“Then how will we return the Dinghai Pearl to his hand?”
“We don’t have enough forces.” Xie An faced the map of the region from Chang’an to Luoyang, from Shou County to Jiangnan, as he spoke. “Originally His Majesty didn’t want to wage war, and before we left he specially exhorted that if we didn’t have to fight, then we shouldn’t.”
“Not fighting is impossible,” Chen Xing said. “The North and the South will sooner or later have to fight such a battle, Xie-shixiong. Think about the good side, now you have an ally.”
Luoyang was enveloped by the gentle spring light; it was already the second month, when the poplar blossoms filled the air, and in a little while longer, when it came time for the Shangsi Festival, the spring of the Central Plains would become the most beautiful sight in the human realm. Several days had already passed since the night they formed a blood pact with Murong Chong, and the sky was clear, with the sunlight shining down warmly on Chen Xing’s body. He didn’t want to spend his time scheming and plotting for their next move in this flower-filled season; he didn’t want to do the tasks that they had at hand, he just wanted to go out and play. But Xie An still dragged him in to discuss their detailed plans instead.
Originally Xiang Shu had decided to toss matters over to Xie An and not care about anything anymore, but Xie An kept mulling it over, and in the end he couldn’t just put it out of his mind.
“Murong Chong agreed to an alliance based on the Martial God’s reputation,” Xie An said a little helplessly. “Otherwise, why would he trust us Han people? Back in the day, Huan Wen and Wang Meng killed many Xianbei people. Ah well, the most important stage of this plan is to somehow trick Fu Jian and Wang Ziye into coming to Luoyang; as long as they leave the main battlefield of Chang’an, then there is hope for everything.”
Chen Xing slowly began to realize that Xie An, this cheaply won shixiong of his, was actually pretty skilled. Ever since he entered the Exorcism Department, everything had been planned out in methodical detail, like he was the brainpower of the operation. His attitude towards the current political situation was not like Chen Xing, who spent every day staring into the mists and seeing flowers; rather, he could see the flow of many hidden currents with a single glance.
He nixed Xiang Shu’s suggestion to throw the drought fiend troop into chaos; after all, if the 300,000-strong drought fiend troop was no longer under someone’s control, then it would result in severe consequences of wanton destruction and slaughter for the region surrounding Luoyang. Additionally, Wang Ziye might have set down ambushes in the Longmen Mountains, and he could just be waiting for them to fall into the traps on their own.
The best plan was for everyone to wait patiently for their enemy to strike first before they countered that move.
Xie An rethought the troop movements many times, making preparations in case the peace talks didn’t succeed, and Fu Jian, in a rage, sent his troops down towards Jiangnan, so that those troops would then be caught in a pincer attack with Murong Chong’s silver cavalry. However, no matter how he arranged it, the Beifu guards and the silver cavalry were only 10,000 strong, and the strength of their troops compared to their enemies had just too great of a disparity.
“I’ll let you think it over slowly.” Chen Xing’s brain was wholly jumbled and confused from this talk of troop movements, locations for garrisons, and war strategies that would allow their troops to win in mountain valleys and on flat land. He decided to get up to go find Xiang Shu.
Xiang Shu was currently in the inn’s study writing a letter, while Feng Qianjun and several of the swordsmen under his employ were waiting to one side. When Chen Xing arrived, Xiang Shu had just finished sealing the letters, and he handed the three letters to the waiting people.
“Are you sending letters to Chi Le Chuan?” Chen Xing asked.
Xiang Shu didn’t respond. He merely said to the couriers, “Even if your life is forfeit, these letters cannot fall into the hands of other people.”
The couriers nodded and replied in the affirmative. Feng Qianjun received one of the letters, and he said to Chen Xing, “I’ll see you later, Tianchi.”
“What is he going to do?” Chen Xing asked, puzzled.
Xiang Shu, as always, didn’t respond. After he washed his hands, he got up and asked, “Where’s Xiao Shan?”
Xiao Shan was currently lying outside in the yard soaking up the sun. Chen Xing chased behind Xiang Shu, asking, “What are you sending Feng-dage off to do?”
Xiang Shu replied, “I’m having him think of ways to keep Fu Jian in check. Wolf spawn, it’s time to get up and do work.”
Xiao Shan lazily turned over, before sitting up with a petulant expression. On a daily basis, he spoke very little as usual, and he was only very docile towards Xiang Shu and Chen Xing. Sometimes, when Chen Xing watched Xiang Shu and Xiao Shan, he kept feeling like they were a father and son; if there came a day in the future when Xiang Shu had a son, perhaps they would interact in much the same way.
“Where are you going?” Chen Xing watched Xiang Shu and Xiao Shan get on the inn-provided horses.
Xiang Shu was a little impatient, as if he was waiting for him. Xiao Shan said puzzledly, “I don’t know.”
Xiang Shu asked, “Are you getting on or not? If not, then I’m going.”
“Wait!” Chen Xing hurried to chase after Xiang Shu. Xiang Shu’s horse hadn’t gone very far, and he stopped and waited for Chen Xing. However, when Chen Xing caught up to him, Xiang Shu once again turned and started moving away. Chen Xing chased after him on the main thoroughfare for a bit, but then he grew angry, and he glared at Xiang Shu from afar.
“Get on ba,” Xiang Shu said finally.
Finally, Chen Xing climbed onto the horse’s back, hugging Xiang Shu’s waist. Like this, he was brought out of Luoyang by Xiang Shu, and they headed due north on the road.
“The city guards are watching us,” Chen Xing said.
Xiang Shu, “I realized that a long time ago. Why don’t they try to provoke me, huh?”
Chen Xing guessed that Xiang Shu wanted to go to the Longmen Mountains to scout out the area, and as he expected, after the three of them left Luoyang, they rode for half a day before they arrived at the Longmen Gorge. Longmen was called Yique in the ancient times, and in the early spring period, the trees and the mountains were covered in an extremely chilling fog. As they traveled along the eastern bank of the Yi River, they saw that two mountains opened up against each other like two que, with the Yi River flowing through the middle. On the lower slopes of the mountain was thousands of li of fertile land, and the grasses grew as the warblers flew overhead. It was unfortunate that these were war-torn years, as the fertile fields were no longer tended to by anyone.
“What do you see?” Xiang Shu said.
“The earth veins,” Chen Xing said. “They pass through strategic locations throughout the Divine Land.”
Xiang Shu said “From Carosha to Karakorum, then to Chi Le Chuan, is the handle of the Big Dipper, and from there to Yique is the connecting point to the four places within the Central Plains.”
Chen Xing immediately answered, “Correct. This place is where the handle and the body of the ladle connect, in the Ten Thousand Spirits Array.”
The intangible resentment gathered up, traveling along the twin mountains of Longmen that speared into the clouds, turning into a swell of dark wind that gusted through the lands to the north and south. If this was in a time before the Silence of All Magic, then this place would definitely be the first amongst the spiritual spots in the human realm.
Xiang Shu untied the saddlepack from the horse’s back, and the three of them sat down on the riverbank. There were even dried rations in the saddlepack.
“There are birds.” Chen Xing kept feeling a sense of foreboding; they had run all the way around to behind Wang Ziye’s back, but this fellow, to this day, had yet to appear in front of them, and they didn’t know what he was planning in this region behind him.
“Xiao Shan,” Xiang Shu said.
Xiao Shan pulled out a slingshot, but just as he picked up a round rock and was taking aim, the birds that had landed on the flat plain had already long since spread their wings and taken flight.
“Don’t be too nervous,” Chen Xing said. “They weren’t crows. I’m not afraid of us being watched, too much of Wang Ziye’s power has been lost for that. I’m just afraid…”
Chen Xing thought of what Gu Qing had said before she died. That “door” that Wang Ziye craved to open, where was it?
Xiang Shu, “You’re not even afraid of death, but you’re afraid of Wang Ziye?”
Chen Xing thought, I’m afraid of the plan failing, but he didn’t mention any more on this matter. After they finished eating their food, Xiang Shu and Xiao Shan, one large and one small, stood on the river bank, picking up round stones and skipping them across the river. Xiang Shu picked up a few relatively flat ones and began to teach Xiao Shan how to move so that the rocks flew out even further. In this year, Xiao Shan had shot up rapidly, and he was almost even with Chen Xing’s eyebrows now, approaching Xiang Shu’s shoulders in height.
If he counted on his fingers, Chen Xing figured that Xiao Shan was already almost 14. If he kept going like this, then perhaps when he was 17 or 18, he might be even taller than Xiang Shu. Usually, sometimes when Xiang Shu had some free time, he would out of nowhere spar a little bit with Xiao Shan. In the beginning, Xiao Shan had been spun in all directions, his head becoming so muddled that he couldn’t even touch the edge of Xiang Shu’s robe, but now he was slowly becoming able to exchange a few blows with Xiang Shu, though he never made it past two or three.
Suddenly the two people by the bank saw something, and they both simultaneously stopped moving.
“Don’t touch it,” Xiang Shu warned.
“Chen Xing!” Xiao Shan said. “Come!”
Chen Xing was wholly confused, and he got up and rapidly walked to the river bank, only to see a rotting body carried down by the currents.
“We have to fish it up,” Chen Xing immediately said. “Otherwise, if it pollutes the water source, then it’ll cause a plague in the villages downstream.”
Xiang Shu brought over a grappling hook and dragged that body up onto the river bank. Chen Xing furrowed his brow as he looked it over, only to see that that body was a Qin guard, whose head had been ruined, as if something had smashed into his skull with one blow.
“Was he struck by rocks?” Chen Xing looked towards the upstream of the Yi River, his brows furrowed deeply.
Xiao Shan lifted up his fist, comparing it with the body, before looking at Xiang Shu. Xiang Shu nodded and said, “He was struck by a fist. Who has this much brute strength?”
And saying this, Xiang Shu turned around and flipped up onto the horse. He whistled and took Chen Xing with him as they traveled upstream.
The closer they got to the que, the denser the resentment became, and the air was charged with an icy, evil energy. When they got to the foot of the mountain, they found that there was no path forward, but Xiang Shu discovered a small mountain trail, and so they made their way up onto the mountainside. When they got up high, the resentment had already coalesced into white fog, and not far from them was camped a troop of Qin soldiers. The sounds of broken coughs reached their ears.
“Living people,” Chen Xing said.
The rumors that had spread about Wang Ziye setting down the drought fiend troop encampment and Fu Jian sending people to stand guard over it, not letting the Jin scouts approach, were probably involving this place. Even further to the back was a region of expansive forest, while resentment filled the two banks of the river, just in front of the northern foot of the mountains that were like a pair of “dragon doors”.
“Let’s go.” Xiang Shu had figured out the specific location, and he didn’t want to get any closer. But Chen Xing sat on the back of the horse, frowning as he looked towards the two mountains opening up on each other, as if they were two watchtowers standing guard on either side of an imperial gate, thinking about what Gu Qing had said before she died, about the “door” in Wang Ziye’s memories.
“What?” Xiang Shu said. “You want to go in and take a look?”
Chen Xing shook his head and said, “It’s nothing.”
Suddenly, he had a daring thought. If the mana in the world was still present, then under the influence of certain special spells, would a great, glowing door open here?!
The next day, Xie An finalized his plans and detailed them to the others. Chen Xing knew that although Xie An was the person who hammered out the details, in reality, the one who would decide whether or not to do battle was Xiang Shu.
“According to the Martial God’s estimate, we need to finish our battle with Fu Jian and Wang Ziye in Luoyang,” Xie An said. “The most important thing is to first lure Fu Jian and Wang Ziye over. A little earlier today, Helian Shuang already sent people over to give us notice that Fu Jian will arrive in Luoyang on the day of the Duanyang Festival, to meet with us.”
“Very good.” Xiang Shu sat in the main seat of the inn.
Xie An said, “Feng Qianjun is away and has yet to return, so what should we do about his 3000 troops?”
“We don’t need to wait for him,” Xiang Shu said. “When the time comes, he will return, so just go ahead with your plan.”
Xie An said, “There are two possibilities with Wang Ziye. One is that he accompanies Fu Jian and appears at the same time as him, while the second is that he is hidden in the dark. Through the process of the diplomatic talks, we need to gather up our forces, and with the speed of lightning that strikes its target long before its thunderclap is heard, pin down Fu Jian.”
Xiang Shu en-ed. Chen Xing thought, you guys are making this too big of a matter, detaining the ruler of a country isn’t something to joke about. Was there really this possibility? Would Fu Jian bring bodyguards with him? But after thinking about it carefully, with Xiang Shu’s skill, this did indeed seem to be possible.
Chen Xing said, “And with that, Fu Jian won’t be taken to become Chiyou’s vessel. Detaining him is something that is easier said than done, you need to think about the imperial guards…”
Xiang Shu answered, “It’s on me, no need to worry.”
Chen Xing said, “When Fu Jian comes to Luoyang for these discussions, there will be at least twenty or thirty thousand people by his side.”
Xiang Shu said, “I said! No need to worry! Do you not understand?”
Xie An immediately followed up. “As soon as we get the upper hand, we’ll have Murong Chong, under the guise of ‘purging evil ministers from the emperor’s side’, pick a fight with Wang Ziye. After that is to wipe out Wang Ziye’s drought fiend troop, and at that point we’ll need to have a group of people split off, transferring Fu Jian away from there…”
Xiang Shu said, “Transfer him to Jiankang?Parade him through the streets?”
Xie An smiled. “What I promised you naturally must be fulfilled. I cannot hand him over to His Majesty, so we’ll have to temporarily restrain him in Shou County on the south bank of the Fei River.”
Chen Xing knew that between Xiang Shu and Fu Jian, there were still a little bit of old feelings left; he didn’t wish to see Fu Jian be humiliated.
“And after that, the Murong family will have no other choice; they will have to go along with Murong Chong to gather troops,” Xie An said. “This is also what originally won Murong Chong over to join our alliance, one of the stages of our plan. We need to borrow their troops, and together with ours, face down the drought fiend army in the Longmen Mountains. I don’t know if you guys…”
“We’ve scouted out the specific location,” Xiang Shu said.
Xie An said, “During the diplomatic talks, we’ll arrange it so that Feng Qianjun’s subordinates first hide away secretly, using kerosene and oil cans to clean them out. If it becomes necessary, for the safety of the citizens, we must set fire to the entirety of the Longmen Mountains. This process may not be successful, so we must make preparations ahead of time for the drought fiend army to not be wholly exterminated by that and instead sally forth at full strength. At this time, the Murong clan’s army must move out.”
“What about Wang Ziye? He’s not there for show. As soon as he finds out something isn’t right, he’ll act against us,” Chen Xing said. “Though that jiao dragon we’ve already gotten rid of, I suspect that he still has more cards up his sleeves. If he manages to revive some other random great yaoguai that none of us have seen before, then that’ll be troublesome.”
Xie An nodded. “Yes, this is the problem that you two will have to face. As of today, he has no more drought fiend kings under his command, and after a detailed scouting effort, we’ve also been unable to find any officials in Luoyang who could be suspected of being a drought fiend in disguise. According to our deductions, this Shi Hai’s troops and generals have already been basically cleaned out… Right now, within the Longmen Mountains’ camp are the last bit of his forces, and we can confirm that of the ones he has control over, only Princess Qinghe is left.”
As he spoke, Xie An also grew a little frustrated, and he frowned as he continued, “The Feng family’s scouts have already thoroughly combed everywhere near the foot of the Longmen Mountains, aside from where the drought fiend camp is, without finding any sort of suspicious cavern or altar. Where exactly is the ‘door’ that Wang Ziye wants to find?”
Chen Xing said, “Could it be in the drought fiend camp?”
Xie An shook his head and said, “The drought fiend encampment is in a valley, and aside from the resentment there, there’s nothing else out of the ordinary. Right now the only variable that can change things is that ‘door’. I really hope that, in this last stretch, there isn’t some monster that comes out of there.”
Xiang Shu spread open the map, on which were the notes that Zhang Liu had once left. In the center were the twin mountains of Yique that acted like watchtowers facing each other.
“Since it was a spot that Zhang Liu had once marked,” Xiang Shu said, more to himself than his audience, “then there shouldn’t be any yaoguai at all there. My guess is that the place that Wang Ziye wants to get into has a high chance of being connected with the Dinghai Pearl.”
“And anyways, even if he does manage to revive some other strange beast,” Xiang Shu continued, “I suspect that it won’t be harder to defeat than a jiao.”
Chen Xing thought for a little bit, before saying, “Then how will we return the Dinghai Pearl to his hand?”
The interior of the inn was silent for a while. Xie An and Xiang Shu exchanged a glance, before Xie An suddenly said, “Why do we need to hand the Dinghai Pearl over to him?”
Chen Xing said, “But if we don’t follow that path, then we have no way to release the mana inside and get rid of Chiyou.”
Xie An said, “Our goal is to have Wang Ziye turn into ashes and be wholly destroyed, so that he can no longer make any more drought fiends. Since the Martial God is certain that in this battle we can get rid of Wang Ziye, then the way I see it, we don’t need to pay such a cruel price at all…”
Xiang Shu interrupted Xie An’s words, saying, “When the time comes, I will take any opportunity I see to carry things out. We can try to offer up the Dinghai Pearl, then, pretending mana exhaustion, pretend to faint. Wang Ziye will definitely take the Dinghai Pearl at that time; after all, Fu Jian will be suppressed, his drought fiend army wiped out, and the Murong family sees him as a deadly enemy. Wang Ziye’s manipulations will no longer be able to be carried out. This magical artifact will then be his only hope.”
“En,” Up until this point, Chen Xing thought that this was all very reasonable, and he said, “After he gets the Dinghai Pearl, he’ll return to Huanmo Palace and revive Chiyou, because he has no other path to take. Then, how will we determine where Huanmo Palace is? Or how will we find our way there?”
This stage of the plan was one that Xiang Shu had clearly not thought through, but Chen Xing could dimly tell that Xiang Shu was going with his wishes. In reality, he kept feeling that things were not this simple. As expected, Xiang Shu completely hadn’t considered the suggestion that he had brought up that night at all, even if that suggestion was one that he himself had brought up first.
“You guys think about it some more ba,” Chen Xing said quietly.
Xie An glanced at Xiang Shu. Xiang Shu knew that his own desire had already been guessed by Chen Xing, and he could only stay silent. Chen Xing didn’t say any harsh words either, he knew that to make this decision was even more difficult for Xiang Shu than for him, but he must choose to do it.
In the blink of an eye, the spring-filled third month came. There was less than a year and a half left between him and his 20th year.
“According to what you guys saw, Wang Ziye left through the earth veins every time you met him,” Xie An said. “His hunpo can leave his body and possess other people, but if he’s bringing along the Dinghai Pearl, then he must move using a physical body.”
“Huanmo Palace is at the Fei River,” Xiang Shu said darkly. “Gu Qing said so before she died, it’s just that aside from his own subordinates, Wang Ziye won’t let anyone in… bringing along the Dinghai Pearl, sometimes I even suspect that that isn’t the Dinghai Pearl at all.”
Xie An said, “If you carefully consider my proposal, then you’ll know that despite the danger, it could work out in theory.”
Xiang Shu said coldly, “I won’t let Chen Xing also fall into his hands. This way, even though he will be brought to Huanmo Palace, I can still use the resonance of the Heart Lamp to get in and meet up with him, but on the off chance that he actually dies, then what is the point of what I am doing now?”
Xie An said earnestly, “But this is also shidi’s wish, Great Chanyu. These Hu people, for so many years, haven’t set even one foot in the South, do you know why?”
Xiang Shu’s expression was one of frustration as he looked at Xie An.
Xie An smiled. “It is exactly because Fu Jian can’t disrupt this kind of strong faith.”
And saying this, Xie An let out a sigh. He got up and said, “After the Disaster of Yongjia, even if our path forward is so dark that if you reach a hand out you won’t be able to see your fingers, there are still more Han people who are willing to light up a lantern in front of us to light our way. Exorcism is one, returning the light to the land is another, and aren’t they very much alike? The light in shidi’s eyes is one that I’ve seen in who knows how many people’s gazes before; he’s not the only one. They were born for the sake of their wish, and they can perish for the sake of that wish. They’re willing to die for the sake of the cause, and to lay down their lives for justice.”
From behind him came a huge boom. Xiang Shu had overturned the table, and in a whirl he spun around and left. But just as he was thinking about destroying something to vent the rage that he felt, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and murmured, “He leaves through the earth veins?”
It was night.
“Yours.” Xiao Shan handed a letter to Chen Xing.
Chen Xing: “???”
Someone had actually sent him a letter? Chen Xing opened the envelope, only to see a few slightly wobbly lines of Han characters, and it was signed ‘Tuoba Yan’. At that, he couldn’t help but recall those days in Chang’an, when Tuoba Yan was learning Han characters for the first time in his life, and he had him copy down “Trudging On and On”.
And today, Tuoba Yan had already learned many Han characters, enough to write a whole letter with.
“Look, your shixiong’s handwriting is prettier than yours.” Chen Xing let Xiao Shan take a look.
But Xiao Shan asked, “Do you want to go?”
Chen Xing: “...”
That letter was written by Tuoba Yan for him, he wanted to arrange for a meeting with him.
“Right now?” Chen Xing was a little taken aback; he didn’t want to go very much.
Xiao Shan indicated that Chen Xing should look outside, meaning Tuoba Yan had already arrived.
“I’ll go listen to what he has to say,” Chen Xing said. “It’ll just be for a little while, so there won’t be any problems.”
Xiao Shan hesitated for a moment, but Chen Xing had already taken the lead and gone out. Xiao Shan was just about to get up and follow, but Xiang Shu came swiftly from the direction of the hall. Xiao Shan was a little uneasy as he watched Chen Xing’s silhouette moving away, while Xiang Shu furrowed his brow, turning and going out.
The warm, gentle moonlight shed its light over Luoyang. Tuoba Yan was standing under a tree waiting for him, and next to him, a man wearing a bamboo hat stood tall and erect. The hat’s brim was pulled down, blocking out half his face, but as soon as Chen Xing saw that physique, he knew it was Murong Chong.
“He’s here,” Murong Chong said. “I’m going.”
Tuoba Yan immediately turned his head around and smiled towards Chen Xing.
“I just knew that you were going to come.” Tuoba Yan stood on the bank of the Luo River and smiled a genuine smile that lit up his face.
Chen Xing said, “It seems like you’re much better now.”
“You were right,” Tuoba Yan said. “After spring began, I slowly began to get better.”
Tuoba Yan had grown skinnier, but he still had that heroic aura of old, and the color of his face looked much better. Chen Xing began to suspect his own conclusions from before; could the Heart Lamp really have helped Tuoba Yan, causing him to slowly get better?
Chen Xing squeezed Tuoba Yan’s wrist for a moment, letting the Heart Lamp enter his body, but he found no sign of a change for the better, and he couldn’t help the furrow in his brow.
The poplar tree blossoms drifted along the river like snow as they flew about this way and that in the night wind. Chen Xing let go of Tuoba Yan’s hand, before he suddenly saw a shadow - that was precisely Xiang Shu, who was discussing something with Murong Chong not too far away from them.
Why did he follow me out again… Chen Xing was a little distracted, and he said to Tuoba Yan, “What is it you wanted to talk about?”
“Let’s take a walk?” Tuoba Yan said of his own accord.
After Murong Chong left, Xiang Shu followed them over. Chen Xing stood there, but just as he was about to say something to him, Xiang Shu said coldly and calmly, “I won’t listen to what you two are talking about, I’ll just be 20 steps away from you.”
“You go back first ba,” Chen Xing said. “It’s such a short amount of time, nothing will go wrong!”
But Xiang Shu continued to follow along stubbornly behind the two of them. Chen Xing knew that he wanted to keep Chen Xing under his watch, to prevent anything from happening that would result in him being suddenly taken away again, so he could only go along with it.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.