"No matter if I shatter every bone in my body, I will do what you need me to.”
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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“Come, come! Let’s eat, let’s eat!”
Within the side hall of Huaqing Palace, lanterns were blazing with light, which shone on the flurries of snow in the valley as their shadows entered the doorway. A huge fish was currently swaying back and forth in front of the light.
“Stop staring,” Hongjun smiled. “Come eat dinner.”
The carp yao had spent a long time looking at the koi on the lantern, before it finally reluctantly clambered down from its position on the set of drawers. Li Jinglong was personally pouring out the wine for each of his subordinates, and he smiled as he said, “Although we’ve only known each other for two months, it feels like we’ve actually known each other for much longer. There’s a saying that people who experience life and death together must have been destined in their previous lives to have their fates be entangled together in their next…”
Everyone hurried to humbly be polite. “We dare not, it was Zhangshi putting in the effort”. After Li Jinglong finished pouring the wine, he lifted his cup and said, “I hope that such a disaster will never befall Chang’an again. May the heavens watch over my Great Tang!”
“May the heavens watch over my Great Tang.”
The four people and the carp yao lifted their cups at the same time, emptying them in one go.
Li Jinglong then called for everyone to eat. Mo Rigen grinned. “It’s only been two months? It feels like it’s been a lifetime.”
“We joined the Exorcism Department on the 18th day of the 9th month,” Qiu Yongsi chuckled. “I still remember the way the place looked, all overgrown and desolate. I almost thought that I had entered the wrong door.”
Hongjun smiled. “That day, when Zhangshi came crashing in, all of your faces turned green with fright, do you all remember that?”
They all began to laugh. That day, when Li Jinglong had first entered the Exorcism Department, A-Tai was playing his lute, Mo Rigen was plucking his bowstring, Qiu Yongsi and Hongjun were banging on bowls to the side, while the carp yao was dancing in a basin… that sight had almost frightened Feng Changqing into having a permanent dark shadow in his heart.
Li Jinglon said amusedly, “To tell you the truth, that day it was I who had been presumptuous, I shouldn’t have attacked out of the blue.”
Mo Rigen then, with great vividness, began to talk about the little fox that they had let go, and he couldn’t resist teasing Hongjun. Hongjun responded petulantly, “I really didn’t! I just couldn’t bear to see such a small, cute animal…”
Qiu Yongsi said, “Speaking of this, I have a few paintings for you guys, how about you all take a look?”
And saying this, Qiu Yongsi turned and pulled out a few pieces of paper from behind him, handing one to each person as he said to the carp yao, “Since you’re constantly soaking in the water, let Hongjun keep yours ba.”
Each of them looked at their pieces and saw that the lines and colors of Qiu Yongsi’s paintings were extremely vivid, with the subjects being life-like depictions of scenes from their daily lives. The moment that Li Jinglong had first entered the Exorcism Department; the group of them sitting in Nightingale of the Spring Dawn in Pingkang Li, separated by a screen; the scene in front of Daming Palace when they were exorcising a yao; all of them sitting together facing the crown prince in Jinhua Luo, under the gingko tree within the royal gardens waiting for an imperial decree...
And that moment today when they had kicked their horses into a gallop as they raced like the wind from Chang’an to Mt. Li.
“I want this one!” The carp yao liked the very last one.
“It’s not quite the same as landscape paintings,” Li Jinglong said, delighted.
“My grandfather always disapproved of me drawing things too realistically,” Qiu Yongsi said. “This kind of painting, most people wouldn’t want it.”
“I like it.” Hongjun loved his so much that he couldn’t bear to part with it. He rolled the painting into a tube and said, “When we go back, we can mount them and hang them up.”
When the group looked at the paintings, the room suddenly sank into silence, and Hongjun seemed to feel a strange atmosphere come over them. Mo Rigen said, “I also have a little something to give to you guys.”
Saying that, Mo Rigen pulled out three small bone flutes that he split up amongst them, saying, “These are whistles made from the phalanxes of the wolf king. You only need to blow these in the territory of the Shiwei to summon the people of my tribe; they can guide your way, provide you with meals, or kill your enemies. No matter the request, we would never object.”
Those bone flutes were extremely intricate, and when blown the sounds they made were harmonious and bright; there was even a red string wrapped around each of them. Compared to the jade beads, Hongjun loved these even more, to the point of not wanting to let go of them.
“Let me also give you all something,” Hongjun said. “How about we take apart this bracelet of jade beads.”
Everyone hurried to stop Hongjun from acting on it, but Hongjun had already torn apart the string of the bracelet, and the beads scattered all over the floor. Li Jinglong put a hand to his forehead.
Qiu Yongsi said, “These beads can buy half of Luoyang already, but you… split them apart just like that?”
Hongjun said, “No problem, no problem, I have a lot more at home. There’s a bunch of these soaking in the fish tank at home. When the time comes I can find a few more to string together…”
There were a total of twelve beads on that string, so Hongjun gave each of them two of them. He also gave the carp yao two beads, to which the carp yao remarked, “I haven’t yet become a dragon, but am I already starting to toy with pearls? You keep hold of my share for me ba.”
“How about we make Zhao Zilong a necklace with those and the Buddhist relic, and hang it below its gills?”
That was not a bad idea, so Hongjun delightedly began to make the accessory for the carp yao. The carp yao had drunk a few cups of wine, and it had lost to the strength of the liquor. It stumbled around, before with a few totters back and forth like a pendulum, it slumped to one side, dead drunk.
“Come, let’s drink another cup.” Just as Li Jinglong was about to pour out the wine, Mo Rigen snatched it over, saying, “Let me, let me.”
“Zhangshi, this cup is to salute you,” A-Tai said.
Hongjun followed them in lifting their cups to salute Li Jinglong, who then said, “Your wound just healed, don’t drink too much. I’ll drink this cup for you.”
Li Jinglong then downed two cups in succession, before saying, “Eat ba, everyone, feel free to eat as you wish.”
So they all began to take from the dishes that they wanted. Li Jinglong took a single bite before the atmosphere once again grew solemn.
“What’s wrong?” Even Hongjun felt it.
“Nothing much.” Qiu Yongsi smiled cheerfully as he looked at Hongjun, saying, “Hongjun, you’re a good kid.”
Li Jinglong let out a long sigh before putting down his chopsticks, saying, “If you have anything to say, then say it, I’m listening.”
Qiu Yongsi, Mo Rigen, and A-Tai all looked at each other, and a beat later Hongjun asked, “What’s the matter with you all?”
Mo Rigen also sighed, saying, “Zhangshi, Hongjun, to tell you guys the truth, I need to go.”
“Why?!” Hongjun’s voice held surprise and disappointment that he couldn’t disguise.
Li Jinglong didn’t respond. He only quietly looked at Mo Rigen, before glancing at Qiu Yongsi.
Qiu Yongsi said, “I also need to go, Zhangshi, Hongjun.”
A-Tai smiled melancholically. “You Han people often say that in this world, even the finest banquets must come to an end. I also need to go back, Zhangshi, Hongjun.”
Li Jinglong was silent.
“You… you guys…” Hongjun thought that he had heard wrong. “Why? After so many troubles, we finally got rid of the yao king, can’t you all stay in Chang’an? Chang’an is so nice… there’s food, there’s entertainment…”
“Hongjun,” the carp yao called out.
Mo Rigen let out a sigh and said, “To tell you the truth, Zhangshi, before I came, I took upon myself a duty.”
“To find the White Deer?” Li Jinglong asked.
Hongjun was extremely surprised; how did Li Jinglong know? As soon as the carp yao saw Hongjun’s expression, it said, “Are you dumb? Remember that question that Mo Rigen asked on the star observation platform?”
With this, Hongjun finally remembered, and he said, “But Chang’an doesn’t have any traces of the White Deer that you spoke of, so how about waiting for me to ask Qing Xiong and Chong Ming about it?”
“No,” Mo Rigen responded. “The White Deer is the god of the dream realm who protects the long night, she’s not a yao. Since 120 years ago, she’s disappeared from amongst the tribes of the grasslands. I have inherited the power of the Grey Wolf, and I need to find her. I came to Chang’an because I suspected that the yao king had detained her. But now, looking at it, it seems that she’s not in the Central Plains at all. So from now on, I will need to keep searching.”
“What will you do if you can’t find her?” Li Jinglong asked.
“The power of the White Deer is like your Heart Lamp,” Mo Rigen said. “She races through the dreams of every person, driving away their nightmares. But if she’s missing, then the power of evil dreams will have no way to be cleansed, and the resentment in this realm will grow heavier and heavier.”
Li Jinglong let out a long breath. Hongjun furrowed his brow. “Where are you going to search?”
Mo Rigen replied, “After leaving Chang’an, I’ll head all the way down south, before heading to Shuzhong to look. Zhangshi, everything in this world has an essence. The resentment of the world, monsters, yaos and demons, deities and divine beasts, everything is interconnected in unseen ways. One thing controls another, one falls for another to rise, and the beat of a butterfly’s wings can cause a whole tornado...”
Li Jinglong lifted his hand, indicating that he understood and there was no need to continue. The room once again fell into silence.
“My mission is to track down that black jiao ‘Xie Yu’ that escaped from underneath the Dragon-Subduing Tower,” Qiu Yongsi said to the group. “200 years ago, it consumed quite a few of the jiao tribe, and after doubling its strength, it escaped from the bottom of the tower and began a conflict with the phoenix tribe.”
An icy chill overtook Hongjun’s heart. As he recalled Chong Ming’s words, he couldn’t help the sense of unease he felt.
“Afterwards, the phoenix tribe lost,” Qiu Yongsi said. “They retreated from the human realm, and Xie Yu hid itself within the Central Plains region. Before I came, I thought that it had become the Chang’an yao king, but with the situation now, it seems it hasn’t.”
“That’s also the concern I have,” Li Jinglong responded. “So you’re planning to search for the whereabouts of Xie Yu. What happens after you find it?”
Qiu Yongsi replied, “I’ll contain it and re-seal it within the Dragon-Subduing Tower.”
“Where is the Dragon-Subduing Tower?” Hongjun asked.
The carp yao said, “If I accidentally became a dragon, I wouldn’t also be captured and thrown in, right?”
“It’s in a place where none of you can enter,” Qiu Yongsi said. “It was built by the ancient immortal Guangchengzi, and though its name has ‘Dragon-Subduing’ in it, in reality, what the tower traps are extremely violent, cruel, bloodthirsty jiao. The past generations of the Qiu family have all been the watchers of the Dragon-Subduing Tower.”
In the silence, Qiu Yongsi sighed.
“I originally thought that it had come to Chang’an and become the yao king, but I hadn’t expected that the yao king that rules over this place was instead a nine-tailed fox… so…” Qiu Yongsi smiled bitterly. “Finding Xie Yu’s whereabouts is like trying to fish up a needle in the ocean, so I’m afraid that I may have to part with everyone for a long time.”
Li Jinglong was silent for a moment, before he said to A-Tai, “Then how about you?”
A-Tai answered, “That night, when His Majesty sent for me in Jinhua Luo, he promised to lend me Kuertai County along the ancient Wusun Road, so that I may gather troops there. To accomplish this, he issued me a personally written decree… you guys want to look?”
This was the first time Mo Rigen had heard of it as well, and he frowned. “The Kuertai region is too dangerous! The Xiongnu people appear there frequently, so how are you supposed to establish a foothold there?”
“I still have my knights,” A-Tai said to everyone. “Plus, no matter how I put it, I am still a descendant of the Persian royal family, hehe…” And with this, he waved his fan, answering, “Normal Xiongnu, how could they be considered our opponents?”
Li Jinglong nodded his head, saying, “That night, after returning, why did you not bring it up at all?”
A-Tai answered, “Zhangshi, I didn’t want to bring you and the group any more trouble. I was very grateful for everyone taking such good care of me these past days.”
Saying this, A-Tai took a half-step back, and very formally and properly, he lowered himself and bowed to the group. Hongjun hurried up front to lift him up again, and for a time everyone could only sigh.
“Leaving is the best plan,” Qiu Yongsi said. “The Chang’an yao king has already been eliminated, and if the likes of us linger here for too long, I’m afraid that we might arouse the dread of the emperor and the officials of the court. Since the Exorcism Department can take care of yao, we would also be able to…”
“No need to say any more,” Li Jinglong interrupted.
When Mo Rigen observed Li Jinglong’s expression, he understood that the emperor had already vocalized that fear.
“Will you guys come back?” Li Jinglong asked.
“After finding the White Deer, I’ll take her back to the grasslands,” Mo Rigen answered. “If we pass by Chang’an, I would like to request that you, Zhangshi, officiate our marriage.”
Li Jinglong began to smile, but that smile held a trace of bitterness.
Qiu Yongsi said, “After taking in the black jiao, perhaps I’ll still need to stand guard over at West Lake. After all, that’s the only entrance and exit to and from the Dragon-Subduing Tower. But coming now and then to visit Chang’an should be possible, and I welcome you all to come at any time to visit me.”
A-Tai added on, “My wish to reclaim my homeland might never be fulfilled in my lifetime, but if there is a day where I can’t keep up with it anymore, then perhaps I’ll only be able to come find you, brothers.”
Li Jinglong was amused by this. “I, however, hope that you won’t come again.”
Everyone began to laugh, and as they laughed, their eyes all gradually turned red. Li Jinglong let out a sigh before turning his eyes away to avoid their gazes, saying to Hongjun, “What about you?”
Hongjun was still sunk in shock, and for a long time he didn’t react. When he was asked this question, he subconsciously said, “I… I…”
Before Hongjun had left Yaojin Palace, he actually didn’t want to leave, but Chong Ming and Qing Xiong had given him three tasks to accomplish: one was to return the Heart Lamp to its original owner, the second was to exorcist the Chang’an yao king, and the third was to discover the truth behind his origins… Now, he didn’t know if the task with the Heart Lamp had been accomplished or not. The Chang’an yao king had been dealt with, however, and he had figured out the general gist about his origins. All he had left was to find the person who killed his father.
“I… will probably stay for a little longer ba?” Hongjun fixed his gaze on Li Jinglong. He suddenly felt that this series of partings, to Li Jinglong, was really too cruel. Though it could be said that meetings and partings were like flowing clouds and that fate was fleeting and prone to change at any moment, Li Jinglong seemed to not have many friends. As soon as the Exorcism Department dispersed and Chang’an had no more yao, what could Li Jinglong even do? He could only wait at home, waiting for their return.
When he heard these words, Mo Rigen began to smile. “Hongjun, then you’d better take good care of Zhangshi.”
A-Tai said, “How about we give Zhangshi over to you? You are, after all, a prince. Whenever you decide to go home, take him along with you ba.”
Qiu Yongsi immediately said, “That’s it! It’s settled then!”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Hongjun was afraid that Li Jinglong would be too saddened, so he said, “Alright! It’s settled!”
Li Jinglong said, “I haven’t nodded yet! You guys, everyone of you, leaving just like this! Do you all even have any conscience?!”
“You still have Hongjun,” Qiu Yongsi smiled.
“That’s right, that’s right, you still have Hongjun,” A-Tai and Mo Rigen echoed, before saluting Li Jinglong with another cup of wine. Without another word, Li Jinglong took that cup and drank it.
“Leaving is alright,” Li Jinglong said. “If one day, Chang’an is once again troubled by yao, how am I supposed to find you guys?”
Mo Rigen said, “The power of dreams is everywhere. If there is a day where Chang’an is once again filled with yao energy, I will definitely return.”
A-Tai said, “Give your letter to a merchant caravan heading for the Western Regions and have them bring it to Kuertai.If you need anything, no matter if I shatter every bone in my body, I will do what you need me to.”
Qiu Yongsi answered, “Zhangshi, if you send a letter through the courier system to the Ten Thousand Willow Estate in the West Lake region of Hangzhou, my family members will naturally be able to contact me.”
Li Jinglong lowered his head to look into his wine cup, sighing. “From the day that I met all of you guys, I knew that sooner or later, there would be a day where you all would leave. I just hadn’t expected it to be so quick. It’s my fault, it’s my fault…”
“What is your fault?” Mo Rigen smiled. “If it wasn’t for Zhangshi, then how would all of us have banded together...”
“It’s my fault for not properly cherishing the days that we all spent together.” Li Jinglong raised his gaze to look at the others as he said slowly, “My one wish is that in this life, we’ll have another chance to see each other.”
As soon as these words were spoken, Qiu Yongsi, Mo Rigen, and A-Tai’s eyes all held tears in them, and Hongjun almost cried.
“I don’t have anything good to give to you all,” Li Jinglong said quietly, lowering his head and rubbing the space between his brows with his long, slender fingers. “When the time comes, you all take the horses ba. If you all leave them in the Exorcism Department, I wouldn’t let anyone else ride them anyways.” And saying this, he smiled again.
They all then sank into silence as each of them nodded slightly.
“How about I play a song for everyone to listen to?” A-Tai hurried to suggest, before turning his head and picking up his barbat lute. He didn’t wait for them to reply before he plucked the strings a few times.
“In the morning rain and light dust of Wei City, the inn was as green as the green willows…”
“I urge the gentleman to have another cup of wine, as going east out of Yang Pass, there are no old friends…”
This piece, “The Three Refrains of Yang Pass”, was one that Hongjun heard often, but every time before this, he had only listened to it as he would any musical piece. It wasn’t until tonight that he seemed to hear a little bit of melancholy, a touch of wistfulness.
The sound of A-Tai’s lute flowed through the dark night.As "The Three Refrains of Yang Pass" drew to a close, Mo Rigen said, “Can you not make this into a funeral procession!”
“Alright, alright,” A-Tai said. “I’ll switch a piece!”
“Chi Le Chuan, at the foot of the Yin Mountains, the sky is so vast and blue, the wilderness is boundless too, when the winds blow, the grass bends low; cattle and sheep will show...”
This night, they all feasted, and after singing “The Three Refrains of Yang Pass” and “A Night on the Flower-Filled, Moonlit, Spring River”, he sang, “Can’t you see, the waters of the Yellow River come from the sky, and as they flow towards the sea they do not turn back. The head of sorrowful white hair that faces you in the mirror at the head of the bed was once black strands in the morning but has turned snowy in the twilight…” and afterwards was, “The wind that gusts over thousands of li sends off the autumn geese, and faced with such a beautiful scene, you drink it in from Xie Tiao Tower. Teacher, your works have the style of Jian’an, but at times you also reveal the delicacy of Little Xie’s poetry. Taking a blade and slashing the water with it only leads to the water flowing more vigorously, and raising a cup of wine to dispel sorrows only causes the sorrows to grow more sorrowful…”
When the 4th geng came, everyone was so drunk that they weren’t even aware of their surroundings anymore. They were laying down on the ground, leaning up against a surface, slumped over the table, or collapsed in a corner. The carp yao laid on its side on the table, and now and then, its tail would wriggle up and down a few times.
After a long time, Mo Rigen was the first to open his eyes. He rubbed his temples. After opening his eyes that were red with drunkenness, he quietly sat up and let out a sigh.
“Brothers, we will meet again someday,” Mo Rigen said in a low voice.
He slowly rose to his feet, kneeling on one knee in front of the door, his left hand pressed against the right side of his chest as he bowed in a salute, before turning and leaving. Not long after, Qiu Yongsi and A-Tai also woke.
“Are we going now?” Qiu Yongsi mouthed.
A-Tai nodded. At the time of parting, the strongest emotion was always sorrow; it would be better to disappear without a sound, leaving just like that.
At the 4th geng, at the foot of Mt. Li, A-Tai, Mo Rigen, and Qiu Yongsi reined in their horses to a stop in front of the military road.
A-Tai said, “I’m heading west.”
“I’m going to the North-East,” Mo Rigen said.
“I’m going down south,” Qiu Yongsi said. “Brothers, with that, we’ll say goodbye here. The sky is vast, and our roads are far, but we will meet again someday.”
Mo Rigen said, “The mountains are endless, and the seas are boundless, but there will be a day when we meet again.”
A-Tai smiled. “Hai mie hou bi! I will miss you guys!”
“Actually, I’ve always wanted to ask this for a long time now,” Qiu Yongsi said. “‘Hai mie hou bi’, what exactly does that mean?”
A-Tai said, “This is a greeting that Persians use when they reunite with their dearest friends, ‘Ah! It’s you again, my dear, close friend’.”
Mo Rigen chuckled. “When we first saw each other, you also said that. But at that time, we were all complete strangers, so there is no way we could have been close friends.”
A-Tai looked towards the vast night sky. Above the plains, the seven stars of the Big Dipper twinkled from the horizon.
“From that time, I just knew,” A-Tai suddenly replied, “that there would come a day where we all would become close friends. Because of fate, what seemed like a fleeting meeting turned out to actually be something destined in our lives, so why not say so then? Jia --!”
A-Tai mounted his horse and left, hurtling into the dark night. And with a “jia”, Qiu Yongsi also turned his horse’s head, taking the military road that led south.
Mo Rigen turned his head back to look towards Mt. Li, before turning his head around to look at one of the saddled horses behind him, saying quietly, “Zhangshi, Hongjun, you two stay safe... jia!
The three steeds each turned in their own direction, vanishing into the depths of the plains.
and then they never saw each other again im kidding feitian wouldn’t do that in book 1
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.