"To believe it or not is up to you."
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Early morning of the next day.
"In a while, don't say anything," Li Jinglong specially warned as he woke Hongjun up.
Autumn had deepened around them as the maples planted around the courtyard were turning red, but the parasol tree maintained its steady spring green foliage. The contrast of the red and green, along with the reflection of the blue sky and white clouds on the pond, was a beautiful brightly colored scene to behold.
Two bodies and a heavily wounded fox were laid out in the courtyard. That last one seemed to be the youngest, and its body was riddled with wounds; it had first been pierced in the shoulder by Hongjun's throwing knife, then its hind legs had been toasted by A-Tai's flames to the point of its blackened skin hardening and cracking, revealing the raw flesh below. Finally, Li Jinglong's arrow almost ended its life, passing through its abdomen and pierced through the back. Mo Rigen's arrow also had barbs on the end that prevented it from being pulled out, so the arrow could only be removed by pulling the feathers through as well, which caused that small fox to continuously howl in pain.
Finally, it was Hongjun who dabbed on some of the elixir he had brought from Yaojin Palace to staunch the bleeding, and that ultimately saved the little fox's life.
"This one has the highest cultivation level." Qiu Yongsi took a few tentative steps forward, pointing to the largest one. He continued, "This one was killed by Mo Rigen as soon as it went out the door, so I can't tell for it. The one that's still alive is the freshest of the bunch."
That little fox had its two eyes tightly shut, unmoving.
"Should I bring you in front of Commander Hu so that he can see what you look like today, Jin Yun?" Li Jinglong tilted his head and studied that little fox. He then asked, "It hurts, doesn't it?"
The little fox unexpectedly opened its eyes, but it turned its head away.
"Jin Yun, Tu Ying, Zi Ying." Li Jinglong tossed down a stack of papers. The one on the top contained the fake names of the three women who had gone missing last night from Yishi Lan. "Family home in Xinyang, sixteen years of age. The three of you came to Chang'an from the same hometown as each other's companions to find a place to settle down."
"If you were only a spiritual being on this earth, cultivating to shed your animal form and become a human, your intentions only devoted to good, then it would be fine. At most, I would expel you from Chang'an." Li Jinglong paused for a bit, sitting down on the stairs outside the front of the hall, all the while keeping eye contact with the little fox. He continued, his words delivered deliberately, "But why did you three kill people?"
The little fox didn't respond.
"Who was the deceased?" Li Jinglong asked coldly. "Speak."
The little fox continued to keep silent.
"If you don't speak, I'll still be able to figure it out," Li Jinglong said. "Now, I'll give you one last chance. Tell me who killed that man."
The little fox stayed tellingly silent, and Qiu Yongsi suggested, "In my opinion, let's just kill it."
After a long silence, Li Jinglong said, "Let's call it case closed. Yongsi, you write up the report; tomorrow morning I'll go turn it in to Chancellor Yang. Today, let's hand over this fox to Hu Sheng along with an explanation of the events - I imagine he's already received his troops' reports from last night. As for the rest, let him deal with it on his own. In a bit we'll all head out on our separate duties, but first we should get this fox locked up."
Mo Rigen locked that little fox up in a cage, which was placed in the side yard, and Qiu Yongsi pasted a bunch of talismans on the cage to prevent it from running away. These measures proved to be unnecessary, however, as the little fox never thought of escaping, and it had no more energy left to do so. When everyone gathered back up, A-Tai frowned and said, "Will it believe us?"
"Now you can speak." Li Jinglong said to Hongjun.
Hongjun was just about to ask his questions, but Li Jinglong was already answering the question from before. "Send it to the Longwu Army, then listen for any strange movements elsewhere. Trying to find a yao in the palace is like trying to find a needle in a haystack; this will simplify the process a lot."
Mo Rigen said, "But what if someone comes to rescue it?"
At this point, Hongjun finally realized what they were up to, and in his heart he thought, how smart! Li Jinglong was only trying to trick the little fox earlier, pretending that this case was already closed, but his true goal was to lure out even more yaoguai!
"You guys are trying to this strategy to catch a big one."
A-Tai, Mo Rigen, and Qiu Yongsi at this moment looked at Li Jinglong in a new light, which was earth-shatteringly different from before, especially after the skills that Li Jinglong had displayed last night. Once he finished speaking, Li Jinglong rose, and the others followed him, but all he said was, "You guys should go rest, Hongjun and I will go return the cat."
"I'll go get some more Lihun Pollen for everyone," Qiu Yongsi smiled.
Li Jinglong glanced at Qiu Yongsi before nodding. He had Hongjun hug the chausie tightly, and the two of them left.
As soon as the two of them walked away, the expressions of the other three changed.
"Last night you guys didn't see," Mo Rigen said, "When the second three-tailed fox yao appeared, he risked his own life to protect Hongjun and the Longwu troops that rushed in. A civilian with this kind of courage is very uncommon."
A-Tai thought about it for a moment, pacing a little in the courtyard, before responding, "Maybe he really can defeat the yao king?"
Qiu Yongsi squatted under the eaves of the hallway as he protested, "Just with his performance in this case? Don't you guys think you're speaking a little too soon?"
"I even thought of leaving a few days ago!" A-Tai said sadly, and he put his hands on his hips as he replied, "Do you guys know how disappointed I was? Ah? Can't I have some expectations in life?"
"Wa, Tocharian sissy." The carp yao had just woken up, and while looking through the fish food options on the side of the pond for something to eat, it asked, "You three were originally in one group?"
The three of them had forgotten that the walls had ears, and in that moment they all froze. This time, they were in deep trouble.
A-Tai suddenly had an idea, and he said, "Zilong-xiong, what kind of fish do you like? I'll go buy you one?"
The carp yao gobbled up the fish food and replied, "That won't be necessary, I need to practice abstinence for my cultivation. But my family's Hongjun still needs a lot of guidance from you all. Today's words, I'll keep bottled away in my mind"
Everyone let loose a sigh of relief at this point, before the carp yao added, "But…"
The three of them immediately felt their hearts leap into their throats again.
Only to hear the carp yao continue, "Everyone's so disorganized right now. If you can't work together to catch a fox, how are you going to defeat the yao king in Chang'an?"
"Ay, fish bro," A-Tai said. "When you put it like that, that's not correct, we're also genuinely concerned that Li-zhangshi will get hurt or lose his life…"
"All lives are equal," the carp yao said. "When I was released by that monk, he told me that being a person was good, but being a yao was also not bad. Everyone has their own things they want to protect, doesn't it all boil down to that?"
The three of them stopped talking.
Qiu Yongsi said, "We do need to find an opportunity soon. In my opinion, there's no more need to hide things from him. We should instead properly have a talk with zhangshi and lay all our cards out on the table."
The carp yao finished off his fish food, and he muttered to himself, "I should help Hongjun wash his clothes." And then he dragged a washboard to the edge of the well, propping it up on one edge, before he brought out Hongjun's shirts and pants, scrubbing them one by one.
After being scolded like this, the three of them had shame written in every line of their faces. They had been exorcists for so long, but their worldviews weren't even comparable to a carp's. Truly, they were the ones who were very narrow minded.
It was early morning. Li Jinglong walked ahead and Hongjun straggled behind with the cat in his arms as they first headed to Lady Qinguo's manor to return the cat.
"Keep an eye on the people at the Qinguo manor," Li Jinglong said to Hongjun. "A person's expression can reveal many things about them."
Hongjun at this point felt that Li Jinglong was admirable, but he also had many difficulties of his own. How had he reached the point he had before, where everyone around him looked down on him? He really couldn't understand. But Chong Ming had explained before, everyone has their own morals that they adhere to, and many things didn't need to be achieved through strength alone.
"But Zhao Zilong often says that I don't have an eye for people," Hongjun said.
Li Jinglong could only reply, "We live in a society, so it's not often that someone has the ability to get confused over these things. It's fine, there's no need to force it. In a bit, just try to keep quiet."
As soon as Li Jinglong and Hongjun carried the cat into Lady Qinguo's manor, the gatekeeper loudly shouted, "Qing'er is back--!"
"Quick, quick! Qing'er has returned home!"
That scene was exceptionally sensational, and even Li Jinglong felt supremely awkward. The butler himself came out to greet them, and Li Jinglong asked, "Is it this…"
Before he could finish his question, the butler snatched away that cat, happily exclaiming, "That's the cat, that's it! Where did you find it?!"
In mere moments, it was as if the emperor himself was visiting the manor. Song and dance filled the place as the maidservants and manservants joyfully conveyed that cat to the outside of the main hall. The butler placed the cat down in the main seat, but not before adding a soft silk cushion on top. He then brought over a jade food box filled with sea cucumber, catfish, and other rare foods, and an empty luminous gilded bowl, which he filled with fresh spring water from a nephrite jade pitcher.
For the past two days at the Exorcism Department, that cat had disdainfully eaten nothing but marinade on rice, and as soon as it returned to the manor it began to inhale everything in its path. That cat's attitude now seemed completely different from the days before.
"Hurry and kowtow to Captain Li!" the butler shouted.
The servants gathered like clouds as they spread themselves out in rows, kowtowing three times.
Li Jinglong: "..."
"He's Li-zhangshi," Hongjun explained for him.
Li Jinglong's expression turned very ugly and he got up to leave, but the butler hurried and said, "The lady has gone to the palace, please wait for the lady to come back so that she can thank you personally."
Li Jinglong waved his hand to indicate that there was no need, but just as he was about to call Hongjun away so that they could leave, Hongjun saw the pastries on the table and remembered that he hadn't eaten breakfast, so he immediately began to inhale all the pastries like a starving wolf, completely tossing Li Jinglong's command out of his head beyond the nine heavens.
"So tasty… wu…" Hongjun said as he drank some tea, and Li Jinglong could only say to the butler, "This is my subordinate."
"A dragon and phoenix amongst men! A dragon and phoenix amongst men!" If it wasn't for his status, that butler would have also knelt and kowtowed to the two of them. He came up and tugged on Li Jinglong's hand, saying, "This time we must truly thank Li-zhangshi from the bottom of our hearts, you have truly saved us this time… ay…"
That butler was a sweet talker. A few days earlier, when Li Jinglong had come by and questioned them, he was barely willing to cooperate with him, and he hadn't thought that the cat would actually be found. Under the influence of such passionate emotions, he grew incoherent, which only served to jab deeper at Li Jinglong's greatest trauma.
Li Jinglong's gaze swept over the manor, but he didn't see any maidservants looking shifty, or any people with weird expressions, so defeated, he chivvied Hongjun to eat faster. As soon as he was done eating they would leave.
Hongjun was currently drinking tea, and he motioned for Li Jinglong to wait a little bit. This was the first time he had had such tasty pastries, and he grabbed a few more.
"This lowly one will immediately prepare some more for you and send them to the Exorcism Department!" the butler hurriedly offered.
Li Jinglong's head was almost smoking from his anger, and he forcefully diverted the topic away. "When this cat escaped, were there any visitors at the manor?"
"That night the consort, Lady Guoguo, and Chancellor Yang were visiting," the butler replied. "At that time we were all busy to the point of distraction, ay…"
Li Jinglong's forehead wrinkled. Hongjun heard what the butler said as well, and he stopped in the midst of wolfing down the food, glancing at Li Jinglong.
"After you're done eating, let's go," Li Jinglong said.
The butler tried to have them stay, but Li Jinglong waved his hand as he dragged Hongjun out with him. The butler also wanted to give them gold as thanks, and finally, Li Jinglong couldn't stand it anymore. He turned around at the front entrance and said to the butler, "It was as simple as lifting a hand, there isn't anything to thank us for."
After that, Li Jinglong said to Hongjun, "The soldiers of the Great Tang who are fighting on the borders don't get more than two silver taels a month for their military pay; they are worse off than a single pet of Lady Qinguo's. If this money was merely the ancestors rewarding us for our merits, no bystander would complain, but who knows where the money to pay for all of this comes from."
The butler was stabbed pretty deeply by that comment, and he was somewhat taken aback for a bit. Just as he was about to get angry and shout at Li Jinglong, the two of them had already left, so he could only swallow down his anger.
"With your abilities, all you can do is find cats," the butler muttered darkly.
Li Jinglong only pretended that he didn't hear, and he went with Hongjun to the Judiciary Department to check the archives. Hongjun pulled out one of the pastries, handing it to Li Jinglong. "Nuo."
"I don't eat minzhi mingao," Li Jinglong said.
"This is called minzhi mingao? It tastes really good," Hongjun said. "Try it? I know you probably really want to have some. Why is it that what you say never matches what you mean, that's not very good…"
"It's not that my words don't match up with my intentions, I really don't want it!"
The two of them kept pushing and pulling at each other on the street. Li Jinglong had no idea how to deter Hongjun, and he couldn't beat him up. Quite a few citizens had gathered to watch the spectacle, and seeing how things were going, with an argument imminent on the horizon, he could only take it.
The pastries that Hongjun had taken were called "Golden Rounds", which were made of a layer of crystalline rice flour wrapped around egg yolk, cheese, osmanthus, and early summer honey. Li Jinglong said that he wouldn't eat any, but his stomach was hungry, so finally he did take it and ate the minzhi mingao.
"It's good, huh," Hongjun said.
Li Jinglong: "Wu."
Li Jinglong and Hongjun walked past the main street, and while they did, Li Jinglong would now and then lift his eyes to glance around at his surroundings; he was afraid of being seen by others.
Even though the Li family had gathered some assets over the years, the food was still not comparable to that offered at the Yang family's sisters' manors. Li Jinglong was torn; the pastries were really good, but he also was thinking of what the butler had told them.
"Hey, do you think it's possible that the main yaoguai is right by the emperor's side?" Hongjun asked.
Li Jinglong furrowed his brows deeply. "If that's how it is, then His Majesty is in danger, if…"
"No, he won't be." Hongjun turned around, stopping in front of a small alley, before he said to Li Jinglong, "The Son of Heaven, when he is amongst the mortals, is under the protection and blessing of the North Star. Even if there are even more powerful yaoguai, they have no way to directly cast their spells on the Son of Heaven. But this yaoguai, could it be Chancellor Yang? Or is it Lady Guoguo? What if it's Yang-guifei?"
"Impossible," Li Jinglong responded immediately, not even thinking about it.
"Why is it impossible?" Hongjun asked confusedly. "Isn't it very logical?"
That sentence of Hongjun's immediately startled the dreamer awake, and Li Jinglong was speechless for a while.
This guess pierced straight through Li Jinglong's thoughts. Chancellor Yang or the consort and her sisters, all trusted people around the monarch, could be yaoguai?! Li Jinglong looked at Hongjun, before saying, "Let's go, why are you standing here without moving?"
Hongjun looked at the noodle stall next to him, before looking back to Li Jinglong.
Li Jinglong: "..."
Hongjun: "Look at how good these noodles are. Zhangshi, you don't want to have a taste?"
Behind the counter, the stall owner was currently stretching out the noodles and dropping the golden yellow noodles into the pot, where they bubbled to the surface in the boiling water. After they were lifted from the pot, they were covered with a braised pig trotter, soybeans, dried tofu, and other toppings, before they were garnished with a handful of spices, and that heavenly scent permeated their noses.
"Didn't you just eat some pastries?" Li Jinglong said. "Why are you hungry again?" He remembered Hongjun's tactic just now in the manor, where he saw food and immediately refused to walk anymore, and he was also afraid that if he refused then he would be laughed at, so he hurried to say, "Alright, alright, eat eat eat."
Li Jinglong ordered some noodles and sat down, which gave him a good opportunity to digest the ideas in his brain.
When the two of them sat down, the air over Li Jinglong's head was filled with storm clouds. Thinking about it, that cat's movements seemed to be guiding them in a certain direction; too bad it couldn't open its mouth and tell them. Additionally, after breathing in the Lihun Pollen, they all seemed to have forgotten many important things, so they could only try and guess.
If there really was someone in the Yang family who was a yao, this would be no small matter, and what if Yang Guozhong and his siblings were all yaoguai? Li Jinglong didn't dare to think further along that train of thought, and as he was musing, his attention turned once again to Hongjun.
Hongjun had already started on his third bowl.
"Do you usually eat this much?" Li Jinglong asked.
"I'm currently growing," Hongjun said, confused. "What's wrong with me eating more, it's not like I'm eating your family's rice."
Li Jinglong had no response to that.
"In the coming days, come time for someone else to take care of you, the money they'd saved up won't be able to buy you enough food," Li Jinglong said stiffly as he turned his gaze away.
"I'll take care of myself." Hongjun was honest, and he added, "My dad gave me quite a bit of money. My goal is to try everything delicious all over the world, the food in the human realm is really too good!"
Hongjun realized that he had spoken carelessly, but Li Jinglong could read the atmosphere, so he let that misspoken line go.
"You all have money," Li Jinglong counted out a few copper coins to prevent Hongjun from eating more; he was afraid that if Hongjun ate more, he would be too full. Hongjun wanted to pay, but Li Jinglong didn't let him, saying, "You're all rich people na -- one liang of pollen alone is eight hundred taels. Someone who isn't from a rich family wouldn't become an exorcist anyways."
The three thousand and two hundred taels for the Lihun Pollen were still a debt that had yet to be cleared, and he had spent all his savings on restoring the Exorcism Department; now, with this meal of Hongjun's, he was out at least another two days' worth of food expenses, and he could do nothing but wait for the next month's salary to be distributed. Li Jinglong's expression was one of great anxiety, but there was no good way to tell Hongjun this, so he could only grit his teeth and bear it.
He had twelve copper coins left; if he didn't go to any more restaurants in these few days and ate at the department instead, today was the twenty-sixth of the month… holding out until the fifth of the next month shouldn't be a big problem.
This was Hongjun's first visit to the Judiciary Department. Originally, he thought it was a temple, but he found out that it was actually just an ordinary government office. The officials came and went on their own duties in front of the main hall that loomed menacingly as an anguished cry came from somewhere deep inside. There was a heavy feeling of rage in the air, which made people feel uncomfortable all over.
Logically speaking, when they found the body and caught the yaoguai, this case should have come to a close, but Li Jinglong felt that the body that the fox yao had burned was a point of suspicion; clearly, whoever was behind all of this didn't want him to investigate it further. The cat and the fox yao case were both filled with suspicious gaps, and the more gaps there were, the more he felt he couldn't close the case. He had the impression that behind them, there was an even more complicated and intricate puzzle to solve.
The two of them looked through the Records Hall in the back of the estate for a long time, before Hongjun suddenly said, "Come look at this?"
Hongjun could now basically follow some of Li Jinglong's thoughts; many things that looked normal on the surface could have unusual aspects hidden beneath -- three scholars who had come to Chang'an to take the imperial examination had stayed in a Chang'an inn for multiple days, but they had run away without paying their bills. The innkeeper couldn't get the money, and thus reported it to the Judiciary Department. According to the details, they were about thirty to forty years of age.
"Take it with us." Li Jinglong pulled out that piece of paper, taking it to the front to go through the proper procedure of transferring the case from the Judiciary Department to the Exorcism Department. Upon seeing the case, the literary official laughed loudly as he mocked them. "You Exorcism Department, aside from chasing cats, you all just chase down debtors?"
Li Jinglong didn't even bother to dignify that with a response, walking away as soon the seal was applied as he took Hongjun with him to the Longwu Army headquarters.
The training yard outside of the Longwu Army barracks was spacious; in previous years Yuchi Jingde created the Xuanjia Army for Li Shimin , which, after a hundred plus years of change, split into the "Shenwu" and "Longwu" branches. Despite the capital being moved to Luoyang before it was returned to Chang'an, the training yard was just as splendid as it was originally. It was morning, and the troops were currently running drills on the training field. Mo Rigen, A-Tai, and Qiu Yongsi had long since brought the cage over, and Li Jinglong had Hongjun wait with them outside as he alone went in, carrying the cage in to see Hu Sheng.
"Hahaha, Li Jinglong has caught a yao, look, look! It's a fox!"
The Longwu troops couldn't resist standing on the side and mocking him. They thought that Li Jinglong had randomly caught a fox outside and pretended to stick some talismans on the cage to give them a fright, before coming over to report in.
"Looks like our zhangshi-daren receives only the best treatment from his comrades," A-Tai smiled.
Mo Rigen's brows were furrowed deeply, as if he was very anxious over Li Jinglong's situation, before he replied, "Logically, someone this smart should understand how to be flexible and thus be successful in one way or another, so why is he so clueless about these things?"
"The common people have their own problems," Qiu Yongsi said. "The knots he bears have to be untied on his own."
Hongjun had heard them eloquently debate like this every day, and every time he was completely lost amongst the clouds and the mist, so he couldn't help but ask, "Can't you guys speak a little more directly?"
The three of them looked towards Hongjun, all of them with strange smiles on their faces.
"The less you understand, the less troubles you'll have," A-Tai watched Hongjun intently, tilting Hongjun's chin up with that blue gilded folding fan in his hand, and with a smile filled with mischief, he said, "Us geges are doing the worrying for you, isn't that good?"
"Ignore him," Mo Rigen dramatically draped an arm across Hongjun's shoulders, pulling him to his own side.
Qiu Yongsi said, "Mo Rigen, now you're not doing things right. You're actually stealing people from zhangshi-daren?"
Mo Rigen began to smile as he answered, "He's like my little brother, what about it?"
"You have a brother?" Hongjun asked surprisedly.
"I have four younger brothers and two younger sisters," Mo Rigen answered.
Hongjun hadn't thought that Mo Rigen was actually the eldest in his family, no wonder he had such a big brother feeling to him.
A-Tai then warmly asked, "What happened today morning?"
Hongjun thought about it, before giving them a general idea of the events. At this time, the Longwu troops came over, surrounding them on the training field, saying, "Hey! Swords and spears don't have eyes. Don't stick around the training yard, all of you need to go stand elsewhere!"
Hongjun was wearing a random set of clothing that he had bought after getting to Chang'an; though A-Tai's clothes were lavish, he was clearly a Hu person; Mo Rigen was wearing a hunter's outfit, and Qiu Yongsi was dressed as a scholar. When the four of them stood together, no matter what, they looked weird. When they heard the words, all of them backed up a little, and presently the troops began to mock them as well, calling them "Li Jinglong's freakish subordinates."
These words roused a wave of jeering laughs, and anger flickered in Hongjun's eyes, but as he took two steps forward, his shoulder was pressed down on by Mo Rigen.
"What are you doing?" Qiu Yongsi asked. "Don't bother with outsiders' affairs, you two."
But Mo Rigen didn't say anything. He just pulled out a copper coin and tossed it to A-Tai, who caught it with a face full of suspicion. Mo Rigen picked up a longbow on the weapons rack, pulled out three arrows, hefted them, and then stood in the middle of the training field.
At the same time, Li Jinglong had finished detailing the events of last night, and Hu Sheng's face was filled with thunderous fright.
"You… what you said is true?!" Hu Sheng asked.
Li Jinglong answered, "What, you think I corroborated stories with all the eyewitnesses from last night just to lie to you?"
Hu Sheng responded, "But this… this is just unbelievable! You mean to say that this fox is actually one of the women from Yishi Lan?"
"It's a fox yao," Li Jinglong said coldly. "It's also that woman Jin Yun that you like to go visit."
"Nonsense!" Hu Sheng said. "Li Jinglong, you…"
Li Jinglong responded, "To believe it or not is up to you. I'm turning this yaoguai over to you. When the Judiciary Department inevitably looks into the missing persons case involving three famous women from Yishi Lan, they'll sooner or later trace it to you."
Hu Sheng suddenly realized a serious problem -- he was intimate with Jin Yun, and though this incident hadn't spread as rumors yet, the old proprietress, the servants, and the women at Yishi Lan all saw him quite a few times, and Jin Yun usually would talk about him with other people as well. There were even scented sachets and other sundry items in her room that he gifted her, so inevitably he would become a suspect in the case.
Li Jinglong's tactic here made it very difficult for him to advance or retreat.
"Alright, little General Fei," Hu Sheng instead began to smile, and he said, "Before, I really made light of you." When he finished saying this, his eyes turned quickly towards that fox, and many ideas flashed in his brain. Though he didn't know what Li Jinglong's ultimate goals were Jin Yun's disappearance was a fact that was set in stone, and as soon as the Judiciary Department investigated, he himself would be put under house arrest, making it difficult for him to escape.
If he said there was really a yao, then killed the fox in front of the Judiciary Department, that would be the end of it, and additionally he could take this opportunity to explain that he was assisting Li Jinglong in catching yao. He would then have an excuse protecting him, so he could escape the crime of officials consorting with prostitutes.
"Alright," Hu Sheng said. "If the Judiciary Department comes searching, then this official will explain it to them. After that, they might still have to go find you."
Li Jinglong casually responded, "Closing up the case is naturally my duty. Just wait for them to start the investigation."
Just then, an uproar came from outside, and Li Jinglong furrowed his brows as he moved up to the window to take a look. Hu Sheng asked, "You brought some of your people over?"
Li Jinglong hurried to push open the door and walked rapidly outside, only to see a mass of people on the training field packed so tightly even a droplet of water wouldn't go through. In the middle were Mo Rigen and a captain, competing in archery. As the dust settled, every time one of Mo Rigen's arrows hit the center of the target, the Longwu Army stayed so silent you could hear a pin drop, but when the captain hit the target, they all cheered loudly.
After they shot the three arrows, Mo Rigen pulled out another three, gesturing to A-Tai, before addressing the crowd in a loud, clear voice, "Shooting at targets gets boring after a while, let's switch it out for my little brother to show off a few skills of his own?"
A-Tai held a folding fan in his hand, on which was balanced a single copper coin, and with a gentle shake of his hand, said, "Go!"
That copper coin flew into the sky, and as it flipped end over end - weng, weng - Hongjun understood, and he tossed out the throwing knife in his hand, shouting, "Hit!"
The throwing knife shot over, and with a "ding" it hit the copper coin, which began to furiously rotate, and under the sunlight it turned into a small shining ball of light that shot towards the corner of the training field!
That captain knew that Mo Rigen was planning to shoot the copper coin with an arrow, but just as he drew his bow, he had no way to follow the flight path of that copper coin, and his hands trembled uncontrollably.
Soon after, Hongjun sent out another throwing knife, which first ricocheted off a roof tile before striking the copper coin a second time, and the copper coin let out a shockingly loud hum.
In that moment everyone was as silent as the grave, and the third throwing knife left Hongjun's hand, blocking the fall of the copper coin, and upon striking it, with another sound, sent it up many zhang into the air!
"It's your turn," Hongjun smiled as he lifted his hand and called back his throwing knives.
Mo Rigen had long since drawn and readied his bow, and the captain drew his bow and aimed the arrow, sweat sliding down his forehead. The two of them lifted their heads at the same time, looking towards that "weng weng sounding copper coin, which had already become a small black dot in the sky. They were waiting for it to begin falling before releasing their arrows!
The copper coin flew higher and higher, and the corners of Mo Rigen's lips tilted upwards in a small smile, but just as he was about to draw his bow, an arrow flew in from the side, heading directly for it, piercing right through the square hole in the middle of the copper coin, bringing it straight down, and with a "deng" the arrow thunked into the corner of the training yard.
The thousands of people gathered on the training yard all turned their heads at once, only to see Li Jinglong holding a longbow in his hand, standing shoulder to shoulder with Hu Sheng on the top of the steps to the yamen.
"Let's go!" Li Jinglong said. "How much meaning is there in having such a (cocky/conceited) contest of skill?"
His subordinates all put away their weapons and swaggered along behind Li Jinglong as they left. Li Jinglong's expression was conflicted, and the entire way back he didn't speak a single word. Even Hongjun was feeling uneasy when they finally returned to the Exorcism Department, when Li Jinglong said to his gathered subordinates, "You all are exorcists. Your skills are naturally a cut above the rest. Is it very rewarding to win against them?"
They all felt a little ashamed, but in their hearts they thought, wasn't it just to get back at them for what they said about you, but if you didn't want it, then whatever, you can deal with it on your own. Li Jinglong then said, "Starting tonight, we're going to stake out the Longwu Army barracks to catch a big fish.
"I hear and obey --"
Qiu Yongsi glanced at them, meaning look, they've applied the flattery at the wrong time, but Hongjun just scratched his head and began to smile.
That night, black clouds blanketed the sky, and after Li Jinglong filled them in on the events of the day, he brought them to the Longwu Army barracks.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), opal.