"His face was writ with an expression of suspicion as he saw a shadow in the main hall."
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
That night, a forest of torches lit up the drill grounds. The three corpse ghosts that had fallen in battle were locked up in iron cages, but they still struggled in the direction of the city’s exterior.
Li Jinglong, Zhang Hao, and a lieutenant named Wu Shuang were keeping watch over these corpse ghosts that had died in battle. Quite a few of the troops had left the city during the night, and the weapons they had picked up were scattered on the ground.
“How’s the old general’s condition?” Li Jinglong asked as he ducked his head, studying the weapons.
“Very bad,” Zhang Hao responded. “His condition’s grown even more serious. Zhangshi, you have to go get the military command tally. Otherwise, we’ll have no way to send out the troops of Liangzhou City.”
Li Jinglong asked, “Are there no other people who are able to use the command tally under the general’s command?”
“Lieutenant General Wang has also fallen ill,” Wu Shuang said. “He’s been sent back to the estate to rest.”
“What about within the rank under that?” Li Jinglong asked again.
Wu Shuang and Zhang Hao didn’t say any more.
Li Jinglong understood. Geshu Han was probably usually very cautious, and aside from his trusted subordinate surnamed Wang, no one else was allowed to hold the command tally.
“But you can,” Zhang Hao said. “You have a personal letter written by the Crown Prince, so you can temporarily borrow the command tally.”
“With the current situation, it’s more appropriate for the troops to stay where they are, unless the corpse ghosts attack the city,” Li Jinglong replied absently. “Trust me, if the soldiers head out of the city to exchange blows with the enemy, they’ll only die faster.”
Wu Shuang and Zhang Hao exchanged a glance, and the two of them no longer persisted in pushing their idea.
“Look at these weapons.” Li Jinglong picked up a blade and lifted it to the light, gesturing for Zhang Hao to take a closer look. There was a distinct black trace on it, as if it had been dipped in poison.
Zhang Hao stayed silent. Li Jinglong continued, “Then look at these three yaoguai. The one on the left has unmarred skin, with only its skin color having withered, like that of a dried corpse’s. The middle one’s condition is more severe; there’s a hole through its abdomen, and a lot of its innards have fallen out.”
“The one on the right is in the worst shape.” Li Jinglong used that long blade to lift up its arm. The flesh and skin on that arm had already long since rotted away, revealing the grey-black bones of the hand.
Wu Shuang said, “The armor they’re wearing also has differences.”
Li Jinglong nodded. “The relatively untouched one’s armor is heavy and more complicated, while the one in the worst condition has armor that barely covers its body. So within the corpse ghost army, they also split themselves into different ranks. From the hundred-man commander down, there’s the ten-man commander, the five-man squad leaders, and the ordinary cavalry riders.”
Everyone sank into silence. At this time, more city guards fished out corpse ghosts from the river, covered in ice. Li Jinglong said, “The weapons of the corpse ghosts are covered with a strange poison, so if we are to cross swords with them again, make sure to be prepared, that’s the first thing. As for the second, we must find their weaknesses.”
Zhang Hao took a look at the corpse ghosts that were frozen over, and he suggested, “Ice?”
“Not bad,” Li Jinglong replied. “After they’re splashed with cold water, the ice that forms can cause their bodies to stiffen up, slowing down their movements. There’s another tactic that will work, which is fire.”
Wu Shuang nodded. He poured kerosene into the cage, setting that corpse ghost on fire, and the flames instantly engulfed it. It didn’t let out any mournful cries, nor did it struggle; it met its end by flame silently and calmly. Hongjun couldn’t bear the sight, but Li Jinglong said to him, “You must think about it this way: even if they enter the ground again, they won’t be able to obtain peace. With this, at least they can be freed.”
When Hongjun thought about it, that was true. These soldiers had fought to preserve their countries and their families while they were still alive, but they never would have expected that after they died, they would be so cruelly turned into the murderers of their own people.
“What about the third tactic?” Zhang Hao asked thoughtfully.
“Prepare the defenses,” Li Jinglong said. “As for those people who have already been poisoned, I’ll think of another way to deal with it.”
With that, Zhang Hao and Wu Shuang hurried off to find people to help prepare the defenses. Li Jinglong and Hongjun were left standing on the drill grounds, observing the leftover two corpse ghosts that fell in battle.
Hongjun looked at the corpse ghosts, then to Li Jinglong, whose forehead was faintly furrowed as a thoughtful light appeared in his gaze. This was the point that Hongjun admired the most about him; he couldn’t understand how Li Jinglong thought through things at all. From one thing to another, every time, he analyzed things in detail, with all traces of emotion wiped from his face, Hongjun felt that he was amazingly strong. That was a kind of internal strength, a courage that could not be quenched even in the face of the harshest trials.
Now, Hongjun wholly believed that Li Jinglong could save the lives of Mo Rigen and everyone else -- it must have been at the moment that Geshu Han collapsed that Li Jinglong figured out where the problem was. Just like in the fox yao case, he had then taken step after step to obtain the necessary evidence, and in the end, he was likewise going to turn the tables.
Hongjun didn’t rush him, nor did he leave; he only stood to one side, keeping Li Jinglong company. After a long while, Li Jinglong suddenly asked, “How do you think they distinguish their companions from everyone else?”
He thought about it and said, “The corpse ghosts have long since died, so they shouldn’t be able to smell anything.”
“Wu,” Li Jinglong responded. “Perhaps they’re able to see.”
Most of the corpse ghosts didn’t have pupils, only murky, white eyeballs. But those eyeballs had been constantly moving, so they were probably able to more or less see.
“Can they hear?” Hongjun asked.
Li Jinglong picked up a metal basin and smacked it, dang, next to the corpse ghost’s ear from where he stood behind it. That noise would have deafened a human, but the corpse ghost didn’t turn at all, continuing to focus its efforts on slamming into the metal cage.
It was clear that they couldn’t hear at all. Li Jinglong then picked up a torch and waved it in front of the corpse ghost a few times. The corpse ghost lifted its hands warily, before making a chopping motion.
“They can see,” Li Jinglong said in the end. “They can feel the light.”
Hongjun said, “I’m curious, what do you think they’re thinking about in their heads?”
“They have no way to open their mouths and speak,” Li Jinglong responded. “This is something only the heavens know… Let’s try one more thing.”
He took off his outer robe, to which Hongjun asked, “What are you doing?”
Li Jinglong gestured for Hongjun to come over and help, before he put on the armor of that hundred-man leader of the corpse ghosts. It actually fit him pretty well. Hongjun had already seen him in Tang armor very often, but when he saw Li Jinglong wearing Han armor, despite it being rusted, he still looked very handsome and dashing.
Li Jinglong bent over slightly, coming to a halt in front of the cage. That corpse ghost immediately grew alert, opening its rotting mouth to reveal its gums.
“You’ve been recognized,” Hongjun said. “What if I give it a try?”
“What if I dirty up my face?” Li Jinglong asked.
Hongjun found some sticks of charcoal and smeared the soot all over Li Jinglong’s skin, before moving the braziers nearby away. The sky was originally dark, and with this, Li Jinglong did indeed look like a corpse ghost.
“I’ll go in to try it out,” Li Jinglong said.
Hongjun was extremely anxious as Li Jinglong gently opened the cage door and slipped in.
The corpse ghost instantly noticed him, and with an enraged roar, it reached a hand out, swiping down towards Li Jinglong’s head. Li Jinglong hurried to shout, “Stay calm!”, before he hastily scrambled out again.
“Do you need to roll your eyes all the way up?” Hongjun asked.
“Like this?” Li Jinglong did his best to show only the whites of his eyes. He remarked, “But with this, I can’t see anymore.”
Hongjun said, “It’s hard to say. What if, on an off chance, they can smell your scent?”
Li Jinglong peeled the almost-rotting clothes filled with stench off the other corpse ghost. He wore them over his armor, before rolling his eyes up to show the whites with great effort, once again clambering into the cage.
The corpse ghost was still constantly kicking at the bars of the cage, wanting to leave this place. Li Jinglong copied it. Tilting his head and reaching out a hand, with his eyes rolled up, he half-climbed, half- squatted as he hung from the bars.
“You look so alike!” Hongjun praised him sincerely.
The corpse ghost turned its head and glanced at Li Jinglong. Li Jinglong, still with his eyes rolled up, turned his head to look at that corpse ghost.
One human and one corpse ghost locked gazes, though it was only for a brief moment, because after that, the corpse ghost didn’t look at Li Jinglong again.
It had worked!
Li Jinglong tested out not rolling his eyes up anymore, and the corpse ghost didn’t figure him out from that either. With that, the two of them could confirm that the corpse ghosts could see, and they could smell, but their hearing wasn’t good.
“We’ll set out in the depths of the night.” Li Jinglong sniffed his own arm, and a wave of stench overcame him.
“I must go with you,” Hongjun said.
“Of course,” Li Jinglong replied, smiling.
When night fell, Hongjun first went to see how Mo Rigen was doing. The medicine that he had prescribed had some use - at least it made his body a little warmer, but Mo Rigen was already close to being completely unconscious. As soon as Lu Xu saw Hongjun come, he latched on to him and wouldn’t let go, not letting him leave.
“Shh,” Hongjun said. “Zhangshi will save him. Rest assured, you rest assured.”
When Hongjun finished looking over Mo Rigen, he went to see Geshu Han. He found that Geshu Han had remained unconscious since he had taken the medicine, but the old madam was alright. She held Geshu Han’s hand as she sat at his bedside, conversing quietly with the carp yao.
Hongjun almost leapt out of his skin. But just as he was about to explain, the old madam nodded at him, smiling gently.
To one side, the carp yao was speaking. “...If I was to leave Hongjun, I don’t know how he would fare, he doesn’t understand anything.”
Hongjun hurried to ask, “Zhao Zilong hasn’t frightened you ba?”
The old madam chuckled. “How could it? I’m already over halfway to one hundred, and I’ve seen things that should be seen, and things that shouldn’t. The outside is crawling with yaoguai, is that right? This time we’ve got to rely on you all, but no matter what, you must be extremely careful.”
“That’s true,” the carp yao said. “Our family’s Hongjun has even gotten rid of a yao king, but it’s hard to say if that Li Jinglong will slow him down...”
Hongjun: “Watch out that Zhangshi doesn’t cook you into soup.”
Hongjun went up to take Geshu Han’s pulse. After taking the medicine, his pulse had calmed somewhat, so it was obvious that the medicine had some effect. Though there was no way to cure him, the power of the medicine that quickened the blood had at least caused the patients to regain some body heat.
At the same time, Li Jinglong was talking with Zhang Hao in the yard, and it seemed as if they were in conflict. In the end, Li Jinglong, with his brows furrowed deeply, hurried in, using his gaze to indicate to Hongjun that it was time for them to go.
Zhang Hao said anxiously, “The old general hasn’t shown his face for a day and a night. The rumors are spreading all through the city, to the point where they almost can’t be quashed.”
“Captain Zhang,” Li Jinglong said seriously, “They must be quashed.”
“I’ll go with you ba,” the old madam said.
Zhang Hao waved his hand, before asking Li Jinglong, “Where exactly are you all going?”
Li Jinglong only waved his hand to mean that he wouldn’t say, before gesturing for Hongjun to move out as fast as possible, pointing at the carp yao to indicate that it was to follow them along as well.
When the third geng came, the area around the city was completely silent.
As soon as the carp yao landed in the snow, it cried piteously, “It’s so cold!”
“Quick,” Hongjun said. “It’s all up to you now, Zhao Zilong, don’t you want to save people to gather merits? There are 400,000 lives in this city to save!”
The carp yao hopped back and forth across the snow, saying, “Isn’t there any easier way?”
Li Jinglong: “I’ll give you a pair of boots to wear.” And saying this, he pulled out the boots that he had bought earlier at the market. After the carp yao put the boots on, it said, “It’s much warmer now, but I’m still cold.”
Li Jinglong then pulled out that sheepskin bag tied with a drawstring, which he stuffed the carp yao into. There were a few holes cut on the sides, which were perfect for it to stick its hands and feet through and for its eyes to see from two sides. He then tied the string tight again.
“Wear the arm warmers like pants.” Li Jinglong had fully outfitted the carp yao, and with this, it didn’t have any excuses left.
“Find the king of the corpse ghosts that fell in battle,” Li Jinglong said. “After you find it, remember its location and come back and tell me. Go ba.”
The carp yao could only obediently run out into the snowy field, vanishing into the distance like a wisp of smoke as it went to go find that corpse ghost king that Li Jinglong had described.
With great patience, Li Jinglong sat down under the shadow of the city walls to wait. The wind blew towards them again, and Hongjun leaned towards him a little. Both of them were wearing Han armor that emitted the putrid scent of corpses. This night was cruelly cold, and Li Jinglong spread out a blanket that he had brought, wrapping himself and Hongjun together.
Hongjun smiled as he watched him, thinking of the first time he had seen Li Jinglong. He had also been wearing armor then, but why hadn’t he seemed as handsome as he did now?
“What are you smiling about?” Li Jinglong noticed Hongjun.
Hongjun responded, “Not much. You look pretty good in metal armor, even though it’s rusted.”
“That’s true,” Li Jinglong said easily. “Back in the day, who knows how many girls in Chang’an were entranced by your gege in martial attire.”
“You’re becoming more and more shameless,” Hongjun said.
Li Jinglong began to chuckle.
Hongjun remembered what the old madam had said. Back then, when she had met Geshu Han in his martial attire, she had fallen in love with him at first sight. Perhaps the young Geshu Han was not too different from Li Jinglong.
“Then how about me?” Hongjun asked.
“You…” Li Jinglong looked him up and down. “You’ll do, you’ll manage as my lieutenant.”
Hongjun stuck out a hand from within the blanket. “Fight me, and we’ll see who’s the lieutenant.”
“It’s cold, stop fooling around.” Li Jinglong hurriedly pressed his hand down.
Within the general’s estate, it had already been almost eight shichen since Geshu Han and Mo Rigen had collapsed. Tonight, Liangzhou City was lit up with torch light, but it was as silent as the grave. In the military barracks, the moans of the soldiers grew quieter and quieter.
Towards the second half of the night, Mo Rigen’s chest started to behave like a bellows, rising and falling, constantly making noise. Lu Xu couldn’t help growing anxious at that, and he ran out of the room, unconsciously trying to find Hongjun to plead for him to help.
“Hongjun!” Lu Xu shouted.
He searched through the entire hall, before hurrying towards the main hall. As he ran, however, he gradually slowed, before coming to a stop.
His face was writ with an expression of suspicion as he saw a shadow in the main hall.
“What’s happened?” The old madam turned her head and asked from her position in front of the bed, holding Geshu Han’s hand.
Zhang Hao stood in the hall, and he said, “The corpse ghosts that fell in battle are going to attack the city. I need to obtain the command tally to use it.”
“The general has yet to wake, and so he cannot give you the command tally,” the old madam said, her brows furrowed deeply. “Before Li Jinglong left, he said that he would bring the antidote back tonight.”
But Zhang Hao responded, “Li Jinglong and Kong Hongjun have already run off. The guards saw him leave the city in the night.”
Lu Xu hid behind a shelf, watching Zhang Hao with an expression of doubt.
The old madam said, “The general has yet to wake, so I will go nowhere. Zhang Hao, where is Wu Shuang?”
Zhang Hao sucked in a deep breath and said quietly, “Old madam, Wu Shuang has also fallen ill. The situation is dire; I must send out the troops to do battle with the enemy outside the city as quickly as possible.”
The interior of the hall was silent. Finally, the old madam said, “I cannot allow it.”
Zhang Hao’s forehead was furrowed deeply as the old madam continued. “I trust Li Jinglong and that child. Just now, I was actually listening to their exploits in Chang’an when they got rid of the yao king. In such an unusual situation, naturally there are unusual people who take care of it. You only need to guard your city properly. You have the power to defend the city, and as long as you don’t send the troops out, the armies are yours to move around. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that with a mortal’s body, you can go fight the yaoguai.”
Zhang Hao suddenly let out a cold chuckle.
The old madam suddenly grew wary, and she lifted her head and glanced at him. Her voice trembled as she said, “Zhang Hao, what are you thinking? Are you trying to forcibly seize control?”
Zhang Hao said darkly, “Old madam, I am a yaoguai.”
In an instant, Zhang Hao let out a piercing roar, and his body began to make strange noises as it melted like mud. A coiling grey-green breath issued forth from his mouth, wrapping around her, and she could only let out a shrill cry -- but because the old madam had been taken by surprise, she hadn’t yet called out “Guards” before the coils wrapped around her, blocking off her nose and mouth.
In the blink of an eye, Lu Xu rushed out from behind the cabinet, picking up a vase in his hand as he rushed towards Zhang Hao whose body was slowly melting like mud.
moon: will mo rigen pull through? will we be big wolfy-less for the rest of tianbao? come back next week to find out! (also for more longjun, as always)
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.