Peerless Chapter 171-180

Chapter 171

Aren’t I just a beauty waiting to be rescued by my hero, Commander Cui?

As the day drew deeper into the night, the frosty cold air grew denser.

The fire sparks within the small furnace were nearing the end of their lives, flickering inconsistently. From time to time, a gust of wind would blow, yet it would struggle to resist from being snuffed out.

Chill winds billowed in from all four cardinal directions, seeping into the opening of their sleeves as it howled and wailed wildly.

Both people within the pavilion sat opposite of each other. One of them presented a carefree and leisurely expression. The other contradicted with a cold and stern one.
In the face of Cui Buqu’s question, Xiao Lu wasn’t even in a hurry. Instead, he laughed out loud, “Cui Buqu, oh Cui Buqu, as an intelligent man for your whole life, how are you suddenly a blunderer? If you have the guts to ask me for an alliance, why wouldn’t I have the guts to ask the Göktürks for one?”

Cui Buqu glared at him for a moment; all the strict, steely air evaporated, and all of a sudden there wasn’t even a spark of angry flames. He even nodded his head and agreed, “Pavilion Lord Xiao speaks the truth. It is I who neglected it.” Xiao Lu admired his ability to control himself. Had it been someone else who found out they were played here for half a day, they would have immediately lost their temper. Yet, Cui Buqu could still manage to suppress his temper calmly, and that Xiao Lu being unable to tell his current mood.

The horrendous rain had begun to quell and disperse with not a single trace being found on Cui Buqu’s face.

But even if Cui Buqu looked calm on the surface, it didn’t mean that he felt the same inside.

Guan Shanhai, who stood next to him, could not remain silent. “Those who are not people of our country will definitely have a different way of things. No matter what, you are still a Han. How dare you collude with foreign tribes to sow discord within the lands of the Central Plains!”

Xiao Lu mocked, “I am from the court of the Southern Dynasty and not a citizen of the Great Sui. In fact, you people are now at truce with the Göktürks and even offered a title of nobility to the Seventh Prince. Is this not colluding with Göktürks?”
Fury surged up within Guan Shanhai, but he forcibly suppressed it Without Cui Buqu’s order, he would not act rashly regardless of what
occurred.

As he saw this, Xiao Lu smiled at Cui Buqu. “Although the people around you might not be particularly skilled in martial arts, they are far more loyal than my people.”

Cui Buqu coldly said, “Tonight, you obviously lured me to this place to create an opportunity for Kuhezhen. What have both of you planned?”

Xiao Lu slightly smiled, “I came here to offer you an invitation for war.
Would you dare accept?”

There was no hostile energy in his eyes. Instead, he looked gentle and peaceful. It so happened that Xiao Lu always thought Cui Buqu was the one who understood him the most in this world.

If not for Cui Buqu’s constant interference, the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai wouldn’t continuously lose their people and suffer waves after waves of defeats.

It’s such a pity. If two people who similarly possessed extraordinary talents and defects on their bodies could not be friends, then they are fated to be enemies.

In fact, they are enemies who wouldn’t rest until one of them died.

In this world, relationships between two people were not restricted to just common relationships such as relatives, friends, and lovers. Something far harder to come by was a worthy rival.

Just like Xiao Lu, who was looking at Cui Buqu, a serene smile sitting on the curve of his lips as he waited for his answer.

Cui Buqu, too, was also observing Xiao Lu.

He saw the crazed ambitiousness buried within the other’s peaceful facade.

He also understood why Xiao Lu would have such crazed thoughts— Because he felt undeserved.
If one were to be born defective and dull-witted, it’s not a bad idea to spend your whole life in a mundane way of living.

And yet, while the Heavens had bestowed upon him dazzling looks and extraordinary talents, it neglected to give him a good start.

He watched as the Southern Dynasty was being ruled by an incompetent Emperor. He watched as the Great Sui grew in power. He watched as Yang Jian was able to become an Emperor himself just because he’d given birth to a good daughter. Since these people who are more inferior than him could become Emperors, why couldn’t Xiao Lu?

Even if his quest to become an Emperor failed, investing himself in such an eventful, fiery life full of tempests would still be better than serving an Emperor like the one in the Southern Dynasty and endure the shame that came along with it.

Cui Buqu looked the other in the eye.

Within their dark abyss, a spark of fire came to life, refusing to be snuffed out even in the coldest nights of winter.

He refused to bow his head to anyone, even if that person was the Emperor.

“Cui Buqu, you understand me, but you cannot win me.”

Xiao Lu pointed to Cui Buqu’s chest, finger hovered in the air, then pointed back to himself.

“You are cold from your skin to your bones, but your heart is warm.
And I am not the same—”

He suddenly smiled.

“From inside out, I am cold and heartless. Even through extreme measures, I would never be kind.”

“So, Cui Buqu, are you accepting this battle?”

“If you refuse, then you’ve lost. Leave the capital immediately and go far away, promise to never interfere in the worldly matters here. I will not make it difficult for you.”

His tone was light and elegant as if he was holding a flower branch, admiring it as he twirled it around. A string tightened in Qin Miaoyu’s heart. Even if she knew that Cui Buqu would not just drop and leave irresponsibly, she couldn’t resist feeling nervous.

She was even more worried. If Cui Buqu disagreed, this fellow surnamed Xiao would certainly use force and attack them.

But before Cui Buqu could answer, the sound of horse hooves came from afar.

Dust flew into the air in a sickening sight. Qin Miaoyu turned around abruptly.
A man on a horse was coming from the city’s gates.

The man was bent over, both legs clinging tightly to the horse’s belly, begging the handsome steed to gallop faster.

A wild breeze blew his sleeves up high, yet his figure was blurry beneath the shadow of the lantern.

“Commander Cui!”

The person impatiently spoke before he arrived. He shouted from afar.

Nothing could hide the agitation in his voice, as if he was carrying an extremely urgent message.

Cui Buqu suddenly looked at Xiao Lu.

“What have you done?”

Xiao Lu cockily replied, “Take a guess.”

There was no need for Cui Buqu to guess. Pei Jingzhe very quickly came forth on the horse. From afar, under the thinning, faint light, Qin Miaoyu and the others could see cold sweat plastered all over Pei Jingzhe’s forehead, turning his face a pale shade of white.

“Commander Cui, something’s happened!”

Pei Jingzhe couldn’t care less about the fact that Xiao Lu was present. He quickly added, “Something happened in Prince Qin’s manor. The Crown Prince, the Crown Prince’s concubine and the others are all injured. They even said—said that my Lord is the initiator. Now, my Lord has been locked into the dungeon!”

Qin Miaoyu and Zhangsun Bodhi were taken aback where they stood. Regardless of what happened, they would ever expect this kind of incident to happen.

They quickly thought of Xiao Lu and gave him a hostile look.

Xiao Lu reminded them gently, “If all of you return now, perhaps you could be there on time to beg for mercy on his behalf.”

Cui Buqu glared at him with hostility. With large steps, he walked next to Pei Jingzhe and climbed on the horse. Turning around, he dropped an order, “Seize Xiao Lu and forbid him to enter the city”, and then he rode on the fast horse into the city.

Very quickly, his figure got lost behind the gates.

Faced before a few people surrounding him, Xiao Lu’s bodyguards also stepped forward, both sides confronting each other.

Xiao Lu didn’t move. Since he had no intention of going forward to catch up to Cui Buqu, he neither intended to attack Qin Miaoyu and the others.

He adjusted his sleeves and a smile ghosted on his face as if he’d taken everything into account.

“You people want to keep an eye on me here, yet I do not wish to waste my time with you.” “Tell Cui Buqu, good luck being on his own.”

……

Cui Buqu rode very quickly. As the horse spread its limbs running across the main road, at the same time, Cui Buqu’s insides were thundering and churning.

A gust of turbulent wind washed over him like a knife, practically cutting down a layer of skin.

At this moment, most of the people within the city had already dispatched to watch the lanterns. Within the large capital, the main path was void of people on both sides. The handsome horse dashed through swiftly without hindrance.

Cui Buqu raised his eyes slightly.

These lanterns of the city that never sleeps illuminated the skies. The cold came, the wind rose and the cloud surged, with the intention to freeze and shatter the world.

He originally wanted to trespass the palace gates, but as he came to its centre, he pulled the reins in and drew the horse’s forelegs up into a long, tearing neigh with its head up high.

Cui Buqu remained silent for a moment, then turned around to head into another direction.

This path had never delayed him for a single second. Until he was before the gates of the great prison, Cui Buqu suddenly felt that the upper half of his body had frozen numb, that the hand he’d been holding the reins with was stiff and cold. The moment he relented them, his knuckles and joints whined.

As he proclaimed his identity, the watchmen by the gates gave him incredibly reluctant faces, yet they didn’t dare hold him back. The Zuoyue Bureau and the Ministry of Justice often interacted with each other. They all knew that this Zuoyue Commander had a special identity and was a stubborn man.

Normally, he would not appear in person for such cases, but tonight, the situation was special. The watchmen all knew the reason Cui Buqu came.

They still allowed him inside but didn’t forget to remind him not to stay too long, as well as compliment them more in front of their superior when he had the time.

Standing by the gate, the black hole looked like the entrance into a sinister forest, prepared to swallow everyone down at any time.

Normal people would have loathed this place and want to stay as far away as possible from here, or even better, they would rather not take a step into this place even once in their lives.

Yet, Cui Buqu had paid this place a visit many times, even to the point that he wasn’t quite sure how many times in total.

Because the Zuoyue Bureau had no private prison. Many suspects and criminals were temporarily locked up here once they arrived in the capital, and executed after their sentences were decided.

But this time, something was quite different. With this first step in, Cui Buqu suddenly paused. He started coughing.
One cough followed the last, coughing until his chest hurt.

Only then he recalled that he’d been rushing too fast, being in the cold on horseback worsened his pain. This sort of feeling was not a pleasant experience for someone who was in long-term ailing health.

Especially when he dismounted, his footsteps staggered and his breath stifled in his chest, clashing cold and warmth together. The more it happened, the more his discomfort surged up. He knitted his brows together tightly, yet couldn’t suppress the itching pain in his throat. Those series of coughs all surged up his throat before they were forcibly swallowed down.

Those watchmen were quite worried as they watched. They immediately asked after him in a soft voice, but they didn’t know that Cui Buqu had been through these experiences far too many times in his life. He was long used to them as a natural occurrence.

After he endured these coughs, he straightened his back and stuffed the handkerchief into his sleeve, raising his footsteps to walk into the great gates of the prison.

His footsteps resounded dully within the empty space like an invisible heavy rock falling onto the suspect’s body piece by piece.

It was unknown where a whimpering cry reverberated from, or what the content of a few random mutterings was; some people even threw themselves against the prison bars and wailed loudly.

Cui Buqu was accustomed to scenes like these. His footsteps didn’t slow down. Instead, some cowardly suspects withdrew themselves timidly at the cold glares he gave them.

The deeper the criminals were located in the prison cell, the graver the crimes they have committed.

It was obvious that tonight, if no one dared to be as bold as to assassinate the Emperor, then no one should have been past Feng Xiao’s cell.

In the deepest parts of the prison cell, one person sat on his knees, enjoying the treatment he’s been given in a single cell. Hearing these familiar footsteps getting closer and closer, he was even in the mood to count in his heart.

Five, four, three, two, one.

A turquoise sleeve really did appear within his vision. The other turned his body to face him and stood up. From Feng Xiao’s perspective, he could see half of his face.

Cui Buqu mocked, “Commander Feng’s expression appears to be quite well.”

Feng Xiao chuckled lightly, “Aren’t I just a beauty waiting to be rescued by my hero, Commander Cui?”

Translator’s Notes

Feng-er: Ququ my feathers hurt. I need ur love to recover T^T ❤ 🦚🦚🦚
Ququ: Step aside, your A-Qu is here.

Chapter 172

Your safety matters the most.

For a very long time, Cui Buqu said nothing.

He came in too much of a hurry, his breath hadn’t stabilized, and at this moment, he was half-hidden in the shadows. Warm blood surged up his chest, practically turning into the turbid breaths that left him as he exhaled.

He had thought that he could keep his breaths concealed, but how could he ever hope to successfully hide the truth from Feng Xiao?

Feng-er snickered twice, then he sighed, “Look at you, once I’m not there, you torture yourself into such a state. Give me your hand.”

“Do you know how grave a situation you are in right now…” Before Cui Buqu could angrily finish his words, he could no longer suppress his coughs. Subsequently, they resounded within the cold and sinister prison like wandering spirits too pitiful to describe in words.

A hand reached out from between the prison bars to take his wrist and pull it in.

Streams of qi flowed into his meridians through his fingertips, soothing the toiling waves of blood that caused his anxiety and pain. Cui Buqu could only feel the choking breath that was stuck in his throat loosening, and his breath slowly returned to normal.

He smelled blood. Amid the sinister cold air around them, the lingering and persistent scent of blood prickled his nose.

“Are you wounded?” Cui Buqu looked at the other.

The torches by the walls were faint, only vaguely shedding light on the blurry figures. It was impossible to tell clearly, let alone the wound hidden beneath layers of fabric.

Feng-er withdrew his hand and stood up beneath the light before he slowly undid his clothes.

Cui Buqu knew that he would not have the indecency to joke at a time like this.

But upon seeing what had come into his sight, Cui Buqu’s expression turned bitter and cold, as sharp as a dagger and so cold that it could have frozen anyone to death.

Because on Feng Xiao’s chest, near where his heart was located, there was a bloody hole as thick as a finger.

One couldn’t see how deep the hole was but it had blackish purple- coloured dried blood surrounding it. It was obviously the first time the owner of the body was poisoned, and how ferocious the poison had been.

Cui Buqu’s heart sank abruptly.

“Gu poison?”

“On my way to Prince Qin’s manor, I met a person called Tuan Qinghe.”

“This person’s martial techniques were foreign. If I am not wrong, he should be the heir or disciple of the number one fighter of Göktürk from back then, Hulugu.”

“Although Fo Er too once bore the name of the number one fighter of Göktürk, he and this Tuan Qinghe’s skills are a world apart.” “I have never fought with Hulugu before, but Tuan Qinghe’s martial arts were practically similar to Hulugu from back then. They shouldn’t be very far apart.”

“This gu was probably placed on me when I wasn’t paying attention when we were fighting.”

Cui Buqu asked, “I have never seen Hulugu before. Compared to Xiao Lu, how are Tuan Qinghe’s martial arts?”

Feng Xiao, “He’s slightly better.”

Cui Buqu, “With your full strength, what would be the results?”

Feng Xiao, “Fifty-fifty.”

Although Feng-er was usually very indifferent to his skills, his martial arts are strangely superior, and there was no room to doubt that there were not many people in this world who could fight “fifty-fifty” with him.

Cui Buqu had always been familiar towards all the Sects in the Jianghu, but before this, he had never heard of the name Tuan Qinghe before.

But Feng Xiao would indeed need his full strength to fight a battle with such a top martial artist, and he couldn’t have anticipated that the other would use this opportunity to plant a gu in his body.

This type of gu had once destroyed the entire Yandang Estate.

Pei Jingzhe had also nearly fallen victim to it, but he was discovered in time and it was forcibly dug out with a knife.

The moment he manipulated his qi, the gu would squirm even deeper, draining all his strength.

Cui Buqu took a step closer.

But this place was far too deep in the shadows. He couldn’t see whether that gu was still inside Feng Xiao’s body. Was this the reason why Feng-er had unleashed a massacre in Prince Qin’s manor in a sudden frenzy?

“Have you forced the gu out?”

Feng Xiao remained silent for a while.

“While fighting against him, his martial arts required all of my attention, so only when I was on the way to Prince Qin’s manor did I realize that the back of my hand itches, as if there was something alive in it. During that time I had already made use of my qi. As blood circulated all over my body, the gu moved along the blood veins from the back of my hand until my chest.”

“Just now, I used my qi for a long period of time, and that gu kept moving. From atop of my skin to the inside of my flesh. I inflicted this wound of mine myself.”

His voice had become very calm, it felt like he was enduring pain, yet he was unable to voice it out loud.

Does it mean that the gu worm hasd’t been forced out until now? Slowly, Cui Buqu frowned.
His throat began to itch again, but as he lowered his eyelids, he forcibly suppressed it.

A very rough, hoarse-sounding voice replaced it. “Is there no other way?”

He could not bear to imagine proud Feng Xiao allowing the gu to drill into his vessels and bones like those people from the Yandang Estate, like that scout from the Zuoyue Bureau, turning into frenzied people with dispaired senses of consciousness, killing others or themselves and dying in the most gruesome and most pitiful ways possible.

Just like how he couldn’t imagine a dazzling-eyed phoenix losing both of its wings, falling from grace as he descended the skies and getting dirt all over itself, turning into an unsightly mortal object.

Feng Xiao sighed again and didn’t answer this question. But his lack of an answer had proven everything.
Cui Buqu closed his eyes.

His mind was in primal chaos, unable to quietly think. This was something he had never experienced before in this life.

Even in a more chaotic situation, he could find a way. This time, he definitely could.
“I will go look for Qiao Xian now, let her suppress your injuries, then I will seek out Fan Yun. When he was in the Liuli Palace at that time, he brought quite a few rare remedies out with him, so regardless of what conditions he requests—”

Cui Buqu paused briefly, “I will let him make you well.”

“Then, the case of Prince Qin’s manor, as well as Xiao Lu, are you going to give up on them all?”

Feng Xiao looked at him.

In the darkness, a pair of eyes were burning brightly.

Cui Buqu passively said, “The case of Prince Qin’s manor has already reached most of the people. The Ministry of Justice has taken it. The Zuoyue Bureau will only assist in the investigation. The Great Sui has plenty of talented people; it does not matter whether I am involved or not.”

Feng Xiao sighed and said, “Cui Buqu, you rather say so many words, but why are you refusing to just say a simple “Your safety matters the most”?” Cui Buqu, “Does it matter whether I say it or not?”

Feng Xiao, “Naturally, there is a difference. If you said those words, I will tell you something important.”

Cui Buqu glared at him for a while, his voice suddenly turning cold.

“Are you lying to me?”

“You motherfucker, is this it, there is no gu to begin with?” Word by word Cui Buqu spurts out, his voice gentle, but one could tell very clearly that he was truly furious.

“I did fall into the trap. Why would I make a wound on myself for no reason?” Feng Xiao innocently said, “However, due to my brilliance, I managed to discover it on time. Although it was quite tedious, I’ve finally managed to force the gu out. Just now you did ask me, but I haven’t lied to you.”

Cui Buqu coldly said, “I’m giving you the time of half an incense, to speak everything from the start to finish.”

Feng Xiao felt a little regrettable. He almost succeeded in forcing this person to spill the truth just now. Although he was beating around the bush, the meaning was there. It’s a pity that it lacked a romantic air.

However, if he really made the other vomit blood, then it would be him who would have to transfer qi to Cui Buqu in the end.

“I did not kill anyone.”

Feng Xiao was an incredibly steadfast person with great determination.

After having such a gu planted into him, catalyzed by the fragrance and music, only then could it cast his mind into disarray and make him fall into a delusion.

But it was only for a brief moment. When he came to his senses, there was a sword in his hand.

That sword belonged to a guard who served the Crown Prince. That guard was already on the ground, and the sword was in Feng Xiao’s hand.

Feng Xiao said, “I’ve seen before that guard’s injuries. It’s on his back. During that time, there were still three to four people between him and I. Among them was the Crown Prince. Since the Crown Prince wasn’t dead, I could not have detoured past the Crown Prince and killed that guard from his back.”

Translator’s Notes

The editor said: And that’s a qundere in his natural habitat.

Chapter 173

Commander Cui, don’t you dare return wounded again.

Feng Xiao had never once entrusted his life onto someone else’s hands.

Even in his gravest times, he still had power over his own fate; at the very least, he made his own decisions and chose his own path.

Last night, however, was far more than he expected.

When he was fighting with Tuan Qinghe, he would never have thought that the other would use such underhanded methods with a martial skill of that calibre and plant a gu worm onto his body.

This was his first mistake.

After the fight, Tuan Qinghe left after he came out of nowhere. Although Feng Xiao was suspicious of it at first, he hadn’t thought about the fact that the other knew he was heading to Prince Qin’s manor to attend the banquet and was just there to wait for the bait.

This was his second mistake.

Only until the moment he woke up from his delusion did he understand, and from the moment he saw Xiao Lu appear, the gu poison had already taken effect.

And it wasn’t only him whose gu poison was taking effect. “During that time, I attacked once with a sword, but I held back and didn’t use my all. When that sword went down, only one person would be wounded, but they wouldn’t be having   a wound that would endanger their lives.”

“After I came to my senses, everything was in chaos. The Crown Prince was shouting, drawing the guards from inside the manor. I could only manage to roughly survey the scene.”

“The deceased is the Crown Prince’s concubine, as well as a few servants and maidservants. The wounds on their bodies were all made by swords. The Crown Prince’s concubine died via a sword through her heart. A few others died after their necks were sliced.”

“The Crown Prince, Prince Jin, and others might have fallen to the same scheme. Everything they saw was illusions. In their illusion, I am the murderer. But how could it be possible that everyone had gu planted on them?”

Feng Xiao only briefly illustrated the situation, and Cui Buqu very quickly offered his questions.

“During the chaos, where were all of you? Out in the open or within a confined space?”

Feng Xiao, “In a flower hall. The doors and windows were opened, accompanied by songs and dances. The songs came from across the pond, and there are no musicians within the hall.”

Cui Buqu, “Any fragrance?”

Feng Xiao, “The fragrance on the women, the scent on the men, as well as the incense lit by the host. There were all kinds of fragrances. It’s impossible to tell whether there was the scent of machilus wood or not.”

Cui Buqu remained silent and said: “Gu poison is bred by feeding it the blood of its master. It’s linked to the lifeline of its master while the elements of fragrance, colours, and music, are leveraged to utilize its potential. However, pros and cons apply to all worldly matters, especially a technique like the gu poison which manipulates the minds of others and sends their owners into disarray. They’re not items easily accessible. One would need to pay a hefty cost to breed them, going so far to bet their life on it. If the gu dies, so will their master.”

Feng Xiao raised a brow. “The Yandang Estate, the suburb of Luoyang, Prince Qin manor. That is to say, we have already wounded the enemy three times. How tough his life is, to still be alive until now?”

Cui Buqu, “When Kuhezhen came to the Central Plains, he would need to bring the Shaman of the Göktürks. The number of people who could use their lives to breed gu is not large, but not small either. In the suburb of Luoyang, the Shaman manipulating the gu died where he stood. Yet, you were still poisoned, this proved that there is still someone.”

He paused for a while, “However, this sort of gu worm is extremely difficult to get. I am taking a guess that the enemy is also at their wit’s end, otherwise, the Crown Prince, Prince Jin, and the others would not have recovered so quickly. This meant that they weren’t poisoned by gu, at most, they were only drugged by fragrances or the sound of music into delusion, and saw in that delusion that you killed someone.”

Feng Xiao walked to and fro, deep in thought.

The smell wasn’t too terrible here, though, naturally, it wasn’t to Feng Xiao’s liking.

His love for cleanliness has reached the utmost degree; on usual days, as long as his clothes had a stain, he would have changed them.

With his capabilities, he could have absolutely left the prison on his own.

But if he were to do that, he wouldn’t just not help with the case, he would even make the entire situation even more complicated.

One could imagine, after such a huge commotion in Prince Qin’s manor, the upper and lower courts were both shaken by it. All eyes were on Feng Xiao.

At this present moment, one wouldn’t know what had become of the manor of Prince Qin and the Imperial Palace.

Cui Buqu understood this, so after knowing that Feng Xiao is physically well, he returned to the cool and calm that he carried around on usual days.

Only when he was in such an attitude, could he prepare himself to brace the impending horrendous storms.

“Someone must have fallen for the gu’s poison and killed in his frenzy, but when I was conscious, I did not see such a person. There could only be one possibility, is that the killer was already killed. Even if the gu poison could be secretly snuck in, how could that fragrance and music that drew people into an illusion be explained?” Feng Xiao appeared to be asking Cui Buqu, but in truth, he was asking himself.

In both of their hearts, there was already an answer.

Cui Buqu expressionlessly said, “There is an insider in the manor of Prince Qin, and the insider is most definitely present. The Crown Prince’s concubine is dead, so he couldn’t possibly be a suspect. It’s also difficult for those without high status to achieve these things, unless—”

Feng Xiao continued, “Unless it’s a manager of Prince Qin’s manor, Prince Qin’s concubine, or perhaps, Prince Qin Yang Jun himself.”

He recalled something all of a sudden, his voice slowed down until it was inaudible.

Cui Buqu felt it was strange. He couldn’t resist from nodding, his voice pitched, making him continue.

“I recalled. It’s that bowl of deer’s blood.”

Feng Xiao lightly sighed, “When I entered the palace to have an audience with His Majesty, I ran into Yang Jun asking His Majesty for a bowl of deer’s blood. The salty nature of deer’s blood could nourish the yin and strengthen the yang; the noble caste and members of royalty loved this. Last time, Yang Jun did a lot of similar things, so I did not suspect him.”

Cui Buqu, “Whether or not it was Yang Jun, nothing can be done by seeking him out now.”

If it wasn’t him, logically, he wouldn’t own up to it. If it was him, all the more to deny it. Since the incident happened, the evidence must have already been destroyed.

Cui Buqu, “If all they did was just to lock you up in here, it’s a big effort with little achievement.”

Feng Xiao, “In the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday that will take place two days later, those few princes would most certainly be unable to participate. Additionally, because such a matter has happened, the Emperor would use the festival to pray for blessings. It’s impossible to put off this festival now.”

Cui Buqu, “It’s no longer two days later. Now is already past midnight, it should be the sixteenth of the first month.”

He flicked away the dust on his clothes and undid the strings of his cloak to tie it back again. This is a gesture that meant he was about to leave.

“I should be leaving.”

He had asked Feng Xiao all that he needed to ask, there’s no longer any good reason to stay.

The time of a single day and night was enough to do a lot of things.

Feng Xiao drawled, “Commander Cui, don’t you dare return wounded again and make a prisoner like me worry for days on end, so much so that I would have to think of ways to nurse you back to health. This time, I won’t be so easy to talk with!” Cui Buqu laughed coldly, “Since when were you easy to talk with? Wait here patiently. Whether or not your crimes will be proven innocent will all depend on the mood of His Excellency that is I.”

Too lazy to banter further, he turned around and left, his footsteps never stopping. In the resounding echoes of his footsteps, he got further and further, and very quickly blended into the darkness.

It’s unknown since when the wails and cries in the prison quietened down, fading in and out, like they were there and then weren’t, making the place appear all the more like a sinister forest.

Feng Xiao furrowed his brows again.

Naturally, he wasn’t afraid of sinister forests, but he hated the walls that were filthy and damp, growing full of green moss. From time to time he could even see worms wiggling in them.

It’s not impossible for him to leave now, but without him, doesn’t that mean the enemy could sit back and do their work more easily?

Feng Xiao sighed, feeling touched by his own self-sacrifice.

How high a calibre would someone need, for him to stomach an environment such as this and remain here?

None but Feng Xiao.

Cui Buqu stood at the gates of the prison of the Ministry of Justice.

The guards looked terrible when he walked out. Before the other could do anything, Cui Buqu apologized first.

“Commander Cui, it’s not that we are making it difficult for Commander Feng on purpose, but this incident is truly drawing far too much attention. Now, commotions are raining in the city, His Majesty laid orders that no one is to pay him a visit, so why did you…” All this time, there were only prison guards who accepted bribes and flattery. There were also rumours of prison guards receiving apologies from the prisoners who begged for their understanding, but when faced before the Zuoyue Bureau’s Commander, they had no such gut.

Cui Buqu nodded, “It’s a job well done.”

“Why did you still… ah?” The prison guards were just thinking about how they should be wording it. They were unprepared for such a complimentary answer and even thought that Cui Buqu was being sarcastic.

Cui Buqu asked, “His Majesty deeply trusts Commander Feng, but despite that, he cannot do as he pleased, so I fear he will have to live here for quite some time.”

The prison guards immediately, “Yes, this humble one agrees.” Cui Buqu, “Do you people want to earn some side income?” The prison guards raised their gazes.
Cui Buqu, “Find a few chamber pots that haven’t been washed, empty out the cells on the left and right of Commander Feng’s and use them to store these chamber pots. Not half a day later, Commander Feng will give you money on his own whim.”

The prison guards were tongue-tied. “This… wouldn’t be too good, would it?”

Cui Buqu smiled, “Not only will he give you money. I will also give you money. If you’re afraid that he will take revenge on you after this, I will write a note. The Zuoyue Bureau needs a few guards. After this matter is done, I will transfer you there and you may work proudly. Would those days be better than standing guard in a dark and eerie forest day and night?”

Watching as the prison guards were slowly convinced, Cui Buqu spoke no more. He patted the other’s shoulder and left. He did not return to the Zuoyue Bureau, nor did he head to the manor of Prince Qin. He got up his horse and went straight for the Palace of Daxing.

At this moment, above their heads was a bright moon and clear sky, void of stormy and dark clouds. This is the time of the sixteenth of the first month, three quarters past the time when oxes are chewing the cud (1AM – 3AM).

Everyone, including Cui Buqu, would never have thought that after this long night, there would be a massive change of events once again falling upon this empire.

Chapter 174

In places of his presence, difficult problems will no longer be difficult problems.

At the dawn of the sixteenth of the first month of the fourth year of Kaihuang, it’s destined that many people will not enjoy a sound slumber.

What should originally have been a rowdy and crowded night has been reduced into nothing because of the incident that took place in the manor of Prince Qin.

Royal guards who weren’t on duty were summoned from the warmth and comfort of their beds to cluelessly put on their armour and helmets and lockdown the entire great city of Daxing along with their colleagues.

As the saunterers who had gone to watch the lanterns returned, they discovered that the air inside the city had changed compared to when they left it.

It turned solemn, severe, and anxious.

Cold air froze half the skies, and even the wind could not sway it. Especially the manor of Prince Qin.
The street where the manor of Prince Qin was located was entirely sealed up.

All those who were lucky enough to live on the same street as Prince Qin were all people of noble ranks and members of royalty, so it hadn’t affected the lives of the common people much.

The palace gates that were previously sealed shut were opened at the last moment as the Crown Prince and the others were quickly delivered into the palace for medicinal attention at the speed of light.

Without the Emperor’s orders, none of the guests within the manor of Prince Qin was permitted to leave.

The Minister of Justice and the Court of Judicial Review all came in person to investigate the case.

Everyone carried pale faces, had neither the mood nor the time to be mad about being held under house arrest. It was as if they hadn’t returned to their senses from the previous killing spree.

They talked and discussed, yet nobody could clearly tell how this change of events had taken place.

The usually rowdy manor of Prince Qin filled with the sounds of singing and dances had changed all of a sudden.

The guest who stood further away from the flower hall didn’t even know what happened until sharp cries reached them.

As for the guests within the flower hall—

The Crown Prince, Prince Jin, Prince Qin, and other important figures had all been sent into the palace for medicinal attention. Even if they were still awake now, the Emperor would not allow them to be questioned.

The fortunate women and servants present in the scene were long scared stiff, to the point that their souls left their body, and they were rambling on their own.

Some said that they saw Feng Xiao barging in and started a massacre in front of everyone. Some said that they were speaking at the sides, and suddenly a sword hammered on their shoulders, then after that they lost their consciousness.

There were even some who said that two servants suddenly went into a frenzy and killed everyone near them before committing suicide.

Everyone gave different statements.

The Minister of Justice and the Court of Judicial Review both had headaches.

The Zuoyue Commander, who should have been with them, was not present. The Vice Commander Zhangsun Bodhi had replaced him.

Zhangsun was used to being quiet. He let the Minister of Justice and the Court of Judicial Review question the witnesses until they went crazy, while he simply accompanied them.

He was like a wooden doll who listened to everything expressed by the people around him while not offering his own opinions.

The Court of Judicial Review mumbled to themselves, suspecting that Zhangsun Bodhi was here to slack off his work.

Had it been Cui Buqu, he would have at least said a few words.

Until one of the maidservants of the manor said that she saw a guard going into a frenzy and started killing everyone around him, the scribe who stood by the side took note of it. Two judges waved their hands, allowing them to take her away and bring another one up.

Zhangsun suddenly spoke.

“Wait.”

Everyone present looked at him.

Zhangsun Bodhi asked the maidservant, “Where were you standing during that time?” The maidservant thought that she would be taken away after she was interrogated just like the others, but she hadn’t expected to be asked in this manner. It frightened her so much that she became tongue-tied.

“This servant was originally serving outside the hall, but after hearing that the flower hall lacked people, Sister Mulan moved me there. But just as I entered the door, I saw—saw that incident. During that time, I immediately fainted at the door!”

Zhangsun Bodhi asked again, “Other than you, was there anyone else going in just like you?”

The maidservant shook her head.

Zhangsun Bodhi asked the scribe for the written confession.

Including this maidservant, there were a total of fifteen fortunate people.

Two of them harmed both others and themselves, and at this present moment, they were heavily wounded in a comatose state.

One of them fell unconscious from pain and knew nothing.

Two people were so scared that their confessions conflicted their own words. They couldn’t be taken for their word.

The remaining nine swore that Feng Xiao had barged in and attacked. Only this maidservant said she saw a guard descending into a frenzy.
Aside from those who couldn’t be asked and those who couldn’t be taken for their words, with nine people witnessing the came scene, people would have usually trusted the words of those nine people regardless.

But those nine people were all inside the flower hall during the time of the incident. Only this last maidservant was outside who happened to go inside during the time of the incident. Zhangsun Bodhi still remembered what Cui Buqu said before, that in the Yandang Estate and the suburb of Luoyang, a similar scent of machilus appeared.

This, coupled with obscene music, was very easy to make one fall into an illusion where they would be unable to withdraw themselves.

Especially when they were ordinary people with weak determination, having no chance of fighting back; they would be ensnared easily.

If those people in the hall were within an illusion in reality, then naturally, what they saw would not be similar to that maidservant.

Zhangsun Bodhi didn’t tell the Minister of Justice and the Court of Judicial Review these explanations, because they have not experienced such a scene; it would be very difficult for them to understand what was going on in an illusion.

Rather than wasting his breath, he would rather seek out more truths.

Zhangsun Bodhi no longer kept asking the maidservant. After excusing himself from both officials, he got to his feet and walked towards the courtyard.

The Zuoyue Bureau was different from the other Imperial Courts; even though the Minister of Justice was the First Commander of the Jiejian Bureau in name, he was not strongly informed of the bureau, nor did he ask much about it.

This incident had created a ruckus far too loud. At the end, who will be the one to solve the case, and who will be rewarded with the merits of doing so, was no longer important. If they couldn’t seek out the truth as quickly as possible, everyone would be punished.

The women and servants within the prince’s manor were all gathered to await the verdict. Zhangsun sought out a few servants who served Prince Qin and his concubine to ask about the whereabouts of that deer-blood soup.

Those servants and maidservants had already died in the incident that took place; one could no longer get answers from them.

As for the others, they all knew nothing and shook their heads. Only a kitchen maid stood out.
She said, “Yesterday in the morning, a guard came to the rear kitchen with a bowl of deer blood to let me warm it up.”

Zhangsun, “Are you sure it’s deer blood?”

The kitchen maid’s voice was loud; she often spoke with people from both the urban and rural areas, and being timid was not in her blood. She spoke fluently without stammering.

“That’s right. For something that has a strong fishy scent like deer blood, it’s much better to turn it into deer blood paste. That person said it needs to be consumed immediately, and it cannot wait.”

Zhangsun let this kitchen maid head over to examine the corpse.

Not long later, the kitchen maid pointed at one of the corpses, and resolutely said, “It’s him!”

And this person was the very same person that the maidservant said—the guard who went into a frenzy.

He died from a sword to his back, both eyes round and wide, with a blue- black bruise on his head. The way he died was horrific, making one refuse to take a second look.

If there were gu worms in that deer blood soup, then the soup should have been given to Prince Qin. How did it go into the stomachs of these two guards? That guard had suddenly gone into a frenzy and died after a sword pierced his back. During that time, who was standing behind him? And who was it who killed him?

No one had an answer to this question.

Even for that maidservant who claimed she saw this guard, she’d already passed out when the incident happened.

All the leads seemed to have been broken. Zhangsun Bodhi let out a long breath.
He unconsciously raised his head, looking into the direction of the Great Palace of Daxing.

Cui Buqu was heading to the Great Palace of Daxing.

It was not Empress Dugu he was looking for, but Emperor Yang Jian.

Yang Jian’s face was harassed by weariness. Even at this time of the night, he hadn’t slept. Regardless of who it might be, it’s impossible to go to sleep.

Before this, Prince Qin had paid the palace a visit once to invite him to his own manor to enjoy the fun—but this was just an invitation of courtesy to express his filial piety as a child. Prince Qin knew that the Emperor would definitely reject his invitation.

An Emperor with a decent mind would never go to the residence of his own subject in the middle of the night.

Even if that subject was his own son.

But it was fortunate that he hadn’t attended, otherwise, there would be an Emperor among the people who were wounded.

Along with Cui Buqu inside the palace, was also the Grand Physician who reported to duty. The Grand Physician was describing the situation of the nobles who were wounded.

The Crown Prince’s concubine had suffered the worse; she’d died on the spot. Her corpse was still in Prince Qin’s manor, not yet delivered to the palace.

Prince Qin himself came second; the rear of his head had hit a pillar and suffered serious bleeding. Presently, he is in a coma.

The Crown Prince and Prince Jin were a little more well-off; one of them had a wounded arm and the other had broken two ribs, but they were both conscious.

But what they said was nothing different from the witnesses from inside the flower hall—that Feng Xiao suddenly barged in and started a massacre.

With the Emperor’s permission, Cui Buqu walked forth to ask, and the answer he got was no different from what he had been told.

The Emperor sighed and sent the Grand Physician off. He turned to Cui Buqu and said, “You’ve heard it all?”
Cui Buqu, “This humble subject has heard it. But I could bet my life on it, Feng Xiao would never do such a thing.”

The Emperor originally wanted to refrain from saying more, but when faced before Cui Buqu, he couldn’t resist adding, “I too don’t think it was Feng Xiao. But, when the sky brightens, rumours will pour over the city like rain and wind. Even the Crown Prince and Prince Jin said it was him; if you were I, how would you take care of it? Presently, Prince Qin hasn’t woken up yet, his life hangs by a thread. If something happened to him, do you think Feng Xiao could avoid suspicions?”

Cui Buqu remained silent for a while, then said, “Your Majesty, please give me some time, and let me unravel the truth.”

The Emperor, “At the latest, after the Day of the Buddha’s Birthday.” He could make use of the Buddha’s Birthday as an excuse that blood should not be shed to buy time for the case. It’s impossible to go any further; since so many people were involved, even if he was the Emperor, he could not do as he pleased.

Cui Buqu was a man of intelligence; there was no need to elaborate, as he already understood.

“There is one more thing, I beg Your Majesty to allow it.”

……

When Cui Buqu left the palace, the colour of the sky had already brightened.

It had been a long time since he hurried to and fro without stopping like last night.

Even if he slept less usually, when night came, during the time to rest his eyes, he would never mistreat his own body.

But this time was different. It wasn’t just for Feng Xiao.
The incident at Prince Qin’s manor hadn’t ended; it was only the beginning.

Before one wave could quell, another came.

They could only wait for the enemy to strike, yet didn’t know which next steps the enemy would take.

It was fine if the enemy was only Xiao Lu, but now there were even the Göktürks.

Cui Buqu squinted his eyes. He could only feel the white light above his head, shining through the reds of the palace walls, a little bit too dazzling.

A hand reached out from his side to hold his arm.

“Commander?”

Cui Buqu turned around; Guan Shanhai’s gaze held some concern to them.

“How are your wounds?” Cui Buqu asked.

His voice was light and stable, making Guan Shanhai feel a sense of security.

When he was sent to the Zuoyue Bureau by the Empress in the beginning, Guan Shanhai was displeased about it, but slowly, this feeling was lifted.

Guan Shanhai followed behind Cui Buqu, watched as he turned defeat into victory, to come out victorious with few numbers. Although he didn’t know any martial arts, his strategies that overturned the clouds and rain were sufficed to impress.

As if in places of his presence, difficult problems would no longer be difficult problems.

Just like what is happening now; the case at hand was baffling like thick fog around them, and any step taken forward would very likely send them into an abyss.

Following Cui Buqu, Guan Shanhai had enough courage to take a step forward.

“It’s almost fully healed. The royal guards have all assembled, awaiting your orders.” He answered.

Cui Buqu flipped himself onto a horse, “Let us go!” The manor gifted to the Seventh Prince by the Sui Emperor was fashioned according to the prince’s orders.

When Cui Buqu arrived, the Seven Prince opened his gate, as if he’d expected this visitor.

The Seventh Prince stepped out from the inside, seeing Cui Buqu, he gave a very strange look, before a smile erupted.

“Who goes there? Perhaps the famed Zuoyue Commander who bears a famed reputation, Lord Cui Buqu?”

Chapter 176

Feng Xiao: What happened?!

Zheng Yi was a person who cherished his own life.

Ever since accidents happened to Li Mao and Liu Fang, no matter how stupid he was, he would have realized that he was not in a safe environment. Additionally, Zheng Yi was not at all stupid.

After Zheng Yi submitted his medical leave to the Imperial Court, he refused to even attend the courtly debate. For the entire day, he remained in his house attending to his garden, reading, and writing.

Several days passed, as the Lantern Festival drew near, his family left to watch the lanterns. Zheng Yi felt bored at home, but he was stopped by his family the few times he tried to leave. He withdrew himself from attending even the banquet at the manor of Prince Qin in the capital.

In the end, something happened at Prince Qin’s manor.

Zheng Yi was fortunate, and no longer dared to take his life for granted. He immediately hid in his study, refusing to leave no matter who had summoned him.

Qin Miaoyu didn’t know whether Zheng Yi had any relations with the enemy that she didn’t know of, but she was afraid that showing herself would alert the enemy. So she could only carry out her protective duties as she followed him in the dark, practically not sleeping at all and dared not to slack off. She could not have thought that, even if all precautions were taken, what she was afraid might happen did happen in the end.

The eclipse that showed up just moments ago had shaken the capital and sent the common people into disarray. The Zheng Manor was in primal chaos; after Zheng Yi heard of the news, he ran out from his home with a change of expression as he mumbled to himself, saying that he wished to see His Holiness. His family couldn’t hold him back, and so they could only deliver him on a horse carriage into the palace.

It was the first time Qin Miaoyu saw this phenomenon from the legends. She lost her thought for a moment and neglected to follow Zheng Yi as he got up his horse carriage.

But it was too late, Zheng Yi’s horse carriage stopped midway on the road.

The driver said that his master had a stomachache. He got down the carriage at the last minute to lend a bathroom to avoid embarrassing himself when he entered the palace. Seeing a tofu seller’s stall, he headed over to the bathroom, but who could have known that that would be the last time he was seen.

Once Qin Miaoyu barged into the inside to take a look, as she’d expected, Zheng Yi was dead.

“There are no wounds on him. The coroner hasn’t taken a look, no one knows whether he died of poisoning.”

“The Zheng Family said that he suffered old diseases from the heart, perhaps he died from a heart attack after being scared by the eclipse.”

“I think, there would be no coincidence such as this.”

“It’s my fault for being impotent and allowing Zheng Yi to be killed.
Please grant me my punishment, Commander Cui!”

Qin Miaoyu’s words lingered in the air. Although she was not a member of the Zuoyue Bureau, this time Feng Xiao had allowed them to assist Cui Buqu while he was in prison. In reality, it was equivalent to letting the Jiejian Bureau obey Cui Buqu.

Qin Miaoyu thought that, had it not been for her negligence, Zheng Yi could have avoided death.

First, there was an eclipse, then Zheng Yi’s death followed. Some people would use this to create stories of the present Emperor.

Presently, everything was in chaos, and madness reigned; even the officials of the Imperial Court might be mumbling among themselves. Ever since the beginning of Kaihuang, upsurges came one after the last.

There were even people who began discussing changing the dynasty’s name.

Before one upsurge quelled, another came.

Had it been before, Qin Miaoyu would have scoffed at the talk about changing the dynasty, but now she wasn’t so sure.

This was a great disaster brought by the power of rumours.

If even Qin Miaoyu could think in such a way, then there was no need to ask the common people.

Cui Buqu expressed nothing and turned to the bright moon. Ming Yue sighed. “It’s much more complicated on my side.”
Just as he was going to beg an audience with the Emperor, he ran into the eclipse.

Nevermind the common people. During that time, even the palace was in a frenzy.

But the Emperor, in the end, was still the Emperor. In the midst of fright and fury, he thought of the very same question Cui Buqu had thought of, which was that the Astronomical Bureau had severely neglected their duties on the eclipse.

He immediately sent for someone to arrest the Grand Astrologer, but very quickly he received news that he had died in his own home, poisoned to death.

To predict the eclipse was part of the Astronomical Bureau’s job.

But, for such a grave matter, one must immediately report to the Emperor.

If the Emperor was informed earlier, the Imperial Court could have prepared themselves. At the very least, the officials could think of a method against it.

Among the Astronomical Bureau, other than the Grand Astrologer, there were also the Deputy Grand Astrologers, the Registrar, and Observers, as well as numerous other positions.

This also meant that, with just the Grand Astrologer alone, it was impossible for him to conceal such shocking news.

According to all the people in the Astronomical Bureau, it was the Registrar Li Xin who was in charge of watching the skies. His set of skills in watching the stars were the best among the Astronomical Bureau, for even the Grand Astrologer himself was more inferior.

Once the person whom the Emperor sent to ask about Li Xin returned, Li Xin was already scared stiff. He swore to the skies that he had already told Hong Yuan about it, but Hong Yuan had said that he would report it to the Emperor in secret and wanted Li Xin to not tell anyone about it, keeping it shut.

Li Xin too knew that this was a grave matter that should not be spread, and so he compliantly did not get involved, keeping it in his heart and telling no one at all. According to what he said, after a few days, Hong Yuan told him that he’d reported it to the Emperor. Once Li Xin heard of this, he was reassured and did not have any second thoughts. After all, Hong Yuan was his superior.

The great events of the state lie in state-level sacrificial rituals. After the Qin and Han Dynasties, the task of observing the stars and predicting the country’s fate was gradually dispersed, and the rank of its officials became less valued.

A place like the Astrological Bureau was naturally important, but on usual days there weren’t many things to do, and the bureau was simply empty. Not many people would ask about them.

Who could have known that such a huge incident would happen today; only then did Li Xin figure out that Hong Yuan had never reported this matter in the first place.

Ming Yue knew that this matter was pressing; ever since he parted his lips to speak, he had only stopped to take a breath now.

“Hong Yuan hanged himself in his own home. He left a note saying that he himself deserved it, and is willing to die as punishment. He begged His Majesty to spare his family.”

Cui Buqu raised a brow. “His family.”

Everyone belonged to investigation bureaus; Ming Yue immediately knew what he meant, and what he wanted to ask.

“His wife died early and only left him with a son. This son went missing a few months ago. Hong Yuan told his neighbours that his son had gone on an educational trip. Hong Yuan was a little of a loner; he had no friends in the Imperial Court, so it appears that no one had taken notice of him. However, speaking of it, in order to avoid suspicions, normal people would not get too close with members of the Astrological Bureau.” Ming Yue no longer continued. The incident happened too abruptly and he came in a hurry, so this was all the information that he had.

Cui Buqu remained silent, unspeaking.

Ming Yue and Qin Miaoyu didn’t bother him.

Everyone could see that the situation at hand was not very bright.

The question lied in how the enemy was hiding, while the Great Sui was out in the open, like a sitting duck.

In these few years, the Emperor placed his full focus on solving the issue with Göktürks; both sides attached one another with swords and spears a few times. The Great Sui had paid a hefty cost to welcome Göktürks bending the knee.

This was an achievement that had never been done before. Even the Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou from the former dynasty had to welcome a Göktürk Princess as his legal wife to form good relations with their neighbours.

However, even if the Great Sui was not afraid of starting a war, and the Göktürks had no chances of winning on the surface, all sorts of underhanded techniques had begun to surface repetitively.

The Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai strived for something big. Xiao Lu was not from the Sui Dynasty, neither did he have a hometown he loved, so naturally, he had no concerns when working together with Göktürk.

An arrow shot from ambush is something difficult to guard against; so let alone that the enemy had wanted to use a phenomenon to send the hearts of people into a frenzy.

A chess piece like Hong Yuan had already been placed a long time ago.

No matter how smart Cui Buqu was, he could not have expected the enemy to make use of Hong Yuan. At this moment, he could be on the road rushing to the City of Six Crafts to discuss a secret alliance with an envoy of Göktürk.

As for Xiao Lu, he was probably already scheming for a chaos that will take place after a while.

With the way matters have progressed, granting punishments and seeking responsibilities were only secondary. The led has already been broken here.

It’s difficult to find the truth within one or two days, and tomorrow, it will already be the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday.

The Buddha’s Birthday will be held in the Daxingshan Temple.

There were many Buddhist believers in the North. Daxingshan Temple was named after the Sui Emperor before he ascended the throne, as well as had the support of the Imperial Court.

As the Emperor would be attending the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday in person, the inside and outside of the temple has been sealed off since yesterday. All the monks were not permitted to leave the temple. Inside out, the entire place was secured by the royal guards into an iron bucket.

After the eclipse, Daxingshan Temple’s security would only become tighter; they must not allow any flaws to be taken advantage of.

Although every detail had been thought through and arranged, Ming Yue and Qin Miaoyu had a feeling that the enemy will make sure that something will happen tomorrow.

Who shall be the winner who takes it all, would all depend on that day.

Although one might not know how the enemy will attack, nothing can be made of it.

Qin Miaoyu was afraid. She could not resist saying: “Commander Cui, why don’t you persuade His Majesty to put off the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday tomorrow? Or maybe find His Majesty a body double…” There was no need for Cui Buqu to answer. Ming Yue declined her suggestion: “We cannot. If the eclipse hadn’t happened, perhaps we could still put off the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday, but now, whether it’s to pacify the hearts of the people, or beg for blessings for past sins, this festival cannot be put off!”

The enemy who is hidden in the dark had perhaps used myriads of methods to ensure that the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday will carry on.

Qin Miaoyu also knew that her suggestion cannot work.

“Consider me imprudent; may I know how both of you think the enemy will be attacking? We should also be prepared.”

Ming Yue said, “The Daxingshan Temple must be the key location. However, a few days ago, Commander Cui had already reported it to His Majesty to investigate all the monks within the temple at least once, to restrict access to the people. If one didn’t have an order in hand, they would not be permitted into the temple. All corners in the temple had also been searched to ensure that no murder weapon or explosives are hidden in there.”

Qin Miaoyu thought for a while. “It’s very well-rounded.”

She could not think of any ways it could go wrong. Cui Buqu shook his head. “It’s still not enough.
Both of them looked at him.

Cui Buqu only said, “Ming Yue, I need you to help me do two things.”

……

Normal people would not even have one chance of going into the prison of the Ministry of Justice.

Those who came in, however, would already be eternally grateful if they didn’t need to face interrogation or punishment. But Feng Xiao was very displeased.

Wailings and cries came from a distance; one wouldn’t know whether there were even ghosts in this place.

Wet breaths reached his nose; that was the smell of moulded grass that hasn’t seen the sunlight for a long time.

Feng Xiao immediately went into mediation. If he couldn’t see it, his heart wouldn’t be troubled by it!

Once a practitioner of the martial arts enters a world where they become unconscious of the boundary between oneself and the external world, they could completely draw a line to stop the outside world from disturbing them. Feng Xiao shut down his five senses on purpose, no longer paying attention to any scent or movements.

At this moment, qi was protecting his body. If someone wished to cause him harm, unless they have reached Xiao Lu’s level of martial arts, they would be just shooting themselves in the foot.

But once he finished regulating his breaths and came back from his mediation, he felt a strong stench surging at him that practically made him vomit!

Feng Xiao: What happened?!

Chapter 177

Finding a place to take a shower.

Feng Xiao practically thought that his spirit had left his body and fled into a carriage where the contents of the chamber pots were emptied into.

Especially when the strong stench came from both his left and right sides, materializing into something and enveloping his entire person into it. He practically ascended and would have given anything to just disperse into dust from this place on earth.

He was a germaphobe from the moment he was born; when his seniors made him do handstands against the wall when he was little to train his martial arts, in order to not let his hand come into contact with the surface of the ground, he took out the silk clothes from the bottom of boxes to place them under his palms, practically driving his seniors into a fury so strong that steam rose from their heads.

What would someone like Lord Feng think upon abruptly finding himself in such a state?

One word: Vomit.

Two words: Absolutely disgusting.

Three words: Feeling absolutely murderous. Four words: Rather die than live. Feng Xiao would choose to let Tuan Qinghe, Xiao Lu, and Yu Xiu attack him at the same time over remaining here for just one second longer and let his nose suffer.

The two guards on the other side of the wall are putting all their efforts into placing chamber pots on the ground.

They vomited from suffocation; even two layers of clothes wrapped around their faces could not stop the stench from entering their noses.

Thankfully, the weather in the world is still cold. Had it been the Canicular days, then it would have been a living hell.

Both of them looked at each other in the eye and said nothing. They quietly turned around and ran for their lives.

Both of the guards ran wildly along the way. It was not easy to arrive at a place near the exit before they exhaled all the breath in them.

“I’ll say, with that person’s identity, aren’t you afraid he’ll seek you for vengeance after he’s let out?” The first guard took off the napkin on his face and breathed frantically.

“It’s alright. It’s alright. When that time comes, you and I will no longer be in this ghastly place!” The second guard laughed.

After he finished speaking, a dark and sinister voice came from the darkness behind him.

“What better places are both of you heading to? No harm in sharing a detail or two.”

The second guard shivered as he slowly turned around. An incredibly handsome face greeted his sight.
If he saw someone like that on the streets during usual days, the second guard would have stopped to take a few more looks. But at this moment, his face turned pale as he forcibly squeezed out an ugly smile.

“Feng… Commander Feng!”

All the prison cells in the Ministry of Justice had three locks, all of them made by locksmiths used in the royal palace, so they were all fine locks. Even if notorious sea pirates were locked inside, they could have done nothing about it.

But Feng Xiao had freed himself so easily even with such a lock.

The second guard had an incredibly quick response. He immediately knelt to the ground.

“I beg Commander Feng’s forgiveness. As of late, there are too many chamber pots in the prison that have nowhere to go. The two prison cells next to you were empty, and so we’ve made use of them temporarily. This humble one saw that you were meditating, so he dared not disturb. This humble one will be changing them now, immediately!”

Feng Xiao snickered. “How smart you are for not exposing Cui Buqu.
If I had beaten you up, you could still beg for pity in front of him!”

The second was speechless.

Feng Xiao suddenly laughed. “This old man cannot stay in this place any longer. Since you people want to chase me out, then I shall grant you your wish.”

He truly wanted to walk away; both of those guards were scared stiff, they dared not even move or stop him, and could only beg.

“This humble one has a family to take care of, I beg Commander Feng to spare us. This humble one will go clean those chamber pots now and buy a few fresh flowers to make this place smell nice. But you must return to where you are! Commander Feng, you can’t leave!”

Both of those guards practically cried hugging Feng Xiao’s thighs. “Do you want to escape the penalty after this incident?” Feng Xiao asked.

The guards nodded their heads.

“Let me teach you a way.” Feng Xiao beckoned them with a finger.

Both of them immediately leaned in close, stricken their ears, but weren’t prepared for the numbing sensation that spread over their bodies. All of a sudden, they couldn’t move, neither could they cry, they could only watch as Feng Xiao grabbed the back of their collar and pulled them towards a deep spot in the great prison.

Feng Xiao tossed them both into those two prison cells filled with chamber pots each, allowing them to lie in the prison with their meridians tapped and remain quietly in there for at least two shichen.

Only, once they come back to their senses, their sense of smell would have already lost its touch.

Feng Xiao snorted and turned out to leave, walking out of the great prison of the Ministry of Justice as if he was sauntering.

As he approached the gate, he took out his outer robes and simply grabbed the uniform of the prison guards from the walls. He twitched his lips, appearing to be disgusted since he had to change into them.

That bastard surnamed Cui obviously knew where his weak spots were, and now Feng Xiao could feel, from all over his body to his hair, that it smelled. He could no longer be concerned whether it was day or night, or whether the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai were brewing a plan.

There was only one thing important to him now. And that was to find a place to shower.
……

Kuhezhen reached out with his left wrist. The colour of his skin was fairer than normal Göktürks.

After coming to the Central Plains, Kuhezhen realized that he was fairer than most of the people from the Central Plains as well.

The people in the Central Plains perceive fairness to be beautiful, but the Göktürks were different. So, ever since he was little, Kuhezhen was ashamed at the colour of his skin.

He was a prince of Göktürk, yet his position was very inconsequential.

Kuhezhen was holding a short dagger with his right hand as he burned its blade on a fire.

After a while, he used this knife to draw a line on his left hand.

Red seeped out of his fair skin, blood rushed to ooze out as it gathered into a stream and flowed downwards.

He steadily looked at it, the corner of his lips curving up, looking extremely like a sadist.

But in reality, that blood fell droplet by droplet onto an earthen jar on the table.
The container was pitch-black; blood made soundless as it dripped into it. If this earthen jar, which was as big as a palm, was placed under the sun,
one would realize that there are worms crawling inside of it.

These worms are thin and long and soft with a layer of mucus around them, radiating golden light in the brightness every once in a while.

Pei Jingzhe or those people from the Yandang Estate who died could surely tell the origins of those worms.

Those are the gu that have drilled into their bodies before. As more blood dripped, the worms in the container wriggled more happily. They wriggled around freely, enjoying their rich meal of fresh blood.

The colour of Kuhezhen’s face turned paler and paler, but the smile at the corner of his lips deepened.

Until someone held his hand up and tapped his meridians to stop the bleeding.

Kuhezhen’s expression changed ever so slightly, wanting to withdraw his hand but was unable to. The other held on tightly to his hand and refused to let go. He instead took that earthen jar away before releasing Kuhezhen’s hand.

“Tuan, you and I have never meddled with each other’s matters. So don’t ruin mine!” He suddenly exploded.

“I too don’t wish to meddle in your affairs,” Tuan Qinghe coldly said, “But look at yourself; you don’t look human, nor do you look like a ghost, I fear that by the time Yang Jian dies, you would have already died from blood loss.”

Kuhezhen was originally kneeling on the ground. As he heard this, he instinctively wanted to retort but felt dizziness surging over him and couldn’t help but support himself with an elbow.

“Tomorrow,” He pursed his lip, “As soon as tomorrow is through, the deed will be done. Don’t stop me. Cui Buqu and the others aren’t easy to deal with. Xiao Lu might also change sides at any time. Nobody is reliable. I can only make this bet. I will leave Feng Xiao for you; you can challenge him once and for all in a battle.”

Tuan Qinghe, “What happens then? Will you die? Didn’t you say you were discriminated against since you were young and are trying to make use of this opportunity to prove yourself? Even if these gu could achieve your goal, what use is there if you die?” Kuhezhen laughed and said: “I will not die. Tuan, people like you who are born strong would never understand people like me. Even if I was tossed into the desert with only a trickle of breath left, as long as there is a little bit of water, I would continue struggling to live. Even if I become a cripple, it is fine, my consciousness is still intact and my brain is still conscious, it is enough to support Göktürk.”

Tuan Qinghe, “Is there a meaning to this?”

Kuhezhen asked instead, “Then is there a meaning for you to leave the mountain looking for top martial artists? So what if you won? And so what if you lost?”

Tuan Qinghe, “The path of martial arts is boundless, but the greed for power would only lead one into self-destruction.”

Kuhezhen chuckled, “Then what about your Master? Wasn’t Hulugu lost due to pursuing the endless path of a martial artist? Humans will only want more and more, but everyone had something different they wanted.”

Tuan Qinghe remained silent and speechless, but there was an obvious squeeze at his clear-cut jaw, indicating that its owner was not happy yet unwilling to spill his thoughts.

Kuhezhen lightened his voice, “Tuan, you and I knew each other since we were young. Although we have not spent many days together, in my heart, you and I are like friends of old. I know you care for me, and after this matter, after my wish is achieved, I will find you many top-tier martial artists and let you test your skills, so you may swiftly advance to the highest level of martial arts.”

Tuan Qinghe, “You; what have you done?”

Word by word Kuhezhen spoke, “I want Yang Jian dead.”

Tuan Qinghe, “…He still has many sons.” Kuhezhen shook his head, “All his sons are still young, unable to prove a threat. Without a heroic, alluring figure like him, long before the Yuwen Royal Family was replaced, Princess Qianjian had been urging Khan Father to march South. Once Yang Jian is dead, the Southern Dynasty will sing in dances and drums. She will take advantage of the opportunity and when that time comes, the Northern Dynasty will descend into chaos, and my country Göktürk will conquer the South and gain a huge share of land, reuniting the Western and Southern Göktürk.”

Tuan Qinghe, “When that time comes, you will only have half a life left.”

Kuhezhen, “Khan Father promised me that as long as I succeed in this, he will bestow upon me the position of Yabghu1.”

Tuan Qinghe did not speak, but on his face, it was written: “how could a guarded and suspicious person like you trust his words”.

Kuhezhen laughed out loud, his face turned pale and his lips quiver. As the sun rays seeped in, there was a charming look about him.

But Tuan Qinghe knew that this was not how Kuhezhen originally was. This was someone who had overexerted himself after his strength had been expended by the gu poison.

The more powerful the toxic, the more strong its countercharge was; it had always been this way.

“Naturally, I would not place my faith in anyone. However, I have also planted a gu on Khan Father’s body.”

Kuhezhen smiled and said, “I would naturally have one hundred ways to let him keep his word.”

Tuan Qinghe, “Once you become the Yabghu, will you covet the place of Khan?” Kuhezhen shook his head, “I have not thought so far. My experiences and dignity are not enough to convince those people and gain their loyalty. It’s impossible to plant a gu in all of them. Compared to the imposing dignity of the Khan of Göktürk, perhaps scheming from a place behind him is the position that suited me the most.”

“The last time,” Tuan Qinghe said, “This is the last time I will be helping you.”

Kuhezhen sighed, “Thank you.”

……

Sixteenth of the first month, dusk.

Cui Buqu leaned against the table in front of him, taking a short rest. He hadn’t slept for almost a day and a night.
Normal people might not be able to stand it, and yet he had managed to push through it via determination alone.

Until now only could he finally relax a little. Originally, he wanted to reanalyze his thoughts but had unconsciously fallen asleep.

Red painted the sky, from yellow to purple, absolutely dazzling. The sunlight gradually dimmed down bit by bit.
Cui Buqu’s eye furrowed.

Naturally, he wasn’t able to sleep well in this posture.

He was just dreaming of Feng Xiao sealing his meridians so that he could not even blink, wanting to admire his elegance and grace and then recite a poem; only then would he let him go.

Cui Buqu was absolutely capable of pitting others. But he had never learned how to compose a poem.

Steam emitted from his head as he called Feng Xiao a fucker; Feng Xiao laughed, then launched a palm at him.

Cui Buqu’s body slumped and he woke up. Someone was sitting opposite of him.
Cui Buqu looked at him, it was Zhangsun Bodhi.

“I didn’t light the candles, afraid of waking you up,” Zhangsun said.

“Something the matter?” Cui Buqu rubbed his nose.

Zhangsun nodded, then shook his head, “Nothing too important. You can continue to rest for a while, there is only one little matter.”

Cui Buqu, “Speak.”

Zhangsun, “Feng Xiao escaped prison.”

Cui Buqu: “…”

[1] 叶护: a state office in the early Turkic states, roughly equivalent to the viceroy. They are second in command next to the Khan.

Chapter 178

I could still take it.

“After escaping prison, where did he go?” Cui Buqu asked.

“No one knows at the moment. He’s not at the Jiejian Bureau. This incident happened at the great prison of the Ministry of Justice, it cannot be concealed. His Majesty already knew, but news of the incident are temporarily silenced. After Ming Yue entered the palace, he brought another person to the great prison of the Ministry of Justice, and declared that Feng Xiao had once again been caught and returned to the prison.”

This was only for the sake of distraction, in order to avoid news of the incident spreading out. Everyone knew that that person was certainly not His Excellency Feng Xiao.

Since Second Commander Feng has fled, then he would never go back there again.

Zhangsun Bodhi thought that Cui Buqu would have flown into a thundering rage and thought that Feng Xiao was creating trouble.

But unexpectedly, Cui Buqu didn’t.

There was only a baffled expression on his face for a while before he nodded his head, meaning that he understood.

Zhangsun Bodhi, “In the Buddhat’s Birthday tomorrow, even if there are heavily armed soldiers, if the enemy attacks by surprise with top- martial artists like Xiao Lu, we might not be able to hold them back even with Ming Yue and I.”

What he meant was that Feng-er’s martial arts are superb and that he was an indispensable source of help. If Feng Xiao left without a word, it might be very troublesome for them tomorrow.

Cui Buqu said, “Since he hasn’t returned, then leave him be. Xiao Lu was heavily wounded back in the battle in the tavern, and his wounds should not have healed even at present. What’s left of his martial arts might only be seventy to eighty percent of what he originally had. Joined hands between you and Ming Yue will suffice.”

Zhangsun didn’t agree with it. “There is also Tuan Qinghe.”

Cui Buqu said, “The desire to cause destruction to the Central Plains has never ceased in the hearts of the Göktürks, but this is the capital, after all, and there is no little amount of top-martial artists around His Majesty. It would be very difficult for Tuan Qinghe alone to achieve what he wants. If we moved a few more top martial artists over there to take drastic precautions, they might just come up with another plan. Rather than that, why don’t we remain inert, and brace ourselves and try to prevent all that may come.”

“You mean… to use His Majesty as the bait?”

There are only two people in the room. Naturally, Zhangsun didn’t wish for a third person to have heard what he just said.

Judging by his tone, it wasn’t his intentions to disrespect Cui Buqu either.

As present events have progressed, they were in the light while the enemy was hidden in the dark. From the enemy’s perspective, they were a leviathan that had flaws everywhere. Regardless of how many precautions they’ve taken, they would leave a vulnerability wide open.

In such circumstances, luring the enemy into the depths and compromising already seemed to be the best choice possible. Cui Buqu nodded his head.

Zhangsun remained silent for a moment. “Understood. I will try my best to deploy some people and take all measures achievable.”

Cui Buqu coughed twice. “There is no need to be overly worried. Many things might not seem like you have control over them, but in reality, they don’t pose too much of a danger.”

Zhangsun Bodhi, “What you mean is…?”

The sun sunk beneath the mountain, even the last rays of light had vanished behind the clouds.

The Heavens and Earth gradually welcomed the night.

Cui Buqu felt a little cold and could not refrain from pulling his cloak more tightly around himself.

Seeing this, Zhangsun meddled with the flames in the brazier. Very quickly, the room grew warmer.
The night on the sixteenth of the first month was extraordinarily fresh and cool.

Yet, it was quiet outside, a fresh comparison from the same time during yesterday night.

Because of the incident that happened in the manor of Prince Qin, the authorities discontinued the three days the common people could go without curfew and restored the city into its previous quietness.

Soft beating was heard from outside the room; light snow had begun falling.

If one were to disregard the great event tomorrow, this was undoubtedly a quiet night that lulled people to sleep. Cui Buqu spoke with ease and confidence.

“Something must have been agreed upon between Xiao Lu and Kuhezhen in order to take us down.”

“But Xiao Lu had no connections nor backing powers in the Sui Dynasty. If he were to seize the throne, he must need a puppet to manipulate. This puppet might be someone close to the Emperor, for only then he could guarantee its success. In order to have a much lower risk, he might not kill His Majesty just yet.”

“However, Kuhezhen is different. He wished for the Great Sui to fall into chaos, and the more, the merrier. Only then could the Göktürks grab the opportunity to attack, so he needs His Majesty dead.”

“Here’s our chance to make use of the conflicting interests of these two people.”

As Zhangsun listened to this, he sighed. An extremely soft sigh.
He wasn’t someone who’d usually sigh.

Cui Buqu had never seen such a concerned expression on his face.

Zhangsun Bodhi said, “Tomorrow, I have no guarantees, but I will try my best.”

Cui Buqu smiled, “Zhangsun, I am not the all-powerful Zhuge. Even he had once made a mistake. I too have no guarantee, and that I can only try my best.”

His face had turned slightly red from the flames as he sat next to the brazier, yet one could still see coldness emanating from it.

Zhangsun only felt that his face had turned even paler than before. The redness on his face served no purpose of warming up Cui Buqu, it instead looked like a candle that was nearing the end of its life. It was striving to burn with the last of its strength, and only then could it breathe the life of a living person.

“Commander.” Zhangsun couldn’t refrain from furrowing his brows. Suddenly, he said, “Don’t go tomorrow. Whatever you ordered, let me do it.”

Cui Buqu calmly said, “You know that that is impossible.”

Zhangsun Bodhi twitched his lips as if there was something he wanted to say, but in the end, he didn’t.

Cui Buqu was sick all year round; with every winter he could fall gravely ill once, but as of late, he was very high in spirits and hadn’t fallen ill even once.

People who didn’t know anything might only think that his health had improved.

Zhangsun knew it wasn’t.

On the contrary, Cui Buqu was not in an ordinary state at this moment. It seemed like the last radiance of the setting sun was falling upon him1.

It was too ominous to say such words, even Zhangsun could not bear to say them out loud.

Everyone knew that Cui Buqu had never been in prime health. Regardless of which physician came, they would come to the same conclusion: he would either die a quick death in three to five months or a slow one in three to five years. The harsher ones would advise them to prepare his funeral in advance.

Cui Buqu was a person who went against the Heavens. From the time Zhangsun knew him, he had always been this way; he dragged his broken body along and had never once fallen down. In due time, everyone adopted the delusion that Cui Buqu would never fall, nor would he die young.

However, a delusion was a delusion, to begin with. A body as brittle as rotten wood would never heal on its own all of a sudden. Cui Buqu’s abrupt radiance could only mean that his candle of life was about to be snuffed out even quicker.

At this moment, he behaved as though all was well, but in reality, his end was near.

Zhangsun Bodhi may be capable of reciting any Buddhist sutras that existed, but he was weak in persuasion. It was not in his nature to speak non-stop.

And so, he could only tell Cui Buqu, “Don’t force yourself. Regardless of what happens, we are here.”

“There is no need to worry. I can still take it.” Cui Buqu seemed to know what he wanted to say. He patted his shoulder.

At the very least, he could stand until the end of tomorrow, Cui Buqu thought.

……

As night dear near, fragments of snow came fluttering down.

Within the princess’ manor was a similarly peaceful night, as if one had entered a dream.

The banquet that was originally going to be held here tonight has been put off for the same reasons as the night before.

The atmosphere within the palace was extremely anxious. Tomorrow, there is the festival of the Buddha’s Birthday. Now, nobilities and royalties within the capital behaved like rats scurrying within the bushes—every one of them hiding behind shut doors and keeping their breaths low. The Lantern Festival was three days long, but it had never before experienced such quietness.

Even Princess Leping hadn’t gone to sleep.

Not only that, but she was also properly dressed, even her hairpiece hadn’t been taken down. As she sat on top of her bed, she looked at the person who arrived.

There was a deteriorating look in her eyes.

“Huan, are you still unwilling to set me free?”

[1] 回光返照: Is referring to a phenomenon that occurs in nature before something is coming to an end. In Buddhism, this is believed that someone is going to die.

Chapter 179

There wasn’t a choice left. The weather was truly too hot.

A grand, long red dress fluttered behind the person. One corner of her lips curled upwards into a smile before anything was said.

It was Yuwen Eying, Yuwen Xuanzhu, whom everyone in the Princess manor was familiar with.

But Princess Leping showed no ounce of familiarity upon seeing her daughter, only absolute fear.

This wasn’t the look of someone who has seen a stranger, neither was it the look of someone who was looking at the daughter who stood by her side day and night.

On her face, there was three parts fear, three parts guilt, as well as incomprehensible hurt.

However, the more she behaved in such a manner, the more her guest laughed.

It was an unnatural laugh that Yuwen Xuanzhu gave, one that was filled with loathing.

“Why is Mother so displeased at the sight of me?” “No… I’m not…” Princess Leping squeaked. In order to make herself appear more convincing, she immediately added, “Huan, you and I have been separated for more than a decade. It’s not easy to reunite with my daughter. Can you not get yourself involved in those immoral schemes?”

These words had hit her below the belt. Tears filled both her eyes as she took the young maiden’s hand and begged, “I will certainly go beg your grandfather and grandmother to bestow upon you an official title! You are the daughter of a Princess, by law you should not have an official title, but both your grandparents love me very much. If you want the title of a Xuanzhu, I could grant your wish. You’d be ranked higher than even your elder sister. Wouldn’t you like that?”

The young maiden gently asked, “Can I be a princess then?”

Princess Leping was taken aback.

The young maiden gave a faint smile. “As the daughter of a princess, even if bestowed upon heavily by gifts, it’s impossible for them to become a princess unless they are the Emperor’s daughter themselves. Mom, I am born a princess, so why do I have to disgrace myself to be a Xuanzhu? Moreover having to beg for it.”

Princess Leping’s face turned pale, no longer able to say anything.

“Mom, do you know?”

“I never knew I had a mother before. A-Xiong1 said that back then, I was on the verge of dying. A few members of the palace had dug me a pit, a few shovels of soil had already been poured inside. Had it been any later, I would not have been in this world anymore. What a pity that I am born with a tough life; I’ve managed to live on, even making it to adulthood and stand where I stand now as I speak to you.”

“When A-Xiong took me in, I was very little. I cried every day. He was living in poverty and could not afford a wetnurse. He didn’t know how to feed me, and so he could only look for a female wolf who had just given birth and fed me with wolf milk as I grew. When those were my days, what was big sis doing? She was the eldest princess, as well as my father’s only daughter. Surely she’s well-loved by everyone?”

The young maiden knelt and looked at Princess Leping. When she wasn’t smiling, natural innocence flowed through her eyes like a little child who was begging for the approval of her parents.

Tears finally flowed down Princess Leping’s eyes. Her lips quivered.

“I’m sorry…. That time…”

During that time, her grandfather the Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou, Yuwen Yong suspected her father Yang Jian of having the intention of committing treason and was wary of him. As the Crown Prince’s concubine, she dared not misstep in a place such as the palace where there was no end to internal wars. When she heard that one of her twin daughters died, she had cried, but she hadn’t suspected that her daughter might still be alive, or that she’s been living outside of the palace all this time.

After so many years, Princess Leping only had one daughter, and she was Yuwen Eying. So she treated this daughter of hers like invaluable pearls, and couldn’t help but want to give her only the best that could be found in this world. However, she couldn’t have guessed that the other daughter of hers was out there in the wild.

On the day Yuwen Yihuan appeared at their doors, Princess Leping dared not believe it. However, the other girl grew up with a face identical to Yuwen Eying, that she practically needed nothing to prove, because this was the most obvious evidence.

Moreover, Yuwen Yihuan’s voice and expression, every slight movement on her face was indivisible to Yuwen Eying’s.

When both of them stood together in silence, even Princess Leping herself could not tell them apart.

After Yuwen Yihuan reunited with her birth mother and relayed to her all the hardships she’s been through these years, she also requested that she didn’t wish to expose her true identity to avoid her grandfather’s suspicions.

Princess Leping knew that her parents were very suspicious people, to begin with. If they knew that Yuwen Yihuan had been wandering outside all this time, there might be many troubles awaiting them. So, she promised her daughter that she would find the appropriate time to first be honest with Empress Dugu and make her accept Yuwen Yihuan first.

Yuwen Eying was a pure and innocent child. When she just found out that she had a twin sister, she was very happy about it. She had even volunteered on her own to keep her secret. And so, as the Princess and her daughters worked together, Yuwen Eying and Yuwen Yihuan took turns leaving the Princess’ manor using Yuwen Eying’s identity. Until when the Thousand Lantern Banquet incident came, Yuwen Yihuan’s overly brilliant performance drew Cui Buqu’s suspicions.

Cui Buqu was a person who will get to the bottom of every lead if he suspects it. He had always kept the detail of Yuwen Xuanzhu’s odd performance from that day in his mind. Afterwards, through numerous other leads, he was determined that the truth could not be far away from Yuwen Yihuan’s background.

As for Princess Leping, she was slowly coming to realize that her eldest daughter, who was estranged from her since young, was not as innocent and gentle in nature as Yuwen Eying. She had an incredibly ambitious heart, and she has even encouraged the Princess to become a shareholder of the Linlang Guild, so that they may receive dividends on an annual basis.

Other than the Imperial Court’s salary, the Princess Manor also received a few gifts from other members of royalty. However, after the change of dynasty, all that once belonged to the royal family’s treasury were all confiscated by the new Imperial Court. She was demoted from an Empress to a Princess, and though she still lived in luxury, much of her wealth has been lost. As the Eldest Princess of the Emperor, it was necessary for her to hold a banquet every once in a blue moon. Occasionally, Princess Leping too would be in a financial crisis. Yuwen Yihuan’s advice and suggestions have brought her no little amount of money. And so, Princess Leping gradually got used to letting her take care of the treasury in her manor. As Yuwen Yihuan watched how lonely she was, she had even got her mother a male lover. Princess Leping was a woman herself, who too had emotions. It was impossible for her to marry again with her current status, so what wrong was there in getting a lover? The Emperor and Empress chose to close an eye to her affairs, and so Princess Leping grew even more dependent on her eldest daughter.

Cui Buqu would never have guessed that Xiao Lu was already involved in the Princess Manor from such a long time ago.

Yuwen Yihuan had never spoken ill of the Emperor and Empress in front of Princess Leping, but she would consciously hint at it from time to time, letting Princess Leping know that her status now was not as prominent as she was before.

That although the princess was born in luxury, she had no control over her own fate.

She knew that she held grudges against her own parents. This grudge began back in the year when the Princess had to marry into the Royal Family of the Yuwens and become the Crown Prince’s concubine, and the Yuwens were later completely demolished by her own father. Now, this grudge was finally bubbling out from her heart. After so many years, it had gotten more turbulent.

Yuwen Yihuan knew this grudge of hers well; and then, as days passed, she cultivated it into a strong feeling.

To the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, Princess Leping’s status was the best piece of chess she could use.

She was a woman, as well as the eldest daughter of the Sui Emperor. She would not draw the attention of the Emperor and alert him.

However, she was once a member of the Yuwen family as well, who has even given birth to their children. She could never free herself from anything related to the Yuwen Family for the rest of her life. She could be their bridge, as well as their shield.

She could be their offence, as well as be their defence.

Without herself realizing it, Princess Leping had turned into one of Yuwen Yihuan’s chess pieces, to be manipulated and moved by Xiao Lu and Yuwen Yihuan as they pleased.

Once Princess Leping realized something was wrong and wanted to turn back, she realized that she had no option to do so.

It was too late.

“Huan, turn back!”

As she wept, Princess Leping held her hand, “I am truly afraid. I cannot take this any longer. Ever since Empress Mother fell ill, each time I visited the palace, I couldn’t help having anxiety. I am afraid of being exposed! Huan, I don’t want to be an Empress Dowager anymore. Let the three of us live peacefully for the rest of our days, wouldn’t that be nice?”

“It’s too late.” Yuwen Yihuan shook her head, “Mom, there is no turning back for an arrow that has been shot. Everything has been prepared, and tomorrow is the Buddha’s Birthday. A-Xiong will take care of everything. I don’t need you to do anything. You only need to do your part of waiting in the Princess’ Manor and wait for the good news.”

Princess Leping cried, “The Yuwen clan’s time is over. They can never rise to power again!”

Yuwen Yihuan smiled, “You overthink, mother. Grandfather has already gotten rid of all the remnants of the Yuwen clan, so where would they get a son to succeed the throne? After Third Uncle ascends the throne, I will be crowned princess and marry to A-Xiong. As for A-Xiong, he will rule the Imperial Court as a Fuma. Mother will not need to worry about what happens afterwards. I guarantee that you will live a life of luxury no less than what you had before.” When she heard the words ‘Third Uncle’, Princess Leping’s face paled.
Her limbs turned cold, and she knew that there truly was no return.

“Then… What about Ying? When will she be returning? She is your little blood sister!”

“After everything ends in success, Eying will come back.” Yuwen Yihuan gently said, but her words made Princess Leping’s heart sink.

The princess’ voice was rough, “Are you using… using Ying as a hostage against me?”

“Mom, there you are again. You have always been like this. You loved little sister more than me. Could it be because I wasn’t by your side since I was little? Or is it that because I am smarter, so you have the excuse to play favouritism?” Yuwen Yihuan curled her lips, her eyes turned cold, “She is my little sister. How could I cause her harm? Now is a crucial time, so why would it be a bad thing that she is far away from the venue?”

Her patience had worn thin. After saying these words, she reached out to tap a few places on Princess Leping.

The princess fell unconscious on the ground. Yuwen Yihuan pulled the covers over her figure.
Lightly, she said, “Sleep well. Everything will be over once you wake up tomorrow.”

She raised her hand as if she wanted to tap on a few more places on Princess Leping to avoid her waking up in the middle of the night and cause some chaos.

But Princess Leping didn’t know any martial arts. She was also in her middle ages. If Yuwen Yihuan tapped more of her meridians, it might actually damage the princess’ body.

Yuwen Yihuan’s hand dropped, giving herself a conflicted look as if she was questioning her own thoughts, before finally turning around and left. Tonight, the blizzard never rested.

Countless people twisted and turned on their beds, trying their best to brave through this sleepless night.

It was the Seventeenth of the First Month, the Fourth Year of Kaihuang,

……

“Wake up. Wake up quickly!”

“Be on your feet! Today’s a big day!”

“Quickly wash and change your clothes. The time of the Emperor’s arrival is approaching!”

The monk Congjing rose the earliest. He went to wake up his peers as all the monks on the cattail mats rose up continuously.

The sky hasn’t brightened yet; this moment was a little earlier compared to when they usually wake up to do their homework.

But none of them complained because they all knew what day was today.

After some time, His Majesty the Emperor would arrive at the Royal Family’s Temple to pray for blessing in the Buddhist Festival hosted by the Grandmaster Lingcang2.

A young monk inside was sleeping a little far away from his peers. There was even a cotton blanket between them. Congjing shook his head and said that this shidi was truly too fuzzy with life. How could he truly cultivate the heart of the Buddha?

Before he could slap the other’s body, he had already woken up.

Congjing was delighted. “Aren’t you sleeping in today? So be it. At least you know what matters and what does not. Quickly get prepared!”

Congyun nodded his head and quietly got dressed. He said nothing. Congjing wasn’t furious, because Congyun’s flu had just gotten better in such cold weather, his throat was hoarse. If not for their lack of manpower today, the brothers would definitely want him to sleep in more.

Thankfully, Congyun only needed to obey orders on the side. He didn’t need to talk. Today would be an easy day to pass for him.

Most importantly, Congyun was born with an incredibly good-looking face. When he wasn’t talking and simply stood quietly next to the Grandmaster Lingcang, he looked like an apprentice of the Guanyin.

The monks had all put on their clothes and left one by one.

When Congyun saw that no one else was around, he took out a bottle of salve from inside his sleeve and rubbed its contents on his face.

There was no choice. The weather truly was too hot.

[1]阿兄[A-Xiong]: Just means ‘brother’. [2] 灵藏[lingcang]: I’m not too familiar with the Buddist terms, but apparently lingcang a title for monks in the Sui Dynasty. It’s not a name.

Translator’s Notes:

We now have six main pairings in Wushuang: Peacock Feng-er x Fox Ququ, Commander x Commander, Lustful Mr. Ye x Thirsty Mrs Ye(Mrs Cui), Pei Jingzhe x Feng A-Gou, Master Cui x Li Shisi, and now Monk x Daozhang.

Chapter 180

A dutifully muted monk. Seventeenth of the First Month.
The rays of daylight radiated in faint bloom.

Yu Qingze1 adjusted his guan and sorted out his robes as he waited for his family to guide the horse over to him. When it came, he flipped himself onto the animal and galloped into the direction of the palace’s gates.

Madam Zhao, his wife, had come to send him off in person.

“My Lord, please take care, and return safely.”

Yu Qingze nodded at his wife, hitched his horse, and went forth.

Before the New Year, the war between the Imperial Court and the Göktürk army had just come upon a truce. He’d just come back from the frontlines to debrief the Emperor of his duties, which coincidentally happened to be the Lantern Festival as well. So, Yu Qingze was asked to be on duty on short notice to escort the Emperor.

Today, there were many people who were like Yu Qingze, but at least they were not in substantial numbers.

It goes without saying that those who were qualified enough to join the Emperor on the Day of the Buddha’s Birthday were all his most highly- esteemed and trusted subjects. Almost all of the subjects who usually participated in governmental debates and war stratagems in court were present.

This sight was none other than the solid proof of the Emperor’s serious attitude towards the prayer for blessings.

After what just happened yesterday, whether it was to confess repentance towards the Heavens or console the hearts of the common people, the Day of the Buddha’s Birthday was nonetheless a grand opportunity to demonstrate the flourishing of the Sui Dynasty towards its subjects and people.

As all the subjects gathered upon the blessed hour, they would dispatch from the southern gate in groups towards Jingshan Alley where the Daxingshan Temple was located.

The snow that gathered on both sides of the alley has already been cleared; there was still a thick blanket of snow on the rooftops, but it would not be obstructing their journey.

The remnants of snow-white ice receded under the gradually growing rays of the sun as if all the bad omens have melted away to welcome a new beginning.

A servant, He Zhong, solemnly raised his head to be greeted by a view full of light.

He daren’t stare a moment longer. Quickly, he dropped his gaze and looked ahead, footsteps following the Imperial Chariot as they proceeded. He couldn’t help but inwardly let out a sigh.

He Zhong felt that his mood had lightened aplenty.

Since yesterday, after the Heavenly Dog ate the sun, a string had been pulled tightly in his heart.

He wasn’t the only one. All the subjects and officials of the Palace of Daxing too dare not let their guard down. Since the new year, none of them had seen the Emperor smile even once.

The Empress was bedridden within the palace, and up until now, she rarely showed up.

On the night of the Lantern Festival, a terrible incident befell Prince Qin’s manor.

All these events contributed to the Emperor’s apparent dejection. As a personal servant, He Zhong could not bring himself to smile at the sight.

At his current status, even the highly valued subjects of the court would seek him out to form friendships. But even if that were the case, He Zhong still remained a dutiful and faithful internal subject before the Emperor.

It was decided that the Day of the Buddha will be held. Even if there would be a blizzard today, it would still carry on. However, as the snow fluttered down from the Heavens in light movements at this moment, everyone held high hopes in their hearts that a blizzard would be unlikely.

Please bless us with a smooth journey with no snow or no more eclipses!
He Zhong begged inwardly in his heart.

The people who shared his thoughts were as numerous as the stars in the sky.

The royal streets have been cleared; all the stalls on both sides of the street were closed. Where the Imperial Chariot went, other than the sound of galloping horses, no one said a word or uttered a sound.

Only occasionally would a bird fly through the clear and bright sky, chirping melodiously, as it beelined into the clouds.

It has been a long time since He Zhong felt so relaxed.

Lured by the bird’s call, he was unaware of his momentary distraction.
He glanced through the parade of the Imperial Chariot. The ones at the head of the chariot were martial officials while the literary officials manned the rear.

Even a heavily valued subject like Yu Qingze was present; for his presence had assured everyone.

He Zhong then thought of someone. Feng Xiao.
He was not among the parade.

Due to his involvement in the case of Prince Qin’s manor earlier, as well as escaping prison just yesterday, Feng Xiao’s whereabouts were unknown until now.

With Second Commander Feng’s presence, a highly-skilled martial artist, he would most certainly be able to make everyone feel more reassured.

As he thought of Feng Xiao, He Zhong recalled how dark the Emperor’s expression had been since yesterday night.

Actually, the Emperor himself did not truly believe that Feng Xiao was behind the incident at Prince Qin’s manor. What was the Second Commander Feng hoping for, anyway? Since the Emperor highly valued him, if he wanted to rise up the ranks or get a raise in his salary, he only needed to make a simple request. Why would there be a need to do so much extra and do something that required so much strength?

But with the evidence—the Crown Prince, Prince Jin, and the others, all bearing witnesses at once, it was difficult to leave this matter untended. Even the Emperor himself could not withdraw himself from it.

He Zhong had a special identity. He was often by the Emperor’s side and he kept his stance as a man of few words. The Emperor and Empresses deeply trusted him, and so he also knew more secrets about the valued subjects of the Imperial Court. For example, he knew that the Commander of the Zuoyue Bureau had once said in front of the Emperor and Empress that all of these were related to Princess Leping. He had pointed at the princess and was determined that she had something to do with this.

Back then, He Zhong heard of it briefly before he closed the palace door. He was shocked about what he heard and dared not get close—he would have given everything to be blind and deaf to this—and had even feigned ignorance of the Zuoyue Bureau Commander’s visit.

Quickly, he realized that after that time, the Emperor and Empress truly distanced themselves from Princess Leping. Even the gifts they bestowed upon her had greatly lessened compared to the past.

Once something happened in the manor of Prince Qin, He Zhong quickly thought of the princess.

However, Princess Leping was not at Prince Qin’s manor that night. She hadn’t attended the banquet, nor had she paid any visits to Prince Qin’s manor those few days before the incident happened.

After suspicions of the princess were lifted, it instead fell upon Second Commander Feng.

Although He Zhong said nothing on his lips, he had been pondering over this mystery ever since. It was a pity that the mystery only became more mysterious and that he was unable to think of a breakthrough.

If the murderer wasn’t Princess Leping, and neither was it Second Commander Feng, then who could it be?

Surely it couldn’t be Commander Cui calling wolf?

Then suddenly, he recalled that Cui Buqu was not among the parade.
Nobody knew where he had gone.

Speaking of which, why had nothing gone right after the new year? Was it the time to change the name of their reign2 now? The smell of burning incense got thicker and thicker, so thick that it broke He Zhong’s train of thoughts.

That was the scent of sandalwood unique to the temple. He Zhong raised his head, only to be greeted by the towering gates before himself.

He cleared his throat and called, “Stop—”

The Imperial Chariot stopped.

He Zhong immediately bent down to sweep the tassels of the curtains apart so the Emperor may step out of the Imperial carriage.

It had been the Emperor’s own request to walk through the towering gates alone without aid to prove his sincerity.

All the subjects got down their horses to walk behind the Sui Emperor.

Grandmaster Lingcang, who was in charge of hosting this festival, was already an old friend of the Sui Emperor back when Yang Jian was just a Prime Minister. All of the monks in the temple could not help feeling anxious about the Emperor’s arrival. It was only Grandmaster Lingcang who was as calm as he usually was, earning him even more respect from the Emperor.

As both of them chatted, Grandmaster Lingcang led the Emperor into the Mahavira Hall while the rest of the subjects waited outside.

“His Majesty looks perturbed. His heart is not calm, hence it’s difficult to show your sincerity before the Buddha.”

Only Grandmaster Lingcang would dare say such a thing.

The Emperor wasn’t angry. He had, instead, sighed, “I know that my heart is not at peace. I had even taken a few Nerve-Soothing Pellets before leaving the palace.”

Grandmaster Lingcang quietly said, “The doer shall undo what he has done; in the heart of the Buddha, to pray for blessings is to pray for the peace of heart. If His Majesty is unable to resolve the conflict in his heart, then there is no use to pray for blessings.”

After a long silence from the Emperor, he said, “I have too many conflicts in my heart. I need to resolve my worries in front of the Buddha.”

Grandmaster Lingcang had an empathic and kind look. Without another word, he lifted his hand in guidance, hinting at the Emperor to follow his lead.

He Zhong perked his ears as he listened to both of their conversations, not for the purpose of prying into the Emperor’s affairs, but so he would respond in time if anything happened and follow closely next to the Emperor without leaving him.

Lingcang and the Emperor were at the front, while He Zhong and the monks who followed the grandmaster were at the back.

Only then did He Zhong noticed that Grandmaster Lingcang had a very good-looking monk right next to him. His posture stood out from everyone else and he was incredibly focused, not even sparing He Zhong a glance from the corner of his eyes.

When everyone had placed their incense outside the Mahavira Hall, Grandmaster Lincang allowed his monks to place incense as well to prove their sincerity. With three incenses in his hand, He Zhong carelessly tripped over a stone board that had stuck out from the ground. As he was going to have a bad fall, a hand reached out from beside him to hold him in place. He had even caught those three incenses that fell out of He Zhong’s hand and tucked it back into his grasp.

As if nothing happened.

He Zhong glared with wide eyes, his heart still beating, as if he thought that he had almost imagined it. His fall was only a small problem, but it would be a severe problem if he failed his manners in front of royalty. If not for the young monk’s help, he wouldn’t be able to keep his head on his shoulders by now.

He Zhong was unable to pull himself back. Just as the Emperor was putting on incense in the hall, he quickly thanked the young monk.

The young monk waved his hand and pointed at his lips, then he turned his attention away.

It seems he’s a mute.

Realisation hit He Zhong, and in his heart, he said, “It’s not easy to be a monk who followed closely to Grandmaster Lingcang these days.” He wasn’t only handsome, he was also skilled in the martial arts. Such a pity he couldn’t talk! In the near future, it would not be possible for him to become a monk who recites mantras.

He looked at the young monk quietly as he placed the incense into the burner, then quickly walked after the Emperor in small steps.

Music of Buddhism floated in the air of Daxingshan Temple.

The sound of mantra chanting echoes within the Mahavira Hall, truly turning it into a land of gold and enveloping the entire temple as impenetrable as an iron bucket.

Even if one knew that this was nothing consoling to one’s heart, He Zhong still felt that it calmed him.

He looked towards the rear of the Emperor’s figure who was sitting in the centre, and felt that the Emperor most probably felt the same calmness as he did.

On the other hand, Feng Xiao didn’t know why He Zhong felt pity for him.

From the beginning, it was never his intentions to participate in the Daxingshan Temple. Upon leaving the prison of the Ministry of Justice, Feng Xiao had been in a hurry to take a shower and change into a fresh set of clothes. He had no intention to return to the Jiejian Bureau before the Day of the Buddha’s Birthday came to an end, because Feng Xiao knew that only when he was hidden in the darkness could he pose a larger threat to their enemies.

When he was passing by Daxingshan Temple looking for a restaurant or a pavilion that he may feign as someone who’d just had a one night stand that wanted to take a shower and wash, the scent of sandalwood and sound of chanting caused him to stop his footsteps.

From afar, he saw a young monk who had just returned from the outside.
From then on, Feng Xiao had a new idea.

Had it been in the past, he would have died rather than part with his hair.

But today was different. After he was stuck for one to two shichens with chamber pots within the great prison, Feng Xiao believed that he was about to lose his sense of smell. Whatever he smelled, it smelled like poop. Even if he washed his hair a dozen times, it was difficult to wash away the scar in his heart.

Since this is the case, then why not start over again?

The germaphobe in Feng Xiao quickly made the decision. Just as the monk Congyun returned from the outside, he was hit unconscious, had his meridians sealed and brought to shelter in a cave in the city’s suburbs and left him only with clean water and spring foods. He wouldn’t be returning for at least three to four days.

And Feng Xiao only needed one.

Just now, the reason He Zhong fell was because Feng Xiao had purposely led He Zhong to that piece of brick that stuck out.

Because as long as a person knew martial arts, they would instinctively expose themselves in the face of danger. He Zhong, however, had not.

He was nowhere different compared to a normal person. This person was not a threat.
Feng Xiao turned his attention away from He Zhong.

On this day, he spent his time walking around the temple, but he could not find anyone suspicious-looking.

However, it was possible that the enemy was very well hidden. It was not easy to find them.

Feng-er withdrew his gaze and continued pretending to be a mute monk. The Emperor had been sitting on the cattail futon for a very long time.
The sound of chanting could not clearly calm his heart down. In the deepest part of his heart, there was a beast prowling in the depths that made him anxious and hot on his toes.

The Imperial Court and the Kingdom of Göktürk were at war for a whole three years. The former Dynasty had married off their princess to form a truce, but when it befell upon the Sui Dynasty, the latter refused to bend the knee. They would rather spend their time battling with the Göktürks; from tasks as lowkey as sending scouts to cause strive between the different tribes of Göktürks to large-scaled tasks such as fighting head-on against the armies of Göktürk with their own. As they used schemes of all variety, predictable and unpredictable, Khan Ishabara finally could not hold it any longer and requested a truce.

Compared to Qin Shi Huang and Han Wudi’s achievements, this feat by Yang Jian was no less inferior in merit. Even if he had not ordered it, his name would eventually be inscribed gloriously in the book of records.

Though, the continuous terrible incidents that happened after such an earth-shaking feat was something Yang Jian had not expected. On the day of the eclipse, someone truly caught him off guard. The enemy may be able to buy Hong Yuan over, but they could not change the natural occurrence of heavenly phenomenons.

Could it be that he truly shouldn’t have taken the place of the Yuwens? The Day of the Buddha finally came to a solid decision.
The monks on either of their sides slowly left.

And the only ones left inside the Mahavira Hall was Grandmaster Lingcang and the Emperor at the centre.

Even He Zhong had retreated to a corner in the hall.

There was no need for the Emperor to order it. He Zhong did his part of closing the door and allowed the two of them to have a private chat.

Grandmaster Lingcang and the Emperor were sitting opposite of each other.

The Emperor was silent, and Lingcang hadn’t spoken. After a while,
“Should I… Should I have spared some of the Yuwen clan?”

He was asking himself, as well as everyone else.

Grandmaster Lingcang said, “The answer is already in His Majesty’s heart. Why do you need to ask me?”

The Emperor roughly said, “In the rise and fall of dynasties, which one of these had shed no blood? I am also… left with no options.”

Although he had put it in such a way, it was obvious that he felt guilty, his voice seemed to have trailed off. With a sigh, Grandmaster Lingcang said, “The deed cannot be undone; this is something His Majesty knew himself. As of late, you found it difficult to live, and by the end of the day, it was all because of an unresolved conflict in your head. However, as you built a new dynasty, brought the barbarians upon the borders into control, lightened various sentences and reduced taxes—these are deeds of virtue. If the former dynasty still stands, these all might not happen. The Göktürks would still slaughter countless of people who lived on the borders. There is no clear line between the good or the evil. Although His Majesty had committed the sin of murder, he too has done some good. This incident cannot be determined with a single event alone. What His Majesty should do is to keep the Yuwen clan in your heart, and refrain from repeating the events of the past in future. When you lay on your deathbed, your story will naturally be recorded in the books by historians.”

As an ordained monk, to begin with, his old friend’s words came with many depths. Perhaps a normal person would not be able to understand what he meant. But this time, he’d go through the length to speak forthrightly all for the sake for consoling him.

After a few days of having his emotions repressed, the Emperor felt his eyes water, before he forced himself to smile and said, “You understand me.”

Grandmaster Lingcang had lifted half of the burdensome weight in his heart.

Grandmaster Lingcang said, “I should recite a copy of the mantra to His Majesty.”

The Emperor nodded his head, “Might as well. Thank you.”

Grandmaster Lingcang had not been picky. He casually picked one titled,
“Surangama Samadhi Sutra3”.

He knew that what the Emperor wanted wasn’t a classic, but a peace of heart. Having himself come to his senses was incomparably more effective than any words from onlookers.

Grandmaster Lingcang’s words filled his ears. His voice was a little worn and old, but it wasn’t hoarse. Instead, the years evident in his voice made it a calming tone that soothed those who listened to it.

The scent of sandalwood filled the air. The chanting of scriptures resounded in the empty pace within the hall.

The Emperor too gradually fell into slumber. He recalled many past events.
Each one of them flashing before his eyes:

When he was young, he had talked and indulged happily with Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou the first time they met.

The Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou had pointed at the Crown Prince of the time, Yuwen Yun, and said, “I have a brilliant son and you have an elegant daughter. Would they be the perfect match?”

It was the very same Emperor Wu who chose to listen to the words of a fortune teller and distanced himself from Yang Jian, suspecting him of having the desire for treason.

And he remembered all the more clearly how the two of them, as Emperor and subject, had turned into enemies. Yang Jian had endured lying in hiding for many years until Emperor Wu finally died on his deathbed before he could finally sigh in relief.

It’s no longer possible to tell who started these series of events in the past.

However, in the end, the Yuwen clan had not killed a single person from the Yang clan. It was the other way around, the Yang clan had practically killed all of the Yuwen clan. Would he Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou be driven into fury as he watched from beneath the grave?

Unexpectedly, the Emperor looked at the massive statues in front of him. He hoped to find an answer within that faint smile on the lives of the Buddha.

The Buddha looked back at him, his brows hung low, tips of his eyebrows raised.

Those eyebrows appeared to be lifting higher, and its face turned more sinister looking. His two large, golden-painted eyeballs rolled and his gaze fell upon the Emperor.

The Emperor opened his eyes wide as if thunder had struck him, rendering him unable to move.

There was a low little laugh, some giggles that pitched and softened sinisterly resounding in the hall.

He thought that someone had penetrated the hall unwelcomed, but suddenly he realized that these laughs had come from the mouths of the twenty-four Dharmapalas from both sides of the hall!

Those statues laughed at him sinisterly. Unexpectedly, one of them reached out with a palm to hit him. The Emperor averted it only to feel that something heavy had hit his shoulder.

His entire person fell backwards.

“Your Majesty!”

The Emperor opened his eyes once more. His face was pale, his entire head drenched in sweat.

But the statues of the Dharmapalas that had turned into demons were nowhere to be seen.

There was only Grandmaster Lingcang’s worried face. [1] 虞庆则[Yu Qingze]: One of the four most powerful officials during the Sui Dynasty, also known as the Duke of Lu and general of Shizhou. [2] 年号[nian hao]: The nian hao in this case is ‘Kaihuang’. It’s basically a
superstitious belief that a bad nian hao will bring bad luck, hence He Zhong’s thoughts about changing it. [3] ⾸楞严三昧经 [Surangama Samadhi Sutra]: an early Mahayana sutra of Indian origin.

Translator’s Notes

Sorry for the late update, guys. My perfectionist suddenly decided to kick in and I was doubting my translation styles. Wuxias novels generally have very exaggerated descriptions during battle scenes and this is true for the writing style in Peerless, which isn’t as tiring to read in Chinese as it’s in English. So I was spend more time ironing out any awkward sentences in the chapters, hopefully this one reads a lot better ~
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