King Akele helped Chen Xing settle down in the stone house first, fed his horse, then went out again within the twinkling of an eye.
Chen Xing was used to communicating with him through gestures as they couldn’t understand each other, so he didn’t ask what he went out to do either. He only said, “I’ll go roam around the city.”
He had always liked strolling around whenever he visited a new place. Now that it was near the New Year, he only had three years left to live, so what else could he do? All he could do now was explore and broaden his horizons through new experiences. King Akele helped him wear a necklace made out of wolf teeth that was adorned with colourful gems; he did it mainly to differentiate his identity from everyone else, lest he get snatched away by the Xiongnu people.
Four hundred years, it had been a whole four hundred years. The traces of war left behind during the Han dynasty had already been gently smoothed out by time; the only monument left behind was the old imperial court of the Xiongnu’s, situated in the middle of the city built from black stones. Xiongnus, Rourans, and even Tiele people had once occupied this place. Chen Xing walked towards the stone palace, feeling as if he could still see the glory it once possessed.
A group of Xiongnus were warming themselves by a fire in the imperial court. When they saw that a Han had come, they scrutinised him out of curiosity for awhile, and eventually someone invited him for a drink. Chen Xing greeted them simply, then went back to get some rations and shared it with them.
“What kind of place is this?” Chen Xing turned once around and suddenly saw that in the depths of the imperial palace garden stood a square tower.
The Xiongnus couldn’t understand what Chen Xing was saying either, so both sides could only rely on gesticulations in order to communicate. Chen Xing stood in front of the tower and noticed the pattern formed with stone tiles on the ground......
This was an array! It was a Defense Wall!
Chen Xing immediately strode over in a hurry. He hadn’t expected to see ruins left behind by exorcists before silence fell on all magic in a place so far away from the Central Plains!
What was this Defense Wall used for?
Besides the mirror world, this was his first time seeing such an array in reality.
There was a stone gate in front of the square tower that weighed about 10,000 jin. Chen Xing tried to push it open a few times, but the stone gate didn’t even budge an inch. Aside from that, the whole tower situated in the middle of the array was sealed airtight; it didn’t even have a single window.
There must be a magic treasure inside, and Chen Xing thought, forget it, I shouldn’t touch it.
There was a small spiritual lock on the stone gate painted with molten gold, and Chen Xing recognised its use was to open the gate. The one who designed this tower was rather ingenious. Before silence fell on all magic, exorcists with powerful magical powers only needed to muster the spiritual Qi of heaven and earth and inject it into the gate through the spiritual lock before the gate could be opened.
When the spiritual Qi of heaven and earth got restored, he could come back to take a look. Chen Xing was confident that he could open this lock.
King Akele returned with a deer he had hunted over his shoulder. A few Xiongnu who had been warming themselves by the fire in the imperial court helped him barbeque the meat. King Akele was clearly getting on in years as he was now short of breath. After chasing that deer for a long time, he was thoroughly exhausted and had to sit in front of the campfire to take some time to settle down. Then he noticed Chen Xing’s worried gaze and smiled at him.
Chen Xing couldn’t help but think, if my Father were still alive, he would also be like this ba.
Once upon a time in Jinyang, his father had only had his son when he was forty, so he pampered Chen Xing a lot. Yet he didn’t spoil Chen Xing into becoming an embroidered pillow. Instead, he would often warn him that the world was in chaos and had not settled down, how difficult the ways of the world were, the rise and fall of dynasties, the devastating wars that lasted for many years, how the Hu and Han killed each other, yet it was always the common people who suffered. While a man is alive, he must have an indomitable spirit and only focus on four matters: cultivating his moral character, governing his household, ruling the country, and pacifying the country. One must remember at all costs not to sink into the mire of hatred and set off disputes between the Hu and Han because of one’s personal grudges.
Aside from that, he should also be upright, dignified, and be a person of unflinching integrity, so that he could bring honour to the Chen family in the future.
This was what made Chen Xing cultivate an excellent temper after reading the books of sages. Unless absolutely necessary, he would try his best to not be at odds with people. Theoretically speaking, one should cultivate one’s self first before setting up a family, then governing the country and pacifying the lands. When the responsibility of “pacifying the lands” was imposed on him, Chen Xing barely hesitated before accepting it like it was natural.
King Akele gasped for a while and finally felt better.
“You’re old, so don’t torment yourself like that anymore,” Chen Xing said, “It’s the same even if we eat rations.”
King Akele couldn’t understand him, yet he smiled to signal to Chen Xing that he was fine. Chen Xing felt his heart ache a little. He unfolded the map to ascertain how much more time they needed.
“Youduo, my son,” King Akele suddenly said in broken Han language, “I want to come, protect you, you, be okay.”
Chen Xing, “...”
King Akele continued, “I, can’t not care, thank, thank you.”
Chen Xing instantly teared up a little. These few sentences in the Han language must have been learnt from the Consort.
“Thank you, Chen Xing.” King Akele took the roasted deer leg and shared some with Chen Xing.
Chen Xing nodded and reluctantly smiled.
That night, howls of wolves could be heard outside Longcheng. Chen Xing couldn’t help but worry; he was afraid that they would bump into a pack of wild wolves when they continued their journey the next day. In fact, they had already encountered several lone, wild wolves on their way here, and a few would often follow them. Fortunately, King Akele was a master of archery and would always be able to get them out of danger before their horse received a fright.
But upon hearing that noise, one could feel that they were surrounded by wolves on all sides. It was winter in the twelfth lunar month; it was difficult to find food in the snowfield, so the wolves formed packs in order to fight for food with the Hu people in the city.
The next morning, the wolves stopped howling. King Akele didn’t say anything and continued their journey, yet he was on high alert along the way. After leaving Longcheng, they entered an area with a huge lake in Barkol. After crossing the frozen lake, they continued travelling north. There were more and more trees now. Sometimes, the mountains and fields would all be covered with frost. The two of them moved through the forest in a zigzag fashion. They spent the night in a cave, and soon, they were gradually reaching the end of their journey that had stretched for 800 li.
And Carosha, the place that had only existed in legends, could not be seen yet. Misty fog filled their vision. King Akele had already brought Chen Xing to a place that barely had any signs of human inhabitation. Aside from snow, there was only more snow. There would only be a short three months of spring and summer here every year, and the two of them would often not say even a single word to each other for the entire day.
Until one night when they spent the night under a tree, and the snow had stopped, and the world was incomparably tranquil. The starry river in the night sky flickered. Chen Xing scrutinised the map, thinking that they shouldn’t have gone the wrong way. They had always been advancing in the direction of the North Star.
King Akele’s white, grizzled beard seemed even longer after combing it. His pair of deep, blue eyes had been constantly affixed to the bonfire. Chen Xing kept the map, and just when he was about to sleep, he suddenly heard a deep wolf howl at the end of the mountain ridges in the distance. Soon after, the howls of wolves rang out one after another in all directions.
“There are a lot of wolves,” Chen Xing said.
King Akele fanned the bonfire to rage even brighter, signalling to him that he need not be scared and to go to sleep.
“Akeles,” Chen Xing said, “Have you been here before?”
King Akele couldn’t understand him. He shook his head and made a bed for Chen Xing, signalling for him to just sleep.
“Thank you,” Chen Xing said.
“Thank you.” King Akele didn’t know much Han language and could only say this.
Chen Xing lay on his side. The howling of wolves continued, which annoyed him a great deal, and he couldn’t sleep for a long time.
“Stop howling!” Chen Xing got up in frustration and shouted.
King Akele let out a ‘shh’ and made a gesture to motion that there was a mountain in the distance, so he shouldn’t trigger an avalanche.
So Chen Xing could only lie back down. Suddenly, he heard a strange sound coming from the ground -- this was how Xiang Shu had heard the invasion of the living corpse army. It was an extremely weak sound, yet it put him on alert.
King Akele was sitting as he kept vigil. Chen Xing immediately beckoned for him to listen to the ground. When King Akele crouched down, Chen Xing saw glittering green lights appear in their surroundings, winking to life like fireflies that were wandering back and forth.
“What are those?” Chen Xing said, “It’s winter, how could there be fire..” Then he immediately realised that those were the wolves’ eyes! The wolf pack had come!
King Akele slowly got up and surveyed their surroundings. He threw all of their firefood into the bonfire pile at once, added some butter, and the flames instantly soared up into the sky. Thousands of wild wolves circled them but couldn’t help backing away. Chen Xing became nervous, yet King Akele said something.
“What?” Chen Xing, “I don’t understand!”
King Akele nocked an arrow on his bow. The wolf pack was wandering around the periphery of the bonfire, yet they feared the flames and didn’t dare lean in too close.
King Akele shook his head, signalling to Chen Xing that he need not worry. Chen Xing also knew that as long as they had fire, the wolves wouldn’t get too close to them. This was how they had travelled all the way here.
However, a figure swept by above them, then a huge pile of snow suddenly fell from the trees high above that crushed the bonfire.
Then another “wuu--” sounded, as if a wolf was urging the rest. King Akele immediately aimed at the place where the sound came from and released his arrow!
That arrow shot into the darkness. Without waiting for him to nock another arrow, the wolf pack took advantage of the extinguishing of the bonfire and lunged at them!
King Akele immediately retreated and roared at Chen Xing. Chen Xing didn’t even have to guess that he was telling him to run. He grabbed a bow at once and shot at the forest!
The wolf pack swarmed over and soon swallowed up the two, yet their target was King Akele!
Their surroundings plunged into darkness. King Akele roared angrily and struggled.
“Akeles!” Chen Xing shouted. He immediately raised his hand and released the light of the Heart Lamp.
The wolf pack seemed to be startled and started retreating one after another. Chen Xing turned back to look for their horse, yet their horse had disappeared. There were wolves everywhere. He kept evading them, wanting to look for King Akele.
A black figure descended from the sky. When Chen Xing heard it, he instantly looked up -- a metal claw that flickered with a cold glint was already at his throat.
Right at that moment, a familiar voice shouted, “Get down!”
Chen Xing subconsciously arched his neck, and the metal claw brushed obliquely across his face. The strange light on the claw flickered, then a sword flew out from behind him that blocked the metal claw. With a swing, it hurled the assassin brutally onto a tree. Accompanied by an angry roar, the entire tree broke into half through its middle and collapsed with all the snow on it!
“Xiang Shu?!” Chen Xing said, “Xiang Shu! Why are you here?”
“Idiot!” Xiang Shu was furious. “I have been chasing you two for seven days! Get up the tree!”
Chen Xing climbed up, slid down, climbed up, slid down, climbed up slid down climbed up slid down climbed up slid down... Xiang Shu finally lost patience. He lifted his leg and kicked Chen Xing at his waist to send him flying up the tree. Chen Xing hugged the tree tightly and continued climbing up, then shouted downwards, “Find Akeles!”
Xiang Shu swung his huge sword out -- the surrounding trees were all chopped down one after another and collapsed with an earthshaking rumble. The wolf pack fled in all directions, leaving Chen Xing behind who held onto a pine tree that was nearly three feet tall as he swayed from side to side at the top of the tree.
“Behind you!” Chen Xing saw it, but was it a human or yao?!
Fanart for the last part hahah:
CX: Xiang Shu! Why are you here?
XS: Idiot! Get up the tree!
XS: I’ll send you up!
The original art has since been deleted, but you can still find the artist’s work here.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro.