While I was frozen in shock, Poker-Face urged our horse on without an ounce of hesitation. I thought that he was going to rush out of the woods again, but as it turned out, he started chasing those wild horses instead.
Chasing a herd of stampeding horses in the woods was extremely exciting. We almost crashed into all kinds of branches and tree trunks in our mad dash, but our horse quickly avoided them all.
Even though the cold firework could only illuminate a limited area around us, it was still indispensable. I handed it to Poker-Face, turned on my flashlight, and pointed it in front of us.
We could see the wild horses in the distance, but they were very fast and our horse was carrying two people. It wouldn’t take long before we wouldn’t even be able to see those horses’ hindquarters. In the end, Poker-Face had no choice but to give up the chase.
As the sound of stampeding hooves quickly disappeared, extreme quiet was restored all around. I wanted to look out of the corner of my eye to see if there was anything around us, but Poker-Face didn’t even give me the chance. He pulled on the reins, turned the horse around, and rushed out of the woods.
As we quickly made it out, the flare fell to the grassland, completely extinguished. There was the lingering smell of something burning hanging in the air. Poker-Face rode more than a hundred meters away from the forest before turning the horse around. My cold firework illuminated the area around us, but neither the trees nor our tents could be seen.
“Fatty!” I shouted.
We heard someone clapping in the distance, so Poker-Face urged the horse over there. Soon, we saw Fatty crouching in the grass.
After Poker-Face and I dismounted, I immediately asked him what was going on. He motioned for me not to ask and then said, “Put your clothes on backwards.”
I knew this saying. The Lamaism and Shamanism legends said that if you encountered malicious spirits on the grasslands, you should wear your clothes backwards so that they couldn’t figure out where your front was. But in the Lamaism legends, this practice taught lamas how to catch ghosts.
It wasn’t surprising that Poker-Face knew this, but did that mean that he wanted to catch ghosts? I was feeling a little uneasy, but I still complied anyways. The three of us quickly took off our clothes, put them on backwards, and stood up awkwardly.
“Let’s go,” Poker-Face said.
As it turned out, he wanted us to make a run for it. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief and helped Fatty up. Fatty’s face was pale, and he waved his hand but couldn’t speak. He seemed to be out of breath after all that running. Poker-Face fired another flare and we rushed back to the tents. We found that everything had been trampled and the bonfire was very dim. With the help of the flare’s light, we started to clean everything up.
“If it’s not convenient to elaborate, just give me a simple hint,” I said to Poker-Face as I cleaned up.
He glanced around before pointing in a certain direction, “If you can see things, look at that spot.”
I peeked out of the corner of my eye and immediately saw the shadow of a man standing there. He was facing us coldly, but he appeared to be very far away from us.
“What are they?”
“I don’t know, but they’re driving the horses.” Poker-Face told us that these horses were gradually being driven to gather into a large group nearby and then made to run here. He pointed to a certain spot, “They’re driving the horses in that direction.”
I felt a chill in my heart and glanced at the small forest. At this time, we felt the ground vibrate again and all three of us looked back at the darkness on the other side.
Here we go again.
“Let’s go!” Fatty shouted. All three of us jumped onto our horses and turned on our lanterns. At this time, I saw our satellite phone.
I no longer cared about figuring out what the strange satellite phone sounds on the grassland were. It was our own satellite phone, but there was a brief moment where I didn’t want to take it with us. After thinking about it, though, I bent down and picked it up. Then, I waved to the other two and we quickly set off.
Soon, another group of wild horses rushed past the place where we had just been standing. But this time, there were even more of them. We reached a high slope and fired off another flare, revealing a shocking sight—tens of thousands of horses were galloping past.
There were probably less than ten thousand of them, but we couldn’t even see their heads since there were so many of them.
This scene was too unreal. Were there really that many wild horses on the grasslands?
When I used my peripheral vision to look at these wild horses, I could see that there were figures riding on the backs of many of them. They really did seem to be driving these horses towards the forest.
The horses ran past quickly and then it became silent all around again. But the sounds of the stampeding horses had disappeared too quickly, so I was certain that something was wrong.
Since our clothes were on backwards, it almost looked like we were riding our horses backwards, which was a very funny sight. “Are we pretending to be Zhang Guolao (1)?” Fatty asked. “Isn’t that a bit much if all three of us are doing it?”
I took out the satellite phone’s battery and put it away. The phone didn’t ring again, so our surroundings were even more quiet.
“Do you think those horses are alive? Or are they ghosts?” I asked Fatty and Poker-Face. The two of them looked at me, so I added, “I don’t believe there are that many wild horses in Mongolia.”
I had a very vague impression of Mongolian wild horses in my memory and seemed to remember that they should be endangered. Of course, there were millions of wild horses on the grasslands back then, but that must have been thousands of years ago.
It was said that the tombs of nobles in the Yuan Dynasty were leveled with thousands of horses. People used to herd wild horses from nearby areas and then keep driving them until they scattered across the grasslands. Wasn’t the scene just now like a scene from that time?
The three of us remained silent. To be honest, there was no easy way to draw conclusions from everything that had happened tonight.
But in any case, this was apparently a road for stampeding horses, which was very unsafe. Poker-Face signaled for us to leave, so the three of us turned on the GPS, identified the direction we wanted to go in, and slowly led the horses into the darkness.
After taking a few steps, I used my peripheral vision to look back at the darkness behind me. When we were in the Seven Star Lu Palace so many years ago, Pan Zi had told me not to look back (2). I couldn’t resist the temptation back then and I still couldn’t resist it now. When I peeked out of the corner of my eye, I saw the same thing from before. It was even repeating the same action. What was so special about this humanoid figure that I could only see it out of the corner of my eye? I didn’t see any traces of people over there, and even the darkness in that area seemed to have returned to normal.
I suddenly had a strange idea about what had happened just now. Did those “people” want us to leave the road that the horses ran on? Were they warning us?
Truthfully, we would’ve already been black and blue if we encountered such a situation in a tomb in the past. And although we had been scared to death just now, we weren’t injured at all.
I didn’t think about it any further, because acts of kindness at this time were very dangerous.
We continued to walk on in a daze, not stopping until dawn broke.
As the haze on the grassland revealed by the morning light started to dissipate, we finally dismounted. The horses were so tired that they were swaying, and even Ping Lian fell to the ground and started snoring. When we looked around, we couldn’t see the forest from yesterday, nor those wild horses. Everything was as beautiful as when we had first arrived in the grassland.
It’s all lies, I said to myself. This place is crazy at night and causes all sorts of trouble. Last night’s situation was just a ghost hitting a wall (3).
I sat down on the grassland, feeling sleepy. God, I had never felt so sleepy before. Last night, there was even a period of time where I felt as if I was too old to endure it. Now I was starting to feel like something was wrong—this grassland was sucking my energy away.
It was only a few hours later when we talked to Shen Qianjue on the satellite phone again that we finally learned what had happened last night.
Indeed, it was a change I could never imagine.
(1) A Chinese mythological figure and one of the Eight Immortals in the Taoist pantheon (he was actually a real historical figure). He was said to be very eccentric. In art pieces, he’s typically shown riding his white mule, usually seated facing backwards. Info here.
(2) I have no recollection of this. Pretty sure Poker-Face was the one who told him not to look back in that cave when they were on the boat in the beginning. You all have better memories than me, though.
(3) “Ghost hitting a wall” is a Chinese folk phrase that describes a situation where you get lost and end up going in circles. The idea is that when traveling in remote areas, a person is obstructed by walls that ghosts have placed in front of them, thus forcing that person to wander in endless circles. People also use this term to describe problems with no real solution (I feel like Wu Xie was using it in this sense just based on the context).
It’s a miracle! I actually got 2 chapters out and didn’t leave you on a cliffhanger this time! (⌒ω⌒)