"In this turbulent world, he fully deserves to be called a hero."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Underground, in Huanmo Palace.
“My lord… my lord…” Wang Ziye’s soul moaned, crawling slowly along the ground towards that huge heart.
Princess Qinghe, Feng Qianjun, Xiao Shan, a military general with a heroic, large build, clad in the armor of Former Qin, Wang Meng with his hand torn off, Sima Wei, and a huge rotten wolf stood in a half-circle behind Wang Ziye. Wang Ziye only had two hun and seven po left, and he struggled ceaselessly on the floor, crawling up onto the sacrificial altar as he reached a hand out towards the heart.
“You… trash,” Chiyou’s voice resounded. “You boasted of planning for every possibility, and yet you’ve fallen to this level in the end.”
A single drop of Devil God’s Blood dripped out from the heart, landing on Wang Ziye’s hunpo. Wang Ziye let out a disfigured howl as shadowy ripples echoed across his hunpo, slowly spreading out, before gathering up again, revealing a shrouded human figure.
“I need… even more… resentment,” Wang Ziye said slowly. “The power I gathered over thousands of years of cultivation was so easily charred to ash by the Heart Lamp…”
“Foolish beyond saving!” Chiyou’s voice thundered.
Wang Ziye immediately jumped, his shadowy hunpo form kneeling down on the ground.
“You’ve found your array?” Chiyou asked coldly.
Wang Ziye replied, “Yes. Within the Longmen Mountains, I have indeed found the traces of the ancient array of time.”
Chiyou commanded, “Set up the array ba. Use the spiritual qi of the Dinghai Pearl to activate the seven artifacts, and the day that Fu Jian begins his war is the day that this king will once again regain a physical form.”
Wang Ziye said, “But the Dinghai Pearl…”
Chiyou replied, “It will come.”
Wang Ziye added, “The various artifacts…”
Chiyou replied, “They will come of their own accord. The ghost king has already become stable, and the seven protectors of the array are gathered here. Go forth and immediately arrange for this.”
Wang Ziye looked towards that large, sturdy general that had been called the “Ghost King”.
Chiyou then said, “With this king’s power, he can be kept stable for many more months. Send him to Karakorum, go ba.”
“Yes,” Wang Ziye said. “But this subject still needs a physical body.”
“Go find one yourself,” Chiyou said darkly.
Wang Ziye turned his head, looking towards his assembled subordinates. Feng Qianjun and Xiao Shan’s gazes were unfocused, and a faint red light shone from their hearts.
Chiyou’s voice slowly grew quieter. “To save Chen Xing’s life, he will definitely come here, but before then, do not make this king waste his energy any further…”
Wang Ziye hurried to nod.
The seventh year of the Taiyuan era, 15th day of the 8th month.
“How long did I sleep for this time?” Chen Xing asked himself. When he rose, his head hurt so much that he couldn’t bear it.
After that battle with Wang Ziye, surviving through that had been far beyond his expectations.
“Where’s Xiang Shu?” Chen Xing murmured. “Xiang Shu! Where are you?”
Xiang Shu was not standing guard by the side of his bed. Chen Xing lowered his head to look down, only to see that he was wearing nothing but an inner robe, which was about the same as every other time when he had gone unconscious. He rose from the bed, pushing open the bedroom door; it was currently night. The night wind held a little bit of autumn feel within it, and it was already slightly chilly.
A full moon hung in the night sky, and tonight’s moonlight was very bright, shining so brightly that it almost didn’t seem like night.
Chen Xing heard the sound of talking and laughter from afar, so he passed through the hallway. He entered the garden only to see, in a crowded pavilion, Xie An, Xie Xuan, Wang Xizhi, and others drinking wine, eating desserts, and admiring the moon, while Xie Daoyun sat, burdened with worries, to one side.
“You all…” Chen Xing felt a little at a loss upon seeing this scene.
“You’re awake!” Xie Daoyun let out a loud shout.
“You’re awake, you’re awake!” Xie An immediately hurried over to help support Chen Xing.
Immediately, the entire garden of visitors was set abuzz, and they hurried to rise and welcome him. Chen Xing said, “What banquet are you all holding? Wait, let me go change my clothes…” But as he spoke, he felt a little dizzy, and Xie Daoyun hurried to say, “Go back and rest a bit, you’ve just woken after all.”
Wang Xizhi said, “Quick, someone send a message to the Martial God.”
“He said before,” Xie An explained, “that even if Chen Xing hadn’t woken up, he would hurry back tomorrow or the day after.”
“Where’s Xiang Shu?” Chen Xing asked confusedly. “Where’s Qianjun-ge? And where has Xiao Shan run off to?”
Xie Daoyun had him go back to his room before she began to answer him slowly. Huan Yi was also there, and Wang Xizhi, Xie Xuan, and the others came in as well.
Chen Xing drank a little tea, and his head grew somewhat clearer. He lifted his questioning gaze, turning it on Xie An.
“I slept for three months?” After Chen Xing learned of this, he said, “En, not bad, it’s about the same as the last time I was unconscious, much better than I expected. Where is this?”
Xie Daoyun replied, “Shou County.”
“Why are you all here?” Chen Xing asked curiously. “What are you all in Shou County for?”
Xie An’s words dried up in his mouth.
“Let’s go through one thing at a time,” Xie An said at last. “The Martial God’s following Sima Wei’s tracks to go find where Huanmo Palace is.”
“Oh,” Chen Xing said. “Then he should be pretty close by. Unless, he wasn’t here by my side because he found something in his search?”
Xie Daoyun shook her head, and Wang Xizhi explained, “He always comes back once a week. He says, no matter if you’re awake or not, as soon as the 17th day of the 8th month approaches, he’ll always come back.”
“En,” Chen Xing repiled. “What happened after that battle last time? How are the others?”
Xie Daoyun said, “Feng Qianjun and little shifu Xiao Shan have both gone missing. Shulü Kong said that he’d definitely bring them back, so you shouldn’t worry.”
“How can I not be worried?” Chen Xing asked tiredly.
This was the outcome that Chen Xing had least wanted to see, but it had still happened. Since the very beginning, when they had used resentment to power the artifacts, Chen Xing had dimly felt a sense of foreboding. And in the end, that small glowing red dot that appeared in their hearts had definitely been of use, but how did they ingest the Devil God’s blood in the first place?
The more Chen Xing thought about it, the more his head hurt. Thankfully, a long time ago, he had planted a seed of the Heart Lamp in their hearts for protection. Perhaps there might still be a chance for it to counteract the effects of the Devil God’s blood.
“Three days after the Battle of Yique, Fu Jian returned to Chang’an,” Xie Xuan said to Chen Xing. “You guys got rid of all of his drought fiends, but Fu Jian was still adamant about starting a war.”
With the breaking of the Yin Yang Mirror, Wang Ziye had completely vanished. After Fu Jian returned to Chang’an, he didn’t say anything; he merely gathered up all of his military power, following his previous plan as he sent troops towards Shou County, preparing for battle, in an attempt to redeem himself. Murong Chong gave up the command of his silver cavalry and left Luoyang, and his current whereabouts were unknown.
“Where is the Luohun Bell?” Chen Xing asked.
Xie An replied, “The artifacts are all being kept safe by the Martial God, so there shouldn’t be an issue.”
Wang Xizhi sat down to one side, nodding. “We came over to visit Anshi. War is going to erupt any day now, so everyone should go back soon.”
Chen Xing nodded, and for a while his brows furrowed deeply. He asked, “Where’s Tuoba Yan?”
“He’s gone,” Xie An said.
“Where did he go?” Chen Xing asked. “Did he leave together with Murong Chong?”
“He died,” Xie An added. “To prevent his corpse from being used by anyone, the Martial God already cremated him on Lake Chao before you woke up.”
Xie Daoyun rose and pulled a box off the bookshelf, handing it to Chen Xing. When he opened it, inside lay that ring that Tuoba Yan had once gifted him.
“Where is Fu Jian’s army now?” Chen Xing asked.
“They’re garrisoned at Xiang City,” Xie Xuan said. “They have yet to formally announce the start of their waging of war, but Shou County has already become the front line. Technically you all should have retreated first, but since the battle has not yet formally begun, everyone felt that it wasn’t necessary to be too frightened.”
Chen Xing nodded. “In these past days, who was taking care of me?”
Xie An replied, “Most of the time it was me, but when Daoyun learned that you were ill, she was worried about you, so she came to visit as well.”
Chen Xing nodded and thanked her. Wang Xizhi spoke, “Rest a little while more ba. Waking for the first time after such a long sleep, naturally you won’t have any energy.”
And with that, Xie An and the rest of the group left. Chen Xing still felt tired and dizzy, and after a while, he couldn’t help but sleep a little more, but this time he woke very quickly. Outside, Xie Daoyun personally brought over some congee, and Chen Xing asked her a bunch of questions that Xie Daoyun answered one by one: after the Battle of Yi River, Wang Ziye and his drought fiends had not been heard about again, as if they had all disappeared entirely.
But Chen Xing kept feeling that things couldn’t be this easy. Though one of Wang Ziye’s hun was lost to the Luohun Bell, Chiyou was still alive. Reality had shown them that their constant underestimation of Chiyou had led to their failure at every turn, and it was only because this devil god hadn’t appeared before that they had been led into falsely thinking that Wang Ziye was the main target.
However, the things that a devil god that had been split into pieces could do must be very limited. Otherwise, he would have long since come in person, and he wouldn’t have depended on Wang Ziye for every little thing. Was Xiang Shu investigating where they were hiding? Chen Xing only hoped that, before the great battle before Qin and Jin, they would be able to find Huanmo Palace and resolve this issue.
He hoped that Feng Qianjun and Xiao Shan were alright. Since Chiyou had taken them, perhaps he was thinking of using them; in the short-term then, their lives at least wouldn’t be in danger.
From now until his last day, there was only a year left.
After noon, Chen Xing quietly thought over many things, before he once again began to worry about Xiao Shan and Feng Qianjun. The more he thought about it, the more gloomy he felt; if he knew where the two of them were, then perhaps the first thing he would have done upon waking was to go save them. But there was no trace of them, and he didn’t even know where Chiyou was hiding.
He began to test out using the Heart Lamp, and everything was normal. Even the power of his hunpo had slowly recovered while he was sleeping.
But just as he was using the Heart Lamp, something seemed to respond in the distance, and it also flashed.
It was Xiang Shu! Chen Xing immediately sensed it, but he couldn’t determine what that distance was. It was like that day when he had found Xiang Shu in Xiangyang; in these three years, they had shared life and death together, fought bloody battles side by side, and their communication seemed to grow closer and more intimate time after time.
“Where are you?” Chen Xing murmured, once again igniting the Heart Lamp.
In the distance, Xiang Shu once again responded, and the Heart Lamp flashed along with it. But when Chen Xing activated the Heart Lamp again, Xiang Shu ignored him; perhaps he was afraid that having just healed after a long sleep, Chen Xing might overexert his power.
The next day, Chen Xing ate quite a bit, and his entire body seemed to be much more energetic. Xie Daoyun also stewed ginseng soup for him to replenish his energy, and Chen Xing finally had some traces of blood in his cheeks. Wrapped in a cotton robe, he sat in the courtyard, watching the clear autumn sky.
Suddenly, he heard a commotion from outside. He thought it was Xiang Shu returning, but when he went out to take a look, the visitor was actually a Han person wearing a Qin official’s robes. He walked into the Shou County prefectural manor, holding a scroll in his hand.
An envoy from Fu Jian?
The group with Xie An as their head were all avoiding the visitor, to prevent the envoy from knowing that major officials from the Great Jin were here, so Xie Xuan came out to receive him.
“Who are those people?” Chen Xing asked quietly.
“They’re here to ask us to surrender,” a young official said to Chen Xing. “Xie-daren and the others are currently hiding behind the screen. If Chen-daren also wants to listen, then please come with me, I’ll bring you over right now.”
After all, during the sacrificial rites, the Great Exorcist Chen Xing had already become a household name throughout the region of Jiangnan, and Xie An’s matters were never kept a secret from him. Chen Xing originally didn’t want to listen, but he still felt that the person leading the envoy squad was a little familiar, so he went with the official behind the screen in the hall.
“It really has been a long time since we last met,” Xie Xuan smiled. Clearly, he was also an old acquaintance of that official who had come here with the terms of surrender.
Chen Xing went behind the screen, where Xie An and Wang Xizhi were standing, and the three of them nodded in greeting at each other. From the crack in the folding screen, Chen Xing peered out, and he could see the side of the man’s face, but he couldn’t remember who he was.
“His Majesty is very familiar with the power of the Beifu Army,” that middle-aged civil official stroked his beard and spoke. “The army that Murong Chui is leading has already arrived at Feixi…”
When Chen Xing heard this voice, with that face, he instantly remembered: that was the Liang Province governor, Zhu Xu!
Chen Xing immediately made a gesture, indicating that he knew him, and Xie An nodded his head, exchanging a glance with Wang Xizhi. Chen Xing pointed outside, then to himself, before opening and closing his mouth, indicating that he wanted to talk with him.
“... In a matter of a few days, he will attack the city,” Zhu Xu said mildly. “Xie Xuan, this is the last chance that I have obtained for my home country. His Majesty the Heavenly King doesn’t wish to bring about unnecessary death, and he instructed me specially to pass along one line, which is ‘Try courteous means before resorting to force’. He said that you all would naturally understand.”
Xie Xuan smiled easily. “After Xiangyang City fell, did he care about the lives of the citizens?”
Zhu Xu could only pretend that he didn’t understand Xie Xuan’s cold mocking of him; in reality, after Murong Chui invaded Xiangyang three years ago, not only had he not respected the terms that he and the surrendered general Zhu Xu had agreed upon, but he had even plundered and slaughtered with impunity in the city itself.
“That was because Great General Murong wished to exact revenge,” Zhu Xu said. “If the unexpected hadn’t occurred and destroyed half of his visage, then originally I had the ability to keep the citizens of the city safe.”
Chen Xing thought in his heart, now it’s turning into my fault, because I used a torch to burn Murong Chui’s face, causing him to plunder the city in a fit of rage, see how he twists those words.
Xie An said in a tone as light as the clouds, “If he’s coming, then come. In such a battle of the wits, it’s useless to say more.”
Zhu Xu said, “Tomorrow, Shou County will feel the flames of war. Xie Xuan, let me speak directly. You only have 80,000 troops here, which is far too few for such a battle.”
But Xie Xuan was also a person who followed the Xie family tradition of not forgiving others even on the surface, choosing instead to treat his enemies with cold mockery and disdain. This group of literati, from Xie An to Chen Xing, none of them seemed to leave others with even the slightest bit of reprieve. He then smiled and asked, “Has Fu Jian’s insanity at Luoyang been cured?”
Zhu Xu looked at Xie Xuan, not saying anything, and Xie Xuan continued, lowering his voice, “Zhu-daren, be careful, when he’s not in a good mood, he might stab you straight through. Servants, come see the guest out!”
Seeing that asking them to surrender was not fruitful, Zhu Xu knew that this battle was inevitable. The Han people had always been stubborn, and back when it was his turn with Xiangyang, he himself had not surrendered either. Until the end when he was captured and had no other choice, he still had not surrendered; he hadn’t wished to die a martyr’s death. Sending him forth, supposedly with the “Try courteous means before resorting to force” was nothing more than Fu Jian still holding a big grudge about being scoffed at by Xie An at Yi River.
“Then I shall take my leave,” Zhu Xu said politely. “I’ll see you again on the battlefield tomorrow.”
Xie Xuan continued to sit, not even rising to see his guests off. Zhu Xu left the terms of surrender there, and he said, “Aren’t you going to take a look?”
Xie Xuan said, “It’s not the Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion, so what’s the point when southerners’ writing is more beautiful. Disappointing, leave quickly ba.”
Zhu Xu, “...”
Zhu Xu left the Shou County prefect’s manor on his own, and as soon as he left, Xie Xuan rose to his feet to go meet with Xie An, Wang Xizhi, and the rest. Zhu Xu passed through the courtyard, but just as he was about to ride off away from Shou County, a voice from behind stopped him.
“Zhu-daren,” Chen Xing smiled, “It’s been so long since we last met.”
Zhu Xu turned his head questioningly. It was twilight, and he had to stare for a while before he recognized that it was Chen Xing, and he exclaimed in surprise, “It’s you?!”
Chen Xing made his greetings to Zhu Xu, who returned them. Their meeting three years later was so different from their first that it seemed like a lifetime had passed since then. For a little while, it seemed like they couldn’t stop sighing. After Zhu Xu had surrendered to the Qin court, he had first been imprisoned for a time, before one year ago, he had finally been appointed an official’s position. In this period, he had heard quite a bit about Chen Xing’s movements in the Divine Land and his strange powers and weird gods in trickles and snatches. Originally, he had thought that these were just made up tales, and it wasn’t until after the Battle of Yi River that he confirmed that Chen Xing hadn't lied to him back then.
Chen Xing observed Zhu Xu’s expression, before suddenly he had a thought. He tugged on his hand, sending the light of the Heart Lamp into Zhu Xu’s body, and after confirming that Wang Ziye hadn’t possessed him, he let out a breath of relief.
That magic of Wang Ziye’s, his “borrowing a body to return a soul”, was something that caused him to be suspicious of even the smallest shadow.
But just when the Heart Lamp was circulating within, Chen Xing seemed to feel that within Zhu Xu’s heart meridian, there was also a seed of the Heart Lamp there?
Was it that day, not long after he and Xiang Shu met, that he had unintentionally planted it while they stood on the high balcony of the city lord’s manor?
“Since the last time we’ve met, it’s already been three years, huh,” Zhu Xu sighed. “I hear that you’ve accomplished many things. Do you still remember your desire from back then, which was to bring exorcism back to the human realm? Have you accomplished that yet?”
“Not yet.” Chen Xing also felt a little regret at that. “The future is still as heavily shrouded in fog as it once was.”
Zhu Xu said, “The entire imperial court is aflame with rumors of Wang Ziye being a necromancer who can revive the dead and control His Majesty, but in the end, you eliminated him at Yique, and the drought fiend army was unable to attack and destroyed itself from within. Three years ago, the danger you spoke of that would involve the Divine Land, should have been dealt with now ba.”
Chen Xing smiled bitterly. “Far from it. As soon as one danger is eliminated, another comes... If Fu Jian does conquer the South, then who knows how many people will die… and I’m afraid that Wang Ziye… might rise from his ashes. The resentment in the world is easy to get rid of, but the resentment in people’s hearts is difficult to resolve.”
Zhu Xu thought for a bit, before responding, “Is there anything else I can do? To tell you the truth, little brother, after I surrendered to the Qin, I’ve been condemned by the public, and become the laughingstock of thousands, so I’ve long since become more open to matters.”
Chen Xing furrowed his brows and asked, “What’s Fu Jian’s current condition?”
This was the real reason he had come to find Zhu Xu, who responded, “Ever since he returned from the Yi River, compared to before that, he’s become a lot more normal. But his heart is set on launching his southern campaign.”
“Wang Ziye hasn’t shown up since?” Chen Xing asked suspiciously. “What about Princess Qinghe? And how about the movements of the others?”
Zhu Xu spoke generally of the current situation at court, but of course, with his identity, he was one of the excluded, and with no way to approach the center of power, his information was sparse. But what could be confirmed was that after Fu Jian returned, he didn’t bring up anything, nor did he punish the people of the Murong clan. It was as if he had returned to normal, but he still pushed forwards stubbornly with his southern campaign. He was currently drafting up troops for a 1,120,000 strong army, which would come for them menacingly.
“A million?!” Chen Xing asked disbelievingly.
Zhu Xu replied, “This many people, crowded in Feixi, will make it difficult to even turn around then.”
When Chen Xing thought about these 1,120,000 people fighting each other, he worried about how much resentment would be created, but Zhu Xu was thinking of something else. Throughout history, even Zhuge Liang and the likes of him didn’t dare bring this many troops, and the only famous general that dared to boast, “the more the merrier”, was Han Xin. When this many people were involved, their supplies and orders were huge problems in and of themselves.
“Where’s your Protector?” Zhu Xu asked. “Back then, in the prison, I didn’t know he was the Great Chanyu of the North, so please pass my apologies along to him.”
Chen Xing smiled. “He’s out on a business trip, but he won’t hold a grudge over this.”
Zhu Xu said, “But he slaughtered my Han people, and this matter of imprisoning him is one that I’m unrepentant about. It’s only because later, he followed you in saving innocent lives that he accomplished much despite his crimes.”
Chen Xing spoke, “That was because everyone pinned the blame on him wrongly. He isn’t one to casually kill innocent people.”
“Oh?” Zhu Xu said.
The sky was darkening, and Chen Xing didn’t want to keep Zhu Xu too long, and explaining would be too complicated, so he smiled. “In this turbulent world, he fully deserves to be called a hero.”
Zhu Xu then nodded and said, “I misjudged him… ah well, I’ll be going now too…”
When they were going to make their goodbyes, however, there was a person standing at the door, stopping in his tracks. Just as Chen Xing lifted his gaze, he saw that person.
It was Xiang Shu!
Chen Xing, “!!!”
In that moment, Chen Xing put all his thoughts aside as he ran towards him. Xiang Shu was covered in the dust of the road, a cowhide belt slung across his chest around the outside of his martial robe, with a personal leather bag at his side, probably holding several artifacts. The Acala Blade and a longbow were both strapped to his back, and he wore leather wristguards on his arms. His hunting boots were covered with mud and dirt, and though he had grown thinner, he was still handsome without equal. His stubble looked like it had been hastily shaved, and he had an air of a ranger who had weathered the elements and traveled across the length and breadth of the land.
“You’re back!” Chen Xing smiled, before tightly hugging Xiang Shu.
Xiang Shu lifted his hand, stroking Chen Xing’s head for a bit, before shooting a look at Zhu Xu, giving him a suspicious look before nodding.
Zhu Xu smiled. “It’s you, I didn’t recognize you at first.”
When Xiang Shu had been captured and taken back to Xiangyang, he had only taken one look at Zhu Xu, but he still remembered him clearly, and he asked in a low voice, “Zhu Xu?”
Zhu Xu nodded and responded easily, “I never imagined that the two of you back then, who didn’t even know each other, would be so affectionate to each other now. In this turbulent world, where even existence is precarious, live well ba.”
Xiang Shu indicated to Chen Xing that the guests were still here, and after they sent the guests away, they could talk then. With that, the two of them saw Zhu Xu out the door together. Under the sky filled with whirling maple leaves, Zhu Xu mounted his horse, nodded towards them, and left Shou County.
As soon as the guests left, Chen Xing grabbed Xiang Shu’s hand, beginning to ply him with all kinds of questions.
“Where did you go for these three months?” Chen Xing asked suspiciously. “How come you got thinner? Did you find out where they are?”
“I found them,” Xiang Shu responded. “But to go in and save them will take some effort. When I’m free, then I’ll explain it to you in detail. I need to see Xie An first.”
moon: we have a feitian valentine’s exchange (feilentians, if you will)! today is the last day for signups! if you’re interested, check it out here: https://www.chickengege.org/website/feitian-valentines-event/
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.