Would the skin lose its shine from sleeping too late?
Testing for poison with a silver needle was a popular method among the common people. However, silver needles could only reveal the presence of arsenic toxic. Many more nameless poisons could escape being detected by the silver needle.
Qin Miaoyu was very cautious. Not only did she use a silver needle, but she had also even ordered some people to catch a few chickens and ducks to use the soup on them.
After an hour, the animals still jumped around in full health.
Unless this was a poison that spread slowly, it would take up to a few hours or days for it to take effect.
After Cui Buqu finished listening to her speak, he looked at that bowl.
After the half-full bowl of Tremella and Lotus Seed Soup was taken for examination, there was not much of it left.
He raised the bowl up, and just like he did before in the estate, he sniffed at it again.
“The soup is cooled, but there is still a faint fishy smell.” Cui Buqu said.
Qin Miaoyu nodded her head, “Because there are some fish maws in it.
It’s good for the skin when women drink tremella boiled with fish maw.” Cui Buqu had never invested much in beauty, so he neither denied nor confirmed it. He would never simply offer an opinion on things he didn’t know much about. “Zhangsun’s letter just came. He asked me to return to the capital as soon as possible. Go ask Feng-er, see whether he wishes to remain and investigate or if he is willing to put the case on hold and hand them over to the Luoyang Authorities and go back with me.”
With experience from all the cases he investigated, the annihilation of the Yandang Estate has already reached its end. The murderer has likely fled the moment they arrived. Unless the other committed another murder, or if they obtain some clues from Lin Wei after returning to the capital, it would be very difficult for them to have a breakthrough.
Cui Buqu added: “I would let the Luoyang Authorities gather more coroners to examine these corpses of the Yandang Estate. I will leave behind one Zuoyue member to take over. If there are any new findings, he would immediately report back to the capital. You people from the Jiejian Bureau could also leave behind some people and investigate together.”
After a moment of being stunned, Qin Miaoyu immediately answered: “I will ask the Second Commander to make a decision!”
Cui Buqu stopped her, a look of confusion on his face. Qin Miaoyu thought that she’d seen wrongly.
Given Cui Buqu’s personality, it was practically impossible for him to yield such a look.
After a while, Cui Buqu asked: “Would the skin lose its shine from sleeping too late?”
Qin Miaoyu: “???”
Her instincts told her that Cui Buqu’s words might mean something else
—some mechanism hidden within them that required her to analyse it. Qin Miaoyu’s brain went blank for a moment. “It should be… true.”
Cui Buqu: “Do you usually go to sleep late?”
Qin Miaoyu blinked. “When I was in the Kingdom of Khotan, I obtained some secrets about retaining one’s beauty and made it into the recipe of Immortal Salve. Even if I sleep late at night, that would be no trouble. If you want, this humble woman could offer it with both hands. Or, do you want to offer them to the Second Commander as gifts?”
Cui Buqu looked at her: “How did you come to the conclusion that I was giving it to him?”
Qin Miaoyu felt that she’d said something wrong. She felt shy and so lowered her head.
Cui Buqu smiled all of a sudden, speaking gently and slowly: “It’s only due to me thinking how jade-like and luminous your skin is, Qin Miaoyu, that you look incredibly beautiful. If you overwork yourself, it would be such a pity. There are quite a number of beauty secrets in the palace. Perhaps some of them could be of use to you. The next time I pay the palace a visit, I will ask some from the Empress on your behalf.”
Qin Miaoyu was shocked at the favour she received. Her heart was a little moved, “Can that be done?”
Cui Buqu: “Naturally. Although you are a member of the Jiejian Bureau, you play a great role in defeating the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai this time. The Empress has always been generous. I am simply passing a message.”
In all honesty, no woman wouldn’t be moved after hearing such words. Qin Miaoyu was no exception. She happily said: “Then, many thanks to Commander Cui!”
Since they stepped onto Guangqian to this moment, one could say that they hadn’t stopped working. Upsurges happened one after the last. Even for people like Qin Miaoyu who was quite good in martial arts, she couldn’t help her stomach growling after returning to her own home and seeing the steamy meal delivered by the envoy from the posthouse.
In life, one must strive for a luxurious lifestyle to their full enjoyment. To only wag a finger and watch someone offering them the things they wanted with both hands—since the moment of joining the Fuyu Sect, trained, and ordered to get close to the Khotan King’s nephew and become the concubine of Yuchi Jinwu, Qin Miaoyu had established such a thought for herself. However, all these thoughts changed when she was forced into surrendering and handing over everything she knew to join the Jiejian Bureau.
She woke up earlier than a rooster and slept later than a dog. Every day, she’d have to busy herself dealing with cases, frequently putting her life on the line. Once in a while, she would even have to fight against top martial artists. Nevermind a luxurious lifestyle; if she could sleep on time it would already be quite the treat. Qin Miaoyu knew that Feng Xiao hadn’t fully trusted her. Su Xing, who infiltrated the City of Six Crafts with her and later killed the mistress of the Lu family, was already dead. Qin Miaoyu was the only one who survived.
So, in order to protect her own life, Qin Miaoyu had no choice but to work hard. Her desires for items of luxuries lessened, and now she couldn’t even help wetting her eyes at the sight of hot soup and a bowl of rice.
The more she lived, the more she fell back. Qin Miaoyu suddenly couldn’t help feeling sourness in her heart.
To think of that year, when she was someone surrounded by servants, yet now—
Pei Jingzhe’s voice rang from the outside, “Sister Qin! After discussing with Commander Cui just now, my Lord decides to set out after sunrise.”
“Got it!” Qin Miaoyu immediately said. Hearing Pei Jingzhe’s footsteps getting further and further away, she had no spare time to mourn, and so immediately raised the bowl and began to eat. At this time, it’s not even six hours away from sunrise. After eating, she’d still need to wash…
What a terrible life for a fragile woman like her!
If they could return to the past, she would most definitely slap the past version of herself who had stolen the Jade of Heaven’s Lake. Who asked you to be greedy and short-sighted?! Quickly pack your bags and leave, otherwise, you would be caught into the den of tigers and wolves to work like horses and cows!
Qin Miaoyu could only gobble down her soup as she gathered her bitter tears.
In such a season, the sky was slow in transitioning from night to morning. After the time where the Dragons are going to bring rainwater (7AM – 9AM), the sky outside still looked dark.
Once Qin Miaoyu finished washing, it was already past the time when the oxen were chewing the cud (1AM – 3AM). When she thought about how she couldn’t sleep much after lying down, she mediated on the bed instead. When 7 am drew near, her heart was on alert, and so she opened her eyes, got down the bed, and went out to make arrangements in advance.
The people in the posthouse would make arrangements for the horse carriages. The horses have already been fed full. They would only need a driver to guide them out and place a harness on them.
Qin Miaoyu was very meticulous. Since the weather was too cold, Cui Buqu’s carriage would not have enough blankets to keep him warm. Normal people may hold out for a little, but with Commander Cui’s body, he would have frozen and fallen ill. She still remembered what Cui Buqu had told her yesterday about getting her some beauty salves from the palace. In her heart, she said: if Commander Cui fell ill on the journey, it would delay him going into the palace. Thus, she gave the carriage a glance and made the envoy put in some additional blankets. One night has gone. There was a thin layer of ice surrounding the carriage. Even steps leading to inside the carriage weren’t spared. That was where the host would have to step on to get into the carriage. It was also the place where the driver would be sitting. Qin Miaoyu gave it a sweeping glance and was stunned on the spot.
Lanterns at the gates of the posthouse wavered; their gentle light swaying like it would go out at any moment.
On top of the white-coloured ice, there were two footprints.
Those footprints were very light, so light that they wouldn’t be seen by anyone. As for the direction of them, they were heading towards the inside of the horse carriage.
All the hairs on Qin Miaoyu suddenly stood!
All her fatigue disappeared within an instant. She abruptly took a few steps back and shouted: “Who goes there? Come out!”
The horse carriage didn’t even shake.
Instead, someone else came running out due to her voice.
Qin Miaoyu flipped her hand to draw out Pei Jingzhe’s sword, sweeping it with the pivot of her wrist and tore the carriage’s curtain apart.
Someone was sitting inside.
His face was twisted and had turned green. His eyes were wide and round, his mouth hanging open, glaring at Qin Miaoyu as if he was looking at an incredibly horrible and painful sight.
Pei Jingzhe let out a slip of his tongue: “Zhou Laoqi!”
A member of the Jiejian Bureau, Zhou Laoqi. He was originally sent as a scout to the Yandang Estate. By orders, he was supposed to infiltrate the Yandang Estate in the disguise of a servant and monitor every move of the estate. After that bloody incident, the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus had lost a scout each.
Now, Zhou Laoqi of the Jiejian Bureau has shown himself. Then where was the one from the Zuoyue Bureau?
As everyone outside was in a frenzy, Zhou Laoqi didn’t bulge. He remained looking at them.
“He is dead.”
Ming Yue walked out from the door. Those severe injuries of his haven’t recovered, and so he spent most of his time resting in the horse carriage. At this moment, although he wasn’t as quick as he used to be, he revealed himself like blinding lightning as he attacked. One would say that his condition has turned for the better.
But when he attacked, Zhou Laoqi didn’t move.
Ming Yue’s expression changed slightly. As he used a little more strength, the horse carriage shook a little, yet Zhou Laoqi’s butt seemed to be stuck fast to the ground.
“Something is fishy under the carriage.” Cui Buqu coughed twice. He also came out. The lack of rest made his face look paler than yesterday night.
Pei Jingzhe bent down and looked at the bottom of the carriage and quickly found the problem.
“There is a sword under the carriage!”
Once he pulled the sword out, Zhou Laoqi finally slumped sideways. Not only Pei Jingzhe, but everyone else was also astonished.
Zhou Laoqi was placed into the carriage, then fastened onto the seat by a sword piercing directly into his body. So, it was obvious when Ming Yue attacked, he hadn’t bulged.
From the looks of his expression, Zhou Laoqi might not have been completely dead when the sword pierced through.
How did it feel as an experience to be pierced through your body alive by a sword before you were dead?
Pei Jingzhe knew that this wasn’t the sort of pain a normal person could endure. Even his own guts seem to be churning.
“The enemy is establishing their dominance on us.” Ming Yue said dully.
His words made Pei Jingzhe’s heart start beating fast.
The enemy’s capabilities had led to the Yandang Estate’s total annihilation. It was impossible for Zhou Laoqi to escape this, and it seemed like the enemy not only knew that Zhou Laoqi was a scout of the Jiejian Bureau, they even know that Feng Xiao and the others had made their way here and tortured Zhou Laoqi to death in front of them on purpose. This wasn’t only challenging Feng Xiao, but also a challenge towards the entire Jiejian Bureau.
Ming Yue has always been lenient and he seldom got angry. And yet, this time, he truly was angry. “Er-lang, we should stay here. We’ll leave only after the truth has been discovered!”
Before Feng Xiao could speak, Cui Buqu spoke first: “I suggest we all leave. We leave now.”
Towards Cui Buqu, Ming Yue still held some degree of respect. He angrily said: “Commander Cui. This person obviously knew our intentions and whereabouts. If we fail to remove them quickly, I fear they would pose an even bigger threat!”
Although Pei Jingzhe and the others said nothing, their expressions agreed with Ming Yue. Cui Buqu’s train of thought was different from theirs. “Before I slept yesterday, I already asked the people from the posthouse. The posthouse of Luoyang is larger than any others that could be found. Not including us, there were three different groups of people. One group of four went to Xin’an County to assume their post as county officials. One group of six passed by Luoyang as travelling scholars. Another group of thirty-six people were from the group belonging to Yangcheng Xuanzhu, the daughter of the Emperor’s late brother, Prince Caijing. Adding to the miscellaneous workers of the posthouse, there were too many people. News of us leaving today must have spread out last night and it wouldn’t be impossible to investigate, but it would most certainly be time costly. In fact, it would not yield effective results. I think that the enemy has a different motive.”
Feng Xiao, who hasn’t spoken before, concluded his words: “What you mean is that he is trying to stop us from leaving Luoyang so quickly.”
“That is right.” Cui Buqu nodded, “The more he wants to stall us, the more it proves that we need to hurry back to the capital. This matter cannot be delayed, and so we must depart immediately.”
As Ming Yue listened to this, his eyebrows furrowed in silence. For a moment, he could think of nothing to say back.
Yet, Feng Xiao had already made the decision. He allowed Pei Jingzhe to inform the posthouse immediately and allow them to help bury Zhou Laoqi’s corpse. Then, he made arrangements for Cui Buqu and Guan Shanhai to change into a different horse carriage. The stream of people tidied and arranged their journey, not having the time to even fawn on each other about the weather.
Everyone was separated into three different horse carriages. Guan Shanhai and Ming Yue shared one; Qin Miaoyu and Bing Xuan shared one; Cui Buqu’s horse carriage would be in the centre along with a few Zuoyue guards and eagle riders from the Jiejian Bureau.
One moment before the horse carriages departed for their journey, Cui Buqu was sitting inside the carriage in deep pondering when he saw Feng Xiao giving up on riding a horse and welcomed himself into the carriage.
“How warm is it in here!” Feng Xiao comfortably exhaled a breath and met Cui Buqu’s speechless expression, “The enemy is in the dark, yet we are in the light. I had no choice but to abandon my comrades to come over here and protect you. Don’t you forget who it was that helped you stop someone else yesterday night.”
Little Lord Pei who was unable to “share in the joys and sorrows” with his superior was being blown over by chill winds outside as he rode on a horse.
As he thought about how tired the other was last night, Cui Buqu withdrew the words he wanted to speak and instead passed the pre-prepared water sack made from animal hide next to him over to Feng Xiao.
Feng Xiao raised a brow, and from the corner of his eyes, he saw another water sack similar to the one he was holding in the corner of the carriage.
This meant that Cui Buqu had long already prepared this one, wanting to give it to him.
He gave the other a half-smile and received the water sack and took a sip.
The water was still warm, and after slipping down his throat, it even tasted sweet.
Feng Xiao blinked. He thought that just because he was in a good mood, the water had turned sweet, but quickly realized this was not the case when he took another sip.
It really was sweet.
“What did you put in the water?”
“Poison.” Cui Buqu casually raised a book to flip it open, not even raising his head. “Ooh~~~~” Feng Xiao dragged his tone, “It appears to be Bingzhi Pellets.”
Cui Buqu: “…”
“My apologies. I’ve taken the wrong one. This was originally meant for Qin Miaoyu.” He coldly stated.
Feng Xiao sighed. “Although one might say that there are no little amount of people in this world who admire my eminence and grace, if you hold such kindness, it’s only right for you to say them out loud.”
Cui Buqu coldly laughed: “Although one might say that I would never take a fancy on common mortals, even if Second Commander Feng has fallen for me, I might not even bat an eye at you. However, with your manner of concealing your intentions like this, wouldn’t it disgrace your status and aura as a top martial artist?”
Feng Xiao chuckled. “Who says I fell for you? How would I fall for an ailing invalid? Stop immersing in your fantasy. Could it be that you have fallen for me?”
Cui Buqu sneered. “You think I would fall for a bald tailed peacock with a polished exterior yet a disappointment on the inside?”
Both of their gazes met each other’s, yet tore away at the same time, no longer paying the other any attention.
Feng Xiao said in his heart: Hmph, refusing to speak your heart! Cui Buqu gave a cold laugh inwardly: Refusing to speak your mind!
Enemies. Really. Walk. A. Narrow. Road!
Content Warning: Mild descriptions of gore and dismemberment. After Luoyang, they weren’t far from the capital.
The sky was dark as gloomy clouds hovered over the air like an endless night.
Waves of chilled wind swept by one after the last, but even more unusual were the dark and sinister whispers coming from all around.
They have just left the main path and ventured into a smaller alley. Forests stood on both sides; and although all the leaves had mostly fallen, the light of lanterns wavering in front of the horses gave off a strange, eerie feeling from the forest as if something would leap out at any moment.
Pei Jingzhe repeatedly raised his head, questioning why the sky hasn’t brightened yet.
The more he thought about it, the more the sky seemed to defy him, refusing to grant him his wish. After they have travelled more than half their journey, a glint of greyish white finally peered through the sky, though it was still far from a bright and sunny day. Instead, those wilted trees that were originally pitch black had turned into swaying dark shadows that overlapped one another, looking like they were opening their jaws wide sinisterly.
The good news was that there was no snow. The bad news was that fog had risen.
A wave of fog surged towards them. The breeze had not only failed to blow the fog away, but it had instead made the forest thick with it.
The roots of jagged, wilted trees were halfway concealed, leaving only their strange upper body to flaunt endlessly in the fog.
Pei Jingzhe realized something was amiss.
He knew that this path stretched a long way, and the forest was quite huge, but—
The tree on their right looked a little familiar.
“Ghosts are hammering the wall.”
At the same time, he heard Cui Buqu’s voice from inside the carriage.
Truly, this was a case of “speaking of the devil, and the devil may come to haunt you.”
He wasn’t afraid of ghosts or demons.
Since the bloody incident from the Yandang Estate, everything that had happened was beyond their expectations. Not long ago, Zhou Laoqi’s corpse seemed to be giving off a sense of foreboding, and although they have chosen not to remain due to Cui Buqu’s insistence, everyone was unable to feel at ease. Pei Jingzhe could not stop himself from feeling like something was about to happen.
Firstly, his heart jerked upwards, and then it was like something heavy had been lifted, before the feeling of a sudden realization sinking in.
When trouble came hitting at one’s door, it was always better than having trouble waiting for them outside.
Everyone else also realized it. They looked around and finally finished searching this region. At a single command from Pei Jingzhe, the convoy stopped.
“My Lord, Commander Cui, let us wait for the fog to disperse before continuing—”
Before his words could fully make their way out, a shriek seemed to sound at the same time, overpowering Pei Jingzhe’s voice completely.
He abruptly turned around!
Amid the fog, a black shadow revealed itself from the trees and in the blink of an eye, it appeared right in front of an eaglerider of the Jiejian Bureau.
The other was abruptly pulled down from his horse and dragged into the depths of the fog!
Pei Jingzhe was taken aback. He didn’t hesitate before dashing forward. But Feng Xiao was even quicker than him!
Pei Jingzhe couldn’t even get a clear look of him unleashing an attack. The black shadow was forced to release the eaglerider and then cruelly cast him to the ground.
“A play of the devil!” Feng Xiao gave a cold snort. He dropped, drawing a pained cry from the black shadow before he fainted dead.
Pei Jingzhe gave him a thorough glance and realized that the other was only wearing a nightgear. They had neither turned ashen mist and smoke nor were they moving underground.
It really was a play of the devil.
What quickly followed were a few black shadows appearing in the fog, coming from all directions and as they surrounded the convoy.
Pei Jingzhe also quickly realized that these people’s martial arts were only above average. Qin Miaoyu, himself, and a few more eagleriders from the Jiejian Bureau and guards from the Zuoyue Bureau would be enough to take all of them on.
“These people are from the Crimson Sun Group. Their martial arts techniques originated from the Jinhuan Group.” Cui Buqu said.
The Jinhuan Group was the head of the Nine Groups of Caoyun, with its Group leader Ning Shewo as the Group Leader. Although the Nine Groups of Caoyun were an alliance, the other Group leaders were not puppets guided by strings. Among the nine groups, only the Group Leader of the Crimson Sun Group rose to his position with the help of Ning Shewo, and so he listened to every command of the Jinhuan Group.
In the last battle at the tavern, the Jinhuan Group’s Young Master Leng Dou brought a batch of Jinhuan elites to forfeit their lives. Feng Xiao had annihilated all of them alone.
But without Leng Dou, there was still Ning Shewo.
That old sly fox Ning Shewo refused to show himself. Instead, he had sent someone else to be his meatshield.
So, naturally, these black-robed people were not his match. Pei Jingzhe was still concerned about something.
Even if the Crimson Sun Group and the Jinhuan Group came at once, would they have been able to thoroughly annihilate the Yandang Estate completely?
Didn’t the old coroner say those fifty or so people died from madness and killed each other?
If the murderers weren’t them, then who else was there hiding in the fog and watching their every move?
In the midst of their struggles, one person descended from above. As his figure wavered, a wave of attack was shot at the horse carriage at the centre of the envoy! It was Cui Buqu’s carriage!
The attack blew off the roof of the carriage.
But that person had failed to shatter Cui Buqu’s body into thousands of pieces.
Because Feng Xiao had come!
Both of them fought in the air. Within a blink of the eye, they have fought from the roof to a few zhang away into the treetops. Onlookers could not even tell their movements clearly.
Feng Xiao did not even need to see the other’s true face. Once they fought, he immediately knew the other’s identity.
“Old Yuan, could it be that your love for me is already so deep-rooted, that you had to find the chance to die by my hand only to be satisfied?”
Yuan Sansi’s face blackened at being called ‘Old Yuan’ by Feng Xiao. Enemies. Really. Walk. A. Narrow. Road!
Last time, he had retreated with heavy injuries which have not fully healed even at this moment. He dared not go full out, and thus only fought while he plotted to escape.
Although Feng Xiao’s martial arts have far surpassed his at present, it wasn’t an easy feat to kill Yuan Sansi on the spot if he was deliberately not trying to fight a serious battle.
However, Yuan Sansi very quickly felt his pressure decreasing. Because two more people had joined the battle.
One of them was the Group Leader of the Jinhuan Group, Ning Shewo and the other was the Group Leader of the Crimson Sun Group, Hong Li. Ning Shewo was a sly enough fellow; last time in Tiannian Mountain, once Group Leader Ning saw that the situation had turned unfavourable, he had vanished quickly and was naturally spared from the same fate that befell Yu Xiu. Returning to the subject, even if his martial arts weren’t one of the top ten beneath the Heavens, he would easily be a top-tier martial artist solely by the fact that he led the Nine Groups of Caoyun and had roamed the Wulin of the South for many years. If he had joined forces with Yu Xiu back then, they might have succeeded in defeating Feng Xiao.
The Crimson Sun Group was akin to the younger brother of the Jinhuan Group. However, the Group Leader Hong Li was known for his barbaric Iron Palm Technique.
When the three of them joined forces and surrounded Feng Xiao, not only did Yuan Sansi have hopes of escaping alive, even if Feng Xiao desired to kill Yuan Sansi, it would no longer be so easy.
The battle outside was also in progress.
The chicken and ducks that Qin Miaoyu had used to test for poison had been ‘kidnapped’ onto the journey as well, to see how long it takes for the poison to act up within them. And now, no one knew how they had escaped from their imprisonment and were all wildly quacking as they ran about. They didn’t even turn back as they ran into freedom.
Cui Buqu stood next to the horse carriage as he observed the battle.
Suddenly, he heard some movement behind him.
He turned around, only to see that someone else was behind his carriage.
The other’s face was pale, with a pair of eyes filled with blood vessels as they looked at Cui Buqu with a stoic expression no different from those who are looking at something dead.
Cold, yet frantic. Cui Buqu knew him. “Lu Ming.”
He happened to be the missing scout of the Zuoyue Bureau from the bloody incident of Yandang Estate.
Hearing his own name, Lu Ming showed no reaction. He seemed to have failed to recognize even his own superior. Reaching out, he grabbed at Cui Buqu.
His right hand crooked into a claw, fast and cruel, aiming for Cui Buqu’s neck.
At the same time Cui Buqu took a step back, he realized Lu Ming’s footsteps were uneven and hesitant.
As he watched his prey escaping, Lu Ming didn’t hesitate moving forward to go into a chase.
Qin Miaoyu quickly came to his aid. She struck Lu Ming’s chest with a sword. The latter hesitated, then reached out to grab the sword and pulled it out of his chest.
This wasn’t something a normal person could do, Qin Miaoyu was dumbstruck.
Recalling the appearance of Zhou Laoqi that morning, and now at Lu Ming, one could make a lot of terrifying connections.
“He isn’t dead. He’s drugged with some poison that sends one into madness!” Cui Buqu exclaimed as if knowing what she was thinking about.
As her mind spun, Qin Miaoyu swung the sword in her hand and sent Lu Ming’s head flying into the air!
Fresh blood sprayed everywhere!
Qin Miaoyu, after all, preferred beauty and cleanliness. She was afraid that she would get blood on her robes, and so pulled Cui Buqu to stand behind him. Lu Ming’s head flew into the air, rolling to a place not far off by Pei Jingzhe’s feet.
“What is this?!” The black-robed man fighting with Pei Jingzhe shouted.
Cui Buqu and the others turned around to look, and saw, from the spot where the neck was cut, there was a long black worm as thick as a finger squiggling out!
Qin Miaoyu picked up a piece of rock and tossed it over. Before the worm could move, it was smashed into a bloody pulp.
“There is a third force at play here.” Cui Buqu coldly said.
Qin Miaoyu was still a little oblivious at first, but upon being reminded, everything fell into place.
From the reactions of those black-robed people, Lu Ming and the worm had nothing to do with them.
This means that they were most likely being lured here as well.
The enemy wanted them to fight among themselves so they may reel in the final catch.
Other than the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, who else were they against?
Qin Miaoyu’s heart sank. Suddenly, she felt that today would not be an easy day to pass.
After Yuan Sansi fought with Feng Xiao for a moment, he realized that Feng Xiao had never intended to take his life.
Feng Xiao suddenly asked: “Are you people the ones behind the Yandang Estate’s incident?”
Yuan Sansi snorted but didn’t answer him.
Ning Shewo asked instead, “Wasn’t it you people who did it?” Feng Xiao snorted coldly: “Stop fooling around with me!”
The four of them seemed to synchronize. Feng Xiao suddenly stopped, Yuan Sansi and the others also retreated into different ways.
Ning Shewo knew that his side was weaker compared to the enemy’s, and so there was no advantage they could have taken, thus he gently said: “Commander Feng was mistaken. We originally came for the Little Sword-Sparring Competition but heard about the massacre at the Yandang Estate, which left us astonished. Afterwards, we heard about Commander Feng and his company’s arrival in Luoyang to handle the case. With Commander Feng and Commander Cui here to deliver miracles upon solving cases, no one would need to worry that this case wouldn’t be solved. So we were prepared to leave in reassurance, but hadn’t expected to run into Commander Feng and your company here.”
To think two parties who couldn’t tolerate each other would cast aside their prejudices and engage in a civil talk, this was truly a miraculous sight.
He chattily said a bunch of things, but it all went back to a single point: They were not the murderers behind the Yandang Estate’s massacre, neither were they tailing Feng Xiao and his company.
As if Yuan Sansi could no longer stand his chattiness, he immediately said: “A few of our subordinates had gone missing. When we pursued our way here, we run into you people.”
Once these words came out, all four of them came to realize that they were intentionally brought together.
Feng Xiao’s expression changed all of a sudden. Ignoring the three of them, he turned around to rush back from where he came from!
His speed was incredibly fast, arriving at the same place where the company stopped just now.
But other than those three horse carriages and a few horses, everyone had gone missing. “Cui Buqu! You surnamed Cui!”
Feng Xiao shouted a few times. In the vast and empty forest of wilted trees, only the vast sea of fog answered him.
He inhaled deeply as if he smelled a faint scent of a fragrance. The fragrance of wood.
But in such wintry weather, from where would the smell of forest wood come from?
Even if Cui Buqu was kidnapped, there was still Ming Yue and the others. It was impossible for them to disappear soundlessly just like that!
From the corner of his eyes, he saw a smudge of red. Feng Xiao lowered his head and saw blood.
It looked like blood that dripped from wounds, bleeding over the ground continuously before it stopped, then bleeding again. In the long stretch of land in front of them, it led into the fog.
Following the bloody trail, he walked over step by step. The scent of blood grew thicker.
Thick like there was a mountain of corpses waiting ahead.
But Feng Xiao did not see a mountain of corpses. He saw Cui Buqu lying down in front not far off, and Qin Miaoyu was on top of the other’s body, biting down on his flesh.
Hearing his movement, Qin Miaoyu turned around with a face full of fresh blood!
White bones have already revealed themselves from Cui Buqu’s arm. Feng Xiao’s heart stopped. This was an instinctive reaction.
The expression on his face changed, and he rushed forward without a second thought!
At the same time, there was a black shadow closing up on him from behind, soundless and breathless.
Feng Xiao replied in absolute resolution: “Because no one could compare to the elegance of my demeanor, the grace of my appearance, and every lithe action of mine that are number one beneath the Heavens.”
The black shadow was determined to achieve its goal, but unexpectedly, Feng Xiao appeared midway and launched a zither string from his hand with a spin.
Filled with qi, the zither drew an air-splitting sound and pierced right through the black figure!
The black shadow was reduced into black smoke, shattering into broken pieces.
Feng Xiao didn’t remain there any longer. He subsequently cast two waves of qi at Cui Buqu and Qin Miaoyu.
Another two dark shadows that turned to dust! They are fake.
Everything was fake.
“Play of the devil!” Snorted Feng Xiao coldly.
One may say that this illusion was quite stunning, but was he, Feng Xiao, so easily deceived? After seeing the Twin Spinning Compass Array that was made by that miserable old fool Fan Yun, the scene in front of his eyes now fell miserably inferior in comparison. As those three black shadows shattered, the clouds dispersed to reveal a bright moonlit sky.
It was unknown when the sky had brightened. Although everywhere still looked bleak, at least it wasn’t similar to the gloomy darkness earlier where ghost shadows roamed.
In the brightness, nothing within the sinister forest was hidden.
Yuan Sansi and the other two were trapped in an illusion, unable to withdraw themselves.
Hong Li’s mind was in disarray. He waved his sword around wildly and ran into a tree.
After a dull, sickening and teeth-gritting bump, Hong Li shattered his own skull. His body fell limply to the ground with serous fluid mixed with blood oozing out of his brain.
Yuan Sansi and Ning Shewo had it a little better. Their martial arts were, after all, stronger than Hong Li’s. Ning Shewo furrowed his eyebrows in frustration where he stood as he struggled; Yuan Sansi was gritting his teeth as he glared at Feng Xiao, falling in and out of consciousness.
Feng Xiao lifted his gaze to look around, but he couldn’t see the silhouette of those horse carriages.
Feng Xiao originally intended to leave them be, but as he thought about the fact that they were now sitting in the same boat, they’d be two good scapegoats should any danger appear.
Taking this point into consideration, he flicked his finger at both of them.
The zither string bounced off the spot between both of their eyebrows. Both of them staggered before their illusions disintegrated in front of their eyes.
Ning Shewo looked like he had just woken up. Within a short period of time, their gazes cleared. Yuan Sansi was obviously well-trained in the martial arts. When the zither string came, he could even shift his body sideways to avoid it and use his softblock to block the incoming attack. Feng Xiao shot out another zither string to bounce it off his shoulder. Taking two steps backwards, Yuan Sansi once more came back to his senses.
“What happened?” Ning Shewo’s expression changed and instinctively assumed that Feng Xiao killed Hong Li.
But he quickly realized it wasn’t.
Because Feng Xiao could have used the opportunity to kill him as well, but Feng Xiao hadn’t.
Ning Shewo gathered himself, and after confirming that Hong Li had killed himself, he ignored the corpse and observed his surroundings instead.
“Weren’t we trapped in the array? Does Commander Feng have an idea on how to escape this mess?”
Feng Xiao spoke immediately without delay: “If I had any inkling of how to escape, I would have just gone and killed the both of you just now.”
Ning Shewo pretended not to hear the dripping ridicule. He thickened his face and smiled, “Many thanks to Commander Feng’s high-handed mercy. The enemy obviously imprisoned us here together in an attempt to lure us into killing each other. However, Commander Feng not only forsook prior prejudices, he even chose to pull through together in such times of trouble. What a truly magnanimous generosity!”
Feng Xiao glared at him for a while, then he asked Yuan Sansi: “Is this Ning Shewo the real deal or a fickle of my imagination?”
Yuan Sansi barked impatiently: “The real one! He often curries favours with the officials of the Chen Dynasty. Who as an official wouldn’t know how to speak like that?” Feng Xiao beamed: “Me.”
He truly didn’t need this ability of having many faces. Yuan Sansi parted his mouth with the intention to mock him, but as he took their situation into consideration, he swallowed back his words.
All of a sudden, Feng Xiao wasn’t at all in a hurry. He even weaved the two zither strings in his hand and made them into a flower.
Yuan Sansi’s lip twitched as he glared at him from the corner of his eye.
Feng Xiao shook the ‘flower’ in his hands, and after a flourish, the flower burst into a loose bundle, turning back into two strings.
“Wasn’t that pretty?”
Yuan Sansi: …Why was he here watching the Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau playing tricks?
Because they could not get out either way.
Ning Shewo walked in circles and unawarely walked into the fog. After a while, he came back out from the other side tired and nervous, panting for breath.
Yuan Sansi looked at him. Ning Shewo shook his head, implying that he couldn’t find the way out.
After walking past the fog, it seemed that everywhere was an exit, but they couldn’t find the true exit that led out.
Who would place two parties who couldn’t tolerate each other in the same palace?
Yuan Sansi could only think of one person. Fan Yun. This person had once betrayed the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, and at the same time, he wasn’t an ally to Feng Xiao and his people. Additionally, he was skilled in the arts of arrays as well as the concept of the Yin and the Yang. He was the strongest suspect.
Three top martial artists of the Jianghu trapped here, powerless. One feared that even if this incident spread, nobody would believe them.
After knowing this was a scheme of the enemy’s, Yuan Sansi and Ning Shewo had no desire to fight to satisfy them.
Even if they wanted to fight, leaving should take priority.
As they pondered for a way out of the array, Feng Xiao plopped to the ground. He fished a mandarin out from his sleeve and began shredding it.
He’s got that from Pei Jingzhe this morning. Originally, he wanted to use it to tease that man surnamed Cui on the journey, but who could have guessed they’d run into such a sinister array? The mandarin rolled against the warmth of his skin until it was warm so that it would taste sweeter in the mouth.
Seeing how sweetly he ate, Yuan Sansi gritted his jaw as he hissed those words out clearly: “Wouldn’t Commander Feng want to leave this array?”
“I know nothing about arrays. What use is there walking in circles here? We could only wait for rescue.” Feng Xiao so deservingly said.
Ning Shewo hopefully asked: “Is Commander Feng travelling with someone skilled in arrays?”
Feng Xiao: “Yes. Cui Buqu.”
Yuan Sansi gave a malicious laugh: “Is Commander Feng expecting Cui Buqu to come to rescue you? Forgive me for being direct; if you died here, he would suffer no loss.” Feng Xiao smiled and said: “Here is where you are wrong. Even if Cui Buqu and I didn’t know each other, he would rescue me.”
‘Worth it.’ Those words from the tavern that night was proof enough.
Yuan Sansi furrowed his brows. His instincts warned him not to ask for an answer, but he couldn’t stop himself and asked anyway: “Why?”
Feng Xiao replied in absolute resolution: “Because no one could compare to the elegance of my demeanor, the grace of my appearance, and every lithe action of mine that are number one beneath the Heavens.”
Yuan Sansi: “…”
For the first time in his life, he suspected whether people who excelled too much in the martial arts would be defective in one way or another—for example, Feng Xiao’s brain.
Pei Jingzhe never expected to see Qian Xian again.
She still looked cold like she had always been. Suddenly appearing, she reached out to grab his hand.
“Follow me quickly. I know the way out!”
“Maiden Qiao?!” Pei Jingzhe stuttered, “Wait, why are you here?”
Qiao Xian turned around suspiciously. “There was an attempted assassination on me along the way. I thought all of you wouldn’t be safe either, and so returned quickly. I tailed behind you all and I could never have guessed that something really did happen.”
Pei Jingzhe was dragged for a few steps, and suddenly he paused. “No.
My Lord and Commander Cui are still in there. I need to save them!”
Qiao Xian said: “They have already gone out. I saw them myself just now!” Pei Jingzhe curiously asked, “Where? Why didn’t I see it?”
Qiao Xian pointed to a certain direction.
Pei Jingzhe turned around, and just as he was about to say that he saw nothing, an arrow flew into his direction, aimed between his brows. Just as he wanted to avoid it, Qiao Xian’s hand around his wrist tightened as she flew towards him, pulling him into a hug and using her back to block the arrow.
Pei Jingzhe hugged her body as she slowly slumped to the ground, feeling his mind go blank with everything forgotten.
“You… Leave quickly!” Qiao Xian spitted out a mouthful of blood as she choked and sputtered.
“If we are to leave, we leave together. I would never leave you behind!”
But the arrow that struck Qian Xian from behind was huge. Blackened blood flowed slowly from her back and clung to Pei Jingzhe’s hands.
He felt the scent of blood suddenly turned dense, and very quickly it turned into a stench as if the fluid was swirling around him, sticking to his nose, not giving him the chance to retaliate.
Qiao Xian who was in his arms was already rapidly decaying. Beautiful features turned into wilted ash resembling that of an epiphytic flower.
But he couldn’t let go! Pei Jingzhe gritted his teeth. He likes Qiao Xian. It wasn’t just because of her beauty, but even if she turned into bones, it was still Qiao Xian. He wouldn’t be such a shallow bloke!
“Ah!” Pei Jingzhe felt his mind hurt. A scent of something different drifted into his nostrils like a blend of ginger and pepper but slightly more prickier, tugging violently at his mind until he was awake.
As he lowered his head, Pei Jingzhe was scared stiff until his hairs were standing on its tips, his soul scared out of his body!
It wasn’t Qiao Xian in his arms anymore. It was the head that Qin Miaoyu had just cut off!
So he was hugging a bodiless head while he wailed all this time?!
“Are you silly?!” Qin Miaoyu couldn’t stand it any longer. She smacked the back of his head once.
“What are you sitting there for? Get up and break through the array!” Cui Buqu urged with a raised brow as he coughed a few times from the side.
Pei Jingzhe quickly dumped the corpse, but as he recalled how disrespectful this was, he slowly let go while he twitched his face.
A raging battle was still going on all around them.
Ming Yue, Guan Shanhai, the eagle riders of the Jiejian Bureau, and the Zuoyue guards, as well as the elites from the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai that attacked them, had all blended indistinguishably among themselves.
Ming Yue and Guan Shanhai were in a slightly better position. Their eyebrows furrowed as they dragged their bodies and limped, fighting with their illusions while they were helpless from sinking into the frenzy of killing.
There were already quite a few corpses on the ground, and among them were people from their side as well as the enemy’s. Qin Miaoyu suffered a few knife wounds to her body. If this continued, regardless of how they excelled in their martial arts, their inner strength would soon be depleted, and then only death awaits them. Pei Jingzhe stared open-eyed and tongue-tied, not knowing what to do.
“There is something wrong with the fragrance here. It’s the same as the one we found in the Yandang Estate! During that time, I was already suspicious, and so I scouted for any object of fragrance I could in the posthouse to grind them into powder. They could help you stay conscious for a bit!” Qin Miaoyu spoke with the quickest voice she was capable of, “But it is only a temporary solution. We should quickly take apart the array!”
She was quite knowledgeable when it came to fragrance. During the time she was still in the City of Six Crafts cowering in hiding, she had made use of fragrance to gain the attention of the best in the entertainment house and managed to find herself a place to hide using the identity of Maiden Miao. Feng Xiao also admired this talent of hers, and because of that, he had spared her to recruit into the Jiejian Bureau.
Qin Miaoyu was naturally sensitive to smell, but she could only solve the issue of fragrance that drove people into madness. She could not disassemble the array.
If one were to disassemble the array, they’d still need to depend on Cui Buqu.
Cui Buqu clasped his mouth and nose shut with a cloth that was dabbled with fragrance. This could prolong the poisonous fragrance from quickly entering his system.
Qin Miaoyu and Pei Jingzhe looked at him, placing all their hopes there.
Other than a few drivers and Cui Buqu, everyone knew martial arts. But now, the only one who could disassemble the array was someone who didn’t know martial arts.
Cui Buqu said: “Cut down all the trees.”
Pei Jingzhe looked at him silly, “Which tree?” Cui Buqu cooly said: “Every tree you see. All of them.”
A-Qu! You really came to rescue me!
The knives and swords in their hands wouldn’t be strong enough to cut down those trees even if qi was infused into them. Unless they were renowned blades forged from high-quality metal, otherwise, the sword’s body would bend regardless of how many times it was used to chop.
Without makeshift axes, they were only left with the option of using their hands.
Listening to Cui Buqu’s orders, Pei Jingzhe accepted his fate as he approached a tree and slammed a palm against it. The trunk split apart when the hit landed. After two more hits and a kick, the tree tumbled sideways and fell thoroughly to the ground.
His hand hurt…
Qin Miaoyu, however, still thought him too slow. “Be quick! The Third Commander wouldn’t be able to hold much longer!”
Pei Jingzhe pursed his lips. Just as he was heading into another direction, he caught sight of an elongated black moving object from the corner of his eyes. He lowered his head and his breath hitched!
The fallen tree had an empty core, and a long worm was crawling out from it.
Qin Miaoyu had a sharp sight and a quick reflex. Her sword flew towards it and minced the long worm into pieces. Flesh and blood clung to the tip of her blade. Qin Miaoyu gave a disgusted snort: “These trees were originally scentless. Those fragrances came from these worms!”
Pei Jingzhe felled another tree. Similarly, a long worm stood where its core should have been.
Every tree had one.
Pei Jingzhe and Qin Miaoyu’s expressions changed. Then, Pei Jingzhe realized something strange happened.
The fog that lingered around the forest gradually receded after a few trees were felled. After that, the endless and imperceptible sight of the forest also became clearer.
Pei Jingzhe’s mind clicked and he sped up, ignoring his swollen and numb hand as he subsequently slammed a few other trees down.
Qin Miaoyu’s train of thought interlinked with him as she started attacking all those long worms.
As the fragrance gradually wore thin, so did the dizzy spells that caused their lack of consciousness. Just as Pei Jingzhe was about to raise his hand to slam the juniper tree in front, Qin Miaoyu’s shriek sounded from behind, “Watch out!”
A figure suddenly appeared from the thick and strong trunk. In a blink of the eye, he came before Pei Jingzhe before the latter could attack. Caught surprised, Pei Jingzhe shifted sideways in an attempt to avoid it, though his shoulder had taken a hit.
A searing pain spread through his shoulder, like he’d just been pricked through by a needle. The prickling itch made him want to cut his shoulder down at that moment.
Cui Buqu exclaimed loudly, “Seal the meridians around your shoulder!” Pei Jingzhe spared no time hesitating. He instinctively followed Cui Buqu’s orders. On the other hand, Qin Miaoyu’s sword thrusted as she engaged into a fight with the black-robed person.
“My… Something seems to be in my shoulder. It’s wriggling!” Pei Jingzhe’s face paled, his voice trembling.
“Lie down!” Cui Buqu yelled and tore his clothes open. He realized that there was a red dot on Pei Jingzhe’s shoulder the size of a bead of rice like the bite of a mosquito. If one hadn’t examined it closely, they would not have noticed it.
“What is it? What is that thing?” Pei Jingzhe’s voice was shaking. The situation had all happened within a flash. He could not see clearly what the black-robed person carried on them. However, if what they’ve brought was simply a hidden weapon or poison, they would not have frightened him so The living thing in his shoulder would continue to wriggle upwards if he hadn’t sealed his meridians.
Cui Buqu used a dagger to slit open a bloody red line. Then he used his hands to force it open.
Blood spurted out of the wound. The pain caused Pei Jingzhe to burst into a sweat, but he forcibly stomached them.
Other than blood, there was something black in colour.
The black-coloured object was wriggling in aversion to the sunlight. It was giving all it could to struggle and dive back once more into the flesh!
As the black-robed man battling with Qin Miaoyu saw this scene unfold, their expression changed and they lunged themselves at Cui Buqu without a second thought, but Qin Miaoyu held them back. The black-robed man slapped Qin Miaoyu’s softsword away with their bare hand while they simultaneously snatched it with immense strength. Qin Miaoyu was pulled forward, then felt a wave of malicious wind coming for her head so quickly that she didn’t even have the time to withdraw. I’m finished! She thought and instinctively closed her eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to witness the moment her scalp would crack and shatter.
The expected pain never came. Pei Jingzhe had struggled up from the ground and stopped the black-robed man from their rear. As they fought, Qin Miaoyu wrangled the time to escape free.
Qin Miaoyu sniffed her nose, reminding herself that she would never call Pei Jingzhe dumb again. She withdrew her softsword and rose into the air to swirl around the black-robed person.
The wound on Pei Jingzhe’s shoulder hurt more the more intensely they fought. Just back then, before Cui Buqu could force the worm out of his shoulder, Pei Jingzhe was forced to stand up to rescue Qin Miaoyu. At this moment, he had wounded his qi and the squirming worm inside his shoulder had caused him to quickly lose all senses on his shoulder.
Then, he heard someone’s shout.
“A-Qu, you really came to rescue me!”
The owner of this voice bullied and teased him on usual days, but in such a situation, Pei Jingzhe felt hot and warm tears of relief threatening to flow out of his eyes the moment he heard that voice.
“My Lord! There is a worm in my shoulder!”
Even if he was at the brink of death now, Pei Jingzhe was confident at sustaining himself. Ironically, worms are the things he was most afraid of in life, especially when these worms of unknown origin were wriggling into his body. As he thought about Lu Ming and Zhou Laoqi, and the thought that the worm would still be inside someone’s body after death, he couldn’t help feeling both hateful and pained and disgusted.
“Yo, has that worm laid eggs in your body? If the eggs hatched, wouldn’t there be a thousand little worms wriggling out of your body soon enough?” The black-robed person was unguarded when Feng Xiao crept up behind him like a foreshadowing ghost and slapped a palm onto his back. The black-robed person immediately fell forwards, face into the ground, unknown whether he was dead or alive.
Despite that, Feng Xiao still had enough to spare to tease Pei Jingzhe.
Listening to this, Pei Jingzhe’s face grew paler and his soul was scared out of his wits. Even the hairs on his head prickled from where they stood.
He couldn’t stop himself from looking to the side. Lu Ming’s head was lying not far off, looking at him with a dull and ashen gaze, like he was urging him to quickly accompany him in the afterlife.
“Don’t move!” Cui Buqu pressed his body down, treating him like a squirming fish.
As that worm drilled deeper and deeper, it reached the spot slightly above his right chest. The skin trembled like something inside of it was alive.
“Commander Cui, I don’t want to lose all my sense of judgement like those people from the Yandang Estate and attack all of you. If I am unable to make it, please kill me!” Pei Jingzhe spoke through gritted teeth, terrified, “Please tell my Lord that I’ve hidden some money in my room in the Jiejian Bureau. It’s placed on the beam on top of the fourth pillar. Let him buy me some paper money and burn them for me every month. I’m afraid I won’t have enough to use when I’m down there!”
Near the end, his voice had turned into sobs.
Cui Buqu said expressionlessly, “Feng-er, seal all the meridians around his body. Don’t let the worm escape. Qin Miaoyu, on my orders later, catch the worm.”
Qin Miaoyu nervously nodded her head.
Feng Xiao was precise and ruthless and he was a few times quicker in speed than Qin Miaoyu’s. His fingers adeptly tapped on a few spots on Pei Jingzhe’s body a few times, quickly immobilizing him. He glared at Cui Buqu with widened eyes as the latter drew a few more long bloody lines on his chest.
The worm quickly saw the opportunity. Once it realized there was an opening in the flesh, it wriggled elsewhere. But those places were all pried open by Cui Buqu, exposing part of its body.
“Catch it!” Cui Buqu shouted.
Practically at the same time, Qin Miaoyu sprinkled the fragrant powder in her hands. The worm looked like it was extremely afraid of these sort of scents. It froze on the spot before Qin Miaoyu reached out to pinch it and pulled it out!
Refusing to leave its host, the worm hooked it’s tail onto the body and pulled some of the flesh and blood as it was forcibly dragged out.
Even with her hand coated with fragrance, Qin Miaoyu dared not touch the worm for too long. She immediately tossed it onto the ground. As the worm hit the ground, Feng Xiao struck it with a pebble using his index and middle finger and killed it on the spot.
Following afterwards, the black-robed person who had been half- conscious spit out a mouthful of blackened blood. His ordinary-looking face withered away and quickly turned into an old man of seventy to eighty years of age. Bundles of white hair seeped out from the black-robes he wore.
This death of his caused a few trees to wither along with him. The fog cleared out and the poisonous fragrance thinned out.
Everyone who had been in a frenzy came back to their senses and vomited.
Yuan Sansi’s state of mind had been so occupied by the black-robed person that he’s forgotten to make use of their misery. Now that the illusion had disappeared, and Feng Xiao was once again reunited with Cui Buqu, it was difficult for him to think of any ways to attack. So quickly, he left.
When Ning Shewo came to notice this, Yuan Sansi was long gone.
As he bowed at Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu with his hands clasped, Ning Shewo cussed at Yuan Sansi in his heart, “Many thanks to both of you who saved us. This humble one surnamed Ning would still be trapped in the array otherwise and. However, one could never have thought that there would be someone else so skilled in arrays other than Master Fan!”
However, Cui Buqu said: “This person isn’t skilled in arrays. He is simply skilled in this.”
He pointed at the black worm.
Ning Shewo guiltly begged for an understanding, “May I ask where this poisonous worm came from?”
Cui Buqu glared at him, “Why should I tell you?”
Ning Shewo was taken aback, but he dared not be mad. He retained a smile as he said: “Reasonable. This humble one surnamed Ning sincerely admires both of you from the depths of my heart. The Jinhuan Gang would serve you until death!”
Cui Buqu coldly said, “I want you to bring word to Xiao Lu.”
These words meant that Cui Buqu would not be killing him today. Having been rest assured, Ning Shewo quickly added: “Commander Cui, speak your words!”
Cui Buqu: “Tell Xiao Lu honestly all that happened today and ask him whether he is willing to form a truce on this matter. If he is willing, then meet me at the Zuoyue Bureau in the capital.”
Ning Shewo caught the point of his words. “Are we to work together?” Cui Buqu abruptly laughed, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend. However, once this is over, the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai and I are still enemies. I believe Pavilion Lord Xiao and Gang Leader Ning would understand this?”
Ning Shewo smiled in return, “Naturally, this humble one surnamed Ning understands!”
The person Ning Shewo was wary of wasn’t Cui Buqu, but Feng Xiao.
As he spoke, his gaze would sometimes steal glances at the latter.
Feng Xiao asked: “Old Ning, what do you think about my looks?”
Ning Shewo was momentarily stunned, but then he smiled: “Commander Feng is the most outstanding person I have ever seen in my life!”
These words did not come from solely just flattery. Feng Xiao smiled. He sighed and said, “What a pity!”
Ning Shewo’s hands itched, but he still gave an honest smile and spoke with a naviety that resembled a child’s. “A pity of what?”
Feng Xiao: “A pity that someone like me who wears a grace that resembles a jade tree swaying in the wind would require a lot of maintenance. For example: one must use spring water from the mountains when one baths, best use the water from the first snow. Moreover, these robes of mine are made from silk. It’s soft and fine texture wouldn’t scar my skin. Understood?”
Ning Shewo, “…”
His gaze turned vacant, having completely no idea what Feng Xiao was trying to imply. Ning Shewo had a swift and quick mind. Even in the Southern Dynasty, he could make a name for himself and understood many words that lay hidden between the lines. But in spite of that, he could not understand what Feng Xiao was trying to say. To think that he, Ning Shewo, was also considered a heroic figure. If someone ignorantly tried to flaunt smartness in front of him, he would have already fed them to the fishes with a command of his hand. But now, in addition to not having the privilege to be furious, Ning Shewo even had to comply with Feng Xiao’s words.
“This humble one surnamed Ning is slow. I beg Commander Feng to… enlighten me?”
Cui Buqu coldly said: “He means that he is a gold-swallowing creature, and that he needs money during all moments of his life. If you have the smarts, then buy your own life with money.”
Ning Shewo’s mind clicked. He immediately fished out all the money from his pocket as well as a jade tassel from his belt. “This humble one came in a hurry. I haven’t brought many valuable items with me.” He pleaded, “Please, Commander Feng, kindly allow me to return and send you a hundred guan of money to the Jiejian Bureau!”
Feng Xiao said in displeasure: “Just you alone? Then what about those helpers of yours? And Yuan Sansi? Since he’s gone, then you should bear his part of the portion.”
Blood practically spurted out of Ning Shewo’s mouth. He cussed: How could Yuan Sansi be a free man, while he was here paying his part of the deal? However, it was not his choice to disobey when his life was in someone else’s hands. Quickly, he ordered everyone else to take out any items of worth on them.
Not long later, there was a little “mountain of money”.
There were gold, silver, copper, and daggers inlaid with gems or jade ornaments of mediocre quality.
Every item may not be worth much, but the amount of everything here added up was enough for Feng Xiao to dine in the finest restaurant in the capital for an entire year. Feng Xiao sighed, “It seems the Nine Groups of Caoyun looks quite well off.”
Ning Shewo laughed dryly, “Commander Feng overestimated me.
Could this humble one surnamed Ning leave now?”
Feng Xiao: “What about your clothes? And everyone else’s weapons?” “What?” Ning Shewo thought he’d heard wrongly. He bitterly laughed,
“Commander Feng, let us not have a bad sense of humour.”
Feng Xiao smiled, “Look at my face and tell me whether I look like I am not being serious.”
Ning Shewo twitched his lips. As he accepted his fate, he took off his clothes and his followers followed suit and took off all their weapons, leaving only their underpants.
Under a moonless winter and having just braved through a ferocious battle, they were frozen stiff.
Feng Xiao finally found the kindness in himself to let them go.
“Bring these items onto the horse carriage and trade them for money. Today, everyone who participated shall be rewarded. Those who are wounded will be additionally compensated. The severely wounded and the dead will be compensated thrice as much.”
“Many thanks, Second Commander Feng!” Qin Miaoyu happily replied.
“Am I… Am I considered severely wounded?” Pei Jingzhe raised his hand. Due to the worm, he’d ended up with a few open wounds on his body. Although his wounds were not severe in reality, the gruesome sight of his body was quite intimidating.
Feng Xiao gave him a half-smile, “The beam on the fourth pillar, hm?”
Pei Jingzhe: “…” Just as they were taking, Cui Buqu had already walked towards the black-robed person and knelt on his knee. He used a sword to fling away the robes and clothes.
A little copper tin fell down.
Cui Buqu wanted to reach out to pick it up.
But halfway, Feng Xiao caught his wrist. He gave Cui Buqu a look before flicking a finger to break that copper can apart.
There was nothing.
This can was most likely used to hold those long worms. Now that the worms were finished, nothing would be left in it.
Cui Buqu raised a brow.
“Poisonous worms? Are there any such experts in the Jianghu?” Feng Xiao curiously asked.
“This is a gu1. Using one’s life to cultivate these gu, and using it to form an array.” Cui Buqu solemnly said.
Kuhezhen spit out a mouthful of blackened blood.
He lowered his head and undid his clothes to look at the small and large bloody holes appearing on his chest.
“A-Qi is dead.” He gave a quiet sigh, “The Central Plains truly holds a lot of capable people. My fault for underestimating them.”
The servant went up to help him, but he was pushed away with a wave of his hand.
Tuan Qinghe, who was sitting on the other side made a serious remark:
“I wish to have a serious battle with Feng Xiao. I beg the Seventh Prince to leave him for me.”
“Naturally. There is no need for you to worry. There is someone else who was more impatient than me, and I’ve merely only just begun warming up. To say in the words of the Central Plains: “This pool of water is already muddy, and I am simply just reaching out to make its waters muddier.’”
Kuhezhen crooked a brow slightly. When he smiled, a gentle look bounced off his blue-irises like a sea of ocean water.
“I heard the Empress became ill.”
Tuan Qinghe suspiciously said, “When you enter the palace the day before, wasn’t she still well?”
Kuhezhen nodded. “She fell ill yesterday. As a means of courtesy, I should pay her a visit at the palace.”
He adjusted his clothes again after he’d finished speaking and rose to his feet to fling the dust away.
“There is no need for you to accompany me into the palace.”
Tuan Qinghe was naturally glad not to. He would rather spend his time practicing martial arts.
Kuhezhen was bringing people out of the house and passed through the corridor, leaving the manor that the Sui Emperor had bestowed upon him.
He raised his head to look at the colour of the sky then mumbled to himself, “Goodness, it seems like there’s going to be a storm!”
The servants on his left and right raise their heads along with him only to feel confused at the bright and sunny sky above their heads.
 蛊 (gu): The gu is a venom-based poison culturally associated with Southern China, particularly Nanyue. The process of making gu poison is by putting various venomous insects into a closed container so they could devour one another until a single survivor is left. The remaining survivor, where all the concentrated toxic is in, would be fed to a large larvae and the last larvae is the final complex poison produced. Gu was used in black magic practices such as manipulating sexual partners, creating malignant diseases, and causing death. According to Chinese folklore, a gu spirit could transform into various animals, typically a worm, caterpillar, snake, frog, dog, or pig.
Feng-er really lives for ququ to both pit him (hard) as well as be his knight-in-shinning armour. As long as it’s ququ playing the other role, he’s super happy about it. 😂😂😂😂😂
Even with a sick and broken body, he could still carry the weight of half this country on his shoulders.
Daxing City, Fourteenth of the First Month, third watch of the night1. A profound silence prevailed; the chickens slept and the horses rested.
“In such chilly and frozen weather, shut the windows and doors up tightly!”
Liu San’er’s voice travelled far into the night as he shouted from a distance.
He raised a gong and Old Yang, who was walking next to him, gave it a heavy knock with a stick.
“Old Man Yang, are we going to walk for an entire night?”
Liu San’er was patrolling in place of his father, an old night watch who passed away abruptly from a heart attack last month.
As this was his first time being a night watch, Liu San’er briefly found the job refreshing, but not long after, he realized that it was both a cold and bitter job.
Although no snow was falling, it didn’t matter how thickly one wrapped themselves up in clothes, the wind would still seep in from any small openings it could find and make them beg for death.
Liu San’er had begun to miss the warm blankets of his bed in his little house.
“Naturally!” Old Yang was unimpressed with Liu San’er whining about it on his first day. He reprimanded him, “When your dad and I are on duty, this is how we do it. Tonight, you are lucky enough to be patrolling with me. During inopportune moments, you’d be the only one on duty. You should know your way around then!”
Liu San’er’s face turned sourer, “There are even times when one has to be on duty alone?”
Old Yang couldn’t stand to hear these words. This young lad loved things the easy way and disliked hard labour. How would he make a good enough living to marry and raise a family? So thus, he opened his mouth to reprimand him again.
Liu San’er wasn’t someone with a good temper to begin with, but this time, surprisingly, he kept quiet as he endured the scolding with no intentions of rebuking.
“As a night watch for so many years, have you ever met anything strange?”
As Old Yang reprimanded him endlessly, he did not expect to be interrupted. Impatiently, he barked: “What strange incidents? Never!”
“Not even once?” Asked Liu San’er in a very eerie tone.
Old Yang furrowed his brows. “Lad, what are you trying at?!”
Liu San’er immediately looked behind him, “Then look behind you and tell me: What is that?”
Old Yang instinctively turned around. Behind him, at a corner not too far, stood half the figure of a white-robed man.
By “half”, meaning that the other half of his body was hidden behind the wall.
But most importantly, that white-robed man had no head on his neck.
His head was sitting in his hands, looking at them with a pair of bloody red eyes.
The hair all over Old Yang turned white. He rubbed his eyes, only to see the white-robed person was still there. It wasn’t a dream!
“Q-Quick, run, quick! There’s a ghost!”
He didn’t hesitate before grabbing Liu San’er’s hand and took off frantically.
As the fifty-year-old man poured out all his efforts on running, he ran as quickly as a young lad.
Both of them ran non-stop for a good while before Old Yang finally ran out of steam. He bent over to support his knees as he panted.
“Q-Quick go report to the village head. No, no wait. Go to the bureau.
Report it to the officials directly. These thieves are scaring people!” “Was it really that scary?” Liu San’er quietly said.
“Didn’t you see? Such a big person, and yet there’s no head…” Old Yang suddenly sensed that something about Liu San’er’s tone sounded off. Then he raised his head.
This look made him freeze stiff!
Liu San’er’s head was sitting in his own hands as he smiled at Old Yang, his mouth moving as he spoke. “Am I the ghost you were talking about?”
Old Yang blacked out.
He immediately fell limp to the ground, unconscious.
Daxing City, Fifteenth of the First Month, dawn. The Lantern Festival.
To the citizens of the capital, this was the first Lantern Festival since they moved into the new capital.
To the Vice Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau, Song Liangchen, this was a very unusual Lantern Festival.
As one of the Vice Commanders of the Zuoyue Bureau, her martial arts were very mediocre, not comparable even to the level of a second-ranking top martial artist.
But her strength wasn’t in her martial arts. It was in knowing how to handle internal affairs. With Song Liangchen in the Zuoyue Bureau, Cui Buqu was spared of the worries that concerned that area.
Hence, Song Liangchen remained in the Zuoyue Bureau in everyone’s reassurance, not even leaving it at the minimum frequency of every ten days or half a month.
Even if most women adored going to jewellery and perfume stalls, she’d excused herself from these matters. She would rather drink tea and read books, chatter and play chess. Even when there was no opponent for her, she would play chess with herself. Compared to Cui Buqu who has ailing health, yet liked to run around outside, Song Liangchen was on a wholly different extremity.
And so within the court, there was a saying: The Zuoyue Bureau has three eccentrics. An ailing invalid, a woman who never showed herself, and a fake monk.
Something was different today.
The sky was painted in a pale shade of blue, almost white. Song Liangchen rose earlier than she normally would.
She was sitting facing the great gate looking extremely serious.
As if she was waiting for some information, or waiting for a person.
By the time a few people walked in covered in dust and snow, the plum soup next to her had turned icy cold.
The one leading them was Zhangsun Bodhi.
With each time she saw Zhangsun Bodhi, Song Liangchen would ponder over a very serious question: Isn’t he cold if he’d shaved all his hair in such chilly weather?
From the looks of it now, he must have been cold. Because when he took down his hat, she noticed that the inside of the hat was stuffed with a grey- coloured cloth.
Had it been on usual days, she would most certainly have teased him. But today she said nothing.
Zhangsun’s expression looked more solemn than hers.
Song Liangchen’s brows knitted tightly after hearing these words, but she didn’t look surprised.
She asked: “Liu Fang?”
Zhangsun slowly nodded his head: “Liu Fang.” Song Liangchen: “Cause of death?”
Zhangsun: “Hanged himself.”
Song Liangchen’s expression turned stranger, as if she hadn’t heard clearly and hence repeated it: “He hanged himself?”
As for Zhangsun Bodhi, the Vice Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau that never spoke too many words, he repeated her words like a parrot, placing emphasis on them: “He hanged himself.”
Song Liangchen pondered over it for a while, and suddenly said, “Let me take a look.”
For someone who almost never left their residence, it was akin to the world coming to an end the moment she said that she wanted to go and take a look.
Yet, Zhangsun Bodhi said: “I will go too.”
As both of them left together without a discussion first, they left for the Eastern City in unison.
That was the most prosperous place within Daxing City; taverns formed forests, and the stalls were beautiful. According to the hearsays, there was nothing that could not be bought in the Eastern City, only things which a price cannot be named.
The New Year hasn’t passed for very long. The crowd was thick in the first month, and on the first three days since the fifteenth of the first month, they were the only three days within a year that the Imperial Court permitted a temporary lift of curfew.
This also meant that from tonight onwards, the Eastern City as well as other places, even the entire capital, would truly be filled with fireworks, turning it into a city that never slept.
Many merchants from the Western Regions who came from afar and ran into such cold weather would all choose to spend the new year here before leaving for home.
Not only did the Imperial Court organize such festive activities to pray for blessings and join in the people’s happiness, but even the marketplace would self-organize some dances, games, and tea gatherings, parties that lasted through the stretch of time. Even those merchants would grab onto the opportunity to introduce new playthings and give them names worthy of this moment. Where Zhangsun and Song Liangchen were going, they would see a smile plastered on every wandering face.
It appeared that the royalties and aristocracy would be spending all their affords to keep up with one another, trying their best to stand out today.
This year, the people could let out a breath of relief due to their rich harvests, as well as look forward to seeing their hopes fulfilled due to the new laws issued by the present Emperor on loosening their taxes.
During the night of the Lantern Festival, the curfew was lifted, and hence it made these three nights to be even rowdier than New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve.
The Eastern City was already very crowded before night dawned upon the city, and a lot of people had come earlier to see the festival at the temple.
Song Liangchen was sandwiched in the crowd until she practically dropped her shoes, and Zhangsun’s gauze hat2 had long fallen and lost. A clean and smooth head was quite eye-catching among the crowd.
It wasn’t easy to arrive before the doors of the teahouse. Song Liangchen gave a hopeless look as if she’d just weather through a ferocious battle.
During this time, drinking tea was no longer a trend. The so-called teahouse also sold some cuisines and all kinds of beverages. to the teahouse was a stall that sold baked goods. With each evening when the baked pastries came out of the oven, buyers would form long queues. In reality, these two places were both stations of the Zuoyue Bureau. People that came were from varying classes, and so it was the best place to deliver information.
The employees were also people of the Zuoyue Bureau. Naturally, they recognized its two Vice Commanders. Once they entered, they were welcomed in.
It was as if there was another world inside; two sides were against walls, and two other sides were covered up with clothes. They were completely separated from the outside, yet could still hear the words of their customers clearly.
“There was another haunting incident yesterday night!” A middle-aged man spoke first, his voice loud and rough.
From his accent, Song Liangchen could guess that the other was a small merchant from the borders. He most probably entered the city to do some business and while participating in the Lantern Festival.
“I also heard of it. It’s Changle District in the south of the city. According to the sayings, someone saw three headless angels in white- robes!”
“Did you know they were wearing white robes? Did you see them yourself?”
“Even the big folks are saying the same thing! Not only were they wearing white robes, but they were even wearing golden crowns. If they aren’t angels, what are they? Only, according to the hearsays, their heads weren’t on their shoulders. They look like those few people that were beheaded.”
“Who are they?”
“Sigh, didn’t you hear about the new folk song in the city? The Yang flower3 (willow) withers in defeat in drizzling rains, the good and evil will be rewarded in the end.” “Are you saying…” “Shh!”
“Don’t mention anything about ghosts! Those are all baseless theories. Which one of you have seen it?! I have even greater news here. Last night, something happened in the State Duke of Shu’s manor!”
“State Duke of Shu? The Liu family?”
“Yes. The State Duke of Shu, Liu Fang died last night. It was a huge commotion that went to the ears of the palace, the Ministry of Justice, the Court of Judicature and Revision, and other officials. All of them knew!”
“How did you know about this matter?”
“My neighbour delivers vegetables to the State Duke of Shu’s manor every day. Tell me, how would I know?”
“On the third day of the first month, didn’t the family of the State Duke of Shen hold a funeral as well? But according to the sayings, the State Duke of Shen passed away from illness due to old age.”
“What wretched luck!”
As a few people’s voices rise up one after the other, they all quickly quieten down and change into hushed whispers.
Like they were holding a treasure that cannot be seen, carefully opening it in front of others, cautious yet couldn’t help showing off.
Zhangsun and Song Liangchen had nothing to say. They were quiet for a while, and only after confirming that there was nothing worth listening to in the conversation, did Song Liangchen exhale a long breath.
“Let us go back?”
Zhangsun Bodhi quietly nodded his head. Both of them didn’t even drink the tea next to them. They came in a hurry and left in a hurry.
The hearsays in the teahouse could not bring them much new information. They could only confirm their original theories.
Ghosts. Deaths. And a folk song.
A tempestuous storm was coming their way.
“When Liu Fang handed himself, he actually left behind a will.”
Zhangsun Bodhi suddenly said after they returned to the Zuoyue Bureau.
Song Liangchen: “Why didn’t you say just now?”
Zhangsun: “You didn’t ask.”
Song Liangchen sighed. She was actually long used to the style of this partner of hers. Unless he was speaking to Cui Buqu, Zhangsun would only answer what he was asked in a way no different from a mute otherwise.
“Where is the will?”
“Taken away by the Ministry of Justice. It should be going into the palace.” Zhangsun Bodhi said, “However, I’ve read it before. There was only a single line of words on it. I haven’t managed to decipher it, so I didn’t tell you.”
Song Liangchen: “Then now you understood it?”
Zhangsun: “Liu Fang’s will was the last line in that folk song: the good and evil will be rewarded in the end.”
Song Liangchen’s heart froze. “The Yang flower withers in defeat in drizzling rains, the good and evil will be rewarded in the end?”
Zhangsun Bodhi nodded his head. The so-called folk song must be straightforward and simple in order for it to spread just as easily. It would provoke a chain of thoughts for a great many people once they heard of it.
‘Yang’ referred to the Yang family, who was also the present Royal Family of Yang in the Sui Dynasty.
‘Rain’ had the same pronunciation with ‘Yu’, referring to Yuwen, the Yuwen Royal Family from the former Dynasty.
Everything pointed to the fact that Yang Jian had usurped the throne of his own son-in-law in order to obtain the glory he had today.
And after his ascension, those from the former Royal Family could not escape the fate of death.
Every member of the Yuwen Family who posed a threat were all thoroughly beheaded.
This folk song implied that the Yang Family who had taken the throne that wasn’t rightfully theirs would eventually have a comeuppance.
“On the third day of the first month, State Duke of Shen, Li Mu descended into madness and wounded his own servants, then he killed himself. In order to avoid more unsolicited gossip, the State Duke of Shen’s manor reported to the Imperial Court that Li Mu had passed from an illness of old age.”
“On the fourteenth of the first month, which is yesterday, the State Duke of Shu, Liu Fang hanged himself.”
“Then came the incident of ghosts, and a folk song had begun to rise.” “A few days ago the Empress fell ill.”
“The coincidence lied in the fact that Li Mu and Liu Fang were all officials who supported His Majesty’s ascension to the throne.” As Song Liangchen finished, she turned to Zhangsun Bodhi, “Do you think that there truly are such things as the vengeance of the dead?”
Holding some Buddha beads in his hands, Zhangsun quietly said a Buddha’s name in all seriousness: “The Buddha lies in one’s heart, but so is the devil.”
Song Liangchen: “…”
“If the Commander was here, how good would that be?!” She couldn’t help sighing, “The Commander has been gone for so long, he should be back by now!”
“Are you looking forward to my return just to solve these troubles?”
Song Liangchen abruptly turned her head around!
In front of the gates in the little courtyard came a person in white robes and a large mantle, tall and thin.
When that face was expressionless, it made him look clear and pale. There was a hint of tired sickness sitting between his brows, but once he moved his mouth, all the dullness would suddenly spring to life, like a spot of red plum on a blanket of white snow, lighting up all that is within one’s gaze and intolerant of anything else.
He looked thinner, yet his eyes were bright and sharp, even, like a sword unsheathed.
As long as he is here, there are no troubles that cannot be solved.
Even with a sick and broken body, he could still carry the weight of half this country on his shoulders.
Ps1, The Zuoyue Bureau has two Vice Commanders. One is Zhangsun, and the other is Song Liangchen. It’s mentioned before, but some readers may have forgotten. Ps2, Liu Fang and Li Mu are both historical figures and they did indeed support Yang Jian, but they didn’t die in the same year as in this story.
 三更: is the same as the hour of the Rat, which is 11 PM – 1 AM.  纱帽 [sha mao]: Image here.  杨花 [yang hua]: Yang is the same yang as ‘Yang Jian’.
Translator’s Notes: The “First Month” mentioned here refers to the first month of the Chinese calendar.
The one you’ve taken a fancy on is an unrivalled beauty, surely? Fifteenth of the First Month, noon.
Feng Xiao entered the palace for an audience with the Emperor.
Compared to the time before Feng Xiao left the city, the Sui Emperor had more silver hairs in his head than he remembered.
At this moment, it hasn’t been three years since the establishment of the new Dynasty.
For the first time, Feng Xiao sensed dejection from Yang Jian. As if proving his feelings correct, Yang Jian sighed.
“Yuntian, there is only you and I here, in this place. I will be frank with you. As present events progressed, there is no harm in telling you that although there is still will in my heart, my strength for them is no longer there.”
Feng Xiao raised a brow. “His Majesty takes care of a myriad of affairs a day as he worked night and day. It’s labouring. Turn in earlier every day, and your health might take a healthier turn.”
Yang Jian remained silent for a moment. “In the last few days, there is a song going around in the capital. Have you heard of it?” Feng Xiao: “This humble subject has just hurried back from Luoyang. After I washed and changed into a new set of clothes, I came into the palace immediately. I have not managed to hear of any song.”
“The Yang flower withers in defeat in the drizzling rain, the good and the bad shall be rewarded in the end. A few days ago, Li Mu died. Yesterday, Liu Fang too, died. The Empress said she’s seen the Yuwen family in her sleep, then she fell ill from a cold. Presently, she’s still bedridden.” Yang Jian said, his expression taking a worrisome turn, “Say, would there really be spirits of the wronged who refuse to rest, and hence turned into vengeful spirits to sow chaos in the living?”
Feng Xiao found nothing strange with these happenings. “Thoughts during the day would materialize into dreams; a cold is not a serious illness. The Heavens stand by the Empress, and she will recover fully after a few days. This humble subject has not seen Li Mu and Liu Fang himself, so I could not make a conclusion. As for the folk song, pardon this humble subject for being direct. Someone must be pulling the strings with ill intentions towards Your Majesty. If the Dynasty has reached the end of its reign and on the verge of decay, armies from across the lands would be descending into chaos and groups of so-called ‘heroes’ will rise to take matters into their own hands—in that case, it would not be strange if some rumours are being spread. But now, Your Majesty has just begun building this country with a heart of philanthropy while waiting for the opportune moment to prove yourself. The people will have the eyes to see everything that you have done for them and judge you in their hearts. There is no need for His Majesty to overthink about those rumours. Just seize those thieves and send their heads to the ground!”
Yang Jing finally smiled. “These words are filled with spirit; they truly do cheer one up. I should have demanded your return to the capital earlier. I like what you have said best!”
Feng Xiao: “There is no need for Your Majesty to remember these trivial matters in his heart.”
Yang Jian sighed and said, “I am certain you too know that from the time I ascended the throne, there were already many veiled displeasures. I was also thinking these few days: Was I too ruthless towards the remnants of the Yuwen family?”
He would never spill an ounce of these words to just any onlooker. However, Feng Xiao looked like he was long used to this attitude of Yang
The relationship of this pair of Emperor and subject were much more than what they looked on the surface.
They looked like old friends who weren’t estranged by the difference in their age.
Yang Jian wasn’t alone in his thoughts; even other people had also thought him too cruel when he was eliminating the remnants of the Yuwen family.
Even Yang Jian’s very own eldest daughter, Princess Leping had a thorn in her heart regarding her parents that she was unable to remove all these years.
“Perhaps some of them didn’t deserve to be killed, but I’ve done it. Just like Yuwen Chan, who was only nine when the crown was handed over to him. Despite Princess Leping begging pitifully, I still killed him. I could have let him live.”
Feng Xiao was expressionless. “Why is there a need for His Majesty to beat around the bush? You were waiting for the opportune moment to make your own great accomplishment of your generation. If the Yuwen family played their part properly, how would they have fallen into such a state? Since the passing of Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou, Yuwen Yong, there was never another capable person from the Yuwen family. From the way I see it, after Yuwen Yong, the only capable person in his lineage is the one who is currently a Khatun in Göktürk, Princess Dayi.”
Yang Jian gave a bitter smile at his lack of empathy, “You…” Feng Xiao: “When a reign comes to an end, naturally, a new mandate of the Heavens will overtake it. Was this not the case when the Qin Dynasty had fallen into chaos, and the Han Dynasty replaced it? If the Yuwen family had refused to accept their faith, they would have raised a rebellion. If the Heavens are on their side, and if they had earned the hearts of the common people during their rule, they would have succeeded. What has been done, is done. I heard of His Majesty’s intention in the new “Laws of Kaihuang” to reassemble all the ancient records that were lost and repair them. Compared this initiative, what has the Yuwen family done? Your Majesty has already killed their remnants, so what use is there to throw such a childish attitude?”
The tone he used was different from other people around Yang Jian, yet Yang Jian was neither angry nor upset at him.
In fact, his heart felt at peace.
After gathering back his emotions, Yang Jian returned to his usual brilliant and decisive attitude.
“Something is wrong about Li Mu and Liu Fang’s death. I will order the Ministry of Justice to pass those case scrolls to you and allow you to investigate them in secret. Do not alert too many people.”
“Call Cui Buqu. The both of you always work miracles when you solve cases together in the past. I believe this time would be the same.”
“Before this, the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureaus often stood against each other. After these few times, I believe you already have a change of opinions on them?”
There was a teasing tone in the last sentence the Emperor spoke.
Feng Xiao could not reply in time, because a servant had come in to report that Prince Qin had entered the palace to bid his greeting.
Prince Qin, Yang Jun, was the Emperor and Empress’ third son. He was neither the eldest nor the youngest, and hence he was in quite a neutral position.
However, this fella could let go more easily. He wasn’t a person of ambition, and he often played the obedient child in front of the Emperor and Empress while he ran out to indulge in luxuries behind their backs.
Similarly, Feng Xiao also knew and loved to enjoy luxuries. Both of them shared many conversations and were considerably close.
Once Prince Qin came in, he saw Feng Xiao who stood at the centre of the palace.
He gave Feng Xiao a surreptitious wink.
The Emperor gave a light cough: “What foul manners!”
Only then did Prince Qin give his greetings in earnest seriousness with a face full of smiling, “Your son has come to see you. Did Emperor Father eat and drink well in these last few days?”
The Emperor gave him a glare, “Have you paid your Empress Mother a visit?”
Prince Qin said: “I will be going later.”
The Emperor sighed and said: “Your Empress Mother fell ill recently. She is not in a good mood. Say a few pleasant words when you do, and do not anger her.”
Prince Qin put his hands together, “Your son knows.”
Watching how he paused and spoke, the Emperor added, “What is the matter?”
Prince Qin smiled and said: “I heard Second Brother hunted a deer in the suburb and gave it to you. Your son knows you never drank deer blood, so could you bestow that deer blood upon me?” The Emperor wanted to reprimand him for leading such a dissolute life but waved his hand as he thought that he wasn’t in the mood for such a winding discussion. “Go ask them from Feng An1.”
Feng An is the eunuch that served the Emperor, who was currently waiting outside the door.
Prince Qing was delighted and immediately knelt to thank him before preparing to leave.
Before he left, the Emperor reminded him, “There will be a Buddist Festival in Daxingshan Temple two days later. I will be there to pray for blessing for the Empress. Remember to come.”
In the hearts of outsiders, everything about the Emperor was good, yet he was afraid of his wife.
In the heart of the Emperor, when he was going through the most difficult and trying times of his life, it was Empress Dugu who supported him from behind; almost like she had an arm around his shoulder as they walked down this path.
Between both of them, they weren’t only husband and wife, but also good teachers and beneficial friends as they supported each other.
The Emperor naturally had his own thoughts. Naturally, there were arguments between the two of them, but a word from Empress Dugu would most certainly be ten times more effective compared to someone else’s.
After the Empress was bedridden, this was a serious impact on him.
And so Prince Qin immediately agreed. “How would your son forget to pray for blessings for the Empress Mother? One must be well-dressed in participation and pray for blessings in great devotion!”
He turned around to blink at Feng Xiao, hinting that they were on the same boat. Feng Xiao paid him no attention, and so Prince Qin could only leave with his head hung low.
“Your Majesty, I wish to borrow a painter.”
The Emperor was taken by surprise at this request.
“Why would you want a painter all of a sudden?”
Feng Xiao seriously said, “When this humble subject looks at himself in the mirror, I often think: such elegance and suave would most certainly be lost to the world of mortals after a few hundred and thousands of years if it is not properly preserved in the annals of the country with paintings.”
The Emperor: “…”
This was not his first day of getting to know Feng Xiao, and so naturally, he knew that Feng Xiao was born like this.
Unless the ridges in the mountains have vanished, or the sky and the earth becomes one, he would never be modest2.
As both of their eyes met, the Emperor finally admitted defeat.
“There is a painter in the palace, Master Lin with the given name Shouheng. His skills are superb and not much inferior to famed artists. He will be lent to you and whenever you feel like giving him back, it’s all according to your wishes.”
Feng Xiao smiled and said: “Then I should thank His Majesty.”
Prince Qin was holding a bowl of deer blood as he waited outside the palace for a while now before Feng Xiao finally showed himself.
Yang Jun complained, “Oh, how long you’ve taken!”
Feng Xiao gave the deer blood in his hands a look and said, “To make aphrodisiacs?” Yang Jun laughed and changed the subject, “Have you met any beauties on this trip of yours?”
Feng Xiao thought for a moment and nodded, “There is.”
Yang Jun’s eyes shone. “With your standards, the one you’ve taken a fancy on is an unrivalled beauty, surely?”
Feng Xiao, “Who could compare to me?”
Yang Jun: …He almost forgot how this fellow is!
He wasn’t disheartened, and changed into another method of asking: “Even if their looks couldn’t compare to you, at the very least there’s something that attracted you? When are you going to introduce them to me?”
That iconic curl of thin lips and that cold sneer immediately came to his mind.
Feng Xiao couldn’t help himself smiling. “Their virtue is… when they scold people.” Yang Jun: “???”
Feng Xiao: “They also like to scheme behind everyone’s back.”
Yang Jun: “???”
Feng Xiao: “They’re cold and bad-tempered; and if you caused them even a minor loss, they will swear to god to return the debt to you tenfold.”
Yang Jun was suspicious about it. “Are you sure you are speaking of the person you like, and not an enemy?” Feng Xiao gave him an impossible look. “All my enemies are dead, but this person cannot die. I want them to live their life in perfect health, and to live as long as a hundred years.”
Yang Jun nodded his head. “I understand it now. You don’t like someone who is submissive to you, you love those that oppose you at all times around the clock. This is what we call masochism.”
Feng Xiao: “…”
He no longer wanted to pay him any attention. Raising his foot, he was ready to leave, but Yang Jun stopped him.
“Alright, alright, alright! I’ll stop joking and go straight to the point! My manor is holding a Lantern Festival tonight. The Crown Prince, Second Brother, and the others will also attend. Why don’t you come and join the crowd as well?!”
Feng Xiao raised his brow. “Is there anything new?”
Yang Jun turned cocky. “Naturally! I hired an entire band of musicians from Kucha on purpose. There is also one particular dancer. I guarantee that her dance will surely impress you!”
Feng Xiao replied in disinterest. “Deal. If I have time tonight, I will attend.”
Seeing that he’s about to leave again, Yang Jun grabbed his sleeve.
“You must come! I have promised them!”
Feng Xiao gave him a half-smile: “Has Your Highness Prince Qin sold me off?”
Yang Jun laughed with him. “I suppose it cannot be considered selling.
Number Five3 would be going.”
Feng Xiao: “I’ve mentioned before to His Majesty and I hold no desire to climb to higher society via Princess Lanling’s status, neither do I have the desire to become a Fuma4.”
Yang Jun: “Alright, alright, I understand. However, both of you are not married, and your social statuses do match. It shouldn’t be a problem to just meet? If you have someone you like, you too can bring her to the banquet. Maybe that might make Number Five give up?”
Feng Xiao didn’t respond to him. He turned around to look behind him. Yang Jun too turned around.
A horse carriage was coming their way slowly and from the looks of the emblem, it should be from the manor of Princess Leping.
Yang Jun was enlightened. “It’s probably Eldest Sister bringing her daughter to visit the Empress Mother in the palace.”
The horse carriage stopped in front of them.
When the curtains were drawn, there was a young maiden inside.
Yang Jun curiously said: “Why are you the only one going into the palace? Where is your mother?”
Yuwen Xuanzhu took a step down the horse carriage and bowed, her voice pleasant to the ear: “Greetings, Third Uncle. Greetings, Commander Feng. Mother is unwell to accompany me into the palace to see Grandmother. Because Commander Cui came, Grandmother has spoken more often to us.”
Before Cui Buqu left the capital, rumours regarding the Empress’ intention to matchmake her and Cui Buqu had spread.
Many people thought that if not for the Empress falling ill, the betrothal would have already been made.
Once Yang Jun heard this, he gave a sensual smile: “Then didn’t you speak more often to Commander Cui?” Yuwen Xuanzhu’s cheeks turned pink as she dropped her head shyly.
Feng Xiao asked suddenly: “Didn’t Princess Leping disapprove of this betrothal? Why does it seem like Xuanzhu was pleased with Cui Buqu all of a sudden?”
Yang Jun smiled and said: “You’ve been away from the capital for far too long, there is something you don’t know. Maiden Ying asked us many things regarding Cui Buqu and the Zuoyue Bureau, and after hearing how you people took care of the matter in the City of Six Crafts, her attitude changed. So I said: Which beauty wouldn’t fall for heroes? Although Cui Buqu is slightly in poor health, he could nurse it in due time. They might even grow old together!”
Feng Xiao said: So I see, yet he reached out to touch Yuwen Xuanzhu’s face.
He was neither quick nor slow. After Yuwen Xuanzhu gave a look of shock, she took a step back.
“Commander Feng, what are you doing!” Her maiden voice was startled.
Even if Yuwen Eying wasn’t the granddaughter of the Emperor and Empress, to a common maiden, this was extremely inappropriate behaviour.
Feng Xiao looked very calm. His expression didn’t change. He even generously said: “Xuanzhu’s face is like a peach blossom, and just now I simply went out of control. My apologies.”
Even if he was a playboy, then he would probably be the boldest playboy in all of history.
In broad daylight, within the palace ground, he would dare touch the granddaughter of the Emperor and Empress.
But when Yang Jun looked at Feng Xiao, then at Yuwen Eying, he didn’t feel like his niece was at a loss. Yuwen Eying bit her bottom lip, but seeing that Yang Jun hadn’t reprimanded him, she swallowed down her fury and turned out without a word to leave on her carriage.
Only then Yang Jun came back to his senses and told Feng Xiao: “You are too bold. How dare not take this uncle seriously!”
Feng Xiao smiled and said: “How would I dare? Truth be told, when the Xuanzhu was being shy just now, she looks a little like the person I like, and so I lost control of myself for a moment. When I see her again, I will properly apologize.”
Yang Jun’s focus was wrangled away abruptly, and he was immediately curious about Feng Xiao’s desired person.
Feng Xiao made some small talks as he stole glances from the corner of his eyes at the horse carriage that was not far away, as if something was on his mind.
He felt that one surnamed Cui really has good eyes. He might have already noticed it.
The one surnamed Cui was in the palace harem.
As one of the official ‘Twin Holiness’, Empress Dugu was someone a subject could rarely see inside the palace.
Because of the Empress’ contributions and position, the Emperor and his subjects had no objections to her.
And Cui Buqu was a frequent visitor.
Only, the Empress who was lively in the past was now laying in bed unmoving, frequently coughing.
Between her and Cui Buqu, no one could tell who looked sicker. A face that was originally round and full has obviously slumped on both cheeks with eye bags under her eyes.
The Empress suddenly sighed.
She has a strong character in nature that has never once sighed, but one’s energy would be ground thin when they’ve fallen ill.
“Before this, I originally betrothed Maiden Ying to you to comply with a plan of yours, but now that illness binds me and the future is uncertain, as Empress and subject, as well as close friends, I truly have the intention of actualising this betrothal. You could also build a family of your own. What does Buqu think about this?”
 冯安[Feng An]: uses the same ‘Feng’ with Fong Xiaolian. I remained his surname here because he’s not really a significant character. Recap: the right pinyin for Fong Xiaolian’s Fong is actually ‘Feng’, but I changed it to ‘Fong’ to avoid clashing with Feng Xiao’s Feng since both of them are quite important characters and they’re not using the same Chinese character of ‘Feng’. Feng Xiao’s Feng means ‘Phoenix’.  ⼭⽆棱，天地合，乃敢
不⾃恋: Wordplay from Shangye (The Heavens), a folk song of Han
people. I couldn’t find an English translation, so I tried.  阿五[A-Wu]: Literally translates to ‘number five’ referring to Princess Lanling being the fifth child.  驸⻢ [Fuma]: Husband of a princess is called a Fuma.
I’ve been thinking about certain things, and I thought, what if I promoted fanarts/fics of novels in this section by request of the author themselves? I’m not certain if this is a thing or if anyone thinks this is a good idea, but I’m open to the idea! If you’ve written a fic on AO3 and wants more exposure (since people like myself don’t rlly look at AO3 at all unless a promo of it comes into my rader), drop me the link in my contact us form and I’ll simply list them here when the next chapter comes out. Only fics of their respective series, though! I’ll have to reject any controlversial topics that will interfere with canon/are canon divergent too, such as breaking main cps ;;; and I will apologize for that. I personally don’t have anything against it but I wanted to keep canons strictly MXS’! Btw there are already a few fics for Peerless/Wushuang on AO3. Remember to comment for the authors who’s put their hard work and effort into it, or if you’re too tired to write a short comment, kudos are extremely encouraging as well! 😀
Qin Miaoyu: ???
An outsider would doubtlessly be surprised by the Empress’ words.
In every royal betrothal, the Emperor and Empress would give the permission, the princess would nod her head, and an inquiry would be sent to the male’s family. The Emperor and Empress would never need anyone else’s permission other than their own. And yet, here is the Empress asking for Cui Buqu’s opinion, and that if Cui Buqu refused it, then she would not force him.
Cui Buqu neither accepted nor denied her offer. He asked instead: “Does Her Majesty remember something she said when you pointed at a flowering tree in Daxingshan Temple back then in the Spring of the First Year of Kaihuang?”
The Empress was taken by surprise as if she didn’t understand why Cui Buqu would want to bring up something irrelevant, but still, she gave it a thought.
“Naturally, I remember. That tree had been dead for an entire decade, and yet it had bloomed once more during the reign of Kaihuang. Having a long withered tree blossoming back to life; back then I pointed at you and said: ‘This is proof of the decline of the Zhou Dynasty and the rise of the Sui Dynasty. Our country the Great Sui will most certainly receive the blessings of the Heavens in the rise of its nation.’” As an incredibly intelligent person, she understood immediately after saying it.
“You thought I was an imposter, and so you were testing me?”
Cui Buqu nodded his head, “Back then, this humble subject was the only one who heard what you said. This proves you are not an imposter.”
The Empress laughed, “You just don’t want to marry Maiden Ying, is it? Then I will not force it. She was opposed to the idea in the beginning, but afterwards, she voluntarily asked about matters pertaining to you. It seems she already developed some feelings towards you. You have always been alone all these years, coming and going like a lone wolf. You should know it feels differently to have someone than to be alone. Maiden Ying grew up with me since she was young; she has always been gentle and she was never proud, neither is she the type to abuse her position into bullying.”
Cui Buqu gave it a deep thought, “Ever since Her Majesty fell ill, how many times has Yuwen Xuanzhu visited the palace?”
The Empress, “Not too frequently, yet not too sparse. Similar to the past. She came with her mother and rarely spoke.”
As their conversation reached up to this point, the Empress also felt Cui Buqu was getting at something.
“Why? Do you think something is wrong with her?”
Cui Buqu shook his head, “I’ve not managed to decide on a conclusion.”
The Empress said, “After you left the capital, I too tested her. Other than a few incidents that happened when she was little, she could answer all of my questions. In fact, if something was wrong with her, her mother would have been able to tell. His Majesty even sent someone to investigate
—these two years she has always been in the capital, going to and fro from the Princess’ manor to her own. She hasn’t visited anywhere else otherwise, so let alone foreign places. Among all the daughters of the aristocracy and the rich in the capital who are more lively, none of them could be more law-abiding than she is.”
She was no longer in her prime. After these words, she looked weary and worn. When the palace’s maidservants saw the colour of her face, they immediately guided her to lay back down.
Cui Buqu said: “You’ve been ill for quite long. How did it happen?
What did the Imperial Physician say?”
There was no need for the Empress to answer these questions herself. The palace maidservant explained and said: “A few days ago, it was the Eldest Princess’ birthday and the Princess’ manor held a banquet. Her Majesty attended it in person and the Xuanzhu played the se and the zither in person. Her Majesty was delighted, and it was a pity that she was plagued by a cold afterwards. The Imperial Physician said that the weather is tough and cold, and hence one would need to be mindful of their body. It’s a pity that the medicinal soups did not help. Her Majesty still could not put the former dynasty behind her.”
The Empress laughed at herself, “I am used to being busy and could not afford to take a rest. Once I take a rest, I would fall ill. However, when the topic of Maiden Ying was brought up, I recalled something. When she was little, she hated all the Five Arts. Once she had to learn them, she’d cry non-stop. However, as years passed and she grew up, His Majesty and I were so busy with country affairs that we had not seen her in years. She had become such a proper woman and grew up into a gentle and humble lady.”
Her original intention was to speak a bit more about the trivial matters regarding Yuwen Xuanzhu to move Cui Buqu’s stoic heart.
And Cui Buqu seemed like his interests truly did peak.
“When she was young, was she very different from the way she is now?” “There truly is some difference. However, certain things happened during that time, and she was young, so naturally, she would be affected.”
The Empress spoke conservatively, but Cui Buqu understood what she was referring to.
In the former dynasty, Yuwen Eying was originally the eldest princess.
Even if she wasn’t extremely loved, her high status was unsurpassable.
After the dynasty changed, within a single night, she lost her princess status and was demoted into a Xuanzhu. A Xuanzhu that has no power and only a name.
Some people such as the women in the royal families of the capital had distanced themselves from Yuwen Eying just because of the change in her status, and so even if Yuwen Eying was slightly spoiled, the Emperor and Empress would tolerate her. Yet, the older she grew the gentler and more humble she became, and never abused her privilege.
Even if the Emperor and Empress did not like her, they would feel guilt towards her.
As of late, Yuwen Eying became even more sanguine. The Emperor and Empress thought that it was her first time experiencing love and couldn’t help feeling glad watching.
Cui Buqu pondered over it deeply.
“This humble subject has no desire to climb to higher positions via Yuwen Xuanzhu, but during the dawn of these eventful times, one must be cautious at every turn. I beseech Your Majesty not to elect a suitor for the Xuanzhu, and not to tell her of my thoughts. Best let everything remain unchanged, just like the period of time this humble subject was away from the capital and allow the others to misunderstand that you are about to arrange a marriage for the both of us.”
He appeared to have set his focus on Yuwen Eying, since his topics could never stray away from her. The Empress felt strange about it, but taking into consideration how well she knew Cui Buqu, this person was incredibly meticulous and he was always cautious with what he said. He would never hold any prejudices.
But now, Cui Buqu was obviously very suspicious of Yuwen Xuanzhu.
She didn’t know why Cui Buqu was suspicious, but as she pondered over these trails of thoughts, she slowly recalled something that happened a long time ago.
“Oh, right. Actually, back in that year, my eldest daughter gave birth to twins.”
Cui Buqu had an immediate response to this, “Were they both daughters?”
The Empress said: “That’s right. One of them, however, was congenitally deficient and passed away not long after she was born. Otherside, my eldest daughter would have a pair of lovely and adorable daughters.”
Cui Buqu: “Was there a ‘Huan’ character in the name of the other Yuwen Xuanzhu?”
The Empress: “No. The child passed early; she was not even recorded in the genealogy, naturally, she doesn’t even have a name.”
Cui Buqu: “When that child passed away, were you present yourself?”
The Empress: “No. During that time, Emperor Wu of Zhou was wary of His Majesty. In order to avoid suspicion and to involve our eldest daughter who was the Crown Prince’s consort, I seldom entered the palace. After Yuwen Yun succeeded the throne, he was perverse and fickle and wanted to dethrone our eldest daughter. During that time, it truly felt like a sharp sword was above our heads, and that every moment might be our doom. As mother and daughter, we seldom saw each other, so let alone Maiden Ying. I only hear most things pertaining to her from my eldest daughter.” She paused. “You’re suspecting that the child is still alive? This wouldn’t be too possible. It’s not easy for normal families to hide the existence of a child, let alone an Imperial Family. In fact, as the Crown Prince, Yuwen Yun’s children are naturally of high status. There was no need to conceal the fact.”
Cui Buqu said: “What if there was hope for the child’s life before she was buried? If the person in charge of burying her harboured the intentions of concealing her existence, then pick an opportune moment to send her out of the palace, would that make everyone think that she’d died?”
The Empress was stunned.
The palace maidservant, Maolan had served the Empress for many years, unlike just any normal palace maidservant. She couldn’t help herself saying: “Commander Cui, please pardon this humble servant’s ignorance. If what you said did indeed happen, the child would have become an adult by now, so why hasn’t she come back to reconcile with her family to enjoy the life of a Xuanzhu? And instead chose to conceal her identity and masquerade as her own sister?”
Cui Buqu’s expression didn’t change. He grimly said: “Therefore, these are only baseless theories. Truth to be told, I’ve had my suspicions on the Princess’ manor since the Thousand Lantern Banquet, but I have simply no evidence. The enemy is waiting patiently in hiding, refusing to show themselves even as we are approaching the eleventh hour. However, as of late, torrential events have been brewing within the capital. Perhaps we will have an answer soon for all these questions.”
The Empress gave a quiet sigh.
Had it been in the past, with the capable and brilliant woman she is, the Empress would never sigh in such a dejected manner even if all hell broke loose.
“My eldest daughter is a woman who is gentle on the outside but strong on the inside. She keeps many things in her heart and refuses to tell me about them, but what I do know is that she bears a grudge.”
From the time she was the Crown Prince’s consort, to the moment she was crowned an Empress—positions of nobility that people regarded as dignified on the outside—in truth, Yang Lihua has endured many hardships that were born from the doubts her husband’s family had on her own.
Her husband, Yuwen Yun had never treated her the way an Empress should have been treated as. After she was crowned Empress, he crowned four other Empresses.
Never once in history were there five Empresses at once.
Yang Lihua had not shown anything on the surface, but one could imagine the disgrace she had to endure at this sheer insolence.
She did not have it easy to wait until her husband’s death, so that she would finally become the Empress Dowager via her family’s relationship as well as her own current rank as the Empress. Then no one would be able to shame or order her around any longer.
However, before two years of good days have gone by, her father ascended the throne.
Was it nice to be a princess?
Naturally, it was nice. But how could it compare to being an Empress?
The Empress sighed. “If you discover anything she’s done in the future that isn’t something as serious as treason, consider to let her go.”
Cui Buqu impassively says: “Neither the aristocratic caste nor the common people will be exempted from the laws of the country.” refusing to give the Empress even an ounce of pride, “This humble subject is bound by duty, and will execute punishments according to the law.”
The Empress smiled bitterly. She has long known about this personality of Cui Buqu’s; if she could not tolerate such an attitude, she would not have made him her subject. But since she has made him her subject, it only made sense for her to trust him and tolerate him.
After speaking for so long, the Empress was obviously tired, at this moment even her eyes have closed.
Upon seeing this, Cui Buqu excused himself and the Empress allowed her maidservant to send him off in person.
Maolan had spoken a few times with Cui Buqu. She had long gotten used to his dull attitude when he wasn’t discussing state affairs.
Just as they silently reached the outside of the palace, she heard him say,
“Sister Maolan, do you have the Immortal Salve?”
Commander Cui who had never participated in idle banters finally spoke. After a moment of being taken aback, Maolan quickly nodded her head, “I have a few bottles. Commander Cui wants this for…?”
Cui Buqu gave a concise and comprehensive response: “A gift for someone.”
Maolan was more than willing to make friends with this subject who deeply earned the Empress’ trust. She immediately said after hearing it, “Then please wait for me, Commander Cui, I will go fetch them now.”
On her journey back, Maolan suddenly thought through many things. Why would Cui Buqu reject such a wonderful betrothal from the
Empress? It only made sense to think that he’d given his heart to someone else.
Otherwise, how would someone of Cui Buqu’s character pay attention to something like the Immortal Salve?
The person he’d given his heart to was probably even more beautiful and elegant than Yuwen Xuanzhu. But Yuwen Xuanzhu’s feelings for him have just blossomed. If she knew about this, wouldn’t it upset her?
Holding the Immortal Salve in his hands, Cui Buqu finally left the palace’s gates.
He hadn’t run into Feng Xiao, nor did he run into Prince Qin, Yang Jun, but he had run into Qin Miaoyu.
Yang Jun originally wanted to pay his mother a visit, but when he heard that Cui Buqu was present, he waited for a while and after knowing that he wouldn’t be seeing her for a while, he returned.
Qin Miaoyu was waiting next to the Zuoyue Bureau’s horse carriage with an exaggeratingly bountiful smile. She was in a good mood.
She could not not be in a good mood.
As a scout who worked in the dark to begin with, after the incident at Guangqian County, Feng Xiao permitted her to return to the capital and officially become one of them.
Working for the Jiejian Bureau in the capital was different from working as a scout in hiding in one of its stations. Supervisors would not be able to see all that she did in the latter, but for the first, everything she did would be acknowledged and seen by her supervisor. She would also be promoted easily.
Even if she was just sent as an envoy, Qin Miaoyu took her job seriously.
Qin Miaoyu smiled as she went forward to welcome him.
“How have you been? The Second Commander of the Jiejian Bureau and my Lord extends his invitation to you to make a trip to the bureau.”
Cui Buqu gave her a look. “Why didn’t he come himself?” Qin Miaoyu quietly said: “The Second Commander had an audience with His Majesty just now, and it seemed like His Majesty gave him a task. He must have wanted to ask for your help, but is afraid that he’d appear inferior.”
Cui Buqu said: “I know what he wants to ask. Go back and tell him to keep an eye on Zheng Yi.”
Before Qin Miaoyu could understand what he meant, a few porcelain bottles wrapped in a sack made of leather were stuffed into her hands.
She lowered her head to take a look, and both her eyes shone.
“Is this the Immortal Salve? Are you really giving them to me? Oh my, how could I accept it?! I thought it would be just one, and yet you’ve given me so many. But since you’ve given me, wouldn’t it be rude for me to not accept it?”
Cui Buqu: “You can have a bottle, but Feng-er will have the others.”
Qin Miaoyu: “Ah?”
Cui Buqu: “Don’t say it was me, just say that it’s you who wants to give them to him.”
Qin Miaoyu: “???”
She made a face: “This… wouldn’t be too nice would it?”
Cui Buqu raised a brow: “Why wouldn’t it be nice? You can say that you’ve adored him for a long time, and now that this is the best time, you are going to give him something as proof of your affections.”
Qin Miaoyu: ….But the problem lies in the fact that it wasn’t her who adored him! Cui Buqu: “Then return them to me. I will find someone else to give it to him.”
Qin Miaoyu immediately hugged the Immortal Salves in her hands tightly.
“Don’t, don’t. I can do it. Guaranteed it will be done. Just rest assured!”
Cui Buqu wasn’t assured, and so he repeated one more time: “Remember not to mention me.”
Qin Miaoyu nodded like a little chick. “Understood.”
Watching Cui Buqu turning around to get up the horse carriage, she immediately pulled the other’s sleeve.
“There is something else! The Second Commander wants to invite you to meet in the Luqi Pavilion of the Eastern City at sundown.”
Feng Xiao’s original words were: I want to give him a chance to admire how elegant and suave I look.
However, Qin Miaoyu automatically rephrased those words when it came to her. “The Second Commander misses you more than usual and hopes that he could spend the festival with you. You know as well that he has no family in the capital, and that he is alone. That’s quite pitiful of him. Why don’t you spare someone a little kindness as a favour?”
Cui Buqu gave her a half-smile as he looked at her. He did not say whether or not he would be attending before he lifted his sleeves and went into the horse carriage.
Qin Miaoyu couldn’t force him, so she watched as his horse carriage left.
The Immortal Salve made her both joyous and troubled, in mixed feelings that were difficult to describe. A headache was coming to her when she thought of all the possible reactions Feng Xiao would be having.
Nay, a rather massive headache was coming.
The sender is shy, he dares not to give them to me in person.
On the journey back, Qin Miaoyu battled with her own thoughts.
How could she give the Immortal Salve to Second Commander Feng and, at the same time, disentangle herself from the matter without having to mention Commander Cui, so that Second Commander Feng would not misunderstand her intentions?
What a difficult riddle to solve!
Without a doubt, Feng-er was an intelligent person.
The only reason Cui Buqu could often successfully pit him only proved that he was only second to Cui Buqu.
No one would dare underestimate Second Commander Feng’s observative skills, not even Qin Miaoyu.
She felt that she would expose herself if she spoke, so she would need to train her acting skills prior to the confrontation.
Fifteen of the First Month, half past noon.
Qin Miaoyu stood at the backdoor of the Jiejian Bureau as she delved in painful thoughts.
Her expression changed into one as lively as a hopping sparrow as she turned towards thin air. “Second Commander Feng! Today, the cosmetic shop in the Eastern City released a new product called the Immortal Salve. If one were to apply it on their face before sleep, their skin will be glowing by dawn the next day. This humble subject passed by and conveniently bought some extra, would you want to try them out?”
After she finished speaking, Qin Miaoyu hoped to the other side, raised a brow, altering her voice into something deeper.
“I requested that you invite Cui Buqu over, and yet you’ve run off shopping? Was passing through the Eastern City necessary on your way back to the Jiejian Bureau?”
Qin Miaoyu: ……This won’t work. After a while, she smiled again.
“Second Commander, this is the Immortal Salve. The palace gave a few of them to the Zuoyue Bureau and they couldn’t finish using it, so they gave some to this humble subject. These salves contain the effects of nurturing the skin; do you want some of them?”
As she finished speaking, Qin Miaoyu’s expression changed again and shook the bottles in her hands with a disgusted look.
“Are you giving me things the Zuoyue Bureau doesn’t want? Am I a beggar?”
Qin Miaoyu: …This won’t work either.
She inhaled a deep breath and smiled slightly, facing the ally void of people as she said: “Second Commander, this is the Immortal Salve, a secret recipe of my family’s making. Often usage would result in eternal youth. This humble subject is also using them! They will allow your skin to glow. You often wake up early and sleep late, as well as having to solve cases. This humble subject turned these recipes into salves, please accept them!” After a while, Qin Miaoyu furrowed her brows and gave a disgusted look.
“You call this glowing skin? Having used it, you’re not even comparable to I who hasn’t used it. Surely this is junk?”
Qin Miaoyu: …I have no ideas left! A movement came from behind her. She turned around abruptly!
Pei Jingzhe: “…”
He was taken abruptly by surprise, his feet carelessly stepping onto some pebbles.
Pei Jingzhe turned around to leave. “I’m sorry, I was just passing by.”
Qin Miaoyu quickly stopped him.
“You came at the right time, I was looking for you!”
Pei Jingzhe gave her a dry smile. “I’m in a hurry to the thatched cottage.”
Qin Miaoyu darkly said: “Might as well. I will wait for you outside the thatched cottage.”
Pei Jingzhe: “It’s smelly.”
Qin Miaoyu: “I don’t mind.”
Pei Jingzhe put his hands together: “Sister Qin, please spare me!”
Qin Miaoyu was displeased: “I’m not asking you to risk your life!”
She stuffed the package into Pei Jingzhe’s hand, after having removed her share from it. “These are Immortal Salves. You and I will be seeing the Second Commander afterwards, and after I have finished reporting my task, you will be taking them out, claim that the Emperor bestowed them upon us after he realized how dashing and handsome the Second Commander looked today.”
After all, Feng Xiao could not question the Empress about them. If he guessed the truth himself, then it wasn’t her problem.
Pei Jingzhe pulled a bitter face. “No way. I’m clumsy with words, my Lord would surely give me a lecture.”
Qin Miaoyu: “I will treat you to the best tavern in the capital. You can pick the place.”
Pei Jingzhe resolutely shook his head. “I am not that sort of shallow person who could be so easily bought!”
Qin Miaoyu: “I’ll treat you thrice.”
Pei Jingzhe righteously said: “I’m incorruptible.”
Qin Miaoyu gritted her teeth: “I’ll give you half my salary from this month!”
It was worth it when compared to her bottle of Immortal Salve, that had its price weight in gold.
Pei Jingzhe: “Deal!”
As if afraid that Qin Miaoyu would go back on her words, he immediately walked forward with the package in his hands and even turned around once to urge her on.
“My Lord is surely anxiously waiting for you. Let us move quickly!”
Qin Miaoyu twitched the corner of her lips: “…”
…… Fifteenth of the First Month, the sheep are pasturing (1 pm – 3 pm). The sunlight of the afternoon was brilliant.
Yet Feng Xiao wasn’t in too pleasant a mood.
He was thinking of Li Mu and Liu Fang’s deaths.
Since he came out of the palace, he had stopped by the Ministry of Justice to take the scrolls over and had finished reading them on his way to the Li and Liu’s manors.
Old Li was, after all, over seventy; having one’s life come into their seventies was already a blessing. Although he had gone mad before his death, presently, a week has passed since Li Mu’s death, and his family had already come to accept his passing.
They told Feng Xiao that nothing was different about Li Mu on the day he died. Though he was now a high-ranking official, he retained his daily routine of reading and writing. After dinner, he would have a chat with the younger generations, saying that he wanted to see the Lantern Festival this year. Who could have known that after nightfall, he would suddenly go mad?
The coroner had already examined him. There was no hint of poisoning; in fact, everyone in the Li family had eaten the same meal during that day. If he was poisoned, the entire manor of the State Duke of Shen would have been poisoned.
As for Liu Fang’s death, his death wasn’t just as strange.
Before he committed suicide, he was once called into the palace to be lectured.
After he supported Yang Jian’s claim of the throne and his building of a dynasty, he had obtained the merit of supporting the Emperor, yet after the new dynasty had been established, what he had got was only a high position and carefree lifestyle with no real power which had greatly displeased him. He returned from the palace low-spirited and came to loathe talking to others.
Until the same eveningday at night, he ordered all his families away and remained in the study to ponder over it alone. Even his regular servants were sent away.
In the end, the servants realized something was amiss halfway through the night. When they came in to take a look, Liu Fang had already hung himself on the beam, his body turned cold.
On the other hand, Li Mu’s death had no forewarnings. Liu Fang’s came with a motive.
Yet, it so happened that both of them died in the first month and only a few days apart from each other.
Additionally, there was a folksong spreading in the capital while the Empress was bedridden. It was impossible for the people not to think that there was more than meets the eye.
It was the common people who couldn’t help thinking out of track the more they thought.
Feng Xiao had even asked for after more specific details, maybe he could have even found an inkling by now.
But what followed were even more questions.
As he thought to and fro, it seemed like only that one surnamed Cui could keep up to his sharp and intelligent brain.
However, he didn’t see Cui Buqu. Instead, it was Qin Miaoyu and Pei Jingzhe.
Both of them came forward to offer their greetings. Feng Xiao gave them him a profound and deep look that said, “You better give me a good explanation about this, or bear the consequences”.
Qin Miaoyu’s expression was incredibly solemn; it was impossible to tell that she was doing all those theatrics at the rear gate just a moment ago.
“Reporting back to the Second Commander, Commander Cui has something important, so he refused to come with me, but he knows what you want to ask, and so told me to tell you to keep an eye on Zheng Yi.”
Feng Xiao raised an eyebrow, having his attention occupied by this name.
This person was an old subject of the former dynasty, but also an incredibly valued subject in the present dynasty.
After the new Dynasty of Sui was established, aside from eliminating all the Yuwen family, Yang Jian did not execute the old subjects of the former Dynasty.
This was also meant to warn them: As long as you do your duty like as you are supposed to, and not incur any unnecessary trouble, you can resume your job as a subject of court.
There were many people in court like Li Mu and Liu Fang, but why were Li Mu and Liu Fang the only ones who died?
Because they were similar to Zheng Yi. They weren’t just subjects of the late court, but they had once defended Yang Jian’s ascension to the throne. Liu Fang and Zheng Yi had even once faked an imperial decree.
These three people were truly the “founding figures of the dynasty”.
Their deaths wouldn’t only be attacks towards the Sui Emperor, but they could also make the public feel that Yang Jian wasn’t the rightful Emperor of the country.
No one else would have such an effect. Feng Xiao thought of Cui Buqu.
During that time, Cui Buqu was already a strategist serving at Empress Dugu’s side.
He was an even bigger effect to the royal couple compared to Liu Fang, Zheng Yi, and Li Mu.
Yet, the Zuoyue Bureau’s name was not widely known. Outside of the court, very few people knew of Cui Buqu’s name.
The effects of his death would not be superior to Liu Fang and the others.
Perhaps the enemy hidden in the dark would very much wish to get rid of him, but after a few failed attempts, they have retreated to seek another alternative and turned their targets onto someone else.
Now that Liu Fang was dead, there was someone else who faked an Imperial Decree with him, Zheng Yi.
Before this, as Feng Xiao analyzed the direction of these two cases, his mind overlooked Zheng Yi for a moment.
Cui Buqu had awakened him.
Zheng Yi was someone who loved crowds.
Tonight, the manor of Prince Qin would be holding a banquet, and Zheng Yi would be there.
As he thought until this part, Feng Xiao told Pei Jingzhe: “Go look for Ming Yue, let him send a few people to keep an eye on the Zheng Manor. If Zheng Yi leaves his manor, follow him from afar. I want to know who he meets, what he ate, and where he goes, everything.”
Pei Jingzhe immediately answered him and turned to Qin Miaoyu. Feng Xiao immediately noticed it and gave him a look. Pei Jingzhe thickened his skin and placed the package on top of the stone table.
“My Lord. This is Qin—Uh, no. These are the Immortal Salves that the palace bestowed. They could nurture the skin. His Majesty sent them.”
Feng Xiao took out a container of Immortal Salve from the package and fondled it for a while.
“Is that so?”
For the sake of half a month of salary, Pei Jingzhe has already given everything he could, speaking in a manner more fluently as he did. “After you left the palace, the officials sent them on behalf of the Emperor. They happened to run into Sister Qin at the palace gates and begged her to deliver them on their behalf.”
Qin Miaoyu smiled dryly, and in her heart, she said: Why is he making such a small matter so complicated? He even got the Emperor involved.
By the end of the day, she was afraid of exposing Cui Buqu. When the Second Commander and Commander Cui gang up together in future, wouldn’t the little troops like her be the unfortunate ones?
Sigh! Why is life so difficult? And even more difficult to be a good person!
Feng Xiao’s gaze switched between the two of them, indiscernible whether he was furious or happy. He surprisingly asked: “What do you both think of Qiemo city?”
He sounded incredibly gentle and friendly.
Pei Jingzhe carelessly said on instinct: “Quite good!”
Feng Xiao smiled ever so gently. “What do both of you think about taking a vacation there? The plains in the Northwest truly do need pillars of strength like you people!” As he finished, his expression abruptly changed. “Lying so boldly until you’re doing it in front of me now, hm?”
That voice almost made Pei Jingzhe’s knees turn to jelly. He immediately admitted.
“It’s Qin Miaoyu who let me give them to you! She wouldn’t let me say!”
Qin Miaoyu sighed.
As present events have progressed, when faced before pressure from her superior, she had no choice but to expose Cui Buqu honestly.
Feng Xiao snorted. “I knew it. You think that if you didn’t say, I wouldn’t be able to guess?”
Qin Miaoyu immediately bowed and said: “You truly are sharp! This humble subject knows that it’s impossible to slip under your eyes! But you also know that Commander Cui is someone incredibly thin-skinned who loves his pride. Although he is thinking in your best interests, he’s afraid that he would be laughed at and made fun of if he had been honest about. You wouldn’t know, but when he was giving these Immortal Salves to me, he was torn between longing and being troubled, as if he couldn’t conceal his admiration for you. From this humble subject’s perspective, how could I not be moved? I forcibly accepted only because of it.”
Pei Jingzhe’s mind was vacant when he heard this, and in his heart, he said: Is this Cui Buqu? Cui Buqu being longing and troubled? Why did it feel impossible to imagine that?!
Feng Xiao carried a smile at the corner of his lips. “This is to say, he will definitely come to the date at Luqi Pavilion in the Eastern City tonight?”
Qin Miaoyu’s was stuck all of a sudden.
Feng Xiao reached out to tap her forehead with a finger and familiarly said, “If he doesn’t come tonight, you are going to Qiemo City tomorrow.” Qin Miaoyu: “…”
Feng Xiao rose to his feet to leave.
Qin Miaoyu appeared to be crying with no tears. Pei Jingzhe tried to slip away.
“Pei Jingzhe, stand right there!”
Fifteenth of the First Month, the roosters are returning to their dens (5 PM-7 PM).
The moon rose to the top of the willow tree,’ and my love and I met after twilight1.
There was no curfew tonight.
Only three days a year was this permitted.
In the past, during a time like this, the Eastern City would have already been closed. Yet, now it remained as crowded as ever like a stream that flowed restlessly.
Two rows of lanterns on either side of the stalls stretch as long as the sky. Even the city’s walls flaunted little lights like the stars from afar had come to the mortal realm.
On such a chilly day on a Winter’s night, it has long been dispelled by hot air.
All except the round moon hanging in the sky was radiating in faint red like it was bleeding.
Cui Buqu stood in front of the main gate of the Luqi Pavilion, and behind him, Guan Shanhai and two Zuoyue guards were dressed normally as usual. Guan Shanhai had spent these days recuperating his health. His wounds had mostly healed, although he wasn’t as strong as he used to be if he was in full health, he had no problem serving as a common bodyguard for a few days.
The Luqi Pavilion was a famed tavern and restaurant since the former dynasty. Not only were their dishes incredibly delicious, they even entertained with songs and dancing; it was one of the places where the aristocracy in the capital loved the most.
At the door, guests came like clouds, yet there were also many people who left as soon as they saw its sign.
After all, a place like this wasn’t cheap, and most people couldn’t afford
Cui Buqu was guided to the second floor by an employee after he’d given
Three sides were walls with the remaining side facing the city. It was an incredibly brilliant sight, enough to see everything happening down below.
Feng Xiao was sitting inside, pouring a drink for himself as he sat on his knees, calm and composed.
The first thing Cui Buqu saw was the Immortal Salve on the table.
The corner of his lips twitched faintly as he placed a mark on Qin Miaoyu for this in his book.
Guan Shanhai and the others were standing guard outside. He raised a foot before taking a step in.
Feng Xiao looked at him with a smile. Lifting his sleeve, he poured Cui Buqu a cup of wine and put some food into Cui Buqu’s bowl.
“I received a gift today.” began Feng Xiao. Cui Buqu innocently looked back. If the enemy didn’t move, he wouldn’t either.
Feng Xiao continued, “I am very touched, but it seems the sender is shy and dares not give them to me in person. He sent someone else instead.”
Cui Buqu snorted coldly in his heart and gave Qin Miaoyu another mark in his book.
Feng Xiao prodded on, “How do you think I should express my gratitude for this?”
“I think,” Cui Buqu slowly opened his mouth, “If the sender isn’t blind, then the recipient is the one who is blind.”
Feng Xiao gave him a look that spoke volumes. “I was even thinking that if he was willing to admit it on his lips straight from the heart, I might even accept it.”
Cui Buqu snorted, “Perhaps that person regretted after he gave it.” “Is that so?”
Feng Xiao challenged.
“Isn’t that so?”
Cui Buqu challenged back,
As both of them looked at each other, they each gave the other an unnatural smile.
Cui Buqu snorted coldly. “If Second Commander Feng has nothing important, I will take my leave.”
Feng Xiao then changed the topic, “I’ve sent someone to keep an eye on Zheng Yi. He should be safe by now. When do you think the enemy will make their move?” Only then did they entered the main subject.
Since he no longer lingered on the topic of the Immortal Salve, Cui Buqu generously said a few more words. After all, what lied in front of them now was the important thing.
Cui Buqu spoke word by word. “The day after tomorrow, the seventeenth of the First Month, on the Buddha’s Birthday!”
Feng Xiao nodded. “Similar to what I am thinking of. The enemy killed to spread rumours in order to create a scene. Since the scene has begun, then it’s better if it’s as grand as possible. Best in the eyes of the public and cause severe harm to His Majesty’s pride before sowing chaos in the government, or ravish the throne via murder. The plan has been strategized for so long to set everything in place in the dark, to ally with the Yuwen Clan in secret and grab the benefits during the chaos. This is Xiao Lu’s way of things!”
“However,” His words took a turn, “Towards Li Mu and Liu Fang’s cases, I am still doubtful.”
Cui Buqu coughed twice. “Commander Feng is smarter than most people, yet even he couldn’t solve his doubts. How would this humble one surnamed Cui know?”
Feng Xiao shoot up and said quickly, “Daddy!”
Cui Buqu: “…”
He was short of breath for a moment and almost coughed.
Feng Xiao tipped his head to the side. “Before this, we’ve said that if I called you ‘Daddy’, you would agree. You can’t possibly go back on your words, can you?”
Cui Buqu smiled coldly, “I don’t recall ever saying that.”
Feng Xiao dragged his voice and gently said: “Daddy, you cannot abandon your child like that!” Cui Buqu: …Truly shameless.
Won’t this have dealt with you? Feng Xiao smiled darkly and used the opportunity to talk about the case.
⽉上柳梢头，⼈约⻩昏后: from a poem by Ouyang Xiu. Translator’s notes:
Ququ, upon seeing the Immortal Salve on the table. Ququ: I have never felt so naked in my life.
BTW, I appreciate the comments even though I don’t talk much. I’m juggling translating three novels at the moment while work is inconsistently bouncing between very busy and having nothing to do at all. So most of the time I focused all my time on just translating novels. I’m terribly sorry if I didn’t like/reply to them ORZZ Please bear in mind, however, that I read all of them and I appreciate it!
Additionally, if you don’t already know, Wushuang already has an audio book!
The most precious thing in this world is none other than me.
Feng Xiao quickly went through the case, and Cui Buqu had said, “I have always suspected Yuwen Eying.”
“The Thousand Lantern Banquet.”
Cui Buqu hadn’t interacted much with the granddaughter of the Emperor, but they’d see each other at the Empress’ from time to time.
Yuwen Xuanzhu was a gentle person; but to put it more bluntly, she was shy and seldom spoke.
This tallied with the Yuwen Xuanzhu that Cui Buqu met at the Thousand Lantern Banquet.
However, as Yuwen Xuanzhu ran after them on her own accord after the banquet, and questioned his decisions about keeping information away from them and allowed her mother to make a fool of herself in the banquet, this series of actions had made him suspicious.
Perhaps questioning wasn’t the right word, because tears filled Yuwen Xuanzhu’s eyes back then. She had even kneeled down at him submissively. During that time, there were too many people present who thought Cui Buqu had been ruthlessly abusing his power so much that even the grandchildren of the Emperor had to bow down to him. After this incident, a great many people delivered edicts complaining about him to the royal desk.
From that moment onwards, Cui Buqu had a doubt.
Feng Xiao said: “During that time, you said only one word: ‘Strange’”
Cui Buqu: “That’s right. Yuwen Xuanzhu used that method to appear defeated but she is, in fact, victorious; this is indeed brilliant, but that obviously wasn’t her character.”
Perhaps other people wouldn’t have paid so much attention to a few words spoken, but after the Thousand Lantern Banquet event, Cui Buqu was suspicious of every single person in the Princess’ manor. Yuwen Xuanzhu’s unusual behaviour also naturally caught his attention.
“Ren Yue, who was only the Princess’ kept man, had plotted such a huge scheme in the Thousand Lantern Banquet, whom practically half of the aristocracy and members of royalty had attended. He would not have been able to mobilize that many people alone. The fact that a huge group of people were exposed too quickly was also very suspicious.”
“During Tiannan Mountain, Fan Yun reminded me, once, that Xiao Lu had an even larger force of power at play in court.”
“I’ve asked the Empress before. Back in those years, Princess Leping did indeed give birth to a pair of identical twins. One of them passed away even before a name could be given to her.”
Feng Xiao remained silent for a moment.
“What you meant is that Yuwen Xuanzhu’s twin sister is still alive. In fact, due to some reason, she is allying with Xiao Lu?”
Cui Buqu lightly nodded his head.
Feng Xiao spoke up, “I tested her once when we met at the gates of the palace. She had reacted like a normal person.” Cui Buqu understood the meaning of his words immediately.
“Like”, and not “definitely”.
Yuwen Xuanzhu should have just been a normal person to begin with.
Feng Xiao said with keen interest, “Practitioners of the martial arts are sensitive to dangers. During that time, I obviously saw her desire to move, but she forcibly stopped herself to appear like a normal person on purpose. I originally wanted to touch her face to see if she was wearing any sort of disguise, but this a wholly unexpected and delightful discovery. Her patience and tolerance are truly remarkable.”
As a princess of the former dynasty and a Xuanzhu of the present dynasty. Yuwen Xuanzhu has a special identity unlike all her predecessors.
A daughter born in an aristocratic family should have not needed to be laboured.
Yet, Yuwen Xuanzhu knew martial arts.
In fact, from the way Feng Xiao saw it, her martial arts were quite good.
Cui Buqu said, “But these are all just theories without concrete evidence. Alerting the enemy would only result in utter defeat.”
Feng Xiao continued: “That is why we could only start investigating from Li Mu and Liu Fang’s death. The biggest difference between these two cases is that Li Mu descended into madness before his death, yet Liu Fang did not. He had died in peace and even left behind a written will.”
Cui Buqu reminded him, “It might not necessarily be he who left the will.”
Feng Xiao nodded. “I’ve asked the Li family; during the last few days of Li Mu’s madness and eventual death, he had taken a prescription from a physician due to coughs and his condition had turned for the better after a few doses.” Cui Buqu was hit with a sudden realization. “Prescriptions?”
Feng Xiao, “Goldthreads, isatis root, chameleon plants, and etc.”
Cui Buqu, “One of them is bitter, one of them raw; something similar happened last time.”
Feng Xiao continued in good nature, “That half-filled bowl of Tremella and Lotus Seed soup in the Yandang Estate?”
Cui Buqu lifted his eyelids to look at Feng Xiao.
Feng Xiao’s lip curled but quickly concealed them as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Fish maws taste raw; the people on the Yandang Estate had similarly killed each other in their frenzied madness. Their manner of deaths is similar to Li Mu. And yet, Liu Fang was different. I’ve taken a look at his corpse using the method you taught me back in Qiemo; for one to truly have died from being hanged, there would be a deeper gash in the centre and two lighter streaks on both sides. The gap under his neck wasn’t much different in terms of depth. It is evident that he didn’t hang himself after being lectured by the Emperor.”
“So, Liu Fang’s death might be the doing of Xiao Lu for the sake of sowing chaos in this place while he schemes an even bigger plot in the dark.”
“Li Mu and the Yandang Estate’s case, as well as our encounter of the gu array, might be the doing of someone else. As for the motives of this group of people—”
Feng Xiao paused. “Are they testing the waters?”
Cui Buqu look at the engravings on top of the wooden table with a serious expression, as if he could see a picture of the Eight Diagrams of Fuxi1. Up until Feng Xiao thought that his soul had left his body, or he wasn’t even listening to what he was speaking, only did Cui Buqu slowly said, “I am suspecting Göktürks.”
Feng Xiao’s voice pitched, giving Cui Buqu his consent to continue speaking, “Hm?”
Cui Buqu: “The Göktürks possessed hearts of greed. Although they named themselves subjects of the Great Sui and surrendered, it would not last for long. Should there be a chance of retaliation, they would grab hold of it with no hesitance; this is the first reason. The so-called gu poison originated from the Pyu city-states, came into Cuanman via the Southwest, and then made its way into Tangut, Tuyuhun, Gaochang, laying in secretive hiding. The Shamans of the Northern Regions enjoyed using these methods to deliberately cause false accounts of ghosts and demons; this is the second reason. These gu arrays and the poisoning only happened after the Seventh Prince Kuhezhen arrived in the capital, and this is the third reason.”
Feng Xiao smiled and said: “What a coincidence. It seems Kuhezhen would also be going to the banquet at Prince Qin’s manor tonight.”
Cui Buqu appeared to want to say something, but suddenly he rose to his feet and turned his gaze outside to look down below.
Feng Xiao followed his line of sight.
Among the bustling group of people, a familiar figure passed by the entrance of the Luqi Pavilion surrounded by servants as she travelled at a steady pace.
It was Yuwen Xuanzhu.
At this moment, the time of the roosters returning their dens (5PM – 7PM) was almost over, and the time of the dogs coming out to be on guard (7PM – 9PM) was drawing near.
The banquet of Prince Qin’s manor would begin during that time. The crowd below was separated into two groups; one group was heading north to see the fireworks, and the other was heading south to see the lantern festival in the suburb.
Prince Qin’s manor was located in the North, yet Yuwen Xuanzhu and her stream of people are heading South.
She must have also received Prince Qin’s invitation, but if she took a saunter at the Lantern Festival, she might not make it to the banquet in time.
Cui Buqu knuckled the tables thrice. Guan Shanhai came in through the door.
Cui Buqu pointed to the outside: “Follow Yuwen Eying and see where she’s heading then report back to me.”
Guan Shanhai nodded before disappearing behind the door. Feng Xiao rose to his feet.
“It seems like you wouldn’t be able to go to Prince Qin’s manor. Since this is the case, then I’ll take my leave to avoid missing the crowd.”
Cui Buqu: “Have a pleasant journey while I won’t be sending you off.”
Feng Xiao waved that container of Immortal Salve in front of him. “You truly don’t know who gave me this? Then I’ll be throwing it away.”
Cui Buqu didn’t even raise his head. He started to eat as if he had just only noticed the delicacies in front of him.
Feng Xiao gave a cold snort and forcibly stuffed a fan into Cui Buqu’s hand.
Cui Buqu paused and raised a brow as if he was holding a hot yam in his hand.
“You’re not allowed to throw it away!” Feng Xiao threatened. “The saying goes that the people of old had a tale of gifting fans as a token of love. I couldn’t have guessed that Commander Feng is already holding such deep love for me?”
Cui Buqu opened the fan and felt seized by a spasm. He was no longer able to talk.
There was a tall and broad figure standing next to the yellow river on the fan, who stood against the wind like an immortal that descended from the Heavens, truly a drawing of Commander Feng himself.
Cui Buqu really wanted to throw it away.
Cui Buqu couldn’t help raising his voice, “Qin Miaoyu said you entered the palace to borrow a painter from His Majesty, was it just to draw this?”
“Since you’ve given me the Immortal Salve as a token of your love, I’ve pondered for a long time that I should return a gift just as valuable. The most precious thing in this world is none other than me. Since you couldn’t see me at every ticking second of time, it would be the same if you could look at a painting of me from time to time as a consolation.”
Feng Xiao leaned in close to Cui Buqu on purpose and whispered seductively into his ear. However, he retreated quickly, tucking the Immortal Salve back into his sleeve and left with a boisterous laugh before Cui Buqu could unleash his fury.
Cui Buqu felt the hairs on his body stand. He reached out wanting to tear that fan apart to avoid allowing the other to feel cocky.
But as his gaze fell upon the fan, he hesitated.
An imperial painter indeed had brilliant skills. The person on the drawing was lively as if he could leap out anytime soon.
After ensuring no one was around, he kept the fan as if nothing happened. After Feng Xiao left, Guan Shanhai very quickly returned.
“Commander, the Xuanzhu keeps heading South. After she left the city she didn’t go to see the lantern but sat alone at the Flowing Light Pavilion. Even as this humble subject returns, she hasn’t left. In order to avoid alerting the enemy, this humble subject dared not come close and ordered Wang Jiu to keep an eye.”
Cui Buqu’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment and suddenly said: “Your cover blew.”
Guan Shanhai was stunned, and from his mouth he spoke, “Impossible.
This humble subject is only pursued from afar…”
“I didn’t blame you!” Cui Buqu waved his hand, “The Flowing Light Pavilion is atop the stone mound. Nothing surrounds it and it sits quite a distance away from the Lantern Festival. The crowd wouldn’t wander there, and now it’s Winter with shrivelling leaves. There is nowhere to hide. Yet you people haven’t wandered into the crowd for a long time. If her people are paying attention, they would definitely have taken notice of you. In fact, she’s most likely sitting there on purpose, waiting for you to engage.”
Guan Shanhai, “On purpose?”
Cui Buqu nodded his head. “There are always fishes who are willing to be caught; let us go, and try a hand at being the fish tonight.”
He rose to his feet and brought Guan Shanhai as well as the others to head outside.
Guan Shanhai couldn’t help questioning the new fan in Cui Buqu’s hand, but he wasn’t the sort to meddle into affairs that don’t concern himself; he did his part and refrain from prying
Cui Buqu abruptly stopped his footsteps. “If you have the time, go ask around when will the Jiejian Bureau return the painter to the palace.”
 伏羲⼋阵: : “The eight groups of symbols around are the eight trigrams, which represent heaven, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire,
mountain and lake.” Fuxi said, who was a culture hero in Chinese Legend, the brother of Nüwa. Read it here. It basically just means that ququ is very engrossses that he looked like he was analyzing an old artifact.
Behind the scenes: Sath: I love their gifts is like ququ to feng-er: fx’s beauty feng-er to ququ: fx’s beauty
Feng Xiao has gone mad! Feng Xiao walked alone.
After all, he was only attending a banquet at Prince Qin’s manor and was not on his way to a dragon’s chasm or a tiger’s lair.
Cui Buqu had sent someone to deliver a message back.
Since he left the south of the city with Guan Shanhai, Zhangsun Bodhi has already been waiting at the city’s gate.
Together with him was Qin Miaoyu.
Qin Miaoyu went forth to offer a greeting, “Commander Cui, Second Commander had ordered me to accompany you.”
Cui Buqu nodded his head and accepted it without another word.
If he deemed it necessary, Cui Buqu would always unhesitantly bet his life on the line to secure the desired victory.
But when it was unnecessary, he wouldn’t act rashly.
With Zhangsun, Qin Miaoyu, and the others present, they could at least escape with their lives if they ran into Xiao Lu, even if they wouldn’t be able to escape completely unharmed. All the more, Xiao Lu had similarly endured heavy injuries from the battle in the tavern the last time they fought. Feng Xiao had said before that if the opponent didn’t show indications of having his martial arts improved from having endured through qi deviation, then his wounds might not have healed completely at this present moment.
Although an ailing tiger was still a tiger nonetheless, its lost three parts of might.
Groups of common people emerged across the city as if they were determined to party to their fullest throughout the night. On other days during this period of time, everyone would have already blown out their candles and turned in for the day in their homes. Yet at this moment, everyone remained elated. If one were to look down from the pavilions in the city, they would see a long wandering dragon made of people sauntering in the midst of lively firelight.
Cui Buqu and a few people dispatched from the city gate, and instead of blending into the wandering streams of people with lights, they turned into a different corner towards the Flowing-Light Pavilion.
Lanterns flickered outside the pavilion where a few shadows stood.
There was a single person sitting inside the pavilion, brewing tea with a waving fan, sparks of fire crackling.
The faint fragrance of the tea subtly reached him, carrying the savoury smell of little cuisines burning on the fire.
Cui Buqu wanted to head over, but Zhangsun Bodhi stopped him.
“That is not Yuwen Xuanzhu.”
Naturally, it wasn’t Yuwen Eying. That was obviously the silhouette of a man fussing over the tea in a manner similar to Feng Xiao.
Cui Buqu remained calm. “Let us go, we’re going to meet Pavilion Lord Xiao of the Thirteen Pavillions of Yunhai.” Qin Miaoyu and Guan Shanhai were vastly taken back, afraid that it foreshadowed an impending, terrible event.
They didn’t turn around to flee from fear. However, since all the consecutive waves of incidents that happened from the City of Six Crafts to Guangqian County were caused by the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai and almost caused them to lose their lives, both the members of the Jiejian and Zuoyue Bureau were incredibly wary of Xiao Lu.
Since they are neither deliberately being secretive nor keeping their voices low, how would they go unnoticed by people within the pavilion?
Promptly, someone exclaimed, “The weather is cold and the winds are strong, why don’t Master Cui come into the pavilion and catch up with an old friend?”
Zhangsun aside, Qin Miaoyu and Guan Shanhai, though they had never fought Xiao Lu head-on during the battle of the tavern, they had seen with their own eyes the ferocious battle of life and death between Xiao Lu and Feng Xiao. Neither of them was beneath the other; their success rate levelled at fifty-to-fifty as the battle that night came to an end.
In spite of this, if Feng Xiao had not managed to narrowly escape death from the clutches of qi deviation, one wouldn’t have known what would become of the Jiejian Bureau by now.
All the more, Yu Xiu almost succeeded in brewing a great disaster from disguising himself as Khan Apa. When Yuan Sansi made use of the identity of an old family friend to get close to Cui Buqu in Boling and lured him into a trap, it almost caused Feng Xiao and Cui Buqu their lives in Tiannian Mountain. So let alone the choleric events caused by Xiao Lu, the mastermind who orchestrated the conspiracy of the flood in Guangqian County.
Each time, when they all had thought that the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai were at the brink of exhausting all their resources and could no longer attempt another fear, Xiao Lu would once again give them a “surprise”. Guan Shanhai was forced to admit that had it not been for Cui Buqu, one of those schemes of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai would have succeeded by now.
The pressure Qin Miaoyu felt against Xiao Lu was even heavier.
She started out as a disciple of the Fuyu Sect, led by the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai. This also meant that Xiao Lu was the superior of her superior.
Although Xiao Lu might not recall an inconsequential lackey like her, Qin Miaoyu could not resist from being suspicious and anxious as she followed Cui Buqu into the pavilion.
Thankfully, Xiao Lu paid her no attention.
The other just leisurely swept past the few people who came with Cui Buqu before placing all of his attention on Cui Buqu alone.
As if he alone, was the only one worthy enough for Xiao Lu to regard him with special respect.
“On such a cold night, isn’t it wonderful to be able to meet an old friend to chat over tea?”
Xiao Lu’s voice reached him clearly from afar, his voice light and clear like branches that were exposed to the cold winds, prepared to bloom in spring. This easily drew out the drawl comfort in someone.
But other than Cui Buqu, no one else dared to let down their guard.
“Pavilion Lord Xiao made use of Yuwen Xuanzhu to lure us here; aren’t you afraid that His Majesty would dispatch the Palace Guards of the capital here at a single order by me? Even with unsurpassed martial arts like yours, it would be difficult to escape.”
Cui Buqu behaved like he was speaking about virtues, as he followed the beckoning of Xiao Lu’s gesture to sit opposite of him. He reached out with a hand towards the cup filled with tea and raised it to his nose, holding back no compliments.
“This is a good tea.”
Xiao Lu smiled at him with both eyes. “It is a good tea. I brought it from the South on purpose, knowing that you’d like it.”
Time and time again he wanted to push Cui Buqu to his death, yet at his moment he was smiling, feeling no estranged gap.
Those who are unfamiliar with the situation would even think they are close friends who share a deep bond.
Qin Miaoyu was worried that Cui Buqu would be seduced by those gentle words and really drink from the cup.
But the truth proved that she had underestimated the other.
With a turn of his hand, Cui Buqu poured the tea next to himself.
“Paying respects, with tea instead of wine, to the people that fell to their deaths because of Pavilion Lord Xiao. One may hope that they will never be at peace beneath the grave. There is a cause to every wrong, and an owner to every debt, may they soon seek vengeance upon you.”
Qin Miaoyu practically laughed out loud but managed to keep it in.
She stole a glance at Zhangsun Bodhi; this Vice Zuoyue Commander was as calm and composed as a wooden puppet, as if he hadn’t heard the conversation of those two.
Cui Buqu coughed and said, “Pavilion Lord Xiao should know that my body has never been well. Since I am unable to withstand long in this cold, let us stop beating around the bush.”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “My apologies. Who gave you the right to remain alive even after so many punishing incidents? You almost made me forget that you are someone with ailing health.” Cui Buqu, “The death of all fifty members of the Lin Family of the Yandang Estate. Do you know about this?”
Xiao Lu, “I know.”
Cui Buqu, “Have you received my message from Ning Shewo?”
Xiao Lu, “I have.”
Cui Buqu’s eyebrows furrowed and said, “But from the looks of Pavilion Lord Xiao’s attitude today, you don’t seem like you want an alliance.”
Xiao Lu slowly finished the tea in his hand.
“It’s true Lin Wei belonged to the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, but now he is in your hands. One may assume that he’s revealed quite a lot of information. It does not matter who massacred the Yandang Estate, there is no need for me to defend it. So, what do you think?”
Cui Buqu, “If Pavilion Lord Xiao’s wish is to strategize and rule an empire of this century, logically speaking, he shouldn’t be saying such shallow words.”
Xiao Lu smiled and said, “Then what should I be saying?”
The feeling that something was amiss surged up all of a sudden.
From the moment they began asking and answering questions, Cui Buqu had already sensed something was wrong about Xiao Lu.
The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai and he wouldn’t rest until one of them was dead, but under the pressure and threat of the Göktürks, it’s not impossible for them to work together once against a common enemy.
But Xiao Lu’s expression—
Cui Buqu thought of one possibility and his face paled. “Have you already allied with the Göktürks?!” ……
Feng Xiao was walking towards the manor of Prince Qin.
His heart wasn’t present, still thinking about whether Cui Buqu would throw that fan away.
As he thought until this point, his lips curled up into a smile.
He wouldn’t throw it away. Feng Xiao knew that man surnamed Cui too well.
That person may look as light and calm as the wind on the surface, but in reality, he still fell to the charms of his beauty, finding it hard to restrain himself.
As he tossed the Immortal Salve into the air and let it fall back into his hand, Feng Xiao lightly snorted.
Then, someone appeared in front of him.
This person was standing not far off in front of him.
He stood apart from the streams of people heading either North or South as he looked at Feng Xiao quietly.
He obviously didn’t move, but no one around him stopped to tell him off. As if they’ve gone blind and could not tell that someone was standing there.
To successfully conceal his presence within a rowdy city this wasn’t something just any common top martial artist could achieve.
Feng Xiao paused his steps and narrowed his eyes.
He leapt into the air, heading towards the nearest roof. After leaping onto a few roofs into the North, he finally came to a desolated little alley. He stood firmly and turned around, only to notice that that person indeed came for him. The other followed closely behind him without a sound.
“Who is there?” “Tuan Qinghe.”
“Not something I’ve heard before.”
“Because I have never been to the Central Plains.”
When Feng Xiao was carefully studying Tuan Qinghe, Tuan Qinghe was also closely studying him.
Someone like Feng Xiao was fated to be eye-catching regardless of where he went.
The opponent Tuan Qinghe originally chose wasn’t Feng Xiao.
Because Feng Xiao had never left behind a name for himself in the Jianghu. The Imperial Court was his Jianghu.
Those opponents Tuan Qinghe chose were top martial artists from the manuscripts of the Wulin.
But after seeing Feng Xiao, Tuan Qinghe’s thoughts changed.
The martial skills of this patriarch of the Jiejian Bureau is not beneath any number one top martial artist roaming the Jianghu.
Tuan Qinghe could even tell that Feng Xiao’s true strength would very possibly surpass his ambit of calculations.
This person may look like a phoenix flaunting its feathers, wrangling for attention on the surface.
Even so, those beautiful and brilliant feathers weren’t just for show. They truly hid an unfathomable amount of strength. When one is attracted to his flashy and unbridled exterior, it’s easy to underestimate his martial skill.
The sound of crowds reached them from a few allies away. The lanterns were bright within the capital that night.
Only in this place alone, swords were drawn.
The cold wind froze, turning into ice rings all around them across two sides of the wall until their breaths were frosty.
All of a sudden, Feng Xiao coldly snorted.
The snort was like an invisible force that could split open an icy river, breaking through the cold and surging towards the other!
Tuan Qinghe was slightly shaken, he couldn’t help taking half a step back.
This half a step was like giving Feng Xiao the space of a moat to attack more freely.
He coldly smiled, “I won’t fight with some nameless fellow!”
Following his words, a palm shot out!
Tuan Qinghe’s expression was calm, not angered by those words as he lightly moved backwards.
Feng Xiao came up close in imposing steps, forcing Tuan Qinghe to step backwards.
However, retreating doesn’t mean admitting defeat, but rather to strategize later moves.
Once there was no room left for him to retreat, a striking glare flashed from within his sleeves. Tuan Qinghe borrowed speed from swiftly turning his body, and a long knife appeared. The knife was very special; it was long and narrow like a sword, but still a knife nonetheless.
“It appears to be the remnants of Hulugu!”
Feng Xiao saw through his background with a single look.
There was no other reason for other martial skills than Hulugu’s line, because they were extraordinary and easy to spot. More than that, Feng Xiao had fought before with Fo Er, so, naturally, he was well-informed.
But compared to Fo Er, Tuan Qinghe’s martial arts were obviously much more genuine and pure, and much stronger, like snow at the peak of Immortal Mountains unsullied in any way.
Tuan Qinghe said that he had never stepped into the Central Plains before, let alone the Wulin of the Central Plains. Now, Feng Xiao believed him.
Because the enemy’s eyes were as pure and genuine as his martial skills. As if between the Heavens and the Earth, he could only see Feng Xiao.
Even if the sky shattered and the earth cracked, even if horrendous winds billowed and the tides rose, Tuan Qinghe’s heart wouldn’t be swayed for even half an inch.
The long knife within his hand was as steady as Mount Tai; it had a body like a flowing rainbow, and whenever the rainbow went, ice would appear. Not long later, Feng Xiao was surrounded by icicles like a city of ice, and with every breath, he exhaled coldness.
Even Feng Xiao moved.
Without a sword in hand and with flowing wide sleeves, he leapt into the air.
Two zither strings shot out from his sleeve! Where they went, the icicles shattered and the entire city of icicles fell apart.
The zither strings were like cutting wind and glaring swords. Within the blink of an eye, it had already arrived between Tuan Qinghe’s brows!
Between the ancient zithers of Yu Yin and Rao Liang, Rao Liang was long destroyed and Yu Yin was left behind, but it was disassembled by Feng Xiao to use its strings for weapons.
Such a manner of abusing precious ethereal objects would make all zither lovers of the ancient spit out blood.
But Tuan Qinghe’s expression suddenly turned stern.
To him, those aren’t zither strings, but an object that could shatter his martial techniques.
This was a technique he’d developed for a whole five years, and deemed it nigh impenetrable. Once Feng Xiao’s zither launched, although it could not penetrate through this fatal attack of his, it did serve the purpose of forcing the enemy to retreat to defend himself.
Tuan Qinghe didn’t wish to suffer a pyrrhic victory, so he could only switch his techniques.
As zither strings and the long knife met, qi surrounded both of them. There was a thundering roar and the azure-green bricks cracked, creating fissures on the walls on both sides.
This was even under the circumstances that they kept some strength at bay. Otherwise, even the walls inside the buildings would have also been cracked.
Both of them obviously had no intention of perishing together, so they retreated the moment they came into contact, electing to retreat at the same time. “Now Commander Feng should admit that I am a worthy opponent.”
Tuan Qinghe said.
“Only barely.” It’s impossible to make Feng Xiao’s words synchronize with his heart.
Tuan Qinghe’s expression was serious. “This is not a place to fight. Can you and I share another meeting? So we may fight to our heart’s content.”
Feng Xiao did not promise him. He indifferently said, “Go back and tell your Seventh Prince to learn his place, otherwise, even if the entire Göktürk is at his back, I will kill without hesitation.”
He instinctively wanted to flip open his fan after he finished, but only then he recalled that he had given his fan to Cui Buqu, and couldn’t resist from twitching his lips.
“I will take my leave, there is no need to see me away.” He turned around and left, and when he spoke again, his figure was already a few zhang away. “Also, the walls that were broken just now are all onto you. Someone will go to the manor of the Seventh Prince for the debt soon.”
Tuan Qinghe took a step forward as if he wanted to say something, but when those words reached the tip of his tongue, he could only see the other far away.
After standing there quietly for a while, he turned around and left, step by step he returned to the manor of the Seventh Prince.
After Kuhezhen entered the capital as a hostage, to prove his sincerity, the Sui Emperor made him a Prince and granted him a manor to live in. However, Kuhezhen was still a Göktürk by the end of the day and shared a different style of living compared to the nobilities within the capital. Tonight, he couldn’t come to the banquet, nor was he able to watch the lanterns in the South of the city. He had instead remained in his own manor to read.
He was interested in the culture of the Central Plains. He rarely came out on usual days and even allowed someone to gather all the famous classics in the city. The Sui Emperor was delighted by his interest in the culture of the Central Plains and had even given him some books.
Upon seeing Tuan Qinghe’s return, Kuhezhen faintly smiled.
“Is it done?”
Tuan Qinghe carried no smile, looking cold instead.
He refused to move, as if he was silently objecting to Kuhezhen.
Kuhezhen seemed to expect it and consoled him gently. “There are a countless number of top martial artists in the Central Plains. How much does one Feng Xiao worth? You will run into a better opponent.”
Tuan Qinghe, “The favour I owed you has already been returned. time, I will no longer help you do such things.”
Kuhezhen did not take offense to it. Instead, he nodded his head in promise, “Naturally, I will no longer trouble you over such things. This time is enough. The Lantern Festival is a grand festive event for the people in the Central Plains. If you don’t feel like walking around, why don’t you remain here and have a meal? I have already allowed the kitchen to prepare lamb hotpot.”
Tuan Qinghe didn’t reply. He turned around and left, refusing to stay another second.
Kuhezhen did not stop him, a smile remaining on his expression, apparently in a happy mood.
His gaze turned to the book in his hand. Liu Xiang from the Xihan Dynasty who wrote the “Garden of Stories”
was opened on a page from the ninth chapter.
There was a tree in the garden and a cicada on the tree. The cicada was singing highly above the grounds, oblivious to the praying mantis at the back.
The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole at the back. Kuhezhen’s smile deepened.
Feng Xiao and Tuan Qinghe fought for a period not even as long as one burning incense.
As both of them went separate paths, Feng Xiao resumed his original plan to go to the manor of Prince Qin.
There were plenty of carriages at the gate and the inside was brimming full of people. Most of the guests have arrived, and Feng Xiao was considered late.
He always came alone, never once brought followers or servants, but as long as people saw the symbolic and eye-catching looks of his, it was impossible to forget him.
Very quickly, the butler came out to welcome him diligently with a face full of smiles.
The manor of Prince Qin was neither big nor small and had no restrictions. Yang Jun had even bought all the adjacent grand manors and made a courtyard. The Imperial Censor had delivered an impeachment before, saying this was not quite appropriate, but not exactly inappropriate either. The royal couple closed an eye and wasn’t calculative with him.
Presently, the courtyard next door was being used to hold the banquet and it was most fitting for it. It was unknown whether the inspiration was taken from the Thousand Lantern Banquet held by Princess Leping last time, this time lanterns big and small were also hung all over the manor of Prince Qin.
The only difference is that these lanterns used translucent paper in all varying colours, lighting the place up in all the colours of the rainbow.
“Commander Feng, this way please. The Third Prince knew you’d come and even asked me about it several times!”
The manager continuously looked back as he walked, but he saw Feng Xiao suddenly stop.
Feng Xiao looked at the back of his right hand. On top of it was a green lantern.
Under its light, the back of his hand was smooth. There was nothing about it.
As if it was a wrong sensation.
“Commander Feng?” The manager of Prince Qin’s manor curiously asked.
“Let us go.” Feng Xiao relented and took a few steps forward. There was no snow at the pavilion as light filled the eye.
There were a few dark shadows dancing within the pavilion.
Wearing clothes as red as blood, a golden pin fastened in her hair, sleeves like beckoning demons.
She leaped into the centre of the pond from inside the pavilion, the tips of her foot light and touching, skirt billowing wildly above the surface of the water. A white fog came from the side, refusing to leave her alone, as one was floating in the midst of clouds pouring water.
Feng Xiao observed it closely and realized that there appeared to be rocks beneath the water. The beauty simply leaped across on its surface in light moves, so she’d looked like she was walking on water.
Beneath the walkway, next to the fake mountain, all the guests were engrossed in watching.
Yang Jun suddenly walked over and flashed a smile at him.
“How is it? I did tell you that there would be a surprise tonight. If you like that beauty, I can offer her to you!”
“There is no need.” Feng Xiao unapologetically rejected it before greeting Princess Lanling who was next to Yang Jun. “Greetings to the Princess.”
The princess returned his words with a smile, and asked curiously, “Commander Feng carries an enthusiastic and energetic air. Perhaps something good has happened. Care to share with us?”
Yang Jun winked at Feng Xiao. “The Crown Prince and Second Brother have also arrived. I will go pay them some respects. Please chat, both of you.”
He turned around and left quickly, leaving Princess Lanling behind.
Feng Xiao slowly said, “The Princess has a sharp-eye. I was just thinking about my beloved.”
The Princess’ smile froze, suddenly feeling her breath become uneven. She held on to her shivering hand and forced herself to smile.
“Commander Feng is a man of striking appearance. His beloved must also be a national beauty.” Feng Xiao smiled, “The Princess is a dazzling beauty, he wouldn’t be able to compare. The Princess is empathic and kind, he wouldn’t be able to compare all the more.”
Princess Lanling bit the tip of her tongue, swallowing down those words that said, “Then why do you like her and not me?”
She still knew her place, and even if she couldn’t get what she wanted, she couldn’t disregard the pride of the royal family.
Feng Xiao appeared to know what she wanted to ask, so he continued, “And yet, regardless of how I look at him I feel pleased. Even when he is throwing a tantrum and scheming, I think it’s cute and admirable. Without me, I fear he wouldn’t be able to live for more than a few years. In order to let him live longer so he could taunt me, I need to watch over him.”
The princess remained silent. After half a beat she lightly said, “I understand. There is love in this world that is difficult to ask for, and even more so for true love. Congratulations, Commander Feng.”
Feng Xiao was not even worried about hurting the princess’ heart. He smiled and said, “Your Highness is God’s favoured daughter. How many outstanding suitors in this world are begging for your hand? This humble one surnamed Feng has no such fate.”
Princess Lanling smiled bitterly. She was indeed God’s favoured daughter, but because of this, it was even more difficult for her to seek true love. How many of those suitors wanted her for her, and how many of them came only for her status?
“May I know… the name of Commander Feng’s beloved?”
By the end of the day, she still felt undeserved, and so she asked. But she didn’t hear Feng Xiao’s answer. The princess couldn’t resist turning her head to the side. Feng Xiao was looking at a certain place in front.
The princess followed his line of sight, yet didn’t see anything strange.
“This humble one saw someone familiar. I will head over to offer him a greeting. Please pardon me, Your Highness.”
As he spoke, he very quickly walked forward in large steps, quickly disappearing around the corner.
Feng Xiao saw Xiao Lu.
Although he’d caught him fleetingly at the corner of his eye, he would never recognize him wrongly.
After all, both of them had once fought a battle to the death.
But why would Xiao Lu blend into the night banquet of Prince Qin? It was obvious that he came prepared, scheming for something.
There is no little amount of nobility in the capital gathered here tonight, even the Crown Prince, Prince Jin and the others came to attend.
So once something happened, the consequences would be grave. Feng Xiao’s footsteps quickened.
As the distance between himself and Xiao Lu drew near, the other realized that someone was onto him and moved quicker, practically using qinggong.
Just as Feng Xiao was about to catch up to him, Xiao Lu suddenly turned around and a sword came from his direction! Feng Xiao slanted his body to avoid it, flickering his hand to grab his wrist.
But what sort of degree is Xiao Lu’s martial arts? Even with injuries on him, he wouldn’t easily be caught by Feng Xiao. At that moment, he turned his body and knocked against Feng Xiao.
Feng Xiao welcomed it with bended knees and tapped the other’s meridians when he hit. He reached out with a hand to grab his sword and the piece thrust it into him.
At that moment, Xiao Lu flashed a strange smile at him. Something’s wrong!
It seems like something had gone wrong… Everything felt like it’d gone really wrong!
He saw a lantern made from thin cloth from the corner of his eye, hung under the walkway with its light reflecting on the surface of the water. It was obviously yellow in colour, but the colour on the surface of the water reflected green.
Once that sword had skin contact, Feng Xiao didn’t pierce it in, but Xiao Lu suddenly grabbed his sword and thrust it into his own body.
Feng Xiao bit his tongue until it bled. The scent of blood slowly spread out.
The sound of dances and songs from the corner of his ears drew back like low tides, and replacing it was an ear-piercing cry!
The scent of blood around him was even thicker than the ones in his mouth.
Feng Xiao raised his gaze. Xiao Lu— And ‘Xiao Lu’ was gone.
Blood pooled on the ground as the wounded victim fell down. Everyone was begging for help. Even Prince Jin and Prince Qin and the others were passed out on the ground, unknown whether they were dead or alive.
The Crown Prince, stained with blood, had fallen to the ground. Seeing Feng Xiao’s faze, he immediately retreated and howled.
“Help! Men! Feng Xiao has gone mad! Help!”
If you’re familiar with Chinese, ‘he’ and ‘she’ sounds the same, so Princess Lanling does not know Feng Xiao’s is referring to a man as his beloved.