It was the midst of autumn season. The leaves hanging from the branches of the trees had already become dry and shriveled. Under the relentless battering of the cold, autumn breeze, these yellowing leaves finally broke loose of its branches’ shackles as they gently floated down in a chaotic yet somewhat harmonious manner.
However, before these leaves could land on the ground, a cold blast of sword intent swept across these leaves, instantly cleaving them into several pieces. These shredded leaves scattered about as they danced in the sky like golden snowflakes. Under the illumination of the warm glow of dawn, they evoked a beautiful scene about them.
Regrettably, no one was there to appreciate this immaculate sight. Amidst all of this, a single long-haired man donned in snow-white garbs remained completely focused on his own thoughts. His clothes flapped about and he flickered from place to place, leaving countless afterimages of his swordplay in his wake as he continued to slice the falling leaves into pieces.
An incense of time passed, and the flickering shadow finally stopped moving about. He lowered his head slightly as he looked at the fallen leaves around him, silently. He seemed to be completely engrossed in his own thoughts.
This man was Ye Xiuwen. If this were any other day, he would have practiced for a full two hours before concluding his practice. Yet today, he only managed to sustain his practice for only one incense of time.
This was the first time that he had found himself distracted during his practice. The shredded leaves on the ground were a testament to this – he ought to have controlled the accuracy and direction of his sword intent such that every single leaf would be cleaved in two. No more, no less. However, these leaves had instead all been shredded and almost ground to dust by his chaotic sword intent today.
He found it absolutely difficult to concentrate. As he swung his sword about, images of his little martial sister or Yao Mo would surface in his head from time to time. Sometimes, the images of these two people would even seem to merge into one……
Ye Xiuwen adjudged that he must be going mad – why else would he be so affected by Yao Mo’s every action, to the point where he even started drawing parallels with his own martial sister?
Ye Xiuwen couldn’t understand his thoughts. No, perhaps it was because he was afraid to delve into what exactly his thoughts meant.
Just a little while back, when Ye Xiuwen realized that his relationship with his little martial sister had been improving by leaps and bounds, he had made up his mind that he was going to treat her as his dear little sister. Then, he encountered Yao Mo on these travels. Yao Mo had extended unconditional kindness to him, and he had treated this friendship as one of the greatest rewards of his travels thus far. In fact, it was the friendship that he had treasured the most in his life.
However, if this were all his feelings entailed, then why was it that his heart would swell with such indignance when he noticed how the second prince were gazing at Yao Mo with such obsession? As a result of his roiling emotions, he even succumbed to the second prince’s provocation and pitted his own alcohol tolerance against the second prince.
Truth be told, even though Ye Xiuwen liked the occasional drink every now and then, he was never too certain or confident of his ability to hold his liquor. Therefore, if he had been his usual self, he would never have reciprocated the second prince’s challenge. Instead, he would have employed more circuitous methods to reject the second prince’s request.
Right now, Ye Xiuwen felt extremely tense and confused. It was as though he were walking on a tightrope amidst a fog, unable to tell whether he was walking within a peach garden or perched high above a bottomless abyss.
Ye Xiuwen sighed to himself in exasperation as he sheathed his sword.
It seems like I won’t be able to calm my heart and focus on my sword arts today. Perhaps I should take this time to sort out my thoughts instead.
On the other side, after Jun Xiaomo had time and again ascertained that the person who had come knocking on her door had vanished without a trace, she puffed up her cheeks in bewilderment before she once again closed the door and secured the door with a latch.
The first prince was still lying there on the bed, and he had not awakened from his slumber yet. Jun Xiaomo thought for a moment, before she decided that she might as well remove the first prince’s shoes and shift him to the side of the bed closer to the wall. Then, she folded the blanket and made sure that the bed looked completely normal. Once all that was done, she patted her hands in satisfaction.
Jun Xiaomo had tempered her Invisibility Talisman slightly such that she would be able to see the first prince even though nobody else could. This way, she could remain guarded against the first prince and ensure that he would not sneak up on her under the cover of her own Invisibility Talisman.
This was a self-preserving measure.
Jun Xiaomo swept her gaze across the room and sized up the chaos amidst the sawdust. She rubbed her temples as she felt the onset of a headache – there was no time to go out and buy new furniture to replace the damaged ones in the room, and she had no choice but to conceal the damage with a formation array.
Fortunately, time was on her side. It was still early in the morning, and Jun Xiaomo was confident that she would be able to prepare the formation array before any of the other disciples woke up. Once she made up her mind, she began to pick out the appropriate formation array to lay in the circumstances…
Approximately one hour later, Jun Xiaomo set up both a Trickeye Array and a Memory Alteration Array in the room. Of the two, she intentionally maintained her Memory Alteration Array in a dormant state. Jun Xiaomo had set up this formation array only as a precautionary measure, so that she could activate it immediately if someone entered her room and saw something he should not have seen.
However, the Memory Alteration Array could only be used once, so Jun Xiaomo also had to be careful about when exactly she decided to use it.
“Ah! That’s right! I thought I’d forgotten something! Now’s the time when I should be practicing my sword arts with martial brother Ye. Yet I’m still here in my room…Eh, hang on. Could the person who had knocked on my door earlier be martial brother Ye?”
Jun Xiaomo had finally remembered her longstanding tacit arrangement with Ye Xiuwen. But it had already been some time since Ye Xiuwen had knocked on her door. Even if she ran out in search for Ye Xiuwen right now, he might already have concluded his practice for the day.
“I can’t believe it! How can martial brother Ye be so gentle even when he’s knocking the door?” Jun Xiaomo muttered under her breath in exasperation. Yet she could never have guessed that Ye Xiuwen had been so distressed with his own thoughts that it was becoming difficult for him to face Yao Mo right now.
Even if she weren’t able to practice her sword arts with her martial brother Ye, she still had to have her breakfast. Jun Xiaomo reckoned that Ye Xiuwen must have returned from his sword practice by now. Therefore, she stepped out of her room and locked the door before walking downstairs leisurely.
As expected, when she arrived at the ground floor, she immediately noticed Ye Xiuwen seated at a table and sipping away at a cup of tea in his hands. There were even several dishes of food laid out neatly before him.
“Brother Ye! You’re back from your practice!” Jun Xiaomo immediately skipped over to Ye Xiuwen and took a seat beside him as she had always done before.
Sensing the young man’s presence, Ye Xiuwen’s hand which was holding his cup paused for a moment, and his eyes quivered slightly with a complicated gaze.
However, all of this was obscured by Ye Xiuwen’s veiled conical hat, and Jun Xiaomo didn’t notice anything amiss.
“Little Mo.” Ye Xiuwen called out softly.
“Mm?” Jun Xiaomo lifted her head and looked towards Ye Xiuwen. She gazed at Ye Xiuwen with eyes filled with trust and reliance.
Ye Xiuwen’s heart skipped a beat, and he involuntarily broke eye contact and shifted his gaze elsewhere. Then, he stated plainly to Jun Xiaomo, “The others are not up yet, and there are many vacant seats around this table. Is there a need for you to sit so close to me?”
Jun Xiaomo was still completely oblivious to Ye Xiuwen’s peculiar behaviour. Rather, the first thing that she noticed from Ye Xiuwen’s remarks were that the table was empty.
She looked around at the table as she quipped curiously, “Eh? That’s right. Where did that bunch of fellas go? Are they all still sleeping and lazing about?”
Jun Xiaomo was the first one to have become intoxicated. Therefore, she was completely ignorant to the fact that the second prince had plied everyone else at the table with so much spirit wine that the only two people who managed to remain sober at the end of the meal was Ye Xiuwen and Qin Lingyu.
Ye Xiuwen remained silent. The series of events which had occurred last night had caused his emotions to be in a constant state of flux today. Right now, he was at a complete loss as to how he ought to continue interacting with Yao Mo.
At the very least, he found it difficult to continue treating Yao Mo as intimately he usually did without feeling perturbed.
Jun Xiaomo also noticed that Ye Xiuwen did not respond to her quips. A sense of uneasiness swelled up within her heart, and she began to feel the slight tension in the air.
It was as though she and her martial brother Ye had grown distant overnight.
Besides, the seating at this table is hardly narrow at all, and it can hardly be said that I’ve encroached on his personal space. Furthermore, martial brother Ye had never seemed perturbed whenever I had cozied up to him. We’ve even squeezed together in tighter spaces before! Why’s he so particularly nit-picky today?
The more Jun Xiaomo thought about it, the more aggrieved she felt. In the end, she decided to remain seated where she was, just beside Ye Xiuwen. Then, she retrieved a pair of chopsticks from beside her and delivered a small meatball into her mouth, before mumbling to Ye Xiuwen, “The others are going to come down sooner or later anyway. I think it might be better to remain seated beside brother Ye instead of having to shift about later on when the others show up. Furthermore, it’s rather chilly today – huddling up close can keep us warm too!”
Ye Xiuwen knew that there was no way he could out-argue Yao Mo’s sharp tongue. Therefore, he sighed lightly as he responded curtly, “…Then suit yourself…”
At this moment, Jun Xiaomo felt as though her heart had been pricked by something. It wasn’t a sharp pain, but it wasn’t a pain that she could ignore either. This dull pain was extremely visceral, and it seemed to slowly meander through her blood vessels and enter her meridians. It even caused the food she placed into her mouth to taste completely bland.
What’s going on with martial brother? Jun Xiaomo lowered her head, as a trace of uneasiness and disappointment flashed across her eyes.
After some time, the other disciples from Dawn Sect started trickling down one by one. Some of them yawned loudly, while the others rubbed their foreheads. It was evident that several disciples were still unable to rouse from their drunken stupor even after one night’s rest.
Right now, an invisible wall seemed to have developed between Yao Mo and Ye Xiuwen. Ordinarily, Yao Mo would be sticking close to Ye Xiuwen and chatting non-stop. However, Yao Mo merely ate his food silently, while Ye Xiuwen did nothing to break the silence either.
That said, most of the disciples weren’t very observant of these little details to begin with. Furthermore, several disciples were still in a state of half-drunken stupor, and none of them could be bothered to concern themselves with the atmosphere between Ye Xiuwen and Yao Mo at this instant.
Of all the disciples present, the only one who noticed something amiss was none other than Qin Lingyu. After all, he had been trying to figure out a way to separate Yao Mo and Ye Xiuwen so that he could deal with them one at a time. Unexpectedly, a rift seemed to have developed between them overnight without any action on his part!
This was a fortuitous thing for him – at the very least, it would save him some time and effort to achieve the first step of his plan.
A meaningful look flashed across Qin Lingyu’s eyes, and a discreet, wicket smile crept up the corner of his lips.
The silent atmosphere enshrouding Jun Xiaomo and Ye Xiuwen continued throughout the rest of their breakfast. Towards the end of their meal, the second prince Rong Yebin suddenly showed up in the great hall of their inn with his entourage of troops. Immediately, Rong Yebin’s gaze landed on the young man who still had his head lowered slightly as he ate. Then, he flicked open his fan and fanned himself as he remarked, “Little Mo, I hope you didn’t feel light-headed or sick when you woke up from your drunken stupor this morning, hmm?”
Jun Xiaomo found herself truly helpless against how Rong Yebin seemed to enjoy teasing her from time to time. She lifted her head and returned Rong Yebin’s gaze as she sought to placate him with a simple response, “Thank you for your concern, second prince, but I’m feeling rather spirited today.”
“That’s good then. However, I think that Little Mo needs to work on his capacity to hold his liquor. After all, you got drunk way too easily last night! If you have the time, this second prince would like to invite you to have a taste of the palace’s most treasured aged spirit wines with him. What do you think?”
The second prince’s smile was filled with ulterior motives. However, Jun Xiaomo could hardly be bothered to decipher the hidden intentions behind the second prince’s impassioned, coquettish gaze. Therefore, she placated the second prince with yet another curt response, “Alright. Thanks, second prince.”
The second prince’s smile grew. He did not mind Yao Mo’s blunt coldness at all.
Besides, the colder his prey was, the more challenging and exciting it was to the second prince.
At this moment, Ye Xiuwen’s hand which was holding his teacup tightened involuntarily. The cup clinked softly, and several cracks immediately appeared on the inner walls of the teacup…Previous Chapter Next Chapter