“No. You cannot take him away.”
The great hall was brightly lit, the massive fire pit blazing. On either side of the fire pit stood two gilded mythical creatures; enchanted, one of them puffed wind into the fire pit through its open mouth, with a great shout of “Your Majesty’s might shakes the Nine Provinces!”, fanning the flames even higher. The other had its mouth agape too, and followed the other, shouting, “Your Majesty’s luck is as great as the heavens!”, but sucked the rising smoke into its belly.
These two golden, bootlicking beasts were presented by Murong Lian, and well-loved by the Emperor. But Mo Xi felt that only the mentally slow would like this sort of thing. At this moment, these two sucker-ups had just completed a cycle of one exhaling and the other inhaling, each producing a metallic-sounding burp, and curled up by the fire pit, motionless.
Mo Xi scanned the inside of the hall. Almost all the healers from Shennong Terrace were present, and Gu Mang was detained in the middle of the main hall. All around him, the finest of the palace cultivators stood guard. Someone had hypnotised him; he was already asleep.
Dressed in formal black robes and headgear, the current Emperor sat leaning on the throne padded with royal yellow cushion. His face was as flawless as jade, and the air about his brow was restrained. Currently, he had his eyes closed, resting.
Upon hearing the rustle of clothing and the hasty shuffle of footsteps, he opened his eyes, and cast his gaze downwards.
The attendant answered, “Answering Your Majesty, Elder Yu of Chengtian Terrace still has not arrived.”
The Emperor gave a cold chuckle. “The old thing is indeed getting on in age, if not even a messenger snowy owl can wake him. The way I see it, he can retire from his position as Chengtian Terrace’s first-ranked official to give room to someone more worthy.”
“Your Majesty, please calm down…”
“What do I have to be angry about?” The Emperor rolled his eyes, sat up straight, and flicked his royal yellow sleeve. “Please have a seat, gentlemen.”
The whole hall of officials answered, “We thank Your Majesty.”
“I know you must be discontented in your hearts at being summoned into the palace in the middle of the night. Perhaps you are cursing me out rotten in private.”
An old noble’s ass had just touched the bench, but upon hearing this, he immediately sunk to his knees with a thud. “Your Majesty, how can that be?”
“Alright, alright, stop kneeling. A gabbering bunch of long-winded rulers and officials, how annoying. Disparage me all you want–as long as I don’t catch wind of it, you can disparage me however.”
A few old nobles glanced at one another in consternation.
This young ruler of theirs had a very strange and stubborn temper that others found difficult to understand.
Even though he clearly sided with the old, conservative nobles, even getting rid of one of Chonghua’s greatest generals of slave birth not long after he had succeeded the throne, his style of doing things was unorthodox, constantly giving off the impression that he wanted to revolutionise things and transform the world.
“I know you want to go back to sleep, want to go back to satisfying your women, as well as to whore around,” the Emperor said tiredly, “So, I’ll cut to the chase.”
This was too preposterous. In the nine regions and twenty-eight countries, which ruler would behave like this?
“Elder of Shennong Terrace.”
“At your service!”
“Report Gu Mang’s condition tonight, and the final diagnosis to me in their entirety.”
The head cultivator of Shennong Terrace stepped forward, bowed, related tonight’s episode of Gu Mang’s sudden rampage, and then said, “Gu Mang’s spiritual core has indeed been destroyed. He does not have any spiritual energy around him, but…”
The Emperor asked, “But, what?”
That healer lowered his head. “There is an intense demonic energy within his chest cavity.”
The Emperor mused, “…Demonic energy…”
“Yes, this servant concludes that Gu Mang went on a rampage due to this demonic energy. Unfortunately, Chonghua has always focused on the proper ways of cultivation, and stays clear of those unorthodox methods, so Shennong Terrace has the barest of knowledge in this area. The only thing we know is that the Liao kingdom has definitely done something to his heart, but if we are to determine it in more detail, I’m afraid we still have to…” His expression was troubled, and his voice trailed off gradually.
The Emperor said, “Don’t be afraid, it is no problem if you say it forthrightly.”
The healer bowed again, and said, “I am afraid we have to wait until Gu Mang dies, before we can cut open his chest to examine his heart.”
“Do you mean that if we want to immediately know what happened to him, we have to slaughter him now?”
The Emperor suddenly berated, “Useless trash!”
The Shennong Terrace Elder instantly went to his knees in fright. “Your Majesty, this servant is incompetent…”
“You are incompetent! What do I want a dead person for? He has so many traces of Liao techniques and spells on him, we can conduct in-depth research on him alive, what use is he dead? So we can bury him for the fun of it?”
“Your, your Majesty…”
“Come up with another way!”
The Shennong Terrace Elder said, “But, but Gu Mang is already mentally incapacitated, and those traces of magic are extremely faint. I’m afraid that–”
At this moment, Murong Lian suddenly spoke up with a lazy lilt to his voice.
“Elder, whether Gu Mang is mentally incapacitated or not, actually still remains to be seen.” His sanpaku eyes slid over to the side, eyeing Mo Xi with intention.
“Wouldn’t you say so, Xihe-Jun?”
Mo Xi: “……”
The Adam’s apple of the Shennong Terrace Elder bobbed. Being labelled “useless trash” by the Emperor was already terrifying enough; subsequently, he had been interrupted by Wangshu-Jun, and now, even more terrifyingly, the harsh and overbearing Xihe-Jun was brought into this.
He felt like he was going to faint.
He stammered for a long while, before he could verbalise with much difficulty, “But this, this servant has examined him many times just now, Gu Mang indeed…indeed does not remember anything, and his nature tends towards the bestial, why does…Xi, Xihe-Jun feel that he is not mentally incapacitated?”
Mo Xi said, “Gu Mang summoned a demonic weapon earlier.”
Upon hearing this, the Shennong Terrace Elder heaved a sigh of relief, hastily explaining, “Xihe-Jun is mistaken. It’s said that summoning heavenly and demonic weapons require the recitation of an incantation. But this is not absolutely so either–under circumstances where the host is undergoing great emotional turbulence, or in highly perilous situations, the weapon can be summoned without an incantation. So, this…this does not prove anything.”
Mo Xi listened soundlessly, his face frosty, but his eyes kept staring at the unconscious Gu Mang unblinkingly.
On the surface, he looked calm. Yet, no one noticed that underneath Mo Xi’s hand that was gripping the arm of his narra wood chair tightly, a dark crack was running along the wood……
At this point, another royal relative spoke up, saying, “Your Majesty, no matter what, Gu Mang is too dangerous. If it had not been for the guard arriving in time, more people would likely have died at his hands!”
“Precisely, think of the sins that he has committed. Why should Your Majesty be soft-hearted! Might as well kill him and be done with it!”
Like Murong Lian, those who felt that it was more meaningful to keep him alive and slowly torture him were of the minority. Most still believed in the primitive logic of “an eye for an eye, a life for a life”; among the nobles, Gu Mang owed many of them blood debts1[aka their relatives died because of Gu Mang], and they were naturally unwilling to let today’s opportunity slip past.
For a moment, the cry of “Execute Gu Mang immediately” rang in a fracas.
The Emperor clicked the prayer beads of jade and pearls in his hand, then abruptly hurled it at the low narra wood table, storming, “What are you kicking up a fuss about?”
The crowd was instantly silent.
“Yakking on and on, after the harem’s done squabbling, the court starts to argue, I’m getting a headache!”
The Emperor pointed at the Shennong Terrace Elder. “You are a useless piece of trash! If it weren’t for Jiang Fuli’s unwillingness to assume your position, I would have dismissed you many times by now!”
The Shennong Terrace Elder wanted to weep, but had no tears. He thought, this position was difficult with little reward, and if it weren’t for Jiang Fuli’s unwillingness to assume his position, he himself would have resigned many times by now.
The Emperor cooled off for a bit, before he snapped his head around to ask the attendant, “When is Jiang Fuli coming back?”
The attendant fell to his knees with a thud. “…Answering Your Majesty, this servant is also a useless piece of trash, this servant has no information on Healer Jiang’s whereabouts…”
“Alright, get up.” The Emperor waved his hand impatiently. “You, on the other hand, aren’t a useless piece of trash. Jiang Fuli has always been hard to track down, if you don’t know, forget it.”
The attendant nearly cried in relief. “My deepest gratitudes to Your Majesty.”
The Emperor lifted his gaze and told the gathering of officials, “If I had wanted to kill Gu Mang, the traitorous official, I could have killed him two years ago. Naturally, I have my reasons for letting him live till now.”
Noting the way a few nobles seemed to want to offer counsel, the Emperor said, annoyed, “You don’t have to nag, let me finish speaking.”
“I understand that all of you have many relatives and friends who have unfortunately lost their lives at Gu Mang’s hands, and that you greatly desire to get rid of him for closure. While you would get your revenge doing this, other than avenging them, Chonghua will not progress a single bit. Therefore, I want Gu Mang alive. The traces of magic on him now might be faint, and Shennong Terrace might not be able to derive any useful information about the spells from him. But what Shennong Terrace can’t achieve, Jiang Fuli might be able to. What Jiang Fuli can’t achieve now, he might be able to in the future. I can wait.”
He paused, and asserted, “Gu Mang’s missing memories are useful. The curses on him are useful. Gu Mang, is much more useful alive than dead!”
“Though Chonghua has never touched demonic cultivation and has only used orthodox methods as the basis of our cultivation for the past hundred years, if we do not even dare to understand it and refuse to make progress, we remain ignorant of the situation of the enemy Liao kingdom.” He scoffed. “The way I see it, Chonghua will eventually be no match for the Liao kingdom!”
The Emperor wanted to conduct research into the Liao kingdom’s demonic path?! Various expressions bloomed across the faces of the crowd.
“How can Chonghua meddle with demonic energy? Even if it is to know thyself and know thy enemy, it is still too dangerous.”
A noble relative present was the brother of the Emperor’s beloved concubine. He was extremely stupid, and couldn’t help but ask at this juncture, “Your Majesty, if you wish to figure out the Liao kingdom’s demonic prowess, could we not we just capture more hostages in the future? Why does it have to be this one?”
The Emperor rolled his eyes. “Because the Liao kingdom invested great effort into him, he’s different from the rest. How have you not died from stupidity?”
At once, everyone was silent.
After a long while, Murong Lian suddenly rose and bowed to the throne, saying, “Since Your Majesty and all other officials have stated it so clearly, this servant naturally will not have any contentions. It is just that…”
Murong Lian said, “The incident at Luomei Garden Villa today shows that the demonic energy within Gu Mang is so potent that it can even breach the protective boundaries outside Luomei Garden Villa. It is no longer safe to keep him there.”
He paused. “If Your Majesty can trust me, why not permit this servant to detain him at my manor? This servant will supervise him more strictly, consider it as my penance for today’s calamity.”
The Emperor considered this for a while, his expression fatigued, and said, “Mn…this is also a solution…”
Murong Lian said, “My deepest gratitudes to Your Majesty, I will then–”
Before he could finish speaking, he was interrupted by another low voice.
Mo Xi, who had his eyes closed and been silent on his narra wood chair off to the side all this while, finally spoke.
He lifted his head, looked at Wangshu-Jun, and repeated his earlier rejection once more. “No. You cannot take him away.”
The Emperor was first taken aback for a moment, but stroked his chin in surprise and interest thereafter, looking back and forth between Wangshu-Jun and Xihe-Jun.
Murong Lian stiffened, the corner of his mouth splitting to yield a hint of a cold smile. “What enlightened view does Xihe-Jun hold? Weren’t you the one who felt that Gu Mang could possibly still have his memories just now?”
“I did say so.” Mo Xi rose. His height and his expression at this moment were equally intimidating. “That is why I will take him with me.”
Murong Lian narrowed his eyes. “On what basis?”
Mo Xi’s words were frighteningly simple. “On the basis that you cannot best him in a fight.”
Mo Xi turned his head to look at the throne, and said, “Your Majesty, even though Gu Mang usually has no martial ability, if he goes on another rampage, his might will be no lower than it was today.”
“You have a point…”
“You are aware of his battle ability. One-on-one, there is scarcely anyone who can best him in combat in the whole of Chonghua,” Mo Xi said coldly. “May Your Majesty assign Gu Mang to the Xihe Manor. I will supervise him more strictly, and prevent him from injuring Your Majesty or anyone else in Chonghua.”
“…” Murong Lian was silent for a beat, before chuckling coldly, “Xihe-Jun’s words sound nice, but the way I look at it, none of what you’re doing is to protect Chonghua, or to protect the Emperor.”
Mo Xi said, “What do you mean?”
”What do I mean?” Murong Lian’s pale face tilted upwards, his eyes narrowing, “Don’t tell me that Xihe-Jun is unclear as to what I mean?” He inclined his chin, indicating in Gu Mang’s direction. “Aren’t you bringing him back because of your own private desire to protect him?”
“What nonsense are you blathering.” Mo Xi’s expression darkened in an instant. “Gu Mang nearly died at my hands earlier. Me, protect him?”
“And wasn’t it just ‘nearly’?” Murong Lian’s gaze was cold. “Did he not live? Besides, I asked Xihe-Jun if he truly wanted to strangle Gu Mang to death with his own hands outside the Hall, hadn’t Xihe-Jun not answered as well?”
Mo Xi suppressed his rage, and said, “Whether I want to or not, why should I inform you of it!”
“Oh, yes, whether you want it, whether you’re willing, why should you have to inform me of it? Why would you need to tell outsiders about what your relationship with him is, or the things that happened between the both of you? Keke, my fellow peers present seem to be very forgetful, so why not let me remind all of those present.“
Murong Lian paused, his eyes shining with a sudden light. “Was Xihe-Jun not once the best of friends with General Gu, despite the difference in their status?”
Once he uttered these words, not only were the others not surprised, but they were also at a loss for words.
Everyone knew that Mo Xi and Gu Mang were close beyond all compare in the past. However, even more well-known was the fact that Gu Mang had almost stabbed Mo Xi to death after his betrayal. Once that dagger had pierced him, the relationship between the two of them had already gone past the point of no return.
The crowd was placed in an awkward situation; some chuckled sheepishly, and didn’t show any indication of agreement.
Some others said instead, “Wangshu-Jun, this is all in the past, what is there to mention…”
Yet, Murong Lian seemed to have predicted their reactions. He gave a loose, haughty huff, the curve of his mouth growing dangerous. “Fine, I’ll not bring this up.”
He met Mo Xi’s gaze again, and chuckled coldly. “Let me ask Xihe-Jun, then. You have always been morally proper and abstinent, never polluting yourself with those bawdy places of entertainment…dare I ask then, why were you visiting Luomei Garden Villa alone to look for Gu Mang in secret?”
Mo Xi’s heart lurched. Word of his visit to the Luomei Garden Villa to visit Gu Mang had indeed been leaked by that servant boy regardless.
But he didn’t intend to deny it. Regarding Murong Lian with dark eyes, he said.
“Seeking revenge, what else could I do?”
“If you were seeking revenge, why did you then personally feed him water, and food?” The words loitered between Murong Lian’s teeth before he spat them out like a venomous snake would. “Don’t tell me that upon seeing your Gu Mang-gege suffer–your heart aches?”
If they were not in the Chonghua palace, where the Emperor was still onlooking off to one side, Mo Xi would surely have lit about eighteen fireballs and hurled them, and Murong Lian’s head would probably have already been blasted off.
“What’s your problem?” Mo Xi thundered, “You stalked me?”
Murong Lian chuckled coldly. “In the first place, Luomei Garden villa is my territory, it cannot count as stalking. Also, are you scared of people knowing what you’ve done?”
Upon seeing them quarrel so intensely, some nobles could not help but advise, “Forget it, Xihe-Jun has always been of frosty facade but kind heart. All he did was give a man dying of thirst a mouthful of water, why does Wangshu-Jun have to back him into a corner…”
“A mouthful of water?” Murong Lian’s gaze held a frosty light. “How laughable. When faced with their nemesis, it’s already rare for an ordinary person to not kick them while they’re down, yet Xihe-Jun helped him when he needed it most. This act of noble charity is truly an eye-opener for me.”
Once he finished speaking, he bowed to the throne. “Your Majesty, it is fine if I do not take Gu Mang back with me today, but he absolutely cannot follow Xihe-Jun back to his manor.”
Murong Lian and Mo Xi arguing to this degree in court was a rare sight for the Emperor; he had stopped caring about his headache, and was watching with great enjoyment. At this point, with Murong Lian suddenly requesting like so before he had come to a decision, he murmured, “This…”
Upon seeing the Emperor hesitate, Murong Lian continued, “When Gu Mang was at the Luomei Garden Villa, Xihe-Jun could make the decision to give him a drink of water, if he truly crossed the threshold of that manor, who knows what other decisions Xihe-Jun will make about him?”
His words were seventy-percent malice and thirty-percent insinuation; some nobles present felt that he had gone overboard, and threw glances at Murong Lian in an attempt to get him to stop talking.
In Chonghua, it was no big deal to frequent brothels for male prostitutes, but romantic relationships between males were strictly not permitted, especially for a pure-blooded noble like Mo Xi–the spiritual power of this type of bloodline was too precious. The proper, righteous way was to pass it on to future generations, and thus Chonghua forbade them from any indecorous romances.
Additionally, how could Xihe-Jun, such a pure and lofty person, get involved with such filthy scum like Gu Mang? Everyone felt that it was too preposterous, and was of the opinion that as Mo Xi’s competitor, Murong Lian was going insane trying to blacken his name.
Only Mo Xi himself, whose name was being blackened, knew that a sore spot was well and truly hit.
Murong Lian said lazily, “Xihe-Jun, why not avoid scandal, and stop caring about this issue?”
After a few beats of silence, Mo Xi turned around, the look in his eyes fierce as he glared at Murong Lian and said, “If I insist on doing something about this, what can you do about it.”
The author has something to say:
《Everyone Has Their Dreams》
Xi-mei2[little sister]’s dream: Gu Mang doesn’t run away from home.
Gu Mang’s dream: To run away from home once more.
A-Lian’s dream: Successfully find a black mark against Mo Xi, and sully his name completely! To make Mo Xi unable to live on with integrity and be of equal standing with him!
Little Yue-yue’s dream: To become a man as great as his Fourth Uncle!
Jiang Yexue’s dream: To not exist only in the mini-theatres forever (Mei Hanxue: Bear with it, little brother, I was also a character who could only exist in the author’s notes all those years ago.)
Fourth Uncle’s dream: To not exist only in the previews forever.
Meatbun’s dream: …To wake up to a Thumbelina who has typed 100k words worth of queued chapters on my behalf…