Translated by liyou. Edited by seal.
“General Gu, I’m giving you two options below, listen carefully.”
“Xi, Xihe-Jun, this is…”
Mo Xi’s act of gritting his teeth was displayed obviously on his white face. His face was indeed handsome, but terrifying. He had a tall stature that let him sweep his gaze across the crowd from above, and when his gaze, sharp as a knife, was about to land on Gu Mang, it moved away quickly for reasons unknown.
Murong Lian slanted his gaze over. “Oh? Xihe-Jun, you were doing perfectly fine just now, what are you flaring up for all of a sudden?”
Mo Xi’s face was sullen. He greatly hated witnessing Gu Mang cornered and bullied, but he could not account for this hatred. Had he been unable to halt himself from shouting “Stop it!” earlier, he would not have been able to explain himself now; thankfully, he had restrained himself and not said anything then. Now, he could silently bear it for the moment, grit his teeth, and say slowly,
“……Drinking and seeking pleasure, wasting your lives away in a drunken stupor in this hall.”
“Each and every one of you is a key member of the Bureau of Military Affairs. Yet, you only know these sorts of despicable tricks.” He ground his sentences into individual words. “Where. Is. Your. Decorum?!”
“Xihe-Jun, what are you saying?” In the silence of the crowd, Murong Lian spoke.
He was originally lying down, but at this moment, he sat up, saying, “Gu Mang is a traitor, and those present here are nobility. They’re just nobles toying with a traitor—how is that a loss of decorum? How is that despicable?”
He inhaled another mouthful of Rapture, and continued. “Xihe-Jun’s taboos are his own. Is he going to apply them to his subordinates seeking their own fun? Furthermore, this is the Wangshu Manor, Gu Mang belongs to me, and these people here today are my guests. Even if your accomplishments are unparalleled, you should understand what is meant by ‘checking for a dog’s master before beating the animal’?”
His words were impressive–they weren’t only an attack on Gu Mang, but also degraded everyone else to Murong Lian’s dogs.
The crowd was rather drunk, but even if they had been sober, Murong Lian was cousin to the current emperor. One could lend them the courage of ten men, and they still would not dare to utter “no” to the might of the Murong family.
Mo Xi, however, did not buy his act. Crossing his arms, he stood and said coldly,
“Murong Lian, the Bureau of Military Affairs is not loyal to you, but to the Chonghua Emperor. I do not wish to hear you compare key members of the Bureau to your dogs a second time.”
He looked straight into Murong Lian’s eyes. “Keep yourself in check.”
Mo Xi’s words may have been sparse and straight to the point, but they were crushing with their weight, like a pair of daggers pointed directly at his heart.
Firstly, the top brass of Chonghua’s military today had the surname Mo. When it came down to it, Murong Lian himself was also a military officer, but his rank was below Mo Xi’s. Chonghua’s military law was as unyielding as a mountain; if he had truly angered Mo Xi, he could be prosecuted straight away, even if he were nobility.
Secondly, it should be said that Murong Lian’s behaviour had crossed a line.
This was even deadlier. Rumour has it that years ago, Murong Lian’s father had participated in the struggle for the throne—the late emperor had thankfully been magnanimous enough to spare his brother’s head. As a result, however, this side branch of the Murong family was highly self-preserving, and dared not even mention the words “sovereign power”.
True to form, Murong Lian’s expression changed, and only calmed down after a while with great effort.
“Good. Excellent.” The corner of his mouth moved, forcing out a hint of a cold smile. “Mo Xi, you’ve got guts.”
He glared at Mo Xi’s eyes, and after a while, suddenly raised his hand. Countless rays of light shot out of his palm with a hiss, a blood-red whip materialising as summoned, slicing the air apart with a crack, raising clouds of dust.
“Consider it that I misspoke earlier.” Murong Lian brandished the flexible whip and circled Mo Xi slowly, his eyes shining with a contemptuous, jealous light. “Xihe-Jun is incomparably strict with his subordinates, and his discipline of them extremely draconian. I have been enlightened of this today.”
He paused, his eyes reflecting a smidge of the glow from his whip.
“I’ll learn it to discipline these stupid slaves!”
Once he finished speaking, the blood-red spiritual whip snaked out all of a sudden, and came down hard on the few antsy servants standing in the corner!!!
“Master, master, don’t be angry–ow–”
Cries of pain and pleading reached the ear. Emotion flickered in Mo Xi’s eyes, growing darker.
Although he might have been of high status, the Northern Frontier Army underneath his command was a battalion of peasants who Gu Mang had once invested his lifeblood in training. Those cultivators lived a hard and penniless life, and were mostly of slave birth.
Mo Xi had befriended Gu Mang early on, and afterwards, survived death with these people. He had intimate knowledge of their hardships, and it was also the reason why he never solicited, took by force, or bullied those of lower status despite his elevated status.
Back then, after he had been wounded by Gu Mang, in order to prevent the rearing of another traitor like Gu Mang, the emperor wanted to order the extermination of the remaining Bastard Army, numbering at seventy thousand, and to ban Chonghua slaves from learning cultivation.
It had been him who dragged his ill, yet-recovered body to kneel in the heavy snow for days and nights on end, just so he could get the emperor to spare this army that Gu Mang had left behind, to not eradicate the remnants of it, to not strip Chonghua’s slaves of their right to cultivate.
“The rest of the slaves in the army have no intention of betraying the nation. Why would the Emperor need seventy thousand heads to roll?”
The Emperor was furious. “They have not turned traitor as of yet, but does that mean they will not turn traitor in the future?! They were all trained by Gu Mang! A clutch of traitorous eggs waiting to hatch! Xihe-Jun, have you forgotten the pain now that your wound has healed over?”
It had not healed yet. Underneath the bandage wrapped around his chest, the wound was oozing blood.
But he still remembered Gu Mang in his youth, sitting on a stack of hay and crunching an apple, smiling at him.
“In these nine regions and twenty-eight countries, only the five countries that recognise Chonghua as the capital are willing to let us of slave birth cultivate. It’ll be nice if there were more in the future.”
“Even though there isn’t a slave who’s been made an official in Chonghua, as long as the emperor still allows us to cultivate, there’ll always be a chance.”
“I want to make a name for myself, we all want to.”
“We only plead for the one on the throne to spare us a glance…”
Mo Xi closed his eyes, and said, “May the Emperor permit me to take over the seventy-thousand slave army.”
The Emperor scoffed. “Let you, a pure-blooded noble, to take over Gu Mang’s bunch of ruffians? How are you going to train them? Will they submit to you? Furthermore, how can you guarantee that these wolves and tigers won’t be like their old master, and point their spearheads towards Chonghua’s palace in the future!”
Mo Xi looked directly into the Emperor’s eyes, and said, “I am willing to take a heavenly vow1[天劫之誓 (tiān jié zhī shì) literally translates to “Oath of Heavenly Calamity”].”
The emperor was aghast. “….What did you say?!”
“I am willing to take a heavenly vow.”
A heavenly vow was one that could never be worn out by time, and could only be pledged once in a person’s life. The contract took ten years from the life of the one making the promise. If the person had gone back on his word, he would invite a calamity upon himself, and be decimated. But even if he had strictly adhered to his promise his whole life, he could never reclaim the ten years of his life.
It was precisely due to the rigidity of the rules, that very few on this earth would take the vow.
But Mo Xi had.
By taking this vow, he used ten years of his life to pledge never to let this remnant of the slave army rebel, to pledge that he would remain loyal to the Emperor, to Chonghua for his whole life.
Just to prevent more innocent blood from being spilled by Gu Mang’s betrayal.
Just so that Chonghua could retain the slaves’ right to cultivate.
Almost no one knew about this sacrifice of his; they only knew that the emperor had been struck with a strange inspiration, and handed the Wangba Army that Gu Mang had left behind over to a pure-blooded noble’s command. When he first took over, those of the Wangba Army secretly called him “Stepdad” behind his back, criticizing his stickling strictness, his aloofness, his privileged birth, that he could not even begin to understand the suffering of those as hard-up as them.
But none of them knew what this privileged young master who “couldn’t understand the suffering of those hard-up” had done in order to let them live. To let those born under similar circumstances as Gu Mang had been, not be branded with a mark that would never let them make a name for themselves.
Ten years of his longevity, a promise for life.
This “Stepdad” who had his heart pierced lived sandwiched between the two, as a person belonging to neither side.
In truth, he had done everything that could be done.
It was just that no one knew.
However, Murong Lian was clear about this affair. Because he had been by the Emperor’s side, back then.
He had personally seen how Mo Xi had begged for mercy for those slaves. He had personally heard Mo Xi take the vow, kowtowing on the snowy ground.
He knew that Mo Xi was sympathetic towards these slaves.
Thus when Mo Xi crossed him and he couldn’t take his anger out on the general of the empire, he became extremely shameless, and viciously whipped those helpless slaves. He whipped them until blood splattered in all directions, their cries never stopping.
Murong Lian laughed. His pale and fine face appeared exceptionally twisted from the contempt and his addiction. He laughed as he lashed his servants, intent lurking in his words directed at Mo Xi, “A wretched slave will always be a wretched slave. They were destined from birth to have filthy blood running in their veins; what kind of name can they ever make for themselves?”
To the side, Yue Chenqing clucked his tongue softly. “Rapture is scary, I need to tell my brothers when I return not to smoke it no matter what. It was only some words that opposed him, how can Wangshu-Jun get this crazy?”
After whipping his servants, Murong Lian’s fury was still unappeased, his gaze landing on Gu Mang standing to the side.
As his previous master, Murong Lian had taken note all of Gu Mang’s interactions with Mo Xi over the past years. Even though he did not have proof, he felt that Mo Xi’s and Gu Mang’s relationship was odd.
Having considered this, an evil thought grew in Murong Lian’s heart; in an instant, he redirected the whip, and cracked it towards a stupefied Gu Mang!
Poor Gu Mang did not have time to react before Murong Lian’s whip encircled his waist, hooking him in while he was off-guard, and easily brought him to right in front of Murong Lian.
Murong Lian gripped his chin, forcing him to turn to face Mo Xi. His long and narrow phoenix eyes were full of wicked intent. “Come, come, Gu Mang, look at this person in front of you, do you still recognise him?”
Gu Mang blinked with a bestial wariness.
“It’s alright if you’ve forgotten, let me tell you. You didn’t actually say this back then, but I could tell—even though you called me master, deep down inside, you really wanted to abandon the Murong family to prostrate yourself at this great Mo-gongzi‘s feet and be his dog.”
Mo Xi’s face grew dark.”Murong Lian, what is this insanity!”
“In what way am I insane? Today, I have been reunited with Xihe-Jun after a long separation, and didn’t prepare any gifts. How about this, I’ll test his intentions; if he still wants to follow you, I’ll consider catering to your interests, and give up this beloved one, is that fine?” Murong Lian hooked his arm around Gu Mang’s shoulder, and leaned on him.
“I’ve even thought of a way to test him. I’ll share it with you now—”
Murong Lian was already in an obfuscating haze from Rapture; extending a finger, he placed it on his lips, and continued wagging. “Shh, don’t be angry, let me finish what I have to say. It’s actually very fun.”
As he spoke, he lowered his head to ask Gu Mang, cloyingly, “General Gu, I’m giving you two options below, listen carefully.”
“To be honest, I’ve always been disgusted by your face, and very much want to disfigure it. But if you can help me with this person.” He pointed at Mo Xi, drunkenly, “If you can help me cut off one of this person’s arms.”
He drew close right next to Gu Mang’s ear, and said laughingly, in a low voice that everyone could hear, “I’ll spare you.”
Once he uttered this, even those dead drunk were jolted awake, opening their drooping eyes in shock to stare at the three of them.
“What did Wangshu-Jun just say…”
“He wants General Mo’s arm?”
Yue Chenqing kept smacking his own forehead, mumbling “I might as well have not come”, before he shouted, “Wangshu-Jun, Murong-dage!! You’ve smoked too much Rapture! Your brain is muddled! Is there medicine that can sober you up?! I’ll go bring it!”
Hanging off a clueless Gu Mang, Murong Lian ignored them completely and smirked. “How about it, Gu Mang, will you do it?”
With a snick, the whip in his hand had morphed into a dagger shining with cold light.
Poised by Gu Mang’s cheek.
“Sever his arm, or let me cut up your face—isn’t your brain damaged? I’d love to see, what choice will you make?”
Cold crept into Mo Xi’s heart.
Murong Lian wasn’t drunk at all!
It was obvious that with the ability Gu Mang had today, there was absolutely no threat—even if he snatched the dagger away, he wouldn’t injure himself a single bit. This move of Murong Lian’s was only to test if Gu Mang had truly lost his memory, and to see how highly Gu Mang thought of himself.
“I’ll count to three.”
The dagger forced its way onto Gu Mang’s face; an inch less, and there would be blood.
Gu Mang didn’t make a sound, turning his head to look at Murong Lian’s dagger almost indifferently.
Mo Xi’s blood pounded more quickly of its own accord.
He did want to halt Murong Lian’s actions immediately. But on the other hand, he couldn’t help himself from wanting to find out, what would Gu Mang do?
In actuality, Mo Xi did have that smidge of suspicion, and he also thought that Gu Mang’s brain damage might have been an act.
If Gu Mang’s brain was really damaged, he could not possibly have hesitated, due to his bestial nature. If he were truly like Li Wei had said, his subconscious believing that he was a wolf, then between self-defense and harming others, a wolf would undoubtedly choose the latter.
If so, why had Gu Mang not made any move to attack?
The atmosphere grew even more tense.
Murong Lian was laughing. Yue Chenqing was yelling. The crowd was talking him down. Fragrant incense hung within the hall, like Rapture. Flashing rapidly before Mo Xi’s eyes were Gu Mang’s faces of the past. Peaceful. Bright. Concerned. Icy.
They glided past in a jumble of colours, sparkling like the scales of a large fish, holding Gu Mang’s past selves in each ray of light.
They surfaced like beautiful dreams:
“Long time no see, Mo-shidi. Can I sit beside you?”
“Do you want to fester together with me?”
“I really will kill you….”
These memories rushed past, loud like the roaring rapids, each and every one crashing by him, until Murong Lian’s voice finally pierced through, pulling him back to reality.
Until all that was left was only Gu Mang’s still considerably peaceful, slightly frowning face in this very moment.
Unbelievably, Gu Mang still had not moved.
Why won’t he choose to rescue himself?! Wasn’t he wolfish in nature and unable to remember anything? Much less that he had been so vicious to him in the past, had already stabbed him with a bayonet, he should have, should have…
Mo Xi reacted at once, light and electricity coalescing in his hand. A sigil leapt from his palm, and hurtled towards Murong Lian’s raised dagger!
The dagger plunged down onto Gu Mang’s cheek, fresh blood spurting!
Mo Xi’s eyes widened.