"Lu Xu turned around, a faint trace of anger written on his face by the slant of his eyebrows, but he didn’t speak."
Editor(s): namio, juurensha
Always support our Chicken Lord by buying the original work whenever you can! Link for each platform's guide to purchase the raws can be seen on our FAQs.
“Deer!” Lu Xu immediately said.
Everyone turned to look at him. Mo Rigen remembered that when he had first met Lu Xu, he had heard him mention “deer”. But Lu Xu was surnamed Lu, and after saying it for so long during the entirety of their journey, Mo Rigen still didn’t know if he was muttering his own surname, or if it was because he had actually personally seen the White Deer.
“Deer.” Liu Fei nodded and continued, “The Nine-Colored Deer resides in the Mogao Caves, and once every ten years, when the corpse ghost army patrols Saiwai, our final destination is the main hall of the Mogao Caves, where we pay our respects.”
“What dreams do you all usually have?” Hongjun asked, curious.
Though Hongjun suddenly brought up a completely unrelated question, Li Jinglong didn’t interrupt him. Mo Rigen was still to the side, thinking deeply, and not a moment later, Lu Xu put down his bowl; he was also full. Mo Rigen then moved the pot away, switching it out for a kettle and a cake of tea. Li Jinglong set up a small table, and he began to make tea for the group to drink.
“All kinds of dreams,” Liu Fei replied leisurely. “Most of them are about our previous lives. The corpse ghosts that fell in battle are still considered the deceased, yet they do not enter the cycles of reincarnation of the heaven and earth veins. The only thing that gives them peace are matters of the past from when they were still living…”
“Who were the two messengers?” Li Jinglong then asked.
“One of them was the plague god,” Liu Fei replied. “The other seemed to be named Xuannü, but I do not know what kind of yao it had been originally. Only, I don’t understand what powers they have to make me sink into a dreamscape, trapping me there for as long as a year without being able to escape.”
Mo Rigen murmured, “The Nine-Colored Deer… the Nine-Colored Deer…”
“You have the power of the reincarnated wolf god, right?” Liu Fei asked, glancing at Mo Rigen.
Mo Rigen replied, “Yes, and the person I’m looking for is precisely the White Deer! But this White Deer may not have the same origin as the Nine-Colored Deer…”
“The White Deer you are searching for,” Liu Fei responded, “should be the Nine-Colored Deer God.”
Mo Rigen’s eyes widened as Liu Fei continued. “Though the Deer God has nine colors, those nine colors are only nine tufts of fur on its body. Aside from those nine tufts, its entire body is snowy white.”
Li Jinglong said to Mo Rigen, “We are already only a short distance away. Do not be hasty, Mo Rigen.”
Mo Rigen knew that this was a serious matter, and though he was very worried, in the end he could only restrain his thoughts.
Li Jinglong then said, “Since the yao king can make you sink into dreams, then perhaps he’s already gained control of the Nine-Colored Deer.”
“Indeed.” Liu Fei put down the wine and took the cup of tea that Hongjun handed him as he continued, “If that is really the case, then things have become much more troublesome. Now that I think of it, it was only after their machinations failed that they forcefully trapped me and my kindred, leading us to carry out unrestrained slaughter in Hexi, killing all life wherever we went. They then called upon us corpse ghosts that fell in battle to make us fight their battles.”
“As for Mara…” Hongjun remembered those words that Chong Ming and Qing Xiong hadn’t finished that day when he left Yaojin Palace.
The carp yao said, “Mara’s rebirth is approaching. If the yao king holds the corpse ghost army in his grasp, then no one will be able to beat him.”
“The rebirth of Mara is only a legend,” Liu Fei responded, without even thinking about it. “One cycle every thousand years. Last time Mara was reborn, even I wasn’t there to see it. My king should know, but even after factoring in every possibility, hasn’t it only been nine hundred years? It shouldn’t be ahead of schedule by a whole one hundred years.”
After they drank the tea, the people that Geshu Han had sent finally came, but Li Jinglong turned them all away; their matters could wait until tomorrow. After all, his own people’s troubles hadn’t even been resolved yet.
“If that’s the case, then I won’t natter on,” Li Jinglong said. “I’d like to request that the great general stay here for the night, so that we may continue the discussion tomorrow.”
Liu Fei knew that the exorcists had things to discuss, so he readily agreed. The corpse ghosts didn’t like to see the light of day, and Li Jinglong didn’t want to startle the bystanders in the estate, so he gave him Mo Rigen’s room to sleep in, while the four of them - he himself, Hongjun, Mo Rigen, and Lu Xu, slept in the room that had originally only had two beds.
Everyone was completely exhausted, especially Li Jinglong and Hongjun, but even more so, they couldn’t resist the urge to chat. Mo Rigen let Lu Xu sleep on the inside of the bed, while he himself lay on the outside, saying, “Now that we’ve gotten news, I must make a trip there as quickly as possible.”
Li Jinglong responded, “Mo Rigen, the Nine-Colored Deer won’t run away. This matter is a complicated one, and you must have a completely surefire plan before you go. There were too many mistakes made as we came to Hexi this time, and on the journey, all of the things we’ve stumbled into were by pure luck…”
Things were exactly as he said. If either of their two groups hadn’t been here, Liangzhou City would have met its doom. In no time at all, it would have become a territory of the yao king.
“It’s exactly because of that that this is a very serious matter,” Mo Rigen said. “Liu Fei’s words were already extremely clear. The yao king is using the White Deer to control this group of corpse ghosts that fell in battle, gathering his forces to prepare for the rebirth of Mara. If we don’t find the White Deer quickly…”
“You think you can beat Liu Fei’s higher ups?” Li Jinglong shot back.
Lu Xu had already laid down, facing the wall. Hongjun was sleepy beyond belief, and he murmured, “Are you going to let us sleep or not? If there’s anything else, can’t you talk about it tomorrow?”
Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen had no other choice, so they stopped talking and each laid down to sleep.
The next day, when Hongjun opened his eyes, he saw that everyone else in the room had already left. The carp yao, who had come out to wash up, informed him that Mo Rigen and Li Jinglong were currently discussing the matter of Yadan with Geshu Han.
“Say, why do you think that even after saving so many people yesterday, I haven’t gathered enough merits to turn into a dragon?” the carp yao asked. “Turning into a human would do as well.”
Hongjun also didn’t know. Logically, the carp yao worked hard for the Exorcism Department every time, so it must have gathered quite a lot of merits. Why wasn’t there any reaction at all?
Hongjun replied, “Perhaps it’s because you didn’t do it yourself.”
The carp yao grew melancholic again. On its own, how could it have the ability to save people? Hongjun then added a few more nice words of comfort, agreeing that next time, as long as there was a chance for it to do good, he would definitely let it take the lead.
As they were speaking, Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen had finished their meeting and rushed over from the corridor. Li Jinglong then asked Mo Rigen, “Any arrangements for that kid?”
Mo Rigen glanced at Hongjun, who was standing in the courtyard listening. As it turned out, when they were meeting with Geshu Han, Li Jinglong had specially sought out that guard who had mocked Lu Xu as being an idiot and had gotten into a conflict with the rest of them. It was only then that they learned that Lu Xu hadn’t been scared silly, but had rather been born that way; it was only because he saw the corpse ghosts pillage those cities that he was acting so flighty in response.
Lu Xu’s father was a Shiwei person, and his mother was an Uyghur. As he grew up, he didn’t understand anything, so the only thing he had really practiced was his physical skills - he could run very fast. With that, his father brought him down through Yumen Pass, with the intent of finding him a position as a courier. When he was twelve, he was taken in by the Yumen Pass commander Liu Nisun, and when he grew older, he joined the scouts and was put in charge of passing messages between the armies as they traveled.
With that, Lu Xu was always running around, so his speed grew even faster. Afterwards, he learned a few self-defense techniques. Just as he and Liu Nisun were called back to Guannei, he coincidentally ran into this disaster.
“Ever since he was small, Lu Xu could only remember his surname,” Li Jinglong said. “What he keeps saying is ‘Lu’. Told you you were mistaken.”
Mo Rigen shook his head, a bitter smile on his face as he was a little at a loss. At this time, Lu Xu walked over from the side, through the garden, his expression suspicious as he stood there, looking at the three of them.
Hongjun liked Lu Xu a lot, so he waved a hand at him, saying, “Lu Xu, come, I’ll take you to eat some good food.”
Lu Xu first looked at Li Jinglong, before he then looked to Mo Rigen.
“What are you planning on doing?” Li Jinglong asked him again.
Mo Rigen pondered silently for a moment, before finally saying, “Oh well, I’ll listen to Zhangshi.”
He lifted his gaze to look at Li Jinglong, who nodded once with good grace, before patting his shoulder. Hongjun asked curiously, “What are you two talking about?”
“I’ll take you to eat something good,” Li Jinglong said to Hongjun, before taking the initiative and leading him away.
“Lu Xu,” Mo Rigen said, beckoning towards him as he smiled. “Come.”
Lu Xu looked at Hongjun, who was leaving, before looking at Mo Rigen, then saying, “Li Mingxing.”
With a leap, Mo Rigen rose into the air, landing in a crouch on the railings on the outside of the corridor. Lu Xu smiled at that and sat down by his side.
“These past few days, I’ve given you a lot of trouble.” Mo Rigen reached out a hand and hugged Lu Xu around the shoulders as he watched the bright sunlight in the yard, saying, “Zhangshi told me that when I was ill, you were the one who took care of me the entire time.”
“Hongjun,” Lu Xu replied.
Mo Rigen smiled as he waved his hand. It was as if he was a little embarrassed as he said, “Hongjun curing my illness for me was a given, since everyone agreed to put their lives on the line together; we’re all brothers.” And saying that, he ducked his head, one hand scratching the back of it like a wolf currently deep in thought.
When Lu Xu heard those words, his expression grew a little stiff, and he turned his head to appraise Mo Rigen.
“We are exorcists,” Mo Rigen said. “We’re from Chang’an. Before, the people outside the Great Wall called me Li Mingxing, which was a name I came up with to fool around under after I left home, because I had always wanted to be a hero of the people.”
Lu Xu looked Mo Rigen up and down. Today, Mo Rigen had changed into a dark blue martial robe and was wrapped up in a mink cloak. He was wearing a hat on top of all of this, making him look handsome and poised. Lu Xu reached a hand out into his cloak, stroking the fabric of that robe.
“Hongjun,” Lu Xu repeated.
“Yes,” Mo Rigen nodded. “What they’re wearing today is also this set. It’s the official uniform of our Exorcism Department.”
Li Jinglong and Hongjun were both wearing the Exorcism Department uniforms. After leaving the general’s estate, the two of them first strolled around the military barracks, where they saw that all of the soldiers had already recovered. When they then went to Qin Liang’s residence, Qin Xuan and her mother, in an even greater gesture of thanks, wanted them to stay for a meal. Hongjun could only hurriedly make his goodbyes, before he and Li Jinglong came to a restaurant in the middle of the city.
The eateries here were known for their north-eastern cuisine, and there was even roasted whole lamb, which wasn’t a common dish. Li Jinglong ordered some food and said, “At last, we can have a good rest.”
“What about the rest of the stuff? What will we do?” Hongjun, however, began to grow worried. The problem of the corpse ghost army wasn’t yet solved, and it also related to an even vaguer problem that Chong Ming and Qing Xiong had brought up a long time ago - the rebirth of Mara.
Li Jinglong knew that Hongjun felt sympathetic towards those of the yao tribe. Ever since the fox yao case, most of the time, as soon as he saw yao, he would try to get oddly close. Perhaps it was because of their blood ties, but either way, that wasn’t something he could control.
“This morning, I already discussed things with Liu Fei,” Li Jinglong replied. “I had him go back first to gather news, and to communicate with us at any time. Otherwise, if we do end up fighting, no way will we be able to hold up against their tens of thousands of troops.”
“You’re waiting for helpers?”
“Correct. After Qiu Yongsi and A-Tai get here, we’ll cooperate with each other and mobilize in unison. Let Liu Fei first find his immediate boss, that true ghost king, before we make our attack and approach so that Mo Rigen can wake him up. Finally, we’ll all together defeat the plague god that Zhang Hao has turned into, along with the other yao that has yet to reveal its face.”
“Aside from these, I also had old general Geshu Han increase the defenses of all of the large cities in Hexi and bring the villagers of nearby regions into the city.”
When Hongjun heard those words, he knew that Li Jinglong had already set everything up, and he no longer worried. Li Jinglong then said, “We must first get rid of this big calamity that is the true ghost king before we can go with Mo Rigen to find the Nine-Colored Deer.”
Hongjun en-ed, before asking, “Will Lu Xu come with us too?”
“He won’t,” Li Jinglong replied. “Being an exorcist is too dangerous. Plus, that child doesn’t have any artifacts, and all he can do is run faster than normal. Before, I had no other choice, but now, Hongjun, if you really are really looking out for him, then you have to make sure to not drag him into this.”
In the general’s estate, Mo Rigen and Lu Xu bathed in the sunlight. Mo Rigen reached a hand out to stroke his head, saying, “On this journey, thank you for keeping me company, Lu Xu.”
Lu Xu lowered his head, as if he was thinking about something.
Mo Rigen then said, “After this, I must go to the Mogao Caves to find the Nine-Colored Deer. It’s very dangerous there, not somewhere you can follow me to.”
Lu Xu’s head shot up, a surprised look in his eyes. He stood up, watching Mo Rigen quietly.
“Zhangshi and Great General Geshu Han have already discussed it thoroughly,” Mo Rigen explained. “You can stay in the army, serving as a scout as you were before… Lu Xu?”
Lu Xu turned around and left.
Mo Rigen sensed that Lu Xu perhaps didn’t want to leave him, so he caught up with rapid steps, following behind Lu Xu as he said earnestly, “You don’t have any mana, and you’re a mortal. You can’t...”
Lu Xu increased his pace, and Mo Rigen hurried to take large strides to catch up, saying, “Lu Xu!”
Lu Xu turned around, a faint trace of anger written on his face by the slant of his eyebrows, but he didn’t speak.
In that instant, Mo Rigen suddenly felt that parting was a little unbearable. From under Jiayu Pass to Liangzhou City, it had just been the two of them keeping each other company the entire way here. I if he were to say there were no feelings there, that would be a lie.
“Gege will come back to visit you, now behave,” Mo Rigen said, a little crestfallen.
Lu Xu turned and ran.
Mo Rigen sighed, and for a while, he felt very despondent.
Leading their horses, Hongjun and Li Jinglong slowly walked back to the estate. Li Jinglong said, “There’s less than half a month until the new year, and I don’t know if A-Tai and Yongsi will be able to rush over by then. Thankfully, Mo Rigen’s still here, so this can be counted as a small reunion.”
Li Jinglong arrived at a way-station in the city and sent out the letters for A-Tai and Qiu Yongsi, telling them about the situation here, as well as the rumors that they had heard about the yao king and Mara, asking them to come as quickly as they could for support.
Hongjun also really wanted to send Qing Xiong a letter, but he didn’t know where to send it to. Next time, if he had a chance, no matter what, he would make Qing Xiong leave him a way to send him letters.
After noon, Li Jinglong returned once again to the general’s estate to discuss the arrangements of the defenses with Geshu Han. On the way back, he said to Hongjun, “After tiring ourselves out for so long, in a few days, I’ll take you to go play around. What do you want to see?”
When Hongjun heard these long-anticipated words, he grew happy. He knew that after every large battle, Li Jinglong would undoubtedly grant them a vacation and take him to go play somewhere, and even if it was only the two of them, that didn’t change.
“I haven’t decided yet.” Hongjun wondered if in this icy land where Liangzhou was, were there still brothels in the city? But without knowing why, he didn’t seem to be too interested in brothels anymore.
“Then you think over it carefully,” Li Jinglong said. “In these next few days, as long as there are no emergency troop situations, then go take a vacation. As long as you don’t leave Liangzhou City, anything goes.”
Hongjun knew that although he himself and Mo Rigen could go on vacation, seeing Li Jinglong’s situation, Zhangshi would probably still be very busy. But Hongjun hadn’t learned how to train troops or run formations, so he couldn’t help him with that. He replied, “I’ll wait for you, alright?”
Li Jinglong then went to where Geshu Han was on his own, while Hongjun passed through the courtyard to return to his room. Suddenly, from the rooftop came Mo Rigen’s voice. “Hongjun.”
With a few steps, Hongjun leapt up. As soon as the sun came out, the snow in the city had melted, and after two consecutive days of this, even the water on the rooftops had dried. The winter sunlight shone down warmly, and the people in the general’s estate were taking this chance while the day was sunny to hang the blankets out in the sun. At some point, Mo Rigen had also moved out a few sets of blankets from his room and laid them out on the glazed tiles to air, while he, holding a straw in his mouth and with one foot propped up on the other, was lost in thought, eyes narrowed.
Mo Rigen patted the space beside him, letting Hongjun lie down there.
Hongjun asked, “Where’s Lu Xu?”
Mo Rigen pulled out the stalk and grinned. “You didn’t fall in love with that brat, did you?”
Hongjun replied, “No way!”
Mo Rigen said, “Don’t you always like those little foxes and whatnot?”
To that, Hongjun said, “I’m leaving.”
“Chat with me for a little while,” Mo Rigen said. “After being apart for so long, didn’t you miss me?"
When Hongjun looked at Mo Rigen, he seemed to be a little disconsolate. He suddenly remembered what Li Jinglong had said, and he guessed, maybe Mo Rigen had already sent Lu Xu packing? Hongjun also felt pretty disappointed. After all, they had fought side by side before, and there were friendly feelings there.
“It’s only been so long,” Hongjun said. “At most one month.” With that, he laid down at Mo Rigen’s side.
“Li Mingxing, Hongjun, Li Mingxing, Hongjun…” Mo Rigen narrowed his eyes, watching the circle of the pleasantly warm winter sun. “That brat couldn’t remember Zhangshi’s name.”
Hongjun thought about Lu Xu repeating the same thing over and over again, only knowing to call his name, and he suddenly asked, “What’s a Li Mingxing?”
A little bit of red suddenly appeared on Mo Rigen’s handsome face as he replied, “A nickname, don’t ask any more.”
Hongjun also stared up at the sun. The light of the winter sun was warm on him, and the blankets under him were soft and warm, reminding him of when he had laid on Chong Ming when he was small.
“Mo Rigen,” Hongjun said.
“Call me gege,” Mo Rigen replied with a straight face.
Hongjun didn’t feel like paying any attention to that, and he asked, “Have you ever thought about how you’ll be like in the future?”
Mo Rigen: “How come you’re suddenly asking about this?”
Within the Exorcism Department, aside from Li Jinglong, Hongjun felt the closest to Mo Rigen. That day, after waking in the dilapidated, shabby Exorcism Department, the second person who had come to report for duty, and who he had subsequently gotten acquainted with, was Mo Rigen. Likewise, he was also the first friend in the human realm, in the truest sense of the phrase, that he had made.
moon: and so the gege clown circus continues… next time, more gege clownery
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.