“From the beginning of the eleventh month until now, there have been this many homicides?!”
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
In the afternoon of the same day, Deputy Chief Huang Yong from the Judiciary Department personally made a visit.
“Li-zhangshi!” Huang Yong had brought along that civil official named Lian Hao, along with a porter who was carrying a lacquer box, delivering the box to the courtyard of the Exorcism Department. Li Jinglong was currently nursing a hangover, his hair in disarray and his forehead wrinkled as he came out to welcome the guests.
After the imperial examination case, the Judiciary Department didn’t dare to roll their eyes at Li Jinglong anymore - he had accomplished an act of service for his country, and he also was in the good graces of the emperor, so Huang Yong greeted him with a face filled with smiles and an amicable attitude as he said, “You haven’t gotten up yet? Then it was presumptuous of me to come so early. Of course, your Exorcism Department must go out at night to catch yao…”
“Please come in.” Li Jinglong had only managed to get Hongjun back when the sun had risen to the height of three bamboo poles. His body had almost come apart under Hongjun’s sprawl, and he could barely keep his eyes open. He said exhaustedly, “No, it was Jinglong who was presumptuous, allow me to change my clothes…”
“Go sleep!” Huang Yong hurried to say. “These are the cases that the Judiciary Department is transferring to you, and we’ll leave them here.”
Li Jinglong woke up completely at that, and he stared at that chest for a long while before he came back to himself. As he stood there, Huang Yong said, “If you need anything, please let Lian Hao know.”
Lian Hao hurried to agree, and with Huang Yong in tow, they managed to quickly flee.
Li Jinglong bore an expression of consternation as he opened that trunk. Inside, stacked to the brim with no order to them, was a bunch of case records. There were at least 200 scrolls.
That day, when everyone woke up, they were all tired but happy. When Hongjun came out to wash up, he was still singing “In spring the river rises as high as the sea…” Everyone was indulging in the delight that was visiting the brothel for entertainment last night.
“Let’s go play there again tonight, hehehe,” Qiu Yongsi said.
A-Tai responded, “I don’t have much money left; last time those 3200 taels that I put down haven’t been returned to me yet.”
“I have some, I have some,” Hongjun said. “Let’s go buy that place that makes those cherry biluo.”
Mo Rigen said, “Sounds good! That store…”
“We have cases,” Li Jinglong said with an expression of abject misery. “Still playing around? We might as well dissolve the department then.”
After lunch, Hongjun looked at the pile of case records on the table. Everyone stared at it dumbfounded.
“We only tracked down a cat,” Mo Rigen said. “Is all of this really necessary in response?”
Li Jinglong was the only one who picked out a scroll and unrolled it, and he said, “These are the difficult cases that the Judiciary Department sent us. Go through and read them through once, we’ll split up and investigate tomorrow.”
“Do these all have some connection to yaoguai?” Hongjun asked.
“How can there be so many yaoguai?” Qiu Yongsi responded. “I imagine this is because we have received the favor of both His Majesty and the favored concubine, so to avoid offending anyone, the cases that they aren’t able to solve were all tossed over to us in a flash of their inspiration.”
Li Jinglong answered, “As long as they’re not related to yaoguai, write ‘Reviewed, not yao-related’, and send them back to the Judiciary Department. They’re not ours to take care of.”
Hongjun looked at the scroll in his hand and asked, “A porter named Qin was violently killed in his house during the night, do we not care about this either?”
Li Jinglong took it, and after taking a single glance he tossed it to the side as he said, “He was murdered, it wasn’t a yaoguai.”
A-Tai said, “On the second day of the eleventh month, four hanging coins disappeared as if they had grown wings…”
Qiu Yongsi smiled at that, and he supplied, “They were probably stolen by the children in the family to spend.”
“My young son keeps shouting that he sees ghosts at night…” Mo Rigen held another scroll and read from it. “This should be sent to someone who conducts healing rituals, why are they coming to the Exorcism Department?”
“After exiting the city, my mule received a shock and ran off, I think there are yaoguai involved… oh, fuck off…” Li Jinglong only wished for him and his subordinates to go flatten the Judiciary Department instead.
Hongjun picked up that scroll about the dead man again and said, “If we don’t go investigate, then what?”
“That’s the job of the Judiciary Department,” Li Jinglong answered. “If you send it back, they must investigate.”
Hongjun said, “Then according to what you guys said, if the Judiciary Department can’t afford to offend the killer, this case won’t be resolved?”
“Then it can only be left to become a cold case,” Qiu Yongsi responded.
Hongjun then picked out that scroll about the dead person, placing it on the side. Li Jinglong let out a sigh and said, “Fine, either way you’ll be bored otherwise, so if you want to go investigate, then go.”
Hongjun grabbed the scroll and headed for the door.
Mo Rigen wanted to accompany him, but Hongjun gestured that it wasn’t necessary. He changed into his official uniform and went out the door.
“I’ll go check on him.” Li Jinglong couldn’t sit still, and he stood up.
Everyone else hurried to agree. “Yes, yes, Zhangshi you should go check it out, Zhangshi you must go check it out.”
Li Jinglong, “...”
Li Jinglong then crossed his legs and sat down again, crossing his arms over his chest as he said earnestly, “You three, I feel that there is something we must discuss in depth. Do you all have some misunderstanding about me going out of my way to protect Hongjun?”
Hongjun passed through numerous sections of the city before he arrived in Guiyi Ward. This area was the slums of Chang’an; the yard walls were broken and dilapidated, the houses were built right next to each other, and there were even puddles of sewage in the alleys. A lone house with its own private entrance had a yard piled high with random secondhand goods, and the interior was calm and quiet. Hongjun lifted up a drum-shaped rattle that had fallen on the ground, twirling it so that it let out a few du dus, before a young person’s voice called from the inside, “If you like it then take it and toss some money into the jar.”
Hongjun pushed open the door and went in. What he saw was the residence of a poor family in Chang’an - the windows had paper pasted on them, and there was a set of armor tossed out in front of the doorway. That armor was very familiar; it was exactly the set that Li Jinglong had worn before, the armor of the Longwu Army.
A young man who didn’t look much older than Hongjun sat on the bed, wiping the sword that he held in his hand. When he heard the sound of the door opening he lifted his head and looked at Hongjun, his eyes filled with a little confusion.
“I’m from the Exorcism Department, here on business.” Hongjun pulled out the tally around his waist and asked, “The porter who passed away, who was he to you?”
This was the first time Hongjun was investigating a case. He learned that that youth was called Qin Wu, nineteen years old, and he was a colleague of Li Jinglong’s.
Qin Wu set the sword in his hand to one side, frowning. “The Exorcism Department? Isn’t that Captain Li’s department? What are you doing here?”
Confused, Hongjun asked, “Wasn’t there a porter with the surname Qin who was violently- violently… had something happen to him in the night?”
“My dad was murdered,” Qin Wu stood up and stared at Hongjun as he spoke. “Nothing to do with you guys, you can go.”
But Hongjun sat down on the bed instead, saying hesitantly, “I’ll sit with you for a bit.”
Qin Wu said, “There’s nothing in this house that I can use to welcome you as a guest. Is Captain Li doing well?”
Hongjun told him that he was doing pretty well, and the two of them sat facing each other for a split second. Qin Wu let out a long sigh, and Hongjun asked, “Who killed him?”
“Someone from the Yang family,” Qin Wu replied. “The second procurement official in Yang Guozhong’s manor, who conspired with my stepmother to strangle him to death at night. There’s no way around it, my family’s too poor.”
Hongjun thought in his heart that this was not far from what Qiu Yongsi had guessed. The murderer was someone that the Judiciary Department didn’t dare to offend, so they had pushed this case to the Exorcism Department, and it seemed that he had made this trip in vain.
“What is his name?” Hongjun couldn’t bear it and asked. “Let’s go to the Judiciary Department again.”
Qin Wu didn’t reply, but instead leveled his gaze at Hongjun and said, “That day, I saw you on the training grounds outside of the Longwu Army. Does Captain Li treat you well?”
Hongjun had no idea why he had suddenly switched topics to something so wholly unrelated. He thought about it for a moment before responding, “Zhangshi’s a really good person.”
“En,” Qin Wu replied. “Cherish your time together properly, tell him that he doesn’t have to worry about me.”
Hongjun wanted to ask further, but Qin Wu stood up instead to see his visitor off, so Hongjun could only head back. Qin Wu was really too calm about it; if it was Hongjun himself, he would definitely not be able to be like that.
Not long after Qin Wu saw Hongjun off, the door was pushed open again. He was just about to pick up his own sword, but when he turned and saw that it was Li Jinglong, he suddenly stood up. The two of them stared at each other silently from across the darkened room, and finally, Qin Wu said, “Li… Captain Li…”
“When Hongjun picked out the case, I guessed that it was your family,” Li Jinglong sighed and sat down. He asked, “Where’s your stepmother?”
“In mourning,” Qin Wu replied. “49 days, and as soon as the seven weeks passes she’s going to get married. For now, they’ve rented a house outside to live in.”
Li Jinglong let out a sigh and said, “These years the Yang family has gathered a lot of power; this anger is something you’ll have to swallow down for the time being.”
Qin Wu didn’t say anything. Finally, Li Jinglong spoke, “As a colleague, here’s a word of advice from me: this case is one that I’ll keep in the back of my mind, but it’s not the right time for it yet.”
“The Yang family only needs to lift a hand to cover the sky, like a dog threatening people under its master’s protection,” Qin Wu said. “They’ve tyrannized their fellow officials, forcefully seized fertile land, and beat up innocent women and children. They’ve embezzled the pay of the Six Armies and the border troops, so until when do I have to bear with them?”
Li Jinglong said, “People will always experience many unfair things in their lives, but there will always be a day when these knots will be untied, so don’t take things to heart. This case I will keep in mind, so let it be like this and nothing more.”
And having said this, Li Jinglong stood up to leave. Qin Wu only quietly watched his silhouette, but as Li Jinglong went out the door, Qin Wu suddenly spoke. “Captain Li, you’re still the same as before.”
“I’m already not the same as before,” Li Jinglong turned his head and said, before he continued on his way out of the Qin house.
The next day, the new cases arrived.
“Why are there so many?” Hongjun hadn’t even finished reading the ones from yesterday. Everyone was at a loss for words.
Li Jinglong said, “Lian Hao! Stop right there!”
“There’s murder cases today!”
Lian Hao dropped off another large stack of scrolls before he slipped away like smoke. Everyone felt increasingly bored looking through the cases, so they started to split it up. In the morning, A-Tai, Mo Rigen, and Qiu Yongsi would look over the case summaries, and in the afternoon Li Jinglong, Hongjun, and the carp yao would take over while the others went out to investigate the cases further. Any cases not related to yaoguai were all returned to the Judiciary Department.
“Qin Wu asked after you,” Hongjun said that day while he was looking over some cases.
“What’d he say about me?” Li Jinglong asked absently, shooting Hongjun a glance from under the scroll.
Hongjun asked curiously, “Were you guys friends before?”
Li Jinglong answered, “I guess it counts.”
Hongjun looked him in the eyes, and Li Jinglong couldn’t resist adding, “Back then, when little Wu entered the Longwu Army, he was about the same age as you.”
At that time, Li Jinglong had just gained the position of Captain of the Longwu Army, and his martial prowess was something that his subordinates greatly admired. But the second year after he entered the army, a specific matter had occurred, and that matter was related to Qin Wu.
“You were betrayed, huh,” the carp yao said as it buried its head in the case scrolls.
Li Jinglong en-ed and said, “Later there was a chance at promotion within the Longwu Army, and Qin Wu’s family was really too poor, so he wanted to get this chance. And exactly because I was close with my subordinates, Qin Wu took the chance to tell his peers some things, which led to my reputation… gaining some ignominy.”
“An almost 20 year old person and still unmarried,” the carp yao said, “and you spent every day flirting with these young fellows. It must have been hard to make people keep their thoughts straight huh.”
“You…” Li Jinglong almost had a heart attack from those words, and Hongjun hurried to rub his back, asking, “What ‘reputation gaining some ignominy’? What was gained? Why is this something I can’t understand again?”
Li Jinglong’s words once again dried up, but the carp yao didn’t stop staring judgmentally at Li Jinglong as it asked, “Was it true then?”
“How could it be true?” Li Jinglong said. “I’m pure and innocent, and I had no uncouth intentions towards him!”
Everyone in the army was a handsome youth, and there was no shortage of delicately beautiful sons in the Six Armies, so naturally these youths who had yet to be wed were close with each other. But the people who joined the army were focused primarily on practicing their martial skills. Being a soldier was still a responsibility, and in the face of danger, they would pick up their weapons and die for their country.
In the usual days the Longwu Army was under the emperor’s watchful gaze, so they definitely didn’t dare to cause any havoc. Training, competing, and contending, from big events like accompanying the emperor on a hunt to small events like the drills each individual squad ran on the first and the fifteenth of each month, everyone was assigned ranks based on their performance in these things. If they were even slightly unable to keep up, they would receive abuse and ridicule and would be forced to stand under the sun in their full armor during the drills for a whole four shichen.
With this level of difficulty, when they returned to their quarters every day, obviously they would fall down and go to sleep, so how would they have the energy to do other things? If they happened to slow the entire squad down, they could be ambushed in the night, their heads wrapped with cloth, as their peers beat them up. If the news of him being a cutsleeve spread, then he would definitely burden the entire team and become the object of ridicule of the entire army.
Li Jinglong had just so happened to have rigorously instructed Qin Wu on this topic before, so he already held a little unease in his heart, and adding on to his desire to be promoted and squeeze Li Jinglong out of his spot, he caused such a ruckus. It was also the year Li Jinglong turned 18, so everything, from any sort of brotherhood to marriage offers, all disappeared just like that.
“How big was his grudge against you!” At this, Hongjun finally realized: the words Qin Wu had spoken today were out of the guilt in his heart. According to Li Jinglong, later Qin Wu did receive a promotion, and after hearing of the rumors, Hu Sheng had him transferred to another squad. In the days after that, the soldiers under Li Jinglong’s command treated him like they would any other superior.
Li Jinglong responded, “It’s fine, it was foolish for me to expect sincerity from a shallow friendship, so the fault was mine alone.”
“Hm--?” The carp yao seemed to hear something odd in his tone, and the entire fish grew alert as it eyed Li Jinglong.
When saying those words, Li Jinglong couldn’t resist glancing at Hongjun again, but Hongjun was still indignant about how that matter had happened. But based on what Hongjun knew and heard, he wouldn’t think about the deeper meaning behind it.
“Then did you like Qin Wu?” Hongjun continued.
“I didn’t like him,” Li Jinglong said crisply. “It was only because he was young, and… and… and…”
Li Jinglong lowered his head and mumbled to himself, “And his family was badly off, so I specially took care of him for a bit. You don’t need to be angry on my behalf, I’ve already long since put that matter behind me, now that I’ve come to the Exorcism Department. Everyone took to it like fish to water, so naturally I wouldn’t think of such matters again.”
Hongjun thought about it for a while, and his final comment was, “Oh.”
Li Jinglong was silent for a moment. When he raised his eyes to look at Hongjun again, Hongjun was turning to the carp yao and saying, “And here I thought that only males and females could do ‘that’, but it turns out that males and males can also do ‘that’.”
The carp yao, “...”
Li Jinglong, “...”
The carp yao, “But males and males doing ‘that’ don’t produce children, and I would never do ‘that’ with male fish.”
“So how do you fish do ‘that’?” Hongjun was very curious.
This conversation grew more awkward as they continued, and Li Jinglong only wanted to quickly divert the topic when the carp yao said, “This isn’t something you need to worry about, what do you need to know that much for? But coming back to the topic, if you really like someone, then there’s no way around it; some people like to do ‘this’, some people like to do ‘that’. The human realm has always been all-inclusive like this, and so what if Li-zhangshi likes men? He doesn’t need bystanders to crunch idly on radishes and worry for him. Speaking of which, Hongjun? Didn’t you like that little fox from before?”
“I don’t like him!” Hongjun said. “I only felt that he was pitiful.”
Li Jinglong immediately picked up a scroll and tossed it to Hongjun to end this thread of conversation, saying, “Take a look.”
Twelfth year of the Tianbao Era, the fifth day of the eleventh month.
Exorcism Department Case: a caravan met with some difficulty (murder case).
Difficulty: Herringbone level
Area: Pinghe Ridge
Involved in the case: The Western Regions’ Kucha Caravan Twenty-two
Details of the case: On the fifth day of the eleventh month, the Kucha caravan was passing through a branch of the Qinling Mountains, in Pinghe Liang, when they were ambushed after noon. Twelve members of the group were brutally massacred, the killer is unknown, and it’s suspected that a yao caused this ruckus. This case has been transferred to the Great Tang Dynasty’s Exorcism Department to be taken care of.
Remuneration: Heavy gratitude and in person thanks from the Kucha merchants and the commercial envoy who resides in Chang’an, Han Guolan.
“Let’s go take a look.”
“It’s too late, let’s go tomorrow,” Li Jinglong said.
The dusk was deepening, and the autumn night was chilly. Mo Rigen and his group had already come back, and everyone sat down for dinner as they began to discuss their findings.
“Where did you go play now?” Li Jinglong saw that they were unable to eat their food, so he asked that lightly.
“We came across a case involving a murder of someone’s wife,” Mo Rigen frowned as he lifted his cup to drink some water, and he said, “A blacksmith was arguing with his wife, so he used a chisel and a metal hammer to smash her to death. That brain matter was splattered… on the wall, on the bed…”
“Don’t say anymore!” Qiu Yongsi and A-Tai immediately interrupted to stop Mo Rigen from recounting that scene again; it had taken them a lot of effort to forget it.
At the moment, Hongjun was drinking a bowl of crab roe soup, wholly undisturbed. A-Tai then continued, “And there was another case, where a patient had the flu and went to go see a doctor. The doctor was a village hack, and when he performed the bloodletting, he accidentally killed the person. The doctor ran, and the family carried the coffin to riot out in front of Chunlin Hall.”
“En,” Li Jinglong was still thinking of the caravan being ambushed, and he asked, “What other news is there?”
“From the beginning of the month until now, all the murder cases that have happened are in these scrolls,” A-Tai said.
“From the beginning of the eleventh month until now, there have been this many homicides?!” Li Jinglong asked as he put down his chopsticks.
Mo Rigen answered, “I don’t know if historically homicides were this frequent in Chang’an. Is this considered abnormal?”
Qiu Yongsi said, “More accurately, these homicides all happened yesterday and today.”
“In the past two or three days, if we count in the merchant caravan, fourteen people have died,” Li Jinglong frowned. “It’s this serious?”
A-Tai, “Don’t forget, the yao king is still hiding somewhere.”
Hongjun, “Is it trying to provoke us?”
Li Jinglong let out a deep sigh, and his forehead wrinkled up again. He didn’t respond. As such, everyone went to go sleep so that they could head out early tomorrow morning to investigate.
Late at night, Hongjun squatted by the edge of the well to rinse his mouth. The carp yao poked its head out from the pond, saying, “Hongjun.”
Hongjun turned his head, raising an eyebrow, indicating that if it had anything to say then it should speak.
The carp yao, “Have you ever met someone who you wish to spend your whole life with?”
“What does that mean?” Hongjun finished rinsing his mouth and sat down by the side of the pond.
“It’s when you want to be with her for your entire life, and you never think of leaping over the dragon gate again, merely wanting to stay with her for a lifetime until you both are old, and the day that she dies, you wish that you could go with her,” the carp yao’s mouth opened and closed as it said in a daze.
“There is,” Hongjun smiled.
“Who?” the carp yao asked.
Hongjun, “Dad, Qing Xiong.”
The carp yao said, “I don’t mean that, ah whatever.”
The carp yao wanted to go back and sleep, but Hongjun yanked on its tail, tugging it out, asking, “What’s wrong? Tell me.”
The carp yao said, “When you’re with her, when you’re by her side, you always feel indescribably comfortable, and you don’t need to think about anything…”
Hongjun answered, “Li-zhangshi ba.”
The carp yao: “Pah!”
Hongjun answered, “Zhangshi is always really dependable, and he’s a good person, so all I have to do is just leave everything to him, isn’t that right? Zhao Zilong, what is going on with you? You’ve been weird all day.”
The carp yao said, “I fell in love with a koi.”
“Ah?” Hongjun asked. “What does that mean?”
“I want to start a family with her,” the carp yao said. “I want to never be apart.”
“Didn’t you want to leap over the dragon gate?” Hongjun inquired. “You’re not leaping over it anymore?”
The carp yao leaned one arm on the bank, propping its head up with it, blowing a few bubbles, as it said, “Those words were only to comfort myself at best. We live in a society, so we all should have dreams, right? Even if that dream’s something that can never be achieved?”
Hongjun scratched his head and asked, “What does it mean to love?”
“Ay, you don’t understand,” the carp yao sank into the water. From under the water, it lifted his eyes to watch Hongjun, saying nothing else.
Hongjun was just about to fish it up to continue questioning it, but a series of frantic knocks suddenly came from outside. When he opened the door, a person covered in blood rushed in, his voice trembling as he spoke, “Save me… save me… Captain… I’m sorry… save me…”
“Qin Wu?!” Hongjun startled.
moon: this is the #letzhangshisayf*ck2020 chapter
also, thank you to our great meme provider, nam, for this:
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.