In the dorm room, He Jian’s twenty-two piece set of beautifully handcrafted embroidery bedding had finally arrived. When spread out, embroideries of auspicious birds and cranes immediately filled the entire room with joy.
“This is going overboard. If it were ancient times, you would have been beheaded,” Jin commented on He Jian’s use of such luxurious items and changing the phoenix to a crane.
“It’s not ancient times now,” He Jian replied. “Demons and humans are equal.”
Jiang Hong gradually became accustomed to the fact that his two roommates were demons. Not only did he not find it scary, but he also thought it was cute. After returning to school, he heard from Jin about his cousin who performed in the circus, and knew that he was a lion. In other words, Jin was also a lion demon.
Jiang Hong was not afraid of lions or cranes at all, but snakes made him a little scared. Or it could be said that whether or not one was afraid of demons had nothing to do with whether or not they were demons themselves, but rather with what things had turned into demons. Spiders were very terrifying, while pandas were not a problem.
“Can cockroaches become demons?” Jiang Hong asked Zhang Xiting about this privately.
Zhang Xiting said, “I don’t think so. It may be that the type of spiritual vein restricts them… I can’t tell you these things, I might mislead you. They will be taught after school starts.”
Jiang Hong stopped asking and found that after this military training, as Hu Qingquan said, relationships between humans and demons had indeed improved a lot. There was no longer a clear boundary between humans and demons, and everyone did not always stick together.
“What are you really afraid of?” Zhang Xiting asked. “You are afraid of snake demons, but why aren’t you afraid of dragons? When dragons come out of the water, they are also slippery, right?”
“I am also afraid of dragons,” Jiang Hong said, “but not that kind of fear. It’s more like reverence.”
Life for everyone began to get back on track. Jin became the dormitory leader of 903 and created a group called “Jin’s Harem”. However, the group name was soon changed by Zhang Xiting to “Jin’s Daddies”. Then the group name bounced back and forth between “Jin’s Sons”, “Jin’s Husbands”, “Zhang Xiting’s Daddies”, and “Zhang Xiting’s Grandfathers”. After watching for a while, He Jian changed the group name to “He Jian’s Fans”, and a new round of competition for the naming rights of “He Jian’s Three Daddies” began after He Jian joined the battle. Finally, Jiang Hong couldn’t take it anymore and changed it to “Jiang Hong’s Brothers”, and the battle finally came to a temporary end.
Anyway, Jiang Hong was the youngest, so he didn’t mind. Everyone also gave him face and stopped fighting to be each other’s dad.
“Hey, dads, don’t go to sleep yet.”
On the morning of September 1st at 7:00, Jiang Hong got up and called out to his roommate, “Wake up, today is the first day of school.”
“Let’s sleep a little longer,” He Jian wailed. “What’s the point of getting up so early?”
“Aren’t you supposed to have a healthy schedule as a crane?” Jiang Hong just came back from a jog.
“I’m not having breakfast,” Jin said, revealing his messy, fluffy mane from under the covers. “Wake me up at 7:30.”
Jiang Hong didn’t dare lift Jin’s covers. “I brought breakfast for you guys. Get up and get ready. There’s a freshman orientation at 8:00.”
Zhang Xiting lazily lifted his head and got up. He Jian had bought a huge TV for the dorm room, and Jiang Hong had connected his Switch game console to it. The other three people in the dorm had played games until two in the morning, and now they were barely awake.
“Have you eaten?” Zhang Xiting asked.
“I had breakfast with a senior,” Jiang Hong said. He had planned to bring breakfast to Lu Xiu, but Lu Xiu had just finished fencing practice and came to eat with him instead.
From today on, their university life was about to begin. Everyone’s university experience would be rich and colorful, but some universities were destined to be more colorful than others, like Tsang Chiu University.
The freshman orientation was held in the auditorium, which was built like an opera house and could accommodate tens of thousands of people. But based on Jiang Hong’s observations over the past few days, their grade had only a little over 200 people, and there were a lot of majors, such as exorcism, that only had around ten students. Some majors had only three to five students, and there were even majors with no students.
Even if all the students from the entire school were put together, it was unclear whether the auditorium could be filled. But in terms of the goal of training, having a class of 200 exorcists was already quite a lot.
Everyone scattered and sat in the auditorium. He Jian sat down and immediately leaned on Jiang Hong’s shoulder to continue sleeping.
Xuan Hezhi arrived first and made a “gather” gesture with both hands towards everyone, saying through the microphone, “Move to the center and make it look livelier.”
No one moved. Xuan Hezhi repeated himself several times before a few reluctantly got up and moved a few rows.
Cao Bin also arrived.
“That’s Cao Bin, right?” Jin whispered to Zhang Xiting.
Zhang Xiting frowned. “My dad has met him, but I haven’t.”
“It’s him,” Jiang Hong said, “He’s really powerful.”
Jin said, “During the first nationwide exam, he was the youngest Level One Exorcist.”
Jiang Hong asked, “Do exorcists still have to take exams?”
Zhang Xiting replied, “Yes, after we graduate, we will be directly evaluated as Level Two based on our school grades, but we still have to take the Level One exam. Try not to fail any courses while in school.”
“Everyone, please move to the first four rows and fill up the middle section.”
Vice Principal Cao Bin spoke and the students stood up and gathered in the middle. It was clear that they didn’t take Xuan Hezhi seriously during normal times, but Vice Principal Cao had a lot of authority, so they had to comply.
The audience seats in the auditorium were distributed in a fan shape from front to back and from low to high. Jiang Hong and his friends sat in seats that were exactly level with the center of the stage, allowing him to make eye contact with Cao Bin.
Cao Bin glanced at him and their eyes met. Cao Bin stepped back a little and said a few words to someone on the backstage, and then a few people came over and sat in front of the sofa that had been placed in the center of the stage.
The first person was a young woman with black cloth covering her eyes. Cao Bin went over and helped her find her way to her seat. The second person was a middle-aged man who was slightly overweight, with long hair clipped back by a hairpin.
“Is that Fang Yilan?” He Jian suddenly woke up, leaned over Zhang Xiting, and asked Jin.
“Yes,” Jin replied. “Who is the second person?”
“He’s Dou Kuan.” The person in the front row, Xiao Pi, turned around. “He’s the new director of the Exorcist Committee, and he plays the piano well and manages the Internet.”
When the third person came up, the students spontaneously applauded and the applause rang out for a while.
He looked like a man who was not yet thirty years old, wearing a white shirt and black trousers. He had short hair and a handsome face, but besides his good looks, Jiang Hong felt there was something else about him, like a peculiar aura that made people feel comfortable in the sunshine.
The man had thick eyebrows and big eyes, very charming. He wore smart glasses shaped like a monocle, had fair skin, and his shirt buttons were very neat. He nodded to the students, and the applause gradually died down.
“Who is he? He’s so handsome.” Jiang Hong was a fan of good looks.
“Chen Zhen,” Zhang Xiting said. “The chairman of the Exorcist Committee. He became famous ten years ago.”
Jiang Hong sat on the edge of the audience seat, staring at Chen Zhen for a while. His expression was very calm, and his temperament was completely different from Cao Bin’s. He must be a very cultured person.
Suddenly, someone sat down on the empty seat next to Jiang Hong.
He turned his head and found that it was Lu Xiu.
Lu Xiu had just finished training and still had sweat on his body, but he didn’t smell bad at all, and he even smelled nice.
“How come you’re here?” Jiang Hong asked curiously.
“No class in the morning.” Lu Xiu whispered, “Come over and see what they’re saying. Don’t talk, listen carefully.”
On the stage, Cao Bin said, “We welcome all leaders to say a few words to everyone.”
The microphone was handed to the blindfolded woman.
“Hello everyone, my name is Fang Yilan, and I am also the director of the Oversight and Supervision Office at Cangqiong University.” The woman’s voice was sweet and gentle. “I will be responsible for urging your teachers to teach seriously for a long time, and also responsible for feedback in the school environment. If you find any problems in the school, you can write to my email at any time…”
“…We encourage reporting up the chain.” Fang Yilan smiled. “Cao Bin can’t do anything about us. In order to be able to discipline him at any time and make him serve you with dedication and care…”
The students below began to laugh, and someone shouted, “Can we report the bad food in the cafeteria?”
Xuan Hezhi immediately signaled them not to make noise.
“Of course,” Fang Yilan said. “Our educational philosophy is to cultivate first-class talents, and we have sent our talents to be your teachers and principals…”
Fang Yilan spoke in a very friendly tone, like an elder sister chatting with students, for more than ten minutes. Seeing that the students below were starting to raise their hands, Cao Bin took the microphone. “Now is not the time to make demands. If you have any questions, you can write to Director Fang, and she will personally reply to every letter. Alright, let’s move on. Minister Dou, your turn.”
Dou Kuan took the mic. “Hello everyone! You are all outstanding individuals who can sit here today! You may have inherited skills, or have extraordinary talent, choosing this path to witness a cruel and dark world, and taking on the responsibility of purifying the world. You are all very remarkable young people with lofty ideals!”
“…The 21st century is the century of the Internet, and our lives are undergoing tremendous changes because of the Internet. Compared with decades ago, negative emotions such as hatred, resentment, pain, sadness, and anger have found new breakthroughs on the Internet, and are constantly multiplying…”
“… The internet exorcism is a new topic in recent years. Looking at the list, some students have also chosen the major of information dissemination. After graduation, you are welcome to join the information department of exorcism and make great achievements in this new field.”
“… I also noticed that many students use personal communication devices. I have to say that the internet is really developed now. If you see supernatural phenomena, think twice about taking a photo and uploading it to the internet. Yes, ghosts are still okay, but especially for malicious spirits and abnormal earth energy…”
“… Every deleted photo posted online and every user who shares supernatural experiences and gets banned is due to the tireless efforts of our information department colleagues working overtime day and night…”
Jiang Hong: “……”
Jiang Hong looked at the bored students around him, who had even started playing with their phones.
“…We have colleagues who almost died in the ICU for three days last time because of a student’s ignorance. They took a photo of a lake demon and posted it online, which caused the whole group to work overtime to delete posts and erase the memories of onlookers. Therefore, internet security is really important and a top priority of the new era! As exorcists, you must consciously maintain it… Isn’t that right, vice principal?”
Cao Bin stood on the side, listening expressionlessly. Obviously, he was a bit annoyed. This Dou Kuan talked too much.
When Dou Kuan turned around, Chen Zhen carefully looked at his watch. Dou Kuan seemed to understand and quickly concluded, “Alright, that’s all I have to say! Next, I’ll leave it to your beloved Chairman Chen!”
Everyone put down their phones and applause rang out again. Chen Zhen didn’t take Dou Kuan’s microphone. Cao Bin attached a miniature microphone to Chen Zhen’s shirt.
“Hello everyone,” Chen Zhen said seriously, “Let me introduce myself. Many of you already know me. I am the chairman of the Exorcist Committee, Chen Zhen, and I am the holder of the Heart Lamp, the 273rd generation.”
The room fell silent. Jiang Hong understood that Chen Zhen was probably a male idol for many young people.
Of course, Jiang Hong’s male idol was sitting next to him. He glanced at Lu Xiu, who also lifted his head, changed his usual bored expression, and focused on Chen Zhen.
“First, I want to supplement what Director Dou said. Sadness, anger, despair, and other negative emotions that are used as outlets on the internet are not our primary target to ‘eliminate.’ They have existed for thousands of years and will continue to exist. It’s just that, with the development of the times, there are new platforms for expression.”
“What we are fighting against is the current state of negative and depressing emotions, rather than simply trying to block them. Do negative emotions have meaning? Yes, they are like the two poles of the world, like the relationship between light and darkness, always together and mutually supporting. No matter which one is eliminated, life is incomplete. Life moves forward in this kind of harmony.”
“First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your successful admission,” Chen Zhen said calmly. “Today, I want to talk about the issue of anomalies appearing in the Earth’s meridians. Many of you may have heard some news from your parents…”
Now, all the students put down their phones and looked up at Chen Zhen.
“Our world is facing an unprecedented crisis,” Chen Zhen said. “The Earth’s meridians are experiencing strange disturbances and changes. Currently, the celestial meridians are still mostly normal, but the terrestrial meridians have experienced unprecedented frequent outbreaks in the past ten years since the birth of civilization.”
“These energy outbreaks and subsequent silence have had a significant impact on the visible world, including frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes around the world, as well as the spread of plagues and raging wildfires. As we all know, in the first thirty years of the 21st century, natural disasters and man-made calamities far outnumbered the entire 100 years of the last century.”
Lu Xiu’s brow furrowed slightly, and the students began to whisper, creating a buzz.
“We are working hard to study the phenomenon that is currently occurring. Some people think that Mara will descend again…”
Now the whole auditorium was in an uproar.
“What is that?” Jiang Hong asked curiously.
“I’ll explain it to you when we get back,” Lu Xiu said.
“However, the time is too short. It has only been ten years since the last Mara incarnation. We cannot conclude whether it will happen again. Your principal is searching for the source of all this in the turbulence of time, but we have no news. In any case, if we cannot solve this smoothly, the world where demons and humans coexist may encounter a catastrophic disaster in the near future.”
The entire auditorium fell silent.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that it is the end of the world. According to our observation of the Earth’s meridians during this time period, optimistically speaking, there will be a significant event in thirty to fifty years. Pessimistically speaking, a major change will occur in five years, and we cannot predict the outcome.”
In that silence, Chen Zhen said lightly, “Why did it happen? We know nothing about it. What will happen? I have no comment. How to solve it? I have no idea. But once it happens, we must face it. The next step will be a test of time for all exorcists and all people in this world.”
“I believe that we can solve it, just like we have solved every crisis before. Everyone, I entrust the future of the world to you. Please cherish the present and immerse yourselves in your studies. When the crisis comes, please lend us a hand.”
After speaking, Chen Zhen stood up and bowed to all the students.
Everyone even forgot to applaud. After Chen Zhen finished speaking, he left with the two members of Exorcist Committee.
“What does he mean?” Jiang Hong was now very confused. First, he took a normal college entrance exam, then inexplicably entered a school to learn magic, and met a dragon and a group of demons. Now he was told that the end of the world was imminent, and he had to seriously study to save the world?!
“He exaggerated it.” Chang Jun walked with them after the meeting and said, “There are anomalies in the earth’s veins, but it’s not that serious. Many of my relatives live underground, and earthquakes occasionally occur. It may be that nature is unstable.”
“Perhaps it’s periodic.” Jin agreed with this view. “Mara won’t come again.”
Jiang Hong and Lu Xiu walked together. They still had classes later, so everyone went to the teaching building according to their respective schedules. The autumn sunshine was bright, and the breeze was refreshing. After hearing Chen Zhen’s words, Lu Xiu was lost in thought, as if there was a lot of information hidden in his words.
“Mara is a collection of resentment in the human world.” Lu Xiu came back to his senses and saw Jiang Hong looking at him, so he explained actively, “Wars, natural disasters, all cause death and suffering for living creatures. Here, ‘people’ refer to all living beings.”
“Oh…” Jiang Hong remembered what Dou Kuan had said about the wide coverage of communication channels, which facilitated rapid communication of information between people, and also easily amplified people’s emotions, integrating the thoughts of people with the same feelings.
“After death, the soul returns to the veins of heaven and earth and goes through reincarnation, but resentment and memory persist and spread throughout the earth, automatically gathering together to form Mara.” Lu Xiu continued, “Mara eventually gains self-awareness, begins to devour living things, and vies for control of the world. The Heart Lamp presided over by Chen Zhen is one of the treasures that can eradicate heavenly evil, and so is the Sword of Wisdom.”
“I understand now,” Jiang Hong said. “The job of an ‘exorcist’ is to drive away evil! This is the most important thing!”
“Right.” Lu Xiu said, “More than five million people died worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although compared to ancient wars, it’s just a small number. I think the pandemic did not cause the chaotic flow of the earth’s veins. Your ancestors were great feng shui masters, who dealt with the veins of the earth every day. Maybe you can solve this mystery.”
“But I don’t know anything,” Jiang Hong said helplessly. “And my family doesn’t have any books on this subject… but forget it.”
“Are you not going to class yet?” Lu Xiu asked.
Jiang Hong glanced at his watch. “It’s about time. I’m off.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Lu Xiu asked.
“Can you?” Jiang Hong immediately replied. “Can you sit in at the class? Sure!”
Lu Xiu didn’t say anything. He seemed to want to chat more with Jiang Hong, so he followed him to the building.
Apart from Jiang Hong, there were only five people in the class – three men and two women, one of whom was a couple who sat intimately together.
Jiang Hong didn’t know any of them but knew they were his classmates. He greeted them, and everyone seemed to know him, so they nodded back.
When Lu Xiu came in, they looked at him curiously. Lu Xiu didn’t say anything, pulled up the hood of his sports vest, and sat down next to Jiang Hong.
The first class was about basic spell theory! Jiang Hong was excited, wondering what it would be like. Would they teach spells right away?
The person who came in was a middle-aged man with thick-bottomed glasses and a slightly bald head. He was wearing a beige shirt and black trousers, and carrying a teaching briefcase. He looks very much like a high school Chinese teacher.
“Good morning, everyone,” the middle-aged man said. “My name is Xie Liao, the same Liao as A Liao Mountain.” As he said that, he wrote his name on the blackboard and noticed Lu Xiu.
Lu Xiu looked up and glanced at Xie Liao.
Xie Liao didn’t pay much attention to Lu Xiu, as if he already knew him. He took out a form and said, “Let’s take attendance. Although there are only six students in the class, we still need to get to know each other.”
“Here.” A girl sitting alone by the window raised her hand.
“Here.” The boy sitting with his girlfriend answered.
“Here.” Another tall boy in sportswear answered.
“Here.” The girl sitting with her boyfriend answered.
“Here.” The last student, a boy with a height of about 1.7 meters, wearing a skateboard T-shirt, answered.
“Jiang Hong.” Xie Liao looked at Jiang Hong, as he was the last one.
Jiang Hong responded.
Xie Liao made simple markings and annotations for each person on the form and said, “In the first class, some students might think, are we learning spells already? Isn’t it too fast?”
This was exactly what Jiang Hong was thinking.
Xie Liao continued, “Some students have a certain foundation and have been taught at home. They might think that they don’t need to listen to this class or even come to class. After all, they can rely on their family’s magic skills to pass the final exam easily, right?”
Jiang Hong thought to himself, do you guys teach magic in your family’s tutoring sessions? That’s so impressive.
Xie Liao went on to say, “So what should the students who start with zero foundation pay attention to? Let me tell you, magic is really not difficult to learn. First of all, you need to overcome your own unfamiliarity and rejection of this unknown power… Look?”
As he spoke, Xie Liao snapped his fingers and a ball of fire appeared on his finger.
“Wow!” Jiang Hong suddenly became excited and started clapping wildly, startling Lu Xiu who was sleeping beside him.
“Don’t be so loud!” Lu Xiu whispered angrily.
Jiang Hong suddenly realized that all the students in the classroom were looking at him strangely because he was the only one cheering and clapping.
Jiang Hong felt a little embarrassed.
Xie Liao nodded in gratitude, snuffed out the fireball, and said, “As long as you attend my classes, you will definitely be able to learn. Keep up with the progress, complete your assignments seriously according to the teacher’s requirements, and you won’t encounter any difficulties.”
Jiang Hong nodded gratefully. Xie Liao then turned the conversation and said, “For those students who have already mastered some spells, you must know that there is no end to learning. Everyone’s family heritage specializes in one field, which inevitably leads to bias. To become an excellent exorcist, you must study hard. Secondly, some bad spellcasting habits can cause great damage and are more likely to hurt yourself. When you come to my class, forget what you have learned before, and discard habitual thinking. Otherwise, I will not go easy on you in the final exam.”
No one answered, and some were already playing with their phones under the table.
“Next, I will give each student a small test,” Xie Liao said. “To ensure a fair test, don’t disturb each other. Everyone, please wait in the corridor for a while. I’ll call your name when it’s your turn.”
The students left one after another. The skateboarder named Lian Jiang asked Jiang Hong, “Did you not learn at home?”
“Um,” Jiang Hong replied, “my parents are ordinary people.”
“Oh…” everyone nodded.
Jiang Hong said, “Are there many students from ordinary families?”
“There shouldn’t be many,” the skateboarder said, “but I guess you’re not the only one.”
Jiang Hong was relieved to hear this.
Xie Liao called the students into the classroom one by one, and Jiang Hong was the last to enter.
“Teacher Lu?” Xie Liao had been ignoring Lu Xiu, but he couldn’t resist anymore when Jiang Hong came in. He walked over and said, “I want to do a spiritual vein aptitude assessment. Could you… leave for a while?”
Jiang Hong: “???”
Wasn’t he a graduate student? How did he become a teacher?
“I occasionally serve as a teaching assistant,” Lu Xiu explained to Jiang Hong and ignored Xie Liao. He stood up, moved to the corner of the classroom, and continued to sleep on the table.
“Teacher Lu…” Xie Liao said.
“I am his summoned beast,” Lu Xiu explained. “If you ask me to leave, he will summon me back in a while, and I will come back again.”
Xie Liao: “……………….”
Xie Liao had to stand in front of the podium, supporting it with both hands. He said to Jiang Hong, “Take this piece of jade.” He motioned for Jiang Hong to look at the circular jade on the velvet cloth in front of him.
Jiang Hong picked it up and held it in his hand, saying, “Oh, okay.”
Xie Liao: “……………….”
Jiang Hong: “???’
Xie Liao asked, “Why is there no reaction?”
Lu Xiu looked up, frowned, and glanced at Jiang Hong from a distance. Xie Liao pondered for a moment and observed Jiang Hong.
Xie Liao asked, “Have your parents ever shown a tendency towards spells, or have they claimed to know spells?”
“No, they are normal,” Jiang Hong replied.
Lu Xiu asked, “The jade didn’t light up?”
Xie Liao: “No, strange. The jade should be able to detect spiritual veins.”
Jiang Hong: “What should it have reacted to?”
Xie Liao: “It should have lit up, even if very weakly. This shouldn’t be.”
Jiang Hong: “Would it be useful if I put it in my mouth?”
Lu Xiu: “……”
Jiang Hong fiddled with it for a while, but the jade still didn’t light up, so they had to give up. Then, Xie Liao asked, “So do you have any other supernatural talents? Spiritual awareness or other things, perhaps.”
“I can summon Lu Xiu,” Jiang Hong said. “Does that count?”
Xie Liao wiped his sweat, while Lu Xiu’s expression became solemn as he asked, “Are you sure it’s not a problem with the jade?”
Xie Liao picked up the jade himself and gestured for Lu Xiu to look at it. The jade suddenly burst into five-colored light.
Lu Xiu stood up, walked to the podium, and Xie Liao handed it over to him. The jade immediately turned into a deep blue light, and after a moment, the blue light faded, turning into black light like ink.
“Wow!” Jiang Hong exclaimed in surprise.
Xie Liao and Lu Xiu looked at each other for a few seconds, and then Lu Xiu put the jade back without saying a word.
Jiang Hong asked Xie Liao, “Teacher, what does this mean?”
“It means you may not have the aptitude for spiritual veins,” Lu Xiu answered for Xie Liao.
Xie Liao immediately said, “Or it may be sealed, or there is another possibility that your spiritual vein aptitude is very special, and the jade cannot identify it.”
“Oh…” Jiang Hong looked at Lu Xiu and Xie Liao, and he understood it roughly.
“So, does that mean I can never learn spells?” Jiang Hong decided to say it himself to save Xie Liao the awkwardness.
“Not necessarily,” Xie Liao said. “I have to ask other teachers. Rest assured, there must be a way to solve this situation. You call everyone in and finish this class together. Later I will take you to find the dean.”
Jiang Hong’s mood was complicated, but he didn’t have a psychological expectation for what was happening at the moment. Therefore, he didn’t fully understand what had happened.
He called the other classmates back to the classroom and saw Xie Liao and Lu Xiu whispering. After a while, Lu Xiu signaled him to stay and continue the class, while he left first.