This year, the National Day holiday lasted for seven days, but at Sky University, there was a three-day teaching seminar after the holiday, and students got an additional three-day break, adding up to a total of ten days off.
On the last day before the holiday, half of the school was empty, as everyone either went home or traveled for vacation. The people in Room 903 woke up early and packed their bags to head off in different directions. Zhang Xiting went to Beijing to see his girlfriend, Jin planned to go home, and He Jian’s family came to visit him in Xi’an.
Jiang Hong’s parents were still out having fun on the northwest ring road and had made it all the way to Dunhuang.
“See you after the holiday,” everyone said goodbye to Jiang Hong.
“See you after the holiday.” He Jian patted Jiang Hong’s shoulder. “Take care.”
Jiang Hong still had classes, and today, Cao Bin was teaching them alone since Lu Xiu had something else to do.
After a week of relaxation, Jiang Hong finally felt better, but he had a new problem on his mind:
“Are the things that Chen Zhen said true?” Jiang Hong asked Cao Bin.
Cao Bin asked in return, “Do you believe them?”
“I think it’s really serious,” Xiao Pi said. “My dad is thinking about this every day.”
Xiao Pi’s father was Xuan Hezhi, the head of the teaching department, and he had more contact with exorcists than any other student.
Cao Bin nodded, and Jiang Hong replied, “To be honest, I don’t really believe it.”
The school always had an appearance of peace, but Jiang Hong also had a vague feeling that something was off. Plagues, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, global warming, volcanic eruptions, large-scale wildfires, sudden cold in winter, frequent tornadoes… In recent years, it seemed like more and more things were happening behind the scenes, but in real life, everything appeared normal.
“Although we use the power of the earth’s veins every day,” Cao Bin said solemnly, “most exorcists know nothing about them.”
Cao Bin picked up a pen and went to the whiteboard to begin today’s lesson.
“For now, let’s focus on the stability of the earth’s veins and talk about them,” Cao Bin said. “The earth’s veins are like the planet’s blood vessels, transporting the energy that sustains all living beings…”
Jiang Hong opened his notebook and listened attentively. The earth’s veins were the “qi” of the earth. A more common description was the traditional terms of feng shui and dragon veins. In recent decades, there had been violent fluctuations in the earth’s veins, and each wave of fluctuations had been accompanied by enormous disasters.
“Currently, the entire Exorcist Committee is helpless against this. We have yet to find the cause,” Cao Bin said.
“Could it be related to Mara?” Jiang Hong asked proactively.
In his recent studies, Jiang Hong roughly understood the origin of “Mara”. The cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death, along with hatred, anger, love, separation, and the pursuit of desires, all contributed to the accumulation of “resentment,” which could be purified through the circulation of the earth’s veins. However, once the amount of resentment exceeded the purification threshold, it would start to gather and condense into “Mara.”
According to legend, “Mara” was born once every thousand years, from a seed left in some corner of the earth. The most important responsibility of an exorcist was to purify “Mara” and send it back into the cycle of rebirth.
“But ten years ago,” Xiao Pi said, “didn’t Mara reincarnate and was then destroyed?”
“Huh?” Jiang Hong had no idea about this and looked towards Xiao Pi.
Cao Bin answered, “Yes, that’s right. The last person who successfully exorcised the demon was the president of the Sky University, Xiang Cheng. However, later on, the exorcists discovered that Mara was not completely eliminated. Behind all of this, there may be even greater dangers, or perhaps the battle ten years ago was just a warm-up.”
Jiang Hong didn’t know how to respond.
“We have hidden enemies,” Cao Bin said. “The Mara ten years ago may have just been a scout sent by this enemy to explore us. Or, in the five thousand years since the birth of human civilization, the continuously reincarnating Mara may only be a vanguard. We are about to face the truly powerful and ominous enemy lurking behind the scenes.”
“Really?” Jiang Hong sounded alarmed.
Xiao Pi quickly added, “Yes, my dad said the same thing!”
Jiang Hong asked, “Can this be resolved?”
“At present, everything is still shrouded in mystery,” Cao Bin said. “That’s why when we discovered that you were a descendant of a great geomancer, we were pleasantly surprised. Your knowledge of the earth’s veins is too limited, and we need new discoveries…”
“Ah, I’m really sorry,” Jiang Hong said.
Cao Bin casually replied, “No, there’s no need to apologize. I believe that there is a special power in you, but the time has not yet come. Since the topic today is about the earth’s veins, let’s talk about geomancy…”
For the next class, Cao Bin opened up theoretical lectures on Feng Shui for Jiang Hong and Xiao Pi. Although Cao Bin did not specialize in this area, his knowledge was sufficient to teach two undergraduate students.
The bell rang for the end of class.
Cao Bin looked at the two students who were taking notes. “The final assessment for this course is to do something.”
“Huh?” Jiang Hong asked. “What should we do?”
“You can do anything,” Cao Bin said lightly. “At any time, you can submit something as homework, like finding a magical treasure, exorcising a demon. You can work together or complete it independently. Or help a classmate complete a task, help those in need… Any deeds that apply what you have learned in class will work. Once done, report it to me.”
Jiang Hong and Xiao Pi thanked Cao Bin and left the classroom. Xiao Pi went to find Xuan Hezhi after school, preparing to go to Beijing with his father. Xuan Hezhi had business at the Exorcist Committee, while Xiao Pi would spend a few days playing in Beijing. After saying goodbye, Jiang Hong returned to the dormitory and waited for Lu Xiu to come find him.
Lu Xiu texted: “Wait a moment. I’m a bit busy today.”
Jiang Hong finished packing and taking a shower. He changed into clean clothes and replied to Lu Xiu: “No rush. I’m good whenever.”
“Oh! Going out on a date!” Chang Jun, who was also dressed up, came over from the next dormitory.
Jiang Hong had been attending classes for a month now and was no longer afraid. Not only was he not afraid, but he also found Chang Jun quite cute. Even if he turned into a human, he would occasionally retain some habits of the demon race. For example, he would lick his lips from time to time. When a guy did this, it could seem a bit sinister, but when this expression appeared on Chang Jun’s handsome face, Jiang Hong felt that it was still acceptable.
Jiang Hong said, “Oh, you’re all dressed up to go on a date too!”
Chang Jun grinned. “Can I borrow some hair gel from you?” He went to the bathroom to style his hair. “Are you going to book a room tonight?”
“Don’t talk nonsense. I’m going out to play with my senior,” Jiang Hong replied.
“Oh, going on a date with your senior?” Chang Jun said.
“You’ve said enough!” Jiang Hong retorted.
While waiting for Lu Xiu, Chang Jun finished styling his hair and asked Jiang Hong to help him tidy it up. Chang Jun then said, “Lu Xiu is my male god!”
“I know,” Jiang Hong said expressionlessly, “you’ve said it several times. Do you especially admire him because you’re both reptiles?”
“Dragon!” Chang Jun said, “How can you call such a noble dragon a reptile?”
Jiang Hong found it funny himself. Chang Jun winked at Jiang Hong in the mirror and said, “Do you know about his feat of defeating the exorcists in Lingjing Alley?”
Jiang Hong had heard Lu Xiu talk about it before but didn’t dare ask more, and now he was curious.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” Jiang Hong said.
Chang Jun said, “He went alone, defeated all the exorcists, and laid them out flat!”
Jiang Hong asked, “So… did he win?”
“At first he was winning, but then they called for reinforcements, and he couldn’t win anymore,” Chang Jun said.
“Was it Chen Zhen?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Chen Zhen alone couldn’t beat Lu Xiu, so they called Xiang Cheng, the principal,” Chang Jun replied.
“Is the principal that powerful?!” Jiang Hong said in shock.
“He’s also a dragon! Later, the vice principal came too, and I heard they both fought Lu Xiu together, and finally, Lu Xiu couldn’t win,” Chang Jun said.
“Wow! Is he Sun Wukong?” Jiang Hong exclaimed.
“…” Chang Jun was speechless.
Chang Jun asked, “I also heard that the principal sealed him. Is that true?”
Jiang Hong was scared that Lu Xiu might suddenly appear and deny it, but fortunately, he didn’t.
“I don’t know,” Jiang Hong said. “Ask him yourself when you have the chance.”
Chang Jun admired his handsome hairstyle and said, “I’m off!” Then he pinched Jiang Hong’s face and left for his date.
Jiang Hong waited until after six o’clock, bored and playing on his phone, when suddenly a strange sound came from downstairs.
It was as if two temple bells had collided, like the deep bass string of a rich and sonorous cello vibrating within a giant bell, a hum resonating from within.
The last time Jiang Hong had heard this sound was on top of Jialing River Bridge. He jumped up and ran out of the dormitory, with all the other students who hadn’t gone home yet following him and leaning against the railing to look down.
“Wow–senior!” Jiang Hong finally heard it clearly. It was a dragon’s roar!
Jiang Hong turned around, locked the door, and saw a huge black dragon descending, swooping over the dormitory building. In an instant, Jiang Hong’s playful heart was aroused, and he flipped over the railing and jumped out.
As the black dragon’s body passed by, it caught him and suddenly rose up. Under the gaze of countless students, it broke through the air and disappeared.
“So cool!” Jiang Hong knelt on the dragon’s head with one knee and grabbed one of its horns with each hand. In an instant, he was taken up to a height of nearly a thousand meters. The turbulence came, but a rotating magic circle appeared at the horn, protecting him from the strong wind.
“I thought you would ride a motorcycle over here–!” Jiang Hong shouted excitedly.
“Lower your voice,” the dragon spoke with Lu Xiu’s voice. “You’re yelling in my ear. I’ll go deaf!”
“Oops, sorry…” Jiang Hong shouted on impulse, even though the howling wind around him was blocked by the black dragon’s magic.
“I’ll take you for a ride in the sky,” said Lu Xiu in dragon form, “but only for a few minutes.”
“Awesome–oops, sorry. I can’t help but shout again…” Jiang Hong was going crazy with excitement. In just a short moment, they had already left the school and flew over small villages in the mountains of Qinling.
The dragon found a place where no one was around and suddenly descended.
“Ah–” Jiang Hong experienced the thrill of riding a roller coaster without a safety belt as the dragon rushed down with him, his legs flying backward and his hands still tightly gripping the dragon’s horn.
In mid-air, the dragon suddenly disappeared, replaced by Lu Xiu’s hand. He grabbed Jiang Hong’s wrist and pulled him towards himself, then turned around. He hugged him with one hand and flipped in the air together before landing safely.
Jiang Hong: “…”
Jiang Hong felt dizzy and exhilarated. They landed in front of a bus stop. Lu Xiu let go of Jiang Hong and remained expressionless, rubbing his outer ear with his slender fingers, clearly annoyed by his loudness.
“Where are we going now?” asked Jiang Hong.
“Xi’an,” Lu Xiu replied. “Did you lose your memory again?”
Jiang Hong tried to climb on Lu Xiu’s back, but Lu Xiu agilely turned around several times, and Jiang Hong missed every time, but he still persistently clung to him.
“Where in Xi’an?” Jiang Hong said. “Are we going to play for ten days? Shall I arrange the itinerary? Did we book the hotel? Should I book it…?”
Lu Xiu ignored him. Jiang Hong tried several times to get close, but failed. Then the bus arrived. Lu Xiu lifted Jiang Hong by his collar and dragged him onto the bus.
Having ten days off and being able to play with Lu Xiu made Jiang Hong very happy. He shouted like a fool as Lu Xiu dragged him onto the bus.
When they arrived in the city center of Xi’an, it was already 8:30 pm. Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong went to the commercial street, where they had hot pot. Nightlife in Xi’an had just begun, and the pleasant autumn weather ushered in the busiest season.
“Show me your assignment from Zhu Jinling’s class,” Lu Xiu said to Jiang Hong when the dishes arrived.
Jiang Hong took out the photos on his phone and showed them to Lu Xiu. Lu Xiu looked at them for a moment and seemed to be thinking.
“I have to find a way to solve it myself and not rely on you entirely,” Jiang Hong said.
Lu Xiu originally wanted to say something, but when he heard Jiang Hong say that, he changed his words. “So what have you found out?”
“This is a golden text,” Jiang Hong said. “It means ‘ink’.”
He scanned the symbol with the software and compared it in the character library, drawing a preliminary conclusion. At the same time, the leader Lian Jiang also exchanged information with other groups.
For Zhu Jinling, the teacher of the Exploration of the Inner World class, she certainly didn’t want a simple definition of a word. There must be other meanings behind this golden text than just “ink.”
“Anything else?” Lu Xiu asked.
“I don’t know,” Jiang Hong said. “I want to go to the Shaanxi History Museum to take a look. Professor Zhu said she decided on these assignments through divination, and each assignment is more or less related to the students participating, but I always feel like I’m not involved.”
“Zhu Jinling’s knowledge of divination is exceptional. This is her custom when assigning homework. When you get to the end of the assignment, you’ll find out,” Lu Xiu said.
“Have you taken her class before?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Yes, she gave me a hint about a valuable artifact,” Lu Xiu said. “It’s really important.”
“Oh…” Jiang Hong replied.
Since Lu Xiu said so, Jiang Hong was filled with anticipation. Perhaps there was indeed a mysterious connection.
“Let’s go tomorrow.” Lu Xiu agreed to Jiang Hong’s proposal to go to the Shaanxi History Museum.
Jiang Hong noticed that Lu Xiu was absent-minded and asked cautiously, “What’s wrong?”
“I also have something to take care of,” Lu Xiu said. He then noticed Jiang Hong’s hopeful gaze and knew he wanted to ask “Can I come with you?” so he replied, “Behave yourself and I’ll take you.”
“What does behaving mean?” Jiang Hong asked eagerly, trying to please Lu Xiu. “I’ll do your laundry tonight.”
“Stop asking so many questions,” Lu Xiu said.
Jiang Hong and Lu Xiu shook hands and sealed the deal.
After being locked up at school for a month, Jiang Hong wanted to eat everything and play with everything. They played darts at the Tang Dynasty City for half a day, and Lu Xiu even threw a few darts for him. He won a prize—a game console with 64 games. The two of them booked a hotel room, but with the National Day holiday approaching, all the standard rooms were sold out, and they could only book a double bed room.
The two grown men lay on the bed, with Jiang Hong playing with his new game console and Lu Xiu browsing through some materials on his phone.
“What’s that?” Jiang Hong caught a glimpse of Lu Xiu’s notes, which had complex diagrams. “Is that your paper?”
“Tomorrow’s task,” Lu Xiu answered. “A request for assistance from the Exorcist Committee sent to the school.”
Jiang Hong didn’t ask any further, and Lu Xiu said, “Sleep. We’re going to the museum tomorrow.” Then he turned off the light.
The next day, they queued up at the entrance of the Shaanxi History Museum. On October 1st, all the attractions were packed with people, and Jiang Hong regretted coming at this time.
But Lu Xiu always had an indifferent expression. When someone took a photo of him with their phone, he didn’t get angry, letting them take the photo as they pleased, as if he didn’t notice.
“Are you going to catch the demon today…the one from the Exorcist Committe’s request?” Jiang Hong asked curiously.
“Not exactly.” Lu Xiu looked at Jiang Hong. When he had nothing to do, he unconsciously stared at Jiang Hong, but his gaze didn’t seem to focus on Jiang Hong’s face. Only in occasional moments, or when Jiang Hong spoke, would Lu Xiu recover from a kind of trance.
“I’m just helping them survey the area,” Lu Xiu said. “Scouting.”
“Oh,” Jiang Hong responded.
Lu Xiu then said, “I’ll teach you the language I use.”
“What?!” Jiang Hong was shocked. “Can I learn it? It’s not…not restricted?”
“It’s restricted,” Lu Xiu said.
Jiang Hong thought, “Then what’s the point of learning it? I can’t just use it to insult people like you do with dragon language.”
“Do you want to learn it?” Lu Xiu asked.
“Yes!” Jiang Hong immediately replied.
“Overall, there are nine basic pronunciations, which can be combined in countless ways to express over a thousand meanings,” Lu Xiu said, “First, you’ll learn these nine pronunciations: ‘ka,’ ‘hak,’ ‘ci’…”
“Some of them sound like the Russian rolling ‘r’,” Jiang Hong said. “Even if I can’t use it, it could still be used to intimidate people.”
Lu Xiu said, “Even without using magic, it has a deterrent effect on lower-level existences.”
Jiang Hong was talented in language and learned quickly. Lu Xiu explained the nine sounds and their respective meanings, with each character representing an emotion, such as anger, pain, happiness…
It was truly a magical language. Jiang Hong learned from Lu Xiu that the basic pronunciation of dragon language only represented emotions, and the existence derived from the emotion depicted by the word was the object of that emotion. For example, “hak” represented joy and satisfaction, so it became the word root for describing “food” because it produced a sense of satisfaction when eaten.
“‘Su’ represents tangible entities and also represents ‘you,’ while ‘tule’ means ‘to destroy,'” Lu Xiu continued. “So…”
“‘Tule su’ means ‘to destroy you,'” Jiang Hong recalled the dragon language spells that Lu Xiu had used twice against Wuzhiqi.
“Very clever,” Lu Xiu praised Jiang Hong, and the two of them entered the museum.
As they were about to enter the museum, Lu Xiu turned his head and scrutinized the outside of the museum, as if he had noticed something unusual.