“Is there any magic that can break through pocket dimensions?”
“It’s really strange,” Mo Rigen said. “Where in the world did A-Tai go?”
Qiu Yongsi panted. “Isn’t this pretty good? At least he’s out of danger.”
Hongjun furrowed his brow. “How exactly were you guys tricked into being trapped here?”
After they had split up that night, Mo Rigen, Qiu Yongsi, and Li Jinglong hadn’t yet received the carp yao’s message when they all stepped into traps. The same array that Hongjun and A-Tai had seen was also set up within another tunnel of the moat, in a residence not far from the Dayan Pagoda, and in a cave outside of the city.
The carp yao must have only found A-Tai before going searching around the entrances of the waterways to find the whereabouts of the others.
Qiu Yongsi and Mo Rigen, likewise, sent their power into the array to investigate, only to fall prey to the ambush of the blood droplets. But Li Jinglong had been met with a sneak attack, and in the instant that he was attacked, he made a daring decision - since he couldn’t escape, then he might as well appear weak and pretend to just faint, and so he arrived here.
Only Hongjun and A-Tai had lifted up that brass plate, thus avoiding the result of being sent here by the transportation array.
“But normal people… would all have put their mana into the array, so that they could test what effect it has, right?” Mo Rigen asked.
“Yeah,” Hongjun said, “so we aren’t normal people. You’ve only just realized? But where did Zhao Zilong go?”
The carp yao looked around in all directions, carrying a silk bag filled with Lihun pollen as it dashed about on the dark main street, running all the way to the Exorcism Department, shouting, “Hongjun! Where did you go?!”
“Wa ah--” the carp yao was frightened out of its wits. When it turned its head back to look, there was A-Tai.
After the time of one stick of incense, the human and the fish stood in the courtyard.
“Oh, great,” A-Tai said. “Hongjun’s missing too now.”
Of all the important things in the world, Hongjun was the most important. Having not only lost his person, but potentially to a dangerous situation, the carp yao thought, if the big boss of Yaojin Palace knew, then it would be no more than fish on the butcher’s block, not knowing if it would be lingchi-ed into raw fish filets or fried into squirrel fish, and its entire fish body trembled with fear.
“Why aren’t you with Hongjun?!” the carp yao almost howled.
“I was too tired,” A-Tai said. “I hadn’t slept for a day and a night, and after resting my eyes for a bit under the bridge, I fell asleep.”
The carp yao, “What to do, what to do, aaaahh!”
A-Tai waved his hand, indicating that the carp yao need not grow frantic anymore. After all, the sky had already come crashing down, so they might as well hurry to go find the others.
“Let’s go,” A-Tai said. “I already have an idea for how to resolve this.”
A-Tai brought the carp yao below the Bridge of Nine Turnings, and the carp yao lifted its head, glancing over the intricate array below the bridge.
“This is one place,” A-Tai said. “Follow me in further.”
The human and the fish waded into the water as they went forward, and the carp yao said, its voice quivering with fear, “I passed by Pingkang Li and just went in to take a glance…”
“Don’t say anymore,” A-Tai pressed one hand to his forehead as he responded. “No one will blame you, you’re not an exorcist.”
“But my duty is to protect Hongjun!” the carp yao shouted nervously. “I let you guys go protect him, and look where he is now!”
“Don’t shout, look here,” A-Tai stopped in his tracks. In front of him was another array.
The carp yao took a look at the array, before A-Tai then brought it to the depths of the tunnel, finding four arrays in succession. The carp yao spotted Hongjun’s footprints, and in the end, they followed the path that Hongjun had taken, coming to that open cavern.
A-Tai glanced at the brass plate, the inside of which was empty.
The carp yao stared at it foolishly for a long time, before lifting one foot and testing out stepping into it. Nothing strange happened. A-Tai recalled the events of the day when he and Hongjun had first found this array; now that they were looking at it, it must have been intricately connected with the disappearance of the others. WIthout waiting for the carp yao to ask, A-Tai directed some of his own mana into the array.
The array began to glow, but without the power of that central drop of blood, there was no way for the passageway to open.
At the same time, the array on the ceiling of the cavern lit up, and the various members of the Exorcism Department, thinking that it was a powerful enemy, each scrambled for their artifacts, never taking their eyes off the light of the array.
“... doesn’t work…” A-Tai’s voice traveled faintly to them. “... lacking the main focus of the array, so I can’t activate it.”
“A-Tai!” Li Jinglong shouted. “Don’t leave, but also don’t come in!”
The carp yao’s voice said, “I seem to hear the voice of the unlucky doom magnet?”
Li Jinglong: “...”
A-Tai, “Your mental state’s affecting you ba…”
Everyone hurried forward, and Qiu Yongsi shouted, “A-Tai! Keep an eye out behind you!”
“And there’s that dumb big guy,” the carp yao’s voice said.
Qiu Yongsi pressed his hand to his forehead, saying, “It’s even come up with nicknames for us.”
“Zhao Zilong!” Hongjun shouted.
“Hongjun! It’s Hongjun --!”
The carp yao began to dance around wildly, and this time A-Tai had heard him too. He hurried to shout, “Hongjun! Are you guys inside?”
Mana permeated the transportation array, and though they had no way to transport people, both sides could faintly make out each other’s voices. The carp yao hurried to ask, “Hongjun, you aren’t hurt ba?”
Hongjun covered his ear that had just stopped bleeding with his hand, and he shouted back, “No, I’m not! Are you guys alright? Where did you guys go?”
The carp yao, “I went to the Western Market to buy groceries… what do you want for dinner?”
“Zhao Zilong, you move aside!” A-Tai said anxiously. “Get zhangshi over here, what exactly happened?”
Li Jinglong went forth, lifting his head and telling him about the entire series of events. A-Tai replied, “Then, we still need to go find a blood droplet…”
“No, no,” Qiu Yongsi said. “This array looks like it only allows for entry, not exit, so if you come in now, you might also be stuck here with us, unable to get out.”
When Lady Guoguo and Baxia had left, they didn’t use the array, instead drawing a sigil with their hands before disappearing into thin air, which meant that there was another way to leave this place.
“A-Tai, you guys go find their master,” Li Jinglong commanded. “After you find her, do your best to keep watch over her, and slow her down no matter what. We’ll think about more ideas here.”
A-Tai made a sound of agreement, and he left with the carp yao in tow.
Today, a strong wind gusted over all of Chang’an, and the icy wind was piercingly cold. A-Tai piggybacked the carp yao on his back as he went to Lady Guoguo’s manor, only to learn that His Majesty, the imperial concubine, and Lady Guoguo had all returned to Mt. Li. A-Tai could only then go to the markets to rent a horse, before galloping off as fast as he could towards Mt. Li.
Within the cavern, time slowly inched by. No one spoke a single word, all of them devoting their energy to replenishing their mana.
Li Jinglong let out a deep sigh as he asked, “How’s the recovery going?”
Hongjun was the one whose recovery speed was slowest, and only about 20% of his cultivation had recovered, as he was gradually becoming able to control the throwing knives. Qiu Yongsi said, “Do you guys remember the sigil that Lady Guoguo drew before she left? Maybe we can try it.”
Based on his memory, Li Jinglong sketched out that sigil on the ground, saying, “I don’t understand sigil-based magic, so I don’t know if this is correct or not.”
Qiu Yongsi observed it for a second, before rolling up his sleeves, twirling his brush around in his hand, trying to draw that sigil in midair.
Hongjun sat cross-legged in front of the blood pool, and he couldn’t help but recall that sentence Lady Guoguo had spoken before she left.
“His father killed my younger sister. Now, his son has finally all fallen into my hands…”
And not too long ago, when he saw Yang Yuhuan, she had seemed surprised in a way, which was to say, the imperial concubine and Lady Guoguo both recognized his father?
This was one of the duties that Chong Ming had bestowed upon him, and even if he hadn’t said it himself, Hongjun would still have wanted to figure out the truth behind his parents’ deaths. He slowly connected the dots between this and the hallucination that he had seen that day when he smelled the Lihun Pollen...
Were those my mother and father? Hongjun’s forehead furrowed deeply.
“Hongjun?” Qiu Yongsi pulled Hongjun out of his thoughts.
Li Jinglong furrowed his brow. “He’s already very tired.”
Hongjun lifted his head to see that the three of them watched him with expressions of confusion. Mo Rigen said, “Is there any magic that can break through pocket dimensions?”
Qiu Yongsi lifted his brush, drawing out that sigil in midair. That sigil let out a hum and a flash, but it had no way to send people out. When he thought back, when Lady Guoguo had lifted her finger to draw the transportation sigil, her ring had glowed as well, which meant that in the outside world, there was definitely some kind of artifact that would resonate with the sigil, thus assisting the caster in leaping across space.
“This sigil borrows the power of ‘resonance’, causing the caster to be transported,” Qiu Yongsi said, lifting his head. “The blood pool is here in this pocket dimension, so using one drop of blood will cause a resonance with this blood pool, like a key opening a lock. The drop of blood is the key, and the blood sea is the lock; after the array is activated, it can send people in here.”
Hongjun hadn’t expected Qiu Yongsi to have understood its working principles so clearly in such a short amount of time, and he replied, “So that’s to say, we need to set up a lock outside.”
Qiu Yongsi nodded and asked, “Can you sense the Pentacolor Sacred Light that Lady Guoguo took with her?”
Hongjun replied, “Let me try it.”
Hongjun pressed his hand on the back of Qiu Yongsi’s. He sank into silence for a moment, before shaking his head and furrowing his brow. “I can’t.”
Everyone once again sank into deep thought. Mo Rigen asked, “Can we use the Lihun pollen that Zhao Zilong carries?”
“There must be another artifact that belongs in a set,” Qiu Yongsi worried. “There also must be the special condition that those artifacts can resonate with each other…”
Hongjun, “I know!”
Everyone looked at Hongjun, and Hongjun revealed a smile as he said, “The Immortal-Slaying Throwing Knives! The four of them make up a set, and there’s still one more which must be on Lady Guoguo’s person! Put them all here, I’ll do it!”
And saying this, Hongjun began to roll up his sleeves. Li Jinglong immediately broke in, “We must first make preparations for all eventualities before we go out. After this, as soon as we see Lady Guoguo, don’t make any idle talk, attack first and talk later. If she returns our blows, then it proves that she’s a yaoguai, and she won’t be able to escape. If she doesn’t return our blows, that’s even better. No matter what, there will inevitably be a large battle ahead.”
Mt. Li, the Huaqing Pool, at twilight.
Li Longji soaked in the pool, letting out a long sigh. He had long since grown extremely weary.
To one side, Yang Yuhuan was using a small silver knife to scrape off some pearl powder as she said quietly, “Is Your Majesty still thinking about the matter from before?”
“I’m worrying over it,” Li Longji sighed. “For important matters involving the country, those can be entrusted to him, but as for demons and monsters, how will Heng’er handle those?”
Yang Yuhuan smiled slightly. “Since Li Jinglong has inherited the will of Duke Di, I imagine there won’t be any major obstacles.”
“The yaoguai have even passed under Zhen’s very nose,” Li Longsi said. “When Zhen thinks of that day, Zhen can’t help the feeling of fear after the fact.”
Yang Yuhuan said in a gentle voice, “It is exactly by the blessings bestowed upon Your Majesty, may the heavens guide my Great Tang, that these children are able to promptly drive away the evil yaos.”
Li Longji began to smile, and he said to himself, “That day, after the fox yao were disposed of, Guozhong said a few things to Zhen, and after listening to them, Zhen began to worry.”
“What did he say?” Yang Yuhuan was astonished. “Though the Exorcism Department is his to oversee in name, he isn’t willing to take it to heart.”
“He said…” Li Longji seemed to also feel strongly about this matter, “that every member of the Exorcism Department is very highly skilled, so how can the common soldiers be their opponents? Let’s take Isai as an example. For one of him, matching up against a hundred soldiers is probably not a problem for him. When these people are wholly loyal to the Great Tang, they make excellent examples for the troops, but what if one day, they’re no longer loyal to my Great Tang?”
Yang Yuhuan didn’t say anymore.
“As long as they are human, they will possess the seven emotions and six senses,” Li Longji said. “In the past, I reduced the power of the Chancellory exactly for the Secretariat, Department of State Affairs, and Chancellory to be balanced in power. Today, though the members of the Exorcism Department aren’t many, if something were to happen, who would be able to balance them out?”
Yang Yuhuan was silent for a moment, before responding, “Li Jinglong and that child by his side both have clear gazes and an aura of untainted qi, so I imagine they won’t bring disaster down upon the imperial court.”
“It is easy to say that now,” Li Longji said, “but ten years later, a hundred years later, and even thousands of autumns, tens of thousands of years later? To rule a country, one cannot always use a person’s character as evidence. This is exactly what Zhen is most worried about.”
Yang Yuhuan smiled gently. “Take it slow, there will always be a way. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Right and the zhangshi of the Exorcism Department have also had similar thoughts…”
Just as they were speaking, that small silver knife within Yang Yuhuan’s hand suddenly lit up, letting out a weng sound. Li Longji and Yang Yuhuan both jolted at the same time.
Yang Yuhuan furrowed her brow. “What’s going on? Just as we were speaking… it…”
“Put it down, quick!” Li Longji said. “Where did it come from?”
“This… I’ve also forgotten…” Yang Yuhuan answered as she put down that silver knife she was using to scrape off pearl powder. “Last time I saw it in big sister’s house, right when she was mixing pearl powder, so I took it casually from her room!”
“Did you ever ask her for permission?” Li Longji asked, shocked. “What artifact is this?”
The silver knife glowed brighter and brighter, slowly rising up into the air, trembling incessantly. The point of the knife turned towards Li Longji, and with this Yang Yuhuan didn’t wait any longer. With a huala she leapt into the pool, before with a twist, she used her own body to block Li Longji.
The rising fog was thick and wet, and with her long upper robe pressed against her body, Yang Yuhuan, with her back to Li Longji, panted non-stop as the two of them both watched that throwing knife.
The silver knife grew brighter and brighter, starting to crackle with electricity. Li Longji turned around, grabbing a glass bowl to slam down on it, but right after, that silver knife suddenly shone with a blinding brilliance, its electric light shooting out in all directions, and with a weng, Li Jinglong flew out from that glow!
Li Jinglong was covered in blood, and he fell into the pool with a huala. Yang Yuhuan let out a piercing cry of, “Guards!”
Li Longji shouted loudly, “Guards! Guards, come quickly --!”
“This place is…”
In the next instant, Qiu Yongsi and Mo Rigen fell into the pool with hualalas as well, before right after, from within the blinding brilliance, Hongjun plummeted into the pool head-first!
“It hurts --!” The wound on Hongjun’s ear had yet to heal, and when it was inundated by the spring water it was so painful that he grimaced. With a shuffle, he rose from the hot spring, and the four of them splashed around in that pool for a bit. Hongjun unintentionally stepped on Yang Yuhuan’s foot, and Yang Yuhuan shouted shrilly, “Who’s there?!”
“Sorry, sorry!” Hongjun hurried to apologize. “Uncle…”
“It’s Your Majesty!” Li Jinglong shouted immediately.
Li Longji stared at them, not making a sound for a long while. With this, Li Jinglong didn’t know if he should kneel or stand, and he hurried to bow and make his greetings, but he didn’t expect for his face to splash right into the water, and he spewed out that mouthful of water with a pfft.
Mo Rigen and Qiu Yongsi didn’t have a chance to wipe their faces as they pulled Hongjun forward.
“Capture the assassins!”
At this time, the Shenwu troops all rushed over, carrying crossbows in their hands, all of them aiming and pressing the trigger without asking any questions.
“Wait…” Li Jinglong had yet to open his mouth when Li Longji let out a loud shout, “Stop! All of you put down your weapons!”
Li Jinglong breathed heavily as he clambered out of the pool, saying, “Your Majesty, let this subject give his report…”
“What happened to you all?” Yang Yuhuan asked instead. “You’re hurt?”
“We’re currently pursuing fox yao…” Li Jinglong was just about to open his mouth when he saw Lady Guoguo rush over, and the two sides stared each other down.
“Attack!” Li Jinglong roared, no longer paying attention to Li Longji and Yang Yuhuan.
In that instant, Mo Rigen nocked an arrow to his bow, and Qiu Yongsi waved his large brush. The Seven Nailed Arrows whistled out, accompanied by droplets of black ink, and with a hua sound, Huaqing Pool swiftly became a scene from an ink painting!
Lady Guoguo didn’t pretend at any ignorance. With a flick of her sleeve, the Seven Nailed Arrows were swept back at them, before her eyes glowed with a bright light, and a gust of energy burst out.
“Kill them,” Lady Guoguo’s voice said icily.
In front of the Huaqing Pool, all of the Shenwu soldiers nocked arrows to their bows at the same time, and with a shua, a dense rain of arrows that blanketed the sky enveloped Li Jinglong and his group, and even Li Longji within the pool!
At the same time, A-Tai piggybacked the carp yao, galloping frantically up Mt. Li, when he suddenly heard an explosion in the distance, and all of the Shenwu troops rushed towards the Huaqing Pool.
“Protect His Majesty --!”
Cries and loud shouts rose everywhere. A-Tai lifted up the hem of his robe and strode quickly into Huaqing Palace, where arrows flew from all directions. The carp yao shouted loudly from its place on A-Tai’s back, “Waaaah, watch out for the arrows! I’m not a shield!”
“What’s going on?!” A-Tai said. “Are we fighting our own?!”
The scene had descended into chaos, and everywhere were soldiers of the Shenwu army callously turning upon their own. A loud sound came from the direction of Huaqing Pool, as if something had broken, and the roof collapsed with an earth-shaking rumble.
“Lady Guoguo is attempting to assassinate Zhen!” Within the chaos, Li Longji was able to swiftly pinpoint the main points, and he shouted, “End her on the spot!”
Li Jinglong said, “Your Majesty, things are too rushed, if there’s a fight…”
Li Longji’s dragon robe was draped over his shoulders and his hair was in disarray as he grabbed Li Jinglong with one hand, shouting, “Get to the point!”
“I’m afraid of destroying-destroying…”
“Destroy as you wish!”
Li Longji only had to wave a hand for everyone to act as if they had been granted a great pardon. Li Jinglong shouted, “Try your best not to harm the lives of the Shenwu Army brothers! Attack and capture the yao!”
Hongjun, Qiu Yongsi, and Mo Rigen all followed orders as they rushed towards Lady Guoguo.
At this point, the scene was chaotic beyond compare, and from outside the hall, more and more Shenwu troops came rushing in, coming to a stop before Lady Guoguo, as if they had changed their allegiances. They all looked as if they had lost their minds as they turned towards the members of the Exorcism Department.
Qiu Yongsi shouted, “I’ll take the lead! You guys follow! Destroy as you please! His Majesty said so!”
And with that, Qiu Yongsi waved the brush in his hand --
-- The entirety of the Huaqing palace vibrated spasmodically, and in that instant, the carved railings and painted pillars, the wall paintings of landscapes and strange beasts, and even all of the sketches on the porcelain vases and lanterns, the women, lions, hawks, fish, and even the dragons all flew out, glowing with a thousand beams of godly light as they flew towards the troops in front of Lady Guoguo!
The Shenwu troops were temporarily restrained by the brightly colored dragon that had flown out of the coiling dragon pillar. Though it could not spew fire, it was huge in size, and when it writhed over, it utterly routed the troops as it collided with them!
“You still had this move?!” Li Jinglong cried. “Why didn’t you use it earlier?!”
Qiu Yongsi, “I wanted to use it! But do you think there were drawings in the cave?”
At this time, Lady Guoguo let out a howl, and the fox rose abruptly off the ground, colliding with a pillar. From its mouth, black flames spewed out, billowing across the ground, and the Shenwu troops wailed within that sea of flames.
“Okay! We can destroy as we wish!”
Mo Rigen followed after him and leapt up onto the ridge-beam with a few steps, before leaping into midair, flipping head over heels, drawing his longbow into a full moon. In that instant, arrows shot out in rapid succession; all seven of them were released, and they flew towards that fox yao.
“Should we act?” Li Jinglong asked.
“Wait a sec!” Hongjun was still counting that fox yao’s tails, one, two, three… eight tails? It was still missing one?!
The fox yao let out a howl, obviously very afraid of Mo Rigen’s Seven Nailed Arrows as it dodged within the four corners of Huaqing Palace. It turned and collided with a red lacquered wooden pillar, and everyone took this chance to leap up onto the rooftops, chasing after it!
With a few steps, Hongjun leapt up high, and Li Jinglong shouted, “Hongjun! What are you doing! Send out your throwing knives!”
Hongjun made a “push” gesture at Li Jinglong, but Li Jinglong didn’t understand. The two of them exchanged a glance, and Hongjun nodded vigorously, pointing at himself, obvious anxiety in his gaze.
Li Jinglong turned his head and glanced at the Jade Peacock Plume hanging from that eight-tailed fox’s neck.
“Grab his Pentacolor Sacred Light back!” Li Jinglong shouted. “It’s around the fox yao’s neck!”
moon: and there you have it! the emperor himself said yes to them destroying things!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.