Qiao Xian brought his medicine here. The way Cui Buqu looked at the bowl of medicine was more hateful than the way he looked at Xiao Lu. Even when he spoke to Qin Miaoyu about those distinguished families who refused to give in unless they’ve seen their own coffins, his tone was not friendly at all.
“Those who refuse to comply, kill them.”
Qin Miaoyu stared at him in disbelief, “All of them?”
She couldn’t hear the implicating humour from Cui Buqu. Qin Miaoyu was neither a kind-hearted nor a soft-hearted person, but these distinguished families in Guangqian Prefecture contained many complicated relationships, and since the mastermind had been Yang Yun, who was related to the Royal Family, it would be no surprise that those underneath him would also share relationships with people in court. It was easy to simply kill them, but if someone sought out the Jiejian Bureau in the aftermath, she was only a little scout of the Jiejian Bureau; she could not bear this sort of responsibility.
Moreover, Feng Xiao was now in seclusion, and Ming Yue was in a coma. All the decision-makers were not present. At where she stood now, she had no power to make such a decision for the Jiejian Bureau.
Cui Buqu remained silent because he noticed that too. It was not appropriate to let Qin Miaoyu handle this matter. By the end of the day, she was not the Commander of the Jiejian Bureau. When it came to position and rank, there was only him.
“An epidemic would surely come after the calamity. Go gather all the physicians in the city into the largest hospital, let them issue some prescriptions meant for epidemics for those victims. Order someone to burn some mugwort in the city. Yang Yun left behind quite a lot of golds and silvers, so deduct the costs from there temporarily. Keep a record. Rong Qing has already delivered an edict to the Imperial Court about this, once we return to the capital, this record, as well as evidence of Yang Yun’s crime, will be submitted together.”
“Also, go to the coffin house and look for a few corpses. I need new ones, not old, and best if they died a violent death, the type that would offer nightmares if one were to take a longer look.”
Qin Miaoyu gave him a strange look; perhaps this was the first time she heard such a strange request. But she responded very swiftly: “Some enemies died in a fight that took place in the Stormy Tavern before. They could be used, it will save us the time to look for them.”
Cui Buqu nodded and said: “Good.”
Qiao Xian reminded him at an opportune moment: “Commander, it’s time for your medicine.”
Cui Buqu: “…”
Both of them exchanged glances for a while, which finally ended with Cui Buqu raising the bowl to his lips.
Qin Miaoyu quickly left to carry out Cui Buqu’s orders. Only Qiao Xian and Cui Buqu were left in the room.
After pondering for half a beat, Qiao Xian silently knelt.
“Have you thought it through?” Cui Buqu wasn’t surprised. Qiao Xian drooped her head low: “Yes, as long as I could remain in the Zuoyue Bureau, this humble subject is willing to remain close and wait, the Commander may expel me however he wished.”
That day, both of them had discussed for a long time. Cui Buqu gave her two choices: One is to leave the Zuoyue Bureau forever. And two is that she could remain, but no longer by his side. There were many secret stations of the Zuoyue Bureau in many places. Qiao Xian will be stationed at one of them and start over. After she could prove herself, she would be promoted.
The second choice was a very difficult path, since the moment the Zuoyue Bureau was established, Qiao Xian had always been following Cui Buqu. She even carried the rank of a seventh-ranking official. This demotion was equal to sending her back to square one.
Cui Buqu said: “I thought you would choose to leave and cast all burdens off of yourself. Having your freedom restored to you is not a bad thing.”
Qiao Xian insisted: “I want to remain. Regardless of what I will be doing, it is fine.”
The Qingcang Sect was a very small sect with mediocre martial arts and nothing worthy enough to steal. The only thing its disciples were skilled in was the art of disguise. But even this wasn’t anything special. In the face of a true martial artist, disguises were pointless. There were very few disciples in the sect, and so the new Sect Leader married the only daughter of a Sect Leader from a large sect in the Southwest regions. The latter was loved and spoiled since she was young, so her standards were high. After she was married here, she ordered the Qingcang disciples around, interfering with everything. Qiao Xian was beautiful, and so it was difficult for the Sect Leader’s wife to not feel annoyed by her. Hence, under such a circumstance, she was expelled from the sect.
Qiao Xian, who hence became an outcast, had nowhere to go. At this moment, she received instructions from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, who told her to proceed to Chang’an, the capital of the previous dynasty, the Northern Zhou. Qiao Xian waited at the teahouse outside of Chang’an as promised for half a month. She spent all her money and continuously encountered situations due to her beauty. She was in a sorry and tight corner, no longer able to advance. It was during that time, where Qiao Xian was slowly leaving the small ambit of a little sect, when she realised that the world they lived in was a limitless and vast place. Perhaps the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai had left her here to experience the good and the bad of the mortal world, teaching her a lesson.
She failed to wait for the Thirteen Pavilions’ ambassador, but she didn’t fail to wait for Cui Buqu.
During that time, Cui Buqu hadn’t assumed the Zuoyue Bureau although he was deeply favoured by Empress Dugu and was the honoured guest in the Prime Minister’s residence. However, very few people knew about him. At first Qiao Xian too didn’t know, until after Cui Buqu asked for her background and experience, he asked her if she wanted to remain by his side. Only then Qiao Xian vaguely felt that this was the purpose she was supposed to serve for the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai.
She came from a small sect; other than the art of disguise, she didn’t have anything else that was useful. Cui Buqu allowed someone to teach her medicinal knowledge, and seek out traditional arts of disguise for her to hone her skills. After the Zuoyue Bureau was established, he would often bring her along when he left for expeditions and travel to many places.
Qiao Xian did not only obtain Cui Buqu’s precept and example, but she also felt a sense of belonging to both the Zuoyue Bureau and Cui Buqu. This made her feel more like home compared to her previous sect. Only when she was in the Zuoyue Bureau, she could feel her heart beating like she was alive, and that there would forever be someone for her to pursue, as well as a countless number of goals for her to accomplish.
After that, she was blackmailed by the ambassador of the Thirteen Pavilions. Qiao Xian was forced to choose between “being abandoned by the Zuoyue Bureau”, or “assist in delivering trivial information that would not harm Cui Buqu”. In the end, she had chosen the latter. When one wrong step was taken, every other step taken was also wrong. By the time she wanted to turn back, she realised it was already impossible. She had originally carried a heart with the anticipation of death when she proceeded to the Zhao Family’s Teahouse, but who could have guessed that the path Cui Buqu left for her, was for her to live.
“Your health requires a long period of medical attention. These Bingzhi pellets are time-consuming to make. There are only a few left. Please allow this humble subject to make you another bottle before she leaves. Before you return to the capital, this humble subject will write its prescriptions down, so the old physician from Huize Hall will know how to make them in my stead.”
These words of hers, as well as all that was against her will, could not make Cui Buqu soften his heart nor give her hope that she could remain. Everyone would have to take responsibility for the things they have done. Regardless of what difficulties or reasons they had behind them, they should be prepared for the consequences before they’ve done them. Since Qiao Xian chose to remain, she had to receive the punishment she deserved.
Besides, leaving the capital to a secret station might not be a bad thing. Cui Buqu replied with an “En,” before the medicine in him took effect.
His mind began to feel sunken and dizzy. He had originally wanted to wait for Qin Miaoyu to report back before lying down, but who could have known that his body had already given him a warning. Even with a more stubborn determination, it couldn’t withstand a body that was exhausted to the brim. Of what Qiao Xian said afterwards, he only had a vague impression about it, like it was separated indistinctly by a gauze cloth.
He slept uncomfortably. A countless number of dreams came to him thick and fast; as he spun around he saw the people who had died, and enemies he knew from before, yet more were the people Cui Buqu had killed or pitted. All of them climbed up from the prison known as the Yellow Spring; a dense aura of hatred and resentment was surrounding them like spider threads, howling and wailing for revenge. Even if Cui Buqu was invincible, with guts and a heart made of steel more difficult to chisel open than rocks of gold, in his dreams he was as expressionless and unmoved, allowing the ghosts and spirits to groan. His body felt like a huge boulder had been tied onto it, pulling him down into deep waters against his will. The sound of an uproar rolling by his ears, as if they wanted to pull him up, but there was an unknown source of strength from the abyss down below. With his hand as his blade, he cut open the cocoon made of silk, yet his consciousness was floating in the ocean, having no luck in finding a raft.
It was unknown how much time had passed, the voices in his ears became clearer. It was Qiao Xian speaking to someone else.
The other voice also sounded familiar.
The dream truly did make him a lot slower. Cui Buqu pinched his brows as he thought for a long time, before realizing that it was Pei Jingzhe.
They both spoke quickly and softly, unlike a usual banter. He could even hear the panic that was difficult to conceal; among them were: my Lord, Second Commander Feng, and other words.
And then there was a brief, sharp scream! Cui Buqu abruptly opened his eyes.
His heart hurt because he was jerked awake from a state of slumber, like a silk thread being pulled and wounded his shoulder.
The scream wasn’t from Pei Jingzhe or Qiao Xian, but from the manor next to them, filled with the screams of young women. Pei Jingzhe immediately ran over to take a look. Qiao Xian wanted to follow him out, but before she left she turned around to take a look and caught Cui Buqu opening his eyes. She immediately came back and helped him sit up.
“What happened?” Cui Buqu woke up abruptly, feeling a thundering headache in his head.
“Second Commander Feng’s healing in seclusion… it seems like something happened.” Qiao Xian said. Pei Jingzhe had arranged for many maidservants to deliver goods and change the water outside Feng Xiao’s room so that when Feng Xiao woke up, he could use them whenever. But in the half-day Cui Buqu passed out, the maidservant ran into Feng Xiao who should be meditating in seclusion, and he attacked her. With the combined strength of Pei Jingzhe, Qin Miaoyu and Ming Yue who had woken up not long ago, they were able to hold Feng Xiao down. But Feng Xiao was also experiencing a qi deviation and fell into a comatose state.
Cui Buqu’s gaze slowly cleared up. “I heard you people were talking about Bingzhi Pellets. What has it to do with Bingzhi Pellets?”
Qiao Xian didn’t hesitate before shaking her head. “There’s nothing to do with it. You’ve heard wrong.”
Cui Buqu looked at her silently. Qiao Xian: “…”
Pei Jingzhe knew his martial arts and Feng Xiao’s were like heaven and earth, but he had never truly felt it on a personal level until now.
A hand held him by the neck, and this hand was squeezing tighter and tighter, resulting in the difficulty of his breathing, he would very quickly go to see the Judge of Hell.
“My… Lord!” Two words barely seethed out through Pei Jingzhe’s gritted teeth.
An unkempt and unruly haired Feng Xiao turned a deaf ear to it. There was a red vertical line between his brows, proof that qi was blocked when it tried to flow through his yintang acupoint1, but it was all the more proof that his mind was being affected.
After he absorbed those two Śarīras, his inner strength surged wildly, but it was due to this it left a latent danger. Any paths that involved walking cut-corners would more or less make one encounter an unexpected calamity. Feng Xiao hadn’t experienced qi deviation during his fight with Xiao Lu because his will was stronger than most, though be it now or later, this calamity would come soon enough.
Against his will, Pei Jingzhe threw a palm at Feng Xiao, but it was whipped away by the other in the blink of an eye. When inner strength rebounded, Pei Jingzhe himself was wounded.
A Second Commander Feng who was in the midst of qi deviation didn’t show an ounce of weakness in his abilities; instead, he had lost all his senses, and there was no one who could hold him under control.
Pei Jingzhe was about to cry.
He regretted it immensely. Had he known this earlier, when Ming Yue and he were holding him down they would have been crueller. Who could have guessed that his Lord could free himself from his imprisonment so quickly and wake up?
Pei Jingzhe suspected that before the Third Commander and others came to his rescue, his little life would already have left him.
When that time came, once his Lord woke up and realized he’d killed him in person, how saddened would he be!
“I am… Jingzhe!” Pei Jingzhe struggled to buy himself some time and the opportunity to live, hoping to wake Feng Xiao up.
But he didn’t.
Although Feng Xiao didn’t go berserk, he could claim a life with every palm he threw out. At this moment, it was very obvious that his heart, soul, and spirit was in a stupor. He couldn’t tell what was going on in the outside world.
Tears wet Pei Jingzhe’s eyes. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Ming Yue, Cui Buqu, and the others hurrying here. It was like the Heavens had sent him his saving grace; his eyes sparkled.
They were all familiar voices.
At this moment, it was as if Feng Xiao’s soul had left his body. Those voices rang from afar, delivering it into his empty shell. His spirit was busy battling with the former Grandmaster that those Śarīras had turned into. Qi flowed everywhere, and since they couldn’t find a place to focus themselves on, they could only allow his body to do as it pleased.
The voices were a little slower when he felt it. Ming Yue?
And that one surnamed Cui.
Feng Xiao sighed, looking on at a faint shadow.
Someone was standing not far off with a beard on his face and hands behind his back, his expression was wild as if there was nothing in this world worthy of his grace.
The owner of those two Śarīras.
The former Sect Leader of the Demonic Sects, Cui Youwang.
Feng Xiao thought, how could Xiao Lu be so generous? Giving away two Śarīras as he pleased. Now look, guess who’s waiting for me here.
Yet, how could just any normal person accept relics like these? If it wasn’t for the fact that he came from a Demonic Sect and succeeded a technique of the martial arts from many generations before, now he wouldn’t be just experiencing qi deviation, his body would have already exploded and met his death. Pei Jingzhe was oblivious of the massive change happening in Feng Xiao’s body. He only knew that Feng Xiao, who was strangling him a moment ago, had loosened after he heard Cui Buqu’s voice.
Ming Yue took the opportunity to move forward and sealed Feng Xiao’s acupoints, holding his burning-hot body alongside Qin Miaoyu.
He had been following this Lord for a few years now, yet he couldn’t compare to someone who barely knew him for a year, Pei Jingzhe’s heart was filled with displeasure as he thought, then he heard Ming Yue dully said: “It won’t do to carry on like this. This is the only external strength that could aid Er-lang to successfully pass through this stage.”
Qin Miaoyu curiously: “Second Commander Feng is now in qi deviation. Medicinal aid alone won’t be of much use. Why don’t we each transfer some qi to him?”
Ming Yue laughed bitterly. “That cannot do. He isn’t lacking qi now, his body is going to burst from overflowing qi. We could only bank on his own will to dredge his meridians. Although medicine like the Bingzhi Pellets cannot change the course of events, as things progress currently, it could assist the recuperating process.”
Qin Miaoyu gasped and gave an ugly look. “Just now I took a stroll outside. All the medicinal stalls in the city have either closed down, haven’t heard anything about Bingzhi Pellets, or only knew a bit about it, saying the ingredients are hard to find and that they could only be found in the capital. How can we still get them on time?”
“There is no need to go to the capital. I have them.”
When Cui Buqu’s words were spoken, the colour drained from Qiao Xian’s face. Just as she wanted to stop him, Cui Buqu had already fished out a ceramic bottle and poured all three pellets out, opened Feng Xiao’s mouth and stuffed them in, before closing it shut, forcing him to swallow it.
 印堂⽳: the place between the eyebrows.
Weary long eyebrows and pale lips.
Feng Xiao had no time to pay attention to the outside world. He was experiencing a vicious battle, nothing like the one in the tavern.
Cui Youwang left behind two Śarīras where the consciousness, the pride of its former owner, remained. Refusing to be absorbed so easily, it lay hidden for a great number of days, feigning obedience until its new owner was at the climax of healing his own heavy injuries, then it surged fiercely to the surface.
It truly was, without a doubt, the style from a line of demonic grandmaster.
Fortunately, Feng Xiao guessed earlier on that it was impossible for Xiao Lu to just give him something so valuable like Śarīras. At every single second ticking by, he had always been on guard. Otherwise, he would have fought incessantly with the intruder that would result in them both perishing together.
The great and mighty Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, the Sect Leader of the Fajing Sect, dying from such a way like qi deviation… This sort of death was no more honourable than dying from being choked to death while drinking but to no great extent. He would be destined to be a joke for many ages in the Jianghu.
Moreover, if his peerless, elegant, dazzling and eye-catching grace, which had no equal to this world, fell to such an end, wouldn’t the world be devastated to lose one brilliant and dazzling pearl?
A cold snort, neither coquetry nor fury, but it was like the Kuiniu drums that the Yellow Emperor knew himself from the most primitive times of this world; loud and thundering, shaking the world as far as a thousand li.
At the very least, when it reached Feng Xiao’s ears, it shook his heart, soul, and spirit lightly. His already disarrayed qi was tossed into a worse state.
Feng Xiao looked at the trembling shadow with the shape of a person standing opposite of him.
That wasn’t the real former grandmaster Cui Youwang. It was just an illusion of Cui Youwang formed by the Śarīra that existed in his heart, soul, and spirit.
However, to a certain extent, this was also the last shadow of Cui Youwang that he had left in this world.
Just like, although a fish had died, when it’s steamed or braised or fried with vinegar and served onto the table, one cannot say that this fish was gone. It had just turned from a living thing into a dish, Feng Xiao maliciously thought.
The Demonic Sects held in high esteem the concept of feasting on the weak like prey. It held little respect for senior generations, to begin with. Only the strong will be worshipped.
Feng Xiao was not an indigenous disciple of the Demonic Sects; even for the position of Sect Leader of the Fajing Sect, he was forcibly pushed to succeed it, and his days drifted on as much as he could. Instead, he felt more warmth and sincerity towards the identity of belonging to the Jiejian Bureau. Due to being a prodigy since he was young, he was well-loved and cherished. Whatever he wanted, he only needed to reach out with his hands. Even the way of martial arts that common people thought was difficult to master, he had leisurely passed them all. Because of this, he was less persistent towards the martial path, otherwise, with his talents, he could have gone further.
And so, this Fajing Sect Sect Leader’s respect for the former Grandmaster of the Demonic Sects has lessened.
Even as he was being tormented at the edge of life and death, he still had enough to spare in order to mock and ridicule him.
Faced before such frivolity from him, “Cui Youwang” not only laughed coldly, he even attacked without a second word.
A killing aura filled the air like wisps of silk from a cocoon layer by layer, solid and windproof.
Every attack coming from Feng Xiao with qi was anticipated by the enemy; caught, contained, first slowly, then viciously. Taking advantage of him being unprepared, it surged with a force that left no room for defence.
As the last line of defence, his heart, soul, and spirit were wrecked by the suddenly fierce force that came, practically losing his consciousness and control over his body.
“With something like this, you dare call yourself a later generation of the Demonic Sects?”
A rough voice rang at his ear, causing Feng Xiao’s mind to freeze. He wanted to fight back but could not muster the strength to regulate his qi. His qi was forcibly held down. Only now he realized that he underestimated this Grandmaster who was his senior. Someone who had his days of glory in the Demonic Sect would not have natural talents beneath his.
Carelessly underestimating his enemies could result in a very terrible end. Feng Xiao finally took it seriously.
Yet he too felt very helpless. During the battle in the Stormy Tavern, he had killed more than ten top-tier martial artists of the Jianghu. Among them, there was no lack of people who made a name for themselves, there was no lack of promising youths of the future. In the end, he even fought a battle with Xiao Lu, depleting all his strength and was almost robbed of the chance of returning alive. He, too, felt very tired. Why could he not even rest when he was healing his wounds and still had to fight?
A collection of trickling qi was gathered and shifted, wanting to counteract “Cui Youwang” who desired to triumph, but it was obvious the enemy had come prepared after laying low for many days. Both of them clashed, and Feng Xiao’s qi was weakened by three parts. The enemy towered and didn’t move, like the stubborn rocks of Mount Tai, going so far to even give a mocking and ridiculing look.
“Trash!” He heard Cui Youwang said, “During that year, I fought the six top Grandmasters beneath the Heavens alone, yet had some energy to spare and escaped unscathed. The Demonic Sects truly deteriorated with each generation having trash like you. If I were still here, let alone joining the Sun and Moon Sect, I fear you’d be killed on the spot by me at the gates!”
Feng Xiao gasped for breath, felt that the qi from the enemy was like falling mountains and collapsing seas. All of a sudden, there was an enormous pressure. His own qi practically couldn’t hold it back, like it was about to collapse in an instant, ground to dust and broken bones.
In this illusionary consciousness, he staggered back a few steps, his limbs heavy as if boulders were chained to them, unable to lift even a finger.
And “Cui Youwang” who stood opposite of him was laughing non-stop.
“I advise you against wasting your strength.”
“Those Six Top Grandmasters; did they attack you all at once, or one after the another?” Feng Xiao asked suddenly. This is an illusionary test. The one standing before him looked like Cui Youwang, but it was just the two Śarīras he left behind. Since they weren’t just the condensation of the martial arts of his life, they were also the residue of his consciousness. Two people who could not have met to begin with were now sharing an exchange due to this.
Cui Youwang snorted coldly. “Naturally, they attacked me at once!”
Feng Xiao: “Then you are lying. Even if your martial arts are number one beneath the Heavens during that time, it’s impossible to face all six Grandmasters at once!”
Cui Youwang snapped: “How ignorant! Do you take the number one beneath the Heavens of that time as a joke like the lots of you?! If I want to kill you, it would be as simple as stepping on an ant!”
Feng Xiao paid it no attention. “Then make your move, don’t hold back. Who knows, you might even reincarnate into the world of mortals in my body, like those gods!”
Cui Youwang darkly said: “Since I left behind two Śarīras , how would you know that would be impossible?”
Feng Xiao laughed. “You were incapable of doing it, so that is why you are hesitating! If you destroyed me, you would perish along. You didn’t want to, and so even after so many years, you are still just a Śarīra. Yet you contain the residues of Cui Youwang’s consciousness before he died. It was difficult for you to come across someone like me who you could fight hand to hand, so how could you be willing to destroy me so easily?!”
The human-shaped silhouette wavered a little, as if he’d been struck to the square, yet also looked like he was deeply in thought.
Feng Xiao would not allow any chances to destroy the enemy slip by, even if they were his martial seniors, he did not hesitate to strike!
“My Lord!” Pei Jingzhe watched in terror as Feng Xiao’s body shook violently, blood oozing from his nose and mouth.
Both of Feng Xiao’s eyes were closed. He couldn’t hear his calls, and his face had instead turned green and pale, a sheet of pale yellow gradually appeared, like the saying: “having a face like a golden sheet of paper”.
Gold was by right a beautiful colour, but when a practitioner of the martial arts had such a face colour, they wouldn’t be far from death.
Three Bingzhi Pellets being fed to Feng Xiao could only make the colour on his face better, and just as everyone thought there was hope, his condition abruptly turned for the worse.
Ming Yue said that Feng Xiao was currently busy fighting with the demons of his own heart. If he succeeded, he could live; yet if he failed, then he would die. There are only two outcomes.
During that time, Cui Buqu had stood silently for a moment, and then he turned away, probably to go somewhere. If not for him giving his own medicine that was used in case of emergency to Feng Xiao, and if not for Qiao Xian looking so terrible like that, Pei Jingzhe would have thought that Cui Buqu did not care whether his Lord lived or died. He could even inwardly feel happy.
But now, Second Commander Feng who had always been proud and unbridled, who never did something without promise of benefits, might truly die where he laid.
Pei Jingzhe lightly sighed.
In his heart, there was nothing Feng Xiao couldn’t do. He refused and was unwilling to think of this sort of possibility.
He dared not touch Feng Xiao; at this moment, the other’s skin was searing like fire, any contract from foreign entities might send him into his demise. My Lord, if you wake up, then I am willing to let you deduct my salary a few more times. Pei Jingzhe gritted his teeth and made a wish that made his heart hurt.
He thought for a while, then added a few words: Weren’t you fond of making it difficult for Cui Buqu? If something happened to you, and the Imperial Court sends a new person to succeed the Jiejian Bureau, he would forget you as an enemy very quickly.
He didn’t know whether it was that sentence that touched Feng Xiao’s heartstrings. Qi in the latter’s body had truly reached a state of life and death and was locked in a mortal combat. With neither of them willing to take a step back, the qi belonging to Cui Youwang was barbaric and unreasonable, sweeping everything in its path as it surged, yet Feng Xiao forcibly held it at bay. The latter did not clash with him; he had slyly looked for ways to defeat his enemies, waiting for the opportunity to strike. This made “Cui Youwang” feel an undying hatred.
“The likes of you are undeserving to call yourself a member of the Demonic Sects…”
Feng Xiao snickered. “Do you truly take yourself for Cui Youwang now? You are just two relics left behind by Cui Youwang, when he failed to ascend the martial path and died. Even if the real Cui Youwang came, I want him to know—”
He was clear in the deepest part of his mind. This so-called “Cui Youwang” before him was just an illusion produced by qi deviation. Perhaps he truly did acquire Cui Youwang’s qi, but in the end, this was just something that did not tolerate an intruder who it did not originally belong to. Today, if he couldn’t turn this qi into his own, or perhaps if he failed to defeat him, then what awaited him was the same end as Cui Youwan’s.
This should be the most dangerous trial he has ever encountered since he began practising martial arts. But although Feng Xiao was stronger in the face of the strong, he had never known what defeat was like. Perhaps, in this world, there was truly someone who could make him take a step back. But it wouldn’t be now.
“—However strong you are, there would be someone stronger!”
His brave talk rang loudly. Feng Xiao executed the plans he’d formed; after beating around the bush for so long and regaining his breath back, he finally declared war upon his enemy.
“Cui Youwang” looked like he had been angered. He howled, unhesitantly lunging himself towards Feng Xiao’s direction.
After a violent tremble, a blinding light appeared. Feng Xiao could only feel his body heating up, his blood surging and boiling, urgent to break through his skin. His meridians and vessels twisted and turned incessantly and pain came waves after waves.
It was unknown how much time had passed, when all waves of pain slowly quelled. Feng Xiao gradually opened his eyes.
Cui Youwang was gone; that silhouette was completely gone. He felt a gradual laziness coming from inside out his body, the pleasant feeling of the aftermath of defeating his enemy. Every inch of his body couldn’t help but comfortably drawl.
The sight before him was a blanket of greenery.
Just like new seedlings sowed into the soil, like a swaying forest of bamboo, like a lake filled with lotuses, gently consoling his fatigue.
There was someone else, standing at the centre of that green field, looking back at him.
Feng Xiao moved his fingers, and that person came up to him, bringing a familiar face that looked sickly and a gaze that looked piercingly cold. He didn’t speak,he only looked coldly at him, simply allowing Feng Xiao’s fingers to sweep across his face, pry his lapels open, exposing skin that had not seen the sun for many days. Cui Buqu felt Feng Xiao’s wrist and sighed softly. “Xiao Lu is dead.”
Feng Xiao was stunned by his words. “How did he die?”
Cui Buqu said: “After the battle with you, he was also heavily wounded.
Ming Yue pursued him with some people, and killed him.”
Feng Xiao looked like a heavy burden had been lifted off his mind. “When the head is cut, these people of the Thirteen Pavilions are like a headless dragon. They will no longer be able to cause chaos.”
Cui Buqu smiled vaguely. “Everything is owed to you. I will report your role in this conquest.”
Feng Xiao also smiled. “I don’t need you to report my contributions. I only need you to do one thing.”
He playfully tips the other’s jaw up. Cui Buqu’s pale-white face very quickly yielded a faint red blush, wanting to take a step back, yet he didn’t move. There was a forbearance between his brows, looking vividly beautiful.
Feng Xiao slowly leaned in forward, almost kissing him, but suddenly, he stopped.
Cui Buqu gave a look that he didn’t understand.
Feng Xiao suddenly laughed coldly. “Truly a glimpse of the demons in my heart. Knowing how to use this to seduce me, laudable!”
He suddenly flipped his palm around and crooked his fingers, mercilessly grabbing Cui Buqu by his throat and contracted his fingers, and then, “Cui Buqu” suddenly turned into dust!
“How… How could you have known…” The enemy’s voice drifted to him faintly, bringing a sense of disbelief that he had failed.
Feng Xiao laughed loudly. “Because what you could materialize was only the Cui Buqu in my fantasy! The real Cui Buqu would never say something like ‘everything is owed to me!’”
In the midst of a battle of wits, he gradually learned that another illusion was formed outside of his state of mind. It did draw the snake out from its hole and delivered itself to the hunter’s trap.
As if everything was swept clean, his heart, soul, and spirit were clear. The qi that has surged and roared comes to a state of calmness, and soundlessly froze.
Everything was beautifully soundless and shapeless.
Feng Xiao realized that the extent of his martial arts has once again increased.
“Cui Youwang, you have lost!”
Inside the flower hall of the Governor’s Residence, there were no seats unoccupied, and the crows dared not chirped.
All the distinguished families within the county town have all been
When Rong Qing’s invitation arrived at the Li family, the patriarch originally just wanted to send an unloved son in his stead, but he couldn’t have guessed that the guards arrived immediately afterwards and forcibly took the “ill” patriarch to this place.
Not just the Li family, but the Ding, Zhao, and Wang families all had similar experiences.
Everyone dared not speak, determined to execute the “regardless of what you say, I would not speak or agree” strategy.
To speak of the main reason pertaining to this time’s calamity, Yang Yun, Li Yan, Wu Yi, and the others have all been captured. They were just accomplices that were forced into submission. They’ve said that accomplices would be forgiven. They refuse to believe that Rong Qing would dare to kill every single distinguished family in the county.
Before Cui Buqu arrived, Rong Qing had spoken to them once.
To first take advantage of the weak then the strong; to first be well- mannered then use force; to know the cause then give the reason; to say now that the city’s granary no longer contains grains, and if the victims were driven into starvation it would become a disaster. The first granary they wanted to break open would be all the native distinguished families present. So this concerned the safety of everyone there. He pleaded them to consider the big picture.
He had said so much without rest, Rong Qing felt his own throat was practically emitting smoke. This cluster of tortoises could not be moved even with a thunderstrike. Neither one of them dared to stand out. Each of them pretended to be quails, driving Rong Qing into fury that his face turned green.
He couldn’t stop himself from slamming the table and allowing Pei Jingzhe to recite the names according to Li Yan’s accounts. During that time when the taxes were waived, which distinguished family had obtained benefits through this exchange was all recorded in those accounts. No one could say otherwise. If they dragged one, none of them would be permitted to leave today.
The patriarch of the Li family finally slowly said: “Imperial Censor Rong has a brilliant judgement. During that time when they spoke of the waiving of taxes via donation of grains, Governor Yang put it in pretty words, but in reality, what fell into our hands were just some extra obtained that year. However, we have long finished the grains due to this year’s flood. Presently, people within our family could not even eat. Where would we have extras to fund the victims? If you refuse to believe it, you can bring some people to search.”
If he could put it in this way, then it proved that he wasn’t afraid Rong Qing would truly send people out searching. If Rong Qing couldn’t find any rations, these people would ask their relatives and friends who served the court to report him to the Imperial Court altogether.
Rong Qing had seen the terrible situation of those flood victims, so he bore a deep hatred for these people. He really wanted to send some people to search.
Then, Cui Buqu came.
He did not make a scene. Not one person was by his side. He was holding a hand warmer, wrapped in a cloak. He passed through the courtyard quietly and reached the gate; he coughed a few times, his face that was originally pale from the cold quickly regaining its colour.
Other than Rong Qing and Pei Jingzhe, everyone present froze unconsciously like they were on guard. There were even youths who came along turning to look at him.
This Zuoyue Commander did not look at them. He didn’t even look at a single person present, walking to the host’s seat, weary long eyebrows and pale lips. But from the side of his face, it looked like his lips were vaguely curled, giving a half-smile as if he would grant death to any unlucky bloke.
The patriarch of the Li family felt cold sweat oozing from his spine. He quickly shut his mouth and continued pretending to be a quail.
Cui Buqu did not mention it to him, but asked instead: “Bring Governor Yang here to have a word.”
A small conversation that’s unrelated to the main story. Feng Xiao, courtesy name: Yuntian.
Feng Xiao: People call me Feng Yuntian(sweet). Where am I sweet?
Hm? Cui Buqu: Shabaitian
[ 傻⽩甜 (sha bai tian) is used to refer to mostly people (mostly girls) who aren’t calculative, cute, and gives off a gentle feeling.]
A coquettish and mischievous Feng Xiao.
When Yang Yun was brought here, other than an obvious look of lethargy and mental sluggishness, nothing about him changed much.
He was wearing the same old robes, the only difference was that it turned slightly wrinkled and worn. However, in the eyes of others, he looked like an entirely different person.
He had lost the air of having everything within his power. Before the Imperial Order arrived, he was still the Governor of a Prefecture by law, but in truth, he was no different from a prisoner.
Yang Yun ignored all the gazes that fell upon him; he did not even look at Cui Buqu.
A book of accounts was in Pei Jingzhe’s hand, placed down in front of Yang Yun.
Before this, Li Yan hid all the secrets pertaining to their exchange in erotic paintings, using them to hide the existence of those records. Firstly, it was to use it against Yang Yun when necessary, and secondly, it was to leave an alternative path for himself to fall back on. One cannot deny that he truly did have some smarts, but it was a pity that he encountered a great devil like Feng Xiao, who immediately overturned that cherished nest of his where he kept his mistress. Even those erotic paintings had nowhere to hide and fell into Cui Buqu’s hands. During that time, time was pressing on to defeat Yang Yun. Cui Buqu could not take his time sniffing out all the accounts hidden in these erotic paintings. But after Yang Yun and Wu Yi were caught, this countermeasure of Li Yan’s was rendered useless. On the contrary, in order to lighten his own sentence, to receive a more merciful punishment, he would even enthusiastically offer them information, rewriting all the accounts from those erotic paintings.
Only then did Cui Buqu and the others realise that in the same erotic painting was hidden two sets of accounts. One set was meant for Yang Yun and those distinguished families, and the other was meant for Li Yan and Wu Yi themselves. This also meant that, when these officials from Guangqian County received orders to emulate those rations, they had also secretly, without Yang Yun’s knowledge, embezzled their own fill.
If these sort of little smarts had been used on matters pertaining to the county, on the secret messages going through and fro between Göktürk and Goguryeo, they might have been of use. Yet, Li Yan did not have such foresight, so he would forever be just an Assistant Magistrate all his life. In fact, it’s too soon before even this would be taken away from him.
“These records contain the benefits the Li and Ding families obtained by donating rations and having their taxes waived. Is this true?”
Slender and white fingers pushed the accounts in his direction.
Yang Yun wanted to retreat. These harmless and beautiful fingers looked like those of demons and ghosts to him, causing everyone to feel suspicions.
“…It’s true.” Yang Yun hoarsely said.
The Li family said displeased, “Governor, how would you know whether it’s real or fake if you have not flipped it open? Surely even an Imperial Envoy could not give a false account of facts?”
It was unknown what trance Yang Yun had fallen into. He had lost his previously high and mighty air, and once he heard Master Li’s words, he instead spilled everything out. “Although I belong to the Yang family, due to the early death of my parents, I do not share a close relationship with His Majesty, and neither do I have much wealth. It was only because of this, I thought I could earn more while I have a position. After the calamity this time, I originally wanted to leave behind some grains for the granary to avoid things going out of hand. It was Li Geng who tolerated me, said that grains were far more precious than gold during a calamity so more could be earned if we embezzled more. The Imperial Court would not stand by and watch Guangqian Prefecture falling into starvation, so when the Imperial Censor arrived, we could convince him to beg for help, and the Imperial Court would definitely send more rations here, and when that time came it could be used to fund the calamity…”
Li Geng could no longer remain still. He leapt up and interrupted Yang Yun, “The orders are your choice to make, what role do we have in this?!”
Yang Yun stared at him coldly. He neither talked back nor spoke.
Li Geng inhaled deeply. He turned to Rong Qing and Cui Buqu and put his hands together. “Both Lords, Yang Yun is the Governor of this Prefecture, and before that, what kind of power and influence did he hold? Without his approval, how dare we make our own decisions? During that time, in order to gain his favour, we had just spoken a few sentences of flattery, but the one who made the decision, in the end, was still Yang Yun!”
He knew that compared to Rong Qing, Cui Buqu was the superior between the two, so when he spoke, his gaze was mostly on Cui Buqu.
But Li Geng was disappointed. Cui Buqu looked calm the same way when he came in and sat just now. Even his eyebrows were at the same angle, and it was impossible to read any secrets from them.
Cui Buqu did not even pay attention to Li Geng’s explanation. Just as he was speaking, Cui Buqu wasted no time to add his own part to the speech: “In order to lighten your sentence, I think that if you surrender the grains you’ve stored in your residence now, it would not be too late.” They have once again returned to where they began. Li Geng’s face twitched, and spoke with a bitter face: “This humble one truly has no grains left! If you refuse to believe it, you can send people out to search!”
Cui Buqu asked: “Truly, none?”
His voice was very soft, that one could not even hear if they stood anyway further away. His tone was also very gentle. If Feng Xiao was here, he would know that when he used this sort of tone, it was a sign of the lull before a storm.
But it was a pity that Feng Xiao wasn’t present.
And so Li Geng nodded his head, trying to gain favours by saying: “Truly. But if there are, this humble one will surrender them immediately!”
As he finished speaking, he added: “Thankfully, there are Master Cui and Imperial Censor Rong here, only then can this county town be at peace. Otherwise, those flood victims would have raised a riot!”
Cui Buqu smiled as if Li Geng’s flattery was working on him, then he turned to Pei Jingzhe: “Go, bring those people here.”
Pei Jingzhe answered and left, bringing five people back after a while. To put it specifically, it was five corpses.
Li Yan, Wu Yi, and a few people Li Geng couldn’t name. They have now all turned into cold corpses, blood that was dried or hasn’t all implied that they have been undergone torture, even their faces weren’t exceptions. One of those corpses even had their eyes dug out, leaving behind two bloody holes.
But as people who often interact with them, they could all tell the dead from their appearance and clothes.
A thick, dense scent of blood filled the hall; even incense could not overcome them. Which person present here would have seen these sort of things before?
Nauseous sounds began to rise.
Even Rong Qing could not help the colour of his face changing; he covered his mouth and turned his head away.
Li Geng realized he had stared at Wu Yi for a long time until he could even paint the bloody scar on Wu Yi’s forehead clearly in his mind. There was a sour taste that brimmed up from his chest, and from his ear, he heard a vomiting sound. He couldn’t help vomiting every single thing he had eaten in his last meal.
The stench of blood, corpses, and vomit; each one of them could make one suffocate, so let alone all of them at once. Everyone could feel themselves practically choking to death, and some of them couldn’t remain any longer, they got to their feet with the intention to leave this suffocating place, yet their paths were blocked by a Zuoyue guard holding a sharp blade who stood by the gate.
“Wu Yi and Li Yan are all subjects of the Imperial Court. Even if you are the Zuoyue Commander, you cannot kill them as you please…” Yang Yun trembled as he spoke. He stared at Cui Buqu as if he saw a ghost.
“But I already did.” Cui Buqu remained calmed and gentle. Yang Yun: “…”.
All of a sudden, he felt that being boxed in the cellar wasn’t such a bad thing, at least he still had his life.
Cui Buqu looked at Li Geng and the others. “As accomplices of the embezzling of rations, Wu Yi and Li Yan have been put to death. Yang Yun, as the mastermind, will be seized and sent to the capital to be questioned. I will not kill him. But you people cannot even compare to Li Yan.”
Li Geng could no longer remain calm. He glared at Cui Buqu and put up a tough front, but felt afraid inwardly. “The present State Duke of Tang came from the same clan as I…”
He was an intelligent person, knowing how to use his background to threaten others. But knowing is a matter in itself; presently, the events have transpired into a situation he was far from familiar with. When a person has lost themselves, they could only grab on to their last saving grace.
Cui Buqu gently and calmly interrupted him: “I could seize even His Majesty’s own cousin, let alone you who only mentioned a distant relative. Whether the State Duke of Tang is willing to recognize you as a relative, that is another story entirely. I am asking you for the final time: Are you willing to surrender those grains to fund the calamity?”
As they stared at each other, Li Geng heaved his chest.
He knew that the wisest choice he could choose now was to give in and obediently surrender those grains.
But Li Geng had been in Guangqian County for far too long; although he hadn’t assumed the title of an official, the Li family had all the say. Even if they were beneath Yang Yun, people like Huang Lue and the others would have to offer them three parts of politeness.
He wasn’t willing to just give in like this.
Li Geng was pondering as he looked Cui Buqu in the eyes, and after just a few breaths, Cui Buqu said, “Fine”.
What does it mean by ‘Fine’?
Li Geng understood nothing, and heard Cui Buqu say: “Call for Second Commander Feng.”
Feng Xiao appeared quickly.
Li Geng didn’t know who he was, but it didn’t stop him from being attracted to the other’s dazzling exterior. It was the same for many people in the hall.
When Feng Xiao walked in, it was as if the stifling, choking scent that made one want to vomit had dissipated quite a lot.
Cui Buqu introduced, “This is the Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau, Feng Xiao.”
Many of them were still confused; they didn’t know what sort of place was the Jiejian Bureau, but at the very least the officials knew. Li Geng too had heard about it.
Feng Xiao didn’t speak. He didn’t even look at his surroundings. He walked towards Li Geng, carrying a proud and judgemental gaze.
“And you are the patriarch of the Li family?”
Li Geng answered with a “Yes”, but before he could put his hand together and bow, he would never have guessed that that would become his dying words in this life.
Dying words that only consisted of a single character. The sword had pierced through his clothes and chest.
Blood spluttered onto the adjacent people. Li Geng screamed; when a big man like him screamed he was no inferior to women. It made everyone’s eyebrows furrow and cringe.
Li Geng’s eldest son shouted and ran forward, but he was kicked aside by Pei Jingzhe, his entire person rolling to the side.
Feng Xiao immediately pulled the sword out. Li Geng fell back stiffly. A sword to the heart, leaving no room for rescue.
“Shut up, or the killing will continue.” Cui Buqu coughed twice, speaking in the chaos of people hiding and screaming. Everyone forcibly controlled their own voice and expression. Some of them even covered their mouths.
“I’ve killed Li Geng. There is no difference in a few more.”
Cui Buqu surveyed the hall, and practically everyone hid their gazes before Cui Buqu’s could reach them, dared not look him in the eye.
Before the eldest son of the Li family could speak, the Ding family’s patriarch was the first to act. He lunged forward and knelt, repeatedly saying, “I surrender! I surrender! I have some grains at home, hidden in the cellar of a manor across the street to our residence. I will bring you there now!”
Cui Buqu sighed, regrettably said: “If you’ve done so earlier, wouldn’t there be no need for death?”
The others all shivered, fighting for the chance to come forward and surrender, as if they came any later, their lives would be forfeited.
Only Pei Jingzhe looked at Feng Xiao, who carried out those orders dutifully, that stood behind Cui Buqu. Realization struck him afterwards: His Lord was still in seclusion. This should be Qin Miaoyu in disguise. It was no wonder he appeared unused to everything since the beginning. Had it been his Lord, he could not have been so quiet during a time like this. He would have at least praised his own swordsmanship for being flawless and unsurpassed.
As if he could feel his thoughts, that “Feng Xiao” turned around and cast him a brief smile, coquettishly and mischievously. It really wasn’t the smile that Feng Xiao would have given.
Pei Jingzhe twitched his lips.
Rong Qing felt anxious just by watching.
He knew that today, Cui Buqu would definitely employ tactics of all forms to force these people into surrendering the remnant of their grains. Otherwise, let alone the flood victims in the city, even the residents living within the city might not hold up.
But he had never expected Cui Buqu to use such a cruel manner of killing officials of the Imperial Court like Wu Yi and Li Yan. He was merciless even towards the patriarch of the Li family. Blood pooled the ground, scaring a group of people until they turned stiff. Originally, he thought they would be having a long, winding, time-consuming talk to convince these stubborn people, but he had never thought that this tactic of Cui Buqu would be so effective, for they gave in immediately.
When Rong Qing watched those people behaving submissively and obediently in front of Cui Buqu with tears and saps plastered all over their faces, he thought about how quickly the issue in this Prefecture would soon be solved, and that their worries in the next few days would be completely gone.
Yet Cui Buqu did not look very happy on his face.
Or perhaps, his attitude to these distinguished families had always been presented in a manner such as this: cold and rarely smiling, just like a living Judge of the Dead. “You all bought your lives with these grains. I hope everyone will keep their word and not go back on them. Otherwise, I would not mind sending someone else to be Li Geng’s company, understood?”
Following the pitch of his final syllable, everyone shivered.
When the living Judge of the Dead was speaking, who dared to attempt anything?
Even if those ideas were present at the beginning, all of them are now discarded.
“Second Commander Feng, gratitude is owed to the Jiejian Bureau this time.”
The final conclusion was set; Cui Buqu turned to the “Feng Xiao” next to himself and said.
Qin Miaoyu found it strange; Cui Buqu obviously knew who she was, so why did he purposely mention it in front of everyone else? Was it to drag the Jiejian Bureau’s name out to impose dominance?
She blinked, feeling like she had accidentally fallen into a pit.
Pei Jingzhe spoke at an opportune moment: “Everyone, follow me.”
The location of those grains kept by each family, as well as how many are there, were all recorded, denying them the chance to regret or to embezzle grains anymore.
Everyone could not no longer stand this strange-smelling hall to begin with, so at the cue, everyone quickly rushed after him.
Rong Qing stared at the corpses that filled the hall and furrowed his brows.
“Master Cui, Wu Yi and the others are subjects of the Imperial Court after all. Although they are guilty of severe crimes, I fear to punish them before they are proclaimed guilty would draw rumours once we return. When that time comes, I could also join names when you submit the edict to petition.”
This meant that he was willing to share the consequences.
When Cui Buqu heard it, his expression didn’t show the gratitude Rong Qing had expected. He has instead given an unfathomable pensive look.
“Bring them here.” Rong Qing heard him say.
In the next second, Rong Qing opened his eyes wide.
A few people were tied up with their hands behind their backs, dragged here with their heads hung low and disheartened like a living soldier in defeat.
Wasn’t this Wu Yi and Li Yan?
Rong Qing looked at them, then at the corpses on the ground. He felt that he was dreaming.
“This……” What is this all about?
Qin Miaoyu, who was using Feng Xiao’s face, explained: “Commander Cui did not kill them. It was just to scare those people. These corpses belonged to the battle in the tavern the night before. They are using disguises.”
Qin Miaoyu was actually not apt in changing her voice. When she was disguised as Feng Xiao, her voice could not imitate him flawlessly. When the battle in the tavern occurred, the enemy didn’t know Feng Xiao well, and it allowed her to gain the upper hand. Now, her voice undoubtedly sounded gentle and feminine, but when Rong Qing found her voice did not match her face, he could only quietly move his gaze away.
“That’s to say, Li Geng isn’t dead?” Rong Qing released a breath of relief. Qin Miaoyu objected to his response. “Of course he’s dead. Didn’t you see it yourself?”
Rong Qing was stunned. He instinctively looked at Li Geng on the ground twisted in agony, blood still oozing out from the wound that claimed his life.
Although the eldest son of the Li family was both upset and furious when it occurred, his own life had mattered more. He didn’t go forward to claim the corpse, but had obediently followed Pei Jingzhe to enlist his supply of grains.
That’s to say. Li Geng was the only one who died.
Rong Qing didn’t know what to feel. Although he offered to share the consequences with Cui Buqu just now, presently, he’d seen that Wu Yi, Li Yan, and the others weren’t truly dead. Then, he felt that if one could avoid death at all, it’d be the best. If Li Geng could also avoid death, then it would be a case of subduing the soldiers without war. Only in this scenario would they achieve victory in its highest esteem.
On the other hand, Yang Yun jumped up all of a sudden and pointed at Cui Buqu: “You bastard! You deceived me! You never dared to kill them to begin with!”
Cui Buqu did not talk back, neither did he let Qin Miaoyu give him a good beating. His response was to reach out to hold the other’s hair and viciously swing it against the pillar next to him.
Yang Yun, who was starved over a few meals and only drank some water, had no strength to fight back. After a dull-sounding crash, he howled in pain, holding his mouth and nose and bent over as blood flowed out through the openings of his fingers.
Rong Qing felt his nose itching sourly.
Cui Buqu coldly stated: “Now, I am just unwilling to kill you, but I am not afraid to kill you. Don’t think so highly of yourself. Err again, I can toss you to those flood victims, and tell them, you are the reason they’ve lost families and shelters. Once you’ve been beaten enough, only I’d take you back.”
Yang Yun knelt on the ground and covered his face, making only muffled voices. It was impossible to tell whether he was crying or howling in pain.
Thankfully, Cui Buqu was inherently ill, and he didn’t have much strength to begin with. Otherwise, Yang Yun would not just be bleeding at this moment. His bones might have also shattered.
Cui Buqu took a step forward. Yang Yun shrank a step back.
Cui Buqu changed his demeanor all of a sudden, giving him a shocked look and asking in concern: “Governor Yang, why did you run into the pillar again? If there is anything troubling you, you can speak it out, there is no need to keep it to yourself.”
Yang Yun, “…”
Rong Qing, “…”
Yang Yun really wanted to cry.
Now that his limbs were weak, he couldn’t even win a fight against Cui Buqu. Even if he could, he wouldn’t dare. Qin Miaoyu and a few Zuoyue guards were still glaring at him. Cui Buqu truly did make him submit very quickly; tears flowed down along fresh blood, his entire person shivering as he shrank tightly into a ball.
Cui Buqu bent over to pat his shoulder, consoling him gently: “Take a good rest. After a few days, I’ll take you back to the capital.”
Rong Qing was in awe.
To think of it from another perspective, if it had been him, would he have resolved all of this so quickly? Would he dare to solve it using a method like this? He wouldn’t have been able to.
But it wasn’t because his rank was inferior to Cui Buqu, being merely an Imperial Censor bearing the orders of the Emperor. If he wanted to execute actions first before reporting to the Emperor, as long as he could bear the consequences afterwards, killing could have been an alternative. However, Rong Qing knew that he could not bring himself to carry out such cruel deeds. Let alone Wu Yi, even if he were to kill Li Geng, he would need to ponder over it back and forth, hesitating to lay the command.
However, Cui Buqu had both lied and killed, manipulating all these people at will within just a few short days.
Yang Yun definitely hated Cui Buqu’s guts, but what could he do? The evidence was as rigid as mountains; it was lucky enough that he was allowed to remain alive. Even if he took another muddled course in future, and once again rose to power, he would not dare to provoke Cui Buqu even with tenfold the guts greater than he has now.
The last little flickering emotions at the bottom of Rong Qing’s heart finally faded. He was completely convinced.
The grander scheme of things has been settled, yet Cui Buqu wasn’t feeling well.
He wanted to pay Feng Xiao a visit after he allowed some people to lock Yang Yun back into the prison. Although Feng Xiao could not be disturbed as he was in seclusion, he thought at least it was permitted to look at him from the door. He could know whether Feng Xiao was freed from his imperiled state depending on whether the door in the inner room was closed or opened.
But as soon as he reached outside Feng Xiao’s yard, his steps stopped.
A sharp pain surged up his chest, abundantly spreading throughout his entire body, like something was choking him and he couldn’t breath, just like he was submerged in water, fighting and struggling to reach the surface, yet had no ability to. It could suck out the breath from a living person until there wasn’t enough, and the feeling of helplessness slowly spread out across all his limbs.
It was soft and heavy, like a patch of bedded stone suffocating its enemy.
Cui Buqu knew that this was an old illness acting up once more, a combination of wheezing and palpitation. Before this, he had also encountered this sort of situation quite often. Most of the time, a single Bingzhi Pellet would take care of it. But presently, the only three Bingzhi Pellets he’s left had been given to Feng Xiao. Qiao Xian had gone to the neighbouring Prefecture searching for ingredients to make him another bottle, and she wouldn’t be returning any sooner.
Originally, he hadn’t thought they would act up so quickly, but they came so abruptly and fiercely.
Perhaps it was because he’d overworked himself in the last few days. After all, first he had to make plans to defeat Yang Yun and the others,
and then went looking for Feng Xiao in the rain after.
With the condition his body was in, he should’ve fallen ill by now.
Qiao Xian knew about this, which is why she tried to hide Feng Xiao’s condition from him, refusing to let him give out those Bingzhi Pellets.
But when comparing qi deviation with an old illness acting up, the first was more dangerous. Cui Buqu thought that he could endure it. It’s been so many years, he’s used to it.
A bit of enduring, and everything will pass.
He walked very slowly, practically relying on the wall. Step by step, his spine wasn’t upright like it used to, but there wasn’t anything obviously different about it. Because his expression was very calm, so calm that he looked like he was admiring the scenery as he walked. It was impossible for anyone to tell that he was enduring pain.
Pain that reached into the heart.
Pei Jingzhe came walking from the opposite direction. Seeing him outside, he called after him.
“Commander Cui, did you come to see my Lord?”
Cui Buqu replied with an “En,” and calmly said, “I could no longer walk. Help me walk back.”
He meant it when he said he could no longer walk.
Cui Buqu had a will stronger than steel. His tolerance for pain was not beneath any top-tier martial artist, but his body was like a crippling log.
Pei Jingzhe was taken aback. He immediately held his slagging body.
“Should I get you a physician?”
“There is no need.” Cui Buqu looked weary, yet his tone steady, “The physicians here could not compare to Qiao Xian. She has already gone looking for medicine. Help me back to take a rest. It would be enough.”
When Pei Jingzhe recalled those three Bingzhi Pellets, he felt guilty, and dared not say more. He immediately nodded and carried Cui Buqu back to his room.
“Leave me. I will just lie down for a second.”
Cui Buqu said in a hoarse voice, before taking out his shoes and lied down. He didn’t even change his clothes, immediately wrapping his blanket around himself and buried himself into it.
He didn’t have the habit of venting. To speak more is to err more. Now, other than Bingzhi Pellets, every other medicine wouldn’t work. Rather than babbling about it with Pei Jingzhe, why not save his breath, and leave the rest after he’s endured through this.
There was the sound of a door closing behind him. Cui Buqu gradually exhaled a breath.
Another wave of pain visited. Cui Buqu closed his eyes.
He had forgotten the first time these pains acted up.
It should be back in the Cui family. Because he had fought back another member of the family who bullied him, the latter cried and ran away to report him. Cui Buqu was then locked up in the woodhouse by a biased senior to “reflect” on himself.
It had been a Winter’s night. The chilled wind seeped through the window, howling inside the empty woodhouse.
During that time, Cui Buqu was still little. Even if he was understanding and mature at an early age, there would be times when he was beaten. After all, there was a great difference between their strengths.
He was promised to be locked up for only two hours, but it was the Winter Solstice during that time, and everyone was busy with offerings. It was crowded outside, so who would remember a child who didn’t even have a real name in the woodhouse? Cui Buqu froze for an entire night, and was only discovered when morning drew close.
Everyone thought that Cui Buqu would have definitely died, but he didn’t. Cui Buqu lived again. Even Cui Yong himself suspected that the name he’d given him was a bad choice. Cui Jie, Cui Jie, and he truly did because he was as rigid and stubborn as wild grass that infested the stone paths.
However, it was since then his wheezing and heart diseases turned for the worst, to the point that it was a threat to his life. Time and time again Cui Buqu fought his way back from the brink of death, because he had a cold and tough life, even the Judge of the Dead dared not take him.
In the many years that passed, he had been through countless similar cases such as this. The familiar pain of it had long become a part of his body.
With the Bingzhi Pellets, normal seizure attacks could be ignored. Even if it was severe, it had the ability to lessen his pain.
He thought of Feng Xiao.
Although Feng Xiao was incredibly imperiled in a state of qi deviation, he had an inexplicable profound feeling: Feng Xiao would definitely make it through.
Perhaps it was how proud Feng Xiao usually was on normal days, it gave him a wrong sense of judgement.
As the saying goes: Disasters last a thousand years. Cui Buqu gradually curled his lips.
Sweat plastered behind his neck and forehead.
The robes at the front of his chest and back were all soaked wet. Even his blankets were soaked wet.
When he thought of Feng Xiao, it allowed him to deter his focus from the pain and make time tick by less painfully.
He could illustrate Feng Xiao’s silhouette in his heart. That truly was a very beautiful face.
The most dazzling of them all was perhaps those peach blossom eyes1 of his. Though once he opened his mouth, three parts of beauty would be gone.
He didn’t know whether it was his headache that caused the illusion, for someone was suddenly gently blowing air at the back of his neck.
Was it a ghost under such a sun and in blatant daylight? Cui Buqu has no strength to turn around to look.
A hand fiddled its way up his neck, and another hand reached into the blankets like a snake, grabbing his wrist with precision.
A stream of sincere and solid qi flowed into his acupoints and throughout the rest of his body like a warm river. Although the pain in his chest persisted, his body from head to toe felt like it was being bathed in the sun, and that his pain has greatly lessened.
Other than one person, no one would have such a rich foundation of qi to waste like this.
Cui Buqu parted his lips to murmur, but had no strength to speak any words.
However, from the bottom of his heart there was an erupt of joy.
He truly did break through his shackles and successfully passed the test.
Although Cui Buqu didn’t know martial arts, he knew that with every test a practitioner of the martial arts passed, their martial abilities would improve a stroke above. Since Feng Xiao passed, he has already broken through his own boundaries, taking a glimpse into a higher extent of the world of martial arts.
“Three Bingzhi Pellets in exchange for my lifetime’s company2, how does that sound?” Feng Xiao lowered his head and bit his lips, passing qi through his mouth and tongue. Cui Buqu had never seen before such a method—who behaved like they were healing his injury yet in truth so shamelessly feeling him up—he was stunned for a moment, but he couldn’t speak, so he could only raise his head to make endless demands. His neck was bent to a frail angle, but was steadily supported by Feng Xiao’s hand.
Both of them were separated through the blankets, but their necks were practically intertwined.
“……Scram.” Cui Buqu’s mouth finally regained his freedom. He couldn’t wait to express his opinions.
But his eyelids were being kissed, sucked until there was a light shade of red, his tears all brimmed up his eyes, threatening to fall.
Commander Cui could no longer bear it.
 Peach Blossom Eyes: Here’s a collection of all types of eyes.
 以⾝相许: technically translates to “In exchange for my body”
usually implies marriage/being with them for life.
Wouldn’t your conscience hurt? Feng Xiao naturally wouldn’t scram.
Not only did he refuse to scram, he even challenged Cui Buqu: “Push me away if you can.”
Cui Buqu couldn’t push him away.
He needed strength even to breathe, fully relying on Feng Xiao’s inner strength to minimize his pain. Since he’s depending on Feng Xiao right now, he’d have to give him his way.
And so Second Commander Feng pushed his luck, hugging him tight and then sniffed him from the crook of his neck to the corner of his eyes and all the way to the back of his ear, leaving behind heavy and thin traces of his breath.
Feng Xiao adored cleanliness. He was especially demanding of others, forbidding them to even get close to him. Even his personal maidservants had to wash their hands thrice before helping him change his clothes. Yet, he found the scent of medicinal herbs on Cui Buqu quite alluring, unlike the norm. He was gentle when he held that thin, skinny and stiff body in his arms, leaving his mark on those pale-white skin.
Feng Xiao thought that something was wrong with him. Something was wrong with his brain.
But the most terrifying thing about it, is that he doesn’t want to get better. “Giving me those three Bingzhi Pellets was like tossing a stone into the sea. If I failed to get better, descended into the throes of qi deviation and died, then I would never have known what you did. The Jiejian Bureau might even suspect that it was those three Bingzhi Pellets that caused my condition to worsen. Cui Buqu, you have always aimed for the better bargain, and you have never failed to do so. I don’t believe you have never thought of this.”
Feng Xiao’s instincts told him that it was impossible for Cui Buqu to answer his question honestly, but he stubbornly wanted an answer nonetheless.
They glared at each other.
He saw weakness, illness, and fatigue in Cui Buqu’s eyes.
This was a body that has been chronically ill for a long time. It could not even afford to withstand an attack with just fifty percent of his strength, for even rain or a gust of wind would make him lie on his bed for at least ten days to half a month. Oftentimes he struggled by the gates of the dead; any physicians who paid him a visit would only come to one conclusion: this life wouldn’t last long.
Yet, the owner of this body had lived until now.
No one could tell how determined this strength supporting a decaying tree would be, but Feng Xiao knew:
If Cui Buqu could practice martial arts, his achievements would have already surpassed his by now.
The world of mortals held many woes, and all of them could not champion fate.
Cui Buqu did not believe in fate. Though he may be dragging this deteriorating body, he had the strongest determination that could be found in this world. “In order to give a favour that might never deliver returns, you gave away practically your own life. This isn’t like the kind of person you are.”
Cui Buqu closed his eyes, yet the redness at the corner of his eyes became more conspicuous. They looked like blushers that were purposely painted on, looking quite flattering.
It was because of this, his face brightened up. Feng Xiao secretly felt proud.
“Aren’t you awake now?” Cui Buqu replied hoarsely.
“What if I did not?” Feng Xiao was displeased with this answer, and so he pushed further, wanting to get to the bottom of it.
Cui Buqu felt his body grow cold. He needed to curl up tightly in an embrace only could he gather enough warmth. If one desired to catch a glimpse into the most sincere and honest part of his heart, this would be their only chance.
“If you hadn’t woken up,” He opened his eyes and slowly said, “This debt would be attributed to the Jiejian Bureau.”
Feng Xiao: “…”
“You really know how to strike a beneficial bargain.” There was an enigmatic aura about Second Commander Feng.
“Looking at you from this perspective, I feel that there is a good reason you’ve set your standards so high. This face of yours truly is peerless in this world.” Cui Buqu sighed.
“Finally, you sound human.” The great peacock who was previously upset now felt like someone was combing through his feathers, feeling so highly flattered that the only thing he hadn’t done yet was spreading his colourful train.
“But it is such a pity you can talk.” Feng-er: “???”
Cui Buqu gave him a sincere look: “An oleander is useful enough exhibiting its brilliance at the tip of its branch, there is no need for it to speak.”
Feng Xiao raised his voice: “So, an oleander is what you used to mock me with all along?!”
Cui Buqu coughed twice: “Didn’t you also curse me for being a sickly invalid in your heart?”
Feng Xiao: “Of course not, what I cussed at you was—”
Both of them stared at each other.
Cui Buqu blinked sincerely, a sheen over his black-coloured iris.
Feng Xiao corrected himself at the last minute: “A person as open- minded and benevolent as me would naturally have nothing to hide and be sincere in heart and mouth. How would I be similar to you?”
Cui Buqu snorted as a response. He had no strength to bicker with him.
By speaking a few sentences to the other just now, some of the pain had been lifted. His body gradually felt warm, no longer as painful as it was before.
“You gave me three Bingzhi Pellets because you were certain that I would not die.” Feng Xiao refused to let this go. He insisted on having an answer, and if Cui Buqu refused to give him one, he would get it himself.
That is right. Even if everyone beneath the Heavens died, nothing would happen to Feng-er who holds a high opinion of himself, who would give everything to be like a peony on a daily basis. Cui Buqu thought in his heart.
Only, one cannot tell that on the surface. It was impossible to want him to give the other another reason to be cocky. “Because the Bingzhi Pellets were poisonous, and I was attempting to take your life while you were ill.” Cui Buqu coldly stated.
Feng Xiao smiling. “Ah, Cui Buqu, it’s exactly this attitude of yours which expressionlessly betrays your conscience that I like. It’s extremely adorable.”
In order to prove that he liked this “extremely adorable” look, he even offered him a wantonly ruthlessly deep kiss, making use of the opportunity to transfer qi, he satisfied his own private interests and swallowed all the scent in the other’s mouth, replacing it with his own until everywhere was his scent, only then could he feel satisfied.
When he saw that Cui Buqu hadn’t even moved, he was enlightened: “You’re not even fighting back now. It seems like you’ve long been covetous of my beauty, but was afraid you’d be rejected, so you fought back just now?”
Before the other could respond, Second Commander Feng sighed: “Nevermind, take it as feeling sympathy for you. Who made me so considerate and gentle and understanding? I agree with this.”
Cui Buqu: “…”. Agree with what?
Aren’t you over flattering yourself now, Feng-er?
Feng Xiao has said everything on his own, what else is left for him to say?
Cui Buqu snorted coldly.
Someone was knocking on the door outside.
“It’s me, Commander Cui.” It was Qin Miaoyu’s voice.
“Come in.” His seizure had passed. No longer feeling pain, Cui Buqu could speak with more strength now. “Cui–” Qin Miaoyu came in, and when she saw Feng Xiao, she had forgotten what she wanted to say.
She recalled that she was still wearing her superior’s face. Two Feng Xiaos looked at each other, a hilarious sight.
After the battle in the tavern, she should have returned to her usual look. But Cui Buqu had allowed her to remain because before Feng Xiao went into conclusion, he allowed them to temporarily be under Cui Buqu’s command, and so she did. She used Second Commander Feng’s identity to scare the living lights out of Wu Yi and the others, and so now when the true owner of the face is here, it was difficult for her not to feel guilty.
Feng Xiao raised an eyebrow at her. Qin Miaoyu smiled awkwardly back.
This superior of hers wasn’t as leisurely as he looked on the surface. Everyone had two sides to them; if one were to say that one of Feng Xiao’s side was a reckless, bold, and unrestrained narcissist, then his other side was ruthless and vicious towards those he deemed his enemies.
Qin Miaoyu had once experienced a bitter taste from him. She has no desire to experience it again.
However, with Commander Cui present, surely her superior would be more lenient?
As expected, Feng Xiao cast her a brief and fleeting look but said nothing.
Qin Miaoyu sighed inwardly, and reported to Cui Buqu honestly: “Commander Cui, according to the place Li Geng’s eldest son provided, fresh grains have been uncovered. Although the Li family strongly denied it, they should be the same grains from the batch the Imperial Court delivered. Quite a number of grains were also discovered from other families. According to the number, they should be around twenty to thirty percent of what the Imperial Court gave. Presently, we could only find so much. The rest were already sold by them to the people of this Prefecture at a high price. They can no longer be returned.”
Cui Buqu replied with an “En, keep your eyes on them and watch the account made. Take all of Li Geng’s sons, as well as the Ding family’s people. Let Rong Qing bring them back to the capital.”
Qin Miaoyu didn’t understand. “This is?”
Cui Buqu: “I promised not to kill them, but I never said not to question them. Whether these were members of distinguished families or Yang Yun, once they arrive at the capital, they will still think of ways to free themselves from charge and deny everything. The Li and Ding families relied on Yang Yun for benefits, as well as for having many descendants. There are surely a lot of internal conflicts within them. I will notify Zhangsun, allow him to bring those people to the Zuoyue Bureau for one round of questioning. We could surely uncover something fishy.”
As he spoke until this part, he laughed coldly. “Making use of the internal conflicts between them might make them yield more information.”
Qin Miaoyu bowed and said she understood.
She wasn’t surprised at Cui Buqu’s design. From the moment she met this Zuoyue Commander, the other was like someone who planned three steps in advance with every step he took.
For someone who was in good health, this naturally meant nothing. But Cui Buqu’s body was already in such a weak state, yet he was still able to keep himself conscious all the time; wouldn’t it be too tiring for him?
She couldn’t help thinking of a saying.
The heart is mentally exhausted. The natural lifespan is not eternal. The oil is fully depleted from lamps.
Regardless of which one it was, it was not a good sign. Feng Xiao, who was sitting at the side and hadn’t interrupted even once, finally opened his mouth to inquire.
“Qin Miaoyu, were you using my face for the last few days?”
Qin Miaoyu instinctively looked at Cui Buqu.
The latter closed his eyes and turned around. One could not look clearly at his expression, and from his posture, it seemed like he had fallen asleep.
This isn’t good. She’s fallen into a pit!
A few days ago Qin Miaoyu had already felt her eyelids twitching, and it had come into reality at this moment. She finally understood why she felt something was off.
Cui Buqu told her that Feng Xiao was in seclusion, and so he needed her to borrow Feng Xiao’s identity in order to punish those distinguished families. Firstly, it was because the Jiejian Bureau’s name was more widely known, and hence more people knew about it, it would be useful for them to quickly settle everything. Secondly, although she did not have Feng Xiao’s level of martial arts, those distinguished families didn’t know martial arts at all, and thus using Feng Xiao’s face to show up would be enough.
Qin Miaoyu hadn’t pondered over it for too long, because her current identity was a scout of the Jiejian Bureau. There was no need to fight battles that required her to walk on thin ice on a daily basis like she used to. Moreover, with Feng Xiao’s prior words, she naturally listened to Cui Buqu’s orders. Perhaps when days passed, she had put down the guard she used to have, and only now did she notice where it had all gone wrong.
Outsiders wouldn’t know that it was Qin Miaoyu; they would only take her for Feng Xiao, and be convinced that this case was in charge by both the Zuoyue and Jiejian Bureaus. As for offending people, naturally, they’d have to take responsibility for that as well.
The Zuoyue Bureau was responsible for cases related to the Jianghu. This time, if it wasn’t for the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai’s manipulation, they would have not shown up. Getting rid of all the top-tier martial artists in the tavern, as well as forcing Xiao Lu to leave heavily injured, had all been contributions of the Jiejian Bureau. But outsiders wouldn’t know, and would just think that the Zuoyue Bureau did their job well.
And what of the Jiejian Bureau? Not only did they have to be responsible for the offence caused, the most they’d receive was Cui Buqu’s light and weightless words: “It’s just thanks to the Jiejian Bureau’s aid” when he stepped up to announce his meritorious deeds.
Feng Xiao sighed and turned around to say: “I took a lot of trouble defeating Xiao Lu, fell into the peril of death, then took a saunter before the afterworld’s gate and came back, yet you still want to pit me. Cui Buqu, won’t your conscience hurt?”
Cui Buqu looked peaceful and serene with hints of sickness on his face like it was hard-earned for him to have a sound slumber. He was even snoring lightly.
Even if a clap of thunder struck, Feng Xiao could not wake up someone who was already determined to pretend to be asleep.
Cui Buqu: Love is another story. Pitting is a story of its own. Both of them are unrelated.
Feng Xiao: Alright, you’ve said this. Tomorrow I am going to allow some people to distribute leaflets on the street.
Cui Buqu: “…”
[DB: This is the last chapter of book 6. We will be going for book 7 (and the last arc) of wushuang soon!]
My delicate legs are hurting.
Dark clouds gather in layers in an attempt to bring the sky down.
Willow branches were no longer in green, wilted and dried as they stuck out dumbfounded from the ground. The first snow floated down from the skies, falling through those dried branches onto the ground, slowly gathering into a pile of velvety white by the roots of those trees, fresh with the dark colours of soil glimpsing out between them.
A horse carriage strolled out of the city gates, per their master’s request, the driver was travelling slowly on purpose and the sound of horse hooves slowed down.
This horse carriage was situated in the centre of the envoy, guarded both front and back by riders. Once it slowed down, the ones at the back followed. The guide at the front was baffled yet dared not urge them to be quick. He turned around instead before seeing a hand reaching out from the horse carriage seeming as though it wanted to catch a snowflake in its hand. It brought with it the wariness of one who was entering the capital for the first time from the Northern Region of the Gobi Desert. He couldn’t help but was enlightened, raising his hand to signal the carriages in front to slow down as well.
The Seventh Prince of Göktürk, Kuhezhen’s gaze moved away from the silhouette of that guide who was raising his chest high and surveyed the wilted willows of the city’s walls that were painting it into a scene of forlorn lonesomeness. He then turned his gaze to the bustling streams of horse carriages going in and out of the city before finally withdrawing his gaze with a stunned expression.
“Everyone says the scenery of falling snow at the Ba Bridge is a sight in the capital, who could have known the first snow comes so late in the Central Plains!”
The snow that fell few and far in between all nearly melted upon reaching the ground. At a glance, everything looked bleak and gloomy. How did it resemble the magnificent snowy scene of Northern Kingdoms in paintings?
This Autumn, the Sui Dynasty allied with all powers around and waged a war to the death against the Göktürk army in which Khan Ishbara led.
The Sui Dynasty sent Gao Jiong1 and Yu Qingce2 on two separate expeditions, the Ning State Road and the Yuan State Roads to attack the Göktürk troops on two fronts.
On the other side, Zhangsun Sheng3, Yuan Hui4, Cui Buqu and other’s movements resulted in the internal conflicts within the departments of Göktürk, causing them to collapse. In the face of Khan Ishbara, the same powerful enemy they all shared, powers from various departments finally united. The Suni Department of Göktürk even has up to ten thousand people who submitted to the Sui Dynasty.
As Khan Ishbara suffered the oppression of the Khitan people5 of the East and assaults on all remaining three sides, he was left with no choice but to bow before the Sui Dynasty. Even his wife, Princess Qianjin, who was a member of the Yuwen Clan from the former dynasty of Northern Zhou, knelt to the Sui Emperor and submitted to changing her surname to become a daughter of the Yang family. The Sui Emperor was gladdened, changing Princess Qianjin’s title to Princess Dayi to prove his sincerity and gifted Khan Ishbara a countless amount of gold and silver.
The Seventh Son of Khan Ishbara, Kuhezhen hence entered, along with tributes and warhorses from the Western Regions, into the capital of the Sui Dynasty. Before entering the capital, the Emperor has given orders that Kuhezhen represented the pillar of the country6, hence ordaining him Duke of Nation’s Harmony while bestowed upon Princess Dayi the surname ‘Yang’.
These were all just empty ranks. After the Seventh Prince of Göktürk became the pillar of the country, he could no longer get involved in country affairs even though he would receive all the fame that came with it.
To put it plainly, this Seventh Prince was just a hostage the Göktürks have given to the Imperial Court.
He brought people and horses into the capital all the way from the Northern Regions of the Gobi Desert to this present place. When they arrived in Wuxiang, he requested for a horse carriage saying that he wanted to arrange his etiquettes in order to leave a good impression for His Majesty. The guide had no issue to this and even complimented the Seventh Prince inwardly for his intellect. After all, an honest and well-mannered person in official clothes was more likeable compared to a Göktürk clad in dust and ash with foreign clothes.
At this moment, the Seventh Prince Kuhezhen truly did change into Han clothes. He tied his own braids into the style of the Han people. If not for a face with distinguished features that could not be changed, he look no different from a Han.
However, he could not sit in the same literary way as Hans. He remained sitting on his knees like when he was in the Royal Court of Göktürk, looking carefree and leisurely. There was a curious look on his face but when the curtains of the carriage were drawn back, it had vanished.
“This is the Brilliant Spring Gate. The Ba Bridge is not situated here. If His Highness wishes to see the Ba Bridge, he should head to the outside of the Yanxing Gate.” The person accompanying him in the horse carriage passively said.
That person carried an impassive look, his features ordinary and when they weren’t twitching they were passive like wild grasses and rocks at the side of roads. He didn’t look eye-catching at all, but once he spoke, the plain atmosphere in the carriage took a fresh turn, for even his eyebrows suddenly became lively.
Had it been any other top martial artist in this place, they would most definitely have taken a shock and regard him as a formidable enemy.
However, the Seventh Prince Kuhezhen showed no response. One, it was because his martial arts were mediocre, hence he wasn’t sensitive to auras that could only be given off by grandmasters of the martial arts. Secondly, he had been consistently interacting with this person and thus has gotten used to it.
Kuhezhen finally let go of the curtains, no longer interested in looking outside.
“I originally thought that the capital of the Sui Dynasty should have been a brilliant and flourishing place. Couldn’t have thought that aside from the city being larger, that the people wore a little prettier, there’s nothing too outstanding. Even those people rushing to squeeze into the city were all common folks. One could not look twice after they’ve seen once. Tuan, what do you say?”
Tuan Qinghe opened his eyes.
“This is because the person the Seventh Prince wished to see is not here.”
Kuhezhen smiled: “I heard that talents are aplenty in the Great Sui and people of intelligence are everywhere. I do want to meet them for an interaction. At least my trip to the Central Plains wouldn’t be for nought.”
Tuan Qinghe: “What is considered a person of intelligence in the Seventh Prince’s eyes?”
Kuhezhen said: “Intelligent people are aplenty beneath the Heavens. Yet I’ve met only a few of them; for example, my Khan Father, and that Han official, Zhangsun Sheng.” Tuan Qinghe raised his brow slightly and mentioned two names: “The Khatun? Yu Xiu?”
The Khatun he mentioned was naturally the wife of Kuhezhen’s Father, Khan Ishbara, the Empress Princess Qianjin of Eastern Göktürk, who is now presently Princess Dayi.
This princess was once the daughter of the royal family of the former dynasty who married to the kingdom of deserts. Logically, she should have been similar to her predecessors, used to her old ways of life and would have felt depressed, doomed to an early death. However, Princess Dayi hadn’t gone down that path. Contrarily, after the Northern Zhou was annihilated, she could grasp the heart of her husband and shared in a portion of power in the Royal Court. She could be said to be quite intelligent.
Yu Xiu was one a favoured official of the princess, but ever since he was sent to the Central Plains by the princess, Kuhezhen and Tuan Qinghe haven’t seen him since.
Hearing the names of these two people, Kuhezhen shook his head.
“Tuan, intelligence has many kinds. Some people would only take into consideration the evident benefits, and some of their judgements are slaved away by emotions. Princess Dayi is the first and Yu Xiu is the latter. Before this, I have always admired Yu Xiu. A person like him sent to the Central Plains was born to sow chaos there. It’s a pity that he failed in the end. Without the Princess, Yu Xiu might have been able to go further.”
Tuan Qinghe seemed very convinced by his words. He nodded his head after hearing about it. “It seems like the Seventh Prince has already chosen his candidate.”
Kuhezhen: “A smart person does not need to have the wisdom of evaluating their situation, but they would still need luck. From the way I see it, the present Emperor and Empress had such specialities. If their descendants are also the same, then this Dynasty could last for at least three generations. Otherwise—” Tuan Qinghe: “Otherwise?”
Kuhezhen smiled and said: “Otherwise, even if they are more intelligent people like Cui Buqu, what use is there?”
Tuan Qinghe’s gaze froze on him: “I still thought that the Seventh Prince’s trip here was related to Xiao Lu’s invitation.”
Kuhezhen sighed a breath: “Xiao Lu is also an intelligent person. It’s a pity that he lacked some luck. If he reincarnated into a good life, even if he was born as the son of the Emperor of the Chen Dynasty, perhaps the powers that rule the world presently would be different.”
Since he lacked luck and ran into the Northern Dynasty who was brimming with talents, then he was destined to have a rough road ahead. The end he would eventually come to might not be blissful as well.
To ally himself with a person like that, Kuhezhen was worried that even his own luck would be brought down.
“Tuan, I have not asked you yet. Why have you suddenly decided to pursue me to the Central Plains?”
“I have overcome my limit.”
Tuan Qinghe’s expression was very calm, almost like he was just discussing something common.
“The limit that the number one fighter of Göktürk that year, Hulugu had not even overcome.”
Kuhezhen’s eyes brightened. “I remembered that during that year, you used three years in seclusion. This time you only used three months.”
Tuan Qinghe nodded his head. “This time it had gone even smoother.
The written notes Hulugu left behind gave me quite an advantage.”
Kuhezhen smiled. “Hulugu had always been just a myth to me. However, the present version of you should have been superior compared to the prior number one fighter of Khan Father’s, Fo Er, certainly? If you fought with Fo Er, how many moves would you need to defeat him?”
Tuan Qinghe pondered over for a while: “Three to five moves.”
Kuhezhen gave a shocked look: “I heard that Feng Xiao killed Fo Er at quite a big expense. Even if his martial arts have improved, perhaps he’s still not your match?”
Tuan Qinghe seriously said: “That may not be the case. The path of a martial artist is boundless. Before seeing him in person, I cannot tell.”
Kuhezhen snickered. He felt the disappointment from looking out of the window just now lifted.
“At a glance, of all the top martial artists: Yan Wushi, Yi Pichen, Ruyan Kehui, Shen Qiao, Guang Lingsan, Feng Xiao and the others are not within Daxing City. Although this Imperial City is huge, those who could be called top-tier martial artists could be counted on both hands. If you want to compete with these people, you might have to wait for a little more while. Perhaps after a while later, the Imperial City would descend into chaos and when that time comes no little amount of top martial artists could all show up to turn defeat into victory. Those people might not compare to the aforementioned grandmaster-tiered martial artists. They don’t deserve your presence. We only need to sit and watch them like fishes in a pond. Once this pond is enough muddy, we would reach out to give it a little more stir.”
As he finished speaking, Kuhezhen once again lifted the curtains at the same time the guide looked back. Both of their gazes met and as the guide saw Kuhezhen’s eager and expectant expression, he inwardly convinced himself that this Seventh Prince certainly has a good-temper and way with people. Kuhezhen did not mind giving the other this sort of misunderstanding, and so he nodded his head with a vague smile.
Then when he dropped the curtains, his expression became completely dissimilar to the one just now. If one were to say he was just like a well-fed animal just now who was too lazy to move, then now he’s a wild wolf who got excited by the smell of its prey.
“Yu Xiu is dead. The Princess is both furious and upset. Her hatred for Yang Jian grew. The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai had lost a lot of members and horses. This time they would most certainly make use of the opportunity to have one last go. Tuan, the other princes were unwilling to come to the Sui Dynasty, yet I am different. People from the Central Plains often say “All is prepared and all it needs is a push from the Eastern Wind”. I feel that my purpose to come here is to become that gust of wind.”
Kuhezhen’s light coloured irises seemed like they’re seeing the toils of an impending wave and couldn’t help feeling his blood surging in excitement.
“I’ve mistakenly spoken just now. This Daxing City truly is the capital praised by all under the heavens. Just by the common citizens going in and out of the city’s gates, it’s already a few times more than those in our Royal Court. In such a vast and spacious Imperial Capital, when the wind and clouds toiled, it must certainly be brilliant and astounding to the eyes.”
As the horse carriage swayed, it would also sway one into slumber. Cui Buqu did not sleep, because the rocking made his head hurt.
After the case of emblezzing rations was closed, the officials of Guangqian County were all taken down. The Censorate had to send a few officials over to relief the calamity and distribute food. This series of arrangements took up a period of half a month. However, Cui Buqu’s old diseases came back and there was nowhere he could go. Until a few days after Rong Qing seized the suspects back to the capital, he set out for the capital. This parade of people were all wounded patients. Guan Shanhai’s injuries were severe, a little worse than Cui Buqu. Behind was another horse carriage; the Jiejian Bureau’s Third Commander Ming Yue was in a better condition, but only by a little bit. In order to avoid his wounds from reopening, he was forbidden to ride on a horse. He was placed on a horse carriage to stop occasionally for rest.
Qiao Xian originally wanted to escort them back to the capital before leaving to assume her post at Xinan, but Cui Buqu told her that there was no need so she could only set out alone in disappointment.
Pitiful Pei Jingzhe had to say goodbye after escorting her for a few dozen li. In the few days that followed his heart wasn’t there, his mind had wandered. Even Ming Yue tried to tease him whether his soul had followed Qian Xiao.
However, what truly gave Cui Buqu a headache wasn’t the uncomfortable rocking of the horse carriage.
One person swept the curtains aside and came in, making himself feel at home. There wasn’t a need to serve him, because he’s taken a seat on his own.
“My delicate legs are hurting, so I came in to take a breather.”
Here he comes again. Cui Buqu sighed.
 ⾼颎: known during the Northern Zhou period by the Xianbei name Dugu Jiong, was a key official and general of the Chinese Sui Dynasty. He
was a key advisor to Emperor Wen of Sui and instrumental in the campaign against rival the Chen Dynasty, allowing Sui to destroy Chen in 589 and reunify China. [2, 3, 4]虞庆则, ⻓孙晟, 元晖: These are real people who are famous officials during the Sui Dynasty of Northern Zhou period.  契 丹: Para-Mongolic nomadic people from Northeast Asia who inhabited an area corresponding to parts of modern Mongolia, Northeast China and the Russian Far East.  柱国: Rank of an official.
[DB: Kedun has been changed to Khatun. Also, terribly sorry for the long update. I’ve been busy for a long time. First, it was adult stuff, then work, then I went on a short trip during the weekend, then adult stuff again. Thank you for being patient! But anyways!! Here’s the first chap of the last arc of Wushuang/Peerless. It’s been a looong journey. I will update a little slower, due to real life, and then I will also translate extras from in JJWXC as well as the exclusive ones in both the Taiwanese/Mainland China version of the physical copies. However, the exclusive extras will probably in a Google doc so that they won’t be crawled by some bot.]
You’re taking me for a chicken?
How many times does Feng-er want to use excuses to get onto the horse carriage?
Three days ago, he complained that the sunlight stung his eyes; the day before yesterday, he complained that he’d got sunburn; yesterday…
If time could turn back, Cui Buqu thought, he would never have given up those three Bingzhi Pellets.
“You don’t look too well. Are your old diseases acting up?” Feng Xiao asked in both surprise and concern, “Let me pass you some qi.”
“Thank you. I’ll pass. Your bureau’s Third Commander is still lying on his back at the carriage in the back. Why don’t you take a look at him.” Cui Buqu expressionlessly said.
Feng Xiao welcomingly said: “Ming Yue’s martial arts aren’t bad. If he regulated his qi to heal himself, he might even overcome his limit in the martial arts. There is no need for my assistance. Cui-Lang, what sort of relationship are we in now? Don’t you be shy.”
What relationship are they in now? Why wouldn’t he know? Also, how does one write the words ‘shy’? Cui Buqu looked up at the sky speechlessly.
It was a pity that one cannot see the sky inside a carriage. He could only look at its roof.
Not waiting for someone to speak, Feng Xiao eagerly pulled Cui Buqu’s wrist to himself and semi-forced some qi into it.
Cui Buqu struggled but didn’t pull away.
The warmth of streams of qi flowed from his fingertips into his meridians, serving even better than a brazier. The continuous fill of qi through his veins certainly did ease his old diseases down a lot. During such a situation in the past, once the weather grew cold, he would have to go through two to three days of enduring a headache, but ever since his episode in Guangqian County, it had never acted up since. Frankly, all of these were owed to Feng-er’s qi.
As qi flowed inside his body like endless worms and snakes unsystematically, everywhere it reached left behind warmth like a hot spring boiling within an ice-cold shell of a body. It made one’s hairs stand on their end. Regardless of how determined Cui Buqu was, he had no control over his hairs as they stood. A soft breath came out from the corner of his lips.
He bit the tip of his tongue, working hard to suppress it and refusing to utter any sound.
“If you’re feeling uncomfortable, then say it out, don’t keep it in.” He breathed against the other’s ear with an understanding tone.
Cui Buqu couldn’t help rolling his eyes. He knew that Feng-er did it on purpose. Because last time, Cui Buqu made Qin Miaoyu take Feng Xiao’s form to drag the Jiejian Bureau down while Feng Xiao was in seclusion…
In the end, the Jiejian Bureau hadn’t taken the blame. They had even got quite a blissful end to this. Since they have gotten involved and made an achievement, the Jiejian Bureau was part of the contribution. However, this fellow Feng-er kept this to heart and now he’s trying to get everything he’d been owed back.
But there was nothing he could say because the other is indeed nursing his health.
As he thought until this place. Cui Buqu couldn’t help sighing.
During the battle at the tavern, he shouldn’t have given in to a moment of softness and stand in Xiao Lu’s way. Perhaps these two could have even perished along with each other and his day today would be quiet.
Feng Xiao didn’t push his luck. He obediently transferred qi into him and gently convinced him to take a rest, then swept the curtains apart to leave the carriage with a suspicious blush over his cheeks.
Cui Buqu heard Pei Jingzhe asking outside: “My Lord, why is your face beet red?”
Maybe he’s just holding his breath on purpose. Cui Buqu thought in his heart.
Feng Xiao sighed and said: “It’s all the fault of your Lord for being peerlessly beautiful without equal.”
Cui Buqu: “…”
This sort of talk—saying something but not revealing the full story of it
—really prodded at someone’s imagination.
Pei Jingzhe indeed took the bait as he stammered: “Commander Cui doesn’t look the part?” Cui Buqu heard Feng Xiao say in detest: “This person declines to speak his heart. All that talk of not wanting it yet his body has always been honest.”
…Those who understood knew he was speaking of transferring qi, but those who didn’t took him for implying something else.
Cui Buqu’s expression numbed when he felt Pei Jingzhe inhale a cool breath from the outside, his heart like calm water.
After a while, in the eyes of other people, Cui Buqu and himself would appear to share a profound relationship with Feng Xiao. Feng-er would then use this misunderstanding to continue pitting and deceiving.
That oleander fairy is certainly such a begrudging person. He should have gotten used to it.
Err once and you will never hear the end of it.
Cui Buqu looked at the spot where he was held just now as if there was still warmth on it, his thoughts in primal chaos.
Why did his body act on its own during that time, unhesitantly giving out those three Bingzhi Pellets?
A normal afternoon slipped past. It was as if Feng Xiao knew that he wasn’t in a pleasant mood, so he hadn’t come to provoke him.
The horse carriage stopped under a small station a few dozen li away from Luoyang.
They didn’t intend to stay the night in the station. After a short rest, they would embark on their journey once more, striving to enter Luoyang before the sky darkens.
Cui Buqu has long sat until his back ached. Just as he was prepared to get down his carriage and stretch his bones, someone caught his shoulder.
Feng Xiao: “There is a weasel at the front. Don’t you come out.” Cui Buqu: “…”
He also could see the yellow-robed woman sitting peacefully in the tavern.
Cui Buqu looked at Feng Xiao: “Are you taking me for a chicken1?”
Feng Xiao raised his brow: “Of course not, you are—”
They glared at each other.
Feng Xiao changed his statement: “You are the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau, Cui-Lang, have you forgotten? Come, let us go take a rest, I will let Pei Jingzhe bring you somecome tea.”
Cui Buqu struggled free for a moment, but his hands didn’t move and he gave up.
“How can we not greet someone we know upon meeting them?” He sighed, “In fact, she’s not here for me.”
Feng Xiao: “How would you know?”
Cui Buqu: “Let us have a wager.”
Feng Xiao felt interested: “And the bet?”
Cui Buqu slowly swallowed: “If I win, you will not open your mouth until we reach the capital.”
All he desired was to admire this face in peace and not listen to its owner rambling by his ear.
Feng Xiao: “But what if I win?”
Cui Buqu: “Speak.”
Feng Xiao: “When you return to the capital, state it to the Empress that you wish to put off the engagement with Yuwen Xuanzhu.” Cui Buqu raised a brow: “There is no engagement between us.”
Feng Xiao smiled vaguely: “I refuse to believe that you have heard nothing of it. During the time we left the capital, the Empress’ desire of marrying the both of you have spread throughout the capital, going so far to even prepare the marriage contract. I fear she just wants to turn a staged show into reality.”
Cui Buqu furrowed his thin brows, giving him a half-smile and a look which spoke columns: “Second Commander Feng seems to be overly concerned with my state of marriage, isn’t he?”
Feng Xiao leaned down near to him and whispered: “During the night when the battle at the tavern took place, you have already taken an advantage of me as big as the sky. Even Ming Yue and Qin Miaoyu had seen it with their own eyes. After that, when I was nursing you back to health you felt me up again. Although you look too shabby, unlike myself, how would it look like for the dignified Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau to run away after taking advantage of someone else?”
Cui Buqu consulted him earnestly: “How could you say something so endlessly shameless and deceiving?”
Feng Xiao: “I learned it from you.”
Cui Buqu gave a cold laugh and patted his face: “A word from the gentleman could not be taken back; the deal is agreed upon. Second Commander, please.”
Feng Xiao followed after and leaned his head to the side, brushing his lips against Cui Buqu’s palm. From the looks of it, it certainly does look like Cui Buqu is making use of the opportunity to feel him up.
Just as Pei Jingzhe turned around, he saw everything and couldn’t help giving out a light “Ah…”. The more he looked at it the more Feng Xiao’s words seemed to take form.
Cui Buqu: …This person really is peerlessly shameless with no equal. Although Bing Xuan’s back is turned towards them, she seemed to have eyes on her back. When they were walking over, she had just turned her head. She got to her feet and bowed, a smile on her face. Although it wasn’t strikingly beautiful, it made one feel breezy.
“Lord Cui, Commander Feng, how long has it been, and how are you faring?”
Feng Xiao snorted in his heart. She called him Commander Feng, yet called Cui Buqu “Lord Cui”. The difference was quite obvious, don’t think he wouldn’t be able to tell.
Bing Xuan is the most outstanding disciple of the Hehuan Sect of her generation. Theoretically, she and Feng Xiao came from the origin of Demonic Sects. It was a pity that the Demonic Sects never practisced old sentiments, instead, when they met, it seemed to be a battle between the same species.
Feng Xiao’s attitude aside, Cui Buqu behaved very politely. “Maiden Bing Xuan, you’ve become more elegant since we last met.”
“Really?” Bing Xuan touched her face, lighting up in joy.
Feng Xiao quietly said: You would believe deceiving words that were said casually? How silly.
“Couldn’t believe that Maiden Bing Xuan’s networks would be so efficient, that she could even tell that we are passing through here, and even on purpose—” Cui Buqu looked at the teacup on the table that has been sipped dry as if it was an indication of something, “—waited for so long. Mayhaps for something important?”
Bing Xuan pursed her lips into a smile: “You’ve mistaken. A few days ago the Shaolin of Songshan’s Sword-Sparring competition just ended. I attended on behalf of my Master and conveniently passed by Luoyang. I heard Lord Cui has annihilated half the forces of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. Even the grandmaster martial artist of Tiantai Sect, Yu Xiu had been defeated by both of you. This incident has travelled throughout the Jianghu. Congratulations, Lord Cui for your victory, granting the mortal world days of peace.”
Feng Xiao: …This is the first time I’ve heard of someone from the Demonic Sect use the phrase ‘days of peace’. Didn’t this woman think that her words are very contradicting? It was obviously I who killed Yu Xiu, so why is she congratulating Cui Buqu? Isn’t this done on purpose?
Bing Xuan also realized that she had neglected Second Commander Feng who was standing by the side proud and aloof. She immediately said: “This humble woman sees that Commander Feng’s gaze has brightened. He must have most certainly achieved a new stage in the world of martial arts, most certain to be congratulated.”
Feng Xiao twitched the corner of his lips. “The Hehuan Sect hasn’t delivered an outstanding figure since Yuan Xiuxiu, it’s time you people try your best.”
Bing Xuan has been able to guess his origins from his martial arts during their prior meetings, and once she returned to find matching backgrounds, it wasn’t difficult for her to know Feng Xiao’s identity. The Demonic Sects do not discuss seniority. For them, the strong takes the lead in terms of respect. Bing Xuan knew that even ten of her would not win a fight against Feng Xiao, hence she didn’t look sullen at his words. She even agreed with a nod: “Thank you for Commander Feng’s advice. Bing Xuan will try her best.”
She then smiled at Cui Buqu: “People meet by fate, not by chance. Since we are fated, let me inform both of you of something.”
Cui Buqu: “Please tell.”
The few of them sat separately. Pei Jingzhe had gone to order some dishes and tea.
That place was spacious. Ming Yue, Qin Miaoyu, and the others even sat right next to them. It was convenient for discussion. Bing Xuan said: “Speaking of the Shaolin of Songshan’s Sword- Sparring competition, although it’s not as grand as a real Sword-Sparring competition, and not as crowded as the events held by the Liuli Palace of Fangzhangzhou, it didn’t lack promising talents of the Jianghu nor grandmasters that lay hidden. Of one of them, I have never heard of his name or origins, yet this person had won countless victories with the display of his talents. His martial art techniques and moves were unique. Not only did he move strangely, but he also had a strong foundation of inner strength. In my opinion—”
She had always been calm and sturdy, systematic and methodical. At this moment, she hesitated, even casting Feng Xiao a glance before saying: “I fear if the ten best under the heavens were gathered, he would be one of the first three.”
Feng Xiao indeed raised his eyebrow: “Do you take the first ten under the Heavens for Chinese cabbages, able to pick one up with a scoop of your hand?”
Bing Xuan laughed bitterly: “I am not willing to overestimate him, but the truth lies before my eyes. Speaking of which, this must be a joke to the both of you. After Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing, The people in the Hehuan Sect lived in destitution. My Sect orders me to travel across the lands, tasked with the duty of searching for promising talents to strengthen our Sect. However, this person’s origins I have never heard of before. It was unknown since when a top-tier martial artist such as him had come to the Central Plains. The saying goes that Lord Cui is familiar with all the Sects in the Jianghu, hence I came here to consult you.”
Cui Buqu: “What is the name of this person?”
Bing Xuan: “Surname Tuan, binomial name Qinghe.”
 Wordplay from the phrase “The Weasel pays the chicken a new year’s visit” referring to how a weasel pays the chicken a new year visit but its real intentions are to eat the chicken. Translator’s Note: Feng Xiao: Im the most beautiful man that ever existed ququ couldn’t look at anyone but me. Bing Xuan: *appears* Also Feng Xiao: nooooo oo oo bing xuan begone!!!
Feng Xiao: “???”
“I have never heard of this person.”
Cui Buqu searched through his mind and could quickly be certain that he had never heard of Tuan Qinghe.
He had seen before the copy of the Wuling Manuscript that Fan Yun had taken back from Fangzhangzhou. With his photographic ability, if that person’s name truly wasn’t in the manuscript while possessing such surprisingly top-notch martial arts, then there would only be two possibilities left.
“Either he had never shown himself in the Jianghu, for if the Liuli Palace wanted to record his name and origin, along with his level of martial arts, they could not make it up themselves.”
Or, just like Feng Xiao, even if his martial arts have already reached an unfathomable extent, he had never participated in any Sword-Sparring Competitions, nor did he fought with any top-tier martial artists in the Jianghu. The Liuli Palace could only take reference from people who have fought with him. If Feng Xiao’s opponents did not roam the Jianghu either, then neither would he appear in the ranking.
However, in the battle at the tavern, he had defeated ten top-martial artists in a single breath. Even the Jinhuan Group’s Young Master, Deng Lou was among them. One could rest assured that not long later, a place would be reserved for him in the Wulin. Naturally, Second Commander Feng may not covet such rankings. He cared not whether he had them.
“There is another possibility.” Cui Buqu continued.
Feng Xiao had just parted his lips, but Bing Xuan spoke faster. Bing Xuan: “He used an alias.”
Feng Xiao: “???”
Isn’t this woman just snatching his lines on purpose? Cui Buqu nodded.
Bing Xuan laughed upon realizing Cui Buqu and her synchronized. “Lord Cui and I thought the same. However, I observed this person to be unfamiliar with both the rules of the Jianghu and the customs of the Hans. It’s possible that his name was not an alias, and that his martial arts originated from the Western Regions as Hulugu did.”
Cui Buqu: “From what I know, during that year, among all Hulugu’s disciples, the most famed ones were only Kun Xie, Duan Wenyang and Qin Shuanghan, three of them. As for the others, I would not know of them due to their lack of participation in the Western Regions nor the Central Plains.”
He didn’t say everything.
In reality, Cui Buqu had received news that the Göktürks had knelt to the Great Sui; the Seventh Prince Kuhezhen had brought horses from Göktürk to answer to the Emperor’s summon to court.
Not long after Göktürk’s prince stepped into the Central Plains, a top-tier martial artist that resembled Hulugu’s teachings appeared on the Jianghu. Would there exist so many coincidences in this world?
One feared that both of these incidents were linked. The Göktürks Prince’s entrance into the capital had already spread to Luoyang. It’s uncertain whether Bing Xuan truly was oblivious to the connection between the two of them, or she was just faking obliviousness, for she only nodded upon listening and said nothing more. She sighed instead: “It seemed like this person’s identity is a mystery. One wouldn’t be able to find anything within a short amount of time. If Lord Cui could obtain some information and if convenience permits it, could he send people to inform the Hehuan Sect of it?”
Feng Xiao snickered inwardly. Since the creation of the Sui Dynasty, things have changed. The Hehuan Sect’s spies in the Imperial Court are wearing thin and this woman is using the opportunity to form a friendship with the Zuoyue Bureau in the long-term.
He coughed twice lightly to remind Cui Buqu not to fall for the seductions of this weasel so easily.
Cui Buqu pretended he hadn’t heard it. “Naturally, it’s doable. However, if you find your way to our doorsteps every time. We might not be available. One would want to know if there are any encampments of the Hehuan Sect in the capital that would be convenient for communication?”
Even if they were, it wasn’t public. But if Bing Xuan refused to say it, it didn’t mean that the Zuoyue Bureau could not find it. She was very smart. After hearing these words, before Cui Buqu had to ask again she had already confessed in generosity, spilling it out clean and clear-cut: “There is. But few people live there on usual days. Only when the disciples were sent to the capital for a mission, it would be put into use. It’s the first manor after one turned right at the end of Anyi Ally.”
This meant that the Zuoyue Bureau could investigate the truth of her words at any time possible.
Cui Buqu was very pleased with her willingness to cooperate, even his voice became gentler. “Since Maiden Bing Xuan and I met like old friends and formed a closer friendship each time we met, if you aren’t in a hurry, why don’t I treat you to a meal in the city before we part ways?” Feng Xiao: “…”
Didn’t they agree not to stop here and pass straight through Luoyang? Once this man surnamed Cui saw that he could gather more information about the Jianghu from this woman, he had just leisurely changed their plans.
As if he could hear the unspoken criticism, Cui Buqu turned his head and feigned understanding: “If Second Commander Feng is in a hurry, he may move ahead first.”
Feng Xiao twitched his lips. Want to shoo him away? Not a chance!
He forced himself to smile: “I also want to hear Maiden Bing Xuan talk about the Sword-Sparring Competition of Gaoshan and how it went. Though I cannot be there physically, my heart is there.”
Bing Xuang said in confusion: “Many thanks to Lord Cui’s good intentions, but there is one more thing. This humble person must report to both of you first. It happened last night before I left Luoyang, the Yangdang Estate encountered a murder. The Lin family of Luoyang, all fifty people, were wiped out within a single night.”
Cui Buqu’s gaze froze.
The Yandang Estate was located in the suburb of Luoyang City. Their Young Master was “Master Seven” of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. During their last trip to Tiannan Mountain, Lin Wei was the only high-level authority that was caught alive. He was brought back to the Zuoyue Bureau after that and gave away no few amounts of information. However, Lin Wei was just a treasurer of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai in the Northern Region. Strictly speaking, he didn’t propose a threat to Xiao Lu, neither was he nearly as strongly informed as Fan Yun. Seeing that they couldn’t ask much, Cui Buqu let him remain in the Zuoyue Bureau for future purposes.
Hearing this information, the first thought to his mind was: Xiao Lu wanted to eliminate all witnesses. However, this theory could be invalidated at any time. According to what he knew, Lin Wei might be doing these things in secret without his father’s knowledge. If Xiao Lu wanted to use his family to blackmail Lin Wei from spilling more information, he wouldn’t have killed them all. This would only force Lin Wei to become the enemy’s ally.
If it was not the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, then who could it be?
Feng Xiao and himself exchanged glances and Cui Buqu nodded his head slightly.
Feng Xiao asked Bing Xuan: “Since it’s unrelated to the Hehuan Sect, why did you offer this information on your own accord?”
Bing Xuan said: “The Luoyang authorities sealed up the estate quickly and because the Sword-Sparring Competition had just ended, we were even invited to aid in the investigation. Speaking of which, it was riddled with suspicions. These fifty lives all murdered each other. Husbands and wives, masters and servants; there were even some of them who injured themselves and bled to death. When we arrived, not one soul was alive in the Yandang Estate. In the Jianghu, there aren’t many martial art techniques that could make one lose their consciousness and self-destruct against their own will. However, thankfully, it exists in the Demonic Sect.”
Feng Xiao: “The Demonic Heart-Enchanting Melody.”
Bing Xuan: “That is right. This martial art technique is known to all three Demonic Sects. However, the Hehuan Sect had no strive with the Yandang Estate in the past nor the present. We would not annihilate them all, hence I want to inform both Lords of this.”
Feng Xiao snickered: “The fact that you report this on your own would not strip yourself of suspicions. Sometimes, when one is too eager, it would instead make themselves look suspicious. And just as you said just now, you were obviously just passing by, but from the looks of it now, you knew that we would be passing by Luoyang and so you waited here on purpose!” Bing Xuan sighed: “Truth to be told, when Lord Cui was investigating the case of embezzling rations in Guangqian County, he did so with such a scene. No one in Guangqian County is oblivious to this. During that time, a disciple happened to be staying there and needed to spare no effort to ask around the time of your departure. After I received that information, I estimated that both of you would pass by Luoyang during these few days and hence waited here. I hold no ill will. If Commander Feng refuses to believe it, I am willing to follow both of you back to Luoyang to prove my innocence.”
Cui Buqu slowly said: “I trust you.”
Feng Xiao’s face blackened abruptly.
Cui Buqu: “I trust that you didn’t tail us on purpose, but whether you are innocent or not, it would have to wait until further counsel is through.”
Only then did Second Commander Feng’s blackened face slowly regained its colour.
Bing Xuan got to her feet to adjust her garments: “Thank you for your understanding. This humble one is eternally grateful. The Hehuan Sect is not involved in this incident. The reason I did this was just to clarify misunderstandings. I beg both Lords to unravel the truth and restore our innocence.”
She knew very clearly that the Hehuan Sect had a hundred things waiting to be done. It could no longer sustain any wave of events. If the crime of murdering an entire family was clasped onto her own sect, the combined strength of the Zuoyue and Jiejian Bureaus could most certainly overcome the powers the Hehuan Sect had in the Northern Dynasty. When that time comes, her sect would have it difficult.
But now, there was no use for her to explain further. Before the truth was clear, Cui Buqu would not promise her anything. Since a murder case happened, this travelling group of people could not stall any longer. They would have to head to Luoyang City immediately.
Bing Xuan was along at the back, following behind them.
Second Commander Feng once again stepped into Cui Buqu’s horse carriage.
Cui Buqu did not shoo him down, because Feng-er’s mood didn’t look well. He didn’t look like he came here to create mischief.
“After Lin Wei was seized by the Zuoyue Bureau, I sent some people to keep their eyes on the Yandang Estate in the dark. Who could have known that such a massive thing happened, yet I know nothing about it.”
The Jiejian Bureau had deployed spies perfectly across the lands, including the City of Six Crafts and the outskirts of the city, so let alone a great city like Luoyang within the Central Plains. Even if Feng Xiao rode to the horizon, to the end of the world, as long as he wanted to know something about someone, the news would have their way of flowing into his ear very quickly.
The Zuoyue Bureau’s ambit might not compare to the Jiejian Bureau’s, but Feng Xiao believed that with Cui Buqu’s discreteness, he would most definitely spy on the Yangdang Estate as well.
Yet on their way here, not even a whisper of information came.
As both of their gazes met, there was only one possibility that came from their hearts.
It proved that even their spies were dead.
Pei Jingzhe: ???
Corvus squawks and broken twigs swirled wildly in the air.
Atop the heads of stoned lions that hadn’t been polished for years, two lanterns swayed, hitting the pillars, and the copper ring on the gates complied with a loud ring amid the wind.
Ghosts came knocking on the doors.
It was unknown when these three words appeared in Pei Jingzhe’s mind. A cold breeze whipped past and the lantern in his hand flickered dangerously.
Then it went out. Pei Jingzhe: “…”
The night was abandoned and cold with the looming of ghost shadows. It was enough to form a sensational story for the ordinary folks.
Moreover, he was part of it.
Everyone in the Yandang Estate died all of a sudden, and even the funeral house could not contain them all. They could only arrange the corpses in the courtyard temporarily. More than fifty in total are arranged systematically into a few horizontal rows with pale faces and dried blood stains that have hardened into patches of brown-ish red on their bodies. Some of them even had their eyes opened in undeserving. Pei Jingzhe proclaimed to have seen many corpses and some lives were also lost at his hands. He had quite seen it all. Yet upon seeing such a scenery, nothing stopped a cold, icy feeling from surging up inside of him.
He unwillingly took a few steps forward, following closely behind Feng Xiao as he gave Cui Buqu a glance at the same time.
The latter had knelt, reaching out with a hand to touch a corpse with the most severe damage—half its neck was gone, its flesh pouring out from both wounds and one eyeball had fallen out. However, the eyeball hasn’t wholly snapped, so it was dangling out of its socket.
But Cui Buqu’s face didn’t change. He even took the eyeball and pressed it back into its socket.
Pei Jingzhe: “…”
He really should kneel in exasperation in front of Cui Buqu! Then looking at Feng Xiao—
Second Commander Feng naturally wouldn’t do that by himself. He was covering his face with a sleeve, his foot even avoiding places where there were traces of blood. He was even pointing at a specific corpse and giving Qin Miaoyu orders.
“Pry open that person’s collar. I want to see whether there are wounds on his body. Right, take them all off. Even the pants. Look at whether the dantian is as well as his crotch!”
Qin Miaoyu who was like a flower and jade had to move the corpse of a big man. It made Pei Jingzhe feel some sympathy for her.
Feng Xiao suddenly turned around to look at him.
Pei Jingzhe blinked, acknowledging it quickly and ran over to help her out. After entering Luoyang City, they went straight to the Luoyang bureau and proclaimed their identities. They rejected the County Magistrate’s warming welcome and in the end left with the constable and coroner who had previously worked on the case and brought them to the crime scene.
Cold wind seeped through the window sills and howled in loud wailing. Even the clothes on those corpses were swayed by it. Because of the blissfully cold weather, the corpses’ decay process was prolonged. They were only frozen hard. Frost gathered at the corners of their eyes and faces as if they would turn into viscous moving corpses in the next second.
Cui Buqu’s hand swept over an older man who was denied a peaceful death and shut his eyes.
But, after some seconds were gone, they flickered open again. Cui Buqu once again shut them up before the corpse’s eyelids fluttered back open, again, and again, and again.
Feng Xiao twitched his lips and couldn’t help saying: “Alright, take a rest and stop working.”
“This is an indication of injustice!” The old coroner sighed, “What a sin; although this humble one has examined corpses all his life, I have never seen such a terrible sight. Everyone in this residence died, even servants, women and children. How frightful to the ears!”
The Yandang Estate was a distinguished family in Luoyang. Lin Wei was the only son of the patriarch, Lin Leng. Both of them old folks only had one son, yet Lin Wei had neither gotten married nor delivered children. After the Zuoyue Bureau seized him, Lin Leng and his wife ran around begging for mercy on their son’s behalf, yet it was to no avail. The Lin family of Luoyang’s martial arts were mediocre. Yet, due to his knack in businesses, Lin Leng had many friends in Jianghu. A person like this would not have enemies who could not cease until they have hunted them down. Even if there is, it would just be strife formed in terms of business and not something that would put a price on their heads, let alone killing their entire family.
The only manipulative variable was on Lin Wei.
Of course, it was possible that Lin Wei’s father had something shady going on or that he held something important in his possession and thus led to his death.
But Patriarch Lin was now dead, and Lin Wei was in the Zuoyue Bureau. They could not summon him at the moment for inquiry, so they could only find out the cause of death of these people and the murderer that took their lives.
Pei Jingzhe asked: “The people of the Yandang Estate are all there?
None of them were left out?”
There were a total of fifty-four bodies, including Lin Leng, his wife, and all their servants. One of them was the scout in the disguise of a white- collared worker sent by the Jiejian Bureau, and the other one was someone from the Zuoyue Bureau.
There wasn’t a single exception. Everyone was dead.
Pei Jingzhe walked towards the corpse of the scout from the Jiejian Bureau and realised that, other than the wound that claimed their lives, there were still claw marks on their bodies.
These claw marks were very deep; one could tell that they’ve gone full out forcibly ripping a layer of skin off. It was clear that they were merciless when they did it, insatiable if they only killed their subject and had to torture them like a bloody sea of vengeance was between them.
Pei Jingzhe took one of the scout’s hands and examined the black and sticky stuff inside his fingernails. The flesh he’d ripped one off his enemy even clung onto one of his fingers. The horrific scene of these two colleagues fighting and biting each other before their deaths seemed to play before his eyes. “They’re all here!” The young constable said, “Yesterday, this humble one was on duty at the bureau when someone came to report a case, saying that a murder occurred in the Yandang Estate, and so this humble one immediately clarified it to His Excellency before bringing someone over…”
Pei Jingzhe interrupted him: “This is to say that you were the first to encounter this case? Who was the person who reported the case? Was he withheld?”
Constable Song immediately said: “Yes, the one who reported the case is surnamed Zheng. He had been delivering vegetables to the Yandang Estate for more than twenty years. Everyone nearby knows of him! According to the rules, Old Zheng would go to the rear gate of the estate between 5 am to 7 am every day to deliver newly harvested vegetables to the kitchen. In the end, when he arrived yesterday and had been knocking on the door for half a day with no response, he pushed the door and entered.”
According to what Old Zheng said, the weather was cold on that day, and the wind was strong. He couldn’t smell the dense scent of blood. After pushing the doors open and entering, he didn’t see anyone until he continued to walk forward and discovered three corpses. His knees began to clatter and he dared not call for help, afraid that the murderer was still inside. So he immediately scampered his way out and fled to the bureau without hesitance.
Although the Yandang Estate was remote, it was still situated within the city and within its gates. Once the Count Magistrate realised how severe the situation was, he immediately allowed Constable Song to bring all the available people within the bureau over. In the end, they found corpses laying everywhere. Aside those three corpses, everyone in the estate had died. Even the master and mistress of the estate had been killed in their own sleeping chambers.
As the constable finished talking, the elderly coroner added to his words. He was in the second batch of people to go over, the batch that after the constables discovered everyone had died, called for them. After examining, the coroner discovered that those people had been dead for roughly four hours. The Estate’s patriarch knew martial arts. Although the Yandang’s “Thirteen Styles” weren’t popular in the Jianghu, they were more than enough to suppress little thieves. Additionally, they were at least a dozen guards within the Estate.
“This is the patriarch of the Lin Estate.” Constable Song pointed to a middle-aged man and said, “When we discovered him, Madam Lin’s two maidservants were dead by a sword to each of their chests. These were all done by Master Lin. Master Lin had also stabbed himself, yet he was still breathing.”
During that time, Constable Song hurried over to ask for the murderer. Master Lin looked like he had never seen him before in his life. Both his eyes were opened wide, his face in agony as he stared in front of him. He was even still smiling.
“Smiling?” Pei Jingzhe asked curiously.
Constable Song nodded his head with a lingering fear: “Smiling eerily. He said nothing when he was asked about the murderer, turning his head around and around while saying “So beautiful”. After he repeated it a few times, he died.”
“Would it happen to be someone’s name, Hao Mei1?” Pei Jingzhe turned around to look at Bing Xuan, “Maiden Bing Xuan, is there such a person in the Sword-Sparring Competition?”
Bing Xuan thought and thought: “I’ve never heard of it.”
Cui Buqu said: “If it were someone’s name, Lin Leng would not be smiling. His mental consciousness was in disarray during that time. It seemed like he was watching a delusion and said it was beautiful.”
Feng Xiao suddenly said: “I have a question. Even if it had been the Demonic Sect’s “Heart-Enchanting Melody”, not just anyone without a strong foundation of martial arts could manipulate so many people at once. Even if such a strong person exists, he couldn’t warrant that everyone would fall for the enchantment. Not everyone would be similarly affected, and people who knew martial arts could even escape easily. If one were to guarantee that everyone would fall under the enchantment, other than using one’s inner strength to control the melody, they would also need the help of other external factors.”
Pei Jingzhe didn’t understand, giving a confused look. Cui Buqu exclaimed: “Food!”
All the people in the entire estate, including the scouts they’d sent into the estate to serve as spies, ate three meals a day that came from the kitchen. That also meant that from the master to the servants, the only thing that linked them were food.
Qin Miaoyu also understood. She immediately hurried to the rear kitchen.
Feng Xiao walked to Cui Buqu’s side and elbowed him: “How many people in the Zuoyue Bureau have you placed here?”
Cui Buqu gave him a look: “Two.”
Feng Xiao: “The Jiejian Bureau has also placed two.”
There was only one corpse each of the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus’ scouts present. This also meant that they were still short of two people.
These two people could have possibly escaped when they realised something went wrong. They could have been after the murderer. Regardless, since they haven’t shown themselves now, their fates were possibly more ominous than propitious.
Feng Xiao told Constable Song: “Go ask around, during the happening of the crime scene yesterday, did anyone near to the Yandang Estate heard any sort of commotion? Ask the night patrol as well.”
Then he ordered Pei Jingzhe: “Go fetch a bucket of water here.” Pei Jingzhe went with a head full of confusion just as Qin Miaoyu returned, her expression strange.
“Commander, Master Cui, there was nothing in the kitchen.”
What she meant by ‘nothing’ was that not only were all the vegetables and extra ingredients gone. Even the lumbers were gone.
For a wealthy family, this was very unusual.
As the case progressed until this point, it has reached a foggy dead end. The murderer’s goals were not clear, and their methods were cruel. They left no trace behind.
Speaking of Heart-Enchanting Melody, it belonged to the Fajing Sect of the Demonic Sects no less. As the Sect Leader, Feng Xiao should have been able to deal with it with high efficiency, but even he had no clue.
Pei Jingzhe brought the bucket of water.
Feng Xiao gestured to Cui Buqu to wash his hands. He still remembered the scene of Cui Buqu pressing back someone’s eyeball just now.
Cui Buqu knew that Feng Xiao recalled how last time, in order to disgust him, Cui Buqu had reached out to touch Feng Xiao’s face after touching a corpse. Now, he’s afraid that Cui Buqu would repeat it, and so he smiled vaguely before reaching his hand into the water to wash his hands clean.
When Pei Jingzhe saw both of them flinging looks at each other, he didn’t understand, and so he looked at Qin Miaoyu, hoping that she would give him some tips.
Qin Miaoyu was looking left and right, everywhere but him.
The elderly coroner had already said everything that needed to be said about the corpse, no longer able to deduct anything more from it. Bing Xuan was walking around the estate, and Feng Xiao didn’t stop her. Although the Yandang Estate called themselves an ‘Estate’, in reality, they were just a grand manor location near a mountain inside of Luoyang. With Bing Xuan’s speed, she could quickly finish walking around the front and rear courtyards and into the slumber chambers of the Lin couple.
The door was ajar and everywhere there were patches of blood stains. She didn’t take them seriously, passing through the disorderly mess and took a saunter inside the room to discover a bowl.
Or, specifically speaking, this is a half-eaten bowl of Lotus Seed and Lily Bulbs soup in the crime scene.
Qin Miaoyu could not find anything in the rear kitchen and yet, there is a bowl of soup here. It meant that Madam Lin was possibly drinking a bowl of soup when it happened and she never had the chance to finish it.
Bing Xuan took that bowl of soup and smelt it, yet discovered that nothing was suspicious about it.
There was a fragrant scent inside the house, but it didn’t smell like incense.
“It’s machilus.” Cui Buqu was walking over here just as she was sniffing up the pillars. “All the wood used here was machilus wood, so the scent would have been thick.”
Bing Xuan curiously said: “According to what I know, Luoyang does not produce machilus wood.”
Cui Buqu: “That is right. So these lumbers are most certainly imported from Xinan.”
Bing Xuan sighed: “The Lin family truly is wealthy.”
Otherwise, they wouldn’t have become the treasury of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai in the Northern Region.
What followed afterwards was Qin Miaoyu walking in to see two of them conversing happily before seeing Pei Jingzhe, who was walking around the courtyard, seeming to have not noticed them at all.
She was in a dilemma about whether she should break up these
“lovebirds” or not.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Feng Xiao’s approaching figure. Without hesitating any longer, Qin Miaoyu walked forwards abruptly and inserted herself cleanly between the two of them: “Master Cui, I’m afraid there’s something I’ve left out in the rear kitchen. Why don’t you take a look there? If you see it yourself, I would be at peace.”
Cui Buqu nodded without suspicion: “Take this bowl of Lotus Seed and Lily Bulb away. We will be examining it after our return.”
Qin Miaoyu withdrew her smile and nodded, then took the bowl of soup from Bing Xuan and left.
The few of them took a few more turns within the estate and found nothing else.
Constable Song also pleaded: “Both my Lords, how would these corpses be taken care of? After a few days, I fear they will begin to rot.”
Cui Buqu said: “In this weather, they could still be left here for a few days. After two days pass and we’ve found nothing, you people could give them a proper burial.”
Constable Song immediately agreed.
Since running into Bing Xuan, their group hadn’t stopped for a moment since hurrying to Luoyang City. Now, it’s long past 11 pm, the wind and chill has thickened. Cui Buqu’s robes couldn’t block out the cold and so he coughed once after the last repeatedly.
Feng Xiao yawned: “It’s too late. I should go back to take a rest, otherwise, my skin will become duller tomorrow morning.”
Cui Buqu twitched his lips, holding in the jeer that almost escaped his lips out of instinct because he knew that Feng Xiao said that on purpose. Since remaining here wouldn’t help much, Cui Buqu got up the carriage and parted the curtains: “Maiden Bing Xuan, may I invite you on this carriage?”
Pei Jingzhe had been listening to the howling of the wind for a very long time and felt his heart getting anxious. He couldn’t help letting out a breath of relief once he fantasized about the feeling of warm soup soothing his belly in the posthouse and soaking his feet in warm water, indulging in the steamy, comfortable sensation of it.
Yet, he couldn’t think about that at that moment, because a sentence reached him suddenly: “Qin Miaoyu’s salary is doubled this month, and Pei Jingzhe’s is deducted by 10 per cent.”
Pei Jingzhe: “???”
: 好美 and 郝美: Pei Jingzhe was suggesting that “So beautiful” (hao mei) might have meant Hao Mei (a name of different characters).
You are too deliciously edible. For a moment, this humble one surname Cui was seduced.
On the horse carriage.
Bing Xuan sat with her knees sticking out, her manner of appearance elegant.
She wasn’t an incredible beauty, but her temperament and conduct complimented all that was insufficient. When onlookers saw her, they wouldn’t immediately pay attention to her looks. They would instead be astounded by her demeanour.
This was also an achievement in the martial arts cultivated from the Hehuan Sect.
Bing Xuan knew that her superiority wasn’t in her exterior beauty, but in the elegance of her breathing and the jade-like voice she spoke, the grace of every slight twinkle and smile of hers alluring, a beauty that could be cultivated and nurtured.
These years she had visited many places and met many people. Other than a few incredibly highly skilled martial artists, she met people from royalties and nobility to common merchants and traders. As long as she wanted to, she could sway their hearts.
But Cui Buqu was an exception. Just like the present, Bing Xuan looked like she would behave any other day, but in reality, she was using the Hehuan Sect’s seduction techniques. Yet, even though Cui Buqu was not even a bit cultivated in the martial arts, he looked unaffected with a clear gaze.
Bing Xuan couldn’t help feeling a bit of pity, even suspecting whether Cui Buqu had a heart of stone.
She still had a long way to go before the peak of her martial arts. However, when faced before those far superior to herself, Bing Xuan had never felt defeated. Because she clearly knew the difference of their skills and knew clearly as well how she could learn from the other’s strong points to compliment her own weak points to fill up the gap.
In front of Cui Buqu, other than knowing that he wasn’t cultivated in martial arts, she knew nothing else.
If one wished to kill Cui Buqu, Bing Xuan only needed one hand and time as long as one breath, and before Feng-er and the others could find out, Cui Buqu would already be dead.
But not everything in the world could be dealt with killing. Other than using martial arts, Cui Buqu was like a depthless puddle one would find it impossible to see its bottom.
“Since the last time I saw Lord Cui, he has grown thin quite a bit.”
Bing Xuan gently said, “Duties are endless, please take care of yourself.”
Cui Buqu said with a smile: “Thank you for the concern. From the looks of the maiden’s face, she seems to look more lustrous. Perhaps she’s managed to alleviate her martial arts once more.”
Although she knew that the other didn’t know a seduction technique was being used on him, she couldn’t help feeling guilty upon looking at those eyes of Cui Buqu that could pierce into someone’s heart. She put away every other second thought she had and replied honestly: “In this Sword- Sparring competition, I watched the martial arts from each Sect from the sidelines and did gather some information. However, they are still far from Second Commander Feng’s level.”
Cui Buqu very quickly got straight to the topic: “To be frank with you, Maiden Bing Xuan, this case is so baffling at present, even I have not been able to get a clue about it. So, we will need Maiden Bing Xuan to remain for a few more days to assist from the sidelines.”
Maiden Bing Xuan pondered over it for a while: “The few days Lord Cui mentioned would not be so brief, I presume?”
Cui Buqu said: “Truly intelligent. If this case hasn’t been resolved, even as we return to the capital, we can only take Maiden Bing Xuan along with us.”
Bing Xuan’s smile didn’t waver, but her gaze had lost its smile. She furrowed her head slightly as if she was both troubled and sullen.
“You suspect me to be the murderer? If it was me, there was no need to deliver myself to your hands.”
Cui Buqu smiled vaguely: “Naturally, Maiden Bing Xuan has my trust. However, of all the cases I’ve dealt with in the past, it didn’t lack murderers going against common sense and delivering themselves. This case concerned the lives of more than fifty people. Among them were the scouts of the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus. For caution’s sake, this must be done. Hopefully, Maiden Bing Xuan will understand.”
His voice was soft, holding not an ounce of strictness, yet he left no space for refusal.
With a fur overcoat next to him, the Zuoyue Bureau looked pale with an air of lingering illness. He did not look domineering at all, but his mannerisms resembled nothing but that.
Bing Xuan sighed lightly: “What if, I refuse?” Cui Buqu’s expression was unchanged: “Then I will have no choice but to forcibly withhold you.”
Bing Xuan slowly said: “According to what I know, Lord Cui has no top-tier martial artist from the Zuoyue Bureau around him. These people are all subjects of Commander Feng. How would Lord Cui know Commander Feng would automatically lend you a hand to withhold me?”
Cui Buqu didn’t speak.
His silence meant: You cannot leave for sure; but you can try.
Bing Xuan refused to believe it. She looked at Cui Buqu with a vague smile and immediately leapt into the air.
Her speed was extremely fast. Her clothes floated like those of a fairy, flying a few zhang across the air within the blink of an eye.
Bing Xuan’s martial arts were not particularly impressive, but hers was one of the first-class. The Zuoyue guards next to the horse carriage immediately reached out to stop her but failed.
Past them were Pei Jingzhe and Qin Miaoyu.
Similarly, these two people were a step too late. Very quickly, Bing Xuan put them behind her.
Seeing that no one else could stop her, she inwardly let out a breath of air.
If she could, she wouldn’t want to make an enemy out of Cui Buqu, but the elements concerning this case were complicated and it would be impossible to solve it within just a few days. As for her, she needed to hurry back to her sect, and so she could only pick the lesser of the two bads. As long as Feng Xiao didn’t get involved, she could be free.
Suddenly, someone else appeared in front of her.
Hands behind his back, brimming with confidence as if he had been waiting for her. Bing Xuan was dumbstruck. She hadn’t seen how the other had appeared. But she could not stop.
“Commander Feng.” Bing Xuan sighed.
“Running off like that would make you look more like the murderer.” Feng Xiao sighed, his tone patient, “Don’t waste my strength on such a cold day, go on back.”
Bing Xuan gently said: “I don’t know since when the Jiejian Bureau has turned into Cui Buqu’s lackeys. Would someone of such a high standard like Commander Feng have his share of times when he listens to someone else’s orders?”
Feng Xiao replied in a similar gentle tone: “Surely ‘having a high standard’ aren’t words that mean well. Are you trying to flatter me? Or provoke me? The Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau might not start killing people baselessly, but as members of the Demonic Sects, I need no reason to kill you.”
Bing Xuan remained silent for a moment before she finally smiled.
“Since both of you put it that way, then I could only accept it and hope that both of you will solve the case quickly and grant me my innocence.”
As she finished speaking, she turned around and walked back to the horse carriage step by step.
No one knew better how to act the best according to the course of their situation than the disciples of the Demonic Sects. Naturally, Bing Xuan knew about it and after realizing that she was at a disadvantage, she immediately took a step back. There wasn’t even a need for a fight, because she knew that she would never be Feng Xiao’s match.
Bing Xuan couldn’t have thought that after the last time they met, when Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao were still fighting with open rivalry and veiled strife, now the situation has changed and they seemed to share a mutual synchronization.
Qin Miaoyu looked at Bing Xuan suddenly running out all of a sudden before obediently going back. How funny, she said in her heart, but stomached were to not laugh out loud.
Feng Xiao walked slowly back, leaping onto Cui Buqu’s horse carriage before raising a thumb at the latter.
“That posture of Commander Feng just now truly was a spectacle. It’s a pity that this humble one surnamed Cui didn’t have a neck long enough to see it clearly, otherwise, I would have been able to engrave Commander Feng’s elegance into my mind.” Cui Buqu spoke with absolute honesty since, after all, it cost him nothing to say a few good words.
Feng Xiao raised a brow: “Are you trying to send me off with just one sentence?”
Cui Buqu: “Then how many more sentences do I have to say?”
Feng Xiao placed a hand on his forehead: “Ah, I’m not sure if I was exhausted just now. Suddenly, I feel a headache. I should rest a little earlier after I return. I should ask Pei Jingzhe and the others to look after the prisoner, but if Bing Xuan hears about it, she might take the chance to leave in the middle of the night. Then, I might not be able to stop it from happening.”
He pretended to get off the horse carriage before a hand reached out to hold his sleeve, as expected.
Cui Buqu glared at him: “Commander Feng, don’t go. We can talk.” Feng Xiao: “The wind just picked up. Feeling a headache. Can’t walk.” Cui Buqu ground his teeth: “…I will massage it for you.”
Feng Xiao innocently said: “Spoke too much. My mouth hurts.” As both of them looked at each other, Cui Buqu finally felt defeated. He leaned forward to cover Feng Xiao’s lips.
Feng Xiao didn’t move, his irises turning crystal clear like a young and tender innocent lamb who was forcibly attacked by an unfortunate devil he met.
Cui Buqu was driven into furious laughter, after tracing his lips for a moment, he bit down all of a sudden.
Feng Xiao squealed in pain and jerked backwards to cover his mouth and looked pitifully at him.
Cui Buqu wanted to say: Don’t put up the act. There’s no one here to watch.
At this time, Pei Jingzhe was talking outside. He happened to sweep the curtains apart from above his horse and peek his head inside.
“My Lord, it’s late, the posthouse might not have prepared a meal. I should go ahead and order them to—”
His voice stopped as he looked stunned at Feng Xiao’s dishevelled attire and swollen red lips, like a little white rabbit being mishandled. Cui Buqu’s cold and glaring expression looked fierce, like a barbarian who forced himself onto the maiden of a good house.
Feng Xiao adjusted his clothes and replied: “En, go ahead.”
For a moment Pei Jingzhe had an illusion of Feng Xiao having endured the greatest shame, his mind couldn’t respond in time, yet his body had already taken action to execute Feng Xiao’s orders and urged his horse to go forward. He’d probably still be thinking about it on the road.
Feng Xiao coquettishly told Cui Buqu: “Look at that~ It’s all your fault even this little rascal knows about us now.”
Cui Buqu gave him an expressionless face: “My apologies. You are too deliciously edible. For a moment, this humble one surnamed Cui was seduced.”
Feng Xiao sighed: “I understand. The finest people will be coveted, will they not?”
Cui Buqu pondered over it for a moment. “Yes.”
This “Yes” had many twists and turns, hard-earned and difficult, filled with the Zuoyue Commander’s helpless plea of being forced to beg for the sake of the bigger picture.
Feng Xiao looked at him for a while and suddenly gave a light little chirp: “Alright. I’ll not tease you anymore. I truly am a little bit tired. I’m lying down. Call me when we’ve arrived.”
After he finished talking, he truly did lie down and closed his eyes, no longer creating mischief.
Cui Buqu recalled Feng Xiao’s previous heavily wounded and agonal state, when he’d qi deviated and descended into a situation that seemed hopeless, and couldn’t help furrowing his brows slightly.
Everyone had seen all of the Yandang Estate and seen a few dozen corpses. Additionally, they had their hands full with another confusing case and had endured cold wind along the way. They were all tired. Even when the horse carriage arrived in the posthouse, there was a soundless relief in their hearts when everyone saw bright lanterns hanging by its door.
The officials in the posthouse have been informed, and hence prepared hot water and meals. Blankets were prepared for everyone and as they were welcomed, they were also guided into the rear courtyard to rest.
But just as Cui Buqu arrived at the posthouse, the Zuoyue guards brought a letter to him.
It came from the capital. There was the Zuoyue Bureau’s seal on it.
Zhangsun Bodhi knew that Cui Buqu was travelling, so he would be handling most of the official affairs. He wouldn’t send a message on a quick horse unless he had encountered something difficult.
Cui Buqu knew clearly in his heart that if even Zhangsun found it difficult, it truly would be something incredibly urgent and troubling that he needed to know immediately.
He tore the letter open and there was only one line of characters on it. Murder in the capital. If allowed, please return swiftly.
What murder would require the Vice Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau himself to write a letter?
Zhangsun’s words had two important meanings to it.
The first: This case baffled even the Ministry of Justice and the Court of Judicature and Revision.
The second: Something about the case is fishy, it might involve the Zuoyue Bureau.
Cui Buqu furrowed his brows.
Not long later, Qin Miaoyu came over, bringing a half-filled bowl of Lotus Seed and Lily Bulbs soup.
“Master Cui, no poison is found in this soup.”