“Hundreds of thousands of already dead soldiers, all turned into corpses."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
Those were dead… dead people?! Hongjun let out a loud cry, shouting, “Li Jinglong!”
Hongjun had never seen this kind of yaoguai before, and he took a few steps back. More soldiers wearing that armor surrounded his Pentacolored Sacred Light until there were almost twenty of them, all hacking away viciously at him. Hongjun let out a loud shout, calling the throwing knives back, and with one slash, he slashed away at the soldier blocking his path. That soldier was cleaved clean in two, but it still let out moans as it laid on the ground, its two hands grasping as it crawled towards Hongjun, not giving up.
Black shadows climbed over the Great Wall, leaping down from up high. In the depths of the forest, more and more dead soldiers gathered, rushing in a wave towards Hongjun. Hongjun lifted the Pentacolor Sacred Light higher, trying to find a way through the crowd. He slashed furiously with the throwing knives, destroying the bodies of these soldiers, but he still had no way to kill them for good.
Hongjun pushed the Pentacolor Sacred Light outwards, sending a large group of dead soldiers flying straight out, but with another strange roar, a dead soldier leapt onto him from behind, dangling off him.
Hongjun couldn’t resist his loud shout as he cried, “Fuck off!”
He wasn’t the least bit afraid of normal yaoguai, but the appearance of dead people on this patch of land was really too unexpected. Their numbers grew uncontrollably for unknown reasons, and the most important thing was --
He couldn’t kill them!
With an over-the-shoulder throw, Hongjun flipped that dead person away. But even more dead soldiers rushed up to fill the gap, and in the moment that he was about to be overrun...
… An arrow, glowing with white light, shot down from the Great Wall. Passing through a distance of almost fifty paces, it whistled as it flew over the creek and buried itself into that dead person’s helmet. With a peng, the dead soldier fell down, no longer moving.
Li Jinglong shouted, “Run quickly!”
Hongjun pushed aside the soldiers, racing towards the foot of the Great Wall. Li Jinglong drew that longbow again, rushing out from the barracks. As he ran, he listened attentively, using the sounds they made to determine their positions, before pulling out an arrow, drawing the bow, shooting the arrow, pulling out an arrow, drawing the bow… Arrows flew out one after the other. Like meteors shooting through the darkened night sky, they carried the power of the Heart Lamp, trailing long flaming tails as they sped by Hongjun!
Each of those arrows lit up Hongjun’s face as if they were blossoming flames, and with every arrow, a dead soldier fell down to the ground. Hongjun rushed towards Li Jinglong, who grabbed his hand, pulling him behind himself. From on top of the Great Wall, more dead soldiers leapt down, raising their weapons up high and rushing towards them!
With his throwing knives in hand, Hongjun looked around him in confusion, only to see the soldiers let out hoarse roars in unison, before lifting their weapons and taking a few steps back to start charging at them. Hongjun yelled, “Run quickly!”
Li Jinglong shielded Hongjun behind him. The soldiers rushed up close, and Li Jinglong switched his bow out for his sword, calling up all the energy in his body. With an explosive roar, he lifted his sword and flicked it upwards.
The snow on the ground erupted, and the light of the Heart Lamp exploded, turning into a wave of light that swept outwards. The dead soldiers let out horrified howls, collapsing to the ground one by one under that light, their helmets rolling off.
Li Jinglong pressed the point of his sword against the ground, his heart throbbing with great pain. As he gasped, Hongjun hurried to support him, but just at this moment, on his chest, the sigil that Yuan Kun had drawn let off a faint glow, protecting his heart meridian.
Li Jinglong let out a long breath, only to hear rustling in the distance. The enemies seemed to all have retreated, and the two of them exchanged a glance. Li Jinglong said, “In my dreams, I heard you calling for me, but I didn’t expect that after I opened my eyes, it was real… you’re alright ba?”
Hongjun turned his head to look at the soldiers that had collapsed all around them, murmuring, “These - are all dead people?!”
In the depths of the mountains outside of Jiayu Pass.
The point of Mo Rigen’s arrow nocked on his bow peeked out, pointing into the depths of the forest.
With an expression of confusion on his face, Lu Xu squatted by his side as the two of them concealed themselves in the shrubbery. Mo Rigen alertly watched the movement of the tree leaves. Lu Xu furrowed his brows, impatient with waiting, and he turned, wanting to leave.
“Shh.” Mo Rigen gestured for Lu Xu to hide himself well, saying, “It’ll be just a little while, don’t leave.” Saying this, he drew the bow, aiming into the depths of the forest.
The Seven Nailed Arrows shot out, and the animal behind the tree fell upon hearing that sound.
Lu Xu: “!!!”
From within the grove, Mo Rigen dragged out a bear. The arrow shaft had pierced through the bear’s right eye, entering its brain, killing it immediately. He placed the bear in front of him, pressed his hands together and bowed, before lifting the bear up with great effort, wobbling back and forth as he walked down the mountain. He turned his head back and called, “Let’s go!”
The area in front of Jiayu Pass was filled with scattered groups of traveling merchants. When Mo Rigen left Chang’an, he hadn’t brought much in terms of traveling expenses, and after buying himself an outfit and one for Lu Xu as well, his money was almost all spent. He could only hunt for wild game and sell it at a stall under Jiayu Pass for traveling expenses.
That bear was slumped in front of Mo Rigen, who hugged his elbows, wearing his mask, one foot stepping on the bear as he watched the people passing by.
“Tonight I’ll take you to go eat good food,” Mo Rigen said to Lu Xu.
Lu Xu sat cross-legged to one side, holding a dagger, chipping away at the wood stroke by stroke. Mo Rigen looked at him for a moment, thinking, this youth is pretty quiet, and he hasn’t really given me any trouble on the way. It seems that as long as he can survive, he doesn’t have fits of madness. Plus, his requirements for food weren’t that high, unlike Hongjun who wanted to taste everything that he saw. After taking care of Lu Xu for this long, Mo Rigen could more or less understand Li Jinglong’s care for Hongjun.
There were some people that drew others to take care of them.
“Oh? This is… you are…”
Upon seeing Mo Rigen swaggeringly selling a whole bear at the market, a passing merchant was immediately thrown into a state of shock. He hurried to say, “My lord benefactor! Lord benefactor!”
In an instant, Mo Rigen grew discomfited. He hurriedly shushed him, warning, “Don’t shout, don’t shout!”
In the market below Jiayu Pass, quite a few people, upon hearing those words, glanced towards Mo Rigen. Someone discovered his mask and said, “Oh, isn’t this Chao Luomen?!”
Mo Rigen sucked in a breath of cold air. Upon hearing those words, Lu Xu tilted his face up to look at Mo Rigen, saying, “Chao Luomen.”
“Don’t say it anymore,” Mo Rigen said.
“It’s that great hero!”
“My lord benefactor!” the traveling merchant hurried to say, “Last time, on the ancient Chabulakan road, you saved this humble one’s life. Ever since, day and night, this humble one kept wondering how to repay you. Outside of the Great Wall, no one knew of your whereabouts…”
Mo Rigen hurried to say, “No need to repay me, come over here. I need to hurry up and sell this bear off so that I can head north…”
As soon as the merchant came over, he knelt down in front of Mo Rigen, waving his hand at the woman and child behind him, saying, “Hurry and thank our lord benefactor!”
For a while, cries of “lord benefactor, lord benefactor” sounded, and quite a few people in the market stopped to stare curiously at them. There was another one, a hunter who had been rescued by Mo Rigen, who shouted, “Chao Luomen! My benefactor!”
Mo Rigen: “...”
The market was a chaotic mess. That merchant seemed to remember something, and he pulled out a box, inside of which was stored ten liang of gold. He said, “If my lord benefactor does not mind…”
Mo Rigen hurried to decline the gift, but the merchant kept wanting to thank him, so the box was pushed back and forth in front of Lu Xu’s eyes. When it was pushed over, Lu Xu’s gaze followed that box, looking back and forth, his expression confused.
More and more people came, and as Mo Rigen declined, he cried in equal parts indignation and sorrow, “Don’t just watch the fun! How about one of you guys buy this bear instead, I’m busy!”
That bear slumped there was a good bear and was worth a lot of money, but everyone was doing business, and they couldn’t buy a whole bear. The merchant also wanted to kneel down and kowtow to Mo Rigen. With a flash of inspiration, Mo Rigen said, “I’ll take the money, and the bear’s a gift to you. Lu Xu, let’s go.”
Mo Rigen took that box, and with Lu Xu in tow, they escaped the scene as if they were fleeing for their lives.
Lu Xu repeated, “Chao Luomen.”
Mo Rigen had Lu Xu quickly mount the horse first, before he slung his legs over it and with a shake of the reins shouted, “Jia!” and they immediately escaped with their tails between their legs.
That same day, after noon, in another small town outside of Jiayu Pass, Mo Rigen borrowed a room to stay the night. Lu Xu was still whittling away at his wood, saying, “Chao Luomen, lord benefactor.”
Mo Rigen was off to the side, wiping down his own leather hunting boots, and he said, “Chao Luomen means ‘Li Mingxing’. It’s the nickname they came up with for me.”
“Li Mingxing,” Lu Xu then said. “Lord benefactor.”
Mo Rigen said to himself, “There are too many poor, suffering people in this world. My dad often said before that I should go look at the suffering people of this world, then look at myself…”
Lu Xu lowered his head to carve the wood. Mo Rigen said self-deprecatingly, “Before, I even wanted to be a hero. Wearing a mask and saving people everywhere, helping them, but now that I think about it, I really was foolish beyond saving.”
Lu Xu yawned, and Mo Rigen said, “Sleep ba.”
When they left Yulin, Mo Rigen had brought Lu Xu to browse a tailor’s shop. Seeing that the Saiwai people wore white cultivation martial robes, Lu Xu stood in front of those clothes for a long time. Mo Rigen knew that the scouts in the north always had two sets of clothes prepared: one set of black clothes for night travel, which they wore while carrying out their duties, and one set of sharply cut martial robes, which they wore in snowy fields. It must have been a habit, so Mo Rigen bought that set for him.
Lu Xu’s build was very good, and he had all the muscles that he should have had. Wearing an outfit of white, his eyebrows dark and black, his eyes bright, with his high nose-bridge and deep-set eyes, he seemed to be of partial Hu descent. Mo Rigen looked at him for a while before asking, “Your dad and mom, was one of them a Shiwei person?”
Lu Xu didn’t respond. Mo Rigen patted his own chest, lying down by his side. He picked up that wooden carving by Lu Xu’s pillow, only to realize that it was a little stag.
In the Liangzhou government office, the troops came and went, as if they were preparing to face a powerful foe in battle.
Li Jinglong was still sneezing, his chill not yet cured, so Hongjun handed him a cloth to wipe his snot. When they arrived at Liangzhou, as soon as they handed over the crown prince’s handwritten letter, the commander of the city guard didn’t dare to act rashly, hurriedly settling them in the government office where the troops had set up camp.
Li Jinglong walked into the hall, tossing a cloth bag to one side. The rusty armor inside clattered all over the floor.
“Liangzhou is not like Chang’an, begging Li-zhangshi’s pardon.” A guard delivered ginger soup to drive out the chill, and Li Jinglong hurried to accept it with both hands and give his thanks.
Before Hongjun came, he had been specially instructed by Li Jinglong that all of the troops here were soldiers who had fought bravely to protect their country, and in no way was he to be impolite.
Just as they were speaking, another officer came in. This was the subordinate third rank Hexi inspection guard named Zhang Hao. He held the title of General Yuntuo, and his position held the same rank as the Zhangshi of the Exorcism Department, the Huaiwei General of the Household, Li Jinglong. The two of them greeted each other, and as soon as Zhang Hao came in, he took off his helmet and said smilingly, “Ay! General Li, I’ve long since heard of you!”
Li Jinglong, still covering his nose, nodded successively. Because of the constant sneezing and his runny nose, his nose was already smarting a little.
“Duke Liang just so happens to have matters to attend to, so he will arrive shortly.” Zhang Hao put one ankle on his other knee, clearly of the roguish soldier sort, as he continued, smiling, “How about us brothers take you two out for some fun?”
Li Jinglong waved it off. Zhang Hao continued, “Where’s your wife? Yo, it’s a little brother, no problem, a little brother can also be a wife… here, we…”
Hongjun grew extremely awkward, and he said, “General Zhang, hello, I am Kong Hongjun of the Exorcism Department.”
Zhang Hao asked curiously, “You’re also in the Exorcism Department? Can you fight battles? How come you aren’t carrying a sword or bow?”
Hongjun glanced at Li Jinglong, before his four throwing knives sprung out of his hands. He spun them in a few circles for Zhang Hao to see, and the four throwing knives twirled around his fingers several times, back and forth. As soon as Zhang Hao saw those finger movements, he didn’t dare to say anything else rashly, understanding that if this youth wished to, one throwing knife could instantly pierce through his own throat.
“Apologies, I was making a joke,” Zhang Hao smiled.
Li Jinglong and Hongjun both reassured him that it was alright. Zhang Hao then glanced at the armor on the ground, curiosity filling his gaze.
Li Jinglong said, “I’ve already notified the military outpost, and they’re heading to the scene to investigate.”
The two of them had rushed to Liangzhou, so they couldn’t bring the corpse. When they had passed by a military outpost under the shadow of the Great Wall, Li Jinglong had the soldiers go clean up where he and Hongjun had made camp for the night.
“This is…” Zhang Hao said. “Where did this armor come from? And it’s an antique too?”
With his nose still stopped up, Li Jinglong narrated what had happened. Zhang Hao’s expression was extremely odd as he stared at the two people in front of him like he was looking at two idiots, wondering if the fever had fried his brains.
Li Jinglong knew that he wouldn’t believe him. Originally, he had wanted to bring a corpse with them, but unfortunately all of the dead soldiers that had been downed by the Heart Lamp had already become normal corpses. What use would bringing along a corpse for them to see be?
“We should have caught a live one,” Li Jinglong said.
“A living corpse?” As soon as Hongjun thought of it, he felt goosebumps. He wasn’t afraid of yaoguai, but a dead person slumping on him was a very unpleasant experience.
When he put it that way, something didn’t feel right.
“What’s the capital like now? I haven’t been back in many years now.” Zhang Hao didn’t ask any more questions of Li Jinglong about the corpse or any related matters, instead becoming concerned with the political situation of Chang’an. As soon as Li Jinglong heard those words, he knew that Zhang Hao didn’t believe him, and he responded, “His Majesty’s health is very good.”
After a while, Li Jinglong asked, “The four towns on the border, you guys have inspected them all already?”
Zhang Hao smiled and said, “Somewhat. We sent out the new troops.”
Li Jinglong asked, “What evidence was there at the scene?”
Zhang Hao shook his head. “None.”
“It’s hard for me to say, let Duke Liang deal with this when he comes ba,” Zhang Hao responded.
Li Jinglong wanted to continue asking, but Zhang Hao kept diverting the topic away to Chang’an. However, Li Jinglong relentlessly pursued that line of questioning. Finally, seeing that he could dodge it no longer, Zhang Hao could only smile and say directly, “General Li, we’re all soldiers here, and there are some words that are difficult for me to say, so I beg your pardon.”
The Great Tang favored military might, and men of the time gained glory from entering the army and leading troops. Li Jinglong naturally understood what Zhang Hao meant; there was definitely a sensitive issue at the heart of this, but it was one that Zhang Hao was not willing to touch.
“In a little while, when my lord duke arrives, please be very…”
“I understand,” Li Jinglong replied.
“Then if I could ask about…” Just as Li Jinglong was about to ask, Geshu Han returned.
Geshu Han’s build was large, and his voice was like a deep bell’s as he shouted outside, “Why has the imperial court sent people here again?!”
Everyone rose. Upon seeing that person come in, Hongjun was greatly frightened. When Geshu Han entered the room, he almost crashed into the door. Zhang Hao hurried up to help steady him, and Hongjun saw a stalwart old man of stout build, his neck and face bright red, a swaggering air of majesty about him. He was even taller than Li Jinglong by a little less than half a head, and when he sat down on the general’s seat, the entire chair shook.
Li Jinglong, somewhat dazedly, hurried to greet the old general. Hongjun said, “You’re drunk, huh.”
“Nah!” Geshu Han roared loudly. “I’m not drunk! Not drunk! Bring another ten jugs!”
Another middle-aged literary official followed in, holding a cloak that he draped over Geshu Han’s body, before greeting Li Jinglong, “I am the Liangzhou prefectural governor, Qin Liang.”
They all made their greetings, before Qin Liang continued, “The general was busy rewarding his men for Lidong, and he’s just come back from enjoying some wine.”
Li Jinglong nodded. Geshu Han leaned back on the chair, his eyes closed. A female servant came with some soup to sober him up, and after Geshu Han took a few sips, he slowly let out a breath, before saying, “Report ba, what does Chang’an have to say now? What are you called? Who sent you?”
Li Jinglong knew that Geshu Han was still not sober, but to be this kind of an official... even the imperial Kipchak ambassador didn’t dare to drink like this when he was on duty. Li Jinglong could only say, “Duke, this humble one has come on the crown prince’s orders to investigate the matter of the four pillaged cities in the northwest.”
As soon as these words came out, the hall immediately fell silent. Zhang Hao’s face instantly adopted a “we’re done for” expression, and even Qin Liang didn’t know what to do.
Geshu Han suddenly widened his eyes, demanding, “What did you say?!”
In that moment, even Hongjun felt that intent to kill, and he thought, is this a matter that shouldn’t have been brought up?
“What is the meaning of this?” Geshu Han sat up straight, staring at Li Jinglong, spitting out word after word. “You go back and tell the crown prince that Liangzhou is this old man’s territory to govern, he doesn’t need to listen to rumors and stick his nose where it doesn’t belong!”
Li JInglong immediately understood: Geshu Han didn’t want people from the imperial court to come oversee this. Internally, Li Jinglong understood that more likely than not, he had angered Li Heng somehow, so when they left Chang’an, the crown prince hadn’t told him this!
“They’re not rumors, General…”
“You go fuck off right now!” Geshu Han roared angrily. “This old man doesn’t care who you are, or who sent you! Even if it was His Majesty himself, that would be of no use!”
Hongjun looked at Geshu Han. If he was getting shouted at, it was nothing, but as soon as Li Jinglong got shouted at, Hongjun’s entire belly was filled with rage. He wanted to fire back, but Li Jinglong gestured for him not to be rash, instead smiling at Geshu Han.
Geshu Han sucked in a deep breath and asked, “What are you smiling for?”
Li Jinglong responded, “My lord, there are matters you do not know of.”
“Spit it out,” Geshu Han said. “Today I’ll let you finish speaking. You’re called Li Jinglong, right? This old man has been in the army for fifty years, and you’re the first to get to do so.”
“Let’s go ba,” Hongjun said quietly.
Li Jinglong waved his hand, indicating that Geshu Han look down towards the ground, before bending over and picking up the armor, asking him, “Has my lord duke seen this kind of armor before?”
Geshu Han jolted. Qin Liang was afraid that Li Jinglong’s improper tone would rouse Geshu Han’s anger, so he added, “Where did Li-zhangshi get this?”
Li Jinglong responded, “A person was wearing it, under the Han Great Wall some 120 li distant.”
“Impossible,” Qin Liang said. “This is a set of armor from the Han times, and it’s already rusted.”
Geshu Han narrowed his eyes, levelling a judging look at Li Jinglong, not understanding what he was getting up to.
Li Jinglong answered, “Very correct. This armor is armor from the Han times, and the person was also a person from the Han times.”
“What?!” Geshu Han thought that he hadn’t heard those words right.
Qin Liang’s forehead furrowed, while Zhang Hao still maintained that expression of wanting to laugh but not daring to.
“Or, it’d be better to say that it was a corpse,” Li Jinglong said. “Hundreds of thousands of already dead soldiers, all turned into corpses. They slaughtered four cities on the border, crossed the Great Wall, and are currently moving within the Liangzhou region.”
The hall was once again silent, and even the drop of a pin could be heard.
A long while later.
Geshu Han said coldly, “You’re done?”
Li Jinglong replied, “My lord duke, this is the reality of the situation.”
Geshu Han seemed to have heard a joke, and he said, “Li Jinglong! You’ve come this long, hard way from Chang’an all the way to here, and even on the crown prince’s behalf, only to make up a story to fool this old man like a monkey?!”
Li Jinglong held that helmet, and after pondering a bit, he said, “What about this instead, after the fierce battle last night, there were many bodies left around the Great Wall. With a unique skill of mine, I already neutralized them, before notifying the closest military outpost, and I imagine that the troops stationed on the Great Wall have already gone to clean up the battlefield…”
Geshu Han judged Li Jinglong, and Li Jinglong said, as lightly as drifting clouds, “This humble one is willing to put my neck on the line to guarantee that as long as the bodies are brought here, then the truth will definitely be revealed…”
“Alright! You said so yourself!” Geshu Han immediately broke in. “Your neck on the line, Li Jinglong, you have courage!”
Li Jinglong: “...”
“This…” Qin Liang said. “My lord, Li-zhangshi is the crown prince’s…”
“This!” Li Jinglong immediately said. “Wait a moment! My lord duke! This humble only said so casually...”
Geshu Han said coldly, “There are no jesting words spoken amongst soldiers. Everyone has heard it, so they can all be witnesses.” Saying this, he once again observed Li Jinglong, continuing, “This old man now actually believes that you did not come just to make up stories.”
Hongjun asked, “What’s ‘putting your neck on the line’?”
Li Jinglong: “...”
“That means they’ll cut off my head,” Li Jinglong said.
Hongjun immediately exploded, and he said, “How is that okay! You’ll let him cut off your head?”
Li Jinglong said, “How was I supposed to know?! Before, in the Longwu Army, everyone talked like that!”
Hongjun hurried to say to Geshu Han, “It doesn’t count, just now that didn’t count.”
Geshu Han stared at him like he was looking at an idiot. Hongjun couldn’t resist interrupting, but just at this moment, the military outpost had sent a scout over, and a call came from outside. “Reporting -- news from the Chang’an military outpost!”
Geshu Han’s eyes immediately sprang wide, and he said, “Send him in!”
Forth came a scout, and Li Jinglong said, “What’s happened?”
“Are you Li Jinglong-zhangshi?” that scout said, his face filled with expression. “By the creek in the woods, there weren’t any of the corpses you spoke of.”
Li Jinglong: “...”
Hongjun asked, “There aren’t? How is that possible?!”
The scout said, “I swear that there was nothing!”
Geshu Han said, “Guards! Take Li Jinglong and…”
Li Jinglong: “Hongjun, run!”
Hongjun hadn’t yet collected himself, but Li Jinglong tugged him, let out an angered roar, and turned and rushed out.
moon: if anyone’s interested btw, I was recently doing some research
for a fic and found a map of Tianbao era China, with the 10 jiedushi: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Ten_Jiedushi_of_Tang.png
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.