“I should have long since gotten rid of you, to prevent no end of trouble.”
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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Hongjun fell silent. Chong Ming waited for a moment, but when he didn't hear anything more, he asked solemnly, "Why did they die?"
"In your heart, you actually understand it the most clearly," Hongjun said quietly. "To separate the seed of Mara from my dad's body, you had him go to the human realm, find a woman, and give birth to me… isn't that right?"
When he got to this point, Hongjun's voice was trembling. Chong Ming’s eyes immediately widened; he had originally thought that Hongjun would tell him about the specifics of what had happened, but he never thought that he would actually end up digging up such an old case from so many years ago!
"Who told you?" Chong Ming's voice changed.
"Isn't that right?" Hongjun said, panting. "Answer me!”
"Impudent!" Chong Ming swiftly stood up. That powerful oppressive force immediately had Hongjun taking a step back. "If that was not the case, then how could there be you today?!"
Chong Ming's reaction confirmed Hongjun's guess, and all of the hesitance and fear that he had felt on this journey finally erupted all at once in this moment. He had no way to suppress the rage in his heart, and he roared, "You caused my mother's death! What am I?! What am I! Answer me!"
"You are Kong Xuan's son," Chong Ming replied coldly.
"I am nothing more than a sacrificial offering…" Hongjun said, his voice trembling, his body shaking as he stepped back. "I am nothing more than a sacrificial offering that you all created to separate the devil seed."
"Correct," Chong Ming said slowly as he watched Hongjun. "If your dad had not died, you would not be standing in front of me now."
In that instant, the world spun around Hongjun, and his breathing grew labored. Chong Ming studied his expression and continued, “The first day that Qing Xiong brought you to Yaojin Palace, I did not originally want to keep you alive.”
“But guilt weighed down my heart,” Chong Ming said. “Kong Xuan died because of me, and it was because of that that I took you in.”
“No… no…” Hongjun stared fixedly at Chong Ming.
“Is this not what you are thinking in your heart?” Chong Ming asked, coldly removed. “Is this not the reality that you are afraid of? Is it not exactly the voice echoing from your own heart?!
“What is your mother? I do not care. And what are you? I could care even less. When that trash Kong Xuan, to protect you, disregarded his own life, that was what I truly cared about...
“...the ones who killed your mother were me, Qing Xiong, and your dad himself!” Chong Ming suddenly flew into a great rage. “But it was exactly because of that that you could see this world. You should be thanking us, but you actually dare to accuse me now?!”
A chill ran along Hongjun’s spine, going all the way up to his scalp.
“Then why did you… adopt me?!” Hongjun felt that his own soul was shattering bit by bit under Chong Ming’s words, as he mercilessly gave voice to those internal thoughts that Hongjun himself did not dare to think. With every sentence, he sliced open the truth, as if all of Hongjun’s memories of Yaojin Palace in the past were being torn apart in front of his eyes!
Chong Ming let out a cold laugh. “Xie Yu vainly tried to swallow you so that he could turn into a devil dragon and conquer the Divine Land, so how could I let him fulfill his desire?!”
“No,” Hongjun said, his voice trembling. “It’s not like this…”
Hongjun took another half step back, but Chong Ming said coldly, “Where do you think you are going? I have already given you a choice, and today, it was you yourself who chose to return!”
Just as Hongjun was about to leave, countless beams of orange-red light suddenly burst forth from Chong Ming’s hands, wrapping around his body. Hongjun roared angrily, “Let go of me!”
Chong Ming used the bright light to trap Hongjun, wrapping it around his neck, dragging him to the corner of the palace. His eyes glowed with a golden light, and his voice grew richer, as if it was a voice from the heavens echoing across the earth.
“I should have long since gotten rid of you, to prevent no end of trouble.”
Those words were the last sentence that Hongjun heard before he lost consciousness. In an instant, boundless darkness pounced on him, enveloping him.
He was curled up in a corner of the main hall, while Chong Ming quietly studied him. It wasn’t until the early morning sun rose that Chong Ming turned his head, only to see that amongst the peaks, a great peng clad in golden light was flying towards him --
In the early morning, the mountains were shrouded in clouds, and Li Jinglong woke to the sound of bird calls pleasing to the ear. He stumbled sleepily out of the room, only to see the mist and clouds coiling gently as it billowed into Yaojin Palace. Outside, the parasol tree grove had already turned into a sea of fog, and the scene was extremely majestic to behold.
Chong Ming walked out from within the forest of parasol trees. Behind him, hundreds of birds followed the phoenix, letting out non-stop calls.
“Mortal, Zhen has something to say to you.” Chong Ming’s voice came to him from a distance.
Li Jinglong hurried to go back inside, change his clothes, and come back out. He felt a wave of nervousness that stemmed from seemingly nothing, and not because Chong Ming’s identity was special, but only because he was Hongjun’s adoptive father.
The mist cleared, and Chong Ming and Qing Xiong stood in the forest. A long time ago, Qing Xiong had passed onto Li Jinglong a set of barehanded forms, which he had remembered, and he hurried to cup his hands and bow to the two of them in greeting. When he lifted his gaze to observe Chong Ming, he saw that the other’s face seemed to set in anger. Qing Xiong’s expression also did not bode well. Upon not seeing Hongjun, Li Jinglong knew that there was probably trouble ahead.
As expected, when Chong Ming studied Li Jinglong, he said darkly, “The Heart Lamp was never supposed to be given to you.”
Upon hearing those words, Li Jinglong froze for a moment, yet his brain moved even faster than Chong Ming’s as he replied, “That child of the Chen family is not yet grown, so how will he be able to activate the Heart Lamp? Since you all need the power of the Heart Lamp to exorcise the devil qi in Hongjun’s body, then what harm is there in having me hold onto it temporarily and activate it?”
Chong Ming hadn’t thought that he would actually have no way to respond to this sentence of Li Jinglong’s. The atmosphere immediately grew very awkward.
“One day, when I die,” Li Jinglong said slowly, looking to Qing Xiong, “naturally, I will return it.”
Qing Xiong looked towards Chong Ming, but Chong Ming replied coldly, “No need, you can head down the mountain right now. From now on, you will have no more connections to Yaojin Palace at all.”
Li Jinglong: “!!!”
Upon not seeing Hongjun coming forth, Li Jinglong thought to himself, not good. He had not expected that Chong Ming would directly voice such an order to expel his guest.
“Where is Hongjun?” Li Jinglong immediately asked. “I want to see him, let me see him once, then I’ll go.”
“Do not refuse the easy way in favor of punishment.” Chong Ming’s words were tinged with a little more menace. “This is not your human realm’s Chang’an, and you are nothing more than a single ant in millions. Just because you bear a garbage sword picked up from your hobby of collecting scraps, you dare to speak to Zhen in such an insolent way?!”
Just as he was speaking, Li Jinglong didn’t even see Chong Ming move, but his aura burst out from him, and blazing heat billowed out. Li Jinglong backed away subconsciously, automatically igniting the Heart Lamp, while his right hand reached out behind him!
With a weng, the Sword of Wisdom seemed to respond, and it burst through the window, shooting towards him. It landed in his hand just as the flames also reached him! Li Jinglong lifted the sword to block, but the heat came rushing forth, slamming into the Sword of Wisdom like a meteor. There was a huge boom, but before Li Jinglong had the chance to make a move, the long sword had already left his hand. Under this powerful attack, the Heart Lamp was like a paper lantern as it burnt to ash!
“Stay your hand!” Qing Xiong immediately shouted.
Li Jinglong’s chest hurt with a stifled pain as he fell backwards solidly into the corridor. For a time, he looked bedraggled beyond belief as he struggled to rise.
Chong Ming silently watched Li Jinglong. After taking that blow, Li Jinglong felt that their cultivation levels were as different from his as the clouds were from the mud. There was almost no chance of him being able to return a blow.
“Get off the mountain,” Chong Ming said. “Hongjun has already informed me of exactly what happened, and he will no longer see you.”
Li Jinglong raised his head, but Chong Ming had already passed by his side and left the garden.
Qing Xiong watched Li Jinglong. After a long while, he let out a sigh.
“Go ba,” Qing Xiong said. “Go back to Chang’an, and keep being an exorcist.”
Li Jinglong lifted his head, numbly watching Qing Xiong, only to see him raise a hand. With a weng, light sprung up around Li Jinglong’s body, before with a flash of the white light, the scenery around him instantly changed. Li Jinglong reappeared at the foot of the mountains almost a hundred li away.
The Sword of Wisdom revolved as it plummeted from the sky, pinning itself into the ground with a ding.
Li Jinglong: “...”
In Yaojin Palace, Chong Ming sat silently on the throne.
Qing Xiong walked into the main hall, watching Chong Ming.
“Things did not have to go this way at first,” Qing Xiong said.
“They did not have to go this way?” Chong Ming asked darkly. “Back then, it was you who did your best to send him down the mountain, because to undo the trouble, one must find the one who caused it. As of today, the devil qi has not been dealt with; instead, it has grown even denser! It’s even more capable of coming to Yaojin Palace, in that body filled with resentment!”
Qing Xiong replied, “You can hide it from him for a time, but you cannot hide it from him forever.”
Chong Ming’s anger seemed to be unquenchable. “And who was it who dared to promise me that that mortal would be able to suppress the devil seed in his body?! He wasn’t even able to take a single blow from me, what a piece of trash!”
“Who would think that you’d use the Sacred Fire of the Phoenix to test him?!” Qing Xiong shouted, also growing angry. “The Heart Lamp is a brilliant light that releases living beings from their suffering, it is not a magic that can be used for slaughter, do you still not understand?!”
Chong Ming grew even more enraged, and he roared, “I will not let him take even a half step from Yaojin Palace ever again --!”
Qing Xiong took a step forward, not giving him even a single bit of leeway. He said darkly, “That black jiao has split its own hunpo to create substitutes for the devil seed, and who knows how many are in the human realm right now! You think that by keeping Hongjun protected in Yaojin Palace, Mara will not revive?!”
“Whether Mara revives or not, what does that have to do with me?” Chong Ming asked. He rose and walked down the steps to the throne, heading right for Qing Xiong. He stood basically nose to nose with him, watching him coldly.
“Dage, you want to fight?” Qing Xiong studied Chong Ming, before he suddenly chuckled. “We haven’t fought for many years, you want to go outside to fight?”
Chong Ming finally got rid of this desire, and he fiercely pushed Qing Xiong aside. Qing Xiong took a few steps back, and Chong Ming continued, “The crime that I have committed because of a single mistake, how much more will I have to repent to redeem myself? When Mara revives, that will be the day I perish. That should be enough to repay you all, and to repay Kong Xuan.”
Qing Xiong was silent for a long while. But just as he was about to leave, Chong Ming, who had been staring at the mountain range outside the hall, said slowly, “Seal his memories, and let him stay at Yaojin Palace as he was before. In the coming days, after I pass, this place will be handed to him. As of today, I am only worried that in the future, when he sits alone in this hall, he will be too lonely on his own.”
“I’ll do my best,” Qing Xiong replied, sighing. “The devil seed is ferocious, and it’s experienced so many things after heading down the mountain. I’m afraid it may not be able to be sealed.”
Chong Ming: “Then, let him continue to hate me.”
Hongjun woke at the summit of the lone peak across thousands of qing, only to find that he had been placed in a pavilion. To his side, there was water and food. Since the pavilion stood at the summit of the tall peak, it was only about a zhang wide. On his left ankle, there was clasped a very thin chain that clanked as he moved. His Pentacolor Sacred Light and his Immortal-Slaying Throwing Knives had been confiscated, and when he tried out a spell to create fire, pain spread along his back.
He pulled a cup to him, pouring the water inside onto the ground. He then turned his head to look. Right in the middle of his bare back, a phoenix sigil had been drawn using gold powder mixed with cinnabar. Every time he tried to call upon the magic in his meridians, the phoenix sigil would light up, suppressing his magic.
He reached out to wipe it off, but that incantation was drawn right at the center. No matter how he reached with his hands, he could not reach that part. He struggled to one of the pillars in the pavilion, and he turned to rub his back against it, to the point that it burned with pain. But even in the end, the sigil did not come off.
“Dad…” Hongjun was at a loss for what to do, and he subconsciously wanted to shout for Chong Ming to save him, only to realize that the person who had locked him up here was also Chong Ming.
He dragged the chain along as he stared out past the lone peak. In the distance, Yaojin Palace had become a small black dot, while the lower half of the mountains had been obscured by the sea of clouds. The summit that trapped him here was like a stone pillar. Compared to Yaojin Palace, the two places were almost the same height, and even without the chain binding him, he would not be able to escape. If he forced it and leapt down, that would only pulverize every bone in his body.
“Li Jinglong --!” Hongjun shouted towards Yaojin Palace.
There was no response. Hongjun could only slump down bonelessly, still leaning against the pillar.
At twilight, Li Jinglong washed his face by the creek, before staring at his reflection in the water.
A cold, gloomy rain had begun to fall in the Taihang Mountains. There was still a lot of snow gathered on the ground. He drank some water, rested for a moment, and ate some dried rations to replenish his energy, before lifting his head to make out those mountains that seemed to look nearly identical.
He carried the Sword of Wisdom on his back, walking on foot on the narrow path through the bramble thickets. He noticed that there was a bird on a tree which was turning its head, observing its surroundings, and its black eyes turned to him.
The bird hopped over the tree branch, leaping onto another tree. A few more birds flapped their wings and took flight, sinking into the depths of the forest.
Li Jinglong sighed. Upon identifying the road that he and Hongjun had taken when they came, he headed towards the cliffs in the canyon.
Chong Ming stood by the pool in Yaojin Palace. Together with Qing Xiong, they watched the contents of the water, their heads lowered.
“He is merely like this,” Chong Ming said coldly, before turning to leave.
Qing Xiong turned and transformed into the Golden-Winged Great Peng and spread his wings as he flew into the air. With a circle, he sped to the west.
In the pavilion on the peak, Hongjun heard the cry of a bird, and he swiftly raised his head, shouting, “Qing Xiong! Qing Xiong --!”
The Golden-Winged Great Peng flew over. Its size was a good three zhang tall, and with its wings spread, they could instantly encircle the entire pavilion. A wild wind blew, and Hongjun kept tugging at that chain, afraid that the golden winged great peng would not see it as he shouted, “I’m over here!”
With a flash of light, the body of the great peng shrank, turning into Qing Xiong’s large form. When he landed, he stepped onto the seats by the railings of the pavilion. Bending over and squatting down, he watched Hongjun without turning his gaze away. That gaze seemed to hold pity in it.
“Take me away from here!” Hongjun shouted. “Qing Xiong!”
Qing Xiong didn’t respond. Hongjun knew that he must have already learned of the causes and effects from Chong Ming, and his heart immediately chilled as he said, “Chong Ming has already told you?”
Qing Xiong lowered his head, nodded, and reached a hand out to gently stroke Hongjun’s face, before cupping his palm against his cheek.
“You suffered in the human realm ba.” Qing Xiong’s voice was unnaturally calm.
Hongjun watched Qing Xiong dumbly, before he shook his head. Qing Xiong sat on the railings, his legs spread, continuing to lower his head to watch him as he had before. Hongjun’s back was still leaning against the opposite pillar, and he let out a tired sigh.
“Just like what you told me before, the human realm is very good,” Hongjun replied. “But as for where it is good, that is different from what you said.”
“The human realm is very good,” Qing Xiong replied, “probably because of the people there. In comparison, Yaojin Palace is like a cage, and right now you should understand why I never want to return here.”
Hongjun still remembered what Li Jinglong had asked him last night, whether he was willing to go back to Chang’an with him, and how he had replied without even thinking about it, “I will.”
“En,” Hongjun nodded.
As they spoke, Qing Xiong sighed again, and he said, “Chong Ming has been alone for too long, do not hate him for it.”
Hongjun asked in response, “Where’s Li Jinglong?”
“He left,” Qing Xiong said. “We told him not to wait for you any longer, and to go back to Chang’an.”
Hongjun immediately lifted his gaze, watching Qing Xiong. Qing Xiong continued, “Do you regret going to the human realm?”
Hongjun replied, “I do not regret it.”
The wind blew, scattering the clouds, and the setting sun cast its rays from the west. The sea of clouds was pushed aside, revealing the vastness of the Divine Land.
Qing Xiong said quietly, “Hongjun, you actually understand more so than anyone else, isn’t that right?”
“When I was small, did Li Jinglong and I know each other?” Hongjun asked in response.
Qing Xiong watched him. This exchange of questions and answers did not even have to be voiced, because they both knew the answers.
A long time later, Qing Xiong’s expression grew grim, and he nodded, his eyes filled with pity.
On this journey, Hongjun had obtained almost all the answers that he wanted to know, and each and every answer had completely shattered all of his hopes.
“Qing Xiong,” Hongjun asked quietly. He, on the other hand, was very calm. “Back in the beginning, the one who sealed my memories was you, isn’t that right?”
Li Jinglong, Di Renjie, the dilapidated Exorcism Department… In that nightmare of his home being destroyed and his family being killed, the one that had rushed there the fastest was indeed Qing Xiong!
Hongjun still had a vague impression that Qing Xiong had put a single knee to the ground, studying his eyes. He had said a sentence of something and his palm had pressed over, and with a flash of white light, Hongjun had forgotten that pain he had experienced.
“That’s correct,” Qing Xiong said, no longer hiding it from him. “Your and Li Jinglong’s memories were both sealed by me… because I did not want you to continue to live on bearing that pain. The Heart Lamp was given to me by the kun god, who said that to undo the trouble, one must find the one who caused it’. It was because of that that I had a vague premonition that perhaps, when you returned to Chang’an, you would meet Li Jinglong. But I had never expected that through a series of coincidences, the Heart Lamp would end up in his body.”
Hongjun added, “Nor did you think that your seal would vanish.”
“That was an accident,” Qing Xiong replied, after a moment of thought. “The seal was an incantation, a poem that I taught you to read when you were small… after smelling the Lihun Pollen, this line that was most important to you was forgotten by you, and your memories of the past seemed to slowly rise to the surface.”
Hongjun was completely silent as he stared into Qing Xiong’s eyes, his own eyes reddening.
Qing Xiong continued, “Forget it ba, and stay in Yaojin Palace. As long as you live in that world, there is only pain.”
Hongjun immediately held his breath for a moment. Qing Xiong lifted his left palm, which glowed with a warm, gentle, white light.
“Wait…” Hongjun’s voice trembled. “I still have one more thing to ask you, Qing Xiong.”
Qing Xiong watched Hongjun, whose entire body was trembling as he said, “Qing Xiong, you would not have waited until the last moment to come and save me… why did you not come a little earlier? Did you know a long time ago about all of this… and all you wanted… was to wait for me to die at their hands, then bring my dad… back to Yaojin Palace?”
Qing Xiong turned his head, avoiding Hongjun’s gaze. Tears flowed down his face, and he choked out, “Hongjun… I’m sorry.”
In that instant, when Hongjun received that last answer, the furious grief in his heart burst out like a flood!
But Qing Xiong’s left hand had already suddenly reached out, and he pressed up against his eyes!
“The living are passing travelers, the dead return to their eternal homes.
“The heavens and earth are but an inn; for all our grief, we inevitably return to dust… Seal!”
In a blink of an eye, that segment of memory flashed through Hongjun’s mind.
“What does that mean?” little Hongjun asked.
“This is a devil-sealing incantation,” Qing Xiong explained. “Memorize it, you must not forget it.”
On the jade surface of the Cliff of Stars, Qing Xiong laid relaxed on that smooth inclined slope. Little Hongjun laid on Qing Xiong’s body, and together they looked up towards the brilliant vault of stars.
“When the resentment in this world does not dissipate, and surpasses all of the limits that the divine and earth veins can tolerate, it spreads into the human realm, accumulates as grievances, and becomes a devil,” Qing Xiong said, just so.
“Then what is resentment?” little Hongjun asked.
Qing Xiong: “Regrets.”
Little Hongjun: “What regrets?”
“What gives rise to thousands and millions of regrets is nothing more than life and death,” Qing Xiong explained in a murmur. “Whether human or yao, the hunpo of all beings are nothing more than passing travelers rushing through this vast world. Death by old age or by illness, the seven emotions and six passions, all of this is nothing more than scenery along the way. After breaking away from life and death, no more regrets exist, and there are no more heart devils. If heart devils are not born, Mara cannot appear. Have you memorized this?”
“I’ve memorized it,” little Hongjun replied, as if to himself, before he turned and slumped onto Qing Xiong’s chest, closing his eyes and going to sleep.
At the summit of the lone peak, a pair of wings that covered the sky opened up from Qing Xiong’s back, spreading across the heavens and earth with a huala. Around his body, white light and energy revolved rapidly, and Hongjun let out loud shouts of pain.
“Let go of me --!” Hongjun did not stop struggling, but Qing Xiong’s left palm shone with bright light. The white light spread along his forehead towards his bare upper body, his waist, and circulated rapidly through his entire body. Hongjun lifted his hands, tightly grabbing Qing Xiong’s wrist.
“You all are lying to me --” Hongjun’s voice grew hoarse and strange, his eyes spewing black qi. Instantly, a pair of black wings burst forth from his back. Under the onslaught of that black qi, Qing Xiong was actually unable to hold out. He roared angrily, “Seal, for me!”
Just as Hongjun was about to break through Qing Xiong’s devil-sealing incantation, that phoenix sigil on his back suddenly let off a bright light.
In the main hall of Yaojin Palace, Chong Ming suddenly opened his eyes.
In a flash, in the pavilion on that lone peak, the pillars collapsed under the onslaught of the devil qi in Qing Xiong and Hongjun’s bodies. Tiles flew everywhere. The devil qi kept climbing up Qing Xiong’s forearm, steadily reaching for his throat.
The devil qi acted like brambles, twining and crossing, causing golden blood to spurt forth from all over Qing Xiong’s body. Hongjun’s eyes burned with blazing black fire, and with a strange voice he roared angrily, “I’m going to kill you --!”
In that instant, a wild fire tornado rose behind him, and the phoenix appeared from within that golden flame. With a long cry, Chong Ming spread open his phoenix wings that covered the world, shouting, “Break!” He then used his arms to command his feathers of flame, bringing them together in the center, and thousands of flame feathers stuck to Hongjun’s body. They turned him into a ball of fire, forcing all of the devil qi back into his body!
With a huge boom, the pavilion on the ridge collapsed. Hongjun fell unconscious again, toppling over.
Qing Xiong kept panting for breath, and Chong Ming knelt, one knee to the ground, one hand pressed against the sigils on Hongjun’s back. He said solemnly, “The devil seed has never been so uncontrollable before. He cannot be allowed to go back to the human realm.”
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.