"The rays of the dying sun mixed together with the blood stains on the azure cobblestones to become one."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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The rain passed, the skies cleared, and the autumn sky over Chang'an dawned clear and bright for tens of thousands of li, as blue as if it had just been cleanly washed. The sweet scent of cassia blossoms traveled on the breeze as Hongjun kicked the trunk of a parasol tree, and the rain on the leaves that had gathered overnight splashed down, hualala. He used this water to wash his face and then drank some as well, before plucking two leaves, placing them near his mouth, and blowing through them to make a sound.
"What are we to do --" the carp yao wailed, all wrapped up in the luggage, bearing an expression of the sky falling in.
"This place is really big." Hongjun rubbed his stomach, before continuing, "Let's eat first, then decide."
"I'm not going to eat any more earthworms," the carp yao added.
"We'll find you some meat to eat," Hongjun said. "Let's think of a plan forward slowly. Ay, how were we so unlucky over this journey? Yi? What's that?"
Hongjun had a youthful disposition at heart, and after coming down the mountain and seeing this dazzling mortal world, he immediately tossed all his troubles to the back of his mind as he pulled out a few copper coins and headed into the market to buy some food. The carp yao once again reminded him, "How come after coming down the mountain, you’ve eaten everything you can find? Be careful you don't eat something bad and wreck your stomach."
But Hongjun just slung a foot on the seat of the food stall and carelessly picked up a sea-sized bowl of noodles in his hand and consumed it all. The foods of the human world were so much tastier than those of Yaojin Palace. Fried, grilled, pan-toasted, there were all kinds of ways of cooking, and there was also soy sauce-broiled lamb meat, five-colored cakes, steamed glutinous rice pastries. They didn’t make these in Yaojin Palace, and his journey down the mountain had been done in a rush, so there had only been rations.
Thankfully Qing Xiong understood his personality and had prepared many pearls for him, so in the month they spent on the road to Chang'an, Hongjun just went along with what the carp yao had taught him and traded the pearls in with passing merchant caravans for silver, then silver for copper coins, which were used for buying food and refreshments. Though he didn't understand the ways of this mortal world, thanks to the carp yao's timely interventions, he managed to keep himself out of stirring up any big troubles.
Hongjun was already originally a smart one, and as they paused and continued on their journey, after going down the mountain he picked things up quickly. In the beginning he didn't say much, instead watching how others did things, and as he went he learned from what he’d seen. After seeing people line up to buy meat buns, Hongjun observed their movements, before he then mimicked them and handed over some copper coins in exchange for two.
He saw that there were performers on the street blowing fire from their mouths, and Hongjun watched curiously for a while and said, "What's so special about that, when Dad sneezes he can produce so much more."
The carp yao: "..."
Another performer was smashing boulders on his chest, bending iron rods, climbing mountains of swords, and getting into a pot of boiling oil, and Hongjun watched and only shuddered.
"Why do they trouble themselves so?" No matter how Hongjun looked at it, he couldn't figure it out. The carp yao answered, "To earn money. You wouldn't understand, but the human realm is filled with hardships."
The performers finished and came around asking for money, and the crowd that had gathered started tossing money into the bowl. Hongjun thought that this was pretty pitiful, and so he tossed a pearl into it. The carp yao was being carried on his back so it couldn't see what was going on, when someone shouted, "A Night-Luminescent Pearl!”
The pinky-sized Night-Luminescent Pearl instantly caused a hubbub, and there were people who didn't care for doing the right thing and reached their hand in to grab it. Instantly the people around leapt forwards and pushed at each other to get it, and they started fighting amongst themselves. Hongjun hurried to shout, "Don't fight anymore! I still have more here! Stop fighting!"
The carp yao said, "You want to die? Quick, run!"
The market was filled with havoc, and then guards came rushing up. Due to the events of last night, when Hongjun saw guards it was as if he had seen some ghosts, so he immediately turned and ran. The carp yao couldn't help but chivvy him faster, telling him to get to the Exorcism Department quickly to report for duty. Hongjun responded with several "okay, okay"s, but before long his attention was once again diverted to a monkey handler, and he stood to one side as he watched the monkey.
"Chaining it up like this is too outrageous, right," Hongjun said to the monkey handler.
The monkey handler shot him a look and threw a few curses his way. The carp yao was on the verge of tears as it said, "Little lord, you'd better leave quickly."
In the past there used to be a group of monkeys that lived in Mt. Taihang, roaming freely as they wished, but here today, there was actually a monkey all chained up in front of him, small and skinny, not having enough to eat and still having to kowtow to all the people around him.
Hongjun took ten or so steps away before turning, and while no one was watching, tossed out a throwing knife. With a ding it easily sliced through the chain that the monkey handler was holding. The monkey first froze, looking around in all directions.
"Quick, run!" Hongjun said quietly.
That monkey recovered its wits and immediately ran off. Cursing, the monkey handler followed in pursuit, causing another spurt of chaos.
The carp yao said, "Hongjun, put me in front, what exactly are you doing?"
Hongjun smiled as he watched the monkey run off, a sense of indescribable glee spiralling up in his heart. But as he was passing by the market, he stopped in his tracks yet again. In front of him was a plaque with the words "Read Five Cartloads of Books", and there were scholars going in and out.
"Is that a bookstore?" Hongjun exclaimed.
"It's getting dark…" the carp yao moaned. "Do you need to wander around at this time?"
Hongjun couldn't care less as he abruptly walked in. A heavy fish stink pervaded the entire store, and everyone turned with a look of disgust to stare at Hongjun.
"Fish can't come in!" the owner said. "What are you carrying a fish for?"
"See, aren't they giving you the cold shoulder now?" the carp yao said again.
"I bought it to take it home and broil it," Hongjun explained. "After all, fixing a country is like cooking a delicious small dish."
The cape yao immediately stopped talking, just as Hongjun added, "I'm just browsing, I'll leave soon."
The carp yao: "..."
Inside the bookstore the genre they had the most of was still poetry, and Hongjun opened a book of selected works of Li Bai. Immediately he forgot all about the time as he stood there and began to read.
After noon, the manors of the city of Chang'an had closed their doors; the autumn sun was scorching hot, and the cicadas shrilled incessantly. Li Jinglong was still wearing that outfit that he had on when he escaped out of Pingkang Li, his upper body naked, his feet bare, and he knelt within the courtyard, kneeling on that sword.
"You… have really destroyed the reputation of your father and your ancestors!"
Feng Changqing hobbled along, his left hand holding that waist plaque etched with "General Li Jinglong of the Great Tang’s Longwu Army" that he had left in the brothel, and he held a ruler in his right, He struck down with one strike, and Li Jinglong let out a pained hum as another fiery red streak appeared across his shoulders.
Feng Changqing held the punishment ruler in his hand, which he used to pat Li Jinglong's cheek. He was so angry he was short of breath, and he continued, "Today in the streets of the city of Chang'an, they were all talking about how you at midnight, uncaringly left behind the wounded, only to run to Pingkang Li to play around with the prostitutes… you…"
Li Jinglong knelt there with his head lowered, not saying a single thing, and Feng Changqing roared angrily, "You've caused me so much grief just to get you this position in the Longwu Army! Have you actually taken it into your heart even a little?"
Feng Changqing continued, "Carrying this rusty sword, do you think you're actually the great General of the Yulin Army? Can you be a little more proactive?! Can you! Throw away that sword of yours!"
Feng Changqing stretched out a foot to kick away the sword under Li Jinglong's knees, but Li Jinglong didn't say anything as he continued to kneel stubbornly on it.
"At the latest, tonight your superior's dog is going to come barking with the report!" Feng Changqing was so angry that his entire body trembled. "During tomorrow's morning court session, you're going to become the hot topic of gossip for the entire imperial court, where should I put this old face of mine? Where should I put it?!"
The servants all stood in the hallway, taking joy from the suffering of others as they watched this play unfolding in front of their eyes. Chang'an often had rumors about how Li Jinglong was an embroidered pillow, filled with grass on the inside. He was born to Feng Changqing's aunt's family, and when he was an infant his mother died; four years ago his father Li Mou went with Cen Can to Saiwai to battle, and had taken a Xiongnu arrow. Because that had resulted in a bad wound, and he didn't get treated in time, he died.
That year Li Jinglong was sixteen, his father's side was devoid of any other relatives, and no one was there to watch over him, so he slowly lost all of his inheritance, first seeking out saintly masters to learn how to become a saint and learn dao, then spending a great amount of gold in buying a treasured sword that was able to slay yao and exterminate mo, one that Di Renjie himself had used.
This black sheep Li Jinglong, in the past, when he was sixteen or seventeen, had been the object of affection of many girls in the city of Chang'an. However Li Jinglong, for one, didn't have a steady occupation, so he made no progress in starting a family, and two, always had an attitude of not letting strangers approach him at all, and when he saw the matchmaker he didn't even bother to nod. Twenty years with no accomplishments, and the issue of matchmaking also gradually grew fainter and fainter.
He was no longer a child, but he didn’t start a family or pick up an occupation, instead lazing about every day, until his cousin Feng Changqing the year before conquered Greater Bolor in the Western Regions, obtaining Xuanzong's regard, and managed to find a place in the Longwu Army for Li Jinglong to belong.
Feng Changqing had nearly shattered his heart out of frustration for this inept younger cousin of his, and the more he said, the angrier he got, and the blows of the ruler came down like a tempest, until even his wife ran over and shouted, "Laoye, stop hitting him! Stop hitting him!
That last blow of Feng Changqing's snapped the ruler into two, and Li Jinglong's forehead bled from that hit, the blood trickling down his profile and dripping onto the ground.
"Laoye, please call down!" Madam Feng hurried to run Feng Changqing's shoulders. After Feng Changqing returned to court, he had been waiting for the court to assign him a civilian official position, but this cousin of his had actually become the laughingstock of the entire city of Chang'an, blackening his reputation whenever he pleased, even affecting his official career, so how could he not be angry?!
After Feng Changqing finished punishing him, he didn't stay around to argue, instead slowly limping in. Only then did Madam Feng hurry to command the serving women to bring a rag over and wipe away the blood, as she said, "Why is your brain this inflexible? Just admit your wrongs, and your brother wouldn't be this angry at you.
Li Jinglong was still as silent as usual, kneeling there calmly, until the twilight fell, the light shining onto his body, as the rays of the dying sun mixed together with the blood stains on the azure cobblestones to become one.
In the summer heat, Hongjun carried a few books as he returned to the Eastern Market, where the crowds had dispersed and the market had closed up. There was a smear of pink clouds on the edge of the horizon as from afar there came the sound of drums beating.
"Dong-- dong-- dong--"
"Hey, Zhao Zilong?" Hongjun reached back and patted his luggage bag with one hand. That carp yao was at first lying there with its mouth open, unmoving as it slept with its eyes open, but now that it had been patted awake its mouth opened and closed again.
"Where is the Exorcism Department?" Hongjun asked.
"I don't know ah," the carp yao said. "The last time I came to Chang'an was eighty years ago."
"How did you get here? You didn't have a chance to properly stroll about?"
"Last time I was placed on a stall in the Eastern Market for sale, and I came out of there with a hook in my mouth. You try strolling about in that state and see how well that works out for you."
"The letter that Qing Xiong-daren gave you didn't have it?"
"Let me see… where's Jincheng Fang?"
"To the north of the Western Market. Let's go quickly, when the drums finish beating, the curfew's going to go into effect, and if we're still wandering about wildly then we'll get caught."
Hongjun sped up his steps. Going from the Eastern Market to the Western Market required him to pass through more than half of Chang'an, and as he walked he asked for directions, leaving him breathless, until finally, when the sky grew dark, he at last found Jincheng Fang. Chang'an's roads were winding and constantly intersecting, and off the main roads there were many fangs, and each had separate alleys and roads linking them. So despite making it into Jincheng Fang, Hongjun still couldn't find the Exorcism Department, and he could only walk towards a building with lights.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro.