Sheng Lingyuan answered, "In the 31st year of Emperor Ping."
This matched the familiar history that Xuan Ji knew.
After Emperor Wu restored the country, he changed the era name and calendar.
Before that, although he had already proclaimed himself emperor, the human race still used the calendar of the previous dynasty.
Among them, "the 31st year of Emperor Ping" was a very important year.
According to historical records, in this year, the young emperor had just turned 18 years old and led various tribes and clans to come and pledge allegiance. The scattered human race gathered under the new king's, becoming an important turning point in the reversal of the situation in the Nine Provinces' chaos.
The historical records only recorded what happened, but not how it happened.
When Xuan Ji first saw this passage, he was puzzled and couldn't figure out how an 18-year-old youth in an era without advertising and media could have such a well-organized group of people - after all, he didn't seem to have any great achievements before.
It was only now that Xuan Ji suddenly realized that the most important clan, the Witch Clan, had joined the humans.
The Witch Clan was mysterious, powerful, and had always kept to themselves. Their sudden announcement of joining the humans became a very intimidating indicator.
Other clans saw this and thought that the Witch Clan had some insider information, so they followed suit in a frenzy, afraid of being left behind and missing out on the benefits.
"If all of this was planned by Dan Li, then this guy is definitely a big IP worth experiencing!"
"After Aluojin took over, how did they go from working together to fighting each other?"
Sheng Lingyuan raised his head at the sound and looked towards the distant sky.
A shooting star rudely tore through the night sky and crashed towards the horizon, causing the scene behind them to shatter once again.
"Nothing lasts forever, even the most beautiful flowers eventually wither."
"When you're in a desperate situation, you rely on your brothers. But once you become successful, it's only natural to divide into different levels."
In just a few short years, time passed like the chaos of war.
The Witch Clan's mysterious and unpredictable magic made people fearful, and Aluojin's stubborn personality made others wary of him.
Of course, he wouldn't actively seek out trouble.
He was spoiled by his tribe since he was young, but he carried the burden of deep hatred the killers of his entire tribe.
The pressure from the mountains almost bent his back, but he was stubborn and refused to let others see his discomfort.
Day after day, he put on a brave face, but gradually became gloomy and difficult to get along with.
Among the humans, besides eating, drinking, and excreting, their unique talents were probably in reporting grievances and fighting among themselves.
They had a special skill in crafting "scheming reports" that stabbed at the most vicious places; they would also make a big fuss and try to morally blackmail others to death in their "moral coercion reports."
Additionally, they would form groups and recite accusations in their "scheming reports", insisting on reciting until the listener's ears were calloused.
In the future, whenever the name "Aluojin" was mentioned, ten major accusations would automatically pop up in their minds.
"Your Majesty, the witch people are a vassal state of ours. It is disrespectful for Chief Aluojin to address you by name without proper etiquette!"
Although Sheng Lingyuan had always been a smiling tiger, he was once young and brash, and did not know how to hold back.
Upon hearing this unreasonable complaint, he immediately smiled and said, "My name is not something to be ashamed of. If others want to call me by name, I have no objections."
"Your Majesty! Chief Aluojin of the witch people is a drunkard and a lecher, and he spoke out of turn, insulting us loyal subjects!"
The young emperor's eyes twitched as he listened.
He tried to count on his fingers which of his "loyal subjects" was worth insulting, but couldn't figure it out.
He could only gently say, "I understand your grievances, but please do not take advantage of Aluojin when he is drunk."
"Your Majesty, a young witch injured the son of Doctor Zheng with a spell. Not only did Chief Aluojin fail to uphold justice, but he also spoke disrespectfully!"
Sheng Lingyuan expressed that this matter would be dealt with seriously.
He then had the troublemaking brat and the ringleader Aluojin brought in and gave each of them ten spankings.
After finishing the spanking, he secretly coaxed them.
That day happened to be the annual "Purification Festival" of the witch people.
On this night, the children of the witch people would wear wooden masks and be led by their fathers and brothers to walk by candlelight in places with moonlight, singing purification songs and praying for health and smoothness in the coming year.
As the new leader of the tribe, Aluojin was still a teenager but was considered an adult.
He had never worn a mask before, so Sheng Lingyuan personally carved one for him.
They changed into casual clothes and walked three miles together on the night of the witch people's Festival, until they were called away by business.
"Your Majesty, Aluojin disobeys military orders and insists on slaughtering the city! The enemy had already surrendered. This not only harms the heavens but also tarnishes our reputation. In future battles, the enemy will surely fight to the death, causing the unnecessary loss of many soldiers' lives, Your Majesty!"
Sheng Lingyuan finally lifted his head from the scroll when he heard the words "city massacre," and looked at the human general who was prostrated on the ground in front of him.
He remained silent for a while before finally saying, "Summon Aluojin back."
The human general thought that the young master who had been deceived by the witches had finally come to his senses, and looked up hopefully.
But then Sheng Lingyuan put down his brush with a "click" and whispered, "Don't make a fuss about this. To the outside world... just say that the demon clan guarding the city pretended to surrender, but had malicious intentions, and was discovered by Aluojin. Let this serve as a warning to others."
The human general's face turned completely green. "There are also half-demons who have come to surrender," the young emperor said heavily, not noticing the anger of his subordinates. "I promised to protect them, but...even if they are not accepted by the demon clan, they still have that bloodline. If they come, remember to be cautious, especially don't let the Witch Clan see them."
The complaining general stamped his feet and beat his chest, thinking that the young master was bewitched by a curse and became like a ball of anger, rolling out of the room.
Xuan Ji was clearly watching from the sidelines, but for some reason, he suddenly identified with the human officials who had repeatedly failed to complain, and felt inexplicably upset: "Why is he so biased?"
Then he came back to his senses and wondered why he was bothered by it.
Sheng Lingyuan had always relied on himself to carve out a path in life since he was young.
He had grown accustomed to being tough and stubborn, so when he became emperor, he did as he pleased.
At first, he didn't realize that his selfishness and favoritism would lead to backlash, but by the time he did, it was too late.
"Dan Li warned me twice," Sheng Lingyuan looked at his younger self with a critical eye.
"The first time, he said I was giving too much to the witch people, but I didn't listen. The second time, he said that Aluojin was too biased against the demon race. Maybe it was okay during wartime, but there would be consequences once the war was over. But how could he be calm and rational when it came to avenging his father's death? I still didn't listen."
"But the demon race is not actually a single race," Xuan Ji said naturally, as if he was familiar with the unusual development of the battle, "there were originally flying birds and walking beasts. Among them, there are those who are willing to fight alongside the demon king, those who opposed from the beginning, those who have been fighting for a long time and are tired and want to return to the deep mountains and old forests to rest, and there are also mixed-blood half-demons who are not accepted by the demon race at all - so in the end, there will be many demons and half-demons who will turn to the human race. These supporters are what you want, but Aluojin can't handle it."
Aluojin never grew up, and his world was either black or white.
"In order to give a position to the surrendered half-breed demon, I ordered the establishment of the 'Thirteen Departments' - which was the predecessor of the Qingping Division. This was kept secret from Aluojin. But there were too many people hoping for his death, and the news was leaked the next day. Aluojin heard about it and actually deserted his post on the front line and came back to make trouble with me."
"You promised me! You promised me! You said you would help me seek revenge, but now you're drinking and chatting with these beasts? You're a liar!" Aluojin had indeed been spoiled, always treating the Emperor as his childhood brother.
Even if he called him "Your Majesty" like everyone else, it was just a childish game and he never took it seriously.
When he shouted and screamed at his older brother, he would at most get a couple of slaps, but when he spoke without restraint to the Emperor who led all the ethnic groups, it was a great act of rebellion.
Sheng Lingyuan didn't have much of a temper towards him, but he had too many things to worry about.
At this critical moment, the dignity of the Emperor could not be compromised, otherwise he wouldn't be able to lead the state in the future.
So, while everyone was still in shock, he took down the unruly Aluojin and locked him up in a small dark room. Originally, he had planned to wait until late at night when things had calmed down, so he could briefly escape from the "Your Majesty" armor and become "Lingyuan" again, and then go and coax Aluojin.
As Aluojin was taken away in chaos, the young Sheng Lingyuan was so angry that his chest hurt.
Suddenly, a voice came from behind the curtain, "Your Majesty, rest assured, when the young clan leader broke in, I had already dismissed the people around us, and not many people heard anything."
This voice made Xuan Ji shiver. He didn't know if it was his imagination, but he felt a chilling familiarity in the voice... a sense of death. The young emperor's face turned pale as he removed the forced dignity from his expression, revealing a tired helplessness.
He called out softly, "Teacher."
The person hidden behind the curtain remained unseen, only a dim shadow was visible.
Slowly and deliberately, he spoke to Sheng Lingyuan, "The young clan leader's hatred towards the demon clan will become a hidden danger, Your Majesty. I warned you about this before."
"I...I know," the young Sheng Lingyuan sighed in confusion. "But...Teacher, what are you doing?"
Suddenly, the shadow knelt down behind the curtain, bowing his head to the ground.
"Your Majesty, there is something else you may not know."
Xuan Ji and the young Sheng Lingyuan walked towards the curtain together.
The young emperor was helping his teacher stand up, while Xuan Ji was anxiously trying to catch a glimpse of what Dan Li looked like.
Just then, a painful groan came from beside them, and the memory scene shattered abruptly.
Sheng Lingyuan tightly pressed on both sides of his temples, stumbled half a step, and happened to bump into Xuan Ji.
Xuan Ji instinctively reached out and caught him, surprised to find that this body was warm and real, like the bodies of the humans he rubbed shoulders with every day on the bus and subway, with flesh and blood.
"What's going on with you?" Xuan Ji asked.
"Being a lonely ghost for too long, I put on human skin...I'm feeling a bit...ugh..." Sheng Lingyuan struggled to squeeze out a few words, propping himself up on Xuan Ji's arm.
His fingers were covered in cold sweat and trembling.
Xuan Ji suddenly remembered a historical record that he had read, which claimed that Emperor Wu had been a virtuous youth but later became a tyrant, exhibiting drastic changes in personality.
This was not normal, so it was likely due to an illness - the symptoms of which were similar to neurasthenia, including difficulty sleeping, persistent tinnitus, and sudden migraines.
The article was written without any evidence, and Xuan Ji had only read it as a work of fiction.
But could it be true?
Suddenly, Sheng Lingyuan's memory became hazy, perhaps due to a sudden headache.
In the 'Retracing' space, everything around them became chaotic, with countless people coming and going, making noise, crying, and arguing.
"Your Majesty!" A distant voice echoed, causing Sheng Lingyuan in Xuan Ji's arms to instinctively turn his head, as if the sound had pricked him. "Chief Aluojin has escaped from prison!"
With a loud thud, Xuan Ji's feet landed on solid ground again, and a new memory scene replaced the previous one. The surroundings were pitch black, but the scenery was very familiar.
They had returned to the witch's tomb, where bones littered the ground.
However, at this moment, the "witch's tomb" was still just a cave, without corpses strewn about.
Xuan Ji heard Sheng Lingyuan's painful and suppressed breathing, and then, his hands empty, Sheng Lingyuan shook him off and stood firmly on his own.
"So, what did Dan Li say to you when he suddenly knelt down and spoke to you later?"
Sheng Lingyuan fell silent for a moment. "The truth about the death of the old patriarch of the Witch Clan - he confessed to me. The messenger from Aluojin was sent by him. The so-called Feishu Clan was nonexistent. The 'messenger' himself was a human puppet. Dan Li said that at the time, we had no other choice. We couldn't bring over the Witch Clan, and the entire human clan was at a dead end. He could only..."
Xuan Ji's palm still seemed to retain the warmth of the man from earlier, but as soon as the wind in the cave blew, it quickly turned cold.
He sighed, "Your Majesty, you great men have cold hands and dirty hearts. Does Aluojin know about this?"
"When he ran out, he didn't mean it. He was just angry with me," Sheng Lingyuan said in a low voice. "Aluojin... I spoiled him too much, he's too stubborn. After he left, he sent a command to withdraw all the witch troops from the front line and led his people back to Dongchuan. He broke the witch formation on the battlefield in a fit of anger. The demon clan, who were originally fighting to the death, took the opportunity to launch a crazy counterattack. Our army was forced to retreat sixty miles, and more than ten cities and villages fell into the hands of the demon clan. The demon clan slaughtered the cities and vented their anger, leaving almost no survivors along the way."
Xuan Ji's scalp tingled as he listened. "But why were there still residents near the front line? Why didn't they evacuate?"
"Heh, after twenty years of war, there's no place left in this vast world to hide. Where can we retreat to?" Sheng Lingyuan coldly chuckled as he slowly walked through the mountain cave.
His voice was weak, but his steps were steady.
"At that time, the witch people were ordered to guard the southeast, using their mysterious and unpredictable magic to protect the region. Many desperate human civilians followed them, and the two races blended together, learning from each other's clothing and language, living in harmony. The witch people even formed a village where they could farm and harvest crops... We just finished harvesting and offered half of it to the witch guards."
But the young and reckless witch chief abandoned them.
Sheng Lingyuan's sharp and handsome profile flickered in and out of sight in the witches' tomb, as if it were carved by a knife: "The witch people love to eat fresh fruit, and Aluojin especially likes pears. In order to please him, the human tribe in the witch village brought grains and fresh fruit to the witchman's camp... When we went back to collect the bodies later, the carefully selected fruits by the people were trampled into mud by the iron hooves and soaked in blood. An old woman was torn into and eaten by the monsters, leaving only broken bones... Those beasts always pick and choose, rarely eating old and tough meat. Do you know why?"
Xuan Ji sensitively caught a certain malice in the man's unchanging smile, suddenly realizing that these words were not meant for him, but for the demon Aluojin outside of 'Retracing'.
"Because, you see, she was holding a jar of pear blossom honey meant for the young chieftain, and it shattered, spilling all over her," Sheng Lingyuan's voice grew softer and more cruel as he spoke, "It must have been very sweet."
Xuan Ji couldn't help but feel his temples throb as she listened to the story.
"The people were incensed, and everyone was pressuring me to punish Aluojin. The Witch Clan had become rebellious against the human clan, and I had to forcefully suppress them. I rushed to Dongchuan overnight, but I was too late. The half-demons and the human clan members who had long been dissatisfied with Aluojin had already surrounded Dongchuan. Many of the Witch Clan's formations and spells had been offered up when Aluojin pledged his allegiance, and the protection of Dongchuan was naturally no match in the eyes of their own people. They quickly broke through the barrier of Dongchuan, and a group of demons took advantage of the chaos... Ah, yes, that's right, did you hear it?"
Xuan Ji suddenly lifted his head.
From outside the cave in the memories, came the sound of battle cries.
The rocks around them shook and gravel rained down.
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