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"I don't think he has any intention of being your Protector."
Translated by: Zryuu
Edited by: Amelea, Juurensha
Early morning, Mai City.
"Corpses have turned——!" Someone rushed over in a panic and roared madly, "In the government office, dead corpses have turned——!"
"Do not spread lies!" A soldier blocked him at Mai City's entrance, dealing with a surge of people, and shouted, "All of you, head back! There's no such thing! It's all rumours! Rumours!"
In the government office, the county magistrate, a group of clerical officials and a local general watched the living corpse of a Jin soldier that was detained in a cage.
A chain dragged behind the living corpse with turbid eyes as it struggled within the huge metal cage.
"We must quickly……" The county magistrate tried to compose himself, "escort this monster to Jiankang and report to the imperial court……"
Mai City's county deputy magistrate said, "Your Excellency, this humble person thinks……"
"This matter absolutely can't be suppressed!" The county magistrate snapped out of his stupor and shouted, "Xiangyang has fallen, and the number of people who died in the war number in the hundreds of thousands. If all of their corpses turn, no matter how many living people you have, can they fight against the dead?! Hurry up and escort it away as soon as possible! Present a memorial to the throne to request for the imperial court's decision!"
Northwest of Mt. Longshan, at the exit of the mountain.
The dog had been waiting in place for an entire night; it ran over all the way and kept wagging its tail at Chen Xing. The three of them stopped momentarily and found a place to sit down at the end of the plank road. Feng Qianjun went to search for the horses that had escaped earlier. Fortunately, they had not run far. Meanwhile, Xiang Shu went to take the reins of the horse he had brought over himself. He stood on the plank road and looked at the mountainous scenery without uttering a word.
Feng Qianjun exchanged information with the other two. Apparently, the Jin army had known about the situation in Mt. Longzhong since long ago. After all, people who had recently fled from the village midway up the mountain had wanted to report the case to the Xiangyang authorities. However, Xiangyang was under a siege, so they had to turn to Mai City. The Mai City's government, on account of the rumour that the Qin army would unleash a large-scale offensive on the city, had already been on tenterhooks in the first place. They were afraid that the reports were a ruse by the enemy troops to create a diversion, and the people couldn't explain themselves clearly either, so the matter was temporarily suppressed.
"To be exact," Feng Qianjun said, "up until last night, it has coincidentally been 49 days since then."
Xiang Shu had his back facing the other two and never interrupted.
"Do you want to eat something?" Chen Xing took the initiative to greet Xiang Shu.
Xiang Shu just ignored him. Chen Xing pondered for a long time, then answered, "It is related to the chance number '7', so there is a cause. But you shouldn't have brought them over!"
Feng Qianjun answered, "I tried to stop them, but it was useless."
When the horse returned to Mai City with the dead Jin soldier on its back, the people finally panicked. The county magistrate saw that the soldiers he had dispatched to investigate the news hadn't returned in two days. Now that he saw the corpse, he knew that the matter could no longer be suppressed. He quickly sent another team to enter Mt. Longshan within one night. The leader already knew of the tomb's location from the information they had obtained before. Feng Qianjun had wanted to go over alone to a.s.sist Chen Xing, but he failed to persuade the others, and could only follow along behind them.
As a result, all of the Jin soldiers died in their line of duty. After getting rid of the mysterious black robed man, Xiang Shu lit up a fire and burned all the corpses.
Now, Chen Xing's only worry was the scene of Sima Wei, clad in black armour, turning into black flaming meteors at the last moment, and flying away. The real story must be rather complicated; someone must be plotting something somewhere in the Divine Land, yet they had zero clues on it.
Nearly a hundred years ago, the successors of the Jin Dynasty were fatuous and incompetent. The eight princes gathered troops and fought for the throne, causing the Central Plains to be embroiled in war. During the civil war, Han people attacked one another. The internal discord was significant, and led to the vacating of garrisons outside the five pa.s.ses and famine for several years. Only tens of thousands of people who could fight remained; Xiongnus seized the opportunity to go south, Guanzhong fell, Han members of gentry took a ferry to the South, resulting in the separate governance of the north and south areas.
History records show that Sima Wei, the king of Chu, was only 21 years old when he died. He had a tall and imposing build and an outstanding countenance, but was executed for "acting on the pretext of an imperial edict". That is, he fabricated an imperial edict and gathered troops to crusade against treacherous court officials. After his death, Sima Wei was conferred a posthumous t.i.tle 'General of the Cavalry', and was buried in Mt. Longzhong, a precious fengshui area situated in Jingchu, the feudal land.
"Xiang Shu, do you know something?" Chen Xing now felt that this series of unimaginable strange occurrences were merely secondary to him; Xiang Shu's ident.i.ty and motive was what he was most concerned about.
Xiang Shu glanced at Chen Xing, but his attention was not on him. He answered, "I just wanted to cross the path there to get to Chang'an and ended up meddling in other people's business on the way."
Chen Xing asked out of curiosity, "Why do you want to go to Chang'an?"
Perhaps it was because the three of them had just gone through a life and death situation together the previous night, the barrier between them had somewhat broken down. Or perhaps it was because Chen Xing's Heart Lamp proved that he was indeed an authentic exorcist, so Xiang Shu's att.i.tude had taken an obvious turn for the better.
Xiang Shu repeatedly turned the mask over in his hands as he examined it. Just as he turned to face Chen Xing, Chen Xing subconsciously leaned closer to Feng Qianjun.
"Stop bullying me all the time!" Chen Xing was a little afraid of Xiang Shu and braced himself to say this.
"Wei!" Feng Qianjun was also a little afraid of Xiang Shu; he couldn't beat him after all, so he also braced himself to say, "Don't bully little brother Chen Xing, it's not like he provoked you in any way."
"Didn't provoke me? You Han people don't even know how to distinguish right from wrong and played deceitful tricks to trick me into going to Jiangdong from Jinzhou, then imprisoned me up until now." Xiang Shu made light of it as he continued, "If Xiangyang City hadn't fallen, I would've already turned into a decayed corpse at the bottom of a prison by now, and you want me to shed tears of grat.i.tude for you? Forget it ba."
Chen Xing flared up when he heard this, "It's not like I knew what kind of experiences you had to go through! And didn't I save you? When did I ever ask you to shed tears of grat.i.tude for me? Let me ask you this, did you not believe in what I said last time? So do you believe me now?"
"You're a Hu?" As soon as Feng Qianjun saw Xiang Shu's face, he immediately choked back the second half of his sentence "but you don't look like one ah" forcefully. He guessed that Xiang Shu didn't like to be questioned about his ident.i.ty, so he quickly said, "Calm down! Don't fight!" Then he hastily brokered a compromise, "Well, since we're all heading to Chang'an, let's all go together then."
Xiang Shu didn't say another word and mounted his horse. As soon as he clamped down on his horse's belly, he had already galloped far away; Chen Xing was halfway through eating his rations and quickly said, "Wait! You haven't told me why you're going to Chang'an……". He had to put his dog beside the saddle while Feng Qianjun packed up, and they spurred their horses to set out.
Xiang Shu kept a distance from them as he rode ahead. Chen Xing and Feng Qianjun were about ten or more zhang behind, engaged in quiet discussion as they rode their horses side by side.
"Your Protector doesn't appear to be a bad person," Feng Qianjun said, "trust me, he won't stab you with his sword simply over a minor disagreement."
"Yes, he'll just throw money at me." Chen Xing replied.
"He threw that gold ingot to test my strength." Feng Qianjun said, "He had already noticed that I was behind you at that time, and even if you hadn't dodged it, it wouldn't have really hit you."
"Then I'll really have to thank him for his mercy." Chen Xing didn't agree with Feng Qianjun, he thought, this person is a b.a.s.t.a.r.d, he even s.n.a.t.c.hed my stuff.
Chen Xing frowned deeply and observed Xiang Shu, who wasn't too far ahead. He asked Feng Qianjun, "Why is he going to Chang'an?"
"To find people from his tribe." Feng Qianjun said, "Isn't that obvious? The Hu people are all in the north, and Chang'an is under the control of Emperor Qin, Fu Jian."
Chen Xing suddenly recalled the line "speculated to be a military official" on the register Zhu Xu had showed him. Perhaps they had seized some sort of precious item from Xiang Shu when they captured him for them to arrive at such an inference? What kind of a person was he?Commander of a 100? A field officer? A position that a 20-year-old could a.s.sume shouldn't be too high, so it was impossible for him to be a general.
Feng Qianjun, "However, I don't think he has any intention of being your Protector."
Chen Xing said insipidly, "I sensed that a long time ago."
Chen Xing turned it over in his mind. He recalled once more the body of Sima Wei that had turned into black flames before flying away. At that time, it was heading northwest, which happens to be in the direction of Chang'an. But Liangzhou and other places were even further northwest. There must be a tremendous force behind the black robed masked man, but he didn't know where they were hiding right now, and what they were plotting……what did they intend with the revival of the corpse that had turned into bones nearly a hundred years ago?
The power of the Heart Lamp had disappeared for more than three hundred years along with the silence that descended upon all magic. Did it now emerge because this covert force was scheming a conspiracy? Chen Xing frowned the entire way in silence, and again looked up at Xiang Shu who was far ahead. Xiang Shu's explanation for this incident was him simply meddling in other people's business, but Chen Xing always felt that he knew more than he was letting on.
But if he knew something, wasn't that more reason for him to earnestly talk about it with Chen Xing? Chen Xing was utterly perplexed. Fortunately, Xiang Shu didn't bother them along the way just as Feng Qianjun had guessed. On this journey to the northwest, they would stay in inns if they could find one and sleep outdoors if they were in the wilderness.