A tall man in a veiled hat walked to the gates to the Mountainside Town. Two guards having tea in the mini shelter just outside rushed over and brandished their spears.
“Halt! What is your business entering the town so late at night!”
“Apologies for the inconvenience,” came a charming baritone. He drew a token from his waist and held it up.
“Ah, you’re a disciple of the Border Mountains Sect,” noted one guard as he held up the lantern to see the token up close.
“Hey,” nudged the other guard. “Look carefully. His hair is white….”
“Huh?” said the first guard.
The tall man raised an arm to rest on his hip, looking impatient.
The guard quickly corrected himself.
“Silver! Not white! I meant silver hair! Everyone knows the Lord of Fallen Leaves Valley is known for his beautiful moonlight silver hair!”
The tall man rolled his eyes under the veil at the guard’s bullshitting.
The other guard, realising who they were seeing, jumped in excitement.
“Dark veil and silver hair… Oh my heavens!! It’s indeed the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord Di Mie! It’s the first time I’m seeing Valley Lord Di up so close! Damn, I wish it was day so I can get a clearer look!”
“I’m, I mean, my kid at home is a big fan of yours. Can I have your autograph?” asked the first guard, his voice a little shaky. “I don’t have a brush with me, but I have a notebook…”
“Well, I happened to have an autographed card on me,” said Di Mie, holding up a card.
“Oh my heavens! This card’s edition has been sold out since last year!”
“I—uh, my kid really wants this card! Please give it to me,” pleaded the first guard.
“Hey, that’s not fair,” said the second guard. “We should, like, take turns keeping the card.”
“Wait, is this really for us? Or…how much are you selling it for?” said the first guard, mentally counting the coins he had on him. “I only have twenty coppers at the moment…”
“I’ll give you twenty coppers and a bottle of wine for this,” said the second guard.
“What? Don’t fight me for this! Twenty coppers and a roast duck!”
The tall man laughed and pressed it into the first guard’s opened hands.
“Just take it. If the captain catches you two squabbling again, the guard house toilets are going to be very clean this month.”
They quickly hushed themselves and opened the gate for Di Mie.
“Welcome back, Valley Lord Di!”
The tall man walked down the main road into town and looked at the Border Mountains Sect that lay just beyond.
He gripped his fists and cursed into the night wind.
My dear Shizun*, if I find you, I’ll kick you down a bug pit.
The wind picked up and the night got colder.
*Shizun = master/teacher
At the inn near the edge of town, two junior disciples of the Border Mountains Sect also shuddered and rubbed their shoulders for warmth.
“Feels like an inauspicious wind is blowing our way,” said Jianshi, the elder of the two.
“Di Shibo* should be returning soon,” said Jianjin. “Maybe he’s already in town…”
*Shibo = senior uncle
They both shuddered again.
Chapter 1: Divine Retribution And Di Mie*
A man in his forties sitting on a stool leaned forward, as if imparting an important secret, and lowered his voice as the children squatting around him quieted and listened with perked ears and rounded eyes.
“Uncle Niu will let you kids in on a secret—” he tapped on his wooden leg with his cane—”This leg of mine was lost in that very battle where the Spirit Emperor of the Border Mountains Sect defeated the demon lord and sealed away the Abyss.”
“That’s not a secret,” huffed a little boy. “You’ve told us that a hundred times.”
Old Niu grinned, and added. “What if I tell you that Lord Divine Retribution himself was the one who crippled my leg?”
“Ohhhh??” The childrens’ eyes went wide and a wave of chatter flooded him.
“Isn’t that the traitor who sided with the demon lord? Did you fight him?”
“Divine Retribution? What does that mean? Is it some pretty heavenly pearl*?”
*These two words sound similar.
“It means ‘punishment from heaven’, silly!”
“How could you not know him? Lord Divine Retribution is the Spirit Emperor’s adopted younger brother!”
“Is it the famous bad guy whom no one has seen the face of because he keeps it covered?”
“Heh, he must be ugly and ashamed of showing his face!”
“There are no ugly men in the Border Mountains Sect! That’s what my mom tells me.”
“Wasn’t Uncle Niu a disciple there? You call this old man handsome?” pointed out a kid.
“Ahem,” Uncle Niu stopped them right there. “This ‘old uncle’ used to be 18 and a heartthrob, all right? Besides—” he continued in a hushed undertone, out of earshot of the kids’ parents—”if you really want to know who’s good-looking or not, we can just look at the celebrity cards.”
“Ohhhh,” went the children, some of them digging out the celebrity cards from their pouches and sleeves to compare.
“The old kid and his followers are at it again huh,” said Auntie Ma, the boss of the tavern and inn. She walked over through the throng of kids and set down some buns at Old Niu’s table. “Take a break from talking and eat something, old man.”
“Thanks, Auntie Ma,” grinned Old Niu.
“Hey, Uncle Niu,” chirped a kid. “Show us that limited edition card you have of the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord when he was young!”
“Sure,” Old Niu obliged, flipping his album to said card.
“Hmm, let me see what the fuss is about,” said Auntie Ma..
The card depicted an illustration of a veiled man in black and a teenage boy standing next to him, dark hair braided on both sides and swept back into a high ponytail. A caption on the side read: ‘Di Mie and his Shizun*’.
*Shizun = teacher/master
“Ahhh, I love this card! The Fallen Leaves Valley Lord with silver hair is otherworldly, but when he had black hair, he looked like such a cool big brother,” gushed a little girl.
“Hmm, that IS a pretty nice card,” said Auntie Ma. “Lord of the Fallen Leaves Valley, is it? Time passes so fast. When this young master Di Mie was just a junior disciple, I’d give him an extra roast chicken leg whenever he came to the canteen to collect supplies.”
The kids’ attention turned straight to the innkeeper.
“Auntie Ma, you knew the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord?”
“Hahaha, Auntie Ma here used to be a cook at the Border Mountains Sect’s canteen, you know! I’ve seen more Peak Lords up close than this old man here. I wouldn’t mind having a few of their cards to remind me of my youth, I suppose…” she grinned, glancing over at Old Niu’s album.
“There were only fifty copies of this card released. Mine’s not for sale,” said Old Niu, pulling the book away from Auntie Ma.
“Relax, you big kid, I’m not interested in your toys,” laughed Auntie Ma.
“These aren’t toys,” pouted Old Niu. “These are collectibles.”
He craned and beckoned the waiter nearby to come over.
“Xie Li, come here and help me tell your Auntie Ma that my cards are not toys!”
“Hm? Did you call me?” asked the waiter who walked over, wiping his hand on his apron, joining in the small crowd in the middle of the tavern.
“Ah-Li*, you babysit Old Niu here while I do some proper adult things—like running an inn, okay?” chuckled Auntie Ma.
*she’s referring to Xie Li
“Auntie Ma, have a little pity on this old cripple and spare me your sharp tongue,” said Old Niu, admitting his defeat.
“All right,” relented Auntie Ma. “Seeing you’re my long-time acquaintance, I’ll treat you to a jar of your favourite Dream-Wandering Immortal.”
“There’s no smarter and prettier lady boss than Ma Erniang*! ” praised Old Niu, clapping his hands and jiggling in his seat in a show of gratitude.
*Auntie’s Ma’s full name
“You silly, you’re gonna fall off your chair,” laughed Auntie Ma.
“For beauties and good wine? This Old Niu falls willingly!”
“Ewww,” groaned a kid. “No flirting in front of us please.”
Xie Li the waiter stood there, watching the exchange and then looked to Old Niu for a response.
“Should I get back to work?” he asked.
“Nah,” said Old Niu. “Come, Auntie Ma’s good nephew, take a seat next to this old man and listen to my stories for a bit.”
Xie Li obediently pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, looking at Old Niu and the kids.
“Where was I?” muttered Old Niu, thumbing through his card collection again.
“This is…” said Xie Li, reaching out to stop the album at a particular page.
“Ho ho?” said Old Niu. “You’ve got quite the eye there. This one is also another limited edition card. This is the mysterious elder of the Border Mountains Sect who appears only when the moon is bright. The wine here is also named after him.”
The kids peered in to see the card’s illustration.
“The Dream-Wandering Immortal is so pretty,” sighed a little girl.
“Eh, this is a guy?” asked a boy. “His robe is so flowy, like a woman’s robe. He doesn’t even smile.”
“He doesn’t wear any shoes,” says the girl. “That makes him look even more dreamy!”
“This is boring,” complained a boy. “Tell us more of the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord instead! My dad told me that he single-handedly destroyed a bandit hideout in the southern town not long ago!”
“Sure, sure,” said Old Niu.
“Fallen Leaves Valley Lord?” asked Xie Li. “I’ve never heard of him.”
“Ehhh?” groaned a kid. “You don’t even know something so basic?”
“Shush, don’t be rude. Maybe he’s new to town and doesn’t know anything about the Border Mountains Sect,” defended another kid.
Old Niu nodded and stroked his stubbled chin and began explaining. “Currently, there are five lords in the Border Mountains Sect. Each lord has their own territory to govern—”
“I know the names of all the lords!” chirped a kid.
“And they are…?” Old Niu indulged the children trying to show off their trivia to the ignorant waiter.
“The most powerful heroes all come from the Peak of Heroes!. The Spirit Emperor, Qing Lingfeng, is the Lord of Crystal Peak!
“Good, good, you even remember his name,” said Old Niu.
“That’s easy,” boasted the kid. “His name sounds the same as the peak he commands!”*
*Crystal Peak is read as ‘Qingling Feng’ in Chinese, and the poor guy’s name is Qing Lingfeng (Clear Spirit Maple)
“Then there’s Cloudrest Peak, also known as the Peak of Bards. Their leader is never around because he’s off wandering,” said a little girl. “Rumour has it that if you see a handsome bard wielding a fan with painted cranes, it could just be him!”
“General Ye Mingzhu wins hands down! The Peak of Warriors, they’re all kickass!”
“Ugh, Mad Tiger Peak. Their nickname shouldn’t be Peak of Warriors but Peak of Fierce Women, ugh. No thanks,” shuddered a boy. “With a nickname like ‘general’, she’s definitely a woman no man would dare court.”
“So what? Only weak men are scared of a strong woman!” challenged the girl next to him.
“Ahem,” said Old Niu. “There’s also Sunbright Peak led by Peak Lord Du. This peak is the one closest to town and holds monthly open classes for civilians.”
“I know that one! That’s the Peak of Gentlemen. My dad attends their open lectures every week without fail!”
“They are just a bunch of well-dressed bookworms who won’t fight because their clothes will get dirty.”
“Hey, they give you free lectures so don’t complain!”
“All right, the last one is the Fallen Leaves Valley.”
“Valley Lord Di Mie is the youngest of all the Lords and soooo handsome and emo,” gushed a little girl.
“He always wears a veil and is dressed in black!”
“He’s got this special power move that explodes, it’s really cool!”
“And that white hair, it’s really unique!”
“Huh?” said Xie Li, looking confused. “White hair?”
“Yeah,” chirped a boy. “It’s said that when he returned to the Border Mountains Sect after his travels, he was so angry after hearing what his master did that his hair turned white overnight!”
“Silver, not white!” corrected another girl.
“After he came back to the Border Mountains, he sealed the Hermit Moon Peak away and established the Fallen Leaves Valley.”
“You know a lot,” said Xie Li. “Did Uncle Niu tell you all that?”
“Nope,” chirped the kids. “We read it from the monthly issue of Popular Immortal Way. Our area’s Border Mountains disciples top the popularity charts a lot these days!”
“You mean your parents read it to you,” exposed Old Niu. “You lot can’t even write a hundred characters.”
“I suppose I should go to the bookshop, then,” said Xie Li.
“Don’t bother,” said Old Niu. “Most issues are sold out within three days of arrival. I’ll lend my copies. Hmm, I think I have a couple up my sleeve right now…”
The chattering of kids continued for a while more until Old Niu looked at the daylight from the windows starting to yellow.
“Uncle Niu, tell us more about the Spirit Emperor—” pleaded one.
“I want to hear more about the White Cloud Wandering Bard’s adventures!”
“I’m sorry to end the story session but it’s getting late now. Now back to your parents you go, kids,” shooed the old man.
“Ehhh…” came the kids’ disappointed noise as they went back to their dinner tables where their parents were finishing up the food and hanging back with drinks, totally happy to let Old Niu give them a moment of peace from their rambunctious kids.
“Old Niu, here’s the roast chicken for your daughters,” said Auntie Ma, the stout middle-aged boss of the inn, handing him a paper packet tied up in string.
“Thanks!” said Old Niu. “Hmm? Where did your nephew go?”
“He started feeling unwell so he’s resting,” said Auntie Ma.
“Again?” said Old Niu. “Young people these days are so unhealthy. He needs to go out and get some sun.”
“That’s what I’m telling him,” laughed Auntie Ma. “Off you go, before your daughters scold you for going home late again.”
“Hah! I’ll throw away my crutches and dance in joy the day those two shrews get married,” said Old Niu. He then proceeded to shuffle off as fast as he could on said crutches.
Auntie Ma laughed as she watched him.
Two young men, dressed in black and red of the Mad Tiger Peak, looked defeated as they strolled into the inn, shoulders hunched and heads hanging low.
“Hey, Ah-Jin, we’ll just try again tomorrow,” said Jianshi, the older of the two. “Maybe we’re asking the wrong people.”
“Ugh,” said Jianjin. “If I hear one more person mention that it’s somehow linked to Lord Divine Retribution one more time, I’m going to just offer up joss sticks and pray for his spirit to solve this case for us.”
“Shush,” chided the older brother Jianshi. “We shouldn’t call upon the dead lest we disturb their rest.”
“Welcome back, customers,” said the innkeeper, keeping away the chairs. “Our kitchen is closed now, but there are some meat buns left if you are hungry.”
“I’ll finish up here, Auntie Ma. You should rest,” said a young man in a simple tunic, his hair in a low ponytail.
“All right, Ah-Li. If you’re still not feeling well, just leave the kitchen cleaning for tomorrow morning,” said Auntie Ma, giving her nephew a pat on his shoulder. “Ah yes, and Old Niu left his books for you to read. I’ve left them on the counter.”
“Mn,” said Xie Li, nodding his head.
“Oh yeah, we forgot to eat dinner,” said the younger Jianjin. “Waiter, mind getting us those buns?”
“Mn,” said Xie Li, his face blank as he turned to the kitchen, and then stopped, as if forgetting to do something. He turned back and gave them a perfect service smile. “I’ll go heat them up.”
“Thank you,” said Jianshi.
As Xie Li headed into the kitchen, Jianjin poked his brother’s shoulder, whispering, “Do you think this fella’s a bit odd? It’s like he doesn’t know how to be a waiter. Is he new to the job?”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to criticise others, since you always slip up and curse in front of our senior sisters,” said Jianshi.
Jianjin grinned sheepishly and quickly changed the topic.
“Hey, look at this Popular Immortal Way. They’re gossip books about the disciples of the different clans and sects….woah, there’s a big chunk about our sect,” he said, flipping through the booklets stacked on the counter.
“Don’t touch other people’s things without asking, Ah-Jin,” said Jianshi, slapping him upside his head.
“Bro, look at this page,” said Jianjin, rubbing the spot his brother hit but carrying on, undeterred. “There’s a section on ‘that elder’’ in this book, as if we haven’t had enough of hearing his name…”
“Well, this might explain why all the townsfolk we met seemed to know so much about him,” said Jianshi, the older of the two, flipping the book over to look at the cover. “It’s published fairly recently. Hmm, I think I saw this being sold in the bookshop.”
“I guess we should read it to see what the townsfolk know about ‘that elder’,” said Jianjin, flipping back to the pages and reading it together with his brother by the lamplight.
‘Lord Divine Retribution—his very name sends a tremor through the cultivation world!
Before he was called Lord Divine Retribution, he was an unknown child brought into the Border Mountains by the then Sect Leader Qing Yuefeng.
“Wow, there’s even an illustration,” said Jianjin, squinting at the drawing of Lord Divine Retribution in black wearing a face veil and holding a fiery sword with the words ‘Lord Divine Retribution wields the Ashfire sword’.
’After the young Lord Divine Retribution rose through the ranks to become one of the five peak leaders, he was only a lord in name, for his Hermit Moon Peak had all but a single disciple. Who knows what torturous training he inflicted upon his disciple?
‘In our previous issue, we shared with you our theories on how the then Lord Divine Retribution became the most feared demonic master in a hundred years, and what we think about his relationship with his senior brother, the famous Spirit Emperor, who sealed him in the abyss to save us from an age of darkness.
‘In this issue, we will be talking about the Lord Divine Retribution…’s one and only disciple—winner of last month’s popularity polls—the silver-haired, mysterious Fallen Leaves Valley Lord Di Mie!
`We have interviewed tens of Border Mountains disciples to bring you our special feature on the mysterious Valley Leader and his intriguing background as the ONLY remaining disciple of Lord Divine Retribution. So many questions will be discussed in the pages ahead!
‘So far, our last three polls have ranked him top of the popularity list with our female readers. It really is a mystery?!’
“Urp,” said Jianjin. “This book is just a tabloid magazine…and this section here is about our Di Shibo*. I’m almost too scared to read it…”
*shibo = senior uncle
“It’s just speculative gossip. I’m sure it’s, uh, not worth reading,” said Jianshi, but his soon curiosity won over and he sidled up next to his brother to join him in his reading.
“Customers, your buns,” said Xie Li, putting a plate of reheated buns on the counter in front of them. Do you want to eat them in your room?”
“It’s fine, I’m so hungry, I’m just gonna eat ‘em now—ow, hot, hot!” said Jianjin, grabbing and juggling a hot bun in his hands.
“Ah, sorry for flipping through your book without asking you,” said Jianshi, hastily taking a bun himself.
“Mm,” shrugged the waiter, in a pretty unwaiterly manner.
“Hey, are these books popular?” Jianjin asked the waiter.
Xie Li put a finger to his lip as he recalled, “Uncle Niu said the bookshops here sell out within three days of restocking.”
“Woah, that’s impressive,” said Jianjin.
“Oh, waiter,” said Jianshi, as if remembering something. “Our senior should be arriving tomorrow. We’d like to reserve an extra room.”
“Okay,” said the waiter.
After the two retreated to their rooms, Xie Li continued his leisure reading by a lamp, pouring hot water into a teapot as he sat on a stool at the counter.
Auntie Ma was resting in her room at the back of the inn, probably working on one of her crafting projects.
The tea was a new batch delivered to the inn just this morning and the smell of osmanthus wafted into the air as he brewed himself a cup.
He flipped to the next page of the gossip booklet and took a sip of his tea, tapping his fingers against the counter lightly.
’The story goes that shortly after the great battle of the Abyss, Di Mie, the sole disciple of Lord Divine Retribution, had returned to the Border Mountains only to hear of his master’s evil deeds.
‘In one night, his black hair turned to silver from the outrage of having such a villain for a master!
‘He sealed off Hermit Moon Peak and went out into the lands, saving people and slaying demons.
‘Ah, the valley of fallen leaves that guard the forbidden Hermit Moon Peak, how poetic!
‘Rumour goes that those whoever see Valley Lord Di’s face will be rendered speechless by his bewitchingly good looks, eagle sharp gaze and that silvery hair blowing in the night wind!
‘We have an exclusive interview with a Sunbright Peak’s disciple who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the face behind the veil he constantly wears!
Xie Li huffed quietly, amused at the gossip booklet’s illustration of a suave figure with said silvery hair billowing out in the wind.
As he turned to the next page, the doors to the inn opened and in walked a tall customer dressed in black, with aforementioned long silvery hair flowing behind him. Xie Li held up the booklet’s illustration to compare.
“Pretty accurate,” hummed Xie Li.
In the light of the lamps and lanterns, the man walked up to the counter, a straw hat and veil covering his face. Long pale hair with intertwining braids flowed down his back, capturing the warm glow of the lanterns.
Xie Li put down his book and looked up at the famous Valley Lord Di. He put on a smile and said the customer-service lines he practised many times.
“Good evening, customer, are you looking for a room?”
“I’m looking for two disciples from the Border Mountains. Are they staying here?” said the silver-haired man, his voice a gentle baritone. He looked around the rather well-lit inn, observing the surroundings, hardly paying any attention to the waiter.
“Are you the senior they said would be coming here?”
“Yes,” said the man, flashing his sword hilt as proof. A silver emboss of a moon and cloud emblem covered the ebony sheath, the mark of a high-ranking master of the Border Mountains Sect.
“They reserved a room for you. Let me show you to your room,” said Xie Li, coming out from behind the counter with a lantern.
The man nodded and followed the waiter up the stairs.
“This is your room. The two customers from the Border Mountains are in the room next door,” said the waiter, opening the door to the reserved room.
The guest grabbed Xie Li’s arm and pulled him into the room, shutting the door behind them.
“Don’t think I don’t recognise you just because you’re acting like a waiter,” hissed the man.
“I’m not acting” said Xie Li. “I am working here.”
“Don’t you dare. Not after all these years,” he snarled, grabbing Xie Li by the front of his tunic and slamming him up against the wall. He smiled, but his eyes was filled with killing intent.
“This disciple sends his greetings to his good Shizun, the infamous Lord. Divine. Retribution.”
A note about their names:
Calling someone with an ‘Ah-’ in front of their name is a sort of endearment, common among family and close friends.
For example, Auntie Ma calls her nephew Xie Li ‘Ah-Li’ and Jianshi calls his younger brother ‘Ah-Jin’. However, Jianjin calls Jianshi ‘older brother’ as in Chinese culture, it’s rude to call your elders by name.
Meaning of their names
Xie Li: Xie is a common surname, but the name 谢离 implies ‘Grateful Departure’
Di Mie: Di is just a surname, Mie means ‘destroy’.
When their names are put together, it is a pun of an idiom ‘Tian Zhu Di Mie’, it literally means “Heaven’s punishment and Earth’s destruction’, basically ‘Apocalypse’ The title of this chapter is a play on the words here.
Quite the ominous pairing name for our main CP…
Auntie Ma : her name is the character for ‘horse’
Old Niu : his name is the character for ‘cow’
Jianshi : ‘pick stone’
Jianjin : ‘pick gold’
(the brothers’ surname is Chen, meaning ‘old/past’)
I’ll include the names in Chinese in the next chapter in case you can read Chinese and are curious!
About the novel and translation: My Hermit Master 我的孤僻师尊 is a BL series by author 野馒头 Yemantou (pronounced Yeh-mun-toe, meaning ‘Wild Bun’)
‘孤僻‘ means withdrawn, reclusive, hermit-like, or antisocial. I’ve chosen to use ‘Hermit’ when describing related terms/names as it sounds better!
Thank you for reading the first chapter of this translation!