"The corpse ghosts had already overrun the village like a locust infestation."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
In the dark night, the Grey Wolf brought Lu Xu along as it came to a halt on a small slope in the northern region of the Qilian Mountains. It looked down towards the village below. To the north of the village, horse hooves clattered in unison like a drumbeat. Every time the hooves rose and fell, they would make a muffled thud when they met the ground.
The Grey Wolf let out a deep, muffled roar, at which Lu Xu widened his eyes and couldn’t stop shaking. With that furious roar of the Grey Wolf, the wolfpack was filled with fear, and each wolf backed away in retreat.
The Grey Wolf turned its head, angrily watching the wolfpack, before leading the way as it rushed down the slope. The other wolves arched their backs, their hairs standing on end, before finally bowing before the power of the Grey Wolf and rushing down behind it in a swarm!
The black, dense mass of thousands of corpse ghosts and horses rushed forward like the tide, instantly swallowing the entire village. It was only then that alarm bells began to sound in the village. Shouts of confusion and terror rang out, along with the crying of children, as everything fell into chaos!
The charging corpse ghosts were thousands in number. With a tilt of its body, the Grey Wolf tossed Lu Xu off its back, roaring, “Lu Xu! You take the citizens somewhere safe to hide!”
In a flash, the Grey Wolf once again grew larger, charging into the village from the south side, shouting, “Run!”
A huge wolf, its body bathed in moonlight, rushed in. Upon hearing the Grey Wolf’s roar, the villagers instantly came back to themselves, no longer caring about their possessions as they all fled. The Grey Wolf raced across the rooftop, and the structures it trod upon immediately collapsed. It rushed right along the street, and with a long howl, it charged into the midst of the riders! The riders were bowled over by its charge, scattering every which way.
The corpse ghosts at the front of the charge each lifted their long spears, moving in unison as they rushed at the Grey Wolf. Just as the Grey Wolf was about to collide with the spear formation --
-- the Grey Wolf leapt up into the air, and with a turn, changed into a mask-wearing Mo Rigen. In that instant, Mo Rigen was like an arctic gyr streaking through the sky. With one foot, he landed on top of the oncoming spears as his left hand drew his bow and his right hand pulled out the Seven Nailed Arrows.
With several consecutive xiu xius, the seven arrows all flew out one by one, dancing and weaving across the battlefield. When Mo Rigen started to fall to the ground, he once again changed into the Grey Wolf, charging right into the midst of the fray!
The Seven Nailed Arrows, glowing with the light of magic, flew across the entire battlefield, shooting the helmets off the corpse ghosts. Every time an arrow flew towards an enemy, it would always strike the face within the helmet, piercing straight through the corpse ghost’s head, but the corpse ghosts still flooded towards the Grey Wolf like the tide. After they had been trod upon by it, they struggled to rise, throwing themselves forwards to grab its legs.
With a turn, the Grey Wolf turned back into Mo Rigen. Before he even landed, he waved a hand in the air. With a shua, the Seven Nailed Arrows all flew back, and as they returned, countless helmets fell off. The corpse ghosts continued to rush forward, the ones behind filling in the gaps that the ones in front had left, flooding towards Mo Rigen, who turned his hands in a circle and recited a chant!
The Seven Nailed Arrows all returned to his side, beginning to circle wildly. Mo Rigen then spread his hands out to the sides, shouting, “Go!”
The seven arrows created a surge of magic like a hurricane as they shot out in all directions, sending the corpses ghosts within the vicinity exploding outwards.
There are really too many… Mo Rigen rushed left and right, roaring angrily, “What exactly are you all? Where did you come from!”
The corpse ghosts advanced wave after wave, leaping onto him. Mo Rigen was pressed onto the ground. Even more corpse ghosts swarmed him, piling together into a mountain. Suddenly, with another wild roar the Grey Wolf rose from the ground, sending that small mountain of corpse ghosts flying.
The stray arrows flew every which way as the Grey Wolf ran in every direction, trying to break through. From afar came a cry.
The Grey Wolf swiftly turned its head, only to see that Lu Xu was holding that shovel as he and the wolfpacks did their utmost to prevent the invasion of the corpse ghosts.
The Grey Wolf: “...”
The Grey Wolf immediately shook its body and changed. Mo Rigen retreated back to the village, leaping up high to take a look, only to see that Lu Xu’s movements were extremely speedy. He had a dagger belted at his waist, and both his hands clenched around a metal shovel, as he moved as swiftly as the wind. When the corpse ghosts rushed towards him, his shovel came slicing down towards them, sending their heads flying, drawing out arcs as they landed on the ground.
The villagers had already fled up the slope of the mountain. Mo Rigen pressed his fingers against his lips, and with a whistle, he turned into the Grey Wolf and charged back down.
At that time, he saw Lu Xu swing that shovel wide, whistling through the wind as he slapped it to the left, slapped it to the right, chopped in front, swept past, sliced horizontally, flicked upwards… Once in a while, with a feint, he would rush five steps away with a shua, and sometimes he would shove it under a corpse ghost’s crotch and turn back with a twist...
Mo Rigen: “...”
“Go!” The Grey Wolf leapt down and roared, “Don’t fight anymore! Come back!”
Lu Xu rushed towards the Grey Wolf, but with a turn, he leapt to the other side of the Grey Wolf, letting out a last, desperate battle cry. With his two hands on his shovel, he slammed that shovel down, pinning the corpse ghosts that were slicing down at the Grey Wolf with blades to the ground, ending their lives!
The Grey Wolf turned, and Lu Xu leapt onto its back. The corpse ghosts had already overrun the village like a locust infestation. Under the onslaught of this black tide, the village continued to collapse ceaselessly, before a final boom rang out.
The Grey Wolf stood on the slope, turning its head back to look, only to see that the villagers’ expressions were filled with fear as they trembled and stared at this huge wolf. Their gazes then lifted to the young scout on its back.
“Wolf God!” someone shouted.
The people of the village all fell to their knees in worship.
“Follow the southern path along the Qilian Mountains,” the Grey Wolf said quietly. “To the south there is a little village. Stay there first to take shelter from the cold, before you find another way down south. Head to the closest county capital to seek help, go quickly!”
The citizens all dispersed. An odd gurgling sound came from the Grey Wolf’s throat, and the wolfpacks all flattened themselves to the ground, before also dispersing.
Lu Xu panted, holding that metal shovel in his hand as he trembled non-stop.
“Your martial ability’s not bad.” The Grey Wolf lowered its head slightly, its eyes glowing with a green light, as if they were two gems inlaid within a sea of darkness. It observed the movements below the mountain; the corpse ghosts’ target seemed to only be this one village, and after the residents had escaped up the mountain, they didn’t give chase. Rather, after overrunning the village, they slowly vacated it, gathering on the plains in massive numbers like a swarm of ants before dispersing again.
“Should we give chase?” The Grey Wolf lifted its chin slightly, asking Lu Xu.
Lu Xu returned the shovel to its position on his back, before climbing back on and hugging the Grey Wolf’s neck. The Grey Wolf leapt into the snow, tailing the corpse ghost troop as they headed to the northeast.
In Liangzhou City.
As soon as night fell, the entire city chilled. Every family shut their doors tightly and raised a fire in their charcoal stove to keep warm.
Qin Liang said to his madam, “Today, we have honored guests, so make a few more dishes and slaughter a chicken. Also, bring some wine.”
Hongjun untied his bundle, but just as he was about to ask if he could get a few meatballs for the carp yao to eat, Madame Qin saw it, and smiled. “Wow! So polite! You even brought food for a dish!”
“Perfect, I’ll go deep fry this…”
“This isn’t for a dish,” Hongjun hurried to say.
“I’m not a dish,” the carp yao explained to Madam Qin. “A little bit of meat is fine for me, I don’t eat much, but if you don’t have any, then steamed buns or dumplings are also fine.”
Madame Qin let out a sharp cry, frightened to the point she almost fainted away. Li Jinglong hurried to explain, and finally Madame Qin managed to accept the explanation that the carp yao could speak, as well as the origins of the Exorcism Department.
Qin Liang hurriedly sent her off to make dinner. Then, that Hu girl came in again, watching the carp yao curiously as she began to set the table.
“This is my daughter, Qin Xuan,” Qin Liang introduced her to the two. “My only child.”
With that, Li Jinglong and Hongjun greeted her. Hongjun was very taken aback, and he asked, “Is your wife an Uyghur person?”
Li Jinglong hurried to correct him. “You need to be respectful, call her madam.”
But Qin Liang said, happily, “Her mother and I first met under the Yang Pass seventeen years ago, and we were wed according to the traditions of us Han people.”
Qin Liang then idly exchanged a few sentences with Li Jinglong. He was originally from the Longxi area, and when he was young, his family had arranged for him to serve under the command of the Hexi Vice Jiedushi, organizing books and documents. Afterwards, when the vice jiedushi retired, Qin Liang was transferred to Shazhou. As of today, Geshu Han had assumed command of Liangzhou and had been appointed Duke of Liang for his accomplishments. Because Qin Liang had always been an honest official, never embezzling any military funds, he was called back to be the Liangzhou county governor.
But because Liangzhou and the surrounding regions were located close to the border on the northeast, the jiedushi was in charge. The heavens were important, and the earth was important, but Geshu Han was the most important of them all; whatever he said was the final word. Monetary and military power were all controlled by the old general. Qin Liang was only in charge of drafting up documents, converting the land into farmland, maintaining the academies, and mediating disputes within the troops. To tell the truth, he didn’t hold much power at all, and his life was subsequently free of any taint.
Not long after, Madame Qin came in to lay out the dishes. To properly entertain the guests, she had specially killed a chicken, and Li Jinglong was very apologetic at that, only for Qin Xuan to tear off a chicken leg for Li Jinglong to eat. Li Jinglong then let Hongjun have it. Qin Xuan gave him a look for that, but she didn’t say anything.
Qin Liang opened a jar of sealed wine, saying to Li Jinglong, “Though I believe that there are ghosts and gods, in the end, I feel that the yaoguai are very distant from us. Seeing that you guys are bringing this yaoguai along, I imagine that the Exorcism Department does have some real ability.”
Hongjun almost spat out the soup with a pu, thinking, why is it that the carp yao proves that the Exorcism Department has the necessary skills?
Li Jinglong lifted his cup. “It’s no more than a matter of having a salary granted by the emperor in exchange for carrying out our duties.” Saying this, he and Qin Liang saluted each other with their cups.
Hongjun asked, “How about we bring Zhao Zilong along tomorrow for General Geshu Han to take a look at?”
The carp yao was currently in the middle of using chopsticks to pick up a meatball and stuff it into its mouth. Upon hearing those words, it was shocked, and it protested, “What will you do if he wants to cut off my head in place of Zhangshi’s?”
Li Jinglong put his cup down at that, saying, “I’m guessing that Great General Geshu Han isn’t old and set in his ways, but rather acting as his position demands.”
The hall was silent for a moment, before Qin Liang let out a heavy sigh. He answered, “It’s exactly as you say. Which is why, in front of Li-zhangshi, I have one thing to ask.”
Li Jinglong turned his head to watch Hongjun, saying, “Do you remember what the crown prince said to us before we set off?”
Hongjun racked his brains for what the crown prince had said back then. Li Heng had indeed wished for Li Jinglong to investigate this matter fully and resolve it successfully, without influencing the relations with the Uyghurs, taking all precaution to avoid fighting… ah?!
Hongjun noticed that Qin Liang’s madam and daughter were both Uyghurs.
Qin Liang said to Li Jinglong, “I feel like more or less, starting a war with the Uyghurs is something that Chancellor Yang is trying to facilitate. The relationship between Great General Geshu Han and An Lushan and Shi Siming has always been one of fire and water…”
“Dad,” Qin Xuan said unhappily.
Qin Liang waved a hand, indicating that it was alright.
Li Jinglong’s brow was furrowed deeply as he said, “Old General Geshu Han must deal amicably with the Chancellor of the Right, Yang Guozhong.”
Qin Liang replied, “Of course. I imagine that Chancellor Yang also has the intention of cozying up to him. The Tubo and Uyghur people also often send out envoys to the Hexi Jiedushi manor...”
Li Jinglong en-ed, and with his brow still firmly furrowed, he said, “So Chancellor Yang has persuaded old General Geshu Han and won over the Tubo people to turn on the Uyghurs as enemies… this is a difficult situation.”
“Correct,” Qin Liang said. “Because the crown prince, when he was leading the troops out on the battlefield, he and Gelei Qhagan were good friends. Whether it was his esteemed cousin being appointed as general, or the conquering of Greater Bolu last year, these were all only accomplished with the help of Gelei Qhagan. Originally, I believed that in these few years, the relations between the imperial court and the Uyghurs would enter a period of peace, but I never expected… ay…”
Hongjun’s brain was filled with a cloud of fog as he listened to the two of them speak. He said, “I don’t understand, Yang Guozhong persuading Ge … that what’s-his-name old general, doesn’t want to appear too close with the Uyghurs, so he wants to count this debt of these pillaged border cities on the Uyghurs’ account.”
“En,” Li Jinglong replied. “That’s exactly how it is.”
Hongjun furrowed his brow. “But how did he know who pillaged the border cities? Do you guys think that he knows about corpse ghosts?”
When Li Jinglong heard this, his hairs immediately stood on end. If Yang Guozhong knew about this matter, that would be a little too frightening.
Qin Liang answered, “Why would he, the Chancellor of the Right, care about the life or death of the troops and citizens of the borders? No matter how you look at it, the cities have been pillaged. The Turks will do, the Uyghurs will also do, and even if it was the Tubo or ghost troops, that makes no difference to him. What he wants is only an excuse to submit a petition to His Majesty that will start a war with the Uyghurs.”
“With this,” Li Jinglong said, “I’m afraid that within Liangzhou City, a lot of people’s lives will become very difficult.”
“All of the Uyghur people will be exiled,” Qin Liang sighed. “Which is why… Li-zhangshi, this mission has a deep significance. With General Geshu Han’s strong first impression of you, he won’t believe you, and even if he did, he would still have his own misgivings.”
Li Jinglong said heavily, “He’s too negligent. The way I see it, the trouble that the corpse ghosts bring has far exceeded the severity that Yang Guozhong has calculated. Right now, though we don’t know why they are doing this, but we can confirm that if we don’t investigate it in full quickly, we might…”
Li Jinglong stared into Qin Liang’s eyes, enunciating each word carefully. “Be dragged into a calamity. Everyone, even if it’s General Geshu Han himself, will be swallowed by it, and be doomed for all eternity.”
In the dark night, on the plains in the middle region of Hexi, the black mass of the army charged forward at full speed. The Grey Wolf, still with Lu Xu on its back, began to pant.
“I’m too tired,” the Grey Wolf said, breathing heavily. “I need to rest for a bit.”
Lu Xu said, “Blood.”
“Am I bleeding?” The Grey Wolf searched for a mountain cave that was sheltered from the wind, and after sniffing a few times, found one on the side of a mountain.
Lu Xu reached back and felt along the Grey Wolf’s back, only to find that his entire hand was covered in blood. Immediately, he grew alarmed.
“It’s not urgent,” the Grey Wolf said as it used its claws to paw away at the snow on the mountainside, digging out a pit to reveal a cavern. Lu Xu hurried to leap off, and the Grey Wolf bent over and squeezed in, turning into a human.
With one hand pressed against the cavern wall, Mo Rigen panted. It took a long time for him to catch his breath.
A little while later, a campfire blazed to life in the cavern. Mo Rigen took off his shirt, revealing the well-formed, powerful muscles of his back. Long periods of pulling a bow and nocking an arrow to it caused his back and shoulders to be filled with a kind of male power and beauty. He chewed on the dry rations, which dried his mouth out, and without stopping for breath, he ate quite a lot of snow.
Several gashes were etched across his back, but because they were wounds he had gained in his Grey Wolf form, they weren’t very deep when he turned back into a human.
Lu Xu chewed up some medicinal herbs, and after spitting them out, he applied the paste evenly across Mo Rigen’s back.
As for the rest of the medicine, Lu Xu applied it on Mo Rigen’s abdomen.
“Sleep a bit,” Mo Rigen said to Lu Xu. “There’s still time.”
Lu Xu let out a yawn. In this single day, both his spirit and his body had been greatly tested, and he curled up in exhaustion inside the cavern, falling asleep. But the cold winter nights were getting even colder, and as he slept, Lu Xu couldn’t help but shiver. A moment later, Mo Rigen took on the huge form of the Grey Wolf, using its claws to pull Lu Xu over and wrapping him in its embrace. They faced the campfire, one human and one wolf, falling asleep together.
In the depths of the night, the icy wind howled wildly. Qin Liang’s residence only had one guest room, and Hongjun had laid down on his own. Li Jinglong was still sitting in front of the table, penning a letter by the light of the oil lamp.
When he was young, Li Jinglong had copied Lu Ji’s works, so his writing was very beautiful. Even students born from families known for their literary merits like Qiu Yongsi couldn’t resist sighing at their own limited abilities in comparison. Wrapped in the blankets, Hongjun couldn’t resist lifting his head to peer over, asking, “Who are you writing to?”
“To His Highness the Crown Prince. If you’re sleepy, then sleep first,” Li Jinglong urged him. “Don’t watch anymore.”
Hongjun was a little cold. Before, at the peak of the Taihang Mountains, Chong Ming was there, so he had never fallen prey to the cold in the winter. He asked, “In the human realm, is it especially cold this year, or is every year like this?”
“Every year is like this,” Li Jinglong said, glancing at Hongjun. “Warm your bed properly.”
Hongjun was wrapped up very tightly, with only his head peeking out of the blankets, like a spring roll.
Li Jinglong was in the middle of writing when he faltered, unable to put his brush to the paper. If he were to repeat Qin Liang’s words as if they were true, after they were sent, perhaps they would stir up enmity between the crown prince and Geshu Han; if he didn’t write them, then he would be guilty of hiding the truth.
“Don’t write anymore,” Hongjun said. After several days of constant traveling, he was so tired he could die, and he said, “Sleep ba, you still haven’t recovered from your cold.”
Li Jinglong’s head was an absolute tangle, and after mulling over it again and again, he finally tore the letter up, untied his outer robe, and went under the blankets. Outside, the wild wind didn’t stop blowing as if it was trying to blow the roof off the house, but the bed in the bedroom was very warm.
“Why is it that whenever we’re traveling, no matter where we go, there’s only one room,” Hongjun noted.
“Yo, I don’t mind you, but you’re minding me now?” Li Jinglong looked Hongjun up and down, and Hongjun hurried to deny it. In reality, Li Jinglong’s entire body was warm and cozy, especially with that Heart Lamp in his chest, which had him feeling very comfortable.
“I’m just curious,” Hongjun said muzzily.
“Chang’an right now is also this cold,” Li Jinglong said easily. The two of them idly exchanged a few sentences, but Hongjun could no longer clearly make out what he was saying. Compared to the abandoned barracks of last night, Qin Liang’s house was as comfortable as a palace. He couldn’t remember what he said in his daze, but Li Jinglong put out his arm for Hongjun to pillow his head on, and Hongjun, his head placed close to Li Jinglong’s chest, fell asleep just like that.
The night was long, and in a patch of endless darkness, Hongjun suddenly began to have a strange dream after sleeping for who knows how long. In that dream, there was a person who was currently burning, aflame in black fire.
“Save me… save me…” a man’s voice said.
Hongjun wanted to say something, but when he opened his mouth, he couldn’t make a sound.
In the blink of an eye, countless memories flashed by him, causing him to travel through time. Outside the doors of the Exorcism Department, there was a warrior clad in golden armor, holding a glowing longsword in his hand, while his father and mother knelt in front of that warrior.
“I only have this one child…”
The scenery flashed before him, and Hongjun seemed to become a different person. He had grown much taller, and he stood in the yard filled with the warmth and blossoms of spring. When he turned his head back to look towards the corridor, a beautiful woman wearing a Han gown, walked through the long corridor, accompanied by a spring breeze. She turned her head to observe him.
In a flash, black fire enveloped his entire body, and Hongjun instantly panicked and retreated non-stop.
“Zhangshi --!” Hongjun’s eyes shot open, and he sat up violently.
Outside, the wind was blowing as usual, and the sky was overcast and dark. The night had already passed, but the Li Jinglong on the bed had already disappeared to who knows where. The phoenix plume was placed on the table, along with a message.[In the morning I received a letter that Mt. Wu had fallen prey to a sudden night ambush from the corpse ghosts Governor Qin and I are going to investigate the situation]
Hongjun picked up the phoenix plume and placed it in his lap before putting on his clothes and rushing out like the wind.
moon: and now we see shovel bro’s fighting prowess! he’s a speedy one, catch him fast mo rigen
also, kong “you are what you eat and i ate spring rolls” hongjun is here
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.