Guardian Chapter 74
With ghost face gone, Shen proceeds to clean up the peak of Mount Kunlun, ridding it of the spirit beast infestation. Soon, most of the crowd that the judge brought along has left. Only ox-head and horse-face are left helping the judge get back up, who seems to have something to say, but does not dare approach. Shen gives Da Qing a hand, and says, "Come, I'll bring you back."
Da Qing jumps on to his shoulder. Shen has roughly the same build as Zhao, their shoulders are roughly the same width. Yet, standing on the Ghost Slayer's shoulder seems awkward nonetheless. It curls up into a ball of black cat, holding on to his clothes with its claws.
Then, the judge seems to have gathered the courage, and says, "Your Honour..."
Shen puts his blade away, but keeps moving, and only says with a bland expression, "Run off, don't make me curse."
The sky is finally bright, seeping with belated rays.
When Shen returns to Zhao's small apartment, it's already afternoon. Every TV channel is reporting about the anomalies in the morning, inviting all sorts of experts to prate about what happened.
But Shen is only doing one thing... waiting by the door.
Literally. He moves a small sofa chair by the door, and just sits there.Oops! This image does not follow our content guidelines. To continue publis.h.i.+ng, please remove it or upload a different image.
Da Qing quietly crouches at the window like a cat statue, feigning non-existence.
Some three, four hours later, the sun is almost gone, and Shen's phone finally vibrates.
He doesn't even realise at first. After a while, as if "resurrected", he picks up his phone.
Three messages in a row.
"Finally got signal. I'm fine, I'll be back soon."
One minute later. "s.h.i.+t, my boss is calling me, there is a dinner gathering. Don't wait for me."
Another minute later. "Sleep earlier, be good."
Da Qing jumps off from the window sill, circles the sofa half-way, and finally gathers up the courage to ask, most politely, "Your Honour, is that the Guardian?"
"Uh," Shen nods, "he's got something to do, so he'll be back later."
Da Qing sighs, hesitates, and then says, "Then.... then I shall head back to No. 4 Bright Avenue."
Shen looks down, and Da Qing naturally droops its head... he doesn't seem to remember the cat that went "Professor Shen" this, "Professor Shen" that all the time.
Shen nods, "Take care."
With great relief, Da Qing opens the door and skedaddles. Sharing a room with the Ghost Slayer is no joke; if it weren't for the douchebag Zhao, it would not have left a whole fridge of dried fish snack uneaten and came here to suffer.
Zhao isn't going to any sort of gathering. He isn't going anywhere really. After he sends the messages, he begins wandering on the streets of Dragon City.
It's usually dry in winter here, but this winter, for some reason, is exceptionally snowy and foggy. The roads are frozen with a layer of thin ice; the occasional car drives by cautiously and sluggishly. Most shops have closed, pedestrians are few; the city seems somewhat desolate.
With misery in his eyes, he doesn't seem to know where to go. Streaks of blood reach for the irises: a look of exhaustion.
Some time later, his phone rings. Zhao answers with a coa.r.s.e voice, "Hey dad."
"Hm." A voice replies from the other side, "How come I couldn't call you earlier?"
Zhao stands on the side of the road, where the wind blows quite strongly. Dry and cold gust makes his eyes redden. Dumb for two seconds, he then answers sheepishly, "No signal perhaps."
Zhao's father asks, "Where are you now?"
He doesn't know either. Looking up for a road sign, he utters his whereabouts.
"Wait. I'll come pick you up."
Zhao crouches on the side of the road, waiting. About twenty minutes later, a car stops beside him. The driver looks at him with disdain, "Why do you look like a beggar? Get in the car."
Zhao throws him a scowling glance, and gets inside the car. Like a dying dog, he sits his b.u.t.t on the seat next to the driver, arms crossed against his chest, shoulders shrugged, acting out the message "I don't want to talk to you or answer any questions".
His father begins driving, and glances at him, "Where did you go, why are you dressed like this."
"Tibetan Plateau." Zhao says, expressionless.
"What were you doing there?"
"After some nefarious Kekexili bandits."
Zhao's father says, "Bulls.h.i.+t."
Zhao doesn't say anything.
After a moment of silence, Zhao's father says, "Your mum told me two days ago. I couldn't figure out what to say to you, so I didn't come and find you sooner."
Zhao looks at him with exhaustion.
"When you were young, that was around the time when my career took off. I was busier than ever. Back then it was always your mum taking care of you, but I never thought too much about it. Not until you started going to school, and your mum dragged me to the school's parents club. Only then did I realise, after chatting with teachers and other parents, that you're different from all the other kids."
Zhao smiles bitterly, "Not just different, you gave birth to a freak... alright, dad, let's find some other time to talk. I really don't feel like it today."
Zhao's father looks at him quietly, "I think I've spoilt you.... Did I say anything when you came up with the outrageous idea of starting up a Special Investigations Unit? I even helped you pull some strings. Don't push it too far."
Zhao sits quietly for a moment, "Alright, what do you wanna ask?"
"I know I'm old-fas.h.i.+oned, but I have to ask, can you break up with that teacher?"
"No." Zhao says, steely and resolute.
"I'm not fighting with you, we can discuss this calmly." Zhao's father frowns, "Tell me, what do you like about him? What about him is irreplaceable? Does it have to be him? Even with all the social stigma, and the fact that you can't be together legally?"
"Mum is not as beautiful as Chi-Ling, why did you give up the entire forest for a tree?" Zhao says impatiently, then humphs unpleasantly, "What do I care about stigma, what about legal or not? If I want, I can make my own wedding cert. I can buy seals made from carrots on University Street, five dollars each, what's so great about that?"
"I'm discussing this with you calmly, what kind of att.i.tude is that?"
"Sorry..." Zhao sits silently for a while, looks down, and pinches between his eyebrows.
"Perhaps one day, when your hormonal levels are back to normal, you will regret this decision." Zhao's father maintains a calm and stately tone, relaxing and not at all intimidating. It's much easier to persuade someone this way; he says, "Pa.s.sion is attractive; I've been young, I know that feeling. But I don't agree with difficult love, do you know why?"
Zhao does not reply.
"Have you read 'Anna Karenina'?" Zhao's father drives sluggishly on the empty streets, "Why did Anna die in the end? Of course, you could argue that her love affair is immoral, but your relations.h.i.+p isn't. And I would agree. But there is still a similarity... love is strong yet frail; perhaps in the face of adversity, it can rise up with great power, transcending into a sort of exemplary ardour, and that is why it's been praised since ancient times. But you have to remember the saying: 'It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe'."
Zhao does not make a sound.
Zhao's father sighs, "Difficult love can be overcome with perseverance and grit. But love has to subside eventually, have you thought of that? By that time, the pa.s.sion is gone, and when you look at the other person, you won't recall any pleasasnt memories, you'll only remember how difficult it was. What would you do then? Have you thought of that? Everyone is the same, you're no exception; do you remember the ice cream shop that you really liked as a kid?"
Zhao shakes his head slowly.
"Your mum thought it was bad for your health, so she didn't let you eat any junk food. You were obsessed with it all day, and even went on a hunger strike. Then I came up with an idea... I brought you to have ice cream three times a day, and you would eat at least two big boxes everytime; even when you got an upset stomach I still brought you there. That went on for a month, then whenever I mentioned the ice cream shop again, you would cry and refuse to go."
Zhao's lips very reluctantly curl up. Zhao's father says calmly, "Think again. Can you really keep going like this with that teacher?"
When he reasons like this, no-one would refuse to listen. Zhao pauses for a moment before he replies, his voice still incredibly coa.r.s.e; he grabs a bottle of water, drinks half of it, and then says slowly, "I have known Shen Wei for a very long time, way back when I first started working; it's been quite a few years now. Dad, I know what you mean, but there is always someone in your life, it's not because of attraction, allure, obsession, or mere l.u.s.t; it's if you don't treat this person right, then you'd feel like a worthless p.r.i.c.k."
Zhao's father turns to look at him. Zhao leans on the seat, eyes half closed. Perhaps in his sleep-deprived state, his double eyelids almost look three-fold, with an extra touch of exhaustion.
His father remains silent for a while, and then says, somewhat with difficulty, "All right, you're an adult now, some things are not for me to decide. If you really believe that, then I've nothing to say... when I'm free and at home, you can bring him over to have a meal."
"Thanks." Zhao doesn't seem relieved or merry. He keeps wearing the same frown; after a while, he says with difficulty, "Dad, let's have a few drinks?"
Zhao's father looks at him, and turns the car around. He drives to a small local restaurant that is relatively quiet. Puhing the menu in front of Zhao, "Order what you like, my treat."
Then he says to the waiter, "Give me a pot of Iron G.o.ddess Tea."
Son and father sit on opposite sides, miraculously alike in air and mien. One downing tea, one downing alcohol; neither making any sound, neither disturbing the other whatsoever.
Intoxication never hsows on Zhao's face: the more he drinks, the more pale he becomes. By his second emptied bottle, his father stops him and calls the waiter, "Give him some honey water... you can drink a little when you're feeling down, but I'm your dad, I've to keep an eye on you; too much can cause poisoning or worse."
Zhao stops, and says, "I haven't eaten, I'll have some fried rice."
"So what's going on with you? Got in a fight with your teacher?"
"Of course not." Zhao smiles with unease, "I'm way past the age of throwing tantrums."
"Then what is it?"
For a while, Zhao says nothing; only staring at the marble table, seemingly searching for some pattern amongst the totally random swirls. When his honey water and fried rice arrive, his eyeb.a.l.l.s turn slightly and says, "Many things... I can't figure out if I'm right or wrong, what to do?"
Zhao's father lights a cigarette, keeps silent for a while before replying, "I can tell you how I feel. All these years have made me realise, there are four things in life you can't get too bogged down in: forever, morality, virtue, and life and death."
Zhao looks up at him.
"Insistence can sometimes be a virtue. But if you insist too much on 'forever', your fear of losing someone will blur your vision; if you insist too much on 'morality', it will just become a stubborn obsession, most things are not so black and white;if you insist too much on 'virtue', you will become conceited, and try to change the rules to suit your values;if you insist too much on 'life and death', you're dwelling on the insignificant, and you would just be living a second-rate life."
Zhao listens in silence.
"There are just some things that ought not to be questioned, ought not to be dwelled upon. What's done is done, whether it was right or wrong matters not. Wouldn't you rather think about the future?"
Zhao doesn't reply. He downs the whole cup of honey water, and then says calmly, "I've lost my appet.i.te. I need to throw up. After that, just drive me home."
Zhao's father drives him to his place, and doesn't plan on going up, "That teacher is at yours, right? I won't interrupt you. We'll meet some other time."
With his back facing his father, he waves, and goes upstairs with exhaustion.
Shen has been waiting by the door. The doorbell rings. He flings the door open. Zhao looks somewhat awake still, but he stinks of alcohol. He trips on the doorsill, and Shen holds him in place, "How much did you drink?"
"I'm fine." Zhao's head rests on Shen's shoulder. After a while, he smiles, "I'm gonna take a shower... anything to eat?"
Regarding Zhao going to Kunlun on his own accord, Shen has quite a few bones to pick with him, and yet when he sees his poor stomachaching face, none of it comes out of his mouth. Finally, Shen only sighs, and says, "I'll heat up some dim sum."
Zhao pecks him on the neck quickly, then takes out a small and thin wooden box and hands it to Shen, calling it a "gift", and then heads for the bathroom.
Shen opens the box, and inside he finds a slender ink brush: its handle made of wood, with an unknown kind of hair, which, surprisingly, sparkles in gold. The brush is astoundingly heavy, gleaming with s.h.i.+ning dazzle, and exquisitely l.u.s.trous, yet humbly delicate. Undoubtedly, this is the legendary Ink Brush of Virtue.
Shen is mesmerised. At this moment, besides the sound of flowing water, and bang is heard from the bathroom.
Startled, Shen quickly puts the Mystical Artifact away, and knocks on the door, "Yunlan, are you alright?"
There is a bathtub in Zhao's bathroom, with a shower head; on a slow day he might take a bath, in a hurry he could just take a quick shower. Zhao accidentally turns the temperature up too high, and the hot water pushes his mild intoxication up to his brain; the bathtub is very slippery, and he trips and falls, almost ending in a concussion.
Twinkling stars are all he sees; he doesn't hear Shen's voice at all.
With no response, Shen can't help but worry, and pushes open the bathroom door.
Ending the first month of the year on a steamy cliffhanger. Hope you enjoyed this chapter! :)
As always, thank you for reading. You can expect the next chapter on a very special day in February ;)
See you then!!