Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Shen Wenxing trembled continuously out of nervousness and leaned his head over to ask Shen Jue, “Father, how did you recognize Master Uncle 1?”
“Just then when he was fighting with Xiahou Lian, he was using the spine of his saber,” said Shen Jue.
“I see!” Shen Wenxing came to a realization.
“However, Chi Yan went missing six years ago, and I don’t know why he’s being controlled by Garan,” Shen Jue frowned and murmured to himself.
The assassins were like shadows of ghosts, stepping on the moonlight as they came. Xiahou Lian and Chi Yan stood back to back, blocking the path the assassins had to take to get to Shen Jue.
“Hey, Chi Yan,” Xiahou Lian said, “why did you go back to Garan?”
“This story is very long,” said Chi Yan.
“Just now, I almost killed you with Leading Mechanism Wire.” Xiahou Lian looked at him from the corner of his eye, a bit of light partly hidden and partly visible below his loose hair. “Fortunately, you’re okay.”
The assassin beside him was taken aback. “You are wrong, you were not even close.”
Xiahou Lian: “…”
A round of applause sounded from the forest, and a black-cloaked man clapped as he slowly walked out. He stood under the moonlight, so dark he was like scribbled ink, and also like solitary withered bamboo. He pulled down the hood of his cloak, and Xiahou Lian finally saw that familiar face. He had gotten a lot older, and his face was covered with deep and light wrinkles, his ochre face as cold and harsh as crude iron.
In Garan, besides his mother, Xiahou Lian knew Duan Jiu and Qiu Ye the best. In his childhood when he had plucked all of the feathers of the other assassins’ roosters and used bird droppings to shoot at other people, covering them in bird droppings, it was always Uncle Duan who lifted his back collar to go and apologize. This tall and sturdy man had watched him grow up, but it was also he who had stood in the shadows, indifferently watching as his mother was dismembered by disciples of the Liu clan.
He had once felt afraid; it turned out that a person’s heart was so unfathomable, like a bottomless abyss.
“What a deep brotherhood…” Duan Jiu smiled slightly. “Xiao Lian, long time no see, you’ve grown up, you’re a true man now.”
“Thanks to you.” Xiahou Lian gripped his black saber tightly, his knuckles making cracking sounds.
“I originally thought you were a piece of scrap iron, but I didn’t expect that Shi Xin had really succeeded.” Duan Jiu used his scabbard to poke a thread of Leading Mechanism Silk on the ground. “Not only did you restore Garan’s long-lost leading silk killing technique, but you also learned the unique skill of puppets of the reclusive Tang sect. Although you were just mediocre at learning Garan Saber, you could still barely reach a high level.” Duan Jiu sighed regretfully. “Unfortunately, you actually chose to defect.”
“How big of a face do you have,” sneered Xiahou Lian. “You killed my mother, and you still counted on me to work for Garan?”
“It wasn’t us who killed your mother, it was yourself,” sighed Duan Jiu.
Xiahou Lian was taken aback.
Duan Jiu lifted his eyes, the gaze looking at him indifferent and lonely. “Xiao Lian, you were too weak. If you were like your brother at the start, why would I have painstakingly forged you into an unparalleled and famed weapon? You were too weak, and your saber couldn’t protect yourself, much less protect Xiahou Pei.”
It was as if a saber had cut into Xiahou Lian’s heart, causing blood to drip. He panted a few times and calmed himself down, wanting to speak, but a hand wearing a string of agate beads held his shoulder. Shen Jue walked out from behind him and said, “Since Xiahou Lian was far inferior to Chi Yan, why did you and Shi Xin abandon Chi Yan and choose Xiahou Lian?” He turned the ring on his finger, saying, “If I haven’t guessed wrong, your and Shi Xin’s goals were different, right? Shi Xin inherited Du Xin’s unfulfilled wish. He wanted to kill Yama Baili, yet you support the Baili clan.”
Duan Jiu was visibly a little surprised. “How do you know Du Xin?”
“Garan’s pedigree,” said Shen Jue.
Duan Jiu smiled slightly. “You’re worthy of being the chief officer, your understanding of us Garan is so deep.” He looked at Shen Jue and his group of people; some were wounded and some were disabled, so there were only two cavalrymen remaining. Shen Wenxing and Mingyue, who were next to the carriage, were both very weak. “Forget it, no matter how strong Chi Yan’s saber skills are, there’s no way he can protect all of you under the Eight Legion’s sabers. There’s no harm in telling you this.”
Shen Jue lowered his eyes. “I am respectfully listening.”
“Three hundred years ago, the first Yama Baili established Garan Mountain Temple and used Mid-July to coerce all of the assassins. Since then, Garan has had nonstop internal conflicts. The assassins were rebellious, and although Mid-July from the Miao area is a very strong toxin, it couldn’t control all of the assassins. Over time, Garan became internally divided into two factions. One faction had fanciful ideas and tried in vain to assassinate the Yama, not even hesitating to pull everyone down to hell with them.” Duan Jiu stroked his emaciated knuckles. “The other faction is us.
“For hundreds of years, the Yama has worried that Garan’s abbot had absolute power, covering the sky with one hand. Thus, they set up a secret eye in Garan to mutually suppress the abbot.” He looked up at the bright moon on the horizon and continued, “The rebel faction struggled for many years, but it never succeeded——until Du Xin appeared. This man started the largest rebellion in Garan’s history, killing all of the conservative assassins. That night was an Asura field. Blood flowed down the steps of the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, flowing past the mountain gate, flowing past the tombstones, and flowing all the way to Garan Village at the foot of the mountain. Before the Yama’s secret eye escaped, he found him and hung him at the mountain gate, then used half a year’s time to rally his forces. He recruited new assassins to maintain Garan’s normal operations to confuse the Yama while organizing the Eight Legions to go to the North and assassinate the Yama.”
“Qiu-shifu entered Garan at that time,” Xiahou Lian said in a low voice.
“They failed, and only Shi Xin survived,” said Shen Jue.
“Yes.” Duan Jiu sighed deeply. “Xiao Lian, you can’t win against the Baili clan. You think that the only way for the Baili clan to suppress the assassins is Mid-July, and you think that you can be free if you fight for your lives. Wrong, you’re all wrong. When the first generation of Lord Yama established Garan Saber, they left behind twelve flaws. As long as the assassins practice Garan Saber, they’ll never be able to win against the Baili clan. That time when the Eight Legions set out in full force, they were all buried along with Du Xin in the North, only leaving behind Shi Xin, who had retreated. It is also because of his cowardice that he was chosen to be the new abbot. That rebellion shocked the entire Baili clan. Sabers can kill, yet they can also easily hurt oneself. The Baili clan decided to completely retire to go behind the scenes, and the abbot became Garan’s master on the surface. Since then, only the abbot could enter the North’s Xue Mountain to pay a formal visit to Yama Baili.
“You were also chosen to be Garan’s secret eye.” Shen Jue clasped his hands behind his back. “Shi Xin didn’t want to give up on the assassination, and to repay the debt, he even forged his own biological sons into unparalleled killing weapons. However, he didn’t expect that his bosom friend was actually a saber pressed against his back.”
“Every person wants to live, but the Xiahou family aren’t people, they’re all lunatics. Shi Xin, Xiahou Pei, Xiahou Lian, and Chi Yan, all of you disregard your lives, but we still want to live!” Duan Jiu said, “That day when Shi Xin returned covered in blood, he told me that they had been wrong before. Assassination only requires a saber, a saber of absolute victory. He started the grand plan of “Saber-Forging,” and he wanted to make an unparalleled weapon. The person he chose was Chi Yan.”
“He spent fourteen years isolating Chi Yan from the world, practicing the saber day after day, and even using living people to refine him. He succeeded. Chi Yan is the strongest assassin I’ve ever seen, and he reached the state of grandmaster at the age of fourteen. Looking around the world, he was unmatched. When Chi Yan was fourteen years old, Shi Xin brought him into Xue Mountain to pay a formal visit to the Yama. When he became the new abbot, he had suspended an extremely strong and sharp blade above the Yama’s head.”
Shen Jue said in a low voice, “But he wasn’t recognized by the Baili clan.”
“That’s right.” There was a ridiculing expression on Duan Jiu’s lips. “A saber forged like this is indeed a true saber, but it is ruthless and indifferent, and doesn’t even have a heart. Without a heart, there are no weaknesses, and without weaknesses, there is no way to control them. The old Yama wanted a saber that could be held and controlled in his hands, a saber that would have difficulty escaping if its fatal weakness was seized. Chi Yan isn’t!”
“I have weaknesses.” Chi Yan suddenly spoke.
Everyone looked at him, and Chi Yan looked at Duan Jiu, moonlight shining into his eyes, his pupils as light as a bright glaze.
He said very seriously, “I like Xiao Lian.”
The mountain road sank into a strange silence.
Xiahou Lian’s heart felt bitter, and he walked over to put an arm around Chi Yan’s shoulder, pressing it forcibly. The skinny assassin was as thin as a blade, and the edges of his shoulder were hand-prickingly sharp. Xiahou Lian said, “I like you too, Chi Yan.”
Shen Jue: “…”
The corner of Duan Jiu’s mouth tugged, and he said, “I know now, you don’t need to remind me.”
“So Xiahou Lian was the second saber.” Shen Jue said, “But his saber skills were nothing near Chi Yan’s, so Shi Xin killed his mother, turning him into a sharp blade. Coincidentally, Xiahou Lian was also the person you chose, since he isn’t ruthless and indifferent like Chi Yan. He has many weaknesses, so he was the best to succeed the abbot.” Shen Jue squinted his eyes. “If I haven’t guessed incorrectly, you wanted to choose a time to quietly tell Xiahou Lian that Shi Xin was the true killer of his mother, and then use Xiahou Lian’s hands to kill Shi Xin. Then, the rebellious Shi Xin would die and there would also be a new abbot, so Garan could have a smooth replacement and become stable from then on.”
Duan Jiu nodded and sighed. “Unfortunately, I didn’t think this coward Shi Xin would abandon the assassination in the end and turn to send these two children out of Garan. I know that he had always been attempting to develop an antidote for Mid-July, but he spent several years and never succeeded. The test subjects died one by one from bleeding from the seven facial apertures, but the heavens favored him, and still let him find the antidote in the end.” The side of Duan Jiu’s lips hooked out a cunning smile. “However, it was only semi-finished. And it’s you, Chief Officer, who holds the recipe of the true medicine, yet you still couldn’t give it to Xiahou Lian.”
Shen Jue lowered his eyes. Under the moonlight, his eyelashes were cream-colored, desolately resting on his porcelain-white cheeks.
“Uncle Duan,” Xiahou Lian suddenly said, “I want to ask you a question.”
Duan Jiu was taken aback and turned to look at him. It had already been a long time since he heard Xiahou Lian call him Uncle Duan. The child from the past, who had been chased by a goose raised by his own family and shouted loudly, “Uncle Duan, help” had already grown up, though he would never ask him for help again. There was suddenly a faint sorrow in his heart, like the night wind wandering twistingly in a forest on a day in the third month, dispersing into the vast sky.
“Have you ever regretted killing my mother? I always thought that you two were very good friends.” Xiahou Lian lowered his head and said, “Have you ever had a moment of regret that, for that person called Yama, you betrayed all of your friends?”
The night wind was desolate and cold, the moonlight melancholic. Duan Jiu lifted his head, looking up at the round moon in the pitch-black dome of the sky. Today’s moon was hazily yellow, like a tear that had dripped onto a piece of paper many years ago, blurring into a light tear stain.
Duan Jiu didn’t answer his question and merely said, “Xiao Lian, you really are very lucky. In Garan, no matter how many disasters you caused, Shi Xin would always secretly support you. In the killing field, no matter how poor your saber techniques are, Xiahou Pei would always escort you. Even after leaving Garan, you still have Shen Jue using the strength of the Directorate of Rites and the Eastern Depot to protect you. You really are too lucky, so much so that you’ve forgotten that, except for you, the other children in Garan didn’t have such a good life at all. You’ve never tasted the bitterness of being wrapped in stiff old cotton pants and walking among ice and snow, and you’ve also never experienced getting fiercely beaten up by someone who was three or five times taller than you because of a steamed bun. You have to know that some people are phoenixes who soar in the sky for nine days, and there are some people who are doomed to be ants in a sewer.
The assassins slowly approached Duan Jiu, standing together with him. “Xiao Lian, we are different from you, Garan is our home. If we hadn’t entered Garan, we would’ve been frozen to death or starved to death or beaten to death in the heavy snow. After entering Garan, our hands became bloody and we had heinous blood debts, never able to turn back. We’re not like you with your little young master who protects you and loves you, light cannot tolerate us. The darkness is our home.”
“I see,” Xiahou Lian said in a low voice.
“This is all fate,” there was a loneliness in Duan Jiu’s eyes that was like frost and snow, “we will always be enemies.”
In the darkness, the light of a saber flashed past, so sharp it cut one’s eyelids, the piercingly cold killing intent descending from the sky. Xiahou Lian was abruptly shocked, and he pulled Shen Jue’s wrist, bringing him behind himself. At the same time, he raised his saber and blocked the blow from the sky.
“However, you first have to win against this person.” Xiahou Lian heard Duan Jiu’s bone-chilling voice say, “Your good friend——Tang Shiqi.”