Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
There had been assassins in the capital for the past few days, so all households closed their doors early. When the moon came out, there was already no one on the streets, and the door planks sealed the whispers below the roof tiles. The only things moving in alleys were the night watch and the barking of a dog. Yanzhi Alley was also deserted, and the last few peddlers packed up their stalls, seemingly desperately. One who milled mirrors wasn’t paying attention and broke a mirror in their hand, and it clanged, sounding all the way to the end of the alley.
A-Chu was carrying a cloth bundle on her back as she crawled out of a dog hole. When she heard the sound from the neighboring alley, she was greatly startled and accidentally bumped her head into the wall, tears of pain welling.
Actually, Yunxian Building had already been sealed, so the underlings had dispersed long ago. However, she still didn’t dare to go through the front door, as she was afraid the underlings would stop her and not let her leave with Baili Yuan. She was an official prostitute after all, so she normally couldn’t leave. Her sisters that had been arrested by the Eastern Depot last time had already returned. They hadn’t lost their arms or broke their legs, nor had anyone been bullied by men. However, some people’s bodies were weak, as they had been infected with sores in the prison. After they came back and laid on their beds, groaning for a few days, they passed away.
She felt more and more that she couldn’t stay in this world anymore. A-Yuan being willing to take her away was an extremely great fortune, and she could perhaps escape the fire pit in this lifetime. She was full of joy and had tidied her jewelry and expensive clothing long ago, tying all of them into the cloth bundle. They were the belongings she had accumulated over many years, and perhaps she could open a small restaurant in the North in the future to make a living. She hadn’t dared to tell anyone, so she had changed out of the coarse clothes and skirt worn by servants and quietly crawled out, searching for a secluded place to sit and wait for Baili Yuan to pick her up.
She was too anxious. They had agreed to meet at three quarters past six so they could leave the city right when the city gates closed. She had come out at five and sat on the stone pier, waiting around for a long time but not seeing any signs of a carriage. There was an old woman who made pancakes packing up her stall. Her hands and feet weren’t nimble, so she was slow at packing up, and the frying pan was still steaming. A-Chu touched her stomach. She had only put gold and silver jewelry in her cloth bundle, not food, and the greasy fragrance drifted over along the wind, making her continuously drool. A-Chu picked up her cloth bundle and walked over to ask for two pancakes, then sat below the tent to eat as she waited for Baili Yuan.
The old woman finished packing up her stall and left, and the peddlers in the alley carried shoulder poles as they all left one by one. Only A-Chu remained in the silent alley. Business was light, so the workers at the door of each brothel had been relieved, and clients simply went from door to door. On the jet-black door panel below the dim lantern, a New Year painting of the god of wealth was about to fall off, and it rustled as it was blown by the wind. For no reason, she recalled that sister that had died in her bed and her paper-white face and sores oozing with pus, the expression in her eyes quietly fading just like that. There was also the bawd and Xiahou, their two corpses laying rigidly on the stone floor, as cold as ice.
It’s all because of Garan of Seven Leaves, thought A-Chu.
“A-Chu-jiejie hasn’t come out yet.” Baili Yuan’s voice suddenly sounded in the alley, and A-Chu woke up from her daze. Joy arose in her heart, and she hastily picked up her cloth bundle and stood up.
“It’s only six right now, women are always very slow at tidying their things.” It was a man’s voice.
“Why did you come?” Baili Yuan asked, “Aren’t you going to go with the Eight Legions to kill Shen Jue?”
As if lightning had struck the top of her head, A-Chu stopped her footsteps the instant she was going to step around the corner.
“Mr. Duan was worried that your journey is long, Yama, so he sent me to protect you.” The man smiled. “I really wanted to go with them to kill Shen Jue. I heard that that eunuch knelt to Guangling Temple by performing three kowtows and nine prostrations, they really are an affectionate couple with deep feelings.”
“Couple? Isn’t Shen Jue Xiahou Lian’s new brother?” Baili Yuan asked, “Some people say that they’re father and son, some people say that they’re brothers, and you’re saying that they’re husband and wife. Exactly what relationship do they have?”
“All in all, it’s a filthy relationship.” The man’s voice contained disgust. “I should’ve realized that Xiahou Lian is a cut-sleeve long ago. At the time when Garan gave Liu Shao’er to him, he didn’t want her, and I even regarded it as him thinking about our brotherhood and not competing with me. I didn’t expect that he’s a cut-sleeve that specially keeps a man as his lover. Two men being together is improper, how disgusting.”
It was Garan! A-Chu stood against the wall, her hands and feet becoming chilly inch by inch. How was this possible? How could A-Yuan have something to do with Garan? A-Chu was anxious and doubtful, and her heart beat rapidly in her chest, practically unable to breathe. Their voices weren’t loud, but this alley was short, so A-Chu could barely hear the gist.
She cautiously poked her head out. A carriage was stopped in the pitch-black alley, and there was a small golden light on the carriage crossbar. Baili Yuan was sitting on the armrest and swaying her legs, and a black-clothed man was standing next to her, the scar on his cheek partly hidden and partly visible underneath his scattered hair. There were also many silent men standing outside the yellow halo of light, their black clothes practically melting into one with the color of the night. In the day, they were servants of the marquis manor, and at night, they turned into prowling evil spirits.
It turned out that the ones picking her up were Garan assassins, the assassins that had killed the bawd and Xiahou. A-Chu felt as if she was falling into a cave of ice. She felt that she was like a living person who had mistakenly entered the netherworld, afraid that if she breathed too loudly, it would disturb these silent ghosts. How was this possible? A-Chu covered her own mouth tightly, shaking uncontrollably. She recalled Baili Yuan sweetly calling her jiejie, and how she looked like a small dog when she pulled the band of her skirt.
But this frail girl had opened the eyes of an evil spirit in the dark.
A-Chu recalled that night when she had hugged Baili Yuan and asked——
“What does your family do?”
“My family sells medicine.”
It turned out that this medicine was Bliss Fruit. Tears fell from A-Chu’s eyes. She had personally seen her sisters when the disease took effect; some became dull-witted and some became insane, indulging in the addiction and unable to break free. That evil spirit from Garan had been beside her the entire time, calling her jiejie.
“You were originally his junior fellow disciple, yet you hate him so much.” Baili Yuan tilted her head and looked at him.
“He’s a hypocrite.” The man sneered, “In order to avenge his mother, he pushed everyone in Garan to die. Don’t you hate this kind of person?”
Baili Yuan was impassive and jumped down from the carriage, walking a few steps as she said, “You don’t need to kill him, he’s going to die soon,” The expression in Baili Yuan’s eyes dimmed, “just like Chi Yan.”
The man was silent for a while and looked up at the dark blue dome of the sky. The round moon hung high, indifferently looking down at all living beings.
He said softly, “Yes, he’s going to die soon.”
Baili Yuan waited for another while. When she saw that there wasn’t much time left, she squatted down and looked inside the dog hole. In the disorderly gaps between the horseweed, she could vaguely see flickering lights and shadows, but she didn’t see A-Chu’s figure. Baili Yuan frowned and stood up. “Someone, go in and take a look. It’s been so long, did Jiejie encounter some trouble?”
A-Chu felt shocked and subconsciously took a step back, and her ankle accidentally touched a dustpan. The dustpan had been standing on the ground, and it rolled out.
Baili Yuan’s expression became solemn. “Who’s there!”
A-Chu hastily ran out, and in her panic, her cloth bundle fell to the ground, her jewelry and clothing clattered as they fell all over the ground. Baili Yuan chased her to the alley entrance and picked up a gold hair clasp from the ground. The assassins swept past her like owls, running into the vast night.
“Yama, she seems to know. Are you still going to play house?” the Kinnara asked from behind her.
Baili Yuan threw the clasp backward, and the tip flew out, grazing the Kinnara’s cheek and slicing out a mark of blood.
“Stop talking nonsense.” Baili Yuan turned her head, and the Kinnara saw deep ferociousness hidden in her eyes. She said through gritted teeth, “Chase her!”
The wheels rolled through the night, and there was a thin layer of fog on the loess path. Looking over, it was a hazy expanse, and the clear light of the moon penetrated the fog. The world seemed to be enveloped in water, the lights of the waves sparkling. Guangling Temple was over ten miles away from the city, so they were only halfway there. Shen Jue’s hand and forehead were bandaged, and he was leaning against the side of the carriage, asleep. Shen Wenxing’s heart ached greatly, and he gently covered Shen Jue’s knees with a blanket.
Shen Jue’s hands and knees had broken and were bleeding from kneeling, so for a bit he couldn’t ride a horse and rush back to see Xiahou Lian and had first sent people back to see if Xiahou Lian had gotten better. He had sent them after getting down from the mountain, but they still hadn’t come back, so he didn’t know if they had been delayed on the way or something. Shen Wenxing inwardly cursed those people for being lazy, yet he secretly hoped that they would come back a bit later. No one knew whether worshiping Buddha was effective or not, and if it wasn’t, hadn’t they busied themselves for nothing?
He gazed at Shen Jue’s sleeping face and sighed. He was usually such a capable person, yet he had actually fallen to this plight.
Hurried hooves sounded outside the carriage, and Shen Wenxing lifted the curtain, poking his head out to look. Had they returned? However, there were no shadows of horses in front of the carriage. Looking back, he saw a group of men riding horses toward them. Shen Wenxing was taken aback; how come they had come from behind the carriage?
“Eunuch Xiao Shen!” Captain Yun saw Shen Wenxing, and his expression became happy. “Is the governor inside?”
“What is it?” The window was pushed open, and Shen Jue’s pale face faced the moonlight, containing a layer of lustrous white radiance.
Both of the carriages stopped, and Shen Jue got down from the carriage with Shen Wenxing supporting him by the arm. On that side, Mingyue also carried Yu-jie’er down from the carriage, and another underling saluted with clasped fists and knelt down, shouting, “Governor!” Only then did Shen Jue notice that these were the underlings he had sent to the North to investigate Baili Yuan.
“Governor,” the leading eunuch-in-charge surnamed Xi said, “we secretly dug up the coffin and examined the corpses of the marquis, his wife, and their four sons and three daughters. We discovered that these nine people didn’t die of smallpox. There were bruise marks on their torsos and skulls, and there were also scraps of clothing in their fingernails. When we examined their intestines and stomach, we found Bliss Fruit.”
Shen Jue furrowed his brow tightly.
“Thus, we dare to speculate,” Eunuch-in-Charge Xi said, “that these nine people all suffered the effects of addiction to Bliss Fruit, went insane, and committed suicide.”
Mingyue came forward and saluted, saying, “I returned this time also because I discovered a field of azalea flowers near Daomaguan. According to what the peasant woman there said, there are officials consuming Bliss Fruit in the city. I was speculating and am afraid that the disaster of Bliss Fruit has already spread to all counties and prefectures in the North. Officials everywhere are colluding and being controlled by Garan.”
Shen Wenxing was dumbstruck upon hearing this. “Heavens, they’re going to rebel!”
Shen Jue turned around with knitted brows and held the carriage wall as he walked a few steps. Baili Yuan, Baili Yuan… Xiahou Lian had encountered Baili Yuan when he had gone to Yunxian Building, and Trilling Tenderness had been hidden in the bawd’s alcohol; Bliss Fruit had exterminated the Linbei Marquis Manor; the Eastern Depot in Datong had presented fake documents; Tang Shiqi had said that Garan’s Yama was a dwarf… All of the clues connected into a line, and he recalled that girl’s dark eyes amid the wind and snow.
Baili Yuan was Lord Yama!
Shen Jue immediately ordered, “Xi Zhong, Yun Xiu, take your people and hurry back to the capital. Pass on the orders for Shuntian Prefecture and Five City Warden Department to gather the depot guards and surround Linbei Marquis Manor, and arrest Baili Yuan!”
The two of them clasped their fists at the same time. “Yes!”
The underlings rapidly mounted their horses. Under the moonlight, the faint gold patterns on their black scabbards flowing with coldness, and their chainmail was coated with a thin layer of the color of frost. Xi Zhong took the lead and spurred his horse on, and hooves clattered, covered in dust. Shen Jue stepped onto an underling’s shoulder and into the carriage, and when his hand held Shen Wenxing’s shoulder, a frigid light flashed past in the corner of his vision.
He was horrified, and a chill jumped from the top of his head to his entire body.
He opened his mouth, wanting to give a warning, but it was already too late. A pop sounded in the air, and the head of the horse below Xi Zhong, who was at the front, exploded into a bright red spray of blood, gushing out like spring water and covering Xi Zhong’s entire head and face. He didn’t have time to panic, because his neck was cut by invisible Leading Mechanism Silk in the next moment. His head flew out, slicing out an arc in the air. The heavy body of the horse and its headless torso knelt down entirely, buried in the loess dust.
Yun Xiu’s horse was too fast, so he didn’t have time to rein it to a stop at all. His horse was about to pass through the Leading Mechanism Silk, and that extremely thin but unparalleled killing weapon drew close! Yun Xiu stepped abruptly onto the saddle and did a backflip, leaping off the horse like a light swallow. At the same time, the horse’s head was cut into two halves bby the Mech Silk blood spraying like rain.
Xi Zhong’s head fell onto the ground, rolling next to a pair of feet wearing black boots.
“There are assassins! Protect the governor!” the underlings roared, all of them drawing their sabers and surrounding Shen Jue.
The fog thickened, and in the pitch-black night, the assassins were like descending ghosts riding on the moonlight, walking out of the fog one by one. They were both in front and behind, and they were countless. One could only see their impassive white porcelain masks one after another.
Behind all of the assassins, a man stood in the deepest part of the fog. He was raising his saber silently. He didn’t move, but countless assassins walked past him. However, he was like a rock, as if he had been standing there since the beginning of time.
Like an instinct between beasts, Shen Jue had a premonition that that person was the strongest killing weapon among the assassins. When he unsheathed his saber, the battlefield would certainly be littered with the dead, blood flowing into rivers.
They looked at each other from a distance across the many assassins and Eastern Depot cavalrymen, and there seemed to be bright flames of war where their gazes collided.
In the deathlike silence, that person spoke; it was a young voice.
“The Garuda leading the Eight Legions of Garan of Seven Leaves, respectfully sending the chief officer to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.”
Upsetting reading how the horses died. I love horses.
Xi Zhong has died too?!
This is not looking good. They are no match for the Kinnara/Shu Qing and Garan Assassins. How are they going to escape this? Will XL show up with a reforged and completed Zhaoye? I doubt that.
What an insane cliffhanger! 😰
Only 18 more chapters to go… and I’m not ready.
Thank you both so much for translating and editing.
THE CLIFFHANGER OMG AHHHH I CANT WAIT, i’m so excited i love action scenes, poor a-chu, i was really hopeful she would have a good life, i like her a lot too 😭
tysm for the chapter and the translation!!!!!
Thank You for the new chapter (◍•ᴗ•◍)♡
I really hope the fog lifts so the moon shines again.
There isn’t something so worse as being attacked at your weakest moment…
The battle that I’ve been dreading is here! I don’t know if it’s possible for both SJ and CY to survive…and also really hoping that A-Chu is spared!!
Thank you for the chapter!
That traitor ex friend is such a btch. Should’ve become a traveler, but he instead became a homophobic mf. How can he call Xiahou Lian filthy/disgusting if he himself wanted to be the lowliest dog to a wife whose faithfulness was basically akin to her brain—non-existent?
Uh anyway, I’m afraid to see what happens next errr