The cutscene switched quickly, and the scenery before him changed as though he was truly reading a book and turning a page. An azure blue sunny day replaced the sunset amidst the sky of red clouds from before.
A massive tree stood erect beside a calm and clear lake. Rong Sang sat cross-legged under the tree as she held a young Rong Bai in her arms.
Rong Bai seemed to have grown slightly older, but he still had black hair and black eyes. From all appearances, he looked more like an exquisite mortal child. Relaxing and leaning back in Rong Sang’s arms, he slowly raised his gleaming eyes to look at the shade of green overhead.
Rong Sang closed her eyes lightly and enjoyed the caress of the breeze against her face. The corners of her lip curled up slightly in a smile.
Song Ci inexplicably felt great on seeing this scene and walked over slowly to sit opposite them.
“Mother, I’m sorry.” Rong Bai suddenly said.
His voice was soft and saccharine. Even though he had the calm tone of an adult, it still sounded adorable. On hearing this, Rong Sang opened her eyes in surprise and stroked Rong Bai’s head. “What nonsense are you saying, son?”
Rong Bai’s hair had been tousled until it was a mess of bird’s nest, but he was calm as he said with a dejected look. “Everyone in the clan is saying that I’m hopeless. There’s no way I can evolve into a deity.”
“They are all just bullshitting.” Rong Sang did not hold her words back. “My son’s bloodline is the one and only in the entire clan. They are envious, but because they aren’t blessed with it, they stew in their own jealousy until it festered to breaking point. That’s why they said those bullshit.”
“But even though I trained daily, I still wasn’t able to…”
Rong Sang pinched his cherubic face until it changed shape. She grinned and said, “What’s the hurry? Your evolution into a deity is merely a matter of time. Your father isn’t around these days, so just let yourself loose and play. Mother will cover you if anything happens.”
Rong Bai’s expression brightened. He grabbed hold of Rong Sang’s snow-white hair and asked softly, “Mother, why does Father hate me so much?”
Rong Sang’s expression faltered on hearing this. Her pretty eyes dimmed for a fleeting moment, but she quickly put on a false smile to hide it. Her words were bitter. “This has nothing to do with Ah Bai. It’s Mother who has implicated you for no reason. Your father doesn’t hate you, but me.”
Rong Bai looked up at her. He could sense something off with Rong Sang’s tone, so he said nothing and waited in silence for her to continue.
Rong Sang was too vivacious a person. Song Ci had originally thought that a man like Rong Bai would have a mother who was as gentle as water. He did not expect Rong Sang to be as spirited as a flame that never stopped blazing. She was vivid, and she was dynamic.
When she was at Rong Bai’s side, they formed an interesting contrast of calmness and vibrancy.
And that was how the despondency in her words could be quickly picked up by others.
Rong Sang looked up at the big tree beside them as she recalled the past. “Come to think of it, I could be considered the bad guy here. When I met Tu Shan Bi under this tree, I was already a step late. He had a woman he loved deeply. However, to revive the Tu Shan clan, the clan called for a union between the authentic half of my bloodline with the other half of his, thus forcibly tearing him and his lover apart.”
“Is it Lian-meimei’s mother?” Rong Bai asked.
Rong Sang nodded. “If only the one who had met Tu Shan Bi earlier had been me.”
Song Ci could tell that Rong Sang loved Tu Shan Bi deep down, but she was too proud to show it. She had no wish to be the villain who broke up the romance between two lovers, so she had, for Rong Bai’s sake, hurled abuse at Tu Shan Bi and even struck out at him to the point that their relationship deteriorated to such a stage.
And this great tree – a haven to both mother and son – was not only the place where Rong Sang had first met Tu Shan Bi; it was also the place where Rong Sang was later nailed to her death.
It was a story doomed to be an irrevocable tragedy.
“Then I will stay away from Lian-meimei in the future.” Rong Bai said childishly.
“Hahaha.” Rong Sang laughed out loud and pulled up a handful of his messy hair. “My son can’t be so petty. Adults’ affairs have nothing to do with children. You must make more friends, especially with your brothers and sisters. After you take on a divine form in the future, you will become the Clan Head of the Tu Shan clan. By then, true friends that you can make will be few and far between.”
Rong Sang’s mentality differed from that of the average woman. It surprised even Song Ci to hear her say these words. But he could see that Rong Sang was teaching Rong Bai about tolerance in a roundabout way.
Song Ci’s impression of Rong Sang was favorable.
Rong Bai nodded, even though he looked as if he did not really understand it.
Rong Sang grinned and said, “When my son becomes a deity in the future, I’m going to throw my weight around the clan and teach those who gossiped about you a good lesson.”
Rong Bai’s eyes were determined as he gave another heavy nod to make a soundless promise. Somehow, it moved Song Ci.
Rong Bai was still so young, and yet he was already shouldering such a heavy burden. He was clearly still a child who should be frolicking to his delight.
The scene froze, and the scroll continued to scroll down.
Song Ci saw a youth Rong Bai sitting in the room conscientiously carving a white wooden hairpin. Purple bruises decorated the hands under his rolled-up sleeves, and there were also abrasions at the corners of his eyebrows. His long black hair that had been tied up hung behind his shoulders.
Rong Bai took out a greasy paste and finished up the hairpin by wiping it with the paste several times, thereby creating a hairpin that was not really that exquisite. He could not even wait to tidy up the stuff on the table before he ran out of the door with the hairpin.
The scene changed along with Rong Bai’s movements. He ran through the streets and alleys to a wilderness and saw several youths of various ages and sizes gathering under a tree. His eyes swept around them. It was only when he saw a maiden in pink that he slowed down.
Song Ci could tell that the tree was the spot where Rong Sang and Rong Bai had been at earlier. All the youths had a pair of blue eyes, and there was a maiden among them. From her appearance, she seemed to be eleven or twelve of age, and she looked to be even bigger than Rong Bai. Her facial features bore some resemblances to the maiden Song Ci had seen before—Tu Shan Lian.
She was surrounded by several youths. In her hand was a white whip that looked similar to the disciplinary whip. It was made of bone and covered with barbs, but it was one size smaller than the disciplinary whip.
“Ah Lian-meimei, it’s your birthday tomorrow. Have you decided where to go to have fun?” A youth asked her.
“Father promised me before that he would allow me to go to the Human Realm for a walk.” Tu Shan Lian’s childlike voice rang out. “I heard that the Human Realm is so much more fun than the Divine’s Realm. Do you all want to go?”
Several youths answered simultaneously in the affirmative. One of them said, “Ah Lian-meimei will take us, right? Besides, we can protect you.”
Tu Shan Lian said with an air of arrogance, “I don’t need your protection. I still have the Dragon Bone Whip!”
“Of course. Ah Lian-meimei’s Dragon Bone Whip is so powerful. We are the ones who have to be protected.” The boot-licking instantly began.
“Then what about Bai-gege? Will he be going with us?” Someone suddenly mentioned Rong Bai.
The few of them instantly quietened down and simultaneously looked at Tu Shan Lian, only to see her pout with a haughty expression. “Whatever for? Tu Shan Bai is just a loser who knows nothing. He’s already this old, and yet he still hasn’t evolved into a deity. He’ll only be a hindrance if we take him along. “
Rong Bai stopped in his tracks on hearing this and remained fixed to the spot. He was concealed behind the tree, so no one noticed him.
The youth who had just asked the question earlier bristled and said coldly, “You weren’t like this when you played with Bai-gege.”
“That’s all because my mother wanted me to put on such a pretense! Otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother with him!” Tu Shan Lian retorted with anger. “He’s just as detestable as his mother. I get so annoyed every time I see them. When will daddy drive them out of Tu Shan?!”
The youth suddenly struck out and pushed Tu Shan Lian onto the ground. “You are the detestable one. If Bai-gege knew you were such a person, he wouldn’t get so close to you.”
The other youths were flustered on seeing Tu Shan Lian pushed to the ground. Some helped her up, while some went to shove the youth back. Tu Shan Lian got up from the ground and fumed, “Tu Shan Heng, how dare you push me!”
Tu Shan Heng was rather hot-tempered. “So what if I push you? I’ll not only push you; I’ll even hit you!”
With that, he grabbed Tu Shan Lian by the collar to strike her. He shouted, “I don’t have a sister like you. You are such a disgrace!”
The few youths all moved to intervene, and the situation instantly descended into chaos. With half of his face hidden under the shade, Rong Bai stood behind the tree for a moment. Although he was expressionless, it made Song Ci’s heart ache for him.
He watched Rong Bai break the newly made hairpin amid the commotion. After stabbing it into the ground, he left in silence.
His footsteps were just as hurried as it was when he came.
Song Ci could scarcely breathe. It was indeed a little stifling to watch all these. He hardly had the courage to continue watching. Back at home, he had no other brothers and sisters, and his father had no concubines either. He had never experienced this kind of scheming against one another, and he had no idea how it felt like to have his trust betrayed by those closest to him.
No wonder Rong Bai loathed Tu Shan Lian that much. It was enough for this trust to be betrayed once. Rong Bai was not an idiot. Naturally, he would not put himself through this again a second time like a fool.
So far, Song Ci had still yet to see the Tu Shan Clan show kindness to Rong Bai.
With a heavy heart, Song Ci opened the fourth scroll.
As soon as the scene on this scroll started, Song Ci heard Rong Sang’s hearty laughter. This put Song Ci’s mind at ease.
Her laughter was very infectious.
She stood under the tree and stroked Rong Bai’s face. “My son is still the smart one. In that case, I’ll dress up more prettily and wait under this tree. Who knows, maybe your father will fall in love with me the instant he sees me.”
Rong Bai’s face had been kneaded until it was a little distorted, yet his eyes were smiling. “Mother is so beautiful. You can do it!”
“You are right. That favorite of Tu Shan Bi has been dead for so many years. It’s time for me to try and win him over.” Rong Sang stood akimbo and patted Rong Bai’s head. “Son, wait for my good news.”
Rong Bai smiled and nodded. He smoothly tidied his black hair, as if he was already accustomed to it being tousled by Rong Sang.
After bidding Rong Sang farewell, he sneaked out of Tu Shan under the cover of darkness.
Song Ci did not know if this was his first time sneaking out, but from the way he looked so apprehensive and careful, this was not a frequent occurrence. After leaving Tu Shan, he rode a red divine beast that resembled a civet cat and hurried on his way.
He rushed from the middle of the night to daybreak, finally reaching his destination at sunset.
It was a vast sea of flowers. He surveyed the place, and flowers the colors of the rainbow almost filled his entire sight. There were the clustered ones, and the scattered ones… All kinds of flowers made up a scenery that was both beautiful and spectacular.
Rong Bai looked as if this was his first time seeing such a scene. After dismounting the divine beast, he walked blankly through the sea of flowers for quite some time choosing, picking, and plucking a bunch of different flowers, each with their own distinctive characteristics.
All of them were flowers that were about to bloom or had yet to bloom. The flower petals were slightly spread open, but they all still had buds on them.
He sat amidst the flower clusters and took out a piece of red string from his bosom to bundle the flower stalks carefully together into a bouquet. He held them in his arms.
Song Ci found the way he looked to be too likable. He sat beside him and watched him for a long time without blinking his eyes. He watched him as he arranged the positions of each flower with a serious expression, and watched him as he carefully picked off the extra leaves and branches. Finally, he looked left and right at the bouquet in satisfaction. Only then did he slowly rise to his feet.
The flowers were most certainly meant for Rong Sang. He had hurried for a day and a night to this place all to pick a bouquet of delicate and beautiful flowers for his mother with his very own hands.
Just as Rong Bai was ready to leave, he realized that the divine beast that he had ridden here had gone missing. All at once, his expression changed. He ran around in circles to look for it for a long time before he finally accepted the fact that the divine beast had gone missing. Thus, he used his legs to speed back to the inner territory of Tu Shan.
Song Ci looked uneasily at Rong Bai’s back as the latter ran.
He gave it his all and seldom stopped to rest. However, riding the divine beast had taken him a day and a night to make his way here. And now, he was returning on foot. Even if Rong Bai was tired to the point of exhaustion, even if he did not eat or drink, five days had already passed by the time he rushed his way to Tu Shan.
Along the way, he had asked those few people he encountered for help. But unfortunately, no one believed that a black-haired and black-eyed person like him would be from the Tu Shan Clan, and so, no one had been willing to give him a ride.
Horrified gazes fell upon Rong Bai after he stepped into Tu Shan. It was not just pure fear in those eyes, but some other complicated emotions as well.
When Song Ci saw these people’s expressions, his heart skipped a beat. A sense of foreboding took hold of him.
Rong Bai sensed it too. He was still clenching those wilting flowers as he pushed his exhausted body on and made his way to the inner territory. The expressions of all the people he came across along the way felt way too odd. That was, until he bumped into Tu Shan Heng.
The youth stood before Rong Bai with red eyes and questioned him. “Bai-ge, where did you go? Why are you back only now?!”
Rong Bai was too preoccupied to answer. He was only concerned with the one question he had. “Where’s my mother? Where is she now?”
Tu Shan Heng burst into tears. His bawling was an ominous message in itself.
Rong Bai immediately went crazy. He gripped both of Tu Shan Heng’s shoulders as streaks of blood appeared in his eyes. “Where is my mother?!”
Tu Shan Heng’s crying intensified. “At, at that tree…”
Before he could finish speaking, Rong Bai sped off. He knew which tree it was.
That was the tree – with its wide, lush crown and thick, sturdy roots – that always appeared in Rong Bai’s dreams. It was the tree Rong Sang loved to take him to for playtime. Its presence represented relaxation and contentment. And it also came to represent the “tree”1 in Rong Sang’s name, providing shade and shelter to mother and son every single moment.
Every time Rong Bai stood under the tree, it was like standing in the only pure, untainted spot in his heart, enjoying his peace.
Only this time, it differed from the past.
On this peaceful old tree, he saw the hideous corpse of his mother. He stood motionless, as if all the movable joints in his body had been smashed to pieces.
Song Ci did not feel any better. It was as if a sharp wooden stake had stabbed deep into his heart, piercing through it thoroughly. An unbearable pain shot out from his heart. If he was already feeling this way, then what’s more Rong Bai?
The vibrant woman with bright and clear laughter was dressed in a brilliant red outfit with an outer layer of flowy white muslin. Half of her snow-white hair was bunched up into a pretty bun, while the other half was draped over her shoulders. A hairpin with exquisite bells adorned her hair.
This was an incomparably captivating Rong Sang, who had painstakingly dolled herself up.
But she was nailed through her chest with an iron bar as thick as a wrist. The blood had not even dried yet, and the vivid redness of it was jarring on the eyes. It ruined her entire dress and stained her snow-colored hair. A vortex of blood formed at her feet.
The blood had yet to dry, but she had already breathed her last.
Tu Shan Heng stood a short distance away, crying his heart out. “The few days you were away, the clan believed that it was Mother who let you out without permission. After a futile search, they thought that you had met with harm. The clan elders said that they wanted to imprison your mother before coming to a final judgment, but Father acted on his own and imposed the death sentence on Mother by crucifixion…”
“Father is the clan head, and more than half of them supported his stance, so no one was able to stop him…”
No one knew how much of his words Rong Bai had heard. The despondency in his eyes inexplicably made them afraid.
The most absurd thing was that Rong Sang had wholeheartedly wanted to make Tu Shan Bi fall in love with her. And all she got, in the end, was a heartless death sentence Tu Shan Bi meted out to her. It was no wonder that those pretty blue eyes were widened in such a glare, brimming with unconcealed resentment.
Once the clanspeople got news of Rong Bai’s return, they all hurried over. Even Tu Shan Bi, who had always been cold and merciless, had a look of dread on his face.
He stood before the clanspeople, still with a solemn expression as he put on the airs of a father. Using his usual tone, he said to Rong Bai, “Tu Shan Bai, you left without authorization. Come over and receive your punishment!”
When Song Ci heard this, he wanted so much to jump onto Tu Shan Bi’s head and tear him apart with his bare hands. He loathed him so much his eyes turned bloodshot.
Rong Bai turned a deaf ear to him and took a step forward to walk over slowly to Rong Sang. Each step was heavy beyond measure. It was heart-breaking.
The clanspeople began to stir in restlessness. The sound of discussions split into two camps. One group thought that Rong Bai was a failure as a successor since he had yet to take on a divine form, and so his mother deserved her punishment. But the other side thought that nailing Rong Sang to death was a big mistake, as the ensuing commotion would only disrupt the peace of Tu Shan.
There was also no lack of gloating spectators among them.
But even so, a mortal-looking Rong Bai with black hair and black eyes who had yet to turn into a deity was still more than enough to strike fear into their hearts at this moment.
Tu Shan Bi snapped. “Stop right there! You are not allowed to go any farther!”
Rong Bai did not heed his words.
Feeling that his authority had been challenged, Tu Shan Bi flung out the disciplinary whip made of dragon bone. Tu Shan Heng threw himself at him and cried, “Father, don’t! Please let Bai-ge take one last look at Mother!”
“Heng-er, get out of the way!” Tu Shan Bi shouted and shoved Tu Shan Heng aside.
Many of the clanspeople tried to persuade Tu Shan Bi against it, but for some unknown reason, he was hell-bent on stopping Rong Bai. After his threats proved useless, Tu Shan Bi flung out the long white whip and sent it right towards Rong Bai.
The blow struck Rong Bai, slicing open a bloodied wound from his shoulder to his back. The barbs ruthlessly left savage-looking injuries on his body. Blood instantly gushed forth.
But Rong Bai did not stop. It was as if he could not even feel the pain as he stubbornly walked towards Rong Sang, one step at a time. Very quickly, Tu Shan Bi lashed the whip out at him a second time. It landed on Rong Bai’s leg. Half of his body was now drenched in blood.
Song Ci exploded—with rage.
He pounced on Tu Shan Bi. Even if he was merely a hologram that could not touch a thing, he still tore away at him in a frenzy. It was as if this was the only thing he could do in the face of this very real tragedy.
But it was all futile.
Rong Bai limped over to Rong Sang. He was still clutching the bouquet of flowers in his hand. The flowers looked even more enchanting after being stained with Rong Bai’s blood. He looked up at Rong Sang, and then he bent his knees and fell onto them with a thud.
His kneecaps sank into the pool of blood. The blood of mother and son flowed together, forming their last link to each other.
Rong Bai’s widened eyes reddened as he looked unblinkingly at Rong Sang. A mist of water washed over them, and a drop of tear brimming with sorrow and hatred trickled down. The instant that tear slid out of his eyes, his black-as-ink eyes finally underwent a change.
His pupils took on a clear shade of blue that was even purer than the hue of the sky and even deeper than the tint of the sea.
Just as Tu Shan Bi’s third blow was about to land on Rong Bai, a blue flame burst out of him like a flower blooming suddenly after having been through the tribulations of a million storms. It spread out at lightning speed, and the clanspeople crowding around at the sides instinctively screamed and retreated in the face of its scorching heat.
The expression on Tu Shan Bi’s face shifted from fury to astonishment. He kept the whip away and retreated together with the others amidst that extreme heat as he watched blankly at the heart of the blue flames where Rong Bai was.
He was holding the bouquet in his bosom and hugging Rong Sang’s legs, crying inconsolably.
A color like that of pure snow dyed his ink-black hair white. Nine fluffy white tails extended behind him and lay limply on the ground in a portrayal of their master’s emotions.
The flames incinerated the majority of the plants and trees around him. It also put to rest the rumors that had been circulating in Tu Shan. No one would now doubt Rong Bai’s capabilities and lineage, because everyone in Tu Shan knew that only the purest bloodline of Tu Shan could use blue flames.
Rong Bai’s voice was hoarse as he let loose heartrending cries of despair for the mother he would forever lose.
Tears involuntarily brimmed in Song Ci’s eyes. This could no longer be simply described as “heavy”, but tragic. These kinds of memories, once unleashed, were all bloody nightmares. And shouldering them meant that one had to pay a heavy price for them.
The last scroll showed Rong Bai standing in the main hall, with three men from Tu Shan sitting on three sides. Tu Shan Bi stood at the chief position in the hall.
The scenes recorded in this scroll were short and crude.
Rong Bai had grown a lot taller, and he looked to be a youth of about fifteen or sixteen of age. He was holding a long, black blade in his hand. Before him was a shattered dragon bone disciplinary whip. Tu Shan Bi looked furious.
Rong Bai’s expression was so frosty that it made the others shudder involuntarily. He said to Tu Shan Bi, “I will say it again. From now on, my name is Tu Shan Rong Bai.”
Tu Shan Bi clenched his fists. The veins on his forehead popped out. He seemed to have reached the limit of his forbearance as he glared fixedly at Rong Bai.
Song Ci was still immersed in the scene from before and had yet to recover from it. He hurriedly sniffed and wiped away a handful of tears. So it turned out that Rong Bai’s name had been Tu Shan Bai, and he had arbitrarily insisted on changing it to Tu Shan Rong Bai.
Everyone in the hall was frightened into silence as they watched the stand-off between both men. In the end, one of the men beside Tu Shan Bi gave him a way out and asked, “Is that word the same as the Rong in ‘banyan tree’?”2
“Without the ‘tree’.”3 Rong Bai said.
“For every action you do, you must bear the responsibility for it.” This was Tu Shan Bi’s words.
It was also the last words in the scroll.
Song Ci knew what Rong Bai was thinking. Rong Sang should have been a bird with the freedom to fly freely in the sky, but the roots of a tree tethered her to the ground for life. And it was also by this tree that she had met her end.
She became an obsession—one that Rong Bai had etched into his name.
Removing the ‘tree’ that had trapped her and setting her free was perhaps what Rong Bai had wanted to do the most.
The historical scroll ended at this point. The moment Song Ci emerged, he bawled. One moment, his heart ached for Rong Bai. The next moment, he was full of abhorrence for Tu Shan Bi. He was so infuriated that he gnashed his teeth, even going to the extent of gnawing hard on the bookshelf to give vent to his hatred.
Peining: The library is infested with rats?! How did you guys keep guard?! Everyone gets flogged five times!
Various immortal attendants: QAQ