Immeasurable Anguish. Fleeting Life.
And… as she said, we relocated to a secluded room with only the two of us. When we arrived, I strutted straight in, sat down in a chair, poured myself a cup of tea, knocked back the decent-tasting tea, and then poured myself a second cup.
“Don’t purposely erect a barrier between yourself and the other people here,” I casually said in response to her gaze that could scorch the floor. “Everyone here can be used. Fiends’ Genesis’ members should know this place better than us. If you keep them at arm’s length, you’re only handicapping us. You should hold a meeting with everyone and give them the general gist that we want to get out. If they resist, th-”
She shrieked so loud that the echo was akin to a nail scrapping a board, compelling me to cover my eyes.
She aggressively removed her mask and hurled it at the ground, splintering the metal mask, yet the sound couldn’t compare to her shriek.
“What a waste. Zero really did wear that mask before, huh?”
“… I’ve heard it all from Su Qi.”
“I’m not surprised.”
As she breathed harder, dug her fingernails into her palms until her hands looked ghastly pale and scarlet droplets began dripping onto the ground.
“Strictly speaking, this is our first official meeting, so let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Ming Feizhen.” I gently pulled off my mask, which was extremely refreshing for my skin given the shabby quality I had to put up with. I subsequently turned my head sideways and said, “Your turn.”
The silence that permeated the room couldn’t drive out the silent fury heating up the air.
“That’s how you’re going to answer me?” Every step she took echoed so loud that you’d think she’d perhaps crush the concrete. Her violent aura devoured any peaceful silence.
“You’ve been posing as my partner to mislead people whilst forming your own team. You think I’m foolish and gullible? I’ll have you know I’ve always been aware of every move you made, from you approaching Gu Xianxian and his wife, you and Yan Jiangnan’s fabrications, your fight against Lang Qing, your knowledge of formations and swordplay that aren’t part of Wu Ping’s package, I knew everything. I just wanted to use you to draw Yuan Kou out. I just didn’t think it was you. You!” She screamed in a blood-curling voice. “Where do you find the audacity to brazenly sit before me? You think I’m easy to entertain? You think you can make me take your side with as long as you say the word?
“You think that I’ll sing your praise and take orders from you just because Su Qi is your former subordinate and I’m Divine Moon Cult leader’s granddaughter? You think that I’ll hold you in such high esteem that I don’t dare to meet eyes with you? You think you can just enter a room with me, whisper into my ear, ‘I’m Lord San Shen, the person you looked up to, so follow my orders. Help me escape, and help me overthrow Jiang Chen. I shall continue ruling over all of you, so continue worshipping me and following my orders?’ Are you crazy?!”
There was anger in her voice but despair on her face. “You wish. You don’t have the right to do that. If Su Qi obeys you, I’ll kill Su Qi. If Ouyang and Lang Qing obey you, I’ll kill them. I won’t let you be the worshipped Lord San Shen. I’m going to kill you, take your corpse back to Asa, hang it up in the headquarters and tell everyone you’re the one who betrayed our sect leader! You kill him and sold your loyalty to the imperial court!”
My mind crossed the desert, the long journey through the storm to reach the golden opulent palace underneath the sun. They were all yelling at me the same way, breathing heavily as if they were going to kill me in the same way. From my perspective, all the yelling, huffing and puffing was useless as they were just a veil for something else – fear.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“… I’m waiting for you to finish. Carry on,” I replied.
She gritted her teeth and responded, “You… would dare…”
“What are you afraid of?”
She slammed her hand through the circular wooden table in front of me, reducing it to small particles.
“What exactly are you afraid of? I know you’re stronger than me right now, yet you’re afraid. What are you afraid of?”
She had her top teeth in her bottom lip, but her pale visage proved to me that I hit the nail on the head.
“Did you not hear what I said?” I held my gaze on her so that she couldn’t oppose me. I knew how pious they were, so I knew how to shut them up even though I didn’t want to ever resort to it.
Eventually caving in, she lowered her head and uttered, “… Elise.”
“Okay, Elise is your name. Now we can continue.”
I knew how to demolish her composure. That was why I ensured my tone was rational and impartial, just as the contents I chose to voice.
“You mentioned Xue Yanjun and I numerous times. I clearly heard what you said, so there’s no need for you to repeat yourself. All I want to know is, is that what you think, or is it what Bright Moon Faction thinks.”
Since she didn’t answer, I deliberately provoked her. “So, can I understand it as Bright Moon Faction wanting to overthrow the system and rule themselves?”
“How dare you bring up overthrowing?! You think I don’t dare to kill you?!”
“Sit down.” Looking at her emotionlessly, I repeated, “Sit.”
Elise shook as violently as though it took every ounce of mental fortitude to hold back from clocking me. “Why should I listen to you when you’ve lost your ability to fight?”
“You’re a holy maiden. Don’t bring shame to your title.” I tilted my head and added, “You’re standing before me with a belly of fire, yet you haven’t bothered to ask for an explanation. Who told you I’m a traitor? Is he also the one who told you I colluded with the imperial court and killed Ximen Chuideng? What evidence does he have? Putting aside whether his claims are true or false, did you just let him baselessly besmirch me? Are you claiming you don’t know who rescued Dark Moon Faction’s members when you were in the Western Regions? Why, then, would you believe I’m a traitor?”
Elise hugged herself as if it was the only way of protecting her beliefs from running away. “You… did rescue our brethren from Dark Moon Faction. However, do you think they’re grateful? You rescued them from the jaws of the imperial court and hid them in Hangzhou, but they’ve lost all their pride and honour. Every single one of them wants to be slaying enemies and avenging our sect leader. They’re warriors; they’re born for glory. They lost their master in the Central Plain, yet you sent them back in dishonour.”
“Perhaps you don’t agree, but I think life is more important than the honour of fighting a war in a foreign country.”
“Then why did you rescue them? Can you explain?” Elise asked with her head down, seemingly unable to bear with the anguish any longer. “How much manpower did the imperial court have then? Even if you excluded Dark Moon Faction’s family members, there were thousands of them. Why was the imperial court willing to let them go? If you didn’t collude with the imperial court, how did you rescue them? Were you trying to stop them from taking revenge, or were you the target of their revenge?!”
I had seen the look in Elise’s eyes innumerable times, and they were all attached to people desperately searching for trust, honesty, something they could believe in, something they could wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to when they were lost.
“Don’t treat me like this!” Elise grabbed my lapels so tightly that I suffocated. She only needed to pull a little harder to completely cut off my oxygen supply, yet she was the one who cried. “Don’t treat me like this! Don’t do this to me! Don’t treat me the same way you treat others when you brush them off.”
I knew what she was afraid of. I knew from the moment I saw the look in her eyes. She was afraid that her assumptions were true.
Elise’s strength gradually left her hands. “Please… Don’t lie to me. Don’t brush me off. I look up to you, Zero and everyone else a part of the Lord San Shen faction. Your faction upheld justice and punished evil. You were the example to follow. What you labelled as evil was evil. What you said was wrong, I believed was wrong. Whoever’s life you want me to take, I’ll take, including mine. Why did it have to be you? Why did you have to be the traitor? Why? Please. I beg you. Don’t kill His Excellency. Please… Tell me! Are you the traitor? Did you betray His Excellency?! Tell me!”
Knowing my prepared long speech was now meaningless, I let out a big sigh. “No.”
She threw myself into her arms and let her tears and stress out without reserve. Despite knowing she had found what she wanted, I knew I couldn’t just leave it there. As I gently stroked her head, I said, “I’m not a traitor. I didn’t betray him. Why did I rescue our Dark Moon Faction brothers? Simple. Because I didn’t save Ximen.”
The memory was as close as yesterday to me, and I never believed there’d be a day where I’d forget it. The physical wounds that still seared my scapula and the rest of my body couldn’t hold a candle to the pain of the memory.
“I watched him fall from Lawless Cliff. I didn’t jump down after him because I had to rescue the others. I knew that everyone else there that day would’ve perished if I was gone, too. That’s why I watched him fall farther and farther away until he was no longer visible. The scar has stayed with me. Ever since the scar formed, everything underneath has rotted, and the wound has continued to bleed. Mayhap I really will never see him again. Mayhap he was reduced to dust at the bottom of the cliff. Mayhap only his bones remain there. Whatever the case, I’ve stubbornly told myself that he’s not dead. Who knows? I could rescue them because I watched my sworn elder brother die. Is this answer satisfactory?”
Elise stared blankly at me for a beat before shedding more tears. “Why… did you not avenge him?”
In a quiet voice, as quiet as if I was the only person left in the world, I replied, “You don’t know what happened. Ximen Chuideng should not have been there that day. Nobody can stop him if he wants to walk away. Everything happened far too quickly, and the coincidences were far too coincidental. I, too, don’t know the answers.
“The thought of killing everyone there that day crossed my mind. Everyone there who stopped me had a hand, whether it was directly or indirectly, in Ximen’s death, and I wanted to kill every single one of them. Our brothers wanted to kill them, too. Ol’ Blade Demon disappeared since he couldn’t suppress his urge. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him, either. Maybe he’s already passed away.
“I managed to suppress the impulse, but that was only thanks to someone who told me that my life was more important than anything to her. I know she considers me the most important person in her life, so I couldn’t throw my life away.
“I want to find out the truth. I want to know what exactly happened that day and who our enemies truly are. Until I have the answers to those questions, I won’t let anyone of you take any action that involves taking revenge… all right?”
Elise kept crying, though I didn’t know for whose sake. From her crying visage, I was also watching the forsaken Dark Moon Faction thousands of miles away, from across the vast golden desert. They lost everything. They didn’t know what to believe and what to suspect. Nobody besides their enemy knew what nefarious intentions shrouded them. But, they understood each other’s pain, hatred, rage and tears.
All I could do for Elise was wipe her eyes until she fell asleep and accept her response properly. Before she fell asleep, she nodded with all her might and responded, “Yes.”