Chongyue: Once Upon a Time, I Wandered Afar

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Operator Record
Once Upon a Time, I Wandered Afar
Chongyue icon.png

He has always been here. But does he truly belong here?

Unlock conditions

  • Raise Chongyue to Elite 2 Level 1.
  • Have at least 50% Trust with Chongyue.
Characters
Millenion B icon.png
Centurion
Male Yumenite B icon.png
Retired Soldier
Male Yumenite A icon.png
Roadside Inn Staff
Heroine
Red-eared Staff Officer
Red-faced Armed Escort
Backgrounds
Yumen Forge
1
Yan Room
2
Yumen Gate
3
An old tree is replanted at the smith's workshop, and soldiers and warriors gather for a celebratory banquet. After the feast, an old veteran soon-to-retire finally finds the courage to say farewell to the Grandmaster he has long admired.
<Background 1>
[Sounds of people digging are heard.]
??? Keep going. You have only a few more shovel loads to go.
? And you'll merely stand and watch?
??? As the saying goes, "be a passive observer." I'd love to help you, but I'm sure you remember how my arm got hurt?
? Very well...
[Someone opens the door.]
Centurion General, I have the wine you requested.
Zuo Xuanliao What took you so long?
Centurion The locals are all celebrating the news of our victory. A number of inns are booked out, and every last one is short on staff. The streets are lined with their delivery burdenbeasts.
I had to work as a waiter for half a day and then help them unload their wares before I could make it back.
Zuo Xuanliao In addition to fighting gallantly on the battlefield, a Yumen soldier must always be prepared to help the local citizens. Fine work.
Centurion Thank you, General.
??? Let me see.
[Shuo joins in.]
Shuo "Knife-Edge," "Five Bowls," "Bridges Ne'er Crossed"... Hmm...? And a jar of Husong from Jiangnan.
Master Zuo, you mustn't use official business as an excuse to let these fine wines go to waste again.
Zuo Xuanliao ...Naturally.
Centurion Greetings, Grandmaster.
Shuo Good work, Brother Dajiang.
Centurion I-I simply did what I should've.
The officer stops pushing the cart loaded with wine and lifts his head to scan the courtyard in front of him.
Chengnan Bladesmiths, the most reputable bladesmiths in Yumen. The Patrol Battalion contracted them to produce much of their military equipment. Its owner, Meng Tieyi, is also a good friend of both the Lord Exorcist and the Grandmaster.
On days when they are off duty from the garrison, they often gather at the workshop with warriors from all over to spar, drink, and share stories.
He, too, comes every now and then, but something is different about the courtyard here today–
A few dozen bricks by the gate have been removed, and a old pagoda tree has been planted in the resulting pit. With its branches extending in all directions, it has taken up a considerable amount of space in the courtyard.
The tree's trunk is as wide as two lovers sharing an embrace. The grooves on its bark are lightly covered in small grains of sand, and coarse like an old man's palm.
Shuo Look at this old pagoda tree. It must be at least a hundred years old, yet it was so hastily replanted in this nomadic city. Who can even say whether it will manage to adjust to the climate here?
Zuo Xuanliao Surely it's better than your habit of carving your achievements into it like the warriors of old, is it not? The worst thing you can do an old tree is harm its bark. If we'd left it there in the sands, it could very well have withered away.
Shuo True enough...
Zuo Xuanliao It was our heroine who came up with the idea of bringing it here. I can already picture her throwing a fit, once she arrives and catches you harping on about that.
Besides, a tree is not much different from a man. Having survived in the desert for so long, we mustn't underestimate its vigor.
And with Tieyi taking care of it, no doubt we'll have a whole tree's worth of new leaves to shade ourselves under by this time next year.
Shuo You're right about that.
??? All of you just love giving me more work to do, don't you?
[Meng Tieyi joins in.]
Meng Tieyi I should never have let you bring that tree... All the sunlight glaring down on me here must've stolen my wits.
Shuo There are nothing but forges and weapons here. Adding a touch of life isn't such a bad idea, is it?
Meng Tieyi Forget it. There's no arguing with any of you.
Oh? The wine is here? Perfect. The food is ready too. The tree's been planted, yes? Come on, let's head inside!
Centurion Then I shall be taking my leave, General, Grandmaster, Master Meng. Please excuse me.
Shuo Why in such a hurry?
Centurion Because this is a gathering for gentlemen of your stature...
Shuo Your General Zuo has yet to award you for your achievements. He wouldn't have had you purchase his alcohol without intending to let you join in on the celebration.
Zuo Xuanliao ...The Grandmaster is right.
Centurion Okay....
Then I'll carry the wine in for now.
[The centurion walks off.]
<Background 2>
[Shuo, Tieyi, and Xuanliao have a toast.]
Meng Tieyi Huh...?
How could the moons in the sky be so much higher than the pagoda tree? How bizarre.
Zuo Xuanliao Tieyi, you've had too much to drink. Your eyes are deceiving you.
Meng Tieyi Had too much to drink?
No, no, no. The night is still young. Why do you think I always set aside some wine when I forge my blades? A single gulp can increase the strength of my hammer strikes threefold!
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Meng Tieyi Lord Exorcist, as the general of the Yumen army, no one here can best you when it comes to leading an army, but when it comes to alcohol and kung fu... hoh...
Zuo Xuanliao Oh really now? Keep going. What was that about my kung fu?
Was I not at the very front line when we pursued the bandits into the desert? Both the enemies I've vanquished and the scars on my body may well outnumber yours!
Meng Tieyi Oh?
[Xuanliao rolled his left sleeve.]
Zuo Xuanliao Look at my left arm. This injury. Just half a cun deeper, and it would've cut into my meridians.
Meng Tieyi Stop rolling up your sleeves, Lord Exorcist. Perhaps you should have a look at the wound on my back. Which I took for you, need I remind you!
[The centurion stood by.]
Centurion ......
Shuo What time is it?
Centurion It is the Hour of Tzu, Grandmaster.
The workshop's main room is packed with people, and there are a number of tables between the officer and the Grandmaster. He raises his voice, but has no way of knowing whether it has been heard.
The floor is lined with rows and rows of empty jugs, and the more there are, the rowdier the crowd gets.
A drunken, loud-mouthed arena champion and a Yumen general injured in a bout against a practitioner of the martial arts... The officer tries to recall how they looked on the battlefield earlier in the day, only to be reminded of how inebriated he is.
Clear Voice Why ask the time? Are you drunk?
Your alcohol tolerance is no match for that sister of yours.
The voice is melodious and crystal clear, yet the words it carries cannot be more casual.
The officer can tell it belongs to the heroine who often sits by the Grandmaster's side. He has no idea when she joined the celebrations. She is sitting opposite the Grandmaster this time, so he can only see her from behind.
No one knows what she came to Yumen for. All they know is that she is on very friendly terms with the Grandmaster, the Lord Exorcist, and Master Meng. Supposedly, she and the Grandmaster had a friendly bout together–it takes a fight to truly know one another, or so it is often claimed–and stayed afterwards.
All his brothers on the squad have sparred with her. They usually have nothing but good things to say about her, too. Her swordsmanship, her alcohol tolerance, her carefree and straightforward personality, and just how likeable she is overall.
But as luck would have it, he has never even gotten to see what she looks like.
He finds himself curious and stands up, but the armed escort sitting next to him notices his empty bowl and fills it with wine.
Shuo You mean Ling? Ah, yes, the two of you met the last time she ventured here.
She is always awake within her dreams and befuddled without. Drunk or not, it matters to her not one whit.
Heroine Look at you rambling again. So you really are drunk.
Shuo ......
Heroine We lost quite a few men to this battle, and just about everyone who made it back is injured in some way.
Shuo Right.
Heroine There's a question I've been meaning to ask you.
To go a hundred battles without suffering a single wound, you must be far, far too good at kung fu.
And your name too–"Shuo." What does it mean? Who has a single word for their name, anyway? Rather than a person's name, it sounds more like an alias.
Shuo Another baby sister of mine gave it to me.
Heroine I've heard of names given by parents, by elders, by teachers, and even by fortune tellers... but by your sister? And younger, at that? That hardly makes any sense.
Shuo That's just how things are between us siblings... It's a long story.
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Look at you, Grandmaster. You've had too much to drink.
Heroine And now you're helping him dodge the question...
You know what? Never mind.
Shuo In that case...
Would any of you care to grant me a proper name, befitting a person?
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Grandmaster?
Shuo General Zuo, given the celebratory mood, wouldn't you agree there is no better time?
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Meng Tieyi Very well then!
Ever since the Yumen Arena Board of Fame was established, the top of the list has been left blank. The whole city knows whose name goes there, and even I, second place on the list, can't last ten moves against you.
Your kung fu is unparalleled. How about we name you "Wudi," the "Invulnerable"?
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Listen to yourself. Does that sound like a proper name to you?
If we must give him a name, it has to be "Dinglan," meaning "smooth tides." Representing the peace and tranquility he has brought our citizens.
Or perhaps "Ancang," "tranquil blue."
Meng Tieyi What is this, a poetry club? I can barely make sense of either of them.
Red-faced Armed Escort Let's call him "Qianjun." Remember the moves he showed us last time? When his fist landed on me, it felt like it weighed a thousand tons.
Red-eared Staff Officer No, it should be "Qingyan," for "clear skies."
Red-faced Armed Escort ......
Red-eared Staff Officer ......
They frown. The Lord Exorcist, the workshop owner... everyone in attendance frowns at once.
The men's gazes all land on him. Halfway done with his cup of wine, the officer sets it down.
Centurion Grandmaster...
Shuo Brother Dajiang, do you perhaps have a suggestion?
Centurion I... I... I...
Where I'm from, we name our children after whatever our eyes happen to land on.
I never had an education. I... I can't help you much here...
Heroine Oh, shut up, all of you.
I can't believe you're all racking your brains over this. Let me think.
The tall, slender lady stands up. She raises her bowl of wine and walks past the rows of empty jugs and arguing guests.
She opens the window, filling the entire room with the night breeze and silencing the attendees' chatter.
The twin moons hang high in the sky. The night is no longer young, but Yumen, the nomadic fortress, never sleeps. In its non-residential districts, the Originium lampposts keep the streets illuminated throughout the night, ensuring visibility at all times of day.
In the distance lies a chain of mountains, comfortably asleep. They look as though someone above the clouds had raised their hand and flung down blobs of thick ink.
Shuo ......
Heroine What those mountains look like is in the eye of the beholder, but they've always been there. Anyone can see them just by looking up.
How about "Chongyue"?
Zuo Xuanliao ......
Meng Tieyi ......
"Chongyue."
The officer mouths the two syllables a couple of times. He has no idea what they mean, but they certainly sound imposing. It is definitely a far better name than the others that have been proposed so far.
He steals a glance at the Grandmaster, who sits not too far away. The man's expression has not changed, but while not overjoyed, his eyes have a glow to them that was not there a few moments ago.
He recalls how a decade or so ago, on the day he was first transferred to Yumen, the Grandmaster made an exception and paid the arena a visit.
Almost all the newly enlisted men had heard of the legendary Grandmaster, and he certainly did not betray their eager gazes.
Thousands of days and nights have come and gone across countless battlefields. Not once has Yumen's march through the sands come to a halt. Ten years have passed by in the blink of an eye.
He knows the Grandmaster's eyes. They never exert power nor radiance. More often, they are calm, with an unfamiliar-yet-comforting aura to those around him.
The Grandmaster has always been here, but does he truly belong here?
Right now, he has that look in his eyes again, but they also seem somewhat different than usual.
Is it the night breeze? Did the wind blow away the sand in his eyes? Or was the wine he bought today really so potent?
...Can someone really become so emotional over receiving a new name?
Shuo "Chongyue."
Red-eared Staff Officer "Chongyue." Perfect! A towering yet stable mountain, that stops the sands below and blocks the clouds above. Literary, yet rolls off the tongue well. As expected of our heroine.
Red-faced Armed Escort Hmph... Pipe down... Since when did she need your help explaining the meaning?
Meng Tieyi What a great name. It really captures the Grandmaster's dignified image.
I propose another toast to this fine name.
Half-Drunken Attendees To Chongyue!
Chongyue Thank you, everyone.
<Background 1>
The workshop was closed yesterday, and the owner also forgot to keep the forge fires burning. The morning breeze sweeps through the courtyard and lands on the officer's face, immediately waking him from his wine-induced slumber.
His head still hurts, and all he remembers is how they had all raised their wine bowls to celebrate the Grandmaster's new name. Before long, one of the inebriated attendees began to sing a folk song from the barracks, and he teared up after a while.
Centurion My eyes aren't tricking me, are they...?
It had only been a single night, but the old pagoda tree no longer feels out of place. Rather, it is the man standing underneath it whom the officer is surprised to see.
He tries to sneak away, only for the man to hear him.
Chongyue Good morning. You have the day off, if I recall. Why not rest a while longer?
Centurion I'm used to getting up around this time... and I had too much to drink. I couldn't sleep well.
Chongyue This campaign has lasted year after year, and all of you have played no small part in its ongoing success.
Centurion Then why are you awake this early, Grandmaster? Or have you stayed up all night?
Chongyue ......
Centurion My apologies. There were too many people around last night. I wasn't able to offer you a toast. I just feel that... I really need to properly thank you.
Chongyue Thank me?
Centurion You saved me! During our last battle a few days ago!
I was so focused on the bandit in front of me, I didn't notice the blade coming at me from behind. You fended it off for me.
If it weren't for you, even if I'd achieved enough to be granted a promotion, it would only have been for dying gloriously in battle.
I'm sure... you don't even remember.
Chongyue If it were at all possible, I would defend every last one of my allies, but... the battlefield is a merciless place. There are too many variables, and it is something even I can only dream of achieving.
Centurion Grandmaster, all of us were prepared when we enlisted and came to Yumen. Of course I'm afraid of dying, but I'm not that afraid of dying.
Chongyue Are you not alive and well right now?
As long as you still live, you must treasure your life. Be sure to live until the day you get to return home and be with your family.
Centurion I won't hide it from you... it's too late for that. I'm about to leave Yumen.
Chongyue Are you being reassigned elsewhere?
Centurion No, that's not it...
Thanks to you, I survived our last battle, but the injury I had before has been acting up a lot these past six months. The doctor told me my meridians will never heal up completely. This hand of mine won't be able to hold a blade for much longer.
General Zuo has been very understanding. He's already given me permission to leave the army early. Once I'm finished packing, I'll be able to head home. I'll probably be gone by the end of the month.
My old mother is still waiting for me, and I don't have any siblings. I've been in the army for over a decade, and I've never had the chance to go home and care for her, not even for a day.
Chongyue How could this be...?
Centurion It's nothing, really. Even if I won't be able to hold a sword, I can still plow the fields with a hoe.
The court is kind to us soldiers too. After I retire, I'll still have the same benefits as a centurion.
...Grandmaster, I hope you won't mind me speaking my mind.
When I found out I couldn't serve anymore... I really wasn't sure if I was ready to leave you, General Zuo, Yumen, and all my brothers behind... and I mean this from the bottom of my heart.
I know we used to yell "the yellow sands will bury us all together," but I actually felt a little fortunate when I realized I could go home alive...
And lately, I can't shake this thought either... Suppose I die on the battlefield. Even if my mother gets compensated for my death, how is she supposed to live out the rest of her life on her own?
Do you perhaps... consider me a deserter?
Chongyue Why would you think so?
Your injury is definitive proof that you have defended your homeland for years. What could give anyone the right to criticize you?
And even in plowing the fields back home, you will still be serving our country by producing food.
A single leaf falls from the old pagoda tree. Having been replanted here from a hundred li away, even though the tree is now in a far superior environment, it has naturally yet to become accustomed to its surroundings.
The two men's lingering tipsiness draws them closer to one another. The officer glances at the man standing next to him.
He is the kind of man heard of only in legends, the kind of man one can only dream of laying their eyes on. Yet the man who stands beside him right now feels like nothing more than an approachable older brother.
Centurion I... I still have another question, but... I'm afraid to ask.
Chongyue You and I risked our lives together. That makes us comrades. We may have different responsibilities that have thus far given us few chances to share a conversation, but that is no reason for us to be estranged.
Centurion Haha... Hearing that from you makes me feel like all those risks I took were worth it.
Grandmaster, why do you guard Yumen?
Chongyue Is it not for the same reason as any other soldier?
Centurion But you are not like us, and not quite like General Zuo, either...
When I first arrived, the old veterans told me you'd already been guarding Yumen for a long time, but now I'm an old veteran myself, while you look just the same as all those years ago.
Everyone calls you the Grandmaster, but no one seems to know what your actual position is... We risk our lives together, but the court never seems to award you for any of your achievements.
You have no family... and the heroine has been here in Yumen for so long too...
Or perhaps it's because you have no equal under all of heaven, and the blades and arrows of the battlefield mean nothing to you, that you have no worries at all...
Chongyue ......
The man's eyes suddenly sharpen. It is at this moment that the officer realizes that he said something he should not have. His lingering tipsiness vanishes without a trace.
Centurion M-My apologies! I... I shouldn't have said that.
Chongyue No, you are right.
It is true. I am different from the rest of you. That is nothing to hide, nor could I hide it were I to try.
Centurion Right...
Chongyue But even if I am, what difference does it make?
These yellow sands are vast and harrowing, but this is Great Yan's wall, behind which are our loved ones.
Countless soldiers guard this place, suffer countless hardships, and brave countless deaths, but certainly they do it for more than honor and wealth.
Have all of you asked yourselves, "Why do we stay here to defend this place?"
Is the answer really so important?
We may not necessarily be so different.
Besides, as you well know, I now have a name just like any of yours, don't I?
Centurion ......
[Xuanliao joins in.]
Zuo Xuanliao Is this a good time?
Chongyue Please, go ahead. Is something the matter?
Zuo Xuanliao ......
It's important.
Centurion General Zuo, Grandmaster, I will be heading back to the barracks now!
[The centurion leaves the forge.]
Zuo Xuanliao The Messenger from the capital arrived last night. You're being summoned back for debriefing.
With the situation here stable as of late, the court might perhaps have other arrangements for you.
Chongyue But hardly any time has passed this time?
Zuo Xuanliao To the Sui Regulator, your current stay in Yumen has been long enough.
The Messenger handed me the letter directly. It seems aside from the Sui Regulator, the Ministry of War has also put on quite a bit of pressure...
Chongyue ......
......
The officer leaves the smithy and closes the door behind him. The conversation in the garden gradually fades away.
The conversation he just had with the man now feels almost unreal.
He tightens his armor and grips his aching arm.
The breeze that morning feels awfully cold.
<Background 3>
Half a month later
Roadside Inn Staff Brother Dajiang, these two jugs of wine are on me. I'll put them in your cart. Drink them on your way home.
Take it easy when you steer the burdenbeasts. Don't break the jugs.
Retired Soldier I can't accept these. You've already given me so much.
Roadside Inn Staff Nonsense. We've fought side by side, and now this is where you draw the line?
So, you're going home, and you no longer see me as a brother in arms?
Retired Soldier Of course I still do.
Roadside Inn Staff Come to think of it, though, I'm really not used to seeing you in that get-up.
Retired Soldier I don't look nearly as impressive without my uniform, right? It's been years now. I'm still nowhere near retirement age, but you age fast in the military.
Roadside Inn Staff Oh, stop complaining. Live a peaceful life as soon as you get home. Make sure to write us once you get married and start pumping out kids. We'd love to hear all about that.
And come back if you ever have the chance. I'll treat you to another round.
Retired Soldier I will.
Take care.
Roadside Inn Staff You too.
[Chongyue walks by the retired soldier and roadside inn staff.]
Roadside Inn Staff What a coincidence, though. The Grandmaster is leaving today, too.
I'll think of this as me sending the both of you off.
By the way, do you know where he's heading this time?
Retired Soldier ......
Roadside Inn Staff *sigh*...
Retired Soldier I'll be off now.
[The retired soldier leaves.]
The sands of time sweep all feelings away.
All return home but one knows not where to stay.