"When the madman was suddenly called by name, a thread of confusion appeared in his gaze."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Mild NSFW ahead: brief mentions of dick
Days later, Li Jinglong, with Hongjun in tow, headed north-west. As soon as they passed through the Jiayu Pass, they saw that the lands to the northwest were extremely desolate. The military road had been buried under several snowstorms, and on the way from one county seat to the next, they would often see just a few caravans after traveling for a whole day. Once in a while, there would be the occasional farmer wandering outside, watching the two horses circle around the summit of the mountain in the distance, galloping away.
But after arriving at a county seat, the city would be bustling with activity, as all its citizens were wintering in the city.
The weather grew colder and colder, and Hongjun was entirely unwilling to ride his own horse anymore. It was boring as well as tiring, and what was more troublesome was that he would ride for a whole day with his legs clasped around his saddle, and the skin on his inner thighs hurt a lot from that much friction aaahhhh --
“Are you going to ride your own horse at all anymore?” Li Jinglong was at a total loss for what to do with Hongjun.
Hongjun said, “It’s too boring when I ride alone!”
“Don’t draw turtles on my face while I’m sleeping then,” Li Jinglong said, turning his head back. “You hear me?”
Hongjun was still laughing as Li Jinglong, carrying him behind, figured out the path and hurried along it, finally reaching the way-station.
“After resting here tonight, we may have to camp outdoors tomorrow, and the day after that we should arrive at Wuwei,” Li Jinglong said.
Hongjun said, “Zhangshi, my legs hurt a little, the skin broke.”
Hongjun leaned up against the wall for support, waddling slowly like a duck into the room. As soon as Li Jinglong saw this, he knew that Hongjun was not someone who rode often. The skin of his thighs had been rubbed raw by the saddle.
That night, as the cold winds whistled around the outside of the way-station, the waiter came over and fed the fire until it was extremely vigorous. The room was very warm, and the carp yao was sleeping. Hongjun wore a white shirt and shorts as he held a cloth dipped in water, thinking of wiping his wounds. He lifted his head to look at Li Jinglong; he wanted to take off his pants, but that would be extremely awkward.
However, Li Jinglong finished mixing the medicine and dabbed some onto a small square of gauze. He gestured for Hongjun to scoot to the side of the bed, before pulling his legs over. Hongjun hurried to say, “I… Zhangshi, I can do it myself.”
Li Jinglong said, “Your maternal grandpa lived in Guazhou before?”
“Oh yeah!” Hongjun had told Li Jinglong this before in passing, but he himself had already long since forgotten about it.
“We’ll first go to visit Great General Geshu Han…” Li Jinglong pressed one hand on Hongjun’s knee, his other hand holding that piece of gauze, reaching into the cuff of Hongjun’s shorts. Hongjun’s face immediately flared bright red, but he was out of luck - the parts that had been rubbed raw were towards the back, and even if he were to try to put the medicine on himself, when he lowered his head to look, he wouldn’t be able to see. He could only let Li Jinglong carry out this task instead.
“... Then we’ll go visit your uncle,” Li Jinglong continued.
“My grandpa seems to be some emissary of some holiday…” Hongjun replied.
“The Hexi vice jiedushi, he was previously under Xiao Song’s command,” Li Jinglong said casually. “Your uncle might even be in Geshu Han’s Hexi troops.”
Hongjun felt an icy chill from the place where the skin had broken, and he sucked in a cold breath. Li Jinglong kept applying the medicine, asking, “Does it hurt?”
“It tickles…” Hongjun couldn’t resist and lifted his leg. Li Jinglong had him spread his legs, saying, “On the other side, your skin’s already started blistering.”
Hongjun and Li Jinglong’s gazes met. When Hongjun felt Li Jinglong’s long, slender fingers touch his leg, he was overwhelmed by a sense of arousal, and the thing between his legs unconsciously poked up. The two of them stared at each other, Li Jinglong applying the medicine on his right leg, before asking, “Tomorrow, how about we switch to riding in a horse-cart?”
But where would they go to find a horse cart? Hongjun felt very guilty; he had chosen to tag along after Li Jinglong, only to cause him trouble at every turn. Yet Li Jinglong didn’t mind at all, and after he finished applying the medicine, Hongjun said, “It’s good now.”
Suddenly, Li Jinglong spread the rest of the medicine onto Hongjun’s thing. Hongjun instantly let out a loud shout, and Li Jinglong laughed loudly, his laugh tinged with satisfaction for having gotten his revenge.
“You did that on purpose!” Hongjun’s entire face was flaming red. He hurried to find a cloth, pulling the drawstring of his pants away from his body as he rubbed off the medicine that Li Jinglong had rubbed on as a prank.
“Holding it in to this degree, were you fantasizing about getting married?” Li Jinglong sat to one side, chuckling as he propped his feet up.
Hongjun’s awkwardness peaked, and he said, “I wasn’t thinking of getting married!”
Li Jinglong looked consideringly at Hongjun, saying with great amusement, “In the coming days, who knows which family’s daughter will get saddled with you.” And with that, he shook his head helplessly as he laughed, before continuing, “What kind of yao is your dad?”
If it was before, Li Jinglong would definitely not ask these kinds of questions, but on this journey, Hongjun and Li Jinglong had already grown as close as brothers. When that question came out of Li Jinglong’s mouth, he felt that that was too presumptuous, and he hurried to add, “I was just casually asking, think of it as just chatting, don’t mind it.”
Hongjun hurried to assure him that he didn’t mind. He then scooted to the inside of the bed, and Li Jinglong took this chance to sit down as well. The two of them sat, shoulder to shoulder, leaning up against the wall.
Hongjun answered, “My dad was a peacock.”
“No wonder,” Li Jinglong said easily, “You’ve grown to be this pretty.” And saying this, he glanced again at Hongjun, saying, “Then if you wanted to get married, would it be Uncle Chong Ming who would… help you find a pretty yao?”
Hongjun had never considered this fanciful thought before, and he replied, “He would never matchmake on my behalf.”
“How about in the future?” Li Jinglong asked casually.
As soon as Hongjun was asked this by Li Jinglong, he grew a little lost. He wasn’t a human, nor was he a yao, so what kind of a future awaited him?
“Chong Ming, he… won’t pay attention to such matters,” Hongjun said hesitantly.
“I think that may not necessarily be the case,” Li Jinglong said.
When Hongjun was small, he had never harbored any thoughts about the future. Every day spent in Yaojin Palace was just another day passing, and though he said he wanted to eat all of the good food in the human realm, this couldn’t be counted as any kind of grand ambition. If they were talking about any desires they had for the future, then perhaps his would be staying forever in Yaojin Palace and accompanying Chong Ming, probably?
“Sleep ba.” Upon seeing Hongjun’s attention wander, Li JInglong was afraid that he was thinking of sad things again, so he had him lie down.
Outside, the heavy snow made sha sha noises. Hongjun looked to the phoenix tail plume lying on the table. With this reminder of Li Jinglong’s, many thoughts flooded towards the completely defenseless him, streaming out endlessly, wholly submerging him on this snowy night. In these past sixteen years, this was the first time that he was mulling over the emotion called “ignorance”.
What do I want to do later? Many years later, who will I be with?
“Zhangshi, then what about you?”
Li Jinglong’s breathing was even, as if he had already fallen asleep. Hongjun then turned his face towards the wall, sinking deep into his thoughts.
“When I was your age, I always thought about many things,” Li Jinglong said solemnly.
Hongjun’s heart moved at that, and he turned over. Li Jinglong had yet to sleep, and now he opened his eyes, turned his head slightly to the side, and said, “I didn’t want to be like them, starting to seek out a marriage as soon as I came of age. Establishing my career, taking a wife, and getting a few little shadows, simply and plainly living out this life.”
One of Hongjun’s legs was crooked to the side because he was afraid of his wounds touching, but now, because it had been bent for a long time, his leg ached, so he lifted his leg and slung it over Li Jinglong’s body. Li Jinglong knew that he was afraid of smearing the medicine that had just been applied, so he gestured for him to move his leg up a little and prop it on his own waist.
“Yes,” Hongjun replied. “I also thought like that. I don’t know what the future me will be like, or perhaps it’s better to say, I…”
Li Jinglong moved a little closer, looking at the ceiling as he said, “You’re very good like this, Hongjun… I… the first time I saw you…”
He unconsciously turned his head, looking into Hongjun’s eyes. Suddenly, he felt a little abashed and moved his gaze away, saying, “On you, I see too many things that I have never had.”
Li Jinglong let out a light sigh, before chuckling a little, self-deprecatingly.
Hongjun asked, “Zhangshi, why’s your face red?”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Hongjun looked at Li Jinglong, a smile in his eyes. Li Jinglong turned his head, looking earnestly at him, and their breaths mingled. He had to admit that Hongjun had a kind of innate attraction for him. In front of him, Li Jinglong kept thinking back to his own years as a youth.
In those months and years that only a youth had, he bore a longsword at his waist that he had obtained in exchange for his entire family fortune as he searched bitterly everywhere for a good brother like Hongjun. Someone who came from a utopia that didn’t exist, who would drink and have fun together with him, and together they would unsheathe their swords to fight their enemies, becoming best friends with great prowess who would live and die together.
But at that time, Hongjun hadn’t appeared by his side. Now that he thought back, at that time, his own emotions were probably akin to what Li Bai was enunciating in his “pulling out the sword to fend off attackers from all four directions, ignorant of what was in my heart” line ba.
“You came late,” Li Jinglong suddenly said. “If we had known each other three years ago, how good that would have been.”
Hongjun replied, “Three years ago, I was just thirteen.”
Li Jinglong smiled. “That’s true, though you still saved me.”
“How so?” Hongjun asked doubtfully.
Li Jinglong said earnestly, “If we had met a little earlier, then perhaps I would have…”
Hongjun asked, “Would have what?”
Li Jinglong leaned back a little, taking in Hongjun. In this instant, he finally understood what he had lost - it was the spirit and warmth that had been whittled away by the earthly world in the long river of time.
“Hongjun,” Li Jinglong said solemnly. “I need to ask you something.”
Hongjun’s head was filled with fog. Ever since they had lain down, he hadn’t been entirely able to understand Li Jinglong. He kept feeling that there were words within his words, but he couldn’t guess them.
“Do you like me?” Li Jinglong asked. “That day, when you said ‘Zhangshi, I like you so much’, those were your true feelings, right?”
Hongjun smiled as he responded, “Of course.”
Hongjun liked being together with Li Jinglong the most, because when he was, his entire life shone brightly and glowed.
“I also really like you, like how I would like a didi…” Li Jinglong said, his face red. “Fuck, saying it like this is really too cheesy. When you wake up tomorrow just forget about it ba.”
It was rare for Li Jinglong to utter a curse, and Hongjun smiled at that, before using his foot to kick him, saying, “I understand.”
“En,” Li Jinglong said. “In the Exorcism Department, though you and I are subordinate and superior, I’ve always treated you like my didi… even when I was in the Longwu Army, I was never on such good terms with anyone…”
When Hongjun heard these words, he really did feel that these were a little cheesy. Throughout his entire life, no one had ever said something like this to him, and flowers began to blossom in his heart.
“They often make jokes about us, but towards you, I… have never had any ulterior motives. Please don’t think too much about it,” Li Jinglong said, rubbing Hongjun’s head with great force, before continuing, “I don’t mind what others… say about me, but some words, don’t take them to heart is all.”
Hongjun didn’t understand again, asking, “What words?”
Li Jinglong said, “Sometimes I really don’t get it, are you pretending to be dumb, or are you actually dumb?”
Hongjun understood, and he chuckled. “I understand ah! I also don’t…”
“As to whether or not you have any motives towards me, I can’t control you.”
Once again, Li Jinglong, mock-earnestly, began to tease Hongjun.
Hongjun protested, “I don’t! I don’t! I don’t!”
Li Jinglong: “Oh? Is that so?”
And as he spoke, he picked up Hongjun’s left hand. Spreading apart his palm, he laced their fingers together, clasping their hands together gently.
As soon as his hand was pinned in place by Li Jinglong’s fingers, Hongjun felt himself growing hard again, and immediately his entire face flushed red. Last time, as they rode back to Chang’an, they had also been like this when he was teaching Li Jinglong to use the Heart Lamp.
The faintest shadow of a smile appeared on Li Jinglong’s face as he looked at Hongjun before turning his gaze downwards. His meaning was clear: how about that? And you say that you have no ulterior motives? Hongjun hurried to pull his hand back, his heart thumping furiously as he said, “Don’t mess with me! I also… I also treat you as family… en. I even said I’d take you back to my home, I don’t want to be apart from you, Zhangshi.”
Li Jinglong smiled. “I won’t tease you anymore. Sleep ba, we still have to get up early tomorrow to hurry along on our journey. There are some things that you do not need to rush. Think them through slowly, and gradually you’ll understand. Just like me, until the day I met you.”
Li Jinglong closed his eyes. Hongjun still had many thoughts pouring out like a stream, but he was also weary, so he left his leg propped up on Li Jinglong’s waist, slowly falling asleep.
This night, a sudden snowstorm enveloped the regions both inside and outside of the Great Wall for almost a thousand li.
In the great bathing chamber of Yulin County, the time was nearing the depths of the night. Most of the guests had left, and the bathing room was filled with silence. From afar came the sound of a woman singing “May I ask where the melody of ‘Plum Blossoms Fall’ is stemming from? The wind has blown the sound of the flute all throughout Mt. Guan in the span of a single night.”.
In a separate bathing room in the western wing, the madman soaked in the wooden tub, hair loose and unbound, not saying a single word.
Mo Rigen sat to one side outside, a towel draped across his legs, holding a jug of light wine. In his hand he held the two strung-together nephrite jade beads that Hongjun had gifted him, his fingers toying with the beads.
“Are you done washing?” Mo Rigen asked, turning his head back. “Aren’t you hungry?”
The madman slumped on the bathtub, staring towards the outside. Mo Rigen rose and walked into the bathing chamber to inspect that madman. Before the madman had gone mad, he had been a soldier, and his physique was slim and lithe. After the dirt and dust had been washed off his face, he was actually extremely handsome.
The madman was a seventeen or eighteen year old youth, and he looked to be not much older than Hongjun. He warily watched Mo Rigen, who let out a sigh, before he bent over and pulled out a letter from those dirty robes stained with blood.
The letter was splattered with bloodstains, and it was a letter requesting military aid that had been sent from Chengji County in Tianshui. The contents were blurred and unclear. All that could be seen was that the sender was the Chengji city guard Huang An, who had sent out the messenger Lu Xu to request for supporting troops from Wutai County.
“Lu Xu?” Mo Rigen said.
When the madman was suddenly called by name, a thread of confusion appeared in his gaze. Mo Rigen handed him a set of clean clothes, but Lu Xu only stood there stark naked, looking Mo Rigen up and down. Mo Rigen watched him for a while before taking off his own cotton robe, letting him put it on. He then gestured for him to follow, leading him to the table, letting him eat some boiled lamb.
Upon seeing that there was food on the table, Lu Xu slowly approached. He reached out a hand, watching Mo Rigen at the same time, and Mo Rigen indicated that he should eat. He then picked up the lamb meat and put it into his mouth to chew. Mo Rigen only ate a little before he stopped, his brows furrowed deeply as he observed Lu Xu.
The collar of his bathrobe hung open, revealing a pale chest and collarbones. On those collarbones were blackened scars left by fire.
Mo Rigen, “Lu Xu.”
Lu Xu was very puzzled, lifting his eyes to look at Mo Rigen, saying, “Ah?”
Mo Rigen began to chuckle. He wanted to ask him questions, but he was afraid of provoking unwanted shock, so he decided to wait until he was done eating first. Lu Xu waited for a while, and upon seeing Mo Rigen not ask him anything else, he once again buried his head and began to take large bites, chewing loudly.
Mo Rigen pondered deeply for a moment before pulling out a small knife, taking a piece of leather. He carved out an image on that leather, and as Lu Xu ate and watched, his chewing motions gradually slowed.
“Deer,” Lu Xu said.
Mo Rigen’s hand trembled faintly.
“You’ve seen it?” Mo Rigen asked, trying to sound him out.
He spread open his palm. In the center was a piece of carved leather in the shape of a male deer, its antlers spreading wide like it was some wild god of the forest.
Lu Xu’s gaze traveled from that leather to Mo Rigen’s eyes, and he nodded lightly.
“Where?” Mo Rigen’s voice turned odd, not quite like how it usually was.
Lu Xu was confused by that, and he shook his head, before lowering it, starting to eat the lamb again. In that moment, Mo Rigen felt as if he had collapsed, and for a while he didn’t know what to say.
“Where did you come from?” Mo Rigen asked, as if to himself. “The north-west… what did you see there?”
He rose and went to the door of the bathing chamber, just wanting to let the cold wind clear up his thoughts a little.
North-western Liangzhou must have had some emergency arise, so the city guards sent out this scout to seek assistance. On the way, he must have run into something unknown and been subjected to a great shock, so great as to shake loose his hunpo, and he escaped all the way here. What had he seen? Was it the White Deer that Mo Rigen had been searching for his entire way here?
Mo Rigen was wrapped in a cotton robe, wearing a set of wooden ji as he stood in the courtyard. After Lu Xu had eaten his fill, he wiped his hands on his cotton robe before picking up that letter, quietly walking out of the courtyard and passing by behind Mo Rigen as he walked barefoot towards the wall. The icy wind was piercingly cold, and Mo Rigen’s forehead was furrowed deeply as he held his hands behind his back, standing in the wind as he thought. He didn’t hear Lu Xu’s footsteps at all.
With quick steps, Lu Xu ran towards the corner of the courtyard, swiftly speeding out from the back door.
Mo Rigen had to send a letter to Chang’an as soon as possible to notify Li Jinglong. He would then let this young man lead the way, outside of the Great Wall or towards Yumen Pass in the northwest, it didn’t matter… When Mo Rigen turned back to find Lu Xu’s letter, he suddenly saw that the hall was completely empty.
“Where’d he go?!” Mo Rigen let out an angered roar as he turned his head to take in his surroundings. When he saw a set of footsteps leading towards the back door, he immediately took off his wooden ji and rushed out rapidly in pursuit.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.