"In your eyes, are all yao this evil without hope?”
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
“Zhangshi is right, this is definitely a big case,” Qiu Yongsi said. They had just set foot inside the Exorcism Department, but the rest of them were already gathered around discussing matters. When the two of them returned, a hush fell over the rest.
Li Jinglong closed the main gate to the Exorcism Department, and everyone sat down in the courtyard. Qiu Yongsi smiled and said, “Hongjun charmed a yaoguai.”
The rest of them were at a loss for words.
“No, no, it doesn’t count,” Hongjun said, before giving them a general idea of his and Qiu Yongsi’s deductions.
“How many yao were in the Imperial Academy?” Li Jinglong asked.
“It’s unclear,” Qiu Yongsi said. “We still need to investigate further, but by a rough estimate, no less than a hundred.”
Li Jinglong breathed in deeply, and he replied, “A stunningly big case.”
A-Tai said, “I checked all the brothels in Pingkang Li, and there are no more yaoguai there. Those three fox yao came a year ago.”
Hongjun thought in his heart, thank the heavens and the earth, just as Li Jinglong said, “Then, the past course of events is very clear. What we need to do next is…”
Hongjun hurried to interrupt, “Wait a moment, explain it in more detail. To you, it’s very clear, but to me, it’s not that obvious.”
Whenever this group of people was deducing things, they would always use a kind of “this is very obvious” energy. Li Jinglong could only go out of his way as he explained, “Ever since one year ago, a large number of fox yao began to take up residence in Chang’an in waves. First were the three who could only situate themselves in Yishi Lan, but why did they pick Yishi Lan? Because that’s the place that scholars like to go to the most.”
“The first scholar who came to Pingkang Li, after having his fun, was sucked dry by a fox yao,” A-Tai took over and continued. “So then, there was a fox yao who shifted forms to replace him.”
Li Jinglong continued, “In Yishi Lan, people come and go. These three fox yao specially picked examinees as targets, and every time they killed one, they had their family’s own little brothers come and take their place. And thus, in the Imperial Academy, the number of fox yao disguised as scholars increased over time. The dead scholars, after being turned into dried corpses, were then disposed of.”
Hongjun exclaimed, “So, the dried corpse under the bed that day!”
“Correct.” Li Jinglong began to pace. He thought for a moment, before continuing, “Perhaps it was a newly dead person, or perhaps Jin Yun just forgot about it, but either way, that corpse was not disposed of in time, and instead was unearthed by us in our stumbling about. That is also the reason why, despite the risk of getting injured, they had to burn that dry corpse to ashes.”
Qiu Yongsi said, “These fox yao, after turning into examinees and attending the examination on the fifth day of next month, will then in large batches take up bureaucratic roles, and then the entirety of Chang’an, will…”
When they got to this point, everyone shuddered a little from something other than the cold.
“Will become the territory of the yao tribe,” Li Jinglong answered. “But there’s another point: how can the fox yao be sure that they will pass the exams?”
Hongjun suddenly felt that this was much too preposterous, a group of fox yao running over to take the test and become officials.
Li Jinglong glanced at the rest of them and said, “So, there must be a spy inside the court itself, and if they aren’t the Chang’an yao king, then they are the subordinate of that yao king. It’s in charge of leaking the questions out, so that the fox yao can prepare the right materials to study.”
“Could it be a literary official?” Qiu Yongsi asked.
“Not necessarily,” A-Tai responded slowly.
“The fox yao don’t have many abilities, I imagine their only qualifications for joining are being able to turn into humans and being able to reasonably imitate someone,” Li Jinglong said. “These few days, I’ve looked over some of the records that Duke Di left about fox yao.The one at the top probably provides for these fox yao, while Fei Ao must have been the dog that protects them.”
Mo Rigen said thoughtfully, “The most important thing now is to figure out the identity of the one in the court. Someone who can get their hands on the test questions, who also has the ear of the emperor…”
Li Jinglong said slowly, “This isn’t urgent; it will always reveal itself at some point, especially after we get rid of all of its subordinates. When this case is closed, no matter how much we want to get rid of it, it will definitely want to get rid of us more.
“Hongjun, if my predictions are accurate, the last of your throwing knives should be in the hands of the mastermind. Let’s move out. In these coming few days, everyone’s responsibilities are going to be unusually heavy. Mo Rigen, A-Tai, and Qiu Yongsi, you guys should rest first. Tonight, you three move together, get into the Imperial Academy, and mark out all of the fox yao. Hongjun, help me make some medicine.”
Li Jinglong strode a few steps away, but he suddenly turned around and came back, holding out his right palm. Everyone smacked their own palms against his, before each of them went to make their preparations.
That night, the moon was dark and the wind was high as Qiu Yongsi, A-Tai, and Mo Rigen, without a sound, snuck into the Imperial Academy.
“I keep thinking that we need a Yao-Revealing Mirror,” Qiu Yongsi said. “Distinguishing which ones are yaoguai is such a tiring task.”
“Make one?” A-Tai also felt it, and he peeked into the bedroom, saying quietly, “Do you think this one looks like one?”
Mo Rigen also scooted over, and watching the scholar lying on the bed, he said, “It’d be better if we let them go rather than kill them wrongly. Ten years of bitter study under the frost and the cold, if we get it wrong then it’s all over.”
“This one is one,” Qiu Yongsi replied. “I saw him in the hall earlier, go for it.”
A-Tai waved his fan gently, and a trickle of medicinal powder landed on the corner of that fox yao’s robe, leaving a tiny trace. In front of another room’s window, Mo Rigen waved his hand, indicating that they should come over. There were six people sleeping inside, and when Mo Rigen opened his palm, the Seven Nailed Arrows kept shaking and letting out faint gu gus. They had detected yao energy.
“They all are.” Qiu Yongsi only needed one glance to figure it out. “See, one of the fox yao there, it’s sleeping so deeply that its tail’s even peeking out. They wouldn’t do that with any commoners in the room, or it’d be really easy to expose themselves.”
A-Tai then made a mark. It was deep autumn, and Chang’an was already under the thrall of a slight chill. People often used a charcoal basin to boil tea and warm themselves, and accidentally dirtying the corners of their robes because of it was a common thing, so the fox yao would probably not see through their trap.
In the night, Hongjun was mixing medicine in the courtyard while Li Jinglong sat next to him, flipping through old case records.
“Thanks for you guys’ hard work,” Li Jinglong said.”This time, if the Exorcism Department survives unharmed, then I’ll take everyone to go out properly and have some fun.”
“Unharmed?” Hongjun heard a hidden meaning in those words.
Li Jinglong had accidentally committed a slip of the tongue, and he could only gloss it over quickly, so he said, “After the case is closed.”
Hongjun asked, “After we catch the fox yao, how should we take care of them?”
Li Jinglong answered, “Burn them all to death.”
Li Jinglong observed Hongjun’s expression and asked, “Are you thinking of asking for mercy on their behalf?”
Hongjun thought of the examinees who had been killed by the fox yao. Who would ensure that they got the justice they deserved? But he kept feeling that the little fox yao were pretty pitiful as well, and asked, “Can’t we let some of them go?”
“Who will spare someone who has been murdered?” Li Jinglong said. “You’re an exorcist.”
In the afternoon, when Li Jinglong was listening to Qiu Yongsi’s debriefing, he felt that it was a little dangerous; he was afraid that if Hongjun became friends with that little fox, that was a misstep that could never be reversed.
“Do you think that all yao are bad? Then what about Zhao Zilong?” Hongjun asked him in response.
Li Jinglong answered, “At least these foxes are.”
Hongjun’s forehead also wrinkled up, but he didn’t try to argue back against Li Jinglong. If the little fox hadn’t harmed anyone, then could it have been left a path to live? But it had involved itself in the process of killing these scholars.
“Put a little more in.” Li Jinglong felt that the atmosphere was a little awkward, and he didn’t talk about that matter any more. He reminded Hongjun, “I want medicine so potent that one drop will make them fall asleep and reveal their true forms.”
In the afternoon, Li Jinglong had scoured all of the pharmacies in Chang’an, so Hongjun could only add in quite a bit more, and finally he ground it all to powder before carefully packing it up.
“Do not, under any circumstances, breathe this in,” Hongjun said, before thinking about it. “Zhangshi, I trust that you won’t be that unlucky.”
“Don’t jinx me alright?!” Li Jinglong was actually afraid of Hongjun now, and he carefully and meticulously split the powder up and stored it away into several little bags.
It was eleven at night, and the tenth month had just passed. This eventful autumn was also coming to an end.
There were still five days until the imperial examination, and that night, after everyone finished their tasks, Qiu Yongsi said, “In total, there are two hundred and sixty six foxes.”
“Less than I imagined,” Li Jinglong said, but still he felt a little unsettled, so he set up watches. Every night, someone would go watch over the fox yao to prevent any sudden surprises.
But on the second day, there came an official decree from the court -- this year the fall examination was being pushed forward three days, and it would begin on the second day of the eleventh month at the Capital Academy, so the flyer that Qiu Yongsi brought back proclaimed. Everyone thought deeply for a moment.
“The yao king must know now that Fei Ao has died,” Li Jinglong said. “I’m afraid that because we disrupted his plans, that’s why the exams are starting earlier.”
“Could our plans have been exposed?” Mo Rigen frowned.
Li Jinglong waved his hand and said, “That’s to say, his subordinates aren’t as many as we thought they were. Don’t get flustered by the change; the date has been changed to tomorrow, but we’ll go along with our original plan.”
Hongjun said, “Then should I still go?” Truthfully, Hongjun felt a little bit of hesitation in going; he didn’t want to go face a little fox yao who would inevitably die under their hands.
“You go,” Li Jinglong said. “At this time, the intelligence you obtain is going to be vitally important.”
The carp yao had just stuck its head out to ask some clarifying questions, but everyone was afraid it would ruin their plans, so they immediately pressed it down.
Hongjun thought about it for a bit before nodding and agreeing to go to the scheduled meetup. Three ke after noon, he arrived at the bottom of the Lishui Bridge. In reality, Li Jinglong had already prepared that as soon as the examination began, they would capture all of the fox yao at once, but the day that Qiu Yongsi saw that small fox yao, his plans changed instantly to accommodate for an opportunity to sound out their opponent.
If the fox yao had felt any danger, then they would definitely send someone to sound out Hongjun.
Whether they had discovered the danger or not, when that little fox yao faced down Hongjun, there would be two different sets of words. Li Jinglong had long since calculated that this mastermind behind the scenes was in a difficult position; if two hundred scholars disappeared in a single night, how would that be explained? This was really giving the Exorcism Department a prime opportunity.
By the Lishui Bridge, the maple leaves danced in the wind, and the pitiful leaves landed in the river and floated downstream.
Du Hanqing was sprawled against the railing watching the scenery, looking completely carefree.
“Du Hanqing!” Hongjun smiled.
“Hongjun?” Du Hanqing immediately began to smile. Hongjun always felt that there was something a little odd, because this youth always seemed to look forward to seeing him, but he walked onto the bridge and greeted him before they walked side by side off the bridge towards the Eastern Market.
Li Jinglong, clutching the carp yao in his hand, and Mo Rigen were hidden in an alley as they peeked out.
The carp yao had just realized the cause and effect, and it asked, “Have they met up already?”
“Shh,” Li Jinglong indicated that it should shut up.
The carp yao added, “Why couldn’t old Qiu and Mo Rigen handle it? Li-zhangshi, you had to specially make this trip?”
Li Jinglong gagged that carp yao’s mouth and clasped him under his left arm, looking around at the surroundings before walking out, following behind Hongjun and Du Hanqing. The autumn sun was bright, and the two youths were shoulder to shoulder as they walked through the Chang’an market. Hongjun was lithe and graceful like a jade tree, and Du Hanqing was clean and fair of face; bathed in the gentle sunlight, it was really a very picturesque scene.
“I’ll take you to the bookshop,” Hongjun said to Du Hanqing.
“Hongjun, why is that person holding a fish?”
Hongjun turned his head, and as soon as he saw that motion, Li Jinglong immediately turned around, facing the fish seller’s stall, still clutching the carp yao as he pretended to bargain with the boss. Mo Rigen immediately pretended to be just looking around.
Usually, when Hongjun piggybacked the carp yao he didn’t feel it was very funny, but this time seeing Li Jinglong holding the fish, he couldn’t help but laugh loudly, “Hahahaha who’s the one holding that fish, so dumb!”
It traveled through the entire market, immediately people turned around and began to mock him as a group. “Hahaha, isn’t this Li Jinglong?”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Only then did Hongjun realize that was his own family’s fish, and immediately he grew awkward. He hurriedly pulled Du Hanqing away, bringing him into the bookstore.
“Look, there’s a lot of books here,” Hongjun said.
“Wow, though I…” Du Hanqing had never come here, and here he almost misspoke, and he hurried to cover it up, “Rarely come here.”
Li Jinglong hurried to stuff the carp yao to Mo Rigen, commanding it to not open its mouth and speak, before he moved in a flash into the bookstore. Standing behind the shelves, he approached Hongjun and Du Hanqing to eavesdrop on their conversation. But at this time, the two of them were discussing poetry, which frustrated Li Jinglong. Why are you discussing Li Bai with a yaoguai?
Finally Du Hanqing accepted Hongjun’s recommendation, and the two of them, still shoulder to shoulder, walked out. Hongjun suggested that they should go eat, and brought him to Carp Leaping Over the Dragon Gate.
Li Jinglong: “...”
“Zhangshi, I forgot to bring money,” Mo Rigen hugged the carp yao and hurried to add, “I’ll go back and get some from home, just wait for me. It’s no trouble, in a bit you go order some dishes first…”
“No need, I have money,” Li Jinglong said. “You should go back first, hurry and take this fish away.”
The waiter came over to list out the dishes, and Hongjun racked his brain for a long time before he remembered the ones that the carp yao had ordered that day.
“One plate of Qunxun Stirfry, Black Chicken Stew…” Hongjun somehow managed to basically remember all the dishes, and Du Hanqing was extremely shocked as he said, “This place is too expensive.”
Hongjun indicated that there was no problem, and he watched Du Hanqing with a smile.
Du Hanqing’s two eyes turned a little red, and he said, “This is the first time in my entire life that someone has brought me here.”
Behind the neighboring dividing screen, the waiter asked the sitting Li Jinglong, “What would this master like to order?”
“A cup of water,” Li Jinglong had always been good at adjusting to new situations.
“Alrighty!” the waiter said. “Captain Li Jinglong here, a cup of water--!”
The entire two floors of Carp Leaping Over the Dragon Gate burst out in loud laughter.
Li Jinglong took a deep breath, scooting over a little bit more to listen to the two of them talking next door.
“What are they laughing about?” Du Hanqing asked.
Hongjun shrugged. He was completely lost as to why they were once again mocking Li Jinglong, but remembering Li Jinglong, who was right next to them was listening in, finally remembered also that today’s main duty was to squeeze some information out of the fox yao.
“The people from your hometown didn’t take you to wander around Chang’an?” Hongjun said.
Du Hanqing gently breathed in, before he smiled, “In their eyes, I’m just a servant who’s here to carry tea and pour water for them.”
On the other side of the divider, Li Jinglong sat there without a word, listening to the two of them talk.
Hongjun said comfortingly, “After you get an official position, then it should be better.”
Du Hanqing responded, “How could that be? I’ll just continue to carry tea and pour water for them for the rest of my life.”
Hongjun: “How could that be? When you pass, you’ll be an official…”
Du Hanqing smiled slightly as he asked, “How many people are in your family? They must be rich, huh?”
Hongjun thought about it for a moment before saying, “It’s just me and my dad, and there’s another, hm, I guess he doesn’t count as a blood-related uncle, I also don’t know what to call him…” To tell the truth, he also didn’t know what to call Qing Xiong.
“Ah? They’re both men?” Du Hanqing asked, surprised. “Then you were adopted?”
“I guess it counts as that,” Hongjun answered. “The two of them raised me, and I’ve never had a mother since I was small.”
Upon hearing this, the corner of Li Jinglong’s mouth wavered, and his thoughts wandered for a moment. He was a little surprised, because Hongjun very rarely talked about his own family with them.
Du Hanqing smiled, “Just as I thought, you look a little different from the others.”
Du Hanqing let out a sigh and said, “Actually, I don’t know what you see in me.”
Hongjun thought, See in you? What does that mean? I don’t like you like that ah.
Li Jinglong’s expression grew severe.
“With a friend like you, I’m pretty happy,” Du Hanqing said. “I don’t have any friends in Chang’an. If you have time, you can come by the Imperial Academy to find me.”
Hongjun then nodded. At this time, Li Jinglong could basically confirm that the fox yao had not yet sensed any danger, so he let his guard down a little, taking a drink of the water in front of him as he listened to the two of them speak.
The waiter came by with their order. Du Hanqing was very interested in Hongjun’s family matters, so he kept asking questions, which Hongjun easily answered. In his hand was a small paper pouch, and inside the pouch was the medicine that he had just made, but after hesitating for a while, he couldn’t find an opportunity to slip the pouch into the food.
Hongjun not only didn’t manage to get any information out of Du Hanqing, but he himself was being squeezed for more and more information, and finally Li Jinglong began to cough non-stop next door, afraid that Hongjun was going to accidentally spill everything about the Exorcism Department as well.
Finally, Du Hanqing exuberantly said, “Hongjun, I really like you.”
Hongjun grew awkward, and a wave of guilt washed over his heart as he forcefully diverted the topic away. Du Hanqing seemed to predict that Hongjun would have such a reaction, and he let out a light sigh.
At night, when the drums began, Hongjun saw Du Hanqing to the entrance of the Imperial Academy, and he said, “I’m going now, you… should properly take care of yourself.”
Du Hanqing turned around and smiled at Hongjun, before handing him a little white ring made from a small rock. On the ring was wrapped a straw rope, and he said, “The jade Buddha that you gave me, I really like it. I’ll give this ring to you. Since I have no jade, I used a rock to substitute, I hope you don’t mind.”
Hongjun took that ring and nodded. He kept feeling a sense of unease, but Du Hanqing continued, “After I’m done testing, let’s go have some fun outside of the city.”
“Alright.” Hongjun indicated that he should go, so Du Hanqing turned around and went into the Imperial Academy. When the drumbeats stopped, Hongjun stood there holding that ring with a sense of disappointment in his heart, before he began walking back on his own down the long street. It was deep autumn, and night came early; the entire city was already pitch-black.
“Thanks for your hard work,” Li Jinglong’s voice suddenly said by the roadside.
Hongjun couldn’t help but be startled so much that he jumped. His mood wasn’t very good as he responded, “It was nothing.”
Li Jinglong unfolded himself and stood up. Today, he was wearing a set of dark blue martial robes made from the material that Yang-guifei had gifted them that day. The clothes sat neatly on him, and they showed off his lithe grace.
Hongjun looked at him for half a moment, and Li Jinglong lowered his head to look at himself, before asking, “Does it look good?”
Hongjun nodded, and Li Jinglong added, “You also have a set. Tomorrow when we set out on our first official duty, we need to be prepared to fight, so everyone should wear it.”
Hongjun en-ed as he went with Li Jinglong back towards the Exorcism Department.
Li Jinglong said, “You’re angry.”
Hongjun en-ed again.
Li Jinglong turned around and said, “Because I didn’t agree to let you save that fox?”
Hongjun thought about it for a moment before he bolstered his courage and answered, “Li-zhangshi, in your eyes, are all yao this evil without hope?”
Li Jinglong furrowed his brow and answered, “Hongjun, you can’t treat yao like you do people! Yao feel the joy and grief that humans do, and they can pretend to be like people, but they’re only using you. Fox yao always want to find a person they can stick to, didn’t you hear what Jin Yun said that day? Out of the words from their mouths, how much is real, and how much is fake?”
“Don’t keep saying ‘but’!” Li Jinglong said. “He’s just using you! Can’t you be less gullible?”
Just as Li Jinglong was being passionate, his stomach suddenly let out a gu-- sound, and it began to rumble.
He must have been very hungry, so hungry that his temper got the best of him, Hongjun thought.
Li Jinglong continued, “You trust other people too easily. He’s just charming you, and the words he spoke today were only to make you happy. He pretended to be pitiful, but it could be that he’s just making it all up to prevent us from killing his relatives tomorrow. You think that if you let him go, he won’t come back to get his revenge?”
Then, Li Jinglong’s stomach let out another gu--. Finally, Hongjun couldn’t hold it in anymore, and he began to laugh loudly.
Li Jinglong said angrily, “Don’t laugh!”
Hongjun waved his hand, indicating that that was the end of that conversation, and Li Jinglong could only helplessly go with him back to the Exorcism Department. Everyone was currently waiting for Li Jinglong to return so that they could start eating, and Hongjun tossed the white ring onto the table, showing that he finished the mission. He said, “I’ve eaten,” and then went to his own room to sleep.
“A skein of grass wrapped around a ring,” A-Tai took a look at it and said, “That little fox wanted to use this to express the depths of his emotions, huh.”
Li Jinglong ran across the courtyard, only to see Hongjun close the door. He could only turn around and come back to eat, and through the entire meal, he was quiet and unhappy. Everyone knew that there shouldn’t be any big problems for tomorrow, so they all knew to keep quiet and not speak unduly.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.