It took about two and a half hours to fly from the headquarters to the Chiyuan Grand Canyon. As a contemporary man, Xuan Ji has only flown first class once in his life - it was because the flight was overbooked and the airline compensated him with a free upgrade. Now he's on a departmental private jet, lying on a large couch that can be reclined, closing his eyes and listening to the engine's rumble. He almost feels like he had become a billionaire.
As he was enjoying the perks of traveling on a private jet for the first time, Xuan Ji didn't want to appear too inexperienced, so he secretly observed his colleagues' posture on the jet. He saw that Senior Sister Bi Chunseng had already prepared props to pass the time - she took out a roll of seaweed-green wool from her bag, set it up and began knitting. Her knitting needles moved with such proficiency that it was difficult for the naked eye to follow their movements. The sweater was already taking shape, except for the two sleeves.
The guy with the barcode on his head rushed to the small mirror next to the bathroom as soon as the flight stabilized, took out a jar of hair gel, and began meticulously styling his hair, filling the cabin with a fragrant scent.
The girl Ping Qianru was relatively quiet, sitting in a corner and silently eating snacks from her pocket. Xuan Ji suspected that she might have a bottomless bag in her pocket, which could carry half of Walmart with her. She kept taking bags out of her pocket, and the garbage can was filled with packaging bags, but she showed no signs of stopping.
Seeing that the other two were busy, Xuan Ji took the initiative to strike up a conversation with Bi Chunseng. He knew that the old-timers might not have completely positive opinions about a young leader who suddenly appeared out of nowhere, so he lowered his posture: "I haven't seen anyone knit a sweater by hand for a long time. You're so skillful. Is it for your child?"
"It's for my old man," Bi Chunseng was quite friendly, and Xuan Ji couldn't tell if she had any opinions of him. "Young people nowadays buy their own things and don't appreciate what their old mother made. They think it's too old-fashioned!"
Using his three-inch-tongue from his previous experience as a salesman, Xuan Ji followed her line of thought and quickly asked about Bi Chunseng's family situation - three generations living together, taking care of her mother-in-law with her husband, with a son who just graduated from college and hasn't moved out yet. He tactfully praised Bi Chunseng's simple aesthetic taste and deliberately downplayed his own position, chatting about his own struggles in a big city far from home and how he reports his daily progress to his parents.
Bi Chunseng was moved by his words, and her eyes changed as she said, "That's right, it's not easy for young people to be away from home! Oh, you're from the south, right? Where's your hometown? Isn't it difficult to endure the winters in Yong'an? Perfect! I bought too much wool this time. When I finish this sweater, I'll have enough to knit you a hat - what style do you like?"
"No, no, no...I don't need it. It's too kind of you." Xuan Ji was trembling with fear when he saw the roll of "eco-friendly" wool. He realized he had exaggerated his pitiful situation and quickly retracted his words, "I'm not afraid of the cold. My hometown isn't far from the place we went on our business trip today, and that place is a ghost town with no heating in the winter. We rely on shaking ourselves to keep warm.”
Bi Chunsheng's gaze peeked out from her reading glasses and she glanced at Xuan Ji. "Chiyuan?"
"Not in Chiyuan City, it's in the adjacent county, several tens of kilometers away." Xuan Ji replied casually, as if he didn't care, and then changed the subject, "Is our department always in such a hurry when we go on business trips?"
"It's not usually like this, it's an unexpected situation today. In general, field agents are quite careful to avoid ordinary people. After all, they are most afraid of involving ordinary people. Do you know what the 'Fifteen-People Red Line' for field agents means?"
Xuan Ji had dealt with field agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Control before and was quite familiar with Xiao Zheng, so he knew about this rule.
Ordinary people were very fragile in supernatural events. In order to prevent field agents from losing control and ignoring public safety, the Bureau of Paranormal Control made a strict rule: except for major malicious and dereliction of duty behaviors caused by subjective intention and operational violations, if field agents cause the death of an ordinary person during a mission, even if they are falsely accused, each field agent present at the scene will be deducted one point, and the team leader will be deducted double the points.
Each field agent had fifteen points. Once all fifteen points were deducted, their work permit would be revoked and they would face serious disciplinary action. Being suspended for investigation was the lightest punishment. If there was any suspicion of dereliction of duty, they could be held criminally liable. Even if they were not sentenced, they would have no future prospects.
This was the so-called "Fifteen-People Red Line", so the first thing field agents would do when going on a mission was to do everything possible to "clear the scene".
Bi Chunsheng continued, "They do a thorough job of clearing the scene, so we have much less work that involves ordinary people. Most of what our department does is apologize and make reparations - when field agents are not paying attention and damage a bridge or blow up a road, they leave after patting their butts, and we have to run around, act as intermediaries, and discuss compensation and repair plans."
Xuan Ji understood a little after listening. He had switched from a sales position to a customer service position.
"Everything else is fine, but when it comes to money, it's troublesome. Economic issues can drag on endlessly," Bi Chunsheng said, leaning in closer to Xuan Ji and lowering his voice. "Our department's previous leader, Director Gong, went home before reaching retirement age, claiming it was due to illness. But in reality, he had some issues, and now the bureau is investigating him."
Xuan Ji was taken aback. He never expected there to be corruption risks in such a tedious position within the palace.
"In addition to business trips, we also need to pay attention to public opinion," Bi Chunsheng continued, deftly winding the yarn around her little finger as she spoke to Xuan Ji with divided attention. "Several popular, strange forums and public accounts are under our surveillance. Once we discover a hot topic, we need to quickly determine whether it's a baseless rumor or a real issue. If we find a suspicious event, we need to report it to the security department as soon as possible. This is handled by Old Luo, and his subordinates take shifts to screen information 24 hours a day."
"It's me, leader. I am Old Luo, my name is Luo Cuicui." The fragrant barcode guy came over, and when he spoke, a scent of flowers mixed with a hint of mint filled the air.
Xuan Ji sniffed and felt that this was a fresh barcode.
"Barcode" Luo Cuicui said, "Don't underestimate the importance of our work. If we report a false alarm, won't our field agents scold us for making them run for no reason? They are our ancestors, and we can't afford to offend them."
Xuan Ji asked, "But what if we miss something and fail to report an incident? Wouldn't that be even more serious?"
"That won't happen. How many paranormal incidents are there, anyway? We only need to send field agents for the cases that were transferred from the public security department. Online rumors and self-fulfilling prophecies are rampant. Look at this," Luo Cuicui handed her phone to Xuan Ji and opened a forum for her to see.
The post at the top read, "Help! I think my son is no longer my son."
"It's all like this. Our goal is not to make achievements, but to avoid making mistakes. When Director Gong was in charge, he emphasized every day that our department is responsible for handling ordinary matters and that we should never stir up trouble. We must always remember this principle," Luo Cuicui said. Perhaps feeling that she had talked too much, she quickly changed the subject and flattered Xuan Ji, "But Director Gong was also someone who knew how to compromise. Let's not talk about him. I can tell that you are different. You are a young talent with great ability, and you have won the favor of Director Xiao. You must be someone extraordinary. Which lineage of paranormals do you belong to?"
Xuan Ji's smile paused for a moment when he looked at Luo Cuicui, and he lifted his eyelids slightly, asking, "What do you think?"
He had a pair of atypical phoenix-shaped eyes, which curved when he smiled. When he smiled, it seemed like he was holding back some mischief. Often, people mistook it for a smiling expression. But now, as he looked at Luo Cuicui without a smile, she noticed that his eyelids were thin, and the color of his eyeballs was slightly light. The slightly upturned eye tails were hanging with an inconspicuous mole. As his smile faded, an indescribable sense of strangeness emerged.
Luo Cuicui shivered from his gaze, which made him tremble for no reason. Before he could react, Xuan Ji leaned back lazily and winked at him, a bit slippery. The demon-like sharpness from earlier disappeared without a trace, as if it were just an illusion created by the angle. He had become an ordinary mortal once again, full of commonality. "Bro, do you think I'm not ordinary? Can I become an idol?" he asked.
Luo Cuicui was quick-witted, even though he didn't have much hair. He felt that this new boss was a bit difficult to deal with, so he didn't dare to probe further and left.
Xuan Ji sent him away, connected his phone to the plane's wifi, tested the internet speed, and casually browsed the forum that Old Luo had shown him earlier. He clicked on the pinned post, which was filled with ramblings and made no sense. The author seemed to be possessed.
After reading it for a long time, Xuan Ji finally understood what the author was trying to say from the messy description. The gist was that the original poster had a troublesome and unruly child at home who used to smoke, skip classes, and hang out in internet cafes all day. However, recently, for no apparent reason, the child had started to turn over a new leaf, not only becoming honest but also getting decent grades in monthly exams. The mother was surprised and couldn't believe it. She began to have wild thoughts and suspected that her son had been possessed.
When he looked at the replies below, all he saw were "paid trolls from internet addiction schools, get lost." Then, he refreshed the page, and the post disappeared, probably because someone reported it.
He browsed through other posts on the forum and found that, as Old Luo had said, there was nothing important. Apart from a few delusional patients and online novel writers, the rest were clickbait titles, discussing the three main topics of "family gossip," "romantic relationships," and "celebrity gossip."
After flipping through for a while, Xuan Ji became a bit bored. His eyes were tired and his vision was blurry. Old Luo and Sister Bi were discussing investing in Cambodian real estate. As a credit card slave, he couldn't participate in such a high-end topic. So, he put on his headphones, blocked out the two financial tycoons who were planning to expand in Southeast Asia, and closed his eyes to rest.
Maybe the special plane's seats were too comfortable, or perhaps the plane's vibrations were helping him sleep, but as soon as he closed his eyes, he fell asleep. And he had another dream.
Xuan Ji had a dream that he was in an antique small building, with a wooden beam structure, possibly a post station or something similar. The room was not big, and he could vaguely hear the noisy crowd downstairs. A person with their back to him was leaning against the window, gazing outside. The person was tall and straight, wearing black clothing like crow feathers. Xuan Ji had dreamed of this figure many times before. Since he could remember, this figure would occasionally appear in his dreams at midnight. Xuan Ji didn't know who he was, and had never seen his face. Whenever he approached the figure within a meter in his dream, he would wake up immediately. It was as if the other person was a forbidden object that he could not touch.
"Are you here to experience the private jet too?" Xuan Ji talked to the dream guest like an old friend because he had dreamed of this figure so frequently. He maintained a safe distance of one meter, and chatted with the figure. "How is it? My new job has style, right?"
The figure didn't answer, as usual, remaining silent like an exquisite sculpture. In this dream, everything except for Xuan Ji was a prop. He could rant or roll around, but it was a monologue.
"Although it might be a troublesome position with some status," Xuan Ji retreated two steps and sat on the wooden table beside him, constantly muttering to his "old friend", "The former Director retired for no apparent reason, and Xiao Zheng was acting sneaky. Hm... It shouldn't be just an economic problem. Ordinary corruption wouldn't even leak within the department, and why would Old Xiao go around in circles to find me? Also, what's going on with Chiyuan? How could they suddenly start a rebellion? And I didn't even sense anything..."
As he was speaking, he suddenly stopped and widened his eyes - a gust of wind blew through the window, lifting the figure's clothing at the window. The motion caused the statue-like man to seem to come to life suddenly. Xuan Ji's heart trembled suddenly, as if he had stepped into another dimension. This had never happened in his dreams before!
Then, the person with his back to him sighed, and slowly turned around -
Xuan Ji trembled, jumping up from his seat, nearly being blinded by Luo Cuicui's shiny lip gloss.
Luo Cuicuiwas shouting into his ear amidst the noise of the airplane, "Wake up, we're about to land!"
When they landed near Chiyuan, it was already dark outside. The sub-bureau was busy encircling the mutated trees all over the mountains and was too preoccupied to attend to the logistics team. They sent an intern named Li to pick them up.
Several illegal tourists were warded at the first hospital in Chiyuan. The hospital was located at a high ground in the parking lot and provided a panoramic view of the mountains of Chiyuan. At the moment, the sky was overcast, and the mist was hazy. Even though the car's air conditioning was on, their clothes were still damp and sticky.
Ping Qianru's hair turned into a ball of steel wire. As soon as she got out of the car, she began to brush it continuously. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew, and Qianru stopped brushing her hair and asked with confusion, "Sister Bi, did you smell anything?"
Xuan Ji had very sensitive hearing and turned his head, several steps away. "What smell?" he asked.
Ping Qianru was startled by his sudden question and instinctively stood at attention as if a teacher had just called her name in class. "The smell of incense and candles from the temple," she explained. She paused and glanced at Xuan Ji's expression, then continued, "The wind brought a hint of something fishy along with it."
The wind blew from the direction of the Grand Canyon in Chiyuan. Xuan Ji followed the little girl's gaze and looked back. The distant mountains suddenly turned black in his vision, as if a circle of eerie shadows had appeared. Xuan Ji was secretly surprised, and his footsteps faltered. He pinched his eyebrows and took another look. The green hills were still there, shrouded in mist, as if nothing had happened. It was as if he had just seen things.
The intern driver, Xiao Li, asked, "Leader, is something wrong?"
Xuan Ji shook his head, took back his gaze, and signaled him to lead the way. He was thinking that after finishing their work, he wanted to go and take a look at the Grand Canyon.
Their mission this time was to deal with several trapped tourists who were injured to varying degrees. They looked pale and exhausted, and after being discharged from the hospital, they would be taken away by the Public Security Bureau for administrative punishment. Their ID cards and phones were confiscated, and they were inspected by Ping Qianru to prevent them from taking any inappropriate pictures.
Bi Chunsheng took the initiative to take on the task of talking to them. As a newcomer, Xuan Ji did not dare to interfere with his colleague's work. He quietly observed her work process for a while and found Bi Chunsheng's conversation with the targets quite interesting.
Xuan Ji's previous job was dealing with people, and though he was not very ambitious, he had some basic communication skills. In his opinion, Bi Chunsheng was not particularly skilled in speaking. Although her attitude was enthusiastic, she was a bit too familiar and her body language exceeded social boundaries, making her appear lacking in discretion. If someone else said the same thing, it would easily arouse the targets' alertness and anxiety. However, it was strange that the people she talked to behaved like they were drugged, naturally divulging their secrets.
One girl with a broken leg recalled, "It seemed like a giant python was chasing us at the time. The snake was very strange, with an earthy color and looked like it was covered in tree bark. It scared me to death!"
Bi Chunsheng smiled and said, "The so-called 'snake' you saw should be the vine that was originally wrapped around the big tree. The earthquake shook the tree down, and the vines were swinging around, which looked like they were moving. It couldn't be a real snake. Where would a giant python come from in the scenic area?"
"No," the corrected girl was a bit confused and tried to argue, but her tone of voice weakened noticeably, as if suddenly unsure, "I think it shouldn't be the swinging vines. It was running very fast, chasing us, and..."
Bi Chunsheng stared into her eyes and calmly repeated, "No, that was the vine."
Xuan Ji felt that Bi Chunsheng was almost being pedantic and could easily get into an argument with someone with a bad temper. But the girl's expression became increasingly hesitant, and her tone of voice grew weaker. They went back and forth like this two or three times, and the girl suddenly seemed brainwashed, completely accepting Bi Chunsheng's explanation. Even when someone else asked her, she no longer mentioned anything about "earth-colored pythons" or being "chased," as if she had amnesia.
Xuan Ji was a bit surprised and asked Luo Cuicui next to her, "Is Sister Bi particularly powerful? What was that... how do you guys categorize yourselves?"
"Yes, she's a special ability user in the 'power and spiritual' category, with a bias towards the 'spiritual' side," Luo Cuicui proudly puffed out her chest, "There aren't many special ability users in our logistics department, but she's one of them."
Xuan Ji couldn't help but look at her and said, "Oh, sorry for my disrespect. Does that mean you're also one?"
"I can't compare to her at all. My special ability is not very practical," Luo Cuicui humbly said, "I'm in the 'plant' type of the six major categories, and my limbs can turn into plants. My fingers and toes have plant characteristics."
Xuan Ji continued to ask humbly, "What do you mean by plant characteristics?"
"Ah, it means they keep growing. If you don't trim them in time, they can wear out many pairs of shoes in a year!"
Xuan Ji: "..."
Brother Luo should really go to the hospital to treat his special ability.
The leading intern, Xiao Li, couldn't help but laugh, but then realized it might not be polite and quickly coughed to change the topic, saying to Xuan Ji, "The sixth rescued person wasn't injured, so we temporarily placed them in the family waiting room ahead."
Xuan Ji had just followed his finger and looked up when the lights in the hallway flickered and suddenly went out. At the same time, his finger felt cold and a ring appeared on his right index finger. The ring face was a chicken-blood red stone, the size of a grain of rice, with no impurities.
Xuan Ji's heart skipped a beat. When no one was paying attention, he hid his right hand in his coat pocket. This ring was like the "Thousand Demon Bestiary," brought with him from birth and had always been firmly on his finger, unable to be taken off. It was even more mysterious than the "Thousand Demon Bestiary," never showing any spiritual energy or demonic activity. It was like extra hair or nails, neither hurting nor itching, and he didn't know what it was for.
Except for its somewhat old-fashioned style, Xuan Ji didn't have any objections to it. Because this ring could be invisible during normal times, it could not be called out and could be treated as non-existent.
The Chiyuan trees suddenly erupted into chaos for no reason, and the man in his dream suddenly turned around. The invisible ring appeared without his permission...
Xuan Ji's heart sank slightly. There were too many anomalies happening on this day.
"The light bulb went out," the leading intern muttered, unaware, as he walked forward and said, "This person... um... seems a bit strange. You'll see later."
The hospital had already been quarantined by the Bureau of Paranormal Control, and there was only one person in the family waiting room.
A man was sitting on a plastic chair with his back facing the half-closed door, fully focused on watching the advertisement on the TV on the wall. His back was straight, but not tense, as if he had received specialized body posture training. His back view was pleasing to the eye. The most striking thing about him was his long hair that reached his waist, which was unusually thick and lush, tied with a hair tie at the back of his neck, as thick as a child's arm.
When Xuan Ji saw the man, his vision suddenly blurred. After the ring, "Thousand Demon Bestiary" also automatically popped up, as if it had something to say. However, Xuan Ji waited for a while, but the pages of the book were all blank.
"This is the ID he provided." Xiao Li took out an ID card from a file bag, "He said he lost his phone and didn't have one."
Luo Cuicui's gaze lingered on the man's hair for a moment, and she affectionately touched his own "barcode" on her head, muttering, "Now even young men are wearing wigs, it must be because of air pollution - Leader, can I talk to him for a few minutes?"
"Wait." Xuan Ji raised his hand to stop him, and the ID in his hand turned into a withered leaf, then suddenly burned up with a "whoosh". The sudden flame startled both Xiao Li and Luo Cuicui.
At this moment, the door of the family rest area, which was only slightly open, made a creaking sound and opened around the silent and long-sighing door hinge. The cold and musty smell rushed out from inside, making people inexplicably think of coffins and decayed wood embracing bones. The TV on the wall suddenly went black, reflecting a pair of eyes through the mirror-like black screen, meeting Xuan Ji's guarded gaze...
A mischievous smile appeared in those ghostly eyes.
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