More than half a month had passed and it was almost New Year's Eve.
Chen Kingdom, the capital city.
Due to the upcoming festival, the streets were decorated with lights and festivities, and people bustled about. A young Daoist priest waved a bell in his left hand and held a flag in his right hand. The flag was embroidered with pictures of Tai Chi Eight Diagrams, and the words ‘Half-Immortal Jing’ were written separately. There was also a blue-feathered bird in his arms that poked its head out from time to time.
Next to the Daoist priest was a four or five-year-old Daoist boy with a compass around his neck, a peachwood sword on his back, and saying in a childish voice and a solemn face, “The old acquaintance has passed on the divine art, and the celestial divination achieved victory against the purple dipper…”
Two Daoists, one big and one small, were none other than Jing Yue and Qin Yanzhi.
The two just arrived at the capital today. As soon as they entered the capital’s boundary, Jing Yue discovered an abnormal vision in the sky—the purple Qi in the sky was mixed with wisps of black.
Jing Yue’s eyes narrowed. The purple Qi symbolized the fortune of the kingdom. Originally, it could have lasted for more than a century. Now, the black Qi was growing, while the purple Qi was gradually eroded. Perhaps it would only take a few years before the purple Qi was completely replaced by the black Qi.
The two randomly found an inn but the shopkeeper said that they were out of rooms. “This is the year of the spring exams. We have many scholars staying here. I’m really sorry about this. Why don’t you try your luck in Peach Garden Alley? There are some private residences remodeled into inns there.”
Jing Yue inquired about the specific location, took Qin Yanzhi around the bustling street, and turned into a secluded alley.
Soon, they settled down in a small inn in Peach Garden Alley.
After everything was sorted out, Jing Yue came down to the first floor of the inn. It was dinnertime then, and many poor scholars gathered to chat, exchange articles, and debate about current affairs.
A scholar with an angular jaw said, “Lord Wang has always been an upright official. It’s precisely because he refused to work with corrupt officials that he was framed by them in a joint effort. If not for the State Preceptor’s clear foresight and punishing the group of corrupt officials instead, Lord Wang would have died unjustly.”
Another scholar with a big nose immediately retorted, “What clear foresight? Those corrupt officials were recommended by Prince Ning back then. How could Prince Ning not know about this? If the State Preceptor really wants to do justice for the people, what is the point of catching some small fish and shrimp? Why leave Prince Ning unattended?”
“The imperial secretary has lodged several reports about members of the royal family embezzling money for disaster relief, and some even used official punishment for private grudges, but the state preceptor always turned a blind eye!”
The words of the big-nosed scholar drew a chorus of agreement and the crowd was filled with righteous indignation.
“Members of the royal family have been dying violently in recent years. This is retribution!”
“I heard that Prince Ning has not been doing very well these days…”
But some were wary by nature and said, “You guys are really bold. Stop this quickly. The walls might have ears.”
The big-nosed scholar snorted, “What are you afraid of? The penal wardens of the capital city are focused on correcting all the officials. Where can they find the time to supervise poor scholars like us?”
Another person sighed, “After so many years of corrective action, corrupt officials are still running rampant. Many people became officials because of wealth and power. There’s no fish in clear waters. If they are not driven by interests, there’s simply no intention to help the people. If the court wants to make an effort, they should do more things that benefit the people.”
At this time, a plainly dressed but very energetic scholar said, “But if an official doesn’t help the people, it’s better to go home and sell sweet potatoes. Is the corrupt official worthy of reasons now?”
The man from earlier shook his head and said, “It's not easy to live in the capital, and it's hard for the officials to survive on their salaries alone. Sometimes, it's not really the officials who want to be greedy, but they also have to take care of their family members, cater to their colleagues and superiors. What can be done with that meager salary?”
The plainly dressed scholar argued, “Everyone is preparing for the imperial examination and everyone has the chance of becoming an official. By saying this, it’s nothing more than paving the way for your future self. From the bottom of your heart, you have already accepted the word ‘greed’.”
The man had good intentions but the meaning was distorted. He immediately scowled and left with a flick of his sleeves.
The plain-looking scholar also huffed, “Yes, there is no fish in clear waters, but someone still needs to clean the pond from time to time. There is also no fish in murky waters! Some people don’t find ways to improve the status quo but look for reasons to explain this situation instead. It’s simply ridiculous!”
He drank some water in anger and heard someone next to him asking, “I wonder if this Gongzi has a good plan?”
The scholar turned around and saw a young Daoist priest with a small Daoist boy standing behind him, looking at him with a smile. The Daoist had a clean and handsome appearance and the child looked like a fairy boy in the painting. For some inexplicable reasons, the scholar blushed.
Jing Yue, “May I sit?”
The scholar hurriedly said, “Please go ahead, Daozhang.” He scratched his head in embarrassment. “I don’t have any good plans. I was angry just now and boasted a little. I’m sorry to make a fool of myself.”
Jing Yue, “How is it boasting?”
The scholar sighed helplessly, “I know what they are saying is true. Many times, if the officials are not well-off, the people will suffer with them. This is unreasonable but it’s the reality, so it has always been this way.”
“But I always feel that if we see the darkness and just let it be, we will wallow in the dark and can never hope for the light to shine upon us. Only by thinking of a way to break through the darkness, even at the cost of our flesh and blood, can we strive for a sliver of light.”
“If one generation is not enough, then we use two generations. If two generations are not enough, then we use three. Even if we do this for thousands of years, we have at least chosen the right path. And if we continue walking down this path, we can eventually find an exit one day.”
Seeing that the Daoist was listening carefully, the dejection that had accumulated in his chest dissipated, and he said angrily, “I’m too idealistic.”
Jing Yue, “You never know until you try it out.”
The scholar was puzzled. Jing Yue said, “I see a rosy hue between your eyebrows and your spirit flows freely. You’ll surely win the top spot in the imperial examination this time. When you sit in a high position in the future, you may verify it for yourself.”
The scholar immediately went sullen. He had no prior prejudices against Daoist priests and noticed that the Daoist didn’t look like one who cheated, so he chatted with him a little more. Who knew that the other party was full of bull! He knew that his literary talent was not outstanding, and the examiner this time had always been inclined to glorious essays, so how could he make it to the top of the list?
The Daoist must have thought that he came from a remote area and had not seen much of the world, so he tried to swindle him for money.
Jing Yue continued, “Although you’ll meet some twists and turns during the examination, you’ll eventually achieve success.”
The scholar stood up, cupped his hands in a perfunctory manner, and left without looking back. Before stepping out of the door, however, he heard the Daoist say, “Turn left when you see the horse.”
Some people around also heard the conversation between Jing Yue and the scholar, and laughed inwardly at the Daoist’s poor foresight. How could a despondent scholar like that take the top spot? Their teeth were about to fall off from laughing too hard!
One person looked at Jing Yue mockingly but saw the little boy beside the Daoist staring at him blankly. The black lifeless eyes seemed to suck his soul away. It felt a little creepy and he couldn’t help shivering.
Jing Yue patted Qin Yanzhi comfortingly and called the waiter to order some food. After all, little Yanzhi had not practiced inedia yet and his stomach would growl.
Soon, the food was served, and they were all the signature dishes in the inn, which looked and smelled amazing.
Qin Yanzhi held the chopsticks in his small hand and took some dishes with a bit of rice. Every bite seemed to weigh about the same as if it had been accurately calculated. He seemed to eat delicately with small mouthfuls, but his speed was very fast. When he finished eating, his mouth was clean with no stickiness, but he raised his face and naturally waited for Jing Yue to wipe his mouth.
Jing Yue didn't think there was any problem. Since Qin Yanzhi cried that day, he tried his best to take care of the other party as a child. These days, he had already tossed the image of Qin Yanzhi’s matured face out of his mind. He didn’t think about it or dared to think about it.
The two of them were having a good time but the cold wind was roaring outside the inn. It was night and there were few people on the street. The scholar shrank his neck and hurried to the rented courtyard, still angry that he had mistakenly believed in the Daoist priest!
Suddenly, he heard the sounds of galloping horses and looked up. Not far away, an exquisite carriage slowly approached. For some unknown reason, the scholar recalled the Daoist’s words to turn left when he saw a horse. He didn’t take the words seriously but his body reacted honestly and turned left.
At that moment, the horse pulling the cart jumped up, raised the front hooves high in the air, and rushed toward him suddenly. The scholar stood frozen on the spot, his mind went blank, and he could only subconsciously close his eyes.
Then, he heard a loud bang, followed by the chaotic screams of people.
The scholar waited for a while but felt no pain in his body, so he opened his eyes slightly. He saw that the carriage had tipped over on the ground and the horse was foaming at its mouth, limbs twitching.
And the place where the carriage fell was exactly where he was standing before.
The scholar's face was as white as paper and his heart trembled violently. After standing in a daze for a while, he sprinted wildly back to the previous inn.
But when he arrived at the inn, he learned that the young Daoist priest had returned to his room and made a point to the boss that he was not to be disturbed.
The scholar waited for a long time and finally left disappointed.
In the room, Jing Yue and Qin Yanzhi were practicing.
After staying in the Haotian Realm for more than five years, Jing Yue was still a mid-level Foundation Establishment stage. After all, achieving the golden core stage within a century was not easy, and it would take some time to make a breakthrough.
He urged the technique and guided the spiritual energy in his body. After performing a big circuit, he suddenly felt a metallic aura flooding the surrounding area. He opened his eyes and realized that Qin Yanzhi had broken through level-1 Qi Refining stage.
Qin Yanzhi opened his eyes slightly at this time, a little confused at the sudden change, and then raised his head happily. “Yanzhi has advanced!”
Jing Yue was about to compliment him but saw little Yanzhi wrinkled his nose, raised his hand to smell it, and then tugged his clothes in disgust.
He understood the situation at once. Qin Yanzhi did not possess an Omnispirit body after all. Every time he advanced in the Qi Refining stage, impurities from the body would be dispelled. Some people would have more and form thick grime, while others would have a thin layer of dirt.
Although Qin Yanzhi belonged to the latter, he still felt disgusted.
Jing Yue was amused as he called the waiter to prepare a tub of hot water. He tested the water temperature before letting Qin Yanzhi wash himself.
Qin Yanzhi stripped himself unhappily, his white and tender flesh like a little ginseng baby. He stretched his arms toward Jing Yue matter-of-factly.
“The wooden tub is too high. I can’t get in.”
Jing Yue couldn’t help pinching his chubby face as he picked him up and put him into the tub. There was a lot of water so Qin Yanzhi could only stand and wash.
Jing Yue watched as he awkwardly rubbed left and right. Because his arms were too short, he couldn’t scrub his back, so Jing Yue had no choice but to pick up a towel and soap to help him wash up.
Sounds of laughter came from the room and blue phoenix sadly shrank in the corner and pecked at its feathers.
While pecking, it muttered, “Jing-jing loves me, Jing-jing loves me not. Jing-jing loves me, Jing-jing loves me not…”
After muttering for half a day, no one paid any attention to it.
After a freshly scrubbed Qin Yanzhi was finally dry, Jing Yue helped him dress and teased him, “If you remember your past life someday, will you chop me up in anger?”
After saying that, he laughed to himself.
Qin Yanzhi didn't understand, but seeing Jing Yue smiling so happily, he also grinned. Where was there any sign of being cold and aloof?
They stayed in the inn for two days and it was New Year's Eve. The shops on the street were closed long ago. During the day, people nearby came to the inn to request from the scholars for couplets. By night, the outside was very quiet.
However, the inn was very lively. Some students were unable to go home to reunite with their relatives, so they pooled their funds and booked some tables, and all of them spent the eve together.
Everyone was drinking, reciting, and composing poems, and gradually became tipsy.
Close to midnight, fireworks were being set off in the capital, and the crackling firecrackers were deafening. Many scholars also walked out of the inn to set off fireworks.
Seeing that Qin Yanzhi’s eyes kept drifting out of the door with curiosity, and blue phoenix was also clamoring to set off some fireworks, Jing Yue requested some firecrackers from the waiter and led Qin Yanzhi to a secluded spot. Holding Qin Yanzhi’s hand, he helped him light the fuse.
Sparks flared but Qin Yanzhi still stood there in a daze. Jing Yue hurriedly pulled him back and covered his ears with his hands.
Instantly, the sky was full of fireworks, and the orange-red flames reflected the outlines of a large and a small figure. Blue phoenix’s soft body lightly pressed against Jing Yue and all of them looked up at the night sky.
Suddenly, a touch of coldness fell on Jing Yue’s forehead and it turned out to be a snowflake.
Not far away, someone shouted, “It's snowing! It's snowing on New Year's Eve!”
The echoes gradually melted into the night, replaced by fluttering snow.
In the flurry of white, Qin Yanzhi quietly looked at Jing Yue, feeling the warmth covering his ears, just wanting it to be like this forever.
Author’s notes: Mini theater
Ji-ji holding a microphone: Many people want to know what you think of Lil Rouge blowing his nose.
Rouge paused suspiciously and said indifferently: I don’t have much opinion of it.
Ji-ji’s excited face: Don’t be shy, just talk about it.
Rouge: Ask again and I’ll commit suicide.
Jing-jing holding a microphone: What do you think about letting me wash you?
Rouge: Do you really want to know?
Jing-jing nodded wildly.
Rouge: Wouldn't you understand better if you let me wash you once?
Jing-jing: … Ge, have mercy!