Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Your Highness, run!”
“What?” Lord Joy was still muddled, and he staggered from being pulled by Dai Shengyan, nearly losing his balance.
The assassin slowly walked over. The saber in their hand scraped across the brick wall, causing bits of sparks to burst out and making a sound that made one’s teeth ache.
“Who, who, who… who are you!” Lord Joy pointed at the assassin, his voice trembling.
The assassin didn’t say anything and merely chuckled. The laughter was very low, as if they were doing their best to press it down so that it only issued out from their throat. However, the air around them seemed to echo it and laugh along, layers upon layers rising one after another. Hearing it made the scalps of Lord Joy and Dai Shengyan tingle.
Lord Joy hastily began running, and Dai Shengyan followed behind him.
The two of them turned several corners, and the laughter gradually became further and further until it couldn’t be heard anymore. Only then did the two of them dare to stop and lean side-by-side against a corner wall to catch their breath.
“Was that a person or a ghost?” Lord Joy panted as he leaned against the wall.
Dai Shengyan cautiously poked his head out and saw that the assassin hadn’t caught up. The lights were dim, and the end was pitch-black. It was as if in the next moment, the assassin would walk out of it, holding their saber.
He shrank his head back and said, “How can there be ghosts and monsters, it must be a person pretending to be a monster. While we were running, I didn’t notice that we’re actually very far from the palace. Now quickly go to the yamen to find people to help.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Lord Joy struggled, wanting to stand up, “but I’m out of strength, so let me rest for a while.”
Lord Joy looked down and suddenly froze.
Dai Shengyan saw that he was stunned and asked, “What is it?”
Lord Joy pointed a trembling finger at the ground and said, practically crying, “Look, does the shadow on the ground have three heads?”
Dai Shengyan looked at the ground. The ground had a huge black shadow, that was Lord Joy’s shadow, and there was a shriveled, skinny shadow, that was his own. Between these two people there was another, smaller head, as if it grew from their shoulders.
The two of them slowly looked up and were met with an impassive face.
That face looked at them and grinned extremely slowly, revealing gleaming white teeth.
Lord Joy and Dai Shengyan were both frightened out of their wits, and they scrambled away from underneath the tree.
The assassin flipped down from the wall and landed steadily on the ground, raised their head, and lifted their mouth into a malicious smile.
“The Garuda of Garan of Seven Leaves, sending Your Highness to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.”
Their voice was low and deep, indistinguishable as to whether it was male or female. It was like the mutterings of ghosts in the ancient wastelands, rough yet clear, seemingly sounding from far away yet also from next to their ears.
It was dark all around them, and there were a few lanterns hanging sporadically on the walls. The assassin called the Garuda approached, step by step, like a ghost laying dormant in the darkness.
One step, two steps, three steps.
“Stay back! Stay back!” Dai Shengyan and Lord Joy retreated in unison.
The Garuda walked to the edge of the darkness, and everything below their shoulders was exposed in the moonlight. They were dressed in black, their posture tall and straight like a crane. The instant the darkness faded to the edge of their cheeks, the gleam of the saber that glittered like water flashed by rapidly, and a black shadow passed through between Dai Shengyan and Lord Joy like an owl. In that instant, the two of them seemed to hear the light rippling of waves, and there was something warm and sticky on their faces.
Dai Shengyan turned blankly, and out of the corner of his eye, he first glimpsed the icy, long saber and the characters “Hengbo 1 engraved in small seal script on the blade. His gaze shifted upward, and he saw Lord Joy’s horrified face and the glaring bright red on his neck.
Blood splattered, staining his cheeks.
In front of them, the Garuda was still smiling vilely, and the corner of their mouth was stained with bright blood, which had a kind of cruel beauty.
Dai Shengyan retreated two steps backward in panic.
Only then did he see the Garuda’s appearance clearly. She was a beautiful woman, though the tip of her brows were overly sharp, which added a bit of a killing aura to her face. Her beauty contained the roughness and toughness of a leopard, causing him to be terror-stricken.
In his mind, he made a decision almost instantly. Dai Shengyan held his breath, stepped forward desperately, pulled out the sword from the side of the corpse, and stabbed at the Garuda.
This was a luxurious longsword studded with gems, and the blade was snow-white and bright, able to clearly reflect a person’s figure, extremely in accordance with Lord Joy’s style. However, just when Dai Shengyan pulled it out, he knew that he was certain to die, because the sword didn’t have a cutting edge. Even though he had practiced swordsmanship before and was determined to learn even when he was old so he had never gotten out of practice, in this moment, even if his swordsmanship was extraordinary, it was no use.
But, so what.
He used all of his strength, pressed forward boldly, and stabbed, as if he was a moth darting into a flame.
Even if it was just a slim chance of survival, he still had to give it a try!
As the jewels were shaken off, in that instant, the gleam of the sword was like frost and snow, slicing through the pitch-black night. The Garuda raised a long brow, and the blade of the saber met the edge of the sword. She turned her wrist lightly, and the blade that was like water glided past the blade of the sword like a swimming fish, arriving at Dai Shengyan’s wrist and cutting out a long but shallow line of blood.
Dai Shengyan’s wrist hurt, and the sword fell to the ground with a clatter.
“Do all of you scholars like to seek death?” The Garuda laughed in ridicule.
Dai Shengyan closed his eyes and sighed. “My skill is inferior to yours. Your Excellency may do as you wish.”
The Garuda used her saber to pat Dai Shengyan on the cheek and said, “Old man, aren’t you going to beg for mercy? You can say that you have elderly and young, a big family of over a hundred people waiting to be fed by you, and maybe I would’ve… Okay, I wouldn’t have let you go anyway.”
Dai Shengyan let out a short, dry laugh, which could be considered support for her joke, and then said, “Before I die, I still have something I want to ask. Why did Your Excellency want to assassinate the lord?”
The Garuda touched her chin, made a hm, and said, “It’s not like I can’t talk about this.” She kicked Lord Joy’s fat corpse. “When this son of a bitch ate his fill and had nothing to do, he would go on the streets to grab women. With Jiangzhou City as the center, good-looking girls in a radius of a few hundred miles all came to this palace. The women sell themselves into slavery, and the men can’t marry a good wife. The men are angry and the women are resentful, isn’t that just detestable?”
Dai Shengyan sighed. “The world is unjust. You kill people, which is also unjust. Although he was immoderately extravagant and greedy, he had never killed anyone. What Your Excellency did was not acting on behalf of the heavens, it was using force to violate a prohibition.”
“Acting on behalf of the heavens?” The Garuda was amused. “I came here after receiving money. I wasn’t acting on behalf of the heavens, I was acting on behalf of money.”
Dai Shengyan: “…”
“However, is murder a heinous crime? Since he can treat beauties as playthings, I’m treating human lives as ants. What’s unjust? Haven’t you heard of ‘the universe is heartless, it treats everything as straw dogs 2’?” She looked down at Lord Joy’s corpse, her eyes lowered like a statue’s in a temple. The corners of her mouth still had a sinister smile, yet her gaze was silent and ruthless.
Dai Shengyan suddenly understood, and he adjusted his hat and clothes by looking at his shadow. He closed his eyes and stretched his neck out for the fatal stroke. “Go ahead.”
His neck was stretched like an old duck whose head was being held by someone, and his body was frail and couldn’t support his dignified and majestic robes with large sleeves. He stood alone in the wind, his sleeves fluttering emptily, like a firewood stick wearing clothes, somewhat comically.
The Garuda laughed again, and the coldness in her eyes from before flickered and disappeared without a trace. “Ah, actually, it’s not like we can’t discuss this matter. I happen to have something I wanted to ask you a favor for.”
Dai Shengyan said, “I won’t do anything cruel against reason or nature.”
The Garuda said, “I know, I know, so it’s like this. I, in a moment of madness, accidentally gave birth to a baby.”
When she said this, it was as if she was saying that she had accidentally picked up a small dog from the side of the road, and she wasn’t very pleased about it, either. The corner of Dai Shengyan’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t say anything.
“I haven’t read any books before, and there’s no ink in my stomach. I’ve thought about it for several months but haven’t been able to think of a good name. I heard that you’re a very knowledgeable and moral scholar at present, and counting down from Old Master Confucius, it’s Mencius, Zhu Xi, and then you.” The Garuda pulled out a piece of paper from the fold of her clothes and handed it to Dai Shengyan. “These are my son’s eight characters of birth time 3. Take a look, calculate the eight trigrams and metal, wood, water, fire, earth, and whatnot. Pick a good name, and I’ll let you go. I’ve always respected scholars. See, this is a good transaction.”
Dai Shengyan shook his head. “Whether I know the five elements and the eight trigrams or not does not matter, Your Excellency is a bandit and I’m an official. Even if Your Excellency lets me go with my life, tomorrow I would have to post portraits of you up on the city walls. Nothing can be done about this, so Your Excellency should hurry up and make your move.”
“Say, how come you’re so stubborn? Ah, never mind, post it if you will. You government officials who are just doing it to get meals think you can catch me?” The Garuda stuffed the eight characters of birth time into Dai Shengyan’s hands, and used her saber to poke his shoulder. “Hurry up, I’m in a hurry.”
Dai Shengyan exhaled deeply and suppressed the complicated emotions in his heart that were hard to describe in one word.
When the Garuda was killing, she was ruthless and indifferent, and when she wasn’t killing, she was slovenly. Dai Shengyan had lived for this long, yet he had never seen such a person before.
Perhaps those people who rolled around in mountains of corpses and seas of blood were all more or less a little abnormal…
He looked at the yellow paper in his hand, then glanced at the “Hengbo” that was on his shoulder. Dai Shengyan thought for a moment and said, “Why don’t you pick a single-character name, ‘Lian,’ as in ‘beyond the boundless green fields, a reflection falls upon the glittering waves’? It also matches the name of your saber.”
“‘A reflection falls upon the glittering waves,’” the Garuda mouthed to herself a few times, and the corner of her mouth hooked up into a pleased smile. Her eyes had an unconcealable evil, making this kind smile showed a bit of intrinsically evil vileness. Dai Shengyan put a hand over his pounding heart and shrank back a little.
“Not bad, not bad, this will be the name then, thanks!”
The Garuda put away her saber and waved as she walked away. Dai Shengyan remained standing where he was, watching the assassin disappear in the darkness.
Since then, he had never seen that assassin again. However, the “Garuda” had long since risen to fame and was the government’s most wanted criminal. However, in the past twelve years, no one knew of her whereabouts and only knew that wherever she went, someone would definitely be killed by the Hengbo saber.
The Hengbo saber became the sharpest blade in Garan of Seven Leaves, and when people talked about Garan of Seven Leaves, no one didn’t know of the Garuda.
When Xie Jinglan heard this, he felt chills all over. He wasn’t surprised by this “Garuda.” It was because Dai Shengyan had picked this name himself——“Lian.”
He recalled Xiahou Lian’s dagger and sleeve arrow, as well as the mother Xiahou Lian had spoken about who wasn’t very reliable yet was unparalleled in their craft. A scary thought emerged in his mind, and he was so shocked by his idea that his hands and feet were icy.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t heard the rumors about Garan assassins. After all, in the streets and alleys, assassins were used to scare children, and he had also been scared by Aunt Lan like this before. However, he had thought that these things only existed in the rumors and hearsay of old women, or on stages in the babbling libretto and spoken words of operas.
Unexpectedly, the true assassin was right by his side.
Assassins and Xiahou Lian alternated in his mind for a long time, but they were just unable to mesh into one. He believed that Xiahou Lian was a beggar who wandered the streets, a thief with a smooth tongue, and a wild child who ran madly in the mountains, yet no matter what, he couldn’t believe that Xiahou Lian was an assassin who killed without blinking.
He recalled Xiahou Lian’s appearance when he wouldn’t do his work and caught birds, played with dogs, and walked cats all day long. He then recalled how Xiahou Lian looked when he slept, lying lazily on his back and drooling nonstop. He thought with slightly mixed feelings, If all assassins are as roguish as Xiahou Lian, then this Garan of Seven Leaves doesn’t seem to be so scary.
Sure enough, the government officials only ate and didn’t work.
Dai Shengyan didn’t notice Xie Jinglan’s odd behavior. He raised his head to gaze at the clouds, mountains, and rivers outside the window and seemed to sigh without sighing.
A servant hurriedly ran in and said to Xie Jinglan, “Third Young Master, Xiahou Lian was climbing a house and fell, there’s a splinter in his shoulder. He was brought into the manor just now.”
Xie Jinglan stood up abruptly. “What did you say!”
He rushed nonstop back to Qiuwu Courtyard, pushed open the door to the wing room, and saw Xiahou Lian lying on the bed, groaning. His shoulder was wrapped in loop upon loop of bandages. Half of his body was wrapped in bandages, and there were still spots of blood stained on them.
Seeing that he still had the strength to groan, he felt a lot more at ease. He sat next to the kang bed-stove 4 and said a little gloatingly, “How come you didn’t fall on your head? See if you still dare to climb houses and flip over walls next time.”
The doctor hadn’t left yet, so Xie Jinglan turned his head and carefully questioned the doctor about Xiahou Lian’s injury. Only when he was sure that he only needed to rest and that it wasn’t too serious did he let Aunt Lan lead the doctor out of the room.
“It’s thanks to the chamberlain’s kindness, he invited a famous doctor from Miaoshan Pharmacy. Otherwise, with an identity of your class and the fact that the young master isn’t favored, how could you have seen such a good doctor? You would’ve been randomly bandaged and that would’ve been that, and when the time came, you might’ve experienced a lingering effect of this injury,” Lian Xiang said from the side.
Xiahou Lian was in a hurry to tell Xie Jinglan what he had seen and heard, so he hadn’t listened carefully to Lian Xiang. He struggled forward a little and grabbed Xie Jinglan’s hand.
Lian Xiang rebuked, “What are you doing, careful your wound opens up.”
“Young Master,” said Xiahou Lian, “when I was wandering outside, I eavesdropped on some thieves who’ve cast their eyes on this household’s treasures, and they seem to have the intent of killing for money. Remind the master to tell him to watch the doors and windows.”
“You fell just to eavesdrop on this?” asked Xie Jinglan.
“Uh… More or less.”
Xie Jinglan said, “If they want to steal, they can steal. Qiuwu Courtyard only has some pots, pans, papers, and books, so they can’t steal from us anyway. Was it worthwhile for you to get this injured for this?”
“But I also heard that they got the idea of killing, so I’m afraid that something will happen to the master…”
Xie Jinglan interrupted him. “If he dies, he dies. He gets paid without doing any work anyway, and he only knows to write sentimental poems and earned some insignificant, undeserved reputation. If he can give up his position to a capable person, that would be considered a good deed.”
Lian Xiang made an “ah” sound and hastily closed the door and windows tightly, saying, “Young Master, don’t say such nonsense, careful someone else hears.”
“…” Xiahou Lian had nothing to say. After a while, he spoke again. “If the master is gone, you would become an orphan.”
“Aren’t I one now?” Xie Jinglan said dully.
“It seems so.” Xiahou Lian let out a short, dry laugh.
His face was as white as paper, and he said that he was tired and closed his eyes to rest. Xie Jinglan looked at him and lifted his hand to brush a strand of hair from his cheek.
This guy had gotten injured for him.
Xie Jinglan felt an indescribable comfort in his heart, and he unconsciously softened his voice as he said, “Take care of yourself, Xiahou Lian, you don’t need to worry about my business. I’m the master, you’re the servant, you just need to care about serving me well. As for the rest, there is me.”
- Means something similar to transverse waves, or horizontally flowing waves. It was also part of that poem line that Xiahou Lian said his name came from: “beyond the boundless green fields, a reflection falls upon the glittering waves.”
- A line from Tao Te Ching. A straw dog is a ceremonial object used in ancient China that is often thrown away after usage.
- Kind of like zodiac signs but with eight different characters depending on birth date and time, which are then used to predict one’s future.
- A traditional long platform for general living, working, and sleeping, typically made of bricks.