Song Lan had only been gone three days. Because surely, if he could leave A-Qing and Xiao Xingchen anywhere and expect for them to stay out of trouble, he could leave them in the Unclean Realm surrounded by Nies. Apparently not.
“This is Xue Yang,” said Xingchen, beaming in his general direction. “He’s going to come with us.”
“On your journey to the west!” agreed the brat, smiling up at Song Lan.
“Isn’t he the one who murdered the entire Chang Clan?”
“Yes,” replied Xingchen, “but solitary confinement is no way to atone for a crime.”
“I’m a really good fighter,” said Xue Yang, “I will for sure protect the Daozhang on his dangerous journey.”
“Daozhang doesn’t need you,” said A-Qing. “He has Other Daozhang for that.”
“It’s not a matter of need,” said Xingchen. “I couldn’t leave a fellow human to rot in a dark prison. He can help us with night-hunting when we get to Qishan, and atone for his crimes by protecting the villagers there.”
Xue Yang nodded vigorously. A-Qing made a sound of disgust.
Song Lan sighed. He should know better. The last time he left Xiao Xingchen alone, he’d returned to find he’d adopted A-Qing. Or she’d adopted him, Song Lan wasn’t entirely sure. It wasn’t worth arguing. He’d simply have to find another set of supplies.
“This would go so much faster if we had a horse.”
Xiao Xingchen smiled. “Just one horse?”
“Little Miss Blind here is the only one who can’t fly on a sword!”
“Daozhang doesn’t fly on his sword!”
Xiao Xingchen did not, indeed, enjoy flying blind. He was, however, enjoying the argument between A-Qing and Xue Yang. He thought A-Qing might “accidentally” hit Xue Yang with her stick soon. He was listening for it.
“What’s that?” asked A-Qing.
“Where did you get a horse?” asked Song Lan.
“Who cares, it’s ours now,” replied Xue Yang.
Xiao Xingchen hadn’t had much cause for spending time with horses on Baoshan Sanren’s mountain, and he said so. “Will you introduce me to this horse? I’m quite curious.”
Xue Yang introduced him to the horse’s rear first, because of course he did, but soon Xiao Xingchen had a face full of horse slobber, and he was patting a very large, very tall animal on the nose. He laughed a little.
“I told you a horse was a good idea,” said Xue Yang smugly.
“It’s not,” said Song Lan. “We’re taking it back right away.”
“It was a very nice thought,” said Xiao Xingchen, “but we’re taking it home now. Lead the way, Xue Yang.”
Xue Yang protested. A-Qing agreed with him for once, as she had firm opinions on the wisdom of confronting people one has stolen from previously. She thought they should just release the horse to its own devices. As they argued the horse snuffled at Xiao Xingchen’s side. “What’s this? Are you smelling the food I have on me?” he asked.
“What do horses eat, anyway?” asked A-Qing.
“It seems to be attracted to sweets,” said Xingchen, pulling out a piece of honey candy. “Do you think it would be all right…?” The horse delicately lipped the candy out of his hand. “Oh!”
“Thief!” shrieked Xue Yang. “Fine, we won’t keep the horse.”
“Xue Yang, you’re not supposed to go running off on your own like that, I promised Sect Leader Nie I’d keep an eye on you.”
“You made a blind joke to Sect Leader Nie?”
“Not one of my best, but yes. The point still stands, where have you been?”
“I fixed our horse problem!”
“Do I want to know?”
“Of course! I’m brilliant!”
“All right, tell me.” Xiao Xingchen shifted his grip on Shuanghua. “Wait, there’s a resentful corpse nearby.”
“That’s my solution! This fierce corpse can run really, really fast, and it doesn’t need to eat! It’s better than a horse!”
“It’s a fierce corpse? How is it not attacking us already?”
“Demonic cultivation! I carved special nails and stuck them in its head and now it doesn’t attack me!”
“That’s the Ghost General,” said Song Lan, waking up. “Isn’t he supposed to be a sentient fierce corpse?”
“Who needs sentience? We just need obedience, and he’ll carry Little Miss Blind a lot faster than we’ve been walking. He runs as fast as a sword goes. I got him here from Lanling in less than two days!”
Xiao Xingchen rubbed his head. “You went to Lanling.”
“Where did you think the Ghost General was being kept? Of course I went to Lanling!”
“Introduce me,” sighed Xingchen. Xue Yang led him up to the fierce corpse. Xingchen reached out to touch him on the shoulder, on the neck, on the head. Huh, there really were nails. Well, not anymore.
“What are you doing?!?”
The Ghost General ran off.
A-Qing noticed him first. She was off on her own, because a girl has needs that require privacy Xue Yang, no you can’t come “keep an eye” on me, who does that? Thankfully she had already finished when he arrived. It was the Ghost General – again – but A-Qing wasn’t revealing that she could tell.
“Who’s there?” she said. “Xue Yang, if that’s you, I told you…”
The Ghost General coughed a little. “Ummmmmmmm… Sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Sorry… Sorry for startling you, Guniang.”
He sounded so timid. He looked pretty timid, too.
“Hmph,” she said. “Well, introduce yourself, then. What are you doing all the way out here?”
“Oh!” he replied. “Wen Qionglin, Wen Ning.” He even bowed to her! What a dope. He’d fit right in. She’d bring him back to their camp. “I, uhhhhhhhhhh….”
“Never mind,” she told him, “camp is back that way.”
“Daozhang!” she yelled. “I found a lurker!”
“Oh?” asked Xiao Xingchen.
“He says his name is Wen Qionglin!”
“That’s the Ghost General again, hello,” said Song Lan.
“What are you doing here?” asked Xue Yang. He looked a little resentful.
“Ummmm….” said the fearsome Ghost General. “You’re going to Qishan?”
“Yes!” smiled Xiao Xingchen.
“Ummmmmmmmmmmm… Can I come with you?”
“Only if you help carry these slowpokes!” yelled Xue Yang. “I only broke you out of Lanling so you could!”
“Who said they want to be carried?” A-Qing yelled back.
“I don’t mind.”
“We’d be happy to have you,” said Xiao Xingchen.
Song Lan groaned.