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“You head down first.”
“No,” Chen Xing insisted, “I want to stay with you.”
Xiang Shu swept a glance at Chen Xing before wrapping his arm around his waist and leaping off the edge of the cliff.
Never in a million years would Chen Xing have imagined that something like this would suddenly occur. He let out a frantic scream, “What are you doing?! Let go now! Xiang Shu! Aaahhhhh-!”
Chen Xing’s cry had echoed through the entire mountain, causing Xie An who was waiting for them at the foot of the mountain to jump up in surprise.
Feng Qianjun: “What happened?!”
Xiao Shan immediately turned around, but Xie An hurriedly called after him, “Don’t, don’t! Let’s observe for a while first!”
The realization had also dawned on Feng Qianjun. “This earth-shattering scream... Could it have come from the Big Dipper Altar...”
Gu Qing called out, “Feng-dage!”
“Stop screaming!” Xiang Shu’s voice echoed over from somewhere nearby.
“It hurts so much!” Following that was Chen Xing’s desperate shrieks, “Quickly, quickly! Stop!”
Chen Xing was held by Xiang Shu around the waist, and they were descending down the mountain by nearly flying down the cliff. Xiang Shu had grabbed onto a mountain vine and plunged down with such force that Chen Xing’s shoulder nearly dislocated.
“We can’t go in!” Chen Xing cried, “It’s blocked!”
“Grasp my neck tightly!” Xiang Shu shouted, “Stop moving around!”
Xiang Shu had wanted to take Chen Xing through the crack in the cliff, but Chen Xing saw that the inside was already filled with vegetation, so they couldn’t possibly stuff themselves in right?
Xiang Shu grabbed the vine with one hand and reached into the fissure with his other to drag out a broken piece of wood. Chen Xing clung onto Xiang Shu’s shoulders as he curiously peered into the cliff’s rift.
“This place isn’t good! Let’s change directions ba!”
“Stop shouting in my ear!” Xiang Shu roared, “I can hear you!”
On the mountain road.
Feng Qianjun: “......”
Xiao Shan: “???”
Xie An: “Let’s continue making our way downwards. That... Daoyun, you guys should hurry down. It’s not suitable for you to remain here for a long time.”
Xie Daoyun: “......”
Xie An!” Xiang Shu yelled, “Can you hear me?! Get over here quickly!”
Xie An immediately turned around and took the two of them back up the mountain only to see that Xiang Shu had tied Chen Xing and him together with a belt. He ordered, “You guys go around to the back and see what’s on the opposite side of the crack.”
Feng Qianjun tossed a set of a bow and arrows to Xiang Shu and shouted, “Use this to contact us later!”
The sky was growing increasingly darker, and Chen Xing’s clothes were already a mess. They had finally squeezed through the fissure when they suddenly caught sight of a stone patio. Xiang Shu had bowed his head to take a look; it seemed as if nobody had come by this place in nearly a hundred years since the vegetation had completely covered the surroundings. He used his sword to clear away the surrounding climbing vines and found that there seemed to have been a big battle here - the rocks were all collapsing towards the center.
“This is... the detonation of spiritual qi.” Chen Xing murmured, “An exorcist blew something up here!”
“No, he had collapsed something.” Xiang Shu raised his head and saw that there was another pile of collapsed rocks. Thus he moved aside the fallen rocks that weighed more than a hundred jin, revealing a bottomless tunnel.
Chen Xing pondered, “Was it your mother and Zhang Liu? Did they take this path to escape when they were ambushed here all those years ago?”
Xiang Shu couldn’t confirm anything either as all traces of the journey that had come across were their own conjectures. But one thing was apparent, and that was the fact that there had once been an extraordinary battle that had taken place here.
“Let’s go forward to take a look.” Xiang Shu said.
The sky had already completely darkened at this time; Chen Xing wanted to summon the Heart Lamp but Xiang Shu told him with an unyielding tone to hold onto his hand instead, and then they made their way quickly out of the mountain. The path was very deep, maybe even several miles deep. Xiang Shu glanced at Chen Xing and asked, “I’ll carry you on my back?”
“It’s fine.” Chen Xing was in a state of excitement and hurried after Xiang Shu with quick steps. Back when they were in Yin Mountain, they had also done something like this.
Following that, Chen Xing stumbled somewhere along the way. Xiang Shu stopped in his steps and when he lowered his head, he saw that something was scattered on the ground of the limestone cave.
It was a nearly decayed wooden scabbard - there was a name engraved on it.
Just when Chen Xing wanted to take a closer look, Xiang Shu had put away the scabbard and said, “Let’s continue moving forward.”
After walking for a full half a shichen, they finally arrived at the exit of the underground limestone cave. The air was clear and fresh and the sky was full over stars. The underground cave unexpectedly passed under the Yangtze River to the shore of Lake Hong.
With the starlight, the two were able to clearly make out the line of words written in Zhonggu font on the nearly half-decayed ancient wooden scabbard.
“Acala Blade.” Chen Xing murmured, “This was its initial scabbard.”
That flexible steel scabbard had only been forged by Zhang Liu later on. This one that was found within the limestone cave was the scabbard that Xiang Yuyan had when she had left home with the sword!
Xiang Shu stood on the shore of Lake Hong as he gazed at the surrounding scenery. The waves of the lake slapped against the shore one after another.
“This was the place that my mother and Zhang Liu escaped to back then.” Xiang Shu uttered.
The sky was already completely dark, so Chen Xing asked, “How about we investigate again after sunrise?”
A lonely moon hung at the lake’s horizon. The water and sky were of one colour, mixing together as the horizon line rose with only the moonlight parting them in the middle. An island stood in the lake nearby and on it was a building - the sight appearing desolate and sombre. On the peninsula was a stone road that connected all the way to the shore.
Xiang Shu drew the arrows and consecutively shot three into the sky. The arrows whistled as they hurtled toward the location Xie An and the others hand-marked.
There’s only one way,” Xiang Shu said, “which is to go on the island, take a raft, then cross Lake Hong to get to the other side. Let’s take a look.”
This place would actually have such a sequestered ancient building. Chen Xing scrutinized the building standing at the end of the road - it looked like a Taoist building where an alchemist would practice. The Taoist building had the style of the Han Dynasty, which meant that it must’ve already been here for over a hundred years.
“Is anyone here?” Chen Xing lightly pushed the door of the Taoist building, and it opened with a “squeak”. Somebody inside suddenly stood up and gave a surprised shout.
Chen Xing originally only had the idea of testing the waters. He never expected that there would actually be a person here! The Taoist building didn’t look very big from the outside, but now that he was inside he realized that it actually wasn’t very small. The courtyard was full of flowers, and a middle-aged scribe was currently in the courtyard watering them in the courtyard. He stood up and gave them a smile, asking, “Little Brothers, how did you come to find this place?”
Xiang Shu replied, “We were passing by. May we ask what is this place?”
The middle-aged scribe laughed as he replied “To pass by here really isn’t an easy feat. Come, please sit. For us to have come across each other, it must be destiny. Would the two of you prefer some tea or wine?”
Xiang Shu waved his hand and Chen Xing curiously made his way into the courtyard to see that the entirety of the Taoist building was in perfect order. He shot Xiang Shu a tentative glance, and Xiang Shu nodded his head in response, indicating that he would be cautious.
During the Wei and Jin Dynasties, numerous hermits had lived isolated from the world. The most famous hermits were Tao Qian and those like him. To be able to meet a hermit here, Chen Xing didn’t find it too strange. He listened as the scribe gave a self-introduction; he was surnamed Huan, and his name consisted of a single “Mo” character. He belonged to the Huan family of Xuancheng. Back in the day, Xuancheng’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Huan Yi’s relatives had all moved away to avoid calamity after the Huan Wen Rebellion. But Huan Mo didn’t want to leave Jiangzuo, so he came to this Taoist building called “Cangyangyu” on the bank of Lake Hong and settled here.
“Cangyangyu,” Chen Xing asked, “Does it have an origin of some sort?”
Huan Mo was making tea for the two in the open room facing Lake Hong as he answered, “According to legend, this place was built by an exorcist hundreds of years ago.”
Chen Xing: “!!!”
Xiang Shu gave a slight frown but remained silent. Huan Mo continued and asked, “Little Brother, do you know what an exorcist is? Back in the Han Dynasty...”
Beneath the table, Xiang Shu’s finger lightly tapped the back of Chen Xing’s hand. Chen Xing understood what Xiang Shu meant so he nodded his head and pretended to be curious as he listened to Huan Mo’s words since he was actually inseparable from the rumours surrounding the Exorcism Department.
“En.” Xiang Shu nodded his head after hearing it all. Huan Mo had finished making the tea so he said, “The two of you please enjoy. This is the new Junshan tea I recently bought from the Chibi market.”
Xiang Shu stared at the teacup and remained motionless for a period of time. But Chen Xing so happened to be thirsty, so he directly lifted the teacup. Xiang Shu seemed to still be pondering when Feng Qianjun’s voice suddenly sounded from outside. He called out, “Is anybody here?”
Everyone else had finally arrived, causing Huan Mo to become even more surprised, so he stood up and went to open the door. Xiang Shu immediately turned towards Chen Xing and said, “Don’t carelessly drink that.”
Chen Xing knew that Xiang Shu this person was quite cautious - he had never allowed him to randomly consume the food and drinks given by others before. He suggested, “I’ll let you test first to see if there’s any poison...”
Xiang Shu was helpless so he could only motion for Chen Xing to watch as he raised the teacup and took the first sip in Chen Xing’s place.
Chen Xing: “Aren’t you not afraid of poison?”
Xiang Shu was instantly made speechless by Chen Xing. On the other side, Huan Mo was leading Feng Qianjun, Xie An, Xiao Shan, Xie Daoyun, and Gu Qing into the room. When Feng Qianjun caught sight of Chen Xing, he exclaimed, “So you guys were here!”
Huan Mo was a little curious about what their relationships were, thus Xie An smiled and explained, “We are all classmates from the Imperial College that have been invited on a spring outing. We have been looking for these two for quite some time.”
Huan Mo smiled back as he responded, “This Brother is also a student of the Imperial College?”
“You live until old age, and you also learn until old age.” Xie An smilingly replied, “While one’s still at an age where one is yet to be confused, one must work hard and make outstanding achievements.”
Huan Mo glanced at Xiao Shan. Xiao Shan who was still carrying some food turned towards Chen Xing and said, “I’m hungry. Let’s eat ba.”
Xie An said, “He’s our Imperial College’s child prodigy. He could also read and write pieces at the age of five.”
“Excuse me for my lack of manners, excuse me.” Huan Wen saw that Xiao Shan really didn’t have the appearance of a scholar but since Xie An had already said something like this, he couldn’t ask anything more.
Feng Qianjun spoke up, “We have really disturbed Brother Huan. We were just planning on finding a place to have dinner. Would you like to join us?”
Huan Mo responded, “I have actually eaten already. If you honoured guests don’t mind, there are some guest rooms upstairs. Don’t bother yourselves tonight and just stay here for the night ba. There will be a boat arriving tomorrow that can send you all back.”
Xie An immediately let out a “good” and introduced himself as someone who was surnamed Xie with the given name Baiqiu. Just like that, the group of them occupied the magpie’s nest. Although it was a little discourteous, they directly started to have their dinner in Huan Mo’s open room.
Xiang Shu reported on the findings the two of them made, saying, “How come there’s a place like this on the island? It’s rather strange.”
Chen Xing responded, “There are many people who choose to isolate themselves in the world. However, I also think it’s quite strange...”
Chen Xing had a nagging feeling that something was off, but he couldn’t put his finger on it no matter how hard he tried. After the meeting, everyone ate the food and drinks that Feng Qianjun had brought. Nobody touched the tea provided by Huan Mo during that period of time. Gu Qing and Xie Daoyun were wearing men’s clothing but didn’t seem to take part in an active conversation like the rest and had retired upstairs to rest first.
Xiao Shan gave a stretch. Chen Xing then asked him, “I’ll take you upstairs to sleep?”
Xiao Shan responded, “I want to sleep with you.”
“Alright.” Chen Xing replied. He glanced upstairs and saw that Huan Mo had prepared three rooms for them and laid out mats on the floors. Xie An and Feng Qianjun would share a room while Chen Xing, Xiang Shu, and Xiao Shan would share another. The two girls would take another room.
Yet Xiang Shu never went upstairs. Instead, he remained seated outside the open room with one leg bent towards the side and the other hanging in the air as he faced the lake’s tides. The decayed scabbard laid horizontally before his legs.
After everyone dispersed, Huan Mo walked through the corridor and caught sight of Xiang Shu being lost in thought as he gazed at Lake Hong. Thus he smiled and asked, “Are you not going to sleep?”
Xiang Shu replied with an irrelevant answer, saying in a light tone, “Canglangyu, the master of this place must be a person of refined taste.”
Huan Mo replied, “When I first heard of this place, I had also thought that. The world is like a river, but life in itself is akin to a sudden storm. Sometimes it would be like the peak of a wave, uninhibited as the millions of mountains as high as thousands of ren. But other times it’s like the valley of a wave, as overwhelming as a disaster that annihilates everything. The vast sea has risen and fallen for numerous years, but it was all nothing but the ocean’s unwarranted fit.”
Xiang Shu politely said, “It sounds like Sir Huan has experienced quite a lot in life.”
“The most difficult part isn’t even this.” Huan Mo laughed, “It’s being submerged in the ocean and not being able to find your direction. You can only go along with the flow of the water in spite of oneself, forever unknowing of where it is you’re heading, and your surroundings are nothing but darkness - it’s too difficult. When the occasional calm of the wind and quiet of the waves come, there are still more dangers hidden under the surface of the sea...”
“... If you’re just a little careless, you would be crushed to pieces. Even if you have died without an intact corpse and are swallowed by the sea, your remains would still be trapped within the waves without an escape, without an end in sight. Is it not like a person who has to suffer ridicule through the ages, generation after generation, even after their death?”
Xiang Shu’s wide palms unconsciously stroked the scabbard as his deep eyes gazed at the darkness-shrouded Lake Hong. He spoke, “Sir when you look at the lake, does it seem like nothing is there?”
“Yes, it’s pitch black.” Huan Mo replied, “Like a long and seemingly endless night.”
Xiang Shu raised his head slightly and displayed in his eyes was the splendid galaxy reflected on the lake’s surface. The Milky Way within the lake was like a heavenly bridge running from the heavens to the earth, and back from the earth to the heavens, forming a shining halo in the sky.
“But there would always be something in the sky that guides you towards the direction you need to go when you’re at sea.” Xiang Shu tilted back his head.
“You believe that’s a direction?” Huan Mo gave a laugh as he replied, “It’s nothing more than a fixation. When the dark clouds blow over, you will be unable to see anything anymore.”
“A fixation?” Xiang Shu echoed.
“You people mustn’t have so many fixations.” Huan Mo said, “Once you become too fixated, falling to the devil would be unavoidable.”
Xiang Shu refuted, “Although you say that one must not become fixated on something, I, however, think that if there are no fixations, and one takes nothing to heart and treats everything with composure, life would inevitably be incredibly dull.”
Huan Mo seemed a little surprised. He then nodded his head and said, “En, that’s true.”
“Brother Huan, would you like to drink some of my tea?” Xie An suddenly appeared at an unknown time.
That unnecessarily poetic talk about the ocean which is actually just a depressing rant about life is so mood.
We all know what’s Xiang Shu’s fixation.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Ice.