Due to his tall stature, Fu Chi cut an imposing presence as he stood before Dai Yanxing.
His eyes were dark as he stared at the latter. They were like old friends reunited after a long separation. But the feelings exposed in Fu Chi’s eyes were frank and bold.
Not knowing what expression he should put on to face this shidi whom he had not seen for a long time, Dai Yanxing exchanged blank looks with him.
Fu Chi’s throat throbbed. “Where’s the hairpin?”
On hearing him, Dai Yanxing took the hairpin out from his sleeve and handed it to him. Unexpectedly, Fu Chi grabbed his wrist, turned it over, and looked at the bloody wound on his hand. His somber tone was suppressed with anger. “Who did it?”
Dai Yanxing panicked. He struggled to break free but failed. “Shidi! What are you doing?”
Although he did not answer, Fu Chi could still tell. “A whipping. It’s Qingyuan…”
He turned his head slightly and saw Qingyuan, who had fallen flat on her back. Having been caught in Qingqiu Sheng’s wave of attack earlier, Qingyuan had incurred extensive internal injuries. Seeing Fu Chi alive had taken her by surprise, and she had been so delirious with delight that her inner energy was unstable and had further aggravated her injuries.
She could see that Fu Chi’s eyes had never left Dai Yanxing ever since he had appeared. A sense of foreboding welled up in her heart as she recalled what a certain person had said earlier.
Her eyes met Fu Chi’s eyes. She had not even managed to put on an elated expression when Fu Chi extended his left hand and hauled her up into the air. Then—he gripped her by the neck.
“You are the one who hurt him.” Fu Chi’s expression was dark, and his eyes were full of malice and murderous intent. It was as if Qingyuan was his biggest enemy.
Qingyuan could not even say a word; She could only gasp heavily with her mouth wide open. In an instant, her fair face had turned red with the veins bulging out. Her eyes filled with tears as she flailed her legs in the air.
Her expression was full of despair.
Even a bystander like Song Ci was shocked. He looked at Fu Chi in bewilderment. However, Fu Chi’s expression was resolute. It did not seem like he was putting on a show.
Could it be that Fu Chi and Qingyuan was not a pair of lovebirds? Or was it really like what he had said earlier? That Dai Yanxing was more important to Fu Chi?
On seeing that Qingyuan was about to be strangled to death, Dai Yanxing hurriedly tried to pull away Fu Chi’s hands. “Shidi! Let go of her!”
The ruthless Fu Chi immediately released his hands when he heard Dai Yanxing’s voice. Qingyuan slumped to the ground like a rag doll, then curled her body into a ball and retched, her tears and saliva flowing freely.
Dai Yanxing was a little afraid of this Fu Chi. He was too different from the shidi in his memory. But he was also afraid that Fu Chi might strike out at Qingyuan again, so he took the initiative to ask. “Do you still want your hairpin?”
Fu Chi’s gaze turned back to Dai Yanxing’s face again and remained there. The scary expression on his face softened. He lowered his head. “Put it on for me.”
If this had been in the past, Dai Yanxing would have decisively turned him down. But now, he only hesitated for a moment before he stepped behind Fu Chi and tied up Fu Chi’s hair with that dark red wooden hairpin.1 It added a touch of valor to his handsome look.
He took two steps back after finishing. Fu Chi turned around and fixed his eyes on him again. Dai Yanxing felt a little awkward. Lowering his eyes, he looked at the still coughing Qingyuan and asked softly, “This hairpin… where is it from?”
Fu Chi treasured this hairpin very much. Before he extracted the immortal bone from his own body, he had specially entrusted the hairpin to him. He had thought it was the gift Qingyuan had given Fu Chi that day. But from Qingyuan’s reaction, it was obvious that was not the case.
Could it be a memento of his deceased parents? Or a family heirloom?
Fu Chi was silent for a long time. The silence dragged on until Song Ci grew impatient. Just when Dai Yanxing thought he would not answer, Fu Chi said, “It’s my coming-of-age2 gift.”
Dai Yanxing fell silent on hearing his reply. He thought it must be from someone very important to Fu Chi; Otherwise, Fu Chi would not be so obsessed with it. But most of the time, Fu Chi stayed close around him, and he had never seen Fu Chi being affectionate with anyone else. If there was, it could only be Qingyuan.
Doubts rose again in Dai Yanxing’s mind.
He could not figure it out, but understanding dawned on a certain person. Song Ci remembered what he had seen in their memory fragments. The day Fu Chi came of age, he had pleaded several times with Dai Yanxing to accompany him down the mountain to have fun, but Dai Yanxing had turned down all his requests. After being given the cold shoulder, he had taken Dai Yanxing’s banknote. Could it be…
Just as he was still uncertain, Fu Chi continued. “Shixiong gave it to me.”
Dai Yanxing was shocked. His mind was in a state of confusion. “When did I…”
“I bought it with your money, treating it as your birthday present to me.” Fu Chi said, “It was a pity you never asked about it.”
At twenty years of age, Fu Chi had grabbed Dai Yanxing’s banknote and descended the mountain, where he had meticulously selected a hairpin for himself. He hoped that when he returned, his shixiong would ask him about it in passing. Regardless of whether he asked where the hairpin was from, or where his banknote went to, Fu Chi would happily give him an answer—Shixiong gave this to me!
Fu Chi had waited for this question for too many years.
“I thought… it was from Qingyuan shishu.” Dai Yanxing’s eyes reddened. “Everyone in Mo Yao said she gave it to you. They all said both of you promised yourselves to each other in secret. Even the sect leader wanted to choose a good day for both of you to get married. You… You even agreed to her proposal.”
At twenty-six years of age, Dai Yanxing had shattered a wine cup in his hand during the boisterous banquet and felt the cutting pain as his blood dripped. He hated himself for not being as outstanding as Fu Chi, loathed Qingyuan and Fu Chi for being a pair in Mo Yao, and resented Fu Chi’s unwavering pestering of him day and night.
Thus, he had said those malicious words and drove Fu Chi away.
Later, Dai Yanxing noticed that Fu Chi had felt hurt by this incident. As the days passed, Fu Chi had become thinner and more dejected, even isolating himself from those who were concerned about him. A wave of guilt and some other inexplicable emotion had engulfed him then. Then, someday, it suddenly dawned on him he had not set his sights on Qingyuan for a very long time.
It was also at that instant he finally understood the origin of that forlorn feeling in his heart.
“I didn’t agree.” Fu Chi’s frosty voice rang out. After a moment’s pause, he grasped Dai Yanxing’s face with both hands and drew him closer to himself. Lowering his head, he looked into his eyes, conveying those unconcealed feelings to Dai Yanxing. Fu Chi repeated. “I didn’t agree.”
Dai Yanxing’s heart was in turmoil. He did not know what to say in response. A drop of tear trickled down from the corner of his eye and slid along his cheek before it finally dripped onto Fu Chi’s hand.
Song Ci felt that he could understand by this point that the third party and the outsider here from the beginning to the end had always been Qingyuan.
Perhaps Fu Chi and Dai Yanxing were too young to understand and express their inner feelings back then, and this had given rise to a myriad of misunderstandings between them.
The people in Dong Wang were much more open-minded than those in Xi Liang. It was not unusual for men to love each other, nor would they be spurned or despised for it. In this country, love was the most fascinating and magnanimous entity.
“Fu Chi! Why are you doing this to me?!” When Qingyuan caught her breath and saw them, hatred overwhelmed her. “I have waited for you for decades! Missed you for decades! In the end, you almost killed me!”
She pointed to Dai Yanxing with a savage expression. “And him? He snatched your immortal bone and trampled over you to become the head disciple of the sect leader. All the glory and acclaim he has gained over the years were stolen from you. Is it worthwhile being so heartless to me over such a despicable person?”
Dai Yanxing pursed his lips. The second drop of tear fell soundlessly as he lowered his eyes and said nothing.
Qingyuan was so intent on vilifying him that every word she uttered was cutting. Song Ci could not bear to continue listening. It was true that Dai Yanxing was not outstanding in the past. Those in Mo Yao were always comparing him to Fu Chi, causing him to rebel until he was unwilling to be serious about his cultivation. There must be no lack of people stabbing him in the back after he had gotten that immortal bone.
“But Fu Chi gave him the immortal bone of his own accord. How can you say he stole or snatched it?” Song Ci stood up for justice.
“What has it got to do with you? Did you see it with your own eyes?!” Qingyuan shouted abuse at him.
Rong Bai’s gaze shifted and landed on Qingyuan. His long sleeves fluttered as he slowly drew out that half-an-arm long black scimitar.
“Master Rong, wait! I have to reason with her.” Song Ci stopped him. He did not object to killing Qingyuan, but if he did not reason with her and convince her, he would feel as if he would stand to lose. So, he said, “It’s true that I’ve not seen it with my own eyes, but I heard Fu Chi admit it with my own ears.”
“From Dai Yanxing’s memory fragments in the lantern, I knew that demons had invaded Mo Yao back then. Fu Chi and Dai Yanxing suffered serious injuries defending against them. It was only to save Dai Yanxing that Fu Chi extracted his immortal bone. You clearly know nothing, but you think you know everything. How ludicrous.”
He looked at Fu Chi after finishing, hoping Fu Chi would continue the thread of conversation.
“Qingyuan.” Fu Chi caught on and said with an emotionless expression. “You have no right to intervene in shixiong and my affairs. I have explicitly rejected you early on. So how am I heartless?”
Every time he said a word, Qingyuan’s eyes reddened a shade. Eventually, her hatred and resentment were so intense that even Song Ci could feel it. It was as if any moment now she would leap up with her blade and perish together with Fu Chi.
“Besides…” Fu Chi lifted his right hand and the lantern that had been floating in the air a distance away drifted slowly towards him. As it neared them, a white bone about a palm and a half long emerged from the lantern. Like a piece of jade, it glowed with a faint, white light.
Song Ci was momentarily startled when he saw it. Then, it hit him.
He heard Fu Chi say. “My immortal bone has always been here.”
Dai Yanxing’s achievements today, even his near ascension, were not because of Fu Chi’s immortal bone. It was all due to his own hard-earned cultivation. He had not reaped what he had not sown, but he never explained himself.
Perhaps it was because Dai Yanxing was too lazy to explain, or perhaps he could not defend himself because of his guilt towards Fu Chi. It was also possible that he had tried to clarify, but no one was willing to believe him.
On their first encounter, Dai Yanxing had worn a kind smile and a gentle gaze on his face. Now that Song Ci thought back on it, he realized how much sadness and grievances had been hidden under Dai Yanxing’s smile. Fortunately, the truth had come to light today.
Qingyuan’s fingers dug into the ground, leaving deep impressions behind. Her venomous glare was like sharp knives as she hissed, “Fu Chi, I hate you!”
Right afterward, there was a flash of light in her hand as she drew a long sword out of thin air. Scared, Song Ci took a step back, thinking she was going to charge at them. But then, she turned her hand around to slash her neck, severing it.
Blood spurted out in an instant. Qingyuan’s body soundlessly convulsed and toppled over to the ground, staining a patch of the grassland red.
Even in her death, her eyes were so wide open in a glare and brimming with hatred that it was almost as if they would burst apart.
Song Ci clicked his tongue. He was speechless.
Qingyuan’s death was not to be regretted. But she was indeed a woman true to herself. It was a pity she was blinded by hatred and committed such a vicious act because of Fu Chi. In the end, she could only slit her throat to preserve her dignity.
He lowered his eyes and briefly mourned for this madwoman.
“Shishu…” It was Dai Yanxing who had a fright. He was about to touch her when Fu Chi grabbed his wrist.
There was a trace of indignation in his voice. “Do you still love Qingyuan?”
Dai Yanxing’s ears turned red. He hurriedly denied it in a loud voice. “No!”
Fu Chi took Dai Yanxing into his arms and placed his palm at the back of Dai Yanxing’s head to draw the latter to his shoulder. “She colluded with the demons to commit such an act. Even if we spare her life, the sect leader will pursue her to the ends of the earth to kill her when he returns. All that’s left for her is death. Shixiong, don’t waste your efforts on her anymore. Think more about your shidi. I suffered so much because of you…”
Song Ci blinked. He felt that it was enough to watch until this point. Any further, and he would be imposing on them. He turned his head, intending to yell for Rong Bai to leave.
But Rong Bai was watching them with keen interest. It was as if he was looking at something curious. Astonishment colored his eyes.
Perhaps Master Rong had never seen affection between men; that was why he had such a reaction.
Song Ci tugged gently at Rong Bai’s sleeve. “Master Rong, can those Mo Yao disciples still be saved?”
A huge flame was spewing behind the high wall, illuminating half of the sky even as black smoke billowed upward.
The corners of Rong Bai’s lips curled briefly as he took that round pearl floating in the air. He said to Song Ci, “That Zhu guy has taken those children down the mountain from the back. You don’t have to worry about them.”
Song Ci breathed a sigh of relief. “Zhu Yishu is indeed the most dependable person in Mo Yao Sect.”
With that, he looked around. “When did Wen Changchu disappear?”
“That wolf pup…” Rong Bai’s eyes arched slightly. “… has probably gone to find that bird…”
Song Ci did not quite understand what Rong Bai meant. He scratched his head and asked no further questions about Wen Changchu. Instead, he asked, “How about us? Are we going down the mountain?”
Rong Bai replied, “That’s right. Down the mountain.”
With that, he looked at the glimmer of light rising from the edge of the wilderness, then looked at Song Ci and smiled. “We will go and look for that Demon Gate you have been thinking of.”
Passing through the rubble and fire, Wen Changchu followed the scent and found the man sitting in the corner, covered in blood.
He stopped in his tracks and watched from afar.
Zhu Yishu had a soft smile. He was always clean and gentle, just like the incense burning in his room. It was soothing to be near him.
But at the moment, he was covered in filth. There was not an unblemished spot on his body. He was still holding on to his sword, and his head drooped limply. There was not a breath of life in him. Even his chest did not heave. He had long stopped breathing…
The first rays of the morning sun spilled over the earth and snapped Wen Changchu out of his trance. He walked over to Zhu Yishu’s side, opened his outer robe, and picked up Zhu Yishu’s limp body. Lowering his head, he looked at that serene face and whispered, “What’s so good about this place? I’ll take you away.”
Wen Changchu took a deep breath and suppressed his emotions. Just as he was about to take a step, he felt a sudden movement from the person in his arms.
He hurriedly looked down. Zhu Yishu’s head had been resting on his shoulder, and now he was slowly raising it.
The moment their eyes met, Wen Changchu saw a pair of gorgeous eyes that were so red they were like a pair of bright red gems; they were captivating.
The next moment, the owner of the ruby eyes gave him a meaningful laugh.
Wen Changchu was so startled he shivered and nearly threw the man down.
It was like he was holding a hot potato. It was killing him. Wen Changchu endured it and bent his knees to put the man down slowly.
Zhu Yishu’s eyes were smiling, and his expression was still gentle. But there was something different about him. “Where are you taking me?”
Wen Changchu smiled derisively. “Sorry. I got the wrong person.”
He turned around, about to beat an expeditious retreat, but he had only taken two steps when a row of fire blazed at his feet and almost burned his toe. Wen Changchu retreated in a hurry as the color on his face changed. When he turned his head, he saw that Zhu Yishu’s appearance had changed.
He was all battered and covered in blood earlier, but now he was now dressed in a red outfit like the Chinese flowering crabapple.3 Golden threads ran through the hem of his clothes and formed an outline of a golden bird spreading its wings. Several long tassels at the tail of the outfit swayed along with more than half of his robe.
His long hair cascaded over his shoulders. The vermillion red hairpin was particularly conspicuous amidst a wave of black.
As the rays from the sun shone on his shoes, the golden threads on them glittered. The hint of a smile on Zhu Yishu’s delicate eyebrows deepened. “Am I not your Zhu shizhang?”
Wen Changchu sized up that golden bird, and a look of horror gradually emerged on his face. He went so soft in the knees he almost kneeled. “I’m not looking for Zhu shizhang…”
“Hmm?” Zhu Yishu tilted his head doubtfully and took a sudden step towards him. “Not looking for me? Then who are you looking for?”
Wen Changchu put on a bold front and replied, “Rong Bai.”
“I happened to be looking for him too. Why don’t we go together?” Zhu Yishu’s unhurried tone was extremely gentle.
However, Wen Changchu did not dare to let his guard down in the face of this tenderness. He gritted his teeth and turned to flee, yelling, “Nah. Not looking for him anymore. I’m going home.”
But just as he was about to run, his whole body instantly transformed into that of a wolf pup. He fell on all fours to the ground. He howled and thrashed his limbs about, but no matter what he did, he could not move a step forward until Zhu Yishu walked over to pick him up in a hug. Zhu Yishu stroked him gently and said, “Good boy.”
The sun soon rose from the horizon and ascended the mountain in a slow climb, bathing the entire Mo Yao in golden light. After a night of pandemonium, the immortal sect had completely fallen into ruins.
The blaze was still raging. The strange thing was that the demons had all fled away from Mo Yao as fast as they could. None of them dared to stay.
Elder Qingyuan was dead at the main gate of the wilderness, her eyes remaining wide open even in death. Elder Qingyi was disrupted while he was cultivating in seclusion, and he had sustained serious injuries when his powers backfired on him. The remaining sect defenders from the School of Ping Luan, Dai Yanxing and Zhu Yishu, were both missing, while Chang Ziming had been killed in his room by demons…
No one knew the cause of this mayhem, nor did anyone know where Dai Yanxing and his disciple had gone to. However, word had it that half-immortal Li Chi who had died in battle several decades ago had returned to the human world. Whatever the reason was, and whether the hearsay was true or false, no one would ever know.
簪子 or 发簪 hairpin. Unlike women’s hairpins which tended to be more ornate, ‘hairpins’ for men in those days were more simple although it may come with exquisite or detailed cravings. (More examples) Men typically use only one hairpin to hold their hair in place. It’s pretty common (but not limited) to see it on Daoist priests/cultivators and scholars.
- 弱冠, a man’s 20th birthday, i.e. coming of age at 20 for a male.
海棠花 Haitang, Malus spectabilis, or Chinese flowering crabapple