Outside the Military Patriotic Education and Demonstration Base in the western part of Shaanxi Province, on Qinling Mountains.
“I’ll leave you here. I won’t be able to visit you for the next six days,” said Lu Xiu as he rode his Kawasaki H2. He took off his helmet and didn’t get off his bike. He turned to Jiang Hong, who was still a bit sleepy. Jiang Hong had slept on Lu Xiu’s back during the entire trip after a poor night’s sleep after getting off the plane last night.
“Okay,” Jiang Hong replied, thinking about the next six days of military training without Lu Xiu.
“Take care of yourself. Call me if you have any trouble,” Lu Xiu said.
Jiang Hong stood outside the military camp and watched him for a while before saying, “You can go back now. I’m sorry for causing you so much trouble these past few days.”
Lu Xiu looked at him quietly. Jiang Hong gestured for him to leave. Lu Xiu didn’t leave, as if he had something to say to him.
“What’s wrong?” Jiang Hong asked.
Lu Xiu said, “You haven’t returned my helmet. Do you want to wear it for military training?”
Jiang Hong hesitated for a moment before taking off his helmet and giving it to him. Lu Xiu suddenly accelerated and drove away with a “vroom”.
After a recent rainfall, the ground in the camp was damp, and the air was very fresh. Before returning, Jiang Hong did some mental preparation to remain calm when he saw the demons… but he still felt a bit scared when he entered his dorm room.
He slowly pushed open the door and saw…
One human and two demons were lying on the bed. Jin was reading a book, Zhang Xiting was chatting on WeChat, and He Jian was lying on the bed with his eyes closed.
In the next room, Chang Jun and another boy named Xiao Pi were discussing something. Chang Jun was showing Xiao Pi a shiny bug he had caught from somewhere.
“Oh, you’re back!” Jin noticed Jiang Hong first with the corner of his eye and was a bit surprised. He didn’t expect him to come back.
Zhang Xiting quickly responded, “Welcome back!”
Everyone was taking a nap and applauded when they saw Jiang Hong. When Chang Jun saw Jiang Hong, he clapped along and crushed the bug in his hand instantly.
“Ah!” Xiao Pi and Jiang Hong shouted at the same time.
“You killed it!” Xiao Pi exclaimed in despair.
Everyone gathered around and bombarded him with questions. He Jian also woke up and asked, “Have you finished dealing with the things at home?”
“It’s done,” Jiang Hong replied and exchanged a knowing glance with Zhang Xiting, as if they had reached some kind of agreement. Then everyone began to study the bug that Chang Jun had killed, as if Jiang Hong’s arrival and departure were just a small episode.
It rained this morning, so everyone had nothing to do. In the afternoon, the instructor started a 30-kilometer run, and everyone complained bitterly. However, they were not complaining about “why do we have to run so far,” but because it rained in the mountains and they got covered in mud after the run, making it difficult to wash their clothes when they got back.
Jiang Hong didn’t complain, and after leaving the camp, he started running with everyone else.
The instructor rode a three-wheeled motorcycle, with counselor Hu Qingquan sitting beside him, supervising their movements.
“If you can’t run anymore, don’t force yourself!” Hu Qingquan shouted at them through a megaphone. “You can take a leave of absence at any time!”
Everyone turned back, each with their own thoughts.
“Why are you back again?” Zhang Xiting and Jiang Hong caught up with the team and ran slowly. Zhang Xiting whispered, “Didn’t they make you smell the pollen of the Lihun Flower?”
“Well, it’s a long story…” Jiang Hong thought that they had plenty of time to run 30 kilometers, so he started telling Zhang Xiting the whole story, since Cao Bin didn’t ask him to keep it a secret. He only skimmed over the fact that Lu Xiu was a dragon, and didn’t mention anything about his past life with Jiang Hong. He knew what that “big and black thing” was now, after his memory was restored.
After listening to the whole story, Zhang Xiting was shocked and pondered for a moment before saying, “Is that so? Lu Xiu didn’t say anything to you.”
“Yeah,” Jiang Hong wanted to say that Lu Xiu was indeed a very good and gentle person, even though he always looked serious most of the time. But upon closer thought, Lu Xiu wasn’t always polite to everyone, only to him.
“And he’s too powerful,” Jiang Hong continued. “Stronger than those exorcists.”
“Because he’s a dragon,” Zhang Xiting said, “Don’t you know?”
Jiang Hong pretended to be surprised and said, “Isn’t that very rare?”
Zhang Xiting said, “Nowadays, there are only two dragons known in the world, and the other one is our principal Xiang. But I heard that he disappeared through some strange means, using time-traveling technology.”
Jiang Hong was deeply shocked and didn’t know whether to ask about the dragons or time travel.
“So that’s why everyone is afraid of him!” Jiang Hong understood.
“It’s not just because of that.” Zhang Xiting clearly didn’t know much about the school’s affairs as he was not a gossiping person. He could only piece together what he had heard from others and his own speculations to come to a conclusion. “You should know more than anyone else since you are close to him…”
“You two! Stop chatting there!” The instructor rode over on a tricycle, and Hu Qingquan had disappeared somewhere. The instructor used the counselor’s megaphone and shouted, “There are still two and a half hours left! The sun is going down, and you’ve only run a little over a kilometer! Hurry up!”
The two of them turned back and shouted, “Got it.”
Zhang Xiting clearly didn’t take running seriously and said, “They are looking for the Sword of Wisdom.”
“What is the Sword of Wisdom?”
“It’s a sacred artifact of the school,” Zhang Xiting said. “Left behind by its original owner. Only it can seal demons. They say the Sword of Wisdom is in the school, but it hasn’t been seen for several years…”
Suddenly, Jiang Hong remembered something and asked, “Do all the students in this school have extraordinary skills?”
“Um…” Zhang Xiting said, “Most human students have skills that are passed down in their families, and even the demons can do a few tricks. But don’t worry, using spells is strictly prohibited outside of class, and no one will bully you. If anyone gives you trouble, Jin and I will take care of them…”
“But I don’t have any skills,” Jiang Hong said.
Zhang Xiting ran alongside Jiang Hong. He had originally intended to say that Jiang Hong would learn after attending classes, but he suddenly changed his mind and exclaimed, “Who said you don’t have any skills?”
“I really don’t…” Jiang Hong said.
“You can summon a dragon!” Zhang Xiting said. “Summon a dragon, bro! Who dares to bully you? It’s already good enough if you don’t bully others!”
Jiang Hong thought about it and realized it was true, but he still argued, “But even if I summon Lu Xiu, he won’t help me beat people up.”
Zhang Xiting looked at Jiang Hong as if he were an idiot, and Jiang Hong gave up on arguing.
“Actually, not everyone is as powerful as you think,” Zhang Xiting comforted him. “Later, you’ll see a lot of trash. That being said, during the annual martial arts competition, you might even rank in the top ten of your grade… no, top three! After all, you can summon a dragon to beat them up at any time.”
“There’s a martial arts competition?!” Jiang Hong was suddenly frightened. What kind of strange school was this?!
Zhang Xiting thought for a moment and corrected himself, “No, I think you can definitely get first place. Who can beat a graduate student? And a graduate student who’s also a dragon!”
Running through the dense jungle and entering Linjiang Mountain road, there were almost no vehicles here. Occasionally, a few pickups carrying agricultural products passed by, and the air was refreshing with a pleasant breeze. Jiang Hong and Zhang Xiting were running when they stumbled upon the first rest stop.
“Ah, so tired.” A teenager wearing the same camouflage outfit as them was panting and hunched over on the roadside. “I’m so hungry.”
“Xiao Pi?” Jiang Hong recognized the person as a neighbor from the next dormitory.
“You guys go ahead…” Xiao Pi was exhausted. Jiang Hong couldn’t help but wonder, weren’t you supposed to be a demon? How could your stamina be this poor?!
Zhang Xiting reminded them, “We are the last three.”
“You guys go first,” Xiao Pi said. “Let me be the last one. It’s okay. There always has to be someone who is the last.”
Zhang Xiting was friendly towards demons, but could only maintain his composure on the surface. He gestured to Jiang Hong if he wanted to go first. Jiang Hong thought for a moment and said, “Let’s go together. We’re both going to be last anyway. It doesn’t matter.”
Although Jiang Hong didn’t know what kind of demon Xiao Pi was, as long as he didn’t see any strange-shaped heads on people’s necks, he could pretend he didn’t know. So, he dragged Xiao Pi along and started to jog slowly.
“Usually when you meet,” Zhang Xiting seemed to see Jiang Hong’s confusion and said, “unless necessary, don’t ask the other person what kind of demon they are.”
Jiang Hong nodded, guessing that this was an unspoken etiquette. Zhang Xiting further explained, “Haven’t you noticed? Even the most powerful demon still desires to be a human deep down.”
“It seems so.” Jiang Hong understood that humans seemed to have an inherent, vague feeling of superiority towards other races. After demons transformed, they also took pride in being human-like. Combined with the night when he accidentally saw Chang Jun’s true form – perhaps demons, like humans losing their clothes, felt embarrassed when their true form was exposed?
Xiao Pi then said, “Jiang Hong, your stamina is so good! I told my dad I didn’t want to attend military training. Why don’t we just escape and come back after it’s over?”
“Since we’re here,” Zhang Xiting said, “you might as well train!”
Jiang Hong laughed. “I’m here for you guys!”
Xiao Pi was also straightforward and said, “But we’ve only known each other for a few days, right? We haven’t talked much.”
Jiang Hong: “…”
Just then, a bird nearly the height of a person descended from the sky, flapping its wings and saving Jiang Hong from his awkwardness.
Jiang Hong looked up and was shocked!
That’s a crane! It’s impossible for a crane to appear here! It’s too elegant! Its slender neck, silver claws, large and perfect feathers, bright eyes, and colorful eye shadow! Its slender golden beak and a small tuft of light blue fluff on its forehead… it’s simply a mythical beast!
The next moment, the crane folded its wings and fell directly to the ground, lying in the middle of the road. It opened its beak and made a familiar sound –
“I’m so tired… can’t fly anymore,” said He Jian.
Zhang Xiting: “…”
Jiang Hong: “……………”
The crane raised its head and looked at the three of them.
“Can you carry me for a while?” The crane spoke in He Jian’s voice.
“You’ve only flown less than three kilometers!” Zhang Xiting said.
“Flying is more tiring than running,” the crane replied.
“The ground is dirty! Get up quickly!” Jiang Hong said.
The crane glowed and turned back into human form. It was He Jian wearing camouflage clothing.
Uh… where did your clothes come from? Jiang Hong wondered, if a demon turns into a human and then back into a demon, wouldn’t they be naked? Why did the clothes change with them?
He Jian was hopeless, lying horizontally in the middle of the mountain road, looking at Jiang Hong and Zhang Xiting with empty eyes.
“Can you carry me?” He Jian said. “I’ll repay you.”
The three of them silently bypassed He Jian and continued running forward. After a while, He Jian caught up with them, panting.
“You guys are so heartless! We’re roommates!” He Jian said.
“Where’s Jin?” Jiang Hong said. “Let him carry you.”
“He’s in front. Just keep running slowly,” He Jian said.
“Our dormitory is probably going to be the last one,” Zhang Xiting said helplessly.
Now Jiang Hong believed Zhang Xiting’s words, it seemed that there were still a lot of useless people among their classmates.
While they were running, they bumped into some other people from their dormitory. Jiang Hong couldn’t tell if they were human or demons, so he had to infer from Zhang Xiting’s attitude that they were all humans. Zhang Xiting took the initiative to say hello and chat while running, showing that they were all humans.
“If he nods and doesn’t speak anymore, it’s usually a demon.”
Soon, there were more than 20 people in Jiang Hong’s team, with Jiang Hong leading the pack and chatting along the way. Jiang Hong had run several half and full marathons during high school, taking just over two hours for the half-marathon and four hours for the full marathon, including an extra ten kilometers.
“Thirty kilometers!” Xiao Pi wailed. “I’ve never run this far since I was born.”
Another boy patted him. “Since everyone else can do it, you can too!”
Jiang Hong said, “The second half is downhill. It will be much easier! Let’s keep the pace and adjust our breathing! We’ve already run ten kilometers!”
When they reached the 17th kilometer, they climbed to the top of Qinling Mountains, with a beautiful view in the distance, and more than 40 students waiting for them to rest and chat. The instructor had put out sports drinks in a pavilion for them to help themselves.
“Alright, let’s go!” Jiang Hong said. “We’ll definitely make it to the campsite before it gets dark! Keep it up!”
Then, under Jiang Hong’s leadership, a large group of people ran down the mountain. Most of the way down was downhill, and Jiang Hong spread his arms and enjoyed the mountain breeze rushing towards him.
“Wow!” he shouted, running fast, and the young boys followed, feeling like they were riding a roller coaster, rushing down from the mountaintop.
Without realizing it, it was already 5:50 pm, and the last trace of sunset appeared on the horizon. The world was gently covered by the shadows of the mountains, as if a night blanket had been laid over it.
“We’re finally back!” Jiang Hong shouted.
Everyone arrived at the camp without anyone falling behind, and they couldn’t even speak, each resting in their place.
Hu Qingquan was counting the number of people and smiled at Jiang Hong, saying nothing.
Jiang Hong stood on the side, breathing heavily. Someone came over, panting, and said to him, “Thank you, Jiang Hong.”
Jiang Hong looked up and saw two boys from the neighboring dormitory. The one with glasses was named Wang Lang, and the other was Zuo Weichen. They slapped him on the back. Jiang Hong smiled, knowing that they were thanking him for leading the way, or else they would have fallen behind.
“Thank you.” Someone else came over and slapped him on the back. Most of the ones left behind were actually demons. The humans seemed to have a strong sense of honor and didn’t want to lose to the demons, so they were all pushing themselves to run ahead.
“Thanks.” People who knew him or didn’t know him passed by, each raising their hand to slap him on the back.
At this moment, Jiang Hong felt very happy.
But when they returned to the dormitory, they weren’t as happy anymore. Everyone was lying in bed, groaning.
“What number are you?” Zhang Xiting asked Jin, who had already taken a shower and was lying in bed.
Jin held up one finger, shocking Jiang Hong.
No one wanted to eat dinner, and they all lay there like corpses.
“I really want to go to the hot springs in Xi’an,” Xiao Pi said. “Let’s go to Lishan.”
“Please spare me…” Chang Jun groaned.
“Don’t say it!” Everyone unanimously condemned Xiao Pi.
That night, Jiang Hong didn’t even know how he fell asleep. The next morning, until 9 o’clock, everyone was still lying in bed and no one wanted to get up. Fortunately, the instructor was tactful enough not to arrange physical training for them anymore, and only had them do some simple exercises. After teaching them military boxing, he let everyone have a free day.
Over the next five days, Jiang Hong experienced what it was like to undergo military training in a cramming style… military boxing, firearms shooting, singing… The instructor would quickly inspect their results after teaching them.
“I feel like I can’t do anything well, sigh.” Xiao Pi was peeling cabbage in the kitchen, and Jiang Hong was peeling potatoes on the side. Today it was their turn to help with the cooking, while the rest of the students were marching outside.
Jiang Hong said, “I feel the same way.”
Xiao Pi said, “Even the dishes we cook as helpers taste worse than everyone else’s.”
Jiang Hong replied, “I’ll eat more of it…”
Xiao Pi was very clean and handsome, with a baby face and exceptionally beautiful features. He had a naturally adorable and likable younger brother vibe, with thick eyebrows and bright eyes. Any male student in this school could be considered a campus idol if placed in Jiang Hong’s high school. Why did everyone look so handsome? Because they were demons and could easily change their appearance anytime?
However, most of the humans were also good-looking. Was ot because they were all absorbing the spiritual energy of the heavens and the earth?
Of course, if it’s about looks, Lu Xiu was still the most handsome.
Jiang Hong felt a little lost. He realized that he had gone to college, but he seemed to be last in everything he did. Yesterday, when they practiced boxing, Jin and He Jian learned it after only one round, while everyone else could easily pick it up, even Zhang Xiting. Only Jiang Hong had to practice it three times from beginning to end, and the instructor had to demonstrate it to him separately.
“I’m always the last one,” Jiang Hong said gloomily. “Last in everything. Oh, but you’re right. There must always be someone who comes in last.”
Last in boxing, the lowest score in shooting. Jiang Hong was better at music and running. But when it came to singing, He Jian sang the best, with a wide range and a beautiful voice. Even in the marathon, which Jiang Hong was good at, he still came in last in the group.
“My dad has high expectations for me, and he’ll nag at me when I go back,” Xiao Pi lamented.
“Don’t tell him then,” Jiang Hong comforted.
“The counselor will tell him,” Xiao Pi said hopelessly. “I’m so miserable.”
Jiang Hong thought, “The counselor won’t call and notify everyone’s parents about their child coming in last place in military training, will they?”
Xiao Pi said, “My dad is a teacher in the school. The dean of education, Xuan Hezhi.”
“Ah!” Jiang Hong said, “I’ve met him! Wait…”
Wasn’t his dad human? How come he was a demon?! Was there no reproductive isolation? He immediately began to imagine a poignant and touching story.
“Now I’m in last place,” Jiang Hong said. “You’re in second to last place, but it’s not too bad.”
“Uh-huh.” Xiao Pi replied somewhat listlessly. “If you weren’t waiting for me, you wouldn’t have run so slowly.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jiang Hong said helplessly. “Without waiting for you, I wouldn’t be able to reach first place either.”
“If you could reach first place, would you wait for me?” Xiao Pi asked.
Jiang Hong thought for a moment and said, “I would still wait, because there’s no money to be won in first place.”
“You’re too kind,” Xiao Pi said with starry eyes. “What if there was money to be won?”
“It would depend on how much money…” Jiang Hong said.
“How much money would be enough for you to wait for me?” Xiao Pi asked.
“Can you stop being so particular?” Jiang Hong said.
The military training ended in a pouring rainstorm. On the last day, Jiang Hong talked with Hu Qingquan for half an hour about why he decided to come back and continue studying to become an exorcist. Hu Qingquan was clearly aware of most of what had happened from Cao Bin, but he reminded Jiang Hong of some things to watch out for at school, such as not using spells recklessly, otherwise he would be punished, and fighting would result in expulsion.
But if necessary, it could be used, and it could be appealed afterwards.
“You’re thinking too much,” Jiang Hong said helplessly. “I don’t even know how to use spells.”
“You will be taught later,” Hu Qingquan said calmly. “As long as you have spiritual veins, you can learn them. Just be careful.”
Jiang Hong was looking forward to it, but he felt a little embarrassed when he saw the military training form in Hu Qingquan’s hand. He was last in every category…
“The score doesn’t matter,” Hu Qingquan said. “It’s just for reference after school starts. You’re studying mechanical and electronic engineering, which is also known as modern exorcism…”
Jiang Hong was still a little uncomfortable and didn’t understand how “mechanical and electronic engineering” and “modern” could be so strangely combined with “exorcism.”
“I actually prefer studying exorcism,” Jiang Hong said. “I think I chose the wrong major.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Hu Qingquan said. “If you’re qualified, you have a chance to change majors later. But I suggest you study modern exorcism and lay a good foundation for the future…”
“…and you will also learn some spells,” Hu Qingquan concluded. “Study hard and protect human peace. Since you performed well in military training, the school has decided to give you an award.”
“Are you mocking me?” Jiang Hong finally exploded when he heard this. “Instructor, I would feel ashamed!”
“No, no, no!” Hu Qingquan quickly explained. “You misunderstood!”
That afternoon, the awards ceremony was held, and dorm 903 won four awards. One was the “long-legged runner” award, won by Jin for coming in first place in the cross-country race.
Jiang Hong received the “loving and caring” trophy because he didn’t give up on the falling behind students and led more than sixty people to complete the thirty-kilometer race together, becoming a collective last place.
Zhang Xiting received the title of “military god” because he remained calm and composed during simulated battle, leading 903 and 904 dormitories to counterattack in adversity and capture the high ground.
He Jian received a “nostalgic singer” trophy because he sang well.
However, Jiang Hong suddenly realized that it seemed like everyone had received an award. Four classmates in the same dormitory as him, including himself, had each received a trophy. Chang Jun was awarded “kitchen god” because the dishes he made during cooking day were delicious. Xiao Pi was awarded “doing good deeds daily” because he often helped others. The other two boys, one named Wang Lang, was awarded the title “chess god,” and the other named Zuo Weichen received the “star of agility” award because he not only dodged the instructor’s sudden attack during military boxing class, but also knocked down the instructor.
Xiao Pi’s father, who was also the dean, came to the dormitory to present the awards, ensuring that everyone received an award and that no one was left out.
“When you look at the edge of your trophy’s base, there is a gold-plated edge that is different from everyone else’s. Don’t tell anyone,” Xuan Hezhi reminded Jiang Hong in a low voice as he shook his hand and presented the award.
Jiang Hong thought to himself, “Does this matter? Why are you guys so boring…”
And so, Jiang Hong’s military training came to a successful end. On the bus leaving Qinling Mountains, everyone sang songs. The counselor, Hu Qingquan, even took them to the city for a meal, where they enjoyed buffet hotpot.
The new semester’s life began again, full of challenges, as they left the isolated Qinling Mountains, with blurry scenery on the mountain roads.