Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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High up on the side of Nanping Mountain’s peak was the Big Dipper Altar, standing on a high platform halfway of the mountain. It was completely exposed, and the sun shone down again - Xiao Shan was feeding a squirrel with Xie Daoyun under a tree, and Feng Qianjun was holding Gu Qing’s hand, the two of them watching from the side.
The Big Dipper Altar was once a site where Zhuge Liang had used the east wind to perform Buddhist rites. After the battle of Chibi, the Jin people had brought bricks and stones to pay tribute to the unprecedented battle and rebuilt the altar. Since then, very few people had come by.
Holding a fan, Xie An stood at the side of the Big Dipper Altar and chatted leisurely with Feng Qianjun. He couldn’t help himself from saying, “I have mentioned this place to His Majesty many times this year. I hope he can give this place a visit.”
Feng Qianjun said, “Those baldies would definitely be exhausted if they want to climb this mountain.”
Xie An laughed as he replied, “It’s worth it if you get to reap the fruits of your labour.”
Xiang Shu had just climbed up when he heard those words. He naturally understood the meaning behind Xie An’s words - he had wanted to give Sima Yao and the other Jin court officials some confidence. He then took over the conversation and explained to Feng Qianjun, “There have only been four battles recorded since ancient times where victory was achieved with few losses. Julu, Guandu, Chibi, and Yiling. This was one of them.”
In the battle of Julu, Xiang Yu had cut off all means of retreat and defeated the Qin army. In the battle of Guandu, Cao Cao's 20,000 troops and horses had slaughtered their way through until the 300,000 of Yuan Shao’s army turned to flee, tossing aside their armor and helmets. No need to even mention Chibi, and of course, the last battle of the Three Kingdoms period, which was Lu Xun's burning of the Shu camp. The four great battles in this history were all won by inferior numbers, so they could have been said to have been led by the pinnacle of commanders. Xiang Yu, Cao Cao, Zhou Yu, and Lu Xun, the four commanders, all became famous from these battles and had their names preserved for eternity.
"I remember that Xiang Yu, the Hegemon of Jiangdong, seemed to be the ancestor of the Protector Martial God," Xie An said with a smile.
Xiang Shu didn’t respond. He stared up at the Big Dipper Altar before shifting his gaze down the Altar’s remains to stare at the cliff before the mountain. Chen Xing was extremely surprised; Xiang Shu actually knew so much about the history of the Han people. He must’ve seriously read through it before when learning the art of war.
“Of the four battles,” Xiang Shu responded, “three of them took place in Jiangdong. All the soldiers who had participated in the battles were Jiangdong descendants.”
“Not bad.” Xie An nodded, praising, “Whether it was in luck or talent, Jiangdong has never gone under since ancient times. Martial God, did you know that out of an entire court of literary and military officials, save for I, Xie Anshi, you are the only one who has once said ‘it’s not like the battle can’t be fought’ to His Majesty.”
Hearing that, Chen Xing realized just what kind of pressure Xie An was carrying. But, thinking about it, he could figure it out; Fu Jian was known as the Commander of 500,000, but the descendants of Jiangdong were less than 70,000. The entirety of the Jin government must’ve thought Xie An was crazy for having such a thought. Even if a miracle like the Battle of Chibi appeared once again, it would be of no use against someone like Fu Jian. After all, if he attacked southward from the Fei River but was unable to make use of the time and geographical advantages, how could he defeat the enemy?
Xiang Shu remarked, “But just these battles alone have left plenty of allusions for you Han people to happily talk about. Xie An, it wouldn’t hurt for you to make some preparations. Perhaps in the next battle of Fei River, you can also leave behind a few records.”
Xie An smiled as he started to ask, “Martial God, are you interested in...”
“Not interested,” Xiang Shu responded. “I will not lead your soldiers for you and fight my own people. The most I can do is help neither side.”
But this was precisely what Xie An was waiting for him to say, thus he quickly replied, “Then we really owe you a debt of gratitude, Protector Martial God.” Following that, he immediately gave Chen Xing a salute.
Chen Xing still didn’t know what implications were hidden behind the off-handed words Xiang Shu had just spoken.
The reason was, although Xiang Shu had Han ancestry, he had grown up in Chi Le Chuan after all, and considered his identity to be that of a Tiele. If the two nations went to war, how could the former Great Chanyu just sit back and watch?
The reason why he had given this promise was naturally because of Chen Xing.
“Have you rested enough? Stand up and take a look,” Xiang Shu said.
Chen Xing stood up and walked around the Big Dipper Altar before standing at its center. He contemplated about that time when Kong Ming had borrowed the east wind; it has been a full 173 years. The high-rising cliffs were already covered with moss, and the traces of the past would never appear again.
The Big Dipper Altar faced the Yangtze River and the Hong Lake across it. The three mountains were like dragons winding past their backs, the large river akin to a sword that stretched on for thousands of miles, and the Hong Lake was a massive array - it really was the land where the spiritual Qi of heaven and earth converged.
“This really is among the best spiritual spots,” Chen Xing murmured. “This is a hinterland of the entirety of the Divine Land. If Zhang Liu casts a spell using the Dinghai Pearl on the Big Dipper Altar, he really might be able to draw in the spiritual Qi of heaven and earth.”
The mountain wind blew by, causing Chen Xing’s white robe to billow behind him. He closed his eyes and used a single hand to form a spell. Standing in the center of the Big Dipper Altar, he imitated the state one would be in when casting a spell. Whether it was Kong Ming or Zhang Liu, if the spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth was still there, it would, boundlessly and powerfully, rush into his hands.
Xiang Shu walked behind Chen Xing and watched him from that angle.
Chen Xing didn’t see Xiang Shu when he opened his eyes, so he turned around and asked, “What?”
“So Zhang Liu really did practice magic here before,” Feng Qianjun remarked.
“Yes,” Chen Xing responded. “The possibility is very high.”
Xiang Shu asked, “Would there be any traces left behind from the spell-casting process?”
“We wouldn’t be able to find it even if there was,” Chen Xing replied, “It’s already something from 300 years ago.”
Xiang Shu continued to ask, “Then what about traces of Kong Ming borrowing the east wind?”
Chen Xing replied, “It has also been over 170 years, so how... wait.”
A seed of doubt had suddenly grown in his heart, but Xiang Shu had actually voiced out his suspicions.
“Zhang Liu had first used the Dinghai Pearl to take away all the spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth, which caused the Silence of All Magic.” Xiang Shu said, “Since all the magic in the world had disappeared, then how did Kong Ming borrow the east wind 130 years later?”
This clearly went against all logic. Chen Xing suddenly became dumbfounded, uttering, “Yeah, the Silence of All Magic should’ve occurred long before the Three Kingdoms.”
Everyone looked at each other in surprise. Yet it was Xie An that spoke up, “Maybe borrowing the wind was just a trick? Zhuge Xiang was well-versed in astronomy and geography, and he would naturally also know of the changes in weather. Fooling Sun Wu was not an impossibility.”
This was the only explanation, yet Chen Xing had felt that something was not right. He asked, “Such an important question, why didn’t you ask sooner?”
Xiang Shu said, “I asked you back then but you said, ‘that isn’t important’.”
“Would the Dinghai Pearl be in Chibi?” Feng Qianjun wondered, “If Zhang Liu had been ambushed by Shi Hai after taking away the spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth, then what if he had hidden the Dinghai Pearl somewhere nearby when he was trying to escape? If it remained in the mountains, it could still emit a little spiritual qi. Thus more than a hundred years later, Kong Ming found this place but couldn’t explain why out of all the places in the world, only on Nanping Mountain could spells be cast. In short, that’s what he did...”
Xie An was also stunned. If they put it this way, they might be able to get an answer!
Chen Xing immediately exclaimed, “Wait a minute, let me try!”
Chen Xing raised his hands and performed a simple spell. At dusk, the mountain wind started to pass through the forest, which broke his concentration several times. He couldn’t help shaking in excitement; if that really was the case then they might not need to put in much effort at all! The whereabouts of the Dinghai Pearl were already very close!
It was the first time Gu Qing and Xie Daoyun were seeing an exorcist cast a spell, so their eyes were filled with surprise as they watched.
Chen Xing raised a hand and lowered it before raising it after he lowered it again, trying his best to calm his breath and compose his emotions, and recalled an incantation.
Xiang Shu suddenly asked, “Are you sure that after the Silence of All Magic, the only thing that can release the spiritual Qi is the Dinghai Pearl?”
“Don’t talk to him!” Feng Qianjun and Xie An shouted at the same time.
“Let him cast,” Xie An rebuked, “You can ask later.”
Chen Xing tried a few times, but could only admit in disappointment, “Nothing, I can’t find a trace of the spiritual Qi’s flow.”
Xiang Shu was very calm however, asking again, “Is it a problem with the spell’s incantation?”
“I don’t know,” Chen Xing answered, distraught. “After all, there already wasn’t any spiritual Qi when I was learning magic... forget it, I’ll answer your question first.”
Chen Xing contemplated for a bit before seriously answering, “With The Silence of All Magic, only the Heart Lamp is able to still use mana. It really doesn’t make any sense now that you mention it.”
Xiang Shu en-ed in response. Evidently, he had been pondering over the problem of ‘why is it that after all the spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth had disappeared, only the Heart Lamp could still be used?’ this whole time.
“In addition to the Heart Lamp, there is still some mana left in this world,” Chen Xing explained. “It’s just that there is very, very little. Lu Ying is an example.”
Back then Xiang Shu, Chen Xing, and Xiao Shan had all witnessed it; Lu Ying had released a gentle wave of power before he died, allowing the entirety of Carosha to be brought back to life. Thinking of it this way, how could they say that all the mana in the world had been lost?
Xiang Shu asked, “Where did Lu Ying’s power come from?”
This time it was Xiao Shan who answered, “Internal core.”
“Right.” Chen Xing replied, “A yao’s internal core.”
Before the Silence of All Magic, yaos would increase their own innate cultivation by absorbing the spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth. After the mana was incorporated into their bodies, it would be stored within their internal cores, providing the power that a yao needed in order to survive. Chen Xing could also roughly sort out what had happened now; what the Dinghai Pearl had taken away was only the vast, free-flowing spiritual Qi. Taking away the spiritual Qi from a yao’s internal core was not within its abilities.
So after all the spiritual energy had been lost, the yaos could still rely on their own internal cores to support themselves for a period of time. But the mana in an internal core couldn’t be replenished... it was just like the water contained in a jar - totally gone once completely consumed without replenishing.
Lu Ying was only an extraordinarily powerful yao who had not only received Zhuyin’s dragon power before he had reached his final resting point but also contained enough spiritual Qi that had lasted him for hundreds of years before he finally passed away while still having extra yao energy to spare.
“The Heart Lamp is also a little like that.” Chen Xing decided that he might as well confess, “What the Heart Lamp burns off of is the human soul. Yet the three huns and seven pos can slowly and gradually regenerate. Even though it is very weak, it is like an internal core that provides an endless, but small, supply of energy.”
“Hmm.” Xiang Shu was leaning against the side of the cliff, his mind seemingly having wandered elsewhere. He pondered, “So if I find the internal core of a yao, I can use it in place of the Heart Lamp to utilize the Acala Blade.”
“To use yao energy to power it... it isn’t impossible in theory...” Chen Xing remarked. “It’s just like borrowing the power of resentment, only that the type of power is different - Yao energy is also a Spiritual Qi of the heavens and earth. However, the Silence of All Magic has already occurred for hundreds of years now... No matter how powerful the yao, the yao energy within their internal cores would’ve already been exhausted. Even a phoenix wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves any longer, so forget about it.”
Chen Xing was naturally aware that Xiang Shu’s goal was to protect him, but he would rather have Xiang Shu be able to let go and take the risk. He decided that he would have to find a time to properly discuss this matter with him. Thinking about how Xiang Shu cared so much about him and wished that he could live on well... his heart started to ache.
“There is no flow of mana,” Chen Xing reported. “At least I can’t detect any at the moment.”
The sky was already starting to darken, thus Feng Qianjun suggested, “How about we go down the mountain? Let’s come up and investigate again tomorrow?”
Xie An had already instructed the county guards to make preparations. After going down the mountain, they would take the boat to the government lodgings. He said, “Don’t worry, you have the right to treat this as a relaxing trip. You have been extremely busy these days, so just rest ba.”
Xie An’s original intentions were not only to investigate but to also reanalyze the terrain around Chibi. After all, if Fu Jian were to send his army south, the coastal areas of Jiangnan would be the front lines, and the Yangtze River and southern Chibi would become the rear. If Fei Shui lost, he would most likely have to retreat to retain his strength before finding a more advantageous location for a final, decisive battle.
“You guys head down first ba,” Xiang Shu spoke. “Take him to rest, I’ll stay here for a while longer.”
Chen Xing knew that Xiang Shu was still unwilling to give up, so he said, “I’ll accompany you.”
The rest of their group left and made their way down the mountain road, leaving Chen Xing and Xiang Shu alone together.
The sky appeared to be lit on fire and the clouds were rolling by as boundless rays of evening sunlight danced past. Late-night singing rang from the fishing boats as they drifted along the endless golden waves of Hong Lake. Xiang Shu walked up to the Big Dipper Altar and lowered his head to look down at the stones beneath his feet before lifting his head back up to gaze at the cliff.
Chen Xing murmured, “I don’t know why, but I have a nagging feeling that we’ve come to the right place.”
“Are you... hiding something from me?” Xiang Shu didn’t carry on Chen Xing’s topic of conversation, choosing to ask this question instead.
“Ah?” Chen Xing was startled. His thoughts churned, but he answered, “No... of course not. Why are you suddenly asking this?”
Xiang Shu’s back faced Chen Xing as he stood before the cliff by the Big Dipper Altar. He surveyed the craggy mountain ridges, saying, “Every time we talk about magic or ancient records, there’s always a double meaning behind your words. Have you never thought about protecting yourself?”
“Don’t I have you?” Chen Xing smiled as he replied.
Xiang Shu frowned, thus Chen Xing continued, “Xiang Shu, you really care about my life.”
Xiang Shu didn’t respond. Instead, he asked, “Do you remember the first time we met in Xiangyang?”
Chen Xing found it slightly amusing how neither of them were straightforwardly answering the other’s question. Instead, they were both talking in circles.
“Of course I remember.” Chen Xing responded, “After you woke up, you tied me up. You’ve been staring at that piece of rock for a long time now. Is it really that pretty?”
Xiang Shu suddenly stepped back and said, “Come here.”
Chen Xing: “?”
Xiang Shu took off the heavy sword hanging on his back, causing Chen Xing’s vigilance to rise. Was there an enemy? Thus he summoned the Heart Lamp, but Xiang Shu held down his wrist and frowned. “I just wanted you to come take a look.”
Saying this, Xiang Shu stepped aside and, wielding the sword in two hands, he held it diagonally towards the stone and made a slashing motion. He asked, “What does this look like?”
The sunlight was gradually dimming, but Chen Xing had also noticed what Xiang Shu had concluded from observing the rock. He uttered, “This... this cliff was cut out. Whose strength could be so strong...?”
Xiang Shu walked up to the edge of the cliff and gazed downwards only to see a fissure beneath the mountain stream. Inside of it was already filled with an overgrowth of plants and climbing vines. If the climbing vines and moss were removed, what remained might be the leftover traces of a fierce battle.
I literally couldn’t translate the Three Kingdoms part without bursting into a laughing fit when I saw the words “Xiang Yu” and “Hegemon”
especially when they had mentioned that he was Xiang Shu’s ancestor.
You ruined me, Jmoon. Those words will never mean the same to me again.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Ice.