Listening to this tale from the past, Lu Xiuwen didn’t seem surprised. He nodded and said, “I see, that explains it. I always wondered how you managed to escape back then with how dumb you are.”
He muttered softly to himself, “Mn, so it was Xiuyan who saved you.”
“Even though he risked his life to save me, he wouldn’t leave with me.”
“There’s only one command token. If two people tried to leave together, you would be detected even before leaving the main altar.”
Duan Ling understood this as well. He said, “After I left, I couldn’t gather any information about the cult, and I had no idea what happened to Xiuyan afterward.”
“Shifu’s cultivation was at a critical stage, but who would have thought that you – his tonix – ran away? This led to a setback in his cultivation, naturally causing his fury to explode.”
Duan Ling’s expression turned solemn. “Then Xiuyan, he…”
“Rest assured, Shidi,” Lu Xiuwen lowered his gaze and gently blew away the foam on the surface of the teacup. He took a sip of the bitter and astringent tea. “No one knows that it was Xiuyan who saved you. He is safe and has not faced any punishment.”
Duan Ling finally breathed a sigh of relief. “I promised Xiuyan back then that no matter what, I would go back to save him. But little did I know, after years of planning and finally infiltrating the cult, all I found in that hidden chamber was you.”
Lu Xiuwen’s grip on the teacup tightened so much that his fingertips turned slightly pale. Yet, he maintained his smile and said, “It’s all my fault for disappointing Shidi. But why did you take ten years to come?”
“Back then, I was just a young man with little martial skills. How could I compete with the cult? But after I escaped, I devoted myself to training my martial skills day and night, never daring to slack off for even a single day.” Duan Ling explained.
Lu Xiuwen nodded and said, “Shidi’s martial skills are considered top-notch even among the younger generation of righteous experts. However…”
His gaze shifted, slowly scanning Duan Ling, and he continued, “If I’m not mistaken, Shidi hasn’t been practicing legitimate internal cultivation techniques, but rather, you have continued to practice the martial arts of our Tianjue Cult, am I right?”
Duan Ling’s pupils contracted suddenly and the veins on the back of his hand bulged. For a split second, a desire to kill and silence Lu Xiuwen stirred up within him. However, he quickly regained his composure, steadied his rapid breathing, and snorted, “Complete nonsense.”
“Shidi and I come from the same cult, and we practice the same martial arts. How could I not see through this? But you’ve concealed it quite well, others might not have noticed.”
At this point, Duan Ling knew he couldn’t keep up the facade any longer. He released his tightly clenched fist and self-deprecatingly admitted, “You’re right. I finally escaped the cult with great effort, yet I continued to practice the martial arts that the fiend taught me. Legitimate internal cultivation focuses on gradual progression, and it would take decades before seeing results. But I… I can’t wait that long. I wish to return to the cult and rescue Xiuyan as soon as possible.”
“What extent have you cultivated your skills to?”
“The fifth level.”
“If this matter were to be known by others, you, the renowned Young Hero Duan, your reputation would be ruined.”
Duan Ling fell silent for a moment, then burst into laughter. “My life belongs to Xiuyan. How could I care about such a false reputation?”
For the sake of the one in his heart, he would willingly descend into the path of darkness.
Seeing his gaze, Lu Xiuwen couldn’t help but avert his eyes.
After a moment, he spoke again, “Shidi, do one more thing for me.”
“What is it?”
Lu Xiuwen lifted his hand and pointed at the peach trees outside the window. “Break off a branch from one of the peach trees for me.”
“What do you want this for?”
“You don’t need to worry about it, just break off a branch.”
Duan Ling had already cooked him congee and poured him tea, so he naturally didn’t mind this additional task. However, when Lu Xiuwen added, “Choose the one at the very top, the one with the most beautiful blossoms.”
Hearing this, Duan Ling was stunned.
It was early autumn now, and the peach blossoms had long since withered. How could there be any blooming blossoms at all? However, accustomed to being ordered around by Lu Xiuwen in the past, Duan Ling didn’t dare question further. He walked out of the room and with a light leap, reached the top of a branch, breaking off a small piece of the peach tree. As he turned to look back, he saw Lu Xiuwen standing at the window, gazing out. The moonlight illuminated his pale and handsome face, but in the darkness, his expression was hard to discern. Duan Ling couldn’t tell if he was looking at the peach tree or something else entirely.
Duan Ling returned inside and handed the peach branch to Lu Xiuwen.
Lu Xiuwen held the branch in his hand, playing with it for a moment. Suddenly, he smiled and brought the peach branch to his nose, lowering his head to take a deep sniff.
In that instant, it seemed as if truly magnificent and unparalleled peach blossoms were blooming on the branch.
Duan Ling blinked and looked again, only to realize that it was just a trick of his eyes. Besides the lush green leaves, there was nothing else there.
The smile on Lu Xiuwen’s face lasted only a moment before it returned to its usual nonchalant expression. He said, “You’ve worked hard, Shidi. Tomorrow, go and arrange for a carriage. The one we used last time was too shanty and made me uncomfortable. This time, get a more spacious and comfortable one. I had someone from the Embroidered Pavilion come today, but I’m afraid we can’t wait until the clothes are ready. We’ll have to buy some ready-made ones from a clothing store. Of course, the servants can’t accompany us. So various tasks along the way will fall to you, Shidi. Also…”
Duan Ling hadn’t fully understood and asked, “Carriage?”
“The journey to Xiuyan’s residence will take over a month. If not a carriage, should we walk there on two legs instead?”
Duan Ling was immediately overjoyed and said, “You’re willing to take me to Xiuyan?”
“It’s been a long time since I saw my younger brother, I also missed him quite a lot,” Lu Xiuwen replied, still holding the peach branch in his hand, his fingers gently brushing over the green leaves as if caressing a bud about to bloom. “You promised back then… to return to the cult and rescue him. Though it’s been delayed a bit, since you’ve kept your word, I naturally want to fulfill your wish.”
if you see any typos, grammar, or translation mistakes, don't hesitate to let me know. thank you for reading!