My dear Great Tang friends! Hello --!
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
As night fell, the ward was pretty quiet; now and then a dog would bark, but very few houses had their lights on. The carp yao followed behind him nagging, saying, "I told you to come earlier, but you didn't, and now all the people have left. In this dark night with no lights or fire, we can't even see the plaques over the door, so where are we supposed to go find it?"
Hongjun stood there for a while, until the 3000 drum beats ended and the city entered true night. He could only press on stubbornly to go knock on doors and ask for directions. After knocking on several doors, he finally crossed paths with a mute old man who lifted his lantern up and waved it in front of Hongjun's face, so Hongjun could only thank him for his hospitality and turn around and leave. The alley seemed to almost be part of an old, dilapidated estate, and who knows how many people had come by to fix it in recent years, but the inside was overgrown with weeds. Hongjun just lay down on the ground, uncaring of the dirt, and was so tired that as soon as he laid down, he immediately fell asleep.
That night, dark clouds covered the moonlight. In the depths of Xingqing Palace, a dark wind began to blow, fluttering the drapes, and the candles were blown to the point of flickering nonstop, creating shifting patches of light and dark.
A rich madam wearing a black robe embroidered with a taotie pattern sat upright in the hall, along with three men wearing capes that hid their features. One of them presented a platter, in which lay a throwing knife stained with blood.
"What is this?" the wealthy woman asked.
" When Fei Ao was outside of the city hunting prey, he took a stab from this knife, " the man said quietly. "I had it go to Daming Palace for now, to hide and heal its wounds."
The wealthy lady's slender hand lifted up that throwing knife, her brows furrowed deeply. After staring at it for a split second, the Immortal-Slaying Throwing Knife reflected her devastatingly beautiful, dignified face.
"Never seen it before." She tossed the throwing knife back onto the platter with a light danglang.
"Someone's coming," another man said.
"It's been so many years," the lady said coldly, "and they’re only coming just now. Tomorrow I shall bring this throwing knife in front of His Majesty, to see what he says. What about the wielder of the knife?"
He was chased by Li Jinglong, and the two of them fought a round," the third man reported. "He disappeared during the chase, however, so perhaps…"
"Hahaha --" The lady began to laugh freely, and the branches of blossoms quivered. "It's getting interesting. That crazy fool Li Jinglong, is he still caught up in his grand dream of slaying yao and exterminating mo?"
"After the events of last night, Fei Ao carelessly showed itself inside the city, and outside the rumors are already spreading," the man said. "There are yaoguai in Chang'an…"
“Oh?” The lady smiled. “Chang’an has yao? This is the first time I’m hearing about it. The saintly Son of Heaven sits on his throne while the four seas are at peace and the land is thriving, where are these yao coming from? Tomorrow I’ll have to sit him down for a proper talk. You all can leave now, and have Fei Ao not reveal himself anymore. Go find the owner of the throwing knife, and after finding him, send him over to Fei Ao as food.”
In the early autumn morning, the air was a little stifling. After a few bird calls, in an instant, the sound of birds flapping came from the parasol tree outside the dilapidated house before they all flew away.
There was a loud crash from the front yard, and that abruptly startled Hongjun awake from the midst of his dreams.
The carp yao was also jolted awake, frightened half to death. After it scrambled out of the bag, its fishy body slapped against the ground with pa pa pas as it flopped about and said, "What's happening! What’s happening!"
Right after, it executed a “carp leaping out of the water”, and with a flip its two feet planted solidly on the ground as it stood. It looked to the left and right as it said, “Where is this?”
"Is anyone there?" that man said, before pushing open the door to the front hall and walking in.
Hongjun immediately lifted his hand to shield his eyes. Backlit by the bright sunlight, he saw a slim, lithe youth about nine chi tall wearing a strange outfit staring down at him oddly.
The two of them stared dumbly at each other for a moment, and Hongjun finally clearly saw the man’s face. His facial features were evenly spaced and well-etched, his cheekbones were high, his eyebrows were as dark as hawk feathers, and the curve of his lips was well-defined. His skin had been tanned by long years of sun to a healthy bronze, and in his thick black hair were many small braids. He carried a bow and quiver on his back and wore a sheepskin shoulder capelet on one shoulder, revealing his bronzed, muscular right shoulder. He also wore a pair of black hunting boots, and tied around his waist was a travel bag. He looked like a hunter.
The man had broad shoulders and a trim waist, and though he was wearing that sheepskin hunting jacket, it didn't detract from his extraordinariness.
"Scared this yao to death, " the carp yao said.
The young man saw the carp yao and suddenly jolted, before reaching back and pulling an arrow out of his quiver, instantly nocking it to his bow and drawing it.
Hongjun immediately shielded the carp yao, “This yaoguai doesn’t harm people, I’m an exorcist!” As he said it, he was afraid of the carp yao undercutting his words, so he cried, “Zhao Zilong, don’t talk nonsense anymore!”
At this, the youth finally put away his bow, half in disbelief and he looked at Hongjun with judgment as he asked, “You’re an exorcist? How come you have a yao with you? This… who am I supposed to find to report for duty?”
Hongjun asked, dazed, "Report for duty?"
The youth raised his hand and pointed above Hongjun's head, gesturing at him to look in that direction.
Hongjun lifted his head and looked, only to see that there was a plaque nailed over the doorway of the front hall, and it had five large words written on it: The Great Tang Exorcism Department.
In the Xingqing Palace gardens, the sky outside the walls was covered with gloomy clouds, and it was stiflingly hot beyond compare. Li Longji hugged Yang Yuhuan without caring for the heat, and as soon as they separated, he wanted to press back against her again. After sticking together for a while, the two of them were covered with sweat, and as they drank their chilled sour plum drink, they could only hook their fingers together. Lady Guoguo sat to one side peeling lychees, and as soon as they were peeled, she placed them into a five-colored glass bowl chilled with ice cubes, and Yang Guozhong sat beside her picking out the peeled lychees to eat.
“That Longwu Army captain Li Jinglong, all he did was patrol the city at night and take the opportunity to go to the brothel. Then his subordinates got drunk and started fighting and making a fuss, and the next day when they woke up, they realized that they couldn’t clean it up, so they came up with this kind of absurd joke,” Yang Guozhong said gleefully.
“This person must be gotten rid of,” Lady Guoguo said. “Not under strict control, forgetful of one’s duties, lying to the emperor, and spreading false rumors, how can we let this go?”
Yang Yuhuan suddenly thought of something and asked, "Isn't Li Jinglong… General Feng's cousin!"
“It’s exactly him,” Yang Guozhong said. “Some time ago Changqing returned to court and handed up a document regarding his younger cousin; he wanted to take him out with him on a campaign to make some war contributions. The way I see it, he’s just bored right now. If we send him out and have him fight for a few years, naturally he won’t cause any more problems.”
Li Longji en-ed once, but just as he was about to open his mouth, Yang Yuhuan looked at the others’ expressions, but in the end her conscience wouldn’t let her keep silent, and she said, “General Feng just made a major war contribution to the country, so sending his cousin out just like this… at the bottom of it, young people’s blood run hot, it’s no big crime.”
“... Back in the day when Duke Di grew old and muddleheaded, he kept going on about how there were yao,” Li Longji recalled this, and continued, “Back then he even came up with a department, called the ‘Exorcism Department’. It was under the direct control of the Peace and Order Department, and after the capital was moved, it was also brought over as well.”
Yang Yuhuan answered, "I seem to remember when I was small…"
"I just knew that you would want to talk about that white fox again." Lady Guoguo smiled lightly.
Li Longji said, “Speaking of this, when I was small I… when they went to offer sacrifices to the gods, I saw the shape of a black dragon in the Luo River.”
Yang Yuhuan smiled. “That was a blessed omen! It’s just that the common people didn’t know how it was a miracle, so they called it a yao. An auspicious sign, and didn’t it perfectly provide evidence for Your Majesty’s destiny?”
“Indeed,” Li Longji answered. “... En. Zhen suddenly had a thought: since that Li Jinglong has such strange thoughts and wondrous skills, what about setting him to run the Exorcism Department, how about that?”
Yang Guozhong, Yang Yuhuan, and Lady Guoguo all froze for a moment, before Yang Yuhuan began to smile. The corner of Lady Guoguo’s mouth trembled gently, and for a while she didn’t know how to respond.
Li Longji then said with a perfectly serious expression, “Then it will be like this, though it is unknown where the Exorcism Department is, it must still exist. After all, this person does not seem to be able to stay within the Longwu Army. Send him to watch the Exorcism Department for a while, and spread the word of the “auspicious sign” to the citizens of Chang’an, so that Feng Changqing’s wish can also be granted. These matters will be left to you to take care of, Guozhong.”
Yang Guozhong: "..."
Within the dilapidated estate, Hongjun and that handsome youth kept watching each other; neither of them had thought that this would be the place! But this place had clearly been left to rot for many years; the front hall was clogged with spiderwebs, though as they went in and out, they realized that the rooms inside were still pretty large. After passing through the front hall, there was an expansive courtyard in which were several rotted chests, all wholly empty inside.
The youth’s name was Mo Rigen, and he was from the Shiwei tribe; he had actually come to report to be an exorcist as well, and he had asked for Hongjun’s letter and was currently intently studying it outside. On the two letters, both contained the same general contents: the monsters of Chang’an were overrunning the place, and the descendants of exorcist families far and wide were asked to report in to the Chang’an Great Tang Exorcism Department for duty.
While Mo Rigen was looking at the letters, Hongjun strolled around in the disused Exorcism Department. He saw that within the courtyard there was a parasol tree that stood taller than the eaves of the roof, and several seeds had fallen to the ground around the base. As Hongjun looked at that parasol tree he was filled with a sense of closeness. The courtyard was connected to the eastern and western wings by two hallways, and on the hallways there hung windchimes that tinkled gently. At the end, though there was a false wall, the doors and windows were all rotted away in the twelve rooms, and mice darted in and out, making zhizhi noises.
In the innermost chambers, there was an expansive, broad hall which was the main hall. Inside said hall were several large, comfortable couches made from bamboo, and in the middle of that arrangement was a central coffee table. The days had been long, and everything was already broken, and there were even a few broken ceramic shards underneath that wooden table.
In the backyard there was a stable for the horses, as well as a back door that had been sealed shut.
"Kong Hongjun." Mo Rigen finished reading the letter in the front hall, and he quickly walked over, his head almost smacking into the doorway as he said, "Our two letters are the same."
Hongjun said, "Then this is strange…"
In his imagination, the Great Tang Exorcism Department should be a place where there were people, but even if this wasn’t like the government estates of legend, it would at least still look like a waystop. But now, this place was completely empty, without a soul in sight. So who had sent this letter out?
Before he went down the mountain, Qing Xiong hadn’t told him where the letter came from, and he had never mentioned what lineage Hongjun had come from. But seeing this, it was as if someone had copied the letters and sealed and sent them, and the signature on the letter was the character “Di”.
"Is the sender Di Renjie?" Mo Rigen said, "Hasn't he been dead for many years?"
"You guys, take a look at the wall?" The carp yao stood within the main hall, and it tilted its head as it spoke.
Hongjun went up to wipe away the dust on the wall, revealing a mural that showed a seated official wearing purple robes. In front of it was an incense burner covered with a patina.
"This is probably him huh," Mo Rigen said.
"Could the Exorcism Department have moved?" Hongjun asked.
"The place the letter specified was here," Mo Rigen said. "As you can see, it's been abandoned for many years, so it’s not like they moved recently."
The two of them stood in front of the mural for a while. Hongjun felt as if he had fought his way through messes of brambles, climbed mountains, and forded rivers to come to the end of his thousand-mile journey, only to find that what he expected was completely different from what he got. He had the strange feeling of disappointment that accompanied climbing a mountain for a good part of a day before finding out that there was nothing special at the peak. At this moment, a human voice suddenly came from the front courtyard:
"Oh, the door fell in. Is anyone there?"
A Hu youth wearing a lavish, dark red warrior’s robe, carrying a lute on his back, stood within the courtyard. He was currently pulling out some money to pay the two porters who carried large and small packages, filling the courtyard with luggage.
That youth had a high nose bridge, deep set eyes, a head of curly hair, and he wore four rings on his hand. His skin was as white as milk, and in his hand he shook open a fan the color of a blue gem, holding it over his head to block the sun as he looked left and right, his expression one of confusion.
Mo Rigen and Hongjun came out from the front hall.
"Hai yo--!" the Hu youth shouted loudly, greatly startling the two of them.
"Hai mie hou bi --!" the Hu youth spread his arms wide and shouted warmly, "My dear Great Tang friends! Hello --!"
Right after that, the youth swiftly came up to the two of them, first hugging Mo Rigen before tightly hugging Hongjun.
“I am Tailopotamia Homihok Hammurabi,” that Hu youth said. “You can call me ‘A-Tai’.”
That Hu youth called A-Tai finished making his introductions and placed his two hands in front of his chest as he slowly backed off, gracefully and easily sinking into a bow before saying, “If I may, is this the Great Tang Exorcism Department? This is my letter of recommendation; who is the official in charge?”
Mo Rigen and Hongjun went speechless at the same time, but before they could ask their questions, someone else came in.
"Is anyone there?"
The three of them turned their heads at the same time, only to see another person, a tall scholar, stick his head in from outside to peek around.
“This one is called Qiu Yongsi, a personage from Jiangnan…” The scholar greeted them and smiled. “My grandfather sent me here, specially to… what’s wrong? Why are your expressions all…”
" This… level… of… strange??? Yi? Why is there a yaoguai in the department?! "
One ke later, each of them held a letter in their hand, looking at each other.
"This isn't right, did you all come to report for duty? Is the Judiciary Department in charge?" The Shiwei person, Mo Rigen, asked.
The scholar Qiu Yongsi said, "Before I came here, I first went to the Judiciary Department. They're not in charge."
The Hu A-Tai said, "When I went by the Rites Department, they also told me they aren't in charge."
The four of them sat around in a circle as they all sank into thought. The four of them had all received the letter telling them to report for duty, but what they arrived to was an Exorcism Department devoid of any trace of human habitation, overgrown with weeds and wild shrubs. What exactly was going on here?
“I think there is one point that is very suspicious.” A-Tai snapped his fingers and paced within the hall, looking at Mo Rigen as he said thoughtfully, “I’m from Tokharistan, this brother Mo Rigen is from the great Saiwai grasslands, this beautiful brother…”
"I'm called Hongjun, Kong Hongjun," Hongjun said.
"Where do you live?" A-Tai asked as he grinned.
"How about you? " A-Tai asked that scholar named Qiu Yongsi.
"Xihu," Qiu Yongsi responded.
A-Tai said, "We have come from both near and far, and we all received our letters at different times, so how did we end up arriving in Chang'an on the exact same day?"
"You're right! " Hongjun exclaimed.
"Oh?" Qiu Yongsi asked, "You guys also just got here?"
"En." Mo Rigen nodded slightly, as if he was thinking something over. "As long as we find the person who sent the letters, then we should be able to understand the truth."
Hongjun thought that if this person had managed to pass a letter into Qing Xiong's hand, then wouldn't that mean that he knew Hongjun was in Yaojin Palace? And if he knew, then perhaps he knew Di Renjie and his dad Kong Xuan as well? At least, would the letter writer know about the events of the past?
Hongjun hesitated for a second, before he came up with a brilliant thought, "Do you guys think that there will be more people coming in a bit?"
A-Tai nodded, and a wry small smile lifted the corner of his mouth: "Exactly, so what we should do, is possibly just wait."
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.