Even someone like Feng Xiao would risk his life to save you
Liang Feng was an ordinary guard of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.
He was originally a disciple from one of the sects in Leling. His leader was killed by Yuan Sansi one random day and everyone within his sect who fought against him was killed as well. The people who remained, including himself, surrendered to Yuan Sansi and joined the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai as their side disciples.
The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was wealthy and loud, so they weren’t mistreated. However, to avoid them conspiring among themselves, Liang Feng and his people were separated. Liang Feng was assigned under Yuan Sansi in the Fourth Pavilion. From Leling to Tiannan Mountain, he had always been guarding within this cavern.
They were not allowed to descend the mountain or even the cave. Although their salary, food, and shelter were rich, they spent most of their time hidden in the cave, not even able to see the sun and the sky, so what use is there even if they had money? Additionally, they have been poisoned and without the antidote, they couldn’t go far. The antidote was only given to them monthly when they receive their salary, otherwise, they could only prolong the poison from acting up. There was once two people who didn’t believe it and tried to escape in the night. They had even asked Liang Feng to come with them, but Liang Feng was timid, so he didn’t agree to it. In the end, these two were caught in less than just a few days after they fled. Their bodies were blue-black and incredibly unsightly. Liang Feng was scared stiff and believed it completely that they had indeed been poisoned. Although the cave was huge, other than the people on duty, the rest of them were dull, difficult to put into words. As the days passed, Liang Feng muddled along aimlessly, forgetting even the time and date of the day. He only did what his manager asked him to do to pass the time, numbly standing guard.
Today was like any usual mundane day to him. Big shots came regularly and there was no shortage of people from the Jianghu, grandmasters of martial arts. However, these were none of Liang Feng’s business, let alone the Zuoyue and Jiejian Bureaus. He would not even know what those places are, knowing only to obey orders and stand guard outside the kitchen.
It still wasn’t the time to cook at this hour, so there was no one around. Liang Feng yawned, mustered his energy as he leaned against the stone wall before he saw, not far away, someone approaching.
At first, he thought it was a maidservant from the kitchen. However, very quickly he discovered that it wasn’t. The other was tall, his back arched a little and was walking very slowly. From the looks of it, their body didn’t look in its prime state, and when they came near one could even smell the scent of medical herbs up close.
“Stand right there.” Liang Feng spoke, yet it wasn’t any warning or the sort. His knife remained strapped by his waist, “Who are you?”
“This young Lord, I am the maidservant of Mistress Fong. She is unwell, so I’ve been asked to fetch some boiling water.” The other’s voice was a little low and hoarse, long hair covered half her face, shielding both her ears. In the dim light, Liang Feng couldn’t see her face clearly, but he could only feel the other’s compliant nature.
“Before the appropriate time comes, the kitchen cannot be lit,” Liang Feng spoke methodically.
“But these are orders from Mistress Fong. If I don’t fetch her warm water, she will punish me.” The maidservant begged, pulling a silver ornament from her head to give Liang Feng, “Please, I beg you!” Liang Feng knew Mistress Fong. He was lucky enough to have seen her once. That woman truly was a beauty he had never come across in his life, impossible to describe with words. As for her temperament, he knew nothing about it. However, located here, there was no use for money. He didn’t take the silver hairpiece and resumed to forbid entry.
“These are orders from above; you can ask them yourself!” If not for the other being a woman and the fact that he hadn’t spoken to someone for such a long time now, he would have already lost his patience.
“My Lord, are you someone from Leling?” The maidservant suddenly asked.
“How did you know?” Liang Feng knew that there was some accent in his speech.
“I am also someone from Leling, I followed Mistress Fong here.” The maidservant immediately used the dialect from Liang Feng’s hometown.
Liang Feng didn’t know how much time had passed since he last heard the dialect of his hometown. Suddenly hearing it from the mouth of a stranger, he was stunned to the point he felt like crying.
After exchanging a few sentences, the relationship between both of them drew near unexpectedly. He got to know that this maidservant has angered Mistress Fong and after being whipped a few times she was sent here to get her water, thus feeling sympathy for her.
“How about this: You can go in and fetch water while I’ll stand guard for you here. Since there won’t be anyone coming here anyway. However, don’t stay for too long!” Liang Feng released a breath.
The maidservant thanked him, using the walls to help herself in. After the time of one burning incense went by, she laboriously carried a bucket of water out. It shook, and not after two steps she could withstand it no longer and fell next to Liang Feng, practically spilling the water that she tried so hard to boil. Liang Feng reached out to help her and heard her crying, “Could I please beg my Lord to do good until the end and help me carry this bucket of water to Mistress Fong’s room? I would most certainly speak for you in front of her, convincing her to bring you along the next time she leaves.”
The last sentence had moved Liang Feng’s heart.
He knew that Mistress Feng and a few other big shots came here for meetings once in a while and would leave after a few days. If Mistress Feng asked for him from the housekeeper, and he was only just a little guard, the housekeeper would most certainly agree to it. When that time comes, he could leave this dark, sunless place.
The maidservant said again, “My Lord please help me carry this bucket of water over. However, you must remember to go along with the flow and leave an impression in front of Mistress Fong, so that she will remember you. Only in this way I can compliment you in front of her.”
If one were to say that Liang Feng was only soft-hearted and sympathetic in the beginning, right now he genuinely wanted to help her. He received the bucket of water from the maidservant’s hands and told her, “Rest here for a while. Wait for me to return.”
Naturally, he wouldn’t have known that the maidservant behind him would raise her head, the corner of her lips curling as she watched him from behind. He also couldn’t have known that not only did the maidservant know how to speak the Leling dialect, but a sentence or two from every other dialect that he could think of. He also couldn’t have known that this moment of good-heartedness would become the key to his freedom in the end.
Cui Buqu’s fragility wasn’t a pretence.
However, with the treatment both Fan Yun and Feng Xiao had given him, all that inner strength channelled into him had worked its magic. Otherwise, let alone helping himself across the ally using the wall, he would even find it difficult to get down from his bed. Watching Liang Feng travelling far, Cui Buqu took a deep breath. He rose to his feet slowly and walked into the kitchen, spraying kerosene before tossing the torch into the pile of logs.
It exploded. Sparkles of fire shot up into the air!
Cui Buqu flew out of the kitchen, leaving a trail of flammable oil along the way. Very quickly the fire spread and turned fierce as he had expected. It didn’t only burn inside the kitchen, but also outside, the fire infesting the area, stretching until it took shape. In a situation where there was no source of water around them, it was impossible to put out the fire easily.
The nearby guards realized that a fire had broken out, yet found it difficult to control when it happened so suddenly. Everyone then decided to run outside to safety. Cui Buqu was not obvious among the chaos of people. The light of the luminous pearls was faint, to begin with, and now with the fire, no one noticed that he looked suspicious, neither did anyone notice how strange he looked. Everyone ran around and everywhere, exactly the way he had expected it.
Cui Buqu recalled Feng Xiao telling him that the Pavilion Lord would arrive here today to hold a meeting with them. With this chaos unfolding, if the Pavilion Lord knew about it, he would hurry over to handle the matter. He could leave quietly while this chaos took place to look for members of the Jiejian Bureau, before returning here to catch them all in one swipe.
He was in a little bit of hurry, paint rousing in his chest once more, so painful that he couldn’t help bending over. His hair was loose like a blanket around him.
It was cold inside the cave. However, Cui Buqu had done so many things at once, added with his illness acting up again, sweat rolled down his temples. Very quickly, even his neck and back were drenched in sweat, soaking his hair, strands sticking to his neck, making him look ragged.
His eyesight blurred; the searing pain surging through his body was making him desperate to pass out, yet the existing consciousness in him forbade him to do that. Cui Buqu couldn’t help not reaching out to punch the stone wall, using the pain in his hand in exchange for soberness.
Cui Buqu leaned against the wall half-conscious. He could no longer sprint and could only wait as this wave of pain passed, yet this name came to his mind without delay.
As the pain reached its peak, his train of thought was broken, his mind a white sheet of emptiness. For some time, he couldn’t think of anything. Firstly, there was a wilful and arrogantly handsome face floating up from his sea of memories, then he slowly recalled his name.
That’s right. Feng Xiao was also present. However, that person had always been slippery, able to adapt to circumstances when favour was turned against them. There was no need to worry about him.
It was himself, instead, who needed to leave this place as soon as possible to avoid falling into the enemy’s hands. Otherwise, this chaos would have been for nought.
As he thought until this point, Cui Buqu forced his body up and realized that he’d been drenched in sweat. Even his palm was dripping wet. When he touched the stone walls, it was left with slippery stickiness.
Too much sweat would make one feel strengthless; Cui Buqu felt his head spinning, both his legs felt like they were stepping on lumps of clouds. He closed his eyes, waiting for these feelings to go away, thus he didn’t even realize that someone had come up from behind him.
That is because the other’s speed was incredibly fast. In the blink of an eye, he came up to Cui Buqu from a few metres away, reaching out with a hand to grab his shoulder lightly. Cui Buqu turned around instinctively.
“It really was you.” Yuan Sansi’s voice was cold, “It seems like you are also responsible for the fire.” There was no need for Cui Buqu to undress himself to look, he knew that right now, there would be a lot of fingerprints on his shoulder. Even his tendons might have been injured.
However, compared to the searing pain in his chest that was like a burning fire, this bit of pain given by Yuan Sansi was nothing in comparison. Instead, it pulled Cui Buqu back from the haze of his thoughts.
“Yuan Sansi, regarding Maiden Yu that you’ve grown up with, the deeds you owed the Yu family, even the post of Prefecture Magistrate in Boling, these were all meaningless to you.” Cui Buqu coughed a few times, and spoke in a low tone, “Your true interests have always just been on the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Am I right?”
Yuan Sansi, “Yes. I thought people like you would understand me. The lasting affections between men and women would only make you weak, not desiring improvement; as for the Prefecture Magistrate of Boling, that had just been an undercover identity for me. Relax, I won’t kill you for now, in memory of your mother’s past relationship with me. I will bring you to see the Pavilion Lord, and allow him to decide what to do with you.”
Although his words were spoken in this manner, he strode forward as he held on tightly to Cui Buqu’s robe, his strength incredibly merciless as if he was handling an item.
Cui Buqu was dragged by him ‘till he fell forward, once again splitting open his wounds. It was difficult to stomach the pain, even someone like him who would never beg or yell in pain couldn’t hold back his groaning.
Yuan Sansi laughed coldly, reaching out with a hand to grab his jaw and tip it up, examining him for a while.
“The Pavilion Lord has his integrity. He has never indulged himself in women and had never treated any of his enemies differently. He only looked up to you. Even someone like Feng Xiao would risk his life trying to save you. Looking at you closely now, you really do look a little bit like your mother…” At that moment, Cui Buqu’s mind blanked out. He heard perfectly well the other’s words but didn’t process the sentence, “Even someone like Feng Xiao would risk his life trying to save you” for quite a few moments after it reached his ears.
Confusion clouded his face as if he was trying his best to understand these words.
However, Yuan Sansi suddenly let go of him. Cui Buqu lost his balance and fell on the ground.
“What are you doing!” Yuan Sansi’s furious bark sounded by his ears. He even fought the other as both parties engaged in combat of flying shadows in the dim light, their strengths filling the air, travelling in waves to where Cui Buqu was.
Cui Buqu took out the ceramic bottle from his bosom. It should be the same one that Fan Yun had left him and was taken away by Feng Xiao afterwards, not knowing since when it returned to him. He poured a few pellets out, not even glancing at it closely before swallowing them.
Now he could be certain that it was Fan Yun who drove the guards outside his door away on purpose and then drove the people who stood guard at the kitchen away as well, giving him the chance to create a fire.
“Fan Yun, do you want to betray the Pavilion Lord?!”
Yuan Sansi originally thought that Fan Yun was just harbouring old sentiments for his former student and wanted to save him, yet he couldn’t have anticipated that the other would aim for a fatal spot with every move, wanting to claim his life! He couldn’t help feeling furious.
Cui Buqu heard Fan Yun barking at him, “Feng Xiao and Yu Xiu both went searching for you. They may have mistakenly stepped into the Twin Spinning Compass Array!”
Trap mechanisms were everywhere in the array. In a place where martial arts were supposedly free to develop, they were diminished instead. If Yu Xiu was more familiar with the array compared to Feng Xiao, then the latter would be in more danger.
It was unknown whether the medicine had taken effect or not, for Cui Buqu didn’t feel his chest hurt anymore. After listening to Fan Yun’s words, he panted as he rose to his feet, even falling as he did so, but nevertheless, he went back into the direction of the cave.
Is it you?
Cui Buqu had seen Feng Xiao’s most distressful moments; in order to rescue Pei Jingzhe, he had no choice but to travel to the outskirts of the city. It was when Cui Buqu himself had been drugged by the Naihexiang drug and could only be carried away by him, then going to an agreed meeting that was most certainly a trap. As expected, both of them failed miserably and were left with no option but to hide in a cave as they waited for backup. However, from the way he saw it, during that time Feng Xiao might not have been fully uncertain of victory, judging from the way he allowed himself to be beaten around. If Fo Er had returned and the two of them engaged in a fight, it would be difficult to tell the winner from the loser.
This person cherished himself deeply, to the point that he would admire himself in the mirror and never treat himself badly. Although he often provoked him on purpose as his entertainment, while occasionally showing a display of intimate affection, Cui Buqu had always regarded the relationship between the two of them as an alliance between nemesis. Each time, they worked towards a shared goal. So, regardless of how many times Feng Xiao teased or played tricks on him, or dug a pit to let him fall into it, he would shamelessly return the favour. When the time came for them to work together out of necessity, neither would say a word against it, making a prompt decision instead at the nick of time.
When Feng Xiao betrayed him, Cui Buqu could calmly acknowledge that his speculation was wrong; even when Feng Xiao stopped Yu Xiu in order to stab him himself, Cui Buqu did not feel furious or even angered, because he knew that it was the only way. Even towards Feng Xiao’s confession about his reluctance doing so afterwards, Cui Buqu could also, with a calm and peaceful heart, agree with him.
Up until now, Cui Buqu wanted to let go of everything and escape after he set the place on fire, knowing well that Feng Xiao would never be in any danger, for the other man would never thrust himself into any dangerous situations.
However, this time, once more, he was wrong.
Feng Xiao not only hasn’t left, he even went back looking for him. Why did he want to search for him?
Feng Xiao had no reason to do this at all.
Βut, the one Cui Buqu was wrong about the most had been himself.
He could have turned a deaf ear to Fan Yun’s words, prioritizing his own safety and escaping, then this whole thing would be over and done with.
To escape, he would have to pass through the Twin Spinning Compass Array. That array was made by Fan Yun and Cui Buqu knew its quintessence. He was confident in walking past it without running into Feng Xiao and Yu Xiu.
He only needed to free himself from this situation, then seek out members of the Jiejian Bureau to guard the cave. Although they might not be able to capture grandmasters like Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi, they could capture the housekeepers and other guards. They might even capture Lin Wei and Ning Shewo. When that time comes, they will be closer to taking down the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.
If he went looking for Feng Xiao right now and with the possibility of being discovered by Yu Xiu, it would be very dangerous.
On this journey, he walked and paused recurrently, many notions flashing in his sea of thoughts like lanterns. These were simply the voices of the consciously intelligent part of his mind, asking him not to pay that man surnamed Feng any attention and leave on his own first. With his sickly body walking around in the array looking for someone—let alone trying to kill a thousand enemies by sacrificing eight hundred of his own, before Yu Xiu moved his fingers, in the scenario he finds him instead of Feng Xiao, he would have fallen down in defeat first.
What has gotten into that man surnamed Feng this time? Why would he turn back to look for him?
Cui Buqu sighed. He could feel himself radiating steam like a burning furnace, reaching out with a hand to touch his forehead. Even in his palm, he could feel an unusual body temperature. He scolded this fellow Feng Xiao in his heart a few times, now that he no longer had the strength to outright scold him.
Both his legs were heavy as if they were tied to a boulder of a thousand jin1. The cold winds of dense forest swept by, and for a moment it blew away the boiling hot steam Cui Buqu exuded. It even caused him to sneeze.
He knew very well he has reached the border of the array. Another step and he will have stepped into it. If he only wanted to escape on his own, he should take a detour into another direction and pass through the array.
Cui Buqu’s footsteps only paused for a moment, before taking a step forward.
Feng Xiao realized that he had underestimated Fan Yun.
He thought that after he listened to Cui Buqu’s vague explanation of the array, he could trap Yu Xiu inside it. However, the situation now was far from his expectations. Not only was Yu Xiu trapped within it, but even Feng Xiao himself was also trapped within it.
There shouldn’t have been a light in the array, but occasionally a firelight would shoot up into the air, or there would be faint lights like fireflies floating about. If one were to move forward, very quickly they would fall into a trap. Feng Xiao has already seen it a few times, and once he was almost confused himself, another time he was almost discovered by Yu Xiu. Both of them were in the array looking for traces of the other as they looked for the way out, yet having to be wary of being found. Walking and stopping around they would return from where they had begun. Even Feng Xiao found his strength depleted.
Yu Xiu’s poison was swirling inside his body, forcibly suppressed by his inner strength, yet it was wriggling eagerly. Regardless of how skilled Feng Xiao was, he could not keep this up forever. He had to regulate the cold air of the array, at the same time having to be wary of Yu Xiu, and take note of that silver needle inside his body. If this continued, then there would only be one result left.
Naturally, Feng Xiao knew that Yu Xiu’s apparent condition was not any better than his. When they fought before, the other was injured. If he could not leave this array, then Yu Xiu would also completely exhausted in it.
However, Feng Xiao had no intention to perish together with Yu Xiu. There was a forked road at the front, separated by three boulders.
This scene appeared not too long ago. Feng Xiao was fairly certain that he passed by here before. Now, it was very obvious that he’d found his way back.
He felt a little helpless.
Last time, he picked the path on the left, so this time Feng Xiao went right.
The further he walked, the denser the coldness of the forests felt. Among the fog, there was a faint light.
Just because there was a light doesn’t mean that there was the exit. It was more likely a trap. Feng Xiao felt no joy, his footsteps instead slowing down. Passing through the thick, heavily chilled fog, he saw a group of people hurrying towards him.
The one leading them was the Third Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, Ming Yue. The other also saw Feng Xiao. His simple and honest face looked overjoyed for a moment.
Ming Yue brought men as he came over in large steps. “I finally found you. Those oral messages you left weren’t mentioned in detail. If not for meeting Cui Buqu, I wouldn’t have found my way here!”
Feng Xiao blinked and spoke slowly, “Cui Buqu has gone out?”
Ming Yue, “That’s right. He said you were still in here, so he sent me here for backup! Such a pleasant thing to have found you. Come, follow me out first before we discuss again!”
As he finished speaking, Ming Yue reached out to pull him. Feng Xiao unconsciously took a step back.
Ming Yuan caught thin air. He didn’t understand so he turned around to look at him.
Feng Xiao, “Do you know the exit?”
There was a glint in Ming Yue’s eyes, “I know. Cui Buqu showed me before!”
Feng Xiao twitched his lips, not saying another word before he gave Ming Yue a push.
“What are you doing?!” Ming Yue was shocked. However, he could not avoid that palm that contained deep inner strength, so he could only allow it to hit him. There was a bang! His palm caused the fog around to disperse, conveniently turning Ming Yue and the others into dust as it went.
Feng Xiao gave a cold snort.
He had always been the one to give orders in the Jiejian Bureau. Considering Ming Yue’s personality and character, he would never attempt to exceed his authority and make a final decision before his conclusion.
Additionally, in a complicated array like this, Feng Xiao could not believe that Ming Yue would know how to walk out of this array with just a simple explanation from Cui Buqu.
So, it can only mean that this was an illusion.
These illusions seemed to reappear from time to time. They could even blur the boundary of time, causing Feng Xiao to forget for how long he’s been trapped in here.
He had never been in such a difficult situation before, where he could not see his enemies nor touch them. It was also his choice to step into this array, to begin with.
He would rather see Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi appearing simultaneously right now. Even if it was one against two, it was better than floating around in limbo and not knowing what lies beyond.
Behind, someone seemed to be approaching.
They were still a little far, perhaps separated by a boulder. However, Feng Xiao immediately sensed it.
Such heavy footsteps would never belong to Yu Xiu. Was it another illusion?
He stood there unmoving, quietly waiting for the other party to walk closer. He raised his palm slowly into a stance that meant he could kill at any moment.
A figure appeared behind the boulder, walking out from amid the fog. In his hand was a glowing green light, it should be a luminous pearl. However, it was very contradictory to this appearance.
Feng Xiao squinted his eyes, watching the other helping himself with a boulder as he walked forward with great difficulty, stopping again not far from him as if waiting for Feng Xiao to walk over himself.
There was a cold laugh and Feng Xiao granted his wish. His footsteps moved and he is already before the other in the blink of an eye, his palm ready to strike.
This hit was just to test waters, for in reality, not much energy was infused into it. However, if it was an illusion, this palm would shatter the illusion created by the cold fog.
However, this time, his palm landed on a warm body. The other shook faintly, his body falling backwards and hitting against the boulder before he spits a mouthful of blood.
When warm blood spilt on the back of his hand, Feng Xiao finally gave a look of confusion.
“Is it you?”
To explore his theory, he took another step further and took this body that has neither dispersed nor turned to dust into his arms, pinching that face as he inspected closely.
“Is it you?!”
This time, there was a tone of happiness in his voice.
 Jin: Chinese unit of measurement that equals to 500grams.
Master Daoist Cui, stop feeling me up.
The moment that warm body fell into his arms, Feng Xiao truly felt ‘this really is Cui Buqu’.
Then, he thought about the palm he had thrown out to hit the other.
This person could fall ill even on usual days. Before this, he had already suffered a stab to the chest. Although it hadn’t harmed any fatal spots, his body would still be greatly weakened from massive blood loss. If this went on, he would ascend before even dying from old age.
Even if Feng Xiao wasn’t willing to, he couldn’t avoid admitting that for a few times Cui Buqu was injured, he was somehow involved.
“Are you alright?” Once these words were spoken, Feng Xiao felt stupid.
However, he couldn’t stop himself from asking another stupid question.
“Why did you come?”
Even if he knew the answer was a stolen joy, he still couldn’t help having to hear the truth from the other’s mouth.
Feng Xiao felt a kind of stupidity that he had never felt before prior to this, as if his spirit was divided into two; one half was “staring from the side with a cold glare” at his stupidity, and the other half was babbling everything out unrestrained. After having his wrist taken and infused with inner strength, Cui Buqu moved a little and spoke in a hoarse voice, “Don’t say stupid things.”
His person was already here. If one were to ask him whether he was alright or not, what would it be if not stupid words?
Had it been in the past, Second Commander Feng who never wanted to lose an argument would start mocking him. Cui Buqu had even braced himself for the question: ‘Why are you so ignorant of your own worth, going into the array to rescue others?’. But who could have guessed that Feng Xiao said nothing, only answering him with a low ‘En’.
That wasn’t all; the hand clinging to his wrist even tightened its grip a little, transferring inner strength to him as if it was free of charge to do so, continuously flowing into his body. Cui Buqu felt a little surprised and asked, within his heart, if Feng Xiao had been spinning around in the array for too long to the point his brain had been muddled. Even if his inner strength was impressive, he couldn’t afford such depletion of his energy.
However, as inner strength flowed in his body, his ice-cold body slowly warmed up. The pain on his shoulder that he had endured just now from that hit had also faded away. Cui Buqu even felt a little too comfortable. However, he still fought against it and caught Feng Xiao’s wrist.
“Enough. Let’s walk out of the array first.”
Feng Xiao did not pay him any attention until he decided that he had channelled enough energy, only then did he let go.
“So, your teacher designed an array such as this; it seems to be more complicated than the one you spoke of before.”
“Rubbish. The array was invented by him to begin with, so it should have evolved over the years.” Cui Buqu coughed twice, felt his throat more comfortable than it was before. It seemed that that palm Feng Xiao hit him with just now had forced all the bad blood out of his chest. “Where is Yu Xiu?” “In the array. However, I’m guessing that he’s tumbled almost as dizzy as I. If you can still hold on, I wish to take care of him first before going out.” Feng Xiao said.
With Cui Buqu’s situation, another second more in this freezing array would harm his body more. Perhaps others would have thought of leaving first, but when Cui Buqu heard Feng Xiao’s words, he nodded his head and said nothing.
He wasn’t used to it, neither did he like being hugged into someone’s arms like this, a position that made him look weak. Once Feng Xiao’s hand stabled, he pushed him away.
However, his wrist was still caught.
“You came in here looking for me, didn’t you?” Feng Xiao’s tone was a bit strange; it didn’t sound like a joke or a mockery.
Cui Buqu raised an eyebrow, for a moment he couldn’t guess the meaning behind the other’s words.
“No.” He said coldly and shook the other’s hand away, hearing Feng-er’s laugh as if he was laughing at him for talking insincerely.
Cui Buqu was baffled, staring at him as if he was looking at a dumb fool, before turning around and walking forward.
Two arrays, one big and one small fitting in together; this was why it was called “Twin Spinning Array”. At this moment, they were walking towards the heart of the array and the chill, dense wind that blew between the boulders was also extraordinarily strong. The coldness it brought penetrated the skin and bones, but what the eyes saw were only flickering shadows in the distance like in a dream. Sounds of shining spears and metal armours1 were ringing endlessly through their ears, blending into the victim’s senses inside the array. Even someone like Feng Xiao, with his level of martial arts, was subjected to a blurry vision and an increased heart rate, let alone others. However, he followed behind Cui Buqu. Other than avoiding the intersection of chilled winds, they no longer stepped into traps. However, Cui Buqu wasn’t completely familiar with the array. He walked and stopped as if thinking deeply with every step he took.
After passing through this forest of boulders, a light appeared in front of him as if the exit was looking in their direction. The drizzle outside the cave was like a curtain, one could even see the dark clouds gathering outside. However, this scenery looked like freedom for those inside the cave.
Cui Buqu knew in his heart that this exit could have been a trap.
However, he reconsidered and decided to take a step out anyways.
At the same time, a murderous wind picked up from both his sides. His collar was pulled from the back and he fell backwards, centimetres away from the metal arrows that shot out, ringing as they brushed against each other.
Feng Xiao used one hand to pull Cui Buqu behind, and the other to launch a zither string.
The zither string that contained qi expanded in mid-air, blocking those metal arrows.
This was already enough. Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu turned around to avoid it. The metal arrows flew for a short distance before finally falling onto the ground.
Feng Xiao was out of breath, “Fan Yun that old hag wasn’t harbouring a good heart since the beginning!”
“He wants to use us to tear the Thirteen Stories of Yunhai apart. If we died in the process, then he would have killed two birds with one stone.” Cui Buqu’s expression was bland, not feeling surprised at all. “Even if this isn’t the exit, it shouldn’t be far from here. We should go stand guard at the exit. If Yu Xiu wants to go out, he would have to pass through there.” As he finished speaking, he reached out to shove Feng Xiao away. When the latter was shoved away by him, he conveniently borrowed that momentum to lean against the rocky walls and sat down slowly.
Cui Buqu turned around in confusion.
Feng Xiao sighed, “I can no longer move. Let’s rest. Why are we trying so hard? Maybe Yu Xiu himself is sitting around somewhere taking a snack.”
Cui Buqu’s first thought was that this person was behaving weirdly again. However, he still knelt and touched the other’s forehead.
The other held his hand.
Feng Xiao replied languidly, “Master Daoist Cui, stop feeling me up.”
Cui Buqu twitched his lips, wanting to take his hand back. He used a little strength but did not succeed.
“Now it seems like you are the one feeling me up.”
“If I didn’t hold your hand, who knows how much longer you’re going to touch. Do you know how many people have set their eyes on me? How could I not know what you are thinking? If you truly feel something for me, speak, I might consider accepting it.”
What rubbish hooliganism is this person talking about?
Cui Buqu had gotten used to Feng-er’s hooliganism a long time ago, but the latter would never play around during a situation like this.
A thought hit him, “Are you hurt?”
Feng Xiao retained his languish demeanour, “Nonsense. My martial arts are unsurpassed, how would I ever get hurt? Don’t think that in this dark place, you can do whatever you want to me. I would never give in to you.” He spoke and at the same time, pulled Cui Buqu closer to him, putting a hand at the back of his head so he couldn’t stand up.
A wind picked up at his side, and Cui Buqu could narrowly avoid it because of Feng Xiao’s gesture.
Once Yu Xiu’s attack landed, he was forced to show himself from the dark, facing Feng Xiao head-on.
Cui Buqu was pushed aside, watching as those two shadows blended into a battle.
He suddenly realized that Yu Xiu had caught up to them earlier and had been studying them in the dark for a long time, just looking for a chance to attack. Just now, when he heard Cui Buqu saying that the exit wasn’t far away, his murderous intent had risen. Cui Buqu felt nothing, but Feng Xiao could feel it so he was waiting for Yu Xiu to attack.
As real qi between both of them roared, conflicting with the cold air within the array, creating sounds like horns, they gathered all the cold air around them. Yu Xiu and Feng Xiao were protected by their respective martial arts, but Cui Buqu felt the cold winds whipping in his direction, filling his nostrils and making him want to vomit. It was so uncomfortable that he started coughing.
As if the coughing had reminded Yu Xiu, the latter laughed, “Commander Feng, haven’t you realized that there is a needle in your body?”
He was wandering in the fog, his movements so quick that he looked like a mere shadow, blending into the grey fog, yet from time to time he would launch an attack at Feng Xiao following the currents of the wind. It could be seen that Yu Xiu being trapped in here wasn’t completely for nothing. At least he had managed to unravel some of the mechanisms in the Twin Spinning Array.
Yu Xiu’s words confirmed Cui Buqu’s speculation. His heart sank, trying his best to tell Feng Xiao’s shadow from the fog. His assaults were curt and precise, completely unaffected by Yu Xiu. However, the more he behaved like this, the more Cui Buqu knew things weren’t looking favourable.
Because with Feng Xiao’s character, he would have wanted to mock Yu Xiu after he said those words and would not let go until he drove the other into fury. But now, he did not even utter a single word.
Yu Xiu didn’t notice the difference. However, Cui Buqu noticed immediately that something was wrong about Feng Xiao’s body, that he couldn’t even pay much thought about talking right now.
How could he help? Cui Buqu thought, studying his surroundings as his eyebrows raised.
Yu Xiu was on the defensive, patiently frolicking around with Feng Xiao, but he wasn’t in a hurry to attack.
However, Feng Xiao was the complete opposite. His attacks were fiercer than the winds toiling inside, every movement he made aimed to kill, his shadow so quick that it was impossible to tell the difference. Yu Xiu watched the other charge in his direction and immediately avoided it, yet Feng Xiao vanished in mid-air, appearing next to Yu Xiu in the next second, aimed a palm right at his chest and shattered the defensive barrier around him created from qi.
A mouthful of blood spilt from Yu Xiu’s mouth, his expression falling; however, very quickly he realized that Feng Xiao didn’t use that opportunity to attack again, he had instead stopped for a while.
This spilt of a moment made him realize something. Yu Xiu laughed, he did not escape despite his injuries, moving forward instead. He took a dagger out from his sleeve, holding its hilt, gathering all his strength into the blade as he hammered it down Feng Xiao’s head!
When grandmasters fought, the battle did not last for long. When one of them found the other’s weakness, the time to decide between life and death would come. From the moment Yu Xiu suffered an attack until this moment, he hadn’t retreated but instead advanced. He believed in his own judgement, even grateful for the Pavilion Lord in his head. Without that hidden weapon he had given him, he might not have been able to put Feng Xiao at a disadvantage at this moment. As real qi filled the dagger, for a moment even the chilled winds dared not surround the dagger. It was sliced in half by Yu Xiu before it sliced its way towards Feng Xiao!
Although Feng Xiao’s reflexes were quick, the moment that knife was raised, he took a step back slower than his prior speed. This knife, even if failed to chop down his head, should at least slash his chest, enough to make one half-dead.
As the sharp knife hailed down, in the midst of the fog, Feng Xiao’s figure vanished all of a sudden in midair. Yu Xiu’s knife hit the ground, its clang resounding in the air. Boulders shattered and fell, yet Feng Xiao is already out of sight!
Furious, Yu Xiu quickly turned sideways to look. As expected, Cui Buqu has also disappeared!
Cui Buqu was dragging Feng Xiao along the way as they made it through collapsing boulders, moving so quickly that he didn’t look like someone who was often ill at all. Instead, Feng Xiao’s footsteps were hesitant, stopping once in a while, half his body dependent on Cui Buqu and practically making him fall.
“…I need to force that needle out of me right now, half my body has gone numb.” Feng Xiao gritted his teeth as he said.
He never expected the needle to be so powerful, thinking that he could suppress it for a while, but as he fought with Yu Xiu, that needle followed the currents of qi inside his body as he channelled them, scurrying through his veins, almost making him fall for it.
Cui Buqu didn’t say much, he dragged Feng Xiao and leaned against a stone wall, before setting him down. “Just now, I’ve used some stones to mimic the Twin Spinning Array and made a smaller one, so this array has turned into a ‘Triple Spinning Array”. However, these little tricks won’t last long. Yu Xiu will very quickly make his way here. You need to act quicker!” Cui Buqu said hurriedly.
“You need to help me,” Feng Xiao used a hand to press onto his shoulder, moving down inch by inch, and as for his other hand, it slowly balled into a fist. “Press on my guanyuan meridian, use moderate strength.”
The guanyuan meridian is three inches before the bellybutton. Cui Buqu was familiar with the medical arts, he had heard of such a thing before. However, he didn’t feel so used to it once it became practical. He reached out to touch Feng Xiao’s stomach, bringing his fingers three strokes below the belly button. Feng Xiao could no longer stand him rubbing him lightly like that, so he immediately caught his hand and moved it down.
“It’s here. Use one hand to touch, don’t let go. Use the other hand to press your way up the vein, don’t stop unless I say so!”
Cui Buqu didn’t think too much, quietly obeying his orders.
With Cui Buqu there to stop the needle from moving around, Feng Xiao finally had enough to spare to draw the needle out.
However, that needle knew that it was not in a favourable position. It wriggled inside his body, following the flow of his blood everywhere. Feng Xiao’s face turned paler. His lips pursed as he closed both his eyes. The usual smile was no longer on his face, right now he looked stern and serious.
On certain aspects, Cui Buqu and he were birds of the same feather. They had determinations of steel and would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. It was only because Feng Xiao’s seriousness was often hidden under a layer of playfulness and patheticness, that it was not often noticed. Originally, Cui Buqu paid attention to the change in his gaze and acted accordingly. Now, however, he felt that this look on Feng Xiao suited him more than his usual playful self.
At this moment, Feng Xiao’s body shuddered, fresh blood trickling down the corner of his lips. His body slumped forward and Cui Buqu caught him.
“How are you feeling?” Cui Buqu held his shoulders, allowing the other’s forehead to land itself at the crook of his neck.
“I fear…not very good.” Feng Xiao said weakly.
“Hold on for a moment more. The exit is just upfront.”
Cui Buqu didn’t waste more time, he wanted to take Feng Xiao’s arms onto his shoulders to pull him up, but he was stopped.
“Even if we could leave, I’m not certain if the members of the Jiejian Bureau would find us before the people from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai could. If we ran into the Thirteen Pavilions now, I fear both of us would not be able to leave.”
“What use is there for you to speak these words? Keep your breath and talk more once we are out!”
Cui Buqu barked in a hoarse voice, yet heard the other sigh lightly in the dark, before feeling damp and warm lips covering his own.
 Sounds of shining spears and metal armours: Symbols of war in ancient China.
Feng Xiao laughed until he almost fell sideways.
Cui Buqu had weathered through many dangerous situations before, a few times where chances of survival were slim, ending up crawling back from the very gates of Hell. He was neither a seer nor a god, so he couldn’t anticipate all that came. However, he had never been in a position like this before, as if struck by thunder, blanked out like a wooden chicken.
In the darkness, the fog from the array has yet to disperse, the winds howled and the storks cried, ice-cold fog sore in the air. Perhaps there was a pair of eyes watching them, laid hidden and waiting for the right chance to pounce and kill.
Yet Feng Xiao paid it no heed, pushing his luck further, becoming all the more ridiculous when he couldn’t respond in time. He caught his wrists, turned them around and pressed them behind his back; his upper body drew closer, sticking fast to his own.
At his back was an ice-cold boulder, yet at his front was a warm body whose heat could be felt even through a layer of raiment. Like a thin line separating the living and the dead, the heavens and the earth.
An entire moment passed by, Cui Buqu’s body stiffened, unprecedented shock unrevealing itself on the face that had always been full of the subtlety of dullness, forgetting to even conceal his look, as if there were suddenly two holes drilling into Feng Xiao’s face. His mind was thrust into a haze, his thoughts shifting between, “This person is crazy” and “maybe this person surnamed Feng qi deviated when he was expelling the poison”, finding no immediate answer.
Displeased by his distraction, Feng Xiao bit him harshly on the lips.
Old wounds added to the new ones. Cui Buqu recalled the pain he felt when he woke up prior, understanding immediately as he dragged his focus back, his eyes squinting.
It was you!
As if he knew that Cui Buqu would struggle, all his attempts were quickly taken care of. Last time, he didn’t have the chance to explore it fully, simply leaving like a dragonfly that has only dipped the surface of the water. This time, he could finally experience it fully. After realizing that it was a good feeling, Feng Xiao behaved like a predator who has caught its prey, trapping it in his arms, setting everything aside until he has savoured the joy of his capture.
It was expected for the prey to struggle, but he still caught the other’s hand and wrote a word on it “Bear with it”.
As expected, Cui Buqu struggled a bit then he stopped.
Feng Xiao knew that Cui Buqu would recall the incident from last time. When they were in Göktürk, in order to pull the First Prince to their side,
Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao had to feign a couple, flirting in front of the First Prince’s servant.
Cui Buqu would think that this time was the same, that Feng Xiao wanted to use this method to lure out Yu Xiu, making the enemy let down their guard, drawing the snake out from its den.
Feng Xiao chuckled to himself.
Although he did intend to lure Yu Xiu out, it was more to reclaim the regrets he left behind before. Since he had missed the chance last time, this time he could not just leave feeling unaccomplished.
It was not his style to let the opportunity to feel the other up slip by if he could take advantage of it.
Cui Buqu stopped struggling, remained as still as a wooden puppet as he allowed the other to kiss anywhere he wanted, his breath was like the aggressiveness of a boat rocking above ocean waters, corroding slowly.
He glared at him with both eyes, scolded all Feng Xiao’s ancestors on the other side of the world.
On one hand, the reactions of his body responding to this was unexpectedly difficult to control, and on the other hand, he was unwilling to be submissive to someone else. But his intellect is warning him against it and that is the only reason why he wasn’t struggling and simply held on to it.
Why isn’t Yu Xiu out yet? Hasn’t he had enough?
Why is this man surnamed Feng’s tongue so long? This motherfucking tongue is as long as a Bai Wuchang’s1, it’s almost reaching into my throat. We are only doing this for the show, why is he giving it his full effort?!
Feng Xiao laughed until he almost fell over.
Although he didn’t fall over for real, his body was shaking visibly, reaching to his limit.
He had never thought that Cui Buqu would be so cute.
Being told not to move, and he truly obeyed it by not moving a single muscle.
However, he couldn’t laugh. Since he came here to take petty advantages on the other, once he laughed all his prior hard work would be for nothing. With how vengeful this person is, he would remember it for life. Behind, there was certainly a pair of eyes watching all of this happening.
The owner of those eyes was born with a handsome face and if he only was willing, he could smile in a gentle and kindly manner, lifting all the cruel things of the world.
When he lost an eye, however, the murderous intent hidden inside his heart rose and shattered that prison, like a beast that was released back into the mountains, no longer under control. It released all the cruel, murderous, and heartless intentions within.
He loathed all the people who had a hand in putting him in his current situation and loathed more those who held power in their grasp, who enjoyed a life of luxury on the higher pedestals.
Coincidentally, these two in front of him fulfilled all those criteria.
Yu Xiu discreetly hid his presence, watching Feng Xiao as he tended to his wounds from the distance, waiting for the best time to come and strike.
Now it’s still not the time, he told himself, hold on a little longer, for once the needle is out, it was his enemy’s most fragile moment.
When the right time to attack came, it can only guarantee that Feng Xiao will be struck down with a single blow.
Once Feng Xiao died, even if Cui Buqu had tricks up his sleeves, he would still share the same fate.
Suddenly, Yu Xiu’s eyes widened in disbelief!
He thought that something was wrong with his eyesight.
However, both of them were on top of each other, and there was no room to mistake Feng Xiao’s actions.
He and Princess Qianjin had once, too, wandered under the moonlight and flowerbeds together and swore an oath. He had sworn to free the princess from her fate, so she may once again regain her freedom. Yet now, before the enemy, these two had just—
They didn’t even care for their lives and still had the mood to engage in a display of affection?
Yu Xiu wanted to laugh out loud. So it seems, so it seems!
The Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus, two pillars of power of the current dynasty, had such a dirty relationship behind closed doors!
If Yang Jian and Dugu Qieluo knew that Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu behaved like enemies on the surface, yet having an affair in secret, would they still place unconditional trust on them?
If he was still Prince Jin’s strategist at this moment, he would have walked away without a second thought and relay the secret to Prince Jin, so he would have this secret in his hand to control the both of them.
However, he was left with nothing; his identity was exposed by Cui Buqu, and Prince Jin could no longer keep him by his side. Even this secret gathering of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was disrupted by them by half.
Yu Xiu’s hand gripped the knife tightly.
All of a sudden, his figure moved, lunging forward with incredible speed, blending into the fog as one!
A short dagger shot out of his sleeve, like a flying rainbow with a glare like water.
Yu Xiu’s heart was suddenly in a state of effulgence.
At that second, good luck brought him a brilliant thought, breaching through the boundaries of his martial arts from all these years. Walking till the water’s edge, I sit and watch as clouds rise and appear2; the knife followed him where he went, moving where his heart desired, a perfect synchronization.
This was a speed all the mortal people of this world would not be able to keep up with.
Had he…had he awakened this technique ten years ago, he could surely penetrate through the defences of thousands and ten thousands of armies and bring the princess away, bring her to a place nobody could find. Regardless of how the princess’ wishes were, he would wait for her to ponder over it for the rest of his life.
Even if it happened during that battle between himself and Feng Xiao in Göktürk, at least he could rid himself of his enemy.
However, it was only awakened now. Why does it have to be now!
A linger of hatred was born, sending his thoughts into disarray.
It was that moment where the knife pierced Feng Xiao’s back. He could even feel real qi splitting open skin and flesh; blood spluttered from wounds onto his nose, his forehead.
That’s not right!
Yu Xius’s actions froze abruptly.
It wasn’t blood that spluttered on his forehead just now, but it was that silver needle, the “Everflowing Waves”!
Was Feng Xiao not moving on purpose all this time, waiting for him to attack?
He instinctively wanted to touch his forehead to verify; however, in the blink of an eye, Feng Xiao’s figure leaned forward, before his hands turned and, with a flick, a zither’s string shot out with sharp wind! Yu Xiu’s knife could continue thrusting forward, its edge would definitely pierce the enemy’s back, but his neck would be cut by the zither’s string at the same time.
Was it to perish towards the goal, or abandon death and seek life?
Since that blade was hindered by distracting thoughts, the advantages were no longer in his grasp.
It was to accomplish with a single effort, decline, then exhaust.
Yu Xiu no longer had the desire to die accomplishing an assassination, so he was destined to fail at killing Feng Xiao.
He chose to take a step back to avoid the zither’s string. With his step taken, his knife also moved backwards.
Feng Xiao used the opportunity to turn around at the flip of his sleeves, like a gigantic crane beginning its flight, descending from the horizon!
Yu Xiu turned around to escape without another word.
However, it was too late. The zither’s string was like an arrow launched from a bow, from the moment it was launched from Feng Xiao’s hand, armed with true qi, it flew through the cutting wind.
In the rumbling of noises, a blood-red line appeared at the back of Yu Xiu’s neck.
The blood-line spread slowly, turning into a red necklace, permanently engraved deep onto his neck.
Yu Xiu kept dashing forward, yet his head had already left his body, falling to the ground.
His expression was a combination of fury and shock, refusing to believe that his life would end in such a way. The blood-stained zither string fell right next to his head, just like himself falling from the peak of his life.
The first time he appeared with Prince Jin, there was an ethereal halo above his head, a kindness beyond volumes, handsome and gentle, garnering the attention and admiration of a countless number of people in the capital.
Presently, this Zen Yu Xiu who was acknowledged for his bright future in the past had died in a dark cave, where one could not even tell whether it was day or night. How pitiful was this?
Feng Xiao gave a long breath of relief.
He felt no sympathy for his enemies; however, as martial people, he could feel that Yu Xiu’s awakening took place shortly before. It was a crucial danger at that time, there was no need to ponder too much, and he could only act based on a wrong assumption. If there was just a moment of carelessness or delay, the one who’s dead now would not be Yu Xiu.
Coughing sounded from behind him; Cui Buqu slowly rose from his feet.
“It seems like Commander Feng is fully healed now, I see?”
Hearing this address of himself, Feng Xiao secretly said, ‘Not good’, then he also coughed twice, holding his chest as he fell forward.
If all went according to plan, he would fall on Cui Buqu, or Cui Buqu would reach out to hold him.
But Cui Buqu took a step sideways. Feng Xiao: “…”
He couldn’t really fall flat on the ground, so he could only conveniently reach out for the stone wall at his side, regaining a bit of his own pride.
“Yu Xiu’s knife pierced my back just now, so I feel a little dizzy. Help me see if there is any poison on the knife.” Feng Xiao said weakly. Cui Buqu nodded, “I’ll take a look.”
He walked behind Feng Xiao and abruptly slapped the other’s back! Feng Xiao actually almost vomited blood from being slapped like that.
He coughed incessantly and this time it wasn’t faked.
“Is this how you treat your saviour!” Feng Xiao felt a little furious.
“Perhaps Commander Feng is feeling a ‘fire’ of sexual excitement because of staying away from the charms of women for too long. I am helping you put out that ‘fire’.” Cui Buqu said earnestly and darkly, “This ‘fire’ of yours is a little too vigorous, should I give you another slap?”
Feng Xiao sniggered; all of a sudden, that ‘fire’ had dispersed. He sighed, “I fear my ‘fire’ is not easy to treat. Of all the mortal people in this world at a glance, who would meet my standards? Let alone women’s charms, even a national treasure like Fong Xiaolian is just bones in my eyes, all forms are hollow to me3.”
He paused for a moment on purpose, glancing up and down at Cui Buqu, speaking in a manner as if he was trying to imply something between the lines, “All but a certain sickly person who is just arguably passable.”
If normal people heard this, they would have already fallen to his charms. Yet Cui Buqu remained expressionless, and instead coldly stated, “Back in Göktürk, in order to obtain the First Prince’s trust I was left with no option. Today, you used me to lure Yu Xiu out, so take it as returning the favour. There’s no next time.”
The fatigue weighing on his brows was heavy, yet his gaze was sharp as ever as if it could see through all schemes of this earth, uniquely divisible from worldly matters.
As he finished, Cui Buqu turned around to search for a way out, no longer saying anything to the other man. Feng Xiao followed behind him, saying in this heart: “Not only will it have a next time, but there will also be a next next time and a next next next time.”
You want to exclude yourself from this matter and remain clean and dignified until the end, yet I will still drag you into this mess regardless and roll you in it, stick you fast onto the feathers of a phoenix, no longer free from me.
Editor’s note: And thus, the alpha within Feng-er’s omega has awakened.
Feng Xiao: This is….
 Bai Wuchang: Deities that guide the dead to the afterlife, often depicted to have long tongues. Read here.
 Walking till the water’s edge, sit and watching as clouds rise and appear: Originally from Poet Wang Wei of Tang Dynasty.
 Forms are hollow to me: ⾊即是空is from Buddhist scripts. It usually means that monks can see through worldly temptations, and would not succumb to worldly temptations (if Feng Xiao’s case, lust).
From either one of you, your life.
Without Yu Xiu at their tails, Cui Buqu found the way out very quickly. Alas, one second they were stepping back out into the open sky, yet the next, their footsteps halted.
One person was standing at the exit of the cave with his arms crossed as if he had been waiting for a long time, for his expression changed once he saw them running out.
“It seems like Yu Xiu has been dealt with.”
Cui Buqu’s footsteps paused.
Fan Yun smiled when he saw it, “If it hadn’t been me who moved those people away and left you the kerosene and dagger, you may have still been trapped inside. If it hadn’t been me who helped you by stopping Yuan Sansi, now that you’ve dealt with Yu Xiu, you would have another enemy to face.”
Cui Buqu nodded, “Thank you, teacher.”
His expression and attitude seemed to indicate that Fan Yun owed to help them, for there was no humble gratitude about it.
Even if Fan Yun was a man of high virtues, he couldn’t help raising an eyebrow, “Buqu, after many years of not seeing each other, you’ve become more unkind. I’ve helped you so much, yet you still lift your guard against me. It feels so cold to have your suspicions on me.” Cui Buqu looked both disinterested and unmoved by it, “Teacher, you worded it too seriously. The best ending you could have expected was that all the members of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai were killed by Feng Xiao, while Feng Xiao himself and I both perished in the array. A pity that the Heavens will not grant you your wish; you’ve waited here for practically half a day, I can’t believe that you actually waited until both of us came out alive.”
If Fan Yun had the intention to rescue them, he could have entered the array himself. Yet, he was waiting outside, proving that although he hadn’t taken any measures to kill them, he had not been hoping that Cui Buqu and the others would be alive either.
Fan Yun was stunned, then he laughed.
He knows Cui Buqu has seen through his thoughts, but he hadn’t expected the other to be so completely thorough.
Feng Xiao took two steps forward, shielding Cui Buqu from the front, either on purpose or by accident.
“Senior plotted a scheme to lure us here and the intention was for the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai and us to fight at close quarters. Presently, may we know how much of your goals have been achieved?”
Fan Yun watched his actions and laughed as he spoke, “You’re injured, and I am not. If I were to attack Cui Buqu now, you cannot stop me.”
Feng Xiao only said five words, “I could at least try.”
Perhaps he could not kill Fan Yun, however, the other would not have any advantage either.
Fan Yun did give this a thought.
If he could get rid of both Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao at once, half his goals were already accomplished. However, he had been injured as well while battling with Yuan Sansi a while ago. If he wanted to kill Cui Buqu, he would first need to kill Feng Xiao. Considering Feng Xiao’s capabilities, even if he was already injured, he would not tolerate being perceived as a wounded tiger. In the end, it was more likely that both sides would endure great losses.
Before the secret gathering in Tiannan, Fan Yun had, too, once thought that Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao were only getting along on the surface, but not in their hearts. Although they similarly served the Sui Empire as officials and trusted followers of the Emperor, they could still add to the misfortunes of the other, pushing each other down in pits when the chance arose and felt no pity for it. This was originally a very usual way of thinking, however, he never expected both of them to willingly set aside their differences during punishing situations, gathering their strengths as they worked together, and could even walk out safely from the Twin Spinning Compass Array.
Since he couldn’t get rid of these two people at once, then there was no need to act on impulse.
Fan Yun couldn’t help sighing darkly with regret.
Making sense of this thought, he lets go of it, broad-chested and unprejudiced.
“I truly am insincere about joining the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, but without me, mayhap you people would have never known that this place is one of their lairs. This time, not only could you escape completely unscathed, but you have even accomplished a great deed. You should thank me. It was a pity that the Pavilion Lord did not come as promised; this person’s malice has achieved to such an unfathomable degree that one would find it hard to look beneath his skin, his schemes laid so deeply hidden that it has rendered him unpredictable. He may have already suspected me a long time ago and the secret gathering this time is probably a test of my loyalty.”
Cui Buqu, “Since the teacher does not belong to the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, surely he could tell us now, who on earth is the Pavilion Lord? Where does he come from, and what is his background?”
Fan Yun hesitated, “You people have seen him before. He visited the outskirts of the city once; during that time when Duan Qigu was eliminated by you people.”
Cui Buqu shot Feng Xiao a glance on instinct, just as the other also shot him a glance.
Bing Xuan, Yan Xuexing, and the names of the others reeled themselves up in Feng Xiao’s sea of thoughts, and finally, it fell upon two words.
Almost simultaneously Cui Buqu also said, “Xiao Lu?”
Fan Yun nodded, “That’s right.”
This person’s demeanour and elegance heralded him as an outstanding man among people; his literary abilities were renowned in this present age and was equipped with a good set of skills in the martial arts. However, due to being an invalid because of his right hand, he could only wield the sword with his left and could not assume the post of an official. A man of talents yet cannot use them where they are needed, this truly made everyone feel pity.
Cui Buqu’s impression of him was quite good; perhaps because both of them were similar in their birth, born with a defect, or perhaps it came from his admiration of talented people. However, he was not surprised at this identity of his being the mastermind behind the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.
Feng Xiao squinted his eyes, “That is to say, he was deliberately hiding his abilities the last time he fought with me?”
Fan Yun said, “I was not present that day, however, this person’s talents are incredibly high, and his martial arts are not beneath you. If he lost to you simply after a few moves, then I could only say that it was deliberate.” Cui Buqu raised a brow, “That time he was there to rescue a relative of his who was kidnapped by Duan Qigu. I saw with my own eyes that women called him ‘Seventh Brother’.”
As the Pavilion Lord of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, if he could not even rescue his relatives and had to offer them to his subordinates to play with, then that truly was too comical.
Fan Yun smiled, “This is a case of being blinded by your own intelligence. As far as I know, those women were all tortured until their consciousness was no longer intact. How could they recognize a relative in a heartbeat? Regardless of what Xiao Lu says, as long as he came with concern and intentions to rescue them, he would be acknowledged as someone else. If I anticipated correctly, Xiao Lu never allowed that woman to speak much while she was conscious.”
Cui Buqu nodded his head, “That was my negligence.”
Fan Yun said, “In the past, I travelled across Jiangnan and met Xiao Lu when he was heavily injured, hiding beneath waters among bamboos. There were strong enemies ahead of him and pursuing soldiers at his back. As a matter of life and death, I reached out to save him. To repay me for saving his life, we often kept in contact. His intelligence is not beneath you, being able to unravel everything with a single hint. It was then my love for talents grew.”
Feng Xiao pretended to be shocked, “How strange this love of yours is! Not only were you a good teacher, you even liked to pick up a rock and pound your very own legs!1”
Cui Buqu’s lips twitched slightly.
Fan Yun laughed bitterly, “There is no need for you to injure my pride with words. I truly have mishandled this matter. That time, I only thought he was a god-given talent, ambitious but failed, so I answered every question he asked, hiding nothing from him. All until two years ago, he invited me to join the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, saying that the position of Master Three was made for me. Only then did I discover that he has quietly gathered so many top-tier masters, and has already plotted such a vast scheme.”
Cui Buqu spoke hesitatingly, “Xiao Lu is someone from the Southern Dynasty, and the Xiao Clan was a family from the former royal families. He should have countless networks and relatives. Presently, the Emperor of the Southern Dynasty, Chen Shubao, is an overwhelmingly disappointing person. Heroes who are at least capable would think of permeating into the Southern Dynasty and wrestle for the throne, and they might even succeed. However, I have never heard about the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai doing anything to the Southern Regions.”
Fan Yun, “That is right Because the few times he schemed against Chen Shubao were secretly ruined by me.”
A sudden realization hit Cui Buqu. This explained everything.
Since Fan Yun was a subject of the Southern Dynasty, naturally, it was his goal to destroy Xiao Lu’s schemes, yet at the same time could not allow Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao to be the victor. If Xiao Lu and Cui Buqu fought to the death that and resulting in both sides suffering great losses, it would be Fan Yun’s greatest benefit.
Cui Buqu said blandly, “I can’t believe that someone like you, teacher, who has been intelligent your entire life, boasting about how you saw through all the great powers of this world, yet you still conduct foolish things—giving everything you had to aid a decrepit and muddle-headed Emperor that is already beyond saving.”
Fan Yun’s smile finally showed a hint of bitterness.
“You thought wrong. Chen Shubao’s incompetence that has reached such an extent, comparable even to the Emperor of the Shu Han Dynasty2 during the Three Kingdom’s period, is not something I do not know. Only, an old friend bestowed me this task, and I cannot refrain from giving it my full effort. To attempt despite one knowing to succeed is impossible; since I took the decision on this matter, I have considered what is to come, that I will most likely come across an overwhelming defeat before I die.”
Cui Buqu, “Who is that old friend of teacher’s that could make him bend backwards for them?”
“This person is in the past; there is no use in mentioning.” Fan Yun closed his eyes, concealing all the fragileness he had unconsciously shown. When he opened his eyes again, he was once again that Master Zhuge3 who sat waiting to reel for benefits, the one who played on both sides of the chessboard by roaming between Cui Buqu and the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.
“Leave aside meaningless banters. I have already told you such a piece of important information from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. As compensation, shouldn’t you people also show some sincerity?”
Cui Buqu, “What do you want?”
Fan Yun smiled and said, “From either one of you, your life.”
He turned hostile and attacked at will; his words hadn’t yet finished and nothing changed on his smile, yet his figure had already lunged itself like a rolling wind, reaching out a hand at Cui Buqu!
 Pound your very own legs: Feng Xiao most probably meant that Fan Yun likes having his students (people he had taught in person) against him.
 Emperor of Shu Han Dynasty: This is Liu Shan, the son and successor of Liu Bei from the Three Kingdoms.
 Master Zhuge: A well-known master strategist, strategist of Liu Bei, from the period of the Three Kingdoms.
Translator’s Notes: FX, chapter 2: Use naihexiang drug on him FX, chapter 125: Over my dead body if you touch him.
No good will come to those who grew close to you.
Feng Xiao attacked at the same time Fan Yun attacked Cui Buqu, launching a palm towards his back.
If Fan Yun wished to save himself, then he would need to abandon the attack on Cui Buqu.
But just as Cui Buqu watched the attack hurling towards him, intending to take a step back, the strong wind of it ceased and turned gentle. Fan Yun made a deceptive move before turning around to lunge at Feng Xiao!
Cui Buqu suddenly understood.
Fan Yun’s target all along had been Feng Xiao, because if Feng Xiao was killed, he would have no choice but to surrender, but if Feng Xiao escaped, there would be an endless flow of disastrous aftermath.
Feng Xiao could not retreat in time, allowing Fan Yun to plunge onto his back. He could only retreat and turn around, allowing that palm to hit his shoulder; his other hand launched a zither string, forcing Fan Yun to take a step back.
Both parties fought eye-to-eye for the first time; Feng Xiao took a hit to his shoulder, but Fan Yun wasn’t in any special advantage either, for there was a scar on his arm made by the zither string infused with real qi. Blood drenched his torn robes and very quickly dyed his arm in crimson. From Fan Yun’s first attack to both parties being injured, all these events took place in a single breath of Cui Buqu. In the blink of an eye, both of them fought again, this time completely putting Cui Buqu aside and fighting as if horrendous winds and heavy rain met, generating a sky- shattering massive thunder. Real qi billowed from around both of them; fallen leaves from the previous rain were swept up once again, swirling wildly in midair. The sands churned and pebbles rolled, loud bustling was summoned. At this moment, before anyone who has already escaped the cave could rejoice, they would be pushed back in again by this massive wave of real qi and tumble back.
Cui Buqu felt a wave of energy surging towards him and found himself pushed back a few steps. In the blink of an eye, he was at the brink of the cliff. If he hadn’t been quick to grip a branch from the side to stabilize his standing, now, there would be no need for Fan Yun to interfere since he would have already fallen.
Only now did he truly acknowledge the true strength of Fan Yun’s skills.
This person, Fan Yun, was incredibly knowledgeable, armed with a retentive memory and a broad heart and mind. He travelled across the lands when he was young, gaining the acknowledgement of the Liuli Palace and was invited to be a guest tutor even though in reality he shared no relationship with them. He remained carefree and unrestrained, unshackled from anything. Other than the identity of a descendant of the Fan Clan, his literary skills, knowledge, and background were all a mystery.
After succeeding the Zuoyue Bureau, Cui Buqu had once assigned people to investigate Fan Yun in secret. He discovered that Fan Yun and the number one largest sect in the Southern Dynasty, the Linchuan Palace Academy, were closely associated. Their techniques match each other from movement to movement, and although a great many have been altered for the better, it still carried the shadow of the Linchuan Palace Academy.
The Linchuan Palace Academy upholds Confucianism, the Palace Lord was a known cultivator of Confucianism and martial arts. All his students strive to aid a brilliant Emperor to rule the world, reclaiming the lands of the Han people as their responsibility. Cui Buqu covered his mouth and coughed a few times. The scent of blood surged up his throat, spilling from the corner of his lips and dampening his fingers. He apathetically wiped them away with the back of his hand, leaning against a boulder half the height of a normal person as he watched the battle, stomaching the dizziness and urge to vomit as he squinted his eyes.
“Fan Yun, you tried so hard to lure me into a trap. Presently, Xiao Lu hasn’t even shown himself. After this incident, the Thirteen Pavilions will have also suffered a huge loss, and I am already of no use to you. Why don’t you kill me first?”
Fan Yun laughed, “There is no need for you to dissuade me. Commander Feng is one of the top-tier masters of this present world. Before he is defeated, I can never be at peace! Buqu, do you know why I did not take you as my disciple in the past?”
He didn’t land with the first hit, but neither did he blindly attack; his footsteps were light as he walked circles with Feng Xiao with boundless patience.
Cui Buqu said coldly, “It’s because I’m not willing to pledge to a teacher. Please do not turn the causes around.”
Fan Yun heard it but did not listen, he laughed anyways, “Because when I look at your face, I see that you have an incredibly tough life, your kins are not close to you, and your life is destined to be riddled with hardships; no good will come to those who grow close to you. This time, weren’t you forced to come alone because Qiao Xian, who had always been by your side, was heavily injured?”
On the surface, this looked as if it was spoken to Cui Buqu, but in reality, it was meant for Feng Xiao.
Among the many worldly affairs; Kings and Emperors were superior, while small tradesmen and porters were inferior. Other than people like Cui Buqu who refused to accept fate, who would dare say they do not believe in it? Even Fan Yun himself, who had seen all in life, knew very well that fate is destined, and that it is not something human beings could change. He even tried to change fate once when he lost an old friend who fell gravely ill by offering part of his lifespan to him, but in the end, it was to no avail.
Cui Buqu was expressionless on the surface, completely unmoved, like a bamboo shoot who was unwilling to gravel on its knees to the rain. Under his sickly body were cold bones. But if Cui Buqu didn’t care for it himself, would people around him not care as well?
Among a hundred ways to attack the enemy, the offence of the heart was the most effective.
There was a sneer.
It came from Feng Xiao’s mouth.
“What a coincidence; there was once a fortune-teller who told me that my fate is one of the best beneath the sky, born to have everything luxurious in my possession. Even if Heaven casts a lonely star1, it cannot harm me. Old Fan, you are already an old man, don’t blindly torture yourself any longer. Surrender now and admit defeat, and I might offer you a fully attached corpse, to avoid you having to wander about searching for your head when you reach the Yellow Spring River!”
As he spoke, a palm hurled itself. Fan Yun received it, sending two waves of rumbling thunder ringing loudly. Both of them retreated backwards; Fan Yun’s expression was calm and at ease. He landed stably, “I’ve forgotten that you hailed from one of the demonic sects; compared to normal people, you can let go more easily of most things.”
Since he knew that words cannot distract the opponent, he no longer spoke. A sword glare shot out horizontally, aiming at Feng Xiao.
That moment was plagued by curtains of rain and dark clouds; halfway through the journey, the fog and rain stopped, turning into specks like fish scales, covering the surface of the lake in twinkling light. The declining sun was like blood rippling on the surface of a frozen pool; it was extremely beautiful, like the vivid imagery of a dream.
Feng Xiao positioned himself, his figure lunging forward in a dash, both his sleeves fluttering behind him widely, breaking through the illusion with familiarity. At that moment, the winds ceased, and a blue sky stood up again.
Fan Yun never stopped; his sword swaying per his body, moving in front of Feng Xiao in the blink of an eye. Sword waves stacked up against each other layer by layer, and another layer was added after the drizzle was broken apart, like shrouding dark clouds, refusing to leave no matter what. The cutting wind from the swords flew across horizontally, sending pebbles flying and shattering leaves as they burst into rain, surrounding Feng Xiao within it so that it could not be avoided.
The deeper Feng Xiao was in the battle, the more he felt it affecting him. Fan Yun’s sword techniques looked beautiful like curtains of mist, yet they were brimming with killing intent. If one were to be mesmerized by them, they would meet their doom.
Before this, although Feng Xiao knew that Fan Yun’s martial arts were quite good, he had never taken them seriously. He felt that the other surpassed God’s will, yet wasn’t known in the Jianghu, thus there must be some limitations to his martial arts. Additionally, Fan Yun was valued within the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai for his abilities as a strategist and not a martial artist. Compared to Yu Xiu and Yuan Sansi, that generation of grandmasters, Fan Yun’s abilities as a strategist were much more obvious.
But now he knew that his speculation was wrong.
Not only were Fan Yun’s martial arts incredible, even with Feng Xiao’s confidence, he also could not refrain from admitting that the other’s martial arts had already achieved the rankings of a grandmaster and higher.
Why would Fan Yun, a man of such a high degree of martial arts, be unknown in the Jianghu? As the thought flashed in his mind, Feng Xiao suddenly thought of one possibility.
The ranks of martial artists beneath the sky all came from the Liuli Palace from the Fangzhangzhou. The records in the Liuli Palace cannot be said to be perfect, but it would be accurate in at least eighty to ninety per cent. Since Fan Yun was related to the Liuli Palace, then he could make use of these relationships and remove his name from the Wulin records. Additionally, Fan Yun had no intention to roam the Jianghu, neither was he a person of the Jianghu. He had not fought with many people, thus he was naturally unknown.
Pain shot up in his back: it was the same place as the silver needle just now. There was no doubt that he hurt his meridians.
However, Feng Xiao’s hand was very stable.
From the moment a string flew out from his sleeve, one end of it was held by him and the other end would stretch as straight as a pencil, ringing within the sword’s glare and pierce through the flying rainbow it left behind, striking like shattering rain. The sound it gave off would travel into Fan Yun’s ears, and in it contained the waves of music with an inner strength that could cancel out the real qi which protected Fan Yun’s body, striking into his ears.
It seemed as if Fan Yun hadn’t expected his enemies to obtain the zither and turn it into strings, turning entertainment to weapons. There was no doubt regarding the surprise unraveling on his face.
The Faxing Sect used zithers for weapons. If there was a zither in his possession, Feng Xiao was a lot more laid back. However, if Fan Yun knew that the weapon used against him just now was a peer of Rao Liang from the legend, the incredibly precious zither Yu Yin whose strings were plucked out one by one by Feng Xiao, he would have been so furious that he’d stab Feng Xiao to death.
However, he didn’t know that. So, his hand was only disturbed by waves of music from the zither and wavered a little bit. The sword’s glare was shoved aside, but once again it manoeuvred, spread out like a curtain of dawn, summoning wild winds and loud waves, billowing in waves of great fury, churning clouds and beating shores, toiling once against Feng Xiao.
At the same time, Feng Xiao was also immersed in the sword’s glare, his other hand once again launching a zither string at Fan Yun.
Tight paths meet again, facing each other head-on with a higher degree of martial arts and deeper inner strength.
However, every second counted for people whose martial arts have achieved their level. Fan Yun’s was incredibly meticulous. He could see that Feng Xiao was affected by his old wounds, that his right hand was unstable. His strength was weaker on his left hand. Although these differences were easy to miss, Fan Yun saw them, thus he incessantly made use of them.
So, the sword that attacked Feng Xiao from his left was even heavier. At that time, Fan Yun heard Cui Buqu’s voice.
“I know whose side you are on now.”
Cui Buqu’s words were like the spring rains of March nights, like silver needles that were barely discernible; yet what level was Fan Yun’s sense of hearing? Even if his speaking adversary’s voice was like the sound of mosquitoes buzzing, he could still clearly hear them.
“The one you were aiding is an Emperor from the Chens, yet Chen Shubao is not the one. It was the late Emperor Chen Xu. Emperor Xuan was skilled with his subordinates, his abilities laudable, and he was lenient and generous from the beginning to the end during the decade he sat on the throne. Although he could not be called a brilliant Emperor of the dynasty, he could be considered a virtuous Emperor. It was a pity that he did not live a long life and had no successors; the pup is unlike his father, and thus, an incompetent child-like Chen Shubao has destroyed generations of hard work in the Chen Dynasty.” If he could, Fan Yun would give everything to turn back time and make it so that Cui Buqu could no longer open his mouth. However, there were no what-ifs in this world. Since he had already spoken, there was no turning back, and could only allow those words to reach his ears.
Cui Buqu lived up to his name, every word that was spoken were like knives and swords, piercing the most fragile places in one’s heart, destroying every and all calmness that existed in Fan Yun.
“Teacher, you and Emperor Xuan shared an intimate friendship, and you were begged by the other before his passing, yet such a disappointing person had been entrusted to you. Your old friend is gone, yet words were as solid as gold, so you could only give it your everything, with a devotion similar to Zhuge Liang2, beating around the bush and gyrating in circles, going so far as to provoke strife between us and the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai so that Emperor Chen may reel in the benefits. What was more pitiable is that Emperor Chen might not be able to acknowledge your goodwill; even if your martial arts surpassed others and schemed plots everywhere, I fear in the end you could only walk the old path of Zhuge Kongming3, watching the star die in the Battle of the Wuzhang plains4. To attempt despite one knowing to succeed is impossible; Teacher, before this path shall end, you have already seen your destination.”
He spoke faster and faster, and at the end, everything was revealed, every word piercing the heart, cutting open it so flesh and bones could be seen.
Fan Yun inhaled vaguely, even the glare of his sword had lost its direction.
Whether those words said by Cui Buqu were said early or later did not make a difference. Fan Yun suddenly felt regret; he regretted that he had been sentimental before and did not get rid of the other earlier.
He had only blanked out for a while, but to Feng Xiao, that was already enough.
The zither string pried the sword apart, piercing through Fan Yun’s hand.
In the next second, Feng Xiao’s figure followed suit. Fan Yun’s expression changed, no time was spared for him to even regret it. The other hurled a palm at his chest, and fresh blood spilt out of Fan Yun’s mouth, his body falling backwards.
Feng Xiao did not allow him the chance to even breathe, pressing on hard, hitting palm after palm. Fan Yun took two hits subsequently and took a step back with every hit he took, his face growing paler. When Feng Xiao launched the third palm, Fan Yun was no longer willing to take another hit. He turned around to leave, leaping down from the cliff and falling on top of the boulder down below. A few more leaps and his figure disappeared into the fog.
Not long after Fan Yun vanished, a group of people rushed out, and the one leading them was the Third Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, Ming Yue. Behind him, soldiers from the Jiejian Bureau held in their grasp someone familiar—the Young Master of the Yangdang Estate, Lin Wei.
Saying everything in a single breath, Cui Buqu could no longer stand it, not paying any attention to his wound scraping against the rocky surface as he fell sideways.
Feng Xiao’s reflexes were quick, holding him before the other’s head hit the ground.
“You came just at the right time!” Feng Xiao told Ming Yue, both speechless and mocking.
Ming Yue laughed bitterly, “Their den was hidden so thoroughly, I couldn’t find it even after half a day. We mistakenly caught someone from here by chance and had him lead the way!”
Feng Xiao raised his jaw, gesturing for Ming Yue to release Lin Wei from his mute state.
Once Lin Wei’s mouth regained its freedom, he immediately shouted non-stop, “Yuntian! I’ve never harmed you, nor have I helped them do so. When Yuan Sansi’s servant asked me to poison you, I never obeyed. Ever since I saw you, my admiration for you grew. Even if you spared me a look, my heart would feel happy…”
Feng Xiao’s lips twitched, “Gag him!”
Lin Wei, “No, no, please! I’ll just not say anything!”
Feng Xiao knew that this person might look like he had a good network of friends and was easy-going on the surface, but in reality, his ambitions spoke volumes. Otherwise, he would not have taken the cover of a good- for-nothing to conceal his true identity as a member of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Regardless of how the other pleaded and babbled, he would not be moved by it. He only asked, “The others?”
Lin Wei immediately said, “When the fire broke out Ning Shewo that old hag ran even faster than me. I was trapped in the array and delayed for a while. When I came out, I saw no one before running into your subordinates!”
Feng Xiao, “Where’s your Pavilion Lord Xiao? After such a grievous thing happened, could he remain inert and not show himself?”
Lin Wei calmed himself down, “The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai valued superiority and inferiority. I have never had the chance to see the Pavilion Lord myself. Only Fan Yun and Yu Xiu have the chance to interact with him often.”
Cui Buqu coughed and said, “He’s lying. When we return, use Naihexiang on him during interrogation.”
Lin Wei’s expression changed, a flash of loathing divulged from his eyes and both his arms spread, pushing away the soldiers from both his sides as he turned and ran.
A silver glare flew out of Ming Yue’s sleeve, piercing Lin Wei’s back. He fell over from pain and soldiers immediately rushed forward to pin him down. A drizzle began once again between the mountains.
Feng Xiao has neither the heart or the strength to interrogate Lin Wei here, so he waved a hand to gesture his soldiers to bring him back before decisions could be made.
Ming Yue saw that Cui Buqu was unable to stand up, so he walked over to help him. Cui Buqu thanked him in a soft voice and did not reject it.
Behind him, Feng Xiao said coldly, “He could not even stand up on his own, and you still want him to walk himself? Can this sickly invalid even walk?”
Cui Buqu felt his feet lifted into thin air, his entire person was carried up horizontally.
Ming Yue was an honest person, so he was shocked at the scene and said immediately, “Er-lang, you’re injured, let me do it!”
“I am carrying him now anyways. It’s even more troublesome to switch hands now!” Feng Xiao twitched his lips, “Carrying such a thick scent of mud and blood on you, it’s stifling just to smell it. Did you hear what Master Fan said? Your life is a tough one, bad luck would fall upon anyone close to you. Although my life is luxurious and rich, don’t you even think of sticking fast to me when we return. Quickly find yourself a fortune-teller to change your fate, so that I won’t have bad luck as well…”
Cui Buqu was exhausted to the brink. It was a rocky journey when the other descended the mountain, it overturned his insides, making him want to vomit blood, so he could only shut his mouth, using the rest of his strength to roll his eyes.
Ming Yue was clouded with confusion as he stood behind. Since you’re afraid of bad luck, why are you carrying him down the mountain? Is this truly earnestly complaining, or speaking the opposite of what’s intended?  Heaven’s lonely star: An implication that great danger will come.  With a devotion similar to Zhuge Liang: Probably referring to how Zhuge Liang served Liu Bei at first, who was a competent and brilliant lord, but later on he was forced to serve his son due to an oath to his old friend (Liu Bei). However, Liu Shan was a disappointing and incompetent lord.  Zhuge Kongming: Zhuge Liang’s courtesy name.  Watching the star die in the Battle of the Wuzhang plains: The story goes that in Zhuge Liang’s final battle, he watched a star falling in the Wuzhang plains right before he died.
Is the one you wanted, me?
Using the naihexiang drug on different people would yield different results.
Until now, Feng Xiao could still remember the bone-piercing pain Cui Buqu experienced when the naihexiang took effect in his body, yet he was still able to retain a lingering sense of his intellect and consciousness to play theory games with him.
Cui Buqu’s biggest error was perhaps how he was overly conscious when he was under the naihexiang’s effect, for this had instead alerted Feng Xiao’s suspiciousness.
Afterwards, when Yu Xiu also fell victim to the naihexiang in Cui Buqu’s schemes, he had at least suppressed all of it down to fight a vigorous battle with Feng Xiao and managed to even escape.
When compared with these two, Lin Wei was nothing.
“Lin Wei has already told us everything he did since he joined the Thirteen Pavillions of Yunhai. All the members and their responsibilities have already been listed. He was in charge of finance; Xiao Lu provided him clients, and he has also helped the Thirteen Pavilions earn a handsome amount. According to what he says, the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai’s powers were divided. On leisurely days, they seldom gathered, so there is not much he knows. Even regarding the insiders within the Northern Regions that Xiao Lu has placed, he knew none of them except himself. The only clues that might prove useful were the different ways of passing messages between the Yangdang Estate and Xiao Lu.”
Ming Yue was sitting within the house, offering the results of his interrogation to the other two.
“However, this time, Xiao Lu has never shown himself throughout the entire event. It proved that it was very possible he already knew Fan Yun’s intentions and would never step into the trap himself. Presently, Lin Wei is in our hands, thus all these methods of contact will also be discarded. Once we manage to find our way there, we would most certainly be greeted by an empty pavilion.”
“Presently, these people from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai—Yu Xiu, Lin Wei, Duan Qigu, Fong Xiaolian, Yu Heng, and the others, have all been annihilated. As Xiao Lu’s most valued strategist, Fan Yun has also betrayed him. It would be impossible for Xiao Lu to use him again. Without Fan Yun, the Thirteen Pavilions are like a dragon that has lost an eye, like a bird who lost its wings. Within a short period, no movements would come from them.”
Although Ming Yue was number three in the Jiejian Bureau, his residence was deeply hidden and his appearance was simplistic, having made no name for himself in the Jianghu, and neither did he achieve anything before in the Imperial Court. On normal days, he did not stand out from the crowd. A great many people thought that Feng Xiao was the heart of the Jiejian Bureau and did not take this Third Commander seriously. However, Cui Buqu knew that Feng Xiao often ran errands on the outside and if there was no one to serve as the mainstay in the Jiejian Bureau and aiding investigations, it’s feared that the Jiejian Bureau would have long been done for. Presently, as he listened to Ming Yue list out the causes and facts in an orderly and well-arranged manner, it wasn’t surprising at all, it has instead given him a feeling of ‘this is how it should be’.
This person’s abilities did not lie in fighting for credit in public, but it was in remaining behind to devise the last line of defence. If Feng Xiao was the wings and jaws of the Jiejian Bureau, then Ming Yue was the heart of the Jiejian Bureau.
In between Cui Buqu’s pondering, he heard Feng Xiao ask, “What did the guards and maidservants in the caves have to say?”
Ming Yue shook his head, “Those people were gathered when their sects were destroyed by the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, so in reality, they’re no suicide warriors of theirs. After a long time guarding the cave, they were oblivious to most things. However, there is someone called Liang Feng who provided a lead: he said that the Pavilion Lord appeared once during the last secret gathering in Tiannan Mountain. There was also a young woman who came often, who wore a cloth over her face; how she looks is unclear, but he’s heard the Pavilion Lord call her ‘Lady Huan’, and both of them were rather close.”
Feng Xiao turned to look at Cui Buqu on instinct, “Is there a woman in the Jianghu whose name has the word ‘Huan’ in it?”
Cui Buqu coughed twice, furrowing his eyebrows as he thought for a long time before saying with absolute certainty, “No. Perhaps an alias.”
He embraced the blankets as he sat on the bed, tiredness plaguing his face. Even if both Ming Yue and Feng Xiao have given him quite a huge amount of real qi, it could not restore his body within a short amount of time. Not only does he have to pinch his nose when he drinks his medicine, for once he thought over how he would have to face everyone in the Zuoyue Bureau whose faces would no doubt look like bitter gourds, Cui Buqu simply could not be in a good mood.
Feng Xiao’s foundation of the martial arts was strong, so it’s a given he was better off. However, the thick bandages wrapping around his torso were still visible through his robes.
Ming Yue spoke after he realized the situation, “Leave the aftermath to me. It’s not too late to discuss the others when we return to the capital. There is another thing: I was unable to find the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, so someone else may have taken it.” When Fan Yun said that the Jade could prolong one’s life, it was true that Cui Buqu’s heart was moved.
Born a human being, one must seek to survive and not seek for death; Cui Buqu was not a god, he cannot escape mortality.
However, when he heard that, his expression had been very calm with no traces of being surprised.
Perhaps he was used to being tortured time and time again by the Heavens; when faced against those difficult situations and circumstances, he’s learned to depend on himself and not on hollow, indiscernible hopes.
Normal people would be bedridden for at least ten days or half a month if they had been stabbed, yet he’s still sitting here talking to Feng Xiao and Ming Yue. His will was rigid, it’s feared that even the Heavens could do nothing with him.
Feng Xiao realized that once he had begun staring, he couldn’t help staring a second time or even a third time.
Until even Ming Yue realized the change in him, turning into his direction to look.
Feng Xiao retreated his gaze, pretended nothing was out of the ordinary and asked, “When we came, there were still two Zuoyue guards with us. Have you found them?”
Ming Yue sighed, “Yes. Their corpses were found at the foot of Tiannan Mountain. A wound on their skulls claimed their lives. Most probably, the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai feared that allowing them to remain would change the thoughts of their disciples, so they were gotten rid of.”
Feng Xiao absorbed the thought, “Weapons are usually used to kill, there are seldom any cases that used hands like that. This might be the doing of either Yuan Sansi or Yu Xiu.” Cui Buqu said coldly, “Regardless who was it who did it, this debt is on the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.”
Ming Yue said, “Counting all the people on Xiao Lu’s side, presently, he’s left with only a few like Yuan Sansi or Ning Shewo. Judging by his character, he would rather leave the positions of the Thirteen Pavilions void rather than let it be occupied by someone of undeserving reputation. We only need to set our targets on Xiao Lu, and we could take down the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.”
“I fear this isn’t so easy.” Tiredness weighed heavily between Cui Buqu’s brows, even his speech has softened more than just a little. “Fan Yun said before that Xiao Lu’s plans do not just involve these few people that we know. With his intelligence, he might have already known something was up with Fan Yun a long time ago.”
Feng Xiao snorted, “This time, Xiao Lu did not even show himself throughout the entire event. Perhaps he was going with the flow, using Yuan Sansi and Yu Xiu’s lives to swap for our deaths, so that both of us would fight and endure great losses from both parties. Fan Yun wants to sit back and reel in the benefits like a fisherman, not knowing that Xiao Lu is ultimately the oriole behind him.”
Ming Yue furrowed his brows.
When Feng Xiao left the capital before this, he had said that he was only going to get a zither that belonged to him. Ming Yue had assumed that he could not stand the boredom, yet he didn’t expect that it would drag out such a long train of complicated and messy events. If Cui Buqu had been as strong as Feng Xiao, they might have had good luck. Now, they were already struggling to stay alive.
The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was like a huge beast hidden in deep shadows. Once this beast was forced up the corner by them, everyone would realize that it has already spread its bloody-jaws wide, enough to pose a grave threat at any time. Its network stretched into every corner—the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the loftiness of the Imperial Court, and the Jianghu that sat at the other end of the world; the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai was everywhere. If even the Prefecture Magistrate of Boling was one of their men, then, would there still be more hiding beneath the rank of a Prefecture Magistrate as County Magistrates and Officials? Other than that, above the rank of a Prefecture Magistrate and within the capital, how many more were there?
As he thought until this point, a sudden realization hit Ming Yue.
He suddenly understood why Xiao Lu was determined to remove Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu.
Because the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus that were headed by them held in their grasp the Wulin of the Dynasty. Every incident and event that happened from the city to the Saiwai would all go through them. Removing them was like alleviating an old tiger of its claws and teeth: even though the tiger would still look ferocious, it no longer posed a threat.
When that time came, all the wiring that was established by the Thirteen Pavilions underground could continue to flourish in silence, no longer having any qualms.
“I am still curious.”
After this thought was through, what followed were even more concerns.
Ming Yue said, “Ever since the two Jins, the change of dynasties took place frequently. Among them, there was no lack of Imperial Officials who reached the peak of power within a single night. There are more, coughs, royal side families who succeeded the throne. These people either had supporters in court or held the army’s power in their grasp. Xiao Lu, as a resident of the Southern Dynasty who is not even valued by Chen Shubao, would not even have a name or network in the Imperial Court. He has not reached that level as to reforge a new dynasty. The Thirteen Pavilions would most likely just spread across different lands.” “For example, Yuan Sansi. Even if he succeeded as a Prefecture Magistrate, he is still far from entering the main centre. It would be impossible for him to change anything within the palace. As for Yu Xiu, even if he wasn’t dead or exposed by you two and remained by Prince Jin’s side at this moment and relish in his trust, no matter how much Prince Jin trusted him, surely he could not tolerate him to opt for treason?”
“Unless one builds an army and raises soldiers to opt for treason, even if the concave wiring of the Thirteen Pavilion is vast, how could they be able to subvert the world?”
Cui Buqu remained silent for a moment, before saying slowly, “Considering the Jiejian Bureau’s abilities, it would not be difficult for them to investigate all the people Yuan Sansi had interacted with, promoted by or was close with, in all these years he had been an official of the palace.”
“Many thanks for your input, Commander Cui. I shall immediately return to the capital and investigate it!” This certainly is a key lead. Ming Yue immediately took a brush and recorded it, before listing out everything evolving around this matter one by one, to avoid missing them.
The Zuoyue Bureau had no authority to interfere in the investigations of the Jiejian Bureau. Had it been Feng Xiao from the past, he would have most certainly struck with mocking words. Yet, now, Second Commander Feng was silent, not even giving any opinions of his own. Had the sun risen from the West today? Ming Yue’s heart said.
Cui Buqu spoke again, “There’s more. Yu Xiu was Prince Jin’s follower for many years, he might have led him on to sow good relationships with certain people, or perhaps made him offer a few suggestions to the Emperor and Empress. This matter is unrelated to the Jianghu, so it would be inconvenient for the Zuoyue Bureau to show themselves. If the Jiejian Bureau wishes to investigate, they might as well start from this very point. The only concern being that Prince Jin’s temper bounces between extremes; he is not a pleasant person to converse with, you people might have to invest more strength…” His voice became softer and softer. Ming Yue could not hear him clearly and thus, lifted his head in curiosity, yet what he sees is that the other has earnestly fallen asleep while sitting just like that.
Ming Yue was astounded.
Feng Xiao was already on his feet, walking over to lay him down and covered him with a blanket.
“Working over his limit, his mind has been exhausted to the brink; if Lord Cui continues like this, I fear… it is not a good sign.” Ming Yue wanted to say that it wasn’t a sign of someone with a long lifespan, but he felt that it was quite rude, and so swallowed his words.
Feng Xiao calmly said, “Without these matters to busy himself with, he might have tumbled a long time ago.”
Ming Yue did not understand.
Feng Xiao said nothing more, changing the topic, “Although Fan Yun is one of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, his existence is extremely important. He knows many things within the Thirteen Pavilions; this person cannot be left out and must be sought out as quickly as possible. Reclaiming the jade and Xiao Lu’s identity may depend entirely on him.”
Ming Yue nodded his head that he understood.
It seemed like a few voices were speaking in the dream, seemingly trotting by with paper lanterns, yet they were indistinct. It resembled the people and incidents he had seen in the first half of his life, who were automatically washed back like retreating tides. Everything quietened down.
There were many times Cui Buqu believed that once he slept, he would never wake up again. That feeling of fatigue to the brink of death bubbled up from the bottom of his heart, gradually flooding all his limbs, as tightly as silk, made it hard to breathe. However, his living years did not stop here. Regardless of how stifling and suffering it was, in the end, he could still open his eyes.
Sometimes, even he admired his own tough life.
Cui Buqu glared at the gauze above his head, slowly blinked his eyes, used half a quarter of an hour to reel back his recollection of memories and determine where he was, and why he was here.
At the foot of Tiannan Mountain was a small village. They descended from the peak, and Ming Yue needed some time to take care of the aftermath following the remnants of the Thirteen Pavilions. He still needed to send people to bring those guards and maidservants back to the capital for questioning, so Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao could remain in this place as their wounds healed.
to his bed was a letter, on top of it was the seal of the Zuoyue Bureau, perfectly whole. Cui Buqu opened it; it was a letter from Qiao Xian, and the insignia on top of the sealing wax indicated that it was extremely confidential, thus it was brought here by the post official. Perhaps he was seen by either Ming Yue or Feng Xiao, and so conveniently brought the letter to him.
On the letter, it said that they returned from Donghai county empty- handed. There was nothing about the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai there— naturally, they couldn’t find it, because this letter was a clue Fan Yun used to serve as a distraction for him to begin with, to lure the tiger away from the mountain.
When Qiao Xian was injured in Saiwai, Cui Buqu wanted to let her remain in the capital. Who could have guessed that she was unrestrained and even ran off to Donghai county along with Zhangsun Bodhi. Now that they have found nothing, their disappointment and woes were felt through those lines of words, asking for the next steps needed to be taken. There came a sound from the outside.
Cui Buqu lit the candles, burning the letter bit by bit till it turned to ash.
He then got down to put on his shoes and comb his hair.
The sweet scent of Osmanthus floated in from the window. After experiencing that cave with neither day nor night, even a calm and gloomy sky looked refreshing.
Cui Buqu was in a good mood.
When he pushed open the door, Feng Xiao and Ming Yue were playing chess in the courtyard.
Even though he was wounded, this Second Commander Feng would never obediently lie on a bed to rest himself.
Cui Buqu just spared it a glance, before turning his gaze away in disinterest.
Ming Yue rose to his feet and bowed with his hands folded. His rank was inferior to Cui Buqu, so these customs were necessary.
Cui Buqu nodded his head, “No need to be so courteous, Third Commander. Make yourselves at home, I’m going to take a walk.”
“Come play a game?” Feng Xiao called after him. Cui Buqu, “I do not know how to play.”
Feng Xiao was stunned, “You don’t know how to play shupu1?”
These sort of games that descended from the late Han Dynasty were not only popular in the capital, but even the marketplace would also have brilliant players.
Cui Buqu returned him an innocent expression; on his face was written: It is so strange that I do not know how to play? Naturally, it was strange. Feng Xiao looked like he was staring at a strange bird with two pairs of wings. He stared at him for a moment, and said, “I left some dishes for you on the stove. After you’ve eaten, I will teach you.”
Cui Buqu shook his head, “Why should I learn these sorts of things?”
Feng Xiao said, “Other than working, what other entertainments can you say you have?”
Cui Buqu calmly said, “Work is exactly my entertainment.”
Feng Xiao gave Ming Yue a ‘Isn’t this what I’ve told you?’ look.
Ming Yue had no words, and in his heart, he said: If only this rebelling Second Commander Feng and law-abiding Commander Cui could divide their traits among themselves, how great that would be.
Faced before such an uninteresting person, even if Ming Yue cracked his head thinking, he feared he might not be able to even think of anything to converse with him. Only Feng Xiao alone was in the best of his spirits, appearing not to have enough as he offered Cui Buqu various suggestions non-stop.
“Let us have a gamble, what says you? I teach you the rules, and we will have a few rounds. Three points would declare the victory and the loser has to agree to one condition of the victor.”
Cui Buqu finally showed a bit of interest, “Anything is possible?”
Feng Xiao wriggled his brows, “Naturally, as long as I have it.”
Cui Buqu, “Since Second Commander Feng put it so vehemently, careful not to eat your words when the time comes!”
Feng Xiao vaguely smiled, “Unless the one you wanted, is me?”
Cui Buqu’s cheeks twitched a bit, couldn’t help but thought of that moment in the array. However, he forcibly discarded the thought, refusing to worry over anything else at this moment.
That had just been an accident, or perhaps impulsiveness from being left with no options, but it was not genuine.
Even if it was genuine, Feng Xiao wouldn’t be the genuine one.
How would Feng-er who loves himself more than anything be serious with anyone else?
Him, Cui Buqu, was destined to be alone for all his life. So, how would he seek out trouble only for himself to fret over it?
“I want the list containing all the names of every Sui official from every county and prefecture, of how many wives and concubines they wed, and whether they snore when they sleep.”
For a very long time, Cui Buqu wanted this name list. Now that he has the chance today, how would he let it slide?
As Ming Yue listened to this, he quickly turned his head, having to use great strength to suppress himself from bursting out laughing.
What happens when a playful Feng-er meets workaholic Master Daoist Cui?
Feng-er: This is impossible. My charms are boundless. Have you forgotten that night in the cave?
Cui Buqu: *coughs twice*
 shupu 樗蒲: Is an ancient game from the Tang Dynasty which the present Xiangqi is imitative of.
I do not know what you were hoping to get from Cui Buqu
Shupu wasn’t difficult to play. Cui Buqu understood the rules after he watched Feng Xiao and Ming Yue play a game.
This game did not depend entirely on brains to win, for one would still need luck. Cui Buqu’s luck was quite good, and he won the first round.
Ming Yue still had something to do, so he left first. Both Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu were surrounded by a courtyard full of blooming osmanthuses, a gentle light diffusing into petals of white and fading yellow, giving off warmth when the Autumn light fell and giving off a faint fragrance when the wind blew.
But the most important thing was them underneath the tree.
Their presences were there, and so were the liveliness of mortal human beings.
The stone table that the board of chess was placed on was wiped clean of dust, even the jade-green teacups at its side bore the colour of green springs.
There was no doubt that this belonged to Feng Xiao. Ming Yue knew Feng-er’s nature, and so the teacups that were brought back were rinsed thrice with steaming water by him. Otherwise, Feng Xiao would have most certainly complained from the beginning of time until the very last speck of dust at the bottom of the teacups. Cui Buqu held a small bowl of congee with both his hands, taking sips as he played, allowing the warm liquid to flow from his throat into his stomach, warming up the condition of his body.
Compared to Feng Xiao, he was more adaptable to their circumstances. Even if someone gave him a bowl of congee now that contained grains of sand while food is sacred and as long as he was hungry, he would gulp it all down as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
After drinking a small half, Cui Buqu felt a little full.
He held the bowl in his hand and did not move, watching the board of chess, his eyebrows raising.
Feng Xiao’s eyebrows flew up, said a little cockily, “I won.” Cui Buqu was expressionless, “This is only the second round.” Those words meant that the third round would decide the victor.
They were people who had been through dangerous places and climbed back to the world of the living together, having seen a countless number of strange treasures and valuables. Yet, both of them unexpectedly took a small gamble very seriously.
To Cui Buqu, obtaining that name list was a must, and Feng Xiao just wanted to win the gamble, seemingly as if he had never lost before.
After Ming Yue was through with his work, he returned to watch the game.
However, just as he walked until the front of the courtyard, his footsteps paused.
Because Feng Xiao’s face had lost its previously high-spirited look; he was instead looking serious.
He looked at Cui Buqu for a few seconds, then at the board of chess, and the colour of his face changed. What happened?
Ming Yue felt a little concerned, indecisive between “walking over and get himself unlucky” or “remaining here and watch the theatre”. In the end, he chose the latter.
He squinted at the board, and the chess stones that belonged to Cui Buqu had reached the end.
It seemed like Commander Cui won, Ming Yue said silently.
Considering Feng-er’s pride and confidence, there was never a time where he lost, and so it was difficult for him to not feel disappointed.
“It is obvious this isn’t the first time you played shupu since you used little tricks of yours so familiarly like that.” Feng Xiao snorted.
“Where do those words come from?” Cui Buqu drawled, fingers tapping on the surface of the ceramic bowl. It meant that he was in a very pleasant mood.
Feng Xiao thought: I could’ve studied his intentions and predict his moods more accurately if I’d known this a little earlier.
But it wasn’t too late now either.
“It’s just a small game, yet you still wanted to cheat. Master Daoist Cui, aren’t you a conniving one?” Feng Xiao looked speechless.
“All is fair in war.” The corner of Cui Buqu’s eyes curled upwards, showing a smile from the bottom of his heart that was hard to come by these days, “Two wins out of three games. Since I’ve won, please abide by your words, Commander Feng, and give me the name list as soon as possible.”
Feng Xiao, “Let’s have another game.” “I am tired.” How could Cui Buqu allow him to turn the tides? He rose to his feet, dragging them as he turned to his room to rest.
Ming Yue walked over, watching Feng Xiao kicking back his legs and looking cocky. It looked as if feathers of varying colours had sprouted out behind him and so he asked curiously, “Why did you lose to him on purpose?”
Feng Xiao sneezed, “In order for one to take, first you must give; don’t you understand?”
Ming Yue, “No?”
Feng Xiao chuckled, “This is why, I am number two of this house, and you are number three.”
Ming Yue twitched his lips, “In your opinion, with Cui Buqu’s intelligence, would he be able to tell that you lost on purpose?”
Feng Xiao, “So what if he could tell?”
“If he could tell, he would go with the flow, and that means he cares not about your goals, as long as he has the name list. So,” Ming Yue gave him a look of sympathy, “I do not know what you were hoping to get from Cui Buqu, however, it is very obvious that what you think is not important to him.”
Feng Xiao was waving his fan, but his hand froze when he heard that, pinning his gaze on Ming Yue instead and asked curiously, “Lao-san (Old Three), all of a sudden your brain picks things up easily. Certainly, you’re not someone from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai in disguise?”
Ming Yue didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “This is called, ‘A bystander sees things all the more clearly’. You take no one seriously at all, even Prince Jin was not an exception. Even if you had your goals, it’s quite different to see you willing to show weakness for someone else.” Feng Xiao, “Speaking of Prince Jin, since Yu Xiu earned his trust, it’s quite difficult to assume that there aren’t people from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai around the Crown Prince and the others. About the matter I asked you to investigate last time, how is your progress?”
Returning to official matters, Ming Yue retreated his gaze and shook his head as he said, “There shouldn’t be anyone from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai around the Crown Prince. Within the Palace Chambers, it would not look too good for the Jiejian Bureau to interfere. However, from what I know, the Zuoyue Bureau is also investigating. Cui Buqu held the unconditional trust of the Empress, perhaps he has already found something. Since you spend time with him day and night, there’s no harm in seeking out a chance to ask him.”
Feng Xiao, “I already did. After Yu Xiu’s case, the Empress gave orders to investigate the Palace Chambers and dig out a few suspicious people. However, they were all unrelated to the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Looking at the bright side, Xiao Lu’s hand hasn’t reached so far out. On the dark side, he has buried his traps far too deep, and they cannot be discovered so easily. However, there is someone else that you need to keep an eye on after we return to the capital.”
Ming Yue asked in confusion, “Who?”
Feng Xiao did not keep him in suspense, “Princess Leping.”
Ming Yue was astounded, “You suspect that after the Thousand Lantern Banquet, there are still remnants who hid by her side?”
Feng Xiao neither confirmed nor invalid the fact, “Regardless, keep your men tight around the Princess’ manor.”
One year came after the last, the moon was halved and then whole again. After Qixi, the Lunar New Year’s Eve drew near. Since the establishment of the present dynasty, the Emperor did not follow the system of the former dynasty due to convenience, he has instead wrought all anew, moving into the new capital, reforging new rules, and decreasing taxes, restoring life. Although most of the people knew that war between the Imperial Court and Göktürk was inevitable, to them, the daily necessities they needed were far more important. Following the spreading of the new dynasty, as the people lived comfortably, they were more willing to buy goods and prepare for festivals, creating a crowded scenery of small allies.
To the Imperial Officials and noble houses, the trending subjects of debate recently were nothing related to the Lunar New Year’s Eve, but on Princess Lanling and Yuwen Xuan-zhu.
According to rumours, Princess Lanling who has always been gentle and obedient to her parents suggested marrying herself to the Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, Feng Xiao, when the topic of marriage was brought up.
Although everyone knew that Princess Lanling was interested in Feng Xiao, no one expected her to do something so bold as to suggest it to the Royal Couple.
Coincidentally, these past few days, Second Commander Feng returned to the capital. A great many people wanted to watch the theatre, of how he would respond to this.
As for Yuwen Xuan-zhu, naturally, it was also related to marriage.
Women put marriage first and foremost, however, her identity was much more awkward and sensitive compared to Princess Lanling.
Her mother was Princess Leping who couldn’t help but want to seek out the best son-in-law for her daughter. Yet the truth was, among those who were willing to marry Yuwen Eying, Princess Leping complained that they were of too low birth, and those that met her standards were not willing to marry. Thus, Princess Leping had no choice but to leave the palace and beg her most capable mother.
Empress Dugu was naturally happier to see her daughter more often.
Among all her children, this eldest daughter alone was the one she spent a great deal nurturing; she was also the one she gave the most love to.
A pity that although her daughter was born from a prestigious house, her fate was not all that good for a woman.
She lost her husband and had no sons, only a single daughter, Yuwen Eying. Her parents would leave her eventually, and once her daughter is wedded, Princess Leping could only depend on the brother who would be Emperor in the future.
As she thought about this, Empress Dugu felt pity for her. Her hand absent-mindedly caressed her pearl’s black hair, heartbroken as she watched the one or two grey hairs between them.
Like all mothers beneath the Heavens who loved their daughters, even if the Emperor and she were heralded as the Royal Couple, and she was deep in the country’s politics, she was still a mother, especially one who held guilt in her heart.
“I heard that you were choosing a son-in-law for Eying recently, that your far-sightedness has grown worse. There are so many outstanding men in the world, yet none of them was someone you liked?” Empress Dugu joked, “Could it be that you’re like your Fifth Sister, who wants Feng Xiao for a son-in-law?”
Even though Princess Leping on her lap was no longer young, her beauty was no longer able to conceal the wrinkles at the corner of her eyes. However, in front of a mother, regardless of how old, she was still that daughter who held her parents in great esteem. Years had changed nothing about this. As Princess Leping heard this, she couldn’t stop herself from sniggering, “Feng Er-lang is at the height of his vigour and youth, brilliant in martial arts where few in the world could have. Fifth sister carries a maiden’s heart; it’s not strange she would be drawn to him. If only I was ten years younger, I might have been similar!”
The Fifth Sister she mentioned was the one who has given her heart to Feng Xiao, Princess Leping.
The Empress smiled and said, “Unfilial daughter, how dare you say yourself old in front of your mother! You are still young now, and as the Dynasty’s eldest princess, if there is a man you have set your gaze on, just request your father. Why suffer from such injustice?”
Princess Leping’s expression dimmed, and for a moment, she didn’t speak.
Empress Dugu said slowly, “Since you don’t want to be windowed for life, then call upon a Fuma1 with a striking appearance to go with yourself as lovers. Otherwise, there are plenty of people in this world who wish to get close to you, so they may use you to climb to higher grounds. An incident like the Thousand Lantern Banquet might repeat itself.”
The princess immediately knelt and pleaded for forgiveness, “Mother, what happened before was my fault. The Crown Prince and Prince Jin were harmed. If anything happens to them, not even a thousand deaths could redeem me. I dare not do it again!”
The Empress sighed and helped her up in person.
“Your father and I have never placed this blame upon you, you’re too hard on yourself. Yuwen Yun was long gone, you do not owe him, and there is no need to be a window for him. Think about it: if your husband is someone from the Five Surnames and Seven Families2, having someone like that for a stepfather, Eying’s past would soon be forgotten by others, and no longer will her past be mentioned.” “Mother, these days, I thought frequently, if I hadn’t married Yuwen Yong, how good would that be!” Princess Leping sprawled on her lap, crying softly.
Empress Dugu had a rigid personality, yet her eldest daughter is soft; she truly is unlike her mother.
However, the Empress had an endless amount of patience for this eldest princess.
“Silly child, the past is in the past, there is no need to wallow in it. If you are unwilling to marry again, I will not force you. As for Eying’s marriage, do you have anyone in mind after seeing so many candidates?”
Princess Leping shook her head, “No matter how I look, everyone was lacking. This child, Eying, is naïve and innocent. It’s easy for her to be led on by someone else. I want her to be safe for the rest of her life.”
Empress Dugu thought for a moment, “As things have come to this, her husband should be intelligent and powerful so he could protect her. In your opinion, how does Cui Buqu sound?”
Princess Leping’s heart skipped.
She raised her head to look at her mother!
Against the source of light, Empress Dugu’s expression was a little difficult to see.
 Fuma: the husband of a princess is called a Fuma.  Five Surnames and Seven Families 五姓七族: are the families that served generations of soldiers during the early Tang Dynasty. They are the Longxi Li Clan, the
Zhaojun Li Clan, the Qinghe Cui Clan, the Boling Cui Clan, the Fanyang
Lu Clan, Xingyang Zheng Clan, and the Taiyuan Wang Clan.
The relationship between those two really has changed. Princess Leping did accumulate resentment in her heart.
However, showing her resentment would draw trouble and the ability to address it would be necessary. Although Yang Lihua, as Princess Leping, a God’s favoured daughter, those who would truly aid her in terms of power ran thin. Thus, she had never shown this resentment before her parents and could only bury them deep in her heart.
At this present moment, she looked at her mother, her heart beating rapidly under extreme nervousness. Even her ears have perked as if there were people rolling drums next to her, squeezing her heart with every beat.
There was indeed one spilt of a moment, where Princess Leping thought the Empress had seen through her intentions.
Her heart shivered, and suddenly she realized that this woman in front of her was not just her mother, but that she was also the Empress of the nation, a woman whose deceptiveness was not inferior to that of her father.
“Mother.” Princess Leping lifted her voice gently, every word and sentence worded carefully, “I know that you think highly of Master Cui, otherwise he would not have headed the Zuoyue Bureau at such a young age.”
Empress Dugu patted her hand and smiled, “You’ve got it wrong. It was not because of my trust in him that led him to succeed in the Zuoyue Bureau. He earned all he has now because of his own capabilities.”
“Right!” Princess Leping because anxious for no apparent reason, couldn’t help raising her voice, “But he is not in a prime state of health. Mother, Eying is your granddaughter. Do you truly have it in yourself to see her widowed right after she married?”
Empress Dugu’s expression was unchanged, “It is true Cui Buqu was born chronically ill, but he is not beyond help, neither does he need to worry over his life. You’re overthinking it. Eying is innocent and literate, yet there’s a difference in her identity. I know both of you only wish to spend your days peacefully, but those evil-doers running about will not spare both of you so easily. With Cui Buqu present, I can be at peace.”
Princess Leping’s face turned pale.
She thought that Empress Dugu had spoken in an attempt to test her, but as she listened to this, did she truly intend to betroth Yuwen Eying to Cui Buqu?
Empress Dugu watched her as if she was waiting for her answer, but more eagerly, she was waiting for her expression to answer itself.
Princess Leping, Yang Lihua, has never been in this position before, clearly acknowledging that regardless of how close a mother and her daughter was, it cannot fill in the moat that was once carved out from power.
“I only have one daughter!” Tears fell from her face, a sensation of being wronged brimmed up her chest. For a moment, she sobbed soundlessly, “Mother, I beg you. I guarantee that Eying will do her part, and I will look after her. Those evil-doers will not have their chance!”
Empress Dugu did not comfort her as she did before, neither did she give her a peaceful reassurance. This made Princess Leping’s heart sink further down. “Lihua, you need to remember that your surname is Yang, not Yuwen. Although Eying’s surname is Yuwen, the Yuwen family is incapable of offering her any protection.” She heard Empress Dugu said.
“Yes.” The Princess bowed lower, indicating that she understood the implication of her mother’s speech.
The Empress finally reached out a hand, helping her up, yet those words spoken by her have failed to make the Princess even a little bit happy.
“Other than an ill-health, everything about Cui Buqu is good. If one were to wait until he curated his health, he would be no different from normal people. Towards this betrothal, are you still against it?”
Princess Leping’s heart was stunned; she greeted her teeth, withstanding the weight that came from that gaze which fell upon her head in extreme pressure.
Things had always been this way: Whatever her mother decided, there was nothing she could do to decline it.
Only after innumerable twists and turns, and a countless number of thoughts, did she muster up the courage to spill out that word.
“Leave it. Eying is still young; this matter can be left alone for now. Look at how nervous you’ve made yourself. Wipe your tears before leaving the palace.” Empress Dugu’s voice was gentle, as if she wasn’t mad at her daughter.
Yet, she did not give her a definite answer.
This proved that Empress Dugu hasn’t given up her attempt to marry Cui Buqu and Yuwen Eying.
Princess Leping rose to her feet slowly, under the guidance of the palace servants, left as though she was stepping over clouds, for even the view of her from behind looked devastated. Empress Dugu sighed lightly, “Come out, Master Cui.”
From behind the corner, someone walked out. He carried a sickly look, his footsteps light and slow.
“You’ve seen it. Lihua is fragile; she does not seem like someone who could manipulate the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.” The Empress said, “Just now, I did what you asked and tested her. If she is guilty, she would have gone along the flow and not strongly object to it.”
Cui Buqu nodded his head, “The Eldest Princess certainly does not look like it. However, please refrain from explaining yourself about this matter just yet. After the Princess returns, she will relay the news to her people. If there are some evil-doers at her side, they will naturally plot something about it. After Tiannan Mountain, the enemy would lower their banner to go into hiding and not show themselves for a while. Since this is the case, then let us remain inert, and allow them to take the first step.”
Empress Dugu laughed bitterly, “Never a day did I think that I would employ the tactics I use against people around me on my own daughter. If I knew this sooner, I would not have allowed her into the palace.”
Cui Buqu’s face was void of any expression, he did not give a reply.
The Empress did not need a response. After all, if Princess Leping was not the former Dynasty’s Empress, right now, the throne would not have belonged to Yang Jian by being the kin of a consort. If time turned back, they would have still allowed their daughter to enter the palace.
After four hours, Cui Buqu left the palace carrying some valuable medicinal herbs gifted to him by Empress Dugu. Qiao Xian, who has been waiting at the gates until she grew impatient, saw an unfamiliar person following behind him and she was stunned.
A young general with a chubby face put his hands together, “The name is Guan Shanhai, a Sima from the General of the Left Wing1. His Majesty heard that Master Cui faced danger in Tiannan Mountain, feared that the Zuoyue Bureau was short on members, thus gave me special orders to assist left and right.”
Assisting Cui Buqu had always been Qiao Xian’s duty. She had not expected herself to earn a competitor after Cui Buqu visited the palace this time, and thus grew incredibly hostile.
However, Guan Shanhai had no interest in fighting a lady over jealousy. To him, falling from a Left Wing’s Sima to a personal bodyguard was a type of disgrace. Even if Cui Buqu was incredibly highly looked upon by the Emperor and Empress, protecting a sickly invalid like this could not give Guan Shanhai a feeling of achievement. He would rather kill his enemies on the battlefield.
Cui Buqu had no intention to explain too much to Qiao Xian, neither was he interested in undoing the awkwardness between a new member and a former one. He got onto his carriage, keeping a pensive expression all the while, his heart far from where he stood. This meant that he was pondering over matter and he should not be disturbed.
Guan Shanhai did not attempt to get close to Cui Buqu in the carriage. He sat with the driver on his own accord, yet Qiao Xian could not hold back any longer and went inside.
“Commander, why did Her Majesty send someone to your side all of a sudden? Could it be that she wants…” Her voice was already soft, at this moment, it was even softer, “…to spy?”
Cui Buqu shook his head, “No need to think too much. The Zuoyue Bureau had insufficient manpower to begin with. Once duty bounds you, it’s difficult not to go about running. On this journey to Tiannian Mountain, perhaps we could have caught Ning Shewo if I had someone like Guan Shanhai.”
Qiao Xian felt guilty, “I apologize for my incompetence.”
Cui Buqu raised a brow, and said suddenly, “Qiao Xian.” Qiao Xian immediately raised her head.
Cui Buqu, “You perceive my safety far too heavily and you take yourself too lightly. I never hoped for you to just be a personal servant or a nurse, do you understand?”
Qiao Xian remained silent.
This soundless response was what she would always do when she disagreed with Cui Buqu. Cui Buqu’s tolerance of Qiao Xian was far greater than his tolerance of the rest of the Zuoyue Bureau, however, this time he did not intend to continue tolerating her.
The Zuoyue Bureau has two Vice-Commanders; Zhangsun Bodhi was in charge of external affairs, and Song Liangchen was in charge of internal affairs. Each of them had their responsibilities, and those further down the hierarchy were Zuoyue guards who listened to orders. Qiao Xian accompanied Cui Buqu often, and thus bystanders treated her like his nurse and bodyguard. However, Cui Buqu never hoped that she would remain by his side all her life. Qiao Xian belonged to a wider sky; regardless of any place in the Jianghu, with her capabilities, she would have achieved something, and not remain here to be Cui Buqu’s shadow.
He watched her being silent as if she had been extremely wronged. Cui Buqu had not even been moved when he heard Princess Leping crying, yet at this moment, he reached out with a hand and patted her head lightly.
“How many years have we known each other?” Cui Buqu asked.
“Four years.” Qiao Xian said dully.
She remembered very clearly, it was a year before the Zuoyue Bureau was established.
Cui Buqu’s voice was very gentle, “So, it’s time you should learn to be independent.” “Then, don’t go out too far next time, alright?” Only in front of Cui Buqu, she would let go of her pride and stubborn exterior, begging like she never did in front of others. “If I am not with you, who will treat your body?”
“Not recently. I brought the medicine you gave me. Moreover, there is now Guan Shanhai, and also…” Cui Buqu paused, didn’t say those two words: Feng Xiao.
Although that man surnamed Feng often made life difficult for him, he couldn’t refrain from admitting that both of them fitted perfectly in teamwork. If Feng Xiao hadn’t been there at Tiannian Mountain, and it was instead Qiao Xian or Zhangsun, they might not have come out alive.
Qiao Xian was stunned as if she understood the words that he never said. There was a look of disbelief on her face, yet she lowered her head very quickly and didn’t allow Cui Buqu to notice it.
Following that, she heard Cui Buqu giving the orders, “Make a trip to the Jiejian Bureau now, ask Feng-er for that name list.”
Qiao Xian knew what name list he was referring to. According to what was said, it was won over by Cui Buqu when he had a gamble with Feng Xiao when they were in Tiannian Mountain.
The detailed name list of every official of every state.
However, after they returned to the capital, every time the Zuoyue Bureau sent someone forth to ask for it, they would obtain the same answer: Ask the Zuoyue Commander to come himself.
As if Feng Xiao knew earlier on that Cui Buqu would just give in anyway, and so steadily, he opened his doors wide and cast the lure, waiting for the fish to bite on it himself. However, Cui Buqu refused to grant his wish on purpose, refusing to make the trip himself, and thus the stage play was frozen, unmoving.
“What if he still refuses to give it?” Qiao Xian asked. Cui Buqu snorted lightly, “If you go, he will surely think that I’ve already grown impatient. Even if he refuses to give it, he will surely play a few tricks. When that time comes, I can turn the tides and turn the assault back on him, so he is caught red-handed.”
This tone didn’t seem like he was speaking against an enemy. It seemed, instead, like one was recalling their familiarity with an old nemesis that they have. Know your enemies as well as you know yourself, and they will be your enemies as well as your friend.
Qiao Xian realised that, after they returned from that trip to Boiling, the relationship between these two really has changed.
Giving a theatre for Mid-Autumn Festival, a bit connected to Thousand Autumn, so those who haven’t read Thousand Autumns can skip it.
【A small theatre】
It’s been a long time since Shen Qiao returned to the capital.
Daxing City was like this thriving Dynasty; a small change took place every three days, and a big change every five days, other than Xuandu Daoist Temple.
Since, no matter how a Daoist Temple is reconstructed, it cannot turn into a Buddist Temple.
Xuandu Daoist Temple had nothing concerning Xuandu Mountain. Yang Jian built it to express gratification for the year that Xuandu Mountain reached out with aid. He had once invited the people from Shen Qiao’s sect to succeed as the Temple’s Master, but Shen Qiao declined it.
The present Temple’s Master was someone Shen Qiao didn’t know.
The other was trimming bushes with his back bent, he looked tall and thin from behind. However, Shen Qiao could tell with a single glance that his body’s condition was not prime.
That wasn’t all; he was probably chronically ill, an omen that he wasn’t destined to have a long lifespan.
Watching the other trimming flowers and leaves, Shen Qiao almost laughed out loud.
He saw a whole, perfect bush being trimmed till there was a bulge in the middle with both adjacent sides slumping. It truly was spontaneous, trimming along the way as the heart wished. There was a tuft tall and a tuft short, incredibly unsightly and making one not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
Shen Qiao walked over.
He realized that the other looked very serious.
He was doing this chore in all seriousness, and not from venting anger or haphazardness.
However, this cannot conceal the truth that the bush was being mistreated by him.
Shen Qiao could not bear to watch any longer. He took the clippers from the other person and saved the life of that pitiful bush.
The other turned around to look at him, raising an eyebrow, carrying no look of astonishment on his face.
“Abbot Shen, it has been long since I heard of your name, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Shen Qiao, in turn, felt astonished. It had already been a few years since he last showed up in the capital.
“You know me?” The other vaguely smiled, “Abbot of the number one sect beneath the Heavens, how can I not know who you are? It’s said that Abbot Shen roams the four cardinal directions, perhaps he happened to pass by this place conveniently during the Lunar New Year’s Eve, and thus pays his old friends a visit.”
Shen Qiao’s impression of this person was quite good. He laughed and said, “Today I gained a new friend. When I return in the future, I will have an additional friend to pay a visit to.”
The other put his hands together, “My name is Cui Buqu.”
Shen Qiao, “Buqu?”
Cui Buqu, “Buqu from: Don’t chase after those who have gone, welcome those who come2.”
Shen Qiao naturally did not know that Cui Buqu’s name used to have an entirely different meaning, and thus he said happily, “Such a brilliant name!”
On the other side.
Yan Wushi watched the one coming. After just a glance, he said, “You are from the Faxing Sect.”
Feng Xiao raised a brow, “Brilliant eyesight, Sect Leader Yan.”
The three Demonic Sects were never at peace with each other. Since Feng Xiao was the Sect Leader of the Faxing Sect, then he was on the same level of authority as the Huanyue Sect’s Sect Leader.
Yan Wushi sneered, “Similar with Guang Lingsan, always thinking that you know better, speaking in one way then behaving differently.”
Feng Xiao brushed the tips of the hairs of his temple, “I feel that, compared to my disappointing shixiong, I am one stroke above.” How could he think that he is only just one stroke above? However, before his seniors, it’s still necessary to retain a bit of humbleness.
Yan Wushi nodded his head, “Correct. In terms of looks, you should be number two among the Demonic Sects.”
Feng Xiao: … I have no desire to know who number one is.
 Sima from the General of the Left Wing 右卫将军司⻢ (lit. Left Guard General Sima): The Left Guard was one of the Twelve Guards in the
Sui Empire. The Sima is the rank of an official below the Main General of the Left Guard (1 person assuming the post) and Generals (2 persons assuming the post).  Don’t chase after those who have gone, welcome
those who come 去者不追，来者可交: I translated this literally. I’m not sure if Meng Xi Shi meant 往者不可谏，来者犹可追 which tells someone to let the past remain in the past and move on in life.
Cui Buqu, this you owe me.
When Qiao Xian arrived, Feng Xiao was drawing.
Undistracted, with a smile lingering at the corner of his lips, he looked like he was in a good mood.
Regardless of how unwilling she was, greeting him was still necessary.
“Qiao Xian from the Zuoyue Bureau has come to see the Second Commander.”
Feng Xiao did not raise his head, his brush never stopping. From Qiao Xian’s perspective, it was unclear to her what he was drawing; but the rattan paper reflected Feng Xiao’s smile through the tip of his brush and as warm, gentle sunlight fell upon him—a beauty holding a brush—even for Qiao Xian who disliked Feng Xiao, she could not refrain from admitting that this was a very stunning sight.
However, for Qiao Xian, all the beauty of that sight shattered the very moment Feng-er opened his mouth.
“It seems like Cui Buqu still refuses to come in person.”
Qiao Xian said, “This humble one came here on the Commander’s orders to pick up something that should have rightfully been given to the Zuoyue Bureau. Second Commander, I beseech you to honour your promise.” Feng Xiao ignored the cold glare she gave, and remained smiling, “This is a gamble between Cui Buqu and I. If he wants that name list, let him come here himself. Aside from him, I will not acknowledge anyone else. Moreover,”
Pausing for a moment, Feng Xiao placed his brush down, surveying the completed drawing for a moment and only then did he raise his head to look at Qiao Xian.
“The reason Cui Buqu sits on the same table of power with me is because he is qualified to be so. You called yourself ‘humble’, yet your tone does not sound like someone’s subordinate. Did Cui Buqu bring you along with him all the while thinking that this attitude could assist him in lifting his concerns?”
Following, Qiao Xian’s gaze changed to astonishment, and Feng Xiao gave a devilish smile.
“Although you know the art of face-changing as well as the medical arts, in the Jiejian Bureau, people like you are not irreplaceable. If I offer one of them to Cui Buqu, guess, will he accept it or not? And will the new person replace you?”
Fury rushes up from Qiao Xian’s chest. She wanted to say something but decided there was no need to argue when those words lingered on her tongue. In the end, they dissolved into a few cold words, “I fear you will be disappointed. The palace has sent a new bodyguard to assume the post of the Commander’s personal guard!”
Feng Xiao spoke shockingly, “Wouldn’t that make you fall out of favour then?”
Qiao Xian: “…”
As Qiao Xian left angrily in a hurry, Pei Jingzhe couldn’t help asking, “My Lord, if Cui Buqu comes himself the next time, are we truly giving them the name list?” Feng Xiao raised a brow, “If he is willing to submit, why not?”
Pei Jingzhe complained, “But in it is also written the hidden weaknesses of every rank and official. How many efforts has the Jiejian Bureau wasted in order to gather this complete information?”
How can they just give it away like that?
Feng Xiao squinted his eyes, “You don’t understand Cui Buqu. If he comes in person, then he would have already taken complete measures to give everything in order to trade with me. You also know full well that we are at a disadvantage to lose this over a game of chess. Would Cui Buqu not acknowledge this? He never expected me to give it away this easily, so he hadn’t come to us yet, because, for the time being, the Zuoyue Bureau has nothing worthy enough for me to be moved by persuasion.”
The more Pei Jingzhe listened, the more confused he was, “Then are you hoping for him to come, or hoping for him not to come?”
Feng Xiao did not answer this question, changing the subject, “Go and investigate who it is that the Empress has sent him.”
This isn’t some sort of secret, neither was it difficult to investigate. Pei Jingzhe nodded and left, coming back not long later.
“My Lord, it’s the Sima from the General of the Left Wing, Guan Shanhai. The Guan family has served the army for three generations, Guan Shanhai has an excellent record of marksmanship on the battlefield, and rarely would he meet an opponent. As the saying goes, he might succeed the future General of the Left Wing, heading the Left Wing Guards of the capital. It could be seen that the Empress greatly values him since she has dispatched to him such a person.”
Feng Xiao snorted contemptuously, “His workmanship on the battlefield indeed champions ten thousand men, skilled in charging into the enemies as a front liner, but he might not be suited to be a personal guard. Guan Shanhai was being promoted non-stop all the while, and he’s had a pleasant journey, as well as real abilities, he would be prouder than the usual person. To be transferred to the Zuoyue Bureau all of a sudden, it’s difficult for him not to feel undeserving.”
He rose after he spoke, going outside.
Pei Jingzhe immediately followed up, “Where are you going?”
Feng Xiao waved his hand, leisurely and carefree, “To the Zuoyue Bureau, to watch the crowd.”
Speaking as though the Zuoyue Bureau was just next door when obviously, the Zuoyue and Jiejian Bureaus both were not next to each other.
Pei Jingzhe, “But you just said to wait for Cui Buqu to submit.”
Feng Xiao said, “If he will not cater to my thought, I will cater to his; the Empress would not do something without a goal. Since she has dispatched a Guan Shanhai, there must be something she needs Cui Buqu to do for her. I will show myself at his doorstep and make him submit. It is similar.”
Pei Jingzhe mumbled in his heart: Is this called ‘making the opposite submit’? Obviously, you couldn’t refrain yourself, and so delivered yourself to their doorstep, isn’t that right?
He had interacted with Cui Buqu a few times and there was nothing much he knew. Although Cui Buqu didn’t know any martial arts, he couldn’t help feeling that there was nothing he could hide when he was in front of the other. Even if he had done nothing wrong, he would still feel guilty one way or another.
“My Lord, are you trying to get close to Cui Buqu because of the Zuoyue Bureau?”
Feng Xiao snorted, “If there is no Cui Buqu, is the Zuoyue Bureau considered anything at all?”
Pei Jingzhe didn’t understand, “But what is so special about Cui Buqu?” Feng Xiao waved his fan as he moved forward a few steps, saying coldly, “That man surnamed Cui is not unusually handsome; he has a sullen attitude; he is stingy and revengeful; he has a poisonous mouth and is calculative; he oversteps bounds and is far too ambitious who harbours malicious schemes in his heart all the time, running about daily trying to ravish credit. Without me at the Tiannian Mountain in Boling county, he would have died a few times. If one were to say that he is special, perhaps it’s his attitude that often enjoys seeking death?”
Pei Jingzhe stared wide-eyed. He only asked a casual question, how could he have known that Feng Xiao would have given such a long answer?
Since the other was completely useless, why did Second Commander Feng keep seeking him out?
When the other was silent, Feng Er-lang sent someone to remind him. Once Cui Buqu truly did send someone here, Feng-er kept him at suspense, refusing to give in unless Cui Buqu came himself.
Pei Jingzhe could not imagine how two people like that could remain together for such a long period in Boling, yet still came back safely.
Two tigers cannot share a mountain; logically, it was either Feng Xiao dying of fury or Cui Buqu dying from being beaten to death.
In the end, nothing happened.
Pei Jingzhe felt uncanny about the entire matter, yet rubbed his head in confusion like a monk, unable to think it through.
The atmosphere of the Zuoyue Bureau came to life with the addition of Guan Shanhai.
There were a lot of people in the Zuoyue Bureau, especially people who had been following Cui Buqu for a long time and earned quite an amount of trust. Guan Shanhai fell from the sky out of nowhere, yet he had nothing, backed up only with words, “This is the Empress’ decree”, and was placed on the same rank as Zhangsun and Song Liangchen, above everyone’s head especially Qiao Xian. Naturally, everyone’s attention was on him as they debated in private.
Qiao Xian felt depressed and couldn’t help proposing a duel against Guan Shanhai in front of everyone.
What she didn’t know was that Guan Shanhai also felt unworthy of his job; he was silent on the outside but felt stifled in his heart, and thus agreed to her duel.
Both of them duelled at the training grounds of the Zuoyue Bureau, and a great many people had gone to watch, packing it with people. Even Cui Buqu was astonished.
Qiao Xian was skilled in the graceful sword techniques, Guan Shanhai’s techniques were grander marksmanship. They were not related in any way, whether it was their styles or background, yet were bonded together because of the Zuoyue Bureau.
Both of them harboured unresolved feelings in them, thus showing no mercy. Qiao Xian’s white garments swayed in the air, her sword accompanying her in a dance as if she was riding on thin air like a breeze. Only those with good eye-sight would see the tips of her toes touching the ground occasionally. But even if they could, Qiao Xian’s qinggong was enough to stun the audience.
Qiao Xian was uninterested in the opinions of others. She only wanted to prove to Guan Shanhai that she was more qualified as a follower of Cui Buqu.
Following the pair of sharp swords, Guan Shanhai’s gaze was piercing cold. With the flicker of his wrist, his spear moved, attacks stacking up one another, blocking Qian Xian’s incoming attacks.
Sweep. Thrust. Tap. Pull. Guan Shanhai turned these basic techniques of the spear into his own, turning the Inquire-Moon Spear into a weapon of consciousness in his hand. His strength hurled at his enemy like broken bamboo, the tips of it brushing across the air and left behind stars in its wake. Without waiting for the audience to dismiss the impression of it in their minds, another silver trail drew itself, connecting the front and back, turning into a Wheel of the Taiji’s Bagua.
One spear flew forth and attacked Qiao Xian, and the other was swirling around himself building up a barrier of real qi as if the one he was combating wasn’t Qiao Xian, but a thousand armies and ten thousand horses, and that he was roaming alone on the battlefield, ignoring his powerful enemy and all around him, ignoring life and death.
Mountains and seas overturned, the sun and moon sank and rose, flora all around swayed, spring and autumn blended into each other.
Qiao Xian realized that her sword was stuck by the other’s spear and for just a brief moment, the spear’s shining glare was already in front of her, aiming towards the heart of her skull.
The colour of Qiao Xian’s face changed, she had no choice but to take a step backwards. However, her sword was stuck thoroughly with no hopes of escaping. Even if she let go, that air of killing aura would still force itself forth, leaving no space for her to hide, nowhere to run!
At the same time, two waves of cutting wind hurled from different directions, attacking Guan Shanhai’s left and right shoulder.
Guan Shanhai leapt up, avoiding the stones and landed stably, flourishing with a hand and called for his spear’s return.
Qiao Xian hasn’t calmed down yet, with no pride left to face Cui Buqu. She knelt on a single knee and apologized, “This subject is incapable. Please forgive me, Commander!”
Cui buqu spoke calmly, “Success and failure are common in daily lives.
Towards your own, one must know where to draw the line.” The first sentence was meant for Qiao Xian, and the second one was giving Guan Shanhai a warning.
Guan Shanhai pursed his lips, putting his hands together and said, “This subject knows his mistakes.”
Cui Buqu turned around at the two people who walked in.
“Which wind was it that has blown Second Commander Feng here?”
Of the two stones that were shot at Guan Shanhai, one of them was from Zhangsun, and the other came from Feng Xiao.
Feng Xiao snickered, “Ever since the departure at Tiannian, Lord Cui locked himself up and refused visitors. Yet, I yearned for you. Without coming here to take a look, how can I honour those days we went through life and death together?”
Cui Buqu mocked, “I thought Second Commander Feng finally recalled that gamble he lost, his conscience has awakened and thus he came here to repay the debt.”
Autumn wind rose with sand, picking up the tips of their robes.
Qiao Xian stood amid the training grounds, watching both of them glaring at each other from afar.
What sort of place was the Zuoyue Bureau for Feng Xiao to walk in so easily? Even with martial arts which nobody could stop, the Zuoyue guards at the gate would have at least thwarted him with all they could, then running in to make a report.
However, nothing happened. The other has even walked in unhindered into the training grounds.
This must have certainly been Cui Buqu’s orders. As long as Feng Xiao came in person, there was no need to hinder him. In the beginning, they were nemesis who fought tirelessly. Since when had it begun, that the leaders of the Jiejian Bureau could walk into the Zuoyue Bureau like a place devoid of people?
It was unknown whether Feng Xiao thought of the same things Qiao Xian had thought of because the smile on his lips deepened a little.
Cui Buqu waved his hand, dismissing the audience. He, instead, led Feng Xiao to the pavilion in the middle of a lake.
“What business does Second Commander Feng have to arrive here?”
Bored with nothing to do, he came here to join the crowd. Pei Jingzhe mocked and said.
Feng Xiao said, “Came to give you that name list, of course.”
Cui Buqu stopped his footsteps, stunned, an eyebrow raised, “Since when have you become so generous?”
Feng Xiao sighed a breath, “I know that name list is incredibly important to you. You wanted to use it to unroot all the spies set in the Imperial Court by the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. How could I give away such an important thing just like that? I wanted you to come to pick it up yourself, to begin with, but you refuse to come. So, should I not just come in person? Since you question my sincerity, then I should leave.”
After he finished speaking, he turned to leave. Cui Buqu reached out to grab his sleeves instinctively.
In the next second, Cui Buqu realized that he had exposed his urgency, and immediately relented.
However, it was already too late. Feng Xiao gave a very cheeky smile.
“Since you wanted it so much, shouldn’t we sit down and have a proper talk?” Faced before this person, one truly cannot let down their guard for even a second. Cui Buqu released a slow breath.
“What do you want?”
Feng Xiao reached out with a hand to touch his face. Just as Cui Buqu wanted to avoid it, Feng Xiao’s hand quickly flew past his ears upwards to his hair to pluck Cui Buqu’s jade piece off.
He waved the jade piece in front of Cui Buqu.
“For you to keep your word, this jade piece will serve as a token of promise.”
Feng Xiao still remembered that day when they left the cave, how the other looked with his hair falling loose, his lips pale, yet there was a piercing coldness to him, just like a lone pine tree that swayed at the edge of the cliff.
At present, Cui Buqu’s hair was still fastened with something else. Taking out this jade piece could not show how he looked with his hair down. Feng Xiao felt it was a pity.
“I fear,” Cui Buqu was expressionless, saying slowly, “What Commander Feng requests would be something I cannot give.”
Feng Xiao gave a deep thought, “Before I’ve spoken, how would you know you cannot do it?”
Cui Buqu’s gaze lingered on the jade piece in his hand, his lips pursed, refusing to speak.
Obviously, you’re the one begging me now, yet you still refuse to say a few gentle words. Feng Xiao thought, playing with the jade piece in his hand, inch by inch, as if he was playing with the jagged bones of the other’s hand.
“I want you—” Before the other’s astonished gaze, Feng Xiao took his time completing the latter half of his sentence, “—a favour from you. One name list for one great favour. Remember, Cui Buqu, this you owe me.”
Ever since the City of Six Crafts, these two were already indivisible from one another, neither enemies nor friends, destined for the rest of their lives.
[Translator’s Notes: So this is the last chapter of Book 5, and as usual, we’ll be taking a short break before pumping out chapters from Book 6 soon ^_^]