"If he really dies just like this, it would be letting him off easy."
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
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The Exorcism Department now had already gotten into the habit of taking afternoon naps until the evening and going about their errands at night, or as it was known, flipping day and night and living forever; everyone couldn't stop yawning during the day, including Hongjun, but when it got to about nine-thirty at night, everyone was in high spirits.
Qiu Yongsi and Hongjun were currently sitting on the tiled roof, since from there the entirety of the Longwu Army was spread out beneath their eyes. A-Tai was sitting outside of Hu Sheng's room, guarding it, while Mo Rigen was squatting on the wall of the backyard adjacent to Hu Sheng's room.
During the night, Hu Sheng's room was still lit by a lamp. The Longwu Army barracks housed many soldiers, and though Hu Sheng had an estate in the city proper, he still kept up the tradition of living and eating together with his subordinates. Tonight things were not as usual, and it was as if he was uneasy about something. He paced back and forth in his room as he glanced now and then at that cage covered in talismans.
"Where did you come from?" Though Hu Sheng didn't believe that the small fox was Jin Yun, he saw that its wounds were deep, and it was truly a little pitiful.
That small fox replied, "Commander Hu, let me go."
Hu Sheng let out a loud "wah" filled with horror.
Outside the room, Mo Rigen and A-Tai both heard him, but just as they were moving to enter, Li Jinglong stood in the courtyard, gesturing for them not to go in and that everything was fine.
"Wait here," Li Jinglong said quietly. "Unless it runs away, don't make any rash moves."
After saying this, with a flying leap, Li Jinglong hopped onto the wall before running towards higher ground.
"You-you-you... you can speak?" Hu Sheng seemed to be in a trancelike dream. Outside, a Longwu guard knocked on the door, asking, "Commander Hu?"
Hu Sheng hurried to assure him that nothing was wrong, before sending off the guard and returning to stare consideringly at that small fox. That little fox's eyes filled with tears as it said quietly, "Commander Hu, I know you treated me well, I also once thought... if I wasn't a yao..."
"You-you-you..." Hu Sheng kept backing up, his eyes filled with horror.
"We three sisters were originally cultivating in Xingyang," that little fox got a little closer to the side of the cage as it quietly continued. "I only wanted to see a little more of human society, so big sister and second sister took me to Chang'an. We've never hurt people, and we had no one to depend on, so we could only take up residence in Pingkang Li, but we never thought that even then, Li Jinglong still wouldn't let us go..."
"That slave didn't lie to me," Hu Sheng said, terrified. "You really are a yao!"
"Commander Hu!" the fox yao said. "Buddhism teaches us that humans who are virtuous will receive good karma. If you let me go, even if it takes me an entire lifetime, I will repay your life-saving debt. Do you still remember when we first met, that story that I told you?"
Hu Sheng sucked in a deep breath, finally calming down. When the fox spoke of this, he remembered that night of the Ghost Festival three years ago, when he had first met Jin Yun as he was releasing lanterns by the Qushui Bridge. That night, Jin Yun had told him a story of a fox yao and a scholar; despite their compatibility, due to their different paths in life, they were tragically torn apart.
Hu Sheng's eyes filled with pity. Ever since he was small, he had heard these kinds of poignant stories before, but the events that were happening right in front of his eyes were still a little suspicious to him.
Li Jinglong leapt onto the rooftop, where Hongjun and Qiu Yongsi were quietly whispering to themselves, but as soon as they saw him, they immediately stopped.
Li Jinglong looked at the two of them doubtfully since they were both acting mysteriously, but in reality just now, Hongjun had been consulting Qiu Yongsi on the things that usually happened in Pingkang Li -- as a sixteen year old youth, he was currently in his hot-blooded phase, and he was filled with curiosity over everything. The more Li Jinglong told Hongjun to not ask anymore, the more Hongjun wanted to know the specifics, so Qiu Yongsi greatly lowered his voice and told Hongjun about all of it in gory detail. As Hongjun listened, his face grew bright red.
"Anything strange?" Li Jinglong asked.
"No, nothing," Qiu Yongsi hurried to respond.
Hongjun, his face red, also answered, "Nothing."
The way the two of them looked, it seemed as if they were waiting for Li Jinglong to leave, but Li Jinglong sat down next to them instead. Hongjun had a strange feeling of being caught red handed and couldn't stop fidgeting.
"Thank you for your hard work, brothers. Once this case is closed," Li Jinglong said, "we should all take a good break. We'll find a place and let you guys have some fun."
Li Jinglong looked at Hongjun and Qiu Yongsi, and Hongjun suddenly had a flash of inspiration as he said, "Just now, we were..."
Before he could finish the sentence, Qiu Yongsi immediately interrupted, "... Serving our country, as is our duty. How can we say that it's hard work?"
In that moment, in the darkness, the ground swelled up, and a spine-like keel relentlessly drew closer to the Longwu Army training field. When it arrived in front of the main hall, it slammed into the foundations with a dull "du" sound before it backed up a little, searching for another path. As it curled around, it snuck in from under the wall surrounding the yard.
Li Jinglong immediately noticed something was wrong and asked, "What was that noise?"
Hongjun and Qiu Yongsi wore expressions of ignorance, but Qiu Yongsi had felt that weak tremor, and said, "Just now it seemed like down below... something shook a little."
Everyone only knew that there was still the fox yao at large, so they had focused on the wall, rooftops, and the likes, but they hadn't expected the movements of the earth below them.
"Are there any yaoguai that can travel under the earth?" Li Jinglong asked.
Hongjun immediately thought of one -- that ao fish that he had chased for almost twenty li that day!
After Li Jinglong was informed of this, he immediately jumped down, saying, "Everyone gather in the backyard!"
The ground swelled up again, and a cloud of black mist rose, forming into the body of a tall and skinny man. The man was wearing a set of black clothing, and there was a scabbed-over wound on his forehead. He pushed the door open and entered.
With a 'zhi ya' sound, Hu Sheng's door was pushed open. The cage door was wide open, and there stood a woman with wounds on her body, her face sheet white. It was Jin Yun, and with tears in her eyes she placed Hu Sheng down on the bed, covering him with a blanket, before quietly saying, "Commander Hu, I'm really sorry... I also didn't want to..."
"You still managed to catch feelings for him from your companionship with him." that black-clothed man said icily.
Jin Yun whipped her head around, scared half to death, and frowned. "Fei Ao?"
Fei Ao responded, "The higher ups have spoken, I'm to take you away from the city of Chang'an immediately."
Jin Yun let out a sigh, and she lamented, "Big sister and second sister were both killed by them. Is your wound doing better?"
Fei Ao walked over and tilted Jin Yun's chin up, saying, "It was unexpected, that this time around the Exorcism Department would turn out to be such a hard bone to swallow. Just you wait, I will get revenge for them. Let's go."
Jin Yun took a step forward, but she couldn't help but stumble, and when Fei Ao saw that she was wounded, he gathered up his sleeves and hugged her into his arms. Yao energy emanated from his left hand, and a steady stream of it flowed into her head, healing her wounds. Some color slowly came back into Jin Yun's face.
The five members of the Exorcism Department were scattered in the yard outside; Mo Rigen was perched on the top of the wall, slowly drawing his longbow, aiming directly for the two human silhouettes in the room.
Qiu Yongsi and Li Jinglong crouched outside the door, listening to the conversation coming from inside.
A-Tai and Hongjun hid themselves in the shadows, one of them holding a fan in his hand, and the other readying his three knives.
"The main enemy is still ahead of us, you shouldn't be wasting your cultivation on me," Jin Yun protested quietly.
"After tonight we'll be going far away, never to return to Chang'an to stay," Fei Ao replied casually. "In the coming days, after you and I have cultivated enough, we can return to get revenge for your sisters."
Jin Yun suddenly sensed an unexpected implication in his words, and she exclaimed, "They let you come to kill me?"
"As long as I'm here, no one will touch you," Fei Ao responded.
"Then what about the other sisters?" Jin Yun said. "I'm afraid that Li Jinglong is going to keep investigating."
"Aside from the one that your second sister sacrificed herself for, all of the other corpses have been hidden without a trace," Fei Ao responded. "How will he keep investigating? Is he going to go catch them one by one and take them back for interrogation? After next year's examinations, we'll get the chance to teach that Li Jinglong a good lesson and make sure that he has no grave to lie in when he dies! If he really dies just like this, it would be letting him off easy."
Upon hearing these words, Qiu Yongsi and Li Jinglong were both stunned. Li Jinglong's eyes were filled with horror, even as he lifted a hand to signal them, but didn't lower it in time.
Just then Fei Ao, still hugging Jin Yun, had already pushed open the door, taking a single step out--
Li Jinglong hadn't even shouted for them to move, but Mo Rigen had already, very rapidly, let loose an arrow. Yet in that moment, Jin Yun had already sensed the danger and pushed Fei Ao to the side, taking the arrow and falling to the ground with a pained cry.
"Keep him here!" Li Jinglong shouted.
Fei Ao's reaction was almost instant; the moment Jin Yun was hit by the arrow, he knew that it was a trap, and with one hand dragging Jin Yun, he rushed out of the doorway! Li Jinglong pulled out his sword, and Fei Ao suddenly turned and leapt towards him, furiously shouting, "Die!"
Everyone was alarmed, afraid that Li Jinglong could not defend against his attacks. In a single moment, arrows and throwing knives all rushed towards Fei Ao, who roared angrily and let loose an explosion of water droplets around him, which rushed outwards in all directions.
Li Jinglong's distance to the enemy was the closest, and he flew backwards from the force of the explosion. Hongjun let out the Pentacolor Sacred Light to block the blow, protecting himself and A-Tai, but just as he was about to rush out to the rescue, Li Jinglong kicked himself off a pillar. Lifting his sword over his head with both hands, he angrily roared, "The one who should die is you! Evil yao!"
Li Jinglong's body and sword flew in tandem towards Fei Ao. As he swung the sword down, Fei Ao lifted his hand, and with a "dang", he caught the blade. He pulled that sword into a spin, once again flinging Li Jinglong outwards like a rag doll.
"Fei Ao, leave quickly... don't mind me..." Jin Yun said, gasping her last breaths.
"I'm going to kill them!" Fei Ao was enraged beyond control, and he couldn't stop breathing heavily.
"With your skills?" A-Tai let out a cold laugh.
At this moment, Hongjun retracted his Sacred Light. A-Tai snapped open his blue folding fan, and right when Hongjun retracted his Sacred Light, he waved his fan.
From the flat ground, a tornado rose up and sucked up all of the water vapor that Fei Ao had released, turning into a hurricane that slammed heavily into his body with a huge bang. The doors and windows to Hu Sheng's room were all destroyed with the force of that hit, but Mo Rigen stood calmly and fired off three arrows, all of which solidly struck Fei Ao's body. In return, Fei Ao turned into a huge fish in midair, and Li Jinglong shouted, "Hongjun! Throwing knives!"
Hongjun sent out another knife, and with consecutive "shua shua shua"s, the arrows and throwing knives all embedded themselves in Fei Ao's body.
That giant ao fish smashed through the back wall of the room and burrowed into the earth, taking with it Hongjun's second throwing knife as it rushed out of the Longwu Army encampment.
In a short time, the entire Longwu Army had heard this ruckus, and they all lit their own torches. Li Jinglong yelled, "Chase it! We can't let it get away from us again!"
Everyone chased after it through the hole it had made in the yard wall, and behind them the barracks were in an uproar. Hongjun shouted, "Use my throwing knife as a guide!"
Soon after, just like that night, the ground swelled up, and the ao fish took the throwing knife with it as it rushed to the north of the city.
"Please don't go to the palace..." Li Jinglong said. "Chase!"
The members of the Exorcism Department increased their pace, chasing after that ao fish. Hongjun had yet to get back his first throwing knife, and this time he vowed to not let it escape again. He threw out his grappling hook, easily leaping up to the rooftops, and Mo Rigen leapt up and followed behind him.
A-Tai waved his fan again, and a strong gust of wind blew past, which lifted him up onto the rooftop as well. Li Jinglong followed after them, and with a few steps, managed to hop on up.
"You guys... wait for me!" Qiu Yongsi shouted.
Li Jinglong: "..."
Qiu Yongsi was still climbing up the wall, but he couldn't make it after a few attempts, so Li Jinglong could only turn back and bodily pull him up. In that moment the three in front had already disappeared in who knows what direction, and Li Jinglong snapped impatiently, "Hurry up!", as he sprinted forward.
That ao fish thankfully avoided the palace, heading further north of the city with the throwing knife still embedded in its flesh. Hongjun loudly shouted, "It wants to leave the city! It's coming up out of the ground!"
"Hongjun! Send me up!" A-Tai shouted.
The ao fish was moving too fast; it had already arrived in front of the northwestern city gate, and Hongjun had no time to think. He tossed out his grappling hook, and as he swung down from that hook--
-- A-Tai leapt off the roof, turning around in midair, and extended a hand that Hongjun grabbed tightly. With all the strength in his body, Hongjun grasped that wrist and with a fierce throw, sent A-Tai flying into midair.
Closely following, Mo Rigen also leapt off, grabbing Hongjun's wrist and shouting, "Sorry to trouble you!"
And with another shake, Hongjun also flung Mo Rigen onto the city wall.
The night was deepening, yet the city guards were still relishing the funny events that happened around Chang'an today.
"I heard that today that Li Jinglong caught a fox and sent it to the Longwu Army, saying that he caught a yao, ha ha ha --"
"He's gone crazy thinking about how to gain recognition! Tomorrow I'll also bring a dog..."
"What is that sound?"
A few city guards heard the rumbling near the ground and the shouts from A-Tai and Hongjun in front of the gate, and they hurried to the side of the tower to look down.
Li Jinglong and Qiu Yongsi rushed up.
The ao fish broke through the ground, flying upwards.
A-Tai's body flew through the air just as that ao fish let loose a hoarse cry, flying towards him as it opened its bloody mouth. Just as he was about to be chomped into meat paste, A-Tai pulled out the lute strapped to his back and said, "Get -- down there!!"
Saying this, A-Tai lifted up that barbat lute and smashed it down on that ao fish.
That blow was earth-shattering, creating a huge boom; in the moment that the lute smashed down, it was as if there was an explosion of sound waves, and the almost three zhang long ao fish was slammed into the city wall. Dust and broken pieces of stone flew everywhere, and with a rumble, it fell towards the city exterior!
"No way!" Hongjun cried. "You really used it to smash him!"
Mo Rigen laughed loudly as he touched down on those flying bricks, drawing his bow and consecutively shooting three arrows into the three compound eyes on that ao fish's forehead. The ao fish roared in pain, and when the arrows flew back on their own, they tore the eyeballs out of their sockets!
Soon after, the ao fish sank into the ground outside the city wall. Just as Li Jinglong and Qiu Yongsi rushed towards the gate, Li Jinglong shouted, "Quickly open the gate!"
In this instant, several gate guards were on the verge of a breakdown.
Li Jinglong yelled, "Exorcism Department business! If you don't open the gates, you'll be the ones to answer for it later!"
The gate guards hurried to open the door, but Li Jinglong had no time to spare on idle chatter as he dragged a panting Qiu Yongsi with him beyond the wall.
"Where are the horses?" Li Jinglong looked around in all directions.
"Where is the yaoguai?" Mo Rigen was also looking in all directions from the shadows he was in.
Li Jinglong pointed further to the north, indicating that it had escaped in that direction.
"A-Tai, you're so strong!" Hongjun gasped in astonishment.
A-Tai said humbly, "No, no, I'm not as powerful as you, little brother."
"No no, your magic is so powerful!" Hongjun was now wholeheartedly idolizing A-Tai, especially that move with that lute.
"Our A-Tai is the Archmage of the Eastern Regions..." Qiu Yongsi hurried to add.
"Enough from you!" A-Tai said, "Qiu Yongsi, aside from watching us monkeying around these days, what else have you done? It's about time for you to show off your skills a little!"
Qiu Yongsi said, "I really can't..."
"Stop idly chatting!" Li Jinglong said impatiently. "Get over here! We've found the horses!"
Mo Rigen and Li Jinglong brought over some steeds. Hongjun originally was disappointed that the yaoguai was going to escape again with his second throwing knife, but there were actually horses prepared outside of the city?
Everyone mounted their horse, following the road as they chased behind the yaoguai. Li Jinglong pulled out his sword and pointed it to the north, and the sword began to shine.
"Why are there horses?" Hongjun asked curiously.
"They were prepared in the afternoon," Li Jinglong answered. "North, south, east, west, each of the four gates had horses prepared to go."
The warhorses galloped along in the dark night along the northward road, and the sword shone brighter and brighter. That ao fish had been injured heavily, so its speed dropped drastically as it slithered through the harvested fields of wheat, rushing towards the mountain ridge to the north.
"This sword really can sense your throwing knives." With one hand Li Jinglong held the reins, and in his other was the sword, glowing with a brilliant light and illuminating their path forward.
Qiu Yongsi said, "Maybe it's made of the same kind of material. Artifacts made in the same batch often will have resonance effects."
Everyone reined their horses to a stop in front of Daming Palace, and Li Jinglong was quite distressed by this development. His forehead wrinkled into a knot, but the light from the body of the sword was as steady as ever -- that yaoguai had entered Daming Palace.
"Storm it?" Mo Rigen asked.
"Storm it," Li Jinglong said.
Hongjun threw out his grappling hook, flipping over the wall surrounding the palace that was multiple zhang high, and everyone followed after to sneak in.
Even though Daming Palace was one of Li Longji's residential palaces, it was much less favored than Xingqing Palace. Usually, Li Longji rarely came here, since the palace was outside the Chang'an city limits, so there were only a few hundred servants looking after it. Li Jinglong indicated that his subordinates should follow him, and they swiftly snuck towards the halls.
The people in the palace had long since gone to sleep, and a thin sheen of moonlight washed over the place, turning it into a pure and melancholy scene.
The body of the sword glowed brighter and brighter, and the autumn wind blew through the gauzy curtains as broken cries issued from the courtyard in the back hall.
Fei Ao clutched a dead small fox as he knelt in the courtyard, grieving his heart out and letting out hoarse sobs.
"Why did you... die like this..." Fei Ao sobbed.
When Hongjun heard this crying, his nose burned with emotion. Mo Rigen seemed to have guessed his sentiment, and with one hand, he pressed gently down on his shoulder.
Li Jinglong said quietly, "In a bit, everyone, please use your best techniques, don't keep them hidden anymore. Especially you, Qiu Yongsi."
Qiu Yongsi could only smile a little.
"And," Li Jinglong added, "try to keep him alive. We need to take him back for interrogation so that we can take down our enemies as quickly as possible. Don't destroy too much."
Everyone let out an "en" of agreement as Li Jinglong mulled things over again. He was, in the end, a non-human being, and if he harmed humans that would be even worse, so he amended, "Well, do what you need to do, and forget that I said those words just now."
Right after, he made a hand gesture, and everyone dispersed, scattering to the four corners of the back hall courtyard.
Li Jinglong lifted his sword and walked into the courtyard.
Hongjun, Mo Rigen, and the rest of them all anxiously watched Li Jinglong. Hongjun furrowed his brows; every time, it was Li Jinglong who went to lure out the enemies, which was really too dangerous.
Sticking out of Fei Ao's back was Hongjun's throwing knife, still letting out flashes of bright light.
Li Jinglong stopped ten paces away from Fei Ao, standing across from him in that spacious courtyard.
"Make your move," Li Jinglong said. "With the way things are now, there's no more need for discussion."
Fei Ao's hoarse voice responded, "Li Jinglong, let me guess, do you have someone you love? Who is the one you love?"
Li Jinglong was silent, his eyes intently tracking Fei Ao's every move.
Fei Ao's hoarse voice spoke again, "As long as you all don't kill me, in the future I will bite off all the meat on your loved one's bones, one cun at a time. I'll peel off her skin, bit by bit, and tear out her nerves one by one."
"There will be a day where I use her tendons to strangle your neck." Fei Ao raised his head, and when he looked at Li Jinglong, Hongjun, who was closely watching it from afar, couldn't help but shudder a little. This was the first time he had seen such deep rage and animosity in a yao's eyes, and it almost looked like it would shoot black energy out.
Fei Ao opened his mouth, and his facial structure suddenly changed, revealing a mouthful of sharp teeth! Li Jinglong tightly grasped his sword and responded, "Such a pity, I think you won't live to see such a day."
"Even if I die in your hands today," Fei Ao vowed hoarsely, "there will still be someone to help me achieve this bloody revenge!"
"Go!" Qiu Yongsi suddenly shouted.
No one had expected that before Li Jinglong had even issued a command, Qiu Yongsi would be the one to open his mouth!
Hongjun was also afraid that Li Jinglong wouldn't be able to fend off Fei Ao's desperate blow, so he set off a throwing knife with a shua! As expected, countless glinting teeth shot out of Fei Ao's throat, and Li Jinglong leaned back in retreat. The throwing knife horizontally swept past, blocking the wickedly sharp teeth that flew out like a storm of flower petals in spring!
The throwing knife brushed them aside, knocking those sharpened teeth away in all four directions with a series of clanks.
Hongjun shouted, "Li Jinglong!"
This time, Li Jinglong had been long since prepared; he whipped his body back to avoid being caught by Fei Ao again as everyone released their attacks - but Fei Ao actually managed to feint, and he turned and rushed to the back hall of Daming Palace!
Mo Rigen in that instant sent out his Seven Nailed Arrows at once, which turned around in midair and followed Fei Ao into the palace. Hongjun and A-Tai had already run after him in pursuit.
"Wait!" Li Jinglong wanted to shout, but Qiu Yongsi loudly said, "Hongjun's magical artifact is the one that is best suited for fighting, so no need to worry about him. Zhangshi, let's go!"
Li Jinglong, Qiu Yongsi, and Mo Rigen immediately followed. The wooden door, which had been first destroyed by that ao fish, was then struck by an unknown something and let out a huge bang. Closely after, A-Tai, with his fan in hand and the rings on his other shining with strong red, blue, yellow, and green lights all at the same time, slammed his palm into the ground.
With a loud 'hong', the ground began to shake, and the entire back hall of the palace jumped up due to A-Tai's magic!
That ao fish had no way to dive back underground, so it turned its maw to A-Tai to bite him, but right then, Hongjun had already blocked in front of A-Tai.With a shake, the Pentacolor Sacred Light, like an impenetrable powerful shield, parried the blow! In the instant that blow hit, Hongjun angrily roared, "Fuck off--!"
The moment the ao fish slammed into the Pentacolor Sacred Light there was an explosion of energy, throwing it straight back!
That huge ao fish tumbled around in the middle of the hall, knocking over countless pieces of furniture and ceramics. The ruckus alerted the guards outside who now came running in to investigate, and the place was filled with shouting.
"You guys..." Li Jinglong rushed into the hall, and upon seeing the mess on the floor, wondered how much money they'd have to pay in compensation. He hurried and shouted, "Lure it out to fight!"
"I'll do my best!" Hongjun shouted, and he shot up front, Mo Rigen following just behind. As he ran, with a flourish he called back his Seven Nailed Arrows. Collecting them up in a bundle, he nocked them all on his bow, where they let out thousands of rays of light.
With one hand, Hongjun held the Jade Peacock Plume as he hefted the Pentacolor Sacred Light, and with his other hand he swung his fingers down like a sword. The throwing knives flew like meteorites towards that ao fish, just as A-Tai waved his fan three times, and three tornadoes imbued with the power of lightning, frost, and flying sand respectively rose.
The interior of the back hall had been wrecked by the flailing about of the ao fish, and just as it was about to smash through another wall and escape to a side palace, Mo Rigen's arrows finally left the bow as he shouted, "Retreat!"
Hongjun was at the front blocking the ao fish's rampage, and when he heard the cry he took a step back, where Li Jinglong managed to grab him by his collar and tug him back. The Seven Nailed Arrows gathered into a single bundle shining with harsh light, whistling as they shot through a pillar, hitting the ao fish and piercing its abdomen.
The three cyclones followed after, and with the collapse of another wall, smashed the ao fish through the wall and out into the plaza outside the back hall of Daming Palace.
moon: welcome to juurensha, who’s hopping onto this project as well!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), opal.