Translated by liyou. Edited by seal.
“How do you feel about me and Gu Mang?” Mo Xi asked, all of a sudden.
Blood dripped, bead by bead.
Murong Lian clutched at his shoulder. Scarlet seeped through the gaps between his fingers. The silk of his clothes were soaked through quickly. The servants on his left and right paled, stuttering, “M-My Lord…”
No one would have thought that the person who eventually got injured would be Murong Lian. In an instant, it was chaos inside the Wangshu Manor. “Quick, get the medicine! Hurry, fetch the healing salve!”
“Hurry, hurry! Bandages! The bandages!”
Murong Lian’s face was green. He did not know how, but in the split second his dagger had sliced downwards, a red tattoo of a lotus had suddenly surfaced on the side of Gu Mang’s neck. It had been followed by an explosive surge of spiritual energy, bundles of light swords shooting outwards–not only jolting the dagger out of his grasp, but even expelling him several yards out!
Murong Lian was temporarily unable to say anything, biting his lower lip tightly, his face alternating between white and red. He took a moment’s pause, his palm lighting up with a blue glow to stem the flow of blood, before he roared, humiliated and furious, “Gu Mang!”
Gu Mang had taken advantage of the chaos to run behind the table, and was currently rubbing the naked soles of his feet, baring his teeth in a manner that was both extremely wary and extremely innocent. His eyes followed Murong Lian closely, those swords of light still emanating continuously, surrounding him, protecting him in the centre of the formation.
After a bout of silence, amongst the crowd, a young master who had previously sought Gu Mang out at the Luomei Garden Villa reacted, and shouted, “Oh no, it’s this array!”
“What array?” Murong Lian barked, “Spit it out quickly if you know it!”
“This array…this subordinate also knew of it accidentally, it’s a little awkward to talk about it…”
“Answering Wangshu-Jun, it’s like this!” The young master saw that Murong Lian was truly infuriated, and hastily replied, “If one uses spells to attack him, or high-level weapons on him, this array won’t be activated. But if one uses an ordinary class of summoned weapons, or their fists, and makes him feel scared, many swords of light will explode outwards from his body. This is also…” Up to this point, he was a little sheepish, but forced himself to complete his sentence, “This is also the reason behind why Gu Mang has been at the Luomei Garden Villa for so long, but no one can actually do anything to him…”
Murong Lian’s fury was hard to appease. He glared at Gu Mang on the opposite side of the table in loathing. “What kind of stupid, laughable array is this?!”
That young master shook his head. “Gu Mang used to be a bloody genius at spells. No one knows how many spells he created back then; many were extremely pointless, other than earning smiles from girls, they didn’t serve any purpose at all. This could be something he created for fun in those early years.”
Once he said this, everyone else recalled it as well.
Until now, the library in the cultivation academy still stored some scrolls that Gu Mang had graffitied in his youth, silly spells scribbled on them–something about warming a cold dish quickly, turning oneself into a cat within the duration it took for an incense stick to burn down, even summoning a ball of fire to carry in one’s bosom during winter, and the like. The most notorious of them was a spell called “The General Is Always Right”. Legend had it that, in his early military days, Gu Mang loved to skip the long and boring meetings. In order to prevent the general from finding out, he brainstormed and specially came up with a spell that could give a block of wood his own appearance, so that it could sit there and listen to the general’s hogwash, while he made his own getaway, going off to god-knows-where to enjoy his freedom……
“Thinking of it this way, that’s actually quite possible.”
“That’s also true, protecting against hits and kicks but not magic is simply ridiculous. One look at it and you can tell that it’s not any proper defense array.”
“Gu Mang, this fellow, likes to pull this sort of nonsense. But he really muddled his way onto something, for this sort of pointless magic trick to actually protect him.” Someone laughed, “Otherwise, he’d have been fucked to death in bed a long time ago. After all, it isn’t just a small handful of people in Chonghua who want to fuck him. It’s just that, unfortunately, no one has been able to get past this array.”
Overhearing this, Yue Chenqing scratched his head and muttered, “Fuck, what array is this? Untouchable-flower-on-a-mountaintop array?”
“Come on, Gu Mang an untouchable flower on a high mountaintop?” Another young master laughed, lowering his voice to joke with Yue Chenqing. “We might as well make a couplet out of this.”
“Gu Mang, the mountaintop flower.” Yue Chenqing asked, excitably, “What’s the matching verse?”
“General Mo, the dalliant casanova.”
Yue Chenqing howled with laughter, slapping his thigh. “Hahaha even though the images aren’t complementary at all–”
“What are you laughing at!” He was suddenly cut off by Murong Lian, who bellowed in humiliated anger, “Lawless and undisciplined, watch out, I’ll give your father the boot1[给他小鞋子穿: lit. make him wear small shoes, fig. a superior making things difficult for someone of subordinate status as retribution]!”
“I didn’t! I wouldn’t dare.” Yue Chenqing said hastily. “By the way, as long as it makes Wangshu-Jun happy, never mind giving my dad the boot, it’s alright even if you give him ladies’ shoes to wear!”
Murong Lian glared at him. Thinking of how he failed to be awe-inspiring at tonight’s feast, landing himself a wound and losing his respectable face instead, he found it hard to bear. Turning his head, he spat bitterly, “Why are you just standing there?!”
“Awaiting my Lord’s orders!”
Murong Lian flicked his sleeve, pointing at Gu Mang. “Take this dumb pig away. I do not wish to see him again. Additionally, bring me a few smart and discerning ones from the Luomei Garden Villa. As for punishment–”
He ground his teeth, gaze lighting on Mo Xi’s face.
For some unknown reason, Mo Xi’s expression was rather strange after seeing that array, and he kept glancing at the side of Gu Mang’s neck.
“General Mo….don’t you have anything to say?”
“…” Mo Xi came back to his senses, rescinded his gaze from Gu Mang, hugged his own arms, and coldly said, “Didn’t Wangshu-Jun intend to fulfill my wish, and part with your beloved Gu Mang as a gift to me?”
Murong Lian startled, then shamelessly said, “Don’t take my words so seriously. The Emperor ordered me to punish him, how can he change owners so easily?”
Mo Xi did know that he wouldn’t abide by his promises; the proverb “a gentleman’s word was his bond” was a load of tosh to Murong Lian. Even more so when this issue at hand was already a ridiculous show since the beginning—if the Emperor did not personally retract his order, no one could change it of their own accord.
Thus he raised his eyes to meet Murong Lian’s imperious glare, and said, “If so, Wangshu-Jun should punish his own men. He does not need to ask me.”
“Since you said so.” Murong Lian sneered, and ordered, “Take him away, reward him with eighty lashes, and dock his meals for a month.” He paused, then added on with venom,
“If he starves to death, he deserves it.”
Gu Mang was escorted away. The servants of the Wangshu Manor cleaned up the mess, served up new dishes, and the feast proceeded.
In the buzz of hushed, fervent whispers, only Mo Xi did not speak. When wine jugs and cups were raised once more, all around him, he raised his eyes again, looking at where Gu Mang had been led away with a complicated light in his eyes. His fingers, hidden where no one could see, slowly tightened.
Mo Xi did not like to drink, and hated being hungover even more.
But that day, after returning from the Wangshu Manor, he sat in the empty and spacious courtyard of his own home and opened a jar of an old brew of great quality. Cup by cup, he drank alone until he saw the bottom of the jar. He looked at the curved sickle hanging in the sky, the falling snow, and, out of the blue, asked the housekeeper by his side, “Li Wei. How long have you been with me for?”
“Yes my Lord, it has been seven years.”
Mo Xi mumbled, “Seven years…”
Seven years ago, he had pursued a defected Gu Mang deep into the enemy encampment, and gotten stabbed in the chest by him, his life hanging by a thread. He had lain in bed unconscious, and Li Wei had been sent to the Xihe Manor by the Emperor back then to take care of him.
So it had already been this long past.
Mo Xi thought unhappily to himself. Why, then, could he not let go, and why could he not forget?
After having drunk much wine, he could not help the smidges of drunkenness. He did not want to lose reason, so when Li Wei made to pour another cup, he shook his head to indicate that it was not necessary. Li Wei complied—there were few who could stand steadfast in the face of beauty, who could remain sober in the face of good wine, who could easily let loose and hold back as needed in the face of temptation, and Mo Xi was one of them.
“How do you feel about me and Gu Mang?” Mo Xi asked, all of a sudden.
Li Wei was dumbfounded for a moment, and hesitated, saying, “…Not…too well of a match?”
“…We’re both men, what are you talking about a match for? I think you’ve drunk too much as well.” Mo Xi glared at him. “Try again.”
Li Wei only realised what he was asking then, and laughed as he said, “Oh, the relationship between you two? Everyone knows it’s terrible.”
“What about in the past?”
“In the past…” Li Wei thought about it for a moment. “In the past, I didn’t have the luck to wait on my Lord, but I heard that my Lord and General Gu were shixiong and shidi in the academy, and also brothers-in-arms, the two generals of the empire, and….ai, I don’t know, I can’t think of any others. Some people say that you and General Gu were quite close back then, and some others say that General Gu was the sunlight on earth—warm towards everyone, so he might not have been that especially close to you, and that’s about it.”
Mo Xi nodded his head, and did not comment.
Shixiong and shidi, brothers-in-arms, the two generals of the empire.
This was the impression the majority had of Mo Xi and Gu Mang’s relationship, and it did not seem like there were any faults.
Curious, Li Wei asked, “So what was it like, in actuality?”
“Me and him?” Unexpectedly, Mo Xi gave a shallow laugh, his long eyelashes dipping, the traces of that smile hiding something bitter. “It is nebulous, I can’t explain it well.”
He paused, and slowly added, “And it shouldn’t be said.”
No one in Chonghua would believe that Gu Mang had once been to Mo Xi like what a clear spring to a traveller dying of thirst was.
Before meeting Gu Mang, Mo Xi had ambitious dreams and responsibilities, had been unshakable in his determination, had not shied away from exhaustion or hard work, but it had been hatred that had occupied most of his heart.
In his youth, he had once treated everyone with sincerity, but what had he gotten in return? His father perishing in battle, his mother’s betrayal, his uncle’s coup; the servants each one more adept than the other at reading the situation–they called him Young Master, but worked for his uncle in secret. There was not even one person around him who he could trust.
Back then, he didn’t understand where he had failed, in order to receive such treatment from fate.
It was at that point that he had met Gu Mang.
Gu Mang from back then had been so kind, so righteous, and even if he were only a slave so low in status that he was of equal standing with dust, he never held a grudge and never blamed anything. When Mo Xi first started to exterminate demons alongside him, he had a terrible temper and always contested him, but Gu Mang took it all in stride with a cheeky grin—he was always considerate of others’ hardships, regardless of his own arduous life.
He was always hard at work absorbing every trace of kindness in life, then putting his whole effort into making small flowers bloom.
He knew that he would be punished for posing as Murong Lian to purchase medicine, even lose his right to learn cultivation at the academy, but he stubbornly did it anyway. When he had been exposed and was kneeling on the Dais of Repent at the Academy, Gu Mang did not explain anything, only said, irritatingly thick-skinned, that he found it fun.
But which slave would sacrifice his hard-won chance at making a name for himself, for the sake of fun?
It was clearly because he had seen, with his own eyes, how those villagers were troubled by the plague all year round, tormented by the aches and pains of illness.
And he could not bear it.
But he was too lowly in status, so lowly that even if he had prostrated himself as low as he could, used the lightest voice to murmur, “I just wanted to save people,” he would have been heartlessly laughed at. He could have dug into his living, burning chest, let him look at his heart which was nearly dying from the agony it felt, and they would have only jeered at his passion, suspected his kindness, scorned his overconfidence, and made fun of his trembling sincerity.
He knew all that.
And so he did not defend himself.
It was said that the rich should focus their efforts on saving the world, while the poor should focus on improving themselves. In such a state himself, as an insignificant slave in the Wangshu Manor, he didn’t worry over securing his next meal, or how to win his Lord’s favour, but instead picked up the burden of helping those in need–playing the role of a clown overestimating his abilities.
But it was precisely this overestimation of his abilities back then, with that passionate heart burning with sincerity, that pulled a Mo Xi who had been thoroughly disappointed in humanity back to the righteous path.
“My Lord.” In a moment of distraction, Li Wei advised by his side, “It is late enough that the dew is condensing, you should rest.”
Mo Xi did not reply immediately. His hand was still supporting his forehead, covering his eyes. Upon hearing the housekeeper’s voice, he turned his head slightly, fingers trembling, like he was wiping at something. After a while, he said, his voice slow and quiet, “Li Wei.”
“…Say.” He murmured, “Gu Mang……is it possible that he didn’t even lose his memory at all? That he’s pretending?”
The author has something to say:
《Little Yue-yue’s Favouritism》
Murong Lian: Laugh, my ass! I assisted the gong2[攻 (Gōng) is a loan word from the Japanese “seme” and refers to the top of a BL relationship] but I still have to suffer an injury! I quit! What are you laughing at, Yue Chenqing?! If you keep laughing, I’ll give your father the boot!
Yue Chenqing: As long as it makes Murong-dage3[大哥 (dà gē) is big brother] happy, you can even give my dad ladies’ shoes to wear!
Yue Juntian: This son is unfilial!!
Murong Lian: Sure, you’re shameless enough, what if I give your brother ladies’ shoes to wear?
Yue Chenqing: As long as it makes Murong-dage happy, you can even give my brother children’s shoes to wear!
Jiang Yexue: ….Are you finally willing to call me brother?
Murong Lian: Fuck! How about I give your Fourth Uncle children’s shoes to wear?!
Yue Chenqing: As long as it makes Murong-dage happy—hold on? What?! You want to make my Fourth Uncle wear children’s shoes? No way!!! You’re not allowed near my Fourth Uncle!!!!
Mysterious Fourth Uncle: ………………