Chapter 125: Extra—Lotus Seed Pod
Translated by K of Exiled Rebels Scanlations.
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Lotus Pier, Yunmeng.
Outside the duelling hall, the cicadas sang to the summer; inside, quite a distasteful array of human bodies covered the ground.
A dozen boys, all topless, lay atop the wooden floor boards of the hall. They flipped themselves over once in a while, like a dozen sizzling pancakes, letting out dying groans.
Eyes closed, Wei WuXian thought hazily, If only it were as cool as the Cloud Recesses.
The temperature of the piece of wood underneath him was assimilated by his body temperature again, and so he flipped over. Coincidentally, Jiang Cheng turned as well. The two brushed against each other, arm over leg. Wei WuXian immediately called out, “Jiang Cheng, move your arm. You’re like a piece of coal.”
Jiang Cheng, “Move your leg.”
Wei WuXian, “An arm’s lighter than a leg. It’s harder for me to move my leg, so you should move your arm instead.”
Jiang Cheng hissed, “I’m warning you, Wei WuXian, don’t overdo it. Shut up and don’t say anything. It gets hotter the more you talk!”
The sixth shidi joined in, “Stop arguing, alright? I feel hot just listening to you two argue. I’m even sweating faster.”
Over there, arms and legs were already flying in the air, “Fuck off!” “You too!” “No, no, no—please go ahead!” “No, thanks—you can fuck off first!”
The shidi all complained, “Fight outside if you have to!” “Please fuck off together, won’t you? We’re begging you!”
Wei WuXian, “You heard it? They’re telling you to leave. Let… go of my leg—it’s gonna break, Sir!”
Veins popped on Jiang Cheng’s forehead, “They’re clearly telling you to leave… You let go of my arm first!”
Suddenly, from the wooden hallway outside came the swishes of a long dress brushing against the ground. Like lightning, the two snapped apart. Immediately, the bamboo curtains were lifted, and Jiang YanLi peeked inside, “Oh, so this is where everyone is hiding.”
Everyone greeted her, “Shijie!” “Hello, Shijie.” Some of the shier ones couldn’t help but snuck into the corners, covering their chests with their arms.
Jiang YanLi, “No sword practice today? Slacking off, aren’t you?”
Wei WuXian protested, “It’s scorching hot today—the training ground’s on fire. We’ll shed a whole layer of skin if we go practice. Don’t tell anyone, Shijie.”
Carefully, Jiang YanLi looked at Jiang Cheng and him from top to bottom, “Were you two fighting again?”
Wei WuXian, “Nope!”
The rest of Jiang YanLi’s body also came in. She was holding a plate of something, “Then who made the footprint on A-Cheng’s chest?”
Hearing that he left evidence, Wei WuXian spun around to check. It was there, indeed, but nobody cared if they’d been fighting any longer. Held in Jiang YanLi’s hands was a large plate of watermelon pieces already cut. The boys buzzed over, distributing the pieces in just a few seconds, and sat on the ground, munching on the watermelon. Soon, peel piled into a small mountain on the plate.
Whatever they did, Wei WuXian and Jiang Cheng had to compete against each other, even when it came to eating watermelon. With both force and guile, they fought so hard that others scurried away, quickly clearing out a whole area for them. At first, Wei WuXian was quite engaged in the act of eating watermelon, but a while later, he suddenly let out a laugh.
Jiang Cheng was at once alarmed, “What are you gonna do, this time?”
Wei WuXian grabbed another piece, “Nothing! Don’t misunderstand. I’m not gonna do anything. I just thought of someone.”
Jiang Cheng, “Who?”
Wei WuXian, “Lan Zhan.”
Jiang Cheng, “Why would you think of him for no reason? Reminiscing what it felt like to copy sect rules?”
Wei WuXian spat out a seed, “It’s fun to think of him. You don’t even know—he’s just too amusing. I told him, ‘Your sect’s food is disgusting. I’d rather eat stir-fried watermelon peel than eat your food. If you have time, come have fun with us at Lotus Pier…'”
Before he even finished, Jiang Cheng slapped his watermelon off, “Are you mad? Inviting him to Lotus Pier—are you trying to torture yourself?”
Wei WuXian, “Why are you so upset? My watermelon almost flew away! I was just being polite. Of course he wouldn’t come. Have you ever heard of him go anywhere by himself to have fun?”
Jiang Cheng had on a stern expression, “Let’s make this clear. I don’t want him to come, anyhow. Don’t invite him.”
Wei WuXian, “I never knew you hated him so much?”
Jiang Cheng, “I’ve got nothing against Lan WangJi, but if he really came, my mom might have something to say, comparing me against someone else’s kid, and you wouldn’t have it nice either.”
Wei WuXian, “Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be scared of even if he comes. If he does come, you can tell Uncle Jiang to have him sleep with me. I’ll definitely drive him mad in less than a month.”
Jiang Cheng snorted, “You want to sleep with him for an entire month? I say you’d be stabbed to death within a week.”
Wei WuXian wasn’t concerned, “Am I scared of him? If we really start fighting, he might not even win against me.”
The others immediately cheered him. Jiang Cheng mocked his thick skin on the surface, but he knew that Wei WuXian wasn’t boasting with his words. Jiang YanLi sat down between the two, “Who are you talking about? A friend you made in Gusu?”
Wei WuXian responded happily, “Yeah!”
Jiang Cheng, “What a shameless ‘friend’ you are. Go ask Lan WangJi and see if he wants you as one.”
Wei WuXian, “Fuck off. If he doesn’t want me, I’ll bother him to the point that he does.” He turned to Jiang YanLi, “Shijie, do you know Lan WangJi?”
Jiang YanLi, “I do. He’s that Second Young Master Lan whom everyone describes as handsome and talented, isn’t he? Is he really that handsome?”
Wei WuXian, “He is!”
Jiang YanLi, “Compared to you?”
Wei WuXian thought about it for a moment, “Maybe just a bit more handsome than me.”
He formed a quite a tiny length of space between two fingers. Taking the plate away, Jiang YanLi smiled, “He must be truly very handsome, then. It’s a good thing you made a new friend. In the future, you two can visit each other in your free time.”
Hearing this, Jiang Cheng spat out his watermelon. Wei WuXian waved his hands, “Forget it, forget it. All that’s at his place is bad food and a whole lot of rules. I’m not going again.”
Jiang YanLi, “Then you can take him here. This is a good opportunity. Why not invite your friend to come stay at Lotus Pier for sometime?”
Jiang Cheng, “Don’t listen to his nonsense, Sis. He’s super annoying at Gusu. Lan WangJi would never want to come home with him.”
Wei WuXian, “What do you mean!? He would.”
Jiang Cheng, “Wake up. Lan WangJi told you to get lost, didn’t you hear? You still remember that?”
Wei WuXian, “What do you know!? Even though he told me to get lost on the surface, I know for sure that he secretly wants to come play with me in Yunmeng—in fact, he would love to.”
Jiang Cheng, “I think of the same question every single day—just where do you find so much confidence?”
Wei WuXian, “Stop thinking about it. If I thought about a question for so many years and couldn’t find an answer, I would’ve given up long ago.”
Jiang Cheng shook his head. Just as he was about to throw his watermelon onto the ground, he suddenly heard a violent string of footsteps approaching. The stern voice of a woman drifted over from afar, “I was wondering where everyone went. As expected…”
The expressions on the boys’ faces changed at once. They dashed out the curtains just in time to see Madam Yu turn around at the other end of the hall, her purple robe flapping with rigor. On her face was a chilling demeanor. As she saw the boys’ unsightly nudity, Madam Yu’s expression twisted, her eyebrows raised high in the air.
The boys all thought, Oh no! With terror, they spun around and ran. Seeing this, Madam Yu finally realized, enraged, “Jiang Cheng! Go get some clothes on! You look no different than a barbarian! What would people think of me if they saw you?!”
Jiang Cheng’s top was tied at his waist. Hearing his mother’s chastise, he hastily put it over his head. Madam Yu scolded again, “And you boys! Can’t you see that A-Li’s here? Who taught you brats to dress like this in front of a girl!?”
Of course, it was needless to think who led the group. Thus, Madam Yu’s next sentence, as usual, was “Wei Ying! Do you want to die!?”
Wei WuXian yelled, “Sorry! I didn’t know Shijie would come! I’ll go look for my clothes right now!”
Madam Yu was even angrier, “How dare you run! Come back right now and kneel!” As she spoke, she let loose her whip with a flip of her wrist. Wei WuXian felt a searing pain slash across his back. He loudly exclaimed, “Ow!” And almost tripped on the ground. Yet, all of a sudden, someone’s quiet voice drifted by Madam Yu’s ear, “Mom, do you want to eat some watermelon…”
Madam Yu was startled by Jiang YanLi, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. With the delay, all of the boys had vanished into thin air. She was so infuriated that she turned to Jiang YanLi and pinched her cheek, “Eat, eat, eat—all you do is eat!”
Jiang YanLi almost cried from her mother’s pinching, mumbling, “Mom, A-Xian and the others were hiding here to relieve the heat and I came here on my own. Don’t blame them… Do… Do you want some watermelon… I don’t know who gave them to us, but it’s really sweet. Eating watermelon in the summer is great for cooling down and quenching thirst. I’ll cut them for you…”
The more Madam Yu thought about it, the angrier she became, and with the summer heat on top of all that, she really began to crave watermelon. With all that… she grew even angrier.
On the other hand, the group finally broke out of Lotus Pier and rushed through the docks, hopping onto a boat. With nobody chasing after them, even after a while, Wei WuXian finally relaxed. Exerting force, he rowed the boat a couple of times. He could still feel some pain in his back, so he tossed the paddles to someone else, sat down, and felt the stinging piece of flesh, “How unfair. Nobody else was wearing anything, but why was I the only one who got scolded and beaten up?”
Jiang Cheng, “Because you hurt the eye the most with no clothes on, for sure.”
Wei WuXian gave him a look. Suddenly, he took a leap and dove into the water. As though signalled, the others all entered the water as well. In mere seconds, Jiang Cheng was the only one left on the boat.
Jiang Cheng noticed that something was off, “What the hell are you doing?!”
Wei WuXian glide to the side of the boat and struck hard. The boat flopped right over, bobbing heavily in the water with its belly facing up. Wei WuXian laughed, jumping onto the boat and criss-crossing his legs, “Do your eyes still hurt, Jiang Cheng? Say something, hey, hey!”
Even after a few shouts, nothing came except for a string of bubbles. Wei WuXian wiped his face, confused, “Why is he taking so long?”
Their sixth shidi swam over as well, exclaiming, “Did he drown!?”
Wei WuXian, “That’s impossible!” Just as he was about to go down and help Jiang Cheng out, he suddenly heard a loud shout come from behind him. With a yelp, he was pushed into the water. Once again, the boat flopped over, dripping with water. After he’d been dunked underwater, Jiang Cheng had swum around and ended up behind Wei WuXian.
Having both succeeded once with their sneak attacks, the two of them began to circle the boat with vigilance, while the others splashed around underwater, scattered around the lake to watch the drama. Wei WuXian flaunted across the boat, “What’s with the weapon? Put down the paddle, and we can fight with our bare hands.”
Jiang Cheng sneered, “You think I’m an idiot? You’ll take it the moment I let go of it!” Brandishing the paddle, he forced Wei WuXian to dodge and hide. The shidi all cheered him on. Ducking left and right, Wei WuXian finally found the spare time to protest, “How could I be so shameless!?”
Boos came from all around him, “Da-Shixiong, I can’t believe you have the face to say this!”
Soon, the crowd sank into a chaotic water-fight, from the Jab of Justice to the Plant of Poison to the Bolt of Brutality—Wei WuXian gave Jiang Cheng a kick before he finally managed to climb onto the boat. Spitting out a mouthful of the lakewater, he waved his hand, “Let’s stop, let’s stop—I call a truce!”
Everyone wore green water-weeds atop their heads, not yet ready to stop. They hurried, “Why are we stopping? Let’s continue! Let’s continue! Are you begging for mercy just because you’re at a disadvantage?”
Wei WuXian, “Who said I was begging for mercy? We can fight later. I’m just too hungry to keep going. Let’s get some food first.”
The sixth shidi, “Then should we go back? We can have a few more watermelons before dinner starts.”
Jiang Cheng, “If you go back now, you’ll get nothing but whips.”
Yet, Wei WuXian had an idea. He announced, “We won’t go back. We’ll go pick lotus seed pods!”
Jiang Cheng mocked, “You mean ‘steal’, don’t you?”
Wei WuXian, “It’s not like we don’t repay the money every single time!”
The YunmengJiang Sect often cared for the households of the area, exorcising water ghouls without asking for any compensation. Within over a mile, let alone a few seed pods, the people were willing to even part out an entire lake to plant lotus for them. Every time the sect’s boys went out and ate someone’s watermelon, caught someone’s hen, or spiked someone’s dog food*, Jiang FengMian would send people to make up for everything. As for why they always insisted on stealing, it wasn’t because of arrogance or vulgarity—the boys were simply in love with the fun of being scolded and laughed at and chased around
*TN: In rural China, dogs are often used to guard households against thieves. In order to sneak into someone’s house, the boys make sure that the dog is unconscious (but not dead).
The group boarded the boat. After paddling for a while, they arrived at a lotus lake.
It was quite a large body of water, covered in green. The leaves, as small as plates and as big as umbrellas, layered endlessly over one another. The ones on the outside were lower and sparser, forming a flat layer that floated atop the water’s surface; the ones on the inside were taller and more cramped, enough to cover up boats along with the people inside. But at first sight of the lotus leaves’ ruffles, one could tell somebody was hiding within.
The little boat from Lotus Pier glid into the verdant world. All around it were plump seed pods, hanging low. One person was paddling the boat, while the others got to work. The ample pods dangled from the slender stems, on which grew small, harmless thorns. With just a bit of force, the stems would snap in half. They all broke the pods off along with a long chunk of stem, so that they could get a few bottles when they got back and grow them in the water. Some said that this way, the pods would taste fresh for a few days longer. Wei WuXian only heard this from other people. He didn’t know if it was true or not, either, but he nevertheless told this to others with confidence.
He broke off a few and peeled one open, tossing the round seeds into his mouth. The juice burst on his tongue. He ate as he absentmindedly hummed something along the lines of, “I’ll treat you to lotus pods, so what will you treat me to?” Jiang Cheng happened to hear this, “Who are you treating?”
Wei WuXian, “Haha, not you, for sure!” Just as he was about to smash Jiang Cheng in the face with another seed pod, he suddenly made a ‘hush’ sound, “We’re dead. The old man’s here today!”
The old man referred to the farmer who planted the lotus pods in this particular region. Wei WuXian didn’t know exactly how old he was, either. Anyway, in his opinion, Jiang FengMian was an uncle, so anyone older than Jiang FengMian could be called an old man. He’d been at this lake for as long as Wei WuXian could remember. When he came here to steal seed pods in the summer, he’d be beaten up if he was caught. Wei WuXian often doubted that the old man was a reincarnated spirit of the lotus seed pod, as he knew the number of pods missing from his lake like the back of his hand—the same as the number of smacks Wei WuXian received. When rowing in lotus ponds, the bamboo poles were better than paddles, each blow loud and stinging the flesh.
The other boys’ had experienced the beatings before as well. Immediately, they shushed, “Let’s run, let’s run!” They grabbed the paddle in a hurry and fled. Scrambling, they rowed out of the lake and snuck a guilty look behind them. The old man’s boat had already pulled out of the layers of leaf, drifting atop the wide waters. Tilting his head, Wei WuXian looked for a while before exclaiming, “How strange!”
Jiang Cheng stood up as well, “Why is the boat going so fast?”
Everyone looked. The old man, standing with his back to them, was counting the seed pods on the boat one by one, his bamboo pole lying motionlessly on the side. Yet, the boat travelled with both stability and speed. It was even faster than the juniors’ boat.
As the two boats grew nearer, everyone was finally able to see that underneath the old man’s boat was a vague white shadow, swimming underwater!
Wei WuXian turned around, his index finger pressing his lips, reminding the others to be careful not to alert the old man or the water ghoul beneath. Jiang Cheng nodded. His rowing let out only a few soundless ripples, their motions close to none. When the two boats were ten feet apart, an ashen hand rose out of the water, dripping wet, and snatched one of lotus seed pods piled up within the old man’s boat before sinking quietly underwater.
Moments later, the shells of two lotus seeds floated to the water’s surface.
The boys were shocked speechless, “Wow, so even water ghouls steal lotus pods!”
The old man finally realized people had snuck up to him from behind, spinning around with a big seed pod in one hand and his bamboo pole in the other. The motion alarmed the water ghoul. With a splash, the white shadow was gone. The boys called, “Come back here!”
Wei WuXian crashed into the water and dove underneath. Soon, he slinked up with something in his hand, “I caught it!”
From his hand hung a small water ghoul, its skin pale. It looked as though it were a child no more than thirteen years old. With fright, it almost curled into a ball under the boys’ eyes.
Suddenly, the old man’s pole swished around as he cursed, “Messing around again!”
Wei WuXian had just received a whip on his back, and now here came another blow. With a yelp, he almost loosened his hands. Jiang Cheng raged, “Talk nicely—why would you hit him all of a sudden? How ungrateful!”
Wei WuXian hurried, “I’m fine, I’m fine, Old-… Sir, look carefully. We’re not ghouls. This one is the ghoul.”
The old man, “Nonsense. I’m only old, not blind. Hurry up and let it go!”
Wei WuXian was startled. The water ghoul caught by him clasped its hands together in salutation, its dark eyes glistening in quite a piteous way. It was still gripping the plump lotus pod it stole, reluctant to let go. The pod had been broken already. It seemed as though it had just a couple of bites before Wei WuXian pulled it out.
Jiang Cheng thought to himself that the old man was absolutely insane. He turned to Wei WuXian, “Don’t let it go. Let’s take it back.”
Hearing this, the old man held up his bamboo pole again. Wei WuXian immediately called, “Don’t, don’t! I’ll let it go, that’s all.”
Jiang Cheng, “Don’t! What if it kills someone?!”
Wei WuXian, “There’s no scent of blood on it. It’s too young to swim out of this area, while there hasn’t been a word of any deaths in this area. It’s probably never killed anyone.”
Jiang Cheng, “Just because it hasn’t killed anyone, doesn’t mean that in the future…”
Before he even finished, the bamboo pole swung towards him. Having taken a blow, Jiang Cheng was furious, “Are you out of your mind, old man?! You know it’s a ghoul—aren’t you scared it might kill you?!”
The old man was also quite assured, “Why would a man who’s halfway across the threshold be scared of a ghoul?”
Knowing it wouldn’t swim far, Wei WuXian interrupted, “Stop fighting, stop fighting. I’m letting go!”
Indeed, he let go. With a splash, the water ghoul slipped behind the old man’s boat, as if it was scared to come out.
Soaked in water, Wei WuXian climbed onto the boat. The old man grabbed a seed pod from the boat and tossed it into the water. The water ghoul paid it no attention. The old man chose a bigger one and tossed it inside again. The pod bounced a couple of times on the water’s surface before half a white forehead snuck out and, like a big, white fish, carried the two green pods underwater in its mouth. Soon, some more white floated above the water. Revealing its shoulders and hands, the water ghoul hid behind the boat as it crunched down.
Watching it savor the pods, the boys were all quite bewildered.
The old man tossed another pod into the water. Wei WuXian felt his chin, unsure of how to feel, “Sir, why is it that when it steals your lotus pods, you let it steal them and even gives it to them, but when we do it, you always beat us?”
The old man, “It helps me with the boat, so what’s with giving it a couple of pods? And you lot, on the other hand? How many did you steal today?”
The boys were embarrassed. Wei WuXian glanced with the corner of his eye. Noticing the many dozens of pods hidden in the boat’s stomach, he knew it wouldn’t go well, quickly calling, “Let’s go!”
At once, the boys went for the paddle. Wielding the bamboo pole, the old man came at them like a typhoon. They could feel their scalps tingle as they thought that the pole would hit them any minute, paddling madly. The two boats chased around the lotus lake for a couple of circles. As the two came closer and closer, Wei WuXian had already received a few blows, and on top of that he realized that the pole was directed at nobody but him. He covered his head and yelled, “It’s not fair! Why do you only hit me! Why is it only me again!”
The shidi, “Keep it up, Shixiong! It’s all up to you!”
Jiang Cheng added, “Yeah, keep it up.”
Wei WuXian spat, “No! I’m not taking it anymore!” He grabbed a lotus seed pod from the boat and hurled it out, “Catch!”
It was quite a big pod, making a loud splash as it hit the water. As expected, the old man’s boat paused. The water ghoul swam over giddily, collecting the pod.
Using the opportunity, the boat from Lotus Pier finally had the chance to run away.
When they returned, one of the shidi asked, “Da-Shixiong, do ghouls taste anything?”
Wei WuXian, “Usually not, I think. But I say that this little one, probably… probably… Ah-… Ah-choo!”
The sun had set and the wind had come. It felt quite cold in the breeze. Wei WuXian sneezed and rubbed his face, continuing, “Probably couldn’t get any lotus pods before it died, and drowned in the lake when it snuck inside to steal some. And so… Ah-… Ah-…”
Jiang Cheng, “And so it ate lotus pods because that was its wish. It gets a sense of fulfilment from it.”
Wei WuXian, “Uh-huh, that’s right.”
He felt his back, covered in scars both old and new, and still couldn’t hold back the question he’d be thinking about, “How awfully unfair. Why is it that I’m the only one who gets beaten up, whenever something happens?”
One of the shidi replied, “You’re the most handsome.”
Another one, “You have the highest level of cultivation.”
And another, “You look the best with no clothes on.”
Everyone nodded. Wei WuXian, “Thanks for the praise, you guys. I’m even starting to feel some goose bumps.”
The shidi, “You’re welcome, Da-Shixiong. You protect us every single time. You deserve even more!”
Wei WuXian, with surprise, “Oh? There are more? Let me hear them.”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t listen any longer, “Shut up! If you guys still won’t talk properly, I’ll stab the boat through and we can all die together.”
As he spoke, they passed through an area of water with farmland on either side. In the farms were a few petite-figured farmer women, working in the fields. As they saw their boat pass, they ran to the shore and greeted them from afar, “Hey—!”
The boys responded in the same way, before all nudging at Wei WuXian, “Shixiong, they’re calling you! They’re calling you!”
Wei WuXian looked carefully. Indeed, the women had encountered them before while he was leading the group. His mood immediately lifted and he stood up to wave, grinning, “What’s up!?”
The boat drifted alongside the water’s currents. The women followed it on the shore, chatting, You boys went to steal lotus seed pods again, didn’t you!?”
“Tell us how many hits you got!”
“Or did you spike someone’s dog food this time?”
Listening, Jiang Cheng almost wanted to kick him off the boat, filled with distaste, “Your reputation sure loses face for our sect.”
Wei WuXian protested, “They said ‘you boys’. We’re in the same boat, alright? Even if I’m losing face, we’re all losing face together.”
As the two argued, another one of the women called out, “Was it good?”
Wei WuXian managed to reply, “What?”
The woman, “The watermelon we gave you. Was it good?”
Wei WuXian realized, “So you were the ones who gave us the watermelon. It was delicious! Why didn’t you come in and sit? We could’ve poured you some tea!”
The woman smiled, “You lot weren’t there when we visited, so we left without going in. I’m glad to hear it tasted good!”
Wei WuXian, “Thank you!” He fished out a couple of big seed pods from the bottom of the boat, “Here are some lotus seed pods. Next time you visit, come me and watch me train!”
Jiang Cheng snorted, “Would anyone want to watch you train?”
Wei WuXian threw the seed pods toward the shore. It was a far distance, but they landed lightly in the women’s hands. He grabbed a few more and stuffed them into Jiang Cheng’s arms, shoving, “What are you doing, just standing there? Hurry up.”
After a few shoves, Jiang Cheng could only accept them, “Hurry up and do what?”
Wei WuXian, “You ate the watermelon too, so you also have to return the gift, don’t you? Here, here, don’t be embarrassed. Start throwing, start throwing.”
Jiang Cheng snorted again, “You must be joking. What’s there to be embarrassed about?” Whatever he said, however, even after all of the shidi began to throw seed pods, he still didn’t start to move. Wei WuXian urged, “Then throw some! If you throw some this time, next time you can ask them if the seed pods tasted good, and you’ll be able to make conversation again!”
The shidi were in awe, “So that’s why! What a lesson. You have so much experience with these things, Shixiong!”
“You can tell he does this on a regular basis!”
“Oh, shucks, hahahaha…”
Jiang Cheng was just about to throw one when he realized how shameless it was the moment he heard it. He peeled a seed pod and ate it by himself.
As the boat floated in the water, the maiden chased it in small steps on the shore, catching the green lotus seed pods that the boys in the boat were tossing toward them, laughing as they ran. Wei WuXian put his right hand above his brows, taking in the scenery. Amid the laughter, he let out a sigh. The others asked, “What’s wrong, Da-Shixiong?” “You’re sighing even when girls are chasing after you?”
Wei WuXian swung the paddle onto his shoulder, grinning, “It’s nothing. I was just thinking that I invited Lan Zhan in all sincerity to come visit Yunmeng, yet he still dared to decline the offer.”
The boys all put up their thumbs, “Wow, that’s Lan WangJi, for sure!”
Wei WuXian stated in high spirits, “Shut up! Someday, I’ll drag him here and kick him off the boat. I’ll fool him into stealing lotus seed pods and let the old man beat him up with the bamboo pole and he’ll be chasing after me from behind, hahahaha…”
After a while of laughter, he turned around and looked at Jiang Cheng, who was sitting at the front of the boat eating seed pods with a long face. His smile gradually disappeared as he sighed, “Well, what an unteachable child.”
Jiang Cheng fumed, “So what if I want to eat alone?”
Wei WuXian, “Look at you, Jiang Cheng. Nevermind. You’re hopeless. Just wait to eat alone your whole life!”
Anyhow, the boat that departed to steal lotus seed pods had once again returned with riches.
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The Cloud Recesses.
Outside the mountains was the sizzling June summer. Inside the mountains, however, was a world of coolness and quietude.
Before the Lanshi, two white figures stood by the hall. As a breeze swept by, their robes fluttered gently, yet they remained motionless.
Lan XiChen and Lan WangJi were standing.
Neither of the two said a thing, as though they were already in a state of meditation. The only sounds that could be heard were the murmurs of water and the trills of birds. In contrast, their surroundings seemed even quieter.
A while later, Lan WangJi suddenly spoke up, “Brother.”
Lan XiChen calmly withdrew from his state of meditation, his eyes unwavering, “Yes?”
After a moment of silence, Lan WangJi asked, “Have you picked lotus seed pods before?”
Lan XiChen looked at him, “… No.”
If a disciple of the GusuLan Sect wanted to eat lotus seeds, of course they didn’t have to pick seed pods by themselves.
Lan WangJi tilted his head downward, “Brother, did you know?”
Lan XiChen, “Know what?”
Lan WangJi, “Lotus seed pods with their stems attached taste better than those without.”
Lan XiChen, “Oh? Now that would be something I have never heard of. Why do you ask, all of a sudden?”
Lan WangJi, “It is nothing. The time is up. The other hand.”
The two changed the hand with which they propped themselves up from the right to the left. The motion was extremely uniform, steady and soundless.
Lan XiChen was about to ask again when his eyes focused on something and he smiled, “WangJi, you have guests.”
At the edge of the wooden hallway, a white, furry rabbit slowly crept over. It clung to Lan WangJi’s left hand, its pink nose sniffing.
Lan XiChen, “How did it find its way here?”
Lan WangJi spoke to it, “Go back.”
And yet the rabbit didn’t listen. It nipped an end of Lan WangJi’s forehead ribbon and pulled with force, as though it wanted to drag Lan WangJi away just like that.
Lan XiChen commented calmly, “Perhaps it wants you as company.”
The rabbit, unable to move him, hopped around the two in a fury. Lan XiChen was quite amused, “Is this the boisterous one?”
Lan WangJi, “Too much so.”
Lan XiChen, “There is no harm in being boisterous. It is lovely, after all. If I recall correctly, there should be two of them. The two are often together, are they not? Why has only one of them come? Does the other one prefer quietude as opposed to playing outside?”
Lan WangJi, “It will come.”
Just as expected, soon later, another snowy white head hovered above the edge of the wooden hall. The other rabbit had also come, in search for its companion.
The two snowballs chased each other for a while. In the end, they found a spot, which was beside Lan WangJi’s left hand, to cuddle together.
The rabbits snuggled against each other, forming quite an adorable scene even when seen upside-down. Lan XiChen, “What are their names?”
Lan WangJi shook his head, either to say they had no names or simply refusing to say them out loud.
Lan XiChen, however, added, “I heard you call them by their names last time.”
Sincerely, Lan XiChen commented, “They have lovely names.”
Lan WangJi switched his hand. Lan XiChen, “The time is not up yet.”
In silence, Lan WangJi switched his hand back.
Thirty minutes later, their time was up and the training ended. The two returned to the Yashi, sitting quietly.
A servant presented them iced fruits to relieve the heat. The watermelon had been peeled. The pulp was cut into neat pieces and spread out in the jade plate, their translucent red appealing to the eyes. The two brothers sat kneeling on the mats. After they exchanged a few quiet words, discussing what they learnt after yesterday’s lessons, they finally began to eat.
Lan XiChen took a piece of watermelon. However, as he saw Lan WangJi stare at the plate without clear intention, he instinctively stopped.
With no surprise, Lan WangJi spoke up. He called, “Brother.”
Lan XiChen, “What is it?”
Lan WangJi, “Have you had watermelon peel before?”
“…” Lan XiChen, “Is watermelon peel edible?”
After a moment of silence, Lan WangJi replied, “I heard it can be stir-fried.”
Lan XiChen, “Perhaps it can.”
Lan WangJi, “I heard it tastes quite good.”
“I have never tried it.”
“Neither have I.”
“Hm…” Lan XiChen, “Do you want someone to try to stir-fry some for you?”
After some thought, Lan WangJi shook his head, his expression solemn.
Lan XiChen let out a sigh of relief.
For some reason, he felt he didn’t need to ask the question ‘from whom did you hear this’…
The second day, Lan WangJi went down the mountain alone.
It wasn’t that he rarely went down the mountain, but instead that he rarely went to the cramped marketplace alone.
People came and went everywhere. No matter within the sects sects or in mountainous hunting grounds, there wouldn’t be so many people. Even during the crowded discussion conferences, there were a lot of people only in an organized way, rather than this kind of congested. It seemed as if there’d be no surprise if one stepped on another’s foot or bumped into another’s carriage. Lan WangJi never liked to have body contact with others. Seeing this situation, he hesitated slightly, yet didn’t stop entirely. Instead, he decided to ask someone the way. Even after a while, however, he couldn’t find anyone to ask.
Only now did Lan WangJi realize that not only did he not want to approach others, others didn’t want to approach him either.
He was truly too different, too pristine, as compared to the hustle of the marketplace. He was even carrying a sword on his back. The vendors, farmers, and passersby rarely saw young masters such as him, all of them hurrying to avoid him. They either feared that he was an arrogant heir, scared they’d accidentally offend him, or feared his cold expression. After all, even Lan XiChen had once joked that no life could remain unfrozen within six feet of Lan WangJi. Only the women, when passing Lan WangJi, wanted to look at him but didn’t dare look too much. Pretending that they were busy, they faced down while peeking up. When he passed, they’d gather up and giggle behind his back.
Lan WangJi had been walking for a long time when he finally saw an old woman sweeping the ground before her house. He asked, “Excuse me. Where is the closest lotus lake from here?”
The woman didn’t have excellent eyesight, and on top of that the dust blurred her eyes. She panted, unable to see him clearly, “Go two or three miles this way. One house has planted over an acre of lotus.”
Lan WangJi nodded, “Thank you.”
The old woman, “Young Master, the lake doesn’t let anyone inside at night. If you want to go, you should hurry up and get there before dusk.”
Lan WangJi repeated, “Thank you.”
Just as he was about to leave, he saw the woman hold her thin bamboo pole high up in the air, unable to knock down a branch stuck under the roof. With a point of his finger, his sword energy struck the branch off, and he turned around to leave.
Two or three miles wouldn’t take long at his speed. Lan WangJi followed the direction that the woman showed him and didn’t stop.
In half a mile, he’d left the market; just a bit further, the buildings grew sparser; after more than a mile, all that was beside him had already turned into fields of green and criss-crossed paths. Only once in a while would he encounter a small, crooked cottage, emitting crooked wafts of smoke from its chimney. A few grimey toddlers wearing high braids were squatting in the field, throwing mud at one another as they giggled. It was such an interesting scene that Lan WangJi paused to look, although he was discovered soon later. The toddlers were all young and shy, scrambling away in just a blink of the eye. He finally took a step forward and continued to walk. When he was just a bit over halfway there, Lan WangJi felt something cool on his cheek. It was a strand of rain, sent over by the breeze.
He looked at the sky. Sure enough, the gray, rolling clouds seemed as though they’d fall from the sky. He immediately walked faster, yet the rain came faster than him.
Suddenly, he saw half a dozen people standing by the field ahead of him.
The strands of rain had already turned into droplets. Yet, the people neither held umbrellas nor sought for shelter. They seemed as if they formed a circle around something, without no time to pay attention to anything else. Lan WangJi went over. He saw a farmer lying on the ground, moaning in pain.
After listening to just a few words, Lan WangJi understood what had happened. When the farmer was in the fields, an ox ran into him. Right now, he was unable to get up, having hurt either his back or his leg. The ox that committed the crime was chased to the far end of the field, swinging its tail and too afraid to approach. The owner of the ox ran to find a doctor, while the rest of the farmers didn’t dare move the wounded carelessly in fear that they’d dislocate his bones. This was the only way they could take care of him. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain. It was just a bearable drizzle at first, but soon it became a storm.
As the rain grew heavier and heavier, one of the farmers dashed home in quest for an umbrella. His home was far, however, and he couldn’t come back just yet. The rest of the group was anxious despite not being able to do a thing, blocking as much rain for the wounded farmer as possible. But nothing would come out of this, if this went on. Even if the umbrella arrived, there’d only be one. They couldn’t simply cover up a few and leave out the others, could they?”
One of them cursed under their breath, “Damn it, it’s only been a minute and the rain is crashing down.”
At this point, another one of the farmers spoke up, “Let’s prop up the shed over there. It’d hold up at least for a while.”
Not too far away, there was an old, abandoned shed, propped up by four pieces of wood. One of them was slanted, while another one had rotten after years of weathering.
One farmer hesitated, “Aren’t we not supposed to move him?”
“A… A few steps should be fine.”
Everyone lending a hand, the farmers carefully carried the wounded man over. Two of them went to hold up the shed, yet even two farmers couldn’t lift the roof. As the others urged them, they used all their strength, their faces flushed red, yet it still didn’t budge an inch. Two more people came, but it still wouldn’t move!
The roof of the shed was had a wooden frame and was covered in tiles, hay, and layers of dirt. It wasn’t light, but it definitely wasn’t so heavy that even four farmers who worked in the fields all year long couldn’t lift.
Even before he approached, Lan WangJi knew what was going on. He walked to the shed, bent down, raised a corner of the roof, and lifted it up with a single hand.
The farmers were shocked speechless.
The young man single-handedly lifted the roof even four farmers couldn’t!
A few moments later, one of the farmers whispered something to the others. With only some hesitation, they proceeded to carry the wounded man over. When they went inside the shed, all of them glanced at Lan WangJi. Lan WangJi looked straight ahead.
After they let the person down, two people came over, “Y-… Young Master, let go of it. We can do it.”
Lan WangJi shook his head. The two farmers insisted, “You’re too young. You won’t hold out.”
As they spoke, they raised their hands, wanting to help him with the roof. Lan WangJi only glanced at him. He didn’t say anything, only retracting some of the strength he exerted. At once, the farmers’ expressions changed.
Lan WangJi turned back around, letting his strength flow back. Embarrassed, the farmers went back to squatting.
The wooden roof had proven to be heavier than they imagined. If the boy let go, they wouldn’t be able to hold it up at all.
Someone shivered, “How strange. Why is it colder now that we’re inside?”
None of them could see that right now, hanging in the middle of the shed was a ragged figure, hair tangled and tongue stretched out.
As wind and rain hit the shed from outside, the figure swung back and forth under the shed, carrying forth an eerie gust of wind.
It was this spirit that made the roof abnormally heavy, unable to be lifted by ordinary people no matter what.
Lan WangJi didn’t bring the tools used to liberate spirits. Since the creature had no intent to harm others, of course he couldn’t beat its soul apart without a care. As of the moment, it looked like he wouldn’t be able to persuade it to let down its hanging corpse, either, so he could only prop up the roof for now. He’d report it afterward and sent people to deal with it.
The spirit swished back and forth behind Lan WangJi, blown here and there by the wind. It complained, “It’s so cold…”
It looked around and found a farmer to lean on, likely in search for some warmth. The farmer suddenly shivered. Lan WangJi tilted his head slightly, giving it quite a stern, sideways look.
The spirit shivered as well, returning in misery. Still, it extended its tongue and complained, “Th-Th rain is so heavy. And it’s wide open like this… It’s really so cold…”
Even until the doctor arrived, the farmers never gathered up the courage to talk to Lan WangJi. When the rain stopped, the moved the wounded out of the shed. Lan WangJi laid the roof down and went away without saying anything.
When he arrived at the lake, it was already past dawn. He was just about to enter when a small boat came from the other side, a middle-aged woman on the boat, “Hey, hey, hey! What are you doing here?”
Lan WangJi, “To pick lotus seed pods.”
The woman, “It’s after dawn. We don’t let anyone in when it’s dark. Today is not gonna work. Come here some other time!”
Lan WangJi, “I will not stay for long. I only need a while.”
The woman, “No means no. That’s the rule. I don’t make the rules here. You can go ask our owner.”
Lan WangJi, “Where is the owner of the lake?”
The woman, “He went home long ago, so it’s no use asking me. If I let you in, the owner of the lake wouldn’t go easy on me, either. Don’t make this so difficult for me.”
At this point, Lan WangJi didn’t force her any longer. He nodded, “Apologies for the disturbance.”
Even though his expression was calm, everything about it gave off a sense of disappointment.
Seeing that even though his clothes were white, half was soaked by the rain and his boots were covered in mud as well, the woman softened her tone, “You came too late today. Come earlier tomorrow. Where are you from? The rain was so heavy earlier. You child, you didn’t run over here in the rain, did you? Why didn’t you take an umbrella? How far is your home from here?”
Lan WangJi replied honestly, “Ten and a half miles.”
The woman choked as she heard it, “So far?! You took a long time getting here, didn’t you? If you really want to eat lotus seed, you should go buy some in the streets. There are plenty.”
Lan WangJi was just about to turn around when he heard this and stopped, “The lotus seed pods sold on the streets do not have stems on them.”
The woman was amused, “Do they have to have stems on them? It’s not like they taste any different.”
Lan WangJi, “They do.”
Lan WangJi insisted, “They do. Somebody told me they do.”
The woman broke into laughter, “Who in the world told you? What a stubborn young master you are. You must’ve been possessed by something*!”
*TN: By love.
Lan WangJi didn’t say anything. Head hanging low, he turned around and began to walk back. The woman called again, “Is your home really that far?”
Lan WangJi, “Mn.”
The woman, “What if…What if you don’t go home today? Settle down somewhere nearby and come tomorrow?”
Lan WangJi, “There is a curfew. I have lessons tomorrow.”
The woman scratched her head, as though she thought about it with quite some hesitation. In the end, she spoke, “… Fine, I’ll let you in. Just a bit, just a little bit, alright? Hurry up if you’re gonna pick lotus pods, in case someone sees you and tells on me to the owner. It’d be embarrassing to get scolded at my age.”
In the Cloud Recesses, after the rain…
The magnolia was especially fresh and delicate. Lan XiChen felt a bout of affection. He spread paper on his desk and painted by the window.
Through the window’s hollowed-out carvings, he could see a white figure approach slowly. Lan XiChen didn’t put down his brush, “WangJi.”
Lan WangJi walked over and called across the window, “Brother.”
Lan XiChen, “I heard you mention lotus seed pods yesterday. Uncle happened to have them be brought up the mountain today. Do you want some?”
Lan WangJi, outside the window, “I have, already.”
Lan XiChen was somewhat confused, “You have, already?”
Lan WangJi, “Mn.”
The brothers exchanged a few more words, and Lan WangJi returned to the Jingshi.
After he finished, Lan XiChen gazed at the painting for a while before he put it away and forgot about it. He took out Liebing and went to the location where he usually practiced Sound of Lucidity.
Before the small cottage sprouted bushes of soft, violet gentians, their petals adorned dew like stars. Lan XiChen entered through the path. He looked up and paused.
On the wooden hallway before the cottage’s doors was a vase of white jade. Inside the vase were lotus seed pods of varying heights.
The jade vase was slender and the pod stems were slender as well. It was quite a beautiful scene.
Lan XiChen put Liebing away and sat down before the vase. Tilting his head, he looked at it for a while, hesitating.
In the end, with much reservation, he chose not to take one secretly and peel it open to determine just what tasted different about lotus seed pods with their stems attached.
If WangJi looked so happy, they must be quite a delicacy indeed.
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