"Do you want to go?"
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
Within a sleeping chamber in Taichu Palace, Chen Xing’s face was still filled with that same annoyance as he stared at the magical artifact in front of him, deep in thought.
A soft cloth was placed on the table, and on the cloth rested the Dinghai Pearl they had obtained on the banks of Lake Hong. Inside it was a dim trace of dragon-shaped brilliance, which swirled slowly within the pearl. When no mana was being channeled into it, the Dinghai Pearl maintained its azure color, but when he tested it by funneling in the power of the Heart Lamp, the Dinghai Pearl turned golden.
After returning from Chibi, Xiang Shu took Xie An’s advice and brought Chen Xing with him to reside in the palace, for no other reason than this was the most crucial time. At this moment, through the entirety of the world, the safest place should be within the Taichu Palace of Jiankang. If even the full power of Sima Yao’s country couldn’t protect this artifact, then the Return of All Magic would be even further out of reach.
Thankfully Shi Hai was currently possessing Gu Qing, and after riding the demonic jiao into the Yangtze, there had been no more news of him. In the short term, it seemed that he had no more plans to go track down the Dinghai Pearl.
The Yin Yang Mirror, the Zheng Drum, the Luohun Bell, the Four-Colored Seal Rings, and even the Acala Blade, all five of these artifacts were placed on the table as well. Chen Xing tried once again to activate these artifacts through the Dinghai Pearl, but there was no effect.
That night in their first fight against Shi Hai, Xie An, who wholeheartedly wanted to be a good exorcist, had thankfully brought along a concentrated sleeping drug, with the goal of not dragging down Chen Xing and the others. He never imagined that the first time he met his enemy, he would actually meet the final enemy boss Shi Hai, thus carving out a space for himself in history.
Chen Xing sank into his thoughts as he once again relived the events of that day when Huan Mo had collapsed.
“The Dinghai Pearl ah, it has taken me 300 years to find, 300 hundred years.”
Based on that, this Dinghai Pearl in his hands was definitively the thing that they had wanted to find. In Xiang Yuyan’s memories, the Dinghai Pearl that Zhang Liu had sacrificed glowed, and though they couldn’t see its form clearly, Shi Hai should have seen it before.
But why did he hide the Dinghai Pearl on that small island? Chen Xing kept feeling that there was something suspicious about it.
At this time Xiang Shu finally came, stopping in front of the table and sitting down without saying a word. He sat cross-legged and pressed down on his knees as he asked in a deep voice, “How is it?”
He didn’t know why, but every time Xiang Shu appeared, the tangled emotions caused by frustration in Chen Xing’s heart easily smoothed out.
“Where are Xiao Shan and the rest?” Chen Xing asked.
“Feng Qianjun, Xie Daoyun, and Xiao Shan all went out to go find Gu Qing,” Xiang Shu said. “They went out just when you were sleeping soundly. Xiao Shan initially wanted to wait until you woke up, but I told him not to wait.”
And with this, the Exorcism Department had split up to go do their own tasks. Xiao Shan and Feng Qianjun went to track down what had happened to that demonic jiao, leaving behind Xie An, Chen Xing, and Xiang Shu to keep watch. Technically, Chen Xing should have gone with them, because how could he toss aside Gu Qing and not care? But what he had to focus on immediately in front of him was how to break the Silence of All Magic.
Xie An also came, sitting down by the table to stare at the Dinghai Pearl.
Chen Xing said, “Finally we’ve found the thing that we were always searching for. Now, I just need to think of a way to release the mana stored inside, and then the heavens and the earth will return to how they were before.”
“Are you sure this is it?” Xiang Shu didn’t ask anything else, instead bringing up the same question Chen Xing had. He reached out a slender, long finger and gently flicked that pearl, causing it to spin around on the table, rolling here and there.
Chen Xing, “I’m sure…”
As he said this he used his finger to gently stop that artifact, before lifting his eyes up to watch Xiang Shu, continuing, “... probably?”
This time Chen Xing hadn’t reacted like before, when he fell into a coma for three months. When he landed in the water, he had clearly felt this pearl had given off powerful mana, strongly supporting the operation of the Heart Lamp, so this time he had only slept a day before waking. Aside from the Dinghai Pearl that contained all the spiritual qi of the heavens and the earth, what other possibility was there?
Xie An, “I remember very clearly, martial god, at that time what Shi Hai said was, ‘Xie Anshi, I must thank you all for helping me unlock the Suoling Tower and retrieve…’, and the rest of it was the second half that you all heard, wu.”
Chen Xing, “Yes, now that you say it, it was like that without a doubt.”
Xiang Shu hugged his arms, sinking into a deep silence, before he asked, “Xie An, how is that drought fiend king?”
“Detained within the prison,” Xie An said. “There are a multitude of guards around him, and they are constantly vigilant for any sign of a prison break. His Majesty commanded that when you question the prisoner that he be present by the side to listen in.”
Xiang Shu said, “Then tonight ba.”
Xie An nodded before getting up and taking his leave, leaving behind Chen Xing and Xiang Shu sitting at opposite ends of the table. Chen Xing used his finger to play around with that Dinghai Pearl, and with a gentle push, it rolled through the middle of the row of artifacts, passing by in front of Xiang Shu.
Xiang Shu’s gaze had never left on Chen Xing’s face, and just by spreading his fingers a little, the Dinghai Pearl came rolling back, coming to a stop in front of Chen Xing. The two of them then bounced this pearl back and forth between them a few times, like two little kids playing together.
“You… seem to be in a pretty good mood today,” Chen Xing observed Xiang Shu’s expression as he spoke.
Xiang Shu’s eyebrows lifted, and he said, “You want to break it?”
“Let’s not talk about the instant it breaks for now. The spiritual qi inside is turbulent, and it could very easily level all of Jiankang,” Chen Xing said. “Let’s assume that we found a place that was empty of people for a hundred li all around, what would we even use to break it?”
Xiang Shu said, “The Acala Blade?”
Chen Xing thought deeply, and he said a little hesitantly, “The divine weapon of Acala against a dragon pearl that existed since the splitting of the sky and earth, what are the chances of it winning?”
“Cangqiong Yilie?” Xiang Shu said. “Senluo Wanxiang?”
Chen Xing said, “Cangqiong Yilie was made from one of Zhuyin’s dragon claws, so compared with the neidan of a dragon that has been slowly coagulated over time, it’s clearly one level lower. Senluo Wanxiang has the power of the green wood lying dormant in it, and legend has it that it was created by the Wood God Gou Mang, but compared to the godly dragon who created the world… it’s also not enough.”
Xiang Shu opened his hand slightly, and said, “The distance to success is only that of a step.”
“This is an artifact not mentioned in any historical record.” Chen Xing mused for a long time, before finally saying, “The most appropriate method would be to find the method that Zhang Liang used to ingest the spiritual qi of the heavens and earth, and reverse that entire process to release the mana outwards.”
Xiang Shu said, “I remember, on the bank of the lake, you were very close to succeeding.”
Chen Xing said, “Back then, I almost exploded myself in the process. Speaking of it, it was strange, it was only that one time. See? Now it’s completely still.”
Chen Xing tried to inject mana into the Dinghai Pearl, like the time he had cast magic in the Canglangyu of Lake Hong, but the Heart Lamp merely passed through the body of the pearl and cast out its light, with no way of activating it again.
Xiang Shu frowned. “How are you feeling right now?”
Chen Xing said, “It’s no issue, this little bit of energy consumed is nothing.”
“What to do?” Chen Xing thought of a hundred things but none of them solved this issue, and his head once again began to hurt. The two of them sat like this facing the Dinghai Pearl for an entire afternoon. It wasn’t until nightfall, after they had eaten dinner, that Xiang Shu put away the Dinghai Pearl, stashing it away on his person. He said, “I’ll take care of it for now. Whenever you need it, come find me to get it.”
“Why are you this nervous about it?” Chen Xing began to smile, but Xiang Shu had already gone out the door and let out a whistle.
This hard problem had no current solution, but Chen Xing’s mood had already started to improve with this; at least they were already very close to achieving the last goal on their journey.
“Wait!” Chen Xing said. “What are you going to do?” Saying this, he got up and followed behind Xiang Shu. He remembered that tonight they were going to interrogate Sima Wei, and he couldn’t help but grow uneasy. The ancestors of the Sima family of the Jin dynasty had returned to life and turned into Shi Hai’s attack dogs; this was no trivial matter, and Sima Yao sealed up all of the news about it. From the moment the exorcists had brought back Sima Wei’s broken corpse from the banks of Lake Hong, he had been confined in the underground prison.
As the twilight deepened, an empty space was cleared within the palace, and the hall was filled with a heavy complement of guards keeping watch, who were on high alert for any crows performing surveillance. Chen Xing and Xiang Shu took their seats, and Sima Yao hid himself behind the folding screen. Xie An personally brought the guards over, who escorted Sima Wei into the hall.
This was the last king of the six that Shi Hai had reanimated. Sima Wei’s entire body was broken and beat up, metal chains restraining it. His hair hung loose and wild, the skin on his face was the dark blue-grey of a corpse, and an iron yoke was on his body.
Xie An said, “Originally I thought to cast him in hot metal, but we don’t know how drought fiends stay alive, so this was the temporary method we used to take care of him.”
Chen Xing answered, “It’s good enough; as long as he can’t move, then it works. As soon as he is rid of Shi Hai’s resentment, his abilities will be restrained.”
When multiple drought fiend kings appeared, they carried resentment in their bodies, and the stronger the resentment, the stronger the power of the drought fiend king. This was a little like how Xiang Shu’s power was affected by the Heart Lamp as well.
Chen Xing observed Sima Wei, and Sima Wei lifted his head slightly, turning two murky, dull eyes towards Chen Xing.
But he didn’t say “save me” or any words like that.
“Do you recognize this thing?” Xiang Shu spoke first, pulling out the Dinghai Pearl.
Sima Wei turned his head towards it, taking a look, before answering, “I do not know what this is.”
Chen Xing said, “That day in Pyongyang, do you still remember the words you spoke?”
“What words?” Sima Wei asked. “Will you all save me?”
Xie An said, “That depends on your performance. Born as a previous ruler of my great Jin Dynasty, as a brave spirit of the departed ancestors, you didn’t think of protecting your descendants, but rather acted as a jackal to the tiger and slaughtered them instead. When you reach the underworld, with what face do you have to face my Great Jin’s Emperor Wu?!”
The corners of Sima Wei’s mouth turned down slightly, as if towards this he felt such scorn that it wasn’t even worth a second glance. Chen Xing frowned and observed Sima Wei, only to see that his features were well-formed, and his physique was heroic. Even if there hadn’t been any great changes after his death, during the War of the Eight Princes back in the day, Sima Wei died when he had only been twenty, and after being dead for almost a hundred years, he still actually hadn’t been granted peace yet. For that, Chen Xing couldn’t help the little bit of sympathy he felt towards him.
Sima Yao glanced at Sima Wei from behind the folding screen. In that instant, the color of his face changed as he held his breath, not daring to open his mouth.
“Why has Shi Hai come to Jiangnan?” Chen Xing asked earnestly. “Sima Wei, this is your last chance. I promise that whatever you say, Shi Hai will not be able to know.”
Sima Wei gently tilted his head, taking in Chen Xing, and said, “Exorcist, first we must lay out the terms ba. What can you do for me? If I don’t cooperate, then are you thinking of killing me? But I am already dead.”
Xiang Shu said, “I can also kill you one more time, just like how I killed your several brothers.”
Behind the folding screen, Sima Yao mouthed to Xie An, “He must.”
Xie An was a little at a loss, and he didn’t respond.
Sima Wei said, “Then come ba. When my soul returns to the heavens and the earth, that can also be regarded as a kind of release. I already do not remember who I am.”
“What do you want?” Chen Xing frowned.
“Release me,” Sima Wei said. “Break the control Shi Hai has over me, and let me go.”
Xie An said, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Sima Wei shook his head slightly and answered. “The land is vast and spacious, the sky is high and far, and after being given a second life by Shi Hai, I only want to go see this earth. I’m not the person you all think I am, even if…”
And saying this, Sima Wei lifted his hand, tugging along the steel chains, slowly scratching his own head, before answering, “I remember the owner of this body, and many of his memories, but I can already feel it, I am just me. Though I have been once again awakened by Shi Hai, more precisely, I am a created being.”
These words came suddenly, causing everyone present to be a little caught off guard. Chen Xing vaguely felt that all this time, he himself had mistakenly judged Sima Wei. What exactly was this fellow? Their impression of him, the only identity he had, was of someone who was already dead, and he had never expected that Sima Wei was not actually Sima Wei. Then what was he?
Chen Xing lifted a hand, indicating that everyone wait for a moment, before he asked, “So, you’re using Sima Wei’s body, and you even have a portion of his previous memories, but your nature is that of Shi Hai’s created ‘drought fiend’, is it like that?”
“It was you and Chiyou both who created me; Shi Hai was only Chiyou’s helping hands,” Sima Wei said. “That day, in Mount Longzhong, you used the Heart Lamp, and it was at that moment when the power of the Heart Lamp, along with the power of the Devil God, worked together like yin and yang, and these two mutually exclusive powers influenced my reawakening.”
And saying this, Sima Wei lifted his hands again, pointing a broken finger at his own chest and said, “In here, there is a seed of the Heart Lamp. But Shi Hai has not yet found it.”
After that battle in Goguryeo, Chen Xing finally received the answer. He hadn’t thought that Sima Wei’s clarity was completely beyond what he had expected. And now he didn’t know how to answer either, so he involuntarily glanced at Xiang Shu. Xiang Shu, however, said, “Since you don’t want to use your life for Shi Hai, then why do you move with him?”
“I can’t fight him off,” Sima Wei said. “My body is often not under my control, but rather it is being moved about by resentment. When I ambushed you all, it was like an involuntary instinct, which gave me no choice. The Heart Lamp was very weak, but it kept incessantly waking me up.”
Xie An said, “Shi Hai has come such a long way, so what goal does he have in mind?”
Sima Wei answered, “Originally he wanted to kidnap Chen Xing, refine his Heart Lamp, and turn him into the vessel for the Devil God Chiyou. Then the new Heart Lamp would be able to plant the seed of obsession into the souls of the living beings in the Divine Land and cause all living creatures with souls to submit to him.”
Chen Xing seemed to remember that he had heard something similar that day near the earth vein, and since these two sources corroborated, he was pretty clear on the general picture. He then asked, “Then why did he temporarily give up on obtaining me?”
Sima Wei, “He found an artifact that was even more suitable, which was the Dinghai Pearl. He wanted to use it to rebuild Chiyou’s body. The Dinghai Pearl contains within it the spiritual qi of the heavens and the earth. In addition, it is the neidan of the dragon god who controls causality, so it’s even more suitable than the Heart Lamp.”
“After he gets the Dinghai Pearl, what does he want to do?” Xiang Shu continued to ask.
“Return to the Battle of Banquan, and change the destiny of losing to the Xuanyuan clan,” Sima Wei answered.
Chen Xing asked a few more questions of Sima Wei, but Sima Wei’s knowledge was limited; there were many things that Shi Hai wouldn’t tell him, and he only knew because he overheard Shi Hai and that devil heart in Huanmo Palace discussing things, and remembered a few things from then. But they had already reaped a bountiful harvest, and Chen Xing learned that the demon heart was hidden within Huanmo Palace, and Huanmo Palace was located in a specific area -- the intersection of the earth veins.
But Sima Wei could not clearly confirm which location, if only because every time Shi Hai brought the drought fiend kings out, they always traveled through the earth veins. Then, based on this, if he had captured Chen Xing and brought him back according to his original plan, they would also have traveled through the earth veins to bring him into Huanmo Palace.
As for more, they couldn’t get any specifics from asking him, but Xiang Shu still patiently questioned him on many details, and the answers they received largely matched up with the guesses that they had made along the journey here. Finally, he asked, “What powers does Shi Hai actually have?”
Sima Wei said, “His three hun and seven po can already move independently of his body.”
“This is impossible,” Chen Xing said. “No matter how strong a yaoguai is, they can’t do that, do you think the heaven and earth veins are just there for show? The only existence that can exist in a formless state are devils.”
Sima Wei answered, “The power of his soul is abnormally strong, and at any given time he can switch bodies and return souls, and for commoners with weaker souls, they can even be controlled by him through possession. Wang Ziye was no more than a body he was more pleased with, and the Heart Lamp remains his only weakness.”
What exactly was this fellow? Chen Xing vaguely felt that Wang Ziye’s prowess was maybe not to be underestimated; that day, when they crossed swords at Lake Hong, the black smoke that Wang Ziye had become after casting off that scholar’s body had always been under his own control. But as for the others, this fellow was not afraid of any knives or spears, and they basically could not win against him.
Chen Xing thought this in his heart, but out loud he said, “This action of souls leaving the body and moving about, seems to be carefree and easy, but is actually extremely dangerous. Even without the Heart Lamp, if all I used was the Luohun Bell, I could seal away two of his hun. And if there was any sort of mana explosion, it would directly destroy his three hun and seven po. Sima Wei, you really should not be afraid of him.”
Seeing that there was nothing more they could get out of him, Xie An looked pleadingly at Chen Xing.
“One last question,” Xiang Shu said. “Why does he want to revive Chiyou?”
“I don’t know,” Sima Wei said.
This question was one that Chen Xing had discussed multiple times with Xiang Shu. Shi Hai’s origins were unknown, but he must have “lived” on this earth in such a unique fashion for several hundreds of years, or potentially even longer. This kind of big yaoguai managed to survive through the Silence of All Magic, so having some ambition was also very normal. Just from this topic of reviving Chiyou, Shi Hai maybe felt that his own abilities were limited, and he had no way to conquer the Divine Land on his own.
And despite knowing his own limitations as well as his enemies, with the motivation of fighting a hundred battles and not losing, Xiang Shu still was not willing to give up as he asked again, and as always didn’t receive an answer.
Sima Yao watched Xie An with anticipation from behind the folding screen, and Xie An thought left and right, before saying, “For tonight, why don’t we…”
“Lock him up.” Xiang Shu didn’t wait for Chen Xing to open his mouth, rather choosing to issue a command first. This was also what Chen Xing wanted to say as well. “Wait until after we take care of Shi Hai to decide what happens to him.”
Sima Yao’s brows furrowed deeply at that. The guards that had been waiting took Sima Wei away. Xiang Shu only nodded politely towards him, before reaching a hand out to Chen Xing and leading him away.
“You’ve offended Sima Yao,” Chen Xing said quietly.
“When his ancestors came out, all five of them were killed by me, so why would this king care about him?” Xiang Shu returned to their rooms and began to organize the contents of today’s interrogation. He thought deeply for a moment, before lifting his brush and writing it down, his brows furrowing as he began to analyze.
Chen Xing could see that Xiang Shu was really in a good mood today.
“Go stare at your Dinghai Pearl,” Xiang Shu said. “What are you daydreaming for?”
“The issue is I can’t see anything from it!” Chen Xing answered, placing one hand on his forehead.
“If you’re tired then go sleep,” Xiang Shu said.
After entering the palace, Sima Yao had a bedroom prepared for the two of them, based on Xiang Shu’s request. Aside from watching over the Dinghai Pearl, he also needed to protect Chen Xing to prevent any other unexpected occurrences from happening. So the people in the palace set up folding screens to create an inner and an outer room, and Xiang Shu slept on the floor bunk on the outside, while Chen Xing slept on the soft bed on the inside.
Outside a light rain began to fall, and a wave of cold curled around them.
“Because of me?” Chen Xing said as he laid on the bed.
Xiang Shu also laid down, holding a paper strip in his hand. He was lifting up the map to study it behind the screen, and hearing this he said, baffled, “What?”
Chen Xing tilted his head, looking towards the area behind the folding screen at the shadow of Xiang Shu lying down with his legs kicked up in the air, one folded over the other.
Chen Xing, “Xiang Shu, because the Dinghai Pearl has been found, you think that I am safe now. Is that why your mood is so good today?”
Xiang Shu didn’t respond. He merely gathered up the papers around him, and with a flick of his finger, he extinguished the light. The moonlight shone onto the floor.
“Shulü Kong,” Chen Xing said.
Xiang Shu didn’t respond. He got up, sat down on the floor bed, and tucked a hand under the pillow.
“In this world, you are the person who cares about me the most,” Chen Xing said, a little dejectedly.
As always, Xiang Shu didn’t respond. He merely placed one hand under his pillow, as if he was hesitating, when Chen Xing added, “But ah, I don’t wish for you, because you’re afraid that I’m going to be in danger, to…”
“Shut up ba,” Xiang Shu finally opened his mouth and spoke, and he pulled his left hand out from under the pillow.
Chen Xing, “Xiang Shu, I think we really need to have a good talk…”
Xiang Shu got up, wearing nothing but his inner robe and shorts, leaving the bedroom behind. Chen Xing sat up and said, “Where are you going?”
“To get some air,” Xiang Shu said. “Don’t follow me, or I’ll beat you up.”
Chen Xing could only lie down. Upon hearing the sound of the door opening and Xiang Shu walking away, Chen Xing wanted to find an excuse to have him come back, calling out about “what if someone came by in a bit to take him away”, but Xiang Shu hadn’t gone far. The sound of the qiang flute intermittently issued forth; clearly he was playing the qiang flute in the courtyard.
Water dripped down from the eaves.
It was late fall, and the rain dripped onto the remnants of the lotuses filling the courtyard. In an instant the weather grew cold, and the Qiang flute’s ancient melody brought with it a little hint of desolation. In the night, the cold washed over the entirety of the southern land. Chen Xing didn’t know the name of the piece, and as he listened, he slowly drifted off to sleep. Xiang Shu watched the rain for a long time. It was only until the second half of the night that he came in to sleep, only to hear Chen Xing moving about restlessly in his own blankets. He went over to take a look and found him curled up into a ball, clearly chilly.
Seeing that, Xiang Shu laid down on the soft bed to sleep. In his dreams Chen Xing felt the warmth and moved over, like an animal seeking out heat, unconsciously scooting forward and pressing into the space in front of his shoulders as he slept soundly.
Jiankang was about to enter winter, and in the month that came, no matter what he did, Chen Xing couldn’t find any way to free the spiritual qi inside of the Dinghai Pearl. Ever since they had returned from Lake Hong, this artifact had been dormant. Every five days, Feng Qianjun, Xie Daoyun, and Xiao Shan would pass on messages through courier stations from all areas of Jiangnan, reporting back with the water problems of each region.
“The demonic jiao definitely has not left the south.” Chen Xing finished looking over another letter, and said, “Shi Hai and it are currently hiding somewhere, so what does he want to do?”
According to Xie An’s report, the south had already used their largest possible amount of labor and money to set up a net from which there was no escape, and though the ships could not cover all of the waterways, monitoring the mouth of the waterways was not a difficult problem. If the demonic jiao used any water paths to escape towards Luoyang, it would definitely be discovered.
And Feng Qianjun and the rest closed the net ever closer, towards a meeting in Jiankang.
“The Dinghai Pearl,” Xiang Shu said. “Shi Hai won’t give up so easily; he’s currently waiting for an opportunity, and he won’t stop until he has stolen the Dinghai Pearl.”
Xiang Shu took Chen Xing along once again to Mt. Nanping, hoping that they could once again activate the Dinghai Pearl on the Seven Stars Altar, but as always, they were at a loss.
And as time passed, Xiang Shu also grew a little frustrated. When they returned to the island in the middle of Lake Hong, Chen Xing imitated the situation from back then and once again tried to use the Dinghai Pearl, but as usual nothing worked.
“Put it there,” Xiang Shu said.
Chen Xing put the Dinghai Pearl on the rock.
“Concentrate,” Xiang Shu said. He then lifted up the Acala Blade and tested it.
The two of them finally reached a decision that they would try to use the Acala Blade to destroy the Dinghai Pearl. At that time, Chen Xing’s entire body gave off the glow of the Heart Lamp, and from behind he hugged Xiang Shu. The Acala Blade in Xiang Shu’s hand fell, accompanied by a stunning shout!
With a loud and clear clang, the Dinghai Pearl sank down. The rock shattered into pieces, but the artifact was as good as new.
“It didn’t work,” Chen Xing said dejectedly.
Xiang Shu put down the sword and observed Chen Xing’s condition. Chen Xing was panting a little, so Xiang Shu said, “Rest a while.” And saying that, he got some water out and had Chen Xing drink it.
“Why is it this hard!” Chen Xing said. “Clearly it’s already in our hands! This also doesn’t look like the spiritual qi of the heavens and the earth! Does it recognize its owner? But then how was I able to use it that day?”
Xiang Shu watched Chen Xing’s appearance before he suddenly smiled, and Chen Xing’s temper vanished.
“I really want to throw this thing away,” Xiang Shu said casually, before taking the Dinghai Pearl back, arching his body as he took a step out before straightening, lifting his arm, and throwing it directly into Lake Hong.
“Don’t!” Chen Xing went pale with shock, only to see a small splash rise up along with a putong sound from the lake.
“Aaahhh--!” Chen Xing went wild, grabbing Xiang Shu and shaking him hard, but Xiang Shu began to laugh loudly. Chen Xing roared angrily, “You’re still laughing! Why are you laughing?!”
“Let’s go.” Xiang Shu was no longer smiling, and he said that with a serious face.
“To where?!” Chen Xing was in great disbelief, and he was on the verge of tears as he said, “Can we get it back? This is the last hope!”
“To Chi Le Chuan,” Xiang Shu said. “To Lake Barkol. I know of a path, and following that path all the way, we can leave the Central Plains.”
And saying this, he tilted his head to look over the autumn sky and endless waters of Lake Hong.
“And if we keep going,” Xiang Shu said stoically, “We’ll pass through Shazhou, through Loulan, and to even further places. I think, there won’t be any drought fiends there, and no Dinghai Pearl either; there will be no spiritual Qi of the Heaven and the Earth, no exorcists, no yaoguais, devils, or demons. There will be nothing, and you won’t need to think about saving anyone ever again.”
Suddenly, Xiang Shu stared directly at Chen Xing. After watching him for a long time, he finally said, “Don’t care about it anymore. Tomorrow, no matter what happens to the Central Plains, don’t care about it any more. Nod, and I’ll take you away. Do you want to go?”
When that sentence came out of his mouth, Chen Xing’s eyes suddenly and inexplicably reddened, and he began to choke up as he watched Xiang Shu, breathing heavily. Over the journey the two of them had taken to get here, all of those shared woes, their intertwined life and death, the many hardships they had overcome, it flashed one by one through his head. A multitude of emotions that he couldn’t describe or even define swallowed him up like a wave washing over him.
“No, Xiang Shu,” Chen Xing said. “We have already come this far. I don’t want to give up now; even if every bone in my body breaks, even if I am to die tomorrow, as long as I am alive today, then we will still have hope, right?”
Xiang Shu earnestly watched Chen Xing, and in an instant his gaze grew gentle beyond compare. The waters of Lake Hong lapped against the shore, and within their ebb and flow, they only continued to gaze at each other. Finally, the corner of Xiang Shu’s mouth quirked up a little, and he splayed open his left hand. The Dinghai Pearl laid nested as always within that palm, and what he had thrown just now into the lake was only a rock.
“I’m just teasing you,” Xiang Shu said casually.
Chen Xing began to smile, and he responded, “I knew it.”
“Let’s go back, it’s about to snow. We’ll slowly think of ideas later,” Xiang Shu said, wholly unconcernedly, before gesturing at Chen Xing to take the Dinghai Pearl.
“Keep it with you,” Chen Xing responded.
The cold wind blew past them, and a light, gentle snow began to fall around the banks of Lake Hong. The first snow of winter had come, and in one night, Jiangnan was covered in gleaming white. The snow of Jiangnan was wildly different from that of Saiwai’s; when snow fell in Chi Le Chuan, all of the color in the space between the earth and the sky faded to grey, but after the snow finished falling in the night in Jiankang, it was like the white space on an ink painting. The lines of the pavilions and pagodas grew even more pronounced under the snow, as if Wang Xizhi had lifted his brush and painted a powerful stroke against the earth and sky.
Multiple months passed, and Chen Xing flipped through all of the old tomes through all of Jiankang. Xie An also helped him gather up a think tank composed of the talented young descendants of Jiangdong, the Xie family, the Wang family, and a good number evencame from the Sima family. They could be considered a grand gathering of the scholars around the world, but in the end they gained nothing.
moon: IT’S THIS CHAPTER! IT’S THIS CHAPTER AAAAHHHHH “DO YOU WANT TO GO”
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