Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The candle flame crackled, and the charcoal fire on the ground burned sizzlingly. Shen Jue’s fingertips were tinged with green, and his mind was in a jumble.
Meanwhile, Xiahou Lian was composed, and he agreed in a low voice, “Yes, sir.”
Four pairs of eyes stuck to his body, and under their scorching gazes, he reached out and pulled the blanket down, revealing his smooth shoulders. There wasn’t even a hint of a scar, it was just a little bumpy and uneven. Everyone was far away and the candlelight was dim, so no one saw the peculiarity on his shoulder.
The guard’s doubts were dispelled, and he said to Shen Jue, “I insisted on checking in order to search for the assassin. I still hope you won’t blame me, the two of you have a good rest, we’ll be leaving now.”
Shen Jue saw the few people off to outside the palace and let out a long sigh of relief.
He didn’t know what method Xiahou Lian had used to actually make such a deep wound disappear. Shen Jue hurriedly ran back to the room and saw Xiahou Lian shaking. His shoulder was already bloody red, and he was actually slowly tearing a piece of skin from his shoulder, like a snake shedding its own skin. Under the tear, the wound was torn even bigger, and blood instantly gushed out like a spring.
“What are you doing!” Shen Jue turned pale with fright, and he hastily walked over. Only when he looked carefully did he discover that the piece of skin turned out to be a fake piece of skin. Just then, Xiahou Lian had used it to conceal his wound from the Golden Dragon guards.
“Help me tear off the skin.” Xiahou Lian’s head was covered in sweat, and he was gritting his teeth tightly. At this moment, he felt that half of his body was going to be crippled.
Shen Jue took over and said, “I’m going to tear it off in one go, endure it.”
Xiahou Lian stuffed the front of his robes into his mouth, closed his eyes, and nodded.
Shen Jue pressed his flesh, and in a determined effort, he tore off the piece of fake skin. Xiahou Lian shook violently, practically passing out from the pain.
“Get a needle and stitch up my wound,” Xiahou Lian struggled to keep his body straight and said, his breaths weak.
“I’m not a doctor, and I’ve never stitched a wound before. I don’t have catgut either, so if I operate improperly, it’ll kill you!” Shen Jue said with gritted teeth.
“There’s no way, Young Master, I’ll die even if you don’t sew. Just pretend you’re embroidering or sewing clothes, stitch the wound up and it’s done, you must’ve sewn clothes before.”
“I trust you. Stitch.” Xiahou Lian looked at him, his eyes steadfast.
Xiahou Lian had always been like this. His trust came inexplicably, and when he did things he always ignored the consequences, life or death never in his consideration. He had been like this when they were taking a teacher at Wangqing Pavilion, he had been like this when the Xie clan was being exterminated, and he was also like this now.
Why could he be so indifferent toward life and death? Had he never been afraid before?
Shen Jue looked at him, his gaze somber, and replied slowly, “Okay.”
He got a needle and thread and put the silver needle into the candle flame to burn it. He cleaned Xiahou Lian’s wound, measured the needle against the hideous fissure, and said, “I’m going to start.”
Xiahou Lian stuffed the front of his robes back into his mouth and nodded.
Shen Jue was facing his back and saw the crisscrossing lash marks on his back that were like centipedes that spanned across his bronze skin, a shocking sight.
When had he become an assassin? How many times had he experienced this kind of fatal position?
Shen Jue composed himself and pierced the silver needle into Xiahou Lian’s flesh. Xiahou Lian trembled all over, and Shen Jue said in a low voice, “Don’t move.”
The charcoal fire sizzled, and the room was abnormally stuffy and hot. Shen Jue and Xiahou Lian were both sweating as if it was raining. Xiahou Lian’s fingers practically pinched out five indentations on the bed, and toward the end of the pain, he felt that his shoulder had already lost feeling. The pain gradually receded, and the things in his field of vision seemed to have waves and steam rising from them, shaky and blurry. His five senses were extremely dull, and all sounds were indistinct; bugs flapped their wings plaintively outside many gates, and the Golden Dragon guards’ armors made a clanging sound from outside many palace buildings.
His thoughts suddenly drifted very far, and he recalled two years ago, when his back had been covered in wounds. He had laid on the small bed in the wooden cabin on the mountain, listening to the soughing of the wind in the pines throughout the entire mountain. The bells of the mountain temple rang day after day, as if attracting distant ghosts. He recalled his mother leading him into the mountain temple and Buddha Shi Xin standing on a platform, where he had placed a long saber that was entirely jet-black, “Jingtie 1,” into his hands.
He suddenly felt exhausted all over.
Shen Jue pulled out the last stitch, made a knot, and used a cloth to absorb the blood on Xiahou Lian’s body. Then, he applied herbal medicine and used bandages to tie his shoulder.
Only when the wound was treated did he have the time to wipe the sweat off his face. “It’s done.”
Xiahou Lian had already collapsed, and he laid on the bed as he panted softly. He pulled out a strained smile and said, “See, Young Master, I knew you could do it.”
“Don’t be happy so early, if your wound gets infected, you’d die all the same.” Shen Jue threw the cloth towel into the washbasin. The water in the washbasin had already turned bright red, as if it was filled with blood.
Xiahou Lian panted for a while and struggled to drape his clothes on. “I have to go. Young Master, thank you for saving my life, I’ll repay you someday.”
Shen Jue pressed him to the bed and knitted his brows. “Where can you go like this? Relax and stay here for me.”
“When the eunuch who lives in this room comes back, we’ll both be exposed. Young Master, I can’t implicate you.”
Shen Jue raised a brow. “How did you know this room isn’t mine?”
“Your room wouldn’t be this smelly.” Xiahou Lian smiled.
“Don’t worry, he won’t be coming back.” Shen Jue’s expression was indifferent, and he tucked Xiahou Lian in, saying, “Take a good rest, I’m going to get you some medicine.”
Xiahou Lian became aware of something, but he didn’t ask more and merely said, “Do you have a portrait of him, give me one.”
“What do you want it for?”
Xiahou Lian smiled mysteriously. “Have you heard of Garan’s Kinnara?”
Shen Jue shook his head.
Xiahou Lian said, “He’s my shifu, and he’s adept at the face-disguising technique. I’ve learned eighty percent of it now, so if you give me a portrait of this little eunuch, I can imitate a fake face. If others don’t get close and look at me closely, they definitely won’t be able to distinguish between real and fake.”
Garan had many secret techniques, and Shen Jue had heard of them a long time ago. He agreed to help him draw a portrait of Si Xi and went to the kitchen to boil medicine for Xiahou Lian.
After several minutes, Shen Jue brought the medicine to Xiahou Lian and watched as he drank all of it. It was as if he couldn’t taste the bitterness, and he poured it down altogether. He didn’t know that, after training arduously in killing fields for two years, Xiahou Lian had developed the ability to endure pain and hardship. Just then, he had been stitched up without anesthesia 2, and normal people would have passed out already.
After cleaning up the mess in the room, he was so tired that sweat trickled down his back, and Shen Jue felt that the bath he had taken earlier had been in vain. Xiahou Lian laid on the bed, looking at him quietly. His expression was tranquil, and it had more of a sereneness and calmness that it didn’t have before.
The two of them faced each other wordlessly. Under the eaves, the iron horses were blown by the wind, ringing.
Shen Jue looked at the leaping candle flame and suddenly asked, “Xiahou Lian, aren’t you afraid of death?”
Xiahou Lian was blank for a bit before he said, “I am afraid, I’m afraid to death. Every assassination, I’m filled with fear, afraid that I’ll be careless and kick the bucket.”
“Then why did you save me in the first place? The wounds on your back…”
“It’s just a few lashes, it won’t kill me.” Xiahou Lian smiled indifferently and said, “Then why did you save me? You could’ve left me alone, or handed me over to the Golden Dragon Guard.”
Shen Jue thought cleverly, and he naturally guessed that the wounds on Xiahou Lian’s back were because of him. He turned his head away and said, “You saved my life once, so I naturally also have to save your life once.”
Xiahou Lian gazed at the ceiling and sighed deeply. “Actually, the heavens originally don’t give many choices. Either I become a lifetime prisoner of the mountain, or I become an assassin and risk my life. Either I watch you get killed by Garan, or I get whipped a few times and see if I can survive. I don’t want to become a prisoner and I don’t want you to die, so I naturally can only choose the latters.” He smiled craftily. “My luck is very good, I’ve survived all of it.”
Life was originally already a gamble with high stakes, and Xiahou Lian was an arrogant gambler. Every time he placed a bet, he would go all in; winning meant survival, and losing meant death.
However, Shen Jue wasn’t as courageous as Xiahou Lian. He had spent two years in the muddy imperial palace, and two year’s time had grinded away all of his vigor and drive. It had gotten rid of all of his pride, and now he was as lowly as an ant. He had to do his utmost just to obtain a tiny bit of power, and he could order about all of the eunuchs and palace maids in Fourth Qianxi Premises, but he hadn’t even seen the corner of Wei De’s clothes.
He had too little, so he was cautious. He advanced step by step, not hesitating even to bend his pride and doing everything to please people.
“Your luck won’t always be this good.” Shen Jue said in a low voice, “What about your mother, doesn’t she look after you?”
Xiahou Lian’s eyes flashed, and he pulled out the hint of a bitter smile. “I’m already fourteen years old, a true man who can stand up for himself, so how could I hide in my mother’s arms and be a baby?”
Xiahou Pei wasn’t reliable anywhere, she was only reliable in killing people. She had given birth to a son, but it was as if she hadn’t, and she let Xiahou Lian grow wildly like a weed. After that time she had returned from the Western Regions and saved Xiahou Lian, she had disappeared without a trace. Xiahou Lian had recuperated from his wound by himself, and it had been other people who had brought him to assassinations.
It would be too fake if he said he didn’t blame her. Xiahou Lian took a deep breath and forced down the wetness in his eyes.
A true man couldn’t snivel.
Shen Jue saw that it was dark outside the window, so he said, “It’s getting late, I still have work tomorrow, so I’m going to return to my room first.”
“Young Master, can I go to your room to sleep? It’s really smelly here,” Xiahou Lian grabbed the corner of Shen Jue’s clothes and said with a grimace.
“Young Master, I’m already like this, what should I do in case I die of fumes at night? Or if my wound suddenly splits and I bleed to death, what should I do then?”
Shen Jue sneered, “I think you can be a scourge who lives for thousands of years.”
“Young Master, please have a heart!” Xiahou Lian struggled to sit up.
Shen Jue said helplessly, “All right, don’t move, I’ll help you.”
Shen Jue let Xiahou Lian go to his room and sleep on the bed-stove, and he went to the bathroom by himself to bathe again. Xiahou Lian shrank in Shen Jue’s covers, and at the tip of his nose was the distinctive smell on Shen Jue’s body, which smelled extremely good. Just then, that room had practically made him faint from the fumes, and he had also had to bear the excruciating pain in his shoulder, practically making it a great calamity.
Shen Jue’s room didn’t have decorations. It had a few simple desks and chairs and a lonely shelf bed, unreasonably dull. Xiahou Lian was someone who liked liveliness, so he always had to place some flowers and plants in his room. Looking at their bright colors every day could also brighten his heart a lot. Shen Jue wasn’t interested in these, and the more plain and neat something was, the more he liked it. He lived like an ascetic monk, coldly and blandly.
Shen Jue himself was very satisfied with Fourth Qianxi Premises. The biggest and also the only benefit of living here was that he didn’t have to sleep in the communal beds like the other eunuchs in the palace garden. There was a measly number of eunuchs here, and the palace residence with three entrances and three exits had even more rooms than people.
He finished bathing and walked out with his hair down. His black hair was shiny, spilling on his pure white undergarments like ink on rice paper and setting off his cheeks that were like fine porcelain to be even paler. Xiahou Lian moved aside to make some room for him, and Shen Jue slid under the covers, sleeping next to him.
Xiahou Lian looked at him. Shen Jue’s long eyelashes quivered lightly, like butterfly wings.
“What do you want to ask? Go ahead. You’re practically drilling out two holes on my face with your eyes,” Shen Jue said in a low voice.
His thoughts having been guessed, Xiahou Lian sheepishly shrank in the covers and said muffledly, “Young Master, why did you come into the palace?”
“…” Shen Jue opened his mouth. Suddenly, something came to his mind, and his eyes darkened a little.
Since Xiahou Lian could disguise himself as Si Xi, then why couldn’t he just stay here in the palace and live on as Si Xi’s identity? In this way, he could get away from Garan of Seven Leaves and could also keep him company, never separating again.
This thought grew like a vine, entangling his heart and making it jump a little wildly. Shen Jue was silent for a while before saying, “I wandered the streets, and the earrings you gave me were snatched away by the shopkeeper of a pawnshop. The saber also fell in the pawnshop, so I was penniless. An old beggar took me in and gave me food to eat. We entered the capital with refugees and originally wanted to earn a living, but I didn’t expect that…”
Xiahou Lian asked, “What happened?”
Shen Jue continued, “For silver, the beggar sold me into the palace. Perhaps he originally had the idea of selling me for money.”
Xiahou Lian widened his eyes and said, “What…”
Shen Jue said this indifferently, as if he was talking about someone else’s experiences. The calmer he was, the more Xiahou Lian’s heart ached.
This kid had lived deep in a courtyard all year round, so how would he know that people’s hearts were vicious? He had been given a piece of candy and followed someone else foolishly, how would he know that they were trying to plot something? He had seen that that beggar was old, so he must’ve thought that that person was kind-hearted. He was unprepared, so how would he know that bad guys got old, too? Shi Xin, that old bald donkey, was a living example.
Xiahou Lian sighed and didn’t know what to say.
“Don’t call me Young Master anymore, I’m not some young master of the Xie clan, I’m just a maimed eunuch. Also, my name is no longer Xie Jinglan, my name is Shen Jue.” Shen Jue lowered his eyes and looked at his own fingers. “If I still bear the Xie clan’s surname, I expect that someday when I go down to the netherworld and my ancestors see that I’m a eunuch, they’ll cover their faces in shame.”
“The Xie clan didn’t treat you well, why do you care about their views?” Xiahou Lian said bitterly, “You’ll always be my young master, whether you’re Xie Jinglan or Shen Jue.”
“Right, aren’t you very curious where Si Xi is?” Shen Jue looked up and gazed at Xiahou Lian, sneering, “He wanted to defile me, he was a toad wishing to eat swan meat, and he even thought that I would submit obediently. I killed him, and he’s now lying in a dry well outside.”
“What?!” Xiahou Lian’s face was covered in shock.
He knew that the imperial palace had always sheltered evil people and practices. Homosexual encounters were innumerable, but he hadn’t expected that Shen Jue would also run into something as filthy as this.
Yes, Shen Jue was very good-looking, how could he not be coveted by others?
Looking at Shen Jue’s cold expression under the dim lighting, Xiahou Lian suddenly felt that something was different about him. The destitute wandering and the dirty palace had changed him, and the melancholy in his eyes was like a haze, pressing heavily at the bottom of his eyes and lingering there.
Xiahou Lian touched his fingers and said, “Young Master, you’ve suffered so much.”
“So, A-Lian 3,” the color of Shen Jue’s eyes deepened, and gradually became dark and fathomless, like a bottomless old well. He leaned next to Xiahou Lian’s ear and said softly, “stay here and protect me, okay?”
“I…” Xiahou Lian hesitated.
There was an unquestionable resolve hidden in his voice as he said, “I saved you. Your life should be mine.”