Jin Guangyao is quite familiar with the fickle fortune of life. One sympathetic moment with Nie Mingjue and he was promoted to deputy. One moment of murder, and he was forever branded a miscreant in the eyes of the leader he adored. One moment, and he was a hero to even his father for killing Wen Ruohan, and still a murderer to Nie Mingjue.
But this moment, right now, is by far the worst betrayal he could have imagined.
He’s supposed to be married tomorrow. He’s prided himself on choosing Qin Su, a woman who loved him for him. He’s only ever made love to her. He did not waver in his commitment when she came to him two weeks ago, tearfully confessing that she was pregnant. He took her in his arms and stroked her hair, and even moved up their wedding date to avoid embarrassment for her.
He was finally, finally on a path to earn his father’s admiration. And he had done it by being nothing like his father. When he erred sexually, he took responsibility. And with this knowledge, he has slept peacefully for the first time in years.
And now he finds that is all a lie.
His father really does ruin everything.
His hands shake. He’s already scurried away from Madam Qin, like the rat he is, and he’s behind Carp Tower, rocking back and forth in a futile attempt to calm himself.
“I don’t believe you,” he says to himself, and he’s a good liar, the best one in the cultivation world, as Nie Mingjue likes to accuse. But right now, even he cannot convince himself.
The truth is so ugly, so twisted, he thinks that perhaps he really ought to have killed himself back then, back when he stabbed himself to earn Nie Mingjue’s sympathy.
Qin Su is not the daughter of Sect Leader Qin. She’s the daughter of his father, his father who repaid his friend’s devotion by raping his wife.
Which means he and A-Su aren’t only lovers. They are brother and sister.
Which means the child within the womb he was kissing this morning, even though she’s not showing, the child he’s already been dreaming up names for, the child he has vowed to be the best father in the world for, the child he’s calculated he can wait six weeks after the wedding to tell Lan Xichen about – that child is in all likelihood doomed.
And if everyone finds out…
The cultivation world does not forgive easily. They have never forgotten his mother as a prostitute, even though she was intelligent, kind, loving, a better parent than that rapist Jin Guangshan.
They will ruin his child’s life, even if he isn’t doomed by physical and mental disability.
His father…his father is the cause of this. It’s all his fault!
And yet, and yet, the cultivation world will not think so.
Jin Guangshan will abandon Jin Guangyao with ease, and silence Qin Su and her mother.
He has to marry her.
Bile rises in his throat. But how? He can never touch her again, not knowing what he knows.
Should he tell her? No, Qin Su is innocent and kind. Intelligent, but naïve, and he loves that about her. This would ruin her even more than him.
It isn’t fair. A scream rises in his throat. He was trying to do the right thing. He was! And now, he’s committed a sin so vile he wishes he could castrate himself.
Why didn’t he wait? When A-Su came to him late that afternoon, why didn’t he have self-control, why was he impatient, why did he pull her into the forest as the sun set and the stars rose?
Is he like Jin Guangshan after all?
He is going to kill that man. Someday, somehow. His father has ruined every piece of happiness Jin Guangyao has striven for.
“What are you doing?”
A deep, perpetually angry voice cuts through his inner turmoil.
Jin Guangyao spins around to see Nie Mingjue there, arms crossed, glaring at him.
“Big – big brother. You arrived early.” Jin Guangyao pastes a smile over his face. Act normal, act normal.
He should never have listened to this story. He wishes he had never learned.
Nie Mingjue is clearly troubled by his easy switch between anguish and happiness. Still, he lifts a bottle in his hand. “I thought I would bring you wine for your last night as a bachelor.”
“We both did.” Lan Xichen steps out behind Nie Mingjue, and at the sight of his best friend, the only one besides Qin Su who has never judged him, Jin Guangyao feels a traitorous lump rising in his throat.
“A-Yao, what is wrong?” Lan Xichen asks, shadows crossing his eyes.
“Nothing. I was merely wishing my mother was here,” he lies, smoothly. Lan Xichen would pity him, but Nie Mingjue – he will kill him for incest. Without question. He will probably even believe Jin Guangyao intended this!
“You’re lying!” Nie Mingjue looks disgusted.
He’ll be even more disgusted if he knows.
Jin Guangyao’s mouth opens, but the shock of everything, the shock of his world caving in around him, has ruined his better judgment. “Then kill me.”
“What?” Nie Mingjue is stunned. “For a lie?”
“A-Yao, what happened?” Lan Xichen asks urgently, as Nie Mingjue shouts, “What did you do?!”
“You already hate me! Kill me!” he screams back at Nie Mingjue. He falls to his knees. “Please, ChiFeng-Zun, just kill me.”
Nie Mingjue is too confused to speak.
Luckily, Lan Xichen is here. He kneels next to Jin Guangyao, who is beginning to shake.
“A-Yao, I know you love Qin Su. You were so happy when we night-hunted just last week. What happened to change this?”
Jin Guangyao’s eyes fill with tears, and they’re overflowing, and fuck, even his nose is leaking.
“Jin. Guang. Yao.” Nie Mingjue bites off every syllable.
Jin Guangyao bows so deeply his head is in the soft soil. “Kill me.”
“Cancel your wedding,” demands Nie Mingjue.
Lan Xichen blinks. “What?”
“Zewu-Jun, he’s beside himself. Whatever it is, he can’t marry in this state.”
“I can’t cancel,” spits Jin Guangyao. “I can’t! Everyone – expects – my father, A-Su’s father, they’ll all hate me –”
“We can help deal with your father,” suggests Lan Xichen.
“You don’t understand.” He can tell them this, at any rate. They’re men. They might not despise him for this part. “A-Su is pregnant.”
He fixes his gaze on Lan Xichen, whose expression is mostly compassionate, with a small dose of disappointment. “Would you have me abandon her like my father abandoned all his children?”
“You!” Nie Mingjue hauls Jin Guangyao up by his shoulders and shakes him. “You dishonored your future wife?”
“We were engaged! I – I really thought – it wouldn’t matter – I – I was weak, all right? Dammit!” Jin Guangyao protests. His voice cracks.
Nie Mingjue’s disappointment is palpable. Still, the right thing to do is to marry her now. “So why can’t you marry her now? After all this?”
“It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I can’t but I have to, that’s the problem!” cries Jin Guangyao. “I won’t leave her alone, with cultivation sects who will mock her, ruin her reputation, leave her family in disgrace!”
“You’re not making any sense.” Lan Xichen reaches up and Nie Mingjue relaxes his grip. Jin Guangyao sinks back to the ground, sobbing harder now.
Jin Guangyao laughs suddenly. His face looks like one possessed. “Everything – everyone ever said about me – they were all right. I’m a monster! But it’s my father’s doing, not my mother’s!”
“Sect Leader Nie, please promise to go easy on him. I’m afraid he won’t tell us otherwise,” says Lan Xichen, rubbing his youngest brother’s shoulders. “Why can’t you marry Qin Su?”
“If you bring up some reason of purity – after all your mother went through – I’ll kill you,” threatens Nie Mingjue instead.
“She’s my sister!” Jin Guangyao screams suddenly.
His sworn brothers are stunned silent. The only sound is Jin Guangyao’s sniffling.
Nie Mingjue turns red. Lan Xichen looks pale as a ghost. And Jin Guangyao rocks back and forth, begging, “Help me, please, please.”
Lan Xichen recovers quickest. He moves closer to his inconsolable friend. “A-Yao, why do you think she is your sister?”
“Her own mother. She called me up to her room tonight, on the eve of our wedding, and confessed that A-Su was never Sect Leader Qin’s daughter. My – Jin Guangshan forced his own friend’s wife. There would be a million methods to break off an engagement, so if that was merely her motive, why would she choose this, why would she confess her own pain, if it were a lie? It must be true.”
His older brothers are silent again.
“Say something!” Jin Guangyao screams.
“Did you suspect anything?” Nie Mingjue’s hands are on his saber.
“No!” wails Jin Guangyao. “No, of course not! I’ve lied to you many times before, but this? Who would – who would seek out their own sister? Would I beg you to kill me if I had planned this?”
“If you were manipulating us again, yes.”
“ChiFeng-Zun!” Lan Xichen glares at him.
“What am I to do? Zewu-Jun, ChiFeng-Zun, what can I do? If I break off the engagement, A-Su will suffer. If I do not, I have married my own sister. I won’t touch her again, but – but – suppose someone else finds out?”
“I can’t believe you’re considering it!” fumes Nie Mingjue.
“Help me,” pleads Jin Guangyao. “Help me, brother, please. I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s too shocked to think clearly, Big Brother,” said Lan Xichen.
“It’s finally happened.” Nie Mingjue can’t resist.
“Do not judge him, not right now.” Lan Xichen strokes their youngest brother’s hair.
Jin Guangyao moans.
The usually calm and collected sneak Nie Mingjue so distrusts has been reduced to a pathetic mess. And if he’s being honest, and Nie Mingjue insists on honesty, the only reason he doesn’t want to help his sworn brother is that he himself has no idea how to salvage this situation.
What a fine mess they’re in.
“Of course I will help you, A-Yao,” says Nie Mingjue.
Jin Guangyao blinks at the familiar name, the name Nie Mingjue never really calls him. He can’t allow himself hope, or even a plan – if he can’t think of one, surely his brothers cannot, either. He must somehow not marry A-Su, not destroy her emotional state, not offend his family, and expose Jin Guangshan for the monster he is.
It sounds impossible. But still, there is comfort in having his brothers by his side.
“Thank you,” he says, trembling. “And I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” says Nie Mingjue. “We swore an oath together, or did you forget already?”
Jin Guangyao cracks a smile despite himself. “You think I did, don’t you?”
“Don’t make me change my mind.”
“Come on.” Lan Xichen stands besides Nie Mingjue. He extends his hand to Jin Guangyao, and Nie Mingjue does the same. Together, they help him to his feet.