“This young fellow has taken a fancy to you. It’s quite obvious. Fortunately, Li-zhangshi isn’t here.”
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Li Jinglong suddenly remembered something and hurried to the front hall, looking up at Acala's Sword of Wisdom. The solemn dharma of Acala seemed to be guarding over the whole world. The appearance of its sword was exactly the same as that of the rusty black sword in Li Jinglong's hand.
"This is the great Sword of Wisdom that subdues yaos and defeats mos," Qiu Yongsi explained. "There are rumors that it can destroy all the evil spirits in the world."
Hongjun frowned deeply as he looked up at Acala and then at the sword in Li Jinglong's hand. At that moment, there was only one puzzling thought in his heart: how could the Sword of Wisdom break through his Pentacolored Sacred Light? Chong Ming said that this was known as the world's strongest shield and that it could even withstand Mount Tai's fall.
"So as long as this magic weapon is used properly," Qiu Yongsi consoled, "Zhangshi, it is not a mere dream then, if you want to be an exorcist without an innate spiritual vein. We'll see what more of this sword can do."
Li Jinglong nodded and responded that he understood as he put away the sword. Everyone exchanged meaningful glances; they all felt that Li Jinglong seemed to have come across some setbacks last night. He didn't say anything, and no one asked either. Based on his countenance and words, Li Jinglong had now regained some confidence.
"Continue investigating the case today," Li Jinglong said. "Whatever rumors there are outside, keep in mind that we do what we should do and have nothing to do with others."
Everyone agreed. Li Jinglong let Qiu Yongsi and Hongjun form a team, A-Tai and Mo Rigen as the other, while he would act alone. Qiu Yongsi and Hongjun would go to inquire where Chang'an's exam candidates resided. A-Tai and Mo Rigen would go to Pingkang Li to make some inquiries about the candidates who had recently gone there to make merry.
"Is this necessary?" A-Tai asked. "Zhangshi, how about we figure out a way to first……"
"Daming Palace doesn't matter," Li Jinglong said. "If we say that this case is already closed, I don't believe it."
Everyone looked at Li Jinglong, who turned around and said, "It's not me trying to strut around, but don't you all think it's suspicious that a dried corpse, nameless and unclaimed, suddenly appeared?"
"Alright," Qiu Yongsi finally agreed. "We'll listen to you and investigate."
"What about you?" Hongjun asked. "Come with us."
"I have something to do," Li Jinglong inattentively responded, frowning.
"Let's go together." Hongjun reached out his hand and pulled at Li Jinglong's sleeve. Li Jinglong hastily said, "Don't pull! This is a government office! That's highly inappropriate!" With that, he went out and left in a hurry.
Midday. Hongjun was still in a fog and only followed after Qiu Yongsi to investigate the case. This was the first time that he had acted with his partner not being Li Jinglong. Why put him in a team with Qiu Yongsi?
Qiu Yongsi was enormously tall, holding a folding fan in his hand and walking as the wind. He would walk then stop, occasionally standing to wait for Hongjun.
"Let's go to the Imperial Academy," Qiu Yongsi said. "Hungry? Let's have some refreshments and rest?"
Hongjun waved his hand. "I'm not a voracious eater. How can I be hungry so soon."
Qiu Yongsi thought and mumbled smilingly. "Zhangshi certainly put the two of us together so that we can't caress the fish."
Hongjun asked in all seriousness, "When are you guys gonna see Zhangshi's ability?"
Qiu Yongsi laughed heartily and said, "Zhangshi is a good man, it's just that he wasn't the way we initially expected. It is our mistake. But…" Qiu Yongsi thought better of it and put the folding fan away. Glancing towards Hongjun, he asked, "It's you, Hongjun, what made you believe in him in the first place?"
Hongjun thought for a moment and said, "Maybe because the Heart Lamp is in him."
"Heart Lamp?" Qiu Yongsi was stunned.
Since everyone had come to subdue the yao king, Hongjun didn't conceal the matter. He informed Qiu Yongsi that the Heart Lamp had entered Li Jinglong's body by mistake. Qiu Yongsi hummed and then said, "So that's what it was… No wonder you've been following Li Jinglong since you entered the Exorcism Department. We wondered what was wrong with us."
Hongjun hastily said that it was nothing of the sort. Qiu Yongsi mumbled to himself, "If the Heart Lamp is in him, then this guy might possibly get what he really desires."
Hongjun didn't know how great the Heart Lamp was, but Qiu Yongsi eruditely knew a lot about magic weapons, so maybe he could find ways to take it out… He was about to ask when they had already reached the Imperial Academy. Qiu Yongsi made a gesture to Hongjun, indicating to him to deal with it first.
People were going in and out at the entrance of the Imperial Academy. The fifth day of the next month would be the day of the imperial examination, and more than six thousand people had gathered here from every part of the country. As the examination period was approaching, in order to avoid the questions leaking out or substitutions from happening, all those who entered and left the Imperial Academy were required to undergo a full body search; no books outside would be carried in, and all must hold the Imperial Academy's token. Standing outside in the street, Qiu Yongsi and Hongjun watched the comings and goings of people. Qiu Yongsi breathlessly waited. When a crowd of people gathered together at the entrance, Qiu Yongsi pulled Hongjun in as well.
"Ai! Wang-xiong! Wang-xiong, wait for me!" Seeing a man passing by, he hurriedly pulled Hongjun and said, "Quick, I forgot to bring my token with me…"
At the entrance, with numerous scholars, Qiu Yongsi was searched in a hurry. One of the guards asked, "Where's your token?"
Qiu Yongsi, "I forgot to bring it out with me! I'll go back and get it now!"
The people behind were urging the guards to make haste. The guard was already getting impatient, but nothing could be found, thus they had to let the man in. Hongjun was searched next and also nothing was found. When he was about to leave, the opposite side asked, "Where's your token?"
"Hold on! Neither of them has a token? The one in front, stop! Which court are you two in?"
Hongjun coughed, not knowing what to do. Qiu Yongsi came over and said to the guards, "He's a Hu! He can't understand you, and the token is in my room. Ai! My token!"
Hongjun regained his senses and laughed at once. "Hai Mie Hou Bi! My dear Great Tang friend!"
Hongjun wanted to step forward and hug him, and at the same time the students behind were also about to explode. The two guards were stuck at the entrance and had no choice but to let both men in.
Qiu Yongsi led Hongjun through the side hallway, looking back every now and then, saying, "Fortunately, we made it in. Let's look for the Proctor here."
"Why didn't we come in by climbing the wall?" Hongjun asked.
In Hongjun's eyes, whether it was entering the Imperial Palace, Daming Palace, or the Imperial Academy, it was all as if treading on flat ground; the only difference was what color the wall in front of him was. Qiu Yongsi felt foolish from such a question. Why had they not climbed over the wall?
"We can't always use force to solve problems."
When they arrived at the Proctor's room, Qiu Yongsi only said that he was looking for his three fellow villagers and motioned for Hongjun to write down the names of the three. The Proctor informed them that they were in the T-shaped building of the plum courtyard. The two of them then went back to the long hallway, passed through the side hall, and were about to enter the plum courtyard.
The side hall was built to be extremely spacious, enough for scholars to chat over tea. Hongjun and Qiu Yongsi hurried past it when Hongjun suddenly stopped and involuntarily glanced at the hall.
"What?" Qiu Yongsi asked.
"Nothing," Hongjun replied.
"Trust your intuition," Qiu Yongsi said. "We're investigating a case."
"There's a strange sense of familiarity," Hongjun said.
"Can you describe it?" Qiu Yongsi glanced sideways at Hongjun.
Why did it feel as if he was at home? There were nearly forty people, old and young, gathered in the side hall, all of them whispering and laughing.
Right at that moment, a young man who was bowing his head came over and accidentally bumped into Hongjun, causing the latter to reel. The young man hastily apologized, bowing his head with his hands held in front before glancing up at Hongjun.
The young man was thin and lithe, seemingly younger than Hongjun. With an uneasy look in the young man's eyes, Hongjun laughed and waved his hand to indicate that it was alright. The young man stepped into the side hall again with a smile on his face, obviously very pleased.
With such an action, Hongjun suddenly remembered the feeling when he was in Yaojin Palace. The young people in there were all birds' incarnations. Throughout the Yaojin Palace, there was this kind of yao atmosphere, but because of Chong Ming's lofty and unsullied disposition, this yao atmosphere became more like an immortal air of not eating such things.
"Yaoguai," Hongjun said.
No longer saying anything, Qiu Yongsi turned around and walked in with Hongjun.
Hongjun whispered, "You feel it too?"
Qiu Yongsi said, "A yaoguai ran directly into you, and you still can't feel that?"
Although there was no magic weapon like a magic mirror. Hongjun could still feel the a yao's spirit at close range. The two of them then sat down in the side hall.
"Don't just keep looking around," Qiu Yongsi decorously said to Hongjun and smiled. "Little gentleman, there's a parched-rice here. Come, would you also like a cup of tea?"
"Yes yes!" Hongjun liked Qiu Yongsi's tea the most. The curdled, crisp fragrance of fresh tea leaves, with some ground sesame seeds added in, and millet grains sprinkled on top made the mouth melt with soft rich sweetness. It was simply one of the human world's most delicious light refreshments.
"Pretend to be harmless as you usually are." Qiu Yongsi smiled again and said, "Look around. Whoever keeps looking at us is a yaoguai. Let me know when you see it."
Hongjun looked around, his eyes filled with the curiosity of strangers to Chang'an. There were several neat rows of tables in the side hall, under which there were pots and furnaces. Outside, the autumn stretched out long and broad, purified with a dark blue sky and large white clouds floating by every now and then. The sun shone in, making this a comfortable, indolent place for resting.
The scholars were having their own talks. A few tables away, someone looked towards them, taking a glimpse.
"Someone's watching us." Hongjun smiled at Qiu Yongsi. "Aren't there a lot of yaoguais based on what you've said?"
"This is indeed the yaoguais lair." Qiu Yongsi smiled insincerely and said, "We can't take action now, or else we'll destroy the Imperial Academy. Zhangshi will start crying."
Hongjun noticed that three young people were talking cheerfully and wittily behind another table, while another young man boiled water for them. No one spoke or took notice of the latter. He seemed very bored, turning his head and staring at the courtyard outside the hall. It wasn't long before his gaze shifted, meeting Hongjun's gaze, and subsequently smiled at him.
That smile somewhat had a feminine charm to it. Hongjun's heart suddenly thumped wildly as his handsome face turned red to his ears.
Hongjun smiled awkwardly. Qiu Yongsi asked, "What yao is it?"
"It could be a fox," Hongjun turned his head and said to Qiu Yongsi.
That smile just now, Hongjun had sensed a very obvious charm technique.
The young man actually got up and walked towards the two of them. Sitting in front of the table, he smiled and said, "This tea is really fragrant."
In contrast, Qiu Yongsi showed no signs of change, saying, "It still needs a bit to boil before it'll be ready, no hurry. What's this little brother's name?"
"Du Hanqing." The young man had long, shapely eyebrows, eyes seemingly enveloped with water, and a frail stature. As he pressed his hand on the table, his eyes simply glanced at Hongjun's face and chest. He approached closer and asked, "What about you two?"
Uh…... Don't get too close, Hongjun thought to himself. Qiu Yongsi then introduced the both of them. "Qiu Yongsi, from Hangzhou. This is my first cousin, Xiao Hongjun. Hongjun, you two should be about the same age. You should get close to each other."
"You just entered the capital?" Du Hanqing never looked away from Hongjun as he said, "The examination will be held on the fifth day of next month."
Hongjun felt very disquieted, knowing this was a fox yao. Before he could think more of it, Qiu Yongsi stretched over his foot under the table and gave him a kick, without even batting an eyelid.
Hongjun didn't know what to do. He looked into Du Hanqing's eyes and started to laugh.
Du Hanqing couldn't help but also laugh and asked, "How old are you?"
The two stated their age. Hongjun was two months older than Du Hanqing, and so the latter changed the way he addressed Hongjun and now called him 'Gege.' When asked where they lived, Qiu Yongsi only said that they were staying with their relatives in the city and came over to the Imperial Academy today to step on the road and get to know the other scholars.
"You're so young, and you've already come for the imperial examination?" Hongjun said. "That's really tough ."
Du Hanqing laughed and said, "Since my family is destitute, they all hope for me to achieve a position of scholarly honor in the examination." Then he reached out his hand to play with the jade peacock plume around Hongjun's waist. Hongjun feared that he would be attacked by his Pentacolored Sacred Light and quickly pressed it. Qiu Yongsi casually said, "It's an open light."
Du Hanqing nodded. Not far away, someone called for him. Du Hanqing went over to make tea for them as the boiling water was ready.
Hongjun observed Du Hanqing and could only think of whether he had killed people or how many people he had killed. He heard from Qing Xiong in Yaojin Palace that fox yao were best at playing with feelings and bewitching people. In the yao race, fox yaos were the most similar to human beings in their emotions: happiness, anger, joy, and sorrow. They were also the most resentful; they knew what being a human was like and appreciated the various tastes of it, but they still couldn't get rid of their yao's body.
"He'll come back later." Qiu Yongsi handed Hongjun a white marble jade Buddha and said, "Give this to him."
"He won't come," Hongjun said.
"He will," Qiu Yongsi said. "This young fellow has taken a fancy to you. It's quite obvious. Fortunately, Li-zhangshi isn't here."
Sure enough, a moment later, Du Hanqing came back after making tea. It seemed that some of his friends were merely ordering him around and didn't really want to acknowledge him.
Hongjun stared at Du Hanqing. The latter's face turned red as he smiled and said, "Why do you keep looking at me?"
"You're really good-looking," Hongjun said. He really felt that Du Hanqing's appearance of weak willows indeed had an inexplicable charm.
"Do you read poetry?" Du Hanqing asked Hongjun.
Hongjun immediately said, "I do!"
"Who do you like?" Du Hanqing asked again.
"Li Bai!" Hongjun said. "He's my favorite."
Du Hanqing said, "I prefer Wang Changling."
As a result, Hongjun exhilaratingly began to talk about poetry. He had to say that although Du Hanqing was a yaoguai, his poetic discernment wasn't bad. The more Hongjun talked, the more enthusiastic he became. Forgetting that this guy was a fox yao, Hongjun tried to make him accept Li Bai's poems, but instead he made Du Hanqing pant with rage.
Looking towards the west, Qiu Yongsi smiled and said, "Shall we go?"
Du Hanqing said, "I'm not talking to you."
Hongjun but laughed and asked, "Do you like this?"
Hongjun put the jade Buddha on the table, pushed it towards Du Hanqing, and said, "You like jade, right? I saw that you like my waist pendant, but it was given to me by my father, so I can't give it to you. Here, take this instead."
Hongjun always looked ignorant before he got acquainted with others. Once he started chatting, he would then be in high spirits and full of energy. He couldn't help making friends with Du Hanqing. Du Hanqing was instantly very touched as he took the jade Buddha and looked at Hongjun.
"I'll come to visit you tomorrow," Du Hanqing said.
"Ah?" Hongjun was struck dumb, thinking; You must not. It would be too dangerous if you went to the Exorcism Department.
Qiu Yongsi said, "We have a lot of relatives at home. How about you two make an appointment to meet elsewhere?"
Hongjun nodded and made an appointment with Du Hanqing at noon tomorrow under the Lishui Bridge.
At dusk, Li Jinglong came out of the Feng Mansion.
Feng Changqing stood at the door, leaning on his crutches as he said, "Some progression finally. You wouldn't have asked me that before."
Li Jinglong was silent. Feng Changqing added, "I understand your ambition. It's just that to be an official at court is not what you think. Officials but 'deceive those at the top'. When you are no longer able to hide it, that's when you have the chance."
"I'm afraid it will be too late when that time comes," Li Jinglong said.
"For them," Feng Changqing said. "It's never too late. Go and have a good plan."
Li Jinglong had been furrowing his brows all along. Listening to Feng Changqing's words, he became even more anxious.
It was already dusk when they left the Imperial Academy. Hongjun then recalled that they hadn't checked the three men.
"In the hall," Qiu Yongsi said. "They are all transformed fox yao."
Hongjun's jaw dropped.
When Hongjun was chatting with Du Hanqing, Qiu Yongsi had seriously listened throughout the jumbled conversation in the hall. When the names of those people entered his ears, Qiu Yongsi then observed some more.
"'Transformed' fox yaos?"
"What else? What fox would spend ten years painstakingly studying for an examination in the capital?" Qiu Yongsi said. "It must be that after entering Chang'an, all the scholars were replaced by foxes. Now they all have sharp chins and peach eyes, so it's not difficult to identify them, only that I hadn't thought of this stuff before."
Hongjun, "What about that original person?"
Qiu Yongsi glanced at Hongjun. Both of them thought of the dried corpse hidden under Jin Yun's bed and couldn't help but break out with goosebumps.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Joyce.