“I don’t know who is tipping them off!”
brief references to disciplining children that could be seen as abuse
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Always support our Chicken Lord by buying the original work whenever you can! Link for each platform's guide to purchase the raws can be seen on our FAQs.
“Lu Xu --”
The sky had completely darkened, and Hongjun looked around him, completely lost. He loudly shouted Lu Xu’s name, but he couldn’t get any response.
“How about we go back,” the carp yao urged. “It’s so cold.”
“How could we!” Hongjun replied worriedly. “He’ll freeze to death! Even you’re complaining that it’s cold; he’s wearing so little, and he doesn’t have a phoenix plume!”
The carp yao wailed, “Bundle up my legs well first, why don’t you!”
“Haven’t I bundled them up already?”
“The other side’s sticking out!”
Hongjun tucked the carp yao against his chest, looking all around him. With a shake of the reins, he dashed towards the mountain range looming ahead.
Where would he go? In this snow-covered landscape, Lu Xu had been on foot; he would freeze to death in the span of a single night. Hongjun turned his horse and headed northwest for a bit, and a short while later, he found a line of shallow footprints.
That was him!
Hongjun immediately followed that line of footprints. Logically, with Lu Xu on foot and himself on a horse, he would be able to catch up in less than two ke, but those footprints zig-zagged towards the end of the plains, vanishing into the horizon.
No way, how could Lu Xu run this fast? Hongjun chased him for a good half a shichen, using his Pentacolor Sacred Light to light up the snowy ground in front of him. Suddenly, he found that the footprints disappeared at one spot, and a line of hoofprints snaked from the other side, replacing those footprints, heading into the distance.
No way! What did this mean?! Hongjun suddenly remembered that Liu Fei had left at about the same time. Had it been him?
The sky was chilly, the ground was cold, and a snowstorm swept across the plains.
Liu Fei spurred his horse onwards, galloping across the plains, with Lu Xu sitting behind him.
“What are you going to Dunhuang for?” Liu Fei asked, turning his head.
But Lu Xu only stubbornly refused to say anything. Liu Fei said, “Go back ba, you’re not afraid that that Wolf God boy will be worried about you?”
Up high, on the ridge of the mountains, a woman wearing black clothing quietly watched the plains. A youth wearing a black outfit stood by her side, and his face was actually identical to Lu Xu’s. He too stared down at the snowy plains.
“Can you make Liu Fei go back to sleep for a little?” the black-robed woman asked.
The black-robed youth responded quietly, “It can’t be done. He has already woken, so I cannot approach him. We can only wait for him to enter sleep once more. Xuannü, who is that person sitting behind him?”
The black-robed woman who had just been called Xuannü replied, “I haven’t seen him before. It seems to be that child that the plague god mentioned. Oh well, I’ll act now.”
With that, Xuannü swept her long sleeve across, drawing out an arc in the air.
A sudden snowstorm instantly swept out, blanketing the sky and the earth like a waterfall of snow, overturning Liu Fei and the other rider on the horse. Liu Fei let out an angered roar, rising from the snow with the wind sword in hand.
With a graceful turn, Xuannü swept open her long sleeve, flying towards Liu Fei.
“It’s you!” Liu Fei cried.
The black-robed youth shifted forms into an inky stag, leaping through the air as he raced towards the plains that had been covered by the avalanche. When Lu Xu had been swept away by that snow, he had immediately fainted.
The stag lowered his head, black energy wreathing around his antlers that twined around Lu Xu, dragging him out of the piled up snow. Right after, the deer took human form again, observing Lu Xu lying on the ground.
The two of them looked exactly the same, as if they were a pair of twins.
Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen exited the city gates, having taken a torch to light the way, racing furiously along as they followed the hoofprints of Hongjun’s horse.
Li Jinglong roared angrily, “Hongjun! Where is he?!”
The carp yao had already fallen asleep in Hongjun’s arms. Hongjun had galloped along for almost an entire night, and snow had gathered everywhere, along the mountain ridges and across the plains. The flowing silver river joined the dark night sky with the vast land, and this realm seemed to be wholly silent. There was no snowstorm nor wind, and the world was an expanse of endless grey. Hongjun felt as if he was racing along within a dream that had no end.
In front of him was a patch of dense white fog. After Hongjun entered and then exited it, the plains that were completely covered with snow seemed like an ink painting under Qiu Yongsi’s brush. All around him were large patches of blank white, so white that they looked like parchment that hadn’t touched even a speck of dust. There were only the mountains in the distance that looked like they had been touched by a small amount of spreading ink, so light in color that they were almost the same color as the night.
After passing through the fog, the hoofprints on the snowy ground had completely disappeared.
Behind the fog was a calm, quiet cemetery. The stars overhead began to dim. To one side of the graveyard was a small wooden house for the gravekeeper to live in, and there was a light within. The wood faintly dimmed that light, and Hongjun, leading his horse along by the reins, approached steadily, only to hear Liu Fei’s voice coming from inside.
“Madame Nao always liked to say, Your Highness, that you shouldn’t kill any more people…”
Hongjun pushed open the wooden door. In the room, Liu Fei was currently sitting on the ground to one side, while Lu Xu laid on the bed. The stove on the ground had been lit, and the room was warm. The two of them turned their gazes towards him in unison.
He had finally caught up to him, thank the heavens. Lu Xu was wearing a black outfit, lying down fully robed, and he said, “Hongjun!”
“Why have you come?” Liu Fei asked, confused.
Hongjun disregarded Liu Fei’s question, instead sitting down on the edge of the bed, frowning. “Why did you leave just like that?”
Lu Xu seemed like he wasn’t willing to answer, so Liu Fei said, “I saw that he was heading towards the northwest, as if he was trying to find something, so I gave him a ride. How about you bring him back?”
Hongjun thanked Liu Fei, before asking Lu Xu, “Where are you going?”
Lu Xu’s expression seemed to be a little downcast as he pointed towards the northwest. At first, Hongjun thought that he wanted to go home, but wasn’t Lu Xu’s home already gone? After a long while, Hongjun couldn’t get a response. He felt that for Lu Xu to leave so suddenly in the depths of the night meant that he definitely had something to hide, but he couldn’t guess at Lu Xu’s thoughts at all. He could only wait until Mo Rigen and Li Jinglong arrived to get the specifics.
“Tomorrow we’ll go over slowly together,” Hongjun said. “We’ll wait for them to catch up; Zhangshi and Mo Rigen should already be on the way.”
Liu Fei then said, “You two squeeze together and manage for the night ba, I’ll go stand guard.”
Liu Fei pushed open the door and went out. Hongjun had chased after Lu Xu for a whole night, and it was less than a shichen to dawn, so he was completely exhausted. He pulled the carp yao out, placing it by the stove, before lying down on the bed, saying, “You really made me search so hard.”
Hongjun raised his hand to touch Lu Xu’s forehead, before lying down beside him, saying, “Don’t be sad. Though I don’t know what you’re sad about, everything will get better eventually.”
Lu Xu remained silent. He glanced at Hongjun, who yawned.
Hongjun was already sleepy, and outside, the snow started to fall again. The cold wind started blowing, and its sobs gusted past the roof of the wooden house. The sound of the wind and the snow had a soporific effect.
In that instant, a white light flashed, and Hongjun felt that he had returned to the Exorcism Department, surrounded on all sides by unkempt weeds. Li Jinglong was currently holding the Sword of Wisdom, using it to draw a circle on the ground.
“Don’t stare off into space, draw quickly.”
Hongjun looked around himself in confusion, only to see that Li Jinglong was gently pouring a ladleful of a blood red pigment on the ground.
“Which direction did they head in?” Li Jinglong asked.
“Damn,” Mo Rigen responded. “It’s starting to snow.”
The snowflakes flew densely across the desolate plains, covering up the hoofprints. Under the flakes of snow that covered the sky, the only traces the two of them had left finally disappeared.
Li Jinglong’s heart burned with anxiety as he turned his horse’s head, surveying the mountains all around them.
Mo Rigen climbed off his horse, and with a shake, took the form of the Grey Wolf, sniffing a few times in the air.
“You can smell his scent?”
The Grey Wolf’s deep voice said, “He brought Zhao Zilong with him. This way, let’s go!”
The firewood in the stove was burning merrily as Hongjun laid on the bed, his eyes closed.
“Chouxing,” a familiar man’s voice suddenly sounded. “Wake up.”
Hongjun didn’t know how long he had slept. He sensed that his entire body felt terrible; his mouth was dry, his throat parched, and his entire body was hot to the touch. When he was called awake by this voice, he opened his eyes, only to see a young man, handsome beyond compare, sitting at his bedside, pressing the back of his hand against his forehead.
Instantly, Hongjun forgot about that snowy night and Lu Xu, and he forgot about many other things. Countless memories, jumbled all together, poured into his mind, dragging him right back to when he was seven years old.
He struggled to sit up, but his head throbbed with great pain.
“Kong Xuan?” a woman’s voice called from outside. “Xing’er is awake?”
“Time to eat your medicine,” that man who had been addressed as Kong Xuan said to Hongjun.
Hongjun replied, “Dad… my head hurts so much.”
Kong Xuan extended an arm and lifted Hongjun up in his embrace. Hongjun’s entire body was weak and powerless, and he was so sick that he couldn’t even lift his arms.
“Drink the medicine,” Kong Xuan said in a quiet voice.
Hongjun felt terrible, and his consciousness was like glue. His head hurt so much it felt like there was a hammer knocking furiously on the inside of his head, trying to get out. He cried, “I won’t drink the medicine…”
“Your illness will get better only when you drink the medicine.” Kong Xuan brought the bowl over, which was filled a little less than half with a concoction stewed bitter huanglian.
Hongjun fought down his discomfort and drank it, but his stomach suddenly churned, and not long after drinking it, he vomited it back up with a wah.
“Kong Xuan!” the woman rushed in, saying angrily, “What medicine did you feed him now?!”
“A fever reducer!” Kong Xuan replied unhappily. “If he stays this ill, how will we set off tomorrow?!”
The woman’s features were beautiful, but she was evidently tired; the color of her face had a tinge of white to it. She hurried forward to take Hongjun into her arms, choking with sobs, her tears flowing down her face and landing on his ear.
At her bosom, Hongjun felt the warmth of her body and smelled the light, gentle fragrance on her. That feeling seemed to seep deep into his very bloodstream, causing him to begin to wail loudly, on the verge of tears.
Jia Yuze held her son, sobbing so hard her voice was gone. But Kong Xuan was extremely irritated by the crying of the mother and son, and he rose and roared, “It’s me who’s useless! It’s me who’s useless!”
Hongjun jolted from the shock. Though he had vomited up quite a lot of the medicine, what was left inside managed to take effect, and his head no longer hurt.
“Where’s Jinglong?” Hongjun asked.
“When Jinglong heard that you were sick, he brought a book for you,” Jia Yuze said. “Mom will bring it over for you.”
“Don’t give it to him,” Kong Xuan said, his brow furrowed deeply.
Jia Yuze passed by Kong Xuan, not even looking at him, bringing the book over of her own accord and putting it by Hongjun’s bedside. The pages of the book had not yet fallen into disrepair, and Jia Yuze sat down at one side, saying quietly, “Mom will go tidy things up again. If you’re tired, then sleep, be good.”
Hongjun opened his mouth, closed it, then said, “Dad, I dreamed that I saw many graves.”
“It was a dream,” Kong Xuan replied, still frowning. “Don’t be afraid, Dad’s currently busy.”
The two of them then closed the door to the room and backed out.
Hongjun flipped through a few of the pages of the book, his expression confused and doubtful. He saw that on the last page, a black shadow had been drawn in with an ink brush, and to one side the word “Mara” was written.
The door to the room was suddenly pushed open again, and Kong Xuan entered once more. Little Hongjun lifted his head and looked up as Kong Xuan sat down on the side of the bed, asking, “Can you understand the words?”
Hongjun en-ed. Kong Xuan continued, “Stop reading this book, it isn’t anything good.” And saying this, he handed him a piece of rock sugar and said, “Eat this.”
When Hongjun saw the candy, he began to smile. He put the sugar into his mouth, sucking on it, and Kong Xuan stroked his head, before leaning down and pressing a kiss to his forehead. Little Hongjun noticed that the Jade Peacock Plume that hung at his waist was exactly the same one that he himself carried around on his belt, so he reached out to touch it.
But he never expected that Kong Xuan would pull him firmly into his embrace, spasming with sobs. He focused all his efforts on stroking Hongjun’s head and face, vigorously kissing his eyebrows, saying quietly, “Xing’er, Dad apologizes to you…”
Hongjun asked, “Dad, what’s wrong?”
Kong Xuan sucked in a breath, shook his head, and closed his eyes, before rising and once again leaving.
It was very humid and hot both inside and outside, as it was a summer night, and the rain that had been looming had yet to fall. With a stagger, he clambered off his bed, his head spinning, feeling like he was treading over cotton.
He pushed open the door and went out. It was night, and from the street outside came the sound of the woodblock. That was the Chang’an night that he was most familiar with, as the wooden ji sounded on the ground, du du.
Not far away came the angered tones of Jia Yuze’s voice. His parents seemed to be arguing, so Hongjun carefully crept over on bare feet.
“I don’t know who is tipping them off!” Kong Xuan said quietly. “Stop being so loud, Xing’er will hear!”
“Then why don’t you tell me where we should go now?!” Jia Yuze responded harshly.
The main hall was filled with wooden trunks, bundles, and various other sundry items. His parents seemed to be in the middle of moving.
Kong Xuan was sitting on a trunk, and he sighed, saying, “I’ll bring him back to Yaojin Palace, Chong Ming won’t just sit back and do nothing.”
“Those two brothers of yours only care about your life,” Jia Yuze said, tears running down her face. “Kong Xuan, when have they ever felt a single scrap of sympathy for us mother and son? When Xing’er was born, if it hadn’t been for me risking my life to hold onto him, how would he still be alive today?!”
“Stop bringing up past debts!” Kong Xuan said in a low roar. “That was then, this is now. I’ll send a letter to Yaojin Palace, Da-ge won’t sit back and just watch as Xing’er loses his life!”
“What exactly is in his body?!” Jia Yuze cried, her voice trembling. She took a step forward, her hair in disarray, evidently in great distress, yet doggedly asking Kong Xuan questions even as she trembled. “Tell me, Kong Xuan, I heard them say that you passed on the ‘devil seed’ in your body to your son, isn’t that right?! To save your own life, you turned your own child into a sacrificial offering?!”
Kong Xuan fixed his gaze on Jia Yuze, saying, “Yuze, let me tell you this. If I had even half a thought of doing so, then may I be cast into hell, never to be redeemed! For thousands, millions of years, let me suffer in the black flames!”
Jia Yuze’s hands pressed against her face as she let out trembling sobs. She almost fell over, and Kong Xuan stepped forward to embrace her.
“Da-ge and Er-ge will come to pick us up,” Kong Xuan responded.
“No! They won’t come!” Jia Yuze cried sorrowfully. “Otherwise they would never sit back and watch as you got hurt, nor would they stand by as all of them, one after the other, come to steal away Xing’er. I hate that I am not a yao, otherwise, no matter if every bone in my body is shattered, I wouldn’t let Xing’er live this kind of life…”
Kong Xuan replied, as if he was begging for mercy, “Yuze, please stop, will you only be satisfied if I die right in front of you two?”
“What use will that be?” Jia Yuze asked, sobbing. “I only wanted him to live happily like the other children, what has Xing’er done wrong? You tell me, the devil seed in his body, what exactly is it?”
“Don’t ask any more,” Kong Xuan replied. “We’ll head out first thing tomorrow, and at worst, we’ll go to Guazhou to find your older brother.”
“In these past years, no matter where we fled, they would come chasing after us,” Jia Yuze said. “The yaoguai are everywhere, each of them looming with sharp teeth and claws, trying to take Xing’er away…”
Outside the hall, Hongjun couldn’t help but take a step back, his eyes filled with horror.
He turned and stumbled at a run through the corridor, coming to a stop in the garden, his inner robe drenched with sweat.
From behind, a jasmine flower suddenly flew at him, gently smacking into his head. Hongjun whipped his head around, only to see a half-grown youth wearing a brocade robe curiously looking at him under the moonlight.
“Xing, are you feeling better?”
That half-grown youth sat on the wall, one leg on either side, talking in a quiet voice to Hongjun on the ground. “How come the color of your face looks so bad?”
Hongjun was a little at a loss for what to do. The sudden shock of overhearing his parents’ words turned into a wave of distress that swept over him, causing him to cry without stopping. He had almost no way to fight back against this dreamscape that was as realistic as it could be, or perhaps these were memories.
When that half-grown youth saw that Hongjun was crying, he hurriedly said, “Ay, don’t cry? What’s wrong? If you cry, your dad will beat you again.”
He hurried to clamber quickly down the wall, and with his feet bare, he ran to Hongjun, dropping to one knee on the ground, looking at him earnestly.
The half-grown youth was already nine years old, and though he wore a set of brocade robes, his face bore marks of having been whipped by a bamboo rod. With his sleeve, he wiped away Hongjun’s tears that would not stop flowing. Hongjun, through the tears obscuring his sight, stared dumbly at him, those eyes and brows, that nose bridge, those lips.
“Jinglong,” Hongjun called.
“Call me gege,” nine-year-old Li Jinglong replied quietly, before grasping his hand in his own, saying, “Let’s go.”
Li Jinglong took him, circling around the courtyard, before arriving in the flower garden in Hongjun’s home that was separated from the Li family’s manor by a single fence. He had Hongjun flip over it, before he climbed over afterwards. He then brought him through the corridor, heading towards the back courtyard, where a pomegranate tree was planted.
Li Jinglong’s family’s estate was pretty big, and when they went into the hallway, there was a set of wooden ji there, as well as a chess set laid out in front of the hallway. To one side was tossed a child-sized outer robe, and beside the chess board was placed green pomegranates that hadn’t yet ripened. Li Jinglong then went to get an outer robe, and he shook it out, having Hongjun put it on. The clothes and the wooden ji were both a little too large.
He led Hongjun straight into the room and got a pastry for him to eat, before feeling his forehead and mixing up some honey water for him to drink. He said, “You don’t have a fever, huh.”
The decorations in Li Jinglong’s house were extremely luxurious, and during the day, he had even played chess against Hongjun here, but as soon as Hongjun went back, he got sick. Every time Jia Yuze moved, she never let Hongjun play with the neighbor’s children, so Hongjun could only stay at home all day. Later, there was one time when he was seen by Li Jinglong, who felt that the seven or eight years old Hongjun who had been locked up all alone at home was very pitiful, so he constantly climbed over the fence to visit him.
moon: fun fact, the xing in xing’er is the same as the xing in chen xing, means star
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.