Peerless Chapter 111-120

Chapter 111

[DB: I did not realize creating too many pages would affect the performance of the blog, so here we are back to posts, although I admit I liked the custom URL pages can make :x]

It was you.

“Try your best to walk in the middle, don’t touch the stone walls.” Cui Buqu repeated once more.

“What is that?” On the stone walls where mosses were fully grown over, there were silver spots shining beautifully yet they looked uncanny. Feng Xiao used the torch held by the Zuoyue guard to inspect it closely for a moment, “It’s quite the strange beauty.”

Cui Buqu said, “Left behind by caterpillars of Silver-powder Butterflies. This breed of butterfly can be found in dark places where the silver- powder on their bodies will glow. They are harmless on their own, but the silver-powder contains poison.”

Feng Xiao, “Can they also be found in damp caves?”

Cui Buqu understood what he meant; originally, he was shaking his head, but he realized that he was walking behind and after shaking his head the other was gone. Still, he said in a low voice, “This breed of Silver- powdered butterfly would usually only appear in Xinan; it’s scarcely found in the north. However, their lifespan is incredibly short, and they enjoy gathering in groups. After passing this section, they should be gone.” This was only the first mechanism imposed upon them. They know that compared to what dangers lay ahead, poisonous silver-powder would be nothing compared to them.

A damp, rotting smell erupted; he couldn’t help coughing twice, and a voice came from afar in an echo. Yet the contours of the lay of the land beneath his feet gradually became flatter, no longer were they slippery wet. Cui Buqu’s walking bamboo stick fell on the ground, resounding in a deep and dull voice, just like an old monk knocking on a wooden fish bit by bit, knocking on everyone’s hearts.

Leaving the paved path, the area broadened. Vines hung down from up above, dangling closely from atop their heads. The dampness and slippery scent unique to the cave rode along with a gentle breeze that came from nowhere, brushing across their faces.

Cui Buqu could smell a hint of danger. He lowered his head.
Lending the light of the fire, the stone terrain wasn’t covered in green moss. Other than some sands and dust, the surface of the stone terrain could still be seen clearly.

Aristocratically beautiful peonies wrapping themselves complicatedly around a stalk of lotuses.

Usually, treasure stoves were simply backdoors built by Emperors for their descendants and later dynasties. It was unnecessary for them to go through so much trouble to pave a stone path and engrave patterns of flowers. It could be seen that the Emperor of the Wei Dynasty not only intended to turn this place into his treasure stove, but he had even anticipated that there would come a day when his descendants, should they be on the run, could temporarily—

His gaze suddenly froze, and turned around as he shouted—

“Halt your steps and retreat!” Feng Xiao’s reflexes were the quickest. Before he retreated, he conveniently held onto Cui Buqu’s arm and pulled him back as well.

Both of the Zuoyue guards were not quick enough and were a step too late.

One of them felt cold wind hammering down his head, there was a sharp pain to his nose. They were knives emerging from the ground upwards, cutting a piece of flesh off the tip of his nose and causing blood to trickle!

Feng Xiao immediately tapped the guard’s meridians to quickly stop the bleeding, using the torch to take a closer look, “No poison.”

A bloody wound like that was truly hideous. Thankfully all of them had brought medicine for knife wounds. The other Zuoyue guard rushed forward to bandage his companion but, unfortunately, even if the wound fully healed, there would be a part of his nose missing.

Cui Buqu said, “You can descend the mountain for the time being, wait for us outside.”

The wounded Zuoyue guard was unwilling, “Commander! This little exterior wound will not affect my performance!”

Feng Xiao did not join in their conversation. He knelt half-way and looked at the razor-sharp knife that was half-an-inch thrust into the stone ground and said curiously:

“The sharp edge of this knife should be cast from ancient methods. On our way out, remind me to bring this back and have them forge a new one, I guarantee that it would be even more efficient than the one Fo Er has. However, how did you know this was a trap?”

“These bricks do not look much different from the others, but in truth, there’s a difference in their unevenness. In fact, there is a regular pattern that’s reoccurring.” Cui Buqu also walked over there, reaching out with a hand to press on top of a brick with twinning lotus patterns, before slowly pressing it down and drawing it to starboard. “Look. Starting from this piece and all the way here, it gradually flattens. When it reaches here, the height reverts to its previous one. Touch it.”

Feng Xiao, “I am not going to touch it. The ground is filthy. I’m fine listening to you speak.”

Cui Buqu: “…”

He silently smoothened a green vein that was popping from his forehead and calmly concluded, “I have seen these sorts of occult arts before. As for the pattern, it was to warn their own people to avoid it, however, were they infiltrators, they would have fallen for it.”

Feng Xiao waved his fan and said, “The configurations of the engraving on these bricks are incredibly complex. Was it also to misdirect infiltrators?”

“That’s right!” Cui Buqu said impatiently, “The place here is very cold, can you not wave your fan?”

Feng Xiao watched his face that was pale like snow and shook his head as he said, “There’s still time for you to be on your way out now!”

Even though he said these words, he still kept his fan away.

There was a sound of water droplets splatting above their heads, drizzle falling down through the mist.

Once the mist got near to Feng Xiao, it was repelled by a shapeless form of energy. His clothes didn’t even catch a bit of dampness.

“Would it rain in the cave?” He nudged through the mist with his fan,
“Is there no poison?”

Cui Buqu shook his head, “I took a look before we came in. The dark clouds are thick outside the mountain, there should be another layer above it, in fact, it’s linked to the exit facing outside. So, it would absorb the clouds outside and turn it into a mist. If I am not wrong, this is the layer of traps, and the layer above should be the one where the treasure stove is hidden. The entrance should be just in front.”

The Zuoyue guard’s nose had stopped bleeding. He insisted on remaining. Cui Buqu no longer tried to make him leave. He walked forward alone.

Cui Buqu turned into the leading party. He walked extremely slowly, examining each step taken.

Of course, to fly to the opposite side using qinggong would be the quickest, but no one would know whether the moment they landed they would land onto a trap. However, if one were to be like Cui Buqu, although this way was slower, it was definitely safe.

The Zuoyue guard who was wounded took the rear. His companion was in front of him.

The vines above their heads got longer and longer, blocking their view. The Zuoyue guard who walked in front couldn’t help but had to use his hand to push them away.

Other than these vines, there were stone pillars all around, reaching up from the ground in various diameters. Judging by the looks of it, they were formed by nature inside the cavern.

In a spacious cavern like this, infinite possibilities could be hidden within. Let alone a few people settling in, it could even contain an entire army of royal guards; there was no doubt why the Emperor of the Wei Dynasty had chosen this place to be their backdoor.

Even the sound of the faintest rustling of leaves would make one extremely nervous in a dead-silent cavern such as this one. Yet, while accompanied by Cui Buqu’s coughing sounds, it made one feel rather peaceful instead.

It was not their first day being in the Zuoyue Bureau; those Zuoyue guards had been on many escapades before and could be considered to have plenty of experience, thus they hadn’t worn their feelings on their sleeves as both of them followed behind Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao, taking a detour around the stone pillar in front of them.

In front, there was a turning, a ray of light hiding behind. Could it be an exit?
The guard couldn’t help feeling happy in his heart. Yet at this moment, a groan sounded behind him. It was slow and brief.
He turned his head around abruptly and realized that everyone behind him was gone!

“Commander, Jiang Song is missing!”

There was no response.

Because both Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao in front of him were gone as well. The Zuoyue guard was shocked.
Behind the turning, there was not a single soul. The light he saw just now seemed as if it came from his own imagination, the road before his eyes was obviously still deep, its end unable to be determined. It was unknown where the path was leading to, the only source of light coming from the torch in his hand.

However, after walking for so long, the torch had almost finished burning, its light wavering, like an old man who is crippling from age barely struggling to breathe, yet could do nothing as he was engulfed by the darkness.

Suddenly, darkness claimed his vision! He reached into his bosom with a hand, hoping to take out another torch, but before his hand could touch his chest he felt his body spinning around as if both his legs had sunk into deep sand, his entire person being pulled down!

Cui Buqu stood where he was, unmoving. He wasn’t falling and he hadn’t gone far.
In reality, he noticed something was wrong the moment he took a detour around the first stone pillar.

However, these types of instinctive feelings didn’t come from real threats, but from feelings that were practically imaginary. These sort of senses weren’t distinct, so he hoped to seek out more clues by just moving forward.

Stone pillars were like forests within the cavern. Torches were unable to brighten up the entire scene. As far as the eye could see, there would be at least a few of them.

Was it because something was off with these stone pillars?

He raised his eyebrows slightly, divulging a rarely seen look of curiosity, yet it was a pity that Feng Xiao who was walking behind did not have the chance to see it.
“I feel that something might be amiss with these stone pillars.” He said. At this moment, he has already reached the side of the fourth stone pillar,
so these words were naturally meant for Feng Xiao to hear.

However, no response came from Feng Xiao.

He turned around and discovered that all three of them were missing. Cui Buqu sighed. The uncanny feeling he felt really was effective. With a hand on the stone pillar, he stood there for a while, recalling the scenery on the way since they first entered.

“I was wrong.” Cui Buqu mumbled.

At first, he thought that the traps here were arranged one after the other and each one maintained some distance from the last. The Silver-powdered Butterflies and the stone terrain traps from before had affirmed his estimation, but in truth, from the moment they entered the cavern, they have already stepped into a massive trap made out of an array.

The Twin Jade Compass Array.

Just as its name implied, the array referenced the arrangements of the constellation the Big Dipper. Seven traps were engineered outside the array and once they interacted with one of those traps, they would enter the territory of another subarray of the Big Dipper.

Just now, when they were placing all their focus onto avoiding the traps in the stone terrain, in reality, they have already stepped into a small ‘Big Dipper array’ made from these stone pillars.

At this moment of being in the array, even if the distance wasn’t far, it would still feel like one was at the horizon of the sky and at the edge of the sea as if the light of the Tianshu star was completely beyond reach.

As for this sub ‘Big Dipper’ array, it referenced the final phase of the strategy in Chinese chess when all the seven stars aligned. Even normal people would be able to see that this array was unique. If one cannot find its principle, they could only be sitting ducks walled-off within a city of grief.

Those who were caught in the array would lose track of time while struggling to live, but even so, they still wouldn’t be able to survive.

Cui Buqu had no idea how to rescue the others, so he could only save himself first.

He closed his eyes and silently recalled the solution to this array. From vague memories in the past, hoping to uncover a single corner.

If one corner could be lifted, then what else would be waiting for him beyond it?

Cui Buqu discarded his torch, tightened his grip on the bamboo stick, helping himself using the stones pillars, and step by step he moved forward fumbling for clues.

After going back and forth a few steps, he took a detour around the stone pillar next to him and walked all over again.

If there were onlookers, they would think that he was blindly taking detours, but Cui Buqu snaked his way through the dark and really did walk himself out of that place.

Once he opened his eyes, there was a glint of light in front of him. The light of candles flickered, melting the ice-cold chill in the cavern.

Cui Buqu turned around. Behind him, there was still a curtain of darkness.

Feng Xiao and the Zuoyue guards—they were still in the array. Should he move forward, or turn back to look for them?
Cui Buqu turned around to go back into the array. Yet behind him sounded the voice of a person.
It should be impossible to have someone else here other than the four of them.

However, the voice of that person was incredibly familiar—

“Since you found your way out, why return? The Cui Buqu I knew was not someone who is soft-hearted and hesitant.”

Cui Buqu violently turned his head around! The other was standing at the entrance where the light was coming from.
His figure was blurry, not even his face could be identified.

However, it was impossible for Cui Buqu not to recognize that voice. Because it hadn’t been long since the last time they spoke to each other. “Yuan Sansi, it was you.” Cui Buqu said lightly.
Wooden fish: An old Chinese instrument. Image below.

Big Dipper: Because beidou (北⽃) can mean either the ‘Big Dipper’ or a compass (as the Big Dipper is also used to point to the North Star), I’ve
taken liberties with both translations so the name of the array isn’t too much of a mouthful.

Tianshu star: Alpha Ursae Majoris, formally named Dubhe, is, despite being designated “α”, the second-brightest object in the constellation of Ursa Major.

Chapter 112

[DB: Updates will be slightly slower and inconsistent as I’ve been quite busy in RL as of late.]

Would you go kill yourself? Yuan Sansi walked over slowly. “Are you surprised?”
Cui Buqu replied in all honesty, “Seeing you a moment ago, I truly felt surprised. Thinking about it now though, it seemed to be within expectations.”

It seemed like Yuan Sansi felt a little stunned, “What do you mean?”

Cui Buqu, “Because your appearance had been too convenient. Around the time I returned to Boling, you were transferred to the post of the Prefecture’s Magistrate of Boling. When I returned to the Cui family, naturally, I needed to handle old matters regarding the Cui clan. With your identities as the new Prefecture’s Magistrate and the senior apprentice-brother of Maiden Yu, it definitely could prompt me to lower my guard and believe everything I’ve previously investigated. Your background was not hard to uncover and you knew that the Zuoyue Bureau would definitely be able to uncover it and inquire about the location of the treasure stove through you. However, if you delivered yourself to our doors, all of this wouldn’t be so abrupt, and I wouldn’t have become so suspicious easily.” Yuan Sansi, “I heard that Commander Cui had always carried a heart as cold as steel, but when faced before your late mother’s old friend, you were still soft-hearted in the end.”

Cui Buqu said plainly, “There is no need to be humble. It was not I who was soft-hearted, but it was you who were too brilliant.”

As Yuan Sansi watched him returning the favour, he couldn’t help but laugh, “Commander Cui, you really are an extraordinary person!”

To watch your own life in the grasp of the enemy’s hand; Cui Buqu carried no martial arts on himself, being on foreign territories, he had nothing to defend himself. It was as if sentiment for Cui Buqu still existed within him, for Yuan Sansi didn’t move a muscle, his manner of speech still decent.

But behind Cui Buqu, within the deep and dark abyss of the array, Feng Xiao and those two Zuoyue guards have yet to show themselves.

Cui Buqu asked, “That is to say, your background had been a lie?”

Yuan Sansi shook his head, “It was real. I really am the apprentice- brother of your mother and I truly had been a recipient of kindness from the Yu family, raised by your grandfather in the Yu manor for a few years and brought up with the utmost care. On that day when I left the Yu family, it was because I was troubled by my past, a thunderstorm of mixed feelings within my heart. I wished to seek a way of escaping, not willing to tread the path your grandfather had made for me—to farm and take in a wife—and to spend the rest of my life like that. Although I feel a sense of guilt for Maiden Yu, I still had to leave.”

Recalling the past, he sighed with regret, “I travelled across the four seas and encountered unexpected adventures, thus walking down an unorthodox path. If I had remained in the Yu family, I fear that all of my life would have been just that, one without accomplishments; the day for me to see the daylight would have never been.” Cui Buqu said coldly, “Is the Yunhai Thirteen Stories a place for you to spread your wings then?”

Yuan Sansi smiled, “My gracious nephew, you are wrong. The Yunhai Thirteen Stories did not exist in that year, and there is nothing bad about the Yunhai Thirteen Stories. He could give you everything you ever wanted.”

Cui Buqu, “If I want you to die, would you go kill yourself?”

Yuan Sansi waved his hand, “You are a talent that’s hard to come by. You are not similar to the other mortal men, wasting all your efforts on the sparring of tongues. I know that presently you have a lot of questions, perhaps after you’ve gotten your answer, you will change your mind. It’s not all yet set in stone.”

Cui Buqu, “Then I will wait for your tongue to prove itself artfully persuasive.”

Yuan Sansi laughed at the hint of mockery in his speech, standing in the brightness of the candlelight as he watched Cui Buqu’s figure in the dark, like a child who didn’t know better.

This child was unarmed; even with a mouth that was sharper than even the swiftest sword found under the sky, by the end of the day, it was still just a mouth.

Towards Yuan Sansi, before someone who was holding a butcher’s knife, Cui Buqu was like an infant, even if he had a thousand schemes up his sleeve, it was impossible for them to be executed.

Moreover, Yuan Sansi prided himself on not being a boorish fellow.

If he had only been someone with a polished exterior, then he wouldn’t have gained recognition from the Yu family back in that year. An intelligent and smart woman like Maiden Yu too wouldn’t have permitted an arranged marriage between them. It was a pity that Maiden Yu had not anticipated the ambitiousness of Yuan Sansi.

Yuan Sansi’s dreams were never simply just this piece of land called Boling.

“Actually,” Yuan Sansi said, “The capability of the Yunhai Thirteen stories transcends your imagination; but, let’s leave this aside for now. Could you have predicted our once brief confrontation in the capital?”

Cui Buqu’s expression froze. He looked at the vague contours of Yuan Sansi’s silhouette.

The other raised an arm and did a flourish.

With Cui Buqu’s memory, even if he couldn’t tell a minute ago, once he saw this gesture he was able to recall everything.

“The Thousand Lantern Banquet from the Dragon Boat Festival. Princess Leping’s Qingli Garden. Those firearms that were secretly hidden. An attempt to assassinate in the name of treason.” Word by word he uttered.

Yuan Sansi snickered, “That’s right. That night, the one who hid below the horse carriage, the one who crossed hands with Feng Xiao, was me. Didn’t you notice that during that time, I was intentionally merciful towards you? Otherwise, with my level of martial arts, how could I have slipped?”

Putting it this way, after Yuan Sansi left the Yu family, he really did encounter something that normal people would not have dreamed of.

Because the fight that night had proven that this man’s martial arts were not inferior to Feng Xiao and he was more skilled than Fo Er.

With this realization, everything came together.

Although Yuan Sansi knew martial arts, on the surface he was properly obeying the laws, step by step he walked down the path to serve as an official of the Imperial Palace. The surname Yuan was a famed surname in the northern regions. After the destruction of the former Wei Dynasty, there were no few numbers of people like him who took up posts in court. Yuan Sansi was only one of them—in these few hundred years, the changing of dynasties occurred frequently. The Emperor wouldn’t forsake the use of any clans just because their ancestors had once sat upon the throne.

According to the law, when a new official succeeded, the Emperor would summon him to the capital for a debriefing. Before he was promoted as the Prefecture Magistrate of Boling, he did have such a chance. On the surface, he travelled to the capital for official matters, but in reality, he was contacting the rebelling faction. With his identity, it was not difficult for him to obtain an invitation to Qingli Garden, therefore no one would have noticed that on the way to the banquet, one of the guests had mysteriously left the venue and hid under the horse carriage.

A proud hero who stood at the peak of the Jianghu world, carrying such an important identity on himself and peerless martial arts, indeed, he wouldn’t have set his eyes only on a very ordinary Yu family.

That night, Yuan Sansi’s display of mercy was also for him to put on airs and flaunt his weight.

To expose himself at this moment wasn’t just to tell Cui Buqu that he had every capability to kill him, but it was also to hint at him that the Yunhai Thirteen Stories possessed overwhelming powers.

As a rebelling faction that was originally eliminated by the Zuoyue Bureau, they could still come and leave Qingli Garden as they pleased and assassinate the people inside of it. Naturally, they could have done even more.

Cui Buqu said slowly, “The complete annihilation of the Wei Dynasty took place a long time ago. The present Emperor was not the same man who destroyed the Wei Dynasty. What use is there for you to take vengeance on him?” “It is not for revenge.” Yuan Sansi shook his head, “Graceful nephew, you look too lowly upon me. The world itself is a board of chess for the Yunhai Thirteen Stories and everyone is a chess piece themselves. If you join us, naturally, you will know more.”

The corner of Cui Buqu’s lips curled upwards, “Is this not just treason? Why are you speaking so loftily about it? Your skill in persuasion would be able to persuade nobody at all. From the way I see it, your leader’s mouth should be more skilled than you are. If he stepped out, perhaps I will consider it.”

Yuan Sansi laughed, “Why would the great sire step out himself? There is an honoured guest that you have not met for a long time. He has been missing you. I could invite him to take a step out and allow you both to reminisce the past. Please.”

He gestured towards the light in the inner room, gesturing for Cui Buqu to walk over there.

Cui Buqu, “I have three friends who are still in the array. If I were to promise you benefits, shouldn’t you at least let them out first?”

Yuan Sansi, “There is no need to be in a hurry. They are all safe and sound. In a while, you will see it for yourself.”

Judging by his manner of speech, it seemed like even Feng Xiao was taken under control.

Cui Buqu raised his eyebrows.

It was the first time he found himself in a situation where it seemed difficult to control.

He even had a premonition that in the small room ahead, perhaps he would be seeing someone he did not wish to see.

Cui Buqu rose to his feet and threw away the bamboo stick. He walked agitatedly. Since there was already a faint source of light, there was no need to rely on a bamboo stick.

Step by step.

Very quickly he came before Yuan Sansi and saw for himself the scenery in the small room.

It was bright and clean. Luminous pearls within inlaid walls glowed faintly, unlike the candlelight he had imagined just now.

A man was sitting down crossed-legged on a cattail mat, his back facing him.

That figure was more familiar than anything else he knew.

It was so familiar that Cui Buqu could not retain the expression on his face. Even his eyes betrayed a hint of shock.

Yuan Sansi smiled slightly as if he had expected this reaction. The other turned his head around at the opportune moment.
His hair was white like snow and the clothes he wore were washed till their colours paled. His face retained the handsome look he once had many years ago.

His smile was so intimately familiar, he even waved at Cui Buqu.

“Why are you torturing yourself to such a state? The colour on your face has drained.” His voice carried concern and at the same time reprimand, like the elder within a family speaking to his long far-off disciple.

However, Cui Buqu could also feel blood surge all over his body. At that moment, he felt cold.

He stood motionless in silence. The other did not urge him on, in fact, he was very patiently awaiting his reaction.

After a while, Cui Buqu found a mat in front of the other and sat down, going straight to the point, “I cannot believe it would be you, teacher.”

Fan Yun smiled warmly, “If you could anticipate this from the beginning, how could I be worthy enough for you to call me your teacher?”

Cui Buqu, “I remember you telling me once, you were unrestrained by birth, a man of recluse with no definite abode. Even when the Liuli Palace recruited you, you were only willing to be a guest tutor. To come and leave as you please.”

Fan Yun, “That is right. I have said that before.”

Cui Buqu, “You even said before, that you were the descendant of the famed minister, Fan Ju. Your life-long wish was to abide by the code of the Fan clan, to seek out a monarch of wisdom as a gift to the Heavens and watch the world flourish in peace.”

Fan Yun smiled, “That is right. I have said those things before, and they are indeed what I am doing right now.”

Cui Buqu gave an abrupt cold laugh, “I cannot see how a hidden place like this and the Yunhai Thirteen Stories who resemble a swarm of flies that spend their time around dog shit would be more promising than Yang Jian!”

“After so many years that we haven’t met, your attitude remained as penetrating as ever. However, a sword is a double-edged blade. When it’s too sharp, sometimes it hurts others, but it will also hurt you as well.” Fan Yun shook his head.

After his prior state of shock, Cui Buqu’s expression very quickly pacified. Even though this was Fan Yun, he could not see through his mind at the moment. “No wonder ever since I delivered myself into this place hiding the treasure stove, I couldn’t stop feeling that everything here is familiar. The Twin Jade Compass Array was an array made by your own hands. That year you even told me that only a handful of people knew how to set up an array like this beneath the sky, and even fewer know how to free themselves from it safely. So, was all of this a scheme?”

Fan Yun, “No. The treasure stove is real. Originally, this place is indeed the backdoor made by the Wei Emperor for his descendants. Only that, everything here was moved out by us earlier.”

Cui Buqu gave Yuan Sansi a glare, followed by a mocking laugh, “In order to commit treason, he donated his entire legacy, going so far to become a dog for the enemy undercover. Being an official for many years, Uncle Yuan, you really are made for big things.”

Yuan Sansi’s skin was thick on the same level, so he replied mannerly, “I thank my graceful nephew for the compliment.”

Those who didn’t know better would think that these three people were discussing poetry, finding great enjoyment in themselves.

Author’s Notes:

Are you surprised? The mystery will soon be revealed.

Chapter 113

[DB: The name ‘Yunhai Thirteen Stories’ have been changed into ‘Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai’ so sounds more fluent. *sweats* Hopefully this is the last name change. Truthfully they’re all poor naming choices I’ve made early in the translations in Book I, but I’m slowly finding my way around being a translator…..and hopefully significantly improving? Ahahaha. These things won’t occur so frequently anymore in my next project. Anyways! As I’ve mentioned in Twitter, chapter 114 will come later as chapter 115 and 116 will be released side by side with it, since it’s all suspense (which you’ll know at the end of this chap) and I think you’ll appreciate being able to read them subsequently in 3 days. Btw, I’ve had a lot of advise from people over at Betwixted Butterfly which I’ve got to met recently. They’re all so nice! Please check out their works too if you’re looking for good quality novels to read. ^_^]

Feng Xiao

Fan Yun still remembered that gloomy day.

From above the sky, a drizzle fell. He sat alone by the side of the road, trying to get a hexagram in a pavilion under a cattail roof.

A young man that was roughly dressed approached, putting away the tattered umbrella in his hand and sat down opposite of him.

Fan Yun was just fixating all his focus and energy onto the array before him that he had built using little wooden sticks. He hadn’t paid him any attention. After the other examined him for a while, he suddenly said, “Add a defence line to the xun position.”

Fan Yun was just holding a little wooden stick in his hand, he was prepared to place it on the xun position, but once he saw the other’s words coincide with his own without prior consultation, he finally raised his head to meet the other’s gaze.

“You’ve learned the art of Qimen Dunjia?”

The young man shook his head, “I’ve only read the scripture, ‘Secret Storehouse Of Penetrating The Six Yins’ by Hua Shi Gong, but there are many things about it that I do not understand.”

He has only read half a book, looking like he only vaguely understood it, yet he’s achieved such a degree of skill. This was proof that people who were naturally gifted with intelligence did exist.

Fan Yun quickly grew fond of him.

However, he only shook his head to the pale and sickly look of the other, looking like he was moribund.

“Your fate will lead you to hold immense power, but you will weather through hardships big and small. You will encounter many crises and undergo many dangers and they will be especially unbeneficial to your friends and family. People who are close to you, the closer they are, the easier it will be for them to suffer.”

The young man looked very peaceful, “It is as you said, but I defy fate.”

Fan Yun, “Young and energetic; you think men can champion the Heavens, yet you’re ignorant that the number of crises one must encounter through fate cannot be changed.”

The young man said plainly, “I have never thought of changing my fate, only that I defy it. It is Heaven’s business of how they wish to humour me, yet it is my business of what sort of path I wish to take. Both of these do not concern each other.”

It was the first time Fan Yun met such a person.

There was a myriad of living beings; they either deeply believe the concept of encounters in fate, pursue good fortunes while averting disasters, being careful at every turn, or, they are determined not to admit to fate.

However, they have not been like this man, who was just unwilling to be compromised.

What sort of destiny would such a man come to in the end? Fan Yun suddenly grew interested.
“What is your name? What do you do as a living?”

“Cui Buqu. I pursue my adoptive father to conduct businesses. He just passed away last month.”

“Why not pursue me in learning the arts; astronomy and geography, arts of fortune-telling, I can teach you all of them.”

“I never acknowledge anyone as my teacher.” “It does not matter.”
……

Recalling the past, Fan Yu yielded a look of sentiment.

“Although you and I share no name of tutor and student, in reality, we are tutor and student in everything but name. You are the most gifted person I have ever met. If not for your body rendering you unable to learn martial arts, I fear you would already have put up a fight with Yuan Sansi.” Yuan Sansi who was used for comparison laughed, “As the saying goes, ‘no man is complete’. My graceful nephew could succeed as the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau at such a young age, taken as a confidant by Empress Dugu. He is already a hero among men. If even his martial arts are peerless, wouldn’t that bring jealousy upon him by others?”

The gentler and peaceful his demeanour seemed, the more the warning bells rang in Cui Buqu’s heart.

If Fan Yun sought out a chance to show himself and say the same surrendering words, naturally, it would also   be   another   workable way. However, that method would make their tactic seem mundane, completely different from the way they showed up right now, digging a pit as they waited for Cui Buqu to jump down himself; first grinding his spirit down, then make use of sentiments and in the end luring him in via the promise of benefits.

However, the appearance of Fan Yun and Yuan Sansi should be just the beginning. The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai’ methods should not be limited to just this.

Something was lurking in their hearts, struggling to rise to the surface, and he was reaching out to grab it for his own.

“You people want me to surrender myself, shouldn’t you also call for the three companions that followed me in?” Cui Buqu didn’t divulge any expression.

Yuan Sansi’s laugh spoke volumes, he spent an entire minute staring at him and only then did he say, “No hurry.”

Cui Buqu could not refrain himself from raising a brow. The gesture was so faint that it vanished within a blink.

Yet from Yuan Sansi’s perspective, this was a very obvious message. The Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau who had always maintained his stance through wisdom finally had a moment of uncertainty.

The end of this situation has been determined ever since he stepped into Boling.

Yuan Sansi gave a gentle laugh.

He was very eager to see what reaction Cui Buqu will have once he saw the truth.

Fan Yun was still speaking.

“Buqu, you are born a person of leadership by nature, the rebirth of Zhang Liang. If you only command a mere Zuoyue Bureau, wouldn’t it be a pity? Although Yang Jian cherished your talents, he never treated you like a subject of good name, as a pillar of the country. Otherwise, with your talents, you should have already entered the Council of Chancery. Your body rendered you an invalid, thus if no turn of events took place, with how you exhaust your efforts running errands, you would definitely end up dying early.”

Cui Buqu’s brows lowered and his pupils sharpened; from Fan Yun’s perspective, he could only see the other’s eyelashes concealing his eyes, he could not see clearly what look lurked beneath them.

Even ants would cravenly cling to life; as long as one was human, they wouldn’t be willing to die, let alone someone like Cui Buqu, who held immense power in his grasp.

If one were to lose their life, then what use is there to have powers that transcend the skies?

“What is the end goal of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai? Since you people wished to nominate someone to be the Emperor, then I should at least be allowed to see that person, so I can tell to what extent his ability reaches to.” Cui Buqu said. Fan Yun, “After you join us, naturally, you will know. Didn’t you cross hands with Duan Qigu back in Qiemo city before? That person has roamed freely in the north and south for decades, he is considered a hero, but he had been only but number twelve among the thirteen pavilions.”

Cui Buqu, “What about teacher? What positions are you and Yuan Sansi in?”

Fan Yun did not keep him in suspense, “Yuan Sansi is Master Four and I am Master Three. Gao Yun from the Fuyu Sect who died under the hands of the Jiejian Bureau’s Second Commander Feng was Master Five.”

Cui Buqu mocked, “Even with both your talents, you only ranked third and fourth. Then, if I joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, I fear I would only be just there to replace Duan Qigu?”

Fan Yun smiled, “Since Yuan Sansi and I came to recruit you in person, it can be seen that the Pavilion Lord thinks highly of you. After you join us, your position would only be superior to the both of us old folks, not lesser. Members are aplenty in the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, they are vast and far beyond your imagination. Prior to this, you must have experienced it yourself. They deployed such a huge force to remove just one Duan Qigu, yet the Sui Empire view it as a great achievement, but he was only a dispensable chess piece that belonged to the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. “

Cui Buqu gave a forced smile, “I did not only remove Duan Qigu, but I have also removed Yu Xiu who served Prince Jin’s side, Yu Xiu’s double Yu Heng, and the Fuyu Sect’s Leader Gao Yun. There was also the conspiracy of treason in the Qingli Garden. So many of you perished in my hands, yet you’ve shown no hard feelings trying to recruit me. I fear I would only be avenged on once I join you!”

Fan Yun, “You needn’t worry over this. Just like I’ve mentioned just now, Duan Qigu was dispensable, and that Gao Yun, relying of having the Fuyu Sect at his back, he had often disobeyed orders, additionally he is a Gorguyeo, not a countryman of mine, thus his goals would have differed. Since you helped us remove them, we were able to deploy someone we trust to succeed the Fuyu Sect, so you’ve helped us achieve a goal instead.”

Faced before his joyous expression, Cui Buqu’s heart sank a little.

Fan Yun guided him patiently, “Buqu, you are very intelligent. A straightforward person does not resort to insinuations; I have spared no efforts nominating you in front of the Pavilion Lord, the Pavilion Lord also admires you. Compared to Yang Jian, that two-faced dealer, the Pavilion Lord is the Emperor I have set my eyes on. He is generous, his methods are extraordinary. Not only wouldn’t he keep your prior actions to heart, but he instead admired your will to tell apart enemies and people of your own. Before this, we all served masters of our own, and you were only fulfilling your own duties, so what fault was there to find? Everything that happened before will naturally be forgiven, abolished by a single stroke.”

Cui Buqu, “It seems my guess was right.”

Fan Yun was stunned, “What?”

Cui Buqu, “You held a grudge for Yang Jian.”

Fan Yun paused for a moment, then laughed coldly, “Yang Jian’s enemies would not be restricted to just a few hundred thousand. With or without me, there would be no difference. However, you are a disciple of mine, I will not push you to your death.”

Cui Buqu, “Today as I stand here, whether or not I am willing, I fear I am not the one to have a say in that.”

Fan Yun, “Do you still remember the first time we met when I took a look at your fate? Although Yang Jian had the meteorology of an Emperor, he was born to a life of luxury. However, his dragon bone suggests that he would meet his death not by illness. Although the Imperial Court is flourishing now, it possesses the image of a solitary monk. Even if the Sui Empire flourished at this moment, it would fall into the same fate as Yang Jian, coming to a premature end. To end in two generations; Yang Jian is destined to be lonely and poor in old age, and his children beneath him would meet tragic ends all the same. During that year you pursued me in learning practically every form of art, only fortune-telling alone you refused to learn. However, you are usually heavily influenced by the things you see and hear, you should have heard about some rumours, and know that what I said was not a lie.”

Cui Buqu, “That is to say, the new master who gained the teacher’s loyalty must be someone who holds the extravagance of a dragon and bears the appearance of a phoenix, born to be an Emperor by fate?”

Fan Yun nodded, “That is right. Not only was the Pavilion Lord skilled in both academics and martial arts, in fact, his limits are the skies, his prosperity difficult to put in words.”

Cui Buqu listened until he was a little tired. After he finished listening, he remained silent for a moment, finally letting out a light breath of air.

“Since things have progressed to this end, teacher can just be straightforward. If I am to join the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, what conditions would I need to satisfy? If you want me to assassinate Yang Jian, that would not be possible.”

Fan Yun has been waiting for him to ask this, so he laughed after being asked, “Naturally someone will be sent to take care of Yang Jian. There is no need for you to act on your own. Yang Jian’s wife, the Empress Dugu, carries a rigid personality not inferior to that of men. Allowing her to remain would also be a threat. However, Dugu trusts you very much. You will have more opportunities to lay your scheme. So, I need you to pull strings and build bridges, assisting us through that way. After the matter is done, I will nominate you to the Pavilion Lord to be his Vice. To be below one and above ten thousand. In the future, when the new Emperor ascends, you will be just an Emperor of a different surname. Wouldn’t you be more carefree compared to the present? Those members of the Cui family who had tortured you before, I fear they would only thump their chest and stomp their feet in unending regret.” Cui Buqu replied calmly, “These words that you speak are all just words of mirages, empty and meaningless. You should know that these would not suffice to move me.”

Fan Yun smiled, “Then, what about a rare precious treasure that could regulate your health, the Jade of Heaven’s Lake?”

Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow.

Fan Yun looked in Yuan Sansi’s direction.

The latter rose to his feet and walked towards the stone wall, reaching next to the luminous pearls and searched for some time. The ground rumbled and next to Yuan Sansi’s foot, a piece of land sank. He bent down to search for a while before taking out a box.

Opening the box, sitting between thick silk was something. A piercing- sharp ice crystal, its splendour churning.

“You are someone who has seen the Jade of Heaven’s Lake yourself, you should know that this item is not a counterfeit. With the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, although it cannot completely cure your illness, at the very least, it can prolong your life for a few more decades.” Fan Yun said, “This is the most sincerity I could manage to get for you.”

But the Jade of Heaven’s Lake was long surrendered to the Imperial Court by Feng Xiao. How could it appear here?

If something happened on its journey of being delivered, or if it was stolen from the court afterwards, it was impossible for Cui Buqu not to know.

Yet this jade was, certainly and undeniably, the real thing.

He remembered very clearly the size, patterns, and outline of this stone. There cannot be a second one in this world that was identical to it even on the inside.

Then only one explanation was left. Cui Buqu said softly, “Feng Xiao.”

Feng Xiao was also a traitor.

Since Boling, or perhaps even earlier than that.

[1] Hexagram: the hexagrams speak about reaching pure yang by employing the firing process to burn away false yin. One the other hand, doing this requires the balance of yin (flexibility) and yand (firmness). More information here.

[2] xun: The xun position of one of the right positions in a ba gua. In the Chinese image, it’s the one marked by a purple circle.

[3] Art of Qimen Dunjia: Originally devised to help form military strategy and tactics, Qimen Dunjia was in use as long ago as the period of Chinese history known as the Warring States, and is believed by Chinese scholars to have been used at the Battle of Red Cliffs in the defeat of Cao Cao’s ship-borne army. More info.

[4] Dragon bone: Dragon bone is the part above the eyes where bones stick out. Fan Yun is probably reading Yang Jian’s face to see his fate and recites it out loud.
[5] Extravagance of a dragon and bears the appearance of a phoenix: ⻰章凤姿Describing someone who is extremely extraordinary.

[6] Limits are the skies: ⻜⻰在天 (lit: fly in the sky like a dragon) usually meaning he’s going to high places, probably referring that he’d become the Emperor in the end.

Chapter 114

On the outside a frosty facade, yet on the inside, a passionate beating heart

Cui Buqu looked at the Jade of Heaven’s Lake. Yet Fan Yun was looking at him.
“Buqu, for someone with natural talents such as yourself, if you only lived for a few short decades and met an early death, wouldn’t that be a pity? Your ambitions and ideals are a lot more than this. From the perspective of the people of this world, the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau is already a hard-earned prestigious position; however, I know that to you, this is not even worth mentioning. You are similar to me, viewing life as a board of chess, toying with the ways of the world and the hearts of human beings like a game. You care nothing for fame and status, but without your life, what can be done?” Fan Yun spoke continuously in a pleasant tone, just like that year when he used to guide Cui Buqu.

He said many things only once, and Cui Buqu could draw inferences from single sentences. So, this time, he also believed that the other could make a quick and intelligent choice.

Cui Buqu remained silent. Fan Yun has the utmost patience, waiting patiently and quietly.

Abandoning his former faction and joining the enemy’s ranks, plotting for a rise of rebellion; a great event such as this cannot be decided just by a single slap on the head. Normal people would have been terrified half-dead just by listening to it; although Cui Buqu was not like normal people, if he had agreed without hesitation, then Fan Yun and Yuan Sansi would have instead grown suspicious.

After a long time, Fan Yun heard Cui Buqu saying, “I want to see Feng Xiao.”

Fan Yun was not surprised at this request, he only smiled, “Did you not already guess? Are you placing too much trust in Feng Xiao’s loyalty, or are you in denial of your own deductions?”

Cui Buqu’s expression was void, “Words cannot serve as evidence; I trust in my eyes more.”

Fan Yun laughed, “As things have progressed, do you still not understand? He has joined the forces of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Or perhaps, you refuse to give up hope until you reach the tether’s end. I have never seen you being so concerned over the status and goals of someone else. Whether he betrayed Yang Jian and joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai or not, is it that important to you?”

Cui Buqu, “Very important.”

Fan Yu nodded his head, “Alright then.”

He turned to Yuan Sansi and said, “To trouble Brother Yuan, please call for the Deputy Pavilion Lord.”

Yuan Sansi turned around and left. Cui Buqu, “Deputy Pavilion Lord?”
Fan Yun, “I know the Zuoyue Bureau has investigated the Thirteen Pavillions of Yunhai for a very long time now. However, I fear you do not know that the Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions which is also the great Master, could have two Deputy Pavilion Lords by his side. The power of the Deputy Pavilion Lord is immense, for he could mobilize all twelve other Pavilions other than the first. Be it manpower or financial resources, to the northern or southern regions of the great river, a word of command and none would dare to disobey.”

“Be it manpower or financial resources, to the northern or southern regions of the great river,” Cui Buqu repeated those words and gave a look that spoke volumes, “That is to say, I definitely hadn’t been wrong. Lin Wei of the Yandang Estate as well as the Jinhuan Group Leader Ning Shewo; they were all people of the Thirteen Pavilions!”

Fan Yun gave a silent smile, owning up to everything.

Cui Buqu, “Before Duan Qigu’s death, you people have already laid a scheme. That letter on his corpse was no clue of the gathering of the Thirteen Pavilions, it was merely a clue you people left behind on purpose as bait. After I read the letter, of course, I will decrypt it and after the answer is obtained, even if I hadn’t gone myself I would have sent Qiao Xian and the others to investigate. Someone must remain behind to serve as the mainstay in the capital for the Zuoyue Bureau, at the same time sending a portion of people out to investigate the case. When I seek out Yuan Sansi, I would definitely work together with Feng Xiao. However, Feng Xiao was already one of you, so this time, this scheme to pay a man back with his own coin was definitely secured. Even if I grew a pair of wings, I would still be unable to escape the schemes of the Thirteen Pavilions. Brilliant, teacher, even as a veteran, you’re far more abler than recruits!”

Fan Yun gave a restrained laugh, “I knew you were a suspicious fellow by nature. Regardless whether it was the letter, Yuan Sansi, or Feng Xiao, you would have grown suspicious if either one appears out of the blue. However, if you encountered them all at once, naturally your attention would be diverted and your deductions would be tossed into disarray. More than that, when you were in Boling, you still needed to exhaust your efforts dealing with the Cui family’s matters. Buqu, even if you are inhumanely intelligent, you are not an immortal god, it would be impossible for you to flawlessly have everything within your grasps.”

As both of them spoke, footsteps echoed from the outside. The one walking was someone with incredible martial arts. However, they did not intentionally lighten their steps, so Cui Buqu could naturally hear it.

Two beautiful maidservants carried a wooden tray in.

On the wooden tray, the fragrant scent of wine rippled in a wine cup made of white jade. The maidservant was adorned in white robes, snow- white skin and dark hair, her steps light. She bent her back to place the wine cup down. Through the loose lapels hanging down in a lax way, one can even see those jade-like peaks, accompanied by the fragrant smell seeping into one’s heart.

Cui Buqu was not a monk that was completely indifferent to worldly temptations. Ever since he entered this inner chamber, he realized that although this was only one corner of the cave, it was extravagant and luxurious. Leaving the luminous pearls that filled the mosaic layers on the stone walls aside, even the futon he was sitting on was sewn by gold and silver threads and wrapped in satin, inside was filled with cotton and cattail. It was a futon that was softer than most.

In this chamber, there should be at least a few hidden exits leading outside. It could be seen that this place was incredibly well-hidden, it was truly a place meant for gatherings.

The maidservant gave him a tender and affectionate look, yet discovered that Cui Buqu was completely indifferent to it, so she could only put down the wine cup and retreat in silence.

Yet Fan Yun has seen it all. He laughed and said nothing, he only picked up the wine cup and took a quick sip.

Since the beginning of history, people who were made for great things would always have greater self-restraint compared to others. Let alone Cui Buqu, even if these beautiful maidservants took off their clothes and danced, Yuan Sansi and himself would not even blink. If Cui Buqu fell to temptations so easily, he would have instead overestimated this disciple of his. After the maidservants left, two people entered.

One of them walked in with slow steps and walked directly in front of Cui Buqu before he stopped.

His boots were black in colour, the design no different from those of usual people, however, its texture surpassed that of others. With Feng Xiao’s fuzziness, surely even his boots have to be extraordinary, so Cui Buqu recognized him with a single look.

Cui Buqu raised his head.

Feng Xiao’s gaze fell on him at the same time.

As both of them met each other’s gaze, no one spoke first.

Yuan Sansi laughed instead, “You two were only separated for a little while, yet why does it seem like you haven’t seen each other for decades?”

Cui Buqu looked at Feng Xiao, “I hope that Second Commander Feng will be the one to answer me this and not others.”

Feng Xiao’s expression was very bland—there wasn’t a smile, no mockery, and no delight in watching his misfortune. He had lost the initial coquettishness of loving to tease Cui Buqu, and he had also lost his usual enthusiasm of engrossing himself at watching his reflection in the mirror. A near calm and indifferent look surfaced on him as if Cui Buqu was just a passer-by who brushed shoulders with him, one that was not even worthy enough for him to look at.

He finally spoke, yet he only uttered one word, “Yes.”

Cui Buqu, “Before Boling, you already were?”

Feng Xiao, “Yes.”

Cui Buqu, “That night during the scheme of treason in Qingli Garden, you insisted on getting onto my carriage and coincidentally fought with Yuan Sansi, ending up saving my life, you also already were?” Feng Xiao, “Yes.”

Cui Buqu, “Your trial was me, then how would it benefit you? Something that could make Second Commander Feng willingly join the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, surely, it would not be just any benefits?”

An emotion finally fluctuated in Feng Xiao. Cui Buqu could see it, it resembled pity; a pity towards a failure of having been cheated.

This made Cui Buqu’s throat itch. He couldn’t stop himself from coughing, his voice was suppressed incredibly low, yet it still echoed in the inner chamber.

“The three demonic sects that exist at present: the Hehuan Sect, the Huanyue Sect, and the Fajing Sect which I head as Sect Leader were all from the same sect many years ago. During that time, the grandmaster of the demonic sect was Cui Youwang. He was first the demonic sect-leader and also the first human being.” Feng Xiao said.

Cui Buqu’s expression at that moment was very calm. He even nodded his head slightly, “I’ve heard hearsays.”

He was met with betrayal and was besieged on all four sides, yet he hadn’t lost his sense of direction. At least, he didn’t look like he did on the surface.

Fan Yun took all of this into his vision and sighed quietly.

If he could choose, naturally he would not use this sort of method to force Cui Buqu into submission. However, he knew that his opponent’s intelligence was unparalleled, and he knew as well that he wasn’t the sort to admit defeat easily. If not for being taken by surprise and being oppressed by power so he could witness for himself the massive change that took place and not being able to respond in time, thus ultimately being taken advantage of to be dealt with, it would be impossible to pull Cui Buqu into the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Of course, killing Cui Buqu would have been much easier. But talented people are hard to come by, and getting Cui Buqu was like giving a pair of wings to a tiger. Fan Yun hoped to try his best at gathering more and more talented people for the one he served, and not clearing the way via killing.

Feng Xiao, “Before his death Cui Youwang left behind a technique of the martial arts that could transfer one’s soul and blood, reforging one’s meridians. It was called ‘Forging Jade’. It was only because this technique followed Cui Youwang to his death, that it was not recorded. In the old days, there were three disciples under my teacher. Other than Guang Lingsan and I, there was also another shimei1. A few years ago, shimei was heavily injured due to reasons and among all the remedies in this world, only ‘Forging Jade’ could save little shimei. The reason I joined the Jiejian Bureau was also because of this.”

Yuan Sansi added from the side, “Fortunately, the Pavilion Lord gathered all the ancient books and records that exist under the sky. Among them was the Forging Jade technique that was lost in time. That technique was split into two sections. After Commander Feng obtained the first one and used it on his shimei, it proved effective.”

As he listened to this point, Cui Buqu naturally understood everything. He nodded and said, “So in order to obtain the final section, you used betraying me as your trial to join the Thirteen Pavillions of Yunhai. If I was not the pitiful worm of the story, I would have been moved by Commander Feng’s deep passion.”

Feng Xiao, “Even without me, you cannot free yourself from this scene. They feared that I wasn’t sincere enough, so they used you as a trial. If I could sell even you out, then they would naturally be reassured.”

Cui Buqu gave a mocking expression, “I could not have guessed that I weigh quite a bit in Commander Feng’s heart.”

Feng Xiao knelt, levelling his gaze, “You are wrong. It’s not because you are important. It’s because you represent the Zuoyue Bureau. This identity of yours is important. In all honesty, this time the plan was executed miraculously smoothly, I also felt very surprised. You should have brought more people out, at least Qiao Xian, or Zhangsun, then I wouldn’t have reached my goals so easily. However, you only brought two lackey Zuoyue guards and decided that it was safe to come with me. Didn’t this just prove that your trust for me has already reached a place where you would readily entrust your life to me?”

Cui Buqu said nothing; he only coughed, the hand supporting himself on the futon turned pale and cold. His back straightened as if it would break once bent.

Coughing to him was something of the norm, but when he has been coughing for too long, even his lungs felt like they were on fire, riffling in scorching pain.

The colder his body was, the more burning hot his inside was. From his chest all the way to every part of his meridians, it was burning like a fire engulfing wilted grass, turning tender green into flying ashes, engulfing all the things on earth in flames, all the warm-hearts in the world.

There was no need for him to answer, Feng Xiao already understood.

Feng Xiao snickered; grabbing Cui Buqu’s jaw, he forced his gaze to meet his own.

“Master Fan said you carry a cold and indifferent attitude but a warm and sincere soul; on the outside, a frosty facade yet on the inside, a passionately beating heart. Originally, I refused to believe it. Now, I do.”

As he finished speaking, Feng Xiao sneered, “Truly a pity, for this hard- earned trust of the commander was placed on the wrong person.”

[1] Shimei: Junior martial sister.

Chapter 115

In all of my life, I would never ally with fools

Fan Yun did nothing as he watched, not moving forward to stop them.

He knew very well that between Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao, neither of them were willing to submit to the other. Presently, in order to win them over via benefits so that they may be of use to the Pavilion Lord, their relationship with each other should not be overly friendly, for only in this way the Pavilion Lord could steadily balance his control between them, by balancing each other out.

Thus, he was naturally happy to see strife established between Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao.

Once the fire burned to a certain degree, Fan Yun finally stepped out.

“Alright. From this day onwards, we are a family. Buqu and I had been tutor and student for many years. Although his attitude is a little tyrannical and stubborn…”

“Who is a family with him?”

Feng Xiao laughed in ridicule, relenting Cui Buqu’s jaw as he rose to his feet, conveniently rubbing on the other’s robes as if touching Cui Buqu’s skin just now was the greatest shame upon himself. “Master Fan, when you recruited me, you had not mentioned that Cui Buqu would be recruited alongside. Whether it was the Pavilion Lord or Yuan Sansi, neither of their martial arts are beneath me, and since all of you joined before me there’s the excuse of having more experience, yet this person—“

He cast a glare at Cui Buqu, a contemptuous smile showing itself.

“What qualifications does this person have to succeed as a Deputy Pavilion Lord right after he joins and sit on the same level of power as I?”

Fan Yun smiled, “Young Master must be joking. Buqu is one of the Zuoyue Bureau, wasn’t he already sitting on the same level of power as the Jiejian Bureau?”

Feng Xiao said in disinterest, “That was simply relying on having the support of Empress Dugu and lending her influence to succeed in the position. Truthfully, even until now I have yet to see what holy entity is the Pavilion Lord himself. If one is to say that their loyalty lies with the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, then, a nonsense like this sort, even Master Fan yourself would not believe it.”

Fan Yun replied with a timely statement, ”Young Master is discreet in his speech, naturally, I do believe you.”

“Joining the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was first, for the ‘Forging Jade’ technique, second, for what you had promised me, that I will obtain a position of high-order that I would never get even within the Sui Empire, and third, for days where I would no longer need to fight a battle of wits and courage daily with this fellow Cui Buqu. Yet now you’re telling me that not only will I have to see him often in the future, but I will still have to continue being officials with him for the dynasty? Since I have already sold him out, I have no route left to retreat for myself, he will hold resentment in this heart. Aren’t these actions of you people just putting a blade behind my back?”

Fan Yun’s expression unwavering, “Then, what is the meaning of Young Master Feng?” “If there is me, there can never be him; if there is him, then there can never be me.” Feng Xiao raised his jaw slowly, slowly enumerating everything in full detail, eye-piercing light radiating all around him. This was the Feng Xiao that Cui Buqu knew, and perhaps the Second Commander Feng that left an impression on everyone.

Wayward and unrestrained, playful and mocking; that was simply the façade he put on when he was carefree and bored to pass the time. Hiding beneath his skin remained the old proud God’s favoured one, intolerant of any form of defiance.

Although Fan Yun was glad to see the contradiction between the two of them, if their worsening relationship reached a degree where it affected the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai’s schemes, naturally it cannot be permitted.

Feng Xiao’s concern was something he couldn’t refuse to consider the importance of.

Fan Yun was soused in deep silence for a moment, “Let it be taken this way: I will consult the Pavilion Lord that once Buqu accomplishes this mission, he will fake his death and escape south, starting there all over again.”

Feng Xiao’s beautifully handsome face was cold and indifferent, but at least he did not object to it.

Fan Yun then recalled and asked Cui Buqu, “Buqu, what do you feel about this?”

Cui Buqu released a low laugh. He laughed as he coughed, and the more he coughed the more he laughed, laughing wildly in the end.

“It seems you have put everything in order. Whether I agree or decline, wouldn’t it be of little importance?”

Fan Yun’s expression was amiable, watching as he laughed boisterously and ridiculously as if he could not understand the younger generation who had run wild, “As things have progressed, I do not think that you will decline.”

Cui Buqu laughed nearly for a good quarter of an hour only to have his laugh gradually stop.

“Teacher, you’ve fallen behind.” He said. Fan Yun raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”
Cui Buqu, “Since the eleventh year of the reign of Emperor Xiaowu of Jin, the Northern Dynasty has experienced the three Weis, the Northern Qi, and the Northern Zhou; these five dynasties, more than two centuries since then. During that period, they experienced the Hu people1 riding South, the rising flames of war and chaos, the establishment of clans of wealth and power, consolidation of the lands, battles between Buddhism and Daoism, and other large pandemoniums such as these; till the reign of the Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou, the mess was contained and everything was wrought anew. Through the process, although there were sincere Emperors that accomplished nothing, all the great powers under the sky would unite once they had parted long enough. This is a principle that has never been changed. This man, Yang Jian, although he cannot compare to the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors, he is indeed a brilliant ruler that was hard to come by since Yuwen Yong.”

Fan Yun gave a faint smile, “I cannot believe you think so highly of Yang Jian.”

Cui Buqu coughed twice and continued, “All those Emperors before him, including the Song, Qi, Liang and Chen Emperors from the Southern Dynasty had never dared to go against the aristocratic families. Only he alone who held his own opinion against society, with the two concepts of “having high morals and conduct” and “having excellent skill in governance and profound knowledge” he cast the imperial edict to recruit successful candidates, opening up a path for the poor so they may be promoted to higher offices. Of course, this path is still a narrow road, but in a few more years later, it will gradually broaden, even replacing having one’s position decided by their birth and become one of the main roads to roam in the land. Just by this, dare I ask who else besides him would be willing to risk defying the opinion of the world and officiate such a vast plan? Even the new Master that teacher serves would not have such a resolution I fear?”

Fan Yun disagreed, “Gathering all the most skilled people beneath the sky is naturally a good thing, but Yang Jian’s abrupt impulsiveness would only draw an innumerable number of reproaches. Even if he is the Emperor, he cannot omit the objections of all the people. I’ve said earlier that he definitely had the meteorology of an Emperor, but it is a pity that harm is fated to come to him2. No doubt bedazzling to the eye, but it would only last a brief silver of breath. Only through understanding the need to balance between forces with mercy, that a narrow river goes a long way, can one be lasting.”

“I am guessing that the new master the teacher serves might not be the Emperor Chen from the Southern Dynasty. As with the present trend of events, to acquire the world one must either walk the path of Yang Jian, gaining power through having a consort for kin. However, Yang Jian has spent a decade of hard work. To your new master, that time is too long. He cannot wait, so he could only walk the perilous road and the unorthodox path, planting a vast scheme shocking the Heavens. The country has been divided for too long, the people’s hearts have turned, and long it has been decided. Even if your new master really acquired the position of Emperor, without being like Yang Jian whose methods are grand in scale, it would be futile.”

Cui Buqu stared at Fan Yun’s expression that was getting uglier and uglier. However, he remained unchanged in his strictness and daring, being soft-spoken and gentle, yet every word hit like a sharp blade, “Have I not made myself clear? With just the lot of you wanting to recruit me. You really overestimated yourselves. Like swarms of flies hustling about trying to gain benefits, you should just hide in your grim drains and refrain from coming out and make a fool of yourselves, agreed?”

After listening to these words, even Yuan Sansi’s face changed. His hand moved a little but didn’t lash out in the end, only looking at Fan Yun. Feng Xiao lowered his eyes, not looking at Cui Buqu, or anyone else. It was as if he had isolated himself from this place and one couldn’t tell what he was thinking about.

Following Cui Buqu’s rudeness of splitting apart their ambitiousness and ideals bit by bit, putting all the bloody-insides out for a show, Fan Yun finally retreated his smile.

When he smiled he looked courteous and easy-going, but when the corner of his lips was tight, there was an obvious rawness filled with chill, “Buqu, I’ve taught you so many things, but it wasn’t for the sake so you could fight me for superiority.”

“Hence my words: Teacher, you’ve fallen behind. Once someone falls behind, very easily they grow proud, thinking that your experiences in life would suffice to champion any challenge in the world. A pity that even you, teacher, were not an exception.” Cui Buqu was standing in the enemy’s camp, faced before three top martial artists that could flatten him to death just by reaching out a finger, yet his mouth was just as poisonous as ever, not leaving even a little bit of space for the other.

Fan Yun spoke slowly, “This is to say that you are determined not to join us? Even if the Jade of Heaven’s Lake could save your life?”

“Apologies,” Cui Buqu curled his lips, “In all of my life, I would never ally with fools. If even Feng-er could be the Deputy Pavilion Lord, I see that the sinking ship is not far from you lot. If you are willing to surrender yourselves to the Imperial Court of Sui, surrender that new master of yours, I could speak for your contribution in front of the Emperor.”

Their convincing failed and were instead being convinced; Fan Yun practically laughed himself furious, “We’ve known each other for many years, we used to be teacher and student who shared the relationship of father and son, so today, I offer you a final warning: Do you know what the consequences will be if you decline?” Cui Buqu answered in surprise, “Like father and son? So your family’s tradition is for the father to pit his son, or for the son to deliver his father onto the same boat as thieves? Teacher, your family’s style is truly extraordinary!”

The gaze Fan Yun gave him resembled the way one looked at a dead person.

Just at this moment, in the inner cavern, a stone wall slid open and someone walked in.

He looked better, an air of an undoubtedly elegant handsome young man if one were to ignore the eyepatch that covered one eye.

That defect gave him an insidious look, his eye fell upon Feng Xiao first.

“I originally thought that, between the both of you, Cui Buqu would surrender and you would be the one who refused to give in even if you pledge your life to death. This way, I could avenge myself for the day I lost my eye.”

Feng Xiao waved his hand, “That day we each served our own masters. Blades and swords are blind, if I didn’t give it my all, I fear I would have lost my life by now.”

Fan Yun picked the right moment to loosen the atmosphere, “Master Two, Young Master Feng hadn’t intended to do so at that time. Since we’re all serving the same master now, why not let go of any former ill wills and make peace with a shake of hands. The Pavilion Lord has also agreed to compensate you.”

Yu Xiu smiled earnestly, “So this resentment of mine naturally cannot be taken out on our own people. Cui Buqu, here we meet again3. Rest assured, considering the time and time again you stood in my way, I will not let you die easily today.”

Just as he finished talking, a leg had already risen into the air, kicking towards the other’s chest! With his strength, this kick of his would definitely shatter Cui Buqu’s bones, even puncturing his lungs.

Yuan Sansi stood the nearest from him; he would be able to stop him just by reaching a hand out, but naturally, he didn’t hold that intention.

Fan Yun could also make Yu Xiu stop. Although his rank is inferior to Yu Xiu, being Master Three, Yu Xiu still held fear for his words. It could be seen that the Pavilion Lord valued Fan Yun more.

However, even Fan Yun said nothing. He watched with a cold gaze, as if determined to let Cui Buqu suffer.

Regardless, Cui Buqu would not be able to avoid this.

He might as well close his eyes, waiting for the anticipated searing pain to land.

But one shadow moved faster than the minds of them all, shifting in front of Yu Xiu and parried that attack of his. Both of them crossed a few moves in the inner hall before immediately splitting apart.

Yu Xiu was furious, “Feng Xiao, you said that you’d surrender, are you faking it?!”

Fan Yun and Yuan Sansi both glared at Feng Xiao.

Even if Feng Xiao’s martial arts were unsurpassed, it would be insufficient with one against three, especially when all three of them were all well-matched in strength.

However, he laughed mockingly, looking at Yu Xiu with a gaze as if he was looking at a stupid person, “I’ve long-since despised Cui Buqu, yet if the opportunity was robbed by you with the state his body is in, would there still be a chance for me?”

Yu Xiu squinted his eyes, “What can you do? Surely not like a little lady just giving a few light slaps to vent?” Feng Xiao gave two cold laughs and reached out towards Fan Yun,
“Lend me your knife, Master Fan.”

Fan Yun undid the dagger from his waist and passed it to him.

As if he wanted to test him, whether or not Feng Xiao was sincere in surrendering.

Feng Xiao lowered his head, the dagger in his hand was sharp beyond comparison, shining with a cold glare, truly a hard-bought precious dagger.

With such a sharp dagger, even if one were to lightly brush across the skin, they would still see blood flowing.

He held the sharp item in his hand, step by step as he walked towards Cui Buqu.
As for Cui Buqu, he was calm and composed, silently sitting upright. They were close at hand, yet separated across by vast clouds of mist,
heavy mountains and seas.

Author’s Notes:

p.s.: QuQu’s mouth is truly poisonous.

[1] Hu people: A nomadic tribe from the great plains of Eurasia.

[2] harm is fated to come to him: ⽩虹贯⽇ (lit. White rainbow passing through the sky) a phenomenon that harm will come to an Emperor/King.

[3] here we meet again ⼭⽔有相逢: (lit. mountain and waters would meet) usually saying that the world is small, and one shouldn’t make enemies easily of others since they are very likely to meet again.

Chapter 116

Before his eyes, there was a dead-end.

He tried too hard, and it backfired. Cui Buqu thought.

If time could turn back, perhaps he would tell Feng Xiao before entering Tiannan Mountain that going beyond the limit would be just as bad as going short, that one must not overdo something. Perhaps Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi might not be able to tell, but one cannot underestimate Fan Yun.

However, there are no what-ifs in this world. He also could not anticipate Feng Xiao doing this, selling him out without a word, just for the sake of earning the trust of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.

Yet this was very like Feng Xiao’s style, to act as he pleases, walking the perilous road, even fighting with his back against the river1.

If it wasn’t him the one being pitted here, Cui Buqu would have called Feng Xiao and this move of his brilliant.

Before his eyes, there was a dead-end.

If Feng Xiao didn’t make this ruthless move, then it would be impossible to convince Yu Xiu and the rest.

If Feng Xiao were to make this ruthless move—the one to sacrifice was simply just someone who was neither an enemy nor a friend to him, so why wouldn’t he gladly do it?

Either he does nothing, or he won’t leave room for manoeuver. Cui Buqu watched as the other walked closer to him, then half-knelt, meeting eye-to-eye.

Feng Xiao’s beautifully handsome face carried no expression on it; the profound flame within his eyes had died out, fleeting as they turned cold like ice, his reflection no longer visible.

At that moment of life and death, Cui Buqu was absent-minded for a moment.

He thought, if it had been him, what would he do?

One cannot obtain the tiger’s kitten if one didn’t enter the tiger’s den; if there was a similar opportunity, perhaps he would have made the same choice as Feng Xiao had.

That split moment, Cui Buqu laughed in spite of himself.

If he had thought of this question, it only proved that his heart was already in a mess.

Because Cui Buqu has always been merciless and resolute, to the point he could even involve himself in his own schemes. No such assumption should exist.

“Have you ever thought about how you will die?” He suddenly heard Feng Xiao ask.

Cui Buqu tipped his head to the side slightly, and contemplated for a while, “Before, I thought I would die in the Cui family, but I did not. A few times when there were signs of danger everywhere, I also thought I would have died, but I did not. Afterwards in Göktürk, I thought I would die in Yu Xiu’s hands, but in the end, you managed to come in time.”

Feng Xiao’s smile did not reach his eyes, “That is because you were lucky.”

Cui Buqu nodded his head, “I also felt—“ Before he could finish, Feng Xiao’s hand had already thrust forward.

Cui Buqu felt something foreign piercing his chest, searing pain surged through him, spreading across his limbs and bones.

He lowered his head and looked at the dagger that had entered him completely, watching blood spurt out of the wound, very quickly dying the front part of his robes a deep red.

Painful. It was too painful.

His eyebrows furrowed as if he wanted to recall the last time he felt like this.

It was the year when he left the Cui family, his wheezing and heart diseases acted up simultaneously, the journey met with heavy rain. He was huddled up under a roof, yet the shade was incapable of shielding the rainwater that swept it; it whipped onto his face, dampening his clothes until they dripped. That time, he also had a high fever, his mind was in a haze, and he thought that his life was about to reach its end.

There was also the last time in the Göktürks’ camp, he used the Naihexiang drug to pit Yu Xiu. It similarly made himself a victim of the drug, provoking old diseases. His neck was held by Yu Xiu, light flashing wildly before his eyes as he found even breathing difficult.

However, those times were not as painful as the one now. Could it be that there was poison on the dagger?
He attempted a deep inhale, yet it only strained his wound, causing his entire body to twitch in pain, the colour of his face paler than the white silk robes worn by those two beautiful maidservants just now.

His uneven breathing was accompanied by blood foams seeping out from his mouth, yet there was no sound.

Feng Xiao thought that he would hear the other person’s mockingly cold laugh, his vicious and deadly curses. But nothing came.

He only looked at Cui Buqu’s bloody mouth as it quivered, saying something in a near-soundless breath, “You saved me once in the past; this time, I’m returning the favour.”

Feng Xiao’s hand shivered.

He held the dagger steadily, not relenting; this gesture deepened the other’s suffering as thick liquid blood trailed down his mouth and dripped from his jaw, drop by drop, staining his lapels and spreading everywhere.

The sudden change of events within such a short amount of time made everyone stare dumbfounded.

Yuan Sansi yielded a look of shock and disbelief. Even Yu Xiu thought that Feng Xiao had gone mad.

Even if Cui Buqu refused to surrender, now is not the right time to kill him. He only wanted to torture the other a little to vent his resentment, but Feng Xiao had been even crueller, reaching out with the intention to claim the other’s life.

“Stop!”

Fan Yun barked, reaching out to push Feng Xiao away.

The latter didn’t move, simply allowing himself to be pushed two steps back.

Fan Yun moved forward to examine Cui Buqu’s wounds; his hands were quick like wind, sealing a few large meridians on the other before allowing someone else to deliver some cloth and medicine for knife wounds2.”

This move from Feng Xiao was really cruel, thrusting the entire dagger into Cui Buqu’s body, leaving no room. Even Yu Xiu did not find any proof that hinted it was an act. “Young Master Feng, you were too rash!” Fan Yun said in a dull voice, “Even if he is unwilling to surrender now, there’s still use in keeping him alive.”

Carefully, he dislodged the dagger from Cui Buqu’s chest. Once the dagger was taken out, another splatter of fresh red blood bubbled up. Cui Buqu leaned against the rock, unmoving, allowing himself to be handled, for his body had already descended into a semi-coma state.

Feng Xiao replied coldly, “I’ve said it before, ‘if there is him, then there can never be me’. With the Jiejian Bureau present, I cannot see what use is there to let the Zuoyue Bureau remain—is it to lie in sitting, waiting for him to seep a message in, so I will be exposed to the Imperial Court?”

Fan Yun said angrily, “If he died, it would ruin even more of our plans!”

Feng Xiao snickered, “Couldn’t believe Master Fan still thinks so highly of him. As expected of the disciple you were proud of in the past, for in the end, a little affection remained. Although you’ve already misled him here, you still feign concern. Don’t you feel hypocritical?”

Fan Yun spoke solemnly, “Presently the Zuoyue Bureau is still oblivious to his whereabouts. We can use him to draw them out and catch them all in a single draft. There’s more—the Pavilion Lord is sympathetic towards Cui Buqu, as they’ve met and spoken once before. If he had any mishaps, how would I explain that to him?”

Feng Xiao swept the dust off his sleeves, entirely unconcerned, “Then these are Master Fan’s own responsibilities.”

As he finished talking, he didn’t spare anyone a glance, he turned around and left.

As Yuan Sansi watched him disappear into the darkness, he spoke in a low whisper, “This person’s methods are cruel and ruthless even towards his former comrade, he could kill him without hesitation. I fear leaving him be would be an infestation.” Yu Xiu sneered, “At least he acted in my stead. If it wasn’t for Master Fan forbidding it, I would have killed Cui Buqu a long time ago!”

Fan Yun took Cui Buqu’s pulse, and after a while, he sighed, “I will deliver him back first. With his present injuries, he might not be able to wake up at least for a while, thus he definitely cannot see the Pavilion Lord. We can only wait for me to send a message, let the Pavilion Lord make a decision. If something happens, we can discuss again.”

As he finished speaking, he carried Cui Buqu up horizontally and quickly left.

That stab from Feng Xiao did not show mercy at all. Cui Buqu lost a lot of blood, his pulse was faint, his life hanging by a thread.

In order to save him, Fan Yun could not avoid expending all his strength protecting his heart meridians, prolonging his life and bringing him back from the dead. It was even more tiring than fighting against grandmasters of the martial arts. Only after four hours did warmth finally flowed back into Cui Buqu, his face regaining colour.

However, Fan Yun was exhausted till his face turned pale, his legs wobbled, and he had no choice but to ask the maidservants to take care of him before he himself returned to his own house to meditate to regain his strength.

The maidservant who was assigned to care for Cui Buqu was one of the two that brought the wine up earlier.

She squeezed the cotton cloth dry after soaking in water and cleaned the bloodstains on Cui Buqu’s face.

As for his body, the other had been too gravely injured. Fan Yun gave orders not to touch it, and that the maidservant could only remove the clothing of her patient, leaving behind only an inner robe that remained stained with blood, a sight shocking to the eye. The maidservant tried her best to be gentle with her actions, afraid that she would startle the other and causing him more pain.

However, Cui Buqu was too heavily injured. From the beginning to the end, he never opened his eyes. He slept in silence no different from a corpse.

……

Inside this cave used to be the treasure stove of the former dynasty, but after the treasure was found, Yuan Sansi reconstructed this place and turned it into one of the gathering points of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. This place was vast and well-hidden and riddled with trap mechanisms and underground tunnels. The inner halls interlinked, not inferior compared to the lavish manors of aristocracy outside, while the luxuriousness inside was superior compared to those.

However, to Feng Xiao who was extremely picky and spent his days among the wealthy, even a setting grander than this would not sway his opinion. He would continue to enjoy them as usual.

Leaving that inner hall filled with the stench of blood, he returned to his own room. A familiar fragrant scent washed over his face, overwhelming the smell of blood lingering in his nose. Especially when there was a beauty laid half-naked on his bed, the room was filled with charming grace in boundless volumes.

A thin blanket covered the beauty’s chest, divulging the tall and smooth half of her breasts and a pair of long legs slipping out from under the blanket. Skin like ice and bones like jade, extremely smooth. When the beauty with half-lidded eyes gave Feng Xiao a smile under the faint light of luminous pearls, even starlight from outer space would have to be cast through the shade.

“You’re back~” The beauty answered in a lazy manner, speaking just a few short words in such a coquettish manner, like little claws ghosting next to the ears of its listener. In such a situation, those who can still remain unmoved were definitely not men.

“Why are you on my bed?” Yet Feng Xiao flexed and refused to move, a great wave of displeasure in his eyes as he looked at her like he was looking at a statue.

Watching him in this manner, Fong Xiaolian3 was so furious that she laughed, “I suspect whether the men in the Thirteen Pavilions were men at all. Including you, already four of you have given no reaction to a beautiful body like mine!”

Feng Xiao raised an eyebrow, “Who are the other three good men?
Please introduce them to me.”

Fong Xiaolian snorted, grabbing onto the thin blanket as she rolled on the bed, wrapping herself up with it to use as clothing. She sat up, using her hands as she counted, “You, the Pavilion Lord, Master Fan, Yu Xiu. Master Fan bares a heart of determination, so it’s needless to mention. Yu Xiu’s heart already belonged to someone else, so I am dead to him, and I am not willing to provoke him either. But you—Why are you unaffected? This should not be the case.”

She got down the bed leisurely, dragging the blanket as she meandered over, walking around Feng Xiao in a circle. Suddenly, she reached out to hug him from behind, but found herself hugging thin air; she stepped on the blanket and immediately fell forward on the ground.

Fong Xiaolian: “…”

“Feng! Xiao!” She was furious.

“What about Yuan Sansi? Is he not interested in you?” Feng Xiao laughed, bending down to pick her up horizontally before casually tossing her onto the bed.

Fong Xiaolian shot him a glare, charm and innocence blending together. “Surely I’m not the type that would just welcome all comers? I do not want people like Yuan Sansi!”

“Such a rare thing!” Feng Xiao rose up, before slowly lowering his head, “Have you seen the Pavilion Lord?”

Fong Xiaolian could rely on herself to be the most peerless of beauties who has seen a thousand sails, but when Feng Xiao’s breath drew near, she lost her sense of direction.

“I’ve seen him before. A-ah, please be gentler—“

Her voice hitched all of a sudden, elongating her breaths.

The one standing outside scolded ‘slut’, before finally turning and left. On the bed, Fong Xiaolian blinked.
“Why are you pinching my waist?”

Feng Xiao, “Then why did you play along?”

Fong Xiaolian laughed, “To have a fling with the Deputy Pavilion Lord, wouldn’t it be something to be proud of? I dare to bet that the one eavesdropping outside just now must be Yuan Sansi.”

Feng Xiao replied frivolously, “He’s jealous of me?”

Fong Xiaolian chuckled, “Wrong. He does not trust you.”

Feng Xiao, “You can deduct his identity just from his footsteps, this ability is already remarkable. You should not be ranked behind Yu Heng and Duan Qigu.”

Fong Xiaolian stretched lazily, “Although I obtained the name of Master Thirteen, it’s only because of having a famed name and knowing some secret techniques of dual-cultivation. How would grandmasters of the martial arts like you think highly of me? Lord Feng, although it seems like you are flirting with me, your heart isn’t here. Could it be—“ The hand Feng Xiao had hidden behind his back squeezed tightly.

Fong Xiaolian, “Could it be that you are similar to Yu Xiu—your heart is already given to someone else?”

Feng Xiao looked half-genuine, half-fake, “Take a guess.”

Fong Xiaolian rounded up his neck, “I am guessing that everyone in this world is mortal to you; they all do not meet your standards. The only person you like is yourself.”

Feng Xiao smiled, “Now I really am growing to like you. What sort of person is the Pavilion Lord?”

Fong Xiaolian asked curiously, “Why are you so interested in the Pavilion Lord?”

Feng Xiao, “He built such a huge organization on his own with just his strength alone, gathering so many people of power. Shouldn’t I be interested in him? As the new Deputy Pavilion Lord, I have never seen the Pavilion Lord. Shouldn’t this be a bit unacceptable?”

Fong Xiaolian smiled coldly, “No need to be in a hurry. Tomorrow is the day of qixi4, I heard that the Pavilion Lord himself will come. When that time comes, all Thirteen Pavilions will gather in the same hall, so a full gathering will be complete.”

Feng Xiao’s gaze flashed, “Lin Wei and Ning Shewo will also be here?”

Fong Xialian, “Of course. Don’t tell me you thought they really went to Donghai county. Here is the true venue for gatherings.”

Feng Xiao, “That’s to say that the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai still left Master Nine and Master Ten. Who are they?”

Fong Xiaolian sniggered, “Such impatience. This would very easily make me suspicious that your surrender is faked, and instead you’re here to scout for information.” Feng Xiao smiled, “If I said that I came for you, would you believe me?”

Fong Xiaolian blinked, looking at the other’s face that was lowering itself. Just as she wanted to say something, the colour of her face changed, her body leapt into the air like a swallow, leaping out from underneath Feng Xiao’s body. The dark-coloured blanket was shattered midair, yet she didn’t care for it, hurrying towards the entrance.

“Help—“

Feng Xiao’s speed was quicker than she had imagined. Before she could shout, a blood-red line appeared on her throat.

Fong Xiaolian opened her beautiful eyes wide, glaring at Feng Xiao as if she couldn’t believe herself dying in such a simple manner.

“You are very smart. Originally, I just wanted to make you unconscious, but you found out.” Feng Xiao regrettably said. When he retreated his hand, on it was a zither’s string dyed in blood.

If Cui Yong knew that his beloved zither Yu Yin was disassembled by Feng Xiao to use as a murder weapon, he would have raged furiously on the spot and died without Cui Buqu’s interference.

“This is going to be a little bit troublesome.” Feng Xiao mumbled to himself, stilling holding an arm from the peerless beauty in his hand.

….

In the midst of gloomy skies and dark earth, Cui Buqu lingered for a long time, all until someone held on to him, pulling him up from the abyss.

That person had immense strength, intolerant to be fought with. He himself could do nothing as he was pulled back up to the surface, thus searing pain washed over him, accompanied by memories from the past like rising tides. He wanted to cough, yet the pain didn’t allow him. Cui Buqu muddled about aimlessly, going so far to even believe that he was still in the time when he was nine, in a situation when he was cornered with nowhere to go.

Death was not an option. He couldn’t die.
He needed to live on. He must live on.
His mouth was pried open and a wave of cool liquid poured in. His aching throat felt better, but his chest hurt more.

It felt like he could hear someone muttering by his ear; that person held his feeble fingers, held him so lightly as if he was a feather, gently like he was precious pearls, afraid of shattering him.

He, Cui Buqu, drifted past the first half of his life through uneven grounds; fated to curse all those close to him, bearing a cold heart and unsentimental heartlessness, since when was he ever treated like this?

This was a dream.

He gave a soundless sigh, before falling back into a coma.

[1] Even fighting with his back against the river: To win or die fighting.
[2] Medicine for knife wounds⾦疮药: (lit. Golden-Sore Medicine)
[3] Fong Xiaolian: Mentioned before, the lit pinyin would be ‘Feng Xiaolian’ but to avoid confusing ‘Feng’ from ‘Feng Xiao’, it’s changed to ‘Fong’ which has a very close pronunciation.

[4] qixi: the seventh evening of the seventh moon, also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. It’s the day where Niu Lang and Zhi Nu meet on a bridge of birds built from Heaven to Earth. [DB: Surprise! Black Lotus worked hard to get this chapter out in the same day. ^^ Also, if you’re wondering who is it at the ending and thought of a cliche answer, yes, it’s him.]

Chapter 117

What use is there looking for a doctor? It’s just a waste of money. Cold winds whistled, the chill piercing one’s bones.
Cui Buqu wore only an inner robe. He stood by a cliff, his back against an abyss.

The Jade of Heaven’s Lake in his hands did not need to lend the light of stars and moon as it radiated a faint glow; switching between dark blue and light green inconsistently like moving spring water.

There was confusion on Cui Buqu’s face as if he was wondering why the Jade of Heaven’s Lake was suddenly in his hands.

He held the jade in his hands, yet he didn’t feel any sensation of chill or warmth.

Was this inside a dream?

His mind was in chaos, like he was submerged in deep ocean water, a thread that had entangled itself into a fast knot while struggling, unable to untie itself no matter what and could only slowly sink to the bottom.

He knew it was a dream, yet he couldn’t wake up; muddling along aimlessly like there was something important he had forgotten to do.

In front of him, someone walked forward. He walked from a distance till he was up close, gradually becoming visible to the eye.

It was Feng Xiao.

The other held a long sword in his hand, the intention to kill enshrouded his entire person as if he had just weathered through the most courageous of battles, killing a countless number of enemies.

The blood on the sword had not yet dried, trailing along its blade as it trickled down the ground, creating a crimson trail from where he came from.

Feng Xiao came before Cui Buqu, “Give me the jade.”

Cui Buqu, “You really feigned your surrender?”

Feng Xiao nodded, “If not it, how could I penetrate deep into the enemy’s den and gather all of them in a single draft?”

Cui Buqu, “Who is the Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai?”

Feng Xiao, “I have not managed to gather that information, but I have killed Fan Yun and the rest. The mastermind will not be able to contain himself for long, he will show himself soon.”

There was also blood on his face, his hair was unruly, a few strands falling loose. However, Feng Xiao paid no attention to it. The corner of his lips was cold, devoid of the usually cheerful and humourous casualness he carried.

“Give me the jade.” Feng Xiao repeated, reaching a hand out towards the other.

Cui Buqu said coldly, “You stabbed me and caused me a grave injury, I need the jade to prolong my life. For what means should I give it to you?” Even if this was a dream, they remained to stare daggers at each other, unwilling to take a step back.

Cui Buqu had no friends. He didn’t need friends. There were endless mysteries in the Zuoyue Bureau waiting to be solved and it was enough to fill in all the free time he had. However, it was unknown since when it began, this name ‘Feng Xiao’ was indivisible from all the cases he solved. His frequent appearance by his side had even replaced Qiao Xian and Zhangsun. On the surface, both of them often battled with wits and courage, refusing to let any opportunity to pit the other pass, but in reality—

Cui Buqu suddenly recalled that time in Boling county; Yuan Sansi making use of his identity as Maiden Yu’s shixiong to get close to him on purpose, step by step getting him on the hook, yet he didn’t even have the slightest suspicions. Because during that time, another heavier factor had numbed his deductions.

When Feng Xiao eavesdropped on his conversation with Yuan Sansi on the tree and proudly declared he wanted the split of profits, he had, unbeknownst to him, given a hint: Everything Yuan Sansi said was the truth.

Delving deeper, since even Feng Xiao believed it, then the matter cannot be far from the truth.

Isn’t this just another indirect form of thrust?

As things have progressed, him being in this dream, only now did he come to this sudden realization.

How laughable that he, Cui Buqu, who was a man of wisdom in his lifetime, would also have botched it.

Chilled winds swept into his face, its coldness coming from his memories, yet from the jade he still felt nothing, it was light as a floating cloud. He already knew it was a dream, but no matter what, he was unable to shake himself awake. On the contrary, he was sinking into the edge of an abyss that felt surreal yet genuine.

This ‘Feng Xiao’ in his dream heard his mockery, and he laughed instead.

“If you want the jade, then it depends on whether you’re capable of holding on to it.”

As he finished speaking, his sword aimed for Cui Buqu, his speed quicker than lightning. Before Cui Buqu realized what was happening, the sword had already pierced his chest.

Searing pain surged through his body like the weight of the sky itself; Cui Buqu lowered his head, fresh blood rushing up to stain his robes red. The wave of pain he had just experienced came rolling back; Cui Buqu couldn’t help bending his back, wanting to minimize the amount of such pain.

The blood-stained jade in his arms was taken away, ‘Feng Xiao’ gave a mocking laugh before he pushed him off the cliff!

The fall was endless, the abyss opened its mouth wide to swallow him in; above his head, the figure staring at him gradually became smaller and smaller.

His pain became more vivid, Cui Buqu wanted to yell, but in the end, there was only a groan.

A stone-cold bed appeared beneath him.

He gasped frantically, cold sweat plastered all over his forehead as he blinked open his eyes gently before closing them back.

The gentle light from those luminous pearls was blinding for someone who had just woken up.

Yet this sensation of being blinded gave him a feel of reality. Cui Buqu didn’t raise his hand to shield his eyes. He felt someone was by his bedside.
“It’s me.” Feng Xiao’s voice was gentle as if he’d hushed himself on purpose, but it was enough to hear clearly in this combat hall.

Is this another dream? Cui Buqu moved his lips in a seeming sigh.

He didn’t know for how long he slept, watching a countless number of dreams replay before him and exhausting all his emotional strength.

His body and his heart were tired, there was nothing he could do.

“Your lungs and heart were not harmed. That time, I avoided fatal spots on purpose; a lot of blood flowed, but if it can be stopped in time, once the wound heals it’s nothing serious.”

Feng Xiao helped him up slowly and fed him water. However, it was obvious that the Second Commander Feng seldom did, or perhaps he had never done, chores such as attending to someone else. In a careless movement, he accidentally spilt the leftover water onto half of Cui Buqu’s face.

Cui Buqu: “…”

He suspected that he was still in a dream, but this time it was an extremely absurd and ridiculous one.

“My hand slipped. My hand slipped.” Feng Xiao waved with a ‘haha’ and raised his sleeve to help him wipe away the water on his face. Looking at how calm he looked, Feng Xiao couldn’t help asking out of curiosity, “Don’t you have something to say?”

“How did you,” the pain in this throat made Cui Buqu raise his eyebrows in question, but he finished his words in a hoarse voice, “avoid my fatal spots within such a short time with so little effort, managing to avoid even my meridians?” “Take a guess.” Feng Xiao left him in suspense.

Say if you want to, and forget about it if you don’t want to. Which motherfucker would have so much free time to guess riddles in a dream? Cui Buqu didn’t even have the strength to roll his eyes; he immediately closed his eyes, waiting for the other to pierce him with a sword again without another word, so that he could once again enter the dream.

However, there was no sword this time.

“Hey, don’t sleep.” Feng Xiao reached out with a hand, pinched his eyelids and pulled them upwards.

Cui Buqu was forced to open his eyes, a face thrusting itself towards him.

“Are your heart diseases acting up again? Didn’t I just feed you medicine just now?”

“Please just give me another stab to grant me a quick death.” Cui Buqu spoke weakly and said in this heart that this dream was honestly too much of a bother.

Feng Xiao, “I will just tell you; it’s not easy for you to wake up, so why are you feigning death like that? Back when you were in the City of Six Crafts, you were drugged with Naihexiang and fell into a high fever with your breath hanging by a thread. That Pei Jingzhe was scared stiff, wanted to seek a doctor for you, but I stopped him. What use is there to look for a doctor? Such a waste of money. People of the martial arts are also familiar with medical arts, so I took your pulse in person.”

Cui Buqu: “…”

Feng Xiao, “So I discovered that your pulse is a mess and your breathing was weak. Even your heart was slanted by half an inch compared to usual people. So that stab I made wasn’t only to avoid all your fatal spots but to just brush past your heart as well. Even your meridians were not harmed. If I hadn’t taken the initiative at that time, or if I wasn’t cruel enough, once Yu Xiu had his turn, you would not even have the opportunity to live.”

He placed his hand on top of Cui Buqu’s wound, his gesture so gentle that Cui Buqu felt nothing.

Feng Xiao was practically speaking against his ear, making him feel that this dream wasn’t only realistic, but it had some warmth to it as well.

Cui Buqu slowly opened his mouth and wanted to confess that he owed him a deed, but Feng Xiao finally concluded it himself.

“See, an attempt to save some money saved your life in the end.”

Suddenly, Cui Buqu didn’t want to say anything at all. Feng Xiao held his wrist, slowly transferring some energy to him through that.

All four of his limbs gradually warmed up and from his chest rose a fiery warmth; even his pain has been lessened greatly.

This really is beginning to not feel like a dream.

In the midst of the soft and gentle light, Feng Xiao could see that the light of the other man’s eyes flickered, his fragility undetermined like two floating lights on top of a river; it felt near at a distance, yet out of reach when it’s far away.

Feng Xiao immediately reached out with a hand to close that pair of eyes, as if he was taking those floating lights into the palm of his hand, suddenly feeling a sense of peacefulness.

Cui Buqu’s eyelids tingled gently, his eyebrows brushing across the palm, tickling it.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” The other exhaled as he said.

This person’s looks were ordinary; on usual days only his eyes and mouth were arguably beautiful, and now that he has endured a stab, his face turned paler, there was even a dried layer of skin on his lips and his overall looks were even more unsightly, without a flicker of life on him. The more Feng Xiao thought, the more this seemed to be an unexpected turn of events for him. He moved his head forward, up until he touched a gentle warmth that jolted him awake, he immediately leaned backwards with force.

Compared to his usual playfulness prior, just for the sake of seeing the other’s expression changed into something different, Feng Xiao suddenly realized that there was nothing on his mind just now.

It was just a pure instinctive move, but this was exactly why it felt terrifying.

Him, a rare breed of man who could look at Fong Xiaolian no differently than wilted bones, would lose himself to a sickly invalid like this person?

Cui Buqu who had his eyes covered, oblivious to whatever was happening at this moment, found that the hand had removed itself.

Feng Xiao sat steadily on the bed like a pole, not moving even an inch, as if he had fallen under a spell.

Cui Buqu became suspicious for a moment, determined that he shouldn’t be busying himself with things that didn’t matter at the moment.

“When… When did you come into contact with Fan Yun?”

Feng Xiao did not pay him any attention, submerged in his own trail of thoughts.

Cui Buqu remained silent for a moment, “Your hair is unruly.”

“Hm?” Feng Xiao leisurely returned to the present and took out a mirror as big as his palm from his sleeve, facing towards a luminous pearl, using the eyesight of a grandmaster of the martial arts to examine for a moment, adjusted his hair, before letting out a breath, “It’s still good. It’s not unruly?”

Cui Buqu: “…” He’s really had enough.

He thought in his heart, even during such a time when their life hung by a thread, surrounded by dangers beyond volumes, he could still pay attention to these kinds of things. This really is Feng Xiao’s true nature!

The only good thing that came from this is that this is definitely not a dream.

“If you have no ideas left up your sleeves to remain here for too long, then be swift in telling me everything so I can prepare myself.” Cui Buqu was lacking strength, his word scattering as he spoke.

As things have progressed, there was no meaning in holding back. Feng Xiao coughed lightly, “Not Fan Yun. The one who sought me out at first was Lin Wei. It was during the time we returned to the capital from Qiemo city, this man delivered himself to my door and gave me some news. He told me that Khan Ishbara had implanted a few spies within the city.”

Cui Buqu nodded his head, “I remember, he held admiration for you.”

Feng Xiao twitched his lips, didn’t respond to these words as he resumed speaking, “We have been investigating each other in secret. I let slip to him on purpose that my skills in the martial arts faced threat, then feigned a drunk and told him that the Emperor did not trust the Jiejian Bureau, so he had established the Zuoyue Bureau so they may balance out each other. He thought that the opportunity had come and finally exposed his identity to me. Lin Wei’s position in the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai isn’t powerful, he ranked seventh, and this was only because the Pavilion Lord wanted to utilize his knowledge of the Northern regions that he allowed him to rank before Ning Shewo.”

Cui Buqu, “Has he seen the Pavilion Lord?”

Feng Xiao, “No. The one who nominated him was Yu Xiu, and before that, ambassadors of the Pavilion Lord sent his orders in his stead. However, Ning Shewo should have seen him before.” Cui Biqu’s wound did not affect his response. Very quickly he said, “It seems that the Pavilion Lord is a permanent resident of the Southern regions.”

Feng Xiao, “That is right. I’ve come to similar conclusions. During that time, Lin Wei gave me three conditions to fulfil. Firstly, the title of a member of royalty with a different surname. Secondly, the ‘Forging Jade’ technique. Thirdly, the ability to mobilize resources from the Imperial Court to aid me in ruling all the demonic sects. He even came upon orders of the Pavilion Lord to deliver a valuable meeting gift to me, the Śarīra1 from the demonic grandmaster of that year, Cui Youwang.”

This time, even Cui Buqu’s expression changed.

He sighed, “This really is valuable beyond imagination!”

The Śarīra was usually believed to be an object of wisdom, left behind by eminent monks who achieved Dao after their bodies were cremated when they passed away mediating. However, grandmasters of the martial arts who had achieved a certain level would also leave behind Sarīras after they were cremated. Śarīras of these sorts contained the essence of martial arts that previously belonged to their owners. If people of Jianghu acquired them, they could increase their abilities in the martial arts beyond imagination.

However, these sort of Śarīra that belonged to grandmasters can only be met by fate, let alone Cui Youwang’s Śarīra. Towards someone who was trained in martial arts of the demonic sect like Feng Xiao, it was immensely tempting.

Cui Buqu, “But I do not understand. Cui Youwang’s Śarīra is far more valuable than ‘Forging Jade’. Why did he not make this part of your agreement, wouldn’t that be even better than ‘Forging Jade’?”

He spoke too much in a single breath, thus afterwards his breaths were curt after every half-sentence, coughing non-stop. However, once he coughed, blood surged up and hurt his wound. Feng Xiao pressed on his wrist, continuing to pour his inner strength into him.

His martial arts never lost its grace, but this time his inner strength was warm and gentle, controlled in just the right manner. It didn’t allow Cui Buqu a single ounce of discomfort.

“Because he is not a disciple of the demonic sect and neither could he verify whether that Śarīra was genuine, thus he leisurely treated it as a favour and gave it to me. Through this he could even establish himself as a man of generosity, making a name for himself as a person worth pursuing.”

Cui Buqu, “It seemed like the Śarīra is genuine.”

Feng Xiao smiled, “It is genuine. Although there is just one, it is absolutely beneficial for my martial arts. When I think about how once the Pavilion Lord knows that he’d given me something so valuable, he would have regretted it until he vomited blood. He spoke to me through Lin Wei and told me that there are two more Śarīras in his hands. If I joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, he would offer me those other two on the day we come out victorious.”

Cui Buqu laughed at himself, “ ’Victorious’, surely this is referring to the vast act of treason. It seems like drawing me into a trap was only worth a set of ‘Forging Jade’.”

Feng Xiao, “The reason I didn’t consult you before, was because during that time, through the messages delivered by Lin Wei, I realized there were people within the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai who knew you like the back of their hand. They even knew many things from your past. I thought it was very likely they were either Qiao Xian or Zhangsun.”

Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow, “So that is why you said nothing when you saw me deploying Zhangsun to Donghai Prefecture.”

Feng Xiao, “That’s right. I do not know who they’ve placed to spy on you, what position they’re taking, and how much they knew. Naturally, I would say nothing about it for the best. I anticipated that they would want to recruit you, but I hadn’t anticipated that while you had many tricks up your sleeves on usual days, when it came to times like this, you would remain so faithful and unyielding. Had it not been me doing it myself, were you really intending to allow yourself to be tortured by Yu Xiu?”

Cui Buqu canted his head to the side, “When you looked at me that time, weren’t you hinting me not to agree to it?”

“…I was hinting you to feign sincerity.” Feng Xiao saw through the other’s intentions, “Don’t you even think of pushing the responsibility on me and ask for any sort of compensation. Let me tell you, this time you’ve earned it yourself. It’s completely your own fault.”

Cui Buqu blinked his eyes slowly, speaking with great difficulty, “That time you had already surrendered to them. Adding me, how could everything go so smoothly? If you were someone from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, wouldn’t you become suspicious? Fan Yun definitely would have suspected you as well. My sacrifice, is entirely for you—“

Feng Xiao’s response was to clasp his hand on his mouth, forbidding him from saying anything more.

“Shut your mouth. If there was another time, I would not miss,” Feng Xiao suppressed his voice low and said cruelly, “Guaranteed I’d finish you with a single stab!”

Cui Buqu didn’t struggle or fight back, neither did he whine. He simply stared at him in silence.

A Cui Buqu who was obedient was hard-earned, making him even more precious.

Feng Xiao was finally satisfied. Just as he was about to taunt him with a sentence or two, a noise came from the outside.

He quickly turned his head! [1] Śarīra: Śarīra is a generic term referring to Buddhist relics, although in common usage it usually refers to a pearl or crystal-like bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters. More info here.

Chapter 118

What is so good about this sickly man?!

The stone door was opened and Fan Yun walked in.

Cui Buqu lied on the bed, his breathing even as if he had fallen asleep, yet he continued to approach.

“Are you feeling better?”

If Fan Yun had asked in such a manner, it meant he knew that Cui Buqu was awake; even if a person feigned it flawlessly, their breathing would still be different if they’re wide awake and would not be able to fool a grandmaster.

He ignored the expression on Cui Buqu that resembled someone who was sending off his guest and sat next to the bed.

“I know you bear resentment for me in your heart. I have truly owed it to you when it came to this matter, but in order to achieve my goal, even if lives must be sacrificed, I will not hesitate. You and I serve masters of our own; since you were unwilling to give in, I am left with no choice but to lure you in using methods like these.”

Cui Buqu gave him a cold glare before closing his eyes, “Since the Jin Dynasty, how many heroes had strived to defy the order and have brought upon themselves tragic ends? They were well-equipped and well-trained
—all the elements of the weather, terrain, and people were in their favour, more so than that Pavilion Lord of yours by a great many times. With teacher’s capabilities, do you truly believe he can achieve great things?”

Fan Yun did not take it to heart, “As the saying goes: Man proposes, God disposes; how many things in this world were attempted despite one knowing succeeding is impossible? Buqu, since you have mentioned the elements of the weather rather than terrain, then you should have known that some of those heroes may have succeeded at the element of the weather, but not the element of the terrain. Just like Yang Jian and his methods of seizing the throne via a consort’s kin have proven everything. He’s relied on women to achieve his goals. Even if his name was left in history, this imputation will never be removed. More than that, don’t you underestimate the Pavilion Lord; he really does bear capabilities beyond your imagination.”

Cui Buqu sneered, “To be able to gather so many grandmasters, having chess pieces such as Feng Xiao and Yuan Sansi within the Imperial Court, and a strategist like Master Fan. It seems that there’s no doubt about his capabilities.”

Fan Yu gave him a look that spoke volumes, “Did you think that was all?”

Cui Buqu squinted his eyes.

The other said nothing. He took out a ceramic bottle from his sleeve.

“This medicine could enrich the blood and nourish your qi. There is no poison, and it’s beneficial towards regulating your body. Whether you will take it or not is entirely your decision.”

Fan Yun patted his shoulder, told him to rest well, before getting up and left.

The stone door was shut once again.

Feng Xiao leapt down from a corner of the ceiling, patted away the dust and webs from his clothes. “He sensed me.”

The interaction of vital energy between grandmasters had always been the most subtle. Even if Feng Xiao speculated that he did not bust a seam that allowed himself to be caught, even if Fan Yun hadn’t looked up at the place where he hid, Feng Xiao could earnestly be certain that Fan Yun knew he was there.

This wasn’t strange, however, it was difficult for one to hide in the combat hall to begin with. Feng Xiao had even prepared himself to initiate an assault on Fan Yun.

However, the other hadn’t exposed him despite knowing his presence.
This doesn’t make sense.

Feng Xiao picked up the ceramic bottle that Fan Yun had felt behind and opened it to take a sniff before putting it into his arms.

“It doesn’t matter what that old hag is brewing in his head. It’s best if you don’t eat it.”

Cui Buqu did not object to it but muttered, “Just now he said, ‘how many things in this world were attempted despite one knowing succeeding is impossible?’ That is the people’s comment on Confucius. It is a metaphor to indicate that the other is someone of great wisdom and courage. For Fan Yun to compare this to himself meant that he had his own difficulties he found difficult to express. In fact, it was as if he was hinting that this Pavilion Lord had far more people compared to those we know. In fact, it’s very possible that he still has a backup that we cannot even begin to imagine.”

Feng Xiao ridiculed, “Are you suggesting that Fan Yun is a traitor who seeks out complicated matters for himself so he rises in vigour? He could watch as I stabbed you with a knife, this traitor really did give his all!”

Cui Buqu sighed, “There is another possibility.” Feng Xiao furrowed his brows, “He’s not one of the Thirteen Pavilion of Yunhai, but he is also not here to help us.”

“That’s right. He and I have known each other for years; he should know what sort of a person I am. With the wisdom he bears, he would have known that even if I agreed on the surface, I would be reluctant within and would definitely cause chaos.” Cui Buqu said with the utmost seriousness.

Feng Xiao was caught in a delightful surprise, “I have never seen someone who compares himself with a pole that stirs up shit!”
Cui Buqu stopped talking, glaring at him with an expressionless face. Feng Xiao reached out and flicked his forehead, “If you feel at ease,
naturally all your diseases will wane away. I’m just assisting you towards recovery. You should thank me.”

A moment of tolerance would bring peace; thus Cui Buqu blinked and continued speaking, “Since Fan Yun didn’t react, then he won’t expose you in front of Yu Xiu and the others for the time being. This time you’ve entered deep into the tiger’s den, what preparations have you made?”

Feng Xiao asked suspiciously, “What preparations?”

“It can’t be that you were thinking of fighting your way out alone?” Cui Buqu raised his voice, but less than half a minute passed before he finished, he had started coughing.

Feng Xiao was surprised, “Why would someone like me of peerless wisdom and courage who could fight a hundred enemies need anyone?”

A moment of tolerance would bring peace… a moment of tolerance would bring what motherfucking peace! Cui Buqu forcibly heaved himself up, reaching out to grab the empty bowl next to him to hit Feng Xiao.

The other received it easily, turning it around instead and placing it back on top of the table before using a voice that was used to coax kittens as he smiled and said, “Look at you, even if you’re carrying injuries with you, you’re still so violent. Wouldn’t it be better if you don’t think about it? Before I left the capital I’ve made some arrangements, asking Lao-san2 to lead some people in person to tail us in secret, waiting in Raoyang next to Anping.”

Seeing that he had begun to be serious, Cui Buqu immediately returned to his peaceful state. But because he’d hurt himself just now, he could not stop coughing.

Feng Xiao smiled to himself before pouring another half a bowl of warm water to feed him.

“I hadn’t known anything before regarding Tiannan. Once I knew that Yuan Sansi had set out, I sent Lao-san a message. I wager that the moment we acted he would have already been on his way. However, with no one to guide him, he would need a long time before he could find this place, and let alone the Twin Jade Compass Array which only you and Fan Yun knew the way to free yourselves, I fear no one else in this world would know.”

“That’s right.” Cui Buqu said, “Unless we unleash something and guide them here.”

Feng Xiao, “Let me do the thinking about that. You, just take care of yourself, Master Daoist Cui. With a fragile body like yours, there’s no telling how much longer you will live. Please also trim your temper, to avoid yourself rising to the Heavens before the Thirteen Pavilion of Yunhai has fallen.”

Cui Buqu spoke coldly, “All will be well as long as you stop angering me.”

Feng Xiao blinked, suddenly lashed out with a hand and tapped Cui Buqu’s sleeping meridians in the blink of an eye. He caught the upper half of his body that slumped down and placed him on the bed. Being forced into slumber, there was a crease between Cui Buqu’s brows, as if there were a thousand worries he hadn’t yet managed to solve, thus he couldn’t sleep peacefully.

Feng Xiao rubbed the crease for a moment, flattening it.

Only at this moment, Cui Buqu looked harmless to human beings and beasts, kind and feeble.

But this was just on the surface.

This person wasn’t only poisonous on the mouth, he also had a heart of steel, merciless towards both others and himself, stopping at nothing to achieve his goals. His temper wasn’t pleasant to get along with, and his body was like a candle in the wind; there’s no telling when it would be blown out.

Even those two words ‘Cui Buqu’ seemed to carry an air of alarming coldness, warning other people to put distance between themselves; as if he had been a boulder who weathered through wind and snow and it needed nobody to understand or get close to him.

Falling for someone like that was a sin from his previous lives, unfortunate blood that has flown non-stop for eight generations.

He, Feng Xiao, on the contrary, was handsome and wayward who held a graceful bearing. Beautiful people would deliver themselves to his doorstep at a single call. Even a peerless beauty of an entire country like Fong Xiaolian wanted a night with him, so let alone those men and women who wanted his favour, they were everywhere.

The Heavens have not only just given him an extraordinary appearance, for they have even given him extraordinary wisdom and talent. Since he was young, he needn’t put in much effort to learn or get whatever he wanted; they were as simple as just reaching out. Even the position of Sect Leader in the Fajing Sect that was coveted and desired by many people in the demonic sects was thrown to him like a hot sweet potato just because the former sect leader wanted him to succeed him. Feng Xiao was not like those arrogant yet restrained hypocritical people. He felt, in earnest, that the sky and earth was vast, yet people who could run at an equal pace with him were not many in number. Grandmasters from the demonic sects like Cui Youwang and Yan Wushi might have been able to put up a fight with him in combat, but when it came to talent, wisdom, and looks Feng Xiao was certain that those people were not inferior to him by just a little.

Why would such a perfect, peerless, and flawless person like him fall for a sickly invalid who might not even see the sun of tomorrow?

He wasn’t the only one who refused to believe it, even if he spread it out no one would believe it.

Feng Xiao looked left and right and reached down to dig a luminous pearl, waving it around Cui Buqu’s face but he couldn’t put a finger on what’s so special about it.

His nose looked mundane, his eyebrows looked mundane, his mouth and lips looked better, but they were only a little bit better; how could they compare to one or two tenth of his?

Feng Xiao suddenly recalled that very long ago, when both of them were like tigers who descended their hills, running for their lives in the deserts next to the city. During that time, both of them still harboured their own nefarious intentions but they were forced to drop their opinions and work together temporarily, sat cooped up inside a cave beneath a cliff to weather through one night of snow.

During that time Cui Buqu even forced him to call him ‘Dad’ three times, and in his heart, he thought that once he’s gotten out of this, he would definitely make this sickly man kneel on the ground while hugging his leg as he called him ‘Dad’.

Yet what happened in the end?

In the end, now when he looked at this sickly man’s face, he couldn’t help feeling a spontaneous rise of joy. This can’t do.

A sudden thought flashed, Feng Xiao reached out with a hand and placed it above Cui Buqu’s neck.

His palm was close to the other’s skin; other than warmth there was also a weak pulse beating.

Feng Xiao slowly tightened his hand.

Cui Buqu’s expression was not one of pain; his injuries added with having his meridians tapped, he had fallen into a deep slumber.

His face, naturally, was peaceful and calm. He had struggled for half his life and wandered from place to place, tasted all the warmth and cruelty in the hearts of people. For him to die in such a way was perhaps a way of liberty.

In this cave before their eyes, grandmasters gathered and an ambush was hidden in all directions. There were incessant dangers everywhere; Fan Yun and Yuan Sansi were already difficult enough to fight against, let alone the Pavilion Lord who hasn’t shown himself yet. It was already very difficult for Feng Xiao himself to find a chance to escape completely unscathed, but with a Cui Buqu as well, even if the latter had a hundred tricks up his sleeves, in this kind of situation, no matter how many ideas he had he couldn’t avoid becoming a burden.

This sickly man was very skinny, his neck was also long and narrow.
Some strength in a single hand would be enough to snap it.

Then the other would no longer breathe, neither could he sneer at Feng Xiao, or speak with the sharpness of knives and pit the Jiejian Bureau whenever he could.

From then on, Feng Xiao would be as free as high mountains and wide rivers, like the cast skies and lands, no longer having a weakness.

There were a thousand benefits and not a single harm. But, he couldn’t do it.

By the end of the day, it was just four words:

He couldn’t let go.

He couldn’t let go of his frequent ridicules.

He couldn’t let go of the twitch of his brows when he sneered.

He couldn’t even let go of that calculative and mocking look he gave when he called him “Second Commander Feng”.

So, what is so good about this sickly man?! Feng Xiao let go and sighed.
He lowered his head, pressed his lips on the gentle warmth of the other for a while, before biting on his lips cruelly!

If he had known this earlier, then during that time when they were in the deserts, he would have just stabbed and killed him off. Otherwise, why would it lead to so much trouble today?

[1] The elements of the weather, terrain, and people were in their favour:
天时地利⼈和 from Mengzi (Mencius) here.
[2] Lao-san: lit ‘Old-three’ meant to refer to someone who’s number third.

Chapter 119

It’s a pity that Master Daoist Cui would never say such things.

After Feng Xiao left the stone hall, he headed where Fan Yun had pointed before, walking towards the hall in the centre.

The path there was winding; main and hidden allies intersected each other. Until now, he hadn’t gained insight into everything yet. Additionally, it hasn’t been long since he joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Fan Yun and the rest were still wary of him, so there wasn’t any information he could give out.

On his way there he met a few maidservants. These people knew his identity and always stopped to greet him, yet they were thrift with their words. If Feng Xiao stopped to inquire about their identity and past, they would not speak too much either. Judging by their accent, they were mixed from the Southern and Northern regions. In fact, these were not their first days here, because their skin was pale, proof of not having seen the sunlight for a very long time. It was very likely that ever since this place was refurbished into a stronghold, these maidservants had already occupied this place.

Even Feng Xiao thought that these people incredibly resembled living corpses, with a sense of dank and humid air lingering about them, they did not look like they could be bought over. He examined them for a very long time yet hadn’t found any openings.

Since there were no openings, then he could only set his aim elsewhere. According to his own perception and the discussion with Cui Buqu, Feng Xiao decided that this natural cave was grown in a quasi-circular way. All kinds of winding paths were dug out from the central hall. If one were to go out, they would have to pass through the Twin Spinning Compass Array that they came in from.

Cui Buqu had vaguely taught him how to pass through the array. According to Cui Buqu, the needle was the heart of the compass, changing infinitely with the twenty-eight constellations. The creator of the array only needed to change it a little and it could send people into a spinning headache, trapped within and losing their sense of direction.

Now as he recalled, the way Fan Yun permitted Feng Xiao to lure Cui Buqu here deserved quite the recollection. He was aware that this disciple of his knew his way around the Twin Spinning Compass Array; had he long carried the intention of lending both Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao’s strength to combat the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai?

If that was true, then in which side of power did Fan Yun stand behind?
The Southern Dynasty, or Goguryeo?

Feng Xiao got a hold of his thoughts, determined not to think about Fan Yun at that moment.

Not going out meant not seeing the rising sun and setting moon. It meant not knowing whether it was early in the day or late into the night. He had an hourglass back in his room, but he was too lazy to tip it around and found it too troublesome to go out of the cave. Feng Xiao estimated in his heart that it should be the morning of the seventh day of the seventh month right at this moment.

It also meant that the Pavilion Lord will arrive here today and meet with everyone else.

Till this day, they have not met the Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai; taking into consideration the disposition of Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi, even if they fell into an alliance in order to achieve the same goals, the Pavilion Lord must have been someone with matching abilities. At least surpassing them in martial arts, or at least more tyrannical.

Feng Xiao counted backwards from the list of top masters he knew once.

Many from the grandmaster tier were no longer interested in the pursuit of power from worldly politics; they have instead set their gazes on higher grounds, exploring the realm of martial arts. Just like Cui Youwang from that year, if he hadn’t forcibly strengthened his martial arts, he wouldn’t have experienced qi deviation. He would have still lived comfortably in the mortal world by now.

Other than these people, there were not many left.

Feng Xiao even suspected that this matter was related to Emperor Chen of the Southern Dynasty. However, the present Southern Dynasty Emperor was abjectly poor and spent extravagantly, investing into songs and dances. No matter how he perceived him, he didn’t look like a person who could pull off something so huge.

Pondering as he walked, his focus returned when brightness fell upon his eyes. He had already reached the guest hall.

The people who were conversing between themselves turned around.
One of them yielded a look of surprise and quickly hurried over.

“Yuntian, I’ve missed you so much on the journey!”

Feng Xiao twitched the corner of his lips before giving a smile, “Long time no see, Young Master Lin.”

If Cui Buqu could also say words like ‘I’ve missed you so much’ then—

In his sea of memory, Cui Buqu’s pale-white face was tinted red, forced by himself to spill these words out from time to time. Not only Feng Xiao didn’t feel goosebumps from it, the corner of his lips instead curled up eagerly.

It was a pity that Master Daoist Cui would never say such things. The one approaching was ranked number seven within the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, Young Master Lin of the Yandang Estate.

It was Fate that year when Feng Xiao and Lin Wei met each other. Initially, it only came from a feeling that this person’s dissolute attitude was quite unusual, so he investigated him in secret. And truly, he discovered that what hid behind Lin Wei wasn’t just his happy-go-lucky temperament. He often tortured his servants, whipping them with iron wires if he was displeased. Every month the bodies that left their villa were not just one or two.

The Lin family originally came for the Western Regions to do trading business on silk and porcelains. However, after Lin Wei succeeded, the Yandang Estate began getting involved in weapon and metalsmithing businesses. It could be seen that this person wasn’t as simple as he presented himself on the surface.

When they met again in the capital, Lin Wei accidentally saw Feng Xiao’s “accident”, and after some investigation, he finally exposed his own identity and invited him to join the Thirteen Pavilions. Feng Xiao pulled and pushed, allowing the currents to flow. Lin Wei was already interested in Feng Xiao to begin with, thus at that moment, he felt he was closer to him than other people around them, so, unbeknownst to it, he showed it through his words.

“After not meeting for so long, Yuntian, your grace remains as flustering as ever.” Lin Wei smiled, bitterness hidden within himself, “Since you’re already one of our own, why are you still calling me ‘Young Master’? Just call me by my courtesy name Huaya.”

“I’ve gotten used to it, can’t change it!” Feng Xiao laughed, shifting his gaze to the one behind him, “This must be Chieftain Ning?”

Ning Shewo walked forward slowly, putting his hands together and bowed, “Young Master Feng is just like his name, as radiant as a jade.”

He was over fifty years of age, his figure a little plump. However, the skin on his hands was tanner than the rest of his body. At a glance, one could tell that he was trained in a specific type of martial arts and he could not be taken lightly of.

Lin Wei watched Feng Xiao and Ning Shewo talking between themselves, the first not paying any attention to him, he couldn’t help but show his displeasure.

Yu Xiu spoke suddenly, “He doesn’t like being close to you, so why are you hallucinating?”

Lin Wei’s expression sank. He glared at Yu Xiu and laughed suddenly, “Before that eye of yours was blinded, I might have been willing to speak more pleasantly with you. It’s a pity your person no longer lives up to your name. I wonder if it was for this reason that Prince Jin of yours abandoned the chess piece he had of you?”

Yu Xiu laughed coldly, “You are a cut-sleeve yourself. Do you think everyone beneath the sky is similar to you? If not for the Pavilion Lord, I would have already killed you.”

Among everyone present, some of them managed the water transport in the South, some of them pulled strings between the wealthy caste in the Northern Dynasty; Fan Yun was rich in knowledge, Yu Xiu even dared to masquerade as a Göktürk Khan, creating an episode of chaos effortlessly. Although his scheme was ruined by Cui Buqu and turned into a desperado, he still was once a subject of Prince Jin, an insider person of the palace. It was granted he knew many things that went on in the palace.

On the subject of battle formations alone, these few people were enough to raise a fierce, tempestuous storm. Under sufficient preparations, it was not impossible for them to substitute a new dynasty from the old.

If Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu weren’t involved, they might have succeeded.

However, these people were originally heroes scattered all over the world. Although they had gathered to achieve the same goals, neither was willing to submit to the other. When Yu Xiu was still by Prince Jin’s side, he had been a balance of grace and solid worth, elegant and quiet. Now that there was a huge change to his identity, he no longer suppressed his temper. He wasn’t only just displeased at Lin Wei; a few times when his line of sight intersected with Feng Xiao, Feng Xiao could see clearly in the other’s narrowed eyes the unconcealed intention to kill him.

Yu Xiu never forgot his hatred from that time, but Feng Xiao was not someone easy to get along with, and now that he had joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, he wasn’t someone he could kill just because he wanted to. So, he had transferred all the resentment raging within him before onto Cui Buqu.

“Alright!” Before Lin Wei could retort, Fan Yun has already spoken to make peace, “Both of you are lords of the Thirteen Pavilions, even if there are disagreements between you, in the face of the grand scheme, they should be discarded. Today the Pavilion Lord summoned us to this place to make arrangements for what’s to come.”

The interest peaked in everyone.

Fan Yun added suddenly as his gaze surveyed his surroundings, “Where is Master Four?”

He was asking about Yuan Sansi.

Yu Xiu said, “After last night, he went missing.”

Feng Xiao smiled, “I’ve seen him.”

When he saw everyone had turned to look at himself, he leisurely spoke the latter half of the sentence, “At Fong Xiaolian’s door.”

Everyone gave an understanding look.

Fan Yun alone gave him a look, the kind that spoke volumes. Speaking of the devil, he came. “Feng Xiao you bastard!”

In the next moment, Yuan Sansi’s figure appeared within the inner guest hall.

He obviously heard Feng Xiao’s words, reaching out with a hand to grab the other.

Feng Xiao calmly used the fan in his hand to parry it.

However, with every move Yuan Sansi made he aimed to kill, not leaving any room. Both of them were about to fight in the inner guest hall, yet no one moved forward to interrupt. They have instead stepped away to give them space to fight, not blinking as the battle happened, wanting to see who is superior.

Feng Xiao very obviously didn’t intend to fight a real battle with him. He brought the fight into Fan Yun’s direction on purpose, using the opportunity to hide behind Fan Yun’s body himself. Being unaware that he had become a shield out of the blue, Fan Yun was forced to reach out and put a stop to it.

“Speak properly if you have anything to say!”

“Fong Xiaolian is dead!” Yuan Sansi exclaimed angrily. Everyone was shocked.
For a beauty like her to pass away just like that, even Lin Wei who was never interested in women could not help feeling furious and regrettable.

“When did it happen?!”

Fong Xiaolian was ranked number thirteen, the last one. Even though her martial arts were ranked last, other people could not do as they wished with her. Moreover, who would have willingly killed a peerless beauty like her?

Yuan Sansi glared at Feng Xiao, “The night before, I heard both of you meeting privately in your room and the next day she’s dead. What are your explanations?” Feng Xiao gave a look of innocence, “What explanation do I have to give? If I was somehow involved with Fong Xiaolian, I would have been furious by now. How would I look so high-spirited? For now, set aside whether there were grudges between Fong Xiaolian and I; Brother Yuan, your room is not close to mine, how would you know that Fong Xiaolian and I met in private? Even if you wish to frame someone, surely this is not the way?”

He turned towards Fan Yun, “I am the Deputy Pavilion Lord. Yuan Sansi is Master Four. How would this insubordination be dealt with?”

Yuan Sansi gave a cold laugh, “A Deputy Pavilion Lord like you hasn’t even been declared by the Pavilion Lord! Yesterday night, Master Fan and I talked until late into the night, so I didn’t return to my own room. Just now when I did, she was dead at my door. The blood-scar on her neck was the doing of a zither’s string. Don’t think I wouldn’t know that you have obtained the zither Yu Yin in Boling county, using its strings as a weapon. Who do you think it was if not you?”

Feng Xiao spoke strangely, “You’ve spent the night with Master Fan? What have the both of you talked about to last an entire night? Master Fan, does Yuan Sansi speak the truth?”

Fan Yun spoke dully, “Actually, it cannot be said that we’ve spoken the entire night. After midnight, Brother Yuan had already left.”

Yuan Sansi was both furious and shocked, “I obviously left only when it was close to dawn. Fan Yun, were you really bought over by this little bastard?!”

Fan Yun furrowed his brows, “Brother Yuan, calm down. There’s more to Fong Xiaolian’s death than meets the eye. For now, the murderer is undetermined. It’s not too late to make a decision once the Pavilion Lord has arrived. Let us go and take a look at her first.”

The others did not express any opinions. Fan Yun was in the middle and Yuan Sansi too no longer spoke. He glared sharply at Feng Xiao before walking out. After not even two steps, Yuan Sansi stopped suddenly, his face froze.

“What smell is that?”

Lin Wei cried, “Fire!”

Not waiting for the others to respond, the sound of racing guards came from the outside, shouting for help about the fire.

Feng Xiao’s heart dropped as he thought about a sleeping Cui Buqu who had his sleeping meridians tapped.

“We’ll speak again once we’re out!” Fan Yun said in a solemn voice.

At the same time his words dissipated in the air, the ground shook violently, for even boulders from atop the mountain came rolling down.

Everyone’s expressions changed.

Feng Xiao stopped pondering, he took the first step and ran. Yu Xiu’s gaze caught him and followed after.
 

Chapter 120

He would not be Cui Buqu if he hadn’t toiled winds and rolled waves.

The fire wasn’t spreading quickly when it first began. However, Fan Yun and the rest were situated at the centre of a cave. If they could smell the scorching scent, it meant that the fire has already broken out.

A deep rumble sounded. Above their heads, the ceiling shook and another wave of boulders fell down.

Wind and thunder roared fiercely, yet there was no rain. Thunder struck the mountain’s boulders outside, giving rise to an earthquake within the rest of the mountains around it.

There were a few vents here leading the way out. However, even small children would not be able to leave or enter. At that moment, wind swept in from the opening above, howling wildly, creating unrest within the hearts of people. As someone else shouted fire!, immediately they fell into mild disarray.

The fire lent the strength of the wind and spread quickly.

Even crickets and insects would value their own lives; so even if these maidservants were trained to be as steady and calm as a block of wood, they were still human beings in the end. They knew that this place was well hidden and it would be troublesome to leave or enter. Thus, they didn’t even know whether they could escape this place, so the more it went on, the more alarmed they were. The kitchen was the only place with firewood, so the source of the fire could only have begun from the kitchen. Everyone ran their separate ways, some of them ran towards the kitchen to put out the fire, and some of them immediately tried escaping the cave. However, the ones who ran towards the kitchen would find out very quickly that it was already beyond saving. It was unknown who is the wicked person, despite the fire and smoke, still poured a trail of kerosene on the way, so that once the fire broke out, it was impossible to extinguish.

Among the chaos, Feng Xiao ran the opposite direction.

Cui Buqu’s sleeping meridians were sealed by him. If there was no one to free them once more, he feared he wouldn’t be able to wake up. Even with a fire breaking out, he would not be able to sense it. Once the fire spread to his doorstep, it would be too late to escape.

For the dignified and imposing Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau to be burned to death like this, such a manner of death would not live up to his attitude of a man of wisdom and craftiness. Even if he turned into a ghost, he’d come seeking Feng Xiao to accompany him into death.

It was unknown who had taken the luminous pearls on the mosaic stone walls. Without a light source, the sky was murky and the earth was dark, the smoke was thick and fires licked at his feet; even Feng Xiao found it slightly unbearable. It wasn’t easy for him to find the way here, pushing aside the stone door, only to find that there was no one on the bed inside the room.

Feng Xiao’s heart sank. Just as he was about to turn around, he heard a cold laugh behind him.

“So, your surrender really was faked! You’re indeed an insider!”

In between the conversation, a sharp, strong wind swept into his nostril, aiming for a fatal spot at Feng Xiao’s back!

Feng Xiao’s reflexes were extremely quick. Before Yu Xiu spoke, he had already moved forward a few steps, his figure rising suddenly, grabbing the opportunity when Yu Xiu was near, he aimed a palm at the stone wall to fire himself to the opposite direction, facing Yu Xiu’s palm head-on.

However, neither of them was affected. After one palm they separated, their figures incredibly quick as if diminishing into mere shadows. Both shadows fought in the darkness, judging their next move entirely just by listening to the breathing of their adversary. This sort of judgement didn’t take more than a split moment, almost as if they’ve taken a trip to the yellow spring and back.

If not for Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu, these two people, Yu Xiu would have still been spending his days next to Prince Jin right now as his trusted confidant. Prince Jin was young and beautiful, although he hadn’t made his move on Yu Xiu, both of them were close till there was an aura of a suggestive relationship between them. Yu Xiu was happy to turn this relationship to his advantage.

The Thirteen Pavilion of Yunhai was plotting a vast scheme, having people both within and outside of the Imperial Court. Yu Xiu was one of them by Prince Jin’s side, and he wasn’t against bending the knee to the Pavilion Lord, because at the end of the day, he was only concerned for Princess Qianjin; assisting the Pavilion Lord in his goals, at the same thing regaining the princess her freedom so she may be together with him. Yu Xiu was very enthusiastic about aiding the Pavilion Lord in accomplishing his conquest. After a few years of scheming, everything seemed like they were already in place, and what it lacked was only a timely opportunity.

However, this board of an almost-perfect chess was practically destroyed by Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao.

Had it been the old Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus, both of them had always been balancing each other out. However, it was unknown since when these two had got mixed up with each other. Cui Buqu was sly and crafty, Feng Xiao’s martial arts were unsurpassed; either one of them would not have been a threat, but when they worked together, the consequences were something that Yu Xiu had witnessed for himself. Back in Western Göktürk, he obviously had the chance to get rid of Cui Buqu once and for all, but Feng Xiao had bulged out from the blue and disrupted the scene. If Cui Buqu died, the Zuoyue Bureau would be like a nest of dragons who lost its leader. Without this person who is incredibly skilled in schemes and plots, even if Feng Xiao’s martial arts were number one beneath the sky, how much can he do?

Yu Xiu hated these two people for continuously ruining their schemes, and hated Feng Xiao the more for robbing him of an eye. Since he knew that his surrender was faked and that he came here scouting for information, naturally he left no room for mercy. Every attack of his was fatal, wanting to claim his life!

Feng Xiao had no heart to fight.

Since Cui Buqu couldn’t be released from his sleeping meridians so quickly, and his whereabouts were unknown, then there was only one possibility: Someone else had taken him.

Even Yu Xiu could feel Feng Xiao’s panic of wanting to free himself. However, he doesn’t know the reason for his adversary’s panic.
Yu Xiu’s impression of Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu remained in the state they were in before they left the capital. From his perspective, the Jiejian Bureau and the Zuoyue Bureau both have their own plans to wrangle benefits. They were just working together for a short amount of time. They couldn’t share any sort of relationship. Now that Feng Xiao was in a hurry to look for Cui Buqu, Yu Xiu could only deduct that perhaps the other had something important on him.

As the thought flew past, Yu Xiu rushed out of the door in pursuit, chasing the other at the speed of light. Every time Feng Xiao wanted to use his strength to whip the other away, he always caught up. The ally was narrow and it was impossible to spread out.

He was pursued until he felt a little annoyed. Once he turned a corner, he immediately leapt out of the exit.

At this moment, the cave was already in chaos. Some people were in a hurry to look for the exit and some others were in a hurry to look for a temporary place of safety to hide. No one could pay Feng Xiao and Yu Xiu any attention, and it was unknown where Fan Yun and Yuan Sansi had gone. Feng Xiao even suspected that sickly invalid Cui Buqu cannot be completely exempt from the cause of this chaos. However, the other had been wounded so gravely that he could not even walk steadily, how would he drop something so troublesome upon someone else?

On the day Yu Xiu freed himself from Feng Xiao and ran, he was treated by the Thirteen Pavilions’ Pavilion Lord himself, he was even entrusted with an incredibly poisonous secret weapon named the ‘Ever-flowing Waves’. This item was colourless and shapeless, light as a goose’s feather. However, once inner strength was infused, it would cancel out the enemy’s true qi and pierce into their skin, melting itself into their bodies and disrupt their meridians, tossing them into unimaginable disarray of pain.

Just now he had attacked a few times, yet Feng Xiao had been incredibly sly, avoiding him at all costs. Till now, his figure had been continuously blocked by falling boulders. After a while, Yu Xiu raised his knife and avoided it. At the stroke of Feng Xiao’s sleeve, he used the chance to land a palm. His left finger flicked and a ferocious slashing of wind flew at his adversary’s shoulder. The enemy’s body wavered a little as he felt that something had gone amiss.

Yu Xiu did not give the other a chance to even breathe. Immediately afterwards, he bent his fingers like claws, aiming for the other’s skull. However, Feng Xiao disappeared in the blink of an eye. His entire person had disappeared, thus Yu Xiu grabbed thin air!

The other must have used a trick of deception. In reality, he had manoeuvred his way to the back of the boulder and so he went, not even hesitating before mustering his strength and hurried.

There was nothing behind the boulder. In front, behind, left and right, everywhere was fog. There were only a few luminous pearls there, looking far yet near, floating around, as if his move just now had brought him into another dimension! Yu Xiu said ‘No good’, in his heart and knew that he felt for it. He had been led by Feng Xiao into the Twin Spinning Compass Array!

He had heard Fan Yun speaking about this array before and he knew how to walk out of it in normal circumstances. However, before his eyes were the boulders formed forests and waves upon waves of rumbling resounded. Atop his head it seemed as if another heavy rain would pour soon; it was not the array he walked in before.

Dense and gloomy air was everywhere, like arrows formed from ice and water, brushing against Yu Xiu’s robes. If not for him averting it quickly, there would be a few more scars on his body. There were even trap mechanisms of flowing sand beneath his feet, and the difference of a single step would be similar to being dragged down by a ghost hand, pulling him into the abyss and trapped within the flowing sand.

Fan Yun once said that this array was infinitely changing. Yu Xiu hadn’t believed it in the beginning, but only now did he experience the capabilities of Fan Yun. Only now did he know why the Pavilion Lord thought highly of him. If this array was utilized, never mind entrapping one or two top martial artists within it, even if there were a hundred trained Forbidden Armies, it was guaranteed that none of them would return. From the side of his ears, there was the sound of swords and knives clanking. Yu Xiu could not tell if that was the combat of real people, or if it was produced by the array.

His back hit a boulder and it didn’t move. His handsome expression sunk.
For a moment, he gave a cold smile.

Feng Xiao was already infected by the ‘Ever-flowing Waves’, and very quickly it will take effect. He needed to find him before he left this array, then it will be the death of this Commander of the Jiejian Bureau.

……

When Cui Buqu woke up, he didn’t know that his sleeping meridians were sealed, nor did he know that someone had come here to release them. However, when he reached out to touch, he realized that there was something on his bed.

It was a bottle of kerosene.

This plaything could cause a fire to spread out quickly.

However, he recalled that there was nothing like this in the room before. People from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai couldn’t even wait to torture him, so they would not have delivered a bottle of kerosene here.

This item wasn’t left by Feng Xiao, then, it should be Fan Yun.

Fan Yun and himself were years apart, each of them holding their dreams and goals they wanted to achieve. They have never even written letters to each other. However, in Cui Buqu’s impression of him, this Master Fan would not be so easily pulled to the side with someone to achieve treason. The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai could perhaps attract people like Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi, but they were not enough to move Fan Yun’s heart.

Before this, Fan Yun had continuously hinted to him, and it had proven everything.

Cui Buqu sat up slowly and fumbled around for a while, finding something else that was interesting.

It was a dagger—the one that Feng Xiao used to pierce his heart before— and the fire starters that belonged to him before were all here. They weren’t taken away.

There was also a set of robes meant for maidservants.

Even if Feng Xiao left all these things here for him for self-defence, Fan Yun would have failed to notice it.

Judging from all the phenomenon, the Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was not a feeble fool. It must not have been easy for Fan Yun to join the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. He might have even done a lot of things to obtain the trust of the Pavilion Lord and become his strategist, serving as the mainstay for the vast scheme of things.

Yet the other was now secretly assisting him, adding fuel to fire, going so far to even leave a bottle of kerosene for him, as if he was afraid that he wouldn’t stir something up.

Regardless of what side Fan Yun was at, since he is already in possession of these things, Cui Buqu would put them to good use.

There were a lot of luminous pearls lighting up this place. The only place that fire could be used would be the kitchen. So, he already knew what Fan Yun wanted him to do.

Knowing was an instance itself; being able to create chaos in this place also suited Cui Buqu’s goals. He didn’t mind that he was being used.

Through this, they could make use of the fire and find a way to escape for themselves.

Cui Buqu coughed, blood surging up his throat. This rotten body didn’t seem like it could create chaos easily. However, if he could withstand the silence, then he would not be Cui Buqu, the one who had toiled winds and rolled waves.

He carried the dagger and kerosene with him, his gaze falling upon the maidservant’s clothes, and the corner of his mouth twitched.

There were a lot of guards here who brought knives with them. On usual days he could pass himself off as one of them, but now his legs were weak and his hands shivered, it was more convincing if he’d passed off as a maidservant.

Author’s Notes:

Feng Xiao: The wheels of fortune take their turns spinning; in the past, it was me; today it is you. Everyone sings! (T/N: Probably referring to taking turns crossdressing.) Cui Buqu: “……”
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