"Li Jinglong couldn’t stop sobbing, his tears landing on Hongjun’s face."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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Li Jinglong personally poured out wine for everyone, saying, “For everyone to be gathered here somehow, is also the will of the heavens. And two new companions have come as well…”
Hongjun leaned his body back a little, letting Li Jinglong pour wine for him. Lu Xu watched expressionlessly from the side as the wine flowed into the bowl, clearly meaning, who are you calling your companion?.
“Let’s have a good year’s end feast,” Li Jinglong said, lifting his own bowl after he finished pouring out the wine. “Everyone, you’ve worked hard this year, cheers!”
The carp yao immediately pulled a “carp leaping out of the water” and rose. Shaking off the green onion, ginger, and garlic adorning its body as it lifted a small bowl, it said, “Cheers!”
Li Jinglong then waited a moment, so the carp yao drank its bowl first, before the rest of them all lifted their bowls and drained them in a single go.
“Is your guys’ custom to have the carp yao drink first?” Ashina Qiong asked.
“It’s everyone’s oldest brother,” A-Tai explained.
The carp yao said, “Everyone, eat ba, eat ba.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
With that, everyone lifted their chopsticks and dove in. Hongjun had been so hungry for so long now that he didn’t care if three and seven made twenty one, and his chopsticks immediately headed to pick away at that chicken stewed with chestnuts. Li Jinglong didn’t even wait for him to dive in before he picked up a drumstick with his chopsticks and gave it to Hongjun.
“I hadn’t thought that so many things would happen this year,” Qiu Yongsi said, smiling. “When we parted at Mt. Li, I thought that I’d never see you all again.”
A-Tai chuckled. “You brat, you came the latest, and you still have the nerve to say that?”
Mo Rigen asked, amused, “When are we going to Nightingale of the Spring Dawn again?”
Everyone began to laugh. Ashina Qiong asked A-Tai what this Nightingale of the Spring Dawn was, while Lu Xu asked Hongjun. Hongjun’s mouth was filled with food, so he indicated that he’d explain to Lu Xu in a bit.
After eating a little, Li Jinglong sighed and said, “After drinking this wine, everyone’s going to leave again, right?”
Qiu Yongsi hurried to say, “Not leaving, not leaving! Let’s go back together!”
Li Jinglong: “.....”
Qiu Yongsi explained, “We all know about Xie Yu now, so I’ll act together with the group.”
A-Tai replied, “I brought Qiong here with me this time, precisely because we were planning to head back to the Exorcism Department.”
Because Hongjun had eaten a little, he finally felt alive again, and he asked, “Why’s that?”
Ashina Qiong said, “We have no more money, all of it was spent by this prodigal son A-Tai. We’re planning to go to your Chang’an to save up some money, otherwise we won’t be able to revive our country, it’ll all be spent by this prodigal son first.”
Li Jinglong was torn between laughing and crying. “We of the Exorcism Department haven’t saved up that much either over an entire year. Whenever we just casually use our skills, it always costs us a few thousand taels at a time.”
Ashina Qiong said, “This, you shouldn’t worry about, we have our own ways of making a living.”
A-Tai’s face was set in a grieved expression. “They told me to go back to the Exorcism Department, so that it’d be easy to cling to Zhangshi and make a few connections to do some small business.”
Everyone began to laugh again.
“How about you?” Li Jinglong asked Lu Xu.
Lu Xu glanced at Hongjun, and Hongjun looked at Mo Rigen. He knew that to Mo Rigen, the most important thing in his life was finding Lu Xu.
“Come back to the Exorcism Department with everyone ba,” Hongjun replied.
Lu Xu nodded at that. Mo Rigen let out a breath, nodding and smiling thankfully at Hongjun.
The carp yao then said, “Cheers, cheers!”
“Eldest, your alcohol tolerance isn’t very good,” Li Jinglong hurried to say. “Let me drink for you.”
But the carp yao insisted, so Li Jinglong could only down another bowl with everyone else. When the wine was in their bellies, aside from Lu Xu, the rest of them all began to talk and laugh amongst themselves. Over this dinner, they talked about the past good chunk of the year, when they had fought back to back with each other. Gatecrashing Pingkang Li at night, fighting in Daming Palace, scheming at the grounds of the imperial examinations, and also being trapped by the Nine-Tailed Heavenly Fox in a mountain cave, when at last the power of Li Jinglong’s Heart Lamp erupted, and everyone was able to escape...
When Hongjun listened to their past, he thought of that day, in the blood pool, when Li Jinglong had seen his ear that had been sliced. He couldn’t resist lifting his eyes to look at him. Coincidentally, Li Jinglong’s handsome face, looking a little tipsy, was also watching him. When their gazes met, Li Jinglong smiled gently.
Li Jinglong pressed his left hand against his right arm, exercising his limb, saying, “You guys left as soon as you said you would, and when I brought Hongjun all the way towards the northwest, I almost delivered up even my own head to Geshu Han.”
When Hongjun thought about when the two of them were on the way here, he couldn’t resist laughing. Mo Rigen said, “You guys were only sight-seeing on that journey ba!”
“Sight-seeing?” Li Jinglong said. “This young master wasn’t used to riding a horse, so he really gave me a lot of trouble.”
Hongjun couldn’t resist thinking of when Li Jinglong had applied medicine for him. He could only sit there, his face bright red, yet still he didn’t follow up with that sentence.
Li Jinglong had asked everyone if they were returning to the Exorcism Department, but the only person he hadn’t asked was Hongjun. Perhaps, in his eyes, he was the one that would never leave.
The carp yao had drunk too much, and it wobbled and toppled over on the table. When they had all drunk three rounds, Li Jinglong said, “After drinking this bowl, let’s not drink anymore.”
Everyone once again raised their cups. Upon seeing that Lu Xu didn’t really want to drink, Hongjun said, “I’ll drink for you.”
But instead, Mo Rigen took the bowl, saying, “I’ll drink it.”
Lu Xu took a look at Mo Rigen. Upon hearing everyone talk about these matters that had built such friendships, he began to yearn for it, and he asked Hongjun, “That was all real?”
Hongjun froze for a moment and thought, before he en-ed.
“Is Chang’an nice?” Lu Xu asked.
“It only snows in the winter,” Hongjun explained. “It’s a good place.”
Mo Rigen said, “Chang’an is very beautiful. When we take you back to the Exorcism Department, you’ll like it.”
Mo Rigen kept answering Lu Xu every now and then, without any deeper meaning to it. Lu Xu was already no longer as withdrawn as before, and upon hearing those words, he nodded slightly.
“Coming to Hexi this time,” Li Jinglong said, putting down his bowl of wine and thinking. He suddenly said, “The thing that worried me the most was that devil seed in Hongjun’s body.”
With these words, silence fell over the entire banquet. Hongjun was basically finished, and he put down his chopsticks, fixing his stare on Li Jinglong.
“Hongjun,” Li Jinglong continued, “no one here has ever given you the cold shoulder, and we’ve all put our lives on the line for the same things before.”
Hongjun looked at the gathered group. Qiu Yongsi smiled. “In the blood pool, it was you and Zhangshi who saved me.”
Mo Rigen replied, “If it wasn’t for you two, everyone would have long since finished up and parted ways.”
A-Tai added, “Remember that time when we had to go find this group of idiots together?”
Hongjun smiled. “I remember.”
Li Jinglong said, “You gave me the Heart Lamp, so if it wasn’t for you, I’d only be a mortal today.”
When Hongjun heard these words, he dodged Li Jinglong’s gaze.
Lu Xu suddenly said, “Many things, invisibly and incomprehensibly, have happened because of the will of the heavens.”
“The will of the heavens,” Li Jinglong said. “Not bad. Hongjun, perhaps the Heart Lamp ended up in my body also because of this.”
As before, Hongjun didn’t respond.
Li Jinglong continued, “Either way, you should know that no one here will give you the cold shoulder, and no one here is worried that you carry the devil seed in your body. In the future, whatever you’re supposed to do, you should keep doing. Everyone will slowly come up with a plan with you, to extract this devil seed.”
Qiu Yongsi said, “I imagine this is really the will of the heavens, Hongjun. And exactly because of this, we have hope to win against Mara.”
Hongjun nodded. At that, Li Jinglong smiled and said, “Hongjun, if there’s anything you want to say, then say it, don’t keep it inside.”
“Alright,” Hongjun said, also smiling. “I got it.”
“Last bowl!” Li Jinglong once again raised his bowl.
Lu Xu drank with them, while A-Tai said, “This is really the last bowl. Let me play my barbat ba!”
Qiu Yongsi said, “My cousin composed a poem, it’s quite an excellent one. Come, come, let me sing it for you all.”
Of course, everyone listened with the utmost attention. A-Tai gently strummed the barbat a few times, and Qiu Yongsi sang, “Chivalrous swordsmen of the Yanzhao region -- bear the warrior’s tassel in their hair, their sharp swords -- are as bright as frosty snow.
“They ride white horses with reins of silver, and they gallop across the streets like meteors in the sky!”
When he heard this poem, Hongjun once again forgot everything else as he thought, a human actually managed to write this poem?
“Able to kill a person in ten steps, and no one can stop their journey of a thousand li. After accomplishing their duty, they hide even their name, so no one will know them.”
Everyone cheered at the same time. “Great!”
“This is Li Bai’s poem ba!” Hongjun said.
Everyone let out angered roars, telling Hongjun not to interrupt. Qiu Yongsi only kept singing, grinning as he did. That poem very much roused the spirits, and the listeners at the table were all spellbound. When it got to, “To be a human, one should be like them, their names remembered for all eternity, praised by all to come. Who would be willing to be a scholar like Yang Xiong, authoring a hundred volumes, yet dying of old age under a window?”, the lute stopped, and the sound of a needle falling to the floor could be heard.
“The poet is precisely Li Bai,” Qiu Yongsi said.
“Li Bai is your cousin?” Li Jinglong asked strangely.
When Hongjun heard these words, he was immediately speechless.
Qiu Yongsi replied, “That’s right.”
The entire table was astounded, but what shocked Hongjun even more was Li Jinglong’s next words.
“How come I never heard him talk about it?” Li Jinglong asked, as if to himself. “Next time I run into him I’ll have to ask, you’d better not be randomly claiming relatives.”
“Ask away,” Qiu Yongsi smiled.
“You know him?” Hongjun asked Li Jinglong, surprised.
This was the first time in so many days that Hongjun had spoken of his own accord to Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong smiled tipsily, studying Hongjun, nodding thoughtfully.
“Next time he comes to Chang’an, I’ll arrange a time so that he can keep you company and chat with you for a bit?” Li Jinglong asked.
Li Jinglong actually knew Li Bai?! And he had never mentioned it?
“Brother Taibai likes to drink wine, and we met each other while drinking before, and we figured out then we were distant clan relatives,” Li Jinglong replied, chuckling. “A pity that I didn’t learn much of poetry from him, because we spent all our money on drawings, wine, tea, and food instead.”
Li Jinglong was indeed established as someone who knew how to eat, how to play, and how to enjoy things. Though Qiu Yongsi was born to a famous Han family, he still fell just short. He held his chopsticks and dipped them lightly in his tea, saying, “My cousin is very insistent on affinity, but for Hongjun, well, I imagine he’ll agree to a meeting.”
Hongjun said, “If there’s a chance, let me go meet him!”
“Sure,” Li Jinglong replied. “I’ll promise you now, I’ll go beg him to do it, and if he doesn’t agree, then I’ll kneel down and kowtow. If that doesn’t work still, I’ll go ask His Majesty, and if nothing else works, then I’ll tie him up and bring him. I’ll make sure that you manage to see him, and I won’t eat my words!”
Everyone laughed at that. Hongjun grew very embarrassed by those words, and he recalled how Li Jinglong had always treated him so well, agreeing to his demands regardless of any conditions. As long as Li Jinglong could do it, he had never refused Hongjun.
“I also have an uncle once removed,” Qiu Yongsi continued. “Want to hear about him?”
Hongjun asked, “There’s more?”
“Leaving home when I was young and returning when I am old, though the accents of my hometown have not changed, my hair has already gone white… The children see me but do not know who I am, and they smile and ask where this traveler has come from…”
“Isn’t that He Zhizhang?”
“Stop pasting more gold onto your face!”
“You just keep boasting ba!”
The rest of them kept jeering at Qiu Yongsi, who protested, “He’s really my uncle!” Hongjun almost laughed himself to death. Qiu Yongsi continued, his face in an expression of innocence, saying, “My relatives are poets, what of it!”
A-Tai played for a while, before Li Jinglong said, “Play “A Spring Night on the Flower-Filled, Moonlit River” ba. After a few days, we’ll be going back to Chang’an, and I, for one, have grown pretty tired of this place.”
At that, A-Tai said, “okay okay okay”. Li Jinglong poured out the rest of the wine for himself and scooted over, sitting down by Hongjun’s side. He leaned against him and reached out an arm, putting it around Hongjun’s shoulders.
Everyone then, with the music of the lute, sang “A Spring Night on the Flower-Filled, Moonlit River”. Hongjun couldn’t help but think of the first time that Li Jinglong had brought them to Nightingale of the Spring Dawn. That day, they had sat side by side next to the screen, quietly leaning against each other, singing this song.
“When we get back, where do you want to go play?” Li Jinglong leaned a little closer to Hongjun, asking that question quietly in his ear. His words were a little slurred.
Hongjun replied, “I haven’t decided yet.”
He was a little drunk, and he said to Li Jinglong, “You’re a… bastard.”
Li Jinglong smiled. “How am I a bastard? Tell me about it?”
Hongjun didn’t speak; instead, he began to burrow into Li Jinglong’s embrace, as if that mass of blazingly hot light in his chest turned Hongjun into a moth flying to the flame. He leaned on Li Jinglong’s chest, below his shoulder. For a moment, sorrow filled his entire chest, but his consciousness slowly grew blurred, and he slipped down.
The music from the lute slowly came to an end, and A-Tai put it away. Li Jinglong nodded towards them, indicating that they keep going, before he picked up Hongjun in his arms and climbed up the stairs to settle him down for bed.
Lu Xu watched the silhouette of Li Jinglong’s back as he sat there, in a daze. Half of Mo Rigen’s body was slumped on the table, and his head was turned to the side so he could look at Lu Xu.
“Let me tell you something,” Mo Rigen said quietly.
Lu Xu sent Mo Rigen a single glance. Aside from Hongjun, he basically didn’t speak to anyone else.
“Zhangshi likes him,” Mo Rigen said. He was also a little drunk, and he waggled his eyebrows at Lu Xu. “But Zhangshi won’t admit it. Everyone can already see it.”
Lu Xu appraised Mo Rigen, and quietly, he responded, “What does this have to do with you?”
The arm that Mo Rigen had on the table twitched a little, and his palm spread open a little as he replied, “It has nothing to do with me. Sometimes, when I see the two of them, my heart is happy; sometimes, when I see the two of them, my heart is sad.” As he spoke, his voice got softer and softer, and he asked, “Do you understand that feeling? To have someone like Hongjun following him around every day, and when he looks at him, his eyes are full of… smiles, just like that… you see…”
Mo Rigen began to smile, his eyes shining with affection. “With that look, you know that I am in your heart, and you are in mine. What a good life that is.”
The carp yao suddenly leapt up, scaringLu Xu so much that he almost upended his bowl. Mo Rigen was torn between laughter and tears, and he stroked the carp yao, saying, “Oh well, eldest bro and I will go sleep now. Happy new year, Lu Xu.”
“Brothers!” Mo Rigen said. “Happy new year!”
And saying this, Mo Rigen held the carp yao cupped in his hands as he bowed to A-Tai, then to Qiu Yongsi. The rest of them also stood up and bowed to each other, and when A-Tai came over to bow he also reached out as he passed to hook a finger under Lu Xu’s chin. Mo Rigen hurried to chase A-Tai around the entire hall, kicking him as he went, but Lu Xu, his face wooden, went upstairs to sleep.
In the room, Li Jinglong had Hongjun lay down so he was sleeping well, before he tucked a blanket around him, saying quietly, “Tonight, I won’t keep you company as you sleep. I need to write a letter to the crown prince.” And saying this, he placed a red envelope under Hongjun’s pillow, closing the door as he left.
Hongjun opened his eyes. His head hurt a little, and he heard Ashina Qiong and A-Tai outside “hey-yo”-ing as they took turns singing the next line of a song. He reached out and felt under his pillow, pulling out the red envelope. When he opened it and looked inside, there was a note for a hundred liang of silver.
Hongjun silently rose, tucking the red envelope into the front of his robes. He put on his cloak and quietly tiptoed out the door.
The heavy snow danced through the air, each individual snowflake making up a mass that blanketed the land. Every cavern of the Mogao Caves was lit with altar lamps, which shone brightly. Their brilliance shone through the snowy night, like a celestial realm.
“Happy new year, brothers,” Hongjun said quietly, leading his horse along, wearing a cloak that fell to his knees. He then mounted his horse, circled around behind the nine-story tower, and left the Mogao Caves along the path to the southeast.
“It’s snowing!” Mo Rigen shouted towards the upper and lower floors, as he leaned against the railings. “The yaoguai are coming!”
Ashina Qiong had drunkenly wandered outside to relieve himself. As he stood in the snow, he suddenly saw a trail of hoofprints that led into the distance.
“Who’s coming?” Ashina Qiong hollered as he peed.
They had all gone back to their rooms to sleep, with only Li Jinglong and Qiu Yongsi staying up as per tradition to guard the year. When they heard the shouts, they too came out to take a look. Li Jinglong suddenly remembered what Hongjun had said during the day, and he instantly ran back to Hongjun’s room. But when he pushed open the door, the room was completely empty!
Over the snowy fields, Hongjun’s horse galloped past. Just as he had ridden along the Great Wall for five li, a shout came to him in the wind.
“Hongjun --!” Li Jinglong shouted loudly.
Hongjun turned and glanced back. Upon seeing Li Jinglong chasing after him, he hurried to spur his horse onwards, increasing its speed.
“Hongjun!” Li Jinglong roared.
Li Jinglong was wearing a single layer of inner robes underneath, and had haphazardly wrapped a fur robe around that. He had the Sword of Wisdom belted to his waist as he shoved his feet into boots and came chasing after. Hongjun hid himself in a patch of woods, and he held his horse’s reins as he peeked out from within the trees.
“Hongjun! Where are you?!” Li Jinglong came rushing back, and he dismounted, reading the tracks on the ground.
Hongjun’s body was covered with snow, and he was one with the trees. In the dark night, Li Jinglong couldn’t see him, and the sha sha of the heavy snow muffled his breathing. After searching for a long while, Li Jinglong got back on his horse and kept racing forward.
Hongjun then mounted his horse in the grove and changed directions, heading due east.
The heavy snow slowly stopped falling, and the sun rose. As Hongjun was blown by the wind, he had long since woken from the alcohol-induced stupor. He kept galloping along, unburdened by anything, his mind completely blank. In this vast space between the heavens and earth, everywhere he could see was sheet white.
He passed through a valley and remembered what his companions had said last night. His heart suddenly filled with loneliness and despair, and another idea came to him: should he turn around and go back to them?
He slowed, but he hadn’t expected that someone would actually appear from around the corner.
“Hongjun! Where are you going?!” Li Jinglong had clearly taken up a position here before he arrived.
Hongjun didn’t want to see him the most, and with a “Jia!”, he rushed away again.
“Don’t go!” Li Jinglong shouted.
“Go back ba!” Hongjun turned his head and called back.
Li Jinglong mounted his horse, chasing Hongjun through the valley. Hongjun kept going, faster and faster, and Li Jinglong shouted from behind, “Slow down! I’m not going to force you to go back! Talk to me!”
But Hongjun didn’t slow. The sun rose, and Li Jinglong kept chasing him even as the sun climbed to the height of three bamboo poles, and the sides of the road were robed in the silver and white of a snowy landscape.
“I’ll stop chasing you!” Li Jinglong shouted from behind. “Don’t rush! Slow down a little! If you keep running like this, your horse may be able to hold out, but you won’t!”
Hongjun had been jolted around the entire time, and now he was extremely tired. From last night until now, he had run for almost six whole shichen, and his body was a little unable to hold up.
His horse slowed, even as he put some distance between himself and Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong didn’t speak either, instead following along behind Hongjun far away. When Hongjun sped up, so did he; when Hongjun slowed, he did so as well. When Hongjun stopped, he too stopped, but he didn’t approach him.
The sun set, and Hongjun turned his head, shouting, “Go back ba!”
But Li Jinglong didn’t reply. He kept following along like this, and Hongjun remembered that he himself had the phoenix plume, and was not afraid of the chill of this icy world, but Li Jinglong didn’t have it. Since he had chased him for this long, until twilight, perhaps he was going to get sick again.
Hongjun’s brain felt as if it was filled with glue. He wanted to return to the Taihang Mountains and get an answer from Qing Xiong and Chong Ming. That day, it had been Qing Xiong who had brought him away, so he must have told Chong Ming what had happened. But he was also afraid, afraid that this matter was just like what the ghost king had said -- all of this was something that Chong Ming had set into motion, and he was nothing more than a sacrificial offering meant to replace his father.
He was also filled with horror. If on that day, when Qing Xiong had taken him away, Li Jinglong was also present...
How was he supposed to bear it?
All of the things that he depended on would all be shattered when the truth was mercilessly revealed.
Hongjun slowed. The sun sank below the horizon, and the entire sky was filled with stars as the curtain of night fell.
He had already run for a day and a night, and Li Jinglong had followed him for that day and night.
When Hongjun turned back to look, he found that Li Jinglong’s silhouette was no longer behind him.
He’s gone back?, he thought, but he suddenly sensed that something was off. He hurried to turn his horse around, galloping in the direction that he had come from.
In the middle of the road, the horse had run to one side, trembling. Li Jinglong had collapsed to the ground on his side, looking like a corpse.
“Zhangshi!” Hongjun shouted anxiously, vaulting off his horse when it was some ten paces or so away, quickly running over.
Li Jinglong’s body was covered with snow, and his palms were icy as he lay curled up in a ball. Hongjun immediately turned him over and said, “Zhangshi!”
But he didn’t expect for Li Jinglong to suddenly reach out a hand and hook it around Hongjun’s shoulders. Just as Hongjun was about to break free, Li Jinglong pulled him down and used that momentum to get up!
“You, stop, for me!”
“You stop --!”
Hongjun didn’t stop struggling as he and Li Jinglong wrestled each other in the snow. Li Jinglong exerted all of the energy in his body, pulling Hongjun to the ground, before he came down on top of him with all of his weight. He grabbed Hongjun’s wrists, forcefully twisting them behind his back, before sitting down on his stomach, pinning him firmly in place.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?!” Li Jinglong grew enraged, and he roared at Hongjun. “What did I do wrong this time!”
That was the first time Li Jinglong turned the real force of his anger on him. Hongjun subconsciously pulled a hand free and pulled out a throwing knife, but his wrist was once again grabbed firmly by Li Jinglong.
“You hate me, don’t you?” Li Jinglong said, his voice trembling. “The way I have treated you, I have no regrets about! Yet you hate me so, why?!”
The hand that had grabbed Hongjun’s wrist kept trembling, before Li Jinglong let go and said, “You want to take my life? Is it because you’re a yao, and I’m a human? Because I killed your kinsmen?”
“No… no…” Hongjun panted.
“Come!” Li Jinglong roared at Hongjun, as if he had lost all reason. “Do it! Stab your knife right here! I’ll return the Heart Lamp to you! You take it --”
Hongjun watched Li Jinglong mutely. Li Jinglong’s eyes were bright red, tears welling up in them. Without giving Hongjun time to react, his left hand kept tugging away his outer robe and the shirt underneath, revealing his bare chest. He grabbed Hongjun’s wrist, along with the throwing knife in that hand, pressing it onto his own chest.
The heavens and the earth, the desolate wilderness, the snowy plains, the starry river, everything in the world was silent. There was only the sound of their breaths intermingling, like the gentle ebb and flow of the tides immemorial.
Hongjun saw that on the left side of Li Jinglong’s chest, there was tattooed a graceful peacock, its feathers splayed on display.
Li Jinglong couldn’t stop sobbing, his tears landing on Hongjun’s face.
In that instant, the grief in Hongjun’s heart could no longer be contained. He let go of the throwing knife, which landed with a light sound in the snow.
Li Jinglong released his grip and let go of Hongjun, who hugged Li Jinglong from the side, burying his face in his shoulder, beginning to sob loudly.
moon: :))) when you thought the tattoo was going to be ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) but it turned out to be this instead
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.