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Chapter 68: Tenderness—Part Six
Translated by K of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Wei WuXian left the donkey down at the bottom of the mountain. He stepped over the remains of the wall and walked up the mountain path. Soon later, he saw the stone statue of a headless beast. The statue was thousands of pounds in weight. It had guarded the mountain path for many years. Vines climbed over it and moss gathered at the dents. The head of the beast had been chopped off by an axe and tossed somewhere near. As if to assert power, it had been smashed into small pieces. The cut was still new, revealing the whiteness inside. Farther along, similarly, the next statue that they saw had been cut into two halves, from head to toe.
Wei WuXian knew at once that these were the stone beasts that the sects had set onto the acupoints of the terrain to guard the mountain after he had died. The stone beasts were capable of exorcism. They required much craft and were quite expensive to produce. Now, it was likely that all of them had been destroyed. It was truly a waste.
Side by side, Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi walked a few more steps. Inadvertently looking back, he saw that Wen Ning had already appeared.
He stood beside the stone beast, head lowered and unmoving. Wei WuXian asked, “Wen Ning? What are you looking at?”
Wen Ning pointed at the base of the stone beast.
The stone beast was on top of a short, thick tree trunk. By the trunk, there were three smaller, shorter trunks. They seemed to have been burnt over by fire. They were entirely black.
Wen Ning kneeled on the ground with both of his knees. His fingers dug deeply into the dirt, grabbing a handful of black dirt, and clenched it within his palm, “… Sister.”
Wei WuXian didn’t know what to say. He walked over and patted his shoulder hard.
Throughout Wei WuXian’s life, two periods of time had been extremely hard to endure. Both happened here. He never intended to visit such a place again.
And, to Wen Ning, Burial Mound was even more of an unforgettable place.
A gust of cold breeze swept over. The sea of trees rustled as though tens of thousands of thin voices whispered. Wei WuXian listened carefully. Kneeling on the ground with one knee, he bent down and murmured something toward the earth below him. Suddenly, a bump formed below the surface.
As though a pale flower had grown out of the black soil, a skeleton arm slowly broke through the dirt.
The portion of the skeleton arm was weakly suspended in the air. Wei WuXian reached out and grabbed it. He bent down even lower. His long hair fell from his shoulder, masking half of his face.
He pressed his lips toward the skeleton hand and whispered something. Then he was quiet, as though he was listening for something. A while later, he nodded slightly. The hand formed a flower bud again and withdrew into the soil.
Wei WuXian stood up and swept away the dirt on him, “These days they’ve taken over a hundred people up here. They’re all at the top, still alive. The people who took them have already gone down the mountain though. I don’t know what they want to do. Anyways, we should be careful.”
The three continued upward. They came along a few run down shacks standing alongside the mountain path.
The houses varied in size. The structure was simple, even crude. Just one glance, it was obvious that they had been built rashly. Some were so burned that only bare frames were left, while some slumped entirely to one side. Even the most complete ones were half-destroyed. After being under over ten years of rain and wind, with nobody to care for them, each looked like dying ghosts in tattered clothing, looking down in silence at those who came up the mountain.
Ever since they had gone up the mountain, Wen Ning’s footsteps had been especially heavy. Right now, standing before one of the houses, again, he couldn’t walk any longer.
This was one of the houses that he had built himself. Before he left, the house had still been fine. Although it was crude, it was a place to seek shelter from the weather, nonetheless holding the people he was familiar with; the people he treasured.
In the saying ‘the things remain but the people don’t’, at least ‘the things’ still remained. With such a scene in front of him, there wasn’t even anything to remind him of the people whom he missed.
Wei WuXian, “Don’t look anymore.”
Wen Ning, “… I knew that it’d be like this a long time ago. I just wanted to see if there was anything left…”
Before his voice faded off, a shadow suddenly wobbled up within one of the broken down houses.
The shadow stumbled toward outside of the house. The half-rotted face was submerged with the thin daylight. Wei WuXian clapped his hands. The walking corpse didn’t seem to notice anything at all, continuing to walk toward them. Wei WuXian calmly walked two steps backward, “It’s controlled by the Tiger Seal.”
Corpse puppets who had already submitted to him wouldn’t be controlled by the Tiger Seal. Likewise, corpse puppets who had submitted to the Tiger Seal wouldn’t listen to his commands. The rules were simple: first come, first served.
Wen Ning shot forward. With a roar, he tore its head off. Right after, low bellows came from all around them. From amid the black forest slowly walked out almost fifty corpses. No matter gender or age, most of them were still fresh, wearing burial clothes. They were probably the corpses missing from many regions.
Lan WangJi flipped out his guqin. With a strum, notes flowed out like ripples. The group of corpses that had just surrounded them immediately kneeled into a circle. With both of his hands, Wen Ning picked up a male corpse with an especially large physique and threw it far away. Its chest had been pierced through by a sharp branch, and it struggled, stuck to the branch.
Wei WuXian shouted, “Don’t bother with them, just go up the mountain!”
He didn’t know how many groups of walking corpses Jin GuangYao had madly summoned within these past few days using the Tiger Seal. One attack wave followed another. The three subdued the corpses as they backed up the mountain. The closer they were to the top of Burial Mound, the denser the groups of corpses were. The notes of the zither echoed through the sky above the black forest as crows flew off. Almost two hours later, they finally had some time to rest.
Sitting atop one of the destroyed stone beasts, Wei WuXian sighed as he mocked himself, “I’ve always been the one using this to deal with others. Today it’s finally my turn to have others use it against me. Now I know just how obnoxious the Tiger Seal is. If I were them, I would’ve wanted to kill the person who created this damn thing as well.”
Lan WangJi put his guqin away. He pulled out a sword from within his sleeves and passed it to him, “To protect yourself.”
Wei WuXian took it over. It was Suibian. After the day when it had been used to cut the melon, Wei WuXian tossed it to the side. Lan WangJi put it away again. He unsheathed the sword and stared for a while at the snowy blade before sheathing it back inside right away, smiling, “Thank you.”
He wore it by his waist and didn’t seem like he was going to use it. Seeing how Lan WangJi looked at him, he fiddled with his hair and explained, “I haven’t used a sword in so many years. I’m not used to it.” As he spoke, he sighed again, “Alright. The real reason is that my current body is low in spiritual energy. Even if there’s a high level sword, it won’t be able to make the best use of it. And so, it’ll be up to HanGuang-Jun to protect the delicate man that I am.”
Lan WangJi, “…”
After the delicate man sat for a while, he finally stood up, bracing a hand against his knees. The three walked farther up and finally, at the end of the path, they saw a cave with a dark opening.
The mouth of the cave was around fifty feet in both height and width. Before they were even near, they could feel a cold breeze in front of them. They could almost hear the blurry sounds of human moans.
This was the legendary den where the YiLing Patriarch made humans into his corpses and did the deeds that even the Heavens couldn’t tolerate—the Demon-Slaughtering Cave.
The ceiling of the cave was broad. The three held their breaths and snuck inside. Nobody made a noise, but the human voices coming from the depths of the cave grew louder.
Wei WuXian knew the terrain of the cave like the back of his palm. He walked in the front. At some point, he gestured for them to stop.
The main area of the cave was just a wall away from them. Through the holes on the wall, they could see a large enough area that could contain a thousand people. In the center sat around a hundred. Both their hands and their feet were tightly bound by deity-binding ropes. The one hundred people were quite young as well. Judging from the color of their robes and their swords, they were either high level disciples or direct disciples from clans.
Wei WuXian exchanged a look with Lan WangJi. Before they began to discuss, a boy sitting on the ground suddenly spoke up, “In my opinion, I don’t think you should’ve stabbed him only once. Why didn’t you just slash his throat out?”
His voice wasn’t big, but the cave was rather empty. Echoes vibrated as soon he spoke. And so, even if they didn’t listen in, they could hear his words with clarity. As soon as the boy spoke, Wei WuXian thought that he both looked and sounded familiar. He only remembered after a while. Wasn’t this the one who fought with Jin Ling the other day, Jin Chan?
And he looked again—who was the cold-faced boy sitting beside this disciple, if not Jin Ling?
Jin Ling didn’t even look at him, remaining quiet. Loud rumbles came from the stomach of a boy beside him, “They have left for so many days already. Just what do they want? If they want to kill us, then let us off easy. I would rather be eaten by a monster on a night-hunt than starve to death here!”
The boy rambled on and on. It was Lan JingYi. Jin Chan spoke, “What could he do? He’d definitely do what he did with those Wen-dogs during the Sunshot Campaign, make us into his corpse puppets and then use us against our family, so that they can’t attack and his enemies can fight amongst themselves.” He clenched his teeth, “That dirty, inhuman Wei-dog!”
Suddenly, Jin Ling spoke, his voice icy, “Shut up.”
Jin Chan was shocked, “You want me to shut up? What do you mean?”
Jin Ling, “What do I mean? Are you deaf or are you dumb? You can’t understand human speech? Shut up, means for you to stop making so much noise!”
Having been tied-up for so long, Jin Chan had been grumpy for a long time. He fumed, “Why should you tell me to shut up?!”
Jin Ling, “What’s the use of talking so much garbage? If you go on would the ropes break because of you? It’s annoying.”
Another young voice interjected, “Now, we are stuck here and none of us know when the walking corpses on the mountain will rush inside. Even in such circumstances, you two have to argue?”
The calmest voice was Lan SiZhui’s. Jin Chan protested, “He flipped out first! What, you can call him names but other people can’t?! Jin Ling, hah, who do you think you are? You think that because LianFang-Zun is the chief cultivator that you’ll also be? I’m not gonna shut up. I think you…”
With a thump, Jin Chan’s head was suddenly smacked. Jin Chan exclaimed in pain. He cursed, “You wanna fight? I’ll take you on! I’m in the mood for it anyways. You son of a nobody!”
Hearing this, Jin Ling was even more unstoppable. He was tied up and couldn’t move his arms, so he used his elbows and his knees, slamming them so hard that the other yelped in pain. Yet, he was alone, and Jin Chan had always had groups of people around him.
As the boys saw that he was at a disadvantage, they all shouted, “Let me help you!” All of them crowded over.
Lan SiZhui was sitting nearby. He couldn’t help but let himself be dragged into their fight. At first, he could manage to persuade ‘everyone calm down, calm down’, but after he had received a few elbows, he scrunched his eyebrows in pain, his face darkening. In the end, after a cry, he entered the brawl as well.
The three outside couldn’t watch this any longer. Wei WuXian leapt onto the stairs leading to the cave first, “Hey! Everybody look here!”
His shout echoed within the empty cave, almost thunderous. The tangled boys looked up. Lan SiZhui saw a familiar figure beside him and beamed, “HanGuang-Jun!”
Lan JingYi’s yelled even louder, “HanGuang-Jun ahhhhhhhh!”
Jin Chan was terrified, “What are you happy about? They’re… They’re on the same side!”
Wei WuXian stepped into the cave. He unsheathed Suibian and casually tossed it back. A shadow flashed out and caught the sword. It was Wen Ning. The disciples began to shriek again, “The G-G-G-Ghost General!”
Wen Ning raised Suibian and swung down in the direction of Jin Ling. Jin Ling clenched his teeth and shut his eyes. However, he felt himself loosened. The deity-binding ropes had been cut apart by Suibian’s sword glare. Following this, Wen Ning walked around the cave, cutting away at deity-binding ropes. The disciples that he had let free could neither run nor stay. On the inside there were the YiLing Patriarch, the Ghost General, and the traitor of the righteous side HanGuang-Jun, while on the outside there were countless walking corpses waiting to be fed. Yet, everything was bright on Lan SiZhui’s side, “Senior Mo… Senior Wei. Are you here to save us? You were not the one who got people to take us here, were you?”
Although it was a question, his face was full of complete trust and delight. Wei WuXian felt his heart warm up. He squatted down and rubbed Lan SiZhui’s head, messing up the hair that had somehow stayed neat throughout the past few days, “Me? It’s not like you don’t know how broke I am. How could I have gotten enough money to hire people?”
Lan SiZhui nodded in hurry, “Yes. I knew it! I knew that, Senior, you really are very broke!”
Wei WuXian, “Good boy. How many people do they have? Is there an ambush around here?”
Lan JingYi shook off the ropes on him and fought to answer, “They have quite a bunch of people! All of them had black mist on their faces so we could not see who they were. They did not do anything after they threw us here, like they did not care if we were dead or alive. Oh, oh, oh, and there are many walking corpses outside of here! They kept on howling!”
Bichen unsheathed and cut off the deity-binding ropes over them. Lan WangJi immediately returned his sword to its sheath and turned to Lan SiZhui, “Well done.”
It meant that Lan SiZhui did well, maintaining composure and believing in them. Lan SiZhui hurried up, standing with his back-straight at Lan WangJi. Before he had the chance to smile, Wei WuXian grinned, “Yeah, well done, SiZhui, you even know how to fight now.”
Lan SiZhui’s cheeks flushed red at once, “T-That was… I acted out of impulse…”
Suddenly, Wei WuXian felt someone approach. Turning around, he saw Jin Ling stand behind them, limbs frozen.
Lan WangJi immediately stood in front of Wei WuXian, while Lan SiZhui stood in front of Lan WangJi, speaking carefully, “Young Master Jin.”
Wei WuXian walked out from behind the two, “What are you doing? It’s like you’re making a human pyramid.”
Jin Ling’s face looked rather strange. His palms loosened and squeezed, squeezed and loosened. It was as though he wanted to say something, but couldn’t open his mouth. He could only use his eyes to look at the place on Wei WuXian’s stomach where he had stabbed him. Lan JingYi seemed deeply frightened, “Y-Y-You! You do not want to stab him again, do you?”
Jin Ling’s face froze. Lan SiZhui hurried, “JingYi!”
JingYi on the left and SiZhui on the right, Wei WuXian wrapped his arms around both of the children, “Alright, let’s hurry out of here.”
Lan SiZhui, “Yes!”
The other boys were still balled-up in a corner, not daring to move. Lan JingYi, “Are you not going? Do you want to stay here for longer?”
One of the boys stuck his neck out, “There are so many walking corpses outside. You want us to go out… to meet our deaths?!”
Wen Ning, “Young Master, I’ll go outside and chase them away.”
Wei WuXian nodded. Like a gust of wind, Wen Ning immediately swept outside. Lan SiZhui spoke, “The deity-binding ropes have been loosened already. If worst comes to worst, we can fight our way out together. If you do not go, what if after we leave the corpses flood inside? With the shape of the cave, would it not be a sure catch?”
After he finished, he grabbed Lan JingYi. Along with a few of the Lan Sect’s juniors, the two of them left first, following behind Wen Ning. The rest of the boys stared among themselves.
Quickly afterward, one of the boys spoke up, “SiZhui-xiong, wait for me!” He followed, and left as well.
This boy was the little ‘seed of sentiment’ who burnt paper money and cried emotionally over A-Qing, back in Yi City. The others called him ZiZhen. He seemed to be the single child of the BalingOuYang Sect’s clan. Soon, a few of the boys followed as well, all of them familiar faces from the Yi City incident. The rest of the boys had been hesitant. But, as they looked around, they saw Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi staring at them. They felt nervous no matter which of the two stared at them, and they could only pass around them and leave as well, the back of their heads tingling. The last one was Jin Ling.
As the group of boys, pulling and dragging, almost arrived at the mouth of the cave, a shadow was suddenly thrown inside, creating a deep, human-shaped dent in the wall.
Dust and rocks showered down. The cries of a couple of juniors came from the front, “The Ghost General!”
Wei WuXian, “Wen Ning? What happened?!”
Wen Ning managed, “… Nothing.”
He fell from the dent, stood up, and quietly yet roughly attached the broken arm back onto his body. As Wei WuXian looked, he saw a young man in purple stand before the cave, arm dangling. Zidian sizzled and sparked below his hand. This was the whip that had thrown Wen Ning into the cave.
So that was why Wen Ning had no intention of attacking.
Jin Ling, “Uncle!”
Jiang Cheng’s ordered coldly, “Jin Ling, come here.”
From the dark forest behind him slowly walked out a group of cultivators from different sects, wearing uniforms of different colors. The group grew larger and larger. In estimation, there were almost two thousand, a large black blanket that surrounded the cave. These cultivators, including Jiang Cheng, all bathed in blood, their faces tired. All of the boys rushed outside the cave, shouting, “Dad!” “Mom!” “Brother!” They were embraced into the crowd.
Jin Ling looked left and right, as though he still hadn’t decided yet. Jiang Cheng’s voice was harsh, “Jin Ling, why are you so slow? What are you taking your time for? Do you want to die?!”
Lan QiRen stood before the crowd. He seemed much older. Strands of white even began to grow at his temples. He called, “WangJi.”
Lan WangJi’s answered in a low voice, “Uncle.”
But he still didn’t stand to his side.
Lan QiRen understood more than anyone. This was Lan WangJi’s answer, firm, resolute. With a disappointed expression, he shook his head. He didn’t try to persuade him any further.
A woman in white robes stood forward, her eyes filled with tears, “HanGuang-Jun, just what is wrong with you? You… You are not you anymore. In the past, you clearly could not even stand the YiLing Patriarch. Just what technique did Wei WuXian use to bewitch you for you to stand on the side opposite to us?”
Lan WangJi didn’t pay attention to her. Having not received a reply, the woman could only add in pity, “If so, then how undeserving of your name!”
Wei WuXian, “You people are here again.”
Jiang Cheng’s voice was cold, “Of course we are.”
Su She had on his back his seven-stringed zither. He was standing amid the crowd as well, his tone unconcerned, “If not for how the YiLing Patriarch so blatantly dug out corpses and captured people as soon as he returned, as if he was almost scared that the world didn’t welcome him, I don’t think that we would’ve had to grace your den so soon either.”
Wei WuXian, “I clearly saved these disciples. Why don’t you thank me and instead of accusing me?”
Quite a few people tittered. Some even shouted directly ‘the thief calls another thief’. Wei WuXian knew that all of his arguments would be useless. He wasn’t hurried, either. With a slight grin, he spoke, “But your size this time looks a bit miserly. Two important persons seem to be missing. Allow me to ask, everyone, why haven’t LianFang-Zun and ZeWu-Jun come to such a grand event?”
Su She sneered, “Hah, yesterday LianFang-Zun was attacked by an unidentified individual in Koi Tower. He was heavily injured. ZeW-Jun was still using all his effort to heal him. Why did you ask if you knew?”
Hearing that Jin GuangYao was ‘heavily injured’, all of a sudden, Wei WuXian recalled his grandeur of when he had pretended to have committed suicide when sneaking up on Nie MingJue. He couldn’t hold it back and bursted with a pfft. Su She’s brows sunk, “What are you laughing about?”
Wei WuXian, “Nothing. I just think that LianFang-Zun gets injured quite a lot.”
At this point, a small voice suddenly spoke up, “Dad, I feel that maybe he really didn’t do it. Last time, in Yi City, he was the one who saved us. This time, he seem to be here to save us as well…”
He followed the voice. The person who spoke was OuYang ZiZhen. However, the father immediately scolded the son, “Children shouldn’t talk so carelessly! Do you know what situation we’re in? Do you know who that is?!”
Withdrawing his gaze, Wei WuXian spoke calmly, “Now I understand.”
He had known from the start that no matter what he said, nobody would listen to him. What he denied could be forced; what he admitted could be twisted.
Lan WangJi originally had quite a lot of weight in his words. But, now that he was with him, he was most likely a target of the people as well. He had thought that with at least Lan XiChen among the sects, they could discuss for a while, but Lan XiChen and Jin GuangYao weren’t even present.
Back then, during the first siege of Burial Mound, Jin GuangShan led the LanlingJin Sect, while Jiang Cheng led the YunmengJiang Sect; Lan QiRen led the GusuLan Sect, while Nie MingJue led the QingheNie Sect. The former two were the main forces, the latter two could’ve gone without. Now, the LanlingJin Sect’s leader hadn’t arrived at, having only sent people for the GusuLan Sect to command; the GusuLan Sect was still led by Lan QiRen; Nie HuaiSang replaced his brother’s position, shrunken within the crowd, his face still full of ‘I don’t know about anything’, ‘I don’t want to do anything’, and ‘I’m just here for the numbers’.
Only Jiang Cheng was still the one surrounded by hostile energy, face insidious, staring straight at him.
But…Wei WuXian looked slightly to the side. He saw Lan WangJi, who stood beside him, without any hint of hesitation, any thought of withdrawing.
But, this time, he wasn’t alone anymore.
Under the hungry eyes of thousands of cultivators, a middle-aged man finally couldn’t hold it anymore. He jumped out and shouted, “Wei WuXian! Do you still remember me?”
Wei WuXian answered honestly, “No.”
The middle-aged cultivator laughed coldly, “You don’t, but my leg does!”
He lifted the bottom of his robe, revealing a prosthetic leg made of wood, “This leg of mine was destroyed by you, that night in the Nightless City. I’m showing this to you for you to understand that, among the people in the siege right now, there’s also the force of me, Yi WeiChun. With the works of karma, it’s never too late for revenge!”
As though having been inspired by him, a younger cultivator stood out as well. His voice was clear, “Wei WuXian, I won’t ask you if you remember or not. Both of my parents died by your hands. You owe too many people. You definitely won’t remember them either. But, I, Fang MengChen, will never forget! And never forgive you!”
Immediately after, the third person stepped forward. It was a middle-aged cultivator of the arts, figure slim, eyes gleaming. This time, Wei WuXian moved first in asking, “Did I make you lose a limb?”
The man shook his head. Wei WuXian asked again, “Did I kill your parents or destroy your whole sect?”
The man shook his head again. Wei WuXian mused, “Then why did you come here?”
The man spoke, “I don’t have any revenge to seek upon you. I’m here to fight just for you to understand—as someone who defied the world, who deserves to be punished by everyone, no matter what low-end methods you used, no matter how many times you crawl out of your grave, we will send you back inside again. For nothing but the word ‘justice’!”
Hearing this, everyone cheered him on, their voices thundering, “Sect leader Yao, well said!”
Sect Leader Yao backed off with a smile on his face. Having been encouraged, the others stood up one by one, declaring their determination loudly.
“In the fight at Qiongqi Path, my son was strangled to death by your dog Wen Ning!”
“My shixiong died by poison, his entire body festering due to your cruel curse!”
“Not for anything but to prove that there is still justice in this world, that evil will not be tolerated!”
“There is still justice in this world, evil will not be tolerated!”
Every face boiled with heated blood, every word spoken guiltlessly, every person heroic, passionate, filled with indignation and pride.
Everyone believed with no doubt that what they were doing was a feat of chivalry, a deed of honor.
It would go down history and receive millions of praise. It was a crusade of the ‘righteous’ against the ‘wrong’!