“A melody can sell out one’s heart”
“Come, I want to propose a toast to you all!” Xie An had put together a small-scale welcoming party for himself and called his entire family over. His wife had even come out in person and poured wine for the group of juniors with a smile.
“A toast to Xie-daren!” Feng Qianjun raised his cup.
Xiao Shan and Xiang Shu also gestured out of politeness, while Chen Xing spoke with a face of indifference, “Xie-shixiong, you really don’t know how to give up ah.”
Chen Xing originally believed that Xie An was only acting this way out of interest or as a hobby. He didn’t expect that Xie An’s desire to become an exorcist was actually so strong that even if he had to plead with the emperor to stuff him in horizontally or vertically, he would stuff himself into the Exorcism Department no matter what.
“This is the best wine in my lord’s cellar. The strength of the alcohol is rather high though, so everyone please drink slowly.” Xie An’s wife was the little sister of the literati Liu Xun and was also a descendant of a distinguished family in Jiangnan. She smiled and said, “Ever since you all came, my lord has started to talk about how he could help Chen-daren all the time.”
“When you go slaying dragons in the future,” Xie An started again, “you can’t not bring me anymore”
Chen Xing held his forehand with a hand. Xiang Shu answered for him, “You’re going to have to take care of your own small life.”
Xie An replied, “But of course. My little shidi, I have been practicing many cultivation methods in the past few days and am only waiting for the restoration of magic. It will definitely come in handy... alright, my wife, go rest first, we’re going to discuss work for a while.”
His wife whose maiden name was Liu smiled as she returned to her quarters. Chen Xing looked towards Xie An and suddenly felt amused; he was already at such an age and held the highest official rank, yet he was actually unable to forget the first dreams of his youth. Thinking about it carefully, he realized that it was actually himself who had become too closed-minded.
“Fine.” Chen Xing raised his glass and said, “Welcome Xie-shixiong. In the future, we’ll be in your care.”
“Now you’re talking.” Xie An said as he slapped the table. He then continued to drink with everyone. During the banquet, he not only discussed Shi Hai, the Divine Land, the Heart Lamp, and the Acala Blade, but also brought up the big case from 300 years ago. Xie An had finally become an exorcist with much difficulty, so now these legendary anecdotes were no longer unrelated to him, but instead close at hand. Now that he could speak freely, he actually became even more enthusiastic, feeling as if the restoration of magic was even more plausible after a few more months. Their prospects never seemed brighter.
Did this count as the re-establishment of the Exorcism Department? Chen Xing thought of how he would pass away in two years; looking at the people at this banquet, Xiang Shu probably wouldn’t remain in the Exorcism Department after his death. He more likely would return to the North to be The Great Chanyu again, while leaving the new Exorcism Department in the South. Handing it over to Xie An when the time comes may be the best choice.
Xie An was evidently extremely curious about what was known as the “fantasy world” and asked many questions on this topic, “Then inside the Yin Yang Mirror, is it a fantasy world?”
Thus Chen Xing explained, “If I must say, the ‘fantasy world’ isn’t a world of its own, and it isn’t like the kind that you know of. What is known as the ‘fantasy world’ is actually, in terms of the “present world”, the embodiment of the Divine Land in the eyes of mortals, thus they see it as the present world. But what an exorcist sees in the present world are earth veins, spiritual qi, yao, and demons, and that is what we refer to as the present world. That is what ‘Rivers and mountains as barriers, the present world is the surface, and the fantasy world is inside’ means.
Xie An said, “So I have finally caught a glimpse of the fantasy world.”
Chen Xing didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he replied, “You... can think of it that way. But exorcists aren’t eternally young, forever undying, can soar through the skies, burrow through the earth, or omnipotent like you imagined. Exorcists also have their own restrictions. I’m afraid that you may be disappointed later on.”
Xie An exclaimed, “I get it, I get it! Being immortal ma, shixiong has never had such an idea. As for magic, just like what the families that specialize in martial arts say when they teach their descendants, the very first rule is that one must not indiscriminately act against those who do not know the art. This is the unwritten rule.”
Chen Xing responded in a sincere voice, “That may not necessarily be the case. There’s one person who always relies on their martial arts to be the number one in the world and would often threaten to beat me to death.”
Xiang Shu: "......"
Xiao Shan had drunk a little bit of the wine, so his words had also increased. He angrily shouted, “Who wants to beat you to death?!”
Chen Xing waved his hand, gesturing that he was just making a joke. He then turned back towards Xie An and continued to say, “I usually can’t take enough care of Xiao Shan, I’ve troubled you shixiong.”
“Xiao Shan is a good kid,” Xie An happily replied, “He’s more like the one taking care of me when we’re out exorcising yao.”
Xiang Shu’s brows faintly furrowed when he heard that. Feng Qianjun also detected the vague foreboding meaning behind those words so he plastered on a smile and asked, “Why do you say that?”
Realization also dawned onto Chen Xing, causing him to quickly fall silent. Xiao Shan then asked, “Did you all know each other before?”
“Yeah.” Now that Xie An finally fulfilled his long-desired wish, there wasn’t a single topic he wouldn’t chat about. Thus he talked about how he had once gone up Hua Mountain and paid a visit to Bai Lilun and a child Chen Xing. He said, “The first time I met my little shidi, he also happened to be at your age.”
Chen Xing recalled his days on the mountain and felt like it was like something from an entire lifetime ago. The years from when he was 7 to 16 had passed by in a blink of an eye, yet the two years between ages 16 to 18 had made him feel as if he had already experienced a tumultuous lifetime.
Speaking of Hua Mountain, Xie An’s knowledge was sparse, but Chen Xing’s childhood was actually filled with quite a lot of amusing incidents. However, the so-called amusing childhood incidents in his impression were really nothing more than boring, trivial things such as studying medicine and reading scrolls from the Exorcism Department with his master, treating and giving shots to the bears, reconnecting the broken bones of birds, and scooping up fish behind the mountain. Bai Lilun was a person of few words, so little Chen Xing had to find ways to entertain himself on his own.
Although people called it seclusion in the mountains, for a half-grown child, the very nature of it incited a faint sense of loneliness. This was why Chen Xing could understand Xiao Shan very well, since he would recall that he and Xiao Shan had very similar childhoods. But now that they were chatting about such topics, Chen Xing felt like such matters only seemed tedious and boring to people like them - only Xiang Shu was listening in earnest.
Thus Chen Xing stopped talking and said, “My alcohol tolerance is bad so I’m being a little long-winded, everyone please don’t take offence.”
Xie An waved his hand in accordance, and everyone continued drinking again. Xiang Shu directed a question to Chen Xing, “When is your birthday?”
“Ah?” Chen Xing gave a smile as he replied, “Why are you suddenly asking about this? It’s on the seventeenth of the eighth lunar month.”
This caused everybody to be taken aback for a moment. Xiang Shu asked unhappily, “Yesterday? Why didn’t you tell us?”
Chen Xing said self-deprecatingly, “I never celebrated it before either, so I had even forgotten about it myself. What about you?”
Xiang Shu remained silent for a while. Dodging Chen Xing’s curious eyes, he replied, “The second lunar month.”
“Yo,” Feng Qianjun sounded in response, “Wasn’t that when we all just met?”
Xiang Shu, “The first day of the second lunar month, I hadn’t met you yet.”
“February first ah.” Then Chen Xing suddenly remembered, wasn’t that the day he found Xiang Shu in the Xiangyang prison?!
Neither of them continued down that topic. Since Chen Xing was the one who opened the conversation, Xie An started to talk about his childhood. But that was something everybody had all long heard of before; it was just about him yearning to be an immortal warrior in his youth after reading about them in books and hearing about them in folklore. After talking about that, the topic moved onto Xiao Shan. Chen Xing asked him, “When is your birthday? Do you still remember?”
Xiao Shan didn’t know when his own birthday was; he was too young when he was brought to Carosha by Cang Lang so he could only spread his hands. Feng Qianjun also asked him a question, “It must’ve been very boring to be in Carosha since childhood.”
Xiao Shan refuted this, “Not boring. Lu Ying would bring me to the mountains to play. Played for an entire day.”
Xiang Shu swept another glance at Chen Xing. Chen Xing was smiling as he commented, “Then you were much better off than I was. My master’s health was very frail, so I was always cooped up at home.”
Xiao Shan talked about some things regarding Carosha, saying, “There are also earth veins in Carosha. They would glow in the caves, a cave there.”
Chen Xing pondered for a moment before asking, “Shi Hai couldn’t have gone to hide in Carosha, right?”
“Does Karakorum also have them?” Xiang Shu suddenly asked, “Do you know?”
Xiao Shan shook his head with a blank expression. Not long after, everybody swept past this topic as well. Now it was Feng Qianjun’s turn. Feng Qianjun talked about the matters from his childhood, including the days he spent with his elder brother and how he acknowledged a ronin as his master and learned his sword techniques from him. At the end, everybody thought of Feng Qianyi, and all sighed in lament.
Xie An and Feng Qianyi were also old acquaintances, so he couldn’t help but remark, “I never would’ve expected Qianyi actually fall into such a circumstance.”
“So,” Feng Qianjun let out a sigh, saying, “I have to avenge my eldest brother. Only after I’ve avenged him can I let go of this matter and get married to Qing’er with a peace of mind.”
“Worldly matters,” Xie An couldn’t hold back from reminding him, “wait for no one. Qianjun, I’ve watched you two brothers grow up. Do what you have to do and just think about the present, don’t worry about the future.”
When Chen Xing heard these words, not only did his heart tremble, but he had also thought of himself, as well as about Xiang Shu. When he turned to look at him, his gaze suddenly held a hint of desolation.
Xiang Shu avoided Chen Xing’s gaze and took a sip of wine. When it was his turn, he stood up from his seat and said, “I’m going to leave first.”
Xiang Shu gulped down the remaining wine and stood up without another word, causing everybody to boo a few times. Chen Xing helplessly shook his head, knowing that Xiang Shu was someone who didn’t want to talk too much about the past. His past, as if following his leave from Chi Le Chuan, seemed to have been forgotten. Only Chen Xing himself, the only person who was involved, still remembered.
Xie An motioned for Chen Xing to go check on him, so Chen Xing also took a few more bites before standing up, saying, “I’m also going to sleep, you guys continue drinking.”
While the wine feast had yet to end, Chen Xing was greeted by the light breeze of the autumn night. Dawdling in the starlight-covered courtyard, he originally had wanted to return to his own room but had involuntarily walked outside of the courtyard where Xiang Shu stayed instead.
“Protector, have you gone to sleep yet?” Chen Xing asked.
Without waiting for an answer from Xiang Shu who was inside the room, Chen Xing gently pushed open the slightly-ajar courtyard gate and walked inside to find that the door to the room was wide open. Inside was Xiang Shu, who was only wearing a pair of knee-length undergarment pants and a pair of leather sandals, leaving his upper body bare. Standing in front of a table, the fair and well-defined muscles on his body were illuminated beneath the lamplight. The contours on his back and shoulders were extremely perfect. He really was the epitome of ‘slim when dressed, muscled when not’.
Xiang Shu, “You came to the wrong room.”
Chen Xing replied, “I didn’t, I came to check up on you.”
On the table was an ink-painted map of the Divine Land. On the side were three sheets of paper filled with copies made by Xiang Shu. Pressing the papers in place was the shell bracelet they had bought during the Autumn Deity Festival. Xiang Shu had quickly moved the bracelet away the moment Chen Xing entered, but Chen Xing had already caught sight of it, only choosing to not say anything.
“Speak for yourself,” Chen Xing said with a smile, “You’re going to lecture me? Put on your clothes, lest you come down with a cold.”
He had left halfway through the banquet to look at some maps, one could guess that he had wanted to find the Dinghai Pearl.
Xiang Shu gave a slight frown and replied in a low voice, “It’ll be fine. I just drank some wine so I wanted to cool off from the alcohol. I’m thinking about the problem regarding the earth veins, as well as the so-called ‘Ten Thousand Spirits Array’. Are you sure you’ve heard of it?”
During the conversation between Chen Xing and Sima Wei, there was no third person present, but Chen Xing could pretty much remember every sentence spoken at the time. Thus he said, “I’m sure I remembered correctly.”
“Come over and take a look.” Xiang Shu said, sweeping a glance at Chen Xing.
Chen Xing made his way to his side. Xiang Shu was shirtless, and the skin on his body was scorching hot from drinking strong alcohol. His neck was dusted in a faint red, and when he moved just a little bit closer, that masculine, aggression-filled scent enveloped him, as if he had pulled Chen Xing into the scope of his aura. It caused him to involuntarily blush, his heartbeat to speed up, and his breathing to pause.
“Starting from Carosha,” Xiang Shu said as he dipped his long and slender finger in a little bit of cinnabar and lightly brushed it on the northernmost point of the map, “this is what I figured out from Xiao Shan’s words.”
“Is this where the earth veins’ node is?” Chen Xing also realized this, but with a half-naked beautiful man standing beside him, he was constantly distracted without fail. Especially recently, he didn’t know why, but he was growing more and more aware of Xiang Shu’s charms. He left no room for him to think of anything else; the more he looked at him, the more he liked what he saw, the more he watched him, the more his heart started to race. He couldn’t help turning his head to sneak a glance at him, but Xiang Shu also happened to be turning his head to look at him. They were so close to each other that they could feel the other person’s breath intertwining with their own. Xiang Shu’s breath carried the fragrant floral scent of wine, prompting Chen Xing’s heartbeat to once again wildly speed up.
Xiang Shu turned his head back in a very stiff manner but did not distance himself from Chen Xing. He only remained in his original position, saying, “Yes. Then if we look at Karakorum, if there are also earth veins there... I’ve decided to write a letter and have Xie An send it to Shi Mokun, asking him to help us investigate the undergrounds of Karakorum.”
“So?” Chen Xing watched as Xiang Shu’s cinnabar stained finger tap on two locations.
“If we include Jiankang and Kuaiji,” Xiang Shu then marked a third location, “Jiangnan.”
“En...” Chen Xing scrutinized him with a tilt of his head and remarked, “That’s three. You’ve read quite a lot of ancient books to know about the earth veins so clearly.”
“This was my mother’s family’s field of study,” Xiang Shu responded, “It’s nothing strange. Now looking at where the drought fiends have appeared, the next place is Chi Le Chuan.”
There were already three points north outside the Great Wall.
“Following that is Chang'an,” Xiang Shu marked the Central Shaanxi area with the cinnabar, “as well as Xiangyang to the South. Then from Xiangyang, leading up to Longzhong Mountain.”
“Which was also where we first came across the drought fiends.” Chen Xing’s impression of that place was very strong.
“What does it look like?” Xiang Shu asked, “Have you noticed it yet?”
Chen Xing peered at the six points on the map, recalling what Sima Wei had said. Of the seven Ten Thousand Spirits Arrays in the Divine Land... there was still one more missing. He asked, “I feel like these points are all on earth veins? What about the seventh one?”
Xiang Shu finally pointed out the seventh point in Luoyang, and asked, “How about now?”
Chen Xing scrutinized it for a while. Xiang Shu had connected all these points from the North to the South, turning them into a curved line that passed through Carosha, Karakorum, and the Yin Mountains in Chi Le Chuan. Then after connecting it to Luoyang and the Central Plains, a square had appeared.
The four cities of the Central Plains - Chang'an, Xiangyang, Jiankang, and Luoyang - have all become the body of a ladle.
The three locations in the north had become a ladle handle!
“The Big Dipper!” Chen Xing cried in shock.
Xiang Shu spoke, “The Tianquan star is located in Luoyang. According to my guess, all seven of these places need to have an abundance of resentment in order to activate the Ten Thousand Spirits Arrays at the same time. Shi Hai’s plans in Xiangyang, Carosha, Karakorum, Chi Le Chuan, and Chang'an should’ve already succeeded, but suffered our interference, which is why the magical artifacts had been snatched away from him. As for Wen Zhe and that dragon of his...”
Chen Xing murmured, “It’s absorbing the resentment for Jiankang.”
Xiang Shu nodded, continuing, “So now there’s Luoyang. However, the magical artifacts are in our hands, and Shi Hai now lacks magical weapons. For the moment, it should be impossible for him to use the Divine Land as the black magic that powers a magic array.”
When Chen Xing first started, he had always thought that the “Ten Thousand Spirits Arrays” were seven magic arrays, but he had never found the actual formations before. However, now that he looked at it, perhaps there were never any formations. Or perhaps the Big Dipper formed by the course of the earth veins on the Divine Land was a formation in itself.
In other words, Shi Hai had originally wanted to make use of the drought fiend kings, by having them disperse to these locations, wait for Fu Jian to direct his army to the South, and then finally resurrect the Devil God Chiyou amidst a final, large-scale sacrifice.
“I’m going to Nanping Mountain tomorrow.” Xiang Shu said, “It’s late now, so go back and rest ba.”
Chen Xing made an “en” sound in response. He watched as Xiang Shu snapped his fingers, causing the candle flame to be snuffed out with a burst of air.
Chen Xing originally wanted to take advantage of his tipsiness to go chat with Xiang Shu, however, he didn’t expect that save for matters regarding the Exorcism Department, Xiang Shu didn’t have anything else to say to him. Chen Xing suddenly realized what Xiang Shu had meant when he asked “Do you have nothing else in your head?”. Seeing how Xiang Shu had no intention of letting him stay, he could only make his way out the door. He then caught sight of him taking out the Qiang flute and, seating himself on a low couch inside the courtyard, he lifted his foot to step on the well and tested the flute’s sound.
“Are you going to play the Qiang flute?” Chen Xing thus asked.
Xiang Shu raised his eyes and shot Chen Xing a careless glance, frowning as he asked, “You’re still not heading back?”
Chen Xing could only turn to leave, but just as he took a few steps, he heard the familiar “Fusheng Song” sound out from behind him. Compared to when it was played in Karakorum, the song was much gentler than before - it lacked the strong rhythm and heroic air.
Chen Xing’s had turned his back to Xiang Shu’s when he heard the music carried towards him by the autumn breeze. He paused in his steps and turned his head back to glance at Xiang Shu’s bare upper body. The silver brilliance of the bright moon plated over his skin, his white trousers appeared like snow, blue ribbons hung over the hair of his temples, and with his eyes closed and a focused expression as he lay half-reclined on the couch, he really was like a piece of finely-cut jade.
Accompanying the sound of the music, the Xie Mansion’s gurgling streams, lofty stone mountains, and vast autumn bamboo all seemed to come alive in an instant. On this moonlit night, Chen Xing, without knowing why, seemed to understand the meaning within the song that he was once unable to comprehend in Karakorum.
When the song began, the desolate section unexpectedly made Chen Xing feel as if he saw Xiangyang again. When the two of them first met, did Xiang Shu place any memories within the Fusheng Song? Following the sound of the song were the sounds of thousands of nations, the scenes of the most prosperous period of Chang'an, and after that, mixed in the tune was the ringing of the unforeseen, faint wisps of loneliness from the lower grasslands of Chi Le Chuan.
Was he being oversensitive, or was Xiang Shu really using the Qiang flute to reminisce over the past?
Before Chen Xing returned to his room, he took a guqin from the servants’ quarters. After tuning a few strings, he accompanied the Fusheng Song from Xiang Shu’s Qiang flute.
Although the two peoples’ bedrooms were far apart, the sound of the music rang clearly and distinctly and echoed together in harmony. When the sound of Chen Xing’s qin rang out, the music on Xiang Shu’s side made an obvious pause, as if his state of mind had been thrown into confusion by the sound of the qin.
But in less than a few breaths’ time, Xiang Shu had recovered back to his previous state. Chen Xing was playing his guqin very lightly, and the sound of Xiang Shu’s Qiang flute followed it until both the sounds of the qin and Qiang flute simultaneously shifted, as if their hearts were connected, into the soft tunes of Jiangnan. Chen Xing heard it and believed that he may not be making a wild guess - Xiang Shu really was saying something through the Qiang flute.
Yet before he could grasp the deeper meaning within the Fusheng Song, Xiang Shu’s Qiang flute had already been put away, and the Xie Mansion returned to silence.
Chen Xing sat in a daze, constantly thinking back on the past hidden within the sound of the flute. Just like the glorious passing of the Fusheng dream, only faintly casting the last flickers of light, those scenes could not be vividly recalled. Chen Xing stroked the strings and gave one a pluck.
A loud “dong” rang out.
Just when Xiang Shu had wanted to get up after putting away the Qiang flute, he heard the sound of a zither, and sat back down again. He gazed up at the clear autumn night sky; the moon’s halo glowed with a faint radiance.
Chen Xing lightly plucked again, making a few vibratos, before once again lowering his head to gaze at the qin and started to fluidly pluck at the strings. The song was part of the "Guangling San" written by Ji Kang from the Jin Dynasty. According to legend, Ji Kang was sentenced to death by the Sima family. Shortly before his execution, he had played Guanglin San, before finally calmly going to his death. The song was long and fluid; it didn’t ask about the remaining years of his life, but just expressed his feelings to the world.
Xiang Shu listened for a while before standing up and pushing open the door to make his way to the East Chamber. Standing underneath the moonlight, at the very end of the corridor, was Chen Xing with a carefree and leisurely expression on his face. The corners of his mouth held a hint of a smile as if he was amusing himself while everyone else was asleep. That Guangling San also carried along a little bit of youthful vigour that completely swept aside Ji Kang’s original meaning.
Chen Xing had learned the art of the qin in his home since young, yet he rarely played it. His master had once told him “A melody can sell out one’s heart”. Now that he thinks about it, he finally understood what that sentence had meant.
In the end, Xiang Shu kept the doors to his courtyard and room wide open and sighed, before heading back to his room and lying down. Wrapped around his index finger was that red string. He lifted it up and stared fixedly at it until the sound of the qin gradually ceased. When the sound of a door closing sounded from somewhere not far away, Xiang Shu gave a casual toss of his hand, and the bracelet landed on top of the table, creating a soft thump.
I’m sorry for the
huge delay guys… things have just been so hectic lately though that’s not an excuse. Chapters 69-70 will also be coming out later today (or early tomorrow for some people…?). Why do I feel like all the Dinghai chapters I’ve translated of the late have been banquet scenes…? =.=
Xiang Shu. You are an emotionally constipated idiot.
Just kiss already I’m begging you.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Ice.