"As soon as Hongjun saw the inside of the morgue he was wholly horrified"
brief mentions of minor character who died by suicide, some gore (homicide victims)
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That person was indeed Qin Wu, wearing a set of metal armor. Hongjun immediately went to go rouse the others, and Qin Wu sprawled on the ground, panting uncontrollably. As he convulsed, he raised his head to look towards the sacrificial altar of Acala in the front hall. Under the moonlight, Acala met his gaze stonily, his six arms raising the weapons up high, severe and imposing.
Footsteps sounded as Hongjun hurriedly brought Li Jinglong over. Li Jinglong only took one look before asking, “Have the bloodstains outside been washed clean?”
A-Tai, Mo Rigen, and Qiu Yongsi had all just woken up as well. A-Tai stuck his head outside the door, and wearing just his pajamas, he rapidly came out. The ring on his middle finger emitted water qi, and with a shua a waterspout swept across the entire street, washing away the bloodstains that Qin Wu had left behind. He then left the alley and went onto the main street to clean the rest up.
“Get water and splash it over his entire body,” Li Jinglong said. “Hongjun, go prepare some calming incense, quick!”
Qin Wu’s full set of armor was removed, and he lay in the courtyard, his lips trembling non-stop, his body covered with the coppery scent of blood. Mo Rigen said quietly, “I’ll do it.”
Just like that night when he had expelled Hongjun’s nightmare, Mo Rigen placed his hand on Qin Wu’s forehead, letting him slowly calm down.
“I… I killed them,” Qin Wu said, his voice trembling.
“How many did you kill?” Li Jinglong asked in response. “Tomorrow morning, go turn yourself in. Little Wu, when you murder someone you have to pay for it with your life! Repay your debt! If you’re a real man, why are you willing to do the deed but not shoulder the responsibility!”
Qin Wu’s features were twisted, and with a sobbing tone to his voice, he said, “I went to the Zheng family to seek revenge, but Zheng Wenbin and my stepmother were-were… Him, his entire family… and my stepmother… I killed them all…”
Li Jinglong, “His entire family?! Qin Wu! You’re insane!”
“Save me, save me…” Qin Wu choked on his sobs as he grabbed Li Jinglong’s hand, not letting it go. Hongjun was already dumbfounded, but when he recalled seeing Qin Wu during the day, the heavy atmosphere and the motions he went through when cleaning his sword, it seemed like everything that happened tonight had long since been set in stone.
“Someone was pulling my hand.” Qin Wu was in unbelievable agony, and he grabbed at Li Jinglong as if he was grabbing his sole life-saving thread, and his voice shook as he spoke. “I didn’t want to kill that child, I didn’t want to, it was only my stepmother and Zheng Wenbin, those two…”
Li Jinglong violently shook off Qin Wu, walking to one side, breathing heavily. Hongjun lifted his gaze to watch Li Jinglong, and he saw that it seemed like there were tears gathering in those eyes.
A-Tai finished cleaning up the traces outside and came back. He said, “I’ll clean up inside the house too ba.”
And with that A-Tai waved the fan, and the water vapor exploded outwards, coating everyone’s faces with water. Li Jinglong shouted angrily, “Don’t cause more trouble!”
A-Tai was yelled at out of the blue with this sentence, and he could only respond, “My good intentions were met with a lightning strike. If you don’t want me to wash it, then I won’t, why be so fierce?”
“First thing tomorrow morning, you must go turn yourself in. If you don’t go, then I’ll escort you there,” Li Jinglong said to Qin Wu. “You all take turns watching him, and Hongjun, give him a little calming powder, but don’t give him too much.” And after saying this he went into his own room and heavily pulled the door closed with a loud slam.
“Who exactly is this person?” Qiu Yongsi still didn’t know Qin Wu’s identity, but Hongjun felt some strange emotion in his heart. To Li Jinglong, Qin Wu seemed to be extremely important.
“I don’t know him,” Hongjun answered listlessly. Mo Rigen then had the rest of them go back to their rooms to rest; he could keep watch through the night on his own.
“Zhangshi.” Hongjun even went out of his way to knock on Li Jinglong’s door, but he didn’t get a response, so he could only let it be.
The morning of the next day, when everyone came out, Li Jinglong’s expression had already returned to normal, but in the courtyard Qin Wu had already disappeared.
“He left,” Mo Rigen said. “I went with him to the doors of the Judiciary Department, and he hasn’t come out since.”
Li Jinglong closed his eyes and sighed. He responded, “Many things are fated to be in life, so go about whatever you’re supposed to be doing ba.”
After breakfast, Li Jinglong was just about to dole out duties for his subordinates when Lian Hao came with more cases. Li Jinglong could only let Mo Rigen go rest, and as A-Tai, Qiu Yongsi, and Hongjun went through the cases, he himself went out to investigate. Just as he stepped out of the doors of the Exorcism Department, Hongjun followed him out.
“Go back ba,” Li Jinglong turned his head and said.
“They had me come to keep you company,” Hongjun persisted.
Li Jinglong paused in his steps, but he didn’t say anything before he turned and continued to walk. Hongjun followed along behind him; last night was the first time that he had sensed such heavy resentment on a mortal, and when Qin Wu rushed in covered in blood, Hongjun only felt that he was a yao who had killed countless people.
Li Jinglong sighed and said, “We need to buy a few horses, otherwise it’s troublesome when we go out.”
The two of them walked forward, one in front, one behind, just like that. Hongjun felt that Qin Wu was pretty pitiful, but seeing Li Jinglong care this much about him caused him to feel very out of sorts. Qin Wu had clearly treated Li Jinglong that poorly, but Li Jinglong was still so torn up over him. For a while there seemed to be two carp yaos arguing against each other in Hongjun’s heart. One of them said angrily, he’s obviously my zhangshi, and yet with their history, he’s still this sad over him!
The other carp yao reprimanded him. Qin Wu’s already this pitiful, and you’re still fed up with him?
The first carp yao began to shout loudly. Why?! Say, why?! What does that have to do with me? If someday Chong Ming comes back with another kid in tow, then wouldn’t that kid have taken away my dad as well?!
And as Hongjun struggled internally, he followed along behind Li Jinglong. When they passed through a small alley, Li Jinglong asked, “Do you want to eat noodles?”
“Yes.” Hongjun once again began to smile.
Li Jinglong’s mood had lifted somewhat, and he said, “Smile a little, everything’s alright. Why are you also this unhappy?”
“When you’re sad,” Hongjun said truthfully, “I can’t find myself being happy either.”
Li Jinglong had Hongjun sit down, and they ordered their noodles. Now that he had money, they could eat whatever they wanted, but still he couldn’t muster up his spirits, and he said, “Yesterday I also wanted to give him a few words of support, but these matters are not something that bystanders can stop with their words, it’s up to the person themselves.”
“He killed people,” Hongjun said. “And yet the first person he thought of was you, which proves that… en…”
He observed Li Jinglong’s expression; he had slowly learned how to watch a person’s countenance as he spoke, so he swallowed down the last half of the sentence to prevent Li Jinglong from growing sad again.
When Li Jinglong heard these words, he seemed to sense something, and after he shot a look at Hongjun, the furrows on his forehead smoothed out a little.
Li Jinglong, “It’s nothing.”
The two of them finished eating their lunch in this strange atmosphere, and Li Jinglong said, “Don’t eat too much. You can only have one bowl today.”
Hongjun persisted, and in the end Li Jinglong couldn’t win him over, so he could only let him eat two bowls. Hongjun said, “I’ll pay for my own.”
“It’s not a matter of money,” Li Jinglong said. “Your zhangshi now has more than enough money, enough even to request the boss of the establishment to come home with us and make noodles for you every day. I’m just afraid that you’ll…”
“Afraid that I’ll what?” Hongjun asked. “Don’t look down on me.”
“Alright, alright,” Li Jinglong said. “You eat your fill.”
This noodle stall was a very famous 50 year-old stall in Chang’an that specialized in roasted goose noodles. After the thick noodles were cooked, the big bowls were laid out in a row, and they carefully selected choice cuts from the goslings that had been specially raised for 56 days before they were hung up in the special oven to be roasted, and they only made 10 of these geese each day.
The roasting broth was changed out once a year, and usually they only added soup stock. The goose meat that was fresh out of the pot was fragrant and soft, and the meat was sliced into ribbons with a quick slash of the knife, before a little bit less than half of a wing was added in as well. The marinade was poured over on top, and the fragrance leapt into bystanders’ noses. The thick noodles were snowy white, the goose meat was golden and tender, and Hongjun consecutively downed two large bowls.
One shichen later, just as the two of them had entered the underground morgue of the Judiciary Department, before they had taken even five steps, Hongjun threw up.
Li Jinglong asked concernedly, “Are you alright?”
Li Jinglong had the medical examiner quickly get some water for Hongjun to rinse his mouth out, while Hongjun faced a large earthen vase and vomited until he was dizzy. Li Jinglong said, “I told you not to eat so much to become too full, but you didn’t listen, and when I told you to not follow me in, you still came, and see what happened?”
Hongjun hurried to wave a hand. Li Jinglong pushed him towards the outside to wait, but Hongjun said, “Let me keep going, if I vomit for a little more then it’ll be alright.”
Li Jinglong then supported him with one hand as in the other he held a chunk of scented salts, holding them in front of Hongjun’s nose as he dragged him forwards.
As soon as Hongjun saw the inside of the morgue he was wholly horrified, because aside from the headless corpse that Mo Rigen went to take a look at last night and the sick person whose blood had been wholly let out by the doctor, all of the corpses of those who hadn’t died naturally were also sent here, and only after their cause of death was determined could their family members take the corpse home.
Li Jinglong had Hongjun stand up straight, wanting to cover his eyes, but Hongjun waved his hand indicating that it was alright, so Li Jinglong changed to using his left hand to wrap around his neck, using the scent to cover his nose and mouth, while with his other hand he pulled aside the sackcloth covered in bloodstains, revealing the body.
The Hu corpse had been cut into a mess, and the blood had already long since run dry.
“He was injured with a sharp object,” Li Jinglong said.
Hongjun was a little bit better. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen dead people on his journey to Chang’an, but rather that he had vomited from the corpse-smell wafting directly at him, and now he indicated that he was alright.
Li Jinglong then lifted off the sackcloth coverings one by one, and after looking them over, he said, “They were all killed by weapons, it wasn’t a yaoguai.”
Hongjun frowned and looked at them for a while. Li Jinglong looked at one of the bodies and said, “This one died by suicide. The wound is smooth, and the edges are clean, with the stab piercing directly into the heart…” and saying this he lifted up the corpse’s hand and set it in a pose which was just right for stabbing a knife into the heart.
“It’s not a yaoguai,” Li Jinglong said, before continuing on to the next one.
Hongjun looked at those corpses, observing their expressions, and he seemed to sense something.
“Don’t touch,” Li Jinglong said. “You’re not wearing gloves.”
Hongjun scooted a little closer to look carefully, and Li Jinglong asked, “What are you thinking of doing?” And with that, he took off a glove and handed it to Hongjun. The silk of the glove was still warm from his palm.
Hongjun put it on, before lowering his head and feeling that corpse’s face. The person had been dead for a day and a night, and the corpse had already become extremely stiff. Hongjun said, “You see?”
He turned the corpse’s head over a little bit, peeling up the corpse’s eyelids, and what entered Li Jinglong’s field of vision was a face, its eyes open wide in an expression of great horror.
This expression was one that Hongjun had seen just the night before. It was exactly the twisted, struggling one that Qin Wu had worn when he rushed into the Exorcism Department.
Li Jinglong’s brows were furrowed deeply, and he pondered for a moment before saying, “He saw something very frightening.”
Hongjun said, “I was chasing Fei Ao into Chang’an because outside of the city, when I was sleeping, I heard shrill cries, and when I raced out, I saw the corpse of someone who had been bitten to death…”
“The expressions were the same?” Li Jinglong said.
If Hongjun hadn’t pointed it out, Li Jinglong would have missed that detail. He turned around and retreated backwards, joining Hongjun in observing that corpse’s expression. Whenever a mortal died, whether it was a peaceful death or one filled with regrets, in the instant before they died, their emotions would always be written, at least a little bit, on their faces. Though Li Jinglong understood this principle, it was very rare that he saw people that were bitten to death by yaoguai, let alone being able to walk by one so close by.
“Since he committed suicide,” Hongjun said, “then he shouldn’t be this horrified before death, right.”
“He would have been horrified, but it should be a different kind of horror,” Li Jinglong said. “Let’s keep looking.”
Hongjun closed that person’s eyelids, before quietly reciting a line, “May you head towards bliss and not fall into hell,” to cleanse the deceased of his sins, before turning and following Li Jinglong. After they inspected all of the bodies, they left the Judiciary Department.
“Let’s go to the crime scene.” Li Jinglong began to muse over it as he borrowed a horse from the Judiciary Department, and just as he was walking out of the door, he coincidentally saw Hu Sheng discussing things with Huang Yong. Seeing him bringing the horse over, Hu Sheng let out a deep sigh and said to Li Jinglong, “Qin Wu, do you remember him?
“I already know.” Li Jinglong’s expression looked the same as usual.
Huang Yong was shocked. “How did Li-zhangshi know?”
“Acala told me,” Li Jinglong answered, nodding politely at him.
Hu Sheng said, “Jinglong, do you think you can ask for mercy on his behalf in front of His Majesty and Chancellor Yang?”
Li Jinglong flipped up onto the horse in front of the two of them as he said, “The consequences of a thoughtless action must be borne by him alone. Hongjun, we’re going.”
Hongjun climbed on, sitting as usual behind Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong shook the reins, and the horse received the signal and left the Judiciary Department.
On their way, Hongjun didn’t dare to speak too much, and when they came to a stop outside of the doors of the Zheng family house, Li Jinglong thought for a moment before getting off the horse and walking in on his own two feet instead. The housekeeper of Yang Guozhong’s manor, the assistant commander of the Longwu Army, and multiple Judiciary Department and Ministry of Justice officials were at the scene, and when they saw Li Jinglong arrive, knowing that he was highly favored by the Son of Heaven as of late, they all nodded towards him.
That crime scene was extremely cruel. The hall was splattered with blood, and there were traces of blood leading out of the doorway, showing the despair and agony that the dying people must have suffered as they escaped.
“This trail of blood was from Zheng Wenbin’s old mother,” Wen Xiao said. “She was almost 70, and little Wu first stabbed her from the front, before catching up to her from behind and ending her life.”
Li Jinglong said, “I’m just afraid that when the brothers in the army learn about the story behind this, they won’t be able to stop themselves from asking for redress for the injustices little Wu suffered.”
Wen Xiao let out a sigh before showing Li Jinglong out. For such a large matter to happen, everyone under Hu Sheng’s command in the Longwu Army would not be able to escape punishment, and none of them would have easy days ahead.
“The amount of resentment that the Yang family has amassed from the common citizens is reaching its peak,” Wen Xiao said. “The Shenwu army and the Yulin army have had previous confrontations with them, and though the ones who were supposed to be beaten were beaten and the ones who were supposed to be punished received their just dues, there is a general feeling of restlessness in the Six Armies. Adding on the fact that their pay is getting cut, they’ve long since been dissatisfied. Now all that is left is for someone to use some pretext or another as an excuse for venting their anger, and what happens then won’t be able to be suppressed.”
Just as Li Jinglong was about to speak, he suddenly sensed that Hongjun was still standing in that hall, and he called out, “Hongjun?!”
Hongjun stood there calmly as he sensed the rage that the entire family of people had felt last night in the hall before they died. The resentment seemed to be unable to dissipate, and even after he muttered a few spells to calm the souls, they didn’t work. Suddenly, a hand reached out from behind, but it was just Li Jinglong grabbing his wrist, leading him away, not letting him look anymore.
“This blood holds a very strong whiff of resentment,” Hongjun said.
Li Jinglong directed the horse as he took Hongjun through the main street, and he turned his head and said, “Hongjun, you have to promise me.”
“That no matter the location or the time, no matter what happens, if you can’t control your own anger, then think about me, your zhangshi, first.” Li Jinglong said, emphasizing every word. “The difference of just one thought can lead to a disaster like this, and the one who suffers then won’t only be you.”
“It won’t happen,” Hongjun answered. “I’m not him.”
“You’re a good kid,” Li Jinglong said easily, “but exorcists have powers that are far beyond that of a mortal, and when you’re fighting monsters and demons, it’s difficult for normal people to understand what is happening.”
Hongjun thought that that was true, but no matter what, he would never become like Qin Wu, losing all control over his reason and committing an act as atrocious as murdering an entire family.
The third place was the crime scene where the wife was murdered, and it was the same in that blood splattered all four walls. That scene was too horrible to look at, especially the table that was covered with fresh blood and the bloody handprints on the wall. The resentment that Hongjun felt today seemed to be much greater than on any other day in the past, which caused his emotions to grow very heavy, and he felt very uncomfortable.
Li Jinglong had him go outside as he himself carefully inspected the room, but Hongjun noticed a piece of something in the corner, and he asked, “What’s this?”
A shiny, black piece of metal in the shape of a half moon.
Li Jinglong answered, “Since it was in a blacksmith’s house, I imagine it’s some sort of armor.”
Hongjun held that metal piece, rubbing his finger over the sharp edge, and Li Jinglong asked, “What’s wrong? You think that there’s something wrong with this object?”
Hongjun narrowed his eyes and held that metal piece up under the sunlight to observe it more closely.
“Stow it away,” Li Jinglong said. “We’ll take a closer look when we get back.”
The next place was outside of the city, towards Pinghe Liang. Pinghe Liang was a large meadow, and when they arrived it was already nearing twilight. Hongjun stretched his body before walking with Li Jinglong through the road that crossed the plain to inspect the crime scene.
“They made camp here,” Li Jinglong said as he found the residue of their campfire. “They were preparing to set off early the next day to make it to Chang’an.”
“What goods were they transporting?” Hongjun asked.
Li Jinglong’s eyes held a hint of a smile as he glanced at Hongjun and said, “All the goods are accounted for, it wasn’t a murder for profit. You’re becoming more and more like a proper exorcist now.”
Hongjun, “I only wanted to ask if they had any leftover goods, so that I could find some dry rations…”
Li Jinglong, “...”
“That person first stabbed one person to death here,” Li Jinglong said, pointing at a series of bloodstains. “The victim was here, and then the person slashed another one’s throat, who died… here.” He turned to point at another place.
“This person’s very strong,” Hongjun said. “The corpse was about the size and height of Qiu Yongsi.”
“Wu,” Li Jinglong said. “He was probably one of the caravan’s bodyguards, so the first two people that he stabbed to death were like him, two other bodyguards, before afterwards, he killed the merchants who were wholly unarmed, just as if they were lambs to the slaughter.”
“Where did he die?” Hongjun asked.
The crime scene had already been disturbed, and Li Jinglong had no way to determine that from the bloodstains. Hongjun walked around a few times in a circle, before he suddenly said, “Zhangshi, come over here and look!”
Hongjun stood behind a large rock, and there were likewise bloodstains here. He said, “There was someone who was hiding here.”
Li Jinglong was silent for a moment, before he said, “But there’s no blood in the surrounding area, so it doesn’t seem like a survivor. You see, the grass clumps haven’t been trampled, and there aren’t any tracks nearby that suggest that someone escaped.”
Their gazes met, and Hongjun understood Li Jinglong’s deductions. If it was a merchant who had hidden away, then it was very likely that after he was discovered, he would have been dragged out from behind the rock and killed right then and there, which would leave behind bloodstains. So that was to say --
“The one hiding behind the rock was precisely the executioner who suddenly killed all the people, the bodyguard who at the last ended up killing himself.” Li Jinglong patted Hongjun’s shoulder, squatting with him behind the rock, looking out towards the scene of the crime. He asked, “What was he watching?”
Hongjun hurried to get up and rush towards the campfire that was dyed with purple-black blood, turning his head around and looking in all directions.
Li Jinglong furrowed his brows as he thought, slowly walking over. Hongjun turned, first looking at Li Jinglong, before looking at the ground. The two of them looked over, only to see that there was a very faint set of tracks leading away into the tall grass.
Li Jinglong breathed in sharply, following those tracks to the edge of the plains, where a copse of trees stood, and on the ground were numerous broken branches. The two of them lifted their heads at the same time, and Li Jinglong said, “It could have been a human, or it could have been a yaoguai, but it was hiding itself in the tree that night, observing them all.”
There were no traces of it leaving; there was only a very faint trace of it arriving near the campfire after leaving the tree.
“It flew over?” Li Jinglong asked.
Hongjun answered, “That’s possible.”
Li Jinglong, “What yaoguai can fly?”
Hongjun, “Many yaoguai can fly ba, if I start counting now, I still won’t be done tomorrow morning.”
Li Jinglong could only let it be.
moon: stay tuned next for even more romantic longjun moments!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.