"Today, Qing Xiong told me that you would not be willing to come home with me."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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In the side hall on Mt. Li, in a room blazing with light, Li Jinglong slumped on the table, sound asleep. Hongjun lay on his side by Li Jinglong, his posture like a carefree, innocent child.
Li Jinglong lifted his head, his eyes bloodshot, taking in the scattered cups and plates on the table with a glance, before turning his head to look at Hongjun beside him.
“It’s just the two of us left,” Li Jinglong said in a small voice, before raising a hand and gently sweeping it through Hongjun’s bangs.
“Come… get up,” Li Jinglong said with great difficulty as he managed to lift Hongjun in a horizontal carry. He had Hongjun lean his head against his own arm. Hongjun’s body was covered with Li Jinglong’s outer robe, and Li Jinglong carried him, walking barefoot through the long hallways, pulling open the sliding door to Hongjun’s room with one foot. He carried him in, and as he panted from the effort), he lowered Hongjun down on the bed before tucking him in.
Li Jinglong sat in front of Hongjun’s bed, his eyes filled with hurt. Right then, he didn’t want to go back to his own room, so he fell asleep with his clothes on, right there at the ground in front of the bed.
That night, Hongjun had a strange dream. In his dream, someone had placed a lamp by his side that illuminated the long night. The warm light of the lamp stayed by his side the entire time, but outside the window not too far away, a blazing, fiery red sun cast its light in. The light of the rising sun warmed his body, as if it was calling out to him.
It was the 5th geng when Hongjun suddenly woke up.
The instant he opened his eyes, the light of the red sun instantly retreated. Only the lamp by his side still shone on.
How long had he slept? Hongjun let out a long breath, before turning his head and looking to the side of the bed, which Li Jinglong was currently leaning crookedly against, sunk in a deep sleep. Hongjun sat up; he was thirsty and wanted to drink some water, but after taking a few steps in the room, he came to a stop in front of the window. He didn’t really know why, but he pushed open the window and looked outside.
On that snowy night, the outside was extremely bright. On the precipice directly facing the window stood a person.
That man stood tall in front of the steep cliff, not moving even a single muscle. Hongjun put down his bowl of water and closed the window, before shrugging on an outer robe and tiptoeing out into the corridor. He passed through the corridor, coming to the back door of the side hall. As he pushed open the door, the silhouette of the person standing on that towering precipice grew somewhat clearer.
It was a man.
He walked towards the precipice along the suspension bridge. The leaves of the parasol trees at the top of the cliff had already almost all fallen. As the snowflakes danced, only the area around that man was clear of any snow, revealing the bare ground of the precipice. To the side of the cliff, it just so happened that Chang’an covered by the night could be seen in the distance.
Hongjun trembled uncontrollably as he slowly walked up that cliff, only to see that man’s head of red hair like glowing embers, his body draped in a golden-red royal robe, two tail feathers the color of flame hanging at his waist, so long that they touched the ground.
The royal robe for his upper body was loosely drooping around his waist, revealing his bare upper half, and that pale, naked chest and abdomen was filled with power.
“Dad?” Hongjun couldn’t believe his eyes.
Chong Ming slowly turned around, taking in Hongjun, before his eyebrows furrowed faintly. Just as Hongjun was about to come forward, Chong Ming seemed to grow instantly enraged, and his breathing quickened as he said, “You… What happened to your ear?!”
Hongjun’s ear was still wrapped in bandages. He subconsciously moved to cover it, but without giving him any time to explain, Chong Ming grabbed his wrist and dragged him to one side, making him stand up straight as Chong Ming undid the bandages. It hurt, and Hongjun cried out, “Dad! A little gentler!”
“How did you get this injury?!” Chong Ming said, almost roaring in anger.
Silently, Hongjun stared at him. Chong Ming was impatient with worry, and he barely managed to calm down. He lifted his left hand, shining with a red light. A phoenix’s cry faintly issued forth, and he pressed that hand on the side of Hongjun’s face, his fingers spreading out as he gestured in a circle. With that, Hongjun’s wound rapidly healed until it was as good as new.
“Isn’t it healed now?” Hongjun said, smiling.
“You…” As soon as Chong Ming had seen him, he was almost angered to death by this little scoundrel. It was only after a long while that he managed to calm down.
Hongjun said, “When I was little, didn’t I often trip and scrape my knees bloody?”
“Can that be compared to this?!” Chong Ming said angrily.
Hongjun smiled as he looked at Chong Ming, and his eyes were a bit wet as he asked, “How are you here?”
Chong Ming breathed deeply as he looked at Hongjun. Under that scrutiny, Hongjun felt a little afraid, but he had also missed him too much. He only wanted to get close to Chong Ming, so he reached a hand out to tug at the belt of phoenix tail feathers around his waist. Chong Ming, almost unnoticeably, waved aside Hongjun’s hand. When Hongjun went to tug at it again, this time Chong Ming didn’t move, allowing him to tug them.
Chong Ming responded, “I’ve come to take you home.”
“But those three tasks of mine, I haven’t finished them yet,” Hongjun said.
“No matter,” Chong Ming said coldly.
Hongjun then added, “Li-zhangshi, he… in the Exorcism Department, there’ll only be him left.”
“Who?” Chong Ming suddenly let off a powerful aura of killing intent as he asked darkly, “You mean that mortal behind you?”
Hongjun swiftly turned his head around and spotted Li Jinglong standing underneath a parasol tree. He said, “Zhangshi, you’re also awake? I… Dad, this is Li Jinglong! My superior officer!”
Li Jinglong had suddenly woken in the night, and he hadn’t yet had a chance to tidy up. He wore a thin inner robe and a martial robe that he had hurriedly draped over himself; the martial robe fluttered in the breeze, and he held the Sword of Wisdom in one hand. In this moment, he gently placed his left hand on top of his sword-wielding right hand, saying, “Jinglong salutes Uncle.”
“Are you leaving or not?” Chong Ming didn’t even look at Li Jinglong as he directed that question to Hongjun.
“Dad,” Hongjun said. “Listen to me…”
Hongjun tugged that tail feather of Chong Ming, relentlessly pulling it towards him. Chong Ming was tugged along until he came over, and he lifted a hand to hit him. In the instant that he raised his hand, Li Jinglong grew nervous, but Hongjun had long since become used to Chong Ming’s all bark and no bite attitude. He took advantage of the situation and leapt onto him, clambering onto his back.
“You get down!” Chong Ming said angrily, before finally plucking Hongjun off, forcing him to stand up straight.
Li Jinglong said uneasily, “Hongjun.”
Hongjun smiled. “Dad, I carelessly gave the Heart Lamp to the wrong person, it’s within Li Jinglong’s body now.”
Chong Ming said in a deep voice, “If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.”
Hongjun added, “I also drove out the yao king…”
“The atmosphere of the human realm has long since become foul, I will not return to Chang’an,” Chong Ming interrupted simply and crudely. “I’ve said exactly the same thing before in Yaojin Palace. Do not indulge in such wishful thinking.”
The huge burden in Li Jinglong’s heart finally fell to the ground.
Hongjun then added, “I still haven’t figured out who murdered my…”
“Your heart has gone wild,” Chong Ming said. “I understand. You’re finding these excuses just because you do not wish to give up luxury and part with your desires, fine.”
Hongjun’s words suddenly dried up, but Chong Ming continued, “It is what it is. Today, Qing Xiong told me that you would not be willing to come home with me, but it was me who insisted, and so I took such an unnecessary step. From now on, you stay in the human realm ba. Be like your father, properly enjoy this dazzling mortal world…”
“Dad, it’s not like that…” Hongjun hurried to explain.
Chong Ming said darkly, “Then what? Explain it, then.”
Hongjun stammered out, “Chang’an is very nice. There’s food, entertainment, and the Exorcism Department also has space, and there’s also a parasol tree. If you stayed with me just a few days, you would understand, and plus, I also wish, wish…”
When Hongjun got to this point, he suddenly understood. No matter how much he talked, it was of no use; he was no longer that naive youth who had left the Taihang Mountains that day long ago. Back then, when he had seen chicks leave their nests in the forest only to never return, he was filled with confusion, and he went forth to ask Chong Ming.
Chong Ming had never given a direct answer to any of his questions, and it wasn’t until now that Hongjun began to gradually understand why.
“... Yes,” Hongjun answered. “I am attached to this red dust, but I can’t bear to lose you. Can you let Zhangshi come with us…”
Chong Ming said, “Will you choose the person behind you, or will you choose me? I will not let a mortal take even half a step into Yaojin Palace.”
“Uncle,” Li Jinglong hurried to say, “When Hongjun was in Chang’an, not a single day went by when he didn’t think of you. Young people all wish to see the world.”
“Will you choose your red dust, or will you choose me?” From the beginning until the end, Chong Ming had not responded to any of Li Jinglong’s words.
Hongjun sucked in a deep breath before closing his eyes, saying, “Dad, I can’t bear to lose you. If I had to choose…”
At this moment, in this very second, in the depths of Hongjun’s heart, perhaps he had already made a choice. He turned his head back, his glance filled with longing and sorrow as he looked towards Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong replied, “You go back home with your dad. When I have free time, I’ll go climb the Taihang Mountains to find you, Hongjun.”
But when Hongjun turned his head to look at Chong Ming again, Chong Ming had already lifted his index and middle fingers. A small flame burst out from his fingertips, and he swiped it across the long feather attached to his belt.
With a roar of flame, the belt split into two. Chong Ming turned and leaned towards the precipice, and as he launched his body into the air, he exploded with blazing fire that blanketed the sky, suddenly lighting up the dark of the night. Spreading his wings, he turned into a fiery, blazing phoenix that shed light in all directions. Its cry echoed through the range of mountains, before with a gentle flap of its wings, not lingering any longer, it flew towards the horizon!
“Dad!” Hongjun shouted wildly, his voice cracking as he held onto that cut half of the tail feather, rushing over the edge of the cliff. In an instant, Li Jinglong rushed up, unheeding of danger as he hugged him tightly, dragging him back onto the precipice.
“Dad --!” Hongjun wailed piteously as he began to cry, his hand still clutched tightly around that tail feather. “Why! I agreed to go home with you! Why --!”
The sorrow that Hongjun had suppressed for the entire night finally burst out all in this moment. He didn’t understand why Chong Ming would be so adamant in his distaste. He wanted to struggle free from Li Jinglong, but he was caught in his tight embrace. He swallowed down his sobs and shouted loudly, “Why! Why don’t you want me anymore --!”
Li Jinglong let out a long sigh, before saying quietly, “Hongjun, don’t be sad, don’t be sad. I’ll accompany you back to the Taihang Mountains, we’ll leave tomorrow, I promise you this.”
Hongjun panted wildly, tired beyond compare. He tightly grasped that tail feather in his hand. It gave off a red light before slowly shrinking down to the size of a normal phoenix feather. As the snow drifted down, the flakes avoided the area around his body.
The light snow fell non-stop as a deep hush enveloped the world. Only within this deep valley, small, broken sounds continued to issue forth unchecked, like silkworms in the spring eating leaves and spitting out silk to weave into cocoons, like the rising of tides, the whirling of sandstorms, turning seas into mulberry fields as time passed, like the wind rustling the thousands of leaves in a bamboo grove as it blows through, like a rolling bank of clouds and fog billowing over the edge of a mountain range like a waterfall.
The snowflakes fell, drifting every which way to blanket the heavens and the earth. In this icy wind, as soon as the snow touched the ground of the Divine Land, it turned into water, entering the ground, sprouting flowers, which would grow leaves. When spring came, it would turn into bugs and silkworms and butterflies; it would turn into the migratory birds that would return once winter left and summer came to the mountain range, which then would fly through the clouds, disappearing within the sea of clouds. It would then turn into thin, broken pieces of flying snowflakes, which gently fluttered down into the world.
When dawn broke, Hongjun was slumped on the bed, while Li Jinglong had made a bunk on the floor in the middle of the room. Hongjun’s emotions had finally gradually calmed, and because of his complete exhaustion, he had fallen deeply asleep in the end.
Li Jinglong’s head was splitting with the pain of a hangover, and he couldn’t sleep well. He also got up often to check if Hongjun had actually fallen asleep, or if he was awake and still sad. It wasn’t until the sun had almost risen to the height of three bamboo poles that he managed to actually close his eyes for a bit. But it was only a bit, because he suddenly heard a shrill cry in the distance.
“Yaoguai ah --!”
Li Jinglong was startled awake in an instant, and he grabbed the Sword of Wisdom from the table as he rushed out, shouting, “Where’s the yaoguai!”
From the dining room they had been in last night, the serving women were scrambling out on all fours as they screamed wildly. Li Jinglong raised his sword and rushed in, only to see that the carp yao had just woken up and was sitting dumbly on the table, its two eyes bulging outwards.
Li Jinglong pressed one hand to his forehead, feeling an unstoppable headache as he leaned against the door, saying, “This is a domesticated one, don’t be afraid… Where’s the Lihun Pollen?”
As the carp yao went out to scatter the Lihun Pollen, the serving women cried shrilly as they dodged him, before they suddenly sneezed, their gazes going vacant as they looked to their right and left. The carp yao took this opportunity to escape.
Li Jinglong adjusted his own robes before heading back to see if Hongjun had woken yet, but the carp yao said, “Unlucky zhangshi, where are Mo Rigen and the rest?! How come everyone is gone?!”
“Don’t mention it anymore.” Li Jinglong’s forehead was furrowed deeply, and his expression was one of great pain as he said, “Let me have some peace and quiet for a bit ba.”
The carp yao then said, “Where did they all go? Where’s my family’s Hongjun?”
Just as it chased him to the corridor, Hongjun, whose head was currently hurting, stumbled out to wash up. Li Jinglong stood still, his eyes filled with unsuppressed pain on Hongjun’s behalf, but Hongjun smiled at him, saying, “Good morning, Zhangshi.”
The carp yao went forward to ask, saying, “Why are you once again in Li Jinglong’s room, what happened last night…”
With one swipe, Hongjun picked up a piece of pastry and stuffed it into the carp yao’s mouth, before he went to wash his face.
The carp yao leapt into the room. A second later, it ran out again, Chong Ming’s feather clutched in its left hand as it gurgled, its right hand pointing at that feather, meaning, Chong Ming came?
“We’ll leave today,” Li Jinglong said. “Going to the Taihang Mountains is no more than the journey of half a month.”
Hongjun raised his eyes to look at him, a complicated emotion in his eyes. Li Jinglong added earnestly, “What I promised you…”
“Zhangshi.” Hongjun was currently brushing his teeth, and with his mouth filled with bubbles, he said, “I won’t go to the Taihang Mountains. My dad will bully you.”
But Li Jinglong replied, “Go have a proper talk with your dad, there’s no need to start arguing. At worst, wouldn’t it be fine if I just ran?”
With great difficulty, the carp yao managed to swallow that mung bean pastry whole, saying, “It must be that His Majesty Chong Ming’s chugging vinegar! Li Jinglong! Not only did you take his son and run away with him, you also plaster yourself all over that same son every day. The fact that he didn’t burn you to death in a burst of flame is already a sign that you were lucky! Say, do you really like our family’s Hongjun?! Don’t delude yourself…”
The carp yao poked a hole in the paper of the window. In a moment, both of the humans’ faces turned red. Hongjun squatted by the side of the well in the courtyard, while Li Jinglong stood there watching him. The two of them stared at each other, not making a sound for a long time.
Finally, Li Jinglong said, “Let’s eat breakfast first, before we start discussing the long-term. Anyways, I’ll keep this matter in mind.” He then turned and swiftly left. Hongjun widened his eyes. Out of nowhere he remembered that bit when they had soaked in the hot springs yesterday, Li Jinglong’s build was so good, ah… no wait, what was all of this!
The carp yao leapt over again, saying, “Hongjun, I need to remind you that this fellow Li Jinglong’s always up to nothing good. He’s never had any good intentions towards you, and now he’s even inciting conflict with your father-son relationship…”
“Zhao Zilong! You’re too noisy --! Shut up!”
Hongjun finally exploded. He lifted up a wooden basin, scooped the carp yao up in it, and tossed it out.
When it came time for breakfast, Li Jinglong kept observing Hongjun and saw that he didn’t seem like he was that morose anymore. Young people were always like this; when they had troubles on their mind, those troubles weighed down like Mt. Tai, but as soon as they slept on it, those troubles seemed to dissipate at a speed that couldn't be matched.
“To return to the Taihang Mountains, we’ll need to first find Qing Xiong,” Hongjun said. “Qing Xiong will take us up, otherwise neither of us will be able to get to Yaojin Palace.”
“Where will we go to find him?” Li Jinglong asked absently. “Anyway, there’s nothing to do. The yao king has been eliminated. Staying in the Exorcism Department will just be lying around, it’s a better choice to send you back home. Also, this would be a good opportunity for me to take a look at those famous mountains. I haven’t left Guanzhong in my entire life, and I’ve only been able to hear about the beauty and grandeur of the Divine Land, so getting this chance would also be thanks to you.”
Hongjun answered, “Qing Xiong is that Golden-Winged Great Peng.”
Li Jinglong smiled. “Then I’ve got to thank him properly.”
The carp yao was lifting its bowl in its hand as it ate egg mixed with rice, and it spoke, “Li Jinglong, you seem to be smiling pretty happily recently, did something good happen?”
Hongjun disregarded the carp yao’s nagging, and he furrowed his brow. “But… where would we go to find him?”
Li Jinglong answered, “I’m guessing that there’s a fish here who would know.”
As one, the two of them looked towards the carp yao. The carp yao was currently holding the bowl, its mouth open, its fish face confused.
The carp yao asked, “What are you looking at me for?”
“That day, when Hongjun had you go look for the others, where did you end up searching?” Li Jinglong raised his left eyebrow, using a scornful gaze to look over the carp yao judgmentally. “You couldn’t have gotten stopped by someone for questioning, right?”
The carp yao answered, “I went to go buy groceries.”
“Buy groceries?” Hongjun realized that something was off, and he asked suspiciously, “Don’t you never go to buy groceries? How would you buy them? Is there any human out there who would sell their wares to a fish?”
The carp yao didn’t know how to lie in the first place, and now that its lies had been instantly seen through, it immediately pulled out a fistful of Lihun Pollen. Li Jinglong said, “You dare! That Lihun Pollen was bought with my money!”
The carp yao: “...”
“Zhao Zilong!” Hongjun had been lied to, and he was angry. “How many things are you hiding from me?”
“I’m not, I’m not,” the carp yao hurried to plead. “It was Qing Xiong-daren who had me not say… so I dared not tell you.”
As it turned out, that day, when the carp yao went to go find someone to pass along the message, it had suddenly been caught by a falcon and flown outside of the city. When it was thrown back onto the ground, Qing Xiong had been standing impressively in front of it. Qing Xiong had asked many questions before he directly flew away, and the carp yao could only take the long trek back, which was why it had taken so long.
Hongjun was greatly shaken, but Li Jinglong had long since guessed that something like this had happened.
“What did Qing Xiong say?” Hongjun said. “You! Zhao Zilong!”
The carp yao said, “He asked where the fox yao was hiding, if it was almost dead, and for me to not worry about you, that he would go to save you.”
“Save my ass!” Hongjun almost flipped the table over. If it wasn’t for Li Jinglong’s Heart Lamp, the entirety of the Exorcism Department might have been wiped out.
The carp yao stuttered out, “Qing Xiong-daren knew that the unlucky… no, that Li-zhangshi had the Heart Lamp in his body, so you guys wouldn’t be in much danger. Some experiences are necessary, otherwise the Heart Lamp would never be able to be used, right? He said that the Heart Lamp was important, very important.”
Li Jinglong threw up his hands at that.
Now bad-tempered, Hongjun asked, “Where is he now? Tell me the truth.”
The carp yao answered, “He said that very quickly he would come to find you. That’s the whole truth! They’re all birds, flying about all the time, so how would I know where he is! Hongjun! Don’t be angry anymore! I’ll kowtow to you for my sins!”
Saying this, the carp yao slanted its head down against the side of the table, knocking it against the surface a few times, where it let out a few sounds. Hongjun could only let it go, and he stopped asking more questions.
moon: and with that, happy niu year! may this year bring us much more tianbao content!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.