The capital welcomed the first snowfall of the winter.
The snowflakes started small and gradually grew in intensity, covering palaces and humble huts alike. The world became a blend of everything.
In the outer city, Xie Hongchen walked along the streets; despite the weather, vendors still set up their stalls. His attire was eye-catching, and his demeanor was ethereal and detached, attracting the quiet attention of countless passersby.
He stopped by a small stall, and the vendor enthusiastically asked, “Esteemed immortal, do you like these plum blossoms?”
On the stall, there were many branches of plum blossoms.
“Immortal, please buy one! This plum blossom is called Nian Jun’an, and it has a remarkable origin!” The vendor continued. Xie Hongchen had already taken out silver coins and purchased a branch of Nian Jun’an plum blossom.
The plum blossom branch was originally in bud, but as soon as the snowflakes covered it, all the flowers bloomed. The branches were full of fiery red blossoms that were exquisitely beautiful. Xie Hongchen held the plum blossom branch in his hand, and in reality, this flower did not quite match him. His clothes were too plain, and his bearing was otherworldly. The flower, on the other hand, was too vibrant, akin to a trace of worldly desires found within sacred scriptures.
Meanwhile, at the Celestial Court,
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But it was not suitable to force him to stay now; Xie Hongchen was not a man who easily changed his mind.
So, on the day of their parting, she plucks a branch of plum blossom to give to him as a farewell gift.
This plum blossom was personally cultivated by her, and it bloomed when the snow fell. Her original intention was that, since there are few flowers in winter, she wanted to create a good gimmick to entice noble ladies and young ladies to be willing to buy at a high price.
And at this moment, in order for this man to remember her whenever he sees the flower, she casually gave it a name and said, “Hongchen, I don’t know if we will have a chance to meet again after your departure. This flower blooms when it sees the snow, so I named it ‘Nian Jun’an.’ From now on, no matter the ends of the earth, in every morning and evening, when the flowers bloom, think of Jun’an.”
He accepted the flower and, as promised, brought that branch of plum blossom to marry her during the first snowfall. However, on that day, there wasn’t much tenderness in his expression.
– He knew what he wanted, and he knew what Huang Rang wanted.
Huang Rang wanted the position and honor of being the sect leader’s wife, and he granted it to her. And he was infatuated with her captivating charm, and Huang Rang was not stingy either, like it was the first day after a hundred years.
How ridiculous it was that later on, men and women in the world actually liked using this flower as a symbol of love.
Huang Rang stared blankly at the tree full of red plum blossoms, and Di Yiqiu stood under the tree, keeping her company to appreciate the flowers.
On this day, the snow in the capital was as heavy as a mat. He held an umbrella, but the accumulated snow covered half of his shoulder.
Suddenly, someone rushed over and, upon seeing Di Yiqiu, hurriedly said, “Chief, His Majesty summons you and wants you to enter the palace immediately.”
Enter the palace? Huang Rang’s heart skipped a beat.
Di Yiqiu, however, remained unconcerned and said, “Wait a moment, let me change my clothes.”
The attendant said, “Chief, His Majesty’s summons is urgent. You should…”
Only then did Di Yiqiu look at him and say gently, “Why? Lord Fu, is it inconvenient for you to wait for this official?”
The eunuch suddenly realized this and quickly bowed, saying, “This servant will respectfully wait for the chief here.”
Di Yiqiu nodded and then tidied up the stray hairs by Huang Rang’s temples, saying, “You go back to the room first.”
Alright. Huang Rang knew that it was inconvenient for him to take her with him, and she didn’t want to meet this emperor who asked about the longevity pill. So she silently agreed.
Di Yiqiu pushed her into the bedroom, still undressed, and carefully lit the candles, placing a warming basin near the bed. Then he closed the door and went out.
Huang Rang watched his figure and couldn’t help but feel somewhat worried.
– In just a few days of being together, she seemed to have started relying on this man. Upon closer thought, it was because she truly had no other support.
Huang Rang sighed inwardly.
The Imperial Palace, Yuanrong Tower.
The current emperor, Shi Wenyu, secluded himself here for cultivation.
There were guards on all eight sides of the tower’s jade steps. Di Yiqiu ascended the steps and entered the tower. The walls inside the tower were adorned with different layers of murals. Some depicted Shi Wenyu leading troops in battle, while others showed various immortals refining pills, reciting scriptures, and ascending immortality.
Di Yiqiu went straight up to the ninth floor, where Shi Wenyu usually rested.
He knelt outside the pearl curtain, waiting for the summons. The temperature inside the tower was too high for him, making him sweat uncomfortably.
Inside the curtain, Shi Wenyu lit an incense burner and gently waved away the smoke with his hand, saying, “Come in.”
Only then did Di Yiqiu step inside. Shi Wenyu turned around, his long hair loose, his tall and slim figure, and a thin and clean face. He wore a black and white Daoist robe, presenting an appearance untainted by worldly affairs. From this perspective, he seemed to be in his thirties, not showing signs of aging. However, his eyes were clouded, with a somber and melancholic gaze.
Although time had not taken his life, it had left indelible traces.
Di Yiqiu knelt down again and bowed to him, saying, “Your Majesty.”
Shi Wenyu did not let him rise but simply said, “I heard you obtained a delicate and precious item recently. If you love it like a treasure, why didn’t you bring it for me to see?”
A slight movement stirred in Di Yiqiu’s heart, but he did not show it on his face and only replied, “It’s just a plaything. How would I dare bring it before Your Majesty and diminish the sacred audience?”
Shi Wenyu chuckled lightly and said, “You still can’t let go of that woman. You’ve never been able to see beyond her since you were a child.”
Di Yiqiu touched his forehead to the ground and said, “This humble servant is foolish.”
“Some things, if not obtained, will be remembered incessantly. But once they are truly in your grasp, they become as insignificant as grass and leaves.” He watched as the incense burned and said, “How is the preparation for the longevity pill?”
Di Yiqiu replied, “To report to Your Majesty, the pill is almost complete and will be presented on time.”
Shi Wenyu nodded in satisfaction, seemingly pleased. Then he suddenly said, “Old Fifth has been feeling suffocated in the tower recently, so I asked him to come and find you. Considering your brotherly relationship, you can have a heart-to-heart talk. When you see him, make sure to have a good conversation with him.”
By intentionally mentioning Di Yiqiu’s recent beloved possession, Shi Wenyu demonstrated his knowledge of the affairs of the Celestial Court. Only then did he bring up the fifth brother. Although the fifth brother hadn’t left Yuanrong Tower for a long time, he knew everything about each department.
Perhaps he already knew about fifth brother’s death as well.
Di Yiqiu lowered his head and said, “The old fifth’s temperament is not inclined to have heartfelt conversations with me.”
Indeed, not a single drop leaked out. Shi Wenyu couldn’t discern anything from his face and continued, “Although he has a headstrong nature, you should be more tolerant. After all, he is your blood brother.”
Di Yiqiu respectfully agreed.
Shi Wenyu then said, “Perhaps it’s the cold weather, but lately I’ve been feeling physically fatigued.”
Di Yiqiu understood and replied, “The longevity pill has not yet taken shape, and Your Majesty’s dragon body is having difficulty adapting to the harsh winter. It may be better to temporarily relieve fatigue with my blood.”
Shi Wenyu nodded and said, “Very well. I have countless children, but your blood is the purest.”
Di Yi Qiu touched his forehead to the ground and said, “This humble servant will go and fetch the blood.”
Shi Wenyu sniffed the smoke in the censer, and Di Yiqiu knew what it was—a fragrance made from spirit herb.
Over a hundred years ago, he visited Xiancha Town and discovered that Huang Rang specialized in cultivating spirit herbs. She used this herb to roll cigarettes for her father, Huang Shu. As the herb was addictive, she used the Mind-Awakening Pill to counteract its toxicity. Huang Shu was particularly fond of it.
Di Yi Qiu found a way to make Shi Wenyu discover it. Being suspicious by nature, Shi Wenyu naturally uncovered the drawbacks of this grass. However, even after Shi Wenyu had smoked it, he couldn’t resist the temptation.
Being cautious, Di Yiqiu also took the Mind-Awakening Pill to counteract the effects of the immortal grass.
The remarkable thing about this grass was that after inhaling it, one would immediately enter a state of bliss, where desires and hopes would all come true. Such a thing, known to have a price, was still difficult for some people to let go of.
As expected, after Shi Wenyu inhaled the fragrance, his consciousness gradually weakened. He waved his hand and said, “Go.”
Di Yiqiu arrived at the foot of Yuanrong Tower, only to discover a completely different world beneath it.
It was no longer adorned with exquisite murals, and dim candlelight faintly revealed several prison cells.
The people in the prison cells were bound by iron chains, only able to move within a yard’s distance. Upon hearing the sound, they rushed to the front of their cells, disheveled and filthy, barely resembling human beings. What was even more terrifying was that their bodies were covered in dense and irregular snake scales. The scales grew haphazardly on their bodies, instilling fear in anyone who looked at them.
“Let me out! Let me out!” They desperately shook the prison doors, shouting incoherently.
One of the palace attendants lit a lamp, causing them to immediately cover their eyes and retreat to the corner. It seemed that they couldn’t tolerate such light.
The attendant respectfully handed over a silver knife and brought a golden bowl.
Di Yiqiu took the knife and made a cut on his wrist. Blood gushed out and gradually converged into a bright red pool in the bowl. The attendant stared at the bowl until it was filled with half of the blood. Finally, he took out a piece of medicinal gauze and said, “That’s enough. The servant will prepare the medicine for the prisoners.”
Di Yiqiu pressed down on the wound and said, “No need.” He wrapped the wound himself, and the attendant escorted him out.
As he was about to leave, he turned back. In this sunless prison, pairs of eyes stared at him intently.
Those imprisoned here were his brothers and sisters. As princes and princesses, they should have enjoyed a luxurious and privileged life. But now they were imprisoned here, neither humans nor ghosts.
“chief? Let’s go,” the attendant urged cautiously.
Di Yiqiu stepped out of the dungeon and returned to the first floor of Yuanrong Tower. It felt like he had emerged from hell back into the human world.
He slowly exited the tower, but it felt like something was still observing and following him from behind.
Di Yiqiu had always been resolute in character, but at this moment, he had the impulse to turn back.
It was probably the influence of the fragrance’s medicinal properties.
Shi Wen Yu only knew it was the spirit herb, but he didn’t know that there was another kind of herb, a variant of the spirit herb. It looked and smelled exactly the same, so whenever they made incense, they would add one or two stalks of it without anyone noticing.
Black Tortoise Bureau
Huang Rang lay on the bed, silently waiting. She reflected on her life and found it laughable. Since marrying into the Yuhu Immortal Sect, she has spent a hundred years waiting for Xie Hongchen. Later, she was imprisoned in a secret chamber within the mountain and spent ten years waiting for her escape.
Now, she began waiting for Di Yiqiu.
Amidst the wind and snow, she heard the sound of footsteps that were extremely familiar.
Huang Rang wished she could sit up in surprise.
The door creaked open, and before the person entered, the wind and snow had already filled the room.
Di Yiqiu closed the door behind him, seemingly extremely weary. He simply took off his clothes and shoes and went straight to bed. Huang Rang waited for a while, but seeing that he had no intention of paying her any attention, she felt greatly disappointed.
However, after a while, she suddenly felt the quilt trembling slightly. Huang Rang didn’t understand why, but she glanced over, and in the dim candlelight, she saw Di Yiqiu shivering.
Was he crying?
Huang Rang was shocked and immediately had many thoughts.
He went to see his father, and after returning, he hid in the quilt and cried. What kind of despicable thing did his father do?
Huang Rang was not an ignorant girl; she knew that all kinds of people existed in this world… those who had maternal or paternal love. Could it be that Shi Wen Yu… loved him in a different way than a father is supposed to love his son?
Then him… Di Yiqiu… dear heavens!
Huang Rang’s thoughts gradually became unhealthy. It wasn’t until Di Yiqiu turned over and embraced her that she realized he was cold. His fingertips on her neck felt like ice. The chill could be sensed through his entire body, even through his clothes.
But Di Yiqiu soon let go of her.
He got up, dressed himself, and tucked Huang Rang under the covers. Huang Rang not only saw the bandaged wound on his wrist but also noticed his pale face. His voice was filled with weariness as he said, “I will sleep in the study.”
After speaking, he took a light fur coat and left, closing the door behind him.
At that moment, Huang Rang wanted to keep him by her side. Unfortunately, she, as she was now, was like a musical instrument or a tree, ultimately just an inanimate object.
In the cold wind and snow of the mortal world, who could truly warm each other?
T/N: Di Yiqiu’s official position in the imperial court is chief of the celestial court, and his subordinates address him as master. Both Li Lu and Bao Wu are his aides.