Ancestral Hall, Su Manor
Ten rounds later and Nan Wuyue was starting to tire. Ting’er sensed it as well, because she only let him run loose a little longer before thrashing him to the ground and pinning him still with her vines. A well-embroidered shoe came to rest on his head before she bent down with a whisper.
“You’re not human, are you?”
Nan Wuyue only glared in her direction in the dark. “Stop spewing nonsense.”
“Stop lying, then,” Ting’er shot back. “Your blood tastes different. And the strange qi tendril you left behind on that sword—it has a hint of demonic energy hiding in its strands. Am I wrong?”
Nan Wuyue only grit his teeth even as his heart gave a jolt. She could even sense something so subtle? It was true, the shadowy component of his qi was an element of his previous self, flickering core and all, but he hadn’t sensed any demonic energy in it!
“Like attracts like,” Ting’er went on. “Your qi, it sings to me and others who cultivate in a demonic way. You should be strong, but...you’re ridiculously weak for what you are.”
“What do you think I am?” Nan Wuyue challenged. The flower Yao might have him pinned, but he was still gripping his weapon. If he could distract her long enough to get the blade free, he could manage a counterattack.
“It’s too faint for me to tell,” Ting’er admitted. “I wonder, should I keep you as a captive until your true self manifests? Or should I cut you to pieces now as nutrients for my roots? Ah, I suppose you’d even make a fine gift for my master…”
“You’re pretty bloodthirsty for a weed,” Nan Wuyue shot back.
“Pretty, yes. Bloodthirsty?” Ting’er clicked her tongue. “Food is food.”
She reached down to comb through his hair, playing with the end of his ponytail until Nan Wuyue spat out, “Why are you working with the foxes?”
The statues were a dead giveaway: the Fox Clan had to be active again.
“Don’t you know how badly the Yao suffered after the Three Realms War?” Ting’er chided. “We’re so outnumbered now, even a group of humans can bully us if they wish. Heaven knows the Middle and Demon Realms are all too happy to help. Of course it’s for survival!”
“Then what does the Fox King want you to accomplish?” Nan Wuyue asked next. “Are you going to make us all disappear before he re-establishes the Fox Clan?”
“You know about the Fox King?” Ting’er grew amused. “Not bad. I thought we’d hid our tracks for years.”
A little further and his sword would be free. Nan Wuyue struggled some more to mask his movements, making sure his neck was craned back enough to meet the sound of Ting’er’s voice. “Is that why the Su Clan called Su Shimeng back? He’s part of the clan too, and Su Shiyu needed his brother to revive it together?”
“Su Shiyu?” Ting’er echoed.
“Your master,” Nan Wuyue insisted. “The Fox King.”
“The Fox King...my master…” Ting’er grew amused. “Why didn’t you ask if it was Su Shimeng?”
A jolt went through Nan Wuyue’s head. Of course, that’s possible too. “So? Is it him?”
But Ting’er only laughed. “How could it be Su Shimeng? Su Shimeng is—haha, nothing!”
That was all Nan Wuyue needed to hear. While she lost herself in mirth, he finally freed his blade and struck out in an arc, aiming straight for her side! The sharp metal instantly met soft flesh and connected with a fleshy squick—at once, Nan Wuyue recognized that he’d slashed a vine again, not Ting’er’s human shell.
As expected, by the time he got to his feet, the girl had reappeared on the opposite end of the dome, spinning on tiptoe as her skirts flared around her. It was far too easy for her to exchange bodies with her vines in this enclosed space.
“This is the third time you’ve tried to snipe me,” she laughed at him. “You’re really bad at this!”
A thrum of energy coursed through Nan Wuyue’s arm; he channeled it through and out of his fingers in a final discharge of small, dark sparks. Usually, he and his master fought once a week to deal with his excess of qi; their spars had decreased as Nan Wuyue’s cultivation improved and he hadn’t fought once this week because he was looking for a good chance to use up his stores against his enemies.
Who knew a single plant Yao could clear him out so quickly?
“I was only warming up,” he said as he swung his blade experimentally. With his excess qi exhausted, it was easier now to move and breathe. He could also aim more precisely than before instead of just powerful yet clumsy strikes. When he lashed out with another blast of sword qi, Ting’er only giggled and dodged—but this time, she was half a step late. The edge of the strike tore through her sleeve and left the fabric in tatters.
“Oh.” She blinked at her ruined outfit, leaving her flank undefended.
Nan Wuyue closed the distance between them in an instant, sword raised to strike—but it turned out to be a feint when two thick vines slammed into him from a blind spot and knocked him backwards. This time Nan Wuyue crashed straight into the table with Su Yan’er’s offerings, sending the ebony box shattering on the ground. It broke into two halves and spilled out the bloodstained handkerchief onto the flagstones.
Inner Courtyard Hall, Su Manor
As if a switch had been flipped, Su Shiyu fell silent and stared at the ground after Bai Tingyao’s words.
“Big sis...” Su Shimeng was clearly taken aback by her tone. When had his sister-in-law ever sounded so frigid?
Bai Tingyao rose from her seat, her hands folded demurely by her side. “Mengmeng, instead of asking us all these questions, why don’t you tell us what you’ve found out instead?”
Su Shimeng blinked rapidly. “I...you think I found something, sis?”
“Why else would you start asking us about your birth all of a sudden?” Bai Tingyao pointed out.
“No but—but wait,” Su Shimeng shook his head. “That’s not right. Big sis, shouldn’t you be denying it? There’s nothing wrong with it anyways, right? I mean, you said so yourself—”
“Mengmeng.” Bai Tingyao cut him off. Her voice was gentle, but her words were harsh. “If there really was nothing wrong, then why would Su Shiyu and I both be telling the truth with completely different answers?”
“I…” Su Shimeng wavered.
“You asked them the wrong questions.” Mo Yixuan spoke up suddenly.
He’d been puzzling over the answers while the Su siblings talked, but it was Bai Tingyao’s words that finally caught his attention. While the man in question was still sitting with his head bowed, both Bai Tingyao and Su Shimeng had looked over—one with interest, the other in confusion.
“Your three questions actually have nothing to do with each other,” Mo Yixuan went on, “But you asked them in an order that implies they’re connected. Sir Su, you said that Old Madam Su was the one who gave Su Shimeng his current name?”
Su Shiyu ignored him, but Su Shimeng stepped in. “I’ve heard that from Mother herself, it’s true.”
Mo Yixuan’s gaze lingered on the unresponsive Su Clan Head for a moment before turning back. “But according to what we know, you didn’t change your name until you were three,” he went on. “Who was ‘Su Shimeng’ before that?”
Su Shimeng’s forehead creased. “No one.”
Mo Yixuan shook his head. “No, it could’ve been one other person.”
The perplexion in Su Shimeng’s eyes slowly turned into realization. “You don’t mean…”
“It was a girl’s name to begin with,” Mo Yixuan intoned.
Su Shimeng’s expression blanched. The next second, he had retrieved his veil-wrapped bundle from his storage ring and set it on the ground.
“Mengmeng, what is this?” Bai Tingyao asked carefully. When she tried to approach, Su Shimeng stuck out an arm to block her.
“Sis, don’t get too close.”
“They’re human bones,” Mo Yixuan went on. “We uncovered them while investigating the deaths of some victims today. One described seeing a ghostly child in the place where we found them—possibly a baby girl.”
“But these could belong to anyone,” Bai Tingyao pointed out calmly. “Are you saying they have a connection to the Su Clan?”
“Sis, there was a bracelet just like mother’s with the remains,” Su Shimeng took out the silver bracelet and showed it to his sister. “Once is coincidence, but twice? This was even in the same mines where big bro got my protective jade—the one he only found with the Jade Ghost’s help! Are you sure my mother only had one child? That this wasn’t my sister’s ghost guiding him to her resting place?!”
Perhaps his voice was too loud, because Su Shiyu actually stirred and looked up blearily. “If she’s Su Yan’er’s issue, then she has no relation to you.”
Su Shimeng sprang to his feet and rushed at his brother. “So you do know something!” The floating scales drifted out of the way as he grabbed Su Shiyu by the collar. “Tell us!”
Su Shiyu’s eyes were unfocused as he swept his gaze between Su Shimeng and the bundle of bones on the ground. Sweat glistened on his brow as he grimaced and broke free. “I already did.”
“Is Su Yan’er the mother of me, Su Shimeng?” Mo Yixuan recited out loud. “Lady Bai said yes because you were ‘Su Shimeng’ from the time you turned three. But if Sir Su was thinking of the original ‘Su Shimeng,’—then he’s still telling the truth by answering no.”
Su Shimeng paled but didn’t back down. “They both said yes to the second question,” he argued.
Did Su Yan’er give birth to Su Shimeng?
“You never said whether that ‘Su Shimeng’ referred to yourself,” Mo Yixuan pointed out. “If Su Yan’er had originally named her daughter ‘Su Shimeng’—”
Su Shimeng felt a chill run down his back. He remembered that his mother used to call him Ah-Meng when he was a child. But later on, when the Jade Ghost’s visits became more frequent, she would call him Meng’er too. What if…
What if she hadn’t been calling for him, but her?
He shook his head furiously. “My sister confirmed I was my mother’s only child,” he protested weakly.
“She did,” Mo Yixuan acknowledged. “But what does that actually prove? That you have a mother, not that Su Yan’er is the parent. When Sir Su said that Su Yan’er’s issue has no relation with you…” he broke off, gaze complicated.
“Keep going,” Su Shimeng’s expression was strained. “Say it in a way that I can understand.”
Mo Yixuan was sure he already knew but just didn’t want to accept it. With a sigh, he went on. “Lady Bai might have known your mother, but Su Shiyu doesn’t. Maybe he never did. Somewhere along the way, the Su Clan’s youngest lady became its youngest master, meaning that you—”
“—were never Su Yan’er’s son, or a member of the Su Clan,” Bai Tingyao cut in as she raised her voice. “I’m sorry, Mengmeng.”
Mo Yixuan looked at her silently. Although he suspected that Bai Tingyao knew something, he never expected her to admit it outright. That was...surprising.
“H-hold on a minute,” Su Shimeng looked at them like they’d all gone insane. He tugged off the black cloth covering his face and took deep breaths, voice disbelieving. “No, that’s—you’re joking, right? Both of you.” A short, stifled laugh escaped his throat.“We’re supposed to be tracking down the ghost and why those people died—”
There was a flurry of footsteps. Bai Tingyao strode forward and took Su Shimeng’s place before Su Shiyu. Equanimity was still connected to his heart as it hovered quietly in the air.
“Su Shiyu, did Su Yan’er give birth to only one child, a girl?” she interrogated her husband.
Su Shiyu narrowed his eyes at her but managed to speak. “...yes.”
“Did Su Yan’er trade away her newborn daughter for a son?”
“Who told you this?”
“Su Yan’er herself. But I found out on the side.”
“Is that the truth?”
“A truth you kept from Mengmeng for nearly two decades?”
Throughout it all, the scale didn’t budge an inch.
“S-stop. Enough!” Su Shimeng grabbed his sister by the arm, but his eyes were on Su Shiyu. “You—why are you answering all her questions?!”
Su Shiyu only averted his gaze. In return, Bai Tingyao took Su Shimeng’s wrist and gave it a squeeze. “He can’t help it,” she murmured, “His guilt is too great. After all these years…”
Mo Yixuan only observed the scene wordlessly. Although the bombshell had dropped out of nowhere, some things still didn’t click. And Su Shiyu was looking worse by the minute, his complexion paling as he bent forward to cough. The movement revealed more of his hair, which had now turned completely white.
“...!” Mo Yixuan glanced at Su Shimeng, but the other was only staring wide-eyed at his sister.
Su Shimeng jerked himself loose from Bai Tingyao’s grasp, still in denial. “This...this isn’t real. I’m not, I still—as the second son of the Su Clan, I’m...”
“Do you know why Su Yan’er was plagued by all those rumors after Su Pinglu died?” Bai Tingyao shook her head. “The townspeople said she poisoned her mistress to climb into her master’s bed, then murdered her husband as soon as she bore his child, but failed to kill Su Shiyu too…”
“Big sis,” Su Shimeng hissed, his voice full of hurt. Even Mo Yixuan wrinkled his brows at the unnecessarily blunt descriptions. It wasn’t in Bai Tingyao’s nature to be so tactless against her own husband or brother-in-law.
But Lady Bai seemed possessed with a vengeance as she went on. “As it turns out, those rumors didn’t come from thin air. It was Su Shiyu who spread them in the first place! When he found out what Su Yan’er did with her daughter and you, well—he needed something to keep her under control. Su Yan’er had always been timid, so it was easy enough to suppress her with public opinion alone. She never rebelled again a day in her life…”
Bai Tingyao turned towards him again, eyes feverishly bright. “Mengmeng, it’s about time you see Su Shiyu and the Su Clan for what they are: a pack of liars!”
Ancestral Hall, Su Manor
“Enough,” Ting’er breathed in the aftermath of her attack. “Time’s up, I’m ending this now.”
This time she knocked Nan Wuyue’s sword out of the way before gliding over on a wave of vines. One hand personally wrapped around his neck before her platform of plants rose towards the air, dragging the choking boy with her.
“Y-you can’t afford...to kill…” Nan Wuyue wheezed as he scrabbled at her hand uselessly. Yao had inhuman strength, to say nothing of one who cultivated in a demonic way. Still, eliminating cultivators here would inevitably arouse the wrath of their respective sects. Last time, it was only Iridescent Radiance Sect who was affected. But none of Mo Yixuan’s sect siblings at Star Pavilion would let this go.
“We’re not planning to let anyone find out,” Ting’er murmured back. “Don’t you know all sorts of deaths are common on the Ghost Festival? Even cultivators like you aren’t immune to the clutches of the Netherworld.”
Not good. Nan Wuyue was beginning to see spots in his vision. He cursed this body and its still weak cultivation, kicking uselessly at Ting’er hems as he fought for breath. Wasn’t it too pathetic to lose in a place like this? At the very least, he had sat at the top of the Demon Realm in his last life! But fate only seemed to mock him. As the lack of oxygen stifled his lungs, his world began to sway. When he was on the edge of losing consciousness, a chill wind blasted past his body.
At the same time, his throat opened up, allowing him to gulp a mouthful of fresh air before he crashed to the ground. The painful landing jolted his senses back to awakening, and his head whipped up to see Ting’er seemingly frozen mid-action, her mouth open in an angry scream. The hand that had choked Nan Wuyue was still outstretched, its fingers twitching as it clutched uselessly at air.
More eye-catching than that was the mass of black qi wrapped around the Yao and restraining her movements. The bone-piercing chill and sudden sharp, metallic tang in the air quickly had Nan Wuyue piecing the puzzle together.
The Jade Ghost!
She was expected to drop by for the Ghost Festival, and his master had instructed Bai Tingyao to set up this array to attract her specifically. Without a body, she could pass easily through Ting'er's vines. Although she couldn’t fight, all ghosts could possess the living! So now she was here to...help him?
Nan Wuyue didn’t waste time thinking. With Ting’er stuck, now was the best time to strike. He ran for his sword even as the plant Yao struggled to break free from her restraints.
“Let go!” Ting’er hissed. “You’re supposed to be following our orders!”
The cloud of black demonic qi around her instantly dissipated and floated into the air above her head. By the time Nan Wuyue grabbed his sword and started running back, two dark tendrils were forcing Ting’er’s mouth open as the rest of the inky mass poured down her throat. Her body jerked before the ghost’s face appeared briefly over her own: young and beautiful, but with its surface marred by angry red cracks from the overload of demonic energy. Still, the loss of control only lasted for a second. Before Ting’er could break free again, she was wrested back into standing still, her eyes glaring furious and helpless as Nan Wuyue drew closer.
Inside her body, a second set of eyes glanced at Nan Wuyue before sweeping over to the splintered remains of the ebony box and forgotten handkerchief on the ground.
Mama… the Jade Ghost mouthed the words soundlessly.
Channeling all the energy into his blade, Nan Wuyue leaped into the air and finally stabbed the imprisoned Ting’er twice: once in the chest, once in the skull. He finished off the blow by slicing her head clear off her body.
Better safe than sorry.
The Jade Ghost had released her hold as soon as Nan Wuyue attacked. Now the plant Yao’s decapitated body toppled backwards as it fell apart, dissolving into a stream of yellow petals. As soon as they touched the air, they withered and rotted away, soon crumbling into ashes on the wind. Around him, the vines plastered to the barrier fell apart in chunks that splattered on the ground and dissolved into green pools of goo that quickly dissolved into nothingness. Nan Wuyue wasn’t happy about his victory, however; the fact that Ting’er was defeated so easily in one attack could mean two things: 1) she had let him win on purpose and 2) she had escaped to a different body.
Nan Wuyue warily scanned his surroundings, paying special attention to any speck of plant life underfoot in case they turned into fresh vines again. When nothing came to attack him, he finally relaxed enough to focus on the other member of their little adventure.
The Jade Ghost had made her way to the wreckage of the ebony box and handkerchief, her body bent over the broken pieces as she tried in vain to cradle the fabric. Her body was riddled with angry red cracks and she looked paler than before, but she was smiling. Although she had left Ting’er’s body before the fatal strike, the effects of Nan Wuyue’s attack still caught her in its blows. It had eliminated much of the demonic energy nestled in her core, but as a result damaged much of her spirit form as well.
“Thank you,” Nan Wuyue tried as he warily approached.
The ghost immediately looked up with an impatient expression. “Mama!” she exclaimed, pointing at the remains on the ground.
“Your mother?” Nan Wuyue asked and watched as the girl nodded. As expected… “Why did you help me?”
“Mama,” the ghost girl said again, “Save mama! Mama hurt…”
Again she pointed at the box and handkerchief. Getting the hint, Nan Wuyue righted the table and replaced the broken box as best as he could. There was no glue on hand, so he had to settle for piecing the fragments back together before laying the folded handkerchief inside it. The Jade Ghost was so happy with his work that she flew two circles around him, giggling.
She doesn’t seem so dangerous like this…
“I need to go find my master,” Nan Wuyue said, “Thanks again for the help.”
But when he stepped out of the array, the ghost immediately followed after him, crying when the barrier blocked her way.
“We’ll be back before dawn,” Nan Wuyue promised as he turned back. With all the chaos breaking out tonight, it wasn’t wise to let one more spirit loose even if she had saved his life. “I’ll make sure you’re freed before the sun comes up.”
The ghost began to wail. Unmoved, Nan Wuyue simply covered his ears and started running towards the inner courtyard.
Overhead, the shroud of undead souls swirled in an ever thickening mass...
Single OTP (1x1) with NO love triangle (less drama more fluff) Votes: 17 28.3%
Single OTP (1x1) WITH love triangle (cue the angst) Votes: 6 10.0%
3TP/Threesome (NWY x MYX x SF) Votes: 31 51.7%
Mo Yixuan stays single/open ending Votes: 6 10.0%