Chapter 1 Go to the Light
Deep in the Yun Yue Plateau in southwest Zhongzhou State, amid vast stretches of primeval forest, was a campsite destined to be unmapped.
The campsite as a whole was built inside the primeval forest. Apart from the trees that sheltered people from the wind and rain, there were only a few undulating mountains around the campsite.
There was the borderline between the Zhongzhou State and Annan State less than two kilometres away from the front door of the campsite. It was somewhere extremely remote that few people ever trod and even birds would not shit there.
The campsite was small-scale and covered a small area. There were only about a dozen thatched huts for people to live in and a small but clean open-air training ground.
A nearly 10-meter-high watchtower and a flagpole on which the Star Flag of the Zhongzhou State floating above stood desolately in the middle of the training ground. This was the highest point in the campsite. But in such an environment, the view from the watchtower was merely a little better than from the ground. However, it was better than nothing.
The sun went down.
The setting sun shed its last ray on the training ground of the campsite, which was totally dim.
There was a gust of wind at dusk.
Violent currents tore the Star Flag on the flagpole, making the flag flutter. The wind blew clouds away. All this made the whole campsite look like a bleak and vivid picture.
A group of soldiers in military uniforms saluted silently under the Star Flag, looking solemn and respectful.
Of the 40 or 50 soldiers, the chief was a middle-aged man, about 50 years old. His appearance and figure looked common, but a pair of very sparkling and even sharp eyes burnished his image to a large extent. He wore the military uniform. Although he did not wear the military rank, he appeared particularly commanding as he looked around.
The middle-aged man looked up at the Star Flag fluttering overhead for a long time before he put down his hand.
“Senior Li, go back with me.”
The middle-aged man put down his arm and looked at the old man with the same military uniform beside him. He said so sincerely as if he was begging the old man, “After years of hard work and valuable service at the border, everyone has noticed that it is time for you to go back and enjoy your life. The tough environment here is not good for your health.”
The old man in military uniform had grey hair, but his hair was neatly combed and even his body was perfectly straight. Unlike the middle-aged man beside him, he wore a military rank which was not low. He was a Lieutenant Colonel, but compared with his age, his rank was less likely to be presentable.
Upon hearing the middle-aged man’s words, the old man narrowed his somewhat cloudy eyes, shook his head with a smile and said with a cracked voice, “Soldiers should die on the battlefield. How can I go back to enjoy the easy and carefree life and wait for death? Dongsheng, I appreciate your kindness, but I won’t go back. Old as I am, I can still carry a gun and do something for my country for a few more years. After staying here for so long, I will not get used to the easy life even if I go back.”
The middle-aged man named Dongsheng had a look of bitterness. He opened his mouth and said worriedly, “Senior Li, Your body… It’s really not a good place for you to stay here anymore.”
“I know my body.”
The old Lieutenant Colonel sounded indifferent and looked determined. “Although I can’t live too long, I can still carry a gun for years. Dongsheng, I have made up my mind. If it’s just for the sake of my body, then there is no need for you to persuade me any more.”
He paused for a while and suddenly laughed at himself, “Of course, if you’re here today for Li Kuangtu, the little brute who had betrayed our country in those days, and want me, Li Honghe, to plead guilty, I’ll go with you now. That brute betrayed our country and, as his father, I’m guilty. It is the father’s fault to only feed his son without teaching him well. I have nothing to say about this.”
Ye Dongsheng’s expression changed. He looked displeased and raised his tone of voice, saying angrily, “What are you talking about, senior? You are the hero of Zhongzhou State. Who dares to say that you are guilty? If anyone else dares to do so, I will be the first one to shoot him! For hundreds of years, the military law of Zhongzhou State has never indicated that one’s crime will implicate others! He is a traitor, but it’s none of your business. It’s not the same thing. If we don’t trust you, how can we keep you at the border for 20 years?”
The old man had no expression on his face. He just looked up at the Star Flag overhead with sad eyes.
Ye Dongsheng sighed slightly. He swallowed his pride and lowered his voice again, saying, “Senior Li, the case of treason about Kuangtu has been adjudicated and that was an irresistible trend. There are a lot of details which are still confusing. From my personal standpoint, I do not believe Kuangtu would commit treason. Although 20 years have passed since then, chances are that we might reverse the conviction if we investigate it carefully. Senior Li, we need you, our anchor, to return to Youzhou and to cheer us up.”
Li Honghe seemed to have been disheartened. He shook his head and replied in an indifferent tone, “Forget about it. After all these years, what’s the point of reversing the verdict? Dongsheng, if you are not here to denounce me, then go back. This place is very suitable for me. I’m an old man on the verge of death. I surely will suffer a lot in a colorful world like Youzhou. Don’t say that any more.”
Ye Dongsheng opened his mouth. He wished to speak but stopped on second thought. What could he say since things had gone to this point?
“Senior Li, I’ll provide you with time to think about it and come back to visit you in a year. If you have any requirement, please don’t hesitate to say. I’ll do my best to help you.”
Ye Dongsheng silenced himself for a while before he opened his mouth with a bitter smile.
Li Honghe just shook his head, showing that he had no demands.
Ye Dongsheng sighed deeply. He did not stay here any longer but directly strode to a helicopter that was stopped in front of the watchtower.
The rotor of the helicopter whistled and dust swirled in the air.
When approaching the helicopter, Ye Dongsheng suddenly turned around and shouted out loud, “Senior Li, would you like to come back to Youzhou with me if we could prove Kuangtu to be guiltless and wash off your shame?”
Dust rose beneath the rotor and made Li Honghe’s expression a little vague. Li Honghe narrowed his eyes and said in a not high but clear voice, “Dongsheng, I’m waiting for the good news.”
Ye Dongsheng nodded and directly walked into the cabin.
The helicopter took off and flew higher and higher. Ye Dongsheng sat in a seat in the cabin and looked down at the smaller and smaller training ground, to be precise, the old man who turned around and went up to the watchtower as he whispered to himself, “What are you holding on to?”
At the same time.
On the top floor of the watchtower, a young man with his back to Li Honghe asked the same question as Li Honghe entered.
“What are you holding on to?”
“You don’t understand.”
Li Honghe looked at the young man standing at the window and answered kindly.
This was a thin young man in his twenties who could easily leave others a favorable impression at first sight. His good-looking face appeared to be a little pale due to perennial malnutrition. He was very gentle and his eyes were pretty clear. No one could see any sharpness, aloofness, and arrogance from all over his body. He stood peacefully at the window of the upper space of the watchtower, looking at the helicopter flying farther and farther away, with an undisguised desire and longing in his clear eyes.
Gentle as jade, quiet and calm.
Nothing could be more apt to describe him than these words did.
“Why don’t you just leave?”
Hearing the old man’s answer, the young man finally turned around and added calmly, “Grandpa, this should be the fourth time someone has asked you to leave here, right? Why don’t we leave when we can?”
Li Honghe nodded his head and said in a deep voice.
“You are waiting for the highest bid?”
The young man asked as he raised his eyebrows slightly.
“This is an involuntary choice.”
Li Honghe smiled bitterly and continued, “Tianlan, you do not understand. Only when you leave here and go into the outside world will you understand something.”
Li Tianlan said these words quietly in his mind and then mocked himself, “Outside world?”
He had almost heard these two words since childhood for countless times, but in fact, his world was nowhere except for the campsite in front of him. He did go out once more than a year ago, but that was a more isolated environment.
What was that?
He observed his surroundings silently. The top floor of the watchtower resembled a room which windows were equipped in all four directions for surveillance. The room was made of wood and it managed to shelter them from wind and rain by an outer layer of tarpaulin.
The interior of the room was poorly decorated. There was only one big bookshelf full of books that could make others gaze at it with awe. On either side of the bookshelf, there were two plank beds for people to take rest. There were two desks on which writing brushes and Chinese art paper were placed not far away from the bookshelf. That was where the grandpa and grandchild practiced calligraphy in daily life.
This was the world that Li Tianlan grew up in. He did not hate the current environment, but after going out once, he was more and more eager to go outside again and enjoy the scenery outside.
However, his grandpa had kept him in check all these years. Every time he asked to go outside, his grandpa would tell him that the right time was yet to come. He didn’t know when would the right time come. Recently, however, he had become more and more impatient.
He took a deep breath, picked up a piece of white cloth, and wet it in water. Then, he walked to a plaque on the desk and wiped it silently.
This plaque was arguably the most valuable thing in the entire campsite. It was a nearly two-meter-long and one-meter-wide plaque made from red sandalwood. It was a rarity even if it was presented in the top circle of Zhongzhou State. The two words on the plaque were written so naturally and smoothly that they looked like floating clouds and flowing water. They fully demonstrated the demeanour of great master.
Li Tianlan looked at these two words silently and suddenly asked, “Does the man who just came here said he could reverse the verdict for my father?”
“It’s for my son, not your father. He won’t do it for your father.”
Standing in front of the bookshelf and looking at the books on it, Li Honghe replied carelessly.
“Is there any difference?”
Li Tianlan raised his eyebrows again. He was gentle and frail-looking, but the action of him raising eyebrows made him become fresh and alive and look sharp and fierce.
Li Honghe said calmly, “They don’t know that I have a grandchild. If they know your existence… Hehe…”
Li Tianlan’s expression was slightly stiff and he did not speak.
Li Honghe burst into laughter and kept saying, “I trained Ye Dongsheng personally in those days, so I know him well. He said he was worried about my health, and I guess he is telling the truth. It is estimated that he will send two private doctors to me within three days after his departure. He is kindhearted.”
Li Tianlan’s heart instinctively beat more quickly. He didn’t know what it meant, but he was very clear that if private doctors did come here, this campsite would be visited by outsiders for the first time over the years.
“So it’s time for you to go outside. It’s the right time.”
Li Honghe smiled at his grandson with gentle eyes, from which his heartfelt satisfaction and delight were revealed.
Li Tianlan’s body shook obviously. He quickly looked back at Li Honghe.
Li Honghe pulled a book from the bookshelf and opened it. He took out an invitation and a card.
He then came to Li Tianlan and handed him the invitation and card, saying in a calm tone of voice, “You shall leave today.”
Li Tianlan received the two items with hands shaking violently. The invitation his grandpa handed him almost attracted all his attention instantly.
The whole invitation was jet-black except for the silver Star Flag and the four small silver characters beneath the flag that were engraved on its cover.
There were two academies in Zhongzhou State that were rarely known by people but were extremely famous in certain circles.
One was called Deep-sea Academy, which was located in Youzhou.
And the other was called Sky Academy, which was located in Huating.
They were the top two Special Warfare Academies in Zhongzhou State.
They were the gathering places for young elites in Zhongzhou State.
The best Special Warfare Members, the picked spies, and the most promising Martial Artists gathered together and competed with each other.
The two Special Warfare Academies did not have a long history. However, they had cultivated quite a lot good generals in just a few decades. And this was no doubt a glory.
Over the course of several decades, the two Special Warfare Academies had produced hundreds of generals, numerous agents, as well as several special warfare magnates.
Under the premise of serving the country, the outstanding graduates of each session from both the Sky Academy and the Deep-sea Academy had a considerable autonomous right. They could independently choose to enter various Special Warfare Departments in Zhongzhou State and would receive key training.
For anyone with strength, ambition, but no backer, the admission letter from either the Deep-sea Academy or the Sky Academy was like a road to heaven!
And the jet-black invitation in Li Tianlan’s hand was precisely the admission letter from the Sky Academy.
Li Tianlan had a tidal surge of emotions. He was excited not only by the admission letter but also by his father who had graduated from the Sky Academy and finished his study with the highest marks.
Had he betrayed Zhongzhou State?
He had to find out the truth this time!
Li Honghe seemed to have figured out what was going on in Li Tianlan’s mind. He said calmly, “Don’t do whatever you shouldn’t do. Don’t be in a hurry to investigate your father’s case this time out. It’s useless. Your identity must be kept secret. Once others know that you are my grandson, you will only die faster. Of course, you need to reverse the verdict for your father, but you are not qualified to do that right now. At the very least, your achievements should not be inferior to your father’s. Only in this way can you be qualified to conduct an investigation.”
Li Tianlan nodded his head in silence.
“Do you know why am I still here today?”
Li Honghe suddenly asked. He chuckled and said before his grandson could reply to him, “That’s because I’m strong enough.”
“Do you think it’s a good thing to stay here, grandpa?”
Li Tianlan held the admission letter and could not help asking this question.
Li Honghe took a deep look at him and said calmly, “No, I don’t think so. But there’s something worse that you do not necessarily want to hear.”
He shook his head and pointed at the card in Li Tianlan’s hand, saying, “When you arrive at Huating, call this phone number and there will be someone to pick you up and arrange the admission for you.
Li Tianlan nodded and suddenly asked, “How about you, grandpa? You’re not going to leave with me?”
“I’ll be expecting you to pick me up.”
Li Honghe smiled and took a step forward to arrange the clothes for his grandson. He added calmly, “Tianlan, there are things that are not as simple as you see. You will know that after you get outside. I’m waiting for you to get stronger. I will leave this place when you are able to reverse the conviction for your father and wash off the Li family’s shame.”
After taking one step back, he looked at Li Tianlan with a smile and continued, “I can afford to wait a few years.”
Li Tianlan clenched the admission letter in his hand with a determined look.
For the entire Zhongzhou State, his grandfather was a well-deserved meritorious soldier. Thus, he was very clear that his grandpa’s past achievements enabled him to leave this forest with the admission letter from the Sky Academy to vie for the opportunity to reverse the verdict for his father and wash off the Li family’s shame. However, the crime his father had committed blocked all the possibility of his retreat.
He could only advance but could never retreat on this trip.
He would come to a dead end if he retreated!
“I’m going now.”
Li Tianlan put away the admission letter and said straightforwardly.
Li Honghe nodded slightly and suddenly said in a soft voice, “In fact, you still have someone to assist you. By the way, that man is quite powerful.”
“I myself arranged an engagement for you the year you were born. You don’t have to know who your fiancee is. This marriage is still up in the air and it depends on your performance. That old guy is relatively realistic. If you act like a good-for-nothing, he definitely won’t marry you his granddaughter; but if you behave well, he will send someone to you. At that time, whether this marriage is valid will be up to you.”
Li Tianlan nodded silently. He took one step back, knelt down, and kowtowed to the old man three times.
Li Honghe stood where he was without giving any response.
Li Tianlan stood up silently and went straight down the watchtower.
Outside the window, the sun had already set and darkness enveloped the entire forest.
On a windy but moonless night, Li Tianlan passed through the forest expressionlessly and went further and further.
The old man had been standing by the window and looking at Li Tianlan’s back until he completely disappeared from his sight. He slowly turned around and came to his desk. Then, he picked up his writing brush and ground the ink stick, planning to practice calligraphy.
Neither the grandfather nor the grandson was good at calligraphy, but practicing calligraphy could cultivate their moral character. Therefore, they had persevered in practicing calligraphy over the years.
However, Li Honghe failed to write any word after a long while this time. He did not sigh and put down his writing brush until the ink had soaked through the Chinese art paper. He then walked toward Li Tianlan’s desk.
The ink marks on Li Tianlan’s writing on the desk were already dry. The combination of black and white was especially dazzling.
Li Honghe stared at the Chinese art paper and his pupils suddenly contracted.
Unlike the small characters that Li Tianlan usually wrote, there was only one big character on the thin Chinese art paper. This character looked lively and vigorous and from which ruthlessness was revealed incisively and vividly.
Li Honghe suddenly looked back.
The figure of Li Tianlan had long disappeared, leaving only the endless dark night that diffused the forest like the harsh winter.