Qinchuan was bustling with activity at dawn. Before the sun was fully up in the sky, there were already cries of peddlers hawking their wares on the street. The sounds drifted to Song Ci’s ears in waves.
Song Ci’s eyeballs moved slightly as he woke up from his slumber. Blinking his heavy eyelids, he saw the peaceful sleeping face of the man beside him.
Song Ci gave a start and was instantly wide awake. When he saw that it was Rong Bai, he jerked and sat up on the bed. It was then he realized he had taken up more than half of the bed and had pushed Rong Bai towards the edge.
However, Song Ci could not remember how he had gotten onto the bed. His memory stopped at the point where he hoisted Mirror Old Man in the wine tavern. The rest of it was all a blur.
Could it be because he was totally wasted?
He leaned against the wall; he could neither leave nor stay. For a moment, he was in a spot. His gaze subconsciously fell onto Rong Bai’s sleeping face.
At this moment, his face was tranquil. His usual frosty face was now somewhat gentle, and his ink-black eyebrows were relaxed. Song Ci could not help but stare at him.
Perhaps Song Ci’s gaze was too searing. Rong Bai’s eyelashes fluttered as he slowly opened his eyes. His black eyes were thick with lethargy and sleepiness, but they gradually cleared up when they fell upon a dazed Song Ci.
“Master Rong, are you awake? Did you sleep well?” Song Ci could not continue to play dumb on seeing Rong Bai waking up, so he braced himself and spoke to him.
Rong Bai’s lips curled up in a smile, breaking the tranquility in his expression. He sat up and yawned, then gave a stretch. His movements were all very casual.
But during the time he was carrying out these actions, Song Ci was so anxious he almost broke out in a sweat. He forced a smile and said with apprehension, “Looks like you’ve slept well. ”
“It’s only natural for me to sleep soundly with you here to warm the bed for me.” Rong Bai answered in an unhurried and lazy tone, like someone who had just woken up. “It’s just that this bed is too small.”
Song Ci did not find his words questionable. It was typical for Rong Bai’s hands to be a little cold, so perhaps he really liked the warmth of bed. Still, he felt embarrassed when Rong Bai said the “bed is too small”, so he scratched his head and said. “Then, how about changing to a bigger bed next time?”
Rong Bai glanced at him. “My bed at home is extraordinarily big.”
“Then, I’ll go sleep on it some other day.” Song Ci thought Rong Bai was flaunting his own bed to him, so he answered out of politeness without thinking. But he found it odd after the words came out of his mouth, thus, he simply shut his mouth and climbed off the bed to find his own shoes and socks to wear.
Rong Bai watched as Song Ci groped around, put his clothes on one at a time, and sat at a side to tie his hair up. After tying his long black hair into a ponytail, he turned and asked Rong Bai, “Master Rong, do you know where Mirror Old Man is?”
Then he pointed to the table. “Why is his mirror here?”
On hearing him, Rong Bai lifted the quilt to get off the bed. In passing, he picked up his outer robe hanging at a side and walked over to the table. Then he stretched a hand out and tapped on the mirror. There was a gush of white light as a figure of a man emerged. When the white light scattered, Mirror Old Man was sprawled over the table snoring.
Song Ci gave him a push. “Wake up.”
Mirror Old Man was sleeping soundly, but he woke up the moment Song Ci called out to him. He sat up, rubbed his face, and looked out of the window. “Whoa, it’s already morning?”
“Why drink so much when you can’t drink. In the end, I still have to hoist you back after you’re drunk. Tell me, you…” Song Ci reproved him.
Mirror Old Man shrank back. “I’m old. It’s normal for my capacity for wine to decline. I was really good at drinking in the past!”
Song Ci said, “I can’t be bothered with you. Just return me the silver I’ve paid for the wine yesterday.”
Mirror Old Man knew Song Ci had a phobia of poverty. So to keep the peace, he hurriedly took out the silver from his bosom and handed it over to Song Ci. “Treat it as an apology. I still have to make a trip to the Feng Residence. I’ll take my leave first.”
He stood up and was about to leave when Song Ci grabbed him and said, “Hold on. We’ll go with you.”
Mirror Old Man’s expression froze, then a strangeness came over his face. But Song Ci did not notice. Instead, he turned and asked Rong Bai, “We agreed last night, didn’t we?”
Rong Bai smiled and gave a gentle nod.
Song Ci smiled too, then walked off. “Alright, I’ll wash my face first.”
After he left, the room fell into silence. Rong Bai turned his eyes towards Mirror Old Man and said out of the blue. “It’s easy to invite a deity but hard to send a deity away.”
Mirror Old Man’s complexion turned pale in an instant. He opened his mouth as if he had something to say, but the words were stuck in his throat. This went on a few times. In the end, he said nothing.
Song Ci drew water to wash his face and rinse his mouth. After tidying himself up, he informed them that he was going to get a bite. Mirror Old Man felt uneasy and made an excuse to leave, while Rong Bai and Song Ci took their time to have their breakfast before heading for the Feng Residence.
The Feng Residence was located in a favorable position in the City of Qinchuan.
There was a long river next to Huadeng Street, and the Feng Residence was on the river bank. If they stood atop the wall, they could take in the beautiful sights of half of Huadeng Street and the Bi River.
According to the people in the city, the Feng Residence had always been a wealthy family. They were already an affluent clan a few decades ago when Qinchuan was still not as prosperous as it was now. Later on, when the Head of the Feng Clan found out that the merchant trade was looked down upon by others, he spent a lot of money to buy an official rank. No one expected his son to live up to expectations and make his way up the ranks. In the end, he even used his connections to marry Feng Changyue’s eldest daughter into the palace.
Now that she was a favored concubine of the Emperor, the Feng clan grew even more prominent.
It was said that this Feng Changyue was called Feng Zhuojun when he was young. Everyone in the City of Qinchuan had heard of his name. Back then, all the maidens longed to marry him. He was not only handsome but also romantic and fascinating. He liked to take a stroll in the street with a folding fan in his hand. Whenever he saw a beautiful maiden, he would always ask after her with a smile.
Yet, no one ever found him despicable. He might be a flirt, but he had a sense of propriety. There had never been a scandalous rumor about him and a maiden. The only thing was that he was a frequent patron of the brothel and theater.
But such a decent person was kidnapped by bandits one day while he was taking a stroll outside the city. The Feng clan searched for several days before they found him. He was seriously injured and on the verge of dying. It took him more than half a year to recuperate at home before he recovered. After that, his personality underwent a big change to the extent that he even changed his name.
From then on, the charming young master became the tyrant that everyone detested.
Song Ci could not help but sigh after hearing it. He did not know what happened to Feng Changyue in those days, but for him to change his name after his return, he must have had experienced something significant enough to cause such a big change in him.
Just like Song Ci. If it was not because he had turned into a demon, he would never have given up his original surname and name.
They walked the entire way to the Feng Residence. The people’s appraisal of Feng Changyue was terrible. Song Ci felt even more uncertain the more he listened. He repeated the reason for his visit many times in his mind, but instead of being stopped or driven away like he had expected, he was respectfully invited into the residence.
Feng Changyue greeted them all the way from the main hall. He smiled on seeing them. “I heard that both of you are friends of Jing Daozhang?”1
Song Ci sized up Feng Changyue. Although he was old, he was tall, and Song Ci could still see traces of his handsomeness when he was young. Even though his face had been weathered with age, he still looked dashing.
He nodded in response and went along with Mirror Old Man’s words. “Jing Daoyou2 said the Feng Residence had encountered some trouble. So we came to have a look.”
“That’s great. I’ve invited many half-witted Daoist priests, but they were all useless. The three of you are really lifesavers!” An elated Feng Changyue practically beamed as he spoke. “I don’t know what’s wrong with my little daughter. I’m so worried about her my hairs are all falling out…”
Song Ci took a subconscious look at his hair, then cast a questioning look at Rong Bai.
Rong Bai said, “Lead us there for a look.”
Feng Changyue made a gesture of invitation to the two men and led them through the main courtyard. After passing by the hall and veranda, they came to the side courtyard of Feng Changyue’s youngest daughter.
This youngest daughter of his was named Feng Yingqiu. She was the only one in the Feng Residence who was not loathed by the people of Qinchuan. Feng Yingqiu was lively by nature, and she was kind to everyone. At sixteen years of age, she always smiled innocently and brightly at anyone she came across.
Song Ci and Rong Bai followed Feng Changyue over. Standing at the entrance of the side courtyard, they saw a building with its doors and windows closed. A servant and a maidservant stood guard at the entrance. On seeing this, Feng Changyue sighed. “She wouldn’t let anyone in. And she didn’t eat much either. If this goes on, her body will not hold out much longer.”
The words were filled with a father’s worries. Song Ci took it all in. Outsiders might say Feng Changyue was vile, but his concern for his daughter was genuine.
Rong Bai watched for a moment, then walked up to the window and tapped on it.
On seeing this, Song Ci hurried over and watched him in silence.
However, there was no response from the room. Rong Bai only knocked once before he stopped. Song Ci was puzzled, but before he could ask, he saw Mirror Old Man hurrying towards them. There was a strange expression on his face when he saw Song Ci and Rong Bai standing by the side of the window. He walked over and asked, “Little Song, Master Rong, what are you guys doing?”
Song Ci glanced at Rong Bai. Knowing that the latter would not answer, Song Ci replied, “We are here to see how Miss Feng is.”
Mirror Old Man looked anxious, but he held his emotions in check and asked, “What do you think?”
Song Ci wanted to tell him that he did not know, but on seeing Feng Changyue still staring at them from a side, he put on a different expression and said enigmatically, “Miss Feng’s situation is complicated. We need to observe her longer to find out the cause of her current state.”
Rong Bai looked at Song Ci and laughed. “Little Song Daozhang is right.”
Song Ci’s ears reddened when he heard this form of address. To conceal his embarrassment, he turned his head and asked Feng Changyue. “Clan Master Feng, tell us when Miss Feng started to become like this.”
“How about this? I’ll call Qiu-er’s3 personal maidservant over. She’s with Qiu-er all day long. She’s the one who knows the most. If there’s anything Daozhang wishes to know, you can ask her.” Feng Changyue said.
Song Ci assented to it and was about to take a step to follow Feng Changyue to the main hall when Mirror Old Man grabbed him by the sleeve. Song Ci stopped and looked back at him in puzzlement.
Noticing his little movement, Rong Bai turned to look at him. Mirror Old Man was terrified and immediately released his hand. The good thing was that Song Ci was intelligent and knew that Mirror Old Man had something to say to him. Thus, he said to Rong Bai, “Master Rong, you go on ahead, I’ll talk to Mirror Old Man.”
Rong Bai’s expression changed almost in an instant. His eyes were gentle when he turned to leave.
Mirror Old Man grabbed him and hurriedly pulled him to a remote corner. “Little Song, oh Little Song, you must help me this time!”
“What’s wrong with you?” Song Ci was bewildered.
“I’ve invited something too powerful. Now I can’t send him away. He’s almost going to overpower me.” Mirror Old Man wailed.
“Who?” Song Ci asked.
“That’s not important. Do me a little favor first.” Mirror Old Man was jittery. He pulled out the small bronze mirror from his bosom and put it into Song Ci’s hand. “Hold this.”
Song Ci looked at the small bronze mirror in his hand and resisted. The last time he had held on to this small mirror and shouldered the promise of returning to Mo Yao to save Mirror Old Man, he had been pricked by his conscience for a very long time.
Before Song Ci could reject him, Mirror Old Man twirled his right hand and a dull light appeared on his fingertip. Without any explanation, he pointed at the surface of the mirror. The light surged in a split second and engulfed Song Ci’s body in it.
Before the scene vanished before his eyes, Song Ci heard Old Mirror say, “Remember everything you see!”
Then, the darkness swallowed him whole. A faint light shone in through a gap. Song Ci reached out to touch it, and the light brightened and gradually scrubbed the darkness away. He saw a huge bronze mirror in front of him. The mirror was round and inlaid with shining and colorful glass stones.
Under the bronze mirror was a stone platform stacked with two dark vermilion cubes. The mirror was erected on it. It looked magnificent.
The strange thing was that Song Ci saw nothing in the mirror. Technically, the mirror should have reflected some images, but the mirror before him was orange-yellow and foggy.
Song Ci took two looks around, with a perplexed look on his face. What the heck was Mirror Old Man up to?
He waited for a while, and a whirlpool rose on the surface of the mirror. A scene appeared in the mirror. It seemed to be in a room, with exquisite and luxurious clothes hanging all over. There were rouge and cosmetics displayed on the table. As the interior of the room slowly emerged in the mirror, Song Ci saw a man.
To be exact, he saw himself.
This startled Song Ci a little. He saw himself in the mirror dressed in a blue and red costume, and his long, ink-black hair was draped over his shoulders. With fine eyebrows and red lips, he looked captivating.
Such a “Song Ci” was rather beautiful. At first glance, he looked like an elegant maiden. But upon a closer look, there was still a faint trace of the valor of a man on his face.
The “Song Ci” in the mirror tilted his head as if he was looking at someone. As more of the picture continued to appear, Song Ci knew who he was looking at.
Standing before “Song Ci” was Rong Bai. The latter was dressed in an almond-colored robe and wore a white jade crown on his head. There was a trace of a smile in his eyes. He had turned into a mesmerizing refined young master who could hold anyone spellbound in just a single glance.
The distance between them was so close that Song Ci could not breathe.
After the picture in the mirror had emerged in full, Song Ci saw the reddened ears of his mirror self; it was so red it looked as if it was dripping blood. Then, he lifted his head and stood on tiptoe to kiss Rong Bai’s lips.
Song Ci yelled out in shock and subconsciously reached a hand out to smack the mirror. “Are you crazy? Move away!”
He could almost imagine the look on Rong Bai as he flew into a rage. Those talks of looking for the Demon Gate and slaying the Demon King… His efforts had all vanished in a puff of smoke because of this absurd action.
Song Ci did not know if his heart was pounding out of fear or some other reason. It thumped violently against his chest. It was as if it would burst out of him anytime. His eyes remained riveted on the two men kissing in the mirror; he could not tear his gaze away.
- 镜道长 Jing Daozhang. The Jing here is actually taken from his nickname Jing Lao Tou 镜老头, or Mirror Old Man. The Jing means ‘Mirror’. Daozhang is a form of address for a Daoist priest.
- 道友 Daoyou; literally ‘friend of the same path’, i.e. fellow cultivator or comrade.
- 儿 “Er” means son or child. It is a suffix normally used as a term of endearment. Thus, Qiu-er is a more endearing form of address for Feng Yingqiu.