Extra 1: Persecuted by His Own Method
The reason the Prince was hard to handle was that he was someone that went with the flow — at the very least, he didn’t look like an individual that could forge down a path to its shadowed end. Of course, he had done just that in secret, but, unfortunately, those that knew the score did not exist in the world of the living.
When he was secretly recuperating in the posthouse the Great Shaman stayed at in the capital, starting from the time he could talk normally without being on his dying breath, he used his glib tongue in a hundred different ways to harass Wu Xi.
If it was before, Wu Xi would have likely gotten confounded by his troublemaking, but now that he had ascended a level in rank, it was as if even his mind had gotten a bit more open than before. Abruptly, he realized that this man’s brain was entirely used for amorous affairs; it wasn’t clear how many years of rolling in a heap of cosmetics it took to roll out such a gilded-outside, rotten-inside prodigal. Not one drop of the ink in his belly was missed in being used to cajole others, and he was absolutely skilled in sweet-talking — for instance, he never called on any sappy words, and yet whatever others loved to hear, he would say.
One moment, Wu Xi was being teased by his honey-coated words like a kitten was scratching at his heart, but the next minute, he was remembering exactly how this mouthy ‘kung fu’ had been practiced, and got super upset. He simply kept a straight face, responding to every change with no change — ‘thou may take up post in any direction, I myself will remain motionless as a mountain.’
That day in the carriage, Jing Qi pondered over things for a long time, then had an epiphany, thinking to himself that the little toxin was pretty calculative; he believed that the other was angry on the inside, hated to see him be so skilled at this, and overall thought that he had an oil-slicked mouth, which threw his sincere heart into a river and made him feel the loss. Thus, he closed his eyes in rest, and then thought up a different plan.
This bad-luck, wastrel man had a new idea, which signified that Wu Xi was going to be vexed again.
Wu Xi bafflingly discovered that the man that had been senselessly looking for trouble all over the place suddenly calmed down, leaning motionlessly to the side with eyes shut like an old monk entering meditation… his lips said nothing, but he was honestly severely frightened by the state of Jing Qi’s injury. If he wasn’t, then, according to his sharply efficient personality, he would simply want to leave as soon as his work was done, not dilly-dally by staying in the capital for an entire three months.
Carefully taking note of his complexion and breathing, he felt that they were as steady as ever, and when he had looked over his wound just then, it didn’t seem like there had been any change. Now, he merely took the other for resting, having worn himself out from messing around since his energy was poor.
It wasn’t until the afternoon at medicine time that he found out something was wrong with him.
He clearly wasn’t sleeping, but he also didn’t give a reaction when Wu Xi brought the medicinal soup up to him. The latter frowned, used a small soup spoon to pick up the medicine, and lightly bumped it against his lips. It was good medication, but the taste was a bit hard for one to bear. Every day at this time, Jing Qi would become unmatchably straightforward, and carry on the doctrine of getting it over with as opposed to drawing it out. After downing it in three gulps, he would instantly refuse to smell any more of its stink.
This day, however, Jing Qi remained unresponsive, merely opening his eyes apathetically, sweeping him a look, then slowly turning his gaze to the side to not see him anymore.
Once that lazy and careless smile vanished off his face, his sallowness became apparent. The medicine that was as densely black as ink nearly looked shocking when compared with his lips that were so pale, they seemed transparent.
Only then did Wu Xi realize that his trick for handling Jing Qi was being returned to him untouched. Slightly upset, he resembled how he was back when he forced him to eat food — holding the bowl and persisting, immobile.
Unexpectedly, Jing Qi was even more persistent than he was right now. Gazing straight outside, all the floating lights of the pathway streaked across the surface of his eyes, but it seemed like not a trace of them would get left behind. He was silent, as if unconscious… while at the same time viciously thinking to himself, this Lord once sat without budging for sixty-three years. Is wasting time with you anything much? And yet, after a while, he felt listless. He was really getting more and more ‘promising’, to have seriously been reduced to playing a game of tug-of-war with this little toxin.
Despite dissing himself like so in his head, his expression pretended to be serious. The weather was freezing, and the heat in the bowl was rapidly dissipating — if it genuinely did get cold, its properties would likely change. Wu Xi hadn’t anticipated that Jing Qi would get mad at him, so he was a bit unsure of what he should do.
Following a long deadlock, he finally relented. “Drink it,” he said, voice hushed.
Jing Qi didn’t even turn around, as if his soul had vacated him.
After thinking about it, Wu Xi lowered his head, took in a big mouthful of the black liquid, pinched Jing Qi’s chin, pulled him over, and then force-fed him the medicine. Jing Qi hadn’t expected this method of his, getting caught off-guard with the addition of that flavor that was so bitter, it made one’s body and soul both resentful. He harshly pushed him away on the spot, choking and coughing.
Wu Xi wasn’t anxious, slowly patting him on the back while waiting for his coughing to stop, because he planned to pour in another mouthful for him. Jing Qi, at last, realized that pretending to be dead wasn’t going to work, so he shot him a wrathful look, took the bowl, and gulped it all down.
Valiantly drinking it to completion, Jing Qi reached up and wiped his mouth off. With a fling of his raised hand, he accurately threw the bowl onto the table, stood steadily, then crossed right past Wu Xi, slapping the carriage door and shouting, “Stop!”
He was used to ordering people around, and with the low shout he used, the driver didn’t know who was talking, promptly stopping the carriage. Its door opened with a clack from inside. Jing Qi, not fearing the cold, jumped out of it while wearing only an inner robe, and left without looking back, as if he recognized this road.
The Great Shaman’s carriage had stopped, so the surrounding Nanjiang warriors also, of course, stopped with it. They looked at each other as they witnessed the handsome young man jump out. Shortly after, Wu Xi sighed, picked up an outer robe, then caught up to the other’s not-too-far self, bundling him in it.
Jing Qi, however, didn’t accept his compassion, dodging to the side, pulling a step back, and slipping away like a swimming fish. “Don’t trouble yourself, Great Shaman,” he sneered.
Frowning, Wu Xi went to grab his arm, but Jing Qi retracted his elbow and crooked his fingers, deftly flicking right at his meridians. Wu Xi cast the cotton robe upwards at lightning speed with one hand, while the other was set to slide up on an incline from the back of the man’s hand. Soon after, he used force to yank on his upper arm and pull him into his embrace. Then, the robe came falling down, landing right on top of Jing Qi.
It was all done in one go, without a bit of strength squandered.
Following that, Wu Xi said flatly, “Helian Yi believes you to be dead. If you go back to the capital, that’ll be a deception of royalty.”
Jing Qi smiled falsely at him. “Great Shaman, you surely don’t believe that my Estate, after so many years, only has that bit of property in the capital to it? I won’t hide it from you; there’s nothing other than a good number of farmsteads, as well as several shops, under this Prince’s name. If you go to the Dongting region right now and inquire around, you’ll find a silver pawn shop of the same breed under the name Lord Seventh, and if I’m gone, it’ll all be subjected to the voice of their Grand Shopkeep… I just hope that you’ll still let our Estate’s Grand Steward free.”
Ping An had properly handled the Prince Estate’s ‘after-matters’. In fact, he was following the accompanying procession in disguise, but Wu Xi had subconsciously separated him from Jing Qi, not expecting that the man would know anyway.
Astuteness, used entirely in useless areas.
Wu Xi was speechless for a moment, only listening to Jing Qi continue on. “What is it, Great Shaman? Will you be making this Prince get silver to redeem folks with? From now on, all will eat the meal of jianghu. A convenience for others is also, for me, a—“
He didn’t get to finish, as Wu Xi got impatient with hearing his drivel, so he stooped over, grabbed the bends of his knees, and picked him up in a princess carry.
Jing Qi immediately shut up, nervously clutching Wu Xi’s shoulders — he was no delicate maiden, nor was he fat, or possibly weightless. He was just afraid that Wu Xi’s hands would slip.
Wu Xi, ultimately of profound power, didn’t find it strenuous to carry such a big man. After taking large strides back, he ordered, “Open the carriage door.”
The coachman quickly opened it, and Wu Xi kept holding him all the way inside. “Hurry up on the road,” he ordered again. “Don’t stop without my command.”
After that, he threw the door shut, disconnecting the gazes of all observers.
With a bellow, the ranks proceeded to the journey ahead.
Wu Xi sat down, but didn’t put Jing Qi down at all, his pitch-dark eyes staring fixedly for a minute at Jing Qi’s face, which was somewhat pale from fright and somewhat dark from anger. “I just…” he then said quietly, sounding like he was sighing, “don’t know what I should say to you.”
The majority of Jing Qi’s temper was feigned, and upon hearing that, he was dumbstruck at once, thinking himself to have gone overboard with the acting. A feeling of guilt bubbled up in his heart.
He was about to say something, but Wu Xi unexpectedly continued quickly after, in that same exact tone. “Tell me; if I strangle you to death, will my heart be in less limbo afterwards?”
Jing Qi’s words got blocked right in his throat. He looked at him, completely speechless; especially because Wu Xi’s hand happened to be placed in the vicinity of his neck, not wandering anywhere else. “Young man, impulses are the devil,” he squeezed out ages after.
Wu Xi smiled indiscernibly. “You don’t care about anything, anyways. You don’t care about living, and you don’t care about dying. Helian Yi thinks you’re precious, but you truthfully don’t care whether you are or not. From day until night, you drift idly by in life without changing. You don’t care about yourself, so, naturally, you don’t care about me, either. I…”
It would’ve been better to have not said those things. As soon as he did, he felt grievances that were difficult to restrain surging up in his chest. Those days of apprehension, those days of on-end marching, those days of watching Jing Qi all night long when he was unconscious from his heavy injury, not sleeping — every single thing that he had suppressed fought to be the first to come out in his words, clogging up. He attempted to swallow all those emotions back down, like he was peeved and didn’t want him to see them.
An arm tightly reined Jing Qi in by the waist, as if it was about to snap him in half.
Jing Qi was taken aback for a moment, then couldn’t resist bursting out into laughter. Straightening up with effort, he wrapped his arms around Wu Xi’s back and sighed. “That’s just an enormously wrong accusation. When have I ever not cared about you?”
Without waiting for Wu Xi to speak, he laughed of his own accord again. “You’re of firm conviction that I’m oily-tongued, and think that I’ll say nice words, but not spend any money. What would you have me do, then?”
Immediately after that, he remembered something, and suddenly pushed Wu Xi away with an expression like he had suffered quite a fright. “I say, Great Shaman, this Prince has already promised my devotion to you once before. Could it be that… be that… you want to hear an oath of undying love?”
Wu Xi abruptly spluttered, his face a bit marveled.
Following a burst of looking worried and pained, Jing Qi spoke in a way like he was really racking his entire being for answers. “That… is something I truly haven’t said to anyone else prior, but I can handle a few sentences of it. You want to hear, ‘when mountains flatten, rivers dry, winter thunders, summer snows, and heaven and earth collide — then, I will dare part with you’? Or do you want to hear, ‘our parting will wait until the green mountains rot, steel weights float on water, and the Yellow River is completely parched’—“
Before he finished, he caught sight of goosebumps jumping up one by one on Wu Xi’s neck. It was the latter’s turn to go pale to dark, then dark to pale in the face, making him laugh loudly and heartlessly.
Corny and compelling at the exact same time — that class of skill, and that class of shamelessness, were not things everyone had.
It wasn’t clear whether the laughter had pulled at his wound or what, but he bent over lightly from pain, a hand pressed against his chest in spite of his unceasing expression of mischief.
“You’re still laughing?!” Wu Xi shouted with a frown. “Don’t move, let me take a look.”
Jing Qi obediently quit laughing and allowed him to check the injury. His smile gradually fading, he recalled something all of a sudden. “You once asked me about a poem, back in the day. Do you still remember it?”
“Huh?” Wu Xi carefully unwrapped the bandages on his chest.
“You asked me about ‘Drum Strike’…” Wu Xi was reapplying medicine to him, and his brows lightly wrinkled from the pain he felt. He didn’t say anything about it, merely pausing, then continuing. “‘Lament for the distance, for we shall not live. Lament for the expanse, for we cannot keep true…’ life and death are heavy, but they aren’t as important as unity and separation. I had been thinking of that sentence, yet you came.”
Wu Xi’s motions paused for a time, but he didn’t look up at him, only giving a low mn.
This, in actuality, was a way he coaxed people… but, Wu Xi felt that, if it made him say things like this, then even if he genuinely was only coaxing him, he would allow the act with delight.
‘A promise in life and death made with our beloveds, to take their hands and grow old with them’… that was it.
I thought of you, you came, and that was it.
Extra 2: Later On
A multicolored bird of unknown species landed on Jing Qi’s shoulder. He surveyed it in astonishment for a time, feeling like there was no livelier a place in the world than Nanjiang, since it seemed to never run out of vitality all year round.
A Nanjiang teen ran in, took a measure of Jing Qi once with big, inquisitive eyes, then gathered in close to Wu Xi’s ear to say a few things into it. Wu Xi nodded and turned to Jing Qi. “My teacher… hm, the previous Great Shaman, who we now call the Illustrious One, wants to meet you.”
Jing Qi’s eyes, which had been shooting about randomly everywhere, suddenly became straightforward, and he turned his head to ask, “What did you say?”
“I told him about you before. He’s wanted to meet you for a long time.”
Jing Qi felt his lips dry up a bit. “What… did you say to him?” he questioned, after a little bit of being dazed.
“I told him that you’re the one holding my jade ring,” Wu Xi answered, smiling.
In that split second, Wu Xi felt like Jing Qi’s facial expression subtly distorted. “What’s wrong?” he asked, despite knowing the answer.
Jing Qi shook his head rapidly, then nodded, then shook his head again, then said helplessly, “Can… can I go change my clothes, first?”
He dashed away in a frenzy. Wu Xi wasn’t sure why, but watching his panicked back put him in a great mood. He lifted his hand, and the little viper orbiting inside his sleeve slithered out, its tongue flicking. It coiled around his arm, rubbing against him affectionately. The wind of the jungle and mountains blew past, bringing the unspeakably damp and humid smell of earth with it…
This was home.
Never in the past had he ever had a feeling as intense as this. At that instant, his taut heart relaxed like a snapped qin string. His entire being languid, he was indescribably overjoyed; this sensation was too blessed, making him feel like he was in a trance and that all this wasn’t real. He had to think, could this be another bout of Dream Stupor?
For that, he secretly curled his fingers and pierced through his palm with his nails.
It hurt. He smiled.
Jing Qi only came out after dawdling for over half the day, having changed out of those half-old clothes he was used to casually wearing and into a long, moon-white robe. That extraordinarily pale blue appeared somewhat gloomy at first glance, but, as it happened, his complexion from having just recovered from serious injury gave it the white luster of jade. A palm-wide piece of satin was tied around his waist. Under the sunlight, very complex decorative patterns could be seen in silver thread on his sleeves, with a white jade pendant hanging at his side. He appeared to be quite a bit ceremonious, and that solemnity covered up the sense of frivolity naturally circulating his peach-blossom eyes, giving him the pressing air of nobility.
Wu Xi looked him up and down. In the end, he couldn’t think up any nice-sounding verses for him, so he simply commented, “You look good.”
Jing Qi gave him a smile, but it was slightly stiff. If he had been asked to meet the Nanjiang Illustrious One as Prince Nan’ning, he could have been very cool and collected, and might have even brought a jar of wine over. But, now… he felt, for some reason, that this was a delicate matter.
In his more than three hundred years of past incarnations and present life, this feeling analogous to meeting one’s mother-in-law… was still a first-time experience. All of these feelings were, truly, not for any outsiders to know about.
“Teacher is an easygoing man. You don’t need to be nervous,” Wu Xi unexpectedly spoke again.
Jing Qi spluttered for a good while. “Out of which eye are you seeing any nervousness on me?”
Wu Xi smiled wordlessly, leaving him to get flustered all by himself. Luckily, Jing Qi’s skill at controlling his emotions was top-notch, and he calmed down in short order, slanted him a glance, then straightened out his sleeves while feigning placidness. “Are you going to bring me to him, or what?”
The arc of Wu Xi’s grin got even wider, and he walked in front without saying anything. In the midst of this, he caused countless peoples’ bewildered stares; that… smiling man, with his eyes curved up… was the Great Shaman?
The former ruler of Nanjiang, and now-retired Illustrious One, was currently holding that massive pipe of his in his mouth, dragging on it, and looking the utmost of tranquil. Even so, the old man shot a look at the doorway for a minute, and fidgeted like there were nails growing under his butt — his curiosity was evident. Soon, an attendant came to report that the Great Shaman had brought someone over.
The Illustrious One’s eyes swiftly brightened. His back automatically straightened, but then he stopped, relaxed his form again, and put on a very indifferent air. “Hm. Go invite them in,” he ordered, casual.
The attendant had served him since childhood, and had been by his side longer than Wu Xi. Seeing how he was, he couldn’t help but grin inwardly, affirm respectfully, then leave. The Illustrious One’s venerated rump, again, had to lean forward, and he turned his ear towards the sounds outside.
In due time, he heard the attendant say, “The Illustrious One invites you two inside.”
“Okay. Many thanks to you,” his unfilial disciple Wu Xi replied. Immediately following that, his voice changed in intonation — it was as plain as ever, but somehow had an unspeakable gentleness contained within the way he spoke quietly to yet another person. “Here. There’s a sill at the entrance, take care.”
Tch. One could wring water out of that tone of voice… the Illustrious One narrowed his eyes, thinking to himself that the brat really had been domesticated. After that, he hurriedly sat upright and still, putting the wretched expression on his face away.
For some reason, once Jing Qi walked in, saw the white-haired, white-bearded old man with a pipe in his hand, and then caught clear sight of the man’s eyes, he promptly stopped being nervous. Not only was he not nervous, but he got a vague, subtle sense that he had met someone of the same kind as he. Thus, he smiled, performed a bow befitting of one that came after, and spoke before he could. “This lesser scholar, Jing Beiyuan, pays my respects to the Illustrious One.”
The old man set down his pipe and stood up as well. “I didn’t know that Prince Nan’ning would be gracing me with his presence. Please excuse this old decrepit for not going out to greet you.”
He spoke Great Qing Mandarin quite fluently, yet Wu Xi found it odd; it seemed like his Teacher wasn’t the least bit surprised. He forever felt that the man knew everything, and even if he had already grown up and taken Nanjiang over from him, he still believed that the respectable elder was the wisest person he had ever seen his whole life.
Clearly, sometimes, putting on a convincing act was also a form of wisdom.
While the Illustrious One asked them to sit, he got a glimpse of Wu Xi’s expression. As if he could read his thoughts, he smiled and said, “That day, you said that your justification for going back was for the sake of the one that held your ring. I then thought that, for this person to have such a great crowd roused for their sake, they definitely couldn’t be an unmarried woman from a major household, nor a jade-like girl from a humble household; they had to be someone of power and nobility. It appears that even though I’m aged, I’m not completely muddled yet, to have guessed right.”
He looked at Jing Qi. “Only, you being willing to come with this dumb disciple of mine to our barren wildlands is what’s rather surprising, Prince. I can tell that he’s not devoid of good aspects, at least.”
The other smiled. “The ruler who pays my salary is the one who I’ll die for. Prince Nan’ning has long been martyred in the capital’s war, and now he has less than half of his rotten life remaining, his husk filled with chaff. That the Great Shaman was willing to take this scholar into his care is my great fortune.”
Wu Xi didn’t really understand what their back-and-forth courtesy was about, but from the Illustrious One’s expression, he got the indistinct feeling that those words didn’t sound that pleasing to the ear. Right when he went to speak, he got put back by the old man’s glare. Jing Qi caught this out of the corner of his eye, and merely smiled as he lowered his head to drink his tea — boy, your teacher is worried that you’ll get yours.
The Illustrious One narrowed his eyes again, picked up his pipe anew, put it to his lips, took a deep inhale, and then blew it all out. “Though you say that, Prince, it is ultimately human nature… for one’s homeland to be hard to part with.”
“If one doesn’t leave the chunk of land under their feet, how will they know how big the world is?” Jing Qi asked with a smile.
“How big the world is? Our Nanjiang isn’t that big a place.”
“A mountain doesn’t need to be tall. So long as an immortal lives in it, it will have a name.”
The Illustrious One was stunned for moment, taking a careful measure of Jing Qi. The latter watched him, undisturbed. For a short instance, the two old foxes smiled as they observed each other.
Later on, Wu Xi was depressed to find out that the two were real kindred spirits. Back when he had just arrived at the capital, he had felt that there was a certain something about Jing Qi that was similar to the Great Shaman, and he only now realized that that feeling hadn’t been off in the slightest. At the onset, they scoped out each other, exchanged only a few slightly confrontational words, then spoke of a few irrelevant matters like they were alternatingly shooting off Buddhist allegories. It wasn’t until it was nearly time for dinner that Wu Xi found an opportunity for them to take their leave.
Prior to their departure, the Illustrious One said, “Wu Xi, I’m old, and I’ve spent my entire life in this place. I want to get out of it and take a look around. My luggage is already packed — I feel at ease handing Nanjiang over to you.”
Wu Xi was taken aback, turning to look at his aged teacher.
The man smiled. “You’ve grown up.”
On the road back, Wu Xi eventually couldn’t help but interrogate Jing Qi. “Every now and then, I get the general feeling that I’m stupid. Ninety percent of what Teacher says, I can’t understand. I didn’t expect that you two would be kindred spirits.”
Jing Qi paused, giving him a weird look. “Why… are you so honest?”
Wu Xi raised his brows, only to hear Jing Qi sigh and tell it like it was. “I didn’t discuss anything with him. I didn’t even understand the words that came out of my own mouth.”
Wu Xi stared blankly at him. Jing Qi shook his head and smiled. “It’s the same way with your Teacher. How could you understand words that he himself doesn’t? He’s just messing with you. How could there be that many profound things while one passes through life? I don’t understand what I say, and him being able to pick up the conversation illustrates that he also doesn’t understand what I say. Pairing our sentences is nothing more than idle senselessness to whittle time away. Dressing up as a deity, yet playing the ghost… is, at times, a type of amusement as well. When you get older, you’ll understand.”
Sometimes, beliefs and mental myths would collapse, making one completely despondent. Then, slowly, despondencies like that would start to pile up, and a child would grow into an adult.
The Illustrious One said that he would leave to wander, so, the very next day, he left his book behind and walked out, with absolute squeaky cleanness.
Later on, Nanjiang chose a new Shamanet; a four-year-old boy named Lu Ta. He had a pair of big eyes, was very cute and clever, and never cried or fussed. His physique for practicing martial arts was inferior to Wu Xi’s, but he was intelligent, and had the ability to never forget something once it passed his eyes.
Jing Qi straight-up acknowledged him as his de-facto son, but, in truth, when they played somewhere together, it wasn’t clear who was the papa and who was the son.
Lu Ta was bright, and bright children were generally heavily inquisitive. Gradually, he discovered that despite his Teacher being good to his dad, he was also very ‘strict’. For instance, he would force Dad to eat things he didn’t like, wouldn’t allow him to sleep too much, and didn’t give him any chilled sweet soup to drink.
Ultimately, one day, when his dad took advantage of Teacher being out to take the snake meat out of his own bowl and fling it into Lu Ta’s bowl, the latter couldn’t help but ask, “They said that you used to be a really, really big official in the Great Qing. Why are you afraid of Teacher?”
Jing Qi continued with using his chopsticks to pick stuff out, his face the same as ever. “What would I be afraid of him doing?”
Lu Ta counted off on his hands one by one. Teacher won’t let you do this, Teacher won’t let you do that, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven — it practically made people point in wonder. He was baffled as to why his dad was always so easy to bully, and why no matter what he said, he would always admit his error with an upright bearing, only to make the same ‘offense’ the next time. Thus, Lu Ta questioned him about it.
Jing Qi reached out and pet his head, smiling. “He’s entirely mine, so I naturally let him have this little tidbit.”
Following that, the most unprincipled dad in the world put down his chopsticks. “Ah, Lu Ta, Dad will tell you that if you want to be a good man, you first need to have the accommodating stomach for it,” he said, honest and sincere. “Your wife having some minor temper tantrums would be a very normal thing; if they don’t do it to you, who else could they do it to? If you can’t tolerate them, could you tolerate anyone?”
Lu Ta nodded, half-understanding him.
“You have to take good care of who’s yours. You can’t provoke them into anger. If you actually do, then set aside your posturing and coax them properly. It’s not anything difficult. Whoever your wife is, is whoever you’ll love dearly. You’ve seen that your Teacher, from day until night, is always getting interrupted in the middle of his meals by someone, and that’s pretty hard on him. Me coaxing him a lot is how it should be.”
Lu Ta nodded again, then respectfully called out towards the entryway, “Teacher.”
Jing Qi’s entire body stiffened into a human-shaped rock.
Ages after, he turned his head to look at Wu Xi — who had been leaning against the doorframe for who-knew-how-long — and squeezed out a smile. “You… came back pretty quick…”
He then walked out, suddenly, and without a single sound.
For some reason, even after listening to his explanation, Lu Ta, in this instant, still thought that his dad was a bit terror-stricken.
The next day, he didn’t see his dad all through the morning. It wasn’t until noon that the man was discovered to have just gotten up; his movements were a bit uncoordinated, and he looked exhausted.
Lu Ta held in his skepticism this time, and didn’t ask more after it. He heard an attendant, Ah-Qing, say that last night, the Great Shaman shut his door and allowed no one to disturb them, but when he got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he accidentally passed by, and heard intermittent sobs coming from inside.
Remembering the faint purple bruise exposed under his dad’s collar, Lu Ta quietly shuddered, and obediently went to work on his assignments.
He thought to himself, Teacher is a truly horrible person.
Extra 3: The Other Side of the Bridge of Helplessness
Memory was like a withered piece of wood filled with holes. It appeared like many things were getting absorbed into it, but in reality, time would swipe across it, and those invisible things were easy for one to forget. A human’s lifetime was longer than a morning shroom’s, longer than a cicada’s — they always walked their journeys, and got lost on them.
Only when they abruptly saw something would those years of recollections be stirred up and shaken out. Struck with the brand of old times, one’s thoughts would not stop.
In the heavy downpour of that day, Helian Yi remembered Jing Beiyuan.
He remembered that, many years ago, when Father Emperor had carried him into the palace himself, that little thing had his teeth half-grown in, and still spoke with a lisp. As if made of porcelain, he was a shiny-eyed, pretty bauble.
Jing Beiyuan had been his hanger-on since he was small. After a long passage of time, Helian Yi discovered that the little guy had not only grown up good-looking, but also innately observant. He knew when he should say what and how to get people to like him, because he had been fostered since young in the palace, and that brought about a bit of automatic, sensible cautiousness… as if he was a fellow sufferer, and shared the same fate as he.
Cautiously, they got a feel for each other, drew closer, then huddled up together to share warmth, like two small animals in this deep, bottomless palace.
They depended on each other for survival.
And now, Helian Yi, with wrinkles crawling up his skin, stood by the window of his study, watching the outside world that was practically washed white by the rain. On the inside, he recited that phrase, and it seemed like strings attached to his muscles, bones, and veins were lightly plucked, giving rise to an acrid, hard-to-describe ache.
Children grew up by the day. He wasn’t sure when it started, but Helian Yi felt that the gaze the other looked at him with always had something faint and unspeakable within it. Then, he understood that Jing Beiyuan liked him — not like how brothers or friends would, but how men and women would.
At the start, he felt astonished, but he understood later on; in this world, in this realm, in this Court, in these successive worries, who else could he like, apart from him? In this man-eating place, wasn’t ‘trust’ yet hard to say aloud, let alone ‘love’?
What about Helian Yi himself, then? He was probably the same as him… Helian Yi had mulled this over alone for ages, flipping it upside down and turning it about, and then discovered that he apparently didn’t have too many options, either. Even if, in the future, Father Emperor passed down an order and referred some high-ranking family’s daughter to be his Consort, how much affection could be there?
The day of the harem selection, he experienced it from a distance, sweeping a look over it. Catching sight of the blooming, gorgeous bunches of maidens, he suddenly felt that, if there was a Crown Consort someday, he apparently would have nothing to say to her.
Within the entire bustling palace, Helian Yi factually discovered that, when all was said and done, every relationship he had turned into a superficial and frigid language — there was nothing to say.
He pondered things for three days, then decided to indulge in his emotions, and… have a go at loving him.
Thinking mechanically, the sound of rain in his ears, his eyes caught a glimpse of the gray sky. He thought hard about what state of mind he held whenever he was together with him, and faintly recalled that extremely hidden happiness.
In a daze, he thought about those warm afternoons — holding his hand, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder against the big locust tree in the East Palace for a rest, then waking up to turn his head, that feeling of seeing his sleeping face seeming to fill his heart full to bursting. In a split-second of haze, the idea of simply being with him like so for a lifetime would come to be.
Those ideas came too quickly, and left too quickly. Coming to now, he couldn’t even remember that he had ever had such things in his heart.
And then? He asked himself, what happened then?
Then… it seemed like a lot of things happened. Jing Beiyuan left the palace to return to his own Prince Estate. The youths grew up, and their ambitions grew together with their bodies. Slowly, old friends had morphed beyond recognition.
What kind of being was Jing Beiyuan? Helian Yi felt that he had loved him; how could he not love such a piercingly beautiful man? Yet, at some unknown time, he became vaguely scared of him. No matter what thoughts he had, the other needed only one look — a barely-there hint — for him to be able to implicitly know about and do something on his behalf.
Helian Yi realized, for the very first time, that he truthfully wasn’t very knowledgeable about the man. He knew that his mind was complex, but didn’t know that it was so complex, mortals couldn’t describe it. He knew that he schemed deeply, but didn’t know that he schemed so deeply, the vague and unclear smile on his handsome face was getting harder and harder for him to see through. He knew that he had insight into people’s hearts, but didn’t know that he had gotten so insightful, he himself was now viewed as someone transparent.
How could such a sharp, formidable person exist in the world? That issue, which could not be revealed to outsiders, grew in his heart day after day.
Someone too mistrustful, and someone too conscientious — would any sort of good conclusion come from them being together? Yet… those involved were too entrenched to see.
It went, until Helian Yi met Qingluan. He felt like he had been searching for her for several thousand years. She was so beautiful, and when her head and eyes were lowered, the brilliance of the serenity in her features exceedingly resembling that man’s; thoughtful, but not excessively clever, nor as sharp as him, thus not making Helian Yi uneasy.
The whole time, he had thought that it’d be great if Jing Beiyuan wasn’t Jing Beiyuan. The Heavens had heard, and delivered Su Qingluan right to him.
Then, he thought that Jing Beiyuan had perhaps long already become a part of him. He was able to communicate his intentions without needing words, and then the latter would accomplish the darkest, most unbearable things for him… but, after a long time, even Helian Yi couldn’t tell whether the one that did them was doing so for him, or for himself.
Rationality manipulated everything, but emotions hadn’t allowed him to believe himself to be that rotten, so he had no choice but to put the blame on him. That notion struck Helian Yi’s mind like thunder, as if a shocking truth had just been rummaged out. Face pallid, he couldn’t help but put a hand on his chest as he tried hard to recall the appearance of Su Qingluan, the woman he once thought he loved the most… but he could only think of one profile, its head lowered.
It looked like him… it looked like Jing Beiyuan…
But Jing Beiyuan was long gone. He had given the order to grant him three zhang of white silk himself.
Helian Yi felt like he was getting sluggish in his old age. The numbness ensuing in his chest slowly spread to his whole body, like it was going to submerge his entire self and soul both.
That’s right, he thought, Beiyuan is gone.
“Someone! Come here!” Helian Yi bellowed in a panic.
Yu Kui came in, making three steps into two. “Your Majesty.”
“When… when we were young, where did the jade pendant that we wore go?” he asked, distracted.
Yu Kui, his temples already gone white, was taken aback upon hearing this. “What pendant are you speaking of, Your Majesty?”
“The one that was… a little jade rabbit. Two cun in size, only that big…” Helian Yi was practically anxious. “Beiyuan had one, too. Where is it?”
Yu Kui was stunned. Unable to get an answer from him, Helian Yi took it upon himself to start overturning trunks in search. “Where is it? Where did we put it?” he mumbled to himself.
“Your Majesty…” Yu Kui noticed his steps staggering somewhat, and quickly stepped forward to stop him. “You’ve forgotten. That jade is long gone. When you were touring a lake way back when, didn’t you accidentally drop it in?”
“It’s lost?” Helian Yi muttered in repeat.
Yu Kui looked at his Master with incomprehension. He didn’t understand; that man had been gone for so many years. What was the meaning in looking for these little trinkets?
“Ah. It’s lost…” Helian Yi sighed, sitting down in a daze.
As it was… the person was gone, and the object was gone, too.
On the thirty-sixth year of Rongjia, the Rongjia Emperor, Helian Yi, became bedridden without rise following a heavy rain, and, in early autumn of that same year, perished.
The Yellow Springs : Bai Wuchang
For the entire time he walked in the two worlds of yin and yang, none of his possible emotions could present, all due to his papier-mâché body. At the beginning, he felt stifled, but over time, he got used to it. Who would he even show emotion to, out of all the wandering, stupefied, and half-conscious souls here?
Once accustomed, he grew numb. Slowly, his heart hardened; the lives and deaths of mortals were nothing more than events, and if one witnessed them a lot, they then wouldn’t think much of them.
That was, until he had a day of inattention, where he mistakenly hooked one woman’s soul.
Because of this, the Netherjudge made him stand in a corner for a full ten years and think about what he’d done. He didn’t mind; he made a mistake, so he should suffer punishment, and after taking it, he would go back to doing what he ought to be doing. It wasn’t until his penalty period had been fulfilled, and he was released, that he noticed the white-haired, indifferent-looking man beside Three-Life Rock.
He didn’t know it at the time, but this was when his punishment had truly just begun.
The Netherjudge deliberately pointed the man out for him to see. Only then did he understand that, even if he had only wrongly hooked the soul of an ordinary woman, he had changed the charts of fate for so many people.
A person’s actions were theirs to atone for, he thus thought, and went to seek out the Prince to apologize, standing dully before him and speaking dully to him. However, against expectations, the white-haired man merely swept a glance over him, nodded with a hollow look in his eyes, and never said anything.
Bai Wuchang then knew that the man’s hun souls were still in the land of the living.
From then on, he always unconsciously followed the man with his gaze, watching him not drink Meng Po’s soup, watching Meng Po sigh quietly, and watching as he fell into the animal realm, living only to die violently. Afterwards, as if a ghost possessed his mind, he would go in person to fetch his soul back. They would walk the bone-freezing Yellow Spring Road, one in front and one in back, neither having anything to say.
Send him off, bring him back. Send him off, bring him back again.
After several endless centuries, in their ultimate pass-through, he finally witnessed him stop for a brief time by the Bridge of Helplessness, wordlessly take Meng Po’s soup, and shut his eyes while he madly gulped three bowls down. Following that, he stood as still as a rock for a long time, then opened his eyes, only for his mind to be as clear as ever. With a sarcastic laugh, he turned and left, looking at nobody else.
Bai Wuchang suddenly thought, Lord Seventh, he… hasn’t looked at me even once, for these many years.
So often, he would be left with just the image of his pin-thin back, white hair draping down it like a pile of snow. Suddenly, he became upset; in some-odd tens of thousands of years, this was the first time the Soulhook Envoy knew what ‘being upset’ was.
That was because, all this time, he was never in his eyes.
So, you’ve always hated me, he quietly thought. Then I’ll just have to pay you back.
He believed himself to be possessed, but was perfectly happy to do it, anyway.
In his final moment, he saw himself reflected in the man’s eyes at last. His face did not smile, but his heart did — you looked at me, so I have no regrets.
As he sank into the Pond of Rebirth, he had one last wisp of consciousness.
If there’s a next life… I’ll see you again.