"The most unreasonable thing should be that fish that has grown limbs, and even has hairs on his legs."
Editor(s): namio, pnemnn
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Li Jinglong didn’t answer. When the shadow cast by the lamplight paused in its motions, Hongjun took this chance to push open the door and enter.
“Get out,” Li Jinglong said. “Who taught you to trespass on your superior’s quarters?
Hongjun scratched his head as he stepped out again and peeked in from the outside. The carp yao stood by Hongjun’s feet, placing his head on the threshold as he glanced in.
Li Jinglong finished straightening his covers, and as he stood up, he turned and glanced at Hongjun.
“I think I’ve caused you trouble,” Hongjun said. “Is it bad?”
Li Jinglong breathed in deeply. Hongjun thought he was going to get mad again, so he quickly took a step back.
“How old are you?” Li Jinglong asked, studying Hongjun.
Hongjun reported his age, and Li Jinglong said, voice low, “Keep your yao under control. If it manages to get out and scare people, you should just go home. It can’t happen again.”
The carp yao felt this was a boring conversation and ran off on his own. Hongjun replied, “Don’t send me home, please, I’ll be careful. I can’t go home anymore.”
Li Jinglong was startled. Hongjun felt that there was nothing more to this conversation, so he turned around and went through the hallway to the western chamber.
The interior of the room was filled with dust, and Hongjun didn’t have any bedding, so he had to make do for the night. He found a few planks that he put together, and then he saw that there was a sheepskin jacket on the planks. He figured that Mo Rigen had lent him that for the night, and, crumpling his dirty clothes up in a bundle as a pillow, he laid down and went to sleep.
The morning of the next day, Li Jinglong stood in the courtyard. By his side were more than ten porters loaded with packages of all sizes, and he said to them, “Put them in the courtyard.” He then counted the money for their payment. Hongjun was very curious and went up to take a look, only to see that the packages contained all kinds of things: there were materials to make bedding, some common lifestyle goods, pots and pans and kitchen utensils, the four treasures of the study and so on... Apparently, Li Jinglong had bought these and brought them back.
“Wah!” Hongjun exclaimed. “Is this for us to use?”
“It’s for sharing,” Li Jinglong said expressionlessly. “The cost will be deducted from your salary.” Then he continued onwards, taking large steps to the western chamber. He lifted his foot and kicked open the door to A-Tai and Qiu Yongsi’s room, angrily shouting, “Get the hell out of there! Who said you could go visit the brothel at night instead of staying here and sleeping?!”
The two of them had quietly snuck out at night to explore a bit, so they had only slept less than two shichen. They hastily crawled out, looking like quite a sorry sight. Li Jinglong had everyone present help move the things into the rooms, then commanded that everyone gather as quickly as they could so that they could all pitch in to clean up the Exorcism Department.
Li Jinglong didn’t stop working all day long, but the four others and the fish would laze off once in a while. They goofed off in the courtyard, singing and playing the lute and making music, and messing about. The painters and plasterers were putting the finishing touches on painting the buildings and the pillars, but they also had to stop and wait for Li Jinglong to finish cleaning up the rooms. Finally, after three days, Li Jinglong finished his work, and the Exorcism Department looked like it was brand new.
Within the front hall stood a gilded Acala statue, surrounded by snow-white walls and red pillars. The doors and windows had been repainted, and within the courtyard were little patches of moss. A low couch was placed in the main hall, and a tea set was placed upside down on the small table in front. In the front yard, under the light of the autumn sun, the leaves of the fernleaf bamboo whispered as they moved with the breeze. A little path paved with pebbles led to the front hall of the backyard, and within the pond were several red fish swimming about. To the side of the pond stood a wooden plaque with the three characters “Zhao Zilong” written on it; this was evidently the carp yao’s residence.
Under the eaves of the cloister, the windchimes gently tinkled, letting out a crisp, clear chime. Within the courtyard, a seventy-plus year old parasol tree bathed in the sunlight, while the glazed tiles shed sparkling flecks of light on their surroundings. The eastern chamber contained Li Jinglong’s bedroom, along with the library, armory, and the medical supplies storage. Within the library, there were ten-plus shelves stacked with books, along with the case records from Di Renjie’s time.
The floors had been scrubbed clean, so Hongjun ran barefoot down the corridors. Each of their rooms had been installed with floor-to-ceiling sliding wooden doors for better lighting. Every room had also been suitably arranged by their new owners -- in Mo Rigen’s room, a tiger pelt was laid out on the floor in front of the table, and he had also hung up a bow he got from the Western Market. Several exotic rugs were scattered about A-Tai’s room, and everything was made of white jade and glazed glass, which made it a luxurious sight to behold. Qiu Yongsi’s room was decorated with the painting, 'Strolling About In Spring', and the tea set, vases, and other objects were Qianfeng Emerald in color, all from the famous Yue kiln.
Only Hongjun’s room had a raised floor bed against one wall, and the four walls were empty of decor. Li Jinglong picked out three pieces of calligraphy and paintings and threw them to Hongjun, letting him hang them on his own. One was Zhang Xun's cursive calligraphy, another was Zhang Sengyao’s 'Hundred Birds', and the last one was Li Sixun’s Jin Bi Landscape. Hongjun wasn’t versed in identifying goods, and he didn’t even recognize the “seal on them, so he just casually hung them wherever. Looking at that “Hundred Birds” painting, he was reminded of his days spent in the Yaojin Palace, and he couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.
The Exorcism Department had already been completely refurbished, and within the many departments in Chang’an, it would not be an exaggeration to call it the most elegant of them all. When the capital of the Divine Land had been moved from Luoyang to Chang’an, Di Renjie’s disciple, Luo Jintong, had bought Yuwen Kai’s childhood home, which was the house at this address. It had both excellent lighting and water, and today, with Li Jinglong’s refurbishments, it became the group’s new home.
“It’s done.” Li Jinglong wiped his sweat and cracked open a tea ball in the main hall.
The group saw him in a different light after these few days. At first, Mo Rigen, A-Tai, and Qiu Yongsi did not accept him, but they never thought that Li Jinglong would firmly stick to his own tasks and let them go off on their own. In the end, he had even single-handedly cleaned up their rooms as well.
“Let me.” Qiu Yongsi reached for the tea ball, and Li Jinglong let him. Soon, the copper teapot was filled with hot water, and under the wide autumn sky, they sat in the main hall, drinking tea.
“Originally I had thought,” Li Jinglong kept that same cold and calm expression on his face as he quietly spoke, “that for the first step in reinstating the Exorcism Department, everyone could take this opportunity to repair the place and work together to become a little closer…”
Hongjun turned his head and looked left and right, and he saw that Mo Rigen’s, Qiu Yongsi’s, and A-Tai’s expressions had all become a little stiff.
“... Although since it looks like everyone is a dragon and phoenix among ordinary people, you all seem to have become great friends.” Li Jinglong lightly continued, “Jinglong is just an ordinary person. It seems like in the coming days, I’ll be a burden on you all, I apologize in advance.”
When Li Jinglong put it like that, everyone felt extremely awkward.
Other than Hongjun, the three others did indeed look down on this common person. Li Jinglong was also fully aware that the subordinates under his command looked down on their superior, but because he was given the same treatment wherever he went, he was already long since used to it.
“Now, hand over the letters in your hand,” Li Jinglong said. “Today, you all will be formally registered, and tomorrow, I’ll give Chancellor Yang a report.”
“Zhangshi, did you send us the letters?” Mo Rigen said.
Li Jinglong shook his head and said, “No, I also wanted to ask about that. Who sent you all this letter?”
That was bizarre, since Li Jinglong had no reason to lie to them. They discussed the matter for a bit and concluded that there must have been someone out there who wanted to revive the Great Tang Exorcism Department, so they had picked this time to send the four of them to Chang’an.
But if things were like this, what was the explanation for Li Jinglong coming to join them? Could it be just a fated coincidence?
Hongjun was the first to hand his letter to Li Jinglong.
“Kong Hongjun,” Li Jinglong asked, “where do you live, and who are your parents?”
The carp yao peeked his head in from outside the hall as Hongjun began to tell their cover story. He told Li Jinglong that his adoptive father was a cultivator who lived on Mt. Taihang, and he had been sent to Chang’an to gain some experience of the outside world. As for Zhao Zilong, that was a carp he had taken in and raised, it was definitely not a spy sent by the yao tribe.
Li Jinglong didn’t inquire further, he just sat there and listened. Hongjun kept feeling that his lies had a lot of gaping holes in them, but Li Jinglong kept believing him wholeheartedly.
Next was Mo Rigen. Mo Rigen was of the Shiwei tribe, and like Hongjun, he told Li Jinglong that he was also here to gain some experience. Hongjun felt that Mo Rigen had hidden a lot as well, but Li Jinglong also didn’t ask; he simply lifted his brush and noted down Mo Rigen’s name.
A-Tai was a noble of the Tocharian tribe, and he had come to study the culture of the Great Tang dynasty.
Qiu Yongsi’s family was located in Hangzhou, and though his ancestors were historically scholars, he had obeyed his grandfather’s wish, and had come to the Exorcism Department to gain some guts.
The ones that followed after were simpler and simpler, and with just a few lines they casually glossed over their backgrounds. By the time Li Jinglong finished recording the information, Qiu Yongsi had finished steeping the tea. He poured it out for the group, and, including the carp yao, all of them cupped their hands around the bowls of tea.
“In the future, make sure you wipe your feet before you come in, don’t leave puddles all over the floor.” Li Jinglong admonished the carp yao.
“Looks like there aren’t any new people coming,” Li Jinglong continued.
The group just quietly watched Li Jinglong; they all guessed that he had something else to say. Li Jinglong took a sip of tea, and, without looking at the four people in front of him, contemplatively mused, “I don’t know who summoned all of you here, but I believe that despite Duke Di’s death, his ideals and spirit still protect and support my great Tang dynasty. Being gathered here with everyone is no coincidence, but rather a fated encounter.”
After saying that, Li Jinglong lifted his head and looked at the mural of Di Renjie on the eastern wall behind their backs. His eyes were filled with a complicated emotion, and the four of them each turned their heads around, looking at the likeness of Di Renjie.
“So what you’re saying is that Duke Di hid four letters, and so many years after his death, they were sent out?” Mo Rigen said. “They summoned us here to revive the Great Tang Exorcism Department?”
“How could this be!” The group wore similar expressions of ‘you think I’m an idiot’, sizing up Li Jinglong sitting in front of them.
“This is… too impossible,” Hongjun said, dazed.
“The most unreasonable thing should be that fish that has grown limbs, and even has hairs on his legs.” Li Jinglong turned his head, and without changing his expression he glanced at the carp yao.
The carp yao: “...”
“True.” Hongjun had quickly accepted this turn of events and nodded, saying, “Compared to that, sending a letter after death is something that is more understandable.”
The rest of the group put their hands to their foreheads as they looked at each other. Since Li Jinglong had pointed it out, they didn’t bother digging further. You’re the superior, as long as you’re alright with it, then that’s all we need.
“Tomorrow, this official will go get uniforms and passes made for you all,” Li Jinglong lightly said. “I’ll leave the matter of the drawing of the salary to all of you. There is still one more day for you to decide, but as soon as your name has been officially registered, you will have become officials of the court, and no matter if you’re Hu or Han, you will have to fulfill the same duties.”
Hongjun originally had been sent on a mission, and he kept thinking about when he would go find the person from the Chen family and his own throwing knife; as he heard the statement, he nodded, and suddenly he saw Li Jinglong arching his brow and shooting a look at Hongjun, as if he was waiting for Hongjun to make a declaration.
“I will stay.” Hongjun had a lot of personal matters to settle still, and so he nodded his head.
Mo Rigen answered, “Stay.”
Qiu Yongsi said, “Stay, but what exactly are we supposed to do within the Exorcism Department? Zhangshi, you’ve got to give us some duties.”
“There will be work to do,” Li Jinglong said. “Chancellor Yang has decreed that any and all cases that the Six Armies and the Judiciary Department can’t handle, and any cases where yao mo gui guai are “potentially” involved in the case, are all to be given to the Exorcism Department. Originally I thought that before there were any cases, you could all go wander around the city of Chang’an, but now that you’ve spoken, you all won’t be disappointed. We’ll start work in the afternoon.” After he finished speaking, he finished off his tea and stood up.
Hongjun immediately said, “Zhangshi, could everyone… help me with something?”
“No,” Li Jinglong replied.
“I know you want to go find the yaoguai from that night,” Li Jinglong said, “But today, I don’t yet know all of your abilities, since we have never worked together before. If we were hastily dispatched right now, without an understanding of how to work together, our troubles would only increase, so I will have you stay here for a while before I can let you go off to resolve your own problems.”
Hongjun felt frustrated, but he saw the logic in Li Jinglong’s words, so he could only nod his head.
Li Jinglong stood up and left the seat, and the group dispersed, as today’s matters were considered concluded. He walked out of the hall, but when he entered the eastern chamber, it was as if he had suddenly put down a heavy burden; he slumped against a pillar, breathing heavily, as if he had lingering fears in his heart. Thinking about how this bunch of awe-inspiring exorcists had been so easily commanded by himself, he couldn’t resist making a fist of glee, and the corner of his mouth revealed the hint of a smile.
Just as he lifted his head, he suddenly saw Hongjun standing ahead, watching him with a face filled with suspicion.
“Zhangshi, what were you doing just now?” Hongjun tentatively asked.
Li Jinglong immediately coughed and sternly said, “What is it now?”
“Can you do me a favor?” Hongjun watched Li Jinglong and said, “I want to find…”
“I said, you can’t!” Li Jinglong said, displeased.
“Not a yaoguai,” Hongjun immediately responded. “You’re familiar with Chang’an. All you have to do is tell me where Chen Ziang lives, I’ll go on my own.”
His exorcist buddies were not familiar with Chang’an, and there was no point in asking them about the location of Chen Ziang’s family. If he wanted to search door to door, Chang’an had six million residents; there was no way he would find them. But now that Li Jinglong had arrived, he was Hongjun’s savior.
“Let me ask you a question.” Li Jinglong sized up Hongjun, and suddenly said, “You are a cultivator. Do you know of any spells that will help someone forget some events?”
“Spells?” When Hongjun had been so suddenly questioned, he was taken aback, and as he racked his brains, he replied, “I don’t know any spells, but there is a kind of flower…”
In his childhood, Hongjun liked to run wild on Mt. Taihang, and within the Yaojin Palace, there were many strange and wondrous sights. He seemed to remember, in the back hall, there grew a kind of plant native to the Western Regions.
moon: the translator’s notes in this chapter k-worded me, jfc, so many… i’ll have graduated with a phd in feitian history by the time we’re done with tl-ing tianbao
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), opal.