“I don’t think he has any intention of being your Protector.”
Editor(s): Amelea, juurensha
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Turbulent wars persisted for years; lands stretching from the north of Jingjiang to Hanzhong had been plundered many times, so nine houses out of ten had been deserted long ago. When they couldn’t find any inns, the three of them could only spend the night in abandoned houses without roofs. Chen Xing gazed at the vast sky filled with stars and calculated the number of days with his fingers; he was born in late October autumn, so he only had less than three years and eight months remaining. He had to find the ruins of the Headquarters of Exorcism in Chang’an as soon as possible, and hopefully he would be able to find the reason for the silence that befell all magic.
The best outcome would have been for him to do the most he could and use the remaining few years of his life to retrieve the lost magic in the human world. He would then pass it onto the next generation of exorcists, so that they would be able to deal with the emergence of Mara in the future. But unexpectedly, another wave had risen before the preceding wave could pass -- an unexpected setback appeared out of nowhere in the form of that black robed man. Without a clue in sight, this matter made Chen Xing inexplicably vexed the more he thought about it. He tossed and turned about, unable to sleep, so he got up to go out for a walk.
Under the moonlight, he saw Xiang Shu in a small stream behind the dilapidated village. He was in a pair of long trousers as he wiped his upper body with cold water. Chen Xing gave a cursory glance before walking to the stream. Xiang Shu didn’t shun him and just remained where he stood.
When Chen Xing rescued him from prison, Xiang Shu was so emaciated he didn’t seem human. But now, not even ten days had passed, and he was already more or less recovered. The moonlight shone onto his damp shoulders and back, as if plating him with a layer of clear and crystalline silver light.
“You’re much better now than before.” Chen Xing said.
Xiang Shu had fair skin, and after his muscles recovered, they were lean in a way that wasn’t exaggerated, revealing contours reminiscent of running water. When he stood stark naked, he didn’t seem like a fierce Hu general at all, and instead possessed a somewhat refined aura. Without any clothes on, this was the perfect body of a literati, and Chen Xing just found it extremely strange.
Along the way, Xiang Shu would occasionally accept the rations Chen Xing gave him, yet he never accepted the food Feng Qianjun offered him. When they set up camp to rest, Xiang Shu would even go hunting from time to time; sometimes he would bring back deer, while at others he would bring back wild goats. He had to eat a lot of meat in one meal, and it was precisely because of that that his body recovered so quickly.
“What do you plan to do in Chang’an?” When the two of them sat face-to-face, Xiang Shu finally took the initiative to speak to Chen Xing.
“Work.” Chen Xing sat on the stone beside the stream and answered, “I’m an exorcist, I have my responsibilities.”
Xiang Shu walked towards the shore, put on an unlined garment, and yanked the tie with both hands to tighten it. The white shirt that clung tightly to his body outlined the contours of his broad back, and he had the subtle impression of a reserved, but threatening presence.
“Just to clarify,” Chen Xing said, “you’ve made up your mind to not be a Protector, right?”
Xiang Shu raised an eyebrow.
So Chen Xing explained to him: there has always been someone in the role of a “Protector” beside all exorcists, in order to protect the exorcists from any disturbances when they were exorcising yaos. And the Protector by the side of the Great Exorcist who oversees Headquarters has a resounding title -- “Martial God”.
And now, there remains only one exorcist in the world -- Chen Xing, so naturally he would be that “Great Exorcist”. As for the Martial God, the Heart Lamp had chosen Xiang Shu to take up that post. Chen Xing himself had no right to choose at all, and he also wanted to explain about magic and the Divine Land……
“Find someone else.” Xiang Shu casually said, “You saved my life, and I saved yours, so we’re even.”
Xiang Shu had saved Chen Xing more than once, especially when Chen Xing acted so recklessly in front of Emperor Chu’s tomb. If Xiang Shu hadn’t reacted quickly, Chen Xing would have been burned to death by the black flames. Although it wasn’t certain that those black flames would burn him to death, but wasn’t that what a Protector was supposed to do?
Chen Xing wasn’t angry when he heard these words. In fact, for someone whose time was limited and only had three years and eight more months to live, not many things could upset him. He would just feel a little unhappy at most.
“Okay.” Chen Xing watched Xiang Shu’s receding figure as he left and said, “I didn’t hold much hope in the first place, and at the very least I have to respect your decision. Since you’ve already rejected me, then after we arrive in Chang’an, let bridges be bridges and roads be roads.”
Xiang Shu left, leaving only Chen Xing behind as he faced the stream in melancholy. He had a lot of things he hasn’t had the chance to tell Xiang Shu yet, including the relationship between exorcists and their Protectors, and also of the era more than 300 years ago when exorcists flourished, where exorcists and their Protectors depended on each other and would go through fire and water together.
On his journey after leaving Mt. Hua, he had repeatedly imagined the appearance and temper of his Protector, as well as how he would explain everything to his Protector after meeting him. In the remaining four years of his life, he would at least have someone accompanying him by his side; he dared not wish for anything more, but at least he wouldn’t be lonely.
Iuppiter’s luck helped him solve all his problems, but it had no effect at all on this matter regarding Xiang Shu. Or perhaps, for this difficult problem that was related to the Heart Lamp and the luck of the Divine Land, even Iuppiter was powerless.
At first, Chen Xing was brimming with expectations and had intended to entrust his remaining four years to him, yet his expectations gradually turned into disappointment. There were a lot of things he wanted to explain to Xiang Shu, but what was the use of saying all that? Xiang Shu didn’t care about it at all, nor was he concerned about it and couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention to him.
What should I do from now on? Get another one? But will the Heart Lamp change one for me? It’s not like this is an affair of the heart where I can just change partners at will. Chen Xing had wanted to take a stroll to forget his worries at first, but his worries only increased, so he decided to just return to the house to sleep. However, now it has become even more difficult for him to sleep, and after thinking about it over and over, he only had one thought:
It’s all that bastard’s fault.
A few days later, Chen Xing decided that he might as well stop talking to Xiang Shu. Feng Qianjun knew that he had gone out in the middle of the night that night, so he didn’t ask much. There were more and more populated villages along the way. Birds sang and fragrant flowers bloomed in spring; it was easier for them to find accommodation, and there was a place for the circulation of their silver taels and copper coins now. The three of them passed through Wu pass in this manner. With a signed document from Mai City in hand, Chen Xing took the other two through the pass. They hastened on with their journey for a few more days before arriving at Chang’an City.
Chang’an had gone through more than a hundred years of war. Every time its master changed, Chang’an would suffer another round of plunder and arson. However, ever since the era where this city was named Haojin in the Zhou Dynasty, it had stood on the west side of the Divine Land. The ancient city surrounded by eight rivers was like an enormous tree that nourished the earth. It demonstrated its astonishing tenacity time and time again after each and every time it was set on fire and destroyed; verdant and lush, happiness and prosperity, flourishing scenery would fill one’s field of view.
Within the pass, fire beacons had been lit up for days on end at the front line of a fierce battle with the south, yet Chang’an was at peace. Even though just ten miles away, there were people from the Central Plains who had fled here from the calamity elsewhere and died from starvation and illness on the roadside and in the wilderness, the high city walls of Chang’an had blocked the plague, hunger, disaster, and war.
It had also blocked death.
Like an oasis filled with life in a barren desert, it had turned into a world of its own.
The apex of the roof tiles of gold and jade mansion eaves could be seen adjacent to each other. The splendid Weiyang palace was an auspicious omen, yet the master of the palace had changed long ago. The abundant flowers in Shanglin’s park bloomed brilliantly with the coming of spring.
Hu people rode horses in the streets and spectated cock fights. People were laughing and chatting, Han and Hu people were living together harmoniously, and Hu people with high nose bridges and deep eyes came and went. Regardless of whether they were a Hu or a Han, everyone was dressed in gorgeous attire. Languages of the Di, Xie, Xianbei, and Tiele people fell incessantly upon one’s ears. The market was filled with a dazzling lineup of goods; the unending blue robes of scholars could be seen, whose hair crowns were like clouds.
Chen Xing was only five years old the last time he came to Chang'an, so most of his memories regarding this place had long blurred into obscurity. Seeing this scene before him now, an indescribable feeling arose in Chen Xing’s heart.
“Although Fu Jian is a Hu Emperor, he managed to govern Chang’an quite well ma.” Chen Xing said sourly.
After nearly half a month of travelling with Feng Qianjun and Xiang Shu, they were now travel-worn and looked like country bumpkins after entering Chang’an. Xiang Shu was still adorned in a hunter’s attire but was instead the one who didn’t seem to pay much heed to it. He scrutinised a group of Hu people on a side street not far away; it seemed his attention had been roused from hearing the accent of his native place.
Feng Qianjun said, “Yeah, maybe I should just spare that dog’s life for a while.”
The three of them ordered a bowl of noodles at a noodle stall on a street in Chang'an, which was sufficient to serve as a farewell meal for this group of temporary travel companions. After the meal, Chen Xing inquired about someone from the waiter, while Feng Qianjun went to settle the bill and said, “Since we’ve arrived at Chang’an, why don’t……”
As he spoke, Feng Qianjun hesitated a little. He looked at Chen Xing and asked, “Why don’t you go to Dage’s lodging to stay for two days first?”
Chen Xing knew that Feng Qianjun’s offer was just out of courtesy. Although they had taken care of one another on the way here, ultimately they were still just strangers who had just met by chance. He quickly said, “I won’t trouble Brother Feng anymore. I have a place to go to, and I’ve just gotten some news on it. He is indeed in Chang’an, so it just so happens that I can seek shelter with an old friend here. Could you help me raise the puppy for a while? It’s not convenient for me to take care of it for the time being.”
“That’s alright.” Feng Qianjun picked up the dog and said readily, “If you encounter any trouble, just send a letter to the Songbai residence in the west of the city. From the looks of it, I’ll probably have to stay in Chang’an for a period of time.”
As for Xiang Shu, Feng Qianjun didn’t ask him anything and only whistled at him, “I’ll entrust Tianchi to your care.”
Chen Xing thought, what does it have to do with him? Feng Qianjun promptly put on his bamboo hat, placed his hands in his sleeves, and walked into the street before disappearing into the crowd.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro.