Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
In the evening, Shen Jue came back from outside. It was the time of a cold spell in spring, so when Shen Jue entered the door, he brought back a chill, and his features had a grimness on them. He turned and saw Xiahou Lian was lying in bed on his side and reading a saber technique manual. When Xiahou Lian heard the sound, he raised his face, and that face almost startled Xie Jinglan.
Xiahou Lian had already disguised his face as Si Xi’s appearance, and at first glance, Shen Jue practically thought that Si Xi had risen from the dead. Si Xi had had a harsh appearance, eyes that were narrowed to slits, and slightly high cheekbones that supported cool white skin, making one disgusted upon looking at him. Xiahou Lian’s disguise was extremely similar to the original, though he lacked a lecherous quality. Shen Jue touched his cheekbone. It was a little soft and greasy to the touch, and it seemed to be a type of wax. Shen Jue poked forcibly, poking out a fingerprint on Xiahou Lian’s cheekbone.
Xiahou Lian tilted his head and pushed his hand away, saying helplessly, “Don’t press it randomly, if it breaks I’ll have to do it again.”
Shen Jue moved a stool over and sat next to Xiahou Lian. First, he examined his wound. It had recovered quite well, and there wasn’t inflammation or bleeding. It looked like Yama hadn’t planned on collecting this fiend yet.
Adjusting his sleeves, Shen Jue asked seemingly casually, “Xiahou Lian, are you all working for Wei De? Was the boss you talked about before Wei De?”
“What the hell? Although I’ve never seen Wei De before, the abbot, oh, he’s our boss, I’m still very clear as to what he fucking looks like. In no way does he look like a eunuch.”
“Oh? What should a eunuch look like?” Shen Jue lifted his eyes and said, “Do I look like a eunuch to you?”
The look in Shen Jue’s eyes was a little somber. He had always been sensitive, and Xiahou Lian immediately understood that he had said the wrong thing, but he also wasn’t sure what answer he wanted. If he said that he did, it would be like stabbing a saber into his heart, and if he said that he didn’t, he still really was a eunuch.
As Xiahou Lian was conflicted, Shen Jue suddenly felt very bored, so he got back to the point. “Perhaps your boss and Wei De reached some kind of alliance.”
Xiahou Lian shook his head. “Working for him is unlikely, it’s already been a hundred years since Garan created its temple. How old is Wei De, and how many more years can he last? There are too many gratitudes and grudges, love and hatred in the world, and randomly taking a few orders is enough to feed the entire mountain. It’s not worthwhile for Garan to climb a mountain of sabers and plunge into a sea of fire for him. As for an alliance, it’s also unlikely, Garan has always only worked for money. Besides, the most important thing in our line of work is to conceal our traces. It’s always been strictly forbidden to form connections with people outside the mountain, otherwise someone whose mind is set on it can track them down by following clues, or they’ll set traps and lure them, and it’ll bring unnecessary trouble.”
When Shen Jue heard this, he was slightly unhappy. According to this, wasn’t he Xiahou Lian’s weak spot? He said, “I’m not that stupid, as long as you know your place, I won’t let anyone else discover the hint of any clues, much less track you down by following clues.” As he said this, he saw that Xiahou Lian’s lips were a little dry, so he poured a cup of tea and put it in Xiahou Lian’s hands. Only after he put it there did it occur to him that he was becoming more and more smooth in doing this job of serving Xiahou Lian. He hastily took the tea cup back and made a show of taking a sip himself.
Xiahou Lian thought Shen Jue wanted him to hold the tea, so he obediently waited for Shen Jue to finish drinking and carried the teacup in his hands. He listened to Shen Jue’s words, and it seemed that he still wasn’t planning on letting him go. Forget it, in any case he still had to stay here to recuperate, so he’d tell him slowly after some time.
“Speaking of it, why are you suddenly asking me if Garan is Wei De’s lackey or not? Could it be that you heard some news about Garan?”
Shen Jue glanced at him and said, “Last night, Noble Consort Ma was assassinated, and her child hadn’t even been delivered yet. Both person and child died in Chengqian Palace, don’t you know about this matter?”
Xiahou Lian shook his head like a rattle drum.
Shen Jue continued, “The noble consort was quite critical of Wei De, and she instigated the emperor, wanting him to alienate Wei De. In order to obtain the emperor’s favor as well, Wei De made a lot of effort. He couldn’t stand that Noble Consort Ma was pregnant. In the palace, having a child means having everything, especially since the emperor barely has heirs, so even Wei De was helpless.”
“It turns out that the ‘prey’ was the noble consort, one corpse and two lives, it’s really fucking evil.” Xiahou Lian sighed. “Don’t ask questions, kill without inhibition. I only received the task of going to the Book Pavilion to find the previous dynasty’s map of the imperial palace, they didn’t tell me that someone was going to assassinate the noble consort.”
Shen Jue’s expression was a little complicated. “When I went to steal medicine for you, I heard a few assassins talking in the Imperial Medical Bureau. From what they said and did, they didn’t seem to take your life or death seriously.” Shen Jue knitted his brows slightly. Although Xiahou Lian’s task wasn’t as hard as assassinating the noble consort, he still had to go deep into the imperial palace. Why hadn’t he had any support?
Did that so-called Garan really care about Xiahou Lian’s life or death?
Xiahou Lian smiled bitterly. “This is how it is, I’m already used to it. My saber skills haven’t been perfected and I often botch business, so it’s also normal for me to receive others’ insults. This place Garan has always only used sabers to speak, so if you can’t do better than others, then obediently shrink like a quail and don’t show your head. If it weren’t for my mother’s saber being so sharp, I’d be bullied to death by them.” Halfway through speaking, Xiahou Lian recalled something, and his expression changed. He asked, “Wait, just now, you said a few assassins. There was more than one assassin who assassinated Noble Consort Ma?”
“Not only one. Four assassins died in Chengqian Palace, and the others escaped.” Shen Jue recalled the Garuda, but he still held it back and didn’t say anything. He understood very well what kind of person he was, selfishness was his nature. As long as Xiahou Lian could stay, concealing or deceiving were nothing difficult.
Xiahou Lian was stunned.
Four assassins dead, this was an unimaginable loss for Garan. Garan brought back fatherless and motherless orphans who had no home to return to from everywhere. Every child would start practicing the horse stance 1 at the age of five, touch wooden sabers at the age of seven, and use real sabers at the age of ten. Each assassin’s training took at least seven years, and the average life expectancy of the assassins didn’t exceed twenty-eight years.
Not only did two-thirds of these children choose to stay on the mountain and be farmers, even if the children made up for the lack of assassins, most of them didn’t live past two years. The most dangerous times for an assassin were the few beginning and ending years. Either it was because they were too young, inexperienced, and died due to carelessness, or it was because they were too tired, their injuries over the years had worn down their body, and they didn’t want to live anymore at all.
All Garan assassins only swung the planned blow, and if the blow missed, then they would withdraw immediately. Garan also very rarely acted together on a large scale and would only send spies who were responsible for aiding or supporting. Whether it was last time’s extermination of the Xie clan or this time’s imperial palace assassination, they were both a large-scale, mass assassination operation that rarely appeared in Garan’s history.
The abbot, that old bald donkey, hadn’t actually been tempted by money and lost integrity in his later years, and sold Garan to Wei De, had he?
Assassins who approached without casting a shadow and left without leaving a trace could still show off and use it to brag to others, saying something like “killing a person in ten steps and unable to be blocked in a thousand miles. After finishing the matter, leaving with a flick of one’s sleeves, hiding merits and fame” and such. But being an eunuch’s lackey was too off-putting. Could he boast that had gotten another master, one who didn’t have a spout 2? Xiahou Lian was very gloomy.
Shen Jue saw him lower his head and didn’t know what he was thinking. He asked, “What are you thinking about, let’s hear it.”
Xiahou Lian was just about to reply when a flurry of footsteps sounded underneath the windowsill. Someone said, “Eunuch Shen, there is a Feathered Forest guard outside requesting you to go over and talk.”
Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue looked at each other. Xiahou Lian grabbed Shen Jue’s sleeve, and Shen Jue pressed his hand, saying, “No need to panic.” He stood up, put on his hat, adjusted his clothes, and walked out.
There was a Feathered Forest guard with big eyes and bushy brows waiting at the palace gate. When he saw Shen Jue, he bowed and handed him a few medicine packages, saying, “I’m from the same village as Situ, this is what he asked me to deliver.”
“Situ?” Shen Jue asked in confusion.
“You don’t know Captain Situ?” The Feathered Forest guard was a little surprised, and he scratched his head. “He’s the one who killed a few assassins last night, Feathered Forest Guard Captain Situ Jin. In order to pursue one of the most powerful female assassins, he even suffered a saber to his ribs.”
It turned out to be him. Shen Jue’s heart was as calm as still water 3 and didn’t move much. In this palace, he had seen good-hearted people, and he had also seen evil-hearted people. However, he saw less good-hearted people because they usually didn’t end up well.
Shen Jue lowered his eyes and put on a consistent appearance of humility as he said, “It is my fault for being foolish, I couldn’t remember for a while that it turns out to be Captain Situ. Captain Situ is kind, and I’ll take the liberty to accept it. Please pass on my gratitude for me.”
Shen Jue had walked in the palace for two years, and his face that had had gentleness, modesty, and courtesy on it in the past had been grinded with another word, “humility.” Relying on such a harmless and tactful appearance, when the others who had entered the palace with him were preparing and serving tea and water to powerful eunuchs and even washing their feet and scrubbing their chamber pots, he had already become the small supervisor of Fourth Qianxi Premises.
He smoothly put on a smile that felt close but also far, waiting for the Feathered Forest guard to finish saying some perfunctorily polite remarks, and he would be able to go back and rest.
However, the Feathered Forest guard lowered his eyes and said, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to pass it on.”
Shen Jue’s smile stiffened for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“Eunuch Wei said that everyone else died, how come only Situ survived, so Situ must have been afraid to risk his life and had shrank in the back, unwilling to do his best. If he hadn’t also been seriously injured, I’m afraid he would’ve even been beaten by the stick. At present, the higher-ups have sent an official dispatch, and Situ was demoted to the barracks in the capital suburbs.” The Feathered Forest guard sighed deeply and originally wanted to rebuke Wei De, that damned eunuch, when he suddenly remembered that Shen Jue was also a eunuch, so he shut his mouth.
Shen Jue was silent for a while before saying warmly, “Captain Situ is highly skilled in martial arts. Don’t worry, the barracks in the capital suburbs won’t be able to bury him.”
“That’s true, but these days have been hard. Forget it, forget it, it’s also Situ’s fault for being too honest, and not only does he usually not have dependable brothers, much less would he send some gifts to flatter the capable eunuch… …Uh, Eunuch Shen, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that you’re incapable.” The Feathered Forest guard scolded himself for his big mouth and smiled placatingly.
“You worry too much, I know. Captain Situ is a good person, I don’t have abilities but I know a few people, perhaps I can say a few good words and let Captain Situ get a better job in the barracks.” It was just the lift of a finger and it might not even work, but Shen Jue wasn’t stingy in doing people favors for personal gain.
The Feathered Uniform guard’s eyes lit up, and he smiled. “That’s great, being able to make a friend like you really is Situ’s good luck. I have to go back on duty, I’ll be leaving now, don’t see me off!”
Shen Jue returned to the room and glanced at Xiahou Lian, who was sitting in front of a mirror and creating that fake face again. He asked casually, “Xiahou Lian, do you think good people will be rewarded?”
Xiahou Lian gazed at the ceiling and thought for a bit before saying, “Yeah, at least they’ll be reborn to a good family in their next life.”
“Is that right?” Shen Jue put down the medicine packages in his hands and smiled to himself. “But I’m too short-sighted, I only look at this life.”
Situ Jin’s left hand covered the wound under his ribs, and his right hand held the wall as he walked slowly.
The sun sank in the west, and angry clouds filled the sky, illuminating his face with red. His shadow on the ground was stretched long, and was a little stooped. The peddlers and servants had already closed their stalls and were pushing handcarts as they walked on the cobblestone road, the objects placed on top making clattering noises from time to time.
He had been demoted.
He had been demoted from captain of the Feathered Forest Guard’s right defense to captain of the Five Barracks Battalion 4 in the capital suburbs. His rank hadn’t changed, but he had lost the qualifications to be close to the emperor. Other people thought that he didn’t deserve this, but actually, he didn’t have much feeling in his heart. At the time, he had come from the North to the capital, obtained an official rank by passing the imperial examination on military knowledge and skill, and was chosen for the Feathered Forest Guard. He had originally wanted to make great contributions and accomplish great tasks, but he had wasted three year’s time in the palace. Now, when he recalled it, there didn’t seem to have been any flavor.
He had always been carried along by the tide like this. He stayed wherever other people placed him, not fighting or grabbing, and desired nothing.
For a man, this didn’t seem very good. Men had to support their family and bring honor to the family name. Without skills, their wife would go hungry, and without an official rank, their family wouldn’t be prosperous. However, he was an exception. Both of his parents had died, and since childhood, he had grown up in a small town in the North that was isolated from the rest of the world, relying on begging to eat. Although the small town was small, sabersmen frequently passed by. He had learned his saber techniques from them, one person teaching one move, and he had muddledly learned how to chop and how to cut. Later, he had learned how to kill.
Even later, the old people in the town had said, A-Jin, you’ve grown up, you have to go build a career now. Thus, he had come to the capital, carrying the saber he had gotten in exchange for helping the blacksmith with chores on his back. He had still had no one to depend on and had been all on his own. It had been a snowy and windy day. At this time, every house in the small town usually had their doors and windows closed, yet the capital had been very lively. People jostled each other on the streets, and he had held his saber very carefully, lest the scabbard poked someone else.
But he had still been alone, and the liveliness and clamor had nothing to do with him.
Being alone was quite nice. He thought, Just feeding yourself is enough. He reached out and touched his wound, and sharp pain made him pause in his steps. Changing the dressing also shouldn’t be too troublesome. He took a breath and kept walking.
“Captain Situ?” An extremely clear and melodious call sounded from his right-hand side, like the twittering of an oriole.
Situ Jin’s heart jumped wildly a few times for no reason, and he slowly turned, happening to see the girl carrying a bamboo basket on her back and standing in front of her house’s door. She was wearing a frost-colored jacket and skirt 5 made of fine cotton cloth, and her big eyes that contrasted black and white were looking at him unblinkingly. He never dared to look directly at a girl’s face, so his gaze shifted downward, landing on her hand that was resting on the door knocker. Her exposed wrist was like a bright moon, white and very good-looking.
Right, her name was Mingyue 6. Zhu Mingyue, so beautiful.
He knew her family had opened a medical clinic, as Doctor Zhu was very famous in this area. He was a highly skilled doctor and his treatments were excellent, and even more famous was his beautiful daughter. A lot of people would roguishly and deliberately make three or four wounds on themselves and go to the clinic to seize the opportunity to look at Mingyue. His and her houses faced each other, so every time he rode his horse for morning roll call, he would happen to run into her carrying a medicine basket on her back to go to the clinic, but they had never spoken much.
But, how did she know that his last name was Situ?
Mingyue pointed at his waist and said, “There’s blood on the back of your waist. Captain Situ, you’re injured?”
Situ Jin was stunned and he reached to touch the back of his waist. Sure enough, there was a throb of pain. He blushed sheepishly, he hadn’t even known that the back of his waist had also been injured.
Mingyue made a “pft” as she laughed, and she waved Situ Jin over, saying, “Ah, you, why are you so dull? Hurry up and come in, I’ll bandage it for you. My father happens to be home, he’s the best at traumatic injuries.”
Situ Jin hesitated and said, “I can do it myself…”
Mingyue pretended to be angry and slapped the door. “Can you reach the back of your waist? Hurry up and come in.” She didn’t wait for Situ Jin to speak and had already stepped inside first. She had always had the nature of being anxious to get things done. With such an explosive temper, as well as appearing outside in public all day, how could she find a good family? Situ Jin couldn’t help but start to worry about her.
He had always had this personality of an old nursemaid, worrying about nothing.
Helplessly, Situ Jin lowered his head, adjusted his yesa robe that had been slashed to be tattered by the Garuda, and followed Mingyue’s hind foot into the house.
- A common posture in Asian martial arts, similar to when riding a horse. It’s most commonly used for practicing punches or to strengthen the legs and back.
- Euphemism for someone who is castrated, hopefully self-explanatory.
- A beautiful idiom, 波澜不惊, which more specifically refers to when a breeze blows past and the surface of the water is still smooth and tranquil. Xie Jinglan’s name uses the same characters (惊澜).
- One of the Ming dynasty’s three elite military divisions stationed around the capital.
- Specifically ruqun, which consists of a short jacket and a long skirt.
- Lit. Bright moon.