Translated by seal.
“Now that I think about it, Xihe-Jun, you and Gu Mang have not seen each other for a long time, right?”
“Why don’t you put it on yourself?” Murong Lian waved his hand, “Don’t tell me you still need me to personally invite you to do so, ‘Murong-gongziye‘?”
Mo Xi, who was standing beside him, was already unable to restrain his anger: “Murong Lian, do not go too far. The slave collar must be approved by the Emperor before——“
Gu Mang cut him off halfway through the sentence.
“Such a priceless gift.” Gu Mang said loudly, pushing down Mo Xi’s voice, leaving no room for objections. Raising his two hands, he received the tray, “I thank our Young Master for the reward!”
Everyone in the room was filled with sorrow, but Gu Mang calmly and leisurely undid that pitch-black neck collar, lifted his jet-black eyes, and looked towards Murong Lian who was seated in a higher position; in that pair of beautiful eyes was no resentment, and on the contrary, they looked very calm.
Murong Lian’s voice dripped with cold: “Put it on.”
So Gu Mang fixed his gaze on him and raised his hands. Without blinking, he fastened the slave collar with a click.
“Ooh,” As if he had just found something new and fun, Gu Mang touched his neck with interest, “It’s not too big or small, fits just right.”
Mo Xi widened his eyes and looked at him in disbelief: “……”
Several of the study attendants who had a good relationship with Gu Mang also seemed like they were about to cry.
But this was just how Gu Mang was; even the biggest things would seem like nothing for him. If the sky were to fall, he would probably just grinn and tear a piece off to use as a quilt.
“Does it look good?”
Lu Zhanxing: “……”
Murong Lian stroked the corner of his mouth with his pale, slender fingers, and said with an air of eccentricity: “It looks fantastic.”
Gu Mang sincerely replied: “Many thanks to Young Master for bestowing this gift.”
“You’re welcome.” The expression in Murong Lian’s eyes paled to a faint grey. After a moment of silence, he abruptly raised his hand, and following the ball of blue light emitting from his palm, Gu Mang suddenly collapsed on the ground.
That study attendant named Lu Zhanxing couldn’t help but shout: “Gu Mang!!”
Several pitch-black thunder restriction bands shot out from the slave collar, firmly tying up Gu Mang’s upper body and arms; Gu Mang’s entire body convulsed from the shock waves running through them, shaking nonstop as he shrunk himself on the ground.
Murong Lian seemed to feel that it wasn’t enough, and switched to a different kind of sigil. The light in his palm turned red, and thorny vines shot out from the slave collar, wrapping itself around that honey-coloured body as its thorns pricked into his skin. In an instant, blood began to pour……
“That’s enough!” Mo Xi could no longer endure it, and spat out through clenched teeth: “Murong Lian, why are you going this far!?”
“I am disciplining our family’s slave, what does this have to do with you, Mo-gongzi?” Murong Lian spoke leisurely, “He’s just a lowly slave, even if I beat him to death it wouldn’t matter. Is it worth going through all of that trouble for him, Mo-gongzi?”
Murong Lian turned his head and smiled at Mo Xi: “If I were to stop just because you wanted me to, would that not be too humiliating for me? Mo-gongzi, although you are usually far above me1[眼高于顶 (yǎn gāo yú dǐng) is an idiom that means that one’s scope of vision is higher than the top of people’s heads, that their senses are keen and abilities are outstanding], but today you have come to seek a favour from me, and I am not so apathetic as to ignore you.”
After a pause, he continued: “However, you should always prepare something in return, right?”
During the conversation, he chuckled as he changed the type of punishment sigil used several times; the slave collar had already tortured Gu Mang to the point that his blood had sprayed all over2[血流如注 (xuè liú rú zhù) is an idiom that translates to “blood flows out like it was shot out”, signifying a fast and rapid outpour of blood].
Mo Xi blocked his hand that was forming sigils, glaring at him with dark eyes: “What do you want from me?”
“It isn’t anything terribly out of this world.” Murong Lian looked at his wrist being gripped tightly by Mo Xi and sneered: “It’s just that my mother is always complaining that my techniques are careless, and my skills are inferior to others.”
He narrowed his alluring, sanpaku eyes and faintly glanced at Mo Xi: “As long as you lose to me at the Academy’s Grand Competition on New Year’s Eve3[Refers to Lunar New Year], I’ll grant you a favour.”
Mo Xi turned his head to look at Gu Mang, yet found that Gu Mang was also looking at him, biting his lower lip as he lightly shook his head.
“I heard that this slave of mine had previously helped you out quite a fair bit when you were exorcising spirits.”
“What do you say, are you willing?”
Mo Xi said: “……Alright. I accept.”
Murong Lian smiled as he waved his hand, releasing the punishment sigil from the slave collar. Gu Mang immediately fell into a pool of his blood; those lips of his that were always curved up into a smile could no longer form any kind of sound from them.
And Murong Lian expressed a sense of satisfaction at this——
“Not too bad.”
The bright flame of the slave collar went out.
With a tone full of mockery, Murong Lian said to Gu Mang: “You should just lie there and wait for the blood to stop, then put your clothes back on so you don’t have to wash them. I hope this gift will remind you at all times of who you are.”His eyes stung like a wasp’s venom, “Remember how filthy the blood that flow through your body is.”
“Remember who you belong to, and from now on, who you should be pledging your loyalty to.”
Murong Lian was so despicable and perverted that Mo Xi had been thoroughly disgusted with him for a long time.
But what Mo Xi failed to comprehend, was why Gu Mang would still be hell-bent on following him despite how cruel he was; even after following for twenty years, he did not show a single sign of disobedience.
Gu Mang was not a masochist, was very intelligent, feared neither Heaven nor Earth, and had his own opinions, so Mo Xi felt that this kind of foolish loyalty was completely unimaginable. There was no way for him to guess what was going on in Gu Mang’s mind, and he did not know what had happened between Murong Lian and Gu Mang in the past, which still remained a mystery to this day.
And at this moment, Li Wei once again brought up the old debts between them. Mo Xi couldn’t help but think in his mind that this reminder was rather unnecessary; since before, Wangshu-Jun already been the utmost vile, how much more terrible could he get?
But unexpectedly, when he really did meet that man, it was still beyond his expectations——
After finishing their work, a few young masters made a suggestion to visit the newly built pitch-pot4[投壶 (touhu) is a traditional East Asian game known as Pitch-pot, where you throw some arrow/darts into a pot.] establishment at the East City to relax for a bit, and the newly hired female cultivators of the Bureau of Military Affairs also joined in on the fun.
“Xihe-Jun, why don’t you join us today?”
“You’re refusing us again.” The female cultivator’s mouth twitched, and she whispered under her breath, “I know you have Princess Mengze, but are you really so single-minded that you won’t even give others a little chance?”
Before Mo Xi could say anything, Yue Chenqing appeared from behind that female cultivator.
“Heyheyheyhey! Xihe-Jun, what are you doing?”
As he shouted, he patted the shoulder of that female cultivator and helped her out, “Why don’t we have fun together? Let’s have some tea or play a little pitch-pot, what’s so bad about that?”
The others also smiled along in persuasion.
“That’s right, let’s have fun together.”
“Pitch-pot is really fun.”
No one would have expected that at this moment, a man’s voice would suddenly sound from outside. Like a ghost, it was raspy, fleeting, and without a trace of warmth, leaving behind only a feeling of mockery.
“Stupidly throwing into pots, the true love of imbeciles.”5[“蠢哉投壶，痴呆挚爱。” tbh both me and liyou went nani tf at this so it’s anyone’s guess]
Under the darkening sky, the shuffling of footsteps could be heard from the palace entrance, following after the voice.
Mo Xi turned his head, and saw a man holding up an umbrella walk slowly up the stairs; his figure was faint and cold, like a lonely stray ghost wandering on a snowy night. The man took down his umbrella to the side, shook off the snow that had piled onto it, then raised his pair of eyes and swept a glance across everyone in the palace hall, his lips curving into a smile that was filled with mockery no matter how one looked at it.
“Everyone, you’re all here?”
The juniors6[晚辈 (wǎn bèi) means ‘younger generation’, so in this context they are people employed after or ranked lower than him] of the Bureau of Military Affairs were startled, and one after another saluted: “Wangshu-Jun.”
“This junior pays respects to the esteemed Wangshu-Jun”
This man who hadn’t shown up to work in the last ten thousand years had actually come.
After all these years, the previous owner of Gu Mang once again stood in front of Mo Xi, still just as feminine as he was back then. That pair of sanpaku eyes of his were long, narrow, and lifted up at the ends; cruelty hid within his charming appearance, and coldness hid behind his gentle demeanor. His face was skinnier and sharper than what he had been in Mo Xi’s memories, and that arrogant and domineering haughtiness in his expression burned a little bit hotter than it did back then.
Murong Lian’s serpent-like gaze slithered across Mo Xi’s face as if he had just found him from within the crowd; he licked his lips and smiled exaggeratedly: “My my, if it isn’t Xihe-Jun. How terribly impolite of me, it’s been a while.”
Yue Chenqing was an airhead7[愣头青 (lèng tóu qīng) is a modern phrase that refers to someone that doesn’t think before they act and blindly jumps into things….basically a himbo] that could easily talk to anyone, and he beamed while greeting him: “Murong-dage8[大哥 (dà gē) is big/elder brother. He means it in a friendly way and not that lianlian is his actual brother], it’s been a while since I’ve seen you too.”
Murong Lian regarded him as if he was nothing but a fart9[Chinese like to use ‘fart’ as an insult to mean someone/thing isn’t worth anything], and he did not even bother shifting his eyes.
Yue Chenqing: “……”
Murong Lian waited for a while, but did not receive a reply fro Mo Xi, and so with a smile as cold as a breeze, he added: “Xihe-Jun, the two of us have been separated for many years. How come you don’t seem the slightest bit happy to see me? That unapproachable10[拒人千里外 translates to “refusing people from a thousand miles away”] nature of yours has truly not changed one bit.”
Mo Xi side-eyed him with indifference: “Wangshu-Jun has changed though. I presume that there are many worries and disturbances in the imperial capital, causing Wangshu-Jun to lose quite a lot of weight.”
Murong Lian chuckled: “That’s right, after all, unlike you distant relatives11[外戚 (wàiqī) is the kin/group related to the empress dowager of the ruler. Basically he’s just being condescending by referring to Mo Xi as an ‘outsider’], as a chamberlain, I have to share all of the Emperor’s worries and difficulties.”
Mo Xi replied coldly: “How touching.”
Xihe-Jun and Wangshu-Jun were like thunder and lightning striking against a grinding stone; the atmosphere was as if at any second, they would unsheathe their swords and draw their bows at each other12[剑拔弩张 (jiàn bá nǔ zhāng) literal translation, an idiom that refers to a mutual state of hostility, similar to the english idiom ‘at daggers drawn’], and in the palace hall full of people, it was only the amiable and thoughtless Yue Chenqing that was still willing to talk. He looked left and right, then persistently13[锲而不舍 (qiè ér bù shě) is an idiom that translates to ‘chip away at a task without abandoning it’ and refers to perseverance] continued the conversation: “Wangshu-Jun, it’s already so late, what made you stroll into the palace today?”
“……It was along the way.” Murong Lian finally acknowledged him this time, “It just so happens that I have nothing of importance to do, so I thought I would invite you all to a gathering at the Wangshu Manor.”
After saying that, his eyes roamed around, and he added, his tone slightly chilling: “To have a drink and what not.”
No one dared to carelessly brush off this proposal of his. In addition, there were quite a few present who wanted to curry favour with Murong Lian who immediately answered: “Oh, so that was the reason!”
“Since Wangshu-Jun has extended an invitation, it would obviously be impolite of us to refuse.”
Murong Lian shot a glance at Mo Xi’s face: “Xihe-Jun, will you be joining us?”
Mo Xi took quick look at Yue Chenqing, and thinking that he was still young and easily influenced14[近朱赤近墨黑 is a shortened form of an idiom that means ‘when one lean’s against cinnabar one will turn red, when one lean’s against ink one will turn black’ and refers to someone who is naive easily influenced by others, both good and bad], it would be best for him to have less contact with Murong Lian.
So he said: “I have some matters to discuss with Yue Chenqing, so I will not be going today.”
“Argh, no way! It’s already so late, what else could there possibly be?!” Yue Chenqing widened his eyes, “I’m not gonna discuss military affairs with you! I wanna go to Wangshu Manor for a drink……”
As he said this, he hurriedly ran over to Murong Lian and hid behind him, appearing as if even if he was beaten to death, he would still refuse to look at anymore military memorial books15[奏本 (zòu běn) refers to official memorial documentation to be presented to the Emperor].
He had already made such a statement, and Mo Xi could not force him to agree, so all he could do was knit his brows slightly into a frown.
Murong Lian turned around with his hands clasped behind his back, and looked towards the snow drifting outside of the palace hall entrance. He suddenly said: “Now that I think about it, Xihe-Jun, you and Gu Mang have not seen each other for a long time, right?”
“I know you hate him. Before he had defected, it was you who defended him, swearing that he would never betray Chonghua.” He suddenly laughed again, “After that, you personally went to meet him at the battlefield, hoping to get a confirmation straight from his mouth. But he had injured you so badly, causing you to almost lose your life.”
Mo Xi coldly responded: “There is no need to bring up the past again.”
“Hehe, if I don’t mention it, does that mean you don’t think about it anymore? Xihe-Jun, although we aren’t on good terms, as it happens, we were both once deceived, let down, and betrayed by Gu Mang.” Murong Lian said slowly, “So although I hate to admit it, I’m afraid that you are the only one in this world who can understand my hatred and disappointment.”
After he said this, Murong Lian turned to reveal his morbidly pale profile, his eyes flickering with an unfathomable light.
“He was my family’s slave back then, but now, he is at the Luomei Garden Villa under my control.” He tilted his head, gazing as light as a feather: “How about it? Why don’t we all go have a look together?”
Yue Chenqing innocently poked his head out from the side, “Woah, Luomei Garden Villa? Wangshu-Jun, surely you must be joking. We have ladies here in our Bureau of Military Affairs, so it’s not too suitable for us to have fun at the Luomei Garden Villa.”
Several female cultivators heard what was said and hurriedly waved their hands: “We won’t go, we won’t be going anymore. Wangshu-Jun, please have a good time.”
Yue Chenqing scratched his head: “But even if our sisters16[姐姐 (jiějiě) translates to elder sister. Basically the female cultivators are older than him] aren’t going, Xihe-Jun hates brothels the most. How could he be willing to go to that sort of place?”
“Oh, I suppose you’re right.” Murong Lian sneered, “General Mo is Chonghua’s Number One General-in-chief, always open and candid, upright and dignified. It is absolutely impossible for him to stoop himself down to such a level and enter those sorts of unspeakable places of pleasure17[风尘 (fēng chén) literally translates to windblown dust, but also refers to prostitution]. How filthy.”
Mo Xi: “……”
“Then how about this?” Murong Lian paused to think for a moment, then stretched his neck and loosed his nerves before continuing: “Anyway, the Garden Villa is not too far from my home, so I’ll just ask someone to bring Gu Mang over and have him liven things up tonight. You can consider it my treat, General Mo……”
His lips were moist, and his words were sinister: “To welcome you back and wash away your exhausion18[接风洗尘 (jiē fēng xǐ chén) means to hold a welcoming reception to relieve a guest of their exhaustion, but literally translates to “catching the wind, and washing away the dust”. Remember the earlier reference 2 paragraphs up about prostitutes? It’s also a pun on that].”
The author has something to say:
Mei Hanxue19[梅含雪 – A supporting character from 2ha]: When others had said I was a gigolo20[ok i thought you guys needed to know but apparently 鸭王 (yā wáng), or duck king, means gigolo], I didn’t think there was a problem with it, but after seeing Murong-xiong21[兄 (xiōng) is a term for elder brother] today, I finally realise that I have been shamefully occupying this position. The title of the No. 1 Gigolo should be given to Murong-xiong, as he truly deserves22[实至名归 (shí zhì míng guī) is an idiom that means ‘fame follows merit’ or ‘reputation comes after real distinction’] it.
Murong Lian: Brother, you’re in the wrong place.
Translator’s Note: I do not literally translate Murong Lian and Yue Chenqing at times, because I find like their personalities don’t really shine as well since they use a lot of interjections, so I tried to reinterpret what they say to match their personalities and how it sounds like in Chinese! This approach has been agreed with between both translators and will continue to persist for all the chapters to come. Also we might be changing some terms used from here on out, please don’t mind the housekeeping!