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Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations

 

Shen Jue was sitting on an arhat daybed, his hands hanging on his knees as he grasped a string of five-lined Bodhi beads and counted them slowly. The cabinet elders were each spewing saliva, arguing how they should respond to the danger of Garan. It was clear that they were very old, but their voices could still shake and pierce through the roof of his house, all of them flushed red from arguing.

His wounds still hadn’t healed, so there were thick bandages wrapped underneath his clothes, and it would hurt when he moved slightly. The memorials of the Directorate of Rites in the palace had piled into mountains, and there were also many affairs that urgently needed to be resolved. The memorials to the throne were moved to Qianqing Palace, but the young emperor had gotten dizzy upon seeing them and specially made a gracious decree to move the memorials to Shen Manor for Shen Jue to revise at home. The cabinet elders had gone to the palace gate to block the young emperor, wanting him to go to the west courtroom with them to discuss matters, but he had hurriedly run toward the concubines’ residences as he sent the cabinet elders to find Shen Jue. 

Shen Jue turned his head to glance at his desk; the memorials to the throne dazzling white like snowflakes. Turning his head back around, a cabinet official was spraying spittle onto his face.

Ah. He held his forehead and felt that his wounds hurt a little more.

“The North’s Bliss Fruit has left harmful effects for a long time, deep into the bone. Once Baili Yuan wants to rebel, it’ll practically be easy for her. If it was a normal day, it would be enough to send troops to level the Linbei Marquis Manor, but the usable troops have all been cast to Liaodong. If there’s more trouble in the North, it would be worrying for the country!” Cabinet Official Chen Xun twisted his beard as he said with a troubled look, “Not to mention, there have been nonstop promotions and demotions these past few years. Just in the Ministry of Rites, there have been three officials who transferred up from the North, so it’s difficult to make sure that they won’t send a secret message to Baili Yuan. I’m afraid that before the soldiers are even sent, the North will revolt first.”

“The matters of the North must be tightly concealed, and besides us, we cannot let more people know.” Zhang Zhao knitted his brows and said, “Have people copy out a list of names, and within the past five years, record all of the officials who were transferred out from the North.” Saying this, he saluted with clasped hands toward Shen Jue. “Chief Officer, tracking them down and arresting them will be most effective, so I trouble you to take more trouble for this matter.”

Shen Jue nodded, indicating that he knew.

Zhang Zhao continued, “The key in the disaster of Bliss Fruit is that only the North produces this drug, so everyone addicted to it obeys Baili Yuan. I think there are two solutions. One is naturally to catch Baili Yuan before she returns to the North. Depot guards have already been delegated to scatter and secretly search prefecture governments. Unfortunately, Garan has vast power and the underworld has intertwining branches, so I’m afraid it won’t be easy.”

The four cabinet elders all nodded.

“As for the second…” Zhang Zhao sighed slowly and said, “azalea flowers come from the deep mountains of the Miao area, that is to say, there are also suitable places in Bashu to grow plant azalea flowers. I think that there’s no harm in secretly ordering reliable merchants to go to the Miao area and open up the wasteland for farming and sell the Bliss Fruit they produce to the entire country. This makes it so that Baili Yuan cannot have a monopoly, and the assassins will have a new source of the drug, so Garan will naturally fall apart.”

Shen Jue abruptly looked up and said sternly, “This is a plan that will destroy the country!”

It was silent all around. Anyone knew that Bliss Fruit was addictive, destroying people’s minds, and once production expanded, everyone would take it, so it would be a disaster for generations to come.

“We will discuss this matter later,” Shen Jue said as he pinched between his eyebrows and waved his hand.

The cabinet officials took their leave and stepped out of the study. However, Zhang Zhao was still sitting in his original spot. The old man with graying hair had lowered eyes, and his jagged skeleton was shrunk inside his wide gauze official uniform with hidden patterns.

“Senior Grand Secretary, do you have something else?” Shen Jue glanced at him indifferently.

“There’s another method, I wonder if you are willing to listen carefully, Chief Officer?” said Zhang Zhao.

“Speak.” Shen Jue picked up a cup of tea and blew on the tea froth.

“Although you did your utmost to conceal it, according to my guess, Sir Xiao Shen is the former Nameless Ghost of Garan, right?” Zhang Zhao paused and said, “At the battle at Lutan Ancient Road, the Garuda of Garan surrendered and paid allegiance to you, so you have two extremely powerful Garan assassins under your command. These two people come from Garan, so they deeply know the ins and outs of Garan. In my opinion, why not use these two as the vanguard, select thirty men to be sacrificed, and go to the North to assassinate Baili Yuan.”

“Enough, I have my own plan, please return,” Shen Jue said with a cold face.

“Chief Officer!” Zhang Zhao stood up and saluted deeply with clasped hands. “Chief Officer, do not have concern for a love affair, yet not have concern for the country as a whole!”

“Enough!” Shen Jue threw the tea bowl at Zhang Zhao’s feet, and with a crisp sound like ice cracking, the tea bowl shattered all over the ground, the hot tea splashing onto the corners of Zhang Zhao’s clothes.

Zhang Zhao saluted deeply with clasped hands again, then turned around and left.

Everyone had left, and the study instantly became deserted. Outside, the sparse shadows of branches and leaves were cast through the window gauze, and the wind swept past, causing the shadows of branches to sway around the entire room. Shen Jue held his forehead and looked at the ice plum pattern on the bricks, his heart empty. Begging Buddha was useless, and praying to the gods was also useless. Had they reached the end of their path? Indescribable sorrow surged in his heart, and tears were practically about to fall.

Pushing open the door, Mingyue was standing in the courtyard, holding Yu-jie’er’s hand. The two of them were wearing plain gauze robes, though their complexions looked a lot better.

“Master Governor!” Yu-Jie’er ran over to hug his leg.

Mingyue saluted toward Shen Jue and smiled slightly. “Governor, I came to say goodbye before setting off.”

Shen Jue nodded and asked, “Where are you planning to go?”

“Jinling.” Mingyue smiled faintly as she replied, “I’ve saved up some money, so I want to open a medical clinic.”

“If there are difficulties, don’t hesitate to find the prefect of Shuntian Prefecture, you just have to declare my name.” Shen Jue stepped to the bottom of the steps and stood for a while. “Chi Yan, he…”

Mingyue shook her head and said softly, “Assassins are pitiable people… I don’t want to investigate further into A-Jin’s matters, so let me go to Jinling and not see him again in this life.”

Shen Jue saluted with clasped hands toward her. “Shen Jue thanks you on behalf of Chi Yan.”

“Governor, take care.” Mingyue returned the salute and led Yu-jie’er out of the moon gate.

The shadows of trees whirled, and he stood amid the wind for a long time. The jade bells jingled, dragging out a long and lingering series. He waved Shen Wenxing over and asked where Xiahou Lian was.

 ———————————————

His vision became blurry. The tables and chairs had double images, and colors became exceptionally bright. The sunlight was a sharp gold in his eyes, like a saber thrust into his eyes. Xiahou Lian shook his head vigorously and stood up, walking in the direction of the arhat daybed. His heart was beating very fast, thumping and thumping, as if it was about to dart out of his chest, and his chest was full of heavy reverberations of his heartbeat. 

He knew that he was going to hallucinate, and his senses became very strange. The forms of the objects in front of his eyes became slightly distorted, and the world seemed to run away under his feet. All sounds slowly became distant: the rustling of the wind brushing past trees, the footsteps of servants, the collisions of cups, plates, and tea bowls… They seemed to vaguely come to him from across thousands of doors. However, his breathing and heartbeat were very clear, and his entire heart was very empty, like abandoned box bellows. 

He closed his eyes.

The calls of the departed came with the wind.

“Xiao Lian——”

In an instant, all sounds surged to him like tidewater: the sharp sounds of keen blades being pulled out of scabbards, the sticky sounds of blood and flesh being split inch by inch, the shrill screams of women and children. He opened his eyes in the darkness. Outside the door, the moonlight was as pale as snow, and assassins were dancing wildly like demons, distortedly walking out from the dancing shadows. Bloody water spread, and there were corpses with their eyes wide open.

Twelve-year-old Xiahou Lian pushed Xie Jinglan out of the door, roaring loudly, “Don’t look back, don’t shake, and don’t speak! Don’t let anyone discover that you’re Xie Jinglan!”

The frail youth staggered as he stepped out of the door’s threshold, facing the Asura battlefield alone. That back was lonesome and firm amid the bloody sea, like a scar on one’s heart.

He recalled that this was thirteen years ago, when Xie Manor had been exterminated. He and Shen Jue had exchanged clothes, and Shen Jue had been disguised into his appearance, escaping from this overwhelming disaster. From then on, time had flown, never looking back. He wanted to follow him out and see how Shen Jue was doing, but the door instantly closed. The world sank into darkness once more, and he tripped over something, falling to the ground.

Raindrops struck his face, icy and cold. He looked up. Thousands of rain arrows were pouring down from the dome of the sky, and lightning flickered among the clouds, like disappearing dragons and snakes. Disorderly footsteps sounded, and in the pitch-black forest, there was the reflective light of a saber. He saw a familiar figure; it was like a black owl, rapidly fleeing in the torrential rain. Her sharp features were exposed between the gaps of branches and leaves, and the corners of her eyes were like sabers, seemingly slicing through this heavy and dark night that was like crude iron.

“Mother——!” He abruptly realized the truth and roared as if he had gone mad, “Hurry, run!”

In the darkness, short arrows sliced through the air, piercing into her back. Immediately afterward, the saber lights of disciples of the Liu clan surrounded all of her ways out. Hengbo brazenly came out of its saber, and they battled fiercely in the rain. Blood mixed together with rainwater, gurgling as it flowed downward along the gaps of the soil. Countless sabers cut into her body, blood surged like a spring, and she was finally overwhelmed, falling into the mud.

Xiahou Lian wanted to go over, but an invisible wall blocked his way. He could only pound the air over and over, yelling, “No! No!”

Amid the chaotic figures, Xiahou Pei arched her back and drew the dagger at her waist, slicing her face again and again, blood dripping. The sounds of fighting gradually ceased, and she finally lost her breath, becoming an icy corpse. Liu Guizang drew his arced saber and cut off her head.

His heart seemed to be cut open inch by inch, and the pain from long ago assaulted his chest again, indescribable anguish rushing and surging in his body like an ocean tide. In his teary and hazy vision, Xiahou Pei’s corpse slowly rotted, turning into the appearance he had seen at the street in Liuzhou. Dim sunlight shone on her broken body, and he silently looked into her empty eye sockets.

He recalled many years ago: eating roasted sweet potatoes together in front of the door of Garan Inn,  listening to the pipa and storytelling on the street in Suzhou, the evening bells of Hanshan Temple in boats with dark awnings, watching the lights of myriad families together on the Great Bao’en Tower… In the end, the time of the past couldn’t turn back, and there were the rift-like poles of life and death lying between them. 

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” Xiahou Lian knelt down, pressing his forehead against the icy ground, his tears falling like rain. “I scattered your ashes and melted Hengbo, I’m sorry…”

The darkness gradually brightened, and all sounds returned to silence, only leaving behind the continuous plaintive chirps of autumn cicadas. Sunlight and the shadows of pagoda leaves filtered through lattice patterns and shone on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Qiu Ye’s gentle smile. He was lying on a kang bed and his cheeks were emaciated, but he was still beautiful, like the drifting mountains and rivers amid the hazy wind and rain.

“It’s time to say goodbye, Xiao Lian.” Qiu Ye reached out and touched the top of his head.

He held his pale hand, silently shedding tears. He still remembered that when he had been eight years old, Qiu-dage had taught him how to cook; when he was ten, he had helped him feed the fluffy chicks; when he was thirteen, he had taught him how to disguise his face and change his voice. Qiu Ye’s smile was forever like pleasantly warm sunlight, as if able to dissolve into the vast distant mountains.

Qiu Ye gazed out the window. “Look, autumn has arrived, the leaves are falling.”

The pagoda leaves were deep, and the red sun hung in the distant mountains, the slanting sun’s last evening rays enveloping the world. Withered and yellow leaves whirled as they fluttered in the wind, like butterflies with shriveled wings, the browned tips of their wings slicing out a low and sorrowful howl. He walked next to the window and reached out. A leaf with its edges coated in golden light fluttered, about to land in his palm. In that instant, he saw a silver stream of light flash past his eyes.

Looking up, he saw Shi Xin’s figure that was like withered bamboo.

“Foolish child, don’t cry.” Shi Xin looked at him, many sorrows he hadn’t understood before deeply hidden in his profound eyes.

Silver thread tightened in the air, a sharp light swiftly flashing past. He reached out and shouted, “No!”

The old body was instantly split into pieces, blood dying the entire world red like splashed ink.

Thousands of mourning souls howled past below his feet, and the calls of the departed sounded nonstop in his ears.

“Xiao Lian——”, “Xiao Lian——”, “Xiao Lian——”

He held his head tightly in pain and curled up on the ground. He didn’t understand why other people saw supreme bliss, yet he had seen boundless pain. Had there never been bliss in this world? Bliss was a self-deceiving lie, and from beginning to end, everything was mire-like suffering and misfortune.

All contaminated things are suffering.

As mortals, they would never break free.

Calls overlapped ceaselessly in his ears, as if thousands of flowing water had converged into an ocean tide, submerging him. The wind drifted past his ears, and he saw the souls of the departed step past an immeasurable opposite shore. They looked back at the same time at Xiahou Lian, who was kneeling on the ground, and smiled sadly as they opened their mouths.

He wept as he begged, Don’t say it, don’t say it.

However, they still spoke in the end——

“Xiao Lian, we will not meet again.”

It turned out that these calls had always been farewells from the departed.

The darkness was like a giant cocoon, wrapping around him in layers. The world quieted down, and it was silent all around. He seemed to sink into a bottomless cold pond, and the icy water submerged his body, a chill wandering around his limbs like a snake and finally intruding into his heart. He closed his eyes, like a tiny mayfly in the boundless black water, drifting without roots.

If possible, could he turn into a duckweed with no consciousness, never feeling sorrowful and never hurting again? Who could tell him exactly how he could reach enlightenment?

His vision suddenly brightened, and he opened his eyes. A light appeared in the distance, like a star in the long night, shining with a glow.

The water below his feet surged into ripples, and the youthful Xie Jinglan was wearing plain white clothes as he carried a lamp, wading through the water toward him. His face was still so pale it was practically translucent as always, and his body was still as frail as before. However, he was also like the tameless pine and bamboo, unable to be destroyed by wind and rain and unable to be invaded by frost and snow.

Xiahou Lian looked at him blankly and forgot to react.

The halo of the gauze lantern became clearer and clearer, and Xie Jinglan walked in front of Xiahou Lian, raising his sleeve to wipe his tears dry.

“Young Master…” Xiahou Lian’s voice was hoarse. 

Xie Jinglan opened his arms and embraced him tightly, his warm breaths spilling into his ears. This warmth was so real, it was even a little scorching, like a ball of flames.

“Didn’t you say that you won’t be sad anymore after a hug?” Xie Jinglan said softly, “I’m hugging you, so don’t cry, okay?”

Turbulent sorrow finally burst through the dam, flooding into a sea, and his tears were like a gushing spring.

Darkness spread out endlessly below their feet, like an icy cage cast from iron. Only that glowing lamp held up a square inch of light, happening to illuminate the two people who were embracing tightly. In that instant, Xiahou Lian felt that time was incomparably long, as if spreading on without an end. They were being kept here forever, like a dust-laden and immortalized memory. 

All compounded things are impermanent, all contaminated things are suffering.

If his heart was tenacious enough, could he face the suffering that dripped like blood? He didn’t seek detachment, he only wanted this heart to be deep and broad enough until it could contain all sufferings.

Because he had Xie Jinglan, he possessed boundless courage.

He closed his eyes and buried himself into the youth’s neck. On the bloody and rough tip of his heart, he heard the sounds of flowers blooming.

His consciousness gradually returned. All of the seemingly true and seemingly illusional hallucinations dissipated like smoke, and only the embrace that was tightly holding him didn’t disappear. He opened his eyes in confusion and saw the pale side of Shen Jue’s face

He was taken aback and raised his hand to poke Shen Jue’s cheek; a dimple sank in his face.

Shen Jue was actually real.

“Young Master, when did you come?” Xiahou Lian asked blankly.

Shen Jue glared at him and said, “Who gave you the ability to swallow Bliss Fruit, who made you scatter your mother’s ashes?” The more Shen Jue spoke, the angrier he became, and the rims of his eyes reddened. “Who made you get yourself into this state… Couldn’t you have waited for me? Let me think of a way, think of a way.”

Xiahou Lian buried his head back into Shen Jue’s body and said in a low voice, “Young Master, can you not scold me today?”

Strong grief surged in Shen Jue’s chest. Xiahou Lian was leaning on his chest, and this was the first time he had seen him appear so helpless and pitiful, like a child. He patted Xiahou Lian’s back gently and said, “I won’t scold you, I won’t scold you.”

“When did you come?” Xiahou Lian asked him.

“I came for however long you became crazy.”

“Why didn’t my brother stop you?”

“You were in the room crying and howling, your brother was scared to death by you.”

Xiahou Lian turned his head and looked out the window. Lian Xiang and Shen Wenxing were standing in the courtyard, craning their necks. It seemed that this commotion had been quite big. Xiahou Lian instantly felt a little embarrassed.

Shen Jue used his hand to wipe his tears. “What did you see? It’s the first time I’ve seen you cry like a fool like this, it really is eye-opening. Doesn’t Bliss Fruit make people experience heaven on earth, how come you even cried?”

After taking the drug, his entire body was weak. Xiahou Lian sat leaning against Shen Jue and closed his eyes. “I saw you, Young Master. You are my bliss.”

When Shen Jue heard this, there was only sorrow in his heart, as if dust had spread over his heart. “A-Lian, I’m sorry, I’m so useless, I’m too useless.”

“It has nothing to do with you. Why do you always put it on yourself?” Xiahou Lian smiled in exhaustion, and his gaze shifted to the scars under his hairnet, which had already scabbed. Xiahou Lian recalled the wounds on his body. That brat Chi Yan had been too fierce; Xiahou Lian would rather be fucked by Shen Jue than hit him, yet Chi Yan had struck him so that he couldn’t get out of bed for two days. However, he didn’t know where the wounds on Shen Jue’s forehead had come from. Chi Yan said that the skull was firm, so he never chopped there.

Xiahou Lian asked, “Exactly how did you get the wounds on your head?”

Shen Jue didn’t speak and silently shifted his gaze away. Xiahou Lian slowly knitted his brows. “That day, you rushed to Guangling Temple for no good reason…You didn’t go to pray to Buddha, did you? Are these wounds from kowtowing?” Seeing Shen Jue purse his lips, not making a sound, Xiahou Lian understood everything and sighed deeply. “I thought finding the master of Qigong was already your limit, I didn’t think you would even pray to Buddha. Ah, Young Master, you’re so foolish.”

“You’re the foolish one.”

“It’s you who’s foolish.”

Shen Jue stubbornly retorted, “You’re foolish.”

“Okay, okay, we’re both fools, a perfect match.” Xiahou Lian grinned and glanced at Shen Jue out of the corner of his eye; he was still weary. Xiahou Lian reached out and smoothed Shen Jue’s tightly knit brows, saying softly, “Young Master, I sometimes think that perhaps pain and suffering are fated. We don’t have any other choice, we can only grit our teeth and get over them. But in this way, happy things are also fated. Think, at the time when I was sold into your family by the human trafficker, there were over ten children who came in together, yet it was me who got pointed to Aunt Lan and was brought to your courtyard.”

Shen Jue listened to him quietly, and sunlight shone on their bodies warmly.

“Isn’t it like fate?” Xiahou Lian gazed at him, his eyes containing a bright smile. “I think that it’s enough. Although it’s been full of difficulties to get here, just the point of us meeting is enough to make me happy for a lifetime.”

 

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Dio85
November 20, 2022 3:38 pm

Beautiful and heartfelt but I wish they have a bit more happy moments, although it was indeed fate…. Thank you for the translation and editing

wist
November 20, 2022 4:22 pm

AHHHHH these latest chapters have been so full of emotions, it’s beautiful but so depressing to read

either way, they’re amazing and the whole fate thing is truly heartbreaking but in the good way

thanks so much for the chapter

WangXian31
November 21, 2022 1:17 pm

This author just kills me. They are phenomenal at describing violence, emotion, quiet, relationships, anger, pain, fear… I am in bits again for XL. These 2 MCs are just the best. Thank you SO much for translating and editing this.

loneplum
November 21, 2022 6:00 pm

XHL’s hallucinations are so heartbreaking! 😭

But that ending with SJ hugging him…just beautiful! 🥰

Thank you for the chapter!

LicoLico
November 23, 2022 2:05 am

Thank You for the new chapter (◍•ᴗ•◍)♡

Meika
Meika
November 24, 2022 8:36 pm

That line “…You are my bliss”
Pulled my heartstrings!!

ExR Discord open for limited time!

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