Shen Qiang stared at Nian Hong Fang in a daze. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. In his eyes, Nian Hong Fang had always been perfect. He was kind and gentle and loving, a person that would trust others easily. He cherished emotions and once he gave his heart to somebody, it would be difficult to retrieve it.
That was why it was so difficult for him to let go of his lover. Not even in his most daring dreams, could Shen Qiang have ever imagined that there had been a time when Nian Hong Fang was actually thinking about becoming a part of the demonic faction. That just didn’t sound like him.
On second thought, this also fit his character quite well. He did indeed cherish feelings and so, when he had fallen in love with Ma Zhi Wu, it was difficult for him to extricate himself again. Even to the point where he almost betrayed his true beliefs. “Then what did you do? Did you speak to him about it? Did he agree to become a member of the Yun Zou Sect instead?”
Nian Hong Fang smiled and got up to take the teapot that was standing on the cupboard on the other side of the room. He went to fill it with water to brew a cup of tea. “What did I do?” He smiled, his back still facing Shen Qiang. “That’s a good question. I would like to say I was as daring as he was. Telling him the truth, confronting him about this honestly, enabling us to live the life we led in the years after that … It sure would be good if that was true. Unfortunately, I did quite the contrary.
“I suffered for a while in silence, thinking about what to do. On the one hand, there was the man I had fallen in love with. I didn’t want to leave him. But on the other hand, there was my Master who had raised me as if I was his own child. I didn’t want to lose him either. In the end … Well, while I loved Zhi Wu passionately, my feelings for my Master had been steady for all those years. In the end, I couldn’t abandon them. So I fled like a coward.”
He came back to the table and sat down with a cup in his hands and sighed. “I would like to say it was different. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t even say goodbye to Zhi Wu. I just looked at him one last time one night, got up and ran away. I didn’t look back. I didn’t dare to. In fact, I didn’t even dare to tell my Master about what had happened when I arrived at the Yun Zou Sect again. I couldn’t explain why I hadn’t managed to finish my mission.
“I was … embarrassed. And to be honest, I was also scared. There had been moments when I almost gave in to temptation. For Zhi Wu, I could have done that. If not for my feelings for my Master binding me to this place … Things definitely would have turned out differently.
“When I finally confessed everything to my Master, he only sighed. I guess he knew that I was never prepared to face something like that. And maybe I was also too young to do so. It wasn’t that easy to deal with.”
Shen Qiang watched his expression and then lowered his gaze. In the past five years, he had figured out that there was no way for him to insert himself between Nian Hong Fang and Ma Zhi Wu even though the two of them had been separated for so long. Nian Hong Fang’s feelings were too deep for that.
Now, he could see that even more clearly. From the very beginning, there had never been a possibility for anybody to come between them. That man had been Nian Hong Fang’s first love. And he would be his last as well.
“I guess if you didn’t become a demonic practitioner, he would’ve needed to become a righteous cultivator then. How did he find out that you weren’t actually from his side if you never told him?”
Nian Hong Fang smiled sweetly. “It’s not quite like that. In fact, we both found out two years later that we had been wrong from the very beginning. Neither of us was a demonic practitioner. Zhi Wu … He was a spy there just as much as I had been. From the very beginning, he had been a disciple of our Yun Zou Sect.
“I just … I hadn’t known. Most of my time had been spent at the side of my Master. I would be helping him in the herb garden or sitting in his study, reading up on herbs or pill forging. I seldom left the palace and it was even more seldom that I left the peak. There were a lot of disciples that I didn’t know. As it turns out, even the disciples of the other Peak Masters were not all known to me.”
“I see. So out of all the people there, two righteous cultivators fell in love in a demonic sect. I guess it’s fate.”
Nian Hong Fang smiled. “Yes, for a moment, I thought that as well. And then I … I grew afraid. Or maybe it would be better to say that I had never gotten over that fright.
“Zhi Wu had almost driven me to madness in the demonic sect. Even though he wasn’t a demonic practitioner, I understood that he was still dangerous to me. I didn’t dare to get too close to him. So when he tried to continue where we had left off, I foolishly refused. I pretended to be angry for him never telling me that he was a spy and I ran away again. I tried to hide behind my Master and my tasks and just tried to wait until he gave up.”
He sighed again and shook his head at himself. Looking back now that he had been separated from him for ten years, he regretted his decisions. They could’ve had so much more time together if he hadn’t been such a coward back then. If he had been as bold as Ma Zhi Wu and just embraced those feelings, it would have been much better for them. Ah, he really had been an idiot.
“Well, thankfully, while I was like that, Ma Zhi Wu didn’t just give up. He did everything he could to convince me to give him another chance.
“That kind of man … Do you really think he is a bad person? Do you really think that he never loved me just because of some kind of nonhuman blood that runs in his veins?” Nian Hong Fang looked up at Shen Qiang, his gaze intent. “I know what they teach you in so demon-hunting sects. But I beseech you to think on your own. Will a person simply be bad because of who their ancestors are? Or do you believe that everybody has a choice?”