“Hello, who are you looking for?” A senior man inside the reception room asked, “What’s the name? Did you make an appointment? Who are you looking for?”
Lu Xiu stopped in his tracks and glanced inside the reception room. “We’re looking for Wu Suyuan.”
The old man put on his glasses and opened a visitor log, checking for today’s appointments. “What’s your name?”
Jiang Hong curiously hid behind Lu Xiu and observed the surroundings.
“Lu Xiu,” Lu Xiu replied. “He knows me.”
The air seemed to freeze for a moment, and the old man slowly took off his glasses and looked at Lu Xiu. He then put down the visitor log and quickly opened the door of the reception room, heading straight for the small building.
“What’s wrong with him?” Jiang Hong asked.
“I don’t know,” Lu Xiu replied.
This was the first time Jiang Hong had seen an elderly man in his sixties move at such a speed, but Lu Xiu remained calm and stood there for a moment, then reached out and opened the window of the reception room, flipping through the visitor log.
After a while, no one came to attend to them, and Lu Xiu said, “Let’s go.”
In an instant, almost a hundred people flooded out of the building, all standing on the walkway of the second and third floors and looking down. The office workers from the first floor all came out, each closing their doors behind them and watching Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong warily.
“Uh,” Jiang Hong said. “What’s going on? Are they all exorcists?”
Lu Xiu had become accustomed to this sight and said, “What did you promise me earlier?”
Jiang Hong remembered that he had promised not to ask unrelated questions, but the scene before him was just too strange! The entire exorcist committee was on high alert, each in a defensive posture facing Lu Xiu.
“It’s you.” A middle-aged man came out from the third floor, his hands resting on the railing as he looked down. “What wind brought you to Chongqing? Please come up. You’re a rare visitor.”
It felt as if they were negotiating with a gang’s stronghold.
Lu Xiu took Jiang Hong up the stairs, and a girl holding some documents stood at the corner. As all the staff members who were passing by heard their arrival, they stopped whatever they were doing. Jiang Hong knew that this treatment was not directed at him, but rather towards Lu Xiu.
Why did these gazes seem so familiar?
The two of them reached the third floor, and the middle-aged man was waiting outside an office. Jiang Hong thought to himself: this should be the person Lu Xiu was looking for, right?
“Please come in.” Wu Suyuan was around forty years old and well-groomed. His office had a Republic of China style, and he wore a pair of gold-rimmed glasses, making him look like an insurance salesman.
The office was spacious, with a vintage carpet and four people standing in front of the curtains, three men and one woman.
“The Exorcist Committee and Sky University are two independent systems,” Wu Suyuan said.
“So what?” Lu Xiu asked.
Wu Suyuan smirked, his implication clear. “I can’t control you, and you shouldn’t come looking for trouble.”
Lu Xiu glanced at everyone in the office and said, “Is it necessary to be so nervous? I’m just asking about something, not here to cause trouble.”
When Wu Suyuan heard this, he seemed to have let out a sigh of relief.
“Oh, asking about something.” Wu Suyuan smiled and nodded, gesturing to the sofa and indicating that they should sit down. He then used his eyes to signal the other people in the office to leave silently.
“What kind of tea do you want?” Wu Suyuan sat on the sofa casually, as if entertaining an important guest who came to negotiate.
Jiang Hong thought to himself, wow, is Lu Xiu that powerful in their circle? Isn’t this person the head of the department? Why is he so polite to him?
“Anything is fine,” Lu Xiu said.
“Call Xiao Xu to come up.” Wu Suyuan ordered his subordinate, then with a smile, he tried to test Jiang Hong.
Jiang Hong felt a little uneasy, but Lu Xiu said, “There’s no need to look. He’s just a civilian.”
“Civilians aren’t allowed in here.” Wu Suyuan’s expression was apologetic, as if politely rebuking Lu Xiu for bringing in someone irrelevant.
Lu Xiu did not answer, and Wu Suyuan stopped talking. The two of them seemed to be waiting for something, and the atmosphere suddenly became awkward.
After a few minutes, the tea came, and another young man was brought in from outside. His hair was cut short, his skin was dark, and he was tall and thin, but looked very spirited.
“This is our head of information department,” Wu Suyuan said. “His name is Xu Xuyang. Yangyang, Lu Ge has some information he wants to ask you about.”
It was only then that Lu Xiu got to the point. “Do you know about the Jialing River Bridge incident last night?” he asked.
Xu Xuyang was a bit unsure and looked at Wu Suyuan, who said, “You just answer whatever Lu Ge asks. It’s okay.”
This office was indeed very Chongqing, full of a sense of the underworld.
“I know about the incident,” Xu Xuyang said succinctly.
Oh, it’s about me. Jiang Hong began to understand.
“What kind of demon is it?” Lu Xiu asked.
Lu Xiu couldn’t see clearly in the dark, but instead of questioning Jiang Hong, he asked the exorcists for information.
Xu Xuyang also understood and looked at Jiang Hong. “He’s the kidnapped child?”
“Lu Ge is asking you a question!” Wu Suyuan said. “Why are you asking him instead?”
Xu Xuyang apologized quickly, and Lu Xiu waved his hand to indicate it was okay. Jiang Hong, on the other hand, noticed drops of sweat sliding down Wu Suyuan’s forehead.
“Are you hot?” Jiang Hong kindly asked. “Do you want to wipe off your sweat… here’s a tissue.”
“Thank you, thank you.” Wu Suyuan’s sweat exposed his inner anxiety.
“It’s a bird and a bat demon,” Xu Xuyang said seriously. “When we arrived, they had already fled. The situation is still unclear, and we don’t know why they kidnapped this… this young brother.”
Jiang Hong had wanted to say “I don’t know either,” but when he saw Lu Xiu’s cold expression, he decided not to speak. He could see now that these people were probably exorcists, responsible for capturing demons and the like, and they were very afraid of Lu Xiu.
“We’ve already sent people to stake out the entrance to Zhengda Garden today. We don’t know if they’ll come again tonight,” Xu Xuyang said.
“Where are they hiding?” Lu Xiu asked.
“We haven’t fully investigated yet,” Xu Xuyang said.
“Any clues?” Lu Xiu asked again.
“They stole a bus, line 368. We checked specifically, but the driver wasn’t there,” Xu Xuyang said.
Lu Xiu tapped his fingers on the coffee table and remained silent. Wu Suyuan became nervous again and looked around. Xu Xuyang said, “We’re still investigating the specifics, but it’s said that someone saw a black shadow lurking around Yuanjiagang that night.”
Lu Xiu wasn’t familiar with Chongqing, so he was silent for a moment. Wu Suyuan then said, “Add Lu Ge’s WeChat, and you can notify him anytime if there’s anything.”
Lu Xiu took out his phone, added Xu Xuyang’s contact information, and said, “Well, thank you for the trouble.”
When Lu Xiu left the three-story building, everything returned to normal.
After the person left, Wu Suyuan wiped the sweat off his forehead with a tissue that was soaked through. He opened the curtains and saw Lu Xiu leave, finally feeling relieved.
“Are they all exorcists?” Jiang Hong finally had the chance to ask a question.
“Uh-huh,” Lu Xiu replied.
Jiang Hong’s questions were about to explode. If he didn’t get them answered now, he would rather jump into the river.
“Why are they so afraid of you? Are you their leader?”
“Because they are afraid of getting beaten up.”
“Why do you want to beat them up?”
“Are you going to keep talking?”
Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong returned to Eighteen Ladders and gradually walked further away.
“Lu Ge!” a voice called out.
Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong turned their heads and saw a delivery guy in uniform and a helmet. He was the supervisor from the information department from earlier, Xu Xuyang.
Jiang Hong: “…”
“I’ll send my subordinates to inquire at Yuanjiagang later.” The guy carried an electric bike and easily climbed the stairs with it like it was no big deal. “Make sure your phone stays on.”
Lu Xiu nodded and didn’t say much. Xu Xuyang ran ahead quickly and soon disappeared from sight.
“Oh, by the way, it’s going to rain tonight. If you’re ordering delivery, remember to order early!”
Jiang Hong: “Is he really an exorcist?”
Lu Xiu’s expression indicated that he was about to lose his temper.
“By the way, why did they want to catch me? Even these exorcists couldn’t figure it out.”
“You finally remembered to ask?” Lu Xiu stopped and waited for Jiang Hong to remember. Jiang Hong thought for about three minutes under the sunset, looked up, and eagerly said to Lu Xiu:
“Let’s go eat? I’ll take you to eat delicious food.”
Lu Xiu: “…”
As night fell, Chongqing instantly became lively, completely different from its withered appearance during the day. The streets were lit up with neon lights, and huge LED advertisements danced between high-rise buildings. All the hot pot restaurants on the street seemed to have opened together, and thousands of diners, as if by appointment, filled up all the tables.
The air conditioning was turned up high, like a hurricane from Siberia rushing from the top of every shopkeeper’s counter towards the street. Tables and chairs were packed tightly together. Waiters shuttled back and forth between tables, carrying iron plates filled with small bowls of food. An old lady holding a bottle filled with iced green bean soup went from table to table selling her wares.
“I’m not picky,” Lu Xiu said as soon as he sat down.
“What?!” Jiang Hong was ordering dishes. “The Wushan grilled whole fish here is delicious!”
“I’ll eat anything!” Lu Xiu had to say loudly.
It was really too noisy around them, everyone drinking beer and playing games. Jiang Hong ordered a grilled fish and then said after thinking for a while, “Stay at my place tonight! You’re not from Chongqing, are you?”
The street restaurant was too noisy, and Jiang Hong had to shout, but dinner was still delicious.
“Do exorcists still deliver food?” Jiang Hong asked.
Lu Xiu thought to himself, why do you like to pay attention to this kind of thing? He made a gesture. “I don’t know! Personal hobby!”
Jiang Hong asked, “Do you have any other professions?”
Lu Xiu replied, “No! I’m still a graduate student!”
“Why did you beat them up?” Jiang Hong asked.
Finally, dinner was over. Jiang Hong and Lu Xiu slowly walked back home along Binjiang Road, with dazzling lights along the way. There were neon-lit sightseeing boats on the river, and across the river was a grand theater resembling a sailing ship.
“Why shouldn’t I beat them up? I was being polite not to dismantle their office!” Lu Xiu retorted. “They are the ones protecting Chongqing, and if you were kidnapped by a demon, it’s their responsibility.”
“But how would they know that I was kidnapped?” Jiang Hong said.
“Exorcists have specialized monitoring equipment,” Lu Xiu said again. “If they don’t know anything, what are they here for?”
“In the end, it was you who came,” Jiang Hong said.
“If I had arrived late, would you have been in danger?” Lu Xiu said.
“Yes,” Jiang Hong responded, but he felt that the delivery driver was working quite hard.
“Is the pay good for exorcists?” Jiang Hong asked.
“It’s alright, just a job,” Lu Xiu casually replied.
The life of an exorcist who banished demons might seem mysterious, but to them, it was just a way to make a living. Thinking about this, Jiang Hong suddenly felt that it wasn’t as mysterious as he initially thought.
“Why did you become an exorcist?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Huh?” Lu Xiu wasn’t sure if Jiang Hong was asking about “everyone” or just himself.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Lu Xiu said. “I didn’t want to learn anything else. As for others, I don’t know. Maybe for world peace. I don’t know why we’re called exorcists instead of demon hunters. Don’t ask me that question.”
Jiang Hong laughed and changed the direction of his shoulder bag, walking backwards along the riverbank.
“Wow, that’s cool,” Jiang Hong said. “Do you know a lot of spells?”
“A little,” Lu Xiu replied. Compared to yesterday, Lu Xiu was speaking more.
He thought Jiang Hong was going to ask him to perform a spell, but instead Jiang Hong asked, “Are there really a lot of demons in the world?”
“What do you think?” Lu Xiu responded.
Having just been kidnapped by a demon, Jiang Hong naturally knew the answer to that question. Considering the size of Chongqing branch, there were indeed many secrets hidden in the real world.
“The intersection between the inner and outer worlds is rare, and crossovers are infrequent,” Lu Xiu said. “Protecting mortals and preventing them from being frightened is one of the responsibilities of exorcists. But in the past ten years, with the abnormality of the earth’s veins, the invisible barrier that exorcists maintain is gradually being broken.”
Jiang Hong roughly understood what Lu Xiu was saying. His explanation was relatively simple.
“Why is that happening?”
“I don’t know,” Lu Xiu replied.
Jiang Hong: “Thank you, Lu Xiu. Although I know you don’t need my thanks.”
Lu Xiu and Jiang Hong walked slowly, with Jiang Hong walking backwards and keeping a distance of half a meter from him. They both looked into each other’s eyes.
Jiang Hong asked, “Who can be an exorcist?”
“Anyone can,” Lu Xiu answered casually.
“Is there training?” Jiang Hong said.
“In recent years, a university has been established,” Lu Xiu said.
Jiang Hong became interested immediately. “Wow, there’s a university? Is it the Sky University that the exorcist director mentioned?”
Lu Xiu didn’t answer.
Jiang Hong asked, “Is it difficult to get in? Is it recruiting from the national college entrance examination?”
“Are you thinking of becoming an exorcist now?” Lu Xiu asked.
Jiang Hong made a gesture. “I… have a little bit of interest. I still have to repeat my senior year. Will they teach spells in college? Even if I learn them, I can’t use them in the real world, unless innocent people are in danger, like what happened to me last night…”
As he spoke, Jiang Hong looked towards Jialing River Bridge in the distance. He had unknowingly stepped into a world full of fantasies.
“…Exorcists are very impressive.” Jiang Hong thought, if he learned spells too, perhaps he could fly and save people with Lu Xiu.
“Did that demon lady really mistake me for someone else?” Jiang Hong asked. “Why was she so sure?”
“Sure about what?” Lu Xiu asked casually.
As they passed by Hongya Cave, they saw bustling lights and crowds on the opposite side of the road. They leaned on the railing by the river, looking up at the night view of Hongya Cave.
Jiang Hong bought two bottles of cola and handed one to Lu Xiu.
“She kept asking me,” Jiang Hong said suspiciously, “about finding something.”
“Hmm, what did she want?” Lu Xiu asked.
“Huh?” Jiang Hong noticed something. “Why didn’t you ask me anything about what happened when I was caught last night?”
Lu Xiu was puzzled. “Aren’t you afraid?”
Jiang Hong said, “Although I’m afraid, I still need to explain to you what happened. Otherwise, how can we investigate this… case?”
Lu Xiu said, “Since you’re afraid, I won’t ask anymore, so you don’t have to worry about it again. Is that hard to understand?”
Jiang Hong finally realized that Lu Xiu didn’t mention anything about last night’s incident, and instead chose to investigate through the Exorcist Committee, because he didn’t want to make him recall the experience repeatedly, which could cause psychological trauma.
“Ah, you’re so kind!” Jiang Hong exclaimed.
“Get down, this is a tourist attraction!” Lu Xiu was at a loss, as Jiang Hong jumped and climbed all over him.
“I’m not afraid anymore,” Jiang Hong said seriously. “No, I haven’t been afraid since you appeared.”
“Alright, go ahead.” Lu Xiu opened his Coke and muttered, “I’m all ears.”
So Jiang Hong carefully recounted the events of the previous night, and Lu Xiu listened expressionlessly. It wasn’t until Jiang Hong mentioned the “Sword of Wisdom” that Lu Xiu’s expression changed slightly.
“The Sword of Wisdom?” Lu Xiu frowned. “Two insignificant demons are looking for the Sword of Wisdom?”
“What’s that?” Jiang Hong asked.
“It’s a magical treasure,” Lu Xiu said. “Go on. Is there any detail that can reveal the enemy’s identity? Try to recall.”
Jiang Hong suddenly remembered the words “Wuyou Housekeeping” on the tool kit used by the bat demon. “Ah! I remember!”
“Hmm.” Lu Xiu still reacted coldly.
Finally, Jiang Hong said, “And then that ‘big and black thing’ suddenly appeared…”
Lu Xiu: “…”
Lu Xiu signaled him to stop talking.
“Is the Sword of Wisdom important?” Jiang Hong asked again.
“Perhaps. I don’t care about anything other than you… and the demons,” Lu Xiu said. As he spoke, he glanced at Jiang Hong again, obviously more concerned about Jiang Hong’s safety.
“How many exorcists are there in the world?” Jiang Hong asked.
“There are more than 40,000 registered in China, but most of them are registered but not working,” Lu Xiu answered lazily. “There are over 10,000 still active, I don’t know about foreign countries. Aren’t you going home yet?”
“Are you one of the most powerful exorcists?” Jiang Hong asked as he and Lu Xiu walked home.
“I’m okay,” Lu Xiu said. “I don’t know. I’ve never had the experience of fighting against all exorcists at once.”
“Are there rankings for exorcists?” Jiang Hong asked again.
Lu Xiu glanced at Jiang Hong.
“I’m the best in the world,” Lu Xiu finally said. “Is that the answer you wanted?”
Jiang Hong laughed heartily and took Lu Xiu back to his house, where his family had all gone out and only the two of them were left.
“You go take a shower first,” Jiang Hong said. “We’ll sleep in my room tonight. I’ll give you a bathrobe, and I’ll wash your clothes.”
Lu Xiu didn’t refuse. Jiang Hong took his shirt, pants, and underwear to wash. Suddenly, he had a feeling that they had known each other for a very long time. Lu Xiu was like the big brother next door when they were kids, and this meeting was just a reunion after several years of separation.