walk out if he walks along this road on the right."
Chong Ming and Qing Xiong looked at the pond together again. In the reflection, Hongjun was standing at a fork in the road, looking left and right.
"The one on the right! The one on the right!" Chong Ming and Qing Xiong urged anxiously at the same time.
In the end, Hongjun didn't betray everyone's expectations and chose the right path. The two of them finally breathed a long sigh of relief. Qing Xiong said, "He's out now. If he walks through the highway in the human world, he'll arrive at Chang'an in a month."
Hongjun finally walked out of the periphery that can be seen in the pond, his figure disappearing outside the last canyon of Taihang mountains. Chong Ming couldn't see him anymore, and could only turn around and leave by himself.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro and opal.