The sun was shining brightly, casting its rays into the bedroom.
Jiang Hong had all sorts of strange dreams that night. As he slept, everything from demons to the Jialing River Bridge to spider eggs became illusions, and even Lu Xiu transformed into a dream character.
One moment, he dreamt he was riding on the head of a dragon, gripping its horns as they soared through the sky. The next moment, they crashed into the Burj Khalifa and fell to the ground. He even dreamt of spiders and bats gnawing on his body.
But each dream was less frightening than the last, or rather, Jiang Hong didn’t experience any fear in his dreams. Despite the many heart-pounding scenes that played out before him, he seemed to possess a powerful mental force that guarded him like a barrier.
Only the protective charm beside his pillow reminded him that all of this had really happened.
It wasn’t until breakfast the next day that Jiang Hong regained his ability to think rationally, and he realized how unreal everything was. The events of the previous night had shattered his worldview!
There are demons in the world?! What does that mean? And spells? Supernatural powers! This is almost as shocking as discovering extraterrestrial life! Does that mean there are ghosts too? Come to think of it, ghosts don’t seem that scary anymore. If a ghost scares me to death, then I’ll become a ghost too. Wouldn’t that be awkward for everyone?
Once demons are discovered, are they no longer mysterious? Like discovering a new species of animal?
Jiang Hong’s knowledge system had suffered a major blow. While he was still digesting this, his father’s announcement dealt him a second blow:
“Your mother and I are going to be away for a few days,” his father said gently. “Do you want to come with us or stay home and study?”
What a silly question. Of course Jiang Hong didn’t dare go anywhere. He had to repeat the year, so how could he go out and play? But his father operated under the principle of respecting his choices in everything.
“Where are you going?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Your dad is taking me to travel to the Northwestern region, and we also plan to visit Qinghai,” Jiang Hong’s mother said proudly.
Although they couldn’t go abroad, it was obvious that Jiang Hong’s parents couldn’t stay at home all the time. Jiang Hong’s father was going on a business trip and decided to take his mother along for some sightseeing.
“Go ahead,” Jiang Hong said sourly. “Take some nice pictures. When are you leaving?”
Despite being married for many years, his parents still loved each other and clearly had their own lives. Originally, Jiang Hong’s father had planned to take a one-month trip around Qinghai Lake with his wife after Jiang Hong finished his college entrance exams, as a celebration for themselves and their son.
However, Jiang Hong ended up repeating his exams, which shattered his parents’ dream, but they still decided to go on the trip themselves and leave their son at home to relax.
“We’re leaving this afternoon,” his father said.
“And you still ask me if I want to go?” Jiang Hong said. “You never planned to take me in the first place!”
“You know why.” Jiang Hong’s mother sneered. “Focus on your studies.”
“I’m off to school,” Jiang Hong said helplessly.
“Bye!” Jiang Hong’s parents said goodbye to their son and high-fived each other, excited to start their vacation.
There was still a year before the college entrance exams…why did the demon find me yesterday?
Jiang Hong walked out of the residential complex, pondering over what had happened yesterday. Outside, there were electric bikes parked along the roadside, and several delivery men were playing with their phones and chatting.
Suddenly, Jiang Hong saw someone sitting at a small table outside a noodle shop along the street. The person had their back to him, but Jiang Hong recognized the figure, as if it was someone he’d known for a long time.
“Lu Xiu!” Jiang Hong rushed over.
Lu Xiu had finished breakfast and seemed to be waiting for him. He was dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, wearing sunglasses. He looked at Jiang Hong from the side.
“I’m…going to school,” Jiang Hong said. “What are you doing here?”
“I was sent here to protect you,” Lu Xiu said.
Jiang Hong stared at him blankly, but Lu Xiu got up and motioned for him to follow, asking why he was still standing there.
“Here, have this.” Jiang Hong took out a bottle of milk and asked, “Will you accompany me to school?”
He had many questions to ask, but luckily Lu Xiu showed no intention of leaving. The two walked side by side into the subway station, and when they passed the high school station, many younger students were staring at Lu Xiu.
“Wow, so cool!” Jiang Hong thought, “And on top of that, Lu Xiu is an exorcist, which makes him even cooler!”
“Yesterday…” Jiang Hong asked cautiously.
Lu Xiu leaned against the subway door, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. Jiang Hong didn’t know if he was looking at him.
Lu Xiu raised an eyebrow, signaling him to ask.
“Why did they come looking for me?” Jiang Hong asked in a restrained and quiet tone, as there were many people in the subway car.
“They got the wrong person,” Lu Xiu replied succinctly.
Jiang Hong was left speechless.
He looked around at the crowded subway car, where many people were looking at them with curious eyes, but he knew that they were only admiring their youthful and handsome looks.
Jiang Hong handed Lu Xiu a wireless earphone, and they both listened to music together.
Jiang Hong took the opportunity to get closer. Lu Xiu was seven or eight centimeters taller than him, so he slightly lowered his head. The bridge of Lu Xiu’s nose was just above Jiang Hong’s forehead. The subway car was very crowded, so Lu Xiu freed up one hand and placed it on Jiang Hong’s waist.
“Um, about yesterday…” Jiang Hong couldn’t help but ask. He always found it hard to find the right moment to ask questions. There were always people around, and he wouldn’t have a chance later when they arrived at school.
“…what was that dark thing I saw?” Jiang Hong asked. “It was big and black, and it was even swinging its tail.”
Lu Xiu was puzzled. “A cricket? What cricket?” (1)
“Black and big,” Jiang Hong said. “It was swinging its tail.”
Lu Xiu became alert and took off his sunglasses. He looked at Jiang Hong carefully, furrowing his brow. “Black? How could it be black? Where did you see it?”
People around them looked at them in confusion.
Jiang Hong looked blankly at Lu Xiu and made a motion with his hand, as if a creature had leaped out of the water. Lu Xiu finally understood.
Lu Xiu: “……”
He put his sunglasses back on.
Jiang Hong asked eagerly, “What is that?”
Lu Xiu didn’t answer.
The subway arrived at the station, and someone else boarded the train from Lu Xiu’s side. During the rush hour, everyone squeezed in tightly, causing Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong to be pressed together.
“Hey! Be gentle!” Jiang Hong was afraid that someone might take advantage of the situation and touch Lu Xiu, but Lu Xiu reached out and held him.
The two of them moved slightly to the side.
“That’s my magic,” Lu Xiu said expressionlessly.
Jiang Hong: “???”
“Do you want to see it?” Lu Xiu’s mouth curved dangerously as he asked.
Jiang Hong quickly declined, not understanding what Lu Xiu meant.
“It’s so hot.” Jiang Hong got off the subway and walked towards the school on foot. Lu Xiu followed behind him, and his white shirt was soaked with sweat, revealing his attractive back profile.
“Are you going to class with me?” Jiang Hong asked again.
“I’m not going. I’ll stop here,” Lu Xiu said.
Lu Xiu sat down in front of a small convenience store outside the institution, watching a group of kids on vacation buying ice cream. He then glanced at Jiang Hong and gestured for him to go to class.
“Will you wait for me after school?” Jiang Hong asked again.
Lu Xiu took the milk that Jiang Hong gave him, inserted a straw, and started drinking without responding.
The first bell rang, urging everyone to go to class. Jiang Hong had no choice but to leave.
His schoolbag was soaked in water last night, so he had to find some other materials for review. The daily class also distributed questions and papers, so it did not affect his studies too much. Today, they spent the whole day doing papers. Twelve sets of past papers were given out, and everyone had to complete them in one day. They could also take them home and do them tomorrow.
During the early self-study period, everyone was sleepy and began to write papers as fast as they could.
Jiang Hong couldn’t help but look outside the school from the fifth-floor classroom. He could see the roof of the small shop, but not Lu Xiu.
What is he doing? Why is he here to protect me? Will he follow me everywhere for the next few days? It’s so hot, that’s too hard on him…
Jiang Hong thought, this exorcist was really handsome, and not the kind of handsome that He Jian was… wait, who was He Jian again?… Lu Xiu was the kind of handsome that a guy could have without being a celebrity, without makeup…
Should I go and see him? Jiang Hong had many questions to ask.
“Being in high school is really painful…” Jiang Hong relied on his willpower to persist. Although his body was in the classroom, his mind had already flown to the convenience store outside the school.
“I’ll go and see him… I’ll just bring the paper home and finish it today.”
Jiang Hong packed up his bag and sneaked out from the back door.
When he got to the convenience store, Lu Xiu was gone.
“Ah…” Jiang Hong looked around. “Did he leave? Boss, where did that handsome guy just now go?”
“Oh, he bought a popsicle and left after eating it,” the boss replied.
Jiang Hong thought for a while, took out the protective charm, and said, “Lu Xiu?” Holding the charm, he wandered around the school gate and kept chanting, “Lu Xiu-Lu Xiu-Wow!”
Jiang Hong had just turned around and almost bumped into Lu Xiu.
Lu Xiu took off his sunglasses and asked, “Why are you out? Go back to class!”
Jiang Hong patted his school bag. “I’m doing a test today. I already have the paper, so I’ll take it home to finish. Where did you go just now? Were you looking for me too?”
Lu Xiu was speechless.
“I have something to do,” Lu Xiu said. “Not going to class?”
Jiang Hong said, “No, let’s find a cooler place. I have something to ask you.”
Lu Xiu turned around and walked away. Jiang Hong quickly followed him.
Jiang Hong asked, “What does an exorcist do?”
Lu Xiu: “…”
“Can you show me your magic again? Cast a fireball and let me see.”
Lu Xiu: “…”
“Why did you come to protect me? Can you tell me how we met?”
Lu Xiu: “…”
Jiang Hong: “What are those demons doing? Why did they capture me? If they got the wrong person, then who were they originally trying to capture?”
Lu Xiu: “…”
Jiang Hong: “What are you going to do?”
Lu Xiu walked into a Starbucks, reserved a private room, ordered two cups of coffee, and pushed Jiang Hong to the table.
“Finish your homework,” Lu Xiu said.
“Please spare me!” Jiang Hong cried out. “I can’t finish twelve sets of homework even if I work until dark.”
Lu Xiu remained unmoved, so Jiang Hong reluctantly took out his homework and began to work in front of him. He got up after a few minutes.
“What are you doing now?” Lu Xiu asked.
“I’m going to add some sugar!” Jiang Hong exclaimed. “This coffee is so bitter.”
Jiang Hong’s life was as bitter as an unsweetened iced Americano. He dawdled and procrastinated, took out his homework, and started working on the multiple-choice questions. Lu Xiu wanted nothing more than to roll up the stack of papers and beat him with it.
“Why did you choose B when it’s so obvious that it’s wrong?” Lu Xiu asked, trying to suppress his anger.
“I chose the shortest one out of three short and one long answers.” Jiang Hong replied blankly.
“…” Lu Xiu took a piece of scratch paper and demonstrated the solution to him in silence.
Jiang Hong suddenly exclaimed, “Oh!”
“Do you understand?” Lu Xiu asked.
“I don’t understand,” Jiang Hong replied.
“…” Lu Xiu was speechless.
“Just kidding!” Jiang Hong said. “I understand now!”
Jiang Hong marked the problem and continued to work on the rest. Lu Xiu saw that Jiang Hong wasn’t doing too badly at first, but then he randomly chose option A on a question. Unable to bear it anymore, he asked, “Is this choosing the longest out of three long and one short?”
“No!” Jiang Hong protested. “I’ve done this problem before!”
Lu Xiu glanced at the problem, calculated for a few seconds in his head, and then let him be.
“What do you study?” Jiang Hong asked curiously. “Your math is really good. Did you take the college entrance exam too?”
“I study exorcism,” Lu Xiu replied.
Jiang Hong exclaimed, “An exorcist can also tutor math.”
“I never expected this! I studied exorcism and now I have to tutor you in math! Hurry up and solve the problems! Don’t get distracted!”
Lu Xiu was about to go crazy, but Jiang Hong immediately composed himself and started writing seriously. He had already done more than half of the questions, and the test was done quickly since the question types were usually similar every year. Occasionally, when he encountered a problem he didn’t know how to solve, Lu Xiu would patiently explain it to him.
At noon, Jiang Hong left the Starbucks to get lunch for both of them. After they finished eating, Jiang Hong forced himself to focus and finished the test at two o’clock.
“You’re not stupid.” Lu Xiu frowned. “How did you only get this many points in the college entrance exam?”
Jiang Hong muttered to himself, “Before the exam, my dad hired a tutor for me, and my scores did improve significantly. Maybe I just didn’t perform well on the test day. But you’re really smart. How do you know so much? I don’t even know…”
Lu Xiu was simply a top student, with every aspect of him being exceptional. Jiang Hong really admired him.
“You don’t know what?”
“Huh?” Jiang Hong thought briefly, then said, “I feel like I’ve known you for a long time, but it’s only been a day. Wait for me, where are you going?”
Lu Xiu walked out of the coffee shop and waited for a bus on the roadside, and Jiang Hong followed him.
“Can I follow you?” Jiang Hong didn’t know where to go. He just wanted to follow Lu Xiu.
“Don’t ask so many questions. Just follow me.”
“Then answer my question first…”
“I can’t conjure a fireball, it’s broad daylight. I can’t use magic in front of you. It’s not necessary right now, and using magic would attract the attention of exorcist inspectors. If you can’t remember our meeting, then it’s better not to let you remember. I don’t know why they’re after you, but I’m going to confirm if they’ve caught the wrong person. I don’t know who they’re looking for.”
Lu Xiu finally answered all of Jiang Hong’s questions directly and quickly. He added, “Lastly, the job of an exorcist is to hunt demons. Got it?”
“Oh, then why is it called an exorcist, not a demon hunter?”
“Okay, I won’t ask anymore.”
Jiang Hong felt increasingly admiring of Lu Xiu. Not only was he tall and handsome, but he was also so cool and a top student!
The admiration of a guy for another guy was always very direct. Jiang Hong’s emotions were overwhelming, and all the words he wanted to say turned into him jumping on Lu Xiu’s back and excitedly shouting, “Brother! You’re so cool! You’re so handsome!”
“Get off! This is our bus stop!”
Lu Xiu got off the bus, walked quickly through Liberation Monument, and turned into an alley.
“I know this area well.” Jiang Hong grew up around here. He said, “Where are we going? To Eighteen Ladders?”
“From now on, don’t ask anything,” Lu Xiu replied.
Eighteen Ladders was undergoing renovation. It was a long staircase that extended from the half-city height to the foot of the mountain, and looked like a ladder to the sky when viewed from the bottom of the mountain. There were countless small paths winding back and forth on both sides, like a lush tree.
Lu Xiu led Jiang Hong and quickly walked down from the top of the stairs. Vendors were selling vegetables and fruits with their baskets on both sides of the stairs.
After walking less than one third of the stairs, Lu Xiu stopped, seeming a bit hesitant. There was a hotpot restaurant on the side of the road, and it was closing time.
“Is this the hotpot restaurant?” Lu Xiu muttered to himself.
An aunt was embroidering outside the restaurant. She looked up, saying, “Walk through the tables and go straight ahead.”
“Thank you.” Lu Xiu nodded and led Jiang Hong through the messy tables, heading towards the depths of the alley.
Jiang Hong followed closely behind, and suddenly they were back on Eighteen Ladders.
“What’s going on?” Jiang Hong wondered.
Lu Xiu walked ahead and raised his hand without looking back, indicating not to ask questions.
Jiang Hong thought he was seeing ghosts. He had just come from there, so how could they be back on Eighteen Ladders?
Lu Xiu counted the steps, “Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen…twenty.” He stepped onto a certain step and turned right. Jiang Hong suddenly found that all the people on the roadside had disappeared at some point!
There was no one on the steps, and a quiet and mossy alley lay in front of them.
After passing through that alley, Lu Xiu let go of Jiang Hong’s hand. They stood side by side outside the alley, and Jiang Hong found that he was back on level ground, with Jialing River on one side. They were on a certain section of Binjiang Road!
The space had undergone a strange displacement, as if he was going down ten floors of stairs at an entrance and coming out on ground level. Well…but for Chongqing, this was not strange.
Jiang Hong finally got a taste of the “Magical 3D Chongqing” that was spoken of by people outside the region.
Before him and Lu Xiu appeared a building from the Republican era, flanked on both sides by dense gingko trees. It was mid-summer and the leaves of the gingko trees were a vivid green under the sunlight. Wind blew across the river, and waterfowl could be seen on the surface.
Jiang Hong was incredibly shocked, looking at the three-story Republican-era building in front of him. It had a gilded sign hanging outside that read: “Chinese Exorcist Committee, Chongqing Branch.”
1. Cricket – cricket is ququ in Chinese. Big and black is heiququ. Lu Xiu misheard Jiang Hong and didn’t understand why he mentioned crickets all of a sudden.