“Let’s go out first.” Xuan Hezhi seemed a little scared of him.
Cao Bin nodded. Xuan Hezhi made eye contact with Lu Xiu and led him out of the office, closing the door.
“Would you like something to drink?” Cao Bin asked. “Whiskey on the rocks okay?”
“No, no,” Jiang Hong hurriedly declined. “I don’t drink much.”
“Iced plum juice?” Cao Bin asked again. “It’s refreshing.”
Jiang Hong nodded and watched Cao Bin pour the drinks. He had a feeling that this office was the safest place in the world.
“These past few days, I was reporting to the Exorcist Committee in Lingjing Hutong,” Cao Bin said. “I just got back to school after receiving Xuan Hezhi’s call. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Cao Bin handed Jiang Hong his drink and poured himself a glass of whiskey on the rocks. He raised his glass and smiled. His smile was very handsome, and once again Jiang Hong felt reassured.
“It’s not appropriate to drink during work hours,” Cao Bin said, “but it’s still summer vacation, so let’s just ignore the school rules for now.”
Jiang Hong also raised his glass.
Cao Bin said, “I understand your situation. If you don’t want to enrol as an exorcist, there’s no problem. You are the first case since the school was founded, but when the school was founded, emergency plans were also set up for such special situations.”
“How long has the school been open?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Not long, less than ten years,” Cao Bin said. “They bought this school from another place. I am not the first vice principal, and I have only been in this position for just over three years.”
Jiang Hong nodded, hesitated for a moment, and raised his eyebrows, as if to ask a question.
“What is it?” Cao Bin said. “Do you think I’m going to persuade you to stay?”
“I thought… um… yes, I didn’t expect…” Jiang Hong said.
This vice principal looked serious but was unexpectedly easygoing.
“As an exorcist, you need to have the wisdom to respect facts,” Cao Bin said. “This wisdom is to ask yourself, ‘What are the facts? What is the truth supported by the facts?’ when we face difficulties and choices. The truth is not changed by what you ‘think it should be’ or ‘hope it will be’.”
“That’s right, it is like that,” Jiang Hong said.
“The decision has already been made in your heart. That is the fact, and persuading you repeatedly is meaningless,” Cao Bin said. “We respect other people’s decisions and we also respect the facts themselves.”
Jiang Hong felt relieved.
“But it takes some time to go through the reset process,” Cao Bin said. “Once you’ve made up your mind, sign here.”
“What reset process?” Jiang Hong felt a bit scared.
“The existence of exorcists, demons, magic, and many supernatural phenomena needs to be kept secret from the outside world,” Cao Bin said seriously. “I believe you are aware of this.”
“Yes, yes,” Jiang Hong said proactively. “I grew up not having seen ghosts or demons, so it’s evident that the confidentiality work is done well.”
Cao Bin said, “It’s not always the case, but accidents do happen from time to time. However, it’s not important. If you decide to return to your normal life, we will use a little trick to make you forget this short period of time, including from the moment you received the admission notice to the moment you arrived home.”
“Ah?” Jiang Hong was a little confused. “Can I not forget these things? I promise not to tell anyone.”
Cao Bin shrugged and made a helpless gesture. “This is not only for the school but also for your own good.”
Jiang Hong said, “I can sign a confidentiality agreement or something…”
Cao Bin said seriously, “You can keep it to yourself, but our enemies may use unconventional means to obtain information about the school from you. You don’t want to be targeted, do you?”
“Oh, is that so?” Jiang Hong thought, there were enemies? Could they be bad demons? To be honest, he was a little curious. Why were there demons in this school that trained exorcists? Were there so many demons and ghosts on the vast land of China that they were needed to maintain peace?
However, these things had nothing to do with him anymore.
“Okay.” Jiang Hong felt a little regretful, but he still accepted it.
“The school will send a senior student to escort you home,” Cao Bin said. “After signing your name, you can prepare to leave. At that time, the Exorcist Committee will weave a memory for you, mainly that you didn’t get into your ideal college after the college entrance exam and decided to retake it. During the summer vacation, you came to Xi’an for a trip. Your family and friends’ memories during that period will also be modified.”
“Okay.” Jiang Hong thought that the committee was really powerful. They could even modify memories?
“Take a look at the consent form.” Cao Bin took a sip of his drink and joked, “Make sure you read it carefully this time.”
The consent form stated that Jiang Hong voluntarily withdrew from school and returned to his hometown to retake the college entrance exam. There was also a compensation clause. As compensation for the mistake caused by the admissions office’s failure to verify his information, after Jiang Hong passed the exam and entered another university, the university would communicate with his new school to award him a scholarship of 60,000 RMB over four years.
Of course, by that time, Jiang Hong should have no idea what had happened and would only see it as good luck.
“I don’t need the money,” Jiang Hong said hurriedly. “I misunderstood, so I have some responsibility too.”
Cao Bin said, “It’s okay. It’s just a little something to show our apology for delaying your time and delaying your admission to a good university.”
After a moment of contemplation, Jiang Hong spoke, “If I choose to go home, will I forget about my roommates and Senior Lu Xiu?”
“Yes,” Cao Bin politely replied. “You are people from two different worlds, and it’s best not to have any intersection. Although it violates the rules, they might visit you with another identity in the future. After all, your family and Lu Xiu are old friends, and he looked after you to repay a favor.”
“What?!” Jiang Hong was shocked to hear this while signing his name. “When did this happen? I had no idea!”
Cao Bin said, “Maybe you weren’t even born yet? After people die, their souls reincarnate between heaven and earth. Who can say for sure if the other person is the same as before? Coming and going are just memories in the end…”
Jiang Hong looked at Cao Bin, who was holding a glass of whisky and looking out the window. At dusk, a splendid rainbow appeared in the sky, like a ribbon spanning the sky and connecting with the earth.
“…In the end, so-called bonds are just attachments.” Cao Bin turned his head, looked at Jiang Hong, walked over to shake his hand, and said, “I wish you all the best in the future.”
Jiang Hong nodded. “Tha…thank you.”
After signing his name, Jiang Hong left the office, and Lu Xiu was waiting for him outside.
Xuan Hezhi nodded at Jiang Hong and then went inside.
Lu Xiu said, “I’ll take you home. You have anything to pack?”
Suddenly, Jiang Hong said, “I want to go see my roommates in military training. Can I?”
After a moment of thought, Lu Xiu nodded. Jiang Hong said, “I’m sorry. Am I being too sentimental?”
“No,” Lu Xiu replied, leading Jiang Hong downstairs to get his helmet.
“Will you take me on your motorcycle?” Jiang Hong asked in surprise.
“Didn’t you want a ride?” Lu Xiu got on the motorcycle and signaled for him to get on. “You won’t have the chance in the future. Come on.”
So Jiang Hong got on, holding Lu Xiu’s waist. Lu Xiu accelerated, rushing out with a roar.
In the vice-principal’s office, Cao Bin looked helpless as he watched Xuan Hezhi.
“I really didn’t expect it to turn out this way. It was already difficult to meet this year’s enrollment quota…” Xuan Hezhi said.
“I’m not blaming you for indiscriminate enrollment,” Cao Bin said. “It’s just that if you had paid attention and clarified things beforehand, we wouldn’t have ended up like this. How could you not clarify even this kind of thing?”
Xuan Hezhi stood in front of the desk, obediently receiving the reprimand.
Cao Bin sighed. “It’s a pity for that child. He had good potential. Look at you, look at all of you. Even recruiting students can cause teaching accidents!” Cao Bin held a stack of documents and wanted to beat Xuan Hezhi, who quickly avoided.
“How’s the investigation going on the veins of the earth?” Xuan Hezhi asked again.
“No progress at all.” Cao Bin breathed a long sigh, loosened his tie, and sat heavily back on his swivel chair, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Ah—” The strong wind blew. Jiang Hong sat on the motorcycle. and opened his arms, as if playing roller coasters.
Lu Xiu was speeding crazily, as if venting something, and had reached a speed of 200 miles per hour on his Kawasaki H2. Jiang Hong went from excited to scared when everything suddenly turned into a Gaussian blur. He hugged Lu Xiu tightly, shouting, “Slow down, slow down, senior!”
The motorcycle was running on a mountain road, and a little carelessness would make them fly out and fall into the river. Jiang Hong was clinging to Lu Xiu’s back and felt that the two of them could almost hear each other’s heartbeat.
When they arrived at their destination outside the military camp, it was almost completely dark. Lu Xiu still had the same expressionless look, sitting on the motorcycle, waiting for Jiang Hong to say goodbye.
Lu Xiu had notified the counselor in advance, and the three roommates from Room 903 had come to the fence to meet him.
“Are you okay?” He Jian asked worriedly. “Everyone followed your example and said that the intensity of military training is too great. The freshmen are all mentally collapsing. Today, the instructor let us watch TV in an air-conditioned room all day.”
Jiang Hong: “…”
However, Zhang Xiting seemed to have guessed something, and looked at Jiang Hong for a moment.
Jin asked, “Are you feeling unwell?”
“Um…” Jiang Hong thought for a moment and didn’t mention that he was dropping out. He had only known his roommates for three days, and although the friendship was not deep, he felt that everyone was scary…but also good to him. They had never bullied him before, and he suddenly felt reluctant to leave.
“My family has some things to deal with,” Jiang Hong said. “I have to go back quickly.”
“Need any help?” Jin asked.
Jiang Hong quickly shook his head, indicating that it was unnecessary. Jin said, “Contact me on WeChat if you need anything.”
“Okay.” Jiang Hong nodded.
Whistle blew in the barracks, reminding them to take a shower quickly. Jin clearly didn’t care much and left with He Jian first, leaving Zhang Xiting and Jiang Hong facing each other.
“Let me guess,” Zhang Xiting said, “they got the wrong person, didn’t they? You’re a normal person? How did you get in?”
Zhang Xiting actually guessed almost everything. He was too smart.
Lu Xiu, who was riding on the motorcycle on the side of the road, turned his head and glanced at him, seemingly warning him.
“Not really, but it’s close enough.” Jiang Hong also whispered, “I don’t know anything, and I was really scared at first.”
“Go back,” Zhang Xiting said. “It’s good to go back and live your own life. When I have time, I will come to see you. By then, you may not remember me.”
Upon hearing these words, Jiang Hong felt a little sad, but Zhang Xiting laughed and said, “We can still be friends again. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” When Jiang Hong heard these words, he felt happy again. He and Zhang Xiting high-fived through the fence. Zhang Xiting waved his hand gracefully and returned to the barracks.
On this moonlit night, Jiang Hong felt very lost. He slowly walked back to Lu Xiu, climbed onto the motorcycle, and on the way back, Lu Xiu drove slowly, as if he wanted to show him the magnificent rivers and mountains under the moonlight. The world was all silver and every leaf shimmered under the moonlight, like countless waves floating and sinking in the vast sea of spiritual energy.
The next day, Jiang Hong packed his luggage and waited with Lu Xiu at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. Lu Xiu began to check Jiang Hong’s phone, deleting all the school contacts that had been added and clearing the browsing history of the school website.
After leaving the military camp last night, Lu Xiu had hardly said a word.
“Senior,” Jiang Hong said, “how much is the plane ticket? Let me transfer it to you.”
“The school will reimburse me,” Lu Xiu said. He looked bored, wearing sunglasses and sitting in the business class.
Jiang Hong couldn’t help but turn his head to look at him, feeling a little sorry for Lu Xiu. He also thought of what Cao Bin had said and asked, “Senior.”
Lu Xiu: “?”
Lu Xiu turned slightly, took off his sunglasses, and gestured for Jiang Hong to speak.
“Is your family and mine…old acquaintances?”
“Did the vice principal tell you? Why do you want to know?” Lu Xiu replied casually and put his sunglasses back on.
“That’s right, I won’t remember later,” Jiang Hong said. “But I still want to know.”
Lu Xiu didn’t answer. Suddenly, Jiang Hong had a thought and whispered, “Senior, are you also…a demon?”
Lu Xiu took off his sunglasses again and said, “Do you want to see?”
“No, no, no.” Jiang Hong quickly declined his kindness, afraid that something strange would appear on Lu Xiu’s collar. It was strange. He had vaguely guessed that Lu Xiu was also a demon, but he was not afraid of him at all. On the contrary, he regarded him as the most trustworthy person.
“How old are you?” Jiang Hong asked again, “Do you know my ancestors?”
“If I tell you,” Lu Xiu said, “will you go back to school?”
Jiang Hong thought about it and didn’t ask any more questions.
The plane arrived in Chongqing. The closer Jiang Hong got to home, the more he felt an inexplicable reluctance.
“Will you come to find me in the future?” Jiang Hong asked again.
“No.” Lu Xiu hailed a taxi and put Jiang Hong’s luggage in the car, sitting with him in the back seat.
“Okay,” Jiang Hong said.
Lu Xiu pressed his fingers together and looked out the car window for a moment before saying, “If I fly over Chongqing and happen to be passing by, I’ll take a look at you, but you won’t be able to spot me.”
Jiang Hong smiled sadly. “Alright.”
“Go back and retake the college entrance exam,” Lu Xiu said. “There will be other seniors to take care of you.”
Jiang Hong scratched his head. The taxi arrived at the entrance of his residential area in the evening. Everything was so familiar.
“I’m sorry, senior.” Jiang Hong dragged his suitcase and suddenly turned back to Lu Xiu, saying, “I’ve caused you so much trouble.”
Lu Xiu took off his sunglasses and silently lowered his head, looking at him.
Jiang Hong stood on the road, slowly walking back, seeming to slow down his pace, wanting to spend more time with Lu Xiu.
“A hundred and sixty years ago,” Lu Xiu suddenly said, “at the shore of Yamdrok Yumtso Lake, there was a person who conferred a seal of approval for me.”
“?” Jiang Hong turned his head and looked at Lu Xiu with an inquisitive expression.
“Do you know what a seal of approval is?” Lu Xiu said.
“What is it?” Jiang Hong knew nothing about it.
“The demons in this world, when they reach the pinnacle of their cultivation, gain the ability to ascend to another realm,” Lu Xiu said. “Some become human, and others become something else, but at the moment of breaking through the realm, they need to rely on external forces to make the final push.”
Jiang Hong stopped in his tracks, nodding blankly, not really understanding what Lu Xiu was talking about.
“As the most intelligent creatures in the world, humans are the only race that can ‘confer seals of approval’ on other things,” Lu Xiu said. “Just like naming something. Only humans give things names. After being given a name, whether it’s a living or non-living thing, it gains a ‘soul.’ All things in the world constantly grow and evolve within the realm of human cognition.”
“Oh.” Jiang Hong suddenly thought of something. “So, is that why my ancestors knew you?”
Lu Xiu did not answer directly, only explained, “A jiao (1), after practicing for many years, will finally gain the form of a dragon. But if it can’t get a seal of approval at the final point when the heavenly tribulation comes, it will be smashed to pieces and turned into a snake in the mud, and go through the difficult practice again.”
“Ah.” Jiang Hong sympathetically nodded. “That’s really difficult.”
“A hundred and sixty years ago, at the shore of Yamdrok Yumtso Lake, there was such a creature,” Lu Xiu said. “Its cultivation reached its peak, and that night, the heavenly tribulation came. Under the raging thunder, there was no one within a hundred-mile radius. The herdsmen had all hidden from the rain.”
Jiang Hong listened quietly, and Lu Xiu looked at him with clear eyes, reflecting Jiang Hong’s handsome face.
“…… But there was a young son of a local chieftain’s family who was born a fool. He was only fourteen years old that year, and for some reason, he happened to be by the side of the lake. He looked at the jiao in the calamity and laughed, saying the word ‘Kulu’ in Tibetan.”
“Kulu means dragon?” Jiang Hong guessed.
“Yes,” Lu Xiu said. “Although he was a fool, his eyes were clear. He was wearing a Tibetan robe, shouting ‘Kulu, Kulu, Kulu!’ towards the sky.”
Jiang Hong said, “Did the jiao finally succeed?”
“It did,” Lu Xiu said. “But the fool got sick after getting wet in the rain and died three days later.”
Jiang Hong thought, “But my ancestors are all Han Chinese…wait a minute, are you talking about yourself, senior? What are you? Who are you?!”
Lu Xiu continued, “There are three huns and seven po (2) in life. Memories scatter after death, but the soul returns to the celestial veins and enters the next cycle. The dragon searched everywhere and finally found him after 160 years. It’s okay, Jiang Hong. Live well… The world is a neverending cycle, and we all share the same sorrow for eternity.”
As he spoke, Lu Xiu snapped his fingers and flicked Jiang Hong’s forehead.
“Wait, senior, are you actually…”
“Everything is ephemeral.”
With Lu Xiu’s words falling, a gust of wind swept up, and Jiang Hong vaguely felt a figure appearing but then disappearing.
Jiang Hong: “???”
Jiang Hong turned around and muttered to himself, “What am I doing? Strange, ah! It’s already seven o’clock!”
Jiang Hong dragged his luggage and entered the residential area, returning to his long-lost home.
There was hot food on the table, and his parents were both at home.
“Back already?” Jiang Hong’s mother asked. “Did you have fun?”
“It was okay,” Jiang Hong said. “I’m so tired. Wow, Mom, what delicious food did you make?”
His father was looking at his phone by the table and said, “I checked a few prep courses for you. You’ve had your fun, you’ve had your break, and starting tomorrow, get ready to fight again!”
Jiang Hong nodded and went to wash his hands and eat, returning to his daily life.
1. Jiao – a type of dragon or sea serpent that is often depicted as having a long body and a horn on its head. Jiaos are considered powerful and often associated with water and rain, and are sometimes said to control the tides or cause floods. It is believed that a jiao can transform into a dragon after a certain period of time or under certain circumstances. The transformation is said to occur after a jiao has lived for a thousand years or has successfully passed a test or trial. A jiao must find a wise and just human who can judge whether it is worthy of becoming a dragon. The human may test the jiao in various ways, such as by asking it to perform tasks or demonstrate its strength or wisdom. If the jiao passes the tests and proves itself worthy, the human may grant it permission to ascend to the heavens and undergo the transformation into a dragon.
2. Three huns and seven po – in Chinese mythology and traditional Chinese beliefs, the “three huns and seven po” refer to the different aspects or components of a person’s soul. The “hun” is often translated as the “ethereal soul” and is said to leave the body after death and journey to the afterlife. The “po” is often translated as the “corporeal soul” and is said to disperse after death.