On this afternoon, the members of dormitory 903 gathered together again for a collective activity: attending a class on magical tool identification and production. This was a required course for all exorcists, and the final assessment required them to submit a research paper on magical tools and to purchase one from Xiaodongmen Antique City. The paper accounted for 40% of the grade, while the practical aspect accounted for 60%.
Jiang Hong listened to the lecture attentively, as he knew that if he couldn’t practice magic on his own, he would have to rely on magical tools to help him. Broadly speaking, magical tools encompassed all media that could encapsulate energy, including electromagnetic fields. Even batteries were considered a type of magical tool.
Narrowly defined, magical tools were objects that possessed engraved meridian circuits, and could be used to exert their power on the environment.
Therefore, the protective charm given to Jiang Hong by Lu Xiu was also a magical tool. Jiang Hong took out the charm and carefully examined it, surmising that it probably encapsulated a special, interference-free communication spell. The activation condition was to hold the charm and call out Lu Xiu’s name.
There were four specialized courses for first-year exorcist students: magical theory, exploration of the spiritual world, exorcism practice, and magical tool identification and production. There were also four general education courses: the history of exorcism, college English, introductory computer science, and Marxist philosophy. This was Jiang Hong’s class schedule for the first semester.
But wouldn’t it be contradictory for a group of exorcists to study Marxist philosophy? Jiang Hong wondered what the curriculum designers were thinking. One moment they were talking about “matter is the foundation of the world,” and the next moment, after class, they were talking about “three ways to transform the world with spiritual power.” Didn’t they contradict each other?
Jiang Hong had just finished a week’s worth of classes. In his dorm room, because He Jian was studying talismans, there were abandoned yellow papers everywhere. He Jian was also diligently using a brush and cinnabar ink to draw ghost symbols, and the everyone’s bed in the dorm room was covered in half-dried talismans.
“When your family is so rich,” Xiao Pi asked when he visited, “do you still have to work this hard? Are you trying to get appointed as an exorcist?”
He Jian replied, “Sigh, the demon king is not around, and there is a lot of infighting among the demon clan. If you want to secure a good position in the demon association, you also need a graduate degree.”
“Who is the demon king anyway?” Jiang Hong had no idea about the inner workings of the other world.
“Don’t you know anything?” He Jian asked.
“It’s our missing principal,” Xiao Pi explained. “His name is Xiang Cheng.”
“Oh, him!” Jiang Hong exclaimed. “I’ve heard his name mentioned several times. He must be very powerful.”
“He’s simply unbelievable! It’s all thanks to him that I was able to gain some dragon power and become human. For someone like me who’s weak…”
Xiao Pi started to feel sorry for himself again, but Jiang Hong quickly comforted him. One weakling consoling another, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for himself as well.
In the first week, Jiang Hong followed along in the six sessions of spell theory basics. Xie Liao started checking everyone’s ability to use spells and listened to classmates talk about any difficulties they were having with spellcasting, except for Jiang Hong. He didn’t check Jiang Hong’s spells.
In a week’s time, everyone had mastered the basic usage of fire, and could already conjure fireballs.
Jiang Hong looked on with envy at his classmates, sighing to himself that he could only take notes seriously.
In the second week, Xie Liao started teaching the second usage of fire.
“To be honest, you don’t need to care too much,” Xie Liao said mysteriously to Jiang Hong after class. “Most exorcists can react to danger with just one or two spells. In the end, they’ll still use their most commonly used and familiar methods. This is what they call their ‘signature move.’ I have a feeling that these spells I’m teaching won’t be very useful in the end.”
Jiang Hong had seen Xu Xuyang and exorcists from Chongqing use their spells to capture demons. Their techniques were not varied, and it looked like they were just setting off fireworks. Even Lu Xiu’s most commonly used spell was a strange incantation.
“When and what kind of technique you use to defeat your opponent is very important!”
In practice class, Xia Xinghui walked past the students gathered together in a fan shape. They were all facing a summoned small Xuanwu (1).
“You need to predict your enemy’s next move based on the danger you face! Don’t be a one-trick-pony!”
Jiang Hong still hadn’t been given any homework, and he seemed to have become a special case among the problem students. Watching everyone use their supernatural skills learned in class, he couldn’t help but feel a bit lost.
“After lunch, go to the fourth floor of the administrative building,” Xia Xinghui passed by Jiang Hong and whispered in his ear.
Jiang Hong responded with an “oh” and continued sitting cross-legged, cheering on his classmates who were trying out their spells.
Jiang Hong let out a sigh.
He suddenly wanted to see Lu Xiu at noon, but ever since summoned Lu Xiu for class that day, Lu Xiu was always busy. When he took the initiative to ask Lu Xiu out today, he got the same response: “I’m busy today. Find someone else to eat lunch with.”
Jiang Hong felt that things had been a little strange between them since Lu Xiu got angry that one time. Was he still concerned about it?
He decided to take some time to himself. After enrolling in school, he always moved around with his roommates or classmates. Sometimes he needed to be alone to sort out his thoughts.
After getting his lunch, Jiang Hong sat in a corner eating when he received a message from Lu Xiu.
Lu Xiu: “Why are you eating alone?”
Jiang Hong immediately turned his head to look for Lu Xiu, but where was he?
Lu Xiu: “Stop looking around. I’m not in the cafeteria. A friend told me.”
After a moment, Lu Xiu added: “Not a very close friend. More like a classmate.”
Jiang Hong thought to himself that graduate students must also have classmates, right?
Lu Xiu then asked: “Why don’t you hang out with your roommates? Don’t get along?”
Jiang Hong had originally planned to say that he just wanted to be alone, but he decided to tell the truth.
“Besides you, I don’t want to see anyone else,” Jiang Hong replied.
Lu Xiu’s side showed that he was typing…
Jiang Hong continued, “Because everyone else is in practice class, casting spells, and I was just sitting on the side watching. That’s when I suddenly wanted to summon you…but it’s okay now.”
Lu Xiu’s side continued typing for a moment and then stopped. Jiang Hong waited for his response while finishing his lunch.
Jiang Hong told him about going to the administrative building, and then Lu Xiu’s side fell silent.
Jiang Hong picked up his sports bag and decided to go skateboarding around campus.
He arrived at the administrative building and pressed the elevator button.
“The fourth floor,” the system said, “is the residence of the ‘Riding a Dragon to Buy Vegetables’ class S group.”
Jiang Hong was confused.
He peeked around and looked down the corridor, but none of the doors had signs on them. One of the doors opened and Cao Bin’s voice came from inside, “Jiang Hong, come in.”
“Hello, principal,” Jiang Hong said.
He walked into a room that was set up like a small entertainment bar with six high stools, a pool table, a pinball machine, and a dart board on the wall.
In the corner was a tripod piano and an old-fashioned record player.
“Hey, where are we?” Jiang Hong asked curiously.
Cao Bin was making hand-drip coffee behind the bar. “It’s a friend’s entertainment bar in the administrative building. Want to try the coffee I made today?”
“Thanks,” Jiang Hong said. “After drinking today’s coffee, will I remember my past life?”
“No no,” said Cao Bin, “just a regular coffee. Can you put on a record for me? You can choose the song.”
Jiang Hong happily went to the shelf in the corner and selected a classical music record. He remembered the first day he arrived at school and heard Fei Yuqing’s song from afar. It must have come from here.
He had a feeling that Cao Bin had discussed his spiritual vein aptitude during the meeting and today’s meeting was to inform him of the results.
Bach’s music began to play.
Cao Bin asked, “Do you like classical music?”
Jiang Hong replied, “Hmm, when I was a child, I was forced to play Bach for a long time. As long as I’m not the one playing, I quite enjoy listening to it.”
“Very good,” said Cao Bin as he prepared the filter paper, weighed the coffee beans, and ground them.
Jiang Hong asked, “Very good?”
Cao Bin replied, “There is a direct correlation between music and memory. An exorcist familiar with a musical instrument has an innate advantage in breaking through the constraints of memory.”
“Oh?” Jiang Hong asked, “But I don’t have spiritual vein aptitude, so… is it still possible?”
Cao Bin looked up from the coffee powder and glanced at Jiang Hong. Then he said, “Have you ever considered dropping out of school because you don’t have spiritual vein aptitude?”
“Of course not. Because… um… how should I say it?” Jiang Hong replied.
Cao Bin placed the kettle on the induction cooker, wiped his hands with a towel, and said, “Because you’ve already dropped out of school once, and it would be a bit embarrassing to do it again.”
Jiang Hong laughed, realizing that this vice principal seemed to have the power to read people’s minds.
“Yes,” Jiang Hong said. “After all, the second enrollment was my own decision. It’s not good to be indecisive as a person. And more importantly, maybe it’s because… of Lu Xiu?”
“Why is that?” Cao Bin asked calmly. “Love?”
“No!” Jiang Hong exploded instantly. “Vice principal! Don’t get me wrong!”
Cao Bin gestured for Jiang Hong to continue.
Jiang Hong hurriedly clarified, “I don’t like boys. Everyone has a hero complex, right? In any case, I admire him very much. Look what you’re saying! Vice principal! Can’t we have a pure relationship between us? I’m not saying anything about homosexuality, but I absolutely have no improper thoughts towards my male god!”
Cao Bin said gently, “Drink some water first. Moisten your throat before continuing…”
Jiang Hong took the mineral water. “In any case, Vice Principal, don’t make wild speculations.”
Jiang Hong had never thought about this before. How could he even think like this about his male god? Vice Principal, what are you thinking about all day long?
Cao Bin replied seriously, “I trust you.”
Jiang Hong thought for a moment and asked, “So today, you have to tell me about the spiritual vein aptitude. Is there really no other way?”
“Yes,” Cao Bin said. “We had three meetings discussing this matter, and although we don’t know where the problem occurred, the aptitude jade would never be wrong.”
“Oh –” Jiang Hong was a bit disappointed. The big stone that had been hanging in his heart for these days finally fell down. Before this, he still had a little hope, such as that he might have some ability that he had never discovered and had hidden it from the powerful exorcists.
But the fact was just like that.
Cao Bin finished boiling water and began to brew coffee. He said, “Xie Liao wants to take you to Beijing for another test, but I insist that it is not necessary. We need to respect reality and accept it. If there is nothing, there is nothing.”
“Yes.” Jiang Hong thought the same as Cao Bin. Although he was a bit regretful, the fact was just like that, and it was meaningless.
“But I have already decided.” Jiang Hong breathed in the aroma of coffee and said, “I will still work hard to learn. Even if I cannot cast spells, I will become a powerful exorcist.”
Cao Bin poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Jiang Hong. “I believe you can do it too. Therefore, the school unanimously agreed to launch a special course at a very suitable time to arrange special subjects for students like you…”
“Thank you, Vice Principal,” Jiang Hong said. “The coffee is better than the last time. I will leave now… Huh? What?”
Cao Bin said, “I will personally teach this course.”
Jiang Hong: “!!!”
At this time, there was a knock on the door, and Cao Bin said, “Come in.”
Xiao Pi poked his head in at the door, and when he saw Cao Bin, he was a little nervous. “Hello, Vice Principal.”
Jiang Hong hadn’t recovered yet, and Cao Bin said, “Just sit down. This course will be very relaxed, and there will be no difficult homework, nor do you need to worry about failing the exam…”
“Xiao Pi?!” Jiang Hong was shocked.
“Ah,” Xiao Pi said timidly. “Jiang Hong, are you here for class too?”
Jiang Hong was a little flattered. “Vice Principal, are you personally teaching us?”
Cao Bin nodded. “Yes, for this grade, you two students will be taught by me personally. Starting from this week, you don’t need to attend the basic theory of spells class anymore. Of course, you can still go if you want. Exorcism practice will continue as usual.”
“Great! Is it for one semester or one academic year?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Four years,” Cao Bin said.
“But I didn’t bring anything…” Jiang Hong suddenly seemed to glimpse hope. “Do I need to go back and prepare any textbooks?”
“No, just sitting here and chatting like this is fine,” Cao Bin said. “Pi Yunhao, why are you still standing? Please sit down.”
Xiao Pi came over and sat next to Jiang Hong. He thought for a moment and said, “Principal, can you teach me how to become a qualified spirit beast?”
“It depends on you.” Cao Bin smiled.
“But Xiao Pi must have spiritual veins, right?” Jiang Hong said. “He is a demon clan, and he is a pixiu!”
Xiao Pi said, “Although I can do a little bit of magic, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe it’s because I lack confidence? My father asked me to come to the vice principal’s office…”
“This has nothing to do with your father. If you want to learn, I will teach you, just like everyone else,” Cao Bin said.
Xiao Pi felt a bit touched and said, “Thank you, vice principal!”
Cao Bin looked at his watch. “We still have one teaching assistant, but he’s late today. Let’s wait a bit longer.”
Jiang Hong warmly hugged Xiao Pi’s shoulder and thought to himself that it was great to have a companion in the useless class, although he felt a bit guilty for thinking that way.
“But I think Jiang Hong doesn’t even need to be in the useless class,” Xiao Pi said. “He can summon Lu Xiu.”
Jiang Hong replied, “I can’t rely on my senior for everything! I also hope to be able to help him out. Although he spoils me a lot, an endless cycle of taking without giving is an unequal relationship. I’m afraid that one day he’ll get tired of my uselessness… Oh, by the way, Xiao Pi, don’t let him know about this…”
“I’ve already heard it,” Lu Xiu’s voice came.
Jiang Hong: “…”
Lu Xiu still had his poker face. He was carrying a sports bag and seemed to have entered the entertainment room at some point.
“This is the teaching assistant for our course,” Cao Bin said. “Now that everyone’s here, let’s start the class.”
Cao Bin took the sports bag that Lu Xiu handed him, thought for a moment, and said, “Before we start, let me correct a misconception. This is not the useless class… Well, Lu Xiu, you can give it a name.”
“Let’s still call it the S class. I remember it was called the S class before.” Lu Xiu sat in front of the bar and turned slightly on his swivel chair.
“S stands for the image of a dragon,” Cao Bin politely said. “Even now, it’s very fitting. Very well. From now on, you are all students of the S class.”
1. Xuanwu – a powerful creature in Chinese mythology and one of the four symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is also known as the Black Tortoise. Xuanwu is often depicted as a turtle or tortoise with a snake coiled around its body, and is associated with the direction of north, the element of water, and the winter season.