At the Mad Tiger Peak, Jianshi and Jianjin knelt in the head disciple’s office, their heads hanging low as their Shizun slammed a stack of written complaints on the table.
“That’s how much trouble you’ve caused Elegance Peak in the past ten days. What do you have to say for yourselves?” said Diao Suiyu, frowning deeply.
“Shizun, don’t send us back to Elegance Peak,” begged Jianjin. “All they do is make us kneel and recite poetry. We’re hot-blooded Mad Tiger disciples—we act before we speak!”
“You’re kneeling here anyway, so what’s the difference?” said Diao Suiyu.
“Shizun~” said Jianjin, shuffling over on his knees to tug at her robes. “I know you can’t bear to put us in danger, but we’re not kids anymore. We have to clean up after our own asses.”
“You brat,” said Diao Suiyu, swatting his hand off her leg. “I thought having your spirit aura being sealed off will tone you down a notch, but you’re just as shameless as ever.”
“Shizun,” said Jianshi, shuffling over on his knees too. “Ah-Jin is right. We’re proud disciples of the Mad Tiger Peak. We should go out there and solve our problems by ourselves.”
Diao Suiyu stood up, huffed in annoyance and walked out of her office, leaving her two disciples kneeling.
“Okay, bro, what do we do now?” said Jianjin.
“I guess we’ll have to wait.”
“Wait?” said Jianjin, pulling on his brother’s sleeves. “We might have to live our whole lives on our knees!”
“I’ve made sure the Elegance Peak seniors sent some complaints about us straight to General Ye,” said Jianshi.
“Ohhh. You’re so smart, bro!”
Four hours later, Diao Suiyu came back into her office and smacked both of them upside the head with a scroll.
She sat at her table and glared at them, her furrowed brow somehow deepening even further.
“I had a talk with Shi—Peak Lord Ye,” said Diao Suiyu.
“And…?” said Jianjin, peering up at his Shizun.
“You’re both grown up. Your wings have hardened and are itching to fly. I admit I can’t hold your hands forever,” said Diao Suiyu, massaging her aching temple. “Let your Di Shibo kill you both, I don’t care anymore.”
Jianjin smiled brightly and said, “Shizun, don’t you worry. I’m sure Di Shibo has a soft spot for us in his demon king’s heart somewhere. If not, we’ll just run at the first sign of trouble.”
“Soft spot?” murmured Diao Suiyu.
Her brow unfurrowed for a second as she seemed to hit upon an idea. With a swift hand that could only be honed from years of thankless paperwork, she wrote down a few lines of words.
“Memorise this now,” she said, handing the paper to them.
“Yes, Shizun,” saluted the two juniors.
“Shut up,” warned Diao Suiyu.
“Ah, I’ll quietly memorise it,” apologised Jianjin.
After they were done, their Shizun took the piece of paper from them and promptly burned it.
“Shizun,” said Jianshi. “What do we do with that?”
“You’ll know when the time comes,” said Diao Suiyu.
Just then, Ye Mingzhu strolled into Diao Suiyu’s office, dropping off more paperwork.
“Suiyu, how’s it going with your two darling disciples?”
“Shizun,” said Diao Suiyu, glaring at the papers on her desk. “Please sort out the documents before passing them to me.”
Ye Mingzhu promptly took a few steps away from the paperwork-laden table.
“Suiyu ah, my most capable disciple, you’re doing a great job leading Mad Tiger Peak when I’m not around. So how about becoming Peak Lord already? Tomorrow is an auspicious day, I can transfer—”
“Wait ten years, Shizun!” said Diao Suiyu, throwing a scroll at Ye Mingzhu as she felt her headache coming back.
“Hahaha!” laughed Ye Mingzhu as she swatted the scroll away and strode off.
“So, Shizun, we’ll be going now?” said Jianjin, wanting to leave before Diao Suiyu changed her mind.
“Wait,” said Diao Suiyu, halting them in their steps. “You have to repair the stuff you damaged at Elegance Peak before you can leave the Border Mountains.”
“It’ll take all week! We won’t get there in time for the clan alliance meeting,” said Jianjin.
‘If you work day and night, you should finish with plenty of time to spare,’ said Diao Suiyu.
“Shizun~” said Jianjin. “My spirit aura isn’t working, I can’t work without eating or sleeping!”
“So?” said Diao Suiyu.
“I’ll work harder to cover Ah-Jin’s share,” sighed Jianshi.
“Don’t worry, bro,” said Jianjin, nudging his bro. “I’m sure I can get a couple of senior sisters to help us out for the jars of wine I brought back.”
Diao Suiyu raised a brow at them.
“So much for solving your problems by yourselves…”
“You’re early today,” said Xie Li, yawning as he pushed a pile of books to the end of the bed. He grimaced, his back hurting from his movement.
“I’ll be going to the Du Manor later,” said Di Mie, fully dressed and fixing his hair. “They want to discuss the security arrangements for the meeting.”
“The meeting’s in a few days, isn’t it?” said Xie Li, stretching out slowly.
“Indeed. My gut feeling tells me they might be up to something,” said Di Mie as he tossed a bottle of painkillers over.
“Shall I go with you?” offered Xie Li, opening the bottle and sniffing at it before taking one.
“I’ll be fine. Qing Lingfeng will be there as well.”
“If anything dangerous happens, let Lingfeng help you take care of it,” said Xie Li.
“Shizun, may I remind you that I’m the Border Mountains Sect’s Fallen Leaves Valley Lord.”
“So?” said Xie Li, absently examining the patterns on the porcelain medicine bottle.
“Taking care of dangerous happenings is my job,” said Di Mie, amused.
“Hm,” said Xie Li, not seeing the point. “Shall I have a word with Lingfeng then?”
“Let’s leave Big Bro Lingfeng alone. I’m almost feeling sorry for him now,” chuckled Di Mie. “Come, I’ll help you dress.”
“I should wear my working clothes. These clothes look easily dirtied,” said Xie Li as Di Mie helped him tie his sash.
“Don’t worry, these clothes can be washed easily.”
“You can do whatever you want after I leave, be it dressing up as a waiter or a woman,” said Di Mie.
Xie Li blinked, then nodded.
“Valley Lord Di, Senior Xie,” came Gouzi’s voice from outside the door.
“That should be breakfast,” said Di Mie, letting him in.
“Hm?” said Xie Li, noticing a generous spread on his tray that Gouzi brought in.
“Why are there so many dishes today?” said Di Mie.
“You have two guests from Mountainside Town next door,” said Gouzi, setting the food on the table. “One of them prepared these dishes for you. She said that the roast chicken is for Valley Lord Di.”
“Seems like Auntie Ma’s arrived,” said Di Mie.
“I’ll bring them to your room in a bit,” said Gouzi, leaving the room.
“They came at the right time,” said Di Mie, talking with a chicken drumstick in his mouth. “You should stay with them until I come back.”
Xie Li sighed.
“You get into trouble when you’re alone,” said Di Mie, pushing the plate of mixed vegetables over and tapping Xie Li’s rice bowl with his chopsticks. “Eat.”
Reminded, Xie Li began to eat.
“Make sure to let Gouzi stay by your side,” said Di Mie, quickly finishing up his breakfast and sidling over to comb out Xie Li’s hair. “You made him cry the last time when you left him behind.”
“You don’t have to apologise to him. These Crystal Peak brats need to toughen up. I’ll assign Jianshi and Jianjin to you once they get here,” said Di Mie.
“I know you can take care of yourself,” interrupted Di Mie, deftly braiding a ribbon into his hair. “Just let your obedient disciple take care of you, all right?”
“Obedient disciple?” repeated Xie Li. Then he hummed.
“You’re in a good mood,” said Di Mie. “The painkiller medicine must be working well.”
“Obedient disciple,” he said once more, flapping both hands.
“Is it that funny?” chuckled Di Mie, taking his hands and swinging along, making Xie Li hum even more.
“Obedient—” Xie Li stopped himself before he could say it again, but his hands kept moving up and down.
“Yes, I’m so obedient that you can’t stop laughing,” said Di Mie as he stuffed some heat pouches in hidden pockets under Xie Li’s robes.
“Ah, not there,” squirmed Xie Li as Di Mie reached around him.
Di Mie adjusted the heat pouches, his hands lingering on Xie Li’s lower back, smiling as he heard a contented hum.
“Hmm,” said Di Mie, a slow smirk growing on his face. “You like that?”
Gouzi knocked on the door again.
Xie Li demeanour changed in an instant, stilling his hands and body.
Di Mie rolled his eyes at the interruption.
“If you find them too noisy, just tell them to go next door,” reminded Di Mie.
They could hear excited chatting from the door.
“It feels like a new year celebration; I can’t wait to see how Ah-Li’s doing,” came Auntie Ma’s voice.
“Hahah,” came Old Niu’s voice. “Thanks to your good nephew, I can tour the inside of this famous Juxian inn. You’re never too old to see new things!”
“Come in,” said Di Mie to the door, flipping his veiled hat on.
“Wow,” said Old Niu as he walked in. “What a beautiful and spacious room.”
“Indeed,” said Auntie Ma. “Big city inns are just different. I have so many ideas after seeing this!”
“Auntie Ma, Uncle Niu,” greeted Xie Li, standing next to Di Mie.
“Wow, Ah-Li, you look every bit like an immortal from the heavens in these clothes,” gasped Auntie Ma, looking him up and down. “These pieces of jade are so exquisite! Heavens, are these all real silk?”
“A bolt of his robe’s fabric is worth ten bolts of silk,” mumbled Gouzi, recalling the numbers he had seen on the invoices.
“Your outfit looks really familiar,” said Old Niu when he followed Auntie Ma to look at Xie Li.
“Shizun, I’ll take my leave now,” said Di Mie, warming Xie Li’s hands with his own.
“All right,” said Di Mie. “Wait for this obedient disciple’s return.”
“Obedient—” repeated Xie Li, catching himself before he finished the phrase.
“Mn,” chuckled Di Mie, repeating with him. “Yes, I’m very obedient.”
This made Xie Li hum in amusement again.
Di Mie turned to Gouzi, giving him a pat on the shoulder on his way out.
“Keep everyone here safe.”
“Yes, sir,” said Gouzi, closing the door behind them.
“It feels like I just saw a painting,” sighed Auntie Ma.
“This room is pretty warm,” noted Old Niu. “There’s already floor heating but I see jars of hot water around the room as well. Hm? Is that a coffin? Oh, there are clothes in it. I guess even the laundry boxes in big city inns are extra fancy.”
“Uhh…” said Gouzi, pretty sure it was a coffin.
“I didn’t think even big inns provided so many hot water jars as a service,” said Auntie Ma.
“Valley Lord Di added those for Senior Xie himself,” said Gouzi as he started cleaning up the bowls and plates from the table.
“Oh my heavens,” gushed Auntie Ma. “He’s so considerate!”
Xie Li took two steps away from the table and sat on the bed, giving himself a bit of space.
The bells on his ankle chimed softly.
Old Niu stared at them and frowned.
“By the way, I heard you could use a cook, so I told Sect Leader Qing I’ll make everyone’s meals while I’m here,” said Auntie Ma, sitting down on a chair at the table.
“Your help is much appreciated, Madam Ma,” said Gouzi.
“Just call me Auntie Ma like everyone else!”
“Xie Li ah…how do I even begin to ask?” said Old Niu, looking concerned. “Those silver bells on your leg…”
“Hmm?” said Xie Li, looking at his ankle. “What about it?”
“I’m concerned that Valley Lord Di is dressing you up in the image of the Dream-Wandering Immortal,” said Old Niu, taking out his card album and flipping to the card, showing it to the others.
“Oh my,” said Auntie Ma, seeing the resemblance. “This is the famous Dream-Wandering Immortal whom the wine is named after?”
Old Niu sat at the table next to Auntie Ma and looked straight at Xie Li, who averted his gaze.
“I’m a little worried this ‘roleplaying’ might be going too far,” he said.
“What do you mean, Old Niu?” asked Auntie Ma, pouring them some tea.
Old Niu took a sip and sighed, “I don’t know what the Valley Lord is thinking, dressing you up like someone else. This is beyond just simple roleplaying, if you get what I mean.”
“Oh dear,” said Auntie Ma, realising what he meant. “Ah-Li, if you aren’t comfortable with things here, you let me know, okay? We’ll get you out of here.”
“It’s comfortable here,” said Xie Li, absently running his hand over the books at the end of the bed. “It’s warm and I have books to read.”
“I don’t think he understands the situation,” said Old Niu to Auntie Ma.
“I can see you’re well-taken care of,” said Auntie Ma. “But this…young master Di might be expecting too much from you.”
“Expecting too much?” Xie Li tilted his head and blinked.
“Oh dear, you’re confused,” said Auntie Ma. She looked over to Old Niu. “How can we explain this clearly to him?”
“Xie Li ah,” said Old Niu. “Did Valley Lord Di do anything against your will?”
Xie Li shook his head.
“But what if he asked you to do something you don’t want to do?” asked Auntie Ma.
“Then I’ll do it,” said Xie Li. “Since I owe him.”
“Is it money? Did he put you in his debt?” asked Auntie Ma, concerned.
“Hm… I do owe him a lot of money.”
“Oh my heavens,” said Auntie Ma. “My poor nephew, did I unintentionally push you into the jaws of a tiger? Oh dear…”
“Are you both worried about me?” realised Xie Li belatedly.
“Of course,” said Old Niu.
“I can take care of myself. You shouldn’t worry about me,” said Xie Li.
“My Ah-Li, no matter your past, I took care of you for a whole half-year while you were unconscious. I might be calling you my nephew, but in my heart, you’re like a son to me,” said Auntie Ma. “Of course I’m worried about you.”
Old Niu and Gouzi looked at Auntie Ma with an ‘awww’ look on their faces.
“That’s right,” added Old Niu. “When you dressed up as a woman and got taken to the bandit’s lair the other day, Auntie Ma was telling me every fifteen minutes that she’d go rescue you herself if you didn’t come back soon.”
“You exaggerate,” Auntie Ma slapped Old Niu’s arm. “I was just concerned about everyone.”
Xie Li just stared and blinked, not knowing how to react. Gouzi was doing the same, hearing all that new information.
“Anyway,” said Old Niu. “Since you’re now dressed up as the Dream-Wandering Immortal, you ought to know the story of what happened to that person years ago.”
“Story?” asked Xie Li.
“I haven’t heard this before,” said Gouzi.
“Quick, tell us the story,” said Auntie Ma.
“All right, this one is a tale that was written by one of the Resting Cloud senior sisters not long after the Calamity—” Old Niu cleared his throat and changed to his storytelling voice, starting with a beat by tapping his crutches against his wooden leg.
“Of the Dream-Wandering Immortal there’s a story to be told
Between him and his disciple he could not formally behold
The moment their paths and fates entwined
To death and desolation were they assigned
The Hermit Moon disciple, neglected and lonely
Came down the mountain wishing for company only
Enjoying the wind on his unveiled face one night
He came to the gates, ah, the moon was bright
The Dream-Wandering Immortal lingered there
Dressed in white and green with flowing hair
They chatted and viewed the moon together
But it only made the disciple sadder
Every night they spent together; so precious
Every day without each other; like a curse
To everyone around them, it was plain to see
Shizun and Disciple they were fated to be
But good things never last under the Hermit Moon
The lonely disciple was found out all too soon
The Hermit Moon Peak Lord destroyed the gates
Seven times till winter, his rage unabates
Finally the jealous Lord had his disciple banished
The disciple knelt at the gates, three days, then vanished
The lonely disciple has gone, the Immortal does not appear
The worst may have happened to him, as many do fear
To this Dream-Wandering Immortal who loved and paid the toll
We raise a cup of Dream-Wandering Immortal to bless his soul
“And hence ends the tale of the Dream-Wandering Immortal,” finished Old Niu. “Most of us believe the Immortal was killed by the Hermit Moon Peak Lord shortly after the Peak Lord banished his disciple.”
“What a sad tale,” sighed Auntie Ma. “And you tell it so well.”
“This is so sad,” said Gouzi, feeling a wave of sympathy welling up for the ill-fated pair.
“This is interesting. Tell this story to Mie—Di Mie when he comes back,” said Xie Li.
“I don’t know if I dare,” laughed Old Niu. “He might think of it as an embarrassing story about his past and hate me for it.”
“Oh my heavens,” said Gouzi, the fact finally sinking in. “Valley Lord Di is the disciple in this story…”
“Hahaha,” said Old Niu. “Seeing how Valley Lord Di confidently carries himself, it’s a little hard to imagine him as the lonely disciple of Hermit Moon Peak, isn’t it?”
“Everyone’s been through a lot,” sighed Auntie Ma. “During the Calamity, our Mountainside Town was as chaotic as everywhere else back then—lots of orphans and desperate people.”
“Yeah,” nodded Old Niu. “It’s thanks to the foresight of the previous sect leader, Qing Wangyue, that our town is now safe and peaceful.”
Xie Li narrowed his eyes and looked away.
“Oh yes,” said Old Niu, changing the topic. “I saw a poster saying there’ll be a new set of cards for sale at the White Crane publishing house. I wonder how early I should start queueing up…”
“You big kid,” chuckled Auntie Ma. “You’ve been asking to go there even before we crossed the city gates and settled the wagon.”
“Uncle Niu,” said Gouzi, mustering his courage. “I need you to teach me about these trading cards.”
Old Niu’s eyes sparkled.
“You’re asking the right uncle,” said Old Niu, taking out his card album. “Come, I will tell you everything I know.”
“And the old man has found his disciple,” chuckled Auntie Ma. “I’ll go to the kitchen and make some food while you two enjoy yourselves. Oh, Ah-Li, I brought the luggage you left behind on the wagon as well. It’s in the room next door.”
“I’ll go next door,” said Xie Li, excusing himself. It seemed his current dress was getting him a lot of unwanted attention, so he decided to retrieve his belongings from Lingfeng’s room and find something less conspicuous to change into.
A dark shadow followed him.
As he rested in Qing Lingfeng’s room, he heard a lot of movement from the neighbouring courtyard where some of the disciples of the Phoenix Manor were stationed. He climbed a tree near the wall between the two courtyards and sat there, watching them from a better vantage point.
“Good thing I’m not wearing those nice clothes,” muttered Xie Li to himself as he got some dirt on his sleeves.
He felt more relaxed now he was dressed in some common working clothes with his jade bangle and silver anklet wrapped up and out of sight. It was colder and the fabric was a little coarse on his skin, but he thought it was worth it if he could save Di Mie a bit of money. He didn’t know how to tie up his hair so he just stuffed it in a hat as best as he could.
A little shadow surfaced, looking no different from a tiny boarlet, and climbed the tree after him.
“Hm? Why did you come here?”
The boarlet squeaked, sounding panicked.
“It’s too high for you too, isn’t it?” said Xie Li, trying not to look down either. He watched the happenings next door for a while, then decided to check things out himself.
He took the boarlet into his arms firmly, took a deep breath, and stepped off the tree branches nimbly, safely making his way down.
“There, solid ground,” said Xie Li, setting it back down onto the floor. “Go home. You shouldn’t be following me.”
The boarlet gave a little defiant squeal.
Sometime later, Auntie Ma came back into the room with some ginkgo soup and looked around.
“Where’s Ah-Li? I don’t see him next door,” she said.
Gouzi jumped to his feet and dashed out of the room.
At the Du Manor’s main hall, Qing Lingfeng and Di Mie found the doorway blocked by a dozen disciples sporting the colours of both the Rong Clan and the Du Manor.
“I guess the show’s starting,” said Di Mie, raising a brow at the disciples.
“Please leave your swords behind and come with us to the guest rooms,” said one of the disciples. The disciple next to him held out a case to contain the swords.
“Where is Manor Lord Du?” asked Qing Lingfeng.
“He is busy at the moment,” said the disciple flatly.
“This is obviously a trap but you lot aren’t even trying to hide it,” said Di Mie out aloud. The disciples behind the first one shuddered at his accusation.
“Please,” said the disciple, gesturing at the sword case.
“Your call, Sect Leader,” said Di Mie, looking at Qing Lingfeng.
Qing Lingfeng sighed and placed his sword, Prayer, in the offered case. Di Mie shrugged and followed him, leaving Ashfire behind.
“Mister Rong is waiting for you in the guest room,” said the disciples, ushering them deeper into the Du Manor. “This way.”
Right after they entered the guest room, the doors slammed shut behind them and a barrier shot up.
“One, two, three…” counted Di Mie. “Sixteen people outside in formation keeping the barrier up. They’re really underestimating us.”
“Hi there, both of you,” said a man already sitting at the table in the spacious guest room.
“Waited long, Brother Rong?” chuckled Di Mie.
“Brother Di, I’ve been stuck here since last night,” said Rong Zhong, pouring himself another cup of tea. “They don’t even have wine.”
“Is this Du Yichen’s doing?” asked Di Mie.
“I’m afraid my brother involved Lord Du into this somehow,” said Rong Zhong. “He probably did this to keep me away from the Phoenix Manor.”
“So why us too?” said Di Mie. “The Border Mountains Sect doesn’t have anything to do with the Rong Clan.”
“It’s probably a precaution. He didn’t agree with my decision to request for your help in the first place after all.”
“Every family has its problems, but I’m sorry yours especially sucks,” said Di Mie, raising a cup of tea as if it was wine.
“I wished I didn’t have to trouble you both like this,” said Rong Zhong, giving a resigned smile as he raised his cup.
“I feel like I should ask for an explanation, but at the same time, I just want to go home,” said Qing Lingfeng, sitting down with them.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll let us go soon,” said Rong Zhong, looking at the door with an easy smile.
Names of their swords!
Qing Lingfeng’s sword: Prayer 祈灵 Qiling (pronounced ‘chi-ling’)
Di Mie’s sword: Ashfire 灰火 Huihuo (pronounced ‘hoo-ey hoo-aw’)
Fun fact about Chinese names : in a typical name, the first character is the surname/family name, the second character is the generation name, and the last character is their own name.
An example would be the two brothers, Chen Jianshi and Chen Jianjin. (doesn’t apply if different gender though) This doesn’t apply to every character, of course, due to different circumstances/status/etc.
In this case of the lord of the Du Manor mentioned here – Du Yichen’s name is written as 杜亦辰, and from the first two characters of his name, we can tell he’s either a brother or cousin of Du Yiwen 杜亦文, the Elegance Peak Lord.
My understanding of Chinese culture/tradition/language is limited and might not be accurate, so take it with a pinch of salt! ^^;;;