Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The man before his eyes was already completely different from the one in Xiahou Lian’s impression. The timid and cowardly young man from before had already grown into a ferocious assassin, every frown and smile containing a cold killing intent. Xiahou Lian’s heart sank down, but what made him more anxious was Shen Jue. What did he mean that he wasn’t in the palace? If Shen Jue wasn’t in the palace, where could he be?
Shu Qing held his chin as he looked at the sky and smiled. “Ah, it’s already seven in the evening. This time, Garan gathered all of the assassins and spies in the capital and surrounding area, and except for me, the Eight Legions have swarmed out. The one holding the saber is Garan’s strongest assassin, the Garuda. Say, how long can your governor hold out?”
Was Garan going all out? Xiahou Lian clenched his fists. Training an assassin was easier said than done, and Garan dispatching all of their elites was clearly using lives for lives. But as long as Shen Jue was killed, there would be no one to succeed the Eastern Depot, and Garan would be the winner.
“What do you want?” Xiahou Lian said through gritted teeth, “Say it and then tell me, where is the governor?”
“What do I want?” Shu Qing chuckled and abruptly lifted his head, the killing intent visible in his eyes. “I want you to die, Shige!”
In an instant, the light of his saber suddenly rose, and Hengbo’s glittering blade came head-on. Xiahou Lian tilted his head and dodged the blow, and Lian Xiang pulled Miaozhen and A-Chu to hide at the side. Underlings surged outside the courtyard and set up their crossbows, aiming for Shu Qing, yet they couldn’t get in because the two of them were moving nonstop.
After missing his blow, Shu Qing didn’t pause and turned around to chop vertically. “Shige, how long are you going to linger on with your last breath? Why don’t you die yet!”
“Shu Qing, are you crazy?!” Xiahou Lian cursed, “Didn’t you defect, why did you return to Garan!”
“You’re the crazy one!” Shu Qing was so angry his eyes seemed to be about to pop out. “Yes, I defected, but unfortunately I couldn’t hide as well as you, Shige, I was caught and taken back!” He tore open his clothes, revealing his chest and shoulders, on which countless whip wounds lay across. “Look, eighty-one whips, yet I actually didn’t die. Only when I returned to Garan did I know that you had killed Shi Xin and even obtained the antidote. My good shige, do you know that when you were happy and carefree outside, we were in the mountain temple waiting to die!”
“I…” Xiahou Lian wanted to defend himself, but Shu Qing swung another blow at him.
Amid the piercingly cold light of the saber, Shu Qing’s smile was as ferocious as a ghost’s. “Shige, do you know how painful it is when Mid-July takes effect, we just laid below the Buddha statues, and starting from our hands and feet, our body became numb, inch by inch. The abbot was gone, so there was no one to give us the medicine. We broke into Black-Faced Buddha to look for medicine, but the medicine cave had already been burned down by you! You didn’t even leave a single antidote for us!”
“Shu Qing, stop!” roared Xiahou Lian.
Shu Qing wouldn’t, and he lunged forward again. “You repeatedly said that we were your brothers, but in order to avenge your damned mother, you didn’t think about our lives at all!”
“Didn’t you fucking defect, weren’t you dead? How the fuck would I know you would be caught and taken back!” Xiahou Lian flashed past Hengbo and drew out the long saber at his waist. “Shu Qing, don’t force me.”
“Yes, I originally didn’t want to live anymore. Garan is such a hellish place, I wanted to escape even if I died.” Shu Qing held his saber, laughing as he turned around. “But it was you who gave me hope, Shige. You had the antidote, so why didn’t you come back and save us! I full-heartedly thought you would come back and save everyone, and I told everyone that you would definitely return. Days went by, and the middle of the seventh month became closer and closer, yet there wasn’t a trace of your shadow. Only at the last moment did I understand that you weren’t coming back. You hate Garan and Garan killed your mother, so you eagerly looked forward to everyone dying!”
Xiahou Lian was practically about to gnash his teeth. “I didn’t fucking have the antidote at all! This is enough, Shu Qing, stop fighting. Tell me where the governor is, and I’ll let you go.”
Shu Qing sneered as he pointed his saber at him. “Liar, if you don’t have the antidote then how could you live until now! What you didn’t expect is that the abbot’s medicine isn’t effective at all, Mid-July has no antidote! You didn’t think that we would still be alive, right?” Shu Qing looked down and stroked Hengbo, the glittering light of the saber turning between his fingers. “I also didn’t expect that you didn’t come, yet Mr. Duan and Lady Yama came.”
Memories came, as disorderly as crow feathers, and Shu Qing recalled that moonlit night. Leaves swirled like rain, and Duan Jiu led Baili Yuan up the steps, pushing open the front door of the Main Hall. The assassins propped themselves up as they lingered on their last breath, looking at the two figures, one tall and one short, under the moon.
“How pitiful, but it’s okay, your lives are still very long, because…” Baili Yuan looked down at them, an icy smile rising at the side of her lips, “I’ve brought you all supreme bliss.”
“That wasn’t supreme bliss,” Xiahou Lian said in a low voice, “it was universal hell.”
“So all of this is your fault, Xiahou Lian.” Shu Qing said impassively, “You are a sinner, you should die.”
These words were like a sentencing at a trial, striking Xiahou Lian’s heart.
Yes, my crimes are inexpiable and my hands are covered in blood, so I originally should’ve died.
Xiahou Lian was silent for a very long time. Shu Qing gazed at him and suddenly felt that there were many helpless sorrows hidden in this man. He suspected that this was a misconception, so he didn’t pay attention to it. In the silence, Xiahou Lian drew his saber and crouched down deeply, the point of his saber pointing obliquely at the ground, a point of grim and cold light congealed on it.
He looked at Shu Qing coldly and said, “I can only tell you that from beginning to end, I didn’t know that the abbot had given me the antidote. However, talking about these things is pointless. It was me who killed the abbot, and it was also me who destroyed Garan. Even if I did it all over again, even if you hadn’t defected, I still would’ve chosen this. It’s okay that you blame me, and it’s all right that you hate me, do as you wish. We’re in different positions, so there’s no need to talk further. Right now, I only want to know one thing——where the governor is!”
Right after saying this, Xiahou Lian made a move brazenly, his killing intent like a mountain!
Saber light exploded in the small courtyard, instantly enveloping Shu Qing’s entire body. Shu Qing took a deep breath and held his saber, meeting the Snowflake Saber net Xiahou Lian had weaved. He had improved a lot in these past years, so he could even keep up with Xiahou Lian’s meticulous saber momentums. Knowing that Xiahou Lian didn’t have long left, and that he was still strong, his advantage spoke for itself.
However, he was wrong!
Xiahou Lian’s wrist flipped, and the long saber dragged out a desolate flow of light in the air, slicing out continuous crosses. Shu Qing retreated step by step amid the cross slashes, and Hengbo collided with Xiahou Lian’s blade, emitting clear and sharp cracks. These cross slashes clearly took an extreme amount of strength, but Xiahou Lian swung continuously as if he didn’t know exhaustion, and the part between Shu Qing’s thumb and index finger finally cracked when he took the final blow.
“This is it,” said Xiahou Lian.
Xiahou Lian held his saber in a reverse grip and swung straight out, the point of his saber slicing across a forlorn and shrill line. There was an abrupt pain in Shu Qing’s arm, and Hengbo clattered to the ground as blood flowed down his arm, dripping onto the ground with patters.
“Speak, where is the assassination?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“I won’t tell you even if I die.” Shu Qing sneered, “Just wait and see his corpse.”
Xiahou Lian picked up his collar and pressed his head into a tank of water. His head was instantly submerged into the icy water, and water choked in his throat and nose. He struggled violently, but Xiahou Lian was extremely strong and pressed his head down, not letting him come out.
He flapped his hands wildly, and Xiahou Lian lifted him out. “Speak!”
Shu Qing spat out several mouthfuls of water and said hoarsely, “You’re dreaming!”
Xiahou Lian glared at him viciously. “Then I’ll cut your ear off. If you still don’t speak, I’ll cut the other off!”
Shu Qing roared, “You dare?!”
Xiahou Lian pressed against his face, roaring loudly, “See if I dare!”
Shu Qing glared at him fixedly. Their eyes were extremely bloodshot, as ferocious as Asuras and evil spirits. Shu Qing glared for a while before suddenly laughing. “Okay, Shige, why don’t we make a transaction.”
“I saw your mother’s ashes in the ancestral hall. You’re quite capable, Shige, your mother was gnawed on like that and you still managed to find her ashes.”
A foreboding premonition arose in Xiahou Lian’s heart. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t want to do anything, I only want to see whether your mother is more important in your heart, or if Shen Jue is more important. You want to know where Shen Jue is, okay.” Shu Qing smiled at him. “Destroy your mother’s ashes and Hengbo, and I’ll tell you where Garan’s assassination is.”
Everyone was shocked, and Lian Xiang said indignantly, “How can your heart be so vicious!”
Shu Qing abruptly restrained his smile and said, “Xiahou Lian is ten thousand times more vicious than me!”
“Um…” A-Chu said in a small voice, “The chief officer seems to have gone to some temple, I overheard them say it before.”
“Which temple? Is it Guangling Temple?” asked Xiahou Lian.
A-Chu bit her lip. “At the time, I could only be surprised… about the matter of Baili Yuan being the Yama, I didn’t hear too clearly.”
Lian Xiang said, “Xiao Lian, why don’t you send people to the Eastern Depot to ask, or go to the palace, there’s got to be someone who knows where the governor went.”
“Too slow, too slow.” Xiahou Lian’s heart was torn with anxiety.
He had already been delayed for too long. There was a distance between the Eastern Depot and Shen Manor, and he didn’t even know if he would be able to get an answer. The palace was even less likely, since the palace gates had already been locked, so he would have to talk a lot to convince the Feathered Forest guards to let him pass. He would also have to pass through layers of checkpoints and verifications, so he didn’t know how much time that would take.
How could Shen Jue wait that long!
“Keep your word.” Xiahou Lian pulled Shu Qing’s collar. “Lian Xiang-jie, could you please bring my mother’s ashes here?”
Lian Xiang hesitated for a moment, but she still went, and not long after, she returned holding Xiahou Pei’s ashes. Xiahou Lian took his mother’s ashes. They were originally residual ashes and not very heavy, and holding them in his hands, they were like a light handful. Xiahou Lian picked up Hengbo from the ground and went into the saber furnace. Standing in front of the furnace, the blazing fire reflected on his face, and there was frost-like grief in his eyes.
An underling escorted Shu Qing into the room. Shu Qing looked at Xiahou Lian, and shock gradually arose in his eyes. “Are you crazy, Xiahou Lian, that’s your mother.” He had seen how Xiahou Lian had taken revenge. He still remembered the bloody storm at the Evil-Punishing assembly in Liuzhou; Xiahou Lian had come out covered in blood, like a fierce wolf tearing all of his enemies to shreds. But now, this man was about to destroy his mother’s last remains for another person.
Lian Xiang covered her mouth, shedding tears, choked and unable to speak. Miaozhen buried her face into Lian Xiang’s arms, not daring to look at that lonely figure.
“You lunatic, is that eunuch Shen Jue so important!” Shu Qing sneered, “Don’t think I’m soft-hearted, I’d like to see if you can really do it!”
Xiahou Lian opened the lid of the porcelain jar, and Xiahou Pei’s residual ashes came into sight. This was the last handful of ashes left of Xiahou Pei in this world. He recalled that woman who he hadn’t seen in eight years. She had glittering lips and sharp brows, like a saber, its tip pointing forward, as if able to chop up everything. Tears silently slid past his cheeks, landing in the jar of ashes, and an area instantly sank in that pile of dust, like a scar over the years.
His mother had clearly been gone for a very long time, but thinking of her now, it seemed to be like matters from yesterday. He remembered that time when he had just learned that his father was the old bald donkey. He had been eight years old at the time, and he had cried as he knocked on his mother’s door. “You lied, you liar. You said I grew from the ground, but I was clearly born from you and the old bald donkey!”
Xiahou Pei opened the door, and when she saw tears and mucus flowing from Xiahou Lian, she got a headache. “Which chattering bastard told you, I’ll cut him down.”
Xiahou Lian pushed Xiahou Pei with his head. “You liar!”
Xiahou Pei pressed his head down with one hand. “Crybaby, no crying.”
“I’m not crying!” Xiahou Lian was crying ear-splittingly. “The old bald donkey doesn’t recognize me, why!”
“Look at how unpromising you are,” Xiahou Pei thumped the top of his head with her fist, and he hiccuped under her fist, “what kind of ability is recognizing someone as your father? You’re my son, so you should make others call you father when they’re kneeling!”
Xiahou Pei had always been like that, as if with Hengbo, all difficulties and dangers in the world would be chopped into mud. Only later did he know that she wasn’t all-powerful; she only had a deep and broad heart, and her heart could accommodate all of the world’s difficulties so her saber could destroy all things.
He was Xiahou Pei’s son, so he must also possess the same courage as her.
Xiahou Lian turned the porcelain jar upside-down, and the ashes were emptied into the furnace, dots of light fluttering among the flames. In his daze, he seemed to see Xiahou Pei’s gorgeous features, which gradually melted in the flames. Everyone watched the scene with bated breath, and even the wind seemed to go silent at this moment. The world was quiet, only leaving behind the crackling sounds of the flames in the furnace. Xiahou Lian didn’t stop. He drew out Hengbo and inserted it into the burning charcoal in the furnace. Hengbo’s blade slowly became scorched and black, like an old man late in his life waiting to rest in peace.
“Lunatic…” Shu Qing muttered, “Xiahou Lian, you’re a lunatic.”
Xiahou Lian put the porcelain jar on the hearth. “Chi Yan asked me a question before. At that time, I didn’t understand, but only now do I understand that living people are always more important than dead people. Shu Qing, I have already done what you wanted me to do. Tell me, where is the governor?”
“…” Shu Qing glanced deeply at Xiahou Lian and said, “Lutan Ancient Road. Garan’s people are waiting outside, you can’t get out.”
Xiahou Lian slung a leather saber band over his back and grabbed three long sabers and three short sabers from the saber shelf, putting them into the saber belt. Then, he wore his handbow behind his waist. Finally, he put on black gloves and wound Leading Mechanism Silk onto his arms. He turned around and ordered a team of cavalrymen, “I’ll leave the assassins outside to you all, I’ll go ahead first. After you’re done taking care of the assassins, go to the Eastern Depot to send reinforcements.”
“Yes!” The cavalrymen clasped their fists in unison.
“Uncle Xiahou, use this saber.” Miaozhen had brought over Bushenglian 1 at some point, and she handed it to Xiahou Lian.
The black saber was like a fire poker, and it was restrained inside its jet-black scabbard, like a Buddhist verse that had been left unsaid. The wrought iron black saber had been forged using Garan’s secret methods, so it was the sharpest. Xiahou Lian didn’t say anything and silently took the saber, carried Zhaoye with one hand, and mounted his horse at the doorway, rushing out of the red-painted front door. The assassins appeared among the shadows, lunging over like demons with bared fangs and brandished claws. As the underlings drew their sabers and met them, Xiahou Lian jumped over the tops of the assassins’ heads with his horse, galloping toward the desolate moonlight.
Shu Qing was locked inside the saber furnace, and he looked blankly at Hengbo, which was in the furnace. The blade with unparalleled sharpness was becoming scorched and black bit by bit, turning into scrap iron. He couldn’t understand why Xiahou Lian had done this. That person was only a eunuch, only a lover, so how could someone like Xiahou Lian destroy his own mother’s last remains for a man?
Why could Xiahou Lian always be so unhesitant, pressing forward with indomitable will?
He thought about himself. If, at the time, he had been a little more decisive and brought Liu Shao’er away, perhaps she wouldn’t have died. If, at the time, he had been a little braver and committed suicide by drinking poison, or fought against Duan Jiu, he wouldn’t have been controlled by Bliss Fruit until now. But no matter what, he couldn’t learn Xiahou Lian’s resolution.
“Childe Shu.” A head poked out from behind the window gauze. He recognized her; it was the little girl that had been beside Xiahou Lian named Miaozhen.
“What are you doing?” Shu Qing asked angrily.
Li Miaozhen used her finger to poke a hole in the green smoky screen and reached in a scroll. “Uncle Xiahou says that fate is impermanent, so some things need to be prepared earlier. Hiding from Master Governor, he wrote several last letters, and one of them is for you.”
“For me?” Shu Qing was hesitant, not knowing whether he should take it. His hands were tied, so he actually couldn’t take it. Li Miaozhen poked the hole to be a little bigger and threw the scroll to his feet.
“You should read it, I’m leaving.”
Shu Qing stared at the scroll for a long time before inching over and using his toes to unwind the scroll, and Xiahou Lian’s unsightly handwriting came into view.
Lian, begin. Shidi, when you read this letter, I have already died. I don’t know how you are now, but when you defected six years ago, I was shocked, since I didn’t expect you to be so brave. Were you caught and taken back? Did you receive a lot of whippings? If you’re okay, then that’s good. Men have to have some scars on their bodies to really be like a man. You’re my shidi, so if you’re still alive when Garan is destroyed, the governor won’t make things difficult for you. I privately hid some Bliss Fruit, use them sparingly, they’re enough for you to use for the rest of your life. I buried them in the bamboo forest at Fuxiang Temple, under the westermost stone pier. The bundle with your name on it is yours. Don’t take the other bundle, that’s for Shiqi.
We will not meet again 2.
Somehow, as he read, his vision became hazy, and tears dripped down along the corners of his eyes. Shu Qing gritted his teeth tightly, blocking his sobs in his mouth. This hypocrite, did he think that one bundle of Bliss Fruit was enough to bribe him? He would never forgive him, never!
The pain of eighty-one whips, the suffering when Mid-July took effect, and the years of waiting in despair to die, and agony he would never be free from were vivid in his mind’s eye. He hated Xiahou Lian and hated that he had been leisurely and carefree, yet he had been sinking in a sea of misery. Shu Qing cried bitterly amid the firelight of the furnace fire, as past sorrows surged together into the bottom of his eyes, turning into tears.
How nice would it be if, at the time, he had defected a bit later; he could have left together with Xiahou Lian. He had also really wanted to escape!
He suddenly thought of something, and he lifted his head as if awakening from a dream. He roared loudly toward the window, “Girl, come back! Hurry and find Xiahou Lian, don’t let him go alone! He can’t beat the Garuda, he’ll die! That person… is Chi Yan!”