Lord Seventh Chapter 71-76 (End)

Chapter 71: The Final Battle (1)

By this juncture, there was no one in Court that dared to bring up moving to the South anymore. Helian Yi, this young man that had appeared gentle and kind for more than twenty years, finally exposed his iron-blooded, ruthless side to the people of the world. Then, existing in this dire situation where everyone wanted to retreat, he had the Ministry of Rites hurriedly make preparations, and took the top seat in close to a panic.

Deep inside the palace, Helian Pei’s breathing was weak, already at the end of his wick. Now, though, in this realm, the son was going to have to pay off his father’s debts.

This year, Helian Yi was twenty-eight years old when the era’s name was changed to Rongjia.

At this period in the capital, all those who picked up their heads and said that they had to negotiate peace in compromise were the first soldiers to be made into cannon fodder. Anyone else was mostly quieted under Helian Yi’s high-pressure policy, but it was only a quiet forced by lack of a better option — from the crowd of subjects in Court to the last of the Imperial Forest Army, everyone was on edge. The army had originally only had less than sixty-thousand members, and part of it had been temporarily transferred over by Helian Zhao, so it now had less than thirty-thousand remaining.

In former times, they were elites, but right now, upon hearing the news that nearly the entire army was wiped out, they turned into cowards out of dread.

Areas surrounding the capital, like Shandong and Henan, could be allocated, but they only had some backup ranks of the old, feeble, disabled, and whatnot. With no choice but to heal a dead horse like it was alive, Helian Yi assembled their entire sum. The remainder, such as the Nanjiang border guard and Guangs, traveled day and night to catch up to the capital, in spite of knowing full well that faraway water couldn’t quench thirst at hand.

Lu Shen assumed total control over the Ministry of Revenue. His first decision was to set down that the squadrons coming to the capital from the West had to pass Mian Province, and from the South, Cang Province, as those were the two largest provision stores closest to the capital. The armies were to go through them and carry their own rations over; the previously prepared armaments had all long since been given a funereal bury at the Northwestern battlefield, and it was definitely too late to raise funds again right now. Mian and Cang and such weren’t far from the capital, but they were still a good distance away. With how messy the present way of the world was, failure was likely, and they were obliged to have the coming forces take on several duties simultaneously.

As for Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu, they were doing something else.

Ever since the early days of the Great Qing’s establishment, there was an institution in the capital that featured specialized management of the Spring Market’s affairs, known as the ‘Northsent Department’. It had originally been under the Consul Herald’s control, but for the sake of easier work, there were quite a few Vakurah officials in it, which gradually separated it from the Consul’s office to become a lone branch.

Spring Market dealings had typically been in the Northwest, and only once per year. The branch generally didn’t do much work, yet it carried a lucrative position. Zhao Zhenshu once had countless dealings with the Vakurah chief, Jeshe; inside the transactions of money and power, it could be claimed that Zhao Zhenshu had single-handedly reared this wolf, and the Department had nearly turned into a secret thread between Zhao Zhenshu and the capital’s business.

Zhang Jin had never meddled in these private exchanges, either, because foreigners were ultimately just foreigners, and it oftentimes wasn’t good to be linked with them in the Great Qing’s internal political strife. For that reason, at the time of the great purge of the Northwest, these big-headed, fat-bellied vermin miraculously escaped it.

Starting from the very day the Northwest went into a state of emergency, Helian Yi had Zhou Zishu keep a tight watch on this group. With the current state of martial law, the latter further tore off his mask and straight-up put them all under house arrest.

Jing Qi understood, of course, that these fatties with stomachs two times rounder than their heads, and who hadn’t looked a nomad for ages, only truthfully had things to do with money, having no relation to this war at all. Perhaps even Jeshe himself had no idea what they had done. Even so, he needed a little something right now that evoked even stronger emotions in the city, for warding off those fears of ‘the Vakurah warriors are all indestructible’ that were spreading around like a plague.

He had never been a take-charge individual. He was more than enough for handling things and making ideas as a supporting role, but he wasn’t unwavering enough, and seldom had the drive to act alone. However, he understood the human heart better than anyone else, and he knew that, at this time, the most frightening thing was not the large Vakurah army watching them like prey, but rather the scatterbrained and flustered minds in the capital.

No matter whether they were legitimately discovered or fabricated out of nothing, Zhou Zishu made uncountable charges against everyone in the Northsent Department with extreme efficiency. Regardless of them being real or fake, they had the utmost of provocative power, and recounting clause after clause of them only made those that didn’t know the truth itch to peel the skin off of these ‘awfully guilty’ people.

Therefore, on that day, Jing Qi took about a hundred members of the Imperial Forest Army to hem in around the Department with no warning in the slightest.

Without even a hello, people were dragged out of it one by one, stripped of their official’s uniforms right on the streets, and hogtied. While he instructed someone to send the news back, he had another methodically organize a string of accompanying confiscation operations.

After that, he rode up on a horse, expressionlessly ordering that these shivering people were to be individually bound to large wooden poles. Behind those poles would hang a massive white cloth upon which who these people were would be written, whether they be Vakurah or their scumbag lackeys in the Great Qing, along with a point by point list of what crimes they had committed. Then, he personally brought them in a parade through the streets.

Taking into consideration that there were many among the citizenry that couldn’t read, he borrowed two major experts under Zhou Zishu’s command, Lu Yu and Duan Pengju, to follow him on the journey. Applying their internal force, they would read aloud word by word as they went, and could be heard clearly from faraway.

People poured out of the alleys of the capital as if a celebration was going on. The commoners and the soldiers keeping order all congregated on both sides of the mainstreet. It was unknown who took the initiative, but they threw a chunk of rotten, leafy vegetable onto the head of the director of the Northsent Department, who had been loudly shouting that he was falsely accused. Slowly, the feelings of the crowd began to stir; stones, rotten vegetables, spit, and whatever they had was what came smashing down.

The troops that had been assigned in the name of ‘keeping order’ had been able to stop them at the onset, but they were human, too, and some had friends and relatives that had died in the big Northwest. As a result, the soldiers and citizens became one family later on, and the hurling morphed into stomping and beating them up.

They were informed that these people — these big-headed, pot-bellied, fat people — were Vakurah. They were not all-knowing, nor were they indestructible. It was these outsiders that were currently blowing a foul stench onto this mild, peaceful land of gold dust, killing their brothers and families, and causing the chaos to separate people forever.

Without anyone realizing it, Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu had withdrawn to outside the circle for observation. Jing Qi stood on a tall building, watching quietly for a while before he said, “Zishu, later on, I’ll have you mingle in with the commoners to keep a bit of the spirit up. Those that weren’t beaten to death are to be given another strike on their skulls. Those that died are to have their corpses collected once these people have dispersed, and then their heads are to chopped off and hung up on the city gate.”

Zhou Zishu exhaled lightly, shaking his head with a grin. “Prince, you don’t know this, but even I’ve got the feeling of a sigh in my heart, like a huge rock that’s been suffocating my chest has exploded apart.”

Jing Qi narrowed his eyes, inclining his head to look at him. “I heard that you were finally willing to send Li’l Liang away?”

The other shook his head again and smiled painfully. “If he doesn’t leave, I’d still have to mind him. In the case that he gets into trouble at a time like this, I won’t have the leftover energy to wipe his ass for him and get someone to abduct him by force.”

“Take care that he doesn’t say that he’ll hate you forever,” Jing Qi answered with a skin-deep smile.

“Prince, love is deep only when hate is definite,” Zhou Zishu joked. “This subordinate doesn’t have the attractiveness that you do, Prince.”

Staring blankly for a short instant, Jing Qi then frowned as he looked at him. “Are you actually making fun of me?”

The other curbed his grin. “You have to take care of yourself by every means, Prince, don’t ruin your health by getting angry. I’m still awaiting the future of coming to ask you for a cup of good wine. I heard… that Nanjiang’s five-poison wine can be a great tonic.”

Jing Qi’s originally somewhat solemn appearance swiftly unfurled. Following a moment of quiet, he softly replied, “With your blessing, old friend, if I really can live to such a day, then the wine is nothing. I’ll even tell a pretty, small-waisted Nanjiang lady to be your wife.”

“Prince, a nobleman’s words are as a whipping of four horses. You have to keep your word,” Zhou Zishu said quickly.

Jing Qi reached his fist over, raising his brows as he looked at him. Zhou Zishu smiled, then reached his own fist over as well, lightly bumping against his.

“It’s a deal.”

After that, Jing Qi started to undertake divvying up the entire capital into several districts. Each one was appointed a person specially in charge of rationing food and supplies for every household, every day. He also ordered people to clear up a couple of roadblocks on the only road the ranks ordered to enter the capital could take. Troops were trained on the daily in the middle of the streets, lookout security tight. With every reinforcing army that came, three fireworks would be designated to notify the whole city.

Helian Yi used great effort to placate Helian Zhao’s family, posthumously titling him as Great General-Prince Zhongyong, and his eldest son, Helian Yu, as Kin-Prince Yangcheng. This had been a matter of honor, at first, but it had a result that was beyond expectations. Helian Zhao’s old division, headed by Jian Sizong, his father-in-law whose culturedness had hit rock-bottom back in the day, became the first group to stand up as a core power of the primary battle.

Ten years prior, Jian Sizong had cradled Zhao Mingji in the throne room and called him ‘darling’. Ten years later, Zhao Mingji’s head, along with a group of poor souls from the Northsent Department’s, were hung up together on the city walls by Prince Nan’ning. The long-since retired and now gray-haired Jian Sizong had brought over a bunch of people that had been born servants of the Eldest Scion’s Estate, all arranged in rows, and knelt falteringly before Helian Yi, loudly calling ‘Long Live the Emperor’.

Helian Yi did not nominate any generals whatsoever, merely shedding the dragon robe he wore and switching it for battle armor. He declared that he would defend the capital in person, and desperately fight to the very end.

Behind him was no longer loose sand that refused to come together. There was the airtight Lu Shen, the suddenly sly and vicious Jing Beiyuan, the newly-founded, immeasurable ‘Heaven’s Pane’, a vast crowd of impassioned scholars, and the unyielding, mourning troops of the former Eldest Scion party.

And, at this point in time, another person stood up as well — the daughter of Great General Feng Yuanji, the Princess Jing’an, and the adopted daughter of Retired Emperor Helian Pei; Feng Xiaoshu.

The young woman that had been wronged by being in the rear palace had suddenly showed up, dressed in military attire. She had the same pair of stubborn eyes and the same exceptionally straight back that Great General Feng once had. Like daughter, like father; being deep in the palace had not at all erased the intense Feng demeanor she bore. Princess Jing’an leaned on a spear and had her hair coiled up like a man’s, kneeling and begging Helian Yi to allow her to imitate Mulan in enlisting on behalf of her father.

Right then, the old Feng faction in the army, formerly as incompatible as fire and water, at last merged together with Helian Zhao’s remaining people. One month later, the number of those stationed at the capital reached eighteen-hundred-thousand, and provisions were readied all together.

Whether citizen or soldiers, everyone’s emotions had reached a peak — Emperor Rongjia, Helian Yi, would likely be the most prestigious Emperor since the beginning of the Great Qing’s history.

On the eighth of November, He Yunxing had sorted out the surviving troops, and arrived at the capital alive.

Upon receiving the news, Helian Yi personally went to the city gates to welcome him. He Yunxing knelt before him on the spot, weeping bitterly. Once his bout of crying was done, he never once labelled himself with fault, nor did Helian Yi descend fault upon him. He was simply weaved into the capital’s garrisoned generals; right now, whether one was dead or alive, they needed to have courage.

Yet, what Zhou Zishu didn’t know was that Liang Jiuxiao, who he had sent away, used a little trick halfway down the journey — the two escorting him did not check on him for a moment, allowing him to escape. Liang Jiuxiao said nothing, then happened to come across a backup squadron that was heading to the capital from the south, using the alias Xiao Jiang to go along with them.

This whole time, he hadn’t gotten over it. He hadn’t gotten over his sect-brother killing Jiang Zheng’s family, and he hadn’t gotten over the Prince’s words that made one feel a chill in their bones upon hearing them. He knew himself to be stupid and unable to see through things, so he couldn’t understand how these smart people thought.

Yet, he had always been guilty.

He had always dreamed that he would one day transform into a great hero that would uphold justice, but after coming to the capital, he had entirely lost himself. He felt that he ought to return, even if it wasn’t for the purpose of living, dying, advancing, and retreating in tandem with his sect-brother. It was for the purpose of being inside this age of blood and fire, and again seeking that road leading to righteousness for the land.

In this brief month, everyone found the shrunken-back resolution within themselves.

So, invaders… don’t hesitate to give all that you got, eh?

Chapter 72: The Final Battle (2)

Wu Xi felt like he was having a deep, world-inverting dream. The dreamworld was way too lifelike; so lifelike, that everyone and everything inside it seemed to be real, making him unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

He dreamed of the day the rolling carriage traversed past the dense scenery of Nanjiang. Going down a very long road, he saw many people, then arrived alone at the most flourishing and beautiful place in the world — Fullmoon River, which flowed on endlessly for thirty li out, and had beauties singing and dancing both on and around it.

After that, he met someone. The other’s eyes roamed, looking to be even more nimble than the River’s light. His face always held a smile. He always had a means to live life in extreme comfort. He liked fine wine and fine people. He talked and worked with an easy calmness, never quarreling with anyone. Even so, he had many shortcomings about him; an off-beat, out-of-tune, discordant pair of silk pants.

Yet, when Wu Xi caught sight of him, he felt warmth about to thaw his heart.

He dreamed of a good many days of exceeding peace. The other man was unfashionably leaning on a reclining chair under a big tree, lazily squinting slightly as he leisurely explained some things that weren’t in the book, as if he had known them from birth. He didn’t even need to reference the manuscript, able to speak confidently while half-asleep, and would occasionally lift his hand to drink a cup of tea, an especially clean fragrance coming from his wide sleeves.

He also dreamed of the man’s warm palms, dreamed of him going through all kinds of emotions when he helplessly called him ‘you little toxin’, dreamed of him holding the sable in his arms while wearing that red thread with its ring faintly seen on his snow-white neck, dreamed of that night where blood was ignited for emotions he would die for.

Yet, those joys made him feel uneasy, like he faintly sensed that there was something amiss. Wide-eyed, he stared closely at the other’s smile, watching and watching as he felt panic arise within him. Then, the glowing features of the one before him grew paler and paler, paling until the veins under his skin could be seen. Then, the raised corners of his mouth lowered, his eyes getting more and more empty until lines of red blood seeped from the edges of his lips, landing drop after drop onto his snow-white robe.

Feeling like he was about to be scared to death, Wu Xi reached out to him, but couldn’t get to him, after which his foot fell on air. The entirety of his consciousness warping, only despair remained, etching into his core and blocking up his chest, like it was going to blow up his heart.

He abruptly opened his eyes, vision extraordinarily blurred. The sound of carriages was in his ears. He stared blankly for a short moment, unable to remember where he was, yet couldn’t resist placing a hand over his chest. The corners of his eyes were freezing; rubbing them, he was surprised to discover that he had tears all over his face.

“The Shamanet woke up! He woke up!” A loud-voiced person called.

In that instant, his mind produced a ridiculous notion — this was the road going to the capital, right? Everything just then had merely been his imagination, and hadn’t happened yet.

Soon, Ashinlae’s face appeared in his field of view, and he clumsily helped him up. “Drink some water, Shamanet.”

Wu Xi’s sight flitted over the fine wrinkles climbing out the edges of the other’s eyes, then flitted over his own adult hands. The thought he had within him, like a firework falling into water, slowly extinguished, ultimately leaving only a puff of ashes behind that flowed into the bone-chilling waves.

He silently drank half a bowl of water from Ashinlae’s hand, shut his eyes, and leaned against the mat behind him. There was white space in his head. He single-mindedly concentrated on understanding the ache coming from his heart — the ache that, wave by wave, was like his insides were being torn apart.

Jing Beiyuan… Jing Beiyuan… Jing Beiyuan… Jing Beiyuan…

Ashinlae and Nuahar watched him from the side, trembling and not daring to make any noise. They saw him reclining there, pressing at his chest with a wretched complexion, and sitting with his eyes closes for an incense stick’s worth of time. The rise and fall of his chest nearly couldn’t be seen, his thick brows tightly creased.

A long while later, he asked them, “Where are we?”

Ashinlae and Nuahar exchanged a look. “We’ve already passed Shuzhong,” Nuahar quietly answered.

Wu Xi nodded lightly, then said nothing.

Ashinlae impulsively opened his mouth in a desire to speak. Getting grabbed to a stop by Nuahar, he fiercely turned to glare at him, then continued with talking regardless. “Shamanet, when we were in an inn a few days back, I heard that the Northern Vakurah were soon about to reach the capital…”

Wu Xi opened his eyes and looked at him, their blackness seemingly covered in a layer of something. No longer were any of those formerly distinct emotions appearing on their surfaces, and Ashinlae realized that the look they had was somewhat unlike the Shamanet’s. Who was it like? It was like Prince Nan’ning’s, like the Great Qing’s Crown Prince; many things were going on inside him that others couldn’t make out, hidden deep down.

Even so, he continued to speak, straight-faced. “Shamanet, if you say the word, we’ll turn right around and head back!” He smacked away Nuahar’s hand that was trying to stop him, furious. “Don’t stop me! What about the Prince? Are the things he does necessarily right? From how I look at it, his head’s full of paste, too! Shamanet, let’s go back. Let’s go back to the capital and smuggle him out! Everything else can go piss off, no matter what. Later on, we’ll give the Prince a nice beating with a switch, and make him… make him…”

Wu Xi watched him apathetically. Ashinlae’s following words got stopped up in his throat. After that, the former said, clearly and briefly, “Spur the horses on quicker.”

Ashinlae and Nuahar were startled, hearing him go on. “Spur them back for Nanjiang. Don’t stint. Have our brothers work hard for a few days, since we need to get to Nanjiang as soon as possible, the faster the better… once I’ve gotten my breathing under control, find me a quick horse so that I can abandon this carriage.”

Ashinlae was agape for a long while. “Shamanet…”

Wu Xi had since shut his eyes anew, as if he had confirmed his decision, then spoke no more with him.

…Were the things the Prince did necessarily right? The man was certainly self-opinionated to that extent, at least. He always thought that he had everything planned out, and everything had to make sense. He meticulously planned his own road, others’ roads, the road of life, and the road of death stretch by stretch, never talking it over with anyone.

Jing Beiyuan was accustomed to casually, half-assedly admitting his errors at any times, but that was no more than him not feeling like wrangling with other people. When he genuinely resolved to do something, there was no margin for discussion at all, let alone other peoples’ comments. In his mind, what was he considered? A… child? Someone who needed supervision, needed to be taught, and was unreliable… just like how he himself had been towards Ashinlae?

Three shichen later, Wu Xi got on a fast horse, and galloped all the way at full speed.

He forced himself not to think about Jing Beiyuan, nor about the current situation in the capital, and solely focused on what was in front of him. On the surface, he was as serene as a pool of dead water.

He managed to condense the remaining near-month of journey into six days. He was alone on his route, having exhausted three horses to death.

In these brief six days, he mastered repressing his emotions, repressing his expressions, and repressing everything at a hard-to-imagine speed. He mastered keeping everything inside of him, only giving others a look at the things he wanted them to know about. He mastered sticking an unshakable pillar into his heart under duress, so that even if Mount Tai collapsed before him, he would still be able to handle it systematically.

The first time his life was suddenly lengthened was when Nanjiang had been defeated, and he had entered the capital alone to play the hostage. The second time it was lengthened was after being a visitor in a foreign land for a whole decade, witnessing and experiencing assassinations, head-bowing, a bizarre, gaudy, entrancing life of luxury, hair-raising conspiracies, and bone-deep yearning. And now, this current and final time, he broke through to a sudden change, completing his metamorphosis.

Leading along his group of alarmed Nanjiang warriors, they returned to Nanjiang like they were rushing down a road of death. Before, he had believed that he would have a plethora of feelings when he returned to this land, but right now, he felt nothing. Those emotions, he had repressed too harshly, and they had become sluggish; he was merely saving them, a bow drawn yet not fired.

He jumped off the horse. Before he brushed the dust of travel off of him, or even took a sip of water, the first thing he did was grab the collar of the one who came to greet him. “I want to meet with the Great Shaman! Immediately!”

The Great Shaman had since gotten old. His hair was entirely white, and countless wrinkles crawled up his thinned face, like they had been engraved with a knife.

The instant Wu Xi caught sight of him, he suddenly discovered that the Great Shaman no longer looked how he did in his memory, which caused his steps to pause at the doorway.

The Great Shaman lit up a tobacco pipe, slowly letting out a puff. He waved his slim hand to tell everyone to withdraw, and then only he and Wu Xi were left, mutually taking a measure of each other. The lock in Wu Xi’s heart loosened. All sorts of emotions — injustice, pain, indignance, melancholy, and longing — seemed to destroy the dike, yet he grit his teeth firmly and bore with it. He steadily stepped inside, knelt on the floor, then kowtowed to the Great Shaman once. “Teacher, I’ve returned.”

The Great Shaman sighed, stood up with the help of the table, and reached out, gathering the already grown-up child into his arms by his shoulders. Feeling that young, strong body that was brimming with power, his gaze went into the distance through the open doorway, surveying the remote mountain range.

“Ah, Wu Xi, Wu Xi…” he mumbled.

Wu Xi shut his eyes, thinking that his body had come home, but his heart was still lost on the outside.

For that reason, he gently struggled free of the Great Shaman’s embrace. “Teacher, I wish to beseech something of you,” he said, voice deep.

The Great Shaman said nothing, merely putting the pipe on his lips and silently dragging it. His eyes were as clear as they had been many years ago, as if they could plainly view everyone’s thoughts. When Wu Xi had gotten into trouble as a child, he had always feared that all-knowing look, but now, he suddenly found that he wasn’t afraid anymore. That was because he had discovered that, in this world, the number of things that could make him feel the emotion of ‘dread’ were truly not many.

“Teacher, when I arrived, I saw that the troops stationed at the Great Qing-Nanjiang border were in the middle of retreating. The northern Vakurah clan is currently warring with the Great Qing. I’m sure you know this.”

The Great Shaman sat back down cross-legged, nodding when he heard this. “What do you want to say, child?” he asked amidst a plume of smoke.

“I want to borrow troops from you and return to the Great Qing’s capital.”

The Great Shaman’s expression didn’t change in the slightest, as if this wasn’t at all unexpected. Following a short period of silence, he said calmly, “For a decade, we and the Great Qing have interacted harmoniously, and there’s some trade on the border. Their silk fabric and porcelain ware are quite good. When we marry here, the young men go to give betrothal gifts to the women, and a lot of them like to use the Great Qing’s beautiful silks and trinkets to invite favor in a lass. However, have you forgotten that the Great Qing is our enemy?”

Wu Xi shook his head. “I haven’t forgotten. I remember that when I was about to leave, I pledged to the Deity that I would definitely return, and would not forget my people in this lifetime. I would bring them to strike back, I would remember who had bullied us, and I would make them all die awful deaths — but I also remember that you didn’t respond to my words at all back then, and only told me to remember my clansmen and homeland.”

The Great Shaman pulled on his pipe, saying nothing.

“I also remember that you had said that Gazh was looking at everything from another realm. For many things, our lives are too short, and we cannot see them unless they’re right in front of us. I didn’t understand that then, but I know now that my thinking had been wrong.”

“What is it that you understand now?” the Great Shaman questioned, not batting an eye.

“Ten years ago, I felt that we should build up our strength, fight back, take revenge, and settle the score of our anger and hatred. But what happens once the settling is over? Another batch of brothers in the prime of their lives dead, causing their wives and parents to be heart-broken and suffering, and their children to forever pass that hatred down? I saw that many of our clansmen use Great Qing objects. They might remember what had happened back then, but they aren’t angry anymore. Wouldn’t it be painful to always carry enmity throughout one’s whole life? Isn’t the Great Shaman’s duty to let the people live better lives? Why bind them to fury for the sake of the past?”

The Great Shaman was quiet for a bit. “Your meaning is… that we should forget the past?”

Wu Xi shook his head again. “We shouldn’t forget. We still should build up our strength, and even draw support from the Great Qing’s strength to become formidable. Us neighboring would make those with vicious ambitions no longer dare to covet our land, and thus subdue them.”

The Great Shaman sized him up for a minute, then suddenly laughed. His laughter grew louder and louder until a puff of smoke got choked up in his throat, making him start to cough.

“Cough… good, good… Wu Xi, I said back then that it was time you ought to go see the outside world. You’re bright, but too stubborn. I’d been worried, but now, I can tell that you learned a lot in the Great Qing.”

Wu Xi smiled softly. “I had someone to teach me.”

The Great Shaman gave him a slightly surprised look. “Oh? Who?”

Wu Xi shook his head. He needed to focus his energy right now. Not going to think about that certain someone, he pulled the topic back. “Teacher, you still haven’t said whether you’ll allow me to take troops or not.”

The other got serious, placing his pipe to the side. “I have to hear your reasoning.”

“The Great Qing has suffered heavy losses at this moment, and won’t be able to recover from it in a decade or two’s time. We can take advantage of this opportunity to make ourselves even stronger, but I think that before we do that, we need to cast off our status as ‘the Great Qing’s vassal state’. The Great Qing is now in crisis and urgently needs reinforcements; this would be a good chance for negotiations. I’ll lead the troops there, and if the capital’s crisis can be solved, the city will be flooded with Nanjiang warriors when the time comes. I understand a bit of their Crown Prince, and he won’t disagree unreasonably.”

The Great Shaman narrowed his eyes, sitting up straighter. “Go on.”

Wu Xi did, unhurriedly. “The border can be opened up, as well, and I can even request that he make a path of convenience. Our side has dense forests and smog, which makes it hard for outsiders to attack, but also obstructs our own line of sight. Our brethren aren’t able to see the outer world their entire lives.”

His voice took a turn. “In addition, Teacher, you might not know this, but while I was in the Great Qing, the Emperor had three sons, all of which were fighting for the throne. In the end, I chose the Crown Prince; us being friends was out of the question, but we have no hatred, at least. That’s because he is a pragmatic person, and in the case that he becomes Emperor, he will be thinking of how to make his citizens’ lives better, not of how to leave his wise and powerful name behind in the history books. The Great Qing has undergone several centuries of steadily-growing prosperity from its founding to today; he isn’t muddle-headed like his father, so he won’t risk the idea of coming to attack us again.”

After listening to this, the Great Shaman nodded. “The Vakurah have copious ambitions. They want to annex the entirety of the Central Plains mainland, opening the borders to expand their territory… you have spoken correctly. The ruler that makes the world flourish and the ruler that broadens influence are not the same. The former hopes for even more stability and prosperity, while the latter has bloodthirst in their bones that hasn’t yet been quenched, hoping for even more land, and even more fluctuations.”

He looked at him, overgrown with emotions. “You’ve grown up.”

Wu Xi waited for him to nod, unblinking. The Great Shaman used a great deal of effort to stand up, and then turned and went into an inner room. Not long after, he walked out, holding a sceptre with both hands. Wu Xi’s eyes widened — that was the symbol of the Great Shaman.

The man walked over to be before him. “I’m old, Wu Xi. Nanjiang was always going to be handed over to you.”

Wu Xi opened his mouth, but didn’t know what he should say.

The Great Shaman bit his finger open, shakily drew a totem on the sceptre, and used his blood-stained thumb to press hard against Wu Xi’s forehead. “Accept it,” he said, voice deep.

Wu Xi automatically reached out, and the Great Shaman placed the sceptre into his hands. With strength that came from somewhere unknown, he pulled him up off of the ground and brought him to the entrance. Only then did Wu Xi discover that the dark land had since become full of people — nearly all of Nanjiang’s men, women, elders, and children were present. He clutched the sceptre, somewhat at a loss.

The Great Shaman grabbed his hand and raised it over his head. “From today onwards, Shamanet Wu Xi will inherit the Great Shaman’s sceptre of our Nanjiang!” he called out crisply. “Remember, all of you, that the messenger of Gazh will guide our people to great power!”

Everybody, simultaneously and without choreography, put both hands on their shoulders and bowed.

The Great Shaman got choked by the wind, starting to cough once more. Wu Xi quickly patted him on the back. “Teacher…”

The man waved him off. “You stated Nanjiang’s reasoning. What about your reasoning, then?” he suddenly asked in a whisper.

Wu Xi was taken aback. It was a long time before he answered. “It’s for the sake of… the one holding my jade ring.”

The Great Shaman laughed without sound. “I’d really like to meet them.”

Chapter 73: The Final Battle (3)

On the first of October, defense of the Great Unity failed.

On the twenty-third of October, Xuancheng City was captured.

At the end of October, Jing Pass was captured.

The area north of the capital, at this point, no longer had treacherous areas that could defend it, nor towering city gates, a field that could be observed in its entirety from one look.

Chief of the Vakurah, Jeshe, had confronted Helian Zhao’s several-hundred-thousand strong army at Gansu. In spite of the latter dying in battle and the Great Qing’s leftover ranks fleeing in terror, the damage to the Vakurah was not small. Jeshe had believed them to be a mob that couldn’t take one hit, yet, to his surprise, they were exceptionally tough when in battle.

He then realized that he had underestimated the Great Qing’s people. In that battle, he was nearly in a situation where he defeated ten thousand foes only to lose eight thousand himself. If it weren’t for Helian Zhao falling off his shot horse at the last second and getting hacked to death by a Vakurah warrior wagering his death to take advantage of the chaos, he probably would have even gotten the idea to retreat.

However, the Heavens had aided him.

After the great battle of Gansu, he rested and reorganized in place for a period of time to prudently formulate a new plan of attack, because he knew that what was waiting for him ahead was overlapping Great Qing obstacles.

Jeshe Urme was thirty-six years old this year, a rarely-seen ambitious character from the savannah. He helped Zhao Zhenshu with privately keeping troops in the Spring Market, bearing with spurring the man on like a dog for over ten years. In those years, he had gone from being a high-spirited young man, to slowly entering wolf-like calculation and perseverance, cultivating a sophistication that was as deep as a trench.

Zhao Zhenshu used his power and money to happily raise a grassland wolfdog. For all these years, he had fostered him, giving him uncountable wealth to support him.

Jeshe didn’t squander it. He still ate the dried flatbreads made by his woman, gnawed on coarse, hard-to-swallow dried meat like everyone else, and wore the clothes of shepherds that stank, yet used that money to secretly bribe high authorities, gift slaves and beauties to his enemies, and then annex them individually.

It took a decade’s time to sweep across the whole prairie, causing the Vakurah, which had been collapsed and in pieces for several hundred years, to unify once more. The northern blue wolf let out a long howl, thus brandishing its sharp claws and heading south.

Jeshe wasn’t only after the riches of the Great Qing. He hadn’t brought these predator-like warriors to steal a bunch of wealth, snatch back a few beauties, and be done with it; he coveted the entire stretch of great landscape in the Central Plains region.

The ancients had a saying: was anyone born a Prince, Marquis, General, or Minister? Since even peasants that farmed in the mountains could say something like that, why should these weak, pretentious Central Plainsmen be allowed to occupy this lush, beautiful, fertile area for a thousand years?

From start to finish, his marching army had only one target — the capital.

After the capital, there came the grand throne room.

And yet, the anticipated resistance was not run into at all. The one battle at Gansu seemed to have broken the Great Qing’s courage, making the journey down south astonishingly smooth-sailing. Many cities nearly collapsed in on themselves with no fight, and the territories that did put up barely any resistance were no more than mediocre, looking extraordinarily flimsy.

He realized something — the folks of the Great Qing had experienced a peaceful and prosperous age for a couple hundred centuries. Even if they managed to rouse their courage once, it was no more than a wrapping of extremely thin skin, where a puff of wind could break it into pieces.

Jeshe was practically excited, and his excited mood turned all the more severe the closer they pressed in towards the capital. He seemed to envision the legendary, heavenly city-like place crawling beneath his feet, and himself stepping into the palace paved full with gold, making everyone in the land come worship him.

On the twentieth of November, finally, the troops were about to come to the city walls.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the dust-coated throne room widely welcomed court officials for the last time. Wang Wu, Yu Kui, Eunuch Xi, and the rest of them all retreated into the corners. Standing beside Helian Yi were two people whose faces had never been shown before; one was the male-dressed Princess Jing’an, and the other was the human-skin-mask-wearing Zhou Zishu, who was dressed like a middle-aged scholar.

Two rows of officials stood uniformly. Helian Yi had someone hang his dragon robes high up in the Great Hall, as if hoisting up a glittering gold totem. He wore heavy armor, and the lines of his cheeks were pointed due to wasting away, sticking straight into his hairline. He held a vigor no one had ever seen prior.

With eighteen-hundred-thousand troops for the Nine Capital Gates, all the generals were finishing being divided up.

“Black Tortoise Gate, Feng Xiaoshu. Morning Sun Gate, He Yunxing…”

Finally, there was Martial Order Gate right in the north, with eighty-one three-zhang-wide, three-zhang-long slabs of bluestone laid the entire way out the city’s gates. It was the most heavily yin-qualitied, blood-reeking spot in the whole capital, the place where fifteen-year-old Wu Xi cut apart twenty-four Black Shaman assassins, and now, the location directly confronting the Vakurah’s wolf fangs.

Zhou Zishu gripped the scroll of an imperial edict in his hand, and read it aloud with a pause between each word. “Martial Order Gate, guarded by the Emperor himself.”

For the majority of those standing in the Great Hall, this was the first time in their lives that they had taken part in a military meeting ahead of the crossing of army swords, and it might also be their last. Here, there were no longer Emperors, Prime Ministers, Princes, or Princesses, there were only people who defended the city, people who wielded blades, and people that were going to risk their lives.

“Half of the country has fallen, with the capital to the south of it. There are no longer any heavy barriers, and now, our unfilial self has caused our nation to be covered in grime, the landscape darkened. It will sincerely be difficult to face the rows of our ancestors down in the Nine Springs.

“Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were destroyed in Gansu, and the elites of the Court suffered losses until there were practically none left. Our Royal Brother died, not even leaving behind a corpse to wrap up in a horseskin. The barbarian army is near, the country has reached a dire strait; with good heads on our shoulders and hot blood in our chests, why do we still not abandon it? Why do we not discard it? At this time, should the capital’s army be defeated, the carved railings and jade bricks will be fine, but the red faces of those around will change;[1] yesterday will be ancient history, and the nation will act according to a changed surname. We will be dead, then, and what face will we have to apologize to the whole realm? Everyone, what face would we have to meet our elders with?!

“We hope to imitate Great General Han by burning our boats and fighting with our backs to the water — if there is no victory, then this is where it ends.

“At the start of this war, the troops will go out, while the Nine Gates will shut. All who wear armor and hold weapons are not to enter the city! Those who disobey are to be beheaded! Those who abandon their post without permission, beheaded! If someone appears to draw back near the front lines, behead them immediately! Those that dare to shield them are to be considered guilty of the same crime! Should the generals seem to want to retreat, the soldiers may crowd up to reject, remove, and replace them, but if that is not so, those who dare to go against military orders, or refuse their allocations — behead them!”

His voice paused for a short time. “We will also go with all you generals,” he said, clearly. “We pledge that we live or die together with this place.”

On the twenty-first of November, the Vakurah and the final Great Qing soldiers formally went into battle.

This city that had gone through a hundred years of wind and frost, then used makeup to pad itself out, began to bear with the baptism of a wave of blood, which originated from the nomadic race of a faraway place.

The first day of the siege, Jeshe tentatively attacked High Grace Gate. The defending general of the Gate was Tie Ru of the Imperial Forest Army’s East Encampment, who He Yunxing had derisively called the Eldest Scion’s slave in private before. Because he had been a guard of the capital, Helian Zhao hadn’t brought him along on the campaign, and that was for the sake of leaving himself an internally-coordinating future escape route that he could kill his way back to.

Now, however, Helian Zhao was gone, and no longer needed an escape route. For that, Tie Ru was going to go for broke.

There was nothing more mystically powerful than hatred, then, for turning a lamb into a predator in the span of one night. Six-thousand energetic Vakurah warriors that had been dispatched by Jeshe to go knock on the gate were proudly walking with gusto that day, but they suddenly met with the devilish Great Qing defenders, who practically knocked them out.

History shocked people when it repeated itself. They were the same exact way the Great Qing soldiers had been in Gansu that night, when their camp was ambushed — panicked, bewildered, collapsing with one bump, and scattering in all different directions. The difference was that they didn’t have a general that could clearly see into the hearts of both the enemy and his own side, daring to hold a broadsabre aloft while he staked his life to lead the troops.

It was like Fullmoon River had been filled in with melted, liquid iron overnight. Jeshe gazed up at the lofty, luxurious city gate, and the cloud-reaching palace that he could vaguely see when he raised his head. He had a bad premonition, as if… this city was impervious.

At this moment, the last two people remaining at Helian Yi of Martial Order Gate’s side were circled around a defensive diagram, one sitting and one standing.

Everyone usable had gone to defend the city. Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu remained by his side for his safety, first of all; the other hand of it was that this most dangerous location of Martial Order Gate was considered the final division of command. The several hundred ‘Heaven Panes’ under Zhou Zishu’s command, which came and went like ghosts, had become a hub of connection between the Nine Gates. They all changed into commoner’s clothes, a sprig of winter plum tattooed on their forearms, and mixed amongst all sorts of crowds, forming the entire capital’s news system at the speediest rate.

Jing Qi had changed into a dark-colored and extremely plain set of clothes. Those non-essential bits and bobs and the ornamentation hanging on him had disappeared entirely the previous night. His arms were crossed over his chest, his brows lightly scrunching.

Helian Yi looked at his back, thinking that the man was somewhat unlike that ever-boneless, lazy Jing Beiyuan. His shoulders were thin, but ramrod-straight. Those wide-sleeved cuffs of the past were all gathered up to his waist. The aura of a dandy that had steeped into his bones disappeared all of a sudden, as if for these many years, it had all been an act.

His cheeks were hollowed in and peach blossom eyes slightly sunken, making him indescribably harsh.

Helian Yi felt a faint ache in his heart, but the pain was swiftly covered up by an even greater numbness; none of them had any means of retreat.

Jing Qi paced in place a few times as Panes were constantly coming in to report the battle progress of High Grace Gate. Helian Yi had them keep this tiny victory a secret, and only let the other generals know that the Gate was in the middle of fighting, strictly guarding it.

Jing Qi suddenly frowned. “Your Majesty, the Nine Gates appear as strategic passes standing high above, but they’re spots that are easy to attack, and not easy to defend. If that Urme bastard snaps out of it and singles out one area, it’ll likely… be difficult to handle.”

Both Helian Yi and Zhou Zishu understood this fact. The eighteen-hundred-thousand defenders weren’t many to start with, and distributing them across the Nine Gates was considerably harrowing.

Back during the capital’s establishment, it had a magnanimity that would welcome in guests from all directions with a smile, packed with the sense of superiority a huge country’s capital would have. Now, however, these uninvited guests that were coming were no good, the capital refused to welcome them with a smile, and now this was a problem. With this many gates, it was like someone had punched it into a nine-holed sieve, each spot being one weak point.

Neither Helian Yi nor Zhou Zishu said anything for a moment, so Jing Qi continued on. “The enemy side has a few aspects that won’t be easy to deal with. For one, Jeshe Urme is a man of restraint, and thus isn’t liable to be enraged or impatient, unflustered on the brink of battle. For two, each and every Vakurah is strong-bodied, and this must not be said aloud. Right now, the soldiers in our capital are impassioned, which is fine. In case this gets drawn-out, and then they weaken to exhaustion, I’m afraid that…”

He shook his head, drawing his brows even tighter together.

“If we were Jeshe, we would test once or twice at each gate,” Helian Yi slowly picked up, “and inevitably come to realize this principle; rather than work hard wandering between the Nine Gates, it would be better to keep watch on one place. We wouldn’t be able to withstand a full attack.”

“In Your Majesty’s opinion, which will he choose as his spot of attack?” Zhou Zishu asked.

Helian Yi paused before he answered. “If we only wanted to break into the capital, we would choose Black Tortoise Gate. Jing’an is Great General Feng’s orphan, but she’s a young woman, in the end. Maybe she has some skill, but hard delaying tactics likely wouldn’t delay these mad bull-esque Vakurah. If… if we wanted to sit atop the realm…”

He turned his head, gazing at the polluted, gloomy horizon in the distance, and mumbled to himself. “If he wanted to sit atop the realm, he would definitely choose Martial Order Gate, and come to measure against us.”

Chapter 74: The Final Battle (4)

Wu Xi made the miracle of traveling a thousand li in a day become a reality.

The Great Qing-Nanjiang border army had withdrawn as well, going at various speeds in its rush. Yet, when they had just gotten out of Shu territory, he caught back up with them. The Nanjiang people, who had once caused Great General Feng’s four-hundred-thousand strong elites to be buried here, showing up again made the border army that had been at peace for many years mentally break out into a cold sweat.

They were a race that was intrepid, but likely to be content with their corner. They dared to love, and to hate; they could do both, and so purely, so simply.

Having taken over the role of Great Shaman, Wu Xi had absolute authority in Nanjiang. The Great Qing army barely managed to follow along with him after several days of this, once they figured out his purpose in coming. It was just like they already considered the newly-appointed Nanjiang Great Shaman a spiritual leader, and walking with him like this aroused the potential in these armymen. After a few days passed, that sluggish and nearly-lifeless atmosphere in the ranks vanished by over half from watching him.

Wu Xi merely wished that he could be like a willow puff, riding the wind all night to blow over to a certain someone’s side.

When the night was deep and the people were still, everyone that had so desperately traveled for the day fell into a deep sleep, leaving only him to toss and turn. Terrified, anxious, and indescribably fearful in a way that stuffed up his chest, he could recount none of that to anyone; in the blue sky and white sun, he repressed them behind his expressionless face.

Purportedly, after the Shamanet had become the Great Shaman, he appeared to have gotten even colder. From the start of the day until night, his face didn’t even have a half-trace of any of the four emotions to be seen, nearly giving him an immeasurable overtone. However, Wu Xi was just thinking of how he wasn’t being like this on purpose; his heart was simply unwell, and he was startled awake by nightmares every day. Recalling the bloodied appearance of the one in his dream, he felt pain like his insides were tearing apart, and he wasn’t sure what expression would be right to use aside from this one.

If he didn’t have him… if he didn’t have him from now on in this long, slow life…

Every time he thought to here, he forced himself to stop. He feared that he would go crazy, otherwise.

The color of the evening was deep. Camping out in the countryside, after Wu Xi carelessly ate a couple bites of stuff, he wiped his face with the wet handkerchief Nuahar had, then waved him off to have him go out.

He leaned against the front of the tent alone. Using the faint moonlight, he reached into his lapels, then took out an embroidered pouch from a place close to his chest, its opening sealed with a pulled string. He raised the tiny thing in hand, looking at it for a time, and opened it up. A couple charmingly kitschy, ivory little animals rolled out from within it, and he caught them in his palm. In the light of the moon, the pure white ivory seemed to shine.

He remembered that day. Jing Qi had returned to the capital, travel-worn, and casually gave these to him, saying “I bought little trinkets for you” with that nonchalant look.

He remembered his phrasing of, “Who else would I get them for?”

The pouch had been placed against his chest, making these little objects warm from his body heat. He stared at them mutely for a time. It wasn’t clear what he was bringing to mind, but the corners of his tightly-pursed mouth lightly raised, and then his eyes dimmed, the gleam of his faintly-picked-up smile ephemeral.

The moonlight stretched his shadow out long. One of his slender legs was curled up, and his head was tilted to the lonesome night sky, making him look like a particularly solitary figure.

Nuahar suddenly came over, whispering, “Shaman…”

Wu Xi’s expression didn’t change as he indifferently gave an mn.

Nuahar gathered in close. “That day… that the Prince sent us out of the capital, he previously asked me to bring some words to you. You’ve been busy with other things ever since you woke up, so I didn’t have time to say them yet.”

Wu Xi turned his head. “What did he say?”

“He said, ‘I owe him for today, and if there’s another day that we meet again, I’ll definitely repay him.’”

Wu Xi paused for a long time, then quietly began to laugh, finally feeling like he was beside himself. “Repay me… repay me? What’s he going to repay me with? I want him to repay me with his whole life, but when… when is he going to sincerely want to give that to me?”

The sound of his laughter stopped all of a sudden, and he tightened his fist. Those little ivory animals gave off creaking sounds. Nuahar looked on helplessly as the rigid ivory pieces, getting clenched by him like so, slowly turned into a powder that leaked out the cracks of his fingers. “Great Shaman,” he cried out in alarm, “the Prince gave you those, y-you…”

Wu Xi opened up his palm without a care. The fine powder promptly scattered in the wind. “If he won’t give it to me, then I’ll go steal it…” he answered, word by word. “Those were what he used to cajole a child. I don’t want them.”

With that, he stood up, and made his way into his tent without even looking at Nuahar.

Meanwhile, the war of the capital had been fought for four days.

To a certain degree, Jeshe and Helian Yi could be described as being strangely similar. Helian Yi had good fortune; he had been born as the royal Crown Prince, was the orthodox heir to the title of Emperor for the entire Great Qing empire, and had a relatively stable environment he had grown up in. His friends were Lu Shen, He Yunxing, Jing Beiyuan, and Zhou Zishu — ten years of prosperity were placed aside in alienating chaos, and even though they were still inexperienced now, if they were given enough space and time to grow, they would end up being a pack of men that could overturn the realm.

However, that was also only if the world always had not many things go just right, and just like people’s expectations.

Jeshe went to the other extreme. He had used half of his own lifespan to take, rob, and scheme for everything he had. Right in his robust years, with his ambitions swelling, he was in the most glorious stage of a human’s life. The edge of his sword was pointed straight at these young people that had just recently spread out their wings, but hadn’t yet had the time to grow them fully.

No one understood an ambitious person more than an ambitious person.

Jeshe successively dispatched small platoons to serve as vanguards and go probe the defenses of the Nine Gates.

At the end of it, he realized that those guarding the capital were a bunch of lunatics. Lunatics could not be reasoned with, making using any sort of strategy quite difficult.

In that very moment, Jeshe’s brother-in-law, Lurcata, stood up, and proposed aligning to a weakpoint in the Great Qing’s guard — the one at Black Tortoise Gate.

Lurcata expressed optimism about this, because he had recently gleaned through special channels that the title of the Gate’s defending general wasn’t ‘General’, or ‘Sir’, but ‘Princess’. He believed that the Great Qing already no longer had any people to use, so even their women were putting on armor to go fight.

His strategy was quite simple, too; lay it on heavy with the attack on Black Tortoise Gate to stall with them. At the same time, wind troops around the city to be prepared to sneak-attack at any time, causing the other gate defenders to be too afraid of rashly reinforcing them. The city gate could then be pierced through with even a blunt iron truncheon.

After listening to him, Jeshe said nothing, silent for a long while. Only after Lurcata’s smile stiffened on his face did he gently nod, assign Lurcata forty-thousand men, and order him to bring them to attack Black Tortoise Gate. Lurcata was a bit unsatisfied with this, as he thought this was a totally great way of handling things, yet the Chief only gave him so many people.

But, soon after, he was optimistic again, because according to reliable information, the sum of all living things at the Gate was no more than ten or twenty thousand people, so forty-thousand would be enough to take down that little woman. There were advantages to fewer people, such as having less folks to divide the credit among when the time came.

On the afternoon of the siege’s fourth day, Black Tortoise Gate met with the most intense assault since the war’s beginning, the Vakurah flooding up like an earth-quaking tsunami. Lurcata rode in the lead with the others akin to brown bears, the sound like a flood of deep bells, one roar of theirs making one’s ears ring for a minute where they stood; that was how they came rushing forth.

Princess Jing’an, Feng Xiaoshu, was mounted on a horse and holding her sabre, quietly stationed under the city gate to meet the enemy head-on.

Her waist probably wasn’t even as thick as Lurcata’s neck, but she, just like everyone behind her, had no kind of fear.

Lurcata was surprised to discover that, behind this woman and the silent, solemn Great Qing army, the gate was shut up tight, not even a single thread of a gap left behind. Also, when they drew close, the Great Qing army completely abandoned defending the city to directly pounce upon them in an even more wrathful, even more fierce manner.

Princess Jing’an courageously urged her horse to charge into the enemy ranks, not even turning her head back. It was like whether the soldiers were following behind her or not was none of her business.

Even if there are a hundred-thousand foes, I will advance.[1]

As the defending general, she naturally wouldn’t actually break through enemy lines recklessly by herself. Though she appeared to people as one person on one horse, in reality, the army behind her had divided into right, middle, and left lines, having long since been separated with corresponding deputy generals and commanders. They followed after her extremely quick advance without lagging behind in the least; the petite woman headed the troops, so would the men just be waiting around to die?

Lurcata was wrong. Black Tortoise Gate wasn’t easy to attack at all — and that was because the defending general was a young woman.

In a split second, the besieging side and the defending side seemed to magically flip.

A Pane rushed over to Helian Yi with quick steps and eloquently reported on the battle situation. Zhou Zishu frowned. “Your Majesty, should reinforcements be given to the Princess?”

Helian Yi shook his head.

Zhou Zishu wanted to say something else, but Jing Qi extended a finger to stop him. “Jing’an can handle it. She’s Great General Feng’s daughter.”

Helian Yi softly smiled upon hearing that, turning his head to ask, “When Father Emperor told you to take her as a wife back in the day, why didn’t you?”

Jing Qi shook his head with a bitter smile. “How could a good-for-nothing hedonist like me be a match for a heroine like her? Don’t be silly, Your Majesty.”

Immediately following that, his face grew stern again. “It looks like Jeshe is using that oaf to test the waters. The Vakurah cavalry has been running about all over the place all this time; is it to make us unable to figure out what their next action will be?”

“If that’s the case, then wouldn’t their next step be Jeshe’s army storming Martial Order Gate?” Zhou Zishu picked up.

Helian Yi shook his head. “It’s not the time for that… even though he will want to go head to head with us, that old wolf Jeshe is a bit more crafty than that. If he attacked Martial Order Gate right now, it likely wouldn’t be an inexpensive fight, though his military power is ultimately several times bigger than ours…”

“What you’re saying is that he’s paying his people as a price to wear down our army’s willpower, then ultimately succeed in one go?” Zhou Zishu asked.

Helian Yi slowly nodded.

The three of them were briefly silent once more. After a little under half a shichen, another Pane came to report, cheerfully stating that the Vakurah had already seen defeat at Black Tortoise Gate.

Helian Yi’s complexion, however, didn’t look great. After a long time, he said quietly, “Jing’an has a life-staking style of fighting. Even if this one was a victory, there will inevitably be a final time it won’t work.”

Jing Qi pondered for a while, then said, “I actually have a bit of an idea.”

Before he had time to speak it out, another Pane came in. “Reporting to the Emperor, the Vakurah army at Black Tortoise Gate was defeated and fell back!”

“What about Jing’an?” Helian Yi quickly asked.

“The Princess received some superficial wounds on her arm. It’s no major trouble,” the comer replied.

Helian Yi relaxed his heart some, but the Pane cast a look at Zhou Zishu, like he wanted to say something but was stopping himself. Zhou Zishu took notice, asking, “What? You have something else to say?”

“Manor Lord… no, Sir, this subordinate just caught sight of someone at the Princess’s side. It’s said that he’s a warrior, and has received quite a bit of her commendation…”

Zhou Zishu got an ominous feeling in his heart.

All he did was listen to the Pane proceed to say, “It’s Young Master Liang.”

Chapter 75: The Final Battle (Fv)

Wu Xi made the miracle of traveling a thousand li in a day become a reality.

The Great Qing-Nanjiang border army had also withdrawn, going at various speeds in its rush, but when they had just gotten out of Shu territory, he caught up with them. The Nanjiang people, who had once caused Great General Feng’s four-hundred-thousand strong elites to be buried here, showing up again made the border army that had been at peace for many years mentally break out into a cold sweat.

They were a race that was intrepid, yet likely to be content with their corner. They dared to love, and to hate; they could do both, and so purely, so simply.

This chapter is fake, for the purpose of keeping thieves from having the epilogue. Stop reading and go to link on the blurb at the top of the post. If you don’t see the blurb, that’s because you’re either reading off of a website that stole this post from me, or you’re reading an unofficial epub from some garbage website like asianovel. Stop doing that and go read on the actual chichilations site, or get the official epub/PDF version that I made. Chichi out.

Having taken over the role of Great Shaman, Wu Xi had absolute authority in Nanjiang, and the Great Qing army barely managed to follow along with them after several days of this, once they figured out his purpose in coming. It was just like they had already considered he newly-appointed Nanjiang Great Shaman, and going with him like this aroused the potential in these armymen. After a few days passed, due to watching Wu Xi, that sluggish and nearly-lifeless atmosphere in the ranks vanished by over half.

Wu Xi merely wished that he could be like a willow puff, riding the wind all night to blow over to a certain someone’s side.

When the night was deep and the people were still, everyone that had so desperately traveled for the day fell into a deep sleep, leaving only him to toss and turn. Terrified, anxious, and indescribably fearful in a way that stuffed up his chest, yet none could be recounted to anyone; in the blue sky and white sun, he repressed them behind his expression face.

Purportedly, after the Shamanet had become the Great Shaman, he seemed to have gotten even colder. From the start of the day until night, his face didn’t even have a half-trace of any of the four emotions on it to be seen, nearly giving him an immeasurable overtone. However, Wu Xi was thinking of how he wasn’t being like this on purpose; his heart was simply unwell, and he was startled awake by nightmares every day. Recalling the bloodied appearance of the one in his dream, he felt pain like his insides were tearing apart, and he wasn’t sure what expression would be right to use aside from this.

If he didn’t have him, if he didn’t have him from now in this long, slow life…

Every time he thought to here, he forced himself to stop. He feared that he would go crazy, otherwise.

The color of the evening was deep. Camping out in the countryside, after Wu Xi carelessly ate a couple bites of stuff, he wiped his face with the wet handkerchief, then waved him off to have him go out.

He leaned against the front of the tent alone. Using the faint moonlight, he reached into his lapels, took out an embroidered pouch from a place close to his chest, its opening sealed with a pulled string. He raised the tiny thing in hand, looking at it for a time, and opened it up. A couple charmingly kitschy, ivory little animals rolled out from within it, and he caught them in his palm. In the light of the moon, the pure white ivory seemed to shine.

He remembered that day. Jing Qi had returned to the capital, travel-worn, and casually gave these to him, saying “I bought little trinkets for you” with that nonchalant look.

He remembered his phrasing of, “Who else would I get them for?”

The pouch had been placed against his chest, making these little objects warm from his body heat. He stared at them mutely for a time. It wasn’t clear what he was bringing to mind, but the corners of his tightly-pursed mouth lightly raised, and then his eyes dimmed, the gleam of his faintly-picked smile ephemeral.

The moonlight stretched his shadow out long. One of his slender legs was curled up, and his head was tilted to the lonesome night sky, making him look like a particularly solitary figure.

Nuahar suddenly came over, whispering, “Shaman…”

Wu Xi’s expression didn’t change as he indifferently gave an mn.

Nuahar gathered in close. “That day… that the Prince sent us out of the capital, he previously asked me to bring some words to you. You’ve been busy with other things ever since you woke up, so I didn’t have time to see it yet.”

Wu Xi turned his head. “What did he say?”

“He said, ‘I owe him for today, and if there’s another day that we meet again, I’ll definitely repay him.’”

Wu Xi paused for a long time, then quietly began to laugh, finally feeling like he was beside himself. “Repay me… repay me? What’s he going to repay me with? I want him to repay me with his whole life, but when… when is he going to sincerely want to give that over to me?”

The sound of his laughter stopped all of a sudden, and he tightened his fists. Those little ivory animals gave off creaking sounds. Nuahar looked on helplessly as the rigid ivory objects, getting clenched by him like so, slowly turn into a powder that leaked out the cracks of his fingers. “Great Shaman,” he cried out in alarm, “the Prince gave you those, y-you…”

Wu Xi opened up his palm without a care. The fine powder promptly scattered in the wind. “If he won’t give it to me, then I’ll go steal it…” he answered, word by word. “Those were what he used to amuse a child. I don’t want them.”

With that, he stood up, and made his way into his tent without even looking at Nuahar.

Meanwhile, the war of the capital had been fought for four days.

To a certain degree, Jeshe and Helian Yi could be described as being strangely similar. Helian Yi had good fortune; he had been born as the royal Crown Prince, was the orthodox heir to the title of Emperor for the entire Great Qing empire, and had a relatively stable environment he had grown up in. His friends were Lu Shen, He Yunxing, Jing Beiyuan, and Zhou Zishu — ten years of prosperity were placed into separating chaos, and even though they were still inexperienced now, if they were given enough space and time to grow, they would end up being a pack of men that could overturn the realm.

However, that was also only if the world never had very many things go just right, and just like people’s expectations.

Jeshe went to the other extreme. He had used half of his own lifespan to take, rob, and scheme for everything he had. Right in his robust years, with his ambitions swelling, he was in most glorious stage of a human’s life. The edge of his sword was pointed straight at these young people that had just recently spread out their wings, but hadn’t yet had the time to grow them fully.

No one understood an ambitious person more than an ambitious person.

Jeshe successively dispatch small platoons to serve as vanguards and go probe the defenses of the Nine Gates.

At the end of it, he realized that those guarding the capital were a bunch of lunatics. Lunatics could not be reasoned with, making using any sort of strategy quite difficult.

In that very moment, Jeshe’s brother-in-law, Lurcata, stood up, and proposed aligning to a weakpoint in the Great Qing’s guard — the one at High Grace Gate.

Lurcata expressed optimism about this, because he had recently gleaned through special channels that the title of the Gate’s defending general wasn’t ‘General’, or ‘Sir’, but ‘Princess’. He believed that the Great Qing already no longer had any people to use, so even their women were putting on armor to go fight.

His strategy was quite simple, too; lay it on heavy with the attack on High Grace Gate to stall with them. At the same time, wind troops around the city to be prepared to sneak-attack at any time, causing the other gate defenders to be too afraid of rashly reinforcing them. The city gate could then be pierced through with even a blunt iron truncheon.

After listening to him, Jeshe said nothing, silent for a long while. Only after Lurcata’s smile stiffened on his face did he gently nod, assign Lurcata forty-thousand men, and order him to bring them to attack High Grace Gate. Lurcata was a bit unsatisfied with this, as he thought this was a totally great way of handling things, yet the boss only gave him so many people.

But, soon after, he was optimistic again, because according to reliable information, the sum of all living things at the Gate was no more than ten or twenty thousand people, so forty-thousand would be enough to take down that little woman. There were advantages to fewer people, such as having less folks to divide the credit amongst when the time came.

On the afternoon of the siege’s fourth day, High Grace Gate met with the most intense assault since the war’s beginning, the Vakurah flood up like an earth-quaking tsunami. Lurcata rode in the lead with the others akin to brown bears, the sound like a flood of deep bells, one roar of theirs making one’s ears ring for a minute where they stood; that was how they came rushing forth.

Princess Jing’an, Feng Xiaoshu, was mounted on a horse and holding her sabre, quietly stationed under the city gate to meet the enemy head-on.

Her waist probably wasn’t as thick as Lurcata’s neck, but she, just like everyone behind her, had no kind of fear.

Lurcata was surprised to discover that, behind this woman and the silent, solemn Great Qing army, the gate was shut up tight, not even a single thread of a gap left behind. Also, when they drew close, the Great Qing army completely abandoned defending the city to directly pounce upon them in an even more wrathful, even more fierce manner.

Princess Jing’an courageously urged her horse to charge into the enemy ranks, not even turning her head back. It was like whether the soldiers were following behind her or not was none of her business.

Even if there are a hundred-thousand foes, I will advance.[1]

As the defending general, she naturally wouldn’t actually break through enemy lines recklessly by herself. Though she appeared to people as one person on one horse, in reality, the army behind her had divided into right, middle, and left lines, having long since been separated with corresponding deputy generals and commanders. They followed after her extremely quick advance without lagging behind in the least; the petite woman was leading the troops, so would the men just be waiting around to die?

Lurcata was wrong. High Grace Gate wasn’t easy to attack at all — because the defending general was a young woman.

In a split second, the sieging side and the defending side seemed to mystically flip.

A Pane rushed over to Helian Yi with quick steps and eloquently reported on the battle situation. Zhou Zishu frowned. “Your Majesty, should reinforcements be given to the Princess?”

Helian Yi shook his head.

Zhou Zishu wanted to say something else, but Jing Qi extended a finger to stop him. “Jing’an can handle it. She’s Great General Feng’s daughter.”

Helian Yi softly smiled upon hearing that, turning his head to ask, “When Father Emperor told you to take her as a wife back in the day, why didn’t you?”

Jing Qi shook his head with a bitter smile. “How could a good-for-nothing hedonist like me be a me be a match for a heroine like her? Don’t be silly, Your Majesty.”

Immediately following that, his face grew stern again. “It looks like Jeshe is using that oaf to test the waters. The Vakurah cavalry has been in running about all over the place all this time; is it to make us unable to figure out what their next action will be?”

“If that’s the case, then wouldn’t their next step be Jeshe’s army storming Martial Order Gate?” Zhou Zishu picked up.

Helian Yi shook his head. “It’s not the time for that… even though he will want to go head to head with us, that old wolf Jeshe is a bit more crafty than that. If he attacked Martial Order Gate right now, it likely wouldn’t be an inexpensive fight, though his military power is ultimately several times bigger than ours…”

“What you’re saying is that he’s paying his people as a price to wear down our army’s willpower, then ultimately succeed in one go?” Zhou Zishu asked.

Helian Yi slowly nodded.

The three of them were briefly silent once more. After a little under half a shichen, another Pane came to report, cheerfully stating that the Vakurah had already seen defeat at High Grace Gate.

Helian Yi’s complexion, however, didn’t look great. After a long time, he said quietly, “Jing’an has a life-staking style of fighting. Even if this one was a victory, there will inevitably be a final time it won’t work.”

Jing Qi pondered for a while, then said, “I actually have a bit of an idea.”

Before he had time to speak it out, another Pane came in. “Reporting to the Emperor, the Vakurah army at High Grace Gate was defeated and fell back!”

“What about Jing’an?” Helian Yi quickly asked.

“The Princess received some superficial wounds on her arm. It’s no big hindrance,” the comer replied.

Helian Yi relaxed his heart some, but the Pane cast a look at Zhou Zishu, like he wanted to say something but was stopping himself. Zhou Zishu took notice, asking, “What? You have something else to say?”

“Landholder… no, Sir, this subordinate just caught sight of someone at the Princess’s side. It’s said that he’s a warrior, and has received quite a bit of her commendation…”

Zhou Zishu got an ominous feeling in his heart.

All he did was listen to the Pane proceed to say, “It’s Young Master Liang.”

Chapter 76: The Final Battle (End)

The first lifetime, a stone appeared, turning into the burial mound of a hero, feelings unable to be broken.

The second lifetime, a boulder split, ferrying a predestined love across the Bridge, a pair of mandarin ducks flying off together.

The third lifetime, a jadeite burned, vowing to abide by an invaluable oath, eternally following each other in life and death.

Flowers bloomed all across the opposite shore, blood-like. The River of Forgetfulness’s[1] waters trickled quietly, going three-thousand years to the East, three-thousand years to the West. Wandering souls came and went, treading on the endless Yellow Spring Road to come up the Bridge of Helplessness, pour a bowl of yellow soup down into their bellies, and thus have the entirety of their assorted previous lives go away. A crowd of beings passed the edge of the Three-Life Rock[2] to and fro, but none spared a glance towards the place. It was evident as to how reincarnation was little more than a trance.

Beside the Rock sat a person.

It was a man. Upon drawing closer, one could see he was wearing a wide-sleeved green robe with a crude bamboo flute stuck into its waistband, and also that he was between twenty to thirty years of age even though his head was full of silver hair, unbound and scattered about randomly.

The man had his back turned to the souls on Yellow Spring Road, his front facing that smooth Three-Life Rock. All he did was sit there silently, eyes closed. It was unknown whether he was asleep or awake, and he was seemingly completely unaware that someone had been watching him for a very long time now.

Hu Jia was a newly-appointed Ghost Messenger, and had traveled amidst the Yellow Springs for no more than forty years. From the very start of his memory, this white-haired man had always been sitting there, unmoving. Whenever Hu Jia came back and finished giving a report after handling an assignment at the human realm, he would regularly go and stand at that spot, staring at the man’s rearview figure for a time.

The yin realm was a world of demons. The yang realm was inundated with light, yet did not have any fewer demons than the yin realm did. Hu Jia’s state of mind would sometimes get beyond gloomy; gazing at that back that was as motionless as a mountain would, for a moment, calm him down in a strange way.

Suddenly, a deathly pale hand was placed upon Hu Jia’s shoulder. Despite being a Ghost Messenger, he inevitably felt a wave of coldness attack him from it, which caused his senses to viciously sharpen a tad. He swiveled his head around, only to have Bai Wuchang’s papier-mâché-like face come up before his eyes. Patting his own chest, Hu Jia turned and hurriedly bowed towards him. “Soulhook Envoy.”

Bai Wuchang slightly nodded in an abstruse way. His lips didn’t visibly move, but his voice was distinctly audible. “Go call out to him, state that the time has come, and request that he get on the Road.”

“Me?” Hu Jia felt a chill. He looked at the statuesque white-haired man, then looked at Bai Wuchang. “This… lowly one…”

“Go do it,” Bai Wuchang said mildly. “I hooked a person’s soul by mistake once upon a time, harming him with separation in both life and death. He’s an infatuate who has sought yet not obtained for several lifetimes, and hasn’t had a peaceful life for several centuries. He presumably isn’t willing to talk to me.”

“Got it.” Hu Jia didn’t dare disobey the Soulhook Envoy’s words. He hesitated a bit, then asked, “What… what should I call him by?”

Bai Wuchang only replied in a quiet voice after he had apparently been momentarily stumped. “Call him Lord Seventh, everyone else does. He’ll answer.”

Hu Jia hesitated no longer, walking over to the man.

When he had still been in the human world as a child, he had listened as his private school teacher told a tale. Long ago, there was a person of extremely good technique in painting. One day, he was casually scribbling a long dragon on a wall, but he did not do the eyes. Passersby that spotted this were puzzled, and when they asked, he just said that he feared that if the dragon’s eyes were to be drawn, it would then turn into an actual dragon and leave. The onlookers simply didn’t believe him, so the helpless painter was obliged to draw the dragon’s eyes on, and it did indeed then come alive, letting out a long howl as it flew up into the sky like a cloud; that was precisely the legend within ‘painting a dragon and dotting its eyes‘.

Hu Jia didn’t know why, but at this moment, he felt that… the quietly-sitting white-haired man was like a divine dragon whose eyes hadn’t yet been drawn, and it seemed like once he called out to and awakened him, that plot of land next to the Three-Life Rock would no longer be able to retain him.

He approached. The man remained unaware, sitting with his face towards the stone surface and his eyes closed as usual.

Hu Jia cleared his throat, taking great courage to reach out and lightly push on the white-haired man’s shoulder. “Lord Seventh, the Soulhook Envoy gave this lowly one something to come pass on; he stated that the time has come, and requests that you get on the Road.”

The man didn’t move, as if he hadn’t heard.

Hu Jia gulped, raised his volume somewhat, then got closer to the other’s ear. “Lord Seventh, the Soulhook—”

“I heard. I’m not deaf.”

Hu Jia stood there stupidly for a second, only reacting after half the day had passed. The man that was wholly unlike a living thing had actually opened his mouth and said words, as well as spoken them to him.

This ‘Lord Seventh”s voice was quite quiet and gentle, like the wave of a soft breeze blowing against one’s heart when in their ears. Immediately following that, he shifted a bit, his form as sluggish as if he’d been sleeping for a long time, and he moved his shoulders about. He opened his eyes with extreme slowness, casting a glance at Hu Jia.

Those eyes were absurdly clear and bright, their corners wide and outline distinct. They were curved up slightly as though they were containing a slight smile, a brilliance stored inside it, yet there was only a flash of it before it was swiftly restrained.

Hu Jia stared, thinking to himself about how this Lord Seventh turned out to be such a good-looking person.

The white-haired man sized him up for quite some time, then looked ponderous. “I don’t seem to have met you before…”

“This lowly one is Hu Jia. I am a Ghost Messenger of this underworld, and have only been at this post for not even forty years.”

The man was stunned, pinched his fingers to count on them, then shook his head with a smile. “I slept for so many years with just one shut of the eyes?”

He slowly stood up via supporting himself against the Rock, patted nonexistent dust off his form, and swept his wide sleeves out, all the flowers on the opposite shore seeming to loosely bend their heads in conjunction with his movements. When he turned to go and thus caught sight of Bai Wuchang not too far away, he wasn’t surprised, merely straightening out his sleeves and then overlapping his hands to modestly greet him. “It’s been more than sixty years since we’ve seen each other, right, Sir Envoy?”

Bai Wuchang paused. Though he still looked flat, Hu Jia felt that the man appeared to be a bit aghast. “This lowly one crosses the Bridge of Helplessness daily,” he then heard him say, “and has seen you every day, Lord Seventh. It’s only you that has never turned your head to glance at me for sixty-three years.”

The man blinked, then abruptly grinned. “Why is it that the Soulhook Envoy’s words contain a hint of complaint?”

Bai Wuchang lowered his head. “This lowly one wouldn’t dare to.”

Yet, the man was slightly taken aback. “This tone of yours… actually gives me the impression that I’ve offended you.”

“This lowly one wouldn’t dare be.” Bai Wuchang maintained his manner of speech that was even duller than a coffin. “Now that the time has since come, this lowly one requests that you come this way with me.”

“Hm, what time?” The man blinked. “Where are we going?”

“I ask that you go with me to enter this reincarnation cycle. Missing the time will not be good, as it’s already the seventh lifetime.” Bai Wuchang stopped briefly. “When this lifetime has passed, your karmic allocation with Helian Yi will then be exhausted. From this, dust returns to dust, earth returns to earth — you will not necessarily be entwined again.”

Once the two words ‘Helian Yi’ came out of his mouth, Hu Jia was startled. That was a name he had heard before; when he was still human, as a child, he had also studied at that private school. The old teacher was lecturing about history, and he specially brought up this Emperor of the former Dynasty’s resurgence period. Archaic old men seldom revealed their unbridled feelings of admiration, but he stated that the man had been born during both foreign and domestic struggles, was magnanimous and brilliant, had pulled the infrastructure from the brink of collapse by his power alone[3], and worked himself to his full extent; he was therefore a first-class wise sovereign throughout the ages.

He twisted his head around to look at this Lord Seventh, only to see his nice-looking pair of eyes staring straight in the direction of the River of Forgetfulness, saying nothing. Hu Jia stood at his lateral side, noticing that the man seemed to have a wisp of cloudy mist stored in his gaze, making one unable to make it out clearly, as well as displaying a somewhat vaguely listless feeling. That papier-mâché-esque face of the nearby Bai Wuchang was also hard to get hints off of. Hu Jia wasn’t sure why, but he could clearly sense that there was a layer of sorrow enveloping this Soulhook Envoy at present.

I hooked a person’s soul by mistake once upon a time, harming him with separation in both life and death, he’s an infatuate who has sought yet not obtained for several lifetimes, hasn’t had a peaceful life for several centuries, presumably isn’t willing to talk to me…

All of a sudden, he witnessed the white-haired man return to his senses, blink, and then turn to question Bai Wuchang with a bit of confusion. “Which one had Helian Yi been?”

It was like Bai Wuchang got choked. “He’s…”

The white-haired man thought hard about it, and, without waiting for the other to finish talking, slapped himself on the forehead when he had the epiphany. “Oh, you’re talking about him… I’ve got a little recollection. How is this still not over?”

Hu Jia’s expression slightly fractured — an infatuate who sought yet didn’t obtain for several lifetimes? Infatuate? This infatuate’s memory was a bit lacking.

The white-haired man glanced at him. As if understanding his internal thoughts, he leisurely explained things as he stretched out. “A human enters the Six Paths of Reincarnation, which is several hundred years passing in total, and they get reborn an unknowable amount of times. Their gender, age, name, and status frequently change; who’d remember them? Besides, I haven’t even been a human for several hundred years…”

His voice on those last few words was suppressed to a very low volume, and ended up transforming into a bit of an insipid smile on the margins of his thin lips. Gathering up his sleeves, he looked at Bai Wuchang. “If you didn’t say so, I would’ve simply forgotten. I’d machinated to my utmost back in the day, only for you to mistakenly hook Qingluan’s soul, thus having her die horribly and causing Helian Yi and I to have a falling out, right? No wonder you were afraid to speak to me just then.”

Bai Wuchang evaded his sight, head slightly bowed.

The white-haired man shook his head, came forward, and clapped Bai Wuchang on the shoulder all casual-like. “It’s been however long since that happened, yet you’ve thankfully still remembered it. A young prettyboy’s mind is indeed just as young.”

Hu Jia’s foot slipped out from under him and he nearly fell into the River.

The man guffawed.

One strip of the Yellow Springs, a hundred thousand ghosts, and everything else within the underworld all seemed to be echoing with his unbridled laugh. His slender figure had an unspeakably unrestrained aura, as if none of the Yama‘s Ten Courts[1] were of any importance to him.

Hu Jia listened to Bai Wuchang lightly say, “This had formerly been a period of fated love spanning seven lifetimes. Due to my passing through at the time, I caused the two’s set destiny to change, and what should have been them growing old together instead changed into a clash that became animosity.”

Hu Jia was a bit shocked. “Fated love? He’s…”

“Have you ever heard of Prince Nan’ning before?”

Hu Jia couldn’t help but give an ah. “He’s… he’s…” So that’s why the Soulhook Envoy called himself ‘this lowly one’ towards this man; it turned out that he was that previous Dynasty’s Prince Nan’ning.

Bai Wuchang shook his head. “He didn’t pass thirty-two in his first life. He was too diligent, and already had a head full of white hair when he died, his obsession unchanged after his death. He refused to drink more than that one mouthful of forgetting water, then stood by the Bridge’s edge in painstaking wait for ten years, waiting for that person so they could enter reincarnation together…”

“Aren’t those who don’t drink Meng Po’s soup unable to be a human in the next lifetime?” Hu Jia asked.

Bai Wuchang nodded. “That’s why, in his second lifetime, he transformed into a flying bug. He flew beneath the lantern that person carried in the night, but unfortunately, they were an ignorant fool, and actually caught him between their fingertips and crushed him to death.”

Hu Jia didn’t know what to say.

“He waited for that man until the third lifetime.” Bai Wuchang and Hu Jia were articulating far behind that ‘Lord Seventh’. The Envoy’s voice was ant-like, repressed down low in his throat, yet each and every word was spat out with particular clearness. “That time, he was made into a black dog, which that person raised from youth. Because they suffered a downturn later on, though, they killed the dog to take its meat and eat it. The fourth lifetime, he was a pot of jasmine the person’s beloved gifted them, and was sat upon the windowsill. The person watered and tended to him with all of their heart, but after that, their beloved got married off to elsewhere. In their broken-heartedness, they turned around and moved away, ditching the jasmine at the abandoned residence where he withered and died. The fifth lifetime, he turned into an arctic fox. He was captured by them, kept in the inner residence, and provided them amusement, but because their concubine loved his fur, he suffered the pain of getting skinned…”

“What caused it to be like this?” Hu Jia stared, wide-eyed. “Each of the infinite matters of the world are karmic. He didn’t sow wickedness, so why…”

Bai Wuchang swept a look at him, shaking his head. “The calculation of karma isn’t something we can thoroughly grasp.”

“Then, after that…”

“After that, following his coming back, he successively drank three bowls of Meng Po’s soup beside the Bridge.” Bai Wuchang laughed sourly. “But, for reasons unknown, the soup — which washes away the memory of all people who drink it — was actually useless on him. The times he didn’t want to forget were contrarily forgotten, and the times he wanted to forget were contrarily remembered. He’s mocked himself for these truly endless several hundred years, as there were times where he couldn’t even think of his own original name, yet had to conflictingly remember the grime of those past happenings; because of the seven lifetimes, he calls himself Jing Qi. He waited out that Helian Yi’s sixth lifetime for altogether sixty-three years, and thus had sat facing the surface of the Three-Life Rock for just as long. Coming to this point, the foreordained seven-lifetime entanglement of Helian Yi and Lord Seventh has just one occurrence remaining.”

“No wonder,” Hu Jia realized. He raised his head to look at the one unhurriedly walking in the distance, getting the overall feeling that the incomparable infatuate described in Bai Wuchang’s mouth and this easygoing, uninhibited man were not one person. Yet, with that head full of white hair that was like a pile of snow flying loosely behind him, he also felt… that this was the world’s top-tier melancholic, destitute look.

Jing Qi stood still at the Pond of Rebirth’s border, waiting for the other two for a short time. When Bai Wuchang and Hu Jia came near, he asked them playfully, “Am I going to be a human this time?”

“One of great nobility,” Bai Wuchang replied.

Jing Qi peered at him, lip curled. “Great nobility isn’t necessary. Being unworried about food and clothing and unconcerned with the material world’s events is best. It’s fine enough to let me idly muddle around until my death, in any case.”

Bai Wuchang didn’t say anything more, merely stretching out his hand. “Please.”

Jing Qi nonchalantly cupped his fist towards them, smiled, and lifted his foot to step into the Pond.

Watching him about to go in, the non-hindering Bai Wuchang suddenly bit his own finger open, then crooked it. That bit of maroon oozed out of his ghastly pale fingertip and fell into the Pond, the entire body of water thus shining a blood red. Hu Jia suffered a start. “Envoy, what are you doing?” he cried out in alarm.

Bai Wuchang ignored him, mumbling composed verses, and extended his bloody finger to poke at the space between Jing Qi’s brows, who was in the pool and unable to evade him. The latter was dumbstruck on the scene, lifting his gaze upwards; that Wuchang was as vacant-faced as ever, and his eyes were as stagnant and dazed as ever, looking straight into his own. He felt himself seemingly get abruptly pushed by someone, and he submerged in an instant, someone’s soft voice in his ears. “Your destiny was ruined with me as the cause, and you were senselessly made to wander the world, suffering the utmost of hardships. I currently have no means of recompense other than to give up all of my cultivation, and change your hair in the next lifetime to black…”

Hu Jia witnessed Jing Qi’s figure quickly sinking down, dumbfounded. The Pond’s red was nearly otherworldly in that instant, but before he had the time to call out in shock, he caught sight of the water resuming its clearness, calm and with no ripples. It was like no one had ever come, nor went.

He slowly turned his head to the side, but Bai Wuchang had since disappeared, and all that was left was a piece of human-shaped white paper drifting downwards.

With a crackle, a shadow appeared out of thin air next to him, then stooped over to pick up the paper that had fallen to the ground. Hu Jia was startled, then quickly bowed towards him. “Netherjudge…”

The black-clothed man waved him off. “Forget it.” He could only watch as the paper abruptly caught fire within the Netherjudge’s hand, becoming a lump of ashes in no time flat. The man opened his palm to a wisp of blue smoke that looked like spiritual essence, though it did not go inside the Pond. “This cycle’s Bai Wuchang was not originally a person of the underworld, and had been doing nothing more than borrowing a temporary frame in wait for his destined person,” he explained upon noticing Hu Jia standing there dumbly. “Now, he ought to go.”

Hu Jia’s lips moved, seeming to have understood something, yet also seeming to have not understood anything at all.

The Netherjudge sighed, then immersed once again into the darkness in the same exact manner he had come.

END

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