Chapter 13 Refinement—Part Three
At a later time, Wei WuXian pondered upon the reason why his relationship with Lan WangJi wasn’t good. Getting to the root of the matter, everything started when he was fifteen, coming to the GusuLan Sect with Jiang Cheng to study for three months.
There was a virtuous and prestigious elder in the GusuLan Sect—Lan QiRen. Everyone in the cultivation world accepted three characteristics which described him: pedantic, stubborn, and a strict teacher who produced outstanding students. Although the first two points kept a lot of people at a respective distance to him, some even to the point of secret dislike, the last one made them try everything they could to send their children to study under him. He had brought up quite a number of excellent disciples of the Lan Sect. As long as they stayed a few years in his classroom, no matter how pathetically useless they were when they first entered, they would at least seem to be decent when they depart, especially in terms of appearance and etiquette. There were plenty of parents who were so excited that tears flowed down their cheeks when they picked up their sons.
To this matter, Wei WuXian declared, “Do I not seem decent enough as of right now?”
Jiang Cheng replied with a great deal of foresight, “You’d definitely be a mark of shame in his entire teaching career.”
In that year, aside from the YunmengJiang Sect, there were also the young masters from other clans, sent to study here from parents who heard of the reputation. The young masters were all around fifteen or sixteen. Because the sects all knew the others, although they weren’t close, they had seen others’ faces before. It was widely known that, although Wei WuXian’s surname was not Jiang, he was the leading disciple of the sect leader of the YunmengJiang Sect—Jiang FengMian, and also the son of his friend who had passed away. In fact, the sect leader regarded him as his own child. This, along with how youths were not as concerned with status and ancestry as elders, they were soon friends. Only a few sentences passed, and everyone started to call others older brothers or younger brothers. Somebody asked, “The Lotus Pier of the Jiang Clan is much more fun than here, right?”
Wei WuXian laughed, “Fun or not fun depends on how fun you make it to be. There’s definitely less rules than here, and no need to wake up so early.”
The GusuLan Sect wakes as five in the morning and rests at nine in the evening, not allowing any delay. Somebody else asked, “When do you guys wake up? What do you do during the day?”
Jiang Cheng humphed, “Him? He wakes at nine in the morning and sleeps at one during the night. When he wakes up, he doesn’t practice his sword or meditate; he goes boating, swims around, picks lotus seedpods, and hunts for pheasants.”
Wei WuXian replied, “No matter how much pheasants I hunt, I’m still number one.”
One youth spoke, “Next year, I’m going to Yunmeng to study! Nobody can hold me back!”
A bucket of cold water was thrown on him, “Nobody would hold you back. Your older brother would just break your legs.”
The youth drooped at once. This was the second young master of the QingheNie Sect—Nie HuaiSang. His brother, Nie MingJue, was extremely resolute when carrying out orders, quite renowned in the cultivation world. Although the brothers were not born from the same mother, their relationship was quite solid. Nie MingJue had always taught his younger brother with extreme harshness, particularly caring for his studies. This was why, even though Nie HuaiSang respected his older brother, he was the most scared of Nie MingJue mentioning his schoolwork.
Wei WuXian spoke, “To be honest, Gusu is quite fun as well.”
Nie HuaiSang spoke, “Wei-xiong, listen to a sincere advice of mine. The Cloud Recesses is nothing like Lotus Pier. On this trip to Gusu, remember that there’s one person whom you shouldn’t provoke.”
Wei WuXian asked, “Who? Lan QiRen?”
Nie HuaiSang replied, “Not that old man. The one you need to be careful of is his proudest disciple, named Lan Zhan.”
Wei WuXian spoke, “The Lan Zhan from the Two Jades of Lan? Lan WangJi?”
The respectable title of the Two Jades of Lan were given to the two sons of the GusuLan Sect’s current sect leader—Lan Huan and Lan Zhan. Just after they passed fourteen, they were deemed by the elders of each sect as exemplary models to compare with their own disciples. They were exceptionally famous among the juniors, so it was only natural that everyone recognized the names. Nie HuaiSang spoke, “What other Lan Zhan is there? Yes, it’s that one. Oh gosh, he’s the same age as you and I, but he has none of the energy of a teen. He’s stiff and strict, even worse than his uncle.”
Wei WuXian made the sound of an oh and asked, “Is he a lad who looks quite pretty?”
Jiang Cheng sneered, “Is there anyone who looks ugly in the GusuLan Sect? His sect doesn’t even accept disciples with unclean features. If you can, find me one who has an average face.”
Wei WuXian emphasized, “Very pretty.” He pointed at his head, “White from top to bottom, wearing a forehead ribbon, and carrying a silver sword on his back. He looked rather handsome, but with his straight face, he looked like he was mourning.”
“…” Nie HuaiSang spoke assuredly, “That’s him!” After a pause, he spoke again, “But he had been doing secluded meditation for the past few days. You just came yesterday; when did you have the chance to see him?
“Yesterday… Yesterday night?!” Jiang Cheng was stunned, “There’s a curfew in the Cloud Recesses. Where did you see him? Why don’t I know about this?”
Wei WuXian pointed, “There.”
He pointed to a the top of a very tall wall.
The others were out of speech. Jiang Cheng even felt his head growing larger and clenched his teeth, “We just came and you got into trouble! What’s the matter about?”
Wei WuXian replied with a grin, “There really isn’t much. When we came, we passed that liquor shop called ‘Emperor’s Smile’, right? Yesterday at night, I was tossing and turning, and couldn’t stand it any longer, so I went down the mountain, into the city, and brought back two jars. Mind you, we don’t have the chance to drink this in Yunmeng.”
Jiang Cheng, “Then, where’s the liquor?”
Wei WuXian, “Well, when I just flipped over the top of the wall, before I even had one leg inside, I was caught by him.”
One youth remarked, “Wei-xiong, you must have struck gold. He probably just got out of seclusion and went on night patrol, and caught you red-handed.”
Jiang Cheng spoke, “Those who return at night won’t be let in before seven in the morning. How come he let you inside?”
Wei WuXian threw up his hands, “So, he didn’t let me in. He wanted me to move back the leg that had already stepped in. You tell me—how would I do that? And then, he came up, as light as a feather, and asked me what I had in my hands.”
Jiang Cheng felt his head start to ache, indicating a foreboding feeling, “What did you say?”
Wei WuXian spoke, “‘It’s Emperor’s Smile! If I share a jar with you, can you pretend that you never saw me?’”
Jiang Cheng sighed, “… Alcohol is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses. That’s a worse crime.”
Wei WuXian spoke, “He said the same thing to me. And I asked, ‘Why don’t you tell me what exactly is not forbidden in your sect?’ He seemed like he was a bit angry and wanted me to look at the Wall of Rules in front of the mountain. Honestly, there were over three thousand, and everything was written in seal script. Who would read them? Did you read them? Anyways, I didn’t. What’s angering about this?”
“That’s right!” Everyone felt the same way, and all started to complain about the strange, outdated conventions in the Cloud Recesses, regretting that they didn’t meet sooner, “Whose sect rules are over three thousand in number, and don’t even repeat? Things like ‘killing livestock within the area is prohibited, fighting without permission is prohibited, promiscuity is prohibited, venturing at night is prohibited, causing noise is prohibited, running is prohibited’ are tolerable, but there’re even ones like ‘sneering for no reason is prohibited, sitting improperly is prohibited, eating more than three bowls is prohibited’…” Wei WuXian suddenly added, “What? Fighting without permission is also prohibited?”
Jiang Cheng, “… Yes. Don’t tell me you fought with him.”
Wei WuXian, “I did. And we broke a jar of Emperor’s Smile.”
Everyone slapped their legs and exclaimed in regret.
In any case, the situation couldn’t have been any worse, causing Jiang Cheng’s focus to switch, “Didn’t you bring back two jars? Where’s the other one?”
“I drank it.”
Jiang Cheng, “Where did you drink it?”
“In front of him. I said, ‘Okay, if alcohol is prohibited in the Cloud Recesses, then I won’t go in. I’ll drink it standing on the wall. That wouldn’t count as violating the rules, would it?’ Then I drank everything in one gulp, right in front of him.”
“… And then?”
“And then we started fighting.”
“Wei-xiong.” Nie HuaiSang blurted out, “You’re so smug.”
Wei WuXian lifted his brows, “Lan Zhan’s skills were quite good.”
“You’re gonna die, Wei-xiong! Lan Zhan had never been at such a loss before. He’s probably after you. You should be careful. Although Lan Zhan doesn’t go to classes with us, he’s in charge of punishments in the Lan Sect!”
Wei WuXian was not frightened at all, waving his hand, “What’s there to be scared of? Didn’t everyone say that Lan Zhan had been a prodigy since he was very young? If he’s so smart from such an early age, then he probably finished learning everything his uncle taught and do secluded meditation all the time. How would he have time to come after me? I…”
Before his sentence was finished, as the group walked around a wall with a hollowed out window, they saw a white-clothed boy sitting in a rigidly upright position in the room, with long hair tied up and wearing a forehead ribbon, emitting an aura of ice and frost. He swept a cold look at them.
At once, it was as if the ten-or-so mouths were silenced. They quietly entered the room, quietly picked their seats to sit, and quietly avoided the desks around Lan WangJi.
Jiang Cheng patted Wei WuXian’s shoulder and whispered, “He’s after you. Hope for the best.”
When Wei WuXian turned his head, he could see the side of Lan WangJi’s face. His lashes were long, appearing to be extremely delicate and elegant. His posture was also very upright, looking straight ahead. As he was just thinking about starting a conversation with him, Lan QiRen walked into the room.
Lan QiRen was tall and thin, standing with a straight back. Although he had a long, black goatee, he was definitely not old. And, according to the tradition of the GusuLan Clan producing beautiful men each generation, he was definitely not bad-looking either. Yet, unfortunately, with the pedantic and stiff air that surrounded him, nothing would feel wrong if one called him an old man. He entered with a scroll in one hand. The long scroll of paper rolled all over the ground as soon as he opened it, and he started to talk about the rules of the Lan Sect. The faces of everyone in the room started to grow dark. As Wei WuXian was bored, his gaze flew everywhere, and landed on the side face of Lan WangJi. He was shocked as he saw concentration and seriousness that were nothing like a facade, “How can he listen so attentively to something so boring?”
Immediately, in the front, Lan QiRen slammed the scroll onto the ground and smiled bitterly, “I am only repeating this one by one because nobody reads it, even though it was carved onto the rock wall. Hence, nobody will be able to violate them using ignorance as an excuse again. Even if I do this, there are still people who do not pay attention. Very well, I will proceed to talk about something else.”
Although his words could be applied to everyone in the room, Wei WuXian’s intuition told him that it was a warning directed at him. As he expected, Lan QiRen spoke, “Wei Ying.”
Wei WuXian answered, “Here.”
“Let me ask you. Are yao, demons, ghosts, and monsters the same things?”
Wei WuXian smiled, “No.”
“Why not? How are they differentiated?”
“Yao are formed from living, non-human beings; demons are formed from living humans; ghosts are formed from dead humans; monsters are formed from dead, non-human beings.”
“‘Yao’ and ‘monsters’ are often confused. What is an example that distinguishes the two?”
“That’s easy.” Wei WuXian pointed at the viridian tree outside of the room and replied, “For example, a living tree was tainted with the energy of books, cultivated into a conscious being, and causes mischief, it would be a ‘yao’. If I took an axe and cut it in the middle, so that only a dead tree-stump was left, and then it cultivates into a being, it would be a ‘monster.’”
“What was the profession of the progenitor of the QingheNie Sect?”
“The heraldry of the LanlingJin Sect is a white peony. Which type of white peony is it?”
“Sparks Amidst Snow.”
“Who was the first in the cultivation world to focus on the rise of his clan rather than his sect?”
“The progenitor of the QishanWen Sect, Wen Mao.”
His fluent answers made everyone’s hearts skip a few beats. Although they felt lucky, they all prayed for him to not be stumped by any questions, so that Lan QiRen wouldn’t have the opportunity to pick on other people. Yet, Lan QiRen spoke, “As a disciple of the YunmengJiang Sect, you should have been very familiar with these and known them by heart since long ago, so there is nothing to be proud of even if you answered correctly. Let me ask you again—there is an executioner with parents, a wife, and children, but before he died, he executed more than one hundred people. He suddenly died in the public and, to punish him for his deeds, he was left on the streets for seven days. With the repressed energy of resentment, he started to haunt and kill. What should be done?”
This time, Wei WuXian didn’t answer immediately. The others thought that he was confused, and were all feeling restless. Lan QiRen scolded, “Why are you looking at him? Think about this as well. Don’t open your books!”
The disciples took their hands away from the books that they intended on quickly flipping through. They were confused as well—having died in the public and left on the streets for seven days, it was definitely a fierce ghost and a ferocious corpse, and therefore a question hard to solve. Everyone hoped that the old man Lan wouldn’t pick on them to answer. After a few moments, seeing that Wei WuXian didn’t answer, Lan QiRen seemed like he was thinking, and spoke again, “WangJi, you can tell him what should be done.”
A bucket of cold water was thrown on him: This should be interpreted figuratively instead of literally. It is a common saying to pour or throw a bucket of cold water onto someone, to imply that one’s words reduced another’s hopes for something.
Wei-xiong: The xiong suffix means “older brother”. However, it doesn’t have to be the speaker’s actual older brother. It is usually used to indicate respect for someone older than you, as it was impolite to call the names of others (especially older than you) directly.
Secluded meditation: In cultivation, it is common practice to do secluded meditation, or to meditate on your own for a long amount of time in a secluded space. The length of this time period depends on how skilled the cultivator is.
Seal script: This is simply a “font” or type of script which the ancient Chinese used during the Qin Dynasty. In the context of this novel, as it is not based on any specific dynasty or period of history, it implies that the seal script is hard to read and not commonly used by most people in the world.
Slapped their legs: A common reaction that goes after a sudden realization or some other sort of emotion that requires a shout (or a sigh, in some cases) is to slap one’s legs.
Sparks Amidst Snow: In fact, this is actually a real type of peony in China. The literal translation of this is Golden Stars/Sparks Amidst Waves of Snow, but the name has been shortened for it to fit better within the translated version.