Xia Jinyi’s eyes opened wide. In a trembling voice, he said, “Repeat what you just said.”
With a look of sympathy in his eyes, Chiji repeated, “Xiu Chun has hung herself and died. Moreover, she was pregnant. My young master specially dispatched me over with the news.”
Stupefied, Xia Jinyi looked at his two hands, no longer saying a single word. After Chiji had left, just after he just stepped through the door, he heard the sound of sobs. It was the sound of a man crying his eyes out. Chiji’s heart ached, and he quickly sped up his pace and walked away.
Listlessly, Xia Jinyi sat on the floor in his room, Li Hanyou’s image no longer appearing in his mind. Recalling everything that had happened after he had gotten to know Xiu Chun, the philandering and dallying at the beginning until finally this delicate woman entered his heart and soul. He recalled the many times that they had slept together, looking forward to their beautiful future together. Xia Jinyi even went so far as to think that after his purse had grown full, he would be able to take Xiu Chun far away. Since his remote home was a place of sorrow, he could not return to it. However, in this world, there were many places that they could go.
All of these dreams ended the day he met Li Hanyou, the woman who had engulfed his life and dreams, the one who had completely changed his destiny, but had already completed forgotten his existence. From that moment on, his former life ended. All of his attention had been focused on currying favor with that tyrannical and vicious crown prince and trying to devise a way to take vengeance on Li Hanyou. As a result, Xia Jinyi had been perfectly willing to brave the dangers on his life to complete the assignment that Jiang Zhe had handed him. This was because he knew how insignificant his own strength was. To a disciple of the Fengyi Sect, a princess of the imperial clan, a wife of a general, he was no more than a pissant.1 In order to get revenge, he could only overthrow the factions supporting her. As a result, the Prince of Yong and Jiang Zhe was his only option.
However, during that period filled with sorrow and suffering, there was always a beautiful figure by his side. That woman had always been comforting him, encouraging him, leaving a single shred of light in his heart. However, he had not taken her into consideration. After he had accepted that dangerous assignment, in order to keep things secret, he didn’t even say goodbye to her. He was even under the impression that if he were to fake his death, that gentle young woman would forget about him and live out her own life in happiness. However, he did not expect that she would actually hang herself in the name of love, and even more, take her child with her. What a cruel decision. Why did she come to such a decision? This surely must be retribution, retribution for all of the innocent women that he had helped the crown prince rape and slaughter.
The more he contemplated, the more pain he felt. Xia Jinyi felt his five viscera2 burning. Feeling dizzy, he fainted. Half asleep, he imagined that he had returned to his hometown with Xiu Chun. While he tilled the fields, she wove, as they began to live a leisurely life. Apparently, it seemed like his parents were also alive, holding his son in their embrace and laughing, unable to conceal their happiness. Amidst the haziness, Xia Jinyi’s subconsciously began to employ the internal energy cultivation methods that his master had taught him. This was an alternate cultivation method that stimulated the consciousness and allowed one to sleep better. For many years, Xia Jinyi had continuously practiced this cultivation method. Although there weren’t any other benefits and his internal energy did not improve, he no longer saw Li Hanyou in his dreams over this last year. He had practiced this cultivation method strenuously. Today, in deep pain, he could not help but begin to practice this cultivation method again. However, as he cultivated, Xia Jinyi felt a blazing hot feeling rise from his dantian. As Xia Jinyi hesitated, the feeling had flowed throughout his four limbs and into his bones. Xia Jinyi felt as if his arteries and channels were all being burned by a blazing inferno. What was strange was that the pain and suffering in his heart surprisingly diminished. Fascinated, Xia Jinyi continued to cultivate. Sure enough, the feeling coming from his dantian and the pain within his heart caused his cultivation to be increasingly focused, almost as if pain ripping through his body was causing his heart to be comforted. As a result, Xia Jinyi was completely absorbed in the cultivation.
If someone were to walk in at this moment, they would see a truly strange sight. A man’s entire body was covered by a faint aura of energy and yet seemed to be burning in a raging inferno. His pained expression carried a hint of serenity. Xia Jinyi was also lucky. At noon, Chiji had arrived to deliver food. Seeing the tightly closed door, Chiji thought that Xia Jinyi was unwilling to come out due to the grief that he felt, and thus remained outside and called out. Placing the food on the table, Chiji did not think to enter Xia Jinyi’s room to check on him. If that had happened, Xia Jinyi would have died without a chance for survival.
When midnight arrived, Xia Jinyi could feel a pure energy rise from his dantian, flowing all over his entire body. Wherever the energy passed, his four limbs gradually recovered. When the energy flowed to his entire body, Xia Jinyi felt his spirit quake, the sorrow and guilt in his heart no longer causing him to wish to die. Sitting up, Xia Jinyi felt a rancid smell coming from his body. Taking a careful look, he saw that it was already dark. Swiftly, he ran out into the courtyard. Pulling a bucket full of water from the well, he washed himself. After bathing, he extended his hands, feeling that his fair skin almost seemed transparent, moist and full of elasticity. He could not but be greatly alarmed. He did not know what had happened. Just at this moment, he heard someone sigh from behind him and speak, “Yi’er, you finally broke through the Seven Emotions barrier.”
Turning his head to look, Xia Jinyi caught sight of a yellow-robed Daoist priest standing there with a smile under the bright moonlight. It was unclear the age of the priest. His appearance was elegant, his skin like that of a baby. However, his hair was all white. He seemed to be about a hundred years old. Xia Jinyi let out a low yelp. This was his second master, the Heavenly Capital Daoist Priest, Priest Dream. Xia Jinyi stepped forward and kowtowed. Initially, he had wanted to cry bitterly, but Xia Jinyi felt like he had no tears to shed and could not help feel strange in his heart.
Stepping forward, Priest Dream helped Xia Jinyi up. He said, “Yi’er, there are some things that you know now. Your master is not an ordinary person and is the Sovereign of the Devil Sect’s Concealed Star branch.”
Xia Jinyi was left dumbfounded. He had once heard his master speak of the three branches of the Devil Sect. Only when he departed did he discover that this information was not known by many people. He even once suspected that his master was a member of the Devil Sect. However, due to the kindness and care from his master, he had discarded this thought from his mind. Today, hearing his master admit his identity, Xia Jinyi instead seemed to feel a load was taken off his mind. With a smile, he stated, “Jinyi doesn’t care about Master’s identity. However, there are many things that Jinyi does not understand. Would Master please enlighten Yi’er?”
Pulling Xia Jinyi along, Priest Dream sat down on a stone bench in the courtyard. With a smile, he replied, “Good disciple, as expected, your master did not choose the wrong inheritor. Please listen to my explanation. I once spoke of the three branches of the Devil Sect. ‘The universe in disorder, the Scorching Sun appears, the Freezing Moon supports, the Concealed Star protects,’ explains the division of labor for the three branches. The founding Sovereign of my Devil Sect came from humble origins. He bitterly loathed aristocratic and noble families, believing that the reason for the decline of the state was because of the extreme corruption of the imperial clan and the aristocratic families that sucked the flesh and blood of the common people. He once stated that if a ruler is wise and capable, it could certainly lead to a reduction in the suffering of the common people. However, if the ruler is muddleheaded, then the situation of the common people will become far worse. Therefore, he established the Devil Sect in order to level this unjust, chaotic world. The Ancestor believed that if the common people were miserable, there would be those who rise up in arms and establish a new dynasty. This new dynasty would allow the common people to have a hundred years of peace and tranquility.
“As a result of his desire to not want the common people to suffer when the dynasty declined, he therefore created the three branches. The Scorching Sun branch will rebel; the Freezing Moon branch will serve as strategists who cause the aristocratic families to fall into internecine strife, cause chaos, topple the imperial court, and create a new environment. However, if this were to happen, after the foundations of the new dynasty have been stabilized, there wouldn’t be many members left from the Scorching Sun and Freezing Moon branches. In the chaos of war, this is expected. However, if this were to happen, how could my Devil Sect continue and persist? Therefore, our Ancestor, with his wisdom as deep as an ocean, created the Concealed Star branch. The mission of the Concealed Star branch is to hide openly in the world like one of the many stars in the vast sky full of stars in the Heavens. Moreover, our Concealed Star branch bears the heavy burden of ensuring the continuation of the Devil Sect. For many generations, we have safeguarded the sect’s secret depository of knowledge. When the world falls into chaos, we find and select from the ambitious youths within the lowest rungs of society to pass onto them the martial arts of the Scorching Sun branch and the art of war and strategies of the Freezing Moon branch. Therefore, although the Devil Sect is frequently surrounded and destroyed by the factions of jianghu and the imperial court, it always returns from the ashes. This is all due to our contributions. Unfortunately, our Ancestor could not find a better way to ensure peace and prosperity for the common people. As such, we can only rely upon the chaos of war to purge and cleanse the world of its foulness to create a new era of peace.”
A look of doubt flashed across Xia Jinyi’s face, as he asked, “Master, doesn’t that make the Concealed Star branch a faction that watches whilst others fight then reaps the rewards when all sides are exhausted? Provoking chaos in the world, while staying uninvolved. Isn’t that too excessive?”
Priest Dream showed an agonized smile before he replied, “Foolish child, do you truly believe that the inheritor of the Concealed Star branch is easy to find? For generations, the inheritance of the Concealed Star branch is only passed onto one person. As soon as a Sovereign inherits the Concealed Star branch, he must begin to search for successors, while the previous Sovereign returns back to protect the secret repository and concentrate on cultivation. The secret cultivation method of the Concealed Star branch is called the Nine Death Manual. Cultivating this secret method will increase the resilience of one’s arteries and veins. As long as one isn’t beheaded, then one will not die. Moreover, this method will allow its practitioners to live to the age of one hundred twenty and above. However, to the present seventeenth generation, there were two occasions where the inheritance of the Concealed Star branch was nearly broken off.”
After thinking it over, Xia Jinyi asked, “Is it because there are unusual requirements upon the inheritor of the Concealed Star branch that are difficult to meet?”
With a wry smile, Priest Dream answered, “The first requirement for the inheritor of the Concealed Star branch is to have no family and no friends, breaking off all relations. This in itself isn’t too bad, and isn’t difficult to meet. The second requirement demands that an inheritor never marry and never have children. This in itself is a bit difficult. The third requirement demands that an inheritor must have suffered the hardships of life before the age of thirty, seeing through life and death. You can count the number of individuals that meet these three requirements on your fingers. Further, the Concealed Star branch requires its members to have, at the very least, a medium or above aptitude.”
Contemplating this, Xia Jinyi responded, “This disciple can meet these conditions with difficulty. However, this disciple believes that if it were solely these conditions, then it wouldn’t be too difficult.”
Priest Dream gazed profoundly at Xia Jinyi, as he expressed, “This is because of the limitations of the objective of the Concealed Star branch. Disciples of our branch cannot enjoy prestige and wealth, and must drift around the world to accrue experience. For the entirety of their lives, they will wander without a home. Additionally, they cannot reveal their martial art. Even if their life is in danger, they cannot fight back and can only run. Because of this, although one is the Sovereign of the Concealed Star branch, one will remain a nobody for the entirety of one’s life. This kind of fetter is not something that someone with exceptional martial arts can endure. Therefore, our branch’s rules require that if a candidate is able to pass all of the tests before the age of thirty, then that person can be considered as a disciple in name only. From then on till the age of sixty, one can do as one pleases, but is not allowed to cultivate stellar martial arts. In any case, with the protective abilities of the Nine Deaths Manual, if the candidate were to die, then it could be blamed on that person’s inability to endure silently and patiently and is thus unworthy to become the inheritor. Only after the age of sixty can we distinguish a candidate’s temperament and formally take him as a disciple.”
Considering this carefully, Xia Jinyi inquired, “Does this mean that this disciple is not the only candidate?”
Blushing, Priest Dream replied, “Yes, that’s right. Before you, two other candidates were also selected. However, at present, you are the most suitable candidate. Now that you have faked your death and gone into hiding, and have experienced such tragic events in your life, rejecting the bounds of emotions, you have broken through past the third layer of the Nine Deaths Manual, the barrier of the Seven Emotions. If you are able to, in the next thirty years, scrupulously abide by the Concealed Star branch’s regulations, then I believe that you will become my inheritor.”
After breaking through the Seven Emotions barrier, Xia Jinyi could feel his mind become nimble and shrewd, while the emotions in his heart gradually diminished away into apathy. Not comforting his master, he instead continued to question, “If all of us meet the requirements, then who would master choose?”
Proudly, Priest Dream declared, “In my Devil Sect, only the strong are respected. If all three of you pass, then naturally, the inheritor will be the only one out of the three of you who can survive.”
Smiling faintly, Xia Jinyi asked again, “If that is the case, since I already have the qualifications to be shortlisted, shouldn’t Master teach me some martial arts so that I can protect my life?”
Not considering Xia Jinyi’s words as disobedience, Priest Dream removed a small booklet from within his bosom. The booklet’s title was written in tiny handwriting. Priest Dream stated, “These are no more than insignificant skills and it shouldn’t matter if you learn them to protect your life. However, you have to understand. If you do not wish to spend the rest of your life alone, then you can rely on these techniques to be famous throughout the world. When the time comes though, you will have lost the qualifications to succeed as Sovereign. However, according to our sect’s customs, if you are willing to renounce the opportunity to become Sovereign, then the Concealed Star branch will not take back your martial arts. As long as you do not reveal the Concealed Star branch’s existence, then you will be able to spend the rest of your life in peace.”
Xia Jinyi laughed dryly and replied, “Do you, senior, really trust us candidates? It is likely that you have other ways to control us.”
Light danced in Priest Dream’s eyes, revealing a trace of a smiling expression. From within his bosom, he took out a red colored pill. He said, “This is a ‘Truth Parasite Pill’ concocted based upon the discoveries made by my Devil Sect’s Ancestor in Miao territory. Once you have taken this pill, you will have to solemnly vow that unless you become the Sovereign of the Concealed Star branch, you will never reveal the existence of the Concealed Star branch to anyone. After I have employed some methods, it will be sufficient.”
Accepting the Truth Parasite Pill, Xia Jinyi apathetically wondered, “With this pill, if master were to give a command, then I would die immediately from the poison.”
Shaking his head, Priest Dream denied, “That is not the case. As long as you do not mention the existence of the Concealed Star branch, then Master has no power over your life and death. Moreover, the Truth Parasite even has benefits—able to slow down the aging process and prevent one from being harmed by other parasitic pills. Therefore, your master was only permitted to take the antidote today at the age of eighty-three, in order to explain the existence of the Concealed Star branch.”
Believing that his master’s words did not contain a single word of falsehood, Xia Jinyi’s expression gradually eased up. Picking up the pill, he inquired, “Master, do you know everything that has happened to this disciple?”
Priest Dream sighed slightly and responded, “Your master knows most of what has happened to you. That year, your master was resting at the foot of Mount Kongtong when I saw you. Although you seemed to be honest and guileless, on your features were engraved a lifetime’s worth of misery and gloom. Therefore, I stayed to observe you. When you returned to the Kongtong Sect and were reporting what had happened to your family, I had already investigated everything for you. Before the Fengyi Sect had dispatched people to come kill and silence you, I had thought of a method to ensure that the Kongtong Sect Master learned of this news. You were expelled because of the Kongtong Sect Master’s unwillingness to offend the Fengyi Sect. After you took me as your master, I did not teach you any other martial arts, only transforming you into the wastrel you are today. The first reason was to ensure that the Fengyi Sect no longer worried about you. Second, if you were to become my branch’s Sovereign, if you weren’t so dissolute, how would you be able to endure the endless passage of time? Afterwards, when you descended from the mountain, although I did not follow you, I had used a vast sum of money to purchase the help of a thief3 to follow you for several years. Therefore, when I heard something had happened to you in Chang’an, I hurriedly rushed to the capital. The only pity is Xiu Chun. Originally, seeing that you already had something holding you, as such, I no longer held any hopes for you. If you were to bring away that woman and your unborn child safely, then you and I would no longer have any connections. However, none could have imagined that the woman would be killed.”
Xia Jinyi’s complexion changed. In a heavy tone, he asked, “Master, what are you saying? Didn’t Jiang daren say that Xiu Chun hung herself?”
Priest Dream glanced pityingly at Xia Jinyi. “I arrived too late at the Crown Prince’s residence. Xiu Chun’s body was still warm. Her death acupoint had been sealed. Although well hidden, it could not be hidden from my eyes.”
Xia Jinyi hissed, “Who was it? Who was it that killed Xiu Chun? She was only a weak woman, unthreatening and without value. Who would kill her?”
Priest Dream tranquilly replied, “I arrived late and did not see the killer. However, how can you not know who it is?”
Feeling as if a knife was being twisted in his heart, Xia Jinyi turned away and did not speak further. Sighing, Priest Dream stated, “If I didn’t tell you about this, it is likely that you would become my inheritor. However, I have no wish to see you live the rest of your life with regrets. Child, from henceforth, do the best you can.”
Gazing out at the light of dawn outside the window, he wished to cry but he had no tears. He distantly wondered, “Master, to what extent can I act to have the qualifications to participate in the competition to become Sovereign?”
Glancing deeply at Xia Jinyi, Priest Dream replied, “I believe that you will fully realize when you have lost the qualifications to compete. A non-entity can use another’s brilliance, but once that non-entity’s brilliance is exposed and seen by everyone, then you will no longer need to come. Thirty years from now, in the temple that we, master and disciple, stayed in, I hope that you will be able to keep the appointment. Now, you should take the pill.”
Gazing at the parasitic pill, Xia Jinyi murmured, “One who has seen the world doesn’t stop at small things.4 Aside from hate, there is nothing in this world that I cannot let go.” Finished speaking, he took the pill. He did not know if it was reality or if it was psychological, but Xia Jinyi felt that when the pill was moistened, it automatically rolled down into his stomach.
Gazing upon his disciple in satisfaction, Priest Dream stated, “I hope that we, master and disciple, have the fortune to meet again. Everyone in this residence has had their acupoints sealed by me. They should be waking up soon. Your master is going.”
With a flicker of his yellow robes, Priest Dream disappeared. The lips of Xia Jinyi started to curve upward. It was a smile that caused those who saw it to feel bitter and sad.
It wasn’t long before an uneasy looking Chiji appeared. His acupoint had been sealed last night. Priest Dream’s techniques were brilliant; not only did Chiji did not notice anything, he had also slept quite soundly. However, having been trained by the Secret Camp, Chiji felt that there was something abnormal about his deep sleep. Therefore, when he woke, Chiji immediately came to investigate Xia Jinyi’s situation. Seeing the change and the indistinct expression on Xia Jinyi’s face, as if he was in deep pain, Chiji did not pry. Probing, he asked, “Did young master Xia not rest last night?”
Xia Jinyi smiled softly and replied, “My love is dead. Jinyi could not sleep.”
A look of understanding appearing on his face, Chiji replied, “Young master Xia should restrain his grief. Losing your love, although painful, if Miss Xiu Chun were to know in the underworld, she would wish young master Xia to live life happily.”
Slightly astounded, Xia Jinyi inquired, “What? Little brother is so young and understands the pain of losing a beloved one?”
Chiji let out a light sigh and responded, “My young master has a poem that has never been circulated. If young master Xia is interested, I can sing the verses for you.”
Interested, Xia Jinyi replied, “What is the ci?5 Allow me to accompany you.”
A look of grief flashed across Chiji’s eyes as he replied, “It’s a poem set to Spring Permeating a Garden.”
Fetching the flute, Xia Jinyi concentrated and began to play. Accompanying the sounds of the flute, Chiji began to sing in a low voice:
And ill-fated like this,
How could I forget our reluctance to part?
Reminiscing of our time by the rippling water in the cold moonlight,
In an emerald dress,
You danced to the song of the swallow.
Songs drifting from the beautiful balustrades,
Secretly rendezvousing under the Milky Way.
Close friends, so hard to keep,
Love broken like a flower plucked, no longer looked after,
Obtaining only late night weeping.
Sick for long,
Even if yearning a hundred lifetimes
Unable to paint your form.
Lying down listening to constant rain in the dead of night.
Expecting a bob of hair,
Frost guaranteed at sunrise.
Alone under the vast blue sky,
Touching scenes wound the heart.
Sentimentally attached to noble bearing,
Unbearable scarlet blood,
In dreams, remembering yesterday’s beauty.
The bittersweet sound of a leaf flute floats by,
Composing a worried tune.”6
Xia Jinyi listened as he played. But as time passed, the music from the flute became disjointed, as he suffered in agony. At the end of the song, Xia Jinyi only felt that the originally seemingly faded pain had surprisingly reappeared once again. Finally, tears rained down his cheeks.
蝼蚁, louyi – lit. mole cricket and ants; fig. tiny individuals with no power; pissant
五脏, wuzang – five viscera of traditional Chinese medicine, namely: heart, liver, spleen lungs, and kidneys
梁上君子, liangshangjunzi – lit. the gentleman on the roof beam; fig. a thief
曾经沧海难为水，除却巫山不是云, cengjingcanghainanweishui, chuque Wushan bushiyun – idiom, lit. there are no rivers to one that has crossed the ocean, and no clouds to one who has passed Mount Wu; fig. one who has seen the world doesn’t stop at small things
词, ci – a type of lyric poetry set to the same rigorous structure that often possesses a prearranged accompaniment
This is based on a poem by the Qing Dynasty poet Nalan Xingde (纳兰性德) based on the structure of the ci, Spring Permeating a Garden, entitled Ephemeral Bliss.