“You owe me one body, and when the time comes, I’ll come to collect."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
That same day, Li Jinglong brought up the idea of returning to Chang’an where he could accompany Hongjun in finding some tasty food to eat as they waited for Qing Xiong. With that, the troubles of last night finally left Hongjun, and with the carp yao in tow, they departed from Mt. Li. Although theoretically, waiting anywhere would be the same, since when the Golden-Winged Great Peng went searching for them, it would naturally just appear before them, staying in the Exorcism Department felt a little more comforting.
Last night, the city of Chang’an had also collected a layer of new snow, but it hadn’t piled up. By noon, there was mud all over the streets, and the eaves dripped incessantly with water as Li Jinglong specially brought Hongjun to the “Carp Leaping over the Dragon Gate” and ordered a table full of dishes. Either way, now that Zhangshi had money, he no longer needed to order only water to drink. Hongjun then began to think that A-Tai and the others leaving was such a pity; if he had known earlier, they should have eaten a meal together as a send-off banquet. As the two of them ate, they chatted about past matters as well.
Hongjun only felt that after the night had passed, the relationship between himself and Li Jinglong seemed to have undergone a kind of mysterious change.
Before, though everyone was loud and rowdy, Li Jinglong was still their superior. After they had all left, he was now like a big brother, and this intimate familial feeling grew more and more obvious.
“If Qing Xiong doesn’t come,” Li Jinglong said, “then won’t you have to celebrate New Year’s in Chang’an?”
Hongjun smiled. “We never did celebrate the new year in Yaojin Palace. Are you going home?”
Li Jinglong replied, “Before, I used to live in my cousin’s home, but instead of taking shelter under someone else’s roof, I would rather spend it at the Exorcism Department.”
Hongjun understood that Li Jinglong treated that place like a home, and he also gradually came to realize that a home was only a home if there were family members there. Last night, when Chong Ming hadn’t taken him away, that had actually given Li Jinglong a little hope that he would no longer be lonely. Otherwise, when he returned to the Exorcism Department, with the walls echoing with emptiness, there wouldn’t be much of a point.
The two of them left the “Carp Leaping over the Dragon Gate”, but just as they were about to leave the Western Market, they suddenly saw a crowd of people gathered around a stall to the side of a bookstore, and a line snaking outwards.
“What tasty food are they selling?” As soon as Hongjun saw that line, he knew that there was good food to eat.
Li Jinglong didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Didn’t you just finish stuffing yourself?”
“I’m only 70% full,” Hongjun answered after rubbing his stomach.
Li Jinglong could only go buy it. Who was the subordinate and who was the superior now; how come he, as the zhangshi, still had to wait on Hongjun? But when he came to the front of the line, he found that it was a fortune teller instead. Two pennants were hung outside. The left one read “The passage of carefree days”, and the right one read, “Wandering through the heavens and the earth”.
“There’s a fortune teller stall here?” Li Jinglong was very taken aback.
“Hit the nail right on the head!” the citizens said to Li Jinglong. “He came to Chang’an yesterday! He’ll only be here for three days before he leaves!”
Hongjun stretched out his neck to look, and seeing that they weren’t selling food, he said, “Let’s go ba.”
“Li-zhangshi, are you here to have your marriage fortune or your career fortune told?” someone asked jokingly.
Li Jinglong hesitated for a split second; originally he wanted to leave, but he also felt that missing this opportunity would be a pity. With sudden inspiration, he asked, “How about we check the whereabouts of that person you’re trying to find?”
Hongjun had never had his fortune told, so was this really useful? He wasn’t even the slightest bit curious about the future, but after thinking about it, he decided to go see what the commotion was about.
“What do you want to ask?” Hongjun asked Li Jinglong as they got in line.
Li Jinglong hadn’t thought it through either. Hongjun said, “Are you going to ask about your marriage fortune?”
Li Jinglong suddenly spoke, “Let’s have him calculate how far the fate between the two of us stretches ba.”
Hongjun didn’t say anything more. Li Jinglong’s arm was slung around Hongjun’s shoulder as he leaned on him, and they looked like two brothers. He continued, “The first time I met you all in the Exorcism Department, I just knew that there would be a day when Mo Rigen and the rest would leave, but without knowing why, I always felt that you wouldn’t leave.”
Hongjun smiled. “When I go home, I’ll take you with me, and when you want to go back to Chang’an, we can head down together.”
It was strange; as soon as the two of them got in line, the fortune teller inside seemed to get much faster. After just a few exchanged sentences, it was their turn. Just as they were hesitating over who should go in first, because Li Jinglong wanted Hongjun to go before him, there was a call from inside. “Li-zhangshi first, please.”
“He actually knows your name!” Hongjun exclaimed.
“His ears are sharp,” Li Jinglong responded quietly. “He heard the sounds of the citizens speaking outside just now.”
And saying this, he strode in, only to see that there was a screen set up within the stall. After circling around the screen, there was a door in front of him, and a hanging curtain to the side.
“Sit here first,” a man’s voice said quietly.
As soon as Li Jinglong walked through the curtain, his surroundings instantly became completely silent. It was as if he had walked into an array. In that moment, all sound grew distant, his surroundings becoming so silent that it felt unnatural.
“The Sea of Deadened Sound,” the man answered. “People outside cannot hear what’s going on inside, and people inside cannot hear what’s going on outside.”
Across the table sat a pale, frail young man, his eyes covered with a black strip of cloth. His outfit, a pitch-black long robe, was fastened securely up to his collar, and his lips were as smooth as jade.
Li Jinglong immediately grew wary. The person in front of him knew magic?! Was he a yaoguai?
“The head of the Chang’an Exorcism Department, Li Jinglong,” the man said quietly. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, this humble one is Yuan Kun.”
Li Jinglong hadn’t expected that this person was actually in the same profession as him, and he said darkly, “What matter of deity is Your Excellency?”
“There is someone waiting in the backyard who naturally will answer your question,” Yuan Kun said quietly. “What else do you want to ask?”
Suddenly, Li Jinglong couldn’t bring himself to say anything, and he suspiciously looked at Yuan Kun. Yuan Kun said slowly, “Didn’t you want to ask about fate?”
Li Jinglong demanded, “You recognize Hongjun? You’re a yaoguai?”
“Fate exists in the span of a single wish of yours.” Yuan Kun turned his head, and after musing for a long time, he continued, “The 14th year of Tianbao, which is one year later, is a time you must tread warily.”
Li Jinglong sucked in a deep breath, but Yuan Kun stretched his hands out, one of his wrists flat on the table, the other, white fingers spread, reaching towards Li Jinglong’s chest.
Li Jinglong shrank backwards, and Yuan Kun suddenly said, “Undo the upper half of your robes, quick, there are still people waiting behind you.”
“What do you want to do?” Li Jinglong asked warily.
Yuan Kun responded, “To undo your robes or not, it is in the span of a single wish of yours.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Li Jinglong unconsciously lifted his hand and began to undo the buttons.
“Now this is right,” Yuan Kun said easily. "Tens of thousands of things in the world are born from a single wish, and are also destroyed with a single wish.”
Li Jinglong undid his inner robe, revealing his bare left side of his chest, saying, “You want to see my Heart Lamp?”
Yuan Kun didn’t respond to that. Instead, he said, “Fate and destiny, life and death, victory and defeat, all can change instantly. Sweeping plains can turn into vast oceans, all within the span of this single wish."
Saying this, Yuan Kun formed his hand into a sword fingers pose, gently sketching out a sigil with them, before he pushed the sigil forwards, and it branded itself on the left side of Li Jinglong’s chest. Feeling a wave of searing pain, Li Jinglong said, “What is this?!”
Yuan Kun responded, “You’ll know later.”
“No more questions.” Yuan Kun placed his two hands on the table, turning his blindfolded eyes towards Li Jinglong, saying, “Pay up ba.”
Li Jinglong’s forehead furrowed, and he asked, “How much?”
“Sign here,” Yuan Kun said. “You owe me one body, and when the time comes, I’ll come to collect. Sign.”
Li Jinglong asked darkly, “Whose body?!”
Yuan Kun raised his eyebrows, saying, “Just sign. At minimum, I will not ask you to go kill someone, and when the time comes, I will only ask you for someone who is already dead. To believe it or not is all within the span of a single wish of yours.”
The two of them were at a stalemate for a moment. Li Jinglong’s breathing quickened as he had a staring contest with a blind person, his eyes focused intently on Yuan Kun. Yuan Kun handed him a pen before smoothing out a sheet of paper. Li Jinglong then wrote down “I owe Yuan Kun one body”, and Yuan Kun pushed the vermilion seal over. Li Jinglong didn’t know why, but, as if he was under the control of something supernatural, he pressed his fingerprint to the paper.
What am I doing? After pressing down his fingerprint, Li Jinglong began to waken slowly.
“Go to the backyard ba,” Yuan Kun said. “You are a good child, and the road you have to travel is long yet.”
Li Jinglong retreated, thinking that if Yuan Kun was a yaoguai, then he must quickly go back to Hongjun to discuss countermeasures against him. Despite leaving this writ of debt behind, as long as he stuck to his morals and didn’t wildly go about killing people, then even if it was a yaoguai, it would have no way to get that soul from him.
He rose and backed up, past the hanging curtain, and his surroundings instantly regained their usual hubbub. All he heard was Yuan Kun inside, calling clearly, “Next please.”
Li Jinglong turned his head, but he couldn’t see Hongjun coming in. From the inside, Yuan Kun said, “Aren’t you going to leave quickly? Must you two be in the same spot every second of the day for you to feel at ease?”
With that, Li Jinglong could only go into the backyard. In the courtyard there stood a man, and seeing him walk over, the man nodded slightly.
“After any bystanders had their fortunes told, they all left through the side door,” the young man said politely. “I have been waiting for you for a long time, Li Jinglong.”
That young man’s posture was straight, and he was almost nine chi tall, the same height as Li Jinglong. His features were well-formed and carved deeply into his face, and within his pitch-black pupils was a faint luster of dark gold.
At this moment, his upper body was bare. The lines of his abdominal muscles were well-defined, and his skin was the color of wheat. Around his waist was tied a pitch-black royal robe embroidered with gold. He stood there with his feet pointing straight forward, his expression casual, but with the air of a ruler surveying his realm.
Li Jinglong instantly began to worry about Hongjun’s safety as he took a step back, wondering, was this the black jiao? If so, then who was the one outside?
“Wu, I’m not the black jiao,” the young man said. “No need to worry.”
Li Jinglong startled. He could read his thoughts? What yaoguai was he?
“Yes,” the young man nodded and spoke. “The one outside can see your future, and I can see into your innermost thoughts. We can’t be counted as yaoguai, though… sometimes, I too will eat people. But at least, I don’t eat people right now.”
“Who are you?” Li Jinglong finally opened his mouth. He took in that young man’s appearance; his bare upper body and the royal robe around his waist made him think of that man that he had seen yesterday night on the tall cliff on Mt. Li… Their royal robes were cut in a similar style, perhaps...
“You’ve guessed right,” Qing Xiong said warmly. “There’s not much time left, so let’s exchange a few blows ba, so that I can prevent my little nephew from getting his ear sliced again.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Hongjun circled around the screen, looking everywhere as he asked, “Is anyone here?”
“Here,” Yuan Kun replied from behind the curtain. “Where are you looking? Don’t go to the courtyard, if the secret gets out, then don’t blame me.”
“Are you that fortune teller?” After passing through the curtain, Hongjun sat down.
Yuan Kun said, “You are really smart.”
Hongjun chuckled, hehe, before he lowered his head and saw the paper that Li Jinglong had written. He asked, “What’s this?”
Yuan Kun didn’t reveal a trace of emotion as he folded up the paper and stashed it away, before saying, “Speak ba, what do you want to ask?”
Hongjun scratched his head and said, “For the rest of my living years, will I be able to see my dad again?”
Yuan Kun said, “Your dad’s temper isn’t very good ba.”
Hongjun made a noise of agreement before saying, “It was me who provoked him and made him unhappy.”
Yuan Kun replied, “All troubles arise from one’s own heart. Do not worry about these trivial matters, your dad still dearly loves you.”
“Liar,” Hongjun’s eyes reddened. “Last night he even yelled at me.”
Yuan Kun said, “What else do you have to ask?”
“Then,” Hongjun said a little stiffly. “Can I go home? If I go home, will I have to part with Zhangshi?”
“That depends on where you consider home,” Yuan Kun responded.
Hongjun didn’t understand. Yuan Kun then said, “What else do you have to ask?”
Hongjun thought about it, before saying, “Nothing else.”
“That carp yao behind you should hurry up and cultivate and collect merits,” Yuan Kun couldn’t help but add.
“Zhao Zilong, hey, he’s talking about you.” Hongjun pulled the carp yao out. The carp yao was currently taking its afternoon nap, and its eyes spun before it woke up, its mouth open as it turned its head, sending a glance towards Yuan Kun.
Yuan Kun: “How come it’s cultivated such a personality, too lacking in aesthetics.”
The carp yao: “...”
The carp yao instantly let out a piteous cry. “Kun god! Kun god! Are you the kun god?!”
Yuan Kun frowned. “Not only is it lacking in aesthetic, it’s also this noisy.”
“Kun… you’re the kun god?” Hongjun startled, and he said, “How come you’ve come to Chang’an? Where’s Qing Xiong?”
Hongjun knew that Qing Xiong had a very close friend who was a kun of the North Sea, but he very rarely came to the Central Plains. Hongjun hadn’t expected to run into him here of all places!
“A thousand blessings for the kun god!” the carp yao hurried to kneel down, saying, “This little one begs the kun god to point out a path…”
Hongjun interrupted, “Are you really the kun god? Where’s Qing Xiong? Quick, tell me! Have you seen my dad?”
“Both of you, shut up!” Yuan Kun grew irritated.
The carp yao immediately went to dig around in Hongjun’s bag. Pulling out a bag of fish food from Mt. Li, it raised it up with both hands, eyes filled with anticipation as it said, “Kun god, this is an offering from this little one… I want to become a dragon, and if that isn’t possible, then at least a human, please, I’m begging you!”
“I don’t eat this.” Yuan Kun was extremely frustrated with that carp yao’s fussing, and he continued, “Save 81 people, and after saving them, then come find me. You must do it all on your own, you can’t have anyone helping you.”
“As for you…” Yuan Kun held a ruler in his hand, and he tapped it against the table. After thinking for a moment, he said, “Two years hence, you naturally will be able to return to Yaojin Palace.”
“Really?” Hongjun said.
“Are you doubting my abilities?” Yuan Kun was on the verge of exploding.
Hongjun hurried to wave his hand, “no, no”. Yuan Kun said, “The carp can give the fee, go away ba. Leave the fish food. As for you…”
Hongjun said, “I have money.”
Yuan Kun said, “Leave me a writ of debt, you owe me a hunpo.”
Yuan Kun said, “Write.”
Hongjun felt that this was very strange, but he still wrote it down on the paper and pressed his fingerprint next to it. Yuan Kun then said, “At last it’s all gathered.”
“Whose soul?” Hongjun asked.
“Either way, it’s not yours,” Yuan Kun responded. “It’s also not Li Jinglong’s. There’s someone waiting in the backyard for you, go ba.”
Hongjun left, feeling baffled, but when he went into the backyard, he suddenly saw Qing Xiong. Immediately, he let out a loud cry and ran up. Qing Xiong’s pose was spread wide as he was teaching Li Jinglong how to perform a series of bare-handed forms, but when he heard Hongjun’s shout, he reached one hand out back and pressed it against Hongjun’s forehead, holding him in place.
“Where’s my dad?” Hongjun asked.
“Don’t know.” After Qing Xiong went through the last two forms, he asked Li Jinglong, “You remember?”
“I will remember these teachings,” Li Jinglong said, cupping his hand around his fist.
Qing Xiong then said to Hongjun, “Before, you always used to pester me, saying that I wouldn’t teach you martial arts. Now that I’m teaching you, pay close attention. Li Jinglong, when you have spare time, you need to push him to practice more.”
Li Jinglong responded in the affirmative before he stood off to one side to watch.
Hongjun focused his attention and followed in Qing Xiong’s steps. Before, Qing Xiong had demonstrated a set of forms called “The Peng flies Ten Thousand Li”, and after teaching Li Jinglong, he now changed his stance. He drew his fist and palm apart, saying, “This set of bare-handed forms is what your dad used when he was alive, and it needs to be accompanied by the Pentacolor Sacred Light to make the most use of its power.”
Hongjun en-ed, not daring to interrupt. Qing Xiong continued to explain. “There are only two forms in the entire set: one is to ‘release’, the other is to ‘gather’. The Pentacolor Sacred Light is the strongest artifact in the world, and though there are unavoidably things that can suppress it, it contains the power of gods and devils melded into one…”
And saying this, Qing Xiong first splayed his arms open, saying, “When you release, it is as if it encompasses all, like the eternal realms existing in an endless cycle. When you gather it back, it is as if the entirety of Mahāmeru can be contained within a mustard seed, and no matter if your opponent’s power is like the lofty mountains and deep seas, as soon as everything is gathered, then it becomes nothingness.”
Hongjun followed Qing Xiong in turning, his palms crossing, and as he focused his attention on them, the Pentacolor Sacred Light began to circulate in the center of them.
“Thousands and millions of changes all happen in these two forms,” Qing Xiong said. “If you gather correctly, you can cause huge waves that touch the sky and break mountains; if you release right, you can block the strikes of wild lightning that split the sky and the weight of Mt. Tai crushing you.”
Hongjun crossed his legs and turned. Qing Xiong was like a golden peng spreading its wings, while Hongjun was like an elegant phoenix. His manner when he was practicing martial arts was composed, and he was extremely pleasing to the eye.
“Have you figured it out?” Qing Xiong asked.
“A little,” Hongjun said. “Just now the kun god said…”
“Practice slowly ba,” Qing Xiong answered. “Obedient nephew, we will meet again someday.” And with that, he turned, suddenly giving off strong rays of golden light as he rose off the flat ground. There was a huge bang from the front hall, and a streak of black light pierced the sky as both of the great yaoguai vanished at the same time, leaving behind Li Jinglong and Hongjun looking at each other.
After noon, Hongjun bore an expression of disbelief, as if he was dreaming, as he walked with Li Jinglong into the Exorcism Department.
The carp yao staggered after them, and even its gait was filled with confusion.
“What did he do to you?” Hongjun asked.
Li Jinglong responded, “Where the Heart Lamp is, he left behind a brand.”
Hongjun asked, “Let me look?”
Hongjun saw that on Li Jinglong’s chest, there was a dancing sigil of an ember, like a bruise.
“Perhaps it’s some magic to protect your heart meridian,” Hongjun said. “What did Qing Xiong teach you?”
Li Jinglong smiled lightly, responding, “A few fist techniques, a few sword techniques.”
“Zhao Zilong, are you alright?” Hongjun hollered towards the carp yao.
The carp yao, after being spurned by the kun god, was a little dejected. It hugged its Buddha bone, saying, “I want to go save people.”
Just at this moment, someone shouted from outside, “Li-zhangshi! Li-zhangshi of the Exorcism Department!” The voice sounded like Huang Yong from the Judiciary Department. Li Jinglong went to open the door, letting the person in.
Huang Yong was wrapped in a thick fur coat, and when he came in, he was so tired that he was panting. He said, “Something big has happened in the northwest region, the messenger falcons have flown for a day and night. You need to come with me to the Ministry of War, and you too…Come come come, both of you, come!”
Li Jinglong’s forehead began to furrow.
Twilight, the roof of Daming Palace.
Chong Ming, Qing Xiong, and Yuan Kun stood on the roof. The rays of the setting sun shone on them, and the glass roof tiles glittered with light.
“Leave it up to his destiny ba,” Yuan Kun said. “What I’m afraid of is the day Mara is reborn. In mortal matters, the designs of mortals cannot be compared with those of the heavens.”
Chong Ming’s voice held some rage as he said, “I only wished to bring him back to Yaojin Palace. If he never went down the mountain for his entire life, no matter how powerful the demonic seed grew, how would that matter to him? If Kong Xuan had been willing to listen to my words back then and stayed in Yaojin Palace instead of falling in love with that woman, how would there be today?!”
Qing Xiong said mildly, “Chong Ming, fledglings leaving the nest is an unquestionable truth. The day of your rebirth is approaching. When that time comes, who else will protect him?”
“Though the Heart Lamp has gone to the wrong person,” Yuan Kun said quietly, the cloth of his blindfold swaying in the wind, “that Li Jinglong’s appearance may not be the variable that it seems. As long as he can hold his ground…”
“I will not place my hope on a mortal!” Chong Ming said angrily.
Qing Xiong said, “So you forced Hongjun to choose. After all, as long as it’s not easy for you, then you don’t want anyone else to have it easy, isn’t that right?”
“You…” Chong Ming stared into Qing Xiong’s eyes as he frustratedly let out a huff.
Qing Xiong responded, “Today, you also heard Hongjun’s words. Is this not enough?”
Yuan Kun’s forehead scrunched up, and he said darkly, “Sometimes I really get annoyed with you birds, spending all day twittering and chirping like old grannies. The most important matter right now is to find that black jiao, where exactly did it run off to?”
-- Scroll One · Fox Beauty · End --
moon: and that’s it for scroll 1! Thank you all for joining us on this journey so far, and next week we begin Scroll 2!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.