It was a long night, but an even longer morning.
The two juniors came downstairs with dark circles under their eyes. They sat at a table and waved Xie Li over.
“We’d like to order three breakfast sets,” said Jianjin, the younger of the two.
“Sure,” replied Xie Li, walking to the kitchen.
“Hey, Ah-Li, come here,” says Auntie Ma, the innkeeper. She tugged on his sleeve and pulled him aside behind the counter and spoke in a hushed voice.
“I saw their senior earlier this morning when I was delivering hot water to the rooms. And you wouldn’t believe it, but it’s the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord, Di Mie! I wish I could just get a glimpse of what he looks like under the veil…”
“Oh?” said Xie Li.
“Heheh,” grinned Auntie Ma. “I’ve heard that he’s the most handsome man in town right now. Ahh! Auntie is so excited!”
“You didn’t seem that interested when Uncle Niu was talking about him yesterday.”
“Aiyo, that Old Niu would just make fun of me if he knew,” said Auntie Ma. “I wonder what sir Di Mie looks like now he’s all grown up. Especially if he’s as good-looking as all the rumours say…”
“I saw a glimpse of his face last night when I was showing him to his room,” said Xie Li.
Auntie Ma put a hand to her mouth in surprise. “Oh my! What did he look like? Is he super handsome as the gossip say?”
“…’super handsome’?” blinked Xie Li, tapping a finger against his chin in thought. “Hmm. His facial features are all in the right place, so I suppose by most people’s standards he is considered handsome…”
“But of course you couldn’t tell if he’s good looking. You can hardly look people in the face even when they’re talking to you,” sighed Auntie Ma.
With a sudden realisation, Auntie Ma clapped her hands together and exclaimed, “Ah-Li, you stayed at the Hermit Peak before, didn’t you? Did you get to train with him?”
Xie Li, not knowing how to respond, just shrugged.
“Oh right,” realised Auntie Ma. “I’ve heard how the disciples who’ve stayed at the Hermit Moon Peak can’t speak about their time there. I’ll stop asking then. From now on, you follow Auntie Ma and learn how to appreciate beauty.”
“Hm,” said Xie Li. “I think I appreciate good-looking things just fine.”
“Oh right,” said Auntie Ma. “I shouldn’t mention Hermit Moon Peak in front of them as well in case they get offended.”
“By the way, they’ve ordered three breakfast sets,” said Xie Li, steering her back to the work at hand.
“Oh, that means the Valley Lord will be joining them! I’ll bring the food to their table,” volunteered Auntie Ma.
She was in luck as Di Mie was at the table as she served them, but quickly came back looking disappointed.
“I couldn’t see the face behind his veil. Still, he has a really handsome figure,” admired Auntie Ma. “Just like our Ah-Li.* Except he’s taller. And his shoulders are broader and more dependable. And he’s so accomplished at his young age. Also, did I mention those nice, dependable looking shoulders of his? Clothes can’t hide those shoulders, heheh…”
*Ah-Li = Xie Li
“You are amusing, Auntie Ma,” said Xie Li. He remembered he was at work and put on his practised smile as he felt murderous aura aimed at him from across the room.
“Waiter, please come here,” called the dark-dressed Di Mie, his voice low and even. Jianshi and Jianjin visibly stiffened at their Shibo using his extra-gentle voice. It meant he was probably ready to kill someone…
“Yes, coming over now,” said Xie Li, knowing Auntie Ma’s eyes were following him all the way to the table.
“Sit here,” said Di Mie, gesturing to the stool next to him at the table.
The two juniors stared at the waiter, then each other in confusion.
“I have to work,” said Xie Li.
“Please. Sit. Down.”
“As you wish,” said Xie Li, his tone so bland and casual that the two brothers started to fear for the waiter’s life.
The two juniors watched as this waiter took his time to sit, not the least unperturbed by their Shibo’s firm, unmoving posture. Xie Li smiled at the two disciples, which only served to make them feel more uneasy.
“You two, introduce yourselves,” ordered Di Mie.
Who would dare disobey their Shibo, who earned the nickname ‘Demon King’ among the Mad Tiger disciples? They wished they could tell the world that their Di Shibo wasn’t the friendly, charming hero the public thought he was.
Trying his best not to care how ridiculous the situation looked, the older of the two quickly spoke up for them, holding his hands up in polite greeting.
“I’m Chen Jianshi. This is my younger brother, Chen Jianjin. We are both from the Border Mountain Sect and are disciples of the Mad Tiger Peak.”
“And I’m Di Mie of the Fallen Leaves Valley,” said Di Mie. He looked at Xie Li. “Your turn.”
“Ah, me?” said Xie Li, smiling and pointing at himself, his motions a little slow. “I’m Xie Li. I work here for the Auntie Ma who owns this inn.”
“Xie—” He stopped, and tried again. “Mister Xie, is it? Have you heard anything about some townsfolk who went missing lately?” said Di Mie.
The juniors were suddenly relieved.
It seemed that their Shibo was just being friendly to the waiter to gather information, even if his initial approach seemed rather…eccentric. They had asked the innkeeper the other day but she didn’t know much. Perhaps this waiter, being a young man, knew more?
“Hmm. I haven’t,” said Xie Li.
The juniors blinked.
“Have you talked to the town guards?” he suggested.
“We’ve asked the ones at the gates, but there’s no new information,” said Jianshi.
“Hmm, maybe Uncle Niu might know something. He keeps up with the latest news,” said Xie Li.
“Where is this Uncle Niu?” asked Jianjin.
“He should be at the cosmetics shop down the street.”
“Hm,” said Di Mie. “Bring us there.”
“But I have work,” said Xie Li.
“I’ll talk to the innkeeper,” said Di Mie, and he did.
Jianshi and Jianjin watched as their Shibo suddenly became an auntie-killer, his voice a charming baritone, teasing and playful even behind the veil.
They shuddered when they caught phrases like:
“You were that older sister working at the canteen? No wonder the food always tasted so good.”
“Aiyo, why are you so charming?” gushed Auntie Ma. “Auntie is your fan!”
A gust of wind even came in from nowhere to lift his veil from his face just-so for Auntie Ma to catch a glimpse of his lips and his very well-shaped chin.
Auntie Ma couldn’t help a squee that came from her lips from seeing that demonically well-shaped bit of chin.
Di Mie skillfully pretended not to hear her reaction and after warming her up with all that small talk, dove into the real request.
“So, we are hoping you could lend us your nephew here the rest of the day off to help us with our investigation since we could use a guide,” said Di Mie.
“Well, of course! Our Ah-Li would love to help,” exclaimed the innkeeper. Then, as if remembering to ask Xie Li for his opinion, quickly turned to said nephew. “Ah-Li, are you free to help young master Di?”
“Wow, ‘young master Di’,” whispered Jianjin to Jianshi.
“Auntie Ma, you’re the boss of this inn,” smiled Xie Li. “If you say I’m free, then I am.”
“Ah, right!” giggled Auntie Ma. “Today’s not a busy day, so Xie Li should go ahead and have fun in town with these fine young masters!”
“I’ll make sure he’ll have a fun time,” said Di Mie, his voice dripping with potent charm.
The juniors felt their skin crawl.
“Please be mindful of Ah-Li,” said Auntie Ma. “This nephew of mine is in poor health.”
“Don’t worry, Auntie Ma. I’ll take good care of him,” said Di Mie, his voice extra sweet.
“Aiyo, you have such kind words,” she giggled.
The juniors looked ready to turn into stone statues right then and there.
“I’ll clean him right up while you continue your meal,” said Auntie Ma to the table of cultivators, pulling Xie Li aside by his sleeve.
“Clean up?” asked Xie Li.
“You can’t go out looking like that, not with these handsome fellows!” scolded Auntie Ma. “You need to dress up a little. It’s just good manners to be presentable.”
“Auntie Ma, there’s really no need to,” said Xie Li.
“Heheh, I got a little carried away last night and sewed a sash to go with that blue robe I altered,” she said, her eyes sparkling in contrast to the eyebags below.
Xie Li sighed and obliged, letting her pull him into a room in the back to pile a fresh set of clothes into his arms.
“Change quickly! And wash your face too!” she added as she closed the door behind her and giggled in anticipation.
“Auntie Ma, where is Mister Xie?” asked Jianshi, now they were done with their breakfast.
“Coming, coming,” said the innkeeper, going into the backroom to fetch Xie Li.
“Wait,” said Xie Li, a blood-stained undertunic and some rags bundled in his arms. “Let me get these soaked first…”
She grabbed the clothes from him and tossed it aside. “Leave the dirty clothes for your Auntie Ma to handle. Oh, your sash is crooked. Wait, you can’t go out with your hair like this,” she said as she untied his full bun, pursed her lips and pondered. Xie Li shook his hair out.
Auntie Ma took out a ribbon and gathered his hair into a loose top-bun.
There was a mild frown on Xie Li’s face and his eyes were slightly narrowed.
“Yes, yes, I know you don’t like people touching you. I’ll do this quickly,” said Auntie Ma as she deftly fixed a blue ribbon around his hair. While at it, she quickly straightened his clothes.
“Now you at least look like a handsome school teacher from some rural village,” she said, standing back to admire her handiwork.
“You are very specific…”
“With this, you don’t have to hide your jade bangle,” said Auntie Ma. “It does look too expensive to be worn about this humble inn…”
“I should hide it,” said Xie Li, reminded. He took a roll of cloth bandages and wrapped it over his wrist.
“Ah, let me,” said Auntie Ma, deftly tying the bandages for him.
“Maybe you need another prop, like a fan or a book, maybe even a flute. Come, turn around and give Auntie a smile!”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?” said Xie Li, turning one round for her to examine and appreciate. He gave her a well-trained smile, and she clapped in joy.
“You look heavenly when you smile like that,” squeed Auntie Ma. “Ah, right. Mustn’t keep them waiting. Quick, go to them!”
The two juniors blinked when they saw Xie Li approach them.
“Mister…Xie?” said Jianshi, not anticipating the change of clothes at all.
Jianjin pulled his brother out of the inn and beckoned Xie Li to follow, whispering, “Hurry up, we can’t keep Di Shibo waiting.”
No one could see what kind of face Di Mie made because of his veil, but he was silent for a moment when he saw Xie Li step out of the inn, dressed in a neat, blue robe.
And then he spoke up.
“You look ridiculous,” said Di Mie.
“Are these clothes that strange?” said Xie Li, smiling.
“I’m referring to your smile.”
“Is that so?”
The two juniors blinked, shocked at what Di Mie was saying to the waiter. More surprisingly was how the waiter seems immune to Di Mie’s natural charm or his rudeness.
“Um, Mister Xie, please lead the way to this Uncle Niu,” said Jianshi.
Jianjin nudged his brother, mouthing a “Nice save!” to him.
The two boys could feel their Shibo staring at Xie Li’s back the whole time as they walked down the street like a tiger eyeing a rabbit. Xie Li seemed not to sense any of that at all, leading them to a shop selling cosmetics.
Two young women were busy minding customers while a middle-aged man sat on a stool in a corner just outside the shop, reading the latest gossip leaflet.
“Good afternoon, Uncle Niu,” greeted Xie Li.
“Hey, Xie Li! Heard said you were unwell again. How are you today?”
“Mm,” shrugged Xie Li.
“Shy as usual, huh. Anyway, you look good in my old robe. Your Auntie Ma did a great job,” chuckled Old Niu. “So, have you come to borrow another issue?”
“I haven’t finished reading the ones you left behind,” said Xie Li.
“You have to tell this old man what you think of it when you finish reading them, haha!” said Old Niu. “So, where have you read up to—” he stopped, noticing the men behind Xie Li.
“Hmm? Who are these young masters from the Border Mountain Sect with—oh my! Is this the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord himself?”
“I’m here to supervise our sect juniors. Please ignore my presence so they can learn well,” said Di Mie, sounding every bit a charming gentleman.
“Is that the Fallen Leaves Valley Lord?” came a woman’s voice nearby.
“Here we go again,” said Jianjin, shuffling away from them.
“Ahhhh!!” A woman screamed. She pointed at Di Mie and slapped the arm of a friend next to her. “It’s him! It’s Di Mie! The Lord of the Fallen Leaves Valley, Di Mie!”
Her friend turned around and her eyes widened at the discovery.
“Oh my heavens, this dark veil and silver hair peeking out from beneath,” gasped the woman. “It’s as the booklet says…”
“I know, right??”
“Um, Di Shibo,” suggested Jianshi. “We can handle it from here, so please…”
“All right,” said Di Mie. He took a step towards the ladies and they followed him with their eyes.
He raised a finger to his lips and hushed them. A gentle gust of wind came from nowhere and made his veil flutter slightly. He went into the shop, away from the gaze of the passers-by.
The two women nodded their heads vigorously and hushed themselves, looking around and muttering ‘nothing to see, nothing’s happening’ to any curious passer-by.
“You have some interesting combs,” commented Di Mie.
“Yes, we do!” said one of Old Niu’s daughters. “These are combs made of a rare black wood…”
The other daughter chimed in. “Would you like to touch them? You can try them all for free. Please touch them…”
Mysterious hunks be damned, Old Niu’s daughters had a seriously sharp business sense.
“Pssh,” said Old Niu. “They’ll be selling these ‘touched combs’ to the fangirls later. These two shrews are more interested in money than men.”
As more hushed squeals came in from the women inside, Old Niu himself gazed longingly after Di Mie, wishing he could catch a glimpse of what was under the veil too.
“Let’s get back on topic,” coughed Jianshi, turning Old Niu’s attention back to them.
“Sure, sure. This Old Niu here will help Border Mountain disciples in any way I can. I am a retired disciple myself after all.”
“What a friendly uncle you are,” chirped Jianjin, buttering up the old man. “Have you heard anything of the people who went missing just outside of town?”
“Ah, that,” said the old man, scratching his chin. “I was talking about that with the gossip gang at the tea house not long ago. It started with a woodcutter who went missing. And some old hunters. And a few guards who went looking for them.”
The more serious Jianshi took out some notes from his sleeve and flipped through them.
“It matches what the mayor said. The guards were sent to search for the missing people, but a few of them went missing and the search was cancelled.”
“Yes,” said Old Niu. “The guards themselves are too spooked to even talk about it, lest they get spirited away themselves.”
“No wonder we can’t seem to get more out of the guards,” said Jianshi.
“What about Uncle Niu?” said Jianjin, in a concerned voice. “Are you also afraid to talk about it?”
“Oh, are you trying to test me, child?” chuckled Old Niu. “Ask away! This old man has nothing to lose but his old bones.”
“Aww, Uncle Niu, you don’t look old at all,” buttered up Jianjin. “You’re what? Twenty?”
“Hahaha, you glib talker,” laughed Old Niu.
“So, do you know the exact spots where the people went missing?” asked Jianshi.
“The guards won’t tell you, I’m sure,” said Old Niu, stroking his beard. “I know it’s somewhere along the footpaths out of town. Maybe the missing woodcutter’s friend might tell you. I believe he might have seen something.”
Once they got the information of the whereabouts of the possible witness, Jianjin nudged Jianshi.
“Quickly, while Di Shibo’s still busy,” he whispered.
Jianshi nodded. He may be the sensible brother between them, but he agreed with Jianjin on this one.
Jianjin took a peek in the shop, seeing Di Mie still preoccupied with shopping, he pulled Xie Li aside and instructed him.
“Mister Xie, when our Di Shibo comes out, tell him that we’ve gone on ahead to gather information,” said Jianjin.
“Okay,” said Xie Li.
“You can just tell him to wait for us back at the inn,” added Jianshi, looking apologetic.
“Go, go,” hurried Jianjin. “Let’s move before the demon king catches up to us.”
“Demon king?” repeated Xie Li.
“He’s sprouting nonsense, don’t listen to him,” said Jianshi, shushing his brother.
“Bye!” whispered Jianjin as the two of them walked off briskly.
Shortly after, Di Mie emerged from the shop.
“Where did those two go?”
“They told me to tell you that they’ve gone on ahead to gather information,” said Xie Li in a flat voice. “Oh, and they said I could just tell you to wait for them back at the inn.”
“Those two brats,” sighed Di Mie. “When I get back, I’m going to tell their master to discipline them.”
He got Old Niu to tell him where they went, and the old man diligently gave him as much detail as he could. For his enthusiasm, Di Mie thanked him and also ‘accidentally’ blessed Old Niu with a strategic glimpse of his side profile under the veil.
“Blessed day!” said Old Niu.
“That gust of wind was extremely precise,” observed Xie Li.
“You come with me, we’ll go after them.”
Xie Li nodded and followed, but Di Mie pulled him to his side and made him walk where he could see him.
“You look better when you’re not smiling.”
Xie Li blinked and brought a hand up to touch his face. His cheeks and jaw were sore and he’d stopped smiling for a while now.
“Face cramp,” he said.
“Serves you right,” muttered Di Mie.
They walked out of town, following the directions of Old Niu.
“Uh, Valley Lord Di,” said Xie Li. “Are you sure you want to bring me along? I don’t think I can keep up with you.”
“I can’t feel a hint of spirit aura in you. Is your cultivation ruined or something?” said Di Mie.
“Hmm,” shrugged Xie Li, looking elsewhere and flapping a hand out of habit. “It got lost.”
“Got lost—” echoed Di Mie, shaking his head in mirth. “Anyway, these two juniors—Jianshi and Jianjin, what do you think of them?”
“They feel familiar. Have I met them before?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“So…” said Xie Li. “Valley Lord Di is very popular. I wasn’t aware of that until today.”
“How long were you out of town?” said Di Mie.
“I never left this town.”
“What did you do all this time? Hibernate for seven years?”
“Hmm,” Xie Li shrugged.
Di Mie groaned, feeling a headache coming on.
“I really want to give you a tight slap right now.”
“I know you are angry with me, but I would prefer not to be slapped,” replied Xie Li.
“Well, if you don’t like to be slapped, how about a punch?”
“Pfft,” Di Mie snorted a laugh. “It’s been so long since I’ve talked to someone as odd as you.”
Xie Li sighed. “I try so hard and still I’m ‘odd’, huh.”
“Why even bother trying? Your smiles are so fake.”
“Auntie Ma says I should look people in the eye and smile more,” said Xie Li.
“I prefer you don’t do that,” said Di Mie. “At least not to me.”
“I understand,” said Xie Li, nodding. “So, I assume you brought me along for your entertainment?”
“You’re so smart,” said Di Mie.
The woodcutter stared at them glumly as he told the two young men his account.
“It started last month, you know? I was with my friend walking down the footpath when he disappeared. Some hunters went to investigate soon after, but they disappeared. So I reported it to the guards, who went to look for them, but they also disappeared!” said the woodcutter. “So many have disappeared…did I curse them? Oh, woe is me!”
So you didn’t see anything before your friend disappeared?” asked Jianshi, ignoring the woodcutter’s lament.
“It was a straight path down, but I turned around and he was gone,” said the woodcutter. “I thought he might have fallen down somewhere, so I went looking for him, but he disappeared. I thought I saw a large beast, so I quickly went back to town to tell the guards about it.”
“Do wild beasts appear around here?” asked Jianjin.
“Oh, from your colours, you two boys are from the Wild Tiger Peak, aren’t you?”
“If you mean ‘Mad Tiger Peak’, then yes,” said Jianshi.
“I thought the Peak only accepts female disciples,” said the woodcutter. “I suppose times have changed, huh…Anyway, it’s good that Wild Tiger Peak disciples are here. If it’s a wild beast, you boys should be specialists.”
“Mad Tiger, not Wild Tiger,” muttered Jianjin.
“We’ll find out what happened to your friend, uncle woodcutter,” assured Jianshi.
“May Lord Divine Retribution have mercy upon my old friend,” prayed the old woodcutter.
“Um, uncle woodcutter, what does Lord Divine Retribution have to do with this case?” asked Jianshi.
“It’s just in case,” said the woodcutter. “I’ve already prayed to all the other gods. Better to add an extra prayer than not.”
“Heavens, this old man’s sentences don’t make sense,” Jianjin said in an aside to his brother.
“We’ll investigate this thoroughly, uncle,” assured Jianshi. “Where did you last see your friend?”
“The footpath up to the abandoned temple was where my friend disappeared,” said the woodcutter.
Thank you for reading this translation of ‘My Hermit Master’!
The opening chapters might be a little tough to understand at first with all the names, so please give the following chapters a chance! I promise it gets easier to read!
Below are the names in Chinese (again!) if you’re interested!
Xie Li = 谢离
Xie is a surname, meaning ‘grateful’ or ‘wilting (flowers). Li means ‘to leave’. It probably means something like ‘Grateful Departure’. But it’s funnier to translate it as “Thanks Bye” 😀
‘Ah-’ is a prefix sometimes used as endearment for close friends or relatives, hence Auntie Ma calling him ‘Ah-Li’ and Jianshi calls his brother ‘Ah-Jin’.
Di Mie = 狄灭
Di is just a surname. ‘Mie’ means ‘eliminate’. His name is a homonym of ‘地灭‘, meaning ‘earth destruction’.
Chen Jianshi (older brother) and Chen Jianjin (younger) = 陈捡石 and 陈捡金
‘Chen’ is a surname meaning ‘old/past’. Their names literally mean ‘pick up stone’ and ‘pick up gold’.
There’s a lot of puns in this series using homonyms and names stating the obvious. I’ve chosen to translate most of it into English instead of using the pinyin (pronunciation) for easier comprehension.
Calling unrelated elders ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ is common, and sometimes used as a casual name too. There’s a little joke as well on Old Niu and Auntie Ma’s names – their surnames mean Cow and Horse.