Chapter 75: Shining Beauty
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Shen Jue lowered his eyes and looked at the colorfully embroidered qilin on Xiahou Lian’s long-sleeved robes. They were covered in bloodstains and several pieces had been sliced, revealing the undergarments inside that were also stained with blood. He really is an idiot, he thought. He finally escaped from Garan, yet he nearly lost his life here. However, he also couldn’t help but be happy. It was as if there was a sparrowhawk in his heart, fluttering its wings as it flew high in the clouds. Xiahou Lian was willing to risk his life for him, so didn’t this mean that he was very important in his heart, even more important than his life?
Forget it, they were already at this point. They were now grasshoppers tied to the same rope, living or dying together, so there was no need for him to hide things from Xiahou Lian.
He pressed down the corners of his mouth and said, “It’s the empress dowager.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned and said, “Didn’t you just help her son up to the throne? That woman burns the bridge after crossing it?”
“It doesn’t count as burning the bridge after crossing it.” Shen Jue said, “I’m going to raise her child to be useless, so she naturally turned against me.”
“Raise him to be useless?”
“That’s right.” Shen Jue’s gaze was indifferent, and there was no expression on his face. “Calculating it carefully, I’m a first-class villain, and what the empress dowager is doing is to get rid of an evildoer for the people. What that Mrs. Yao said was right, I’m the second Wei De. Wei De and I are no different.” He turned his head and gazed at the yellow leaves filling the mountain that fluttered like butterflies, changing to a ridiculing tone. “Although the young emperor is just an ignorant youth, he already has the appearance of a foolish emperor. I stuffed his eyes and ears using songs and dances and confused his ambitions using wine and meat. The implicit suggestions of the court cannot be heard in the Leopard Room, and the suffering of the people cannot be seen in the palace chambers. Because only if the emperor is muddled and unjust, addicted to sensual pleasures, can we have a foothold.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned and didn’t know what to say. He called in a low voice, “Young Master…”
“Xiahou Lian, as you can see, I and other eunuchs alike live by sucking on the bones, blood, tendons, and marrows of Great Qi.” Shen Jue said indifferently, “So, her wanting to kill me is right. It’s not only her, all of the ministers and officials of the righteous class are hoping for me to die.”
Shen Jue gazed into the distance and didn’t dare to look at Xiahou Lian, who was beside him. He was afraid to see Xiahou Lian show an expression of shock or disgust. He wasn’t afraid of the gossip and slander among the people and in the court, and he also wasn’t afraid of the insults from that group of imperial guards. However, he was only afraid of Xiahou Lian’s dislike, even if it was just a little bit. He had hidden too many things. Others only saw his boundless glory, yet they didn’t see him acting obsequiously. Even Xiahou Lian had never seen this. These lowly and petty matters were like pustules hidden underneath brocade robes. He had always concealed them carefully, but there would always be a day in which the robes would be lifted up, revealing the ugliness underneath. Hence, the pus would flow, hurting unbearably.
He was already unable to turn back now. He had climbed to the position of governor, so he had committed too many sins and made too many enemies. If someday he wasn’t the governor of the Eastern Depot anymore, everyone would shove him after he fell. When the time came, tens of thousands of people would step on him, and tearing him limb from limb by five horses would be light. He also didn’t want to look back. Escaping into the marketplaces and being a common person was easy to say, but taxes and forced labor cost money and lives. A squire or an old person, as long as they had a bit of power, they could crush him to death. Otherwise, he would have to be like how Xiahou Lian was before, being a refugee and wandering as a vagrant, unable to rest. In this world, if one wasn’t the butcher’s knife and chopping board, they were the fish meat. He had already experienced the taste of being fish meat when he had seen firsthand Aunt Lan die under the saber of an assassin. He hadn’t been able to do anything except run away, and he didn’t want to taste it for the second time.
Only by wielding power could he take hold of his own fate and protect the people he wanted to protect.
The corners of his mouth tugged as he said, “I’m destined to walk on this path until it’s dark, I won’t look back. If you don’t want to act evilly in collusion with me, it’s okay. It’s fine for you to muddle along peacefully in the Eastern Depot, I won’t let you take part in those filthy things.”
“What nonsense are you saying?” Xiahou Lian smiled and suddenly winked at Shen Jue. “Please, I come from being an assassin, so if we compare who’s done more bad things, you won’t be able to catch up to me even if you live another lifetime. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve been doing bad things since I was a child.”
Shen Jue pressed the center of his eyebrows and said, “You don’t have to console me, don’t I know what you’re like?”
“You really don’t know. In my childhood when I had nothing to do, I would pluck the feathers of other people’s chickens. Once, I set off firecrackers and burned down half of the mountain temple, and that old bald donkey Shi Xin got very angry once and hung me onto the mountain gate to be blown by the cold wind for half a day. The people in Garan all said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My mother was a big bad guy and I’m a little bad guy, and the big bad guy would lead the little bad guy, doing bad things everywhere every day.”
Xiahou Lian’s consolations had never made him feel better before, there was only anguish in his heart. He understood Xiahou Lian; killing and arson had never been what he wanted to do, otherwise he wouldn’t have done his best to destroy Garan, nor would he have changed his head and replaced his face to escape into the marketplaces. Xiahou Lian wanted to live a steady life; he understood, he had always understood. Shen Jue shook his head in exhaustion and said, “This matter is over, I’ll change your job, going to the document storehouse Eastern Depot and managing the documents would be fine.”
“I write characters like chicken scratch, are you really sure I can manage documents?” Xiahou Lian reached his hand over and held Shen Jue’s shoulders, gazing at the fluttering withered leaves in the air with Shen Jue. “It’s okay, Young Master, it’s really okay. Have I told you about my brother before, that person is usually foolish, but he actually sees things clearer than anyone else. Once, he told me that you can’t stop when walking on this path. You have to keep going forward, otherwise evil spirits will climb up from under the ground and grab your ankles. You’re like this, and I’m also the same. I’m already at this point anyway, so I can’t care about so much anymore. In the future, you’ll be the bad guy boss and I’ll be the bad guy follower. You’ll lead me and I’ll follow you, we’ll do bad things together.”
“But this is wrong, Xiahou Lian,” said Shen Jue.
He lifted his head. The gentle mountain breeze blew past, and leaves rustled as they fell down, small and broken whispers that filled the mountain, all of them saying, This is a mistake, this is a sin.
Xiahou Lian smiled faintly. “But this is also fate, Young Master. Do you remember when I told you that we actually don’t have many choices? If I were to do it all over again, I would still kill Liu Guizang, and I would still kill Shi Xin. I would still become an assassin and become the Nameless Ghost, practicing the saber in the day and killing at night. So even if I were to do it all over a thousand, ten thousand times again, I would always choose to stand by your side at this time. If this is a mistake, a sin, as long as you’re okay, then let me make a mistake till the end.”
A mistake till the end, shattered to pieces, never hesitating.
He wasn’t a sage, he was only a pair of hands and a saber, and he could only protect one person. He wasn’t afraid of evil, nor was he afraid of retribution; he was only afraid Shen Jue would end up the same as his mother, only afraid that he himself would still be as powerless as he had been at the time.
Pagoda leaves fell down from the dome of the sky, and sunlight filtered through the gaps between the leaves, shining down. They were golden pillars of light, dust fluttering in them. Shen Jue felt that he and Xiahou Lian were also two particles among those countless dust particles, unable to surge by themselves in the tide of the light, flowing forward with the current, yet finally embracing each other among the vast sea of dust.
There was sadness and also sweetness in his heart, the sweetness among a stomachful of bitterness, contradictory yet also addictive. He had operated carefully, step by step, for ten years, and his heart had already been beat in the deep palace to be impenetrable by water or fire, as hard as iron. But this heart suddenly became extremely soft, like a ball of cotton, a sea of clouds, able to be grabbed with his hand and placed into Xiahou Lian’s scorching palm.
“Young Master, you’re so stupid,” said Xiahou Lian.
“You’re the stupid one.” Shen Jue’s voice was a little choked. He didn’t dare to say more, afraid that Xiahou Lian would hear it.
“You keep pushing me away.” Xiahou Lian gripped his shoulders forcibly. “Don’t do this anymore.”
I won’t. Shen Jue thought silently, I’ll grab onto him and never let go.
“What’s the next step of your plan?”
“Hide.” Shen Jue said, “Tonight, Situ Jin will take a red barbarian cannon 1 to bombard Guangling Temple. We just have to hide on the mountain, wait for them to finish bombarding below, and we’ll be able to get out.”
Xiahou Lian widened his eyes. “You can even get a red barbarian cannon?”
“The commander of the Divine Machine Battalion, Sun Ming, used to be in the Wei Faction. At the time when he was the governor of Huguang, he built a temple for Wei De and flattered him a lot. However, it was actually in order to ask for provisions and funds for troops from Wei De so they could fight Japanese pirates.” Shen Jue said, “Wei De fell out of power and he surrendered to me to keep his life, so he was only demoted. Otherwise, he would’ve been like Li Xian 2, the old and young in his family either exiled or sent to the Royal Academy. If I also fall out of power now, no one will be able to protect him. The Divine Machine Battalion losing a cannon in the dead of night and finding it the next day couldn’t be counted as either a big or small matter, but no matter what, it’s always better than him losing his life.”
In that case, they would be fine as long as they weren’t discovered by the imperial guards.
Xiahou Lian stood up and went all around to check the terrain, inwardly estimating where it would be the safest to withdraw if enemies came. They had to find a safe concealment by foliage, and they couldn’t go to caves as it would be game over if they were discovered and trapped inside. They could only find a place with cover, as they could at least flee. He let Shen Jue lean against a stone to rest and climbed onto a tree, scouting all around. Three hundred paces away, a group of soldiers passed by. The number of people had increased, and there were at least over thirty.
The saber skills of these soldiers were poor, but they were no match for crowd tactics and people taking turns to fight them. They were powerless to withstand even locusts piling together, let alone people. Xiahou Lian was a little uneasy, and he slipped down the tree, wanting to discuss with Shen Jue. Shen Jue was already asleep, and his complexion had become a bit paler. Under the sunlight, it was practically transparent. Xiahou Lian tried his forehead; sure enough, it had become even hotter. He also touched Shen Jue’s arm and neck, which were frighteningly hot.
They had been running the entire way and it had been in the wind, so his sickness had gotten worse. Shen Jue really was a paper paste person, falling when the wind blew. With this body of a missy, he had even wanted to jump off the cliff and fake his death; a fake death could turn into a real death.
Xiahou Lian knitted his brows and thought for a long time, and suddenly had an idea.
Xiahou Lian carried Shen Jue on his back and climbed up the cliff on the slope they had come from, taking off two sets of clothes and armor from the corpses. Shen Jue was jolted awake and muddledly asked Xiahou Lian, “What are you doing?”
“Go to sleep, don’t worry about it.”
Xiahou Lian walked for a while, found a leeward rock on the mountain, and put Shen Jue down. He first changed his own clothes, and then started taking off Shen Jue’s clothes. Shen Jue was dizzy, and in his daze, a pair of hands had lifted up the hem of his robes and was undoing his belt. He was instantly greatly startled, opened his eyes, and grabbed Xiahou Lian’s hands, wind and thunder secretly stored in his eyes, a brewing storm.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m helping you change your clothes, what?” Xiahou Lian was baffled. “The number of people tracking us down has increased again, there are now over thirty in a group. You’re this sick, I have no way of fighting them by myself. We’ll change clothes, then disguise our faces, and we’ll go to their barracks in a while to hide and leave before eleven at night.”
The most dangerous place was the safest place, this was a good plan.
Shen Jue tightened his belt and said, “I’ll change myself.”
It was probably because he didn’t want to expose his injury before others. Xiahou Lian suddenly understood, and his heart tugged slightly. They had been together for so long, he had practically forgotten Shen Jue was a eunuch. He was different from other eunuchs, probably because he used dipterocarp incense, so his body was always fragrant, unlike other eunuchs whose bodies had an indescribable smell. His appearance was also good; let alone eunuchs, even men with complete bodies couldn’t compare to him.
Xiahou Lian nodded and consciously turned behind the rock, waiting for Shen Jue to change clothes.
Rustling sounds came from over there, and then were the fine sounds of layers upon layers of silk discarded in a pile on the ground. Xiahou Lian crossed his arms and waited for a long time before Shen Jue’s muffled voice came from over there. “I’m done.”
Xiahou Lian turned back around and saw that Shen Jue’s expression didn’t seem very happy. He said apologetically, “I was thinking that there would still be a layer of underpants that could cover a little, so I decided to help you change…”
“I’m not angry at you,” Shen Jue interrupted him. He still wanted to say something, about to speak but then hesitating for a long time. In the end, he sighed and closed his mouth, not making a sound.
“Then I’ll put makeup on for you?” Xiahou Lian pinched a lump of mud in his palm and squatted in front of Shen Jue.
Shen Jue nodded slightly, which was considered agreement.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the stone wall, his brow slightly furrowed. Xiahou Lian pondered for a long time and put his index and middle fingers together to gently smear the mud onto his face. He darkened his entire face and deepened the edges of his contours, then drew two lines below his eyes, and finally dotted fine particles on his cheeks. His original face already couldn’t be seen. Mud couldn’t compare to cosmetics, as it was very coarse after drying. This was also good, as it made his skin look like it had been exposed to the wind and sun for a very long time, like a farmer. To be safe, Xiahou Lian smeared another layer while exhorting him to speak little when they entered the barracks in a while. He spoke Mandarin well and his words and actions were noble and distinguished, like a crane standing among chickens, the clues easy to see.
Shen Jue leaned wearily, letting Xiahou Lian fiddle with his face. His head hurt terribly, and he really couldn’t lift up his energy.
After applying the last layer, Xiahou Lian picked a few reddish brown morning glories from the crevice in the rock and crushed them in his palm, the dark red juice seeping out. He dipped the tip of his finger in it and wiped it on Shen Jue’s lips. Shen Jue had full lips, their corners slightly raised. When he pressed his finger on them, deep red marks appeared on his pale lips. The flowers looked reddish brown, but unexpectedly, the flower juice was actually a dazzling bright red. Swept on his lips, it was breathtakingly gorgeous. For no reason, Xiahou Lian recalled that day Shen Jue had sucked his finger. His lips had also been like this, as beautiful as peaches and plums.
Xiahou Lian’s face instantly burned up.
He hastily used his other hand to wipe his lips, hoping to wipe off that dark red juice. However, those soft lips were rubbed by his fingers to be even more flushed, and it was as if the juice had seeped inside, as gorgeous as spring.
Shen Jue noticed Xiahou Lian being forceful to his lips, and he muddledly opened his eyes, murmuring, “Hurts.”
His hazy gaze landed in Xiahou Lian’s eyes, yet it was unreasonably enchanting. His hazy eyes were distant pools of water under the moon, rippling slightly. Accompanied by those lips that had been rubbed bright red, there was a humiliating beauty, like a pear blossom in rain, a begonia under frost.
Xiahou Lian’s heart thumped wildly, and he suddenly had a desire to bully him; it was best to make him cry, to make him beg for mercy. Right when this thought emerged, Xiahou Lian was greatly startled and immediately pressed it down.
How could he think this? Shen Jue treated him with the bottom of his heart, he definitely couldn’t have such unclean ideas!
“I got the color wrong, lick it clean yourself. This flower isn’t poisonous, it just might be a little bitter.” Xiahou Lian hurriedly said a few sentences, picked up some mud and carelessly smeared a few handfuls onto his own face, and then carried Shen Jue on his back and went down the mountain.
Ahhh! Little by little XHL ❤️❤️❤️
Thank You for the new chapter ( ˘ ³˘)♥
SJ already did away with one person for uncovering his secret (excuse the pun), but why doesn’t he want XL finding out?
Oh XL, SJ would love you to act out those impure thoughts, pinning him down and making him cry [out]… never mind the rest of us 🤭
Thanks for the translation, helpful notes and editing.
this chapter is pretty sweet 🙁
xhl kink discovery?🤔
XHL, you’re almost there! Getting so close to understanding his own feelings!!
Thank you for the chapter!
Thanks for the chapter
😊😊 thank you for the chapter