"Hongjun could not stop sobbing, clinging onto Li Jinglong for dear life."
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In the dark night, Li Jinglong walked out of the bushes without a sound, the Sword of Wisdom on his back, hunched over, racing like a cheetah across the creek.
In the distance, red clouds burst out around the lone summit, accompanied by indistinct thunder.
Li Jinglong borrowed the cover of the night, looking first towards the eastern summit. That was the place where Hongjun had brought him to climb last time, and also the mountain range where Yaojin Palace was located.
The sun set, and night fell over the Taihang Mountains. The birds all returned to their nest, and the world seemed to take on a different form, as countless monsters with bared fangs and unsheathed claws hid within the darkness. Li Jinglong held his breath, listening intently, distinguishing between the different rustles that came to him on the wind, constantly approaching the mountain range.
The grappling hook that Hongjun had used was still with Li Jinglong. When he had climbed up to Yaojin Palace, he had held onto it.
In the dark night, he turned his head to look towards the thousands of tall mountains, before taking a deep breath. This was coincidentally a night that was filled with clouds, so there shouldn’t be any birds that would notice him...
… alright, move out!
He swung the grappling hook in a circle a few times, and based on memory alone, he tossed it up high. There was a light sound as it hooked onto a tree, and Li Jinglong swiftly climbed up.
In front of the main hall of Yaojin Palace.
“He’s absorbed quite a bit of worldly resentment.” Qing Xiong laid tiredly on the steps, while Chong Ming stood behind him, pouring the medicinal wine from up high onto the wounds across his entire body. Qing Xiong bore the pain and looked towards Chong Ming.
“If you had listened to me,” Chong Ming said coldly, “and had not sent him down the mountain in the first place, today would not have happened.”
Qing Xiong smiled bitterly.
Chong Ming tossed the wine jar onto the steps, where it shattered into pieces.
“How much longer do we have to wait?” Chong Ming asked once more.
“Until tomorrow at daybreak,” Qing Xiong replied. “I will seal him once more, and this time, it should hold.”
Chong Ming walked to the side of the bed in the hall, picking up Hongjun with both arms, hugging him to his front as he turned and walked towards the main hall.
Hongjun’s sleeping posture was very calm, as if nothing had happened at all. Chong Ming hugged him, passing through the main hall, coming to a stop in front of that parasol tree outside the hall, gently placing him under the tree.
He leaned against the parasol tree, solemnly looking towards the sky. Hongjun laid to one side, the chain around his ankle wrapped around Chong Ming’s wrist.
The moon shone brightly, and the sea of clouds billowed with a silver light. Among the thousands of peaks of the Taihang Mountains, the lone summit stood like a lone island in the middle of the ocean.
“Dad, what are you looking at?”
“It hasn’t risen yet though.”
“Soon,” Chong Ming replied solemnly.
That time, little Hongjun had sat by Chong Ming’s side, watching the sky to the east slowly grow fish-belly white. During the night, he had had a dream, and upon waking, went searching for Chong Ming everywhere, and he found himself on the platform.
In his memories, Chong Ming always sat there quietly. If he wasn’t sleeping, he was staring off into the distance, lost in his thoughts. He had also stroked the scar and tattoo on Chong Ming’s body and asked him where it had come from, only for Chong Ming to reply that he had been bitten by a snake.
“Dad, what are you looking at?” little Hongjun ran past the platform, sticking out a head from behind the pillar, asking him curiously.
“Dad, can I go to the human realm?”
“Qing Xiong said he’s willing to take me…”
That was the time that little Hongjun saw Chong Ming grow the most infuriated. He had only asked a single sentence, yet Chong Ming and Qing Xiong had had a huge fight. In the end, Qing Xiong flew away, leaving behind little Hongjun, still waiting there dumbly. Afterwards, Chong Ming had actually been so cruel as to not speak to him at all, and only after three whole months had little Hongjun’s apologies garnered a response.
From then on, he had never dared to bring up the “human realm” in front of Chong Ming again, and he could only wait hungrily for Qing Xiong’s rare visits. Thankfully, after that, Chong Ming slowly stopped getting enraged, and he actually said to him,
“Fledgling birds leaving the nest is an unquestionable truth of the world, but in the matters of the world, it is impossible to reconcile the two sides. If you want to go to the human realm, you can, but if you go, then don’t come back.”
“Dad, look, I saved a fish…”
“Throw it out! What kind of random trash is this?!”
“Dad! I’ll take good care of it!” Hongjun had grown quite a bit older, and the youth’s visage looked more and more like Kong Xuan’s.
The carp yao hid behind him, trembling with fear, saying, “Benefactor, I think it’s better to let it be...”
“Don’t be afraid,” Hongjun said, turning his head to address the carp yao. “My dad only looks fierce.”
Chong Ming: “...”
“Will you choose your red dust, or will you choose me?”
“Dad, I can’t bear to lose you. If I had to choose…”
But Chong Ming had already lifted his index and middle fingers. A small flame burst out from his fingertips, and he swiped it across the long feather attached to his belt.
With a roar of flame, the belt split into two. Chong Ming turned and leaned towards the precipice, and as he launched his body into the air, he exploded with blazing fire that blanketed the sky, suddenly lighting up the dark of the night. Spreading his wings, he turned into a fiery, blazing phoenix that shed light in all directions. Its cry echoed through the range of mountains, before with a gentle flap of its wings, not lingering any longer, it flew towards the horizon.
“Dad!” Hongjun almost rushed over the edge of the cliff, only to be hugged tightly by Li Jinglong.
Li Jinglong hugged him tightly, looking towards Chong Ming flying into the distance.
That night, Hongjun draped a hand over the edge of the bed, and Li Jinglong held his hand, falling into a deep sleep. In his dream, the shadows of the parasol tree leaves in the Exorcism Department danced, slicing the brilliant blazing sunlight into points of light like falling meteors, one by one drifting down.
“Zhangshi, what are you doing?”
“Zhangshi? What’s this?”
“Kong Hongjun! Don’t tug at me when we’re on the street...”
In the night so dark that if he stretched his hand out, he couldn’t see his fingers, icy rain pattered down from above Li Jinglong’s head. He held a wooden plank between his teeth as he slowly clambered up the patch of steep rock face. He didn’t dare to light the Heart Lamp, afraid that that would complicate matters, and based on his memory alone, he sought out spots on the cliff to put his limbs.
“Why is it that what you say never matches what you mean, that’s not very good…”
“It’s not that my words don’t match up with my intentions, I really don’t want to eat it!”
Li Jinglong raised his head and looked towards the top of the cliff. Darkness enshrouded the world, seemingly with no end. He bit down on the wooden plank, panting without stopping. His feet almost slipped as he was gathering up the rope attached to the grappling hook, and he pressed tiredly against the cliff, letting out a long breath.
The sunlight was brilliant as he waved his arm to shake Hongjun off. He wanted to smack his head, but he saw that Hongjun’s face was filled with confusion, his mouth filled with pastries, and he was holding out a pastry for him to eat. Li Jinglong was both aggravated and amused; he wanted to beat him up, but he also wanted to press him up against the wall of the alley and lower his head to kiss the corners of his mouth.
Li Jinglong rested for a second, before he kicked upwards off the rock, stepping onto the ledge, continuing to climb upwards.
Hongjun laid by the side of the pool, and a gentle breeze blew by, filling the pond with ripples. His sleeping visage was tender and calm, and the moonlight blanketed his body with crystalline light, like the warm waters of the pool.
“It’s even festering!”
The two of them were pressed skin to skin as Li Jinglong meticulously applied medicine to his ear. His eyes were filled with pain, even though Hongjun was still smiling happily, his head tilted to the side, pillowed on the bank of the pool. His eyes flicked back and forth as he studied Li Jinglong, his handsome face reddening.
“After it forms a scab on its own, then it’ll be good.”
Li Jinglong’s forehead was furrowed deeply as he looked at Hongjun, who only smiled back at him.
The world was completely dark, and Li Jinglong’s right hand would not stop shaking. The shaking grew fiercer and fiercer, and he clamped his left hand down tightly over his right, resting for a bit on a bit of the protruding cliff.
“Zhangshi, I’ll go with you ba!”
“Don’t tug! This is a government office! What do you think you’re doing?”
Li Jinglong shook off Hongjun, walking out of the government office with rapid strides. He stood behind the wall, his face and ears burning red, torn between crying and laughing. He let out a curse, straightened his martial robe, and hurriedly left towards the Judiciary Department.
There were still three more shichen of this journey… Li Jinglong estimated. That day, when the two of them had been climbing together, they had slowed down, but if he pushed himself, he could still go a little faster. He had to reach Yaojin Palace before daylight.
He tossed out the grappling hook, hooked it on something up high, and climbed up the cliff face. When he got up higher, there was already nowhere to stand, so he stabbed that wooden plank into a crevice in the cliff face, one hand grabbing onto it so that he dangled there. He looked down, only to see a swathe of pitch black. It was impossible to determine how far he had climbed, and when he looked up, he couldn’t see the fingers of his outstretched hands.
He didn’t dare to be arrogant, so he could only use his right hand to inject the power of the Heart Lamp into that rope. He then tossed the rope over his head, and it flew up high. The hook lit up the entirety of the cliff face, like a weak lamp.
Like the light outside the way-station in Saiwai, on that snowy, windy night.
“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.
“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.
“I wasn’t thinking of getting married.”
The cold wind whistled by, and Hongjun was curled up in his blankets, head pillowed on his arm, lying on one side as he hugged him. One leg had even wrapped around him, and Li Jinglong’s heart beat wildly as he turned his head to look at his sleeping face, before slowly lowering his head down. Their lips were less than half a cun apart when Hongjun moved a slight bit, his head crooking to one side, and Li Jinglong immediately shut his eyes, evening his breaths.
“Hongjun…” Li Jinglong swung left and right with great effort as he grabbed the rope, drawing out arcs against the cliff face. He then tensed and sprung to a spot not too far away and grabbed that rock that was protruding outwards, his entire body dangling from that cliff.
In that instant, Li Jinglong’s heart seemed to also be hanging in the air, his life hanging from a single thread.
He shut his eyes, and the wild wind rushed past his ears. In the stormswept graveyard, the flames of Mara erupted from all over Hongjun’s body, whirling around him wildly like flying daggers. Against the onslaught of those daggers of devil flames, Li Jinglong pulled out his sword and rushed over.
“Stop -- !”
He spread open his arms, fiercely wrapping him in a hug. Li Jinglong’s chest glowed with bright light, and the black flames all over Hongjun’s body suddenly burst and dissipated, like snow melting under bright sunlight, or wisps of clouds before a strong wind. The devil flames morphed into comets that whistled backwards!
With a burst of strength, Li Jinglong climbed onto the rock. That day, he had rested right here and had dodged the ice and snow that fell from above his head -- he was almost there! It was right before his eyes!
The instant that the chunks of ice had come crashing down, he had unconsciously turned and hugged Hongjun tightly. As the blocks collapsed, Hongjun’s heart had beat wildly, as the two of them stood there pressed tightly together, the bridges of their noses pressed up against each other. When the sound had lessened, he looked towards Hongjun with mirth.
He could feel that the two of them had both had reactions.
His two hands pressed against the cliff face as he looked mischievously at Hongjun, only wishing that he could lower his head and land a kiss on his lips.
Li Jinglong rested for a moment, only to find that he was already amongst the clouds, so he once again bit down on the plank, and with a rush of energy, once again tossed out the rope. His hands went up and pulled it in, leaping towards the crevice on the other end, once again pinning the plank into it!
In that instant, he broke through the billowing dark clouds, and he suddenly saw the light. Rays of silver light shone all around; above the cloud layer was a world of brilliant light!
The bright moon rises over the Tianshan range, parting the vast sea of clouds
In the sky to the west, the moon’s light sparkled, blanketing the sea of clouds. Under the light of that moon, Li Jinglong turned his head back disbelievingly, only to see that the peaks of the Taihang Mountains stood like lone islands rising out of the sea, undulating one after the other.
A handsome moon hung in the sky, and everything was silent. There was only that gentle breeze under the layer of clouds, blowing gently towards the horizon.
With a very slight sound, the grappling hook caught onto the railings of the platform, and Hongjun woke.
He opened his eyes. The moonlight shone from distantly in the east, and under the shadow of the parasol tree, Chong Ming was still soundly asleep. Hongjun lowered his head to look at the chain on his ankle, before then looking towards the end of the platform.
Li Jinglong stowed away the grappling hook, his right hand trembling nonstop. He turned and looked towards Hongjun, by the pool.
Hongjun widened his eyes, but Li Jinglong began to smile. He panted quietly for breath, earnestly watching him, doing his best not to make any sound. He began to walk towards him, slowly, tiredly, but then approached him rapidly, bent over, opened his arms, and pulled Hongjun into a tight embrace.
The sky was turning fish-belly white, but Hongjun could not stop sobbing, clinging onto Li Jinglong for dear life. Li Jinglong lowered his head, pressing a kiss to his hair.
“Shh,” Li Jinglong shushed him by his ear. He then looked towards the sound-asleep Chong Ming, before he waved at Hongjun, pointing at the thin chain on his ankle. Hongjun shook his head, then lifted it to look at Li Jinglong.
With one knee on the ground, Li Jinglong furrowed his brows, thinking of some way to deal with it, but Hongjun silently hugged his waist. Li Jinglong wanted to pluck off Hongjun’s arms that were wrapped around him so that he could go find something to break this chain, but Hongjun didn’t let go.
“Let go…” Li Jinglong whispered quietly in his ear.
Hongjun kept hugging him just like this, without uttering a single word. In that moment, he finally grew aware of the joy and sorrow, the sorrow and rage, the multitude of mixed emotions that he had felt before...
All sorts of emotions, all because of his desire to rely and protect each other, and worrying over what he would win and lose. He didn’t know where this fate had come from, or what cause had birthed this, but it was everywhere, like soft feathers that covered the world, gently landing on the most fragile part of his heart.
“Let go, Hongjun,” Li Jinglong whispered, gently patting him. He was almost mad with worry, but still he lowered his body to put his mouth by his ear. “We climbed up here with such difficulty, how did you manage to anger him?”
Hongjun let go, his eyes filled with tears as he looked at Li Jinglong.
Li Jinglong looked into his eyes, and suddenly had an urge to pull him back into his embrace. But this really was not the time to revel in feelings, in this situation and this place. He made a gesture, indicating that Hongjun wait here while he himself hunched over and passed by the pool, peering towards the main hall, searching for some sharp implement to pry open that chain.
Hongjun gestured to Li Jinglong, making the shape of his own throwing knives, but Li Jinglong only waved his hand and pointed at himself, meaning that Hongjun could count on him. Just as he was about to rise, he suddenly came face to face with Qing Xiong, who had wobbled out of the main hall.
Qing Xiong’s chest was covered with wounds, and he smelled of medicinal wine. Instantly, the atmosphere grew tense. Hongjun turned to look at Chong Ming, still sleeping soundly under the tree, before then looking at Qing Xiong, now anxious beyond compare.
Li Jinglong reached back and pulled the Sword of Wisdom off his back. His right hand shook, but he forced it to be still as he stared down Qing Xiong.
Qing Xiong’s face was to him, and he suddenly mouthed something. Hongjun couldn’t see, but Li Jinglong read his lips and understood --
-- Promise me that even if you die, you must turn into a corpse ghost that fell in battle to protect him.
Li Jinglong understood, and he put his sword back on his back, nodding his head extremely slowly.
In the next instant, Qing Xiong waved his left hand, and a black feather speckled with golden flecks spiraled out, instantly snapping the chain binding Hongjun. Right after, his left hand sprung out, and with a gentle flick, Li Jinglong felt that a wave of huge power rushed towards them, and his entire body was sent flying out past the platform!
Upon seeing this, Hongjun immediately leapt over to catch Li Jinglong, but Li Jinglong grabbed Hongjun’s wrist in a vise-like grip, pulling him into his embrace, hugging him tightly.
The feather of the Golden-Winged Great Peng shot towards Li Jinglong, suddenly turning into wings of light that brought the two of them flying away from the platform. With another slight flick of his finger, five lights shot like meteors through the darkness right before dawn. With one arm hugging Hongjun, Li Jinglong caught the lights with his other - those were the Pentacolor Sacred Light and the four throwing knives.
Hongjun hugged Li Jinglong, who, with a flip, parted the sea of clouds with a flap of the wings of light. With the rising sun at their backs, they flew towards the end of the mountains!
The clouds sped by them swiftly, as a loud boom came from Yaojin Palace in the distance!
The two of them suddenly turned as an earth-shaking sound came to them. A ball of blazing flame and a ball of golden cloud, entangled with each other, rushed out of the sea of clouds, sending up a powerful wind that swept the layers of haze away.
“It’s Chong Ming!” Hongjun said. “Chong Ming’s awake!”
Li Jingong didn’t respond. He merely tightened his grip around Hongjun, who couldn’t resist turning his head to watch, but Li Jinglong used his forearm to cover his eyes. The two of them flew faster and faster, whistling through the slot canyon, passing through the valley outside the Taihang Mountains, before rolling along on the ground, falling onto the grass.
Hongjun stumbled to his feet and clambered up high. Li Jinglong chased after him, shouting, “Hongjun!”
Hongjun stood halfway up the mountain, numbly looking towards Yaojin Palace in the distance. Chong Ming seemed to be enraged beyond compare, and the phoenix and the golden-winged great peng turned into glowing clouds that clashed time and again, crashing into the lone summit that had imprisoned him, sending it crashing down. When the peak crumbled, clouds of dust washed over it.
Hongjun turned again to look at Li Jinglong, who watched Hongjun guiltily.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t expect that in the end…”
Hongjun leapt forward and hugged him tightly.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.