In Huanmo Palace.
A scholar held a glass bowl in one hand, filled with viscous blood. The blood seemed to be alive, slowly wiggling at the moment.
On the platform before him lied the burnt body of Sima Wei.
Not far away, there were three balls of blazing black flames; inside the flames, Chang’an, Xiangyang, and a verdant mountain could be seen.
“How is the plan proceeding?” the Devil God in the center asked.
“Very smoothly,” the scholar replied.
The heart sneered. “Very smoothly? The three important weapons -- the Yin Yang Mirror, the Zheng Drum, and the Deer Cry Staff -- have all fallen into the enemy’s hands. Zhou Zhen lost his life, while the resentment we spent so much effort to gather in Yaoguang, Kaiyang, and Yuheng have all dissipated as well. Not only did the drought fiend army not increase in number, but it’s also getting smaller by the day. Two of the Eight Princes who were supposed to guard the array are gone. Wang Hai, is this what you mean by ‘smoothly’?”
The scholar called Wang Hai answered earnestly, “My Lord, you need not worry.”
He tilted the glass bowl in his hand slightly. The blood was like a viscous paste that fell onto Sima Wei’s remains, wriggling as it seeped in and began repairing his body for him.
“At the very least, they have not discovered the Ten Thousand Spirits Array so far,” Wang Hai replied with confidence. “Although the number of troops in our drought fiend army has sharply reduced, we can transform as many of them we want in the future. There are humans everywhere. At present, we should curb ourselves and lay low, only then will their vigilance not be easily aroused… As for the three demonic weapons, we can just retrieve them again next time. The seven Ten Thousand Spirits Arrays will be activated as scheduled.”
The heart uttered a disdainful "hmph".
Wang Hai watched Sima Wei’s body being repaired and murmured, “The exorcists think themselves clever, deluding themselves into thinking that they can control the magic treasures of the world with the Qi of slaughter brought about by the weapons. However, what they don’t know is that they will end up falling victim to their ingenuity. Resentment will eventually come back to bite them one day… my Lord.”
As Sima Wei’s body that had been burnt into a crisp by lightning was being restored, Wang Hai turned around and walked towards the giant heart. “The war in the North clued me into an important hypothesis. If this speculation proves to be true, the magic treasure that will reconstruct your body for you at the eye of the array in the Divine Land will be a treasure never seen before, so you won’t need to use the Heart Lamp anymore.”
The heart didn’t reply, as if in doubt.
Wang Hai said, “My Lord, please, take a look at this. The Dinghai Pearl that you have been searching for more than 300 years might have already appeared.”
Wang Hai shook his sleeve, and a small copper clock about the size of his palm appeared in his hand. Along with a ringing dang, black flames appeared all around his body, and a fantastical scene appeared in front of him.
In the world of ice and snow, at the bank of Xarusgol River a few months ago, numerous crows landed quietly around the Akeles tribe’s campsite. One of them turned towards a tent.
“Xiang Yuyan’s son… where-where is he?”
The heart immediately started beating faster, and the entire Huanmo Palace was filled with a magenta light.
Another black flame burst forth, within which appeared the figures of Xiang Shu, Chen Xing, King Akele, and the Consort within the royal tent.
“When did she go to Lake Barkol?”
“22 years ago, it happened before you were born,” King Akele’s consort could be heard saying. “The first time I met her, she was heading North, saying that she wanted to find someone. A man.”
“Bring this woman to me,” The Devil God Heart said.
Wang Hai replied, “She is the Akeles tribe’s consort, but she has already died. She was killed by Che Luofeng, and her corpse had been burned to ashes by the exorcist.”
“Idiot!” The Devil God Heart was almost roaring. “300 years! A whole 300 years! We finally found a clue!”
“My Lord, please rest assured,” Wang Hai said. “Xiang Yuyan is Shulü Kong’s mother, and the answer is on the verge of disclosure. Next, I will put in my utmost to search for the Dinghai Pearl. If my humble expectations are proven true, then your brand new body will possess an immense power that even the ancient gods can’t match. Even the final ending of the Battle of Banquan can be rewritten.”
Suddenly, the heart burst out into raucous, frenzied laughter.
March in Jiankang. Willows were abound, the cries of spring birds rang out. A gentle breeze started blowing. The palace rooms were bright, and the beauty of the imperial courtyard was divine.
Chen Xing’s first thought when he went ashore was, I’m finally home.
The Jiankang in front of him really possessed the beauty described in an excerpt of Ban Gu’s “Rhapsody of the Two Capitals”.
“The ritual officers order the ceremonies,
And the imperial entourage then exits.
They raise the whale,
And strike the engraved bell.
The emperor mounts the Jade Carriage,
Hitches the seasonal dragons,
The phoenix canopy hangs lush and luxuriant;
Crossbar and simurgh bells jingle and jangle
The imperial officers follow like shadows,
In a splendid display of dignity and decorum.”
It had been nearly 70 years since the Disaster of Yongjia that had ravaged the Central Plains. The Han people had migrated south, bringing with them the flourishing scenery of two capitals -- Chang’an and Luoyang. It seemed like all the officials of the Jin government clasped a magnificent picture scroll under their arm when they came, then unhurriedly spread them towards the Yangtze River’s bank. This picture scroll instantly unfurled as if it had a life of their own, so thousands of years of a splendid cultural heritage reappeared in all its glory.
Ever since the Wu’s era, Jiankang had been the abode of the emperor. When Sima Yan, the emperor of Jin, unified the world, Sun Hao, the Emperor of Wu, capitulated and surrendered the city. Jiankang had never experienced war, and now, there were millions of families living in the city. The large-scale migration to the South brought books, as well as farming technology. It introduced poems, books, and paintings, and also the technique of casting. As of now, Jiankang City, which was located at Huai River with its east side facing Mount Zhong, had become the center of the Divine Land. Along with the western cities -- Bancheng, Moling, and Fushe, Danyang County in the South, Langya County, and other such cities, then expanding to the Divine Land ten thousand miles southwards from the Yangtze River, it encompassed all of the salt, iron, coal, and silk in the world. You would find one market every hundred steps, and one city every ten miles. Medical treatment, medication, books, paintings, music and entertainment, trade and commerce, as well as numerous artisans were all extremely prosperous.
Since the Qin and Han Dynasties, the Jiangnan region has been a land of fish and rice. Books and ink were expensive, while grain and rice were cheap. At that time, under Fujian’s rule, one dou of rice in the North cost twelve yuan, while one dou of rice in Jiankang cost three yuan. It was even more populous and affluent than a Heavenly province like Bashu. No one would die of hunger, and bran and grain were used to feed livestock. If every county had a bumper crop, there would be so much grain that they would be left to rot in a storehouse and feed the rats. Such a low price for rice naturally provided for numerous families and traders. In the early years of the Taiyuan Dynasty, there were many talented people in the South. Including the scholars from the large-scale migration, in addition to the local scholars, there were now nearly a total of 100,000 scholars idling their time away out of the millions of families in the city. The Jin government no longer had any official positions they could offer, so the scholars could only discuss politics all day to while their time away.
It was Xiang Shu’s first time formally entering the world of the Hans, and he was instantly stunned. He had heard of the “South” that the Hus talked about, but it was even more glorious than in the stories. After Xie An received the two of them, he purposely drove Chen Xing and Xiang Shu along the Qinhuai River in an open top carriage for a tour of the city as they made their way to their lodging.
When Chen Xing saw Xiang Shu’s gaze, he knew that he had been shaken by Jiankang’s atmosphere, so he felt a slight inexplicable sense of pride. It was Chen Xing’s first time here, and even he was a little surprised.
“I received your letter on the way and guessed that you would arrive today, so I came to welcome you, though it might have been a little presumptuous,” Xie An said with a smile.
“It’s not! It’s not presumptuous at all!” Chen Xing was very satisfied, Xie An truly hadn’t been presumptuous in the slightest, and the welcome reception he arranged was grand enough, such that he could show off a little to Xiang Shu. He was very pleased. But he suddenly realised that the scholars who welcomed them seemed to look at him and Xiang Shu with two different gazes? The gaze with which they looked at Chen Xing was filled with curiosity and appreciation, while the gaze with which they looked at Xiang Shu was full of amazement and admiration. When they boarded the carriage, he heard people discuss in whispers, “Such a beautiful man actually exists...”
“You guys are too loud!” Chen Xing said in annoyance. “I can hear everything!”
“Little Shidi, how is Jiankang compared to Chang’an?” Xie An changed the topic as he asked casually.
“Um...” Chen Xing was a little baffled. He said, “Oh right, I wanted to ask this when I got off the ship. Lord Xie, when did we become fellow disciples?”
Chen Xing kept trying to recollect that. Xie An had studied under the famous scholar, Huan Yi, who didn’t seem to have studied under the same teacher as Chen Xing’s father, Chen Zhe. If one must insist on it, perhaps it was because they were both scholars?
“Chivalrous Baili once promised to accept me as a disciple.” Xie An said with a smile, “You were still young at that time, so you probably forgot about it.”
“That happened?” Chen Xing’s doubts just shot through the roof. He did have a Shixiong called Wang Meng, but he didn’t recall his Shifu accepting Xie An as a disciple. But since Xie An insisted on that, just let him address him as such ba, he wouldn’t lose anything from it anyway.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro.