"I am the great and formidable Shulü Kong. Why do I have to use that sword? Can I not fight without it?"
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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On this night during the transition from late summer to the beginning of autumn, the radiant, lustrous flock of stars outside the Great Wall coincided with the pulse of heaven, and together, they made up the vast expanse of the Milky Way that streaked across the sky.
The armies were all gathered around the campfires that were set up everywhere.
While looking at the map in full detail, Chen Xing counted on his fingers and calculated that the first time around, he had arrived in Chi Le Chuan just before the Autumn Close Festival. At their current speed, he would be able to reach Chi Le Chuan as early as the start of autumn. If he left for Karakorum and then to Carosha afterward, adding the time needed to go back and forth, most likely, he would be there in time to celebrate the Autumn Close Festival in Chi Le Chuan.
Facing one side of the campfire, a simple, open-air royal tent was set up. Xiang Shu was sitting on a stone that was covered by a blanket, facing a stove with boiling water as he cut some ginseng with a small dagger. The gentle scent of the ginseng tea soon started to permeate the air.
The puppy was already fast asleep by Chen Xing's feet, while Xiao Shan rested his head on Chen Xing's thigh as he slept inside the tent.
Ever since he had met Chen Xing, Xiao Shan had stuck by his side, sticking closely with not even a cun apart from him as if that was just a matter of course. At first, Xiang Shu had felt that this child was clingy, but he also didn't want to scold him; there were some faint contradictory feelings in his heart. Originally, he had wanted to tell him to get lost and leave. However, from the beginning, Xiao Shan had called him "Gege" several times in a familiar way, and Xiang Shu somehow didn't feel any disdain toward it.
On the third night after leaving Chang'an, under the Great Wall:
Murong Chong and Princess Qinghe came over. Xiang Shu hinted that they pour themselves some ginseng tea to drink on their own. Not a moment later, several more people also arrived: Xie An, Feng Qianjun, as well as Feng Qianyi, who was carried by the latter.
Murong Chong: "The Four Seas and the prairies are all the Great Chanyu's..."
"Guwang's tired of listening," Xiang Shu interrupted. "Just get straight to the point, quit beating around the bush."
Princess Qinghe smiled.
"We've talked about it," Feng Qianjun could only say, "and following this, we still decided to split up."
Chen Xing raised his eyes to look at Xie An. Xie An looked solemn as he gave him a nod and said, "In the end, leaving Jiankang for too long is not a good idea. I can rest assured now that I've seen that you people are all right."
Chen Xing knew that Xie An needed to return, and so, after pondering silently for a moment, he nodded. "Will Xie-shixiong go alone?"
Xiang Shu took a glance at Xie An who said, "I'm planning to bring Qianyi to the South. Qianjun will still follow you all."
Since Xiang Shu didn't say anything, Chen Xing gave him another nod and said, "For Xin Yuanping and Wen Che's matter, I'll have to trouble Shixiong."
Taking the ginseng tea, Princess Qinghe held the silver cup with both of her hands, lost in her thoughts. After a while, she softly said, "All of you, thank you. Great Chanyu, thank you."
Even though Xiang Shu said nothing in return, he still gave a slight nod, indicating that he was aware.
Feng Qianyi dared not to look Chen Xing in the eyes. When he was put down by his younger brother, he went down to the ground and kowtowed three times to Chen Xing and Xiang Shu.
Xiang Shu was currently immersed in his own thoughts as he stared at the campfire. The hair framing his face, which was weaved into thin braids tied with golden threads, hung loose. His side profile was so handsome to the point that Chen Xing couldn't even take his eyes away from him.
"Yeluosa," Xiang Shu faintly said. "You Han people have a saying, 'Words are not enough to give thanks for a great favor.' No need to be long-winded, go back and start anew. Go ba."
Chen Xing said to Feng Qianyi, "Ultimately, Fu Jian will fight the Great Jin. Go prepare well for that day."
Feng Qianyi nodded his head, and Feng Qianjun once again carried his elder brother out.
Still with a pretty smile, Princess Qinghe said, "That... I won't kowtow to you, Great Chanyu. In my heart, you've always been like an older brother to me."
"Whatever suits you," Xiang Shu casually said. "Murong Chong?"
Murong Chong felt slightly uncomfortable, seeming to not want to spend much time in the presence of Xiang Shu. He frowned deeply and looked at Chen Xing several times, before looking back at Xiang Shu and giving out a "hm" and then a "yes."
Chen Xing knew that based on Murong Chong's temperament, he definitely wouldn't show anyone a pleasant expression most days of the week. Alas, Xiang Shu had saved Princess Qinghe's life, so he had no alternative but to grin and bear it, and lower his head.
"Do you want to start a war with Fu Jian?" Xiang Shu raised his eyes and shot a glance at Murong Chong.
"I don't know," Murong Chong sighed before replying, "I must return to Pingyang first, we'll see what happens next ba."
"Jiantou is unlikely to kill you," Xiang Shu carelessly mentioned, "and by now, he has most likely sent a messenger after you. Maybe the messenger will even arrive before you do."
Murong Chong's brows continued to furrow; what he didn't want others to mention the most in his life was his relationship with Fu Jian. It was just, what Xiang Shu had said was indeed the truth.
Feng Qianjun went out to send his elder brother back before returning once more. It was obvious that he was waiting for them to finish explaining before saying what he still had on his mind.
Xiang Shu looked at Chen Xing and said, "You decide ba."
Chen Xing knew what Xiang Shu meant by handing the decision to him. He had once told Xiang Shu that there were a lot of things to do after arriving in Chi Le Chuan, and furthermore, there was also Zhou Zhen's reappearance. By bringing Princess Qinghe with them, would it just add to their troubles?
Chen Xing gave another look at Feng Qianjun. "Feng-dage will decide ba."
Xiang Shu: "?"
Feng Qianjun wasn't answering at all. A moment later, Princess Qinghe softly asked, "Qianjun?"
He didn't look at Princess Qinghe at all. In the end, he finally made a decision and said, "You follow your younger brother and go back to Pingyang, he can protect you."
Princess Qinghe forced a smile before nodding, turning around to follow Murong Chong out.
When Feng Qianjun and Chen Xing looked at each other, it was as if Xiang Shu received a clue about what was going on. As he moved his gaze toward the direction where Princess Qinghe had left, he seemingly understood and nodded his head.
"Have you thought it through?" Chen Xing said, "If you separate like this, there's a chance you won't see each other again for several years."
"En." Feng Qianjun nodded.
"What are you thinking about?" Xiang Shu asked Chen Xing.
Chen Xing suddenly thought of something and said, "Oh, right. Xiang Shu, can you bestow a marriage?"
The idea Chen Xing came up with was filled with schadenfreude. Since Fu Jian has the right to bestow a marriage, Xiang Shu should be able to as well, no?
"The Great Chanyu is in charge of heaven and earth, as well as life and death," Xiang Shu said. "From the beginning, Guwang has never concerned himself with other family's matters. My own marriage hasn't even been talked about, so I'm unable to bestow any marriages, but if you like her, I'll personally go and open my mouth to make it clear."
"No, no, no," Feng Qianjun said, "I have another person I like in my heart. Thank you both!"
Chen Xing had originally thought that Feng Qianjun just couldn't muster up the courage to confess to Princess Qinghe. He didn't expect that in the end, Feng Qianjun would actually choose Gu Qing, who was still in Jiangnan now. This made Chen Xing feel slightly moved.
"In our Chi Le Covenant, we have this festival called Autumn Close Festival, in which there's this activity," Xiang Shu said, "where you can, with the person you like..."
"She lives in Jiangnan," Feng Qianjun added. "If there's a chance in the future, I'd like to bring her everywhere beyond the Great Wall. This time, I'll definitely... Forget it ba."
"You don't seem to know each other just yet ne," Chen Xing said. "Forgive me for saying this, but if by any chance, she doesn't like you, won't you be done for?"
Feng Qianjun suddenly smiled and replied, "If so, I'll move next to the pharmacy. Every day, I'll occasionally watch her while she's pounding medicine for sick people inside, and also say some words to her. That'd also be great."
Feng Qianjun and Chen Xing were talking about Gu Qing, but Xiang Shu, who also heard them, was just confused. At this moment, Xie An came over as well.
"Alright," Xie An let out a sigh before continuing, "there are some things we have to discuss clearly so I can depart at ease tomorrow."
In these three days, everyone was thinking about one and the same question: Now that the Acala Blade had been snatched away and Shi Hai had escaped, what were they going to do next?
Xiao Shan was still sleeping as before. Chen Xing said, "Xiang Shu was unable to hold the Acala Blade. That thing rejected him and has already been refined by resentment."
This was yet another topic that pretty much puzzled Xiang Shu. He finally couldn't help but ask, "Why did you say that it was mine? Can you all speak in a way that is understandable to me for once?"
Chen Xing could only give him an explanation, "That divine weapon's primary form is a broadsword, and we had wanted to fetch it for you to use."
Xiang Shu said, "So? What about it then?"
Chen Xing explained, "Legends said that it was the only thing that could kill Chiyou. How could it fall into Shi Hai's hands ne?" Thinking about this, the joy he felt at their reunion immediately became diluted, and he couldn't help but become irritated once more. "ARGH! Just what went wrong?! Even though everything has been restarted, why is it still so annoying like this?"
"What has been restarted?" Xiang Shu asked once more.
Xie An and Feng Qianjun, with hearts full of palpitation, both observed Xiang Shu's expression for fear that another situation mirroring the previous time would erupt once again, which was the two of them talking normally one moment and then suddenly quarreling the next. However, Xie An also found that Xiang Shu's temper seemed to be better this time around; he was more patient with Chen Xing, too.
As he drank a cup of ginseng tea, Chen Xing turned fretful and said, "In short, you have to get a hold of it, only then can you finish your task. That sword is an important weapon for you as the Protector."
Xiang Shu asked, "I am the great and formidable Shulü Kong. Why do I have to use that sword? Can I not fight without it?"
Chen Xing: "When dealing with Chiyou, it's useless to rely solely on those martial arts, even those who can catch white wolves with their bare hands ah!"
"It should be 'can turn his unarmed hands into sharp blades.'" Xiang Shu felt annoyed.
Chen Xing also lost his patience. "I don't care, I just want it!"
Xiang Shu: "......"
"All right, you two, stop quarreling!" Xie An and Feng Qianjun finally found the timing to say this sentence.
Chen Xing suddenly realized that sometimes, it was more fruitful acting unreasonable than the other way around. Just like now, contrary to expectations, Xiang Shu actually stopped quarreling with him, and the question had turned from "I want to get this sword in order to save the world, but the sword is gone, what to do now?" to "Chen Xing wants to get this sword, so we must think of a way to obtain it." The latter was clearly more crucial than the former, and it had successfully stirred Xiang Shu's thoughts from "the rationality of the problem" back to "how to resolve the problem."
"If you have something to say," Xie An hinted, "why is it always like this? Does being noisy work ma?"
Chen Xing: "It works ah. Can't you see he's trying to find a way?"
Feng Qianjun: "......"
Xie An patiently said, "Now that Shi Hai has fled northwest with the devil spear, can we still retrieve it?"
Everyone had seen it back then —— Shi Hai, bringing along five drought fiend kings and one weapon, had run away leaving not a single trace. Xie An continued, "Liangzhou is... Forgive us, but that is truly a place beyond our reach, and we can only appeal to the Great Chanyu to send scouts to search for Shi Hai's whereabouts. The most important thing right now is still the Acala Blade."
Chen Xing frowned. "We can't even pinpoint his whereabouts ba. Where is he going to escape to? All along, I always thought that Shi Hai would run south."
Xie An shrugged, while Xiang Shu was still deep in his thoughts. Feng Qianjun asked, "Or do you want me to go and investigate the situation in the northwest?"
While this discussion between Feng Qianjun and Xie An was still ongoing, Xiang Shu suddenly said seriously to Chen Xing, "All right, no matter what kind of divine weapon that exactly is, now that it has been snatched away by the enemy, can we not forge another one?"
Chen Xing: "Ah?"
This one sentence from Xiang Shu instantly woke those three people up from their dreams. They looked at one another first before Chen Xing then said, "You're right ah."
Xie An said, "This sword can't just be forged whenever you say you'd like it forged, Protector."
Xiang Shu said, "Since people have done it before, naturally, we can also do the same."
After thinking about it, Xie An said, "I do know the materials needed, it's just, they're too difficult to obtain."
Xiang Shu: "Just look for them."
Chen Xing had originally been full of despair. If he couldn't find Shi Hai, he wouldn't be able to take back that Demon Spear. And if he couldn't take back that devil spear, he wouldn't be able to purify it. What's more, it was still extremely difficult to say whether it would transform back to Acala Blade afterward. But what Xiang Shu had said was correct, maybe they could forge another one ah.
After pondering for a while, Xie An said, "That seems to be one way forward. Since you've said so, I must go back as quickly as possible to Kuaiji so I can look for all the records regarding the Acala Blade."
Chen Xing's heart thumped; he was afraid that Xie An would say "Kuaiji's Xiang family." But Xie An, who had gone through decades' worth of experience during his career as an official, had long ago become sophisticated. He knew not to say words that shouldn't be said. Thinking about that place, Xie An continued, "Perhaps, there is still hope after all. I'll return at once and have a look, I'll inform you all immediately once there's some news. But, if nothing goes wrong, after the matter in Carosha has been resolved, you also ought to go down to Jiangnan. When the time comes, we'll meet again."
And so, Xie An got up. Feng Qianjun added, "Tomorrow, I'll be on my way northwest to Liangzhou to investigate Shi Hai's movements, so I'm not going to say goodbye."
Chen Xing finished his ginseng tea after everyone had dispersed, yet all night long, he just tossed and turned around, unable to get some sleep. He couldn't help but steal a glance at Xiang Shu who was at the other end of the tent; there was no sign of movement from the other party. Sometimes, Chen Xing became very curious. Xiang Shu spoke so little every day, what exactly was he thinking? Just like at this moment, was he thinking about the people of Chi Le Chuan, or about Shi Hai, or the matter regarding Chiyou?
Was it possible that deep inside his heart, he also occasionally recalled the many scattered, fragmented pieces of his memories? Chong Ming had told him that during the event of the Revival of All Magic, the moment the tide wound back in reverse, Xiao Ji had used the Luohun Bell to send their memories of the past three years in tow. It was only because of Xiang Shu's remaining dragon power inside his body, which also entangled with his hun and po, that the memories had been suppressed.
But, Chen Xing would occasionally see Xiang Shu having a puzzled expression on his face. This, which seemed to happen when they were doing something that they had also experienced together during the first time around, would always immerse him in his jumbled, disordered memories.
For this reason, Chen Xing had also specifically looked for an opportunity to privately discuss the matter with Xie An and Feng Qianjun. Everyone's opinion was the same: Since it's possible for him to remember, just let him remember on his own, don't force him to remember as to avoid that method backfiring on him. It was just, Chen Xing sometimes felt that Xiang Shu got somewhat aggravated precisely because of this bizarre mash-up of the past and the present.
While Xiang Shu never opened his mouth to ask, he knew that once he did, Chen Xing truly might not be able to resist telling him.
Since he really couldn't sleep, Chen Xing slowly got up in the dark. Groping about in the darkness as he went out and finally arriving at the side of the lake located outside the camp, he looked at the many stars reflected on the water, frowning and pondering over the matter.
Shi Hai had snatched away the divine sword Acala Blade, but while its power had increased compared to before, the Heart Lamp's power had also become stronger. The method of handling him the first time around, would it still be effective? There was no Yin Yang Mirror this time, but maybe, a new boundary could be set up to trap him in. Once inside, they could once more use the hurricane of light to blast away the resentment gathered in Shi Hai's body before activating the Luohun Bell to collect his hun and po.
As long as Shi Hai was executed, and they were able to retrieve the devil spear, they might be able to think of a way to let it slowly recover its original form and bring the divine weapon to meet Chiyou head-on afterward. But, first things first, they had to look for the Luohun Bell... Xie An's most important purpose for returning to Jiankang was to look for this magical artifact.
"Exorcist," a voice sounded from the other side of the lakeside.
Stunned, Chen Xing looked up. He actually didn't notice that deep in the night where everything was dead silent, there would still be someone by the lake.
Emerging from within the darkness, a figure dressed in a black robe appeared; it was none other than Murong Chong standing under the tree.
"Murong Chong?" Chen Xing was slightly surprised. "Can't sleep?"
Murong Chong, from several steps away, just silently fixed his gaze at Chen Xing. Raising his eyebrows and smiling at him, Chen Xing asked, "Since you're going back tomorrow, have you decided on what to do?"
Murong Chong didn't answer Chen Xing's question, showing him a puzzled expression and instead murmuring, "This is the first time that you and I have conversed with each other, but why do I keep getting this kind of familiar feeling? Have we ever become acquainted previously?"
After hesitating for a moment, Chen Xing smiled and replied, "You can consider that we're fated to meet each other. Is it not a good thing?"
Murong Chong just remained silent. After a long time, he suddenly spoke, "I dreamt of you."
In an instant, Chen Xing's heart trembled. Murong Chong continued, "Exorcist, can you interpret dreams?"
"I..." Chen Xing was nervous for a long time before he finally asked him, "What was I doing in your dream?"
Murong Chong replied as he gazed into the other side of the lake, "Numerous times, I dreamt of a large river in which you and I were standing on this side... just like at this moment."
Chen Xing recalled that one night before the Revival of All Magic when he and Murong Chong stood on the bank of the Fei River after Xiang Shu had left.
"They say," Murong Chong said in a low voice, "a river appearing inside one's dream indicates an omen of life and death."
"What's on the other side of the shore?" Chen Xing asked.
"An army," Murong Chong supplied. "A seemingly endless army of Qin. Even at that time, you were still a stranger to me. Your hand was emitting light as you galloped your horse to cross the river, and I followed behind you, sword in hand, as I went to kill Fu Jian."
Chen Xing was clear that this must be the Battle of Fei River. Apparently, even though time had been rewound, everyone still retained some related memories to some extent. Recalling that day when he parted with Murong Chong, Chen Xing actually didn't know where he had gone afterward. At that time, he was so preoccupied with saving Xiang Shu that he had no time to think about it.
"What happened after that?" Chen Xing couldn't help asking him.
"After that," Murong Chong, looking at his and Chen Xing's reflections in the lake, said in a daze, "someone in the rear shouted: 'Defeat the Qin army!' and they all began to trample on one another. I killed Fu Rong with a sword before continuing to rush through the Forbidden Army's defense. I don't know why, but Tuoba Yan wasn't present then. Soon, Fu Jian and I met face-to-face; maybe he didn't expect me to actually come."
Chen Xing asked, "Did you kill him then?"
After a moment of silence, Murong Chong finally replied, "Yes. I pierced his throat with a sword because I didn't want to listen to his rubbish nonsense anymore.
"In that night of misery," Murong Chong added, "I was surrounded by the turmoil and chaos of war. Around me, soldiers were either fleeing or dying. From the opposite side of the river where I originally came from, Han people, whose number could topple the mountains and overturn the seas, were crossing to kill people... while I just stood there in the middle of the battlefield, standing next to his body. From his throat, a lot of blood spurted out, creating a red patch of land around him. He then opened his eyes wide, as if he was begging for my forgiveness; however, no words could come out of his mouth."
Chen Xing carefully looked at Murong Chong and suddenly noticed some faint, unnoticeable streaks of water on his face. At this moment, he didn't turn his head around and just slowly continued, "He didn't say anything, but I know what he wanted to say. It must be: 'Fenghuang'er, Fenghuang'er... Zhen truly likes you ah...'
"I always thought that when that moment arrived, there would be nothing but hate in my heart," he added. "That day before I went to cross the river, I recalled a lot of things in whole. Those offenses he had committed against both my elder sister and me, our clansmen whom he massacred, as well as those times during my childhood when I was held by him. The shudder that I felt no matter where or when... just like how shadows were everywhere in the deep palace, they were ever-present. It was to the point where just hearing his footsteps could evoke my memories.
"Yet I don't know why," Murong Chong turned his head to look at Chen Xing before continuing, "that moment when he died, I just felt very tranquil. Afterward, from the direction in which you left, a sphere of light slowly brightened up, appearing just like the sun that rose in the battlefield, followed by white ashes surrounding the place as if they were snow. At that time, the passage of time seemed to have stopped, and only that lustrous snow kept falling down, forever never-ending...
"...It reminded me of the Autumn Close of that year when Shulü Kong took over as the Great Chanyu," he said in a low voice. "It was also snowing that time in Chi Le Chuan. Fu Jian brought me to the North to congratulate Shulü Kong. There were people all around the place, and I was the only one standing without company amidst the crowd. I wasn't familiar with anyone, and of course, I didn't want to get to know anyone either."
Murong Chong turned his head sideways to look at Chen Xing before continuing, "After Fu Jian had finished his drink with Shulü Kong, he saw that I was still all by myself in the corner, so he came over and told me: 'Let's go, Zhen will take you to go skiing.' Then, carrying his shield on his back, he took me to the Yin Mountains..."
Chen Xing smiled and said, "Sledding? I've also played that."
"En," came Murong Chong's faint reply. "With whom did you play with? Just like on the Hans' Autumn Deity, where people use moonshell as a symbol for 'let us follow and accompany each other for life,' there is also a custom among the Tieles: If snow falls on the day of the Autumn Close, each warrior can then carry their shield and invite their beloved to go sledding in the mountains."
Chen Xing said in disbelief, "So it's like that ma?"
"...The first slide," Murong Chong nodded before continuing in whispers, "serves as a way to tell the other person 'I like you,' while the second one acts as a means of acceptance of their feelings from the receiving party.
"And then, if the beloved proposes to slide together for the third time, it is to let the whole Yin mountain ranges bear witness, together with flying snow that sprinkles upon their heads, that they agree to be together until death do they part."
Chen Xing: "…………………………"
Looking at Chen Xing, Murong Chong went on, "Standing on that battlefield full of falling, lustrous snow, for some reason, all I could think about was that one day. Even after I woke up, those memories were still clear and impossible to get rid of."
There was a moment of silence between the two. Chen Xing's mind had long floated elsewhere, but Murong Chong still continued, "They say you're an exorcist, a person who has gotten a glimpse of the heavenly law. Can you tell me, what is the meaning of this dream?"
Returning to his senses, Chen Xing instead answered him with another question, "If this dream comes true, will you still be able to draw out your sword and take his life?"
"Of course I can," replied Murong Chong.
Chen Xing just shrugged, meaning: Isn't it all there is to it? Why should you bother with it, ne?
After thinking for a moment, Murong Chong shook his head in frustration before turning around to leave the lakeside. However, all of a sudden, Chen Xing extended his hand and, grasping Murong Chong's wrist, injected the Heart Lamp into his body. In an instant, Murong Chong's three hun and seven po, surging in a manner similar to a tide, shook out a trembling sound. Chen Xing felt that deep inside Murong Chong's heart, a speck of black fire was burning, yet under the illumination of the Heart Lamp, it had nowhere to hide. Soon, it was expelled until there was practically nothing left.
"Don’t be scared," said Chen Xing softly, "I understand."
Pulling Murong Chong to himself, Chen Xing reached out his hands and gently hugged him. Murong Chong wearily let out a sigh. He said no more and just turned around to leave, while the remaining Chen Xing just stood by the lake unmoving.
This long and it’s only half a chapter… *sobs* anyway remember that Xiang Shu 1.0 had casually asked Chen Xing to go sledding with him back in the 1st timeline 🙂 🙂 🙂
so who’s the clown
ALSO TODAY IS 6TH JUNE HAPPY BIRTHDAY FEITIAN!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.