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Dream of the Wutong Trees

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“What kind of person would bury their elder brother with their nemesis, and give them some so-called 'coffin-sealing ceremony'?” – the common people said of Nie Huaisang, 100 years later.

The long, slow nights of the Unclean Realm, were now a kind of torment for Nie Huaisang.

When da-ge had just passed, all their sheets of white cotton lined the mottled wutong in the courtyard, and da-ge's smell and presence lingered in the air of Demon Suppression Hall; now that he and Jin Guangyao had been sent to the same grave, that person's features and former presence also lingered.

Da-ge's strict admonitions, san-ge's gracious encouragement; in the end it was the guidance and support of these two that allowed him to truly become the leader of the Qinghe Nie.

The past twisted its way around Nie Huaisang's mind, like the unending sound of rain falling on the branches of the wutong in the courtyard, droplets following the trunk to drip down to where the roots entered the ground.

Back then when the incense sticks and white lanterns had blazed up the sky, illuminating all of the Unclean Realm, when mournful wailing had filled the whole fortress, Nie Huaisang seemed to have seen Jin Guangyao's face covered with the marks of his tears.

That face: maybe it was reality, maybe the lingering of a fantasy from a dream; Nie Huaisang could not distinguish clearly. Dimly, he seemed to return to the coffin-sealing ceremony, then he had seemed to see the figures of his two brothers.

And how could he not recognize them, only a few days prior he had quietly cremated Jin Guangyao's hat in front of da-ge's bier. Then an illusion had appeared, Demon Suppression Hall looked just as it had been thirteen years earlier, and his two elder brothers sat opposite as the qin played, a scene in which both sides were still and quiet.

He blinked, and finished reading the prayers, and when the rites were completed he did not see the two shadows—one golden, one inky black—in the crowd again.
He slowly descended the platform, instructing the cultivators to watch the boundary stone more closely. And he heard distantly a voice from the crowd quietly comment, “What normal person would bury his elder brother together with his nemesis like husband and wife? Even if you have to bury them in one spot, what is there to celebrate, that you would hold some big ceremony? Calling it some coffin-sealing ceremony, could it be he wants to seal away his elder brother as well?”

“Anyway it's not a sealing, it's just a burial. It's just that this ceremony is too strange, you say it's coffin-sealing, and you want to hold a service, you don't say it's giving offerings and you don't say it's reciting prayers, you do both, isn't that like a celebration?” The sound receded, but the person continued, talking to themselves.

“Now since Chifeng-zun was able to strangle his foe who killed him, I'm afraid that after burying them together Jin Guangyao won't even have bones left. After destroying the body of his nemesis, maybe Chifeng-zun's resentful energy will finally dissipate?”

Suddenly another questioned: “In life Chifeng-zun could not defeat that person, in death with only brute force to rely on, can he defeat him?”

“Defeat him or not, now all he can do is fight on.” Someone sighed, like a conclusion.

Nie Huaisang sneered inwardly, he silently withdrew the spirit money from his sleeve, cremating it with the letters. Gazing into the blaze hot enough to sear his eyes, he murmured: “San-ge, in the end you failed da-ge.”

“Da-ge, I'm giving him to you, you can let go of your obsession.”

He stared at the raging flame devouring the yellow paper and the black marks, and it vaguely seemed like a repetition of a scene from thirteen years earlier, when he had heard a soft voice by his ear, choking back its tears to say: “Huaisang, don't cry, you still have san-ge.”

In the end the past was dust and old dreams were destroyed, now all that was left was the earthly consequences.

What san-ge owed da-ge had been repaid, but what he owed san-ge, Nie Huaisang would never be able to repay in his whole lifetime.

He stood and lit two candles, hearing the clear whistle of the west wind sweeping the window lattice; accompanying the the drip of the water clock and the splash of the rain on the steps.

The sound was cacophonous; but as fate rolled in layers like a scroll, although every single thing was different, but the season was still almost the same. He seemingly could still cling on that sturdy yet warm back, and hear that strong voice say, “Huaisang, don't be afraid, da-ge is here,” and he also seemingly could clutch that thin and slightly cool arm, and hear that soft voice say, “Huaisang, don't panic, san-ge will help you.”

“The Sect Leader is not sleeping well?” Came the sound of a cultivator guarding the outside.

He slowly roused himself, and finally returned to earth. “...Have the wutong in the courtyard ever been soaked?”

The cultivator replied, puzzled: “All the plants in the courtyard have been soaked by the rain, how could the wutong not?”

Nie Huaisang smiled, and did not reply.

Now the love-hate deadlock had been shattered by him. Outside the curtain the murmur of the autumn rain obstructed the otherwise round and clear moon. The ponding of the water in the courtyard, he blankly recalled he reflection of the stars in the river from some earlier year—with da-ge, or maybe with san-ge, they had ridden here in a boat on a moonlit night, together appreciating the stars and moon in the water. Now the reflection on the water seemingly in an instant rippled up with waves, and also seemingly instantaneously gathered layers of fog, pushing that time thirteen years ago farther and farther away, like the as far away as the moonlight had been back then.

He sat, watching the mottled flickering light of two candles. He waited until they finally burned out together, and only he was left in the empty hall, guarding the wutong in the courtyard. The rain still saturated everything, continuously dripping until the break of dawn.