"Is the power of the Grey Wolf passed down through bloodlines or through reincarnation?"
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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“I’m just a little…” Hongjun watched the large white clouds drift by in the sky as he replied, “confused ba.”
“I, hm.” After thinking about it for a bit, Mo Rigen replied, “I need to find the White Deer.”
“And after the White Deer’s been found?” Hongjun asked.
“After that?” Mo Rigen, his head pillowed on his arm and eyes narrowed, enjoyed the warm winter sunlight as he murmured, “I’ll take her as my wife, and when there are no more yao or devils wreaking havoc on the Divine Land, I’ll return to the Shiwei…”
“To be the clan leader?” Hongjun asked.
“No,” Mo Rigen replied, smiling. “The clan leader’s position should be my second brother’s. The Grey Wolf cannot be the clan leader. We’ll live in the grasslands, hunting, herding sheep, and raising many children. When spring comes, I’ll take them to race their horses freely on the grasslands.
“In the autumn, they’ll go hunting and present the best kills to their own beloveds,” he continued, still smiling. “After the children are all grown up, we’ll also have grown old. Then, we’ll watch the birds fly over Lake Hulun while waiting for the first snowfall of winter. We will protect the dreams of the Shiwei in the winter, the dreams of the Han people, the dreams of the Semu people, the dreams of everyone on this earth.”
“But you haven’t even seen the White Deer’s face,” Hongjun pointed out.
“She must be a very beautiful girl,” Mo Rigen replied.
“You two will be just like the old general and his wife?” Hongjun asked.
“That’s right.” Mo Rigen began to smile.
Hongjun: “But you two haven’t even met. What if… she’s not the same as what you’ve imagined? What if you don’t love her? What if she doesn’t love you?”
Mo Rigen: “...”
The Shiwei people had passed down a legend through the ages. The Grey Wolf and the White Deer were the two great protector gods of the white day and the black night, and the youth born with the power of the Grey Wolf was destined, after his birth, to be the companion of the White Deer. Mo Rigen had never thought about this problem before, and after searching his thoughts for a long while, he said firmly, “That’s impossible.”
Hongjun didn’t persist either. All he did was point out this question, but Mo Rigen’s vision of his future filled his heart.
Li Jinglong was currently discussing how to cycle their defenses with Geshu Han. After several large battles, along with what Liu Fei had told them, the path that the corpse ghosts had taken to invade had finally become clear to them.
From Yadan to Yumen Pass, they circled around Dunhuang in Shazhou, where they had split into two groups. One group had taken the northern path, following along the outside of the Han Great Wall down south, passing through Wulin, Suchao, and three other similar small county capitals, purposefully avoiding the various locations the troops were stationed in.
The other group followed the Qilian Mountains down south, passing through and ransacking countless small villages.
Finally, the two groups rejoined outside of Liangzhou City, circling the city, only for their encirclement to be broken through in one go by Li Jinglong and Hongjun. The corpse ghost army fell into disorder and left their position outside the city, now once again heading north.
“Two people,” Geshu Han said, shaking his head from disbelief, “broke through a ten-thousand strong army just like that.”
“To be accurate,” Li Jinglong replied, “It was three people, and a fish on top of that.”
Upon entering the room, Hongjun saw that Li Jinglong was currently discussing the map with various commanding officers. Li Jinglong sent him a glance, indicating that he should come over to his side.
Hongjun followed up with, “We only come in handy against yaoguai. If we’re fighting mortals, we can’t do much.”
Geshu Han looked appraisingly at him, saying, “Now that I think about it, it really is fortunate that that day, this old man didn’t manage to catch you. Otherwise, when it came time to cross swords with that corpse ghost king, this old man might not have been able to take one hit of yours.”
As soon as Li Jinglong heard that, he knew that Geshu Han held some reservations in his heart. In accordance with the emperor and crown prince’s commands, he replied readily, “The Exorcism Department has our own constraints. If we disregard keeping lives safe and take part in the battles of mortals, then we will call down heavenly thunder upon ourselves and be doomed eternally beyond redemption.”
The expression on Geshu Han’s face slowly grew warm again. He then asked, “Then protecting your home and country by fighting off the Uyghur and Turkish armies is also not allowed?”
“Not allowed,” Li Jinglong responded without even thinking.
With that, Geshu Han finally nodded slightly. He replied, “Then, the duty of chasing after the corpse ghost army and the yaoguai Zhang Hao falls upon your shoulders.”
Li Jinglong nodded, and he and Hongjun both cupped their hands and bid their farewells. After walking out, Hongjun asked, “Why don’t I recall that we had such a saying?”
“I lied to him,” Li Jinglong replied nonchalantly. “Liangzhou City has already sent out scouts to follow them.”
Hongjun’s heart thumped, and he asked, “Have they found out what became of them?”
Li Jinglong replied, “A blizzard sprang up along the way, so they lost track of them.”
A feeling of foreboding dimly came to life in Hongjun’s heart as he asked, “A blizzard?”
“En,” Li Jinglong said, the corners of his mouth quirking up slightly as he watched Hongjun. “A blizzard.” He then looked out past the corridor at the warm, all-encompassing sunlight that shone down on the vast land, and remarked, “Every time the corpse ghost army appears, they’re always accompanied by extremely chill and snowstorms. Do you think this is by chance, or is it inevitable?”
Hongjun found that he could already slowly follow along with Li Jinglong’s thoughts.
“Let’s go check?” Li Jinglong asked. “If on the off chance we can actually find the true form of another great yaoguai, then we’ll definitely be able to spare ourselves a lot of effort in the future.”
With that, Hongjun hurried back to his own room, spreading open the book that Qing Xiong had given him. As the saying went, if you know yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without defeat. Before, it was precisely because Li Jinglong had been unprepared and had suffered because of the Nine-tailed Heavenly Fox that everyone had befallen such pathetic circumstances. This time, they could not let their guards down so easily.
“Look at this page,” Li Jinglong said.
That book had seen quite a few years already, and the edges of the pages were worn and ragged from being flipped through. It was clear that this was also something that Di Renjie had left, because at the front of the book were listed some small underling yaoguai, but the further in they went, the stronger they grew. Those that were framed with black ink meant that they had “already been exorcised”, but those circled with red ink were “dangerous”.
This book seemed to have pretty detailed records; it was just that there were too many missing pages. Before, the page about the Nine-Tailed Heavenly Fox had already gone missing. The pages on the Sons of the Dragon were still there, but three of them had already been taken care of. For those, Hongjun marked each of them off as “already exorcised”, and when he flipped ahead again, he found the records of a yaoguai named “Xuannü”. Her sleeves were long and flowing, and her face had been blacked out entirely with ink.
“There is the snow god to the Northwest, who lives at the summit of the Qilian Mountains…” Hongjun saw that the pages that were missing weren’t too distant from each other, and the corpse ghost king seemed to also have three pages, but that entry was already fragmented.
“It’s not as strong as the Nine-tailed Heavenly Fox,” Li Jinglong said.
“But its weak points aren’t listed,” Hongjun replied. “Even Di Renjie hasn’t seen many of these yaoguai before.”
“Cold air,” Li Jinglong replied. “We have to make preparations to cold-proof ourselves. Let’s look a little further ahead?”
“The plague god!” Hongjun found that monster that looked like a pile of sludge; he hadn’t expected that this book would contain it as well!
The two of them squeezed together, reading that book. In it, there were records of the extreme danger that the plague god posed to mortals. It could swallow any body of flesh and blood to strengthen itself, and it could spread the plague.
“The illness that the old madam caught was exactly this,” Li Jinglong said. “If the amount of miasma that has been inhaled is not much, then it can be cured through the use of Cold-Water Elixirs.”
Hongjun replied, “Normal doctors all know how to make them, and the old madam’s condition has already stabilized.”
“Aside from this, the plague god is extremely weak,” Li Jinglong said. “My Heart Lamp is not afraid of it, and you have yao energy. All we’ll need to do is grab shovels and surround it to beat it up, so our main focus is still Xuannü.”
When Hongjun thought of Li Jinglong’s Heart Lamp, he moved to undo his robes. Li Jinglong didn’t flinch from him either, allowing him to undo them, revealing the sigil over his left chest.
“There’s still magic in it,” Hongjun replied.
“How could it be depleted so quickly?” Li Jinglong replied easily. “If I really do start feeling discomfort, I’ll go find you.”
“It just doesn’t look very good,” Hongjun said after studying it for a long while. Li Jinglong then put his robe back on and rose, saying, “I’m going out to take care of something, you wait here and think some more.”
Hongjun wasn’t very afraid of any snow yaoguai, because after all, he had the flame magic of the phoenix on him. If Liu Fei’s words were true, then the plague god was probably fleeing back to Yadan to meet up with Xuannü again, and they were probably thinking about how to get their revenge right now. And to get from here to Yadan, it would have to pass through Shazhou, Guazhou, and keep heading north...
Outside, it was already nearing dusk when suddenly he heard the sound of battle armor clanking. Liu Fei slowly strode over, asking Hongjun, “Where’s that brother of yours?”
Hongjun hurried to rise and greet him, but Liu Fei waved his hand. “I’ve received the scouts’ reports, I’m heading back right now.”
“I’ll go find Zhangshi for you first,” Hongjun hurried to say in response. “It’s difficult for me to speak for him…”
“I’m just telling you in passing,” Liu Fei responded, his tone as light as a breeze. He hefted the wind sword that Li Jinglong had returned to him as he continued. “The corpse ghost army is still my matter, and I must be the one to resolve it. I cannot bring you all any more trouble.”
And saying this, Liu Fei turned to leave. Hongjun was afraid that he would walk the entire way there, but Liu Fei replied, “There are still quite a few horses that were killed in the battle. I’ll go call up a horse, and that will do. The wind outside the city is strong when night is falling, so you do not need to see me off.”
Hongjun didn’t keep him either, so he could only watch him leave from the back gates of the manor. All Liu Fei asked for was some wine that he hadn’t finished drinking from last night, and with one hand carrying the wine, the other carrying his helmet, he left. Hongjun shouted from afar, “You’re alright ba?”
Under the light of the sunset, Liu Fei waved his hand at Hongjun. At that time, Hongjun’s thoughts were slow, and he hadn’t noticed that lonely, solitary general’s emotions. When he sat back down inside the hall, however, the more he thought about it, the more it felt wrong. He thought, Liu Fei wouldn’t go back like this just to die, right? But hadn’t he died a long time ago? Is there any way to actually kill Liu Fei?
He didn’t have any of his men anymore either, so what was Liu Fei going to do to regain control over them? Use the wind sword in his hand? Hongjun was not very certain that Liu Fei would be able to take back control, and even if he had fifty thousand troops at hand, would he be able to beat that immediate superior of his?
The more Hongjun thought about it, the more dangerous it seemed. At this time, Lu Xu came again.
“Hongjun,” Lu Xu said.
He scooted over to let Lu Xu sit down, and he reached out and patted him. He liked Lu Xu a lot; one, because when Mo Rigen was ill, Lu Xu basically didn’t take even a single step away from him as he took care of him; two, because Lu Xu only knew how to say “Li Mingxing” and “Hongjun”. Though they had known each other for less than ten days, Lu Xu had already called for him by name multiple times. Ever since he was young, even Chong Ming usually just said whatever he had to say, he hadn’t called out for him repeatedly so many times.
“Are you hungry?” Hongjun asked.
Lu Xu shook his head. From the looks of it, he had just bathed, and he kept trying to dig out the water in his ear.
“Let me clean out your ears ba,” Hongjun said.
With that, Lu Xu laid down horizontally, pillowing his head in Hongjun’s lap. Hongjun picked up a short slender rod and wrapped one end in a soft cloth as he went to clean out Lu Xu’s ears. As he dug, Lu Xu began to shiver. Hongjun grew pleased, and he said, “It feels nice ba. Qing Xiong loves it when I clean out his ears for him.”
As he spoke, he suddenly felt a wetness on his knee. Lu Xu was actually sobbing and crying!
“What’s wrong?” Hongjun hurriedly had him sit up as he asked, “Lu Xu, are you alright?”
Lu Xu rose and left the hall. Hongjun called after him, “There’s still the other ear.”
Lu Xu turned his head back and gave him a glance. That glance held sorrow and melancholy, and Hongjun stared speechless at Lu Xu. He wanted to ask about the reason, but Lu Xu couldn’t speak at all. Even if he was asked, he could only respond with simple words.
“Wait for a bit,” Hongjun said. “I’ll go find Mo Rigen.”
But Lu Xu turned and left the hall instead, heading along the long corridor back to his room. With swift steps, Hongjun hurried out to find Mo Rigen, but in this large general’s estate, he couldn’t find him. When he turned his head back to look for Lu Xu, Lu Xu had also disappeared.
Hongjun wrapped his outer robe around him and went out. He asked a guard, but that guard told him that that scout had already left the manor. The carp yao was currently sitting in the corridor soaking its feet, and Hongjun grabbed it with one hand as he went by, stuffing it into his bag and hastily tying a quick knot before rushing out.
“Hongjun! What are you doing now!” the carp yao shouted.
“Lu Xu ran away! Damn! We have to quickly get someone to give Li Jinglong the news…”
“I’ll go, I’ll go.”
But Hongjun didn’t let the carp yao leave at all, and he took it with him as he mounted his horse to go find Lu Xu. The carp yao bounced and jolted on Hongjun’s back, and it wailed piteously for mercy. “Spare me ba!”
In the military camp, the lamps shone brightly. Li Jinglong, his upper body bare, sat in one of the barracks. Mo Rigen stood to one side, watching a tattoo master doing his work. At this time, it was popular amongst the Tang troops to get tattoos, and these soldiers often got symbols of their squad, their own protector gods, or other popular drawings tattooed on their backs or upper arms. First, it was so that they had their gods protecting them, and second, it was because if they died in battle and lost their wooden tallies, their comrades would still be able to identify their bodies.
The pattern was evidently complicated, as the master had been at it for almost a whole shichen, and the area was also very small. It was situated exactly on that sigil on Li Jinglong’s chest.
Mo Rigen watched for a long while, before asking, “Before, how did you manage to keep your skin so clean?”
Li Jinglong replied, “Back then, I didn’t like tattoos, and I greatly cherished my skin. Now though, I already have scars, so I really won’t miss this one patch.”
Mo Rigen smiled. “Why do I feel like there’s another meaning, hm?”
“Don’t speak nonsense,” Li Jinglong replied easily. “Those strange things that Hongjun learned from who knows where, weren’t they all because of you all teaching him such rubbish things?”
Mo Rigen pulled over a wooden block, saying, “Tattoo one for me as well.” And saying this, he handed that leather carving in his hand to the tattoo master, adding, “This one ba.”
Finishing up with the left side of Li Jinglong’s chest, the tattoo master said, “For the next five days, be a little more careful, and make sure it doesn’t touch water.” With that, he changed out a few of the needles and baked them over the fire as he selected some colors. Mo Rigen undid his outer robe, revealing his arms and his shoulders, telling the master to tattoo it on his arm.
Li Jinglong picked up that deer and studied it for a moment, before asking, “You carved this?”
“Lu Xu did,” Mo Rigen replied.
Li Jinglong: “...”
Mo Rigen: “?”
Li Jinglong thought deeply for a moment, before saying, “The ‘lu’ that Lu Xu said was something that you mistook. He was only constantly reminding himself of his own surname.”
Mo Rigen nodded, but Li Jinglong pinched that deerskin carving between two fingers, asking, “Then… how do you explain this thing?”
Mo Rigen’s eyes immediately widened. He had come to a realization, and now he moved to rise, but Li Jinglong pressed him back down, indicating that he sit. The artist had just begun, and he could go after the tattoo was done.
“There’s a question that I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. Is the power of the Grey Wolf passed down through bloodlines or through reincarnation?” Li Jinglong faced the mirror in front of him, studying the tattoo that had just been done on his own chest. Almost as an afterthought, he used his fingers to drum the tabletop.
Mo Rigen sank into deep thought. Li Jinglong shot him a glance, saying, “Don’t take offense. If it’s not convenient for you to tell me, that’s fine, I’ve made a promise with every member of the Exorcism Department. I’m willing to help A-Tai regain his country, to help Qiu Yongsi find his black jiao, and I am also willing to help you find your White Deer.”
Mo Rigen hurried to explain. “No, Zhangshi, everyone here is like my family, there’s definitely nothing too inconvenient to say. It’s just that even I myself… am not entirely clear on that.”
Li Jinglong nodded and smiled. “Though my strength is inadequate, but sometimes, when I do want to help out, I may not be able to actually provide much assistance at all.”
At that, Mo Rigen actually smiled. “After even just three days of not seeing each other, I however see you in a different light. Hongjun has changed you greatly, Zhangshi.”
Li Jinglong’s face was tinged a light pink as he replied, “Don’t talk about these unimportant trifles. Is it passed down through the bloodlines or via reincarnation?”
“It might be reincarnation,” Mo Rigen said. “The elders in the clan said before that this shape-shifting power doesn’t appear in every generation. Sometimes, it’ll be a hundred, or even hundreds of years, before it is reborn.”
“Does that refer to being reborn in the clan?” Li Jinglong asked, his eyebrows rising.
Mo Rigen furrowed his brow, thinking about it. In the end, he said, “Rumor has it that all of the reincarnations were within the Shiwei tribe.”
Li Jinglong asked, “It's definitely a girl?”
Mo Rigen replied, “According to historical records, they were all girls.”
Li Jinglong pondered deeply, before saying, “Then when the Grey Wolf isn’t reincarnated in human form, what form does it take, and where does it appear?”
This stumped Mo Rigen. This was a question that he had never considered before, but Li Jinglong’s train of thought was well-founded: since the Grey Wolf and White Deer’s reincarnations appeared every few hundred years, each of them choosing new bodies to be born into, then logically they should have their own temple -- or perhaps it was that each had their own, and when they had nothing to do, they would stay within their temples. Only with this could things be explained.
“Let’s imagine that the power of the Grey Wolf and the White Deer are usually in a wall painting when they’re not being reincarnated,” Li Jinglong said, his long, slender fingers toying with that deerskin carving, flipping it over and over. “When Mara is about to be reborn, they each go search for a family to reincarnate into, this makes sense ba?”
Mo Rigen said slowly, “That… is a guess.”
Li Jinglong responded, “The power of the Grey Wolf went to your family and entered your body, which is when you gained remarkable divine powers.”
“Yes,” Mo Rigen said, nodding.
Li Jinglong continued. “Let’s say that the power of the White Deer also went to a family, but the transfer was severed by the yaoguai that had waited for a long time just for this moment.”
Mo Rigen: “...”
Li Jinglong: “I don’t know if this fulfills our hypothesis, because I know relatively little about everything yaoguai and demon related, but when I was small, I heard old men telling stories about rebirths and reincarnations…”
Mo Rigen murmured, “If the White Deer was interrupted in the process of rebirth and taken away…”
Greatly shaken, he exchanged a glance with Li Jinglong.
Li Jinglong said, “The old men said too, that if the process of rebirth was interrupted in the middle and the three hun and seven po thrown into disarray, the person would…”
The tattoo master had finished. Mo Rigen hurriedly pulled on his outer robe, and after paying he rushed out. Li Jinglong chased after him, saying, “Stop!”
“Liu Fei might know,” he added. “Let’s go find him first to ask him for evidence! Go!”
The two of them raced back to the estate on their horses.
At this time, Hongjun was searching for Lu Xu everywhere and had already arrived at the city gates. When he asked the soldiers, he learned that, as expected, Lu Xu had left the city!
Where was he going?!
Hongjun dispatched someone to find Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen and report the situation to them as he rushed out in pursuit. The sky was dark, and he couldn’t see anything. The footprints on the ground were haphazard, but he coincidentally managed to run into a group of patrolling soldiers, who had seen a white-robed scout on foot racing towards the north-east, and he had already left the region surrounding Liangzhou City.
“Where did Lu Xu go?” the carp yao shouted loudly. “It must be that Mo Rigen did that to him and then didn’t want to take responsibility, so he ran away -- Hongjun, my feet are so cold, they’re going to get frostbite. Quick…”
Hongjun’s horse raced away swiftly like the wind, leaping over a small creek. With a few motions, he wrapped the carp yao up well, rushing away like a gust of wind.
At the same time, Li Jinglong and Mo Rigen returned to the general’s estate. They first went to find Liu Fei, only for the soldiers to inform them that Liu Fei had already left.
“He left?” Mo Rigen cried.
Li Jinglong indicated that that was alright. Today morning, Liu Fei had found him to ask for his sword back, so Li Jinglong knew that he was definitely going to return to take back his own troops.
“What about Lu Xu?” Mo Rigen hurried to find Lu Xu.
The two of them went inside the rooms to search, only to come up empty-handed. Mo Rigen went out to ask, only to learn that Lu Xu had also left.
“He left?! Impossible! It’s all my fault…” Mo Rigen immediately moved to get his horse and find him.
Li Jinglong replied, “Don’t panic, calm down!”
As Mo Rigen mounted his horse, he said, “If the one who ran off was Hongjun, I don’t believe that you’d be able to be calm.”
“Hongjun hasn’t run off!” Li Jinglong insisted. “Let’s first find him and figure out the details!”
The two of them then went to find Hongjun. To their inquiry, a soldier replied, “Master Kong? He went chasing after that idiot, they’ve both left.”
“Don’t panic.” Now, Mo Rigen had calmed down, and he continued, “Hongjun’s abilities are strong, and since he’s already gone chasing after him, Lu Xu shouldn’t have run very far. All we need to do is…”
Without another word, Li Jinglong rushed to the backyard and mounted his horse, leaving Mo Rigen behind in the dust in the blink of an eye.
Mo Rigen roared angrily, “Wait for me!”
moon: mo rigen oh mo rigen when will you see (spoiler: not for a while yet)
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.