I am 100% interested in NHS thinks he's Wen Chao and adopts Xue Yang. Super excited to see it. --HLS
were, here comes the first chapter Xue Yang's Master, or also on AO3
People said that the cultivators’ war was over, and that Qishan Wen had lost. For the folks of Yueyang, it came as a bit of a surprise, since they’d lived all their lives in the shadow of that great sect. Certainly the local sect was Yueyang Chang, and it was to them that most problems were addressed, but it was well known that the real power lay in Qishan. Chang Ci’an tried to pretend he was only putting up with the Wen because of the proximity, but everyone knew he wouldn't have gotten away with half the things he did if he weren’t hugging Wen Ruohan’s knees every chance he got.
And now, Wen Ruohan was dead.
There were all sorts of rumours about that, and no two people could agree on what had happened exactly. Some said it was Nie Mingjue, that great general of the Sunshot Campaign. Others whispered about a Jin spy, or else about his chief torturer who’d felt the wind turn and had decided to be on the right side of history to save his skin. And that was just the most believable rumours, there were also wilder stories repeated and twisted as they travelled from one person to the next. The only thing that never changed, in every story, was that Wen Ruohan had died.
Ultimately, that was all Xue Yang cared about.
With Wen Ruohan dead, his lackey Chang Ci’an was about to find himself in a very delicate position, and the entire town with him, even though most of them didn’t have anything to do with that cultivators’ war. Quite a few people had decided to flee, just in case, and Xue Yang was among them.
It’d been easy, for him, to leave the city where he’d lived all his life. He didn’t have elderly relatives or younger siblings to worry about, since he’d been on his own since quite young. He also didn’t own too much, just some coins he’d stolen here and there, and a cultivation manual that probably wasn’t a real one anyway, but which he clung to just in case. He’d neatly wrapped all that in his second sect of clothes, the ones he used when he went to pickpocket in more affluent neighbourhoods, stolen a bunch of food from the other kids he was sharing an abandoned house with, and then he had just left.
Most people, as they ran from Yueyang, were trying to go east or south, as far away from Qishan as possible, just in case the victors who had conquered that city decided they hadn’t had enough bloodbath yet. Xue Yang, personally, had decided he’d go south, because he knew someone in a place named Kuizhou who would surely find something for him to do, if he said he needed a job. But since quite a few of the richer folks seemed to be headed east, Xue Yang decided he’d go that way first, just for a few days.
By day three, Xue Yang’s little bundle was a lot heavier than it had been when he’d left Yueyang, and it tended to go clink-clinkif he moved a little too fast. Xue Yang hadn’t survived thirteen years by thinking only other people got robbed, so he decided to play it careful and to leave the main road behind for a bit. He’d also stolen a lot of food from careless rich idiots, anyway, so as long as he didn’t get lost, he’d be fine.
The first night after leaving the road behind, Xue Yang slept in an abandoned house in the woods. Or, well, somewhat abandoned. It was a decrepit old place, and the previous owner was still in his bed, almost entirely rotten away. The man had been dead so long he didn’t even smell, for which Xue Yang was half glad. He took out the semi-articulated skeleton and laid it down among the weedy place behind the house that might have been a garden once, not out of respect, but because he hoped to sleep in the bed himself. A vain hope. Most of the bedding had rotten alongside the corpse on it, meaning the dirt floor would be less disgusting to sleep on.
Xue Yang didn’t mind too much. He’d slept in much worse places.
Come morning, he’d checked if there was anything valuable to grab in that small house, then went on his merry way, in the direction he thought had to be south.
It had been easy enough, at first, to know which way he was going. Even a city kid like him knew where the sun rose. But then the forest got denser, and he didn’t see the sun again for a good while, not until roughly noon. At that point, Xue Yang had no idea which way was south or east, and he realised he wouldn’t be able to tell again until later, when he’d see the sun start setting.
Maybe avoiding the main road hadn’t been quite as smart as he’d thought. But then again, between that and risking having his precious loot stolen by someone bigger and stronger than him… he’d rather die in this stupid forest than let anyone take what had become his.
Figuring he couldn’t do much except wait, Xue Yang looked around for a comfortable sitting place and spotted a few fallen trees that would fit the bill nicely. He walked there, jumped on one of the trunks, and discovered a dead man there, hidden from view between two of the trees.
Well, a dead boy, anyway. He didn’t look that much older than Xue Yang, but he was very richly dressed, for someone lost in this stupid forest. It was a shame that most of his clothes were ruined by all the blood that came from a stab wound in his chest and a gash on the side of his head. Xue Yang could have sold that for a fortune. In fact, even with the stains, it might be worth trying to sell. And then there was a dainty little gold guan in his hair, the rings on his hands, and the sword next to him, just as bloodied as the rest of him but clearly of excellent quality and with an elegant sun engraved on the handle. Xue Yang could sell that and buy a horse for his trip south, and then he’d surely no longer have to worry about other thieves if he could just outrun them, right?
Already trying to guess how much he might get from this, Xue Yang bent over the corpse and pulled in its clothes in search of ties.
The next thing he knew he was lying on his back a few feet away from the body, his ears ringing from hitting the ground too hard, his chest hurting as if he’d been punched.
So maybe someone wasn’t quite dead yet, then. Xue Yang hurried to jump on his feet in case the older boy was going to put up a fight, but the rich kid remained motionless on the forest ground, one trembling hand still raised from having pushed Xue Yang away. Very soon that hand was allowed to fall down again, and Xue Yang approached the boy again, more cautiously this time.
The rich kid was barely breathing, but now that Xue Yang knew he was alive, he could see the very slow rise and fall of his chest, too slow to be normal, even for a dying person. Between this, his unexpected strength, and the sword he had, Xue Yang guessed that the boy he’d found wasn’t just an ordinary person.
Which meant that sword had to be worth even more than he’d first thought. Cultivator swords could buy a whole farm, and servants to work it for you, or so Xue Yang had heard. If he could find the right buyer, he’d be set for life, never having to worry about anything ever again. And all he had to do was wait for a rich kid to die, which would happen soon enough. Cultivator or not, those were some nasty wounds. The one on his head looked like it might have been accidental, as if he’d taken a bad fall, but there had to have been intent when he’d been stabbed, and that kid just didn’t look strong enough to last on his own. He’d die before morning, either of exposure or finished off by some animal.
Well, Xue Yang didn’t mind waiting.
The boy, however, seemed to have different ideas. Through some great effort, he turned to look at Xue Yang, looking him over as if trying to assess his worth. People did that a lot, and they rarely liked what they saw in him. But that rich kid must have been really desperate.
“Save me,” he gasped weakly. “He’ll find me. Save me.”
“Who will find you?” Xue Yang asked, finding a comfortable position to sit on one of the fallen trees, so he could watch the boy die.
“He tried to kill me. I don’t know him. He’ll find me. He was so angry…”
Xue Yang frowned at the news. Of course, that rich kid hadn’t ended up like that without a little help. If there was a stabbee, then there had to be a stabber, it only made sense. Xue Yang didn’t particularly care about the life of this complete stranger, but he did care about someone coming to finish the job and taking away the corpse and all those precious items on it. It was Xue Yang’s dream farm at risk there, and he couldn’t allow it.
One option, he thought, was to kill that kid himself and then take what he’d earned before fleeing the scene. But that carried the risk of being discovered by the murderer, who had to be a cultivator as well, since no ordinary person could have harmed a cultivator. Then Xue Yang would be in trouble, with the murderer either trying to kill him as well, or at least forcing him to leave without his loot.
The other option, then, was to take the rich kid somewhere safe and keep him hidden until he did die. The little house where Xue Yang had spent the night wasn’t so far off, if he took that boy there, then the rich kid could die quietly, and Xue Yang could steal all the stuff he wouldn’t need anymore due to being dead.
It was the perfect plan.
The hardest part of that plan was getting the rich kid out of his hiding place. He was half stuck among those fallen trees, and kept moaning miserably as Xue Yang pulled on his limbs to unstuck him. It took effort, especially when Xue Yang had to frequently stop to make sure the boy’s murderer wasn’t around, but he eventually managed to get him out of that spot. Then it was just a matter of pulling him by the arms on the forest ground, since Xue Yang wasn’t quite strong enough to carry him. The boy, at first, wailed weakly and cried upon being dragged around like this, but he eventually passed out and turned quite grey.
He was just passed out: Xue Yang checked. But he also wasn’t bleeding anymore, which had to mean he’d die soon.
Luckily, it wasn’t so hard to find the way back to the abandoned little house. At that point, the sun had started setting, so Xue Yang was once again able to use it as a reference point, and he got them to their destination a little before night. Once there, he managed to put the rich kid onto the bed, figuring it probably wouldn’t bother him that someone else had died there not too long ago. And it really wouldn’t be much longer now, because the older boy was deathly pale yet almost burning to the touch, a bad combination. In his experience, anyone who got sick enough to run a high fever had a seventy-five percent chance to die unless they could afford a doctor, or even higher. He’d been close to it himself, when he’d been young and stupid enough to think a cruel man would give him candies for carrying a letter, and just like that rich kid, he’d had nobody to take care of him.
Just like that rich kid, he’d have died alone.
And the rich kid would be alone indeed, because Xue Yang went to sit outside the house to have a dinner of whatever stolen food he had that could be eaten cold. It wasn’t that it bothered him to see someone die, and more that he was still worried about the rich kid’s murderer sneaking on them while he wasn’t paying attention. So he stayed up the entire night, paying attention to the forest’s every noise.
People said nature was quiet, but it was almost as busy as in the city, Xue Yang realised, what with the insects and the foxes and the who-knew-what running around. More than once, he found himself reaching for the rich kid’s sword and jumping to his feet, ready to protect his loot against whatever might threaten it, but nothing bigger than a mouse ever came close. He thought he saw a fox also, but he wasn’t even sure.
The biggest danger in that forest that night was Xue Yang himself, and that was just how he liked it.
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