"Wherever there are a large number of the yao tribe gathered in one place, there must be a yao king."
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
That night, everyone was eating dinner.
“Look at you all,” Li Jinglong gestured with his chopsticks as he lectured them. “At least pretend to have the courtesy to kneel.”
Mo Rigen answered, “Why would I have thought of all that?”
A-Tai, with a face of innocence, said, “My family has a special rule. Even in front of Emperor Taizong, we wouldn’t kneel.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Mo Rigen said, “To tell the truth, zhangshi, my family also has a special rule. If we see the emperors of the Central Land we don’t need to kneel; a simple bow is good enough.”
Li Jinglong looked at Qiu Yongsi, who said, “My family… there are saints among my ancestors, so I don’t need to kneel… en, we don’t kneel for commoners.”
Li Jinglong lifted his hand, meaning alright alright, anyways I knelt, so it has nothing to do with any of you anymore.
Hongjun was still eating those pastries, as he had been from the afternoon all the way until the evening. Li Jinglong glanced at him and asked, “And what background do you come from?”
Hongjun said, “My dad said, even if my family saw the Jade Emperor or the Buddha, we don’t need to kneel.”
“Hongjun!” The carp yao was currently dishing out the rice at the edge of the table, and it stopped him from wildly spilling all sorts of details of his own identity out to them. Hongjun then added, “But next time if you let me know ahead of time, I can kneel, it won’t hurt. My dad won’t know anyways; it’s just that the person who receives the kneel might not live to the full extent of their fated lifespan.”
Qiu Yongsi suddenly smiled and said, “Next time if you see a yaoguai, you should putong down, go kneel in front of it, and give three sound kowtows to it, and you can put an end to its natural fate right then and there. That would be great, we all wouldn’t need to work this hard either anymore.”
“Good point!” Hongjun suddenly felt that this idea had some merit to it. He could try it out next time.
“You guys…” Li Jinglong couldn’t stand this inane banter anymore, and he said, “Hurry up and eat already, and Hongjun, stop eating those pastries, you won’t be able to finish your meal.”
“Don’t look down on my appetite!” Hongjun turned up his nose at Li Jinglong’s provocation.
Li Jinglong knitted his brows. After resting for a bit, the troubles he had before were still there, and they hadn’t lessened even by a little bit. The case the Exorcism Department had taken on still couldn’t be considered closed, Hongjun’s throwing knife was still missing, Daming Palace would soon come knocking on their door, asking for compensation, and last night his discussion with Fei Ao seemed to have another layer of meaning hidden within their exchange… ah well, he’d eat first, then after eating, he’d go back to it. If he was full, his mood would be better.
For a while, no one in the hall spoke as all of them mused over their own troubles. Finally, Li Jinglong put down his bowl and let out a sigh. Qiu Yongsi moved to go make some tea as A-Tai smiled and comforted him. “Zhangshi, there is no bump in one’s life that cannot be overcome. Come, let’s discuss what’s troubling you.”
“What do you want to do now?!” Li Jinglong’s scalp tingled, and he exclaimed, “No need!”
Li Jinglong warily glanced at his gathered subordinates, afraid that they had caused some other big trouble.
A-Tai said, “There are some things that we can’t continue to hide from you…”
Li Jinglong’s heart sank to the bottom of a valley, but well, whether it came horizontally or vertically it was all death either way, and he said, “Whatever, whatever, I’m just unlucky. Say it, either way when my head gets cut off, it’ll just leave a scar the size of a bowl.”
“It’s nothing that serious,” A-Tai said. “Zhangshi, actually… before, I lied to you, my name isn’t Hammurabi. My surname is Isai, and my full name is Tegla Isai. I am not a Tocharian, my ancestors are actually from Persia.”
Li Jinglong’s expression was odd as he asked, “What’s wrong with Isai? Isai…”
In that moment, Li Jinglong came to a realization, and he was greatly shocked.
“You… you are the Sasanian…” Li Jinglong’s voice trembled as he spoke, “Crown Prince?!”
A-Tai said, a little melancholic, “Technically it should be the ‘former Sasanian Empire’. After all, my father, paternal grandfather, mother, and relatives… have all passed away. There’s only me left.”
Hongjun didn’t know what the hell this “Sasanian Empire” was, but when he heard that A-Tai’s loved ones had passed away, he thought of himself, and he couldn’t help but pat A-Tai’s shoulder in sympathy.
Li Jinglong was still stuck in the extremes of shock. His brow furrowed deeply as he asked, “Why did you… not go to see His Majesty?”
“My ancestors were unable to fulfill their original promise,” A-Tai ran his fingers through his curly brown hair, calmly saying, “Great-grandfather in the Battle of Talas lost the Anxi Protectorate he had been granted by the Great Tang, and grandfather requested more troops from the Great Tang to regain his own country, but in the end…”
“But when they got to Tokharistan, the troops left on their own,” Li Jinglong answered for him.
A-Tai was a little surprised, and he asked, “You know?”
Li Jinglong answered him with a question, “And then what?”
A-Tai let out a sigh. That year, when Isai had lost Persia in battle, the capital had been taken by the Abbasid forces, and the three generations of the ruling clan had started to flee. The three generations of the Isai family that fled, including A-Tai’s grandfather, had requested troops from the Great Tang, installed themselves in the Anxi Protectorate, and set up a military-governed new state of Persia in Jiling.
But the good times didn’t last long; in just a few years, the last piece of land that the Tang-supported Persia held was lost to the Abbasids’ attacks. The sons of the Isai family, including A-Tai’s grandfather, Peroz III, had taken A-Tai’s father, Narsieh, back with them to request more troops.Gaozong, Li Zhi sent out troops to escort them back to Tokharistan, but the journey took over ten years, and the original deployment had long since started to split apart as the troops lost morale. Finally, the commander of the forces, Pei Xingjian escorted the refugee Persian princes to Tokharistan before promptly taking his forces and leaving.
When Narsieh returned to the Central Land, the Great Tang had already changed greatly. Zhongzong, Li Xian had reassigned the post of Awe-inspiring General of the Left, and he no longer brought up the idea of borrowing troops. In a short two years, Narsieh realized that there was no hope for him to revive his own country, so he returned to Tokharistan; ten years later, he had a son, whom he named Tegla, and that was A-Tai who stood before them today.
Ever since Persia was destroyed, four generations of Persian princes had harbored this slim hope and traveled thousands of miles from the Western Regions to the Central Land, before returning back to the Western Regions. On this autumn night, this story that came out of A-Tai’s mouth was tinged with the flavors of desolation and regret.
“Pei Xingjian is my maternal grandfather,” Li Jinglong suddenly said.
“For what happened back then, I apologize,” Li Jinglong sighed and said.
“What does it have to do with you?” A-Tai began to smile, and he continued, “If I were in his shoes, seeing that there was no hope of reviving that country, I also wouldn’t choose to lay down the lives of twenty thousand men in the Western Regions.”
Li Jinglong sighed, and Mo Rigen responded, “The Abbasid troops have the advantage of numbers. Fighting a head-on battle is a waste of time and effort, it’s not a smart strategy. You must try to attack them from the inside.”
A-Tai nodded and said, “To tell the truth, I know all of this already. My kingly father already had me give up on this goal before he passed away. He said, ‘A-Tai, I hope that you can properly live out your own life. Don’t be like me and your grandfather, wasting your entire life on…’”
When he got to this point, A-Tai quieted. After a long silence, Hongjun said, “But you still wish to accomplish it, right?”
A-Tai smiled gently, but that smile held a little sadness. Hongjun understood him very well; just before he went down the mountain, Chong Ming and Qing Xiong had also entrusted similar expectations onto him. Though they said “it was fine” with their mouths, Hongjun felt that he had to accomplish those tasks.
But, what he sympathized with A-Tai the most was that the person who had placed so many hopes on him, was already dead.
“Now how many people do you still have under you?” Li Jinglong asked. “Did you bring them with you?”
Li Jinglong’s sentence was like a single knife cutting straight through the fog, and in A-Tai’s eyes, a spark of hope rekindled.
“They’re all in Tokharistan,” A-Tai answered. “There are still over a hundred people, they’re currently being led by a friend in my absence.”
Li Jinglong took a long breath before standing up and walking out into the courtyard. He thought deeply for a moment, before asking, “A-Tai, how did you learn your repertoire of skills?”
A-Tai was born the year that Narsieh had turned fifty. As Zoroastrianism was the main Persian religion then, after the Sasanian Empire had collapsed, it had obviously been replaced. Therefore, the former high priest took in A-Tai as his sole disciple. A-Tai had learned how to control the power of the Four Rings of Fire, Earth, Thunder, and Water, and he had learned how to use the Godly Hurricane Fan, as was fitting for the saintly prince who would regain the country and restore the faith. However, the high priest died even earlier than Narsieh, and it turned out that there were quite a few followers of Zoroastrianism left in the Middle Land; they had merely retreated into hiding from the persecution of the Abbasid Caliphate.
“What do you need me to do for you?” Li Jinglong turned and asked.
“I will happily expend my energy for Chang’an,” A-Tai answered. “The Great Tang has always been the most loyal of my Persia’s allies, and I can do anything for them. I hope that in return, there will be a day where the Great Tang emperor can lend me troops so that I may go and reclaim my country.”
How could it be this easy? The people in the hall knew clearly that, even if the current emperor was willing to offend the Abbasid Caliphate, even if they sent out troops, what were the chances of victory?
“I will do my best.”
Finally, Li Jinglong said earnestly, “But we cannot rush this matter right now.”
A-Tai nodded and answered, “This time, I came to Chang’an having prepared myself. In this flourishing era, we are balanced precariously; if the yao king of Chang’an isn’t eliminated, then perhaps the Great Tang won’t even be able to take care of itself. In that case, allowing me to borrow troops would be something completely out of the question.”
In an instant, Li Jinglong’s brows furrowed. “The yao king?”
Qiu Yongsi, like placid clouds and light breezes, said, “Wherever there are a large number of the yao tribe gathered in one place, there must be a yao king. The Chang’an of today has two kings; the one in the light is the true dragon, the Son of Heaven that we saw today. The other is hidden in the dark, the yao king who dominates over the near ten thousand yao in this capital.”
Mo Rigen thought about it for a moment, before saying, “Hongjun I’m not sure about, but to tell you the truth… the three of us all came here for the yao king.”
“Where is the yao king?” Li Jinglong had just opened his mouth and asked when someone else came to visit.
“Li-zhangshi of the Exorcism Department,” Lian Hao called politely from the outside, “Huang Yong, Deputy Chief Huang of the Judiciary Department extends an invitation to you.”
Li Jinglong’s heart thumped in his chest, knowing that the unspeakable truth of what happened to Daming Palace had finally been revealed. Everyone stared at each other, but when they tried to get up, Li Jinglong stopped them, indicating that he would be the only one to go to set things straight.
“Is he going to get tied up and beaten?”
Hongjun remembered that the last time they went to the Judiciary Department he had heard the anguished cries of the prisoners, and he felt a little lingering fear.
Qiu Yongsi consoled him, “There’s no way. If he doesn’t return by tomorrow morning, everyone here will think of ways to bail him out.”
“The money has all been spent, and now such a big thing has to happen,” A-Tai said. “We also don’t know anyone in Chang’an, so how will we go about bailing him out?”
Mo Rigen held his forehead with one hand. They had managed to catch a yao after working so hard, but now he had to go bail out his own superior. He also didn’t know what he had done wrong.
“Come!” A-Tai saw that the atmosphere was a little heavy, and he suggested, “Let’s forget about these unhappy things, I’ll play a piece for you guys to listen to!”
Qiu Yongsi couldn’t help but ask, “Do you think zhangshi took all that in?”
A-Tai strummed the strings of his lute and answered, “I think he took it all in, but you guys… it’d be better if you didn’t say too much now.”
“Including you,” Mo Rigen said to Hongjun. “Hongjun, you trust others too easily.”
Hongjun felt that the other two people also had some difficult truths they were hiding, but the matter of A-Tai actually being the Persian prince, this was something that he had never expected.
“Are you guys also princes?” Hongjun asked.
He thought that Mo Rigen and Qiu Yongsi would both smile a little, but he didn’t expect Mo Rigen to nod and say, “I guess I count as one.”
“Eh…” Qiu Yongsi replied. “It’s hard to say, I also don’t know if I am or not. I guess that I technically count as one, if you guys acknowledge it.”
The carp yao clambered up from the pond, leaning its head on the side, and said, “My family’s Hongjun is also a prince. Who isn’t a prince or something like that?”
Everyone laughed loudly, and A-Tai lifted his palm to high-five Hongjun, saying, “I knew it!”
Everyone, because of their same status, grew quite a bit closer to each other. Just as A-Tai was about to play, Hongjun couldn’t help but ask, “A-Tai, I honestly really want to listen to you play, but I need to interrupt once more, where is the yao king?”
A-Tai lifted his head, and everyone paused for a moment.
Mo Rigen asked, “You’re also searching for it?”
Hongjun thought about it, looking towards the carp yao, and seeing that the carp yao didn’t say anything, nodded a little.
“Why?” Qiu Yongsi asked.
“It’s fine,” Mo Rigen indicated that Qiu Yongsi shouldn’t continue to ask and responded, “This isn’t important. Hongjun, you’re on our side.”
“Of course.” Hongjun understood the meaning hidden in Mo Rigen’s words and said, “No matter if it’s suppression or extermination, I will always be its enemy.”
Everyone wore expressions of “then that’s good”. Qiu Yongsi paced a few steps in the courtyard and said, “The yao king has yet to reveal itself, and right now no one knows its identity or real appearance. But the one thing we can confirm is that it must be close to the emperor, and maybe even by his side.”
“It’s a black jiao,” Hongjun suddenly said.
The other three were stunned. Mo Rigen unconsciously licked his lower lip, and Qiu Yongsi said, “I knew it must be! Let’s search for it slowly; there will always be some tiny trace that we can find, like its current hiding place. What I worry about is that with our current strength, we may not be its opponents.”
Hongjun sighed and said, “Of my four throwing knives, I’ve lost one. If I can get back my Heavenly Thunder Knife, then the throwing knives can exert their strongest power. Now, all I can do is fight a few small yaos, it’s not nearly strong enough.”
Hongjun’s identity was the most mysterious, and though the rest of them didn’t know where he came from, they could confirm one thing: this little guy was far more otherworldly than the rest of them, and it was quite possible that he was the disciple of some immortal saint or great god. But as long as he didn’t say anything, the rest of them wouldn’t ask.
“So, Kong Hongjun, you came to Chang’an to take down the yao king as well?” A-Tai asked.
The three of them all watched Hongjun, and Hongjun nodded and said, “That’s right.”
Everyone was relieved; they had obviously guessed many times at Hongjun’s identity. What they had guessed the most often was that he was of the yao tribe -- he had a carp yao following him, so he could very well not be on their side. But as long as they had the same goal in the short term, then everything was easy to work with.
“For our mutual goal of defeating the Chang’an yao king,” A-Tai said, “let’s listen to some lively battle music!”
Everyone cheered. No matter how difficult the future was, occasionally pouring out their hearts to each other was nothing difficult, and presently A-Tai began to play his lute as Hongjun went to go find a bowl to hit, and everyone began to listen to the song.
At the same time, Li Jinglong stood in the lantern-lit bright interrogation hall of the Judiciary Department, his body and heart exhausted. The dinner the carp yao had made that night was too salty, and he was incredibly thirsty.
The Minister of Industry Qin Xiaokang, the Minister of Justice Wen You, the Deputy Chief of the Judiciary Department Huang Yong, his old superior Hu Sheng, the Shenwu Army Marshal Tu Ziwen, the Minister of Rites, a Daming Palace official, and the head eunuch Gao Lishi sitting in the middle; all of the officials had gathered here. Each of them were ostensibly here to conduct their inquiries, but in reality they were all here to interrogate Li Jinglong. All that was missing was putting him in shackles.
If he had Qiu Yongsi’s power, the thing Li Jinglong wanted to do most was to wave that giant brush around once, sweeping all of these people into the painting, so that he could return his ears to a state of cleanliness and return the Great Tang to a state of peace.
“From the beginning to the end, I’ve already explained it in detail three times now,” Li Jinglong said. “I swear that there is nothing I am hiding.”
Gao Lishi was the main authority in the room, like the bright noonday sun. The Exorcism Department technically was still under the jurisdiction of Yang Guozhong, and originally on behalf of Yang Guozhong, any small mishaps could be easily overlooked. But now, Li Jinglong had brought a group of his subordinates and destroyed at least ten percent of Daming Palace, and his main excuse was that they were “catching yao”, so how were they supposed to deal with this?
“I do believe you,” Gao Lishi said, “but how do you want me to report this to His Majesty?”
“Report the truth as it is,” Li Jinglong said without a shred of fear. “Chang’an has been troubled by yao for a long time now, and all of this is only the beginning. Sooner or later, there will be a day where we drag out the yao king hiding behind the scenes, and I’m afraid that at that time, the great generals above me will have much more to report.”
With this sentence, everyone heard the words “yao king”, and all of them were greatly startled.
“This is just an exaggeration to make us afraid,” the Minister of Justice, Wen You, snapped. He was evidently done with this farce. “Li Jinglong, the way I see it, you’re insane!”
Li Jinglong laughed loudly and said, “Then the palace servants at Daming Palace who witnessed the events, the guards on the city wall who saw that yaoguai, how do you explain the testimonies of all these groups of people? And even Commander Hu, you’ve gone insane with the rest of us?”
Hu Sheng’s expression became extremely strange; in this moment, he realized that he had stepped right into Li Jinglong’s trap.
This time, no matter what, Li Jinglong was going to leave himself an eyewitness, and this time, Hu Sheng couldn’t escape at all. He could only say, “The fox yao I saw with my own eyes, and it is exactly as Li Jinglong says. The rest, I don’t know.”
Gao Lishi was dumbfounded at this, but the Minister of Industry Qin Xiaokang said, “For now, let’s assume that these events are real. The matter of destroying Daming Palace, how are you going to escape that one?”
“That was destroyed by the yaoguai,” Li Jinglong answered. “My subordinates and I were not involved in it.”
“The meaning of that is then, we should go find the yaoguai to compensate us properly?” the Minister of Rites said, his voice slow and measured.
Li Jinglong was fed up with all of this, and he said, “Do these daren gathered here know that if we let those yaoguai run wild through Chang’an, committing countless atrocities, how many people will die in the coming days?”
“Li Jinglong.” Gao Lishi’s brow was deeply furrowed. He was already extremely tired of all of this, and he said, “That’s enough, don’t keep arguing with us, you can leave.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
In an instant, all of the blood rushed to Li Jinglong’s head, and he almost lost control of himself and began to shout loudly. But the two Judiciary Department guards to his left and right pressed him forward, and he was escorted out of the room.
“This madman is actually favored by the Imperial Consort. Originally I wanted to find some made-up misstep to get rid of him, but I never thought that he would actually take his duty seriously and create such a large problem…”
This was the last sentence Li Jinglong heard Qin Xiaokang say before the doors to the Interrogation Hall closed. The guards brought him to the pitch-black plaza outside of the Interrogation Hall and had him wait there for the results.
“Does everyone believe him?” Gao Lishi asked.
The people sitting there looked back and forth at each other, but no one wanted to speak. In their hearts, they all believed a good amount of it, since otherwise there would be absolutely no sensible explanation for all of this, but yao and evil, no matter what view you took, could absolutely not be brought up in front of the great Son of Heaven.
Huang Yong said, “How I see it, it’s better to say that Daming Palace experienced a sudden tornado in the night, which explains the upturned soil and collapsed buildings, and the case can be closed then. The Ministry of Industry can then send craftsmen and repairmen to go fix up the place in the night…”
The Minister of Industry huffed, meaning that for the havoc that your Judiciary Department wrought, why should my Ministry of Industry carry the pot?
Gao Lishi smiled and splayed out his hand, saying, “The Exorcism Department is still under the jurisdiction of Chancellor Yang, so what else can we do?”
“I think the Chancellor of the Right may not know of these matters, probably,” the Minister of Criminal Justice, Wen You, said.
“This time, if we let it go on behalf of the Chancellor of the Right, what about next time?” Qin Xiaokang said coldly. “Will we let it go like this every time?”
“What can I do?” Gao Lishi smiled and said. “I’m also very frustrated over this. Everyone, originally I should have been inviting everyone to my house for drinks at this time. Instead, we were woken in the middle of the night to come here and listen to this kind of nonsensical narrative.”
“Since you do believe it,” Huang Yong said, “then it’s no longer a story. In the past, Old Di created the Exorcism Department precisely for…”
“No matter if it is or not,” the Minister of Justice coldly interrupted, “if this matter were to spread, then it would definitely strike fear into the hearts of the people of Chang’an. As soon as it spreads, there’s no going back, so we can’t let him continue on like this.. We must shut down this random government office; no matter how fierce the yao are, they are still made of flesh. Since the cases still go to the Judiciary Department, aren’t you all able to catch the yao as well?”
Wen You was Huang Yong’s superior, and with this sentence, Huang Yong could only shut up and nod.
Gao Lishi said, “But the consort has a soft spot for them…”
“General Gao,” Wen You turned and said, “if you let this servant continue to run around like this, then in the future when he causes an even bigger commotion, I’m afraid that even Chancellor Yang is going to feel the repercussions!”
Gao Lishi’s eyes darted back and forth, and he didn’t say anything more.
“The collapse of Daming Palace can be fixed,” the Minister of Rites said, “but what if next time what gets destroyed is the Shrine of the Ancestors?”
Gao Lishi let out a small cough. This sentence was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
“But this matter, we have to at least mention it to the Chancellor,” Gao Lishi said thoughtfully. “We need to keep the consort’s reputation intact as well.”
“That is true,” everyone nodded, coming to an agreement. The court recorder began to draw up the transfer order, but Wen You added, “No need to cross jurisdictions to come up with this official order. Tomorrow I am going to the Ministry of Personnel; I think Li Jinglong’s original transfer order hasn’t been processed yet, so I’ll just tell them to cancel it.”
Gao Lishi nodded and said, “As for the matter of His Majesty’s imperial seal and Chancellor Yang, leave it to me to take care of. Commander Hu, Li Jinglong’s future arrangements are once again yours to handle. You are his old superior officer, and it’s up to you to keep him quiet so he doesn’t stir up trouble again. As for Feng Changqing’s side, we’ll have to trouble you to take a trip there as well.”
What could Hu Sheng say? He could only smile bitterly and nod.
Presently, everyone slapped the table and came to the same decision: with one stroke of the brush, they would wipe away the entire Exorcism Department to prevent more troubles accumulating in the future and causing everyone to lose their offices and their heads. The Son of Heaven was glorious and shouldn’t be bogged down by pig comrades. Based on previous incidents, both big and small, that had come before the court, officials before had lost their heads like wheat being harvested, so they naturally thought that this decision was very necessary.
moon: nam also found this gorgeous resource (which will be linked in ch 5, once that’s up) about the layout of chang’an, would highly recommend checking it out! http://www.chaz.org/Arch/China/City/City.html
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.