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Volume 1 (Human World): Chapter 7

“Ah Xi, do you really remember nothing?”

This winter day, the most frequent question Bai Shuo asked while lying in the corridor of the General’s Mansion backyard was this one.

Bai Xi, sitting upright at the writing desk, her head buried in copying the Women’s Precepts, replied helplessly to the nagging Bai Shuo, “I don’t remember, I don’t remember.”

“Ah, it’s such a pity. You didn’t see that god; he was so handsome!”

Bai Shuo leaned lazily against the corridor, basking in the sun and eating grapes, her eyes full of longing.

“His eyes were purple, just like…”

Bai Shuo looked up at the sky and murmured, “like a purple moon.”

Upon hearing this, Bai Xi lifted her head. “What did you say? A purple moon?”

Bai Shuo was startled and waved her hands repeatedly. “Nothing, nothing.”

She looked at the serene and gentle Bai Xi and let out a long sigh. Such a terrifying event; it’s better that timid Ah Xi doesn’t remember.

Bai Xi looked at Bai Shuo and sighed deeply as well. She put down her brush and earnestly spoke to her sister, “Ah Shuo, you’re a girl. Talking about a man’s looks at home is fine, but it would be improper if it got out. And those ridiculous stories of yours…”

She paused and worriedly warned her, “You must never mention them in front of others.”

Since they got lost and returned from the Lantern Festival, Ah Shuo had been talking about monsters and gods daily, always saying a god saved them from bandits and a nine-headed serpent demon. But they clearly just got lost in the streets and were found by their father and his guards in the alleys of South City.

Their father had been very strict after hearing Ah Shuo mention meeting gods and monsters once on the Lantern Festival and had punished her by making her kneel in the ancestral hall for a day. Who knows what their father had said to her, but Ah Shuo never mentioned the events of that day in front of others again, though she became particularly interested in books about gods and monsters in private.

Ah, it seems to get lost once scared Ah Shuo silly.

Bai Xi shook her head, feeling sorrowful and worried for her sister.

Bai Shuo, looking at Bai Xi shaking her head and sighing, remembered the promise she made to their father that day in the ancestral hall. She pursed her lips and stopped mentioning what happened at the Lantern Festival.

She closed her eyes, and the scene in the ancestral hall with their father’s admonition flashed in her mind.

“Ridiculous! father has said you two sisters got lost in the south of the city. What nonsense are you talking about every day in front of your mother and sister!”

“I’m not talking nonsense! Father, that day Ah Xi and I were really taken by monsters, and a god saved us! Didn’t you find us outside the city, behind the imperial tomb? Those who took us turned into white bones!” Bai Shuo hastily defended herself, her big eyes wide open.

In the Bai family ancestral hall, Bai Xun looked at his youngest daughter, who refused to listen to advice, and sighed. “Ah Shuo, your sister is destined to enter the Eastern Palace as the Crown Princess. If people knew she had been kidnapped, how would she conduct herself in society in the future?”

Bai Shuo, who had been like a fighting rooster, instantly softened upon hearing this. She looked at Bai Xun, pouting and lowering her head. “I understand, Father.”

Seeing her dejected expression, Bai Xun sat cross-legged beside his youngest daughter, patted her head, and said, “Tell Father, what exactly happened that day?”

Bai Shuo’s eyes lit up immediately. Since she woke up, Bai Xun has been busy with state affairs, returning home late each day. The revived Ah Xi had completely forgotten the events of that day, and their mother would burst into tears every time she mentioned the Lantern Festival. Bai Shuo wanted to find a relative to talk about everything that happened that night in detail but hadn’t found the opportunity.

With lively excitement, she recounted the events at the Lantern Festival to Bai Xun without any fear, her mind and heart filled only with admiration for the ancient-robed, black-clad god. However, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t recall the name of the god who saved her.

Despite her young age, Bai Shuo was remarkably perceptive. She concealed Bai Xi’s past attempt at suicide, merely saying she had fainted from fright caused by monsters and hadn’t seen the god who descended from the heavens to rescue them.

After listening, Bai Xun was silent for a long time, his eyes red as he rubbed the soft hair on his youngest daughter’s forehead, deeply moved. “It’s good that Ah Xi has forgotten such a disaster. You two sisters are fortunate to have turned misfortune into a blessing.”

He had found the two girls on the hillside behind the imperial tomb outside the city and had seen the bizarre and eerie occurrences of that day, knowing his youngest daughter wasn’t lying. A lifetime of military service, with hands stained by countless battles, couldn’t have prepared him for such divine intervention. To think that the heavens would favor his two daughters, letting them survive a dire situation with the aid of a god. Yet, whether this rescue would bring fortune or trouble to the Bai family remained uncertain.

The tales of gods were sporadically mentioned among the people, but ultimately they were mere legends. Now, with the Bai family in a position of great power and Ah Xi’s special status, any rumors of their rescue by a god could invite unknown troubles.

As the head of the family, Bai Xun thought long-term. Seeing his youngest daughter’s persistent longing for the god, he warned her, “Shuo’er, you must keep the events of that night to yourself. For the sake of your sister, never mention it to anyone.”

Bai Shuo, wise beyond her years, nodded.

“And…” Baixun’s eyes were stern.

“Never bring up that god again.”

Bai Shuo suddenly looked up, meeting her father’s severe gaze. She spoke earnestly, her voice small yet determined: “But Father, I promised the god who saved me that I would cultivate myself diligently, become immortal, live for thousands of years, and repay him one day.”

Bai Xun was amused by her resolute words. He tapped her forehead lightly. “Living for thousands of years? If you can live a smooth hundred years, your father will be very grateful.”

He lifted Bai Shuo from the prayer mat and led her outside.

“Shuo’er, encountering a god is a rare blessing. In the future… you must not mention it again.”

Though Bai Xun’s warnings still echoed in her ears, Bai Shuo always remembered those deep, mysterious purple eyes under the vast purple moon.

As she opened her eyes, the bright sun shone on her face. Squinting, she looked at the sky, trying to find a trace of the purple moon, but the blinding sunlight thwarted her efforts.


A cheerful voice from a young boy suddenly called from outside the corridor.

The two sisters looked up to see Chong Zhao walking towards them, carrying a large wooden box.

Chong Zhao, the young master of the Prime Minister’s household, was three years older than the sisters and handsome and cheerful. Growing up together, he had been betrothed to Bai Shuo from a young age. Knowing that the sisters had gotten lost on the night of the Lantern Festival and that Bai Shuo had fallen seriously ill, he had been bringing little trinkets to the Bai residence daily to cheer her up.

Bai Xi, with her different status, nodded reservedly at Chong Zhao.

Chong Zhao greeted Bai Xi properly before running over to Bai Shuo. After closely observing her and seeing that she looked much better than before, he sighed with relief and smiled as he opened the wooden box in front of her.

“Shuo’er, I brought you bamboo dragonflies and spinning tops from Xiangfu Pavilion.”

Bai Shuo glanced into the box, picked up a bamboo dragonfly, and muttered, “Oh.”

Seeing her lack of interest, Chong Zhao felt disheartened and softly asked, “Are you still not feeling well?”

“I’m better now.”

Bai Shuo fiddled with the bamboo dragonfly, her mind elsewhere, completely lacking her usual cheerful and lively demeanor.

Chong Zhao, with his youthful spirit, loved seeing Bai Shuo’s smile the most. He quickly asked, “Then why aren’t you happy? Whatever you want to do, I’ll go with you!”

Bai Shuo’s eyes lit up at his words. She was about to say something but then glanced at Bai Xi practicing calligraphy in the study. She tugged on Chong Zhao’s sleeve. “Let’s go play outside. We shouldn’t disturb Ah Xi while she’s practicing.”

Chong Zhao always felt uneasy around Bai Xi and was eager to leave, so he nodded enthusiastically.

The two walked off with the wooden box, whispering to each other. Bai Xi watched their laughing and joking figures recede into the distance, a trace of envy in her eyes. Her gaze lingered on Bai Shuo, who was walking further away, and her earlier calm and serenity disappeared. After a long sigh, she took out a Buddhist scripture and slowly began to copy it.

The events of that night were so shocking that no one wanted to bring them up again. Since that was the case, she would pretend to forget as well. Hopefully…

Bai Xi paused mid-stroke.

Hopefully, Bai Shuo could also forget everything that happened that night and live her life peacefully.

As Chong Zhao and Bai Shuo left the backyard, Chong Zhao pulled out two books from the bottom of the wooden box and placed them in Bai Shuo’s hands.

Bai Shuo looked at the two volumes of “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” in her hands, her eyes curving in delight. “How did you know I wanted these books?”

(T/N: “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” (referred to as “Liao Zhai,”  commonly known as “The Legend of the Ghost Fox”) is a collection of short stories in classical Chinese written by Pu Songling, a novelist of the Qing Dynasty in China. The earliest copy was circulated during the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty.)

Chong Zhao, pleased to see her finally smile, replied proudly, “What is there that I, the young master, don’t know? You asked Uncle Bai to buy these ghost stories for you, and the bookstore is run by the eldest son of my nanny. Naturally, the news reached me.”

Bai Shuo, even more delighted upon hearing this, quickly tugged on Chong Zhao’s sleeve. “Really? Then you must bring me more of these books in the future!”

Chong Zhao nodded but couldn’t help feeling curious. He asked, “Shuo’er, you used to dislike reading. Why do you suddenly love these ghost stories so much?”

Bai Shuo hesitated for a moment but didn’t intend to hide the truth from Chong Zhao. She whispered in his ear, “Ah Zhao, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Seeing Bai Shuo’s unusually serious expression, Chong Zhao also straightened up.

“In the future, I’m afraid I won’t be able to marry you,” Bai Shuo said earnestly.

The ten-year-old boy turned pale instantly, the wooden box in his arms falling to the ground, scattering the wooden tops everywhere.

“Wh-why?” Chong Zhao stammered, his eyes turning red. “Is it because General Bai looks down on me and doesn’t want you to marry me?”

The eldest daughter of the Bai family was marrying the Crown Prince, and Bai Shuo was eligible to marry a prince. Chong Zhao knew this well. Although he was the legitimate son of the Prime Minister, he had no titles or achievements, and his family was relying on the Bai family’s past kindness in allowing the engagement. Growing up with Bai Shuo, he had long regarded her as his future bride.

“No, no.” Bai Shuo waved her hands hurriedly. “It has nothing to do with my father.”

“Then is it because you don’t like me?” Chong Zhao’s face turned even paler.

“No, no!” Bai Shuo saw that her explanation was getting more confusing, so she decided to be straightforward. “Ah Zhao, I want to become immortal in the future, so I can’t get married.”

Chong Zhao’s face twisted in disbelief, thinking he had misheard. He stared at Bai Shuo, speechless. “What did you say you wanted to become?”

“An immortal!” Bai Shuo, clutching the two ghost story books, declared earnestly, “I’ve been reading a lot lately, and the books mention many immortal mountains and sects. Once my father lifts my grounding, I’m going to those mountains to find a master and learn the ways. Once I master the immortal arts, I’ll ascend to immortality. How could I stay in the mortal world and get married?”

Chong Zhao stared at her in silence for a long time, making Bai Shuo uncomfortable. Just as she was about to say something, he reached out and touched her forehead.

“Bai Shuo, are you alright?”

Bai Shuo angrily swatted his hand away.

“I’m not talking nonsense!”

Chong Zhao awkwardly retracted his hand, not getting upset, but looking at Bai Shuo with a helpless expression.

Seeing his look of pity, Bai Shuo turned and walked away, her face stern. “If you don’t believe me, so be it. I’ve already told you that I’m not getting married. I’m going to cultivate and become immortal.”

Chong Zhao, seeing she was genuinely upset, quickly caught up with her. “Okay, okay, I believe you.”

Bai Shuo suddenly stopped and looked at Chong Zhao suspiciously. “You believe I won’t marry you?”

Chong Zhao shook his head.

“Then what do you believe?”

“I believe, and I’ll accompany you in cultivating immortality,” Chong Zhao said with a smile, patting her small bun.

“When you’re all better and you go to find a master in the famous mountains, I’ll go with you. If you want to cultivate immortality, I’ll cultivate it with you. Whatever you want to do, I’ll be with you.”

Bai Shuo was stunned, a wave of emotion washing over her as she looked into Chong Zhao’s earnest eyes. Over the past few days, no matter what she said or did, her father, mother, and Ah Xi would ignore her, only telling her to forget everything and never mention it again. Only Chong Zhao, knowing nothing, believed her and was willing to accompany her.

For the first time, young Bai Shuo seriously looked at Chong Zhao, then nodded solemnly. She grasped his hand and made a sincere promise.

“Alright, Ah Zhao, I’ll definitely take you with me to cultivate immortality and ascend together. We’ll live for thousands of years!”

At the same time, outside Wutong Phoenix Island, Tianqi stood in mid-air, his eyes cast downward at the lush ancestral forest of parasol trees on the island. His gaze was fixed on the spot where the aura of the Phoenix Emperor resided.

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