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Rain ran along the edge of the man’s conical hat, dripping down like it was forming him a veil. He glanced at Yan Xiaohan’s extremely subtle movements, raised a brow, and reached behind him towards the cloth bundle at his back.
Right at that moment, a sudden bird-like call came from within the hall, interrupting the hostility between the two.
“Yan—“ Came the Prince of Qi’s voice, at a critical moment. “—Oh, it’s okay. You can let him in.”
Yan Xiaohan hadn’t yet been able to answer when the man promptly retracted his hand at lightning speed, exactly like how he had done the same with his purse just now. “You heard that, you heard that!” he yelled. “The Great Immortal has spoken! Don’t block the way, let me in!”
When this guy spoke, it was like ten mynahs were clamoring in one’s ears at the same time, his chaotic shouting towing along the bong bongs of a broken gong. Yan Xiaohan was supremely annoyed, sheathing his sabre with reluctance. In the second the man jumped off the horse’s back, his sharp ears sound caught a crisp sound, like metal and stone colliding. The dong sound resounded throughout, its aftertone unending.
He immediately looked up to stare straight at the man. The other walked calmly, welcoming his gaze, the corner of his mouth under his conical hat drawing up in a smug arc, along with a thin trace of whimsy. As they brushed past each other, Yan Xiaohan suddenly swiped his hand out behind him, swiftly and disorderly yanking the cloth bundle off the other’s back.
The man’s response was also pretty quick, and at almost the same time Yan Xiaohan set into motion, he firmly grasped the other end of the bundle. His hat slipped off backwards in the wake of the movement, revealing the plain, unsurprising* face beneath it. “What are you doing?” he harshly demanded.
“Removing your sword,” Yan Xiaohan said expressionlessly.
The man looked perplexed. “Removing my sword? Where’s the sword?”
Yan Xiaohan’s sight shifted down to the wrapped bundle they were both holding. The man glanced at it, then bust out in a hearty laugh. “You think it’s this? This isn’t a sword.”
The young man shook his head, a sort of fake-mature exasperation in his attitude. “You really want to see it, huh? …Okay, then,” he replied, putting on a big show of it.
Yan Xiaohan watched him doubtfully as he took off a couple layers of the bundle, unwound the cloth strips around it, and exposed a length of something dark within, approximately three chi long—
It was a fire iron.
Yan Xiaohan: “……”
“I told you it wasn’t a sword. You’re the one who wanted to look,” the man stated with complete innocence.
The attendants inside who had gotten a clear view of the show all covered their mouths and lowered their heads, stifling their laughter only with great difficulty. Yan Xiaohan kept cool, in any case. “Give it here. You can’t bring that in,” he stated indifferently.
The man under the eaves had no choice but to concede and had no further insistence, releasing his hand and only muttering to himself before he went inside. “So pedantic. Doesn’t even let a fire iron past him.”
Yan Xiaohan had exercised patience time and time again, ultimately setting him free to enter. And yet, at the same time, he could vaguely feel an inkling of peculiarity. The man seemed to be quite young, yet had the unrestrained mannerisms of an old jianghu hat. There was a type of hard-to-detect slyness in his blank-looking face. Yan Xiaohan repeatedly tried to get a feel for him, but he flawlessly evaded all of it. It seemed like he had long been certain that he would be successfully getting into the temple, so even though Yan Xiaohan drew his blade to block his path, he didn’t have any real anger. On the other hand, from start to finish, he had used every chance he could to lower him down.
This type of prickly, yet socially-conforming manner of speech was really too familiar.
He shook his head, feeling that he might have been losing his mind. Perhaps, since he had just gotten a taste of sweetness that was then met with a long parting, that lead to him being unable to stop his thoughts from straying to Fu Shen via anything he saw.
In contrast to the dislike that was practically shining off of Mister Yan’s face, the Prince of Qi and his attendants were all cordially friendly to this strange young man they’d happened upon by chance. Yan Xiaohan’s mind had wandered for a only very brief time; without him seeing, the man had already sat down next to the fire, stretching out his limbs and warming himself up while he chatted openly — the Prince, who had never seen the world before, was listening with full interest.
“…This humble one’s surname is Ren, first name the single character Miao, named during a water shortage. I come from Yan Prefecture. I’ve traveled far and wide ever since I was sixteen, acting the hero all over the place… parents? They passed on a long time ago. I grew up eating the food of lots of different families.
I lived in the capital for a time, serving as a merchant’s hired hand and guard.” He grinned in embarrassment. “Sometimes I helped out at a neighboring family’s house, just to… get a look at that family’s young miss.”
[T/N: The Miao character is 淼 – three water (水) characters grouped together, and refers to a flood. Ren is 任.]
Yan Xiaohan mentally sneered at him, but the Prince was particularly fond of romantic stories like this, and he got even more energetic from the dramatization. “What happened after?” he asked with enthusiasm.
Ren Miao drank a sip of hot water before continuing. “Their business was failing in the capital, so they rented out their house, packed their stuff, and moved back to their home region of Jing Prefecture.”
“What a shame, what a shame,” the Prince lamented.
“It’s not a shame.” Ren Miao smiled. “Am I not coming to look for her?”
As he spoke, he turned to glance at Yan Xiaohan. Mister Yan noticed, and couldn’t comprehend why, saying in his heart: you’re going after your lover, what are you looking at me for? Showing off that you’ve got a sweetheart?
“What’s their surname? What industry are they in? Are you certain that she’s in Jing Prefecture? What if they went somewhere else?” the Prince grilled him.
“The surname is Meng. They’re in the textile industry. It was her elders who arranged for their return to Jing Prefecture, and she had no say in it, being an unwed daughter. She could only make her maidservant secretly come bring letters to me.”
“You’re… you’re actually a couple?!” the Prince cried out.
“That’s only natural. Otherwise, it would just be a wishful thought, and what would I be doing chasing after her from so far away for? She hasn’t said it clearly yet, but she’s bound to be constantly hoping to see me. I can’t let her down.”
As soon as that came out, all of his audience paused. The several who had families were especially moved, in no small amount. Yan Xiaohan had been biased against him at first, disliking how excessively oily-mouthed and nonsense-talking he was, but there was a sudden change in his heart at the phrase ‘can’t let her down’. The longing he tried so hard to restrain burst like water from a dam, and he couldn’t stop it from inundating his heart and eyes full.
He was silent for a good while before he spoke up. “Alright, don’t be staining a young lady’s clean name here.”
Ren Miao glanced back at him again. “Look at how distinguished you are, big bro. You’ve surely already settled down, eh?” he questioned, unconvinced.
Yan Xiaohan nodded aloofly. “You’re someone of Yan Prefecture. Have you heard of the Commander of the Northern Yan Iron Cavalry, the Marquis of Jing Ning Fu Shen?”
“I have, who hasn’t?” Ren Miao replied lazily. “You’re not trying to say that you’re family with the Marquis, right? Forgive my bluntness, big bro, but your paper-thin bluff could break just by blowing on it, hahahahahaha…”
“What are you all looking at me for?” Ren Miao asked uncomfortably.
Once Yan Xiaohan had forced himself to calm down a bit, he said, “I’m saying, since you were in Northern Yan, why didn’t you throw yourself to its Army, strive to get military merits for later, and escort that Miss Meng of yours to your wedding in a grand spectacle? It doesn’t matter that you’ve chased her to Jing Prefecture now. Even if you drop by and propose, the family might not be willing to marry off their daughter to you.”
“Enlisting’s no good.” The man shook his head and smiled. “I’m not an ambitious person. I don’t want to get merits or establish a business, I only want my sweetheart and I to look after each other all our lives, passing our days in peace and safety. I can use my skills now to earn enough food and clothing to provide for a family. Were I to go enlist, I wouldn’t know if fate would allow me to return or cast her off to be all alone in the world. I wouldn’t be able to close my eyes even if I died.”
This guy had to have been sent from the Heavens to come stab him straight in the heart, each jab getting very close to making him accordingly spit out blood. “How do you know that Miss Meng of yours doesn’t want to dress up in finery or be bestowed with honors, and only wants to follow after you to live a penniless life?” he interrogated, not backing down.
Ren Qiao crooked his leg, a slightly bashful, yearning smile exuding from his eyes. “She’s not that kind of person,” he dictated as if talking to himself. “Otherwise, with so many people on this earth, why would she like me, against all reason…”
That unconcealed tenderness nearly scalded the eyes. Yan Xiaohan felt half frustrated, half achingly bitter. What Ren Miao said wasn’t his deepest regret nor desire he could never reach, but for Fu Shen and he, one was an aristocrat of noble title, and one held a high position of heavy weight. Given that they weren’t reluctant to give up their power, how would it be possible for them to carelessly toss everything to the side and go live a spontaneous lifestyle?
He’d been dragged down by the lack of personal freedom for years, rising and falling within the dust of the mortal world. That dragging… might go on until he’s past his prime.
Ren Miao shot a look at the dumbstruck Yan Xiaohan, eyes flashing with light, and he casually changed the subject. “Where are you all from? Are you going to visit friends or relatives, too?”
Yan Xiaohan said nothing. The Prince braced himself to speak up. “Yes. We’re from the capital, and we’re planning on visiting relatives in Jing Prefecture.”
He didn’t give much, and Ren Miao got the message by not questioning them for more details. “What a nice coincidence. Maybe we’ll be able to meet up there later. I’ll invite all you brothers for a drink, when that day comes.”
At night’s arrival, the rain’s momentum let up a little. Ren Miao dried his clothes by the fire and unabashedly freeloaded food from them. After eating and drinking his fill, he gathered a pule of rice straw up in his arms, spread it all out in a corner, and snugly laid down on it. Yan Xiaohan set people up for night watch; as he passed that same corner, his footsteps were already exceptionally light, yet Ren Miao – who should have been fast asleep – heard it, his eyelids rising immediately after.
They happened to look right at each other.
Quick as a flash, an indescribable, trembling sensation shot up to the crown of Yan Xiaohan’s head. Countless fragments zoomed around inside in his head – he could definitely detect something, but he couldn’t catch that flicker of divine light before it faded.
Ren Miao noticed him, then closed his eyes as if nothing had happened.
Yan Xiaohan had layers upon layers of doubts, and he kept thinking about the strength of the night’s rain outside, leading to an uneasy sleep. In the fledgling hours of morning, the sound of thunder came down in spurts from the dome above. He was woken from his shallow slumber, opened his eyes, and discovered that someone’s figure was already standing at the doorway.
Hairs all standing on end, his first reaction was to go for the sabre at his side, but the man only turned towards him and walked over. “You awake? I was just about to call for you. Come look. I’m getting the feeling that this thunder is a little off.”
Yan Xiaohan was in a half-laying position, and only then did he discover that Ren Miao was actually rather tall, with especially long legs. He seemed entirely competent and reliable when he wasn’t smiling like an imp.
They went outside the temple’s entrance. The rain was now very light, but the dense clouds in the sky hadn’t yet dispersed – instead, it seemed they were further amassing and getting denser. Electric light sparked within them, thunderclaps rumbling. Not only was thunder and lightning right above their heads, but each time violet light tore across the heavens, the run-down temple would faintly shake thereafter.
“The terrain here is the highest around. Even though it won’t flood, it could possibly get struck by lightning,” Ren Miao said. “Big bro, go get them all up. We need to switch areas…”
He didn’t get all his words out before silvery-white electricity, carrying immeasurably heavy rolls of thunder, struck down like the Milky Way pouring onto the earth, right onto the roof of fox immortal’s temple!
Ren Miao: “…Go do it, now!”
Yan Xiaohan swept into the hall like a whirlwind and pulled the Prince of Qi up. “Get up! Go!” he roared.
The next instant, his collar went taut. His entire body was powerfully hauled away as he dragged the Prince along with him, and they were forcibly flung from the front of the incense-offering table!
At nearly the same time, a dazzle of lightning broke through the roof and loudly blasted the hall’s idol to pieces. A roof beam fractured in answer to this, crashing down at exactly the spot Yan Xiaohan had just been standing.
Every single person was dumbstruck.
The author says: *This ‘plain, unsurprising’ specially refers to Gu Tianle’s sort of plain, unsurprisingness.
PS: This text is persevering with its roots in reality. Though there’s snow and thunder, it won’t turn into a supernatural xuanhuan work, ha~ [T/N: The author said something slightly spoilery that I feel iffy about, so you’ll have to highlight below for it.]
Author: hinting like crazy
Mister Yan: I see nothing.