“I like you so much~”
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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"Li Jinglong, you and your subordinates should stay in the Palace for a while," Li Longji stated. "Everyone else leave, it's already late. Guozhong, you and Changqing will go together to the examination room tomorrow."
They all saluted in succession and retreated. Li Longji and Yang Yuhuan turned and entered the back hall of Xingqing Palace. Li Jinglong knew that today's matter must be too shocking for him. The emperor wouldn't think it through clearly in just this amount of time, thus he had to be given some more. Li Jinglong unsheathed his sword and turned over the corpses of the fox yaos that had been burned.
"You should still probably treat your sword a bit better," Qiu Yongsi said. "It's not a matchstick."
Li Jinglong glared at Qiu Yongsi while Mo Rigen laughed and said, "We don't have to compensate for Daming Palace, do we?"
A-Tai smiled and joined in, "That's great!"
Hongjun sighed. Li Jinglong asked, "What's wrong? It all went in accordance with your kindly feelings, and we gave the wrongdoer a way out, so why are you still blue?"
Hongjun thought of what Li Jinglong had said that night. He didn't know whether what the little fox had said was true or not, or whether it had killed anyone or not. Hongjun suddenly felt that Li Jinglong had been right and couldn't help feeling melancholy.
"Thank you," Hongjun said. "But I felt like I've been deceived. You said Du Hanqing…"
"Where ignorance is bliss, it's folly to be wise in life," Li Jinglong waved his hand and said. "Don't take everything too seriously. Turn the page and forget about it. Give it some Lihun Pollen some other time, take it somewhere away and let it go, and then that's the end of it."
"Don't take unnecessary pains to insignificant matters," Mo Rigen said and smiled.
"Alright." Hongjun also smiled.
At this time, a eunuch came over and asked Li Jinglong to wait in the side hall as His Majesty bestowed a meal. After people arrived to clean up, they then followed the eunuch, passed through the imperial garden of Xingqing Palace, and waited in the side hall.
Li Longji bestowed a meal upon them. This was a far cry from their usual treatment. Yang Yuhuan even specially let people prepare the "Min Zhi Min Gao to be sent over. Hongjun was terribly delighted by eating these. However, Li Jinglong apparently still had some concerns on his mind.
"The case is concluded, right?" reminded Qiu Yongsi.
"That's right." Reminded by this, Li Jinglong immediately smiled and said, "Us brothers have worked hard."
After meals and having tea, Li Longji summoned them again. They then washed their hands, cleaned their faces, and came to a place called Withering Golden Flowers before the Elegant Hall.
"Tegla is summoned to have an audience with the Emperor," The eunuch stated.
Li Longji first summoned A-Tai, but for some reason, Li Jinglong only nodded to A-Tai and smiled encouragingly. A-Tai heaved a long sigh, took off his boots, and entered the hall. Yang Guifei sent another decree for the rest of them to wait outside the Withering Golden Flowers to admire the flowers.
The autumn night was bleak, and they didn't know what flowers they were supposed to admire. Still, there wasn't anything to do, so Li Jinglong simply leaned against a wall outside the hall and fell asleep. These days, he was too worn out. From time to time, his head would tilt towards Hongjun and then half of his body ultimately already slumped into Hongjun's embrace. Hongjun simply held him in his arms and talked with Mo Rigen and Qiu Yongsi in a low voice.
An hour later, A-Tai came out. Li Longji now summoned Qiu Yongsi and Mo Rigen.
Li Jinglong woke up, wiped the saliva on his face, and puzzledly asked, "Summoned us?"
"Not yet." Hongjun also felt that it was strange that they were summoned in ones or twos. This time, Mo Rigen and Qiu Yongsi went in and merely said a few words before coming out again.
"Let the three of us return first. There's nothing for us here," Mo Rigen said.
"Go ahead," Li Jinglong said. "Zhao Zilong is still waiting in the Exorcism Department."
The other trio thus left. Li Jinglong's nap had left him somewhat dazed, and he couldn't stop rubbing his face. After a short while, he was summoned together with Hongjun.
Inside the Withering Golden Flowers, there was a clear pond and a couch beside it. Behind the couch was a crane screen surrounded by eight surfaces. The lights flickered, and there was a song coming from a distance, occasionally with one or two tones. There was a nearly hundred year old Ginkgo tree situated in the pond. Along with the string's clanking sound, the golden yellow leaves gently fell, just like a vast spread of golden flowers, beautiful and sumptuous.
Li Jinglong wiped his face, seeing Li Longji sitting upright on the couch with Yang Yuhuan concocting some medicine pills at his side. When he was about to salute, Li Longji however interrupted, "Drop the formalities. Take a seat."
After the imperials moved onto the low couch, Li Jinglong and Hongjun then sat together and once again had some tea. Li Longji said, "Jinglong has made great merits this time. I want to know how I can reward you. Just say it."
Li Jinglong hastily said, "It is this subjects' duty to serve the state and dare not to receive rewards. Your Majesty pardoned this subject of the crime of causing great disaster in Daming Palace, and this subject is already grateful."
Although the spoken words sounded humble, from Li Jinglong's mouth, it was spoken neither humbly nor arrogantly. Even though Yang Yuhuan was frowning, she nevertheless smiled and stated, "See, this concubine had guessed right."
Li Longji laughed. The seriousness of the atmosphere subsequently relaxed.
Li Jinglong continued, "But in rooting out wickedness, in a few days, this subject will still have to take his group to Pingkang Li, as to avoid the yaos slipping from the nets of justice."
Li Longji gave a "hmm" in response and said, "To execute official duties, go as you please."
Li Jinglong said, "I'm afraid that the people of Chang'an will then…"
"Zhen will issue an imperial edict for you?" Li Longji asked.
All of them laughed, and then Li Jinglong responded, "This subject is in awe."
Hongjun scratched his neck as he said, "Your Majesty, we still owe six thousand and four hundred taels of silver to the family that sold us the Lihun Pollen. Can you help us out?"
Li Jinglong, "......"
"What's that?" Yang Yuhuan asked. "Why is it worth so much silver?"
Hongjun then began to explain to Yang Yuhuan, who was very surprised and asked, "Is there such a thing in the world?"
Li Longji stated, "All grievances and hatred can be forgotten through this. Such a spiritual remedy must be a rare thing in this world. It can also relieve people's sorrows. It really is wonderful."
Yang Yuhuan smiled and said, "But happiness, anger, sorrows, and joy, no matter how troublesome they may be, as long as we are alive, aren't they what makes life interesting? If I were asked to smell the pollen, I surely wouldn't."
Li Longji delightedly said, "You're right. If Zhen were asked to smell it, Zhen wouldn't either. I'm afraid there are some things that cannot be forgotten even if one smelled it."
Yang Yuhuan replied angrily, "Who knows?"
Hongjun and Li Jinglong were unable to make sense of the Emperor and Guifei's deep implications. It must have something to do with some petty matter. Hongjun then said, "I will buy it next time and give you all some."
"You can look for Guozhong to receive the note." Li Longji didn't even think about it as he easily said, "Since my beloved concubine has said this, Zhen will dismiss the costs."
Hongjun nodded and wanted to ask for something to eat when Li Jinglong nudged him at once, indicating for him to stop asking for anything more.
"Today is seriously a testament to my childhood," Yang Yuhuan softly said. "You exorcists are used to dealing with these strange things, however are there any fresh matters that you can talk to me about?"
Although Li Jinglong had a peek of insight into exorcism, he was a mortal after all, and not as good as the other exorcists, who had been dealing with these matters since they were young. He turned to Hongjun and asked, "Do you want to talk about it for Guifei?"
Hongjun quite liked Yang Yuhuan and felt that every time he saw her, she could be described "as bathing in the warm spring breezes." She was a pleasant and considerate woman, and it was no wonder that the emperor liked her so much. He randomly chose a few stories about yao for them to listen to. Hearing this, Yang Yuhuan couldn't stop questioning him closely. Hongjun then began to talk endlessly, from mentioning heavenly veins to discussing Laozi's "Mystery of the Dao, The Door of Many Wonders," as well as the theory that the world was born entirely from primal chaos.
Even Li Jinglong didn't know that Hongjun knew so much. Amongst all the exorcists, Hongjun was the only one who had no intentions of showing off, let alone relying on his own status. Normally, he either nodded or said "oh" when discussing the world's Mystery of the Dao, but he had actually listened thoroughly.
"Are you a Taoist?" Li Longji asked.
"Eh…" Hongjun didn't know which sect he belonged to either. He must say that Qing Xiong advocated Buddhism more than he mentioned Taoism. "Do I consider myself a Buddhist?" Hongjun thought it over and said, "Qiu Yongsi is like a Taoist."
"What about your fellow from Shiwei?" Yang Yuhuan asked.
"He's considered a shaman?" Hongjun hesitantly said.
"Tegla is a Holy Son of Zoroastrianism." Li Longji smiled. "If you all fight in everyday life, don't you all call for your respective gods? This is actually quite miraculous."
Hongjun replied, "The world has different routes to achieve the same destination. My father said it is unnecessary to be constrained but to seek the glory of one's true intention."
Everyone then slowly nodded.
Li Jinglong originally thought that the emperor would inquire about the case because he felt there was something strange with it and wanted to ask about the follow-up plans. Unexpectedly, he paid no attention to the details of the case but instead talked about guis and gods for most of the night. They went round and round in circles and in the end it was all to seek immortality?!
This was a waste of time. It was better to go home and sleep.
Yang Yuhuan asked again, "So Hongjun, little gentleman, there is one thing I wanted to ask."
"Speak." Hongjun was too unceremonious and careless, holding the bowl of tea in one hand and resting his foot on Li Jinglong's knee, taking Xingqing Palace as his home.
"Between the heavens and the earths, what is immortal?" Yang Yuhuan asked.
Hearing this, Li Jinglong became curious and took Hongjun's foot down as he glanced sideways at him.
Realizing he was being too unruly, Hongjun hurriedly sat straight as he thought for a moment and said, "There's none."
"None?" Yang Yuhuan asked.
"That's right. There's none." Hongjun earnestly said, "If you have to say there's something, then there is only the heavens above you."
With a bowl of tea, Hongjun motioned to Yang Yuhuan and Li Longji to look up at the starry autumn night outside the hall and explained, smiling, "Heaven is eternal, and earth is everlasting; the reason why they last is because they do not exist for themselves, thus why they live so long. This means that only those who weren't born for themselves could live forever. For all sentient beings, however, "to seek immortality" was already for themselves. Therefore, there is nothing immortal anywhere between the heavens and the earth."
At that moment, Li Jinglong seemed to have an illusion as Hongjun, holding a bowl, faced the Emperor and Guifei, that even in the face of the gods of the heavens and the earth, he would face them without any fear. His expression was incomparably clear, causing a rush of excitement.
Hongjun looked back straight at Yang Yuhuan and Li Longji and smiled. "But I think sometimes that reincarnation is a type of immortality; sometimes nirvana is also immortality. Those who left this life will never meet again in the next. Nothing in this world is eternal, and that is just fate."
"In that case, what kind of medicine can make people live longer?" Yang Yuhuan asked in a soft voice.
Li Longji took Yang Yuhuan's hand. As Yang Yuhuan asked, she couldn't help looking up at Li Longji.
Hongjun replied, "The simpler you live and the closer you are to the heavens and the earth, the longer you live."
Li Longji laughed and said, "Forget about it. Kong Hongjun, you are an intelligent child."
Yang Yuhuan sighed and said, "If I could prolong His Majesty's life for a thousand years longer, cultivate into a yao, and save your life, this concubine would be willing to do so."
"Anyone who is born human is much better than an ignorant, unenlightened yaoguai," Hongjun replied. "A crane lives a millennium, a tortoise lives ten thousand years. Every sentient being in the world each has its own fate and cannot be forced."
Li Jinglong joined in and said, "If people were to change places with tortoises, crawling all day long around in the mud, I think most mortals wouldn't be willing to do so."
Yang Yuhuan and Li Longji both laughed. Li Longji muttered, "That's true."
Hongjun suddenly remembered something and said, "There seems to be a way to extend one's lifespan though."
"What?" The three people were astounded at the same time.
"Become a Buddha." Hongjun said.
"Alright, alright." Li Jinglong said. "Don't get so exhilarated."
Li Longji and Yang Guifei held their foreheads. Hongjun said, "All sentient beings are aware of the Buddha's nature. To cross sentient beings means to cross oneself."
"You are a very intelligent child." Yang Guifei smiled. "The moment you said "become a Buddha", I suddenly thought of someone."
Hongjun smiled. "Who?"
Yang Guifei looked at Hongjun with a smile. Suddenly, her expression changed as her brows slightly frowned, seemingly trying hard to remember and said, "I always think I've seen you before."
"Are we brought together by fate?" Hongjun said.
"Hmm… When I saw you for the first time that day, " Yang Guifei rubbed her eyebrows. "I felt that your smile was so familiar, but I can't remember where I've seen it before."
"Alright," Li Longji said. "Let everything go with fate. That's enough for today, go back and have a rest. Official Li, when you have time, take along your little brother to talk about the mysteries of the world again."
Knowing that they were going to rest, Li Jinglong then hurried Hongjun up to leave. Yang Yuhuan waved again and said, "Hongjun, come here."
"Do you still want to recognize another adopted son?" Li Longji smiled.
Yang Yuhuan smilingly took a piece of snack and handed it to Hongjun. Hongjun thanked her, and Yang Yuhuan said, "This child is too beautiful. My brother has several children, but none as vigorous as he is."
In the dead of night, Li Jinglong and Hongjun left the Palace. Li Jinglong walked slowly, carrying a small cage with a fox inside.
Picking up a roadside leaf, Hongjun turned around and asked, "Did I say something wrong today?"
"No." The corners of Li Jinglong's mouth slightly tilted up. "Good performance. You're growing more and more clever."
He strongly felt that Hongjun was learning so quickly and could now more or less adapt to the life in Chang'an, compared with his apprehensive appearance when he had first entered the Exorcism Department.
"I'm just too foolish," Hongjun said with embarrassment. "I never know what else your guys' words mean."
As a matter of fact, Hongjun had pretty much been unclear in this case all the way down until he finally came to understand the twists and turns of what was going on. Li Jinglong, Qiu Yongsi, Mo Rigen, and A-Tai all seemed to have had a tacit understanding, while only he had been dull-witted, just following them the entire time.
"They are all wise to worldly matters," Li Jinglong said with a smile. "It's normal that you were confused."
Hongjun studied Li Jinglong, who immediately stopped smiling.
"Keep smiling ah," Hongjun said. "It looks good. Give this little one a smile. Come!"
Li Jinglong forehead veins burst out. "Where did you learn that!"
Hongjun thought that Li Jinglong really looked good when he smiled. He was usually rigid, serious, and discreet, like a true self-possessed General, but when he smiled, it gave off a heartfelt kind feeling.
"I'm going to test you. Guess where we're going now?" Li Jinglong sternly asked.
Hongjun turned his head to see that this was not the way to the Exorcism Department. He scratched his head and said, "Where do you want to go at this late hour?"
As they reached a back alley, Li Jinglong handed the cage to Hongjun, flipped over the back wall, and leaped in.
"Is there another case?" Hongjun asked in surprise.
No answer was heard from the inside, and Li Jinglong pushed open the back door and led out a horse.
"You stole someone's horse……"
"Borrowed it. Let's go!"
That was the back door of the Longwu Army. Li Jinglong mounted up and reached out his hand to pull Hongjun up and had him sit behind himself. Then, with a clatter of hooves, he rode through the long street towards the West Gate. The sound of hooves seemed especially distinct in the long quiet street, and they stopped at the top of a hill upon reaching the city gate.
"Come." Li Jinglong handed the cage to Hongjun again and took off the talisman on it.
"Just letting it out right here?" Hongjun asked.
"Or what?" Li Jinglong asked. "Bring it back?"
Hongjun thought this was also good and took the little fox out of the cage. Li Jinglong stretched out his fingers and rubbed the little fox's chin repeatedly.
The morning star rose from the horizon and the white marble color of dawn appeared. As the sky turned from night to day across the entire Divine Land, Hongjun looked up towards the azure sky alternating between dawn and dusk. The celestial veins radiated magnificent tints that connected with the earth, just like a giant ship that had gone through eternity and never stopped.
"Hey, wake up."
Li Jinglong's voice was a lot gentler as he repeatedly scratched the little fox's chin.
Hongjun chuckled and said, "The second dose was not much."
The little fox woke up with an "oh" and looked at Li Jinglong warily. Li Jinglong bent up his finger and hit it on its head, rebuking as he said, "You haven't settled the account for biting Hongjun."
Hongjun hurriedly said to forget about it. The little fox nervously looked at Hongjun and then to Li Jinglong. When he realized what had happened, Li Jinglong immediately snapped his fingers in front of its nose.
With the sound of his snapped fingers, Li Jinglong's hand poured out Lihun Pollen and caused the little fox to sneeze, its eyes full of confusion. Hongjun let go, and it fell to the ground then rushed into the thicket.
"Don't go back to Chang'an," Li Jinglong said. "If you're ever found again, I won't be able to spare you."
The little fox hid in the shrubs and looked out. Laden with sadness, Hongjun bid him farewell and came down from the hill with Li Jinglong.
The sun rose together with the hundreds of birds singing in the mountain forests that awakened the eight hundred miles of Qinchuan.
"Zhangshi," Hongjun said.
"Hmm?" Li Jinglong led the horse ahead. Unexpectedly, Hongjun jumped on him and rode on his back.
"I like you so much~!"
"Get down, quick... What do you think you look like?"
"There's no one here."
Li Jinglong got Hongjun off of him and asked, "What are you being crazy about?"
"You don't really dislike yaoguais," Hongjun stated proudly. "Right?"
"I don't hate yaoguais who haven't done evil," Li Jinglong sternly replied.
"Then you like the little fox."
"Who doesn't like a lovely face?" Li Jinglong said. "But relying on one's loveliness, yet being unbridled and lawless certainly is not allowed." He poked his finger at Hongjun's head then mounted the horse, beckoning him to hurry up.
Hongjun felt as if he had been insinuated against but didn't think it through. When he mounted the horse, he asked, "Zhangshi, when will you take me to Pingkang Li?"
Li Jinglong, "......"
As the horse's hooves gradually faded, Chang'an's morning bell spread far and wide, as they passed on the sunny road away from the dust.
The sun shone brightly on an early autumn morning when Hongjun fell asleep whilst on the road. When they arrived in the Exorcism Department, Li Jinglong carried him in his arms all the way into the room and laid him on the couch as he sighed and said, "Sleep!"
After that, he went out to return the horse. As soon as he returned to the Exorcism Department, the conferred reward also came. Li Jinglong then bowed by himself to receive the imperial decree without waking up his subordinates. This time, they were rewarded with a total of ninety taels of silver and some refreshments, as well as a note issued by the National Treasury, which could be handed over to the Lihun Pollen merchants in exchange for silver.
After all this, Li Jinglong finally lay down and slept until dusk.
"The descendants of Isai, Shiwei, Qiu's heir, and an extra mortal without mana…"
"I do think that the identity of that youth is the most mysterious and very fishy."
"I don't care who he is! You just watched this all happen, right under your nose!"
"So? What do you want me to do?"
The man in the green robe slightly spread out his hands and added, "Your fox descendants chose this path. If you're willing to gamble, then you're willing to admit defeat, isn't that how the saying goes?"
The noble lady couldn't help panting, her eyes glowing so red that they almost spilled blood as she gasped, "I will avenge them…"
The man and the noble lady stood in the shadows at the depths of Xingqing Palace. As the sun set in the West, the two lengthened silhouettes appeared as sinister guai creatures with bared fangs and brandished claws.
"It's quite easy to get rid of him," The man whispered in the lady's ear. "But the earthly Emperor is on his guard. If you let Mara get exposed this early……"
"It can't last more than a few years." The lady intently looked at the man's face and said every single word in his ear, "His and the Great Tang's fate will soon end."
"But you still have no way to deal with him," The man coldly said. "You'd better think it through for me that there are no remaining variables. Mara's reincarnation, no matter how valiant these exorcists are, they still can't stop it. Don't blame me for not warning you that trying to get some small gains would lead to a big mess."
The lady suddenly shivered and said with a malicious overtone in her voice, "Did you already know long ago?"
The man smiled and said, "You're too suspicious."
"You knew about their plan!" The lady quivered. "In order not to be involved, you had to… forsake all my descendents!"
The man no longer said anything as he turned to leave. The lady behind shouted at the top of her voice, "Otherwise why didn't you go to the examination room?! You remember what happened today for me!"
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Joyce, Elestrea.