A tall man in a veiled hat walked to the gates of Mountainside Town. Two guards having tea in a shelter by the gates 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 under the veil is white….”
“Huh?” said the first guard.
The tall man folded his arms, 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 really is him! It’s the first time I’m seeing the Valley Lord up so close! Damn, I wish it was day so I can get a clearer look!”
“I am, 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 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 jar of Dream-Wandering Immortal for this,” said the second guard.
“What? Don’t fight me for this! Twenty coppers, a jar of Dream-Wandering Immortal, a-and a roast duck!”
“Take it and figure it out yourselves,” laughed Di Mie, pressing it into the first guard’s open hands.
The first guard tucked it into his sash and quickly opened the gate for Di Mie, who knew these two were going to start bickering in a bit.
“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 gazed at the mountains and sighed. It had been another six months of searching in vain. Although, this time, there was a new wave of juicy rumours going around.
“Lord Divine Retribution, you villain. You’re so notorious that there are now even people building shrines in this ridiculous name of yours,” he said, narrowing his eyes and sneering. “But when I find you, I’lI kick you down the first bug pit I see.”
The wind picked up and the night got colder.
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: A Night At The Inn
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 the tip of his crutches— ”This leg of mine was lost in the Calamity, in the battle of the north where the Spirit Emperor defeated the demon king.”
“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 cut off my leg?”
“Ohhhh??” The children’s eyes went wide and a wave of chatter flooded him.
“Isn’t that the villain who sided with the demons? 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 and the Demon Lord are the big bad guys of this story!”
“Oh, he’s the bad guy who’s always wearing a veil?”
“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.”
“Isn’t Uncle Niu a retired disciple? You would call this old man handsome?” pointed out a kid.
“Ahem,” Old Niu stopped them right there. “This ‘old uncle’ used to be eighteen 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 trading cards.”
“Ohhhh,” went the children, some of them digging out the trading 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, this Auntie Ma used to be a cook at the Border Mountains Sect’s main canteen, you know! I’ve seen more Peak Lords up close than old Niu 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?” said 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 burns,” 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 is a limited edition card of the Dream Wandering Immortal.”
“There’s a poem here,” pointed out Xie Li.
Old Niu took the card from his album and let him read it.
Xie Li read it out.
‘When the moon is high and bright
Casting the mount’n in gentle light
When crystal bells on the wind you hear
The Dream-Wand’ring Immortal will appear
“Oh, so the wine Uncle Niu always orders is named after the person in this card!” realised one of the kids.
The kids peered in to see the card’s illustration.
“The Dream-Wandering* Immortal is so pretty,” sighed a little girl.
*’Dream-wandering’ also means ‘sleepwalking’
“Eh, this is a guy?” asked a boy. “I prefer guys in armour. His robe is so flowy. 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, taking the card back from Xie Li and carefully storing it back in his album.
“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. “Why don’t you kids explain it to him?”
“That’s really simple! You just have to remember that there are five Peaks and one Valley!”
Another kid chirped in. “Hero’s Peak, Bard’s Peak, Warrior’s Peak, Gentleman’s Peak and Hermit’s Peak. Oh yeah, Hermit’s Peak has been sealed off, so you don’t count it these days.”
“And there’s Fallen Leaves Valley!”
“These are the easy to remember names for all the Peaks and one Valley!”
“You got all that?” asked a little girl.
Xie Li smiled and nodded.
“Good! We’ll teach you little by little so you’ll remember,” said the girl.
Old Niu laughed and gave Xie Li a nudge.
Xie Li’s eyes narrowed and he stiffened up a bit.
“Just play along with these kids, Auntie Ma’s good nephew.”
Xie Li nodded again.
The kids continued to play teacher.
“Crystal Peak, the Peak of Heroes, as well as the entire Border Mountains, is ruled by the Spirit Emperor, Qing Lingfeng!”
“Good, good, you even remember his name,” said Old Niu.
“That’s easy,” boasted the kid. “His name sounds almost 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 Ridge Maple)
“Anyway, the Spirit Emperor is the strongest of all the Lords!”
“I think the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord might just be stronger…” suggested another kid.
“Ye Mingzhu’s the strongest!” yelled another one.
“I hope they hold a tournament!”
“Then there’s Cloudrest Peak, also known as the Bard’s Peak. Peak Lord Bai is never around because he’s off wandering,” said a little girl. “Rumour has it that if you see a handsome bard wandering about with a pipa on his back, it could just be him!”
“If you want the latest news from all over, you look for the bards,” said Old Niu.
“General Ye Mingzhu of the Mad Tiger Peak wins hands down! The Warrior’s Peak is the best!”
“It’s full of women, ugh, no thanks,” shuddered a boy. “With a nickname like ‘general’, no man would dare court her.”
“Only weak men are scared of a strong woman!” challenged the girl next to him.
“Mad Tiger is full of scary, edgy wannabes…”
“That’s what makes them the coolest! I want to be a Mad Tiger Peak disciple when I grow up!”
“Ahem,” said Old Niu. “There’s also Elegance Peak…”
“That one’s so boring,” moaned a kid. “Uncle Niu can explain that one.”
“Haha,” said Old Niu, shaking his head and explaining anyway. “Also known as the Gentleman’s Peak, Elegance Peak is led by Peak Lord Du. This one’s the closest to town and holds open classes for layman disciples.”
“My dad goes there to attend the lectures!”
“Meh. They are just a bunch of stuck-up elites who won’t fight because their clothes will get dirty.”
“Hey, they give free classes so don’t complain!”
“Don’t forget the last one, the Fallen Leaves Valley!” chirped a kid.
“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 move that explodes, it’s really cool!”
“And that white hair, it’s really mysterious!”
“Huh?” said Xie Li, looking confused. “White hair?”
“Yeah,” chirped a boy. “It’s said that when he returned to the Border Mountains, he was so angry after hearing what his master did during the Calamity that his hair turned white overnight!”
“Silver, not white!” corrected another girl.
“He then sealed away the Hermit Moon Peak 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 ten characters.”
“I suppose I should go to the bookshop, then,” said Xie Li.
“Don’t bother, most issues are sold out within three days,” said Old Niu. “I’ll lend you my copies. Hmm, I think I have a couple up my sleeve right now…”
The chattering of kids continued for a while more as daylight began to wane.
“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 back to your parents you go, kids,” shooed the old man.
“Ehhh…” came the kids’ disappointed voices as they went back to their dinner tables.
“Ehhh…” came the parents’ disappointed voices when they saw that Old Niu stopped babysitting their rambunctious kids.
“Old Niu, here’s the roast chicken for your daughters,” said Auntie Ma, the boss of the inn, handing him a paper packet tied up in string.
“Thanks!” said Old Niu. “Hmm? Where did Xie Li 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, which was surprisingly pretty fast…
Auntie Ma laughed as she watched him.
Two young men, dressed in the black and red of 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 Xie Li, in a plain robe and his very long hair flowing down his back.
“All right, Ah-Li. If you’re still not feeling well, just leave the kitchen cleaning for tomorrow morning,” said Auntie Ma. “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 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 Lord Divine Retribution in this book, as if we haven’t heard enough of him…”
“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,” said Jianjin, flipping back to the pages and reading it together with his brother by the lamplight.
‘Have you ever felt a shiver down your spine when you walk down a quiet street?
Are you hearing voices or sounds in the night?
Perhaps one of your chickens have mysteriously disappeared from your coop?
It could be wild wolves.
Or could it be the work of evil spirits and demons?
Actually it’s probably just wolves.
But in case it’s not…then…
Do you pray to the gods for protection?
Or do you…pray for evil to simply not look your way?
There’s a phenomenon sweeping the towns these days. Instead of just praying for protection, some towns and villages have built hidden shrines to the very villain who commanded both spirits and demons—Lord Divine Retribution!
Most of the worshippers we have interviewed have said they do it to appease the restless spirit of Lord Divine Retribution lest he turns his eye upon them.
So. Who exactly is this Lord Divine Retribution?
Most know him as the Hermit Moon Peak Lord of the Border Mountains Sect. Some of you might have heard the rumours of how he channels spirits and commands demons.
Let’s have a rundown of five things we know about the former Hermit Moon Peak Lord!
Although the Hermit Moon Peak Lord has been called by a few titles, no one knows his real name.
The Hermit Moon Peak Lord holds the record for youngest Peak Lord to this day, having become one at just nineteen years of age.
Any disciple who has stayed (briefly) at the Hermit Moon Peak will tell you this: ‘We do not speak of our time at the Hermit Moon Peak…’
There was one brave person who volunteered to be the Hermit Moon Peak Lord’s disciple. He is seen as a saviour to his peers for his selfless sacrifice.
That lone disciple is now the silver-haired, mysterious Fallen Leaves Valley Lord Di Mie, who is currently a five-time winner of our Popularity Poll!
“Urp,” said Jianjin. “This book is just gossip…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 soon his 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?”
“I’m so hungry I’m just gonna eat 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.
’Now for the hot facts about the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord, Di Mie!
This is how one of our colleagues describe him in a poem:
Silver hair and shadow veils
He walks in as the starlight pales
A breeze picks up and he stops awhile
And gives the moon a heartfelt smile
However, this colleague has not described Di Mie in battle, so we shall have another colleague write a poem next issue!
If there’s one thing that stands out (everything stands out!) about Valley Lord Di, it would be his mysterious and famous moonlight silver hair.
The story goes that shortly after the Calamity, Di Mie, the sole disciple of the Hermit Moon Peak, had returned to the Border Mountains only to hear of his master’s treachery.
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 banishing demons.
Ah, the valley of fallen leaves that guard the forbidden Hermit Moon Peak, how poetic!
Here’s the lowdown how to spot this Valley Lord: Look out for a tall, dashing man in black, wearing a veiled hat, and of course, that mysterious silver hair!
Xie Li huffed quietly, amused at the gossip booklet’s illustration.
As he turned to the next page, in walked a tall customer.
Wearing a veiled hat.
And of course, that mysterious silver hair…
“Hm?” said Xie Li, holding up the booklet to check.
In the warm glow of the inn’s lanterns and lamps, the man walked up to the counter as the waiter triple checked the booklet’s description.
“Seems accurate,” concluded Xie Li.
Xie Li put down his book and looked up at the famous Valley Lord, Di Mie. He put on a smile and said the customer-service lines he had practised.
“Good evening, customer, are you looking for a room?”
“I’m looking for two disciples from the Border Mountains. Are they staying here?” said Di Mie, 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 Di Mie.
“They reserved a room for you. Let me show you to your room,” said Xie Li, coming out from behind the counter with a lamp.
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.
Di Mie grabbed Xie Li’s arm.
Xie Li froze.
Di Mie frowned, and let go.
“Tomorrow’s me can deal with this,” said Di Mie, taking off his hat and veil. He glared at Xie Li one more time, then slammed the door in his face.
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 谢离
Xie is a common surname, but the name as a whole means ‘Grateful Departure’
(or you can just call him ‘Thanks Bye’…wwww)
Di Mie 狄灭
Di is just a surname, Mie means ‘destroy’.
Jianshi 捡石 , Jianjin : 捡金
Their surname is Chen 陈 Jianshi and Jianjin mean ‘pick stone’ and ‘pick gold’ respectively.
Auntie Ma : her name is the character for ‘horse’
Old Niu : his name is the character for ‘cow’
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-mahn-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! Please give the next few chapters a chance!