Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian roared, “Hengbo! I left Hengbo Saber in Taizhou!”
Shen Jue finally stopped. He turned around and looked at him icily.
Situ Jin said from the side, “This person is full of lies, he cannot be believed.”
The underlings pressed Xiahou Lian’s head down, and Xiahou Lian’s cheek stuck to the bricks, icy cold. He panted heavily as he said, “I really left Hengbo there! Young…”
Before Xiahou Lian even finished speaking, Shen Jue picked him up from the ground and pressed him against the wall. The two of them were face to face and very close to each other. Shen Jue’s face was cold, and there was a heavy gloom in his eyes. He pinched Xiahou Lian’s neck, and his hands were very cold, unreasonably icy. Xiahou Lian felt as if frost flowers were spreading from his throat and that his entire body was about to be frozen.
Shen Jue spoke sinisterly, and every word was mixed with bits of ice. “I’m not ignorant about Garan of Seven Leaves. Xiahou Lian was poisoned with Mid-July, how could he survive? Listen up for me, starting from now, if you say a word of a lie, I’ll make you the same as Su Yu, unable to live and unable to die. Speak, exactly who are you, and how much do you know?”
How else could he say this? Shen Jue already firmly believed that he was dead, so if he said that he was Xiahou Lian again, wouldn’t he be seeking death? Xiahou Lian stared at him. His gaze was cold, like a handful of lonely snow. Calm down, calm down. Xiahou Lian composed himself and thought about it swiftly. If he wasn’t Xiahou Lian, his eyes would be gouged out, but if he was Xiahou Lian, wouldn’t it be hard to escape being combed and having his abdomen dug out? At this point, he could only continue lying.
He took a breath and said, “I am Xiahou Lian’s old bosom friend. Xiahou Lian made transactions of human lives, and most of them were done with me as his partner. It was also him who taught me this face disguise and voice change. I know the matters of Garan and him that I should know.”
“Proof,” Shen Jue said coldly.
Xiahou Lian hesitated for a while and said, “I wonder if… Jingtie is still in your hands, Eunuch-in-Charge?”
It was as if Shen Jue had been shocked, and he didn’t move for a long time. Xiahou Lian also didn’t dare to move. He sat against the wall, and slowly, the icy hand on his neck loosened. Shen Jue stood up and turned his back on him. There was a plot of hardy bananas planted by the corridor with emerald-green leaves, which drooped from being hit by the rain and rustled as it trembled in the wind. Shen Jue silently looked at it for a while and said, “All of you, leave.”
In a short while, only Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue were left in the small courtyard that wasn’t too big. It had just rained and the night wind was bleak and damp, and Xiahou Lian felt a little cold. Shen Jue was standing with his hands clasped behind his back, and he didn’t speak the entire time. Raindrops on the eaves fell down drop by drop, pattering and becoming later and later, slower and slower.
“You are a lot like him, not just your eyes.” Shen Jue suddenly said, “Xiahou Lian was like a plague, whoever he tainted was inevitable to be infected. Many years ago, I was also like that.”
Xiahou Lian rubbed his throat and didn’t speak.
Another while passed before Shen Jue asked, “How did he die?”
Xiahou Lian was stunned before he reacted and said, “He fought to the death with the abbot, suffered several wounds, and died from losing too much blood.”
“Did you bury his body?”
“You’re his bosom friend, why didn’t you bury his body!” Shen Jue’s words contained fury.
Xiahou Lian’s motions of rubbing his throat stopped, and he said slowly, “Making transactions of human lives, one’s head hangs on their belt. Having one’s bones laid across the wilderness is a frequent matter, so he didn’t even care himself.” He frowned. “So what if I buried his body, do you want to dig up his grave?”
Shen Jue didn’t answer and was silent for a very long time before saying, “What did he tell you about me?” His voice became a lot hoarser, so Xiahou Lian almost didn’t hear him clearly.
Xiahou Lian didn’t understand why he would ask about these. He had hunted him down for so many years, yet when he knew that the other party had died, he wanted to talk about their old friendship? Xiahou Lian pretended to have a tone of reminiscence as he said, “He didn’t say much, he just said before that you were his old friend. You work in the government and he’s a rebel who uses force to violate bans, so you catching him is an unalterable principle. Not only can you ask for merits and rewards, you may even be able to advance a step.” He lowered his head and smiled. “He understands.”
“…” Shen Jue let out a short, dismal laugh, seemingly in ridicule and also seemingly desolate. Even in his dreams, he hadn’t thought that Xiahou Lian would have such a grave and ridiculous misunderstanding, separated by death. That idiot, he was practically extremely stupid and, even until his death, had actually thought that he wanted to kill him!
Indescribable grief surged up from the bottom of his heart. Shen Jue forcibly closed his eyes and then opened them, saying with gritted teeth, “You’re right, I do want to find his grave, I’ll find it no matter where it is. Even if he’s been eaten up by insects and only has bits of bones left, I’ll still dig him out from under the ground!”
Xiahou Lian lowered his eyes, looked at his coarse palms, and smiled. “Or, kill me. I look like him, so if you kill me, you can regard it as venting your anger.” He paused and continued, “My life has been picked up and stolen, so it doesn’t matter if I die. It’s just, could I please bother you to bury Hengbo and I in the same place. Is Hengbo with you? Before Xiahou Lian died, he entrusted Hengbo to me, so I don’t want Hengbo to wander about outside.”
“He entrusted Hengbo to you?” Shen Jue turned his head to look at him.
Xiahou Lian nodded. “A year ago, I was fighting Japanese bandits in Taizhou, and someone sent it flying without my noticing. I later saw it in the market, but it was bought by people from your Eastern Depot. They should have given it to you, right?”
Shen Jue felt upset. Was this the person whom Xiahou Lian trusted the most? He could even give him Hengbo with all his heart. Shen Jue felt angry and sad, and he wished to immediately kill this listless and filthy thing behind him.
Shen Jue fiercely shot Xiahou Lian a piercing look and said, “Who do you think you are? Hengbo is under my care, so there’s no use for you to worry in vain. Get out, I don’t want to see you!”
Sure enough, it still didn’t work. Xiahou Lian sighed.
Shen Jue turned around and left, and he stayed where he was, gazing at Shen Jue’s back. His black yesa robes and dark gold embroidery practically blended into one with the darkness. Xiahou Lian watched him walk further and further, about to walk past the hallway and disappear around the corner.
“Eunuch-in-Charge!” Xiahou Lian suddenly stopped him loudly.
Shen Jue paused in his footsteps and stood on the other end of the hallway. Xiahou Lian walked a few steps forward, and he and Shen Jue distantly gazed at each other across the hallway.
“May I ask why you resent Xiahou Lian so much?” Xiahou Lian asked, “Is it because he’s a rebel in the martial arts world, so you two are innately in opposition? Or… Or is it because of something else?”
“Resent?” Shen Jue said, “I have never resented him.”
“Then why did you chase him so closely without giving up and insisting on killing him?”
The lamp shadows were dim, and the faint yellow light reflected on Shen Jue’s face, yet it didn’t add much warmth. Shen Jue turned his face to the side, gazing outside the hallway, and the wind that blew in his face contained a salty taste. He said, “I just hate him. I hate how he lied as second nature, and I hate how he made promises easily but seldom kept them. Not a single word of what he said and the promises he made was ever realized.” He suddenly turned his head over and enunciated through gritted teeth, “Shouldn’t this kind of person be killed?”
He turned around, and his figure disappeared around the corner, a trace of the hem of his yesa robes flitting past.
Xiahou Lian lifted his head. The dome of the sky was a gloomy blue, and a waning moon hung at the horizon, as pale as paper.
I’m sorry, Young Master. He had been too incompetent, and he could only accomplish one thing in this life. He couldn’t even save himself, let alone save others. He stood up and slowly stepped into the darkness.
Shen Jue didn’t kill him and Zhu Shunzi, he sent people to watch them day and night. Their goose quill sabers had already been confiscated, and the two of them had become prisoners in name and in fact, as people even followed them when they went to the latrines. Xiahou Lian didn’t dare to provoke Shen Jue again. Shen Jue was too scary, and he was even more subject to changing moods than he had been in childhood, so talking to him was practically gambling one’s life.
They pressed forward day and night, and arrived at Hejian Prefecture three days later. Prince Fu was in a villa in the outskirts, so Shen Jue brought troops into the villa, leaving Situ Jin with a group of people to wait on the hill behind the villa, at the same time as a preparation for emergencies. The terrain they chose was very good, as they had a clear view of the villa at the foot of the hill. It was like a small checkerboard placed in grass, and the number of people inside could be seen extremely clearly.
Xiahou Lian and Zhu Shunzi were both in the team that had stayed behind. The hillside was covered in green foxtail grass, shaggy and so green it was as if it was going to drip down, and it swayed along with the wind. They and the underlings laid together in haystacks, wearing loops of grass on their heads as camouflage, and unblinkingly stared at the situation at the foot of the hill.
“It turns out that Shen Jue came up with this evil plan.” Zhu Shunzi said quietly, “He wants to instigate King Fu to rebel, and as long as King Fu nods, it’ll all be over for Wei De. But can he really do it? Between Wei De and Shen Jue, one wields great power and is sitting in the palace, and one flees around in the mountains like a bandit. Anyone who has a brain would choose Wei De.”
“Not necessarily,” said Xiahou Lian.
“Why? How do you know?”
Xiahou Lian shook his head. He also didn’t know, but he just felt that someone like Shen Jue definitely wouldn’t fall easily.
Actually, Shen Jue didn’t have that much confidence of success. This was his second gamble with high stakes in his life. The first one had been outside Dong’an Gate, when he had entered the palace all alone. That day, the weather had also seemed to be good like this, a boundless clear sky. The dome of the sky that was pale blue like a duck egg shell was high and far, and there would occasionally be a few thin shadows of clouds, like lightly floating goose feathers. The edges were faint, like slender feather fluffs.
But what did it matter? What he cared about most was already gone, so from now on, no matter how painstakingly he worked, he could only become the most powerful corpse in a grave. He had nothing at all, so he had nothing to fear. He adjusted his expression, curving the corners of his mouth into the most suitable angle, once again wearing a smile that was like the spring breeze, like gold and silver embroidery on official robes, and like red-lacquered inlaid pearls on trays. It was perfect, flawless, and just right.
He walked through the winding corridors and paved paths with twists and turns, and he passed through the small bamboo forest in the garden. A fat figure was sitting in the water pavilion ahead, and he was wearing bright red yesa robes. There were loops and loops at his waist, like pythons with red scales encircling his body. He turned his face over, revealing a white and round face. Shen Jue went onto the water pavilion and saluted deeply with clasped hands toward him.
“Eunuch Shen, I hope that you’re well!” King Fu laughed and said, “You’re still so beautiful and handsome. Looking at the entire Forbidden City, no one can compare to your handsome grace.”
King Fu was become fatter and fatter in recent years, and ever since he had become a cripple, he had learned the principle that life was short and to enjoy pleasures when one still could, so he had treated himself extremely well. He assumed an air of self-importance in his vassal territory, and he was even more so unrestrained and had gotten out of hand.
“Your Highness overflatters me. No matter how beautiful a face is, it can’t be eaten as food.” Shen Jue said, “Your Highness must understand my purpose for coming this time…”
“Ah, ah, you just came and haven’t even drunk a sip of tea. Don’t talk about such wretched worries!” King Fu waved his head and interrupted him, saying, “Servants, bring tea for Eunuch Shen! These are tea leaves my old friend brought for me from the Western world, and it’s said that they’re not the same as our Great Qi’s tea. Come and taste it!”
Shen Jue smiled lightly. In the officialdom, people liked to play this feigning ignorance and being vague back and forth. This was in order to consume time and make the other party feel anxious. They wouldn’t be able to keep calm and would naturally and unconsciously draw back, giving up more weight. King Fu was the dealer, so whether it was Shen Jue or Wei De, they both wanted to help him. He was naturally calm and collected, and was only waiting for Shen Jue to be unable to keep control so he himself could show the final cards in his hand.
Shen Jue didn’t reply and only looked down, pulling out a bright yellow scroll from his sleeve placket. King Fu’s eyes were instantly drawn by it, and he asked in a trembling voice, “What’s that?”
Shen Jue said slowly and clearly, “An imperial edict.” As he said this, he smiled again. “Your Highness, do you still want to drink tea?”