Chapter 49 Guile—Part Four
Wei WuXian could finally be sure of which scene he was looking it.
Back then, when Nie MingJue received the information, he began a surprise attack at Yangquan.
Nie MingJue’s attacks had almost always been successful. Yet, whether because of a mistake in the information or just pure luck, nobody had expected that the attack led them straight to the sect leader of the QishanWen Sect, Wen RuoHan.
Due to the miscalculation in their forces, the QishanWen Sect relinquished their passivity. It captured all of the cultivators who came and took them to the Nightless City.
Meng Yao half-kneeled to the side of Nie MingJue, “I never would’ve expected you to be in such a terrible situation.”
Nie MingJue only spoke two words, “Get lost.”
Meng Yao’s laugh held a sense of pity, “Do you still think you’re the king of Hejian? Look carefully—this is Sun Palace.”
One of the cultivators on the side spat out, “Sun Palace? It’s only the den of the Wen-dogs!”
Meng Yao’s expression changed and he unsheathed his sword.
A line of blood instantly flew from the cultivator’s neck. He died without a sound. Those from his sect wailed, screaming as they threw themselves over. Nie MingJue was enraged, “You!”
Another cultivator roared, “You Wen-dog! If you’re so confident, why don’t you kill me as well?”
Meng Yao didn’t even move his brows. With another backhanded swing, blood bloomed from the cultivator’s throat. Meng Yao smiled, “Sure.”
Sword in his hand, he stood amid a pool of blood, the corpses of two white-robed cultivators at his feet. He asked, still smiling, “Does anyone else want to say the word?”
Nie MingJue replied coldly, “Wen-dog.”
He knew that only death awaited him now that he was in Wen RuoHan’s hands, which was why he didn’t fear anything. If Wei WuXian were the one in such a situation, he would’ve also cursed as awfully as he wanted to before doing anything else—he’d die no matter what. Despite this, Meng Yao only smiled, not at all angered. With a snap of his fingers, one of the Wen Sect’s cultivators came over on his knees. Both hands above his head, he positioned a long box before Meng Yao’s hands.
Meng Yao opened the box and took out a certain object, “Sect Leader Nie, why don’t you take a look at what this is?”
It was Nie MingJue’s saber, Baxia!
Nie MingJue was infuriated, “Get lost, now!”
However, Meng Yao had already taken Baxia out and was holding it in his hand, “Sect Leader Nie, Baxia had been in my hands quite a few times in the past. Don’t you think it’s already too late for you to be angry now?”
Nie MingJue spoke one word at a time, “Take your hand off it!”
As though purposely trying to enrage him, Meng Yao weighed the saber in his hand and commented, “Sect Leader Nie, your saber, I’d say, can pass as a top-tier spiritual weapon. With that said, compared to the saber of your father, the previous Sect Leader Nie, it’s still somewhat inferior. Why don’t you take a guess at how many times Sect Leader Wen has to slap it for it to break this time?”
Within a split second, all of the blood in Nie MingJue’s body rushed to his head. Wei WuXian’s scalp was also numb by the sudden anger. He commented in silence, Just brutal.
The thing in Nie MingJue’s life that he loathed and regretted the most was the death of his father.
Back then, when Nie MingJue was only a teenager and the leader of the QingheNie Sect was his father, someone gifted Wen RuoHan a rare saber. Wen RuoHan was pleased for quite a couple of days. He had asked the guest cultivators—what do you think of this saber of mine?
He had always been unpredictable, laughing one second and then hostile the next. Of course, everyone flattered him as he liked, praising how no saber in all of history could compare to this one. Unfortunately, though, one of the guests either held bitterness to the previous Sect Leader Nie or wanted to reply with a unique answer and gain attention. He had said—of course your saber is unparalleled, but, you see, I’m afraid that a certain person won’t agree.
And, thus, Wen RuoHan wasn’t pleased anymore. He asked who the person was. The guest replied—it’s naturally the leader of the QingheNie Sect, a sect known for its saber cultivation; he’s awfully arrogant, always boasting about how his prized saber is absolutely unrivaled, and how even in a hundred years no sword has been able compare to his. No matter how good one’s saber was, he definitely won’t admit it, and even if he did admit it out loud, he won’t admit it in his heart.
Wen RuoHan laughed after he heard—are you sure about that? Well, I want to see.
And so, he immediately called over the previous Sect Leader Nie of Qinghe. Holding the saber, Wen RuoHan looked at it for a while, then replied with only one sentence—yes, it really is a good saber.
He slapped the saber a few times, and told Sect Leader Nie to take it back.
Back then, nothing seemed out of place. The previous Sect Leader Nie was also confused. He was only annoyed by the commanding attitude. However, during a night-hunt a few days after he returned, when battling a beast, his saber suddenly broke into pieces. Then he was severely injured by the horn of the beast.
Nie MingJue, who was night-hunting along with his father, saw the scene with his own eyes.
After Sect Leader Nie was brought back, he couldn’t make peace with such an event no matter what, and his injuries didn’t heal either. Having fallen ill for half a year, he finally left the world, from either the anger or the illness. The reason why Nie MingJue, along with the entire QingheNie Sect, detested the QishanWen Sect with such intensity was due to this.
Now, right before Wen RuoHan, Meng Yao held his saber and mentioned once again how both his father and his father’s saber had been destroyed. It was as cruel as one could get!
With a smack of Nie MingJue’s hand, Meng Yao staggered backward and coughed up a mouthful of blood. Seeing this, the figure on the jade seat shifted forward, as though wanting to move. Meng Yao immediately got up and kicked toward Nie MingJue’s chest. Nie MingJue’s previous attack was already beyond what he could manage. He fell heavily onto the ground. Finally, he couldn’t hold back the boiling blood circulating within his chest any longer.
Wei WuXian, on the other hand, was shocked speechless.
There were so many versions to the rumors, but he had never thought that there was the marvelous detail of LianFang-Zun kicking ChiFeng-Zun!
With great force, Meng Yao stamped on Nie MingJue’s chest, “How dare you act in such a way before Sect Leader Wen’s eyes!”
As he spoke, he stabbed downward with his sword. Nie MingJue slapped Meng Yao’s sword with his palm, causing it to shatter into pieces. Meng Yao had also fallen from the attack. Just as Nie MingJue prepared to strike the crown of Meng Yao’s head, he felt his body get dragged toward another direction by an unusual force.
This direction was that of Wen RuoHan’s seat. With great speed, Nie MingJue’s body dragged a thirty-feet streak of blood along the jet stone tiles. The streak was still growing in length.
Nie MingJue reached for one of the kneeling Wen Sect disciples and threw him toward the jade seat. With a burst, crimson blood exploded in the air as if a watermelon had flown into pieces and the pulp had splattered all over the ground. Wen RuoHan had cracked the disciple’s head with an airborne strike. However, this had still saved time for Nie MingJue. Anger had allowed a sudden surge in his strength. With a leap, he formed a hand seal, and Baxia flew to him at once.
Meng Yao shouted, “Sect Leader, watch out!”
A voice laughed madly, “Let it be!”
It was a youthful voice. Wei WuXian wasn’t the least surprised. Wen RuoHan’s level of cultivation was extremely high, so of course his corporal body was also perfectly maintained in its prime. As soon as Nie MingJue’s hand gripped Baxia’s hilt, he slashed it forward. The dozens of Wen Sect’s cultivators who came to encircle him were cut in half!
Countless deformed corpses lay in disorder on the coal-colored tiles. Suddenly, Wei WuXian felt his a shiver down his spine.
Within the blink of an eye, a figure had appeared behind him. Nie MingJue slashed across fiercely, his spiritual power smashing some of the ground into fragments, yet he hit nothing. His chest, however, felt as though it had received a strong blow. He crashed into one of the golden pillars in the palace, coughing up warm blood. Blood had also trickled down his forehead, continuing to blur his sight. Sensing that someone was approaching, he waved his arm for another attack. This time, a fist had slammed into the center of his chest. His entire body sunk a few degrees into the tiled ground!
Wei WuXian’s senses were connected with Nie MingJue’s. As he was beaten up, he was secretly shocked.
Wen RuoHan’s abilities really were overwhelmingly formidable!
Wei WuXian had never dueled Nie MingJue directly, so he didn’t know who’d win or lose. However, from his observations, Nie MingJue’s level of cultivation could be ranked top three out of all the people whom he had seen. Yet, in spite of this, he was still absolutely defenseless in front of Wen RuoHan! And, even if he himself were here, he wouldn’t dare say that the injuries he received would be any less than Nie MingJue’s…
Wen RuoHan stepped onto Nie MingJue’s chest. Wei WuXian’s sight was beginning to darken. The taste of blood kept on travelling up his throat.
Meng Yao’s voice was approaching, “Your subordinate is useless to have needed your presence, Sect Leader.”
Wen RuoHan laughed, “You good-for-nothing.”
Meng Yao laughed as well. Wen RuoHan asked, “He’s the one who killed Wen Xu?”
Meng Yao, “That’s right. It was him. Sect Leader, are you going to kill your foe right now, or drag him to the Fire Palace? My personal suggestion is to take him to the Fire Palace.”
The “Fire Palace” was Wen RuoHan’s playground. It was where he collected thousands of torture devices for tormenting people. This meant that Meng Yao was unwilling to give Nie Mingjue a straightforward death. Meng Yao wanted to take him to Wen RuoHan’s torturing grounds and forge him through the devices that he himself had made until he finally died.
Hearing the two of them joke around, talking about how to deal with him, Nie MingJue felt raging flames heat the seething blood in his chest. Wen RuoHan replied, “Why mop around with someone who’s already half-dead?”
Meng Yao, “Now, that’s not the way to go about this. With Sect Leader Nie’s sturdy body, he might become all great and mighty again after just a few days of rest.”
Wen RuoHan, “Do as you please.”
Meng Yao, “Yes.”
Yet, as he responded, a cold light, thinner than thin, slashed out and across.
Wen RuoHan suddenly turned quiet.
Warm droplets of blood splashed onto Nie MingJue’s face. He seemed as though he sensed something, trying to look up and see what was going on. Still, with his heavy injuries, his head sunk to the ground. He finally closed his eyes.
Wei WuXian didn’t know how long had passed before he finally felt a streak of light in his sight. Nie MingJue slowly opened his eyes.
As soon as he awakened, he found that one of his arms was carried over Meng Yao’s shoulder. Meng Yao managed forward, half-carrying, half-dragging him.
Meng Yao, “Sect Leader Nie?”
Nie MingJue, “Wen RuoHan has died?”
Meng Yao seemed as if his footing had slipped. He responded with a trembling voice, “He has probably…died.”
He was also carrying something in his hand.
Nie MingJue spoke in a low tone, “Hand me the saber.”
Wei WuXian couldn’t see Meng Yao’s expression. He could only hear the saddened smile from his voice, “Sect Leader Nie, at such a point in time, just please don’t keep on thinking about cutting me up with your saber…”
Nie MingJue was silent for a moment. Having refocused his strength, he snatched the saber. Even though Meng Yao was agile, pure power could subdue all skill. With the saber taken, he immediately leaped to the side, “Sect Leader Nie, you’re still injured.”
Saber in hand, Nie MingJue spoke coldly, “You killed them.”
The cultivators who were held captive alongside Nie MingJue.
Meng Yao, “Sect Leader Nie, you should understand. In that sort of situation… I had no choice.”
What Nie MingJue hated the most were such irresponsible words. Fuming, he lunged with his saber, “You had no choice? Whether or not to do it was up to you, and so was whether or not to kill them!”
Meng Yao dodged, protesteting, “Was it really up to me? Sect Leader Nie, if we think from each other’s perspective…”
Nie MingJue had known what he wanted to say. He interrupted, “We won’t!”
Meng Yao also seemed as though his energy had run out. He tried to avoid the attacks, yet his feet had almost slipped, revealing how difficult of a situation he was in. After taking a while to catch his breath, it was as if he had finally exploded. He suddenly shouted, “ChiFeng-Zun!!! Don’t you understand that if I didn’t kill them, you’d be the one who died then?!!”
This was actually the same as saying, ‘I’m the one who saved your life so you can’t kill me or else it’d be immoral.’ However, Jin GuangYao was indeed worthy of his reputation. The same meaning but a different wording, and he was able to create a contained sense of frustration and a reserved sense of sorrow. As he had expected, Nie MingJue’s movement halted. Veins stood out under his forehead.
Having paused for a while, he clenched the hilt of his saber and shouted, “Very well! I’ll kill myself after I kill you!”
Meng Yao shrunk immediately after his previous outburst. Watching Baxia slash toward him, he sprinted off at once, scared lifeless. Of the two, one striked with madness and the other fled with madness. Both staggered, still soaked in blood. In such amusing circumstances, as Wei WuXian chopped at the future Chief Cultivator, in his heart he split his sides laughing. He thought that if not for how Nie MingJue was under heavy injuries and lacked spiritual power, Meng Yao would probably have been dead already.
Amid all the action, a surprised voice suddenly called out, “MingJue-xiong!”
A figure dressed in clean, white robes darted out of the forest. Meng Yao looked as if he had just seen a god from Heaven. He quickly scrambled over and hid behind the person’s back, “ZeWu-Jun!!! ZeWu-Jun!!!”
Nie MingJue was in the middle of his rage. He didn’t even have the chance to ask why Lan XiChen was there as he shouted, “XiChen move!”
Baxia’s strikes were so menacing that Shuoyue had to unsheath. Lan XiChen stopped him, half to support his figure and half to block his attacks, “MingJue-xiong, calm down! Why bother?”
Nie MingJue, “Why don’t you ask what he did?!”
Lan XiChen turned around to look at Meng Yao, his face was full of terror. He stammered as if he didn’t dare speak. Nie MingJue, “Back then, after you fled from Langya, I was wondering why I couldn’t find you no matter what! So you became the Wen-dogs’ underling and took sides with the tyrant in the Nightless City!”
Lan XiChen, “MingJue-xiong.”
He rarely interrupted others. Nie MingJue hesitated. Lan XiChen continued, “Do you know who was the one that gave you the QishanWen Sect’s maps of tactical formation these past few times?”
Nie MingJue, “You.”
Lan XiChen, “I was delivering them. Do you know who was the source of all that information?”
Under such circumstances, it wasn’t difficult to see what he had meant. Nie MingJue glanced at Meng Yao, who stood behind him, head hanging low. His brows twitched uncontrollably, as though he couldn’t believe the matter.
Lan XiChen, “There is no need to doubt. Today, as well, I have come here to aid you only after he contacted me. Or else, how would I just happen to appear here?”
Nie MingJue was unable to say anything.
Lan XiChen added, “After incident at Langya, A-Yao felt remorse, but he was afraid he might run into you. He could only manage to sneak into the QishanWen Sect and approach Wen RuoHan, then write me letters in secrecy. At first, I did not know whom the person sending the letters was, either. I only realized whom he was after discovering a few clues from a coincidence or two.”
He turned to Meng Yao, then lowered his voice, “Did you not tell MingJue-xiong of these?”
Holding the wound on his arm, Meng Yao managed a smile, “ZeWu-Jun, you saw as well. Even if I did say so, Sect Leader Nie wouldn’t have believed me either.”
Nie MingJue remained silent, while Baxia and Shuoyue continued. Meng Yao took a glimpse at the glares from the clashes of the saber and the sword, his gaze full of fear. After a while, however, he still took a step forward. He kneeled to Nie MingJue.
Lan XiChen, “Meng Yao?”
Meng Yao whispered, “Sect Leader Nie, back in Sun Palace, although it was to gain the trust of Wen RuoHan, I did indeed harm you and say inappropriate things. I purposely jabbed at your scar, knowing that the previous Sect Leader Nie hurts you deeply… Although I had no other choice, I’m still truly sorry.”
Nie MingJue, “The one you should be kneeling to isn’t me, but the cultivators that you killed with your own hands.”
Meng Yao, “Wen RuoHan had a cruel character. Whenever there was any disobeyment, he’d act as though he was mad. Since I was pretending to be someone he could trust, how could I sit back when others humiliated him? So…”
Nie MingJue, “Good. Looks like you’ve been doing these things since sometime ago.”
Meng Yao sighed, “I was in Qishan.”
Lan XiChen sighed as well, his attacks persisting, “MingJue-xiong, he was undercover in Qishan, and sometimes there would be some things that… could not have been helped. When he was doing these things, in his heart he was also…”
In his heart, Wei WuXian shook his head, ZeWu-Jun, he’s still… too kind, too pure.
After a second thought, however, he concluded that he was only so guarded toward Jin GuangYao because he had already known about the various suspicions, whereas the Meng Yao in front of Lan XiChen was someone who had gone undercover without a choice, enduring humiliation alone. The two held different viewpoints, so how could their feelings be compared?
A moment later, Nie MingJue still raised his saber. Lan XiChen, “MingJue-xiong!”
Meng Yao shut his eyes. Lan XiChen also tightened his grip on Shuoyue, “Please excuse…”
Before he could finish his sentence, the silver light of the blade slashed down violently, onto a boulder on the side.
Meng Yao flinched from the thunder of the boulder splitting apart. Looking over, he saw that it had been sliced into two halves, from the top to the bottom.
Even in the end, the saber couldn’t fall on him. Baxia unsheathed. Nie MingJue walked away and never turned around.
Now that Wen RuoHan had died, even though remnants of the QishanWen Sect still remained, they were already beyond hope—their defeat was set in stone.
And the sacrificial Meng Yao who had been undercover in the Nightless City for years became famous immediately after the battle.
Wei WuXian had once found it strange as well. Ever since Meng Yao betrayed the QingheNie Sect, the relationship between Nie MingJue and him hadn’t been the same as before. Then why did they later become sworn brothers? From his observations, aside from how Lan XiChen brought it up, having always hoped that the two would reconcile, the most important factor was probably the gratitude of saving his life and writing the letters. To be precise, in his past battles, he had more-or-less depended on the information that Meng Yao sent over through Lan XiChen. He still thought that Jin GuangYao was a talented person whom one would rarely come upon, and intended on leading him back onto the right path. However, Jin GuangYao wasn’t his subordinate anymore. Only after they became sworn brothers would he have the status and the position to urge Jin GuangYao, like how he disciplined his younger brother, Nie HuaiSang.
After the Sunshot Campaign had ended, the LanlingJin Sect set up a flower banquet that lasted for days, inviting countless cultivators, countless sects to come and celebrate together.
On Koi Tower, people came and went. Before Nie MingJue’s high viewpoint, the crowd parted again and again, with both sides nodding at him in respect, calling him “ChiFeng-Zun”. Wei WuXian thought, Such a show of extravagance is going to reach even the heavens. All these people both fear and respect Nie MingJue. There’s quite a few people who fear me, though not a lot who respect me.
Jin GuangYao was standing right beside the base of the palace. Now that he had become sworn brothers with Nie MingJue and Lan XiChen, and been accepted into his clan, he had already painted between his brows the mark of vermilion and donned the white, golden-edged robes of Sparks Amidst Snow. Wearing a gauze cap, he was almost beyond recognition. As handsome as ever, his cleverness was the same, yet his air was calmer than it had ever been.
Beside him, Wei WuXian was surprised to find a familiar figure.
At this point in time, Xue Yang was still quite young. Although his features were still childlike, he was already rather tall. He was also wearing a robe of Sparks Amidst Snow. Standing beside Jin GuangYao, it was as though a spring breeze blew over willow trees—he was full of youthful talent. They seemed to be talking about something amusing. Jin GuangYao smiled, gesturing with his hand. The two exchanged a look, and Xue Yang bursted into laughter. With nonchalance, he glanced at the cultivators who walked around. His eyes were filled with casual contempt, as though all of them were walking pieces of trash. When he saw Nie MingJue, he had none of the fear that others had. Instead, he grinned, flashing his canine teeth. Jin GuangShan noticed that Nie MingJue’s expression wasn’t too keen. With hurry, he suppressed his smile and whispered something to Xue Yang. Xue Yang waved his hands, then skipped over to another area.
Jin GuangYao walked over and spoke with a tone of respect, “Brother.”
Nie MingJue, “Who was that?”
After a moment of hesitation, Jin GuangYao answered carefully, “Xue Yang.”
Nie MingJue frowned, “Xue Yang of Kuizhou?”
Jin GuangYao nodded. Xue Yang had been infamous ever since he was young. Wei WuXian clearly felt Nie MingJue’s brows knit even tighter. He spoke, “Why are you wasting your time with such a person?”
Jin GuangYao, “The LanlingJin Sect recruited him.”
He didn’t dare to protest any further. Excuse being that he needed to care for the guests, he scurried to the other side. Nie MingJue shook his head and turned around. With the turn, Wei WuXian immediately felt his eyes lit up. He felt as though snow had begun to fall from the sky, drifting toward a hall illuminated by moonlight. Side by side, Lan XiChen and Lan WangJi walked over.
The two jades of Lan stood together, one wearing the xiao, the other carrying the guqin; one warmly gentle, the other coldly austere. Nevertheless, they were similarly stunning, similarly poised, truly the same color, yet two different airs. No wonder others had always stared and exclaimed with such a sight.
The current Lan WangJi still had some naivety at the edges, but the cold expression that kept everyone at arm’s length was the same. Wei WuXian’s gaze stuck to his face at once, unable to be move away no matter what. Regardless of whether or not he could hear it, Wei WuXian shouted happily, “Lan Zhan! I miss you so much! Hahahahahahaha!”
Suddenly, a voice spoke, “Sect Leader Nie, Sect Leader Lan.”
Hearing the familiar voice, Wei WuXian’s heart jumped. Nie MingJue turned around again. Jiang Cheng came over, dressed in purple, hand on his sword.
And the person standing beside Jiang Cheng was none other than Wei WuXian himself.
He saw himself walk with hands behind his back, wearing all black. A flute in the shade of ink stuck to his waist, hanging down with crimson colored tassels. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jiang Cheng, he nodded in this direction to show respect. Attitude slightly arrogant, he took on a profound, disdainful appearance. As Wei WuXian saw the stance of his younger self, the root of his teeth even cringed in soreness. He felt that he really was pretentious, and itched to just beat the hell out of himself.
Lan WangJi also saw Wei WuXian, who stood beside Jiang Cheng. The tip of his brows twitched ever so slightly. Soon afterward, his light-colored eyes returned to where they were, still looking forward in that composed way. Jiang Cheng and Nie MingJue nodded at each other with grave faces. Neither had anything unnecessary to say. After a hasty greeting, the two walked their separate ways. Wei WuXian saw his black-clothed self glance around as he finally saw Lan WangJi. He looked as if he was about to speak before Jiang Cheng came over and stood to his side. Heads down, they each said something, wearing serious expressions on their faces. Wei WuXian laughed aloud. Still walking beside Jiang Cheng, he went toward another area. The people around them also moved to make quite some space for them.
Wei WuXian thought about it carefully—just what was it that they talked about? Originally, he couldn’t recall it no matter what. He only remembered after scrutinizing the shape of their mouths through Nie MingJue’s sight. Back then, what he said was, ‘Jiang Cheng, ChiFeng-Zun is so much taller than you, haha.’
And what Jiang Cheng said was, ‘Gest lost. You want to die?’
Nie MingJue’s gaze turned over again, “Why does Wei Ying not carry his sword?”
Carrying one’s sword was like wearing formal attire. In such gatherings, it was a non-negligible indication of etiquette. Those from prominent sects saw it as especially important. Lan WangJi responded in a lukewarm tone, “He had probably forgotten.”
Ning MingJue raised a brow, “He can even forget something like this?”
Lang WangJi, “It is nothing out of the ordinary.”
Wei WuXian, Well, well, bad-mouthing me behind my back. Now I’ve caught you.
Lan XiChen smiled, “Young Master Wei has said before that he does not want to care about any of the redundant formalities. Let alone carrying his sword, even if he does not wear his clothes, what can others do about him? How truly youthful.”
Hearing from another person’s mouth the arrogant words he had once said did indeed bring up an indescribable feeling. Wei WuXian felt a bit ashamed, yet he couldn’t really do anything either. Suddenly, he heard Lan WangJi mutter under his breath, “How frivolous.”
He voice was extremely soft, as though it was directed at only himself. The two words knocked upon Wei WuXian’s ears, somehow making his heart skip a few beats as well.
Lan XiChen looked at him, “Hmm? Why are you still here?”
Lan WangJi was a bit confused. With a straight face, he replied, “Brother is here, so of course I am here as well.”
Lan XiChen, “Why have you not gone to converse with him yet? They will soon be far gone.”
Wei WuXian found this rather strange, Why did ZeWu-Jun bring this up? Might it be that Lan Zhan had something to say to me?
Before he could see how Lan WangJi reacted, a series of clamor suddenly came from the other end of the base. Wei WuXian heard his own raging shout, “Jin ZiXuan! Don’t you forget about what things you said and what things you did? What do you mean by this, now?!”
Wei WuXian remembered. So it was this time!
On the other side, Jin ZiXuan also fumed, “I was asking Sect Leader Jiang, not you! The one I was asking about was also Maiden Jiang. How is that related to you?!”
Wei WuXian, “Well said! How is my shijie related to you? Back then, who was the one whose eyes grew on the back of their head?”
Jin ZiXuan, “Sect Leader Jiang—this is our sect’s flower banquet, and this is your sect’s person! Are you going to look after him or not?!”
Lan XiChen, “ Why have they begun to argue again?”
Lan WangJi looked over there, yet his feet were still stuck to the ground. A while later, as if he was finally determined to do something, he stepped forward. He was about to go over when Jiang Cheng’s voice came, “Wei WuXian, you can just shut your mouth. Young Master Jin, I’m sorry. My sister is doing quite well. Thank you for your concern. We can talk about this next time.”
Wei WuXian laughed coldly, “Next time? There is no next time! Whether or not she’s doing well isn’t any of his business, either! Who does he think he is?”
He turned around and started to leave. Jiang Cheng shouted, “Get back here! Where are you going?”
Wei WuXian waved his hands, “Anywhere is fine! Just don’t let me see that face of his. I never wanted to come, anyway. You can deal with whatever’s here yourself.”
Having been abandoned by Wei WuXian, Jiang Cheng’s face immediately clouded over. Jin GuangYao had been busying himself with all sorts of things in and out of the place. He faced all guests with smiles, all problems with action. Seeing that something went wrong over here, he emerged again, “Young Master Wei, please wait!”
Hands behind his back, Wei WuXian walked at a fast pace. His face was dark, and he didn’t pay attention to anyone. Lan WangJi walked a step toward him, but before he had a chance to speak, the two of them brushed shoulders and parted.
Jin GuangYao couldn’t catch up with Wei WuXian. He stomped his foot on the ground and sighed, “And there he goes. Sect Leader Jiang, just… just what should I do?”
Jiang Cheng stowed away the clouds on his face, “Don’t mind him. Look at how impolite he is. He’s used to such rude behavior at home.”
He then began to converse with Jin ZiXuan.
Watching the two, Wei WuXian let out a long sigh in silence. The good thing was that Nie MingJue wasn’t too interested in the things going on here. He quickly looked away, and Wei WuXian wasn’t able to see them anymore.
The QingheNie Sect’s residence, the Unclean Realm—
Nie MingJue was sitting on a mat seat. A guqin lay horizontally before Lan XiChen as he brushed his fingers over the strings. When the song finished, Jin GuangYao laughed, “Well, now that I’ve heard Brother’s guqin skills, I might as well smash my guqin the moment I get home.”
Lan XiChen, “Your skills are also considered quite fine outside of Gusu. Were they taught by your mother?”
Jin GuangYao, “No. I taught myself by watching others. She never taught me such things. She only taught me reading and writing, and bought a handful of expensive sword and cultivation guides for me to practice.”
Lan XiChen seemed surprised, “Sword and cultivation guides?”
Jin GuangYao, “Brother, you haven’t seen them before, have you? Those small booklets sold by the common folk. First jumbled sketches of human figures, then deliberately mystified captions.”
Lan XiChen shook his head, smiling. Jin GuangYao shook his head as well, “All of them are scams, especially to fool women like my mother and ignorant children. You won’t lose anything by practicing them, but you definitely won’t gain anything either.”
He sighed in a rueful way, “But how could my mother have known this? She bought them no matter how expensive they were, saying that if I returned to see my father in the future, I had to see him with as much competence as possible so that I don’t fall behind. All of the money was spent on this.”
Lan XiChen strummed the strings of the guqin, “You are very talented, having achieved so much from simply watching others. If a master could offer you advice, you would make rapid progress.”
Jin GuangYao grinned, “The master is right before my eyes, but I’d never dare to trouble him.”
Lan XiChen, “Why not? Young Master, sit, please.”
And Jin GuangYao sat down in front of him, his back straight and still. He pretended as though he was a student humbly listening to advice, “Teacher Lan, what will you be teaching?”
Lan XiChen, “How about Sound of Lucidity?”
Jin GuangYao’s eyes lit up, but before he could speak, Nie MingJue looked up, “Sound of Lucidity is one of the GusuLan Sect’s exclusive teachings. It shouldn’t be leaked.”
Lan XiChen, though, didn’t seem to mind. He smiled, “Sound of Lucidity is different from Sound of Vanquish in that its usage is to clear one’s mind. How selfish must I be to withhold such a therapeutic technique? Besides, why would teaching it to our third brother be considered as a leakage?”
Seeing that his heart was set, Nie MingJue didn’t say anything further.
One day, the moment he returned to the main hall of the Unclean Realm, he saw about a dozen folding fans, all lined in gold, flattened out one next to the other in front of Nie HuaiSang, who was touching them tenderly, mumbling as he compared the inscriptions written on each one. Immediately, veins protruded from Nie MingJue’s forehead, “Nie HuaiSang!”
Nie HuaiSang fell at once.
He really did fall to his knees from the terror. He only staggered up after he finished kneeling, “B-b-b-brother.”
Nie MingJue, “Where is your saber?”
Nie HuaiSang cowered, “In… in my room. No, in the school grounds. No, let me… think…”
Wei WuXian could feel that Nie MingJue almost wanted to hack him dead right there, “You bring a dozen fans with you wherever you go, yet you don’t even know where your own saber is?!”
Nie HuaiSang hurried, “I’ll go find it right now!”
Nie MingJue, “There’s no need! Even if you find it you won’t get anything out of it. Go burn all of these!”
All of the color drained out of Nie HuaiSang’s face. He rushed to pull all of the fans into his arms, pleading, “No, Brother! All of these were given to me!”
Nie MingJue slammed his palm onto a table, causing it to crack, “Who did? Tell them to scurry out here right now!”
Someone spoke, “I did.”
Jin GuangYao walked in from outside the hall. Nie HuaiSang looked as though he saw a knight in shining armor, beaming, “Brother, you’re here!”
In reality, it wasn’t that Jin GuangYao could calm Nie MingJue’s anger, but that since Jin GuangYao came, all of Nie MingJue’s anger would be directed at him alone, having no time to scold others. Thus, there was nothing wrong with saying that he was Nie HuaiSang’s knight in shining armor. Nie HuaiSang was absolutely delighted. He greeted Jin GuangYao again and again as he grabbed the fans in haste. Seeing how his younger brother reacted, Nie MingJue was so outraged that he almost found it amusing. He turned to Jin GuangYao, “Don’t send him those useless things!”
In a hurry, Nie HuaiSang dropped a few fans on the ground. Jin GuangYao picked them up for him and put them into his arms, “HuaiSang’s hobbies are quite elegant. He’s dedicated to art and calligraphy, and has no propensity for mischief. How can you say that they’re useless?”
Nie HuaiSang nodded as fast as he could, “Yes, Brother is right!”
Nie MingJue, “But sect leaders have no need for such things.”
Nie HuaiSang, “I’m not going to be a sect leader, though. You can be it, Brother. I’m not doing it!”
As his brother’s glance swept over, he shut his mouth at once. Nie MingJue turned to Jin GuangYao, “What did you come here for?”
Jin GuangYao, “Our second brother said that he gave you a guqin.”
The guqin was given when Lan XiChen was here to play Sound of Lucidity for Nie MingJue, in order to help him calm his temper. Jin GuangYao continued, “Brother, in the past few days, the GusuLan Sect is at a critical point in its reestablishment of the Cloud Recesses and you refuse to let him come, which was why he taught me Sound of Lucidity. I assume that even though I’m not as skilled as our second brother, I’d still be able to help calm you to a certain extent, Brother.”
Nie MingJue, “Just take care your own things.”
Nie HuaiSang, however, was rather interested, “Brother, what song? Can I listen? Let me tell you, the limited edition that you gave me last time…”
Nie MingJue shouted, “Go back to your room!”
Nie HuaiSang fled at once, not to his room, however, but to the living room for the presents that Jin GuangYao had brought him. With a few interruptions, Nie MingJue’s fury had mostly died. He turned around to look at Jin GuangYao, whose face seemed quite tired, robes of Sparks Amidst Snow covered in dust. He probably came here directly from Carp Tower. After a pause, Nie MingJue spoke, “Sit.”
Jin GuangYao nodded lightly and sat as he had been told, “Brother, if you’re concerned for HuaiSang, softer words would do no harm. Why this?”
Nie MingJue, “Even when a blade’s at his neck he’s still like this. Looks like he’ll always be a good-for-nothing.”
Jin GuangYao, “It isn’t that HuaiSang is a good-for-nothing, but that his heart lies somewhere else.”
Nie MingJue, “Well you’ve really discerned where his heart lies, haven’t you?”
Jin GuangYao smiled, “Of course. Isn’t that what I’m the best at? The only person whom I can’t discern is you, Brother.”
He knew of people’s likes and dislikes so that he could find suitable solutions; he loved running errands and could do twice the work with half the effort. Thus, Jin GuangYao could be said to be quite a talent at analyzing others’ interests. Nie MingJue was the only person whom Jin GuangYao couldn’t probe out any useful information about. Wei WuXian saw this already, back then when Meng Yao was working under Nie MingJue. Women, liquor, riches—he touched none; art, calligraphy, antiques—a pile of ink and mud; the finest green tea leaves and dregs from a roadside booth—there was no difference. Meng Yao tried everything he could think of yet still couldn’t find if he was interested in anything beside training his saberwork and killing Wen-dogs. He really was a wall made of iron, impenetrable by even the sharpest blades. Hearing that his tone was one of self-mock, Nie MingJue wasn’t as disgusted as he would’ve been, “Don’t help him build such a conduct.”
Jin GuangYao smiled slightly, then asked, “Brother, where’s our second brother’s guqin?”
Nie MingJue pointed him a direction.
Since then, Jin GuangYao would travel from Lanling to Qinghe every few days, playing Sound of Lucidity to help quell Nie MingJue rage. He tried his hardest, without speaking even a single word of complaint. Sound of Lucidity was indeed effective. Wei WuXian could clearly feel that the hostile energy within Nie MingJue was being suppressed. And, when playing the guqin, the way that the two conversed and got along even had a hint of the peace they had before they fell out. He began to think that maybe the so-called busy reestablishing the Cloud Recesses was just an excuse. Perhaps Lan XiChen simply wanted to give Nie MingJue and Jin GuangYao a chance to ease their tension.
Yet, just as he thought so, the next moment, a stronger rage had emerged.
Nie MingJue threw off two disciples who didn’t dare stop him and walked straight into the Blooming Garden. Lan XiChen and Jin GuangYao were discussing something inside the study, their expressions solemn. A few blueprints lay on the desk before the two, covered in notes of all colors. Seeing how he barged in, Lan XiChen hesitated slightly, “Brother?”
Nie MingJue, “Don’t move.”
He then turned to Jin GuangYao, speaking in a cold voice, “Come out.”
Jin GuangYao turned around to look at him, then looked at Lan XiChen again, smiling, “Brother, could you please help me go through this one? I have some private matters to discuss with our eldest brother. I’ll have to ask for your explanation at a later time.”
Lan XiChen’s face disclosed his worry, but Jin GuangYao stopped him, then followed Nie MingJue out of the Blooming Garden. As soon as they approached the edge of Carp Tower, Nie MingJue brought his palm down on him.
The disciples on the side were shocked. Jin GuangYao nimbly dodged the strike. He signalled for them to stay put as he spoke to Nie MingJue, “Brother, why the rage? Let’s calm down.”
Nie MingJue, “Where’s Xue Yang?”
Jin GuangYao, “He’s already been locked inside the dungeon, imprisoned for life…”
Nie MingJue, “What did you say to me back then?”
Jin GuangYao was silent. Nie MingJue continued, “I wanted him to pay blood with blood, yet you have him imprisoned for life?”
Jin GuangYao answered carefully, “As long as he receives his punishment and can’t offend again, perhaps paying blood with blood and being imprisoned for life is…”
Nie MingJue, “The good things that the good guest cultivator whom you recommended has done! Things are already like this and you still dare defend him!”
Jin GuangYao protested, “I didn’t defend him. I was also shocked by the case of the Changyang Yue Sect. How could I have known that Xue Yang would kill more than fifty people? But my father was set on keeping him…”
Nie MingJue, “Shocked? Who was the one that invited him? Who was the one that recommended him? Who was the one that regarded him highly? Don’t use your father as excuse. How could you not have known what Xue Yang was doing?!”
Jin GuangYao sighed, “Brother, it really was my father’s orders. I couldn’t refuse. Now, if you want me to take care of Xue Yang, what would I say to him?”
Nie MingJue, “There’s no need for explanations. Come back to me with Xue Yang’s head in your hand.”
Jin GuangYao still wanted to speak, but Nie MingJue had already lost all patience, “Meng Yao, don’t speak such pretentious words in front of me. Your whole thing stopped working on me since a long time ago!”
Within a second, a few degrees of unease flashed over Jin GuangYao’s face, as though someone with an unmentionable illness was suddenly exposed in the public. There was nowhere for him to hide.
He spoke, “My whole thing? Which whole thing? Brother, you’ve always yelled at me for calculating people and being too dishonorable. You say that you’re a proud, righteous person, that you aren’t afraid of anything, that propen men shouldn’t need to play with schemes. That’s fine. Your background is noble and your cultivation is high. But what about me? Am I the same as you? First, my cultivation isn’t as firm as yours. Ever since I was born, has anyone taught me? And second, I have no prominent background. Do you think that I’m in a steady position, here at the LanlingJin Sect? Do you think that I can rise into power the moment Jin ZiXuan dies? Jin GuangShan would rather bring another illegitimate child back than want me to succeed him! You think that I should be afraid of nothing? Well I’m afraid of everything, even other people! He whose stomach is full believes not him who is starving.”
Nie MingJue replied coldly, “In the end, all you mean is that you don’t want to kill Xue Yang, that you don’t want your position at the LanlingJin Sect to waver.”
Jin GuangYao, “Of course I don’t!”
He looked up, unknown fires dancing within his eyes, “But, Brother, I have always wanted to ask you something—the lives under your hands are in any regard more than those under mine, so why is it that I only killed a few cultivators out of desperation and you keep on bringing it up, even until now?”
Nie MingJue was so enraged that he began to laugh, “Good! I’ll give you my answer. Countless souls who have fallen under my saber, but I’ve never killed out of my own desires, much less to climb up the ladder!”
Jin GuangYao, “Brother, I understand what you mean. Are you saying that all of the people you killed deserved their deaths?”
With courage gathered from nowhere, he laughed and walked a few steps closer to Nie MingJue. His voice raised as well, asking in an almost aggressive manner, “Then, may I ask, just how do you decide if someone deserves death? Are your standards absolutely correct? If I kill one but save hundreds, would the good outweigh the bad, or would I still deserve death? To do great things, sacrifices must happen.”
Nie MingJue, “Then why don’t you sacrifice yourself? Are you any nobler than them? Are you any different from them?”
Jin GuangYao stared at him. A moment later, as though he had finally either decided on something or given up on something, he replied calmly, “Yes.”
He looked up. In his expression were some of pride, some of calmness, and some of a faint insanity, “I and they, of course we are different!”
Nie MingJue was infuriated by his words and his expression.
He raised his foot. Yet, Jin GuangYao neither avoided nor took defense. The kick landed right on him, and again he rolled like a pebble down Carp Tower.
Looking down, Nie MingJue shouted, “It’s no wonder, coming from the son of a prostitute.”
Jin GuangYao only landed after rolling down more than fifty steps. He didn’t even stay on the ground for long before crawling up. With a wave of his hand, he sent away the servants and disciples who surrounded him. Dusting off his robes, he slowly raised his head to look at Nie MingJue. His eyes were quite calm, almost indifferent. Just as Nie MingJue unsheathed his saber, Lan XiChen happened to leave the palace to see what was going on, concerned after having waited for long. Seeing the situation before him, he unsheathed Shuoyue as well, “What happened, this time?”
Jin GuangYao, “Nothing. Brother, thank you for your advice.”
Nie MingJue, “Don’t hinder me!”
Lan XiChen, “Brother, sheath your saber first—your mind is in turmoil!”
Nie MingJue, “I am not. I know what I’m doing. He’s beyond hope. If these keeps on going, he’ll do the world harm for sure. The earlier he’s killed, the earlier we can relax!”
Lan XiChen jolted in surprise, “Brother, what are you talking about? These past few days he has constantly been rushing to and fro between Lanling and Qinghe. Is it only in exchange for your comment that he is beyond hope?”
To deal with people like Nie MingJue, bringing up the good and bad others had done to them was a good tactic. As expected, he paused shortly and glanced at Jin GuangYao. Blood streamed down from his forehead, but aside from the wound from the fall, there was also an old wound from before, wrapped in bandages. It had been hidden only because he was wearing the black gauze cap. Now, both wounds gaped open, so he took off the bandages and used it to wipe the blood from the wounds, so that the clothes weren’t dirtied. Then, he tossed it onto the ground and stood there quietly, thinking about unknown matters. Lan XiChen turned around, “You can go back. I will talk to our eldest brother.”
Jin GuangYao bowed in this direction and left. Feeling Nie MingJue’s grip soften, Lan XiChen also took away his sword. He patted Nie MingJue’s shoulder to lead him to the side.
Lan XiChen walked as he spoke, “Brother, I am afraid that you do not know. Our third brother really is in a terrible situation as of the moment.”
Nie MingJue’s voice was still cold, “In his words, he seems like he’s always in awful situations.”
Although he was saying so, his saber was already sheathed. Lan XiChen continued, “Who says he is not? A moment ago, he talked back to you, did he not? Do you think he used to do this?”
It was true that he didn’t, that his behavior was unusual. Jin GuangYao wasn’t someone who couldn’t hold down their emotions. He knew that the way to deal with Nie MingJue was to back down. The explosion-like argument indeed didn’t seem like something that he’d do.
Lan XiChen, “His mother never liked him to begin with. After ZiXuan-xiong passed away, she often hit him and scolded him. These days, his father also refuses to listen to him. He returned all of his proposals.”
Wei WuXian recalled the pile of blueprints on the table and knew, The lookout towers.
Finally, Lan XiChen concluded, “For the time being, let us not force him with too much assertion. I trust that he knows what he should do, as long as we give him some more time.”
Nie MingJue, “Hopefully so.”
Wei WuXian had thought that, after receiving a kick from Nie MingJue, Jin GuangYao would probably stay put for some time. Yet, a few days later, he still came to the Unclean Realm as usual.
Nie MingJue was on the school ground, teaching and supervising Nie HuaiSang’s saberwork in person. He didn’t acknowledge Jin GuangYao, so he stood at the edge of the field, waiting with respect. Since Nie HuaiSang was quite uninterested and the sun was bright, he was rather half-hearted, complaining that he was tired after just a few moves. He beamed as he got ready to go to Jin GuangYao and see what presents he brought this time. In the past, Nie MingJue would only frown at such things, but today he was angered, “Nie HuaiSang, do you want this strike to land on your head?! Get back here!”
If only Nie HuaiSang were like Wei WuXian and could feel how great Nie MingJue’s rage was, he wouldn’t grin in such a bold way. He protested, “Brother, the time is up. It’s time to rest!”
Nie MingJue, “You rested just thirty minutes ago. Keep on going, until you learn it.”
Nie HuaiSang was still giddy, “I won’t be able to learn it anyways. I’m done for the day!”
He often said this, but today Nie MingJue’s reaction was entirely different from his past reaction. He shouted, “A pig would’ve learnt this by now, so why haven’t you?!”
Never expecting Nie MingJue to burst out so suddenly, Nie HuaiSang’s face was blank with shock as he shrunk toward Jin GuangYao. Seeing the two together, Nie MingJue was even more provoked, “It’s been one year already and you still haven’t learnt this one set of saber techniques. You stand on the field for just thirty minutes and you’re complaining that you’re tired. You don’t have to excel, but you can’t even protect yourself! How did the QingheNie Sect produce such a good-for-nothing! The both of you should be tied up and beaten once every day. Carry out all those things in his room!”
The last sentence was spoken to the disciples standing by the side of the field. Seeing that they had gone, Nie HuaiSang felt as though he was on pins and needles. A moment later, the row of disciples really did bring out all the fans, paintings, porcelain from his room. Nie MingJue had always threatened to burn his room, but he had never actually burned them. This time, though, he was serious. Nie HuaiSang panicked. He threw himself over, “Brother! You can’t burn them!”
Noticing that the situation wasn’t good, Jin GuangYao also spoke, “Brother, don’t act on impulse.”
Yet, Nie MingJue’s saber had already striked. All of the delicate objects piled at the center of the field erupted in roaring flames. Nie HuaiSang wailed and plunged into the fire to save them. Jin GuangYao hurried to pull him back, “HuaiSang, be careful!”
With a sweep of Nie MingJue’s hand, the two blanc de chine antiques shattered into pieces in his palms. The scrolls and paintings had already turned into dust in a split second. Nie HuaiSang could only watch blankly as the much loved items that he had gathered throughout the years vanish into ashes. Jin GuangYao grabbed his hands to examine them, “Are they burnt?”
He turned to a few disciples, “Please prepare some medicine first.”
The disciples answered and left. Nie HuaiSang stood at the same place, his entire body trembling as he looked over at Nie MingJue, pupil encircled by veins. Seeing that his expression wasn’t right, Jin GuangYao put his arm around his shoulders and whispered, “HuaiSang, how are you feeling? Stop watching. Go back to your room and have some rest.”
Nie HuaiSang’s eyes brimmed red. He didn’t even make a sound. Jin GuangYao added, “It’s alright even if the things are gone. Next time I can find you more…”
Nie MingJue interrupted, his words like ice, “I’ll burn them each time he brings them back into this sect.”
Anger and hatred suddenly flashed across Nie HuaiSang’s face. He threw his saber onto the ground and yelled, “Then burn them!!!”
Jin GuangYao quickly stopped him, “HuaiSang! Your brother is still angry. Don’t…”
Nie HuaiSang roared at Nie MingJue, “Saber, saber, saber! Who the fuck wants to practice the damn thing?! So what if I want to be a good-for-nothing?! Whoever that wants to can be the sect leader! I can’t learn it means I can’t learn it and I don’t like it means I don’t like it! What’s the use of forcing me?!”
Okay, but every time I type “with a straight face” when talking about either Wei WuXian or Lan WangJi, I just want to unveil the ever-so-hidden truth and type “with a gay face” instead.