In these four years, Song Ci had walked through many places, and suffered through many pains. He was once the young master of the Liang Clan, yet he later ended up living and sleeping rough. He had experienced all the sufferings of the secular world, even being hunted down by various demons.
He had bore grudges more than once against the demonic fruit that had turned him the way he was now, even blaming the Demon King by extension. But in that segment of memory that he had chosen to forget, there was a belated truth—this was all his own choice.
Regardless of whether he became a demon who had to endure being chased and hunted from all over, or that the latter half of his life would come to be intertwined with that smiling man in his mind, these were all the choices he made. It was not just out of the helplessness of being faced with death, but also of his strong desire to break free of this home.
He was already tired of everything in his former life. He desperately wanted a new identity and a new life to smooth over the chasm that would never be filled in his heart.
It was a decision he had made when he had never been more sober. But somehow, whether due to the demonic fruit or some other reasons, he later came to forget about that portion of memory.
As he held a wretched Madam Liang in his arms and burst into tears, he wondered if he was liberating himself from his past, or if he had come to a decision regarding his future.
It had always been the case since time immemorial that tears of reunions were hard to stop. This scene more or less moved the people around them. Madam Liang cried until she almost breathed her last. She pulled Song Ci and headed for the front courtyard. “Quick! Go see your father. If he knows you are back, he will be very happy!”
Song Ci let her pull him along as they passed through familiar paths to come before Liang Bing’s bed.
Liang Bing had been incurably ill for a long time. He was merely hanging on with the help of medicine and because of his pining for Song Ci. The din Madam Liang created when she barged through the door was loud, but Liang Bing only had the strength to open his eyes.
Liang Bing had aged even more than Madam Liang. In just four years, his hair had gone gray, and his face was wrinkled. He barely seemed alive. He opened his eyes to take a quick glance at the recent arrivals, then closed them again as if he could not keep them open.
On seeing his father in this state, Song Ci carefully kneeled by the side of the bed. Afraid that his voice would startle him, he said in a hushed tone, “Father, I’m back.”
The word “father” seemed to penetrate through the layers of fog in Liang Bing’s mind, awakening the consciousness that had been sealed away at the bottommost layer. He opened his eyes again, this time more urgently. Eyes that could hardly see moved back and forth across Song Ci’s face. The more he looked, he more certain that the man before him had familiar facial features.
He let out a wail in the hoarse voice of a dying man as he slowly pieced together a word, “My son—”
He held out his hand in an attempt to touch Song Ci’s face.
The distinction between those born of the legitimate wife and concubines in the Liang Clan was not that obvious. Liang Bing might be of common birth, but ever since his birth, he had been the esteemed Eldest Young Master of the Liang Clan. He had only ever held a blade and a brush with his hands. Even over the age of thirty, he had never once looked old. But at this moment, his hands were so skinny they were a bag of bones. His bony joints jutted out, covered with a layer of old skin that was so white that it was frightening. It was a shocking sight to behold.
Song Ci lowered his head and obediently moved his face closer to let Liang Bing touch his face. “Father, I’m here.”
Liang Bing’s paralyzed face slowly crumpled into a ball of pained expression. Tears slipped from the slits that were his eyes. Every single word took him all his strength to say, “Ci-er, Father… has let you down… You’ve always done well.”
Liang Bing repeated, as if obsessed, “You have always done well…”
I should have told you this earlier.
But Liang Bing never had the chance to voice out the second half of his words. He breathed his last, contented yet reluctant, as he broke free from the torment and pain of illness.
Madam Liang let out a blood-curdling scream as if she had gone insane and yelled for the physician. She pounced on Liang Bing and cried out to him over and over again.
Song Ci held Liang Bing’s fallen hand. He clenched his teeth, suppressing the urge to cry out loud. His enduring it in silence only made Rong Bai’s heart ache more. But this was something Song Ci had to go through on his own.
No one could bear this for him. And no one could make the decision for him either.
Rong Bai quietly withdrew from the room and saw Liang Yanbei standing outside with his head raised. His pretty eyes looked at the sky, their rims slightly red.
This appearance reminded Rong Bai of Yan Bei when the latter was still a child. Back then, a little Yan Bei was always embracing others around the neck, wailing while nestled in their arms. Rong Bai could not help but feel amused, so he spoke out aloud to interrupt Liang Yanbei’s thoughts, “It will all pass, won’t it?”
Startled, Liang Yanbei turned his head to look at him and gave him a smile that was not really a smile. “I saw you with my Elder Cousin Brother earlier. How can I address you?”
“Your uncle.” Rong Bai answered.
Liang Yanbei, “???”
“Young Master Ni?”1 Liang Yanbei could not be sure, because if it was “Ni”, then the intonation was really way too different from Rong Bai’s pronunciation.
Rong Bai smiled. “The next time we meet, you have to change the way you call him and stop calling him ‘Elder Cousin Brother’.”
Belatedly realizing that he was referring to Song Ci, Liang Yanbei asked, “Why?”
“Because I’m taking the liberty to raise his status up by a generation.” Rong Bai spontaneously raised his chin at Liang Yanbei and left without any further explanation.
Liang Yanbei stood where he was, bewildered. His initial sorrow had been all thrown into disarray by Rong Bai’s baffling words. He depressedly pondered over it over a moment before continuing with his grieving.
Very soon, the physician came to a conclusion and told Madam Liang to begin making preparations for the funeral. Since Song Ci was back, he naturally took charge of handling these affairs.
Madam Liang was lifted back to her room after she passed out from crying. Song Ci sat beside Liang Bing’s body for a very long, long time. When he stepped out of the room, his eyes were red and swollen. He took out a plain, white ribbon to tie up his long hair.
He looked a lot more gaunt, but the spirit in his eyes was still there. Rong Bai sighed softly and went up to him to hold his icy hands. He took Song Ci’s hand in his palms and said in a voice that only both of them could hear, “The last knot in your father’s heart has been resolved. He left in peace.”
“I know.” Song Ci pursed his lips tightly and quietly held Rong Bai’s hand under his wide sleeves. He repeated in a soft voice, “I know.”
In the next few days, Song Ci was busy with Liang Bing’s funeral, so much that he did not even have the time to sleep. He watched as Liang Bing’s body, which had been shrouded in white cloth back at home, was carried into the coffin. The coffin was nailed shut, then lowered into the earth for burial. His eyes reddened time and time again, but he did not shed any more tears.
Song Ci lost weight quickly, and Rong Bai’s heart ached to see this. But other than persuading him to eat more, there was nothing else he could say. After all, Song Ci had been pretty exhausted these days. What’s more, Rong Bai himself was getting weaker. He spent most of his time deep asleep. Each time he coughed up blood, he would quietly wipe it away so as not to give Song Ci any undue pressure.
The funeral was not a grand one, but everything was done in accordance with the required formalities. Liang Jun, who was far away in Jinling, rushed over too, wiping his eyes as he grieved and wept. With that, Liang Bing’s funeral came to a close.
Song Ci was finally able to get some proper sleep. Rong Bai kept watch quietly by his side, looking at his peaceful sleeping face while stifling the occasional urges to cough in his chest.
Song Ci actually did not get a restful sleep. He could hear every one of Rong Bai’s coughs, but his eyelids were so heavy that he did not have the strength to open them. He slept through the dark. By the time he woke up, Rong Bai was sprawled at the head of the bed, fast asleep.
Song Ci watched him for a while. Now that he reflected back on it, Rong Bai’s condition was worsening by the day. It seemed as if he had always been forcing himself to hang in there. Yet he had never once uttered a word to rush him.
Song Ci lifted the quilt and got off the bed. Very quietly, he made his way out of the room to the pavilion in the courtyard. He saw Madam Liang sitting there gazing at the rock garden and stream in a trance. Liang Bing’s death had dealt her a huge blow, making her ill for many days. It was only within these two days that she could get out of bed with some difficulty.
She was wearing a hat that covered her shaven head. When she heard Song Ci’s movement, she hurriedly turned her head and gave him a gentle, ingratiating smile. However, the smile was weak. “Ci-er, did you just wake up? It has been hard on you these few days.”
“Mother.” Song Ci had sufficient rest, so his black eyes have regained much of his vitality. His pretty and exquisite facial features were even more dazzling under the morning rays. He walked up to the pavilion, but did not head up the steps. He looked up at her. “I’ve come to say goodbye to you.”
All at once, Madam Liang’s expression changed. She abruptly stood up and staggered two steps down to grab Song Ci by his arm. “Ci-er! You’re still leaving?! Your father is gone now, and you are the only one Mother has left to rely on. If you leave, then what is Mother going to do?”
She looked at Song Ci in a panic and said almost pleadingly, “Everything that had happened in the past is Mother’s fault. Mother is willing to make it up to you. I can do anything! Ci-er, it hasn’t been easy for Mother to give birth to you and raise you for more than twenty years. It’s just us mother and son left now. You mustn’t abandon Mother!”
“Mother.” Song Ci looked at her flatly with plainly visible indifference in his eyes. “There are some words which may hurt you if I voice it out. But I still want to make it clear to you. Everything I have suffered in the Liang Clan had once filled me with hatred. Four years ago, I left home to head for Yanxiang Temple. The truth is that, I died there.”
“The ‘me’ now is no longer Liang Shuhong, nor the child you often compare to Liang Shuli. My current name is Song Ci.”
Song, to bid farewell to all his past. Ci, to take leave of all his pain.2
He took a deep breath and let out a long sigh interlaced with all kinds of turbulent emotions. To Madam Liang, he said, “I no longer hate you, but I still can’t forgive you. Liang Shuhong, whom you had once used Liang Shuli to put down, had already died four years ago under your harsh words. Now, I have a new life. One that does not belong to you or the Liang Clan.”
“Nonsense, nonsense!” Madam Liang could not accept Song Ci’s intent to depart at all. He was the last straw in her life she had left to clutch on to. She pleaded with him in every possible way, humbling herself again and again. She even wanted to kneel to beg Song Ci to stay, but Song Ci supported her up.
Song Ci kneeled and kowtowed deeply to Madam Liang. He said, “Madam Liang, please take care of yourself in the future.”
In the end, Song Ci left. He turned around almost heartlessly. Madam Liang struggled to go up to him to grab hold of him, only to realize that the Song Ci before her was like a wisp of smoke that she had no way of catching hold of. Song Ci ignored Madam Liang’s attempt to detain him and returned to the room, where he gently roused the sleeping Rong Bai.
Rong Bai raised his sleepy eyes. His voice was lazy, just like the first time he had met him. But unlike the indifference of that day, this pair of eyes were brimming with warmth. He asked, “When did you wake up?”
Song Ci replied, “Just.”
Rong Bai stretched lazily. It was clear that this fox was fast approaching his limit, and yet he still looked so calm. “What are you going to busy yourself with today?”
Song Ci lowered his head to plant a light kiss at the side of his face. “We are going to be busy with something big today. Let’s head back to the Demon Realm first.”
Rong Bai’s eyes arched into a smile as he smiled like the fox he was. “Sure.”
When they left, they did not even head out through the main entrance. They did not bid farewell to Liang Yanbei and Wen Chan either, because Song Ci knew that there would be a chance for them to meet again in the future.
Madam Liang chased her way into the room only to discover that Song Ci, who had just entered earlier, was not in the room. She ran frantically all over the residence until it finally hit her that he had really left. Only then did she break down and sat on the ground to burst into heart-rending wails.
She lost her husband a few days ago. And now, she lost her son. From then on, she was all alone in this world.
Just to clarify here. Situ Zhoulan did not have an ending in the other novel, so I’ll give her an ending in this novel. It had nothing to do with Wen Chan and Liang Yanbei. The villain in that last chapter was also someone Song Ci met by coincidence. The seed of disaster Liang Yanbei’s left behind was something Song Ci himself thought when he was “blackened”3.<finger heart gesture>
- Rong Bai said “你叔叔。” (ni shushu, or “your uncle”). Liang Yanbei isn’t sure if he meant “uncle ni” (倪叔叔; the 倪 is a surname) instead. The intonations for both ni are different.
- The entire quote: “宋是送走一切过往的宋，辞是辞去一切伤痛的辞。 The character for the 送 is different from the 宋 in his surname, but they both sound the same (sòng).
- i.e. turn evil