Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Liu Qingbo looked at Dong Zhi.
The other party, like him, was moving slowly along the wall, coping with the attacks of two strange beasts from time to time.
Despite suffering internal injuries that hadn’t recovered yet, the other party had still persisted until now and hadn’t unloaded all the burden onto him. When he first entered the Special Administration Bureau, Liu Qingbo looked at this soft, cute, and good-tempered appearance and couldn’t believe that such a person could join. It must be that the examiner was blind, but then he recognized the strength and perseverance of the other party. Until now, he couldn’t help but admit that the persistence and pride of the other person weren’t less than his own.
A name given because he was born on the Winter Solstice. It was an ordinary name that heralded the day of ice and snow and the return of all things but had a temperament that could withstand the tempering fire that could forge gold and stone.
This was his partner.
With this partner, he could be rest assured and have confidence that he had his back.
His thoughts passed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, Liu Qingbo felt a sudden chill down his back.
This was it!
Without the slightest hesitation, he turned around, raised his sword, and slashed.
For a moment, like a groundbreaking work of art, the boundless sea of fire became clear. The sword light tore a crack in the smoke-filled space!
But the moment he turned around, the two strange beasts of fire and wind also looked at this empty space and rushed up at the same time.
It was too late. They moved too fast and simultaneously. Almost at the same time, Dong Zhi approached and used his sword to slash at both wind and fire. The two strange beasts instantly turned into sparks of flame, then suddenly dissipated!
The two of them tumbled out of the rift that was torn open from the enchantment; their faces were covered in dust and embarrassment.
Tang Jing clapped a few times and said in appreciation, “Your tacit understanding is very good. How did you find out the eyes of the array?”
Dong Zhi had seen Tang Jing as early as the time when they fought the Archfiend in Yangcheng. Although Liu Qingbo had never met him, it didn’t prevent him from guessing the identity of the other party. Regardless of whether he was a team leader or director, Liu Qingbo still rolled his eyes.
They were here to report on their work, not to be tested.
Shu He stepped forward and helped them up, then apologized, “I was ordered by him. Please forgive me!”
The corners of Dong Zhi’s mouth twitched. It was difficult for him to maintain a peaceful attitude. “Tang Ge, your way of welcoming is truly ingenious!”
Tang Jing smiled and said, “How can I show that I value you if I don’t make it special? But don’t be angry. I have something good for you later. Answer me first, how did you find out?”
Dong Zhi glanced at Liu Qingbo and saw that the latter had no interest in speaking, so he had to accept his fate. “The space is sealed by an enchantment, but no enchantment is perfect. Wind and fire are different beasts that are born together. You can’t kill them. Even if there’s water, it won’t help. Thus, you have to find another way. The only exit from an enchantment must be connected to the outside world. In this case, it won’t be affected by the fire. The surrounding walls were all charred and the temperature had increased everywhere except for one area where it was normal. Naturally, this had to be the weak point.”
Shu He was slightly moved, and his eyes couldn’t help showing surprise and admiration.
Tang Jing nodded. “Very good. Let Shu He take you to clean up and give you a change of clothes first. I’ll see you in the conference room in half an hour.”
Shu He smiled at them and said, “Follow me.”
On the way to clean up, Liu Qingbo couldn’t help but ask him, “Are those two strange beasts real or hallucinations?”
Shu He smiled. “Of course they’re real. They are more special, but not invincible. The reason why you think they can’t be defeated is just because you haven’t touched on their weaknesses yet. But then again, there have been many small pranks like this from Boss Tang on many colleagues who came from local offices before to debrief. However, the number of them who could break out within an hour could be counted on one hand.”
Liu Qingbo curled his lips. Feeling upset, he deliberately acted thorny. “How can you make sure that the clothes will fit us? I don’t wear what others have worn.”
Shu He turned his head and said, “Don’t worry, they are all new, and they’re available in all sizes, but the styles are relatively simple. They are all casual pants and t-shirts. In the past, we often came back from missions in a mess, so Boss Tang asked people to buy enough clothes for people to change into. With that, we didn’t have to run back home, so it saved us a lot of time.”
But such a method could only be thought of by the head of the East China Branch who wasn’t short of money. Switch this with the Northwest or Northeast Branch and this would be impossible.
Dong Zhi was very curious. “Isn’t the funds allocated to the branch office the same every year? Does the branch office also generate its own income?”
Shu He let out a sigh. “You don’t know anything. A long time ago, we had a popular saying here that we would rather have a bed in Puxi than a room in Pudong. At that time, the land price in Pudong was so cheap that no one wanted it. Our former director was extremely discerning and used the funds to buy it as training land. Later, the land price in Pudong soared, and he sold it. He also contracted some land in the suburbs to sublease to others. We don’t have to worry about our annual funding, and we even have places to practice.”
Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo looked at each other, thinking that compared with this, they were selling snacks and milk tea like they were playing house.
An hour later, after cleaning up, they returned to the conference room.
Large tracts of sunlight poured in from floor-to-ceiling windows, with panoramic views of the nearby high-rise buildings and the Huangpu River in the distance. Not only were the magnificent mountains and rivers breathtaking, but in the face of such an urban jungle, it could easily awe the viewer’s emotions, giving thought that such ingenuity that transformed the world was through human hands.
Tang Jing had long been accustomed to everyone who entered the conference room subconsciously looking out of the floor-to-ceiling window. After a few seconds, he knocked on the conference table.
“Let’s have a meeting.”
In addition to Dong Zhi and the others, there was also another young man with a fresh face in the conference room.
Tang Jing said, “Introduce yourself.”
The man grinned, revealing white teeth. “My name is Huo Jie, the Huo from fearless1, the Jie from admonish2. I’m from Zhennan Mountain with no sect.”
1Huo (霍) from fearless (霍元甲).
2Jie (诫) from admonish (训诫).
There were many hermits on Zhennan Mountain. It was said that until the rapid development of modern science and technology, there were still thousands of people practicing in the mountains. Many of them were experts in low-key seclusion. Dong Zhi didn’t expect to see one in the flesh today.
“Hello, I’m Dong Zhi.”
Liu Qingbo also nodded. “Liu Qingbo.”
Tang Jing got to the point. “Have you all heard about what happened at the Anime Convention yesterday?”
Dong Zhi said, “Shu He gave us a debriefing about it just now.”
Tang Jing said, “We’re now investigating the source of the demon energy. Basically, all our manpower has been sent out, and some are working to find the stone tablet. You should also know about this. Thus, there are not many people left in the branch right now. If something is wrong, and I’m not here, you can find Shu He to warn them.”
Dong Zhi said, “Boss Tang, yesterday we went to see a cultural exhibition and found a painting.”
He took the painting out of the painting tube and spread it out on the wide conference table, then gave a general description of what happened yesterday.
Tang Jing didn’t expect them to go to an exhibition and have such an adventure, so they all gathered around and took a closer look at the painting. Of course, the focus was on the stone tablet that was half-exposed on the ground by the river.
“Have you reported to the General Administration?”
Dong Zhi was a bit at a loss for words. He didn’t know whether he should say yes or no. After all, this kind of thing would be considered leapfrogging over your superior at work, but from a personal point of view, he would definitely seek his master’s opinion as soon as possible.
Tang Jing didn’t get an answer, so he raised his head and glanced at him with a half-smile. “I won’t find fault with you. Don’t worry.”
Dong Zhi coughed softly. “Well, Boss Long wants us to send the painting to the General Administration and then they will transfer it to the Northwest Branch for processing. After all, Shaohua Mountain is in the northwest, and this painting was made during the Ming Dynasty. With hundreds of years already passed, I’m afraid we have to be prepared that the stone tablet is probably damaged.”
Tang Jing nodded and expressed his appreciation for their performance in dealing with Xiang Mu.
“In today’s meeting, I will mainly tell you a few things.”
Tang Jing said, “Last time you encountered two cases in Lucheng, one after another. One was the internationally wanted criminal, Yamamoto Kiyoshi, who snuck into Lucheng and created a murderous scene of dismemberment. This person had committed a lot of crimes in Southeast Asia. There’s an association of white-robed witches from several countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Malaysia, that have issued warrants for Yamamoto.”
Seeing that they didn’t know much about the concept of the white-robed witches, Shu He added, “Witchcraft is popular in Southeast Asia. There are those that are white-robed and black-robed witches. Generally speaking, white-robed witches tend to observe secular laws, live among ordinary people, and are healers. Black-robed witches are secretive and have a mix of good and bad. Most of them are mavericks and don’t participate in any official organizations.”
Tang Jing continued, “We have been in contact with the head of the White Robe Witches Association. We now have evidence that the puppet swap technique that was used by Yamamoto may have come from a certain black-robed witch doctor. However, most of these people live in seclusion in the jungle and mountains, so it’s difficult to find their traces. Regarding the case of Han Qi that you encountered later, according to the feedback from the White Robe Association, she was obviously bewitched and deceived by a black-robed witch. There are many examples of this kind of deception for those who blindly chase fame and fortune, and, in the end, losing their lives is pretty common in Southeast Asia.”
“Thus, we have reason to suspect that there may be a certain connection between the two cases. It’s very likely that the same gang is associated with Yamamoto and Han Qi.”
When Dong Zhi and the others destroyed the parasitic wisp of demonic energy in Han Qi’s abdomen, they heard it say something in Sanskrit. Afterwards, they confirmed that it was the name of a legendary demon in India. Therefore, the matter was immediately reported to the branch and the General Administration.
Dong Zhi’s thoughts immediately jumped quickly as he thought about the energy, they found at the bottom of Fuxian Lake in Yunnan province. Yunnan was very close to Southeast Asia, so perhaps it had something to do with the heavenly demon*.
*This is referring to Mara.
He raised this question, and Tang Jing responded. “Yes, I have also thought of this, but the biggest problem now is that the other party has hidden their identity, so it’s impossible to prevent their actions. Of course, we also can’t close our borders, so international cooperation is extremely important.”
Liu Qingbo also raised a question. “According to this, is there a connection between the heavenly demon and the Archfiend?”
Tang Jing shook his head. “The heavenly demon and the Archfiend are just the names given to them by the ancients to facilitate their distinction. In the West, the names are different. What can be learned at present is that the Archfiend was in close contact with the Japanese side. It had cooperated with Onmyojis several times to attack the stone tablet. It can be seen that there’s a greater force on the Japanese side that’s manipulating things behind the scenes. Their purpose is the stone tablet. For the Southeast end, we found no connection between the heavenly demon and the stone tablet for the time being, so it can be regarded as two different forces.”
He continued, “The international situation is becoming increasingly serious, not only in Japan but also in Southeast Asia. According to the feedback we have received, the probability of strange and intractable events in many countries and regions has increased significantly, especially south China in the future, which has a large population and a mix of fish and dragons and is the window that connects all over the world. Practitioners like Yamamoto who fake their identities to sneak into the country are difficult to detect in the early stages. I hope that you’ll all remain vigilant.”
After looking around for a while and seeing that everyone had nothing to add and no objections, Tang Jing said, “Alright, then meeting adjourned. Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo stay back.”
When Shu He and Huo Jie left, Tang Jing took out a box and pushed it towards Dong Zhi.
“These are Shangqing pills from Mount Longhu. You fought against Yamamoto last time, and your injuries haven’t healed yet. Take it with you and be sure to take them to treat your internal injuries.”
Dong Zhi hurriedly thanked him and opened the box. There were three pills inside. Mu Duo had also suffered internal injuries last time, so he would bring one back to her.
Tang Jing finally showed a familiar smile. “Just call me Tang Ge in private. What do you think of the environment here?”
Dong Zhi also smiled. “It has the configuration of a local tyrant. To be honest, although the location of the General Administration is quite expensive, it looks nothing like this!”
“Actually, there is a reason why it’s here.” Tang Jing got up and walked to the window, condescendingly, looking at the ships coming and going on the river in the distance, “Look at the high-rise buildings and heavy traffic outside. Isn’t it like seeing the blood flow of a city center?”
Both Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo nodded.
Tang Jing said, “We have a special identity and special responsibilities. We chose this place not to let you overlook the scenery of Shencheng but to let everyone see that everything we do allows Shencheng to continue to maintain such vitality. The prosperity and peace that these eyes can see need someone to guard them.”
Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo were suddenly in awe.
Presumably everyone who was a newcomer would sigh at the lavishness of the East China Branch, and then they would be shocked and convinced by such an idea.
Tang Jing recovered and laughed lightly. “Well, you don’t have to thank me for the Shangqin pills. Your master specially prompted me to give you them. Otherwise, how would I know that you have suffered from internal injuries?”
Dong Zhi was startled. “I didn’t tell him either.”
Tang Jing raised his eyebrows. “Did you two not talk on the phone? He can tell even if you don’t tell him? If you ask me, Boss Long is uniquely good to his one and only apprentice. He originally told me to give you two but given how much danger you had faced and how well you performed, the extra one is a gift from me at my own expense.”
The physical fitness of practitioners was much better than that of ordinary people. In the same way, if they were injured, ordinary medicine wouldn’t be effective on them. Injury medicines from places like Mount Longhu and Yuanming Palace have been sold on the black market for over 100,000. Often times, there wouldn’t even be a market for them as one may not be able to buy them even if they wanted to.
Such medicine was quite rare. Dong Zhi frowned and accepted it while thanking Tang Jing.
Tang Jing changed his words. “You were injured on duty. No matter how rare the medicine is, it’s not as important as your life. Learn from this for the future. After you’re injured on duty, you must take the initiative to apply for medicine. Also, since you’re here, don’t return in a hurry. We have a case now and the branch is short of manpower, so go and have a look.”
Dong Zhi’s good impression was instantly shattered. It turned out that they came here to be coolies*.
*Term for low-wage laborer, typically of South Asian or East Asian descent.
The two of them took the document and flipped through it speechlessly while listening to Tang Jing. “It’s an artificial lake that used to be a reservoir. Until now, people often used it to go swimming in the summer. The water is very deep. It’s said that it’s connected to Dianshan Lake. Every year we would always have a few cases of people drowning.”
Liu Qingbo frowned. “Aren’t there warning signs against swimming?”
Tang Jing asked rhetorically, “Do you think that it’s useful?”
Liu Qingbo: ……
Even with a sign erected that said “The water here is deep. There have been many cases of drowning. It is forbidden to enter the water”, it was useless. People who wanted to seek death couldn’t be stopped no matter what. To put it bluntly, such is fate.
Tang Jing: “In the past, I had asked people to go there to see and clear up a few things. Later, we had fewer incidents, but this year it has increased. From summer to now, there have been a total of five deaths. I suspect that there are still things in the water that haven’t been taken care of. I originally wanted to wait for a while before sending someone to take a look, and now that you’re here, I’ll leave this case to you. Mu Duo and Zhang Chong are in Lucheng still, so if anything happens, you can rush back at any time.”
Since their leader had spoken, how could they not agree?
Thus, Dong Zhi and Liu Qingbo looked at the information with resignation.
The file said that the artificial lake was called Lake Wangyue. Since ten years ago, there had been drowning incidents every year. The death toll seemed to be normal, seven people. Later, this incident was reported and attracted the attention of the branch. Tang Jing sent someone to check and found that there were water monkeys* under the lake.
*Reminder: Legendary creature that lives in the water and looks like an ape. They are commonly known as water ghosts/water lion ghost/water corpses in folklore. You can check the lore glossary chapter 1 for its lore.
Water monkeys were known as water ghosts among the common folk. It was said that they were people who couldn’t reincarnate after drowning. In order to find a scapegoat, they continued to harm people, but in fact, practitioners knew that the water monkeys were just a type of demon that were good at using illusions to confuse people before they dragged them into the depths of the water to drown them, then they absorbed their souls for food. It also ate livestock, but for water monkeys, humans were more delicious.
Tang Jing said, “At that time, Shu He and Huo Jie went there, and they eliminated a water monkey. After that, Lake Wangyue was calm for two years. Although there were occasional drownings, it had nothing to do with demons. Until this year, it was said that someone saw the heads of strange beasts infesting the lake. A couple was walking by the lake and accidentally fell in. The surveillance showed that the two people were originally some distance away from it. Later, only one was rescued. The man said that his girlfriend somehow had to go into the water. In addition to this, there were four other cases, two of which are students from a nearby private high school. You can drop by when you have time.”
Dong Zhi closed the file.
“I see. We’ll go take a look.”
Yin Xiangxue* was a sophomore at Yasheng Private High School. In stark contrast to her imaginative and wonderful name, she was morbidly obese. She was a typical adolescent girl that was prone to weight gain and had an uncontrolled diet. For this reason, she usually encountered strange gazes at school. Her popularity and grades were very average. All this combined, gave her quite a low self-esteem that she wouldn’t even dare tell her friends who her crush was let alone run to the other to confess her feelings.
*Xiangxue (香雪) translates to fragrant snow.
Tomorrow was the school festival; therefore, school was let out early so everyone could help their respective classes prepare for the festivities. This kind of activity required one to show up and was always a great opportunity for the active girls in glass. Yin Xiangxue didn’t participate. She didn’t want to stand in the spotlight and be ridiculed, so she simply left class and wandered around the school to relax.
Before she knew it, she had come to Lake Wangyue, which was north of the school.
Lake Wangyue covered a large area. There was a bridge in the middle that divided the lake into two halves. On one side of the bridge belonged to Yasheng High School, while the other side was public land for the public to enjoy. For safety reasons, the school had closed all roads leading to the bridge. In other words, students could only walk on one side of the lake but couldn’t go to the other side. Not only that, calf-high stones were built around the lake, which were of different heights and had ornamental value, and at the same time, they were also there to prevent students from stumbling into the water.
Yin Xiangxue had no interest in swimming, let alone taking a dip in the water during the cold winter of December, so she turned around and prepared to turn back.
Who knew that at this time, she saw someone?
The school grass* and male god of their school and also the object of her crush, Jiang Lang.
*Term used to describe the handsomest boy in the school.
In addition to him, there was another girl that Yin Xiangxue vaguely recognized. It seemed to be Fang An’an, the class flower* was next to him.
*Term used to describe the most beautiful girl in the class.
Out of some inexplicable thinking at that moment, she didn’t leave, nor did she step forward to disturb the two of them but chose to hide in a corner and observe them.
At this time, the sky had gradually darkened, and the streetlights by the lake were on. Even so, it wasn’t as bright as during the day. The lake was dark and sparkling, and the shadows of trees hung down heavily, covering the two figures in their shadows.
Yin Xiangxue heard Fang An’an say to Jiang Lang, “Jiang Lang, it’s too dark here. Let’s talk about it tomorrow!”
Jiang Lang hurriedly said, “An’an, I have something important to say to you! I—I like you very much. Will you be my girlfriend?”
Yin Xiangxue had heard countless rumors about Jiang Lang in school. All in all, he was a tall, rich, and handsome star pupil*, but she didn’t expect the male god to be so innocent that he brought the girl he liked here to confess.
*The term is [xueba] (学霸) which refers to someone who’s good at learning and thus easily gets high grades. This is not a derogatory term like “nerd”.
She felt a little sour in her heart. On the one hand, she knew that she would never be like Fang An’an and enter Jiang Lang’s sight, and on the other hand, she strangely hoped that Fang An’an would reject him.
The God of Hope seemed to hear her prayer as Fang An’an responded, “In fact, I also have something to say to you. Your attention to me in school has caused me trouble. Those girls who like you think I’m pestering you. I hope it won’t be like this in the future. I’m very sorry. I can’t accept your feelings. I hope you will find someone you like better soon. Goodbye!”
After that, Fang An’an turned around and left. Not only did Jiang Lang not have time to stop her, but even Yin Xiangxue, who was hiding in the corner, was stunned.
The school grass that was chased by countless girls in the school was just rejected by Fang An’an?
Yin Xiangxue looked at Fang An’an’s back, a little confused for a while.
She envied the other party’s chicness and once again felt deeply inferior.
If she had been Fang An’an, when she heard Jiang Lang’s confession, she would have been dizzy with joy. Why would she care about other girls’ unhappiness with his confession?
After thinking about it for a while, Yin Xiangxue’s legs became sore from standing for so long, and she couldn’t help but move.
She found that Jiang Lang was still standing there motionless. He must be sad because of his rejection just now.
Should she come forward and comfort him?
Naturally, Yin Xiangxue knew that Jiang Lang wouldn’t like someone like herself, but she was a young girl who still had adolescent dreams. Perhaps if she were to comfort him gently in his moment of sadness, she might be able to move him a little.
Before she could finish her entanglement, Yin Xiangxue saw Jiang Lang take a step forward in the direction of the lake.
He’s not committing suicide, right? She groaned inwardly.
Just as she was about to go up to stop him, she heard Jiang Lang say with joy, “An’an!”
Yin Xiangxue looked around. Where was Fang An’an? The other party had already left.
But Jiang Lang was still talking.
“An’an, during the last debate competition, you performed so well on stage. At that time, I probably fell for you.”
“It doesn’t matter. We can keep our relationship private for now. After graduating next year, we’ll make it public, okay?”
“No, it won’t affect my studies!”
Yin Xiangxue watched Jiang Lang step on the stone by the lake, step by step, and a chill rose from the bottom of her heart.
She wanted to shout out, but for some reason, maybe it was due to fear in her heart, she couldn’t, or perhaps reason told her that things weren’t so simple. Yin Xiangxue watched Jiang Lang bend over and sit on the stone. Half his body was already submerged in the lake and was slowly sinking.
On the surface of the lake, the swarthy monster that she couldn’t see clearly was pulling the happy Jiang Lang along as it was slowly sinking into the lake!
Yin Xiangxue covered her mouth tightly. Her body was so stiff that she could no longer feel her existence. Her face was pale, her eyes stared ahead, and she didn’t dare to blink.
“An’an, where are you taking me?”
Jiang Lang’s happy voice came, but the second half of the sentence was gradually submerged in water and turned into gurgling bubbles.
Yin Xiangxue watched Jiang Lang disappear into the lake. She trembled all over as she shrank back into the corner and burst into tears.
She was wearing a down jacket that was tightly wrapped around her, but she clearly felt the chilly wind constantly drilling into her clothes.
Yin Xingxue’s legs softened, and she fell directly to the ground. She didn’t know how long it took before she suddenly jumped up, staggering on the ground. She didn’t even dare turn her head back as she ran in the opposite direction of Lake Wangyue.