Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
The sweet scent of osmanthus flowers filled his nose, and when he raised his head, Dong Zhi saw an osmanthus tree with low hanging branches that was in full bloom. He picked off a small branch of flowers and handed it to Long Shen.
“Borrowing flowers to dedicate to Buddha*.”
*(借花献佛) Idiom referring to borrowing other people’s items to entertain guest or give them away.
Long Shen took the osmanthus branch, then looked at the osmanthus tree and saw a full moon on top of the osmanthus tree, then remembered that the Mid-Autumn Festival* was approaching.
*Also known as the Moon/Mooncake Festival, it is a festival celebrated in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Macau. Its popularity rivals that of Chinese New Year. It celebrates three fundamental concepts: gatherings, thanksgiving, and praying.
Dong Zhi also raised his head.
“Master, the Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching. Why don’t we leave in a few days? Otherwise, it’ll be so desolated to spend the holidays alone!”
Long Shen glanced at him. “Don’t push your luck.”
The reason their assignment was delayed was because Director Jiang wanted to hold a mobilization meeting. This was a special exception. If they had to wait until the Mid-Autumn Festival… Why not just leave until after New Year’s? Then there would be another Mid-Autumn Festival in that new year, and at that rate, they’d never leave.
He used to spend his Mid-Autumn Festival alone, but later spent it with He Yu and Kan Chaosheng, so he had no sense of reunion.
Hearing what he said, Dong Zhi wasn’t depressed and instead smiled. His eyes suddenly lit up as he said, “Master, wait for me here for a while. I’ll be right back.” Then he ran away.
Long Shen looked at his fast steps as he ran into a cake shop. After a while, he ran out with a box and stuffed it into his hands.
“Freshly baked meat mooncakes with crispy skin and tender meat. I’ve eaten them before, and they’re pretty good. Anyway, I can’t enjoy the moon with you this year, so this box of mooncakes will represent me and accompany you! I hope you’ll be like this box of mooncakes every year in the future, full and happy.”
With a smile on his face, Dong Zhi quietly put the trinket he was holding in his hand into his pocket. It was a small gift he got for buying a box of mooncakes, a shiny pink heart-shaped keychain. Dong Zhi wanted to give it to Long Shen, but he hesitated and decided against it.
It felt like he was hiding it quietly in his mind, packing it up so that no one would find out.
Long Shen never accepted gifts, no matter how cheap or expensive they were. It was blazing news that he accepted the yulu plant and then became a disciple. Dong Zhi obviously knew his master’s style very well. Before Long Shen had a chance to speak, he blocked his words by saying, “Apprentice filial piety to one’s master can’t be regarded as giving gifts and accepting bribes, right?”
Of course not.
Long Shen took the box, but frowned slightly, wondering if the situation needed a gift in return.
Of course, he has contact with friends from the same generation, but this doesn’t apply to He Yu and the others, because they are his subordinates. Besides, He Yu and Kan Chaosheng are two monkeys that are very good at rubbing their noses and eyes. Today they’ll give him a box of mooncakes, and tomorrow they’ll dare come and ask for a bonus.
While Dong Zhi is a subordinate, he’s also his apprentice. Taking on an apprentice for most of his life was like raising a son. In the afternoon, Song Zhicun and the others talked about their son’s achievements, filial piety, and how considerate their children were and didn’t bother them. Long Shen listened to them. He felt that it would probably be an equivalent amount of effort to take on an apprentice.
What can I give him? I can’t gift him a box of mooncakes in return, right?
Dong Zhi didn’t know what he was thinking, and asked, “Has anyone given you a Mid-Autumn Festival gift before?”
Long Shen nodded first, then shook his head. “Yes, but except for the unit’s issuance, I have confiscated everything else.”
Dong Zhi: “How did you spend the holidays before?”
Long Shen: “Working overtime.”
Dong Zhi almost choked, but he didn’t give up. “What about big festivals like National Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Chinese New Year’s?”
Long Shen said, “Write reports, practice, and deal with accidents.”
He seemed to find it so fulfilling that it made Dong Zhi powerless to complain.
“Then do you feel lonely and bored?”
Long Shen said lightly, “No.”
Because he was alone from the beginning, he naturally never knew what loneliness or boredom was.
“That’s fine. Going forward, you’ll at least have a lovely apprentice to accompany you during Chinese New Year’s!” Dong Zhi said, smiling. His face was getting thicker to the point where he had reached a state of transformation.
Long Shen looked at the “lovely apprentice” and decided not to tell him that he would increase the intensity of tomorrow’s practice for the time being, so he could be silly for a while longer.
Sure enough, the next day, Dong Zhi began to scream for days.
Long Shen was stricter than before, and the meeting time was also advanced from the original 5 a.m. to 4 a.m. He would suddenly be called to the rooftop in the middle of the night without warning and then be attacked without any indication. Either Long Shen would do it in person, or when he didn’t show up, he would send a eudemon, similar to the shikigamis used by the Onmyojis, to mercilessly practice killing him.
Under these circumstances, Dong Zhi had to mobilize what he had learned and try his best to cope. He originally thought that Long Shen’s trial would at least guarantee his basic safety, but after he was hit by the eudemon and his face was covered in blood and his head was almost swallowed by its mouth, he knew that Long Shen meant business.
Dong Zhi wanted to cry without tears.
He knew that what his master was doing was for his own good, so he could develop his ability to protect himself in the future and greatly improve it, so as not to lose his life, but the reality was that it was built on blood and tears.
A week passed quickly.
The day when everyone was scheduled to report to the branch offices was postponed for another week because Director Jiang wanted to hold a symposium for a few days to mobilize everyone to the grass-roots level of experience, so newcomers wouldn’t be so haughty.
Everyone had personally experienced Director Jiang’s meeting skills, so they would rather report to the branch earlier than have to listen to his drabble.
The worst thing was that Long Shen seemed to know that the meeting was just a meeting with nothing too important being discussed, so the daily practice still hadn’t stopped, and he even deliberately challenged Dong Zhi’s limits by increasing the content and difficulty. This only made Dong Zhi even more miserable; he felt like a wilting cabbage during the meetings.
Director Jiang didn’t need to write drafts for his meetings. He only listed a few outlines and then would talk for hours on end.
The contents of today’s meeting were mainly reminiscing about the history of the Special Administration Bureau, how difficult conditions for handling cases back then were, how it wasn’t easy for their predecessors, and how it’s changing with each passing day. Even the training for the newcomers uses the latest research results from China and the United States. In the past, how could they afford such a luxury?
Everyone had heard these words countless of times before, so they could almost recite them by heart. On a cool autumn afternoon, Director Jiang’s voice was like the sweetest lullaby, lulling them to sleep.
Liu Qingbo held on without yawning. When he turned his head, something amazing caught his eyes. Dong Zhi had fallen asleep. He grinned and couldn’t help but poke his waist.
Dong Zhi felt ticklish, so he moved subconsciously, opening one eye and seeing that it was Liu Qingbo. This only made him close his eyes again and change direction as he continued to go back to sleep.
Are you sure I won’t report you? Liu Qingbo laughed angrily.
Dong Zhi had put a large notebook upright on his desk to block off his face. For the time being, Director Jiang was still giving his passionate speech, so he hadn’t noticed the small movements from the class.
Liu Qingbo glanced to the side again.
Ba Sang was holding a pen in one hand and pretending to take notes, while the other hand was placed under the table and was texting on his phone.
No one knew what Xie Qingling was up to as she led her hands under the desk, pulling silk thread and manipulating her puppets.
Zhang Song laid on the table with a pen and a notebook that he was using to write and draw in. Whatever he was writing was definitely not what Director Jiang was saying.
Li Ying was holding his chin with one hand and was also secretly texting with the other. From the corner of his eyes, Liu Qingbo saw that it was an interface for takeout.
It seemed that no one was listening to the lecture, but Liu Qingbo still didn’t want Dong Zhi to sleep so peacefully, so he stretched out his hand and poked his waist again. After poking three times in a row, Dong Zhi finally moved.
He took his phone and sent a message to Liu Qingbo: [I got up at 4 a.m. today.]
Liu Qingbo quickly replied: [Stealing chickens and dogs*?]
*(偷鸡摸狗) Idiom referring to unscrupulous behavior.
Dong Zhi: [Master asked me to get up and practice.]
This is just showing off, right? Liu Qingbo gritted his teeth and replied: [I want to complain to Director Jiang that you fall asleep as soon as he starts speaking.]
Dong Zhi: [Don’t, Lao Liu. You see that other people are also distracted while you listen carefully. You can also play games. Be a good boy and let me sleep for a while.]
Liu Qingbo: [Have you learned yujian* from Boss Long?]
*Reminder: It’s the ability to use spells to control your sword.
Dong Zhi: [How is that possible? I’m just learning footwork now. Master said that I must be at least your level before I can start to think about yujian, so I don’t even want to think about it now.]
When Liu Qingbo saw these words, his heart was immediately mixed. He was happy that Long Shen had affirmed his abilities, but even so, the apprentice was not himself.
He asked Dong Zhi: [Do you know where you’re going for your internship?]
Dong Zhi: [Master refuses to say. How about you?]
Liu Qingbo told him the place.
Dong Zhi replied with an envious expression: [Congratulations, although it’s an office, it’s also in the provincial capital. I’m guessing I’m not as lucky as you. Master will definitely kick me to some third-tier city. By the way, what should I do if your Feijing Sword can’t be found?]
Liu Qingbo became angry when he saw this: [What else can you do? Help me get it back?]
Dong Zhi knew that he had made a mistake, and hurriedly replied: [I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Master also has a lot of hidden swords. Why don’t I go talk to him and see if he’ll take one out to pay you back?]
Liu Qingbo got angry: [If you have the ability, don’t compensate me with your master’s things!]
Dong Zhi made a pitiful expression: [But I don’t have anything. Even the Changshou Sword was given to me by Master. I can only repay it by working indefinitely for the rest of my life.]
Liu Qingbo was born into a swordsmanship family, so naturally, there were many hidden swords in his family. Although the Feijing Sword was precious, it was not the only sword for him.
He suddenly thought of a question: Does this have anything to do with the reason why he wasn’t accepted by Long Shen?
If the Changshou Sword was given to him, of course he would cherish it, but he’d not treat it as the only one like Dong Zhi.
He asked Dong Zhi: [Did Boss Long teach you how to use swords?]
Dong Zhi answered with no reservations: [Yes. He said that all artifacts have spirits. Before using a sword, you must first establish contact with the sword. Only when the soul fits with the sword can it be handier.]
Long Shen had told these words to everyone when he taught them on the rooftop that one day. At that time, when he heard it, he had a different feeling. Liu Qingbo suddenly understood what his problem was.
He had used many swords since he was a child, and they were all famous swords. The Feijing Sword was his most handy one recently, but it’s not the one that has been with him for the longest time. Although he regretted losing the Feijing Sword, he didn’t have any ideas about trying to get it back.
He sent another message to Dong Zhi: [What would you do if you lost the Changshou Sword in battle?]
Dong Zhi thought Liu Qingbo was still thinking about how he used the Feijing Sword to stab into the giant python’s chrysanthemum, so he apologized: [Sorry, I really didn’t think it through at that time. I didn’t know that you found the chrysanthemum one step faster than me.]
As soon as he saw the word chrysanthemum, Liu Qingbo’s face turned blue, as he absolutely didn’t want to recall that tragic experience.
He interrupted Dong Zhi’s reply, which was divided into several texts, and inserted his own words: [I’m not holding you accountable for it. I’m just asking a hypothetical question. If the Changshou Sword was thrown underwater, what would you do in that situation?]
After a while, Dong Zhi replied: [I would go back and find it.]
Liu Qingbo reluctantly refused to give up: [The river is very deep, and the current is fast. What if you can’t find it?]
Dong Zhi: [Still look for it. This sword has extraordinary significance to me.]
Liu Qingbo: [Is it more significant than the previous Qingzhu Sword?]
Dong Zhi gave a positive answer: [Yes.]
Liu Qingbo was disappointed. His swordsmanship has reached the level of perfection, and even his father said that within a few years, he will definitely be able to become a master of swordsmanship in the country. This made him complacent and arrogant, looking down on others he found beneath him.
He only regarded the sword as a weapon for his hands, and he never thought that swordsmanship was to fit the swordsman’s soul with the sword.
Long Shen didn’t hide anything. Liu Qingbo didn’t take this point he mentioned before to heart at that time. He felt that artifacts were just artifacts and could never be comparable to people.
Dong Zhi waited a long time for his reply, and when he looked up, he saw Liu Qingbo was staring at his phone in a daze. He took a page out of Liu Qingbo’s book and started poking his waist, attracting the other’s glaring eyes.
Their small actions finally caught the attention of Director Jiang.
Director Jiang narrowed his eyes. “That classmate, please stand up. Yes, the one in white clothes. What are you doing?”
He didn’t have much contact with Dong Zhi, nor did he participate in specific affairs, so except for Li Ying, who often took the lead, he couldn’t match the names and faces of the others there.
Dong Zhi stood up with an innocent expression. “Hello, Director. Liu Qingbo has a stomachache, so I want to see if he was okay.”
Liu Qingbo: …
He really wanted to strangle the person surnamed Dong.
Director Jiang remembered everyone’s names, so he turned his gaze to the other.
Liu Qingbo had no choice but to stand up. “I’m sorry. I felt a little uncomfortable in my stomach, and I didn’t want to affect everyone’s learning, so I just endured it.”
Director Jiang waved his hand mercifully. “If you are uncomfortable, don’t bear it. Go back and rest.”
Dong Zhi reacted quickly, “Then I will help him out.”
Liu Qingbo sharply glared at him, signaling that he didn’t need help. Dong Zhi returned it with a harmless smile: Without me, can you leave here early?
The two left the conference room under the envious gaze of everyone.
Liu Qingbo shook off his hand and said in disgust, “You can go back.”
Dong Zhi smiled and said, “I finally escaped. How could I go back and get caught by myself? I’m going to make up for my sleep. Go and have a good rest!”
Liu Qingbo: …
For the first time, he doubted Long Shen’s eyes. What did the other party fancy about this guy? Ingenious laziness?
Dong Zhi had really wronged Liu Qingbo. He now gets up earlier than a chicken and is forced to go to bed early at night, so he had no time for recreational activities. He was almost paralyzed from practicing his sword every day, so it wasn’t easy to squeeze out a little time to sleep.
After another two days, Director Jiang finally let everyone go, just because the next day was the day of departure. Everyone had already learned that the Special Administration Bureau was determined to isolate them this time, and even Li Ying and Chi Banxia, a semi-public couple, were no exception. One was sent to the south and the other to the north. They looked like the cowherd and the weaving maid* who had been torn apart by the Milky Way.
*Romantic Chinese folk tale that tells the story between a weaver and cowherd whose love was not allowed, and they can only meet once every year.
Gu Meiren went to the northwest, while Ba San was in Rongcheng. Dong Zhi was a little closer to Liu Qingbo as he was assigned to the South China Branch but was arranged in Lucheng.
Since then, it has been difficult for everyone to even see each other, let alone when and how they can reunite, like in Yinchuan, to advance and retreat together.
Thinking of this, everyone couldn’t help but feel a touch of sorrow in their hearts.
Song Zhicun was also accustomed to their appearance. Seeing this, he smiled and said, “Almost every year, we will send away newcomers like you and usher in newcomers for next year. It’s just that this group has been the largest number of people who have passed the examination in the past 20 years. Therefore, not only do the directors but those higher ups have high hopes for you.”
They had heard these words many times in the past, but this time they listened seriously, and no one was distracted.
“I hope that at the end of the probationary period next year, I will still be able to see all of you back here. I hope that no matter what difficulties you encounter, you can all move forward and not forget your original intention. Remember, you’re not ordinary practitioners. You are a member of the Special Administration Bureau. You shoulder the heavy responsibility of subduing and eliminating demons, and the responsibility of defending ordinary people.”
Everyone gave him warm applause after he finished speaking.
Song Zhicun raised his hand and pressed it down, waited for the applause to stop, and then said, “In the evening, the Special Administration Bureau will organize a farewell banquet for everyone. I hope you can all attend.”
Someone joked, “Boss Song, you’re actually inviting us to have a good meal!”
The joke was an allusion. The task of the Special Administration Bureau was to subdue and eliminate demons, but sometimes hitting mice would inevitably affect jade bottles. For example, the incident on Changbai Mountain had left behind a lot of trouble in the aftermath. The county protested that the Changbai Mountain tourist area had been destroyed, so the Special Administration Bureau had to compensate as a symbolic gesture. Thus, the Bureau’s funds were usually tight. Employees’ wages and bonuses couldn’t be deducted for such accidents, so they could only be cut from public expenditures. After Director Jiang took office, he was even more drastic and directly cut nearly half of the public expenditure funds. This was often why people complained that the bureau was stingy.
Song Zhicun laughed. “Of course I have to invite you to have a good meal. Tonight, a few of our directors will pay for it out of their own pockets. How can we make everyone happy if you have to pay for your own meal?”
Everyone cheered when they heard his words, and their sorrow suddenly dissipated. Song Zhicun did what he said, and sure enough, he booked a private room in a famous Huaiyang restaurant nearby.
That night, everyone drank to their hearts’ content. Although Dong Zhi could hold his liquor, he couldn’t keep up with Long Shen when he drank with him last time. At the banquet, he was drinking one cup after another, and soon he became impetuous, and his vision started to blur as he saw everyone around him had three-four afterimages around their figures.
Perhaps it was because they were parting soon, but Long Shen didn’t stop him this time. On the contrary, he made an exception and actually joined the banquet as well. He was good at holding his liquor and drank a lot with everyone. Even Song Zhicun and Wu Bingtian couldn’t keep up as they had to lie down while he sat on his chair looking calm.
“Master, if I knew you could drink so well, I wouldn’t have drunk with you before. I should think of other ways.”
Long Shen looked at his apprentice, who was flushed and even spoke with slurred words. He had no choice but to touch his forehead.
Dong Zhi smiled. Just as he was about to say something, he was dragged aside by someone.
“Surname Dong, although I don’t like you, you have saved my life. As I man I raise this cup to you!” Liu Qingbo handed over a glass, and his speech was on the brink of slurring as well.
Dong Zhi felt a buzzing sound in his ears. The alcohol was now at its peak. He didn’t hear what Liu Qingbo was saying, and his eyes were confused, and he had lost focus. He kept laughing as he took the glass and drank it all in one gulp, which caused Liu Qingbo to shout “Good!”.
Looking around, others were not in much better condition than he was.
Li Ying and Zhang Song have been arguing since the zombie simulation training. At that moment, after three glasses of alcohol, they seemed to put aside their differences for the time being. The two brothers got together to talk and laugh as they exchanged cups.
Ba Sang and Xiang Yongnian were originally arm wrestling, but later, at the instigation of everyone, they moved on to a drinking competition, which attracted the heckling of the others.
Xie Qingling and a few other girls drank less, but their faces were still flushed as they were also drunk.
Even Wu Bingtian and Song Zhicun inevitably drank too much. One fell asleep on the table, and the other proposed a toast to Liu Qingbo, and started rambling on. No one knew what he was talking about.
Seeing this, Long Shen shook his head, went to pay the bill, and then pulled up Dong Zhi and walked out. The autumn wind was getting stronger, filling the air with the scent of osmanthus flowers. Dong Zhi dressed lightly when he came to the banquet. The chill caused him to shudder, waking him up a bit.
“Master…” he shouted in a daze. His memory had stopped when Liu Qingbo was talking to him.
“Don’t drink too much, or you won’t be able to leave tomorrow afternoon,” Long Shen said.
Dong Zhi nodded and let Long Shen lead him away without resistance. Seeing that Long Shen’s pace was steady as usual, he couldn’t help muttering, “It seems like what you said is true. You can really hold your liquor as no one can outdrink you!”
Long Shen asked, “Is all the luggage packed? Are you taking the cat too?”
Dong Zhi nodded. “I have asked He Yu to take care of it for a few days. When I settle down over there, I’ll bring the cat over.”
Long Shen said, “Let me.”
Dong Zhi: “Huh?”
Long Shen: “I won’t go out for a while.”
Dong Zhi let out a sigh and scratched his head. “Then I will pack up all its litter and cat food and send it to you later.”
Long Shen: “Don’t bother so much. I’ll just come over and feed it after I get off work. He Yu’s used to living in the office. After you leave, there will be no one in that room.”
Dong Zhi felt lightheaded as he tried to discern Long Shen’s words, but his ears kept buzzing and he couldn’t hear clearly. He couldn’t help muttering a few words in his mouth, but Long Shen couldn’t hear him.
He was usually a very chatty apprentice and could always seemingly find things to talk about, but after he got drunk, he was much quieter and didn’t make trouble. Dong Zhi was led back to the dorms and was quiet the whole way. He obediently obeyed Long Shen’s orders. If he was asked to walk, he would have woken up. When he was asked to climb the stairs, he did so. Long Shen led him to his dorm, and after thinking for a while, he took out a card.
“I didn’t know what gift to get you, so take this card and use it if you need money. You should practice more when you have time.”
Dong Zhi took it, and stared blankly at him. “Is it a token of love?”
It seems he was drunk and confused. Long Shen said helplessly, “It’s your Mid-Autumn Festival gift.”
He put the card in Dong Zhi’s pocket, opened the door for Dong Zhi, and watched him fall onto the bed before closing the door and leaving.
When he laid down, Dong Zhi didn’t wake up until noon the next day. He sat on the bed blankly for a long time, and it wasn’t until Longlong jumped into the bed and meowed at him that he began to recall the events of last night, little by little.
Everyone had attended the farewell banquet, and they all drank like there was no tomorrow. Then Long Shen sent him back, and then…
He put his hand in his pocket and found a card. A brand-new bank card.
He didn’t care about changing his clothes as he hurriedly ran out and knocked on the opposite door to his room. No one answered.
In broad daylight and working hours, Long Shen would naturally be in his office, so Dong Zhi went to his office and found him there.
Long Shen frowned, seeing that he reeked of alcohol and his clothes were all crumpled. “You just got up?”
Dong Zhi felt embarrassed, scratched his head and took out the bank card. “There’s still time until my plane leaves at 4. Master, did you give me this card last night? I don’t have anything I need to spend money on, so you should take it back.”
“I’ve given it to you, so just take it.” He never intended to take back what he gave.
In exchange for a box of mooncakes, he got a bank card in return. This deal was so cost-effective. Dong Zhi put the card back in his pocket.
Long Shen resumed approving documents for a while until he looked up and saw that Dong Zhi was still standing there.
“What are you doing, standing there in a daze? Go change your clothes and get something to eat. Then I’ll take you to the airport at 1.”
Dong Zhi suddenly said, “Master, you shouldn’t always work overtime in the future. Although you are also very rich, you have accepted an apprentice now. If you have something you want, I can make money and support you.”
Long Shen raised his brows slightly. “You’re so anxious that you ran over without even combing your hair just to say this?”
“Of course not! I’ll go back and wash up now!” Dong Zhi said, as he ran away.
Men don’t usually have much luggage. For Dong Zhi, he brought with him cinnabar and yellow paper, tools for drawing, his laptop, a drawing board, a few pieces of clothing, and his daily necessities. With everything packed, the most important thing was the Changshou Sword.
He took a shower and changed his clothes. He thought he wanted to leave a good impression on his master before parting, and not that unkempt appearance when he first got up, so he sprayed on a little cologne.
When he arrived at the parking garage, Long Shen was already there, with his back to him, leaning against the car door with his arms crossed around his chest. His legs and feet were slender, and he looked like a picture of a beauty that was bowing her head while contemplating.
“Master!” Dong Zhi walked over quickly while dragging his suitcase.
The story tells of the romance between Zhinü (織女; the weaver girl, symbolizing the star Vega) and Niulang (牛郎; the cowherd, symbolizing the star Altair). Their love was not allowed, and thus they were banished to opposite sides of the heavenly river (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for a single day.