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Chapter 1. The one with snow will rule the world
Ji Xiao-zhanren had fallen.
Han Shan Sword Sect arranged a grand funeral for him, placing his memorial tablet in the sect's ancestral hall. Countless cultivation sects came to attend the ceremony, gathering at the foot of Mount Han1 to listen to the death knell. Over a hundred renowned figures with proper titles were invited up the mountain to offer condolences inside the memorial.
The November northern wind was harsh with snow drowning the entirety of Mount Han, painting the world a mourning white.
The bell toll knocked down the snow gathered on the branches. Liu Xiaohuai unconsciously shivered, hands hiding under both sleeves of his robes, steps quickening.
Going past the suspension bridge in midair, the thick layer of snow gradually melted to reveal a damp stone pathway. The road twisted and turned, accompanied by the relaxing wind brushing one's face and the lush shade of green at the corner of the eyes.
Liu Xiaohuai rubbed his hands together, sighing, "How warm."
At the other side of the bridge placed a square-shaped stone with the two words "Chang Chun2" carved on it.
He finally reached Ji Xiao-zhanren's Chang Chun Peak.
The door in front of him gave the feeling as if it would lead people into another world completely. The stone steps were covered in moss, the old epiphyllum tree winding along and across it, creating a beautiful picture akin to spring scenery3.
Liu Xiaohuai turned around. Behind him were only the bridge and the somber, desolate snowy mountain range.
No matter how many times he had seen this, the view still took his breath away.
Blessed by nature and isolated from the outside world, even the grasses and trees in Chang Chun Peak were nourished by spiritual power. Hidden away from human eyes were layers and layers of formations operating in secret, preventing this place from being affected by bad weather, keeping it warm like spring all year long.
Mount Han was so cold that the snow never melted, and back when Ji Xiao-zhanren still lived at the highest place on earth, away from people, his cave was a simple pure shade of white.
But his cultivation partner was caught with a sickness that made him unable to stand the cold; so after the marriage, to please his partner, Ji Xiao founded his own Peak and chose a deserted mountain thick with spiritual influence, setting up formations and pumping up the hot springs.
Reversing the laws of nature, keeping the place in springtime forever.
Liu Xiaohuai heard from his senior brothers that the formations cost thirty thousand spirit stones of the best quality each year. He was not entirely sure about the scale of that number; after all, he was only a child doing cleaning work, the three low-grade spirit stones he received every month from the Hall of Attendants were enough to satisfy him.
He could not imagine Ji Xiao-zhanren's unrivalled sword skills either — the 'cutting through mountains and seas, knowledge as high and deep as sky and earth' thing now only existed in legends. It had been a long time since Ji Xiao last used his sword.
Chang Chun Peak was the last proof left of his ability: The blossoming flowers, the gentle wind, the song made by water in the creeks. Liu Xiaohuai thought that this scenery could only be created by a cultivator who had reached their highest point of their cultivation path.
As for Ji Xiao-zhanren's cultivation partner… he might as well be considered the luckiest cultivator on earth.
When Ji Xiao was alive, he had neither disciples nor blood-related heirs, only a husband.
His cultivation partner's name was Meng Xueli, nineteen years of age, the only one in this place who did not use a sword, nor did he need to.
Han Shan Sword Sect all treated Elder4 Meng without enthusiasm.
Cultivators typically lived for a long time, so finding a cultivation partner was almost always for practical purposes. Their cultivation path had to always come first, love was just a trivial matter.
Even if Ji Xiao really wanted to get married, it was better for him to choose someone with more significant values, such as a female Master, a princess from the Ghost Clan or a prince from the Demon Clan. It would benefit Han Shan, the peace of three realms and the prosperity of the people… In short, there had to be some kind of advantage to it.
But on a day of heavy snow three years ago, he brought back a person, announcing to the world that Meng Xueli will be his partner for life.
With the bell ringing nine times, their marriage ceremony was full of distinguished guests from everywhere.
The Great Elder, who had withdrawn from matters concerning the life outside for years, called for the sect patriarch after hearing the bell tolls to admonish him. "Ji Xiao has been devoted to the Dao ever since he was young, but somehow he still got himself plagued by mortal matters. Had it not been for this, he would have been able to take one step further to become this world's greatest ascender."
Everyone agreed in silence. Ascending to Heaven might only be the stuff of legends, but if anyone in this world could ever do it, then that person had to be Ji Xiao.
Regarding his 'mortal matters' Meng Xueli, there was nothing worth praising about this person. Three years ago when he was sixteen, after channeling his vital energy it was clear that he only had the aptitude similar to that of an outer disciple5.
The swordsmanship of Han Shan required harsh training, bound by strict discipline. Meng Xueli preferred warmth and could not stand the cold, and coupled with his lazy nature, he did not have the temperament suitable for this sect.
Disciples worshiped Ji Xiao, therefore they did not dare disrespect Meng Xueli to his face. However, behind his back they secretly burned incense and prayed every night that their zhanren's taste in people would return to normal.
But as the only cleaner of Chang Chun Peak, Liu Xiaohuai did not think that Elder Meng was as bossy and arrogant as the rumors said.
All he did everyday was feeding fish and growing flowers; he did not practice with swords or meditate, so his biggest 'crime' was just reaping without sowing. It was beyond the young one's imagination as to why that became the ultimate sin according to outisders.
Elder Meng's eyes would curve when he smiled; he even told the younger 'thank you, you've worked hard'; he had a very easy-going manner, treating the deacons, head of deacons, even the sect patriarch with utmost propriety.
At this, Liu Xiaohuai became a little frustrated. What would happen to Elder Meng from now on? What would happen to Chang Chun Peak?
He was so lost in thought until he reached a courtyard decorated with flourishing flowers and plants, the atmosphere warm like it was heavily under protection. By the water was a figure in lilac. Liu Xiaohuai gathered his composure and walked forward to greet the other.
Next to the lake was a bamboo couch, on which a man dressed in lilac brocade sat, his posture not quite straight and proper. His robes were vibrant in color, not what a cultivator would wear but rather that of a young master from a rich family.
He was currently peeling pine nuts, his beauty dazzling, ten slender fingers delicate and pale like freshly picked white lotuses.
Liu Xiaohuai spoke with a low voice, "Elder Meng, the Patriarch requested your presence at the memorial hall for the ceremony."
He did not get to finish the sentence before the sound of a bell rung out from a distance. The death-plagued sound echoed, startling birds into flying away.
Meng Xueli raised his head with a dazed expression. The light from the water reflected onto his face in mystifying hues.
Liu Xiaohuai wanted to console him, telling him to not mourn too hard, but his words tripped over themselves and the result was that he could not said a single coherent thing. He hoped Elder Meng would not burst into tears.
"Want some pine nuts?" Meng Xueli asked calmly.
"Huh?" Liu Xiaohuai was surprised. "No, no I don't."
Meng Xueli threw a fistful of nuts into the lake; they looked like scattered flower petals. In between dark green lotus leaves, three colorful koi carps fought for the food.
The young disciple looked nervous, "The Patriarch requested that you…"
Meng Xueli reassured him, "Let me go put more clothes on first. You just head back, there's no need to escort me there."
The young boy looked like a burden had been taken off his shoulders, he did a formal salutation and left.
The koi carps, after having finished their meal, jumped above the surface with their tails wagging, spattering the water.
"What are you jumping at, don't you know that Ji Xiao is dead?" Meng Xueli stood up and dust off his clothes, the seed pods fallen around him.
The innocent koi carps blew water bubbles.
A month ago, Ji Xiao-zhanren left the Peak, visiting 'The Outer-Border' to seal away the newly reincarnated demons. The night before, he came to talk to Meng Xueli. "I have something to give you, wait for my return."
Meng Xueli had a sudden premonition. "Those are unlucky words. If it is something of value, you can surely give it to me right now."
Ji Xiao frowned a little, as if there were complications he could not explain. With a cold expression, he rode away the on the cloud.
Seven days ago, Han Shan's Patriarch came to Chang Chun Peak himself to be the bearer of bad news: The Outer-Border had collapsed and Ji Xiao had perished along with the demons, no remains were found.
Meng Xueli said, "I don't believe it."
But the funeral organized by Han Shan today, along with the gloomy sounds of the knells all seemed to tell him that it was not his place to decide whether it was real or not.
Meng Xueli stared down at the water. "We have been partners for three years, of course there are feelings, and now that he just died without a clear reason like that…"
"It is my right to demand an explanation."
If the carps could speak, they would have berated their master out loud for his shamelessness—
Your love is all kinds of nonsense, you two saw each other like three times in three years, do you seriously think Ji Xiao's relatives can remember you? Even if the whole Han Shan Sect perished, it is still not your turn to speak on his behalf.
People were envious of Meng Xueli's fortunes to have got a hold of Ji Xiao's heart, with Chang Chun as proof of his affection.
In reality, Ji Xiao cultivated behind closed door almost year-round, leaving Chang Chun Peak in a perpetual state of peace and quiet. Only the cleaning boy was still afraid of this place. Meng Xueli looked after the Peak on his own, so if there was any chance to converse with human rather than fish, he would take it.
After marriage, the two lived their own separate lives. Ji Xiao focused in the path of cultivation just like before, and Meng Xueli had come to master the art of entertaining himself. His boring days would continue in this manner had Ji Xiao not passed away.
Meng Xueli crossed the bridge, his small hands holding onto the heater, the stone tablet with 'Chang Chun' on it further and further behind him.
The cold wind hit, bringing a sudden coolness to his cheeks. He looked up at the falling snow.
If one looked down from above, they would see a vast expanse of whiteness disrupted by the incredible greenery of Chang Chun Peak, like a flamboyant cage of warmth.
The top of the mountain was covered in formations, looking like a lazuli bowl turned upside down, emitting a faint halo.
Meng Xueli had not been outside for three years, so he knew nothing about the way the weather change with seasons. He took in the pure white mountains covered in ice, feeling like decades and generations had passed.
In a great mood, he followed the bell sounds and chantings, leisurely hiking on the mountain path. Everything to him was a breath of fresh air.
When Chang Chun Peak was a fair distance behind, he finally saw traces of the living. Outer disciples in Han Shan's robes would randomly pass by on the road; they either had swords by their hips or were holding incense, candles and fruits. They walked in haste, face solemn and respectful but not a hint of sorrow.
Back when the news was announced, many disciples who worshiped Ji Xiao-zhanren cried their heart out; but now that seven days had passed, composure and steadfastness was regained.
It was what the Patriarch had taught—"Han Shan might have lost Ji Xiao, but we have to stay united and stronger than ever. We must not panic and cause disorder, making outsiders think that we have weakened, that we can be easily harmed."
The funeral today to Han Shan Sect was a silent battle.
Meng Xueli left Chang Chun Peak, crossing a cliff to reach the memorial hall.
The highest point of the mountain range was rumored to be the cave where Ji Xiao had lived before marriage, and everyday there were disciples visiting to pay respect, sharpening their will for swordsmanship through the hardship of braving through snowstorms. They hoped that by visiting they could somehow feel the faint remnant of Ji Xiao-zhanren's sword intent6.
But Meng Xueli was afraid of the cold so naturally he would not let himself suffer, choosing to travel through the main road.
It was fortunate that there was a small path cutting through the middle of the mountain side. The path was built into the precipitous cliff, one half connected with the rocks, the other half hanging in midair.
The road was quiet, and he suddenly stopped walking. Growing out of a crack on the rock was an apricot blossom tree quivering in the wind, flowers so close to blooming.
Meng Xueli took a branch, the snow covering it trembled and fell.
At the other end of the road shouted a "Elder Meng!"
Liu Xiaohuai—his news bearer—ran towards him, pleasantly surprised, "You scared the life out of me, I thought you were lost! We gotta hurry, the Patriarch was just pressing me to go get you again!"
The boy was huffing and puffing, tiny face flushed red, voice adorably innocent. He pulled at the elder's arms.
Meng Xueli laughed out loud, holding out the flower branch as if wanting to give it to the younger.
The boy barely hesitated, but right when the tip of his fingers touched the other's sleeve, Meng Xueli turned his palm, sharp killing intent hidden in the branch, aiming towards the boy's pulse!
The young boy cried out, retreating in alarm. He was ten feet away in a blink of an eye, sleeves billowing in the snow.
Meng Xueli pulled back now that his intention was clear, arms crossed, the flower crushed and fallen by his feet.
"You are not Xiaohuai."
1 I will leave it as Han Shan only when it is used as the sect's name.
2 长春 (chángchūn) means "forever spring".
3 The author used the idiom "Apricot flowers fall like rain, pear blossoms bloom like clouds."
4 长老 (zhǎnglǎo) in this story does not only refer to the sect elders; since Meng Xueli married the most respected figure, he was given this title to highlight his position in the sect.
5 In the disciple hierarchy, outer disciples are at the bottom.
6 剑意(jiànyì) is the aura emitted from a sword or their swordsman before attacking.
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