Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Eunuch-in-Charge, you already aren’t the governor of the Eastern Depot now, but you still won’t let Xiahou Lian go?” Xiahou Lian asked, lowering his eyes.
Shen Jue didn’t answer and only questioned closely, “Exactly who are you?”
“I am a servant of Yunxian Building, my name is Shang Erlang.” Xiahou Lian said, “You killed Yan Xiaobei, but Yan Xiaobei died on the bed of our most popular courtesan, A-Chu. A-Chu has been kind to me, so I couldn’t sit back and do nothing. Thus, I disguised myself as Yan Xiaobei.”
Shen Jue lifted his hand slightly and made a gesture, saying, “It’ll be known if you are or aren’t after tearing off your mask.”
Immediately, two underlings came forward, and Xiahou Lian dismounted his horse. The four hands of the two underlings prowled at the edges of his cheeks, searching for the seams of the mask. They couldn’t feel any gaps, so they poked around on his face and searched for a long time without finding any reasons.
The two of them looked at each other, and one of them smelled just a wisp of fragrance on Xiahou Lian. It secretly came across the curtains of rain, and he said in realization, “He’s not wearing a mask, he’s using cosmetics!” As he said this, he wiped Xiahou Lian’s face and put his hand at the tip of his nose to sniff. “It’s cosmetics from Tianxiang 1 Pavilion, my wife uses this. He has a special formula that adjusts the cosmetics so that when it’s applied to the face, even water can’t wash it off, you have to use a wet cloth and dip it in oil in order to remove it cleanly.”
“Then we have to go into the inn, there’s tea seed oil in the inn,” said another underling.
Xiahou Lian stood quietly with his hands down. Shen Jue looked at him for a while and said, “You are very calm.”
Xiahou Lian said, “Because I’m not.”
Shen Jue didn’t say anything else. It was raining very heavily, and leaves of old pagoda trees were blown by the wind, making crackling noises. The narrow alley was pitch-black, and everyone’s faces were blurred into a black cluster. Xiahou Lian lifted his head to gaze at Shen Jue on his horse, but he couldn’t see his expression clearly and could only see that he was looking in his direction. For no reason, Xiahou Lian perceived that there seemed to be a very deep sorrow in his gaze.
The screaming in the inn gradually became small, and Xiahou Lian followed Shen Jue and the others into the front door. They bypassed the screen wall, and the blue-gray brick floor was covered in dark red blood, mixing with rainwater as it flowed into the ditches and was soon washed clean. The underlings were dealing with the corpses, scooping away soil and digging a big pit. Some had names and some didn’t, and they were thrown inside one by one. The corpses were stacked inside, heads next to feet and feet next to heads. Horrified expressions had been left on their faces, frozen into faces with ferocious features.
The hall had already been cleaned up. Tables and chairs had been pulled aside, only leaving a chair with a back in the center and a jet-black tea table. Two people were kneeling on the ground, wearing bright yellow flying fish clothes. They weren’t wearing hats on their heads, and their hairnets were crooked. The flesh on their faces trembled nonstop, and they huddled together like frozen birds in the cold wind. The shopkeeper, his wife, and their children were shrinking in the corner of a wooden partition to the west, and a wooden shelf was suspended and stuck out from the wall on top of their heads. There was a statue coated with gold paint of the god of wealth on it, and they treated the god of wealth as Buddha, chanting amitabha and worshiping nonstop.
Shen Jue bent over and sat down in the chair, the hem of the skirt of his yesa robes opening like a fan, splendid gold and silver intersecting on the knees of his robes. The two people looked at Shen Jue, trembling and swaying together. However, Shen Jue ignored them and reached out, pointing at Xiahou Lian and saying, “Carry a basin of oil over and wash his face clean.”
The underlings carried tea seed oil from the kitchen and also got a towel. Xiahou Lian removed the makeup on his face and also wanted a basin of clean water to wash his face.
Zhu Shunzi was already stunned. He hadn’t mixed in the martial arts world before, so he had heard of this unique skill of face-disguising but hadn’t witnessed it for himself before. Now, an egg could be stuffed into his mouth.
Xiahou Lian removed the makeup and looked at Shen Jue calmly.
Shen Jue stood up and walked over. He was very tall, and his shadow fell down, enveloping Xiahou Lian who was kneeling on the ground. Xiahou Lian subconsciously moved slightly backward. Shen Jue reached out and groped around his face, unwilling to give up and had to find the gap of the mask, tear it off, and reveal his original face.
But, there wasn’t one.
Shen Jue’s heart became completely cold. He felt that he was very ridiculous. Three fifteenths of the seventh month had clearly already passed, and he had clearly made up his mind not to think about it anymore, yet he had still been holding onto this miniscule hope. When he encountered someone who knew the face-disguising technique, he would feel that there was that slight possibility, and he wouldn’t be willing to let go once he caught them. He must have their faces be torn apart to reveal their true faces before his eyes bit by bit, and his heart would also follow in seeping blood bit by bit. Only in the end when blood dripped did he give up.
People were not afraid to be buried in a completely dark abyss for their entire life, they were only afraid of finally climbing up and seeing a bit of a shadow of light. They would reach out, wanting to grab it, but before it was even in their hands, they would fall back, shattering into pieces.
He took his hands back, turned his back on him, and said hoarsely, “Get lost.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned for a while before reacting and realizing that Shen Jue was talking to him. He got up from the ground and went outside. Underlings stopped him and made him stand under the corridor together with Zhu Shunzi.
Zhu Shunzi curiously reached probed with his hand and also rubbed Xiahou Lian’s face. He gave him a thumbs-up and said, “Awesome. I didn’t even see any clues even with my keen eyes, your face-disguising technique is indeed great.”
Xiahou Lian wasn’t in a good mood, so he carelessly mumbled two sentences.
The two of them squatted under the eaves. Ahead of them was the yard, and underlings were wearing straw raincoats and digging a pit to bury people.
“Ah, it’s a pity my brother lost his life at such a young age.” Zhu Shunzi sighed. “From the looks of it, I’m also nearly finished. When I go to see him, I won’t know what to say. Looking at each other without a word, only thousands of miles of tears 2!”
Xiahou Lian recalled Yan Xiaobei. When he thought of him now, that guy’s complexion had been blackened and his mouth and eyes had been bleeding, so he had clearly been poisoned by arsenic, aconite, or something of the sort. He had been too hurried that day and hadn’t had the time to look carefully, so he had really thought that A-Chu had accidentally killed him. Xiahou Lian patted Zhu Shunzi’s shoulder as condolences.
“Ah, I asked for it.” Zhu Shunzi was dejected. “The imperial examination is just fine, but I didn’t take it and just had to enter some Eastern Depot. This would be all right, but I even went to seek my death with that old scoundrel Wei De. I understand at last, with my fish brain, farming would be okay, but as for being promoted and getting rich, I should give it up as early as possible.”
He turned his head and looked in Shen Jue’s direction. “Look, now that person is called a character. Everybody thought that he had no way to keep going and didn’t expect that he would be so prosperous. He’s in the dark and Wei De’s in the open, so who fucking smiles to the end is still uncertain.”
Xiahou Lian also looked over and asked, “Who are those two kneeling?”
“The one with a potbelly is Associate Administrator Su Yu of the Embroidered Uniform Guard, and the one lying on the ground and not daring to move is the judge of the North Administrative Court, Li Changyan.”
Shen Jue looked down at the two people trembling on the ground and smiled sinisterly. “Speak, where were you going to meet King Fu?”
Su Yu managed to pluck up his courage and say, “Shen Jue, you’ve got some nerve, you actually dared to intercept us midway and even turned the inn into a bloodbath! Do you know that when the imperial court blames you, it’ll be impossible for you to escape!” As he spoke, he softened his tone again. “Shen Jue, there’s still time for you to repent. I’ll plead mercy for you, and remembering your past loyalty, Eunuch Wei also won’t make things difficult for you. Let’s conceal this matter and not let the Censorate and the Ministry of Justice know. You’ll still go to Nanjing as before, how about that?”
“Yes, yes!” Li Changyan, who was beside him, also spoke. “Eunuch Shen, repent and be saved, repent and be saved!”
“It sounds good, but I’m afraid I would lose my life midway.” Shen Jue dusted off the hem of his robes and sat back down on the chair. “You two do as you see fit, it’s not like you don’t know punishments there are in the imperial prison. In the old days, you watched on the side as people were combed 3 and their abdomens dug out. It had a special delight, though I don’t know how this flavor will be when you’re the ones being tortured today?”
The two people shuddered, and Su Yu said, “Shen Jue, torturing the officials appointed by the imperial court, do you know want your head anymore? Even if you know His Highness’s whereabouts, so what? Will His Highness listen to your slander and come together with a bad person who has lost power like you? Or, do you plan to also kill His Highness? You… You… really have monstrous audacity!”
“You’re still not willing to talk? You have quite the moral integrity.” Shen Jue sneered, “Originally, every punishment should be gone through once, but I’m in a hurry won’t persistently bother you here like you are. Guards, directly do the playing pipa. Prepare ginseng soup, we must make the two of them get enough taste of this.” He tapped his knee, pondered for a while, and smiled at Su Yu. “You have courage, so you’ll go first!”
Right after Shen Jue said this, a few underlings immediately came up. They first dragged Li Changyan to the side and pressed his head to make him watch carefully. Then, they pressed Su Yu onto the ground, pinned his hands and feet, and pulled off his clothes, revealing his chest and abdomen. Su Yu yelled in horror, cursing nonstop.
Over there, an underling had already come up holding a sharp saber. They were old hands at torture, as they had gotten used to it in prison, and they didn’t even blink. Playing pipa sounded pleasant, but in reality, it was brutal and inhumane. The rib bones were treated as pipa strings and the point of the saber as the pick, which went back and forth on the criminal’s ribs, and blood would soon drip. This old hand was old in the sense that they controlled their strength very well. The point of the saber would go three or four turns on the ribs bones, and the person wouldn’t die. If they fainted, they would be woken up with water, and ginseng soup would also be used to keep them up. They couldn’t die even if they wanted to, let alone live if they wanted to. Sometimes, the blood and flesh on their chest would be taken off completely, so the point of the saber would directly play on the ribs, and it would really be able to play a pleasant sound.
Su Yu had already fainted twice, and blood gushed in torrents on his chest and abdomen. While someone played pipa, someone poured soup into his mouth. Shen Jue watched quietly, stroking the jade pendant tassel at his waist and was indifferent like an ice sculpture. Li Changyan was greatly frightened from watching, and his hands and feet were trembling. When he couldn’t keep watching and wanted to turn his head, an underling would move his head back, and when he wanted to close his eyes, an underling would hold open his eyelids. In short, they had to make him helplessly watch how Su Yu was tortured.
Zhu Shunzi said bitterly to Xiahou Lian, “We’re only two small and insignificant shrimps. Shen Jue won’t use cruel punishments on us, will he?”
Xiahou Lian also felt a little fearful as he watched, but he still consoled him and said that he wouldn’t.
They were squatting under the corridor in front of the hall, so the entirety of the situation in the hall was in their view. This was Xiahou Lian’s first time seeing this. As assassins, although they made transactions of human lives, they had always been particular to start the battle quickly and achieve victory quickly. It was best to kill with a single stroke, and they never tortured their prey, let alone with these varieties. When Garan handled assassins who had committed a crime, they would use flogging, and although it was also difficult to endure, it was still a lot better than “playing pipa.” Even Xiahou Lian, who had a lot of experience, frowned and averted his eyes.
“He’s dead,” the underling stopped and said to Shen Jue.
Su Yu had already stopped breathing. He was lying on the ground, and the shiny white rib bones in his chest were exposed to the air. One could see the two lungs underneath it.
Li Changyan collapsed on the ground, his eyes numb.
Shen Jue’s gaze landed on him, and he said lightly, “Your turn.”
“I’ll confess, I’ll confess everything!” Li Changyan moved on his knees to Shen Jue’s side and cried, “We agreed that King Fu would set off in Jiading and come north, and that we would meet at Hejian, meet in Hejian!”
“And then… then we’d go to the capital together. Eunuch Wei would coordinate with us in the capital suburbs and secretly bring His Highness into the palace. They want to force the emperor to write his final edict and make King Fu the crown prince!” Li Changyan’s face was covered with tears. “Shen Jue, I know that it’s not possible for you to let me live, but I’m begging you to give me a quick death! I’m begging you!”
“As you wish, then.” Shen Jue leaned back, pressed the center of his eyebrows. An underling stepped forward, drew out the saber at his waist, grabbed Li Changyan’s hair, and swiped the saber across his neck, blood gushing out.
Zhu Shunzi’s eyes became blank from watching, and he muttered, “It’s going to be our turn, it’s going to be our turn! Shen Jue is such a bit of a person, it’s impossible for him to take us two burdens to Hejian, let alone leave us here and leak out his information. We’re going to die, we’re going to die!”
Xiahou Lian’s heart also became suspended. His saber had been confiscated, and without sabers, they were like fish meat on a chopping board, letting themselves be slaughtered. He looked around to see if there was any to escape, but all big doors and small doors were guarded strictly by underlings. It would be all right to go onto the rooftops and escape, but it wouldn’t be easy.
Dying here would indeed be quite aggrieving. He hadn’t expected that he would come out of Garan alive and die in Shen Jue’s hands in the end.
However… there was also nothing bad about it. Xiahou Lian gazed at the sky and unexpectedly smiled.
They had asked everything they wanted to ask, so the underlings dragged Su Yu’s and Li Changyan’s corpses into the yard and threw them into the corpse pit. The rain had stopped at some point, and the moldy dark green moss on the stone bricks glimmered with a wet light. The wind had gotten a lot smaller, and it blew slightly on the hexagonal lanterns under the eaves, lights and shadows wandering around on the ground. Shen Jue sat on the chair for a while before getting up and walking upstairs. He inadvertently saw Xiahou Lian, who was under the corridor and squatting on the steps. He was looking at him, and the lights and shadows of the lanterns landed in his eyes, light and dark mixing.
He was a man who described being bold and unrestrained. His cheeks were thin, unremarkable, and when he wasn’t smiling, there was a lonely and grim aura between his eyebrows. He often lowered his head and didn’t speak much, and he occasionally smiled. His smile wasn’t deep, and it didn’t reach the bottoms of his eyes.
He was like a wandering soul and wild ghost that had left home. Shen Jue suddenly felt that he was like a Xiahou Lian who had retracted his fangs and gotten rid of his killing intent.
Especially those eyes, they were so similar in shape. It was just that many years ago when he had seen these eyes, they had still been surging with heinous killing intent, and today, these eyes were like dull and lonely dry wells, quiet and deep.
Shen Jue walked toward him. Zhu Shunzi instantly stiffened, and he hid behind Xiahou Lian, saying in a low voice, “He’s here, he’s here! Yama is here!”
“You saw so much just now, aren’t you afraid?” Shen Jue stood still before him and looked down at him.
Xiahou Lian shook his head.
“Your eyes look very familiar to me,” said Shen Jue.
Xiahou Lian touched his own eyes. “Really, like whose?”
“They look a little too good, like Xiahou Lian’s.” Shen Jue looked at him fixedly for a while and said, “Gouge them out and store them in a jar for me.”
He left these words and turned around to leave, and Xiahou Lian blankly stayed where he was.
What does this guy mean?!
A few underlings walked over to carry him, and Xiahou Lian turned his head and ran. The exit of the corridor was blocked, so he held the vermillion railing as he jumped into the yard, and the whistling of blades slicing through the air sounded behind him. Xiahou Lian ducked down and lowered his head, and a blade as bright as snow streaked over above him, bringing out a bone-chilling cold. The underlings had closed in on him, so Xiahou Lian could only meet their attacks. A saber cut at him using its spine, and Xiahou Lian leaned to the side, locked his wrist, and twisted it forcibly. With a crack, the person’s arm was dislocated.
Another two underlings pounced over and held his legs, one on the left and one on the right. At the same time, someone kicked his back, and Xiahou Lian fell to the ground. But he still struggled forcibly, crawling forward on the ground. Dense underlings surged into the yard, all of them pressing down on Xiahou Lian. Someone pressed his head down, another few underlings used their knees to press down his legs and hands, and his waist and back were pressed down firmly.
Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth. In his peripheral vision, Shen Jue’s back became further and further, and that sharp eye-gouging saber flashing with a cold light became closer and closer.
He would rather die than become maimed!
“Shen Jue! Don’t leave! I know Xiahou Lian, I’ll take you to find him!” Xiahou Lian shouted loudly.
Shen Jue’s footsteps paused. He turned to the side and said coldly, “Lies. Pull his tongue out as well! Throw it away!”
Xiahou Lian was anxious, and he risked everything, saying, “I fucking am Xiahou Lian, I am! Don’t you want to kill me, then kill me, Shen Jue!”
Shen Jue ignored him and continued walking.
The underling raised the saber, and the light of the saber was reflected in Xiahou Lian’s eyes, as terrible as frost. A string became taut in his heart, and the blade was reflected in his pupils, becoming clearer and clearer.