Jiang Lan’s phone rang when he arrived at the subway station. His big brother BixiThe first of nine dragon sonscalled him. His brother was still worried about him, even if he had left Dragon Palace for almost a year and kept checking on him every three days.
After small talks, they returned to the usual topic.
“ I can take care of myself.”
Jiang Lan seemed a little downcast.” I can’t stay in the Dragon Palace forever. And you heard what Bai Ze said, my opportunity lay with humans.”
Tao Tie was a Dragon son but also an evil demon. Dragon race had always been an auspicious monster race since ancient times. Two forces were battling inside Jiang Lan ever since he could remember. In ancient time, the instincts of an evil demon dominated him. After the dragon race found him and Brother Bixi brought him back to the Dragon Palace, the force of the dragon inside him began to reclaim him. He liked his time in the Dragon Palace. But the instincts of Tao Tie kept reminding him that even if he had put a tight rein on his instincts, one day, his evil instinct would break loose and destroy everything he held dear.
Jiang Lan feared that such a day would eventually come and spared no effort to keep his instincts at bay. But over the recent years, his sense of hunger had grown more intense, becoming harder to control. There was a voice inside his head that kept telling him to devour everything. He remembered the day when his big brother brought him to meet Bai Ze. At that meeting, Bai Ze told him.” Tao Tie is greedy by nature. But you are not a Tao Tie. Don’t let Tao Tie bewitch your mind. Be yourself.”
Jiang Lan was confused by this talk, but Bai Ze didn’t explain his meaning. But from then on, he gave himself a new name Jiang Lanmeans control your greedto serve as a reminder.
One year ago, he felt that his hunger was slowly slipping out of control. He went to see Bai Ze once again. But Omniscient Bai Ze was by then going senile with a few lucid moments. He fell asleep after giving a piece of advice.” Your opportunity lay with humans.”
So came his decision to leave the Dragon Palace and live among the humans because he wanted to be himself, not to become a feared evil demon Taotie.
At the mention of Bai Ze, Bixi stopped trying to persuade him to go home. Letting out a sign, Bixi asked.”I heard Hu mentioned you were looking for a side job.”
Jiang Lan’s mood changed at the mere mention of it. While trying to suppress his delight, he reported the news to his brother.”I have already found one. I passed the test and got employed as a formal employee of the Hanyang Street administration office. I will report for duty after the Labor Day holiday.”
Social unrest had been slowly brewing in Hua Nation over the last few years. The Security Department tried to cope with the threats from dangerous elements hiding among the non-human race and maintain the harmony of society. To that end, it had increased staffing in root-level branches such as the street administration office. The jobs in these offices were highly sought after among humans, monsters and human cultivators. Jiang Lan managed to get a job in a street administration office because his assignments was rare in the special service branch. Root level administration office’s jobs mainly involve trivial matters and are less challenging. But the pay was stable.
Picturing his new life, Jiang Lan couldn’t help smiling.
Suan Ni inside the pocket sensed his mood and raised his head to cheer Brother Five.” Well done, Brother Five!”
Looking around, Jiang Lan quickly pushed down his little brother’s head in case someone spotted him. Bixi said in a relaxing tone.” OK, just follow your heart. It’s getting hot now. I will ask Uncle Gui to send you two pieces of summer clothing I bought for you.”
Jiang Lan didn’t refuse the offer this time, “OK”, and hung up the phone.
Jiang Lan had a flat in the Jiahe residential compound, located in Hanyang district. It’s an old residential compound with a lot of greenery, and most residents here are friendly locals. Jiang Lan took an instant liking to this place and bought a flat here after receiving his first mission reward. He made a reasonable decision. For most humans or monsters, a life with their own apartments and a stable job are very nice. Jiang Lan was very satisfied with his current life. It could be even better if his empty stomach didn’t keep reminding him.
Back home, Suan Ni climbed to his brother’s shoulder and nuzzled his head against Jiang Lan’s cheek, complaining.” Brother five, I am hungry.” The steaks they just had were not enough.
“You can have a little cake first.” After passing him the takeout dessert, Jiang Lan started to look for food in the fridge. Human’s food tastes delicious, but for him, only something with magical properties could satisfy his hunger.
After a lot of searching, he found the last five gemsJiang Lan’s real food, supposedly to be magical, which cost him a fortune. Counting the number of days to the date when he was supposed to receive his wage, he chopped them in half, so there were enough to last him for the rest of the ten days. After checking the inventory of his fridge, he was sure that the instant freeze dumplings and cup noodles were enough for Suan Ni.
After swallowing a gem to calm his tummy, he put away the rest of the gems carefully. Gently patting his brother’s little head, he said.” What do you like for dinner, Beef Dumplings or Pork Cabbage dumplings?”
Suan Ni gave it a thought, then said.” I have enough meat for today. I would love some vegetable dumplings.”
Jiang Lan went away to boil some dumplings for his little brother while Suan Ni saved half of the cake for his brother. When he returned with dumplings, Jiang Lan pinched Suan Ni’s cheek and refused with a smile.” You have it; it’s not enough for me anyway.”
But Suan Ni was adamant.”Please!”
Jiang Lan took a small bite and fed the rest to Suan Ni. Getting a mouthful, Suan Ni’s golden eyes stared at Jiang Lan, pretended to be annoyed. Jiang Lan gently gave his brother a pat and urged him to finish off the dumplings while it’s warm. Then he curled up on the sofa with his phone.
The moment he took out the phone, Director Hu called. He waited a moment before he answered the call.
As expected, Director Hu called to ask about the date. Considering that Director Hu had heaped praises on Ying Qiao before, he couldn’t offend Hu by telling him that Ying Qiao was a playboy who lived beyond his means. After repeating the praise of Ying Qiao, he came to his point.” Ying Qiao thinks we are not a good fit.”
“Impossible!” Jiang Lan heard Director Hu talking to himself on the phone.” The matchmaker has already said you two are destined to be together! ”
Jiang Lan was speechless. Matchmakers were only for humans. It is not the custom of monsters to ask for matchmaker’s help in finding their soul mates.
But he had no choice but to go along with what Director Hu said for the sake of the reward money. Director Hu rambled on for a while before finally coming to the point.” This date between you two must work for the sake of the monster race’s future. I will talk with Ying Qiao. If you two really don’t fit, you can still play make-believe until my plan takes off. After that, I don’t care what happened to you guys.”
Jiang Lan was about to refuse the suggestions but changed his mind when Director Hu said he would immediately transfer the additional ten thousand Yuan to him if they agree to act out the parts of young people in love.
“OK.” Jiang Lan agreed.
Director Hu hung up with satisfaction. A few minutes later, a large sum was added to Jiang Lan’s WeChat e-wallet account.
Sensing his little brother’s curiosity, he cheerfully stroked Suan Ni’s hair.” Let’s go for roasted pig feet tomorrow.”
Suan Ni’s eyes brightened and rolled over on Jiang Lan’s lap cheerfully.
Ying Qiao’s message came at night. Jiang Lan had no idea how Director Hu persuaded him.” Has Director Hu contacted you? How about we put on a show to get rid of him?”
Director Hu’s pestering must begin to get to him because he called Director Hu by his first name and sent an impatient face emoji.
His WeChat Avatar was a golden dragon tail. Just as people said, every snake monster longed to become a dragon, Jiang Lan thought while replying.”… OK.”
It’s just for show. No harm was done.
Ying Qiao asked where he lived. How about meeting tomorrow if Jiang Lan had time.
Jiang Lan shared his location with him.
Ying Qiao looked at the location Jiang Lan sent to him with furrowed eyebrows. This little monster lived in a remote and old residential compound, perhaps a rented flat. He was even poorer than I thought before.
While doing a cleaning and polishing job on Ying Qiao’s dragon scales, Chenghua said in a mocking tone.” Hu CanDirector Hu’s full name bother you again?”
Hu Can was the last nine-tails fox in Qing Qiu. After countless ancient monsters vanished from the face of the earth, the few surviving high monsters chose to maintain relatively regular contacts. Fox Monster Race was adept at climbing the career ladder. After Hu Can obtained the position of Director in the Monster Bureau, he resumed the responsibility of a clan elder to dedicate himself to reviving the monster race. From time to time, he would cook up a new scheme trying to achieve that end.
Recently he attended a few conferences of humans, which led him to the belief that the decline of the monster race was associated with the dwindling monster population. Human’s rise perfectly illustrates this point. Despite human’s short life span and inability to cultivate, they still manage to climb after many generations to the pinnacle of power. Even the few surviving monsters have to live under human’s shelter.
Hu Can regarded human’s rise to power as a model for the monster’s future. So he came up with the ridiculous regulation of no single monsters of marriageable age.
Chen Hua said.” Only Tai Feng cheered him on.” Auspicious Deity Tai Feng and nine-tail Qing Qiu fox were partners in cultivation. Now Tai Feng occupied the position of Jiang City Monster Bureau Chief.
Ying Qiao snorted, shaking his shining dragon tail.” I owe him a favour, now I returned it. Next time I can beat him with no qualms.”
Cheng Hua laughed.” There is bound to be a shit storm coming after his many ridiculous schemes.” Then he switched to gossip.” You are serious about showing up on a date? Who is your date?”
Ying Qiao waved his cellphone.” A lion monster, he is OK.”
Cheng Hua was surprised.” A little lion monster?” He supposed that Hu Can would find someone who was at least Yingqiao’s equal. A little lion monster was so beneath him. No wonder Ying Qiao wanted to beat him, and he deserved it.
Recalling the moment when he caught Jiang Lan feeding his little brother, Ying Qiao eased his furrowed eyebrow and said in a soft tone.” I have a business to attend to now; see you later.”
Then he took his car key and left. Looking at his departing shadow, Cheng Hua wondered why he appeared to be in a good mood.
Jiang Lan and Ying Qiao planned to meet the next day in a place of Jiang Lan’s choosing, not the expensive restaurant like the last time. The little monster must bleed his heart dry after splitting that costly bill.
They were to meet at the entrance to the shopping mall.
With their minds on the roasted pig feet, Jiang Lan left early with Suan Ni. Carrying a backpack in the front, he let Suan Ni stay inside the bag.
After leaving the stairway, they saw two elderly neighbours playing chess under the tree, with a crowd gathering to watch. A birdcage was hanged from the tree branch with a black mynaA bird capable of mimicking human speech inside. After having lived here for almost a year, he had passing acquaintances with most of his neighbours. He greeted them all.
A match was just finished when he appeared. Grandpa Yao, one of the chess players, greeted Jiang Lan.” Oh, you are going out?”
“Yes, to see a friend.” He asked a question seemingly without a purpose.” You have a new bird? haven’t seen this one before.”
Grandpa Yao replied uncomprehendingly.” I have had this bird for more than ten years! You had seen it before. How come you are more forgetful than me?
“Is that so?” Jiang Lan smiled and took a look at the silent black bird.” This bird is no longer reciting a poem. I thought you had a new bird.”
Grandpa Yao’s black bird was in his care for more than ten years and can recite a few ancient poems.
“Oh, yes, I also wonder the same thing. This bird can no longer recite poems. How strange.”
At this moment, the black bird shook his wings and began to recite poems haltingly.” The moonlight……before a bed.”
Grandpa Yao was delighted.” This poem my little blackie hasn’t recited for a while.”
Little blackie continued to recite the poems haltingly. After taking another look at the bird, Jiang Lan didn’t say more. He left the crowd after waving them goodbyes.