After every great fire, there are ants that survive - Foreword.
On the outskirts of the capital city of Yong'an, there was a natural reserve in the Western Hills.
Two rounds of autumn rain had passed, and most of the red leaves on the hillside had fallen. Few visitors were around, and the only sound came from the lonely evening drum in the temple. Despite the already cold weather, Xuan Ji was sweating after climbing the mountain. The Director Xiao who was leading the way walked too fast, rolling his feet like two windmills, and he ended up gliding to the back door of the mountaintop temple, leaving Xuan Ji breathless.
Director Xiao went to open the door, and Xuan Ji finally caught his breath, teasing, "Director Xiao, we are at least leading cadres now, can you be a little more stable? I've been nervous all the way, afraid that you might slip."
"Stop talking nonsense, I still have other things to do later," Director Xiao opened the door and impatiently waved his hand at him. "Hurry up!"
Director Xiao's full name was Xiao Zheng, he was around thirty years old, dressed in a suit without a wrinkle, sharp-featured, like a hard-to-please young man. He hurriedly walked up the steps and led Xuan Ji through the staff passage of the temple, straight to the backyard where visitors were prohibited. The backyard was empty except for an old well. Director Xiao took out his wallet and waved his work ID card in front of the well. "Remember to bring your ID card to work in the future. You need to swipe your card to enter and exit."
As soon as he finished speaking, a light "ding" sounded from the well. Immediately after, the green stones around the well began to slowly separate, revealing a tunnel that could fit one person.
Director Xiao lowered his head and went in, and Xuan Ji quickly followed. They walked for about a hundred meters in the tunnel before arriving at a flight of stone steps leading upwards. After following the steps back up to the surface, Xuan Ji found himself in a dense forest. Before he could get a good look, the surroundings were shrouded in thick fog, and the visibility dropped to less than one meter. Then, a white light shot out from the forest and scanned over the two of them. A mechanical voice said, "Identity verification, please wait - ding, verification passed. Good evening, Director Xiao. Welcome, new colleague. Please be careful and stand firmly."
Xuan Ji asked, "Ah? Stand where?"
As he spoke, the ground under his feet suddenly started to move. Unprepared, Xuan Ji stumbled backward before he could steady himself. The ground in the dense forest had become a huge conveyor belt, carrying the two of them through the labyrinth-like fog. The plants hidden in the fog were indistinct and turned into afterimages, making the scene dazzling and dizzying. After about five or six minutes, the conveyor belt gradually slowed down and came to a stop.
"We have arrived," said Director Xiao.
The thick fog dissipated, and Xuan Ji looked up at the magnificent building in front of him. After a moment, he slowly breathed out and said, "What an imposing sight!"
It was a skyscraper that seemed almost unreal, with its upper floors reaching into the clouds. Two guards stood watch at the entrance, which was adorned with the national emblem and flag. The ground was paved with white marble tiles, and there was a lively golden dragon etched onto the stone. A large sign hung in the center, reading: National Bureau of Management, Prevention and Control of Exceptional Phenomena and Special Species.
This was the legendary Bureau of Paranormal Control," one of the most mysterious "departments" and Xuan Ji's new workplace. The introduction in the employee handbook quickly came to mind: "The Bureau of Paranormal Control is responsible for identifying, monitoring, and handling various non-natural events, as well as the movement of paranormal energy throughout the entire region, maintaining social order, and safeguarding national prosperity and stability."
This department was responsible for managing events such as "illegal entry of vampire bats," "appearance of unknown whirlpools in the city's rivers," and "three-headed water monster incidents."
In addition, the Bureau of Paranormal Control was the only official organization in which special ability holders could exercise autonomy.
According to the results of the 2010 sixth national census (internal data of the Bureau of Paranormal Control), approximately one in two hundred thousand people were special ability holders, also known as "specials."
The official explanation for the existence of these people was that a small number of modern humans may have been careless about male-female relationships in the process of evolution, leaving some non-human blood and preserving some special genes in their descendants. Of course, this theory is difficult to verify, as the special abilities of the "specials" are so diverse that each one is almost unique, and it is difficult to obtain sufficient sample data.
As for folk legends, they are much more interesting: it is said that in ancient times, the war between the human race and the demon race lasted for a hundred years, resulting in a long-standing blood feud. The half-breeds left by the mixed-blood demon people were rejected by both sides and were forced to band together for warmth, eventually joining the army of Emperor Wu. With their help, Emperor Wu defeated the demon king, and after peace was restored to the world, he established the Qingping Division to house these half-breeds. The Qingping Division was the predecessor of the Bureau of Paranormal Control, and today's "specials" are the descendants of those mixed-blood half-breeds. Of course, anyone with a little common sense knows that this claim is pure nonsense, as the Qingping Division was disbanded more than seven hundred years ago in history, and there is no connection to the Bureau of Paranormal Control, which was established in modern times.
In fact, the so-called "specials" are not that "special" at all. In reality, most of them are not much different from ordinary people if they do not receive special training, with at most a slightly sharper sense of hearing or vision, and a more acute intuition. They have some tiny, insignificant special abilities that are of little help in daily life.
The Bureau of Paranormal Control only recruits people on a targeted basis every year, not open to the general public, only selecting from "specials" and ordinary people who have "participated in exceptional energy events for some reason and have been documented."
Xuan Ji met both criteria—he was a "special," and an old friend of the Bureau of Paranormal Control.
Director Xiao was a very dignified and elegant person, and the fact that he personally came to pick up Xuan Ji shows that they have a close relationship.
Several years ago, when he was still Captain Xiao, he owed Xuan Ji a favor. That time, Xiao's team went to arrest a group of illegal bats, but underestimated their intelligence and were tricked into a cold storage room by the bats, almost freezing to death. Xuan Ji, who had just finished touring the night market, was passing by in his slippers. He sat next to them and watched for a while, during which he enjoyed two kilograms of crayfish. After finishing, he wiped his mouth, made a gesture, and summoned a large fireball, which he used to burn the bats. As a result, he accidentally singed off half of Captain Xiao's handsome eyebrows.
Since then, Xuan Ji has had an inexplicable relationship with the Bureau of Paranormal. Because of his mysterious and unpredictable arson technique, he was once on the bureau's watch list. Later, because of his clean record and law-abiding nature, they couldn't find any problems and relaxed their surveillance of him, even trying to recruit him. Unfortunately, at that time, Xuan Ji was still in college and was filled with illusions of "becoming a CEO, marrying a rich and beautiful woman, and reaching the pinnacle of life". Without even thinking about it, he refused, arrogantly replying with "forgive me for being a carefree and free-spirited person for life."
Then society taught him a lesson.
After graduating, Xuan Ji quickly discovered that he was far less interested in making money than in spending it. His ambitions were always thwarted by eating, drinking, and having fun. After years of struggling, his biggest achievement was accepting the fact that he was going nowhere. He worked as a salesperson in a small company and occasionally did live streaming. When he was too poor to survive, he supplied content to some random marketing accounts, becoming a "money-spending" loser.
Due to industry restructuring, their company had been struggling since the beginning of the year, and after months of struggle, it finally went bankrupt. Xuan Ji became an unemployed youth, and the marketing accounts that used to pay him for his content were reported for "feudal superstition". It seemed that troubles always came in pairs. He still had to pay rent and credit card bills. His love of freedom led him into poverty, and finally, after being beaten by society, he came to the conclusion that he needed a stable job.
So he bought books and took courses to prepare for the civil service exam.
It was at this time that Director Xiao, who had just been promoted, sent him a job notice.
Xuan Ji was someone who would rather beg for food on the street than join the Bureau of Paranormal Control, especially since he couldn't stand the militarized management of the field agents. However, this job notice was different. It was mainly for logistics personnel.
The logistics department of the Bureau of Paranormal was completely different from the field agents. More than 80% of the staff were ordinary people, and except for having to abide by confidentiality regulations, they were no different from ordinary civil servants. Xuan Ji thought about it and realized that ordinary civil service positions were open to the entire society, with thousands of people competing for one position, including the academic elites. In contrast, the "civil servants" of the Bureau of Paranormal were restricted by the application requirements, and the competition pressure was almost non-existent.
Sneakily, Xuan Ji asked Director Xiao which position had the least number of applicants, and then threw away his exam preparation books and went to join the Bureau of Paranormal Control. He applied for the Aftermath Department and participated in a written test and an interview. It was said that after the job information was posted, there were six candidates including him from all over the country who intended to participate in the selection. Among them, three were disqualified for reasons such as being overage, not knowing how to use the internet, or filling out important information incorrectly. The remaining two candidates, one missed the exam and the other got into an argument with the interviewer during the interview, which did not meet the requirements of having an "easygoing character".
In this way, the cordial Xuan Ji passed through two rounds without a fight and "defeated" five candidates. Just after finishing his self-introduction during the interview, the interviewer confirmed his admission.
On his first day reporting for duty, Xuan Ji found everything fresh and new. As soon as he stepped on the Hanbaiyu bricks at the entrance, the golden dragon moved, causing the stone bricks to shake slightly. Then, a distant and solemn dragon roar sounded, and the golden scales on the dragon's body flickered. Its majesty and elegance flowed out from under their feet, making way for the path, and finally, the dragon climbed up a stone pillar in front of the building.
"The dragon is a guide. There are some external administrative windows in the headquarters that can register and issue credentials. Foreign visitors are given temporary documents. The dragon will plan the optimal route based on the type of document you have," Xiao Zheng led Xuan Ji to the door next to the stone pillar where the golden dragon perched. "The staff entrance is over here."
Xuan Ji lowered his head and rubbed his eyes, using his thumb to wipe his eyelids. A half-transparent, non-obstructing book appeared in his field of vision. One corner of the book was titled "Thousand Demon Bestiary". When his gaze focused on it, small characters appeared on the pages of the book, telling him what he saw. It usually only showed the name, but sometimes it also came with a detailed explanation.
Xuan Ji was born with this book in his eyes, perhaps it was a special ability he had since birth. It couldn't be taken out, and besides reading it, it couldn't perform any other functions. Its origin was unknown, the author was unknown...the author looked like he or she wasn't very cultured - Xuan Ji was not good at foreign languages when he was young, and when he was in college, he tried to cheat using it during the English test by opening the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" and staring at the test paper. Unexpectedly, this thing seemed to have fewer characters than the ones he knew. After hesitating for a long time, it finally floated out the characters "foreign language."
It's like a lousy game cheat, mostly just talking nonsense. For example, at the moment, Xuan Ji is in the lobby of the Mystical Department of the Bureau of Paranormal Control, intending to open the Bestiary and see what magical species there were here. As he scanned the crowd in the lobby, the pages of the "Thousand Demon Bestiary" only popped out the word "human" dryly.
"Rubbish," Xuan Ji muttered to himself, "I don't know these are called 'human'?"
The Bestiary seemed to be in tune with his thoughts, and the word "human" disappeared, replaced by two words: mortal human.
Xuan Ji: "......"
He angrily closed the useless Bestiary, and his vision cleared. He looked around the lobby - from left to right, there were six partitions in total, with signs reading "Metal," "Plant," "Ice and Water," "Thunder and Fire," "Spirit or Power," and "Special and Others."
Among them, the "Plant" and "Spirit or Power" areas were crowded with people, and visitors were queuing up, with ropes set up to maintain order. In the "Metal" area, there were only six or seven visitors, while the "Ice and Water," "Thunder and Fire," and "Special and Others" areas were basically deserted, and the staff were idle. The service window of the "Thunder and Fire" was not even open, as they were called over to help the "Plant" next door.
"Hey, Old Xiao, Old Xiao," Xuan Ji grabbed Xiao Zheng and pointed to the partition sign with his chin, "What does this mean?"
"Speak normally, don't touch me," Xiao Zheng slapped away his hand, "What do you mean by 'what does this mean'?"
Xiao Zheng looked at him inexplicably, "Partition? It's divided according to the six major categories, what's the problem?"
Xuan Ji, full of curiosity, asked, "What are the six major systems?"
Xiao Zheng and Xuan Ji had been old friends for many years. They would usually banter and tease each other, and had a certain level of camaraderie. However, Xuan Ji had never revealed his origins to Xiao Zheng. Until now, Xiao Zheng could only vaguely guess that Xuan Ji might come from some secret folk organization as a rare "Thunder and Fire" type, and was incredibly knowledgeable about talismans and magic circles, knowing things that were unheard of.
But strangely, sometimes he would lack common sense on some well-known issues.
"Superpowered individuals are classified into six major types based on their strength and attributes," Xiao Zheng said briefly. "This is the mainstream classification system used internationally in modern times, and the defining criteria for each spectrum is listed under the respective signboards. Can you read? Look for yourself."
Xuan Ji eagerly leaned over the glass window separating them from the employee area, observing how they defined the various types of superpowered individuals.
The closest signboard to him was "Metal," with a large sign two square meters in size that read:
"Individuals who meet either of the following two conditions can be considered as having the Metal-type superpower.
(1) They possess a sensing ability for any one or more metals that exceeds that of an ordinary person. This 'sensing ability' includes but is not limited to accurately sensing the location, volume, composition ratio, forging process, and distribution of free electrons on the surface of the metal.
(2) They are able to influence metal without physical contact, including but not limited to changing the spatial location, altering the length and shape of metal, depriving or moving the free electrons in metal, and changing the distribution of free electrons."
"So 'Metal’ refers to those who can sense and control metal," Xuan Ji said. "But what about those who can turn parts of their body into metal? Aren't they considered Metal types?"
"I've never heard of that," Xiao Zheng rolled his eyes. "You're an adult, watch fewer Transformers."
Xuan Ji blinked and asked again, "What about those who have multiple attributes at the same time? For example, they can breathe fire, control metal, and fly?"
"That's not our concern, the organizational relationship may belong to the circus." Xiao Zheng felt he was talking nonsense, his patience exhausted, and he didn't want to bother with him anymore. He walked quickly to the administrative front desk at the end of the employee channel, knocked on the desk, and asked, "Employee number 3-1101, name 'Xuan Ji,' is the card ready?"
"It's ready," the receptionist at the front desk, a pretty round-faced girl who seemed to have heard their conversation just now, smiled and said to Xuan Ji, "In the six major spectra of special abilities, except for the 'special and other' category, the rest basically correspond to the traditional Chinese 'Five Elements' theory. The Five Elements include 'metal, wood, water, fire, and earth,' which interact with each other in both positive and negative ways. Therefore, although there are special ability individuals with multiple attributes, it's unlikely for a person to have attributes that clearly conflict with each other, such as 'metal' and 'thunder and fire'."
After hearing the front desk girl's words, Xuan Ji hesitated for a moment and said, "Oh," thoughtfully murmuring to himself, "I didn't know that."
"Come sign and pick up your card, and complete your onboarding process," Xiao Zheng beckoned to Xuan Ji.
Xuan Ji no longer thought about special ability spectra, happily walked up to pick up the pen, and without even looking, signed his name on a pile of contracts and disclosure documents. "Do I now have a position? Can I get a hukou? Can I buy a house in Yong'an City?" he asked.
"Yes, yes, and yes," Xiao Zheng answered coldly, "But do you have the money?"
Xuan Ji: "..."
"You're an old hand at this, so you don't need to attend the training. Your department and job responsibilities are all in the employee handbook. Your predecessor couldn't hand over the work to you due to some special circumstances. The department office is on the 36th floor. I've already informed them, so someone will pick you up. Go up by yourself," Xiao Zheng said to Xuan Ji, nodding to the receptionist as if he were an emotionless delivery man. He felt that he had done a good deed and fulfilled his duty.
After speaking, the busy Director Xiao didn't give Xuan Ji a chance to retort. He turned and left. Xuan Ji didn't have a chance to complain about the coldness of human relationships before he saw the receptionist stand up and say crisply, "Director Xiao, take care. Welcome, Director Xuan, to join our Bureau of Paranormal Control."
Xuan Ji was taken aback. "What did you call me?"
"Director." The receptionist handed him his new work ID card, which showed his position: Xuan Ji, Aftermath Department, Acting Head of Operations and Acting Department Director.
Xuan Ji flipped the small card back and forth several times, feeling a little confused. "Aftermath Department...Director? Me? Miss, did you print the card wrong?"
The receptionist replied, "No, Director Xuan. That's how it's written on the documents I received."
Xuan Ji was shocked. "Is our department really that unconventional?"
A trainee who hadn't even completed the probation period was promoted directly to department director? This unit was too hasty and unreliable, wasn't it?
"You're too modest," the receptionist laughed, covering her mouth. "Normally, we're thrilled just to be able to talk to Director Xiao, but you were personally mentored by him. You must be an incredibly talented and exceptional person."
This girl was actually a fan of Director Xiao. Although Xuan Ji was flattered, he didn't enjoy being praised in front of him. He felt like he had benefited from Xiao's influence and was like a nephew who had been given a position due to nepotism.
"There are very few exceptional people in our logistics department, and anyone who is exceptional receives elite treatment. As a backup department director, it's not surprising for you to take over the Aftermath Department. Gong, the former director of the department, fell ill and was just approved for medical retirement, leaving a vacancy. According to Director Xiao, you were once an advisor to our bureau, so you must have both the experience and the ability to take over the Aftermath Department. " While speaking, the receptionist led him inside. "Follow me."
"Although..." Xuan Ji frowned slightly, skeptical. "Is there really such a good thing?"
He had never won more than five yuan in the lottery and had never eaten a pie falling from the sky. Suddenly tasting this sweetness made him uncomfortable, and he felt suspicious.
Wait a minute... Xuan Ji suddenly remembered that he had looked at the job posting and left a message in his friend's circle asking Xiao Zheng which position was the easiest to apply for. Instead of jokingly replying with "toilet tester," Xiao Zheng had replied seriously after a moment of silence: "Aftermath Department."
Wait, was Xiao Zheng doing this intentionally?
Have you heard of the principle of cheating people for their money, cheating them for sex, and cheating them to become officials?
Xuan Ji couldn't figure it out. He walked through the administrative hall and into the interior of the Control Bureau building. There, he saw a huge withered tree in the open space in front of the elevator. He didn't know what kind of tree it was, but the diameter of the trunk was about a hundred meters, and it was covered with withered vines. Looking up from the bottom, he couldn't see the top at a glance.
Because the visual effect was too shocking, it seemed almost divine.
Xuan Ji looked at the tree and inexplicably felt a tremor in his heart. The receptionist next to him turned around and said, "This is the foundation tree. The tree was here first, and then the headquarters building was built. Isn't it spectacular? Shall I take you around?"
Xuan Ji wiped his eyes and looked through the Thousand Demon Bestiary. However, he found that the pages were blank. After a while, four words floated up on the atlas with a rattling sound: "withered vines and decayed wood."
Xuan Ji's eyes twitched. What a useless thing!
At this moment, his cell phone in his pocket suddenly vibrated, and three messages came in a row.
"Emergency mission in the Aftermath Department, come to the 36th floor!"
Xuan Ji: "..."
Xiao Zheng was not only a tornado of a person, but even the messages he sent were suffocating.
"Before I came, you cheated me by saying that the Aftermath Department was a marginal group, with no competition, only eating and not working. But now, before I even report, there's a mission. No need, miss, I won't go sightseeing anymore. Director Xiao is in a hurry. The elevator is over there, right? You go ahead, I'll go up by myself. Thanks." Xuan Ji said goodbye to the receptionist who was leading the way and walked towards the elevator. He also sent a voice message to Director Xiao, "You big pig's foot."
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