Chapter 51 Courage—Part One
Yunmeng was abundant in lakes. The YunmengJiang Sect’s “Lotus Pier”, the residence of the greatest sect here, was built near a lake as well.
Starting from the end of Lotus Pier, after just a while of paddling, one would see a large lotus lake, more than a hundred miles in length. The wide, verdant leaves and the smooth, pink blossoms brushed shoulders against one another. As a breeze blew over, the petals and the leaves swayed as if they nodded their heads. Amid the purity and grace, one could also feel a naive sense of clumsiness.
Lotus Pier wasn’t as other-worldly as the other sects’ residences, shutting their doors and refusing to let commoners come within a boundary miles away. The docks right in front of Lotus Pier’s entrance often bustled with vendors selling seed pods, water chestnuts and all kinds of pastries. Runny-nosed children from households nearby could also sneak into Lotus Pier’s fields to watch the cultivators practice their swords. They wouldn’t be scolded even if they got caught, either. They could sometimes even play around with the Jiang Sect’s disciples.
When Wei WuXian was young, he often shot kites at the bank of Lotus Lake.
Jiang Cheng stared fixedly at his own kite, glancing at Wei WuXian’s once in a while. Wei WuXian’s kite had already flown high up in the sky, but he still had no intention of drawing his bow. With his right hand at his brows, he grinned as he looked up, as though he still felt that it wasn’t far enough.
Seeing that the kite had almost drifted out of the area where he was certain he’d succeed in shooting it down, Jiang Cheng clenched his teeth. He positioned his arrow and drew the bow. The white-feathered arrow shot out. The kite painted like a one-eyed monster was pierced right through the eye and fell downward. Jiang Cheng’s brows lifted, “It hit!”
Right after, he asked, “Yours has flown so far already. You sure you can hit it?”
Wei WuXian, “Wanna guess?”
He finally pulled out an arrow and aimed. As the bow was drawn to the utmost, he swiftly let go.
Jiang Cheng’s brows scrunched up again. A humph came through his nose. All of the boys put away their bows and went to pick up their kites so that they could rank the distances. The closest kite would receive the lowest ranking. Every time, the last one was the shidi who was the sixth eldest. As usual, they’d spend some time laughing at him. His face was quite thick, though, so he didn’t care at all. Wei WuXian’s was the farthest. The closest one to him, the one ranked second, was Jiang Cheng’s kite. Both Wei WuXian and Jiang Cheng felt too lazy to go fetch the kites. The boys rushed into the winding hallway built over the water’s surface. They were playing around, jumping up and down, as two young, slender women appeared before them.
Both of them were dressed as armed maids, carrying with them short swords. The taller maid, holding a kite and an arrow, blocked their path. She asked coldly, “Whose are these?”
All of the boys silently cursed their luck as they saw the two women. Wei WuXian touched his chin and stepped forward, “They’re mine.”
The other maid snorted, “You’re an honest one, aren’t you?”
They parted and revealed between them a purple-clothed woman, also carrying a sword.
The woman had creamy skin and was rather beautiful, though her delicate features displayed some fierceness. The corners of her lips lay between a frown and a smile—she was a natural at sneering, just like Jiang Cheng. Her flowing purple robes wrapped around her thin waist. Both her face and her right hand, which rested on the hilt of her sword, were as cold as jade stone. A ring embellished with amethyst was worn on the index finger of her right hand.
Jiang Cheng smiled as he saw her, “Mom!”
Meanwhile, the rest of the boys greeted her with respect, “Madam Yu.”
Madam Yu was Jiang Cheng’s mother, Yu ZiYuan. Of course, she was Jiang FengMian’s wife, and used to cultivate with him as well. Naturally, she should be called Madam Jiang. But, for some reason, everyone had always called her Madam Yu. Some people guessed that it was because she didn’t want to take on her husband’s surname due to her assertive personality. On this matter, neither the husband nor the wife in question had ever argued either.
Madam Yu came from the prominent MeishanYu Sect. She was ranked third in her clan, so was also called Third Lady Yu. In the cultivation world, she went by the name “Violet Spider”. Just bringing up the name could scare quite a few away. Ever since she was young, she’d had a cold personality and never came off as likeable when conversing with others. Even after she married Jiang FengMian, she had always been out on night-hunts, not overly fond of staying at the Jiang Sect’s Lotus Pier. On top of that, where she lived at Lotus Pier was different from where Jiang FengMian did. She had her own area, where only she and a few of the family members she’d brought from the Yu Sect lived. The two young women, JinZhu and YinZhu, were both her trusted maids. They never left her side.
Madam Yu gave Jiang Cheng a sideways glance, “Fiddling about again? Come, let me see you.”
Jiang Cheng went to her side. Madam Yu squeezed his arm with her slender fingers, then slapped his shoulder loudly, scolding, “There’s isn’t any improvement in your cultivation at all. You’re seventeen already, yet you’re still like an ignorant child, fooling around with others all the time. Are you the same as others? Who knows which sewers other people will be splashing in, but you’re going to be the leader of the Jiang Sect!”
Jiang Cheng stumbled from the slap, head lowered, not daring to protest. Wei WuXian understood—it went without saying that she was scolding him again, whether obvious or not. On the side, one of his shidi secretly stuck out his tongue toward him. Wei WuXian raised a brow at the shidi. Madam Yu, “Wei Ying, what trouble are you stirring up this time?”
Wei WuXian stood forward, accustomed to it. Madam Yu scolded, “You’re like this again! If you yourself don’t seek progress, then don’t drag Jiang Cheng along to fool around with you. You’re going to be a bad influence to him.”
Wei WuXian looked startled, “I don’t seek progress? Why, am I not the one with the most progress in the entire Lotus Pier?”
Young people were never too patient. They wouldn’t feel satisfied unless they talked back. Hearing this, an air of hostility appeared over Madam Yu’s forehead. Jiang Cheng hastened, “Wei WuXian, shut up!”
He turned to Madam Yu, “It’s not that we want to shoot kites in Lotus Pier but, right now, isn’t it that none of us are allowed to leave? The Wen Sect assigned all of the night-hunt areas to itself. Even if I wanted to night-hunt, there isn’t anywhere for me to go. To stay at home and not go outside to provoke or fight for prey with the Wen Sect—isn’t this what you yourself made clear to Father?”
Madam Yu smirked bitterly, “I’m afraid that this time, even if you don’t want to leave, you’ll have to anyway.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t understand. Madam Yu didn’t pay them any more attention and walked through the hallway, holding her chin high. The two maids behind her shot Wei WuXian fierce glares, and followed their mistress away.
When evening came, they finally understood what had been meant by ‘even if you don’t want to leave, you’ll have to anyway.’
It turned out that the QishanWen Sect had ordered for envoys to pass out messages. For the reason that other sects taught badly and wasted talent, the Wen Sect demanded all of the sects to each dispatch at least twenty disciples to Qishan within three days, so that they could let experts teach them.
Jiang Cheng was shocked, “The Wen Sect’s people really said this? They know no shame, do they?”
Wei WuXian, “Well, they think they’re the sun shining above all sects. It’s not the first time that the Wen Sect is so shameless. Taking advantage of their large sect and strong influence, it had been prohibiting the other sects from night-hunting ever since last year. Just how much prey, how much land has it stolen?”
Jiang FengMian was sitting at the foremost seat, “Watch your words and eat.”
There were only five people within the large hall. In front of everyone was a small, square table, on top of which were a few dishes of food. Head lowered, Wei WuXian only had a few mouthfuls as somebody tugged at the corner of his sleeve. Turning around, he saw Jiang YanLi pass over a small dish. Inside the dish was a dozen peeled lotus seeds, soft and white, fresh and succulent.
Wei WuXian’s voice was soft, “Shijie, thank you.”
Jiang YanLi smiled. Those somewhat mild features immediately lit up with color. Yu ZiYuan spoke coldly, “Eat? A few days after this, when they’re at Qishan, we won’t even know if they give them any food. Why not go a few meals hungry starting from now? Let them get used to it!”
This demand of the QishanWen Sect was one that they couldn’t turn down. Countless precedents could prove that if any sect dared defy their orders, it would be accused of strange things such as being ‘rebellious’ or ‘destructive.’ And, with these as reasons, they would wipe it out fair and square.
Jiang FengMian replied in a lukewarm voice, “Why fret over it? No matter what comes in the future, today’s meal should still be eaten.”
Madam Yu was out of patience. She slammed the table, “I’m fretting? Of course I’m fretting! How can you still be so indifferent? Did you not hear what the person from the Wen Sect said? A mere maidservant dares to hold up her head before me! The twenty disciples that are sent must include a disciple from the clan. What does that mean? It means that between A-Cheng and A-Li, one of them must be included! Sent there to do what? To be taught? How each sect teaches their own disciples—since when is it the Wen Sect’s turn to meddle?! This is sending people for them to play with, for them to hold against us!”
Jiang Cheng, “Mom, don’t be so angry. I’ll just go.”
Madam Yu scolded, “Of course you’ll go! Or else would your sister go? Look at her, still happily peeling lotus seeds. A-Li, stop peeling them. Who are you peeling them for? You’re the mistress, not somebody’s servant!”
Hearing the word ‘servant’, Wei WuXian didn’t mind much. He had finished all of the lotus seeds in the dish all at once, chewing as the soft, refreshing sweetness filled his mouth. Jiang FengMian, on the other hand, raised his head slightly, “My lady.”
Madam Yu, “What, something I said? Servant? You don’t want to hear the word? Jiang FengMian, let me ask you—this time, do you intend to let him go?”
Jiang FengMian, “It’s up to himself. He can go if he wants to.”
Wei WuXian raised his hand, “I want to go.”
Madam Yu laughed harshly, “How wonderful. He can go if he wants to. If he doesn’t want to, it’s definitely possible for him to stay. Why is it that A-Cheng has to go no matter what? Raising someone else’s child with such passion, Sect Leader Jiang, you really are a very nice person!”
There was resentment within her heart. She simply wanted to let out the rage, even if it made no sense. All the rest were quiet as they endured her temper. Jiang FengMian, “My lady, you’re tired. Why don’t you go back and rest?”
Jiang Cheng sat still as he looked up at her, “Mom.”
Madam Yu stood up and mocked, “What do you want me to do? Like your father, you want me to hold my tongue? You really are an idiot. I’ve told you long ago that you’ll never in your whole life be able to surpass the one sitting beside you. Not over cultivation, not over night-hunting, even over shooting kites, you can’t surpass him! It can’t be helped. Who could change the fact that your mom is worse than another’s? Worse it is, then. Your mom feels injustice for you, tells you countless times not to fool around with him, yet you’re still defending him. Just how did I give birth to a son like you?!”
She walked out, alone, leaving Jiang Cheng sitting there, his complexion switching between purple and pale. Jiang YanLi quietly put a dish of already-peeled lotus seeds on his table.
Having sat for a while, Jiang FengMian spoke up, “Tonight, I’ll count eighteen more people. You’ll depart together next day.”
Jiang Cheng nodded, hesitant on whether or not he should say anything else. He never knew how to converse with his father, while Wei WuXian was proficient. Finishing his soup, he replied, “Uncle Jiang, don’t you have anything to give us?”
Jiang FengMian smiled, “I’ve given them long ago. Your swords are by your side, and the adage is in your hearts.”
Wei WuXian, “Oh! To ‘attempt the impossible’, right?”
Jiang Cheng immediately warned, “This doesn’t mean that you should stir up trouble even though you know that you’ll make a mess!”
The air among them finally lifted.
The next day, before departure, Jiang FengMian only spoke one sentence after he informed them of the necessities, “The disciples of the YumengJiang Sect aren’t as weak as to crack under just one of the outside world’s waves.”
Jiang YanLi saw them off, staying with them road after road. She filled everyone’s arms with all sorts of snacks, afraid that they’d starve at the QishanWen Sect. Clothes brimming with food, the twenty boys set off from Lotus Pier. Within the time that the Wen Sect had set, they arrived at the appointed sector of indoctrination located at Qishan.
A number of disciples came from each sect, whether large or small. All of them were juniors. Among the hundreds of people, quite a few of the boys knew one another. In groups of threes or sevens, everyone conversed quietly, none of their faces agreeable. It seemed that they were all gathered here using not the most pleasant of means. Glancing around, Wei WuXian remarked, “As expected, people came from Gusu as well.”
He didn’t know why, but all of the boys sent from the GusuLan Sect looked somewhat pallid. Lan WangJi’s face was especially pale, but his expression was still as frosted as usual, distancing him from everyone else. The sword Bichen on his back, he stood alone, with nobody around him. Wei WuXian had wanted to go up to him and say hello, but Jiang Cheng warned him, “Don’t cause any trouble!”
And so he could only forget about it.
Suddenly, a person shouted commands from in front of them, ordering all of the disciples to gather into formation before a tall platform. A few of the Wen Sect’s disciples came and chided, “Silence, all of you! Don’t talk!”
The person on the platform wasn’t too much older than them, appearing about eighteen or nineteen. Chest puffed out, he had features that only barely crossed paths with the word “handsome”. But, like his hair, they felt a bit greasy, for some reason. This was the youngest child of the QishanWen Sect, Wen Chao.
Wen Chao really enjoyed showing his face. He had flaunted himself before the other sects in quite a number of events, which was why people weren’t strangers to how he looked. Behind him stood two people, one on the left and the other on the right. On the left was a glamorous girl, her stature slim. With long brows, large eyes, and lips of fiery red, the only blemish was the black mole above her upper lip. It sat on an awkward spot, as though it was always inviting others to dig it out. On the right was a tall, broad-shouldered man, appearing to be in his twenties. His face showed only indifference, surrounded by an air of coldness.
Standing on the taller half of the hill, Wen Chao looked down at everyone. Looking quite pleased with himself, he waved his hand, “From now on, one by one, hand over your swords!”
A commotion began among the crowd. Someone protested, “Swords should always accompany those who cultivate. Why do you want us to hand over our swords?”
Wen Chao, “Who was the one that spoke? From which sect? Stand forward on your own!”
The person who spoke was immediately too afraid to speak. The crowd below the platform finally quieted, and Wen Chao was finally satisfied, “It’s exactly because there are still disciples like you, who know nothing of conduct, of compliance, of humility, that I’m here to indoctrinate you so that your cores don’t rot away. You’re already so ignorantly audacious. If your customs aren’t straightened up now, in the future, there’d naturally be those who attempt to challenge the authority and climb above the Wen Sect’s head!”
Although everyone knew that he asked for their swords with ill intentions in mind, with the QishanWen Sect like the sun at high noon, all of the sects were treading on thin ice, daring not to defy it in the slightest way. Everyone was afraid that if they caused him any displeasure, they’d be given some accusation along with their sect, and so they could only submit to him.
Jiang Cheng held Wei WuXian firmly. Wei WuXian asked with a lowered voice, “What are you holding me down for?”
Jiang Cheng snorted, “Don’t do unnecessary things.”
Wei WuXian, “You’re thinking too much. Even if this one is so greasy that it’s gross, no matter how much I want to beat him up, I won’t pick such a time and cause our sect trouble. Don’t worry.”
Jiang Cheng, “You want to stuff him into a bag and beat him up again? I’m afraid that wouldn’t work. You see that guy beside Wen Chao?”
Wei WuXian, “Yes. His cultivation is high, but his youth isn’t maintained well enough. Looks like he was a late bloomer.”
Jiang Cheng, “His name is Wen ZhuLiu, also known as the ‘Core-melting Hand’. He’s servant kept by Wen Chao’s side, specially to protect him. Don’t provoke him.”
Wei WuXian, “The ‘Core-melting Hand’?”
Jiang Cheng, “That’s right. His pair of palms is quite scary. And he’s an aid to the tyrant. Before, he helped Wen…”
The two looked straight ahead as they whispered. Seeing one of the Wen Sect’s servants approach to take away their swords, they were silent at once. With confidence, Wei WuXian unstrapped his sword and handed it over. At the same time, he couldn’t help but glance across at the GusuLan Sect’s side. He originally thought that Lan WangJi would definitely refuse to hand it over. Unexpectedly, even though Lan WangJi’s face was frighteningly cold, he unstrapped his sword anyway.
The mockery of Madam Yu had become a prophecy. Receiving the “indoctrination” in Qishan, the meals everyday really were bland. All of the snacks that Jiang YanLi had hung around their bodies were taken away long ago. On top of that, among the young disciples, none had practiced inedia yet. One couldn’t say that it wasn’t difficult.
The so-called “indoctrination” of the QishanWen Sect included only handing out copies of “Quintessence of the Wen Sect”, booklets full of the stories and quotes of the Wen Sect’s past leaders and best cultivators. Everyone had one. They were demanded to memorize them well and keep them in mind at all times. Wen Chao, on the other hand, stood above them every single day. He’d give a speech to everyone and request that they cheer for him, make him the role model to every word, every action. During night-hunts, he would bring the disciples with him and make them run at the very front. They’d scout the path, distract the demons and beasts, and battle with all their effort, while he’d appear at the last moment and easily knock down the prey that had already been beaten to a pulp by others. After he cut off its head, he’d go around boasting that it came from the victory he had achieved alone. If there were anyone whom he found especially displeasing, he’d pull them out and scold them in front of everyone, as though said person was lower than even swine.
Last year, attending the Discussion Conference of the QishanWen Sect, Wen Chao also entered the grounds along with Wei WuXian and the others, on the day of the archery competition. He was completely sure that he’d win the first place, thinking that it was only natural for other people to yield to him. As consequence, of the first three shots, the first was a hit, the second missed, and the third shot down the wrong paper mannequin. He should’ve exited the grounds immediately, but he refused to, and the others were hesitant of calling him out. In the end, after the calculations, the four with the best results were Wei WuXian, Lan XiChen, Jin ZiXuan, and Lan WangJi. If it weren’t for having to leave early, Lan WangJi could’ve done even better. Wen Chao felt greatly humiliated, and so he resented these four the most. Lan XiChen couldn’t come this time, so he was fixated on the other three, scolding them everyday, exhibiting his power.
The one who suffered the most was Jin ZiXuan. He grew up having been cupped within the palms of his parents. He had never undergone such humiliation before. If not for how the other disciples of the LanlingJin Sect stopped him and the fact that Wen ZhuLiu wasn’t easy to deal with, he would have willingly killed himself along with Wen Chao on the first day. On the other hand, Lan WangJi seemed to be in a state of inner peace and absolute indifference, as though his soul had already risen out of his body. And, Wei WuXian had been through years of Madam Yu’s diverse methods of scolding when he was at Lotus Pier. He began to laugh whenever he stepped off the platform, hardly blinking an eye to such moments.
Today, as usual, the group was hustled awake by the Wen Sect’s disciples again. Like a group of livestock, they were driven toward the next destination of their night-hunts.
The place that they were going this time was called Dusk-Creek Mountain.
The deeper they went into the forest, the thicker the branches over their heads became, and the larger the shadows below them grew. Aside from the sounds of leaves and footsteps, they couldn’t hear anything else. The calls of birds, beasts and beetles were unusually perceivable amid the silence.
After a while, the group met with a creek. Scattered throughout the gurgling water were maple leaves that floated along. The harmony of the sound and the sight imperceptibly diluted the atmosphere of desolation. Bouts of giggling laughter could even be heard from in front of them.
Wei WuXian and Jiang Cheng walked while muttering insults at the Wen-dogs in every way possible. Inadvertently, he turned around, glanced, and saw a figured clothed in white. Lan WangJi was not far away from him.
Due to his slow pace, Lan WangJi was toward the back of the line. Within these past few days, there were many times when Wei WuXian wanted to approach him and catch up on what had been happening. However, Lan WangJi turned away whenever he saw him and Jiang Cheng had also beat it into him not to mess around. Now that they were closer, he couldn’t help but pay more attention. Wei WuXian suddenly realized that, although Lan WangJi tried to walk as normally as possible, one could still see that his right leg contacted the ground lighter than his left, as though he couldn’t put any pressure on it.
Seeing this, Wei WuXian slowed down so that he was beside Lan WangJi. Walking shoulder to shoulder with him, he asked, “What happened to your leg?”
JinZhu and YinZhu: JinZhu means “golden pearl”, while YinZhu means “silver pearl”.
My lady: The literal translation of this would be “Wife” or “Lady”, later on “Third Wife” (which doesn’t work in English) or “Third Lady”, but I personally think that it’d feel a bit strange. This is open for suggestions.
Wen Chao: Chao is usually a surname with no meanings attached rather than a given name. However, the character is indeed associated with the symbol of the sun.
Wen ZhuLiu: ZhuLiu means to “chase the stream”.