Chapter 48 Guile—Part Three
Yet another rant:
There have been so many people asking about the raws that it’s getting a bit annoying. First of all, let me be clear—I am using the author’s raws and I am not “changing” it. The differences between “my version” and the “author’s version” happen because the author has written three versions: the original version, the edited version, and the published version. The original version is no longer obtainable through “legal” means and can only be found in txt files.
I do not mean to condemn anyone reading off txt raws (people have reasons and I understand), but in support of the author and in respect to her edits, I have personally chosen to translate the edited version. Since the author decided to edit her work despite knowing that it would overwrite her original version, I assume that she wants readers to read the current edited version.
If you are able to read some Chinese and want to have a taste of what the text is like in its original language, I would encourage you to buy the raws on jjwxc.net. If you cannot pay or really don’t want to pay, feel free to find the raws through means such as Baidu Cloud.
Anyways, this is just a clarification that I have absolutely not been changing anything just for my own sake. Translation is process that easily allows for certain degrees of deception. For example, a translator who doesn’t understand the original language to a full extent may end up accidentally robbing the readers of certain information. As a translator, I’m certain that all of us at ExR strive to translate as accurately to the original text as possible.
As Wei WuXian had expected, the final piece of Nie MingJue’s body, his head, was indeed being kept by Jin GuangYao.
Nie MingJue, the one who almost seemed to go into invincible rages during the Sunshot Campaign, was sealed under layers upon layers within such a cramped, dismal room, unable to ever see the light.
If Wei WuXian simply removed the seal on the head, ChiFeng-Zun’s corpse would be able to sense it and come for it on its own. As he was inspecting the restrictions of the helmet, deciding how exactly to deal with it, he suddenly felt a powerful force of attraction. His weightless paper body had been shoved forward so that he was stuck to Nie MingJue’s forehead.
On the other side of Carp Tower, Lan WangJi continued to stare at Wei WuXian’s face as he sat beside him. A while later, his fingers twitched. With downcast eyes, he touched his lips softly.
It was very soft indeed, as soft as how the paperman had bumped into them.
Suddenly, Wei WuXian’s hands jerked slightly, clenched into fists. Lan WangJi’s expression hardened and helped Wei WuXian into his arms. Holding his face, he saw that, although Wei WuXian’s eyes were still shut, his brows had knit closely together.
Over at the secret room, Wei WuXian didn’t have to time react at all. Those of the deceased who held extreme resentment radiated such hateful energies and projected them onto the living, mitigating their anger and spreading their emotions. This was the cause of most hauntings. In fact, this was also the mechanism behind Empathy. If Wei WuXian were using his corporal body, a defense line to his soul, resentful energy definitely couldn’t touch him if he didn’t want it to. At the moment, however, he was possessing a flimsy piece of paper, which significantly impaired his defense ability. Not only was he close to the head, Nie MingJue’s resentful energy was also unusually strong. Wei WuXian was affected within just a moment of inattention. One second ago he had been thinking “oh no”, and the next he could already smell the scent of blood.
He hadn’t come across such a thick odor in years. Something buried in his bones immediately awakened, starting to simmer and stir. As soon as he had opened his eyes, he saw before him the glare of a blade, the shadow of spilled blood, and the head of a man, soaring across the sky, along with its fallen body.
The beheaded man wore a robe with the clan motif of flames and the sun. Wei WuXian watched ‘himself’ sheath his saber, a low voice coming out of his mouth, “Go get the head. Hang it up for the Wen-dogs to see.”
Someone answered from behind him, “Yes!”
Wei WuXian realized who the beheaded man was.
He was the eldest son of the QishanWen Sect’s leader Wen RuoHan—Wen Xu. He was killed by Nie MingJue in Hejian. His head was cut off with a single strike and hung up in front of the troops, in demonstration to the Wen Sect’s cultivators. His corpse was cut into pieces by the enraged cultivators of the Nie Sect, then ground up and smeared below the earth.
Nie MingJue glanced at the corpse on the ground and kicked it to the side. Hand on the hilt of his saber, he looked calmly around.
ChiFeng-Zun was quite tall. When he Empathized with A-Qing last time, Wei WuXian’s field of vision was rather short, but this time it was even taller than his usual view. Looking down, he saw countless casualties. Some wore sun-and-flames robes; some had the QingheNie Sect’s beast-head crest on their backs; some didn’t dress in any uniforms; each consisting of around one-third. With such a dire scene, the scent of blood suffused the air. He scanned his surroundings as he strode forward, as though he still wanted to check if any of the Wen Sect’s cultivators still had a breath of air left in them. Suddenly, a clashing noise came from a tile-roof house on the side.
With a wave of his saber, a fierce blade of wind swept over. Hacking open the house’s crude door, it revealed a mother and her daughter, both panic-stricken. Such a shabby house held very little possessions, its lack of hiding places allowing the pair only to take cover under the table as they held their breaths. As the young woman’s round eyes caught reflection of Nie MingJue’s blood-drenched and murderous appearance, tears immediately poured out. The girl in her arms had already opened her mouth, scared speechless.
As Nie MingJue saw that it was only an ordinary mother-and-daughter pair, likely two commoners who had failed to escape before battle broke out, his furrowed brows softened slightly. A subordinate, not knowing what had happened, approached from behind him, “Sect leader?”
The mother-and-daughter only knew that a few gangs of cultivators crashed into their workaday lives and battled the hell out of one another. Neither knew which was the good side and which was the bad. Fearing whomever that held a blade, they thought that they’d die for sure, faces distorting with fright. Nie MingJue took a look at them and curbed his killing intent, “It’s alright.”
He let down the hand that he held his saber with and paced to the other side of the room. The young woman instantly collapsed onto the ground, still embracing her daughter. After a moment, she couldn’t help but begin to sob.
A few strides later, Nie MingJue suddenly stopped, questioning the subordinate behind him, “Who was the cultivator that kept guard at the end during the last battlefield clean-up?”
The subordinator hesitated for a second, “Kept guard at the end? I… don’t think I remember.”
Nie MingJue frowned, “Tell me when you remember.”
He continued to walk forward. The cultivator hurried to ask other people. Not long later, he caught back up, “Sect Leader! I’ve asked. The cultivator who kept guard at the end during the last battlefield clean-up is called Meng Yao.”
Hearing the name, Nie MingJue raised his brows, as though finding it somewhat surprising.
Wei WuXian knew why. Before Jin GuangYao was accepted into his clan, he was named Meng Yao, after his mother’s last name. This wasn’t a secret at all. In fact, the name used to be quite “well-known”.
Although not many people saw with their own eyes how it was when Jin GuangYao, the one who would later become LianFang-Zun and stand upon Koi Tower with unequivocal power, first came upon the tower, the rumors had already explained things at large. Jin GuangYao’s mother was renowned in one of Yunmeng’s brothels. Back then, she boasted the reputation of being one of the most talented prostitutes. It was said that she could play the guqin well and wrote excellent calligraphy. She was so well-educated that she could almost pass as the young mistress of a wealthy clan. Of course, no matter how great the resemblance was, in the mouths of the people, a prostitute was still a prostitute.
When Jin GuangShan happened to visit Yunmeng once, he definitely dared not miss such a famous prostitute. He lingered around the Meng woman for days and returned with satisfaction after leaving her a keepsake. After he got back, he naturally behaved the same way as he had behaved countless times before this, forgetting all about the amorous woman.
In comparison, Mo XuanYu and his mother were rather favored. At least Jin GuangShan still remembered that he had such a son and brought him back to Koi Tower. Meng Yao, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. The son of a prostitute was far from that of a good family. Just like Lady Mo, after she had given birth to one child for Jin GuangShan, she waited with much devotion for the cultivator to take her and her child back. She taught Meng Yao with care, preparing for his future entrance to the cultivation world. Yet, even when he grew past the age of ten, there was still no news of his father, while the Meng woman was already dangerously ill.
Before she passed away, she had given the keepsake that Jin GuangShan left her and told him to find his way out to Koi Tower. And thus, Meng Yao finished packing his belongings and left Yunmeng. After an arduous journey, he arrived in Lanling. When he reached Koi Tower, Meng Yao wasn’t allowed to enter, so he took out the keepsake and asked for the sect leader to be notified.
Jin GuangShan’s keepsake was a pearl button. This wasn’t in any way special in the LanlingJin Sect—one could find such objects everywhere. Their most common usage was as gifts to beautiful women, when Jin GuangShan traveled out to flirt. He’d pretend as though such a pretty little thing was a rare treasure, often in the accompaniment of pledges and vows as well. He gave and forgot about them however he pleased.
Meng Yao really did come at a bad time. The day just happened to be the birthday of Jin ZiXuan. Jin GuangShan and Madam Jin, along with various relatives, were celebrating their darling boy’s special day. Six hours later, it was already late into the evening. As all of them were about to set out for the auspicious ignition of lanterns, the servant finally found a spare moment to notify them. As Madam Jin saw the pearl button and remembered Jin GuangShan’s history, her face darkened at once. Jin GuangShan hurried to crush the pearl into dust and chastised the servant loudly, ordering him to chase away whomever that was outside in case they bumped into him on their outing.
And so, Meng Yao was kicked down Koi Tower. He rolled down the steps, all the way from the top to the bottom.
Allegedly, he didn’t say anything after he got up. Wiping away the blood on his forehead, then dusting off the dirt that got onto his clothes, he picked up his belongings and walked away.
Right after the Sunshot Campaign began, Meng Yao joined the QingheNie Sect’s troops.
The cultivators under Nie MingJue’s command, both rogue cultivators and those from the QingheNie Sect, were stationed in various locations. One of these was a nameless mountain ridge in Hejian. Nie MingJue went up the mountain by foot. Before he was even close to the station, he saw a boy dressed in cloth leave the emerald forest, a bamboo tube in his hand.
The boy seemed as though he had just finished collecting water, legs betraying some fatigue. As he was about to enter the cave, he suddenly stopped. He stood outside the mouth of the cave and listened for a while, as if debating between whether or not to go in. In the end, with the bamboo tube still in his hand, he walked in another direction in silence.
After a while of walking, he found a spot on the side of the road and squatted down. He fished out some white-colored food from his provisions and washed it down with water.
Nie MingJue walked toward him. As the boy was eating, his head hanging low, he suddenly found himself enveloped in a tall shadow. He looked up, then put his food away and stood up, “Sect Leader Nie.”
The boy’s figure was on the smaller side. He had fair skin and dark brows, precisely those favor-gaining features of Jin GuangYao. At this point in time, he hadn’t been accepted by his clan in Koi Tower yet, which was why he didn’t have the bright mark of vermillion on his forehead. Nie MingJue clearly remembered the face, “Meng Yao?”
Meng Yao answered respectfully, “Yes.”
Nie MingJue, “Why didn’t you rest inside the cave like everyone else did?”
Meng Yao opened his mouth, but only smiled awkwardly, as though he didn’t know what to say. Seeing this, Nie MingJue went past him and walked in the direction of the cave. Meng Yao looked as he wanted to pull him back, though he didn’t dare to. Nie MingJue concealed his breathing so that nobody noticed him even as he arrived at the mouth of the cave. The people inside were still chatting loudly.
“… Yep, that’s him.”
“No way! Jin GuangShan’s son? How can Jin GuangShan’s son be living the same way we do? Why doesn’t he go back and find his dad? He’d be relieved of such misery with just a point of his dad’s finger.”
“You think he doesn’t want to go back? What do you think he was doing when he took the keepsake all the way from Yunmeng to Lanling?”
“Then he chose the wrong thing to do. Jin GuangShan’s wife is scary.”
“I mean, Jin GuangShan has so many children outside, at least an entire stack of sons and daughters. Have you seen him accept anyone? Making such a scene was asking for embarrassment.”
“Well, people shouldn’t hope for the hopeless. He got beaten to a pulp, and who’s to blame? He can’t blame anyone. He dug his own grave.”
“He’s such an idiot! With Jin ZiXuan, would Jin GuangShan ever think anything of another son? Much less one from a prostitute mounted by thousands. Who knows whose seed he was. In my opinion, Jin GuangShan probably didn’t dare to accept him because he also had his doubts himself! Hahahaha…”
“Oh really? I bet he didn’t even remember that he had such a thing with the woman.”
“I’m actually feeling quite thrilled that Jin GuangShan’s seed has resigned himself to getting water for us, hahaha…”
“Resigned your ass. He’s put so much energy into this. Don’t you see how hard he’s working? Everyday he runs around trying to get on everyone’s good sides. He’s sick for hoping to accomplish something so that his dad accepts him.”
A flame of anger sprout within Nie MingJue’s heart, burning all the way into Wei WuXian.
His hand immediately pressed onto the hilt of his saber. Meng Yao hurried to stop him, but failed. The saber had unsheathed already, and a boulder in front of the cave crashed down. A few dozens of cultivators originally sat resting within the cave. All of them jumped up and unsheathed their swords, surprised by the fallen boulder. The bamboo tubes in their hands scattered over the ground.
Without any hesitation, Nie MingJue scolded, “Drinking the water he brought you while speaking such spiteful words! Did you join my forces not to kill the Wen-dogs, but to make idle talk?!”
The entire cave was in a muddle. Everyone knew ChiFeng-Zun’s personality—the more one tried to explain, the angrier he was. Seeing that they probably couldn’t escape punishment and would have to tell the truth, nobody dared to speak a word. Nie MingJue laughed coldly. He didn’t walk inside the cave either. Instead, he turned to Meng Yao, “You, follow me.”
He turned around and walked toward the foot of the mountain. Meng Yao followed. As the two walked, Meng Yao’s head hung lower and lower. His pace had slowed as well.
He only spoke after some hesitation, “Thank you, Sect Leader Nie.”
Nie MingJue, “A proper man should carry himself with proud righteousness. There’s no need to care for the talk of those idlers.”
Meng Yao nodded, “Yes.”
Although he answered as such, his face still bore a streak of worry. By lending him a hand, today Nie MingJue was able to hold the others down for him. In the future, though, the cultivators would definitely make him pay a price tens or hundreds of times greater. How could he not be worried?
Yet, Nie MingJue continued, “The more these people talked drivel behind your back, the harder you’re going to work to have them speechless. I’ve seen you on the battlefield. Everytime, you’re on the foremost lines and stay behind to help with the commoners in the end. Well done. Keep it up.”
Hearing this, Meng Yao paused for a moment, his face blank. His head raised up slightly. Nie MingJue added, “Your swordwork is quite nimble, but not solid enough. More work is needed.”
This was already an obvious encouragement. Meng Yao hurried, “Sect Leader Nie, thank you for your advice.”
Wei WuXian, however, knew that it wouldn’t be solid no matter how hard he practiced. Jin GuangYao wasn’t like the other disciples. His foundation was so poor that he’d never reach new heights. Thus, with cultivation, he could only aim for quantity instead of quality. This was why he rounded all of the sect leaders and learned their techniques. It was also why he was criticized as the “stealer of techniques”.
Hejian was not only a crucial location of the Sunshot Campaign, but also Nie MingJue’s main battlefield. As though a wall made of iron, it stood to the side of the QishanWen Sect, preventing it from invading anywhere. The QingheNie Sect and the QishanWen Sect were in a state of enmity to begin with, yet had always held it down. After the war began, both sides burst out. No matter small or large, each battle was to the death, often leading to severe bloodshed. The commoners in the Hejian area suffered heavy losses. The QishanWen Sect naturally didn’t care about such things, but the QingheNie Sect had to care.
Under such circumstances, Meng Yao, the one whom relentlessly cleared the battlefield and helped the commoners after each battle, received more and more attention from Nie MingJue. A few times later, Nie MingJue directly promoted him to his side to be his deputy. Meng Yao, on the other hand, also seized the opportunity, perfectly completing each task given to him. And thus, the current Jin GuangYao wasn’t like his future self, always being scolded by Nie MingJue. In fact, he was regarded quite highly. Wei WuXian had heard too much of those jokes of how “LianFang-Zun fled whenever he heard that ChiFeng-Zun arrived”. Every time he saw Meng Yao, who conversed with Nie MingJue peacefully, even impressively, he always felt that it was rather incredible.
On this day, Hejian’s battleground welcomed a certain guest.
During the Sunshot Campaign, stories of praise were told about all three of the Venerated Triad. The ones of ChiFeng-Zun were about how he swept over all obstacles, leaving not even a trace of the Wen-dogs after he finished. ZeWu-Jun—Lan XiChen—however, was different from him. After the situation of the Gusu area had settled down, Lan QiRen was able to defend it with great tenacity. Thus, Lan XiChen often travelled to aid others, saving lives from danger. In all of the Sunshot Campaign, he had countless times recovered lost territory and assisted narrow escapes. This was why people were ecstatic whenever they heard his name, as though they gained a ray of hope, a powerful trump card.
Everytime Lan XiChen passed Hejian as he was escorting other cultivators, he would rest shortly, with Hejian acting as some sort of a transit station. Nie MingJue led him to a spacious, brightly-lit hall. A few other cultivators also sat within the hall.
Although Lan XiChen looked almost exactly the same as Lan WangJi, Wei WuXian could tell them apart with just a glance. Yet, when he saw the face, he still couldn’t help but noting their similarity, thinking to himself, I wonder what’s happening to my body right now. If the paper body is invaded by resentful energy, would anything happen to the real body as well? Would Lan Zhan notice that something’s wrong?
After an exchange of small talk, Meng Yao, who had been standing by Nie MingJue’s side, walked up and offered everyone teacups. In the frontlines, one person was used as though there were six; there wasn’t any space for maids and servants at all. And so, these everyday trivalties had also been willingly accepted by Jin GuangYao, his deputy. A few of the cultivators hesitated as they saw his face, their expressions varied. Jin GuangShan’s “intimate tales” had always been widespread conversation starters. Meng Yao had been a famous joke for a certain period of time, which was why a few recognized him. Likely thinking that the son of a prostitute perhaps also carried some unclean things with him, the cultivators didn’t drink from the cups that he had presented with both hands. Instead, they put the cups to the side and even took out white handkerchiefs. As though it felt too uncomfortable, they repeatedly wiped the fingers that they’d touched the teacup with, either intentionally or not. Nie MingJue wasn’t someone mindful to such things. Wei WuXian, though, caught sight of this through the corners of his eyes. Meng Yao acted as if he didn’t see anything, his smile unfaltering as he continued to pass around tea.
As Lan XiChen accepted his cup, he looked up at him and smiled, “Thank you.”
He drank a sip of the tea immediately afterward. Only then did he continue to converse with Nie MingJue. A few cultivators began to feel uneasy as they saw the scene.
Nie MingJue had never been one for humor. However, in front of Lan XiChen, his expression eased, “How long is your stay?”
Lan XiChen, “Brother MingJue, I will have to stay at your place for the night. I am departing on the next morning, then meeting with WangJi.”
Nie MingJue, “Where to?”
Lan XiChen, “To Jiangling.”
Nie MingJue frowned, “Isn’t Jiangling still in the hands of the Wen-dogs?”
Lan XiChen, “Not since a few days ago. Currently, it is in the hands of the YunmengJiang Sect.”
A sect leader spoke, “Sect Leader Nie, I don’t think you’ve heard yet. Yunmeng’s Sect Leader Jiang is quite powerful in the area.”
Another person added, “How can he not be? Wei WuXian alone can face millions, so who’d he be scared of? He can just sit there controlling his area, unlike how we’re always running for our lives. With such luck…”
Someone noticed that the his words weren’t in a good tone, “Well, good thing that ZeWu-Jun and HanGuang-Jun are helping everyone. Or else, I don’t know how many sects and innocent commoners would fall into the hands of the Wen-dogs.”
Nie MingJue, “Your brother’s over there?”
Lan XiChen nodded, “He took the people over during the beginning of the month.”
Nie MingJue, “Your brother’s level of cultivation is quite high. He should be enough by himself. Then why are you still going?”
Hearing Nie MingJue praise Lan WangJi’s level of cultivation, Wei WuXian felt a strange surge of happiness, ChiFeng-Zun, what a great eye!
Lan XiChen sighed, “It is quite embarrassing, but after WangJi went, it seems that he had some small conflicts with the YunmengJiang Sect’s Young Master Wei.”
Nie MingJue, “What happened?”
Someone spoke, “I think HanGuang-Jun only had a dispute with Wei WuXian because his methods were too unnatural. They say that HanGuang-Jun denounced Wei WuXian to his face, how he disgraced the corpses, how he’s cruel and loves to kill, how he forgot his original intentions, and so on. But over there, everyone’s talking about the battle of Jiangling. Wei WuXian is described in such an incredible way. I’d love see it for myself if luck allows it.”
This person’s story wasn’t as bad as some others. The more exaggerated ones even told of how on the battlefield he and Lan WangJi fought with each other as they killed the Wen-dogs. In reality, back then, their relationship wasn’t as utterly incompatible as the rumors say, but there were some trivial clashes. At the time, Wei WuXian went around digging graves all the time, while Lan WangJi always chose the most vexing of vocabulary, such as how it wasn’t a righteous path and harmed both the body and the mind. He even straight up hindered Wei WuXian at times. What was more, they battled the Wen-dogs once every few days, both directly and secretively. Both of them were quite easily angered at the time, so they often parted on bad terms. Now, listening to others bring this up, Wei WuXian felt that it was a lifetime ago, though he suddenly remembered—it was indeed a lifetime ago.
Someone spoke, “From my opinion, HanGuang-Jun really doesn’t have to do this. Even the living are close to being dead, so why should we care about those corpses?”
Another person agreed, “Yes, we’re in harsh times, right? Sect Leader Jiang is right. In terms of evil or not, who’s more evil than the Wen-dogs? He’s on our side anyways. I say it’s fine as long as he’s killing the Wen-dogs.”
Wei WuXian thought, Well, that wasn’t what you guys said when you brought the siege on me.
Soon afterward, Lan XiChen and the rest stood up. They were brought to their resting areas by Meng Yao. Nie MingJue, on the other hand, returned to his room. He fetched a slender-bodied saber and carried it with him as he went to find Lan XiChen.
Yet, before he was even close, he could already hear the two conversing inside the room. Lan XiChen spoke, “What a coincidence. You joined MingJue-xiong’s force and became his deputy.”
Meng Yao, “I’m too lucky to have earned ChiFeng-Zun’s approval.”
Lan XiChen smiled, “MingJue-xiong has quite a fiery personality. It must have been truly difficult for you to have earned his approval.”
After a pause, he started again, “In these days, the LanlingJin Sect’s Sect Leader Jin has been managing with much difficulty in the Langya area. As of the current, he is trying to recruit more personnel.”
Meng Yao hesitated shortly, “ZeWu-Jun, you mean…”
Lan XiChen, “There is no need for such reticence. I remember you once told me that you hoped to earn a proper place in the LanlingJin Sect, receive the approval of your father. Now that you already have a position and a future under MingJue-xiong’s branch, does your wish still stand?”
Meng Yao seemed as though he considered the question closely, holding his breath. After a while of silence, he replied, “Yes, it does.”
Lan XiChen, “I would assume so as well.”
Meng Yao, “But now, I’m already Sect Leader Nie’s deputy. I owe Sect Leader Nie a debt of gratitude. No matter what remains of my wish, I cannot leave Hejian.”
Lan XiChen was silent for a moment, “That is indeed the case. Even if you want to leave, it would likely be difficult for you to bring up the topic. However, I believe that if you choose to ask, MingJue-xiong would respect your decision. Should he be unwilling to let you leave, I can attempt to convince him.”
Nie MingJue suddenly asked, “Why would I not let you leave?”
He pushed the door open and entered the room. Lan XiChen and Meng Yao sat facing each other, both of their expressions solemn. Seeing his appearance, they were rather surprised. Meng Yao stood up at once, but before he had the chance to speak, Nie MingJue spoke, “Sit.”
Meng Yao didn’t move. Nie MingJue spoke again, “I’ll write you a recommendation letter tomorrow.”
Meng Yao, “Sect Leader Nie?”
Nie MingJue, “You can take the letter to Langya and find your father.”
Meng Yao hurried, “Sect Leader Nie, if you heard everything, then you should’ve also heard me say that…”
Nie MingJue interrupted him, “I promoted you not because I wanted you to give back anything out of gratitude. I simply thought that you should stay in this position, since you are capable enough and your conduct is to my liking. If you really want to pay me back, just kill a few more of those Wen-dogs on the battlefield!”
Hearing this, Meng Yao was speechless despite his usual way with words. Lan XiChen grinned, “Look, I told you that MingJue-xiong would respect your decision.”
Meng Yao’s eyes were tinged red, “Sect Leader Nie, ZeWu-Jun… I…”
He lowered his head, “…I really don’t know what to say.”
Nie MingJue sat down, “If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything.”
He put the other saber in his hand onto the table. Lan XiChen smiled as he saw it, “HuaiSang’s saber?”
Nie MingJue, “Even though he’s safe there with you, he shouldn’t neglect his studies either. Tell others to supervise him when they’re free. Next time we meet, I’ll examine his saber and heart scriptures.”
Lan XiChen took Nie HuaiSang’s saber into his qiankun sleeve, “HuaiSang has been using the excuse that he left his saber at home. Now he will have no excuses for lazing around.”
Nie MingJue, “Speaking of it, what, have you met before?”
Meng Yao, “ZeWu-Jun, I’ve met him before.”
Nie MingJue, “Where? When?”
Lan XiChen smiled as he shook his head, “Let us not talk about it. It is the shame of a lifetime. MingJue-xiong, please do not ask any further.”
Nie MingJue, “Why would you be afraid of losing face in front of me? Meng Yao, speak.”
Meng Yao, “If ZeWu-Jun doesn’t want to say it, then I’ll have to keep the secret as well.”
The three chatted back and forth, at times serious, yet at times light. The conversation was much more relaxed than when they had been in the living room. Listening to their chatter, Wei WuXian often wanted to get a word in as well, yet he was unable to do so.
He thought to himself, At this point in time, their relationship really isn’t bad. ZeWu-Jun is actually quite good at holding conversations, so why is Lan Zhan so bad at it? Well, although this is the case, being quiet is great as well. I do all the talking, and he can just listen along and add in a few ‘mnn’-s. What was this called again…
A few days later, carrying Nie MingJue’s recommendation letter, Meng Yao set off toward Langya.
After he left, Nie MingJue switched to another deputy. Wei WuXian, however, felt that the new one was always a few beats slower. Meng Yao was an unusually clever talent. He could understand what wasn’t said, and perform to the best with the simplest orders. He was efficient and never slacked. Anyone used to him wouldn’t be able to refrain from comparing him with others.
Some time later, the LanlingJin Sect in Langya was on the verge of collapse, having already been barely managing. Lan XiChen just happened to be assisting another area. Jin GuangShan asked for help from Hejian, and Nie MingJue arrived shortly afterward.
As the battle finished, Jin GuangShan came to express his thanks, still in a terrible state. Nie MingJue talked with him in a curt manner, then quickly began, “Sect Leader Jin, what’s Meng Yao doing nowadays?”
Hearing him mention the name, Jin GuangShan replied, “Meng Yao? Uh… Sect Leader Nie, I don’t mean any offense, but who is he again?”
Nie MingJue’s brows immediately furrowed. Back then, the story that Meng Yao was kicked down Koi Tower passed around for quite a long time. Even others had known of such a farce, so there was no way that the person involved couldn’t remember the name. Only someone with the thickest of faces would be able to play dumb in such a situation. It was just that, however, Jin GuangShan just so happened to be such a person.
Nie MingJue spoke coldly, “Meng Yao is my past deputy. I wrote a letter for him to bring.”
Jin GuangShan continued to pretend as though he didn’t know a thing, “Really? But here I’ve never seen such a letter or such a person. Oh well. If I had known that Sect Leader Nie sent over his deputy I would definitely receive him well. But did any accidents happen along the journey?”
He simply equivocated, saying that he couldn’t remember if he had heard of the name or not. Nie MingJue’s face grew colder and colder. He felt that something must be wrong, so he left without the slightest hesitation. After asking the other cultivators, he still found nothing. Nie MingJue chose a few places and started to walk around.
On his way was a small forest. The forest was rather quiet, rather secluded. It had just been through a surprise attack, and the battlefield hadn’t been cleaned up yet. Nie MingJue walked along the path. All throughout the path were cultivators’ corpses, wearing the Wen Sect’s, the Jin Sect’s, and a few other sects’ uniforms.
Suddenly, from in front of him came noises of tch, tch.
Nie MingJue put his hand on the hilt of his saber and approached furtively. Across the branches and leaves, he saw Meng Yao standing amid piles of corpses. Twisting his wrist, he pulled a long sword out of a cultivator’s chest.
His expression was absolutely calm. Attacks both fast and steady, he was also careful, letting not even a droplet of blood stain his clothes.
The sword wasn’t his own sword. The hilt had iron embellishments in the shape of flames—it was the sword of a Wen Sect cultivator.
The sword techniques were also those of the Wen Sect’s.
And the one who died under his sword wore a robe of Sparks Amidst Snow. He was a cultivator of the LanlingJin Sect.
Nie MingJue saw all of the scene. Without saying a word, he unsheathed his saber by an inch. A sharp ring pierced through the air.
Hearing the familiar sound of unsheathing, Meng Yao immediately trembled. He spun around, his soul almost evaporating, “… Sect Leader Nie?”
Nie MingJue pulled all of his saber out of its sheath. The body of the sword glared brightly, yet the blade itself vaguely glinted in the red shade of blood. Wei WuXian could feel the billowing anger from him, along with emotions of disappointment and hatred.
Meng Yao knew Nie MingJue’s character more than anyone else. He dropped the sword with a clang, “Sect Leader Nie, Sect Leader Nie! Please wait, please wait! I can explain!”
Nie MingJue shouted, “What do you want to explain?!”
Meng Yao threw himself over, half rolling and half crawling, “I had no other choice, I had no other choice!”
Nie MingJue fumed, “What other choice did you not have?! What did I say when I sent you here?!”
Meng Yao kneeled before his feet, “Sect Leader Nie, Sect Leader Nie, just listen to me! I joined the LanlingJin Sect’s force. This was my superior. During my time here, he always despised me. He often humiliated me and beat me…”
Nie MingJue, “So you killed him?”
Meng Yao, “No! Not because of this! What humiliation can’t I put up with? What couldn’t I endure, if it was only beatings and scoldings? It was just that everytime we took over one of the Wen Sect’s strongholds, I strategized with every single drop of my energy, I fought as well as I could, yet with just a few flimsy words, just a few light brushstrokes he’d make it his credit, saying that it had nothing to do with me. This isn’t the first time. It was every single time, every single time! I reasoned with him, but he couldn’t care less. I turned to others, but nobody was willing to hear me out. Just now he said that my mother was, that my mother was… I really reached my limit—the accident only happened since I was momentarily outraged!”
Under the shock and the terror, he spoke as though his words flew, fearing that Nie MingJue might start chopping before he could even finish his explanation. Despite this, his explanation still had clear logic. Every sentence was highlighting how horrible the others were, how poor he himself was. Nie MingJue snatched his collar and lifted him up, “You’re lying!”
Meng Yao shuddered. Nie MingJue stared into his eyes, speaking one word at a time, “You reached your limit and were momentarily outraged? Would any outraged person kill someone with the expression that you had on? Would they purposely pick the discreet forest that had just been through a battle? Would they kill them with the Wen Sect’s sword, the Wen Sect’s technique in disguise as a Wen-dog’s stealth attack to put the blame on someone else? You’ve clearly been deliberately planning this out!”
Meng Yao raised his hand in assurance, “I’m telling the truth! Each and every sentence!”
Nie MingJue raged, “Even if it’s true, you still souldn’t kill him! It was only some trivial achievements! Do you care about such a handful of glory that much?!”
Meng Yao murmured, “Some trivial achievements?” He spoke in a shaking voice, “…What do you mean, some trivial achievements? ChiFeng-Zun, do you know how much work I put into such trivial achievements? How much I suffered? Glory? Without the handful of glory I have nothing!”
Nie MingJue looked at him, who shivered as tears gleamed in his eyes. The contrast between the scene and how he calmly killed someone was too stark. The impact was so great that the image still hadn’t faded from his mind. He spoke, “Meng Yao, let me ask you. The first time I saw you, did you purposely act for me in that pitiful way, so that I’d come to your rescue? If I didn’t, would you have done what you did today and killed all of those people?”
Meng Yao’s Adam’s apple bobbed, where a drop of cold sweat rolled off. Just as he was about to speak, Nie MingJue ordered, “Don’t lie in front of me!”
With a quiver, Meng Yao swallowed the words he was about to say. Kneeling on the ground, his entire body shook. The fingers of his right hand dug deeply into the dirt.
After a while, Nie MingJue slowly put his sword back into its sheath, “I won’t do anything to you.”
Meng Yao looked up at once. Nie MingJue continued, “On your own, go confess to the LanlingJin Sect and receive your punishment. Let them deal with you whichever way they deem fit.”
With a moment of hesitation, Meng Yao replied, “…ChiFeng-Zun, I can’t give up now that I’m already here.”
Nie MingJue, “To get here, you took the wrong path.”
Meng Yao, “You’re going to be sending me to my death.”
Nie MingJue, “If your words are true, it won’t happen. Go, reflect, and turn over a new leaf.”
Meng Yao whispered, “…My father hasn’t seen me yet.”
It wasn’t that Jin GuangShan didn’t see him.
He simply pretended to not know his existence.
At last, under Nie MingJue’s pressure, Meng Yao still replied “yes”, though with great difficulty.
After a while of silence, Nie MingJue spoke, “Stand up.”
As though his body was deprived of all energy, Meng Yao stood up in a trance. He staggered a few steps forward. Seeing that he was on the verge of falling, Nie MingJue helped him steady up. Meng Yao murmured, “…Thank you, Sect Leader Nie.”
Watching his lifeless figure, Nie MingJue turned around. Yet, he suddenly heard him speak, “…I still can’t.”
Nie MingJue wheeled around. He didn’t know since when, but a sword was in Meng Yao’s hand.
He pointed the sword at his stomach, face full of despair, “Sect Leader Nie, I’m unworthy of your kindness.”
As he spoke, he thrust it inside with force. Nie MingJue’s pupils shrunk abruptly. He reached to grab the sword, but it was already too late. In the instant, the sword in Meng Yao’s hand pierced through his stomach and left through his back. His body collapsed into the pool of other people’s blood.
Nie MingJue was shocked for a split second, then went forward. Half-kneeling on the ground, he turned Meng Yao’s body over, “You’re…!!!”
Meng Yao’s face was colorless. He gave Nie MingJue a weak look, then forced a smile, “Sect Leader Nie, I…”
Before he finished his sentence, his head slowly dropped. Holding his body, Nie MingJue avoided the blade of the sword and pressed his palm onto Meng Yao’s chest, passing him spiritual energy. Yet, Nie MingJue suddenly felt his body shudder. A cold, unceasing stream of energy came from his stomach.
Wei WuXian had known that there’d be a bluff, so he wasn’t too surprised. Nie MingJue, however, likely never expected Meng Yao to really harm him. Thus, as he watched Meng Yao calmly stand up in front of him, still unable to move, he was still more shocked than angered.
Meng Yao had probably carefully worked out how to avoid the vital areas. With both caution and composure, he pulled the sword out of his stomach, producing a string of small, bloody splashes, and pressed the wound—this was all he did to treat it. Nie MingJue, on the other hand, still remained in the posture that he used when trying to help Meng Yao. Half-kneeling with his head raised, their eyes met.
Nie MingJue didn’t say anything. Meng Yao didn’t say anything either. He sheathed his sword, bowed toward Nie MingJue, and sprinted away without looking back.
He had just acknowledged his mistake and agreed to receiving his punishment before feigning suicide and setting up a trap. Now, he was already long gone. It was probably Nie MingJue’s first time seeing such a shameless person, especially one that had just been the trusted aide whom he promoted himself. For this, he flew into a terrible rage, being especially fierce during the Wen Sect’s battles. Even when Lan XiChen had the time to assist Langya, a few days later, his anger hadn’t died down one bit. As soon as he came, Lan XiChen laughed, “MingJue-xiong, what a temper you seem to be in. Where is Meng Yao? Why does he not come and douse your flames?”
Nie MingJue, “Don’t mention such a person!”
Without any exaggeration, he told Lan XiChen of how Meng Yao killed and planned to blame someone else, then feigned death and ran away. After he heard the story, Lan XiChen was also surprised, “How could this be? Maybe there was a misunderstanding?”
Nie MingJue, “I caught him right on the spot. What misunderstandings could there be?”
Lan XiChen thought for a moment, “Judging from his words, the person whom he killed had definitely done wrong. However, he should not have taken his life either. We are in harsh times, so it is quite difficult to determine who was at fault. I wonder where he is now.”
Nie MingJue spoke in a harsh tone, “He should hope that I don’t catch him. If I do, I’ll offer him as sacrifice to my saber!”
However, as though his words turned into a prophecy, during the next few years, it was almost as if Meng Yao had suddenly disappeared, as if he had sunk like a rock into the ocean. No trace of him was left.
Now, Nie MingJue loathed him in the same manner that he had once valued him. Whenever the name was mentioned, he put on an angered face, expressing things hard to explain in speech. When he was certain that no information could be found, he refused to discuss Meng Yao with another person ever again.
Nie MingJue was never close to people. He rarely opened up to anyone. Though he finally managed to obtain a competent, trustworthy subordinate, whose character and capabilities he approved, he found that the subordinate’s true colors were nothing like what he had thought they were. It was only natural that his reaction was so extreme.
Just as Wei WuXian was thinking, his head suddenly began to ache, as though it was about to split open. The bones in his body felt as if they were crushed under a chariot. He couldn’t move at all—just the slightest shift made his body creak and groan. Opening his eyes, his sight was so blurry that he could only barely see many figures lie collapsed on the cold, jet stone floor of the hall. It seemed that Nie MingJue’s head had been injured. The wound was already numb. Dried-up stains of blood had clotted over his eyes and his face. With a slight twitch, warm blood climbed down his forehead again.
Wei WuXian was astounded.
During the Sunshot Campaign, Nie MingJue won almost all battles. The enemy couldn’t even approach him, much less cause him to be so badly injured.
What sort of a situation was this?!
A soft movement came from beside him. Wei WuXian glanced with the corner of his eye and saw a few vague figures. With great difficulty, he focused his gaze and saw that they were a couple of cultivators wearing robes of the sun and flames motif. They moved forward in an adept posture of kneeling on the ground.
Wei WuXian, “…”
All of a sudden, a bone-chilling sense of pressure surrounded him, reaching Wei WuXian through Nie MingJue’s body. Nie MingJue lifted his head slightly. At the end of the jet stone tiles was a large seat made of jade. A person sat atop it.
The distance wasn’t close, and Nie MingJue’s eyes were hindered by the blood, so he was unable to see who the person was. Nonetheless, he could guess who this was without using his sight.
The doors of the palace were abruptly opened. Somebody entered.
All of the disciples within the palace walked on their knees, yet this person only nodded in salutation as he first came in. Unlike the others, he walked forward nonchalantly. At the end of the hall, he seemed to bow down and speak a few words with the seated person before turning to this side.
With slow strides, he approached, quietly looking over Nie MingJue, who still remained standing even though he bathed in blood. It seemed as if he laughed, “Sect Leader Nie, long time no see.”
And who could this be, except for Meng Yao himself?