The other person said, “Let’s release him first and discuss it later.”

The figure in the eye-catching robe replied, “Ah, otherwise, let me take him back to raise him. He doesn’t seem presentable in this lifetime or the next. In my mansion, he might become an immortal after a few thousand years.”

I was shocked. How could I be raised like a domestic pig? It would be a great shame and humiliation. As soon as I could move, I immediately spread my hooves and ran away.

Running and running, my eyes turned red. Without paying attention, I ran to the edge of a cliff and failed to stop. The ground disappeared from beneath my hooves, and I fell down swiftly.

I stood on the streets of the capital, gazing at the peonies in the flower market.

It was said that deep red peonies were the most precious. I had lived for over twenty years and seen various shades of red, white, and green, but I had never seen deep red. A few days ago, Peony Xu sent me an invitation, saying that he had a deep red peony. It was a treasured specimen from the temple of enlightenment, given to him by the deceased abbot before his passing. Today, it was blooming, and he was hosting a flower appreciation gathering in front of his Guose Pavilion, inviting me to attend.

Normally, I didn’t care much for these flowers and plants. What did it matter if they were red or green? They were just flowers. However, I had been visiting Cuinong Pavilion frequently lately, and Yingyue mentioned her love for peonies. So, I decided to attend this flower gathering and perhaps buy a pot of peonies to bring her a smile.

The flower gathering was scheduled to begin at the hour of Chen. I arrived a bit early and went elsewhere for a stroll. When I returned, the appointed time was approaching. The flower platform had already played a flute tune and a qin piece, and a string of firecrackers hung by the platform. Peony Xu himself lit the fuse, and after the crackling sound of the firecrackers ceased, he delivered a speech. He then lifted the gauze cover and revealed his peony plant.

The flowers were deep red, exuding a luxurious beauty. Indeed, they were exquisite.

I praised in my mind, and I heard someone in the crowd say, “Beautiful flowers.”

It seemed like everyone was suddenly calling out in admiration, but I specifically heard this voice.

That voice made me faintly feel a sense of familiarity, as if I had heard it countless times before. I looked into the crowd and saw someone in a green robe standing there.

He turned his head sideways, and I was stunned. It felt as if the bustling market and the peonies had all disappeared.

In an instant, I felt that I had encountered him somewhere before.

I walked into the crowd and respectfully bowed to him, saying, “I am Qin Yingmu. May I ask for your name, brother?”

He smiled openly and replied, “My surname is Zhao, single name Heng.”

After a few polite exchanges, he seemed ready to leave. I hurriedly approached him and said, “Brother Zhao, I feel an instant connection with you. I would like to invite you to a tavern for a drink. I wonder if Brother Zhao would agree.”

He didn’t refuse and gladly said, “Alright.”

It was still the hour of Chen, and the tavern waiter informed us that it wasn’t yet time to serve alcohol. I placed a silver ingot on the table, and immediately, it transformed into a table filled with “pre-prepared fine wine and dishes.” The waiter warmly led me and Zhao Heng into the most exquisite private room, serving a few delicate cold dishes and a pot of high-quality huadiao wine in no time.

I raised my wine cup and gestured towards him, saying, “To you, Brother Zhao.”

He replied, “My courtesy name is Hengwen. You can just call me Hengwen. Being too polite feels a bit constrained.”

Hengwen, Hengwen, those two characters sounded somewhat familiar. I said, “Then I won’t be polite either. My courtesy name is Nanshan, so you can call me Nanshan as well.”

He smiled.

We unwittingly drank until evening.

I drank as if I hadn’t tasted wine in hundreds of lifetimes, continuously and without pause. We drank until afternoon, and he mentioned that he was staying at an inn on another street. I stumbled along with him to the inn, entered his room, and ordered more food and wine.

I remember that I wanted him to memorize my family genealogy by heart. I said that when I was a child, my father had once had my fortune told, and the fortune-teller said that I would encounter peach blossom fate in this lifetime, a romantic destiny.

He raised his wine cup and glanced at me, saying, “Oh, really accurate.”

I immediately replied, “I didn’t believe it either, but it turned out to be true. Not to boast in front of you, but in the Qin Lou Chu Guan of the capital, there are countless ladies crying and waiting for me to redeem them.”

He smirked and said, “So, you’ve already fallen in love with some poor scholar who sells rouge, and you’ve become a stepping stone for him.”

I frowned and said, “How could I become a wronged fool who acts as a backdrop?”

He smiled vaguely and didn’t say anything.

I didn’t know until when we drank, but in any case, the wine was finished, and the candle on the table had burned down. I was drunk and confused, and he also drank until he was unsteady. We simply sprawled onto the bed and fell asleep.

As I turned over on the bed, I said to him, “For all these years, it’s only today that I’ve drunk to my heart’s content.”

He responded with a grunt and continued sleeping.

When I woke up the next day, the guest room was empty, and there was no sign of Zhao Heng. The innkeeper downstairs said that they hadn’t seen the young master leave, and he hadn’t even settled the room fee.

But he just disappeared like that, for one day, two days, and I never found him again. I searched everywhere I could think of, keeping the room in the inn paid for day after day, waiting for him. The innkeeper said that this young master never mentioned where he came from, and no one else recognized him either.

But for some inexplicable reason, I couldn’t stop searching for him. It was just a chance encounter, but I couldn’t forget it.

I searched from the Dragon Boat Festival that year until the Mid-Autumn Festival of the following year. In this year and more, drinking with anyone else felt tasteless. When I slept and dreamed, it was hazy and muddled. Today, I dreamt that I was a wild boar, tomorrow I dreamt that I was a turtle. One day, I dreamt that I was in a misty place, and he stood in front of me. I called out “Hengwen,” and he turned around, seemingly about to speak, but then I woke up.

On that day, I aimlessly walked into a small temple and drew a divination stick for finding a person.

The interpreter of the divination said that I drew the worst stick, indicating that it would be as difficult to meet the person I was looking for as it would be for a monkey to pluck the moon.

The interpreter looked at my desolate face and consoled me, saying that there was still a glimmer of hope in this stick. Plucking the moon like a monkey was better than fishing for the moon.

I asked, “What do you mean?”

The interpreter said, “When a monkey fishes for the moon, it can only catch the moon’s reflection in the water. No matter how it fishes, it will always be an illusion and can’t change into the real thing. But when a monkey plucks the moon, the moon is always the real moon.”

I said, “But the monkey can’t reach the sky.”

Depressed, I took out some money and placed it on the interpreter’s table, then left the small temple.

The street was bustling with people coming and going. I strolled to the side of the street and heard someone calling out, “Sir, care to sit down?”

So, I sat down and heard them ask, “What would you like?”

I casually replied, “Anything.”

In no time, a bowl of steaming hot noodles was placed on the table beside me. The person who brought the bowl smiled kindly and said, “I saw that you looked famished, so I took the liberty of serving you a large bowl of wonton noodles.”

Wonton noodles? I took a moment to regain my senses and glanced at it. I had never eaten such commoner’s food before. I casually picked up the chopsticks and scooped up a strand of noodles, putting it in my mouth. The taste was peculiar but not unpleasant.

An elderly man eating noodles next to me stared at me with his mouth half full.

I swallowed the noodles and asked, “What’s the matter, sir?”

The old man hesitated for a moment before speaking, “Just now, I noticed that there was a large piece of rat droppings stuck to the noodles you picked up. I didn’t have time to warn you… and you’ve already swallowed it…”

At night, I returned to my courtyard, and that piece of rat dropping churned and tormented my whole body.

This situation seemed strangely familiar.

Just like how he seemed familiar, the characters “Hengwen” felt familiar to me.

I walked on auspicious clouds, gathered the Three Flowers, and ascended once again.

I stood outside the South Heaven Gate before the celestial envoy who welcomed newly ascended immortals.

The celestial envoy didn’t pay much attention to me, a newly picked ascended immortal, and casually flipped through a register. Dipping his brush in ink, he asked, “What is your surname and name in the mortal world?”

I replied, “In this lifetime, I am called Qin Yingmu.”

The celestial envoy made a note in the register and said, “Wait here. I will report to the Jade Emperor in the Lingxiao Hall before you can enter the South Heaven Gate.” Closing the book, he added, “You’re quite lucky. Today, the Supreme Lord Laojun’s elixir is being refined, and the venerable Mahakasyapa from the Western Heaven is visiting Laojun’s palace. Laojun and him are discussing the Tao and Buddhism while refining the elixir. In a moment of carelessness, one of the elixirs fell to the mortal realm and was unexpectedly picked up by you.”

I said, “I’m just lucky. Actually, this isn’t the first time.”

The celestial envoy turned around abruptly, and I said, “Wait a moment, please convey a message to the Jade Emperor for me. Tell him that Song Yao has found another elixir and has come back to the Heavenly Court.”

The young celestial envoy turned around, dumbfounded, with his mouth half open, completely stunned.

I stood beneath the jade steps in the Lingxiao Hall.

The Jade Emperor sat on the throne, with the Queen Mother beside him.

The Jade Emperor said, “This is a calamity! Truly a calamity!”

The Queen Mother said, “Why speak like this? Song Yao has also had a difficult time. He was almost destroyed, but now he has reestablished his celestial fate and returned to the Heavenly Court. If immortals also have heavenly mandates, this is probably his heavenly mandate. Since his heavenly mandate is like this, why bother making things difficult for him again?”

The Jade Emperor scrutinized my face for a moment, sighed, and said, “Enough, since the Queen Mother says so, perhaps this is your heavenly mandate. You almost perished before, and now you are reborn through reincarnation. We won’t investigate the past anymore. However, in the Heavenly Court, you can only be an immortal and the Heavenly Court will treat you as if you don’t exist. There is an island in the far east of the sea, go and live there!”

I bowed and said, “Thank you, Jade Emperor.” Then, I left the Lingxiao Hall.

The young celestial envoy who had escorted me into the hall was still waiting outside. I asked him, “Can you tell me where Hengwen Qingjun is now?”

The young celestial envoy blankly looked up and asked, “Who is this Hengwen Qingjun?”

I said, “Hengwen Qingjun, the one who oversees the literary sect at Weiyuan Palace.”

The young celestial envoy said, “The one who oversees the literary sect is the Heavenly Lord of Literature, Lu Jing. He resides in the Weiyuan Palace. There is no Hengwen Qingjun in the Heavenly Court.”

A chilling snowfall pressed down.

Someone called out to me, “Song Yao, Song Yao.”

I turned my head and saw the Bihua Spirit Lord. I immediately rushed over, grabbing his arm and asking, “Where is Hengwen?!!”

The Bihua Spirit Lord raised an eyebrow at me and said, “You have the nerve to ask.”

The Bihua Spirit Lord had a habit: the more anxious you were, the slower he became. The more anxious and fiery you were, the more leisurely and relaxed he became.

He leisurely guided me to a secluded place, leisurely picked up a stone and sat down, and then leisurely said, “On that day when you crawled to the mortal realm and were on the verge of destruction, Hengwen already knew as soon as you left the South Heaven Gate. When he rushed to the mortal realm, you were beyond saving. He began to act foolishly, using his celestial essence to save you. He had never experienced being a mortal before, so his celestial essence quickly dissipated. Fortunately, the mortal realm couldn’t withstand his celestial arts, and the moment he was about to draw out his celestial essence, the mountain collapsed. Donghua and I hurried down. We each shared some celestial essence with you, obtained pills from Laojun, and sought some relics from the Western Heaven. It was difficult, but we managed to preserve a strand of your soul. I requested a favor from the King of Hell and placed you in the cycle of reincarnation, nurturing your soul for several lifetimes. Hengwen privately descended to the mortal realm to observe your reincarnation. The Jade Emperor brought him back to the Heavenly Court, and Lu Jing took charge of the literary sect. There is no longer a Hengwen Qingjun in the Heavenly Court.”

I asked, “Where is Hengwen now?”

The Heavenly Court remained unchanged, as if the several lifetimes I had spent in reincarnation in the mortal realm were nothing more than a dream. I was about to go to the island in the far east, gazing from a distance at the former Song Yao Palace and Hengwen’s Weiyuan Palace.

Just as I was about to turn around and leave, a group of immortals descended from the clouds. I stepped aside and stood by the side of the road as the remaining stars of the Big Dipper encircled a figure in plain white robes. They stopped by my side.

Tian Shu, who had long cast off his past, was finally no longer icy and bone-chilling. He looked at me and spoke in a gentle voice, “Are you a newly ascended immortal to the Heavenly Court?”

I replied, “Yes, I am Qin Yingmu, newly ascended to the Heavenly Court.”

Tian Shu nodded and smiled before moving on to another direction.

I gazed at the figure as he departed and realized that the memories of many, many years ago had long dissipated like the fragrance of wood orchids in the morning mist, leaving no trace.

I rushed to the far east with great urgency.

The island was filled with crooked celestial trees and scattered rocks. I wandered among them, back and forth.

I asked, “Where is Hengwen?!!”

The Bihua Spirit Lord said, “He was sent by the Jade Emperor to an island in the far east.”

He stood under the celestial tree outside the mansion on the island, giving me a gentle smile as if a breeze passed by, and thousands of peach blossoms bloomed radiantly.

I said, “I owe you five lifetimes, along with the return of my soul. These debts may never be fully repaid.”

Hengwen said, waving his tattered fan, “But I don’t really mind. What does it matter if they’re repaid or not?”

I embraced him by the shoulders and said, “Exactly, you are mine, and I am yours. There is no such thing as debts between us.”