Book 1: Winds Begin to Blow in Tai Yuan
Chapter 22 – Strong Winds Rise
Ever since that night they shook off Zhan Bei Ye, the next few days were peaceful and uneventful. Yao Xun kept to his words, obediently following by them, although Meng Fuyao thought that the reason he stayed probably was because he had seen Yuan Zhaoxu’s martial arts that night, and wanted to find a safety umbrella.
Today they had already arrived at the edges of Tai Yuan’s capital Yanjing. The three people found an inn to rest at, and the moment Meng Fuyao moved in she hurriedly began to cultivate. These few days she had diligently consolidated her insights, and she felt that the fourth layer of Breaking Nine Heavens was already almost at perfection.
Sand noiselessly flowed down the hourglass. Six hours later, Meng Fuyao opened her eyes, a radiance flashing in her eyes.
Picking up the sword on the table, she willed her qi into it, and the sword body immediately lit up with a jade-colored glow, the brilliance of the fourth layer. Compared to the past few days, today’s brilliance was even more gorgeous and gentle, lustrously pure.
“Grand Completion finished!” Meng Fuyao happily jumped on the bed. “Who should I find to give a kiss to?”
After saying she quickly slapped herself in rebuke. “Stop thinking these random thoughts!”
Lazily lying down on the bed, she took out those three treasures from her bosom, carefully stroking them.
These were the passage seals she had spent so much thinking to obtain.
The Five Regions Continent had always circulated a mysterious legend – collect the seven types of seal medallions of the seven states, and one could pass through every state. Then travel across the Five Regions Continent in a path to the north, until reaching the northern-most region of Di. In the Di state Heaven’s Court, on top of the most mysterious, hardest to enter Evergreen Temple, there was an extraordinary and wise entity, who could solve any problem or obstacle in the world.
Meng Fuyao didn’t have any hardship she needed someone to help with, but she did have a thing of utmost difficulty that she wished for that extraordinary power to solve.
Yet, reaching the altar was easier said than done. The Five Regions Continent was originally split into five states, one nation for each region. Later, the states went to war, territories exchanged hands many times, and thirty years ago the five states had already split into seven, cutting the Five Regions into fragments. Today each guarded their own territories, and even though they maintained a superficial peace, they actually eyed each other with greed and hostility. Most deployed troops to guard their borders, preventing other states from passing through; it was rumored that even a feather falling from Nemesis Dynasty into the neighboring Xuanyuan kingdom, would still be immediately ground into fine powder.
Fortunately, this world respected strong cultivators, and opened doors of leniency for a select few. Thirty years ago, the seven states held a conference in the continent’s centrally-positioned Infinite Empire of the Heng region. They collected symbolic seals from the seven states, and gave the “Seven State Commands” to the ten strongest martial artists of the Five Regions Continent at the time. One who possessed these command seals could travel freely throughout the seven states, their paths unhindered, and directly travel anywhere in the Five Regions besides the imperial palaces of the seven states.
To be honest, this was only a way of showing goodwill. With the abilities of those ten powerhouses, even without the command seals they could still go anywhere they wanted.
In fact after accepting the seals they instead were restricted by the fear of losing face – they couldn’t go to the inner palaces and watch eunuchs wash the underwear of concubines anymore.
Of course, with Meng Fuyao’s current strength, she couldn’t even dream of obtaining those command seals.
If one path is blocked, there will always be another. Since different areas of the Five Regions Continent had their own unique productions, the goods that businesses, armies, and commoners consumed relied upon the products of each of the other states. In the past few years, each state gradually came to realize the importance that trade flow had to their military and economic growth. Five years ago at the Infinite Empire, under the facilitation of that famous prodigy Crown Prince Wuji, the seven states started to issue passage seals in a limited scope. These allowed the high officials and merchants of two countries to travel and interact, achieving political and economic trading, and could be considered a diplomatic pass that enjoyed a certain amount of passage rights and official protection.
This type of passage right was not even affected by war. Even if two states suddenly came to blows, wealthy merchants who possessed these seals would still be politely invited inside the borders, only afterwards returning to an appearance of war.
As a preventative measure to guard against enemies, however, these seals were released under very strict control. They only collected among each states’ wealthy tycoons and plutocrats who had monopolies over their markets, as well as upper-level diplomatic officials. Furthermore, they needed the backing of a court official from the other state’s imperial palace, in order to for them to obtain that state’s safe passage seal.
Without this thing, traveling to other states would meet with much trouble, like the illegal immigrants of modern society. However this era didn’t have the practice of repatriation; the only thing waiting for aliens would be a bladed axe.
The situations between the states are complex, and the customs gates strict, so the road to Evergreen Temple was long and difficult. It was impossible for Meng Fuyao to kill a path towards the temple. She needed as much protection as possible, to allow herself to walk that much further on that dangerous journey in the future.
It was because of this that after she learned of the passage seals, she started to plan out how to collect each state’s passage seals.
Two months ago, one of Polaris Empire’s tycoons had come to Tai Yuan to develop the lumber industry. Bringing with him several tens of carriages laden with products, he reserved a whole inn to himself, and even hired the most powerful martial sect to send disciples out to protect him. Valiant protectors stood on guard filling the hallways, and the inn’s lights were not snuffed out for the whole night. Upon the second day’s dawn, the wealthy merchant was still completely stripped bare of his belongings, with the passage seal missing.
A month ago, a senior official going on a diplomatic mission to Xuanyuan named Sima Rui came by waterway. The massive, beautiful ferry ostentatiously showed off its wealth along its journey down the Yuanjiang river, with beautiful woman dancing and stringed and wooden instruments continuously playing. Along the way it collected uncountable numbers of envious stares.
It was a pity then, that on the second day, a shocked cry almost collapsed the whole boat. Under the gazes of many Sima Rui sprinted out crazily, loudly yelling, “My passage seal is gone!”
The whole ship fell into chaos at once like a boiling pot of congee. Sima Rui swiftly ordered troops to surround the river, and search the fishing villages near the shore. A plethora of people was investigated, yet nothing was found. The Sima Rui who stayed on the river for three days, afraid of overstaying past the envoy mission time frame, in the end could only go apologize to the imperial court, and dejectedly left the Yuanjiang river.
Those accompanying soldiers were not as sorrowful, chatting full of interest about that fisher woman they met during the search. Her appearance wasn’t anything special, but she made a pot of great fish soup.
The soup’s aroma was savory, and the just-caught fish was fresh. Unfortunately, in the boiling steam no one could see what was hidden inside the fish’s stomach.
As for that gain from that time on the Profound Origin mountains, that was just a coincidence. Without meaning to she found on the mountains that flustered, lonely lackey. After becoming suspicious she knocked him over, and found on his body that Nemesis passage seal.
Meng Fuyao now already possessed the command seals of the three states Xuanyuan, Nemesis, and Tai Yuan. When in the future she went to Evergreen Temple, if she collected the seven state seals, perhaps it would be equivalent to the “Seven State Commands”. The likelihood of exchanging for the help of the oracle would then be higher.
Due to the varying diplomatic relations between each state, and the fact that a passage seal would not be issued to every other state, this difference would require Meng Fuyao to do some ordering and organizing. Fuyao drew a diagram of the relations between each of the states, carefully considering for a while. Thinking of the murderous and savage way Zhan Bei Ye searched for that Nemesis seal, she felt that her future prospects were rather uncertain. She couldn’t help but sigh.
The sigh was halfway finished, when she suddenly heard another sighing sound from on top of the rafters —
The scare this gave her was not small. With a movement of her fingers she had already swept the three seals on the table into her robes. Her heart beat madly, while she scolded herself for being careless. How did she not notice there was someone on the rafters?
Her next thought was, this isn’t right, the rafter is too low to hide anyone, how could she have not noticed anything?
Lifting her head, sure enough, on the horizontal beam Hamtaro was currently baring its snow white front teeth at her.
Fuyao got angry, scolding, “You’re in perfectly fine condition, why are you learning from humans and sighing? Don’t you know rats can scare people to death?”
Master Yuanbao was completely disinclined to even bother with her.
After Meng Fuyao yelled for a while, she suddenly realized a problem, then muttered, “I’ve never heard of animals that can sigh … ah!” She raised her head to stare at Master Yuanbao, “Tell me! Just then you were expelling harmful miasma, weren’t you?”
Master Yuanbao’s teeth bared even more.
With a blackened face, Fuyao pierced that shameless fat rodent who wantonly released harmful gas upwind with her stare. Master Yuanbao acted like it didn’t see anything, swaggering around and wiggling its butt.
A long strip of curled paper suddenly fell down from its tail, in mid-air pulling open. On the drifting and swaying paper was small but elegant handwriting:
“Climb the wall, ascend the building, bask in the moonlight, a pleasant life, is not much more than this.”
Meng Fuyao pulled down the strip, looked it over, then couldn’t help but laugh.
Hurriedly scribbling some words, she then waved it towards Master Yuanbao. Master Yuanbao lifted its head to look, gave her messy words a stare of extreme contempt, then shifted its butt over to wait for her to tie the strip on. Fuyao immediately took back the paper strip, and after flicking its nose, she laughingly leapt up the building.
On top of the building, a certain person was lazily basking in the moonlight. Using one arm as a pillow, he played with a white jade cup with his other hand, his posture carefree.
The night air was fresh and sweet, the fragrance of autumn harvest and osmanthus trees, mixed in with newly bloomed chrysanthemums. The aroma was both strong and weak at the same time, and from the edge of the pale green eaves looking down, one could see that inside the courtyard was planted a row of osmanthus trees. Bright yellow, rice-sized flowers could only be enjoyed for a while as the night fell. However, they couldn’t bear to waste their youth, and so scattered their charming aroma everywhere. Occasionally, some petals would be lifted up by the wind and fall onto Yuan Zhaoxu’s cheek, contrasting with his skin and making it seem even more brilliant like jade.
Gusts of wind swept up Yuan Zhaoxu’s wide light-colored robes. His natural temperament was graceful and charming, and even when silent and unmoving, he still radiated some of that aura. Meng Fuyao quietly stood at the corner of the eaves, watching him from far away. She remembered that night inside the Profound Origin mountain cave, when, fatigued and at the end of her wits, she peeked through the cave opening to see a figure sword dancing in the moon.
Fuyao faintly smiled in the wind. It was a smile as small as an osmanthus flower, that only flashed for an instant before immediately disappearing.
She suddenly heavily stomped her feet, striding over with large steps. With a hand she grabbed the wine jug besides Yuan Zhaoxu, pouring it down her throat with “gu lu lu” sounds, while at the same time she shoved that strip of paper to Yuan Zhaoxu.
Zhaoxu opened it up, then raised his eyebrows in a smile.
“Dig the grave, rob the tomb, blow out the light, a tragic life, is not much more than this.”
Meng Fuyao drank the wine in large gulps, thinking of that frightening night in the tomb chamber, thinking of the yell of fatty protecting his chrysanthemum, thinking of these years of separation, not knowing whether the space-time of the Five Regions Continent was synchronized with her own world, and her mom, not knowing how she was now …
Thinking up to here, her heart began to ache. Something had lodged itself in her throat, and Meng Fuyao hurriedly swallowed more gulps to wash it away.
Yuan Zhaoxu’s lowered voice sounded. “You dug graves before?”
With blurred eyes Fuyao drunkenly turned her head, vaguely smiling, “En, it counts I guess. Frequent intimate encounters with dead people’s bones.”
Zhaoxu had a deep, pondering tone. “Was your living situation difficult? You should know that in the graves of the aristocrats of the Five Regions Continent, traps and arrays are heavily present. A girl like yourself, how could you dig through?”
Meng Fuyao’s heart shook. She internally reminded herself that sure enough, she had become confused from drinking, and she couldn’t just say anything out loud. With an impromptu diversion in topic, she asked, “Hey. Why did you help me.”
A moment of silence.
Fuyao didn’t rush him, raising her head to look at the bright moon hanging on the horizon. The moon’s color was clear, pure like jade, only that it looked a little cold.
“I saw that scene.” Yuan Zhaoxu’s words were ambiguous, but both knew what he was talking about. “But what truly made me take action, was the expression on your face in that instant you appeared from underneath the cliff.”
Another silent pause. Yuan Zhaoxu faintly smiled and raised his cup for another drink. Inside the chilly alcohol, he saw the expression in the young girl’s eyes. It was a moment of piercing brightness and deep coldness, bringing an emotion that didn’t match her age, a fire-quenching emotion that could only be formed from experiencing the hardships of life.
That type of torturous emotion … so minute, yet so heavy, so incompatible with that youthful and delicate face, that it caused one’s heart to tear, and softly hurt.
In that moment, he was amazed that he could actually feel a soft pain in his heart from only the expression in a stranger’s eyes.
“Oh …” Meng Fuyao’s reply only came after a long time. Her voice sounded a little odd. “Then thank you, your kindness, Meng Fuyao will definitely repay in the future.”
When talking, she gulped down four mouthfuls of wine, splitting the sentence up into three parts before she finished speaking.
The hand Yuan Zhaoxu was using to swirl his wine cup slightly paused, then continued its previous motions. His dignified eyebrows didn’t express any emotion, and even his tone didn’t change at all. “En, ok.”
Meng Fuyao, who was uneasily awaiting his reply, was a little stunned and couldn’t help but turn her head – just like that? He was done?
Her head turned halfway before she forcefully twisted it back. The force used was so powerful that she even heard her own neck bones crack in “ke ke” sounds – she couldn’t let him see her surprise, or else what would he think of her?
If it’s like this … it would be for the best.
Meng Fuyao faintly smiled, then drank a big mouthful of wine.
That jug of alcohol quickly went down by half. Her hand was suddenly stopped, and she heard Yuan Zhaoxu’s low voice. “Don’t drink anymore.”
Meng Fuyao tilted her head. “En?”
Her long hair was blown into a mess by the wind, and her cheeks vaguely flushed red from the wine. The usually resplendent, clear eyes were now misty and blurred. Her whole person looked covered in smoke and fog, her upright posture like a dew-covered peony. Looking at her, Yuan Zhaoxu’s eyes contained some faint ripples of emotion.
Afterwards, he regained his calmness, and while smiling he said, “Look.”
Meng Fuyao turned her head in confusion, looking in the direction Yuan Zhaoxu pointed at. On a street outside the inn, many horsemen swiftly galloped past.
The people on the steeds urgently rode, breaking through the darkness like arrows. In a blink of an eye, they vanished past the ends of the streets.
Fuyao leaned over the roof eaves, softly asking, “Who are they?”
“Qi Xunyi’s secret unit, they help him communicate with various powers and send down his commands.”
“You are a person from the Infinite Empire, how do you even know something like this?” Meng Fuyao turned her head to look at Yuan Zhaoxu, her eyes fluctuating in the dimness.
“I am an aide of Crown Prince Wuji belonging to the Shangyang court, specializing in gathering intelligence.”
“Crown Prince Wuji?” Meng Fuyao laughed. “Ever since I came to the Five Regions Continent, I’ve heard this guy’s name so many times that my ears have almost rotted! Something about a heaven descended prince, peerless prodigy, talented without equal, wise immortal … is that still a person?”
Speaking to this point, something in her heart vaguely stirred, as if she had thought of something. Yet this idea only flashed for a second before it died, so fast she couldn’t even grasp it.
Yuan Zhaoxu faintly smiled, his answer succinct. “He is.”
After a pause, his tone suddenly became serious. “Fuyao, the chaos of Yanjing will soon begin. After entering the capital, I will not necessarily be with you. Are you sure you can protect yourself?”
Meng Fuyao turned around to face Yuan Zhaoxu – he rarely ever showed such a cautious expression. However, Meng Fuyao could not give up on this trip to Yanjing. At the Tai Yuan Emperor’s birthday celebration every state would send diplomatic envoys, with high-ranking officials and VIPs abundant like clouds, a perfect opportunity to obtain those passage seals. Some state envoys even had to cross territories – for example, if Lifting Wind wanted to reach Tai Yuan, they needed to travel through the two countries Infinite and Polaris. If her luck was good, she could borrow this chance to gather multiple seals of each state.
“I have never expected to be able to rely on you forever.” Meng Fuyao dusted herself off and started walking down the roof. “Don’t worry, I can work it out.”
She left simply and fearlessly. Behind her, Yuan Zhaoxu stared at her back figure for a long time, his eyes deeply absorbed in thought.
At the far distant horizon, a line of thin red slowly ascended. Dawn had arrived.
- Since the martial artists accepted the seals, it meant that they agreed (at least superficially) to respect the seven states and not go running around in their courts. They can still do so, but it would lose them “face”, make it seem like their promises are worth nothing.
- The Polaris tycoon had a Tai Yuan seal, because he came to Tai Yuan for business. Sima Rui is on a mission to Xuanyuan so he had their state’s seal.
- Shangyang, “上阳”, literally “upper sun”