Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Gao Lishi personally came to patrol the area, accompanied by the minister and assistant minister of the Ministry of Rites, along with two secretaries of the Grand Council from Wen Yuan and Hong Wen Library. As soon as they arrived, the examiners hurriedly gathered in the center of the examination hall and listened to the instructions. While they were talking jovially, a voice suddenly came through from outside.
"No admittance inside the imperial examination hall!”
"The Exorcism Department is performing their official duty. All irrelevant people must retreat!”
Gao Lishi, "...”
There was a commotion among the examiners. They walked in succession out of the hallway and looked out toward the entrance. At this time, Qiu Yongsi shouted, "Zhangshi Li Jinglong, from the Exorcism Department of the Judiciary Department has arrived一”
Li Jinglong, "......”
"Li Jinglong! What are you doing?!” Gao Lishi exclaimed.
The guards wanted to step forward and obstruct them but Hongjun behind Li Jinglong released his Pentacolored Sacred Light. How could ordinary humans block that? They were immediately shoved straight out. In an instant, as the raucous disruption occurred in the crowd, the guards pulled out their weapons, pointing them at Li Jinglong and the four men behind him.
The examiners only felt their eyes blur, not knowing what tricks Li Jinglong's subordinate had used to put people down. However, Gao Lishi knew that trouble was coming. If what he said that night was true, then this group of men should be the exorcists! Regardless of whether that trick was a smokescreen or not, it was likely that the guards at the entrance wouldn't be able to handle it. Something must be done to get him under control first.
"Let him in!” Gao Lishi barked.
As soon as they entered the examination hall, Li Jinglong first saluted Gao Lishi, seeming neither cringing nor arrogant.
Gao Lishi said, "Li Jinglong, your Exorcism Department has been officially dismissed, and we left you extra time just to go back and move. Why are you still making trouble here?”
The minister of the Ministry of Rites snorted and smiled insincerely as he looked at Li Jinglong.
Everyone from the Exorcism Department who had just discovered this inside story looked at Li Jinglong with great surprise.
Li Jinglong however said, "I came here today under His Majesty's order to supervise the imperial examination and eliminate evildoers.”
The examiners looked at each other, and someone laughed. The minister of the Ministry of Rites spoke, "Li Jinglong, are you mad? You should look for a physician…”
Li Jinglong stated, "His Majesty is on his way back from Mount Li. We will not wait for him. It's just in time for you, my Lords, to witness this on the spot. Please.”
Ignoring the others, he walked down along the hallway. Gao Lishi followed and shouted, "Li Jinglong! What are you doing?!”
Hongjun and the others followed soon after while Gao Lishi immediately caught up to them. Everyone stepped aside and gave way to the officials. The secretary from Wen Yuan angrily said, "Li Jinglong! The imperial examination hall is a place concerning the state's prosperity. Who allowed you to be presumptuous here!”
In each wing, when the exam candidates heard the conflict outside, they all gathered at the window and looked out curiously.
Seeing Li Jinglong briskly walking, Gao Lishi snarled, "Li Jinglong! You're mad! Somebody, quick! Seize him for me—”
"Who would dare?!” When Hongjun shouted, all the guards didn't dare to come forward. In no time, Li Jinglong came to a room and kicked the door.
The door lock immediately snapped.
"What are you doing!”
One of the exam candidates inside cried loudly, looking at Li Jinglong in a panicked state. In that instant, Hongjun's heart thumped. He felt as if his whole body had been drenched with cold water from his head down to toes. Not even a crow nor a sparrow could be heard all around him. Everyone was full of the same thoughts — It's over.
"I kicked the wrong door. Sorry.” Li Jinglong then closed the door.
Li Jinglong kicked another door. Gao Lishi finally couldn't bear it any longer and roared, "Li Jinglong!”
Li Jinglong stepped aside. Gao Lishi instantly quieted down.
In the room, there was a scattered hat and robe before the table, and a gray fox lying in the midst of a scholar's clothing.
Hongjun almost cheered aloud as the others were relieved.
"What's going on?” Gao Lishi seemed to see a colossal absurdity. He scanned the numerous examiners. The minister of the Ministry of Rites also came to take a look, before he stepped back in shock and stumbled down to the ground.
"This… This…” The minister of the Ministry of Rites shuddered. "What does this mean?”
"Where's the person?!” The secretary exclaimed aloud.
Li Jinglong swept his eyes over the crowd. At the same time, everyone from the Exorcism Department rapidly looked at those who were present, trying to find clues.
Mo Rigen imperceptibly shook his head, implying that there was no mastermind. The exam candidate next door stuck his head out to take a look, but then Qiu Yongsi stuffed the man back, and Hongjun conveniently twisted another door lock.
"Seize the fox.” Li Jinglong coldly said. "Take the waist tag. Go to the next room.”
"There's more?” The secretary asked in shock.
Li Jinglong kicked open the next door. Gao Lishi has not yet recovered when he hurriedly said, "Wait!”
"Wait for what?” Li Jinglong said. "General Gao, those who took part in the imperial examination of the Great Tang were actually a group of foxes. The officialdom will be full of yaos in the future days to come. Are you not afraid at all?”
Those spoken words instantly uncovered the essence of the problem. The examiners, the secretaries of the Grand Council, the minister of the Ministry of Rites, the assistant minister… a chill rose behind the officials as they finally realized the severity of the situation.
"Watch closely.” Li Jinglong kicked open several doors in a row. He first let everyone have a look before Mo Rigen took the foxes out. Qiu Yongsi stuck the talismans up right in the middle of the examination hall, made a magic array, and threw all the sleeping foxes in.
"Wait a moment!”
Gao Lishi was thoroughly blinded by the sight of more and more foxes, shouting, "Li Jinglong! Explain to me exactly what this is...”
Hongjun, "Let me kick too.”
Li Jinglong, "Alright. A-Tai, you and others go catch the rest of them.”
"Stop it, stop.” The secretary of the Ground Council continuously gasped for breath, as if every time Li Jinglong kicked open a door, the exam candidates inside would turn into foxes. Gao Lishi once again shouted, "Li Jinglong! What kind of sorcery are you using?!”
Hongjun kicked a few times, satisfying his desire for destruction. After kicking the doors open, Li Jinglong pulled the foxes out. After two to three continuous kicks, the minister of the Ministry of Rites spoke, "This matter is still not ascertained! Li Jinglong! You explain all this clearly to me! Otherwise, I won't allow you to kick in any more doors!”
Li Jinglong, "The Exorcism Department is not under the jurisdiction of your Ministry of Rites. Go and ask the minister of the Ministry of Justice to come over.”
Gao Lishi snarled, "Li Jinglong! This is your sorcery! You… you're seeking vengeance!”
Li Jinglong stopped as he took a look at Gao Lishi and then walked over toward him. Gao Lishi and the others immediately felt an incomparable fear and couldn't help retreating, fearing that they would also be kicked into foxes under his foot.
At that moment, however, the sound of a voice echoed through the examination hall.
"His Majesty has arrived—!”
The entire examination hall was boiling with excitement as the exam candidates who did not know what was happening rushed to the window, falling over each other in their eagerness to see Li Longji's appearance. At that time, they saw Li Longji in civilian clothes, striding ahead with Feng Changqing on crutches behind.
Li Longji stood still as he passed through the open field and took a look at the foxes in the array, his eyes filled with shock. He looked back at Feng Changqing, who only made a "please” gesture.
Seeing Li Longji coming, everyone hurriedly bowed and made their salutations.
Li Jinglong held his fist in his other hand and said, "Reporting to Your Majesty, General Gao and others are assisting us in seizing these fox yaos.”
Li Longji turned to glance at Gao Lishi and solemnly said, "Is that really so?”
Gao Lishi couldn't help but tremble; Li Jinglong had played his tricks exquisitely. He had to nod his head and said, "Yes… Yes… But this official doesn't know why…”
"Open the door for me to see.” Li Longji stood in front of another door.
The examiner took the key, but his hands couldn't stop trembling. Hongjun rushed forward and helped Li Longji as he kicked open the wooden door, producing a loud bang.
Li Longji hurried into the room. Li Jinglong wanted to stop him, but Feng Changqing motioned that there was no harm there. Li Longji himself entered the wing, picked up a fox by the ear, and had a look.
"How many more?”
"Reporting back to Your Majesty, there are a total of two hundred and sixty-six,” Li Jinglong replied.
Li Longji's eyes were filled with wrath. As he reached the next room, he lifted his foot and kicked the door open himself, without waiting for the others to do it.
Just as expected, they were all foxes!
After a full hour, the heap of foxes filled the open field in the examination hall. The amount of medicine Hongjun gave was too hefty, causing the fox yaos to still be asleep.
Li Longji sat panting in his chair and looked at Li Jinglong with some kind of unspoken fear.
"This one's for you.” Li Jinglong handed a little fox to Hongjun, with a jade Buddha tied to its foreleg.
Hongjun felt a sense of relief and was about to thank Li Jinglong, who said, "Hongjun, you have to do me a favor.”
At dusk. In the imperial study, the little fox inside the cage woke up. Suddenly shivering, it opened its eyes and caught a glimpse of the talisman stick on the cage and then looked around.
"Don't worry.” Hongjun's voice rang out from the side of the study. "You're safe. They won't be able find you here.”
The little fox's hair instantly bristled, staring at Hongjun in disbelief. Hongjun sat on the windowsill, stepping on the window frame with one foot while his other foot hung down, forming a beautiful silhouette.
"I'm sorry.” Hongjun said. "I entered the Imperial Academy that day to find out who you all were.”
"You… you…” The fox yao opened his mouth. "Who are you?”
"I'm an exorcist,” Hongjun replied in a low voice.
"You lied to me!” The little fox let out a miserable shriek.
Hongjun said, "But I also saved your life. Otherwise you would be dead now.”
"What about the others?” The fox thrill.
"They all showed in their true features,” Hongjun replied. "Who sent you here?”
The little fox immediately grew vigilant. Hongjun tilted his head, smiled and said, "Tell me who he mastermind is, and I will let you go.”
The little fox said nothing, trembling with tears in its eyes.
"I don't know,” The little fox cried. "Please, let me go.”
"You've all killed so many scholars.” Hongjun said. "I'm afraid it's not likely that you're innocent.”
The little fox screeched, "I didn't kill anyone! I really didn't!”
"What about the rest of your kind?” Hongjun asked.
The little fox fell silent.
Hongjun, "You all acted jointly and killed two hundred and sixty-six scholars. Within these, there could have been future officials of the Great Tang.”
The little fox, "But I really didn't. They never wanted me to suck the spiritual essence of mortals. By the time I arrived, that child had already been sucked dry by others of their kind.”
Hongjun couldn't help but shiver, the hair on his back standing on end.
"They asked me to replace the scholar, and I complied. Please! Please! Hongjun!”
Hongjun jumped off the windowsill. Sighing, he squatted down and watched the little fox with guilt in his eyes.
"I'm sorry,” Hongjun finally said.
He reached out his hand to scatter the powder in when the little fox bit his finger. "Ah!” In a split second, the little fox fell unconscious again, and Li Jinglong quickly rushed out from behind the bookshelf.
"Hurt?” Li Jinglong said. "Let me see.”
Hongjun had been bitten on his index finger, and Li Jinglong hastily held his hand. Hongjun said, "It's okay. I often got bitten by animals on the mountains before.”
Li Longji walked out from behind the bookshelf, seeing and hearing the whole process.
Hongjun stood up, Li Jinglong said in his place. "Your Majesty, this subject is asking for mercy for this fox yao on behalf of Hongjun. It did not harm anyone…”
"Be done with it.” Li Longji flicked away his sleeve and said. "You decide what to do with it.”
At that moment, Li Longji seemed to be a lot older under the setting sun, and his steps were somewhat dispirited as he slowly walked out of the imperial study. Hongjun breathed a sigh of relief and followed Li Longji behind together with Li Jinglong.
"If I had not seen it with my own eyes,” Li Longji stated, walking ahead. "I'm afraid I wouldn't believe that there could be such preposterous things for as long as I lived.”
Yang Yuhuan stood on the steps of the back hall of Xingqing Palace, looking at the sleeping foxes piled in the middle of the open field with eyes full of shock. Lady Guoguo and Yang Guozhong's faces instantly turned ashen. Around Feng Changqing and Gao Lishi, the eunuchs moved out several chairs from the palace, inviting the Emperor's relatives who had just returned from Huaqing Palace.
"So this was what General Feng had said…” Yang Yuhuan couldn't believe her eyes.
"Precisely,” Feng Changqing replied. "Fox yaos who disguised themselves as the exam candidates for the imperial examination and wanted to disrupt the Great Tang.”
Standing guard in front of the pile of foxes were Qiu Yongsi, A-Tai, and Mo Rigen, each armed with weapons, preparing for the fox yaos to wake up.
Li Longji walked past the foxes, sparing them no glance. With a long sigh, he sat down on the chair high above the steps. Yang Yuhuan looked at the foxes and then at Li Longji, who put his hand on the back of Yang Yuhuan's hand, and said to Li Jinglong, "Jinglong, tell us about it.”
Li Jinglong sternly said, "Your Majesty, Guifei, everybody, this matter began when Hongjun entered Chang'an…”
Li Jinglong stood at the flight of steps as he began to unfold the account, from the day when Hongjun arrived in Chang'an and found the ao fish. When mentioning Pingkang Li, Yang Yuhuan frowned and said, "So it turns out that you were in Pingkang Li that day to investigate the case?”
Li Jinglong, "...”
Li Jinglong put on a bold face and replied, "Yes, this subject had discovered that… there were yao spirits in Pingkang Li for some time now.”
It is a crime to deceive a monarch... All his subordinates thought at the same time. However, they just let it pass, giving him the chance to regain his good reputation. It was Hongjun who had caused the mischief and the harm to his reputation anyway.
Hongjun almost refuted that but was stopped through Li Jinglong's glance.
After that, Li Jinglong mentioned that as he went into Pingkang Li, he found the fox yao and followed its track, and put forth the process involving the ao fish, only not mentioning the throwing knife that Hongjun had lost. Then, Hu Sheng and the city gate's army were summoned to confirm that these were not just made up words.
Hearing this whole process, Li Longji, Yang Guifei, and everyone were all scared witless. Lady Guoguo shuddered as she said, "You all even went to Daming Palace to fight a battle?”
Yang Guozhong frowned and said, "How can you be sure that these foxes are really exam candidates and not a diversionary tactic…”
Raising his hand, Li Longji interrupted, "I have confirmed it myself. There's no need to be skeptical. Li Jinglong, continue.”
Li Jinglong then informed them about what had happened in Daming Palace. "The yaoguai was extremely difficult to overcome. It destroyed the golds and jewels in Daming Palace as it struggled. Jinglong was really terrified…”
"You've done a meritorious service today.” Li Longji said. "It has long ago already been paid for, don't brood over it. This account is on my head.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. They finally no longer had to pay out any more money.
As a matter of fact, Li Longji had already heard Feng Changqing narrating the details of the whole case, but at this moment, it was even more hair-raising coming from Li Jinglong's mouth.
Li Jinglong finally stated, "These fox yaos have caused chaos to the laws of imperial court and committed a great crime. This subject implores Your Majesty to have them removed from here.”
"Accepted,” Li Longji coldly said. "The Ministry of Rites will issue a compensation and inform the families of the dead exam candidates.”
The Ministry of Rites minister hurriedly bowed to promise. Yang Yuhuan sighed, eyes full of perturbation.
"One of this subject's subordinates is Tegla Isaiah,” Li Jinglong said. "He's a former Persian…”
"Isaiah?” When Li Longji heard this, his expression altered and asked, "What's his relationship with Narsieh?”
"He's my father.” A-Tai stepped forward and bowed towards Li Longji.
Li Longji studied A-Tai and said in a low voice, "You've returned?”
A-Tai heaved a sigh and smiled. "Yes. I'm willing to do my part for the Great Tang.”
Li Longji frowned and looked at A-Tai, seemingly lost in memory. Li Jinglong said, "Tegla studied under Zoroastrianism schools and is proficient in flame technique. He'll be able to burn the fox yaos all at once.”
Hearing that, Yang Yuhuan, Yang Guozhong, and Lady Guoguo simultaneously showed discomposed expressions, yet Li Longji said resentfully, "Burn!”
The fox yaos had tried to achieve their aims through underhanded means and had replaced the exam candidates. If knowledge of this matter spread out, the Great Tang national prestige and the Emperor's face would undoubtedly be obliterated, and the imperial examination would completely become the butt of a joke. How could they tolerate that?
Therefore, Li Jinglong moved back and made a gesture towards A-Tai, indicating that he could burn the foxes.
"If you don't want to look, you can just leave for a moment,” Li Jinglong whispered to Hongjun.
Hongjun said, "It's okay.”
A-Tai muttered and recited the incantations. In the square, in the midst of the blood-like dusk, A-Tai's ring suddenly burst into countless blazes of red light. Subsequently, the folding fan in his hand shook, the flames swirled with the wind, turning into a tornado, and twisting up the pile of fox yaos.
As the luminous blaze burned, the more than two hundred foxes immediately howled and woke up one after another, but were incapable to escape. In less than a few short breaths, the howling rapidly stilled as the surroundings returned to silence. The flames soared toward the sky, crackling and carrying a pungent smell. After all the foxes died, it seemed as if a terrible force had crashed straight into the horizon!
Li Longji couldn't help but tremble. At the same time, everyone in the open field turned pale!
The force was like the resentment and rage released by the fox yaos as they were on their deathbed, shifting in an endless stream, then turned into black flames and rushed straight to the horizon. Li Jinglong never expected such a change and immediately shouted, "Protect His Majesty!”
At that moment, Hongjun sensed a strong resentment, as if about to burst his heart. A lot of sadness, anger, and other sentiments burst out. Li Jinglong immediately pulled him aside and guarded him.
Li Jinglong blocked in front of Hongjun's body until the strong resentment subsided. After the black flames rose, it turned into a sort of meteor trajectory, shooting off into the sky and disappearing completely.
Yang Yuhuan frowned and asked, "What was that?”
"Reporting back to the imperial concubine,” Mo Rigen replied. "That was the resentment with which the yao spirits had absorb from the mortals blood. Now, along with the yaoguais' execution, the exam candidates' souls who died under them have all now returned to the sky. No need to worry.”
Under the cage of the night, the pile of fox corpses had burned out, producing the cracking and grinding noises, while the surroundings stood in a deafening silence. No one dared to speak, all making their own calculations.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Joyce, Elestrea.