Chapter 78: Lone Shadows Forming a Pair
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian: “…” Fuck your calling!
He pushed him, unwilling to give up, and urged, “Hurry and get down, do you know that you’re very heavy? My chest is going to be crushed by you.”
Shen Jue still didn’t spare him and said, “Call gege.”
This guy was addicted to pretending to be male lovers! Xiahou Lian felt dizzy. Call gege? Why didn’t he tell him to call him father?
Xiahou Lian was as stubborn as an old ox, and he resolved not to speak, so Shen Jue pressed down on him like this. The two of them were stuck in a stalemate, face to face, nose to nose, their breaths mingling in the darkness. Every inch of skin that Shen Jue touched seemed to be burned by fire, unbearably blazing.
Xiahou Lian finally couldn’t take it anymore and begged for mercy. “I’ll call you ancestor, all right? Ancestor, please get down.”
No matter how charming the atmosphere was, it was destroyed by this drawn-out “ancestor,” and Shen Jue felt waves of powerlessness. Xiahou Lian was probably the strongest opponent he had encountered in his entire life. He couldn’t be in a hurry, he had to plan this slowly. Shen Jue let him go and came out from underneath the table, turning as he went into the outer room.
A huge Lotus-Holding Guanyin was enshrined on top of the deity table. The eyes on its golden face were lowered, as if containing infinite sympathy of absolute enlightenment, and also as if only having unattainable indifference.
Xiahou Lian followed him over and frowned as he looked at the deity table. “They did this kind of thing under the nose of Bodhi, aren’t they afraid of being struck to death by lightning? Why did you stop me just now? Killing the two of them together, isn’t it just right?”
Shen Jue shook his head and said, “If the empress dowager and Wan Bohai died without a clear reason here, the number one suspect would be me. I want to sit in this position for a long time, so the important thing is to have a good relationship with the emperor. The empress dowager is the emperor’s mother after all, and when the emperor grows up and has a sharp mind, even if he couldn’t find out anything, he would still have a grudge against me, so it’s not worthwhile.”
He turned his eyes and looked at Xiahou Lian. “The so-called governor of the Eastern Depot just looks respectable on the surface, but in the end, he’s just the emperor’s servant. If the emperor wants me to die, I must die. But as long as the emperor turns a blind eye and deaf ear, not asking about political affairs, the power will fall into my hands, so I’m not afraid of much. Such a big country always has to have someone to manage it. The emperor doesn’t want to manage it, so he can only rely on me. The emperor won’t be able to leave me, so my position will naturally be stable.”
Xiahou Lian felt aggrieved, but it was also hard to say something. There were no free pies in the world; doing something always had a price, everyone was the same. Xiahou Lian sighed and didn’t get entangled with these anymore. He asked, “Then what do we do now? We have leverage on the empress dowager and Wan Bohai, so we have to punish him properly, right?”
Shen Jue walked beside the deity table and stirred the ash in the incense burner. The smoke curled as it rose, and his face appeared hazy in the smoke. He pondered for a long time before saying, “Wan Bohai cannot die, we have to keep him. Is he resting in the temple or in the barracks below the mountain?”
“Of course he’s in the temple,” Xiahou Lian said. “The empress dowager is his lover, why would he sleep in tents with the soldiers? He rests inside the temporary palace courtyard.”
“Then just now when we came over, did you see the troops stationed in the temple?”
Xiahou Lian used an incense stick to tap the ash and drew a rough map of Guangling Temple on the table. “The temple is divided into three roads, the east road is the monastic rooms where the monks live, the middle road is the Buddha hall, and the west road is the temporary palace courtyard where the empress and imperial concubines are staying. Wan Bohai is resting in the temporary palace courtyard, and most of the guards are there. I took a look, counting the people stationed at the Buddha hall during the day, there should be fifty or so. But I don’t know the specific organization of the troops in the Buddha hall.”
Using his memory, Shen Jue refined Xiahou Lian’s map. Incense was offered at Guangling Temple every year, and he had come with them every time, so he already knew the terrain around by heart. “The checkpoint of the temporary palace courtyard is nothing more than the east gate, a few guards should be here. There is also a Liubei Pavilion 1 inside, and then there is the gate of the temporary palace, each with a few guards. Finally, there are patrolling guards the entire way from the ancient cypress to inside the palace. Counting like this, if we want to enter the temporary palace unimpeded and then bring Wan Bohai out, taking care of these people would be enough.”
“If there are four people guarding each gate and eight people patrolling, there would be about twenty or so people.” Xiahou Lian crossed his arms. “Using methods of assassination and quietly taking care of them one by one, doable.”
Shen Jue finalized the plan. “The Imperial Guard rests at nine, we’ll move at nine.”
The two of them went out of the Hall of Guanyin following their original path. The sky was already dark outside and dim stars twinkled on the horizon, slowly becoming bright and gradually connecting into an endless expanse. They ate in Anle Hall, waiting for it to be nine and the imperial guards to fall asleep. A crowd of people suddenly turned inside from the screen wall; it was a group of imperial guards detaining a group of Eastern Depot underlings. There were over fifty underlings, and their bodies were covered in blood, the black yesa robes woven with gold on their bodies torn and tattered, all of them dejected. Zhu Shunzi was actually also among them, limping and with his head drooped.
He had probably happened to bump into imperial guards sealing the mountain when he had been returning on their original path and had gone up the mountain, but had been caught by the imperial guards again.
Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue glanced at each other and followed at a distance. They saw them being escorted into the two rooms in the back of Anle Hall, locked, and two guards were placed there.
The expression in Shen Jue’s eyes became gloomy, and he walked under a ginkgo tree and sat down on a stone seat, knitting his brows in contemplation.
“Why don’t we split up, you save them and I’ll catch Wan Bohai,” said Xiahou Lian.
“No.” Shen Jue rejected it irritably. How could he let Xiahou Lian go to the temporary palace alone? But they couldn’t not save the underlings. One or two would be fine, but there were actually over fifty who were captured here, and he had only brought two hundred or so people in total. If they were killed by cannon along with the imperial guards for no clear reason and his reputation of disregarding his subordinates came out, the people below would be bitterly disappointed. He was afraid that in the future, no one would follow him wholeheartedly, and it would be difficult to cultivate assistants and trusted aides.
A bunch of good-for-nothings, Shen Jue resented inwardly. What if they went to catch Wan Bohai first and then came back to save them? It also wasn’t feasible, the temporary palace courtyard was too far from the mountain gate, so coming back and forth would take more than an hour, and they only had two hours. Shen Jue had a splitting headache, and he pressed his temples.
There weren’t many guards in Anle Hall. Most of them were wounded soldiers, so saving them wouldn’t be hard. Shen Jue said, “You save them, I’ll bring Wan Bohai out. Guangling Temple can explode, but monks can’t. Situ is only bombarding the middle and west roads, so the monastic rooms the monks live in are safe. We’ll meet at Lishu Courtyard 2 behind the Hall of Guru 3, how about it?”
Xiahou Lian disagreed, “I’ll go to the temporary courtyard, you save them.”
“Xiahou Lian, I believe my saber skills aren’t bad, no worse than you.”
“Still no.” Xiahou Lian squatted beside Shen Jue’s feet and looked up at him. “Speaking of this, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what method of saber techniques do you use, didn’t I teach you the Garan Saber? How come it’s not alike at all?”
“It wasn’t you who taught me the saber.” Shen Jue knocked on his head.
“How was it not, I even sharpened a wooden saber for you, I remember it clearly.” This brat actually wants to deny it. Xiahou Lian raised an eyebrow high.
“Your mother taught me the saber.” Shen Jue lifted his eyes. His gaze became very distant, rustling autumn breeze, memories of many years ago reappearing before his eyes.
Xiahou Lian was stunned. “Huh?”
“You were lazy at the time and weren’t willing to spar with me, so I could only practice by myself. But every night, your mother would battle with me. She was disguised as Consort Gao and acted like a lunatic, attacking with no organized style, yet she could beat me so that I would cover my head and flee. Thinking back to it, her style only looked disorderly, but every move was actually variants of the Garan Saber.” Shen Jue said, “The essence of saber techniques are nothing more than the two words ‘fast’ and ‘change.’ Only fast can’t be broken, and only change can’t be predicted. Your mother knew both, which is why she was a master of saber skills, unsurpassed by anyone in the world. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trivial matters after all, so I had no way of practicing the saber in concentration. Even now, the speed of my moves are a little lacking, not as good as your children’s skills, so I can only work harder on the ‘change’ aspect.”
Xiahou Lian thought about it and said, “Then considering this, you’re my shidi.”
“I’m the shige,” Shen Jue corrected.
“However, I really am the only one who can go to the temporary palace courtyard.” Xiahou Lian stood up and stretched. “Assassination is a craft, only knowing saber skills isn’t enough. Assassination requires taking people by surprise, can you walk silently?” Xiahou Lian walked a few steps in front of Shen Jue. His posture was quite a little strange, and he was actually silent when he landed on the ground. “This is the leopard cat step. I practiced it for a month in my childhood before I learned it, can you do it?”
Shen Jue pursed his lips in silence.
“You’re also not as good as me in climbing onto trees and beams,” added Xiahou Lian.
Shen Jue had seen his physical skills. He walked on beams as if walking on flat ground, which was hard to do without practicing from a young age. Shen Jue sighed and said, “Three quarters after nine, we’ll meet at Lishu Courtyard. Remember, if something seems wrong, withdraw immediately, don’t delay.”
Xiahou Lian shot him a smile, his eyebrows thick and his eyes bright under the shadow of the moon, smiling broadly. “All right, three quarters after nine, see you at Lishu Courtyard.”
The moon was hidden behind thousands of mountains, and the night was thick. Bamboo trees surrounded the outside of the temporary palace courtyard, the winding corridors were joined, and the teeth of eaves were raised exquisitely upward. Red lanterns casted red light that faded around the edges and patrolling imperial guards walked in the winding corridors, dim light flowing on their chainmail armor. The colorfully embroidered rivers, cliffs, and seawater on the dark red yesa robes underneath their armor were partly hidden and partly showing, rippling in the lamp shadows.
Eight imperial guards, two in a row with four columns, were walking toward the temporary palace courtyard, meticulously following the route. The instant the eight people turned around in unison, an icy light swept past the backs of their helmets. A shadow emerged from the darkness, his two hands going around the necks of the last two imperial guards at the same time, and the daggers under his wrists slit their two throats.
The four people in front heard a noise and looked back in confusion, yet they saw their two companions behind them standing with their heads hanging, which was a little strange. They appeared rigid under the corridor shadows, as if possessed by ghosts, looking horrifying.
“What’s the matter with you two?” someone shuddered and asked.
Right after he said this, two cold lights shot out separately from the sides of the two people’s necks, plunging into the mouths of the two people ahead, and they fell to the ground with their eyes wide open. The last two people drew their sabers and were just about to shout when a shadow stepped and lunged out like a fierce tiger. A piercingly cold light swept past in the darkness, like lightning across the pitch-black curtain of the sky. The two people were frightened to discover that they couldn’t speak anymore, and dripping damp heat fell on the plackets at their chests. They touched their throats in hindsight; blood was gurgling at their throats.
Xiahou Lian propped up their heads, slowly placed them on the ground, and then dragged all eight of the corpses to the depths of the tree shadows.
Xiahou Lian made his way to a position ten steps away from the east gate; two soldiers stood at the gate. He hid behind a bright red pillar and threw a stone toward the ground. A soldier heard the noise and craned his neck as he walked over while asking alertly, “Who’s there?”
The instant he passed Xiahou Lian, Xiahou Lian abruptly reached out and covered his mouth. The dagger under his wrist sprang out and slit his throat. The soldier instantly became limp, and Xiahou Lian dragged him into the shadows in one go, adjusted his clothes, and walked out.
The shadows cast by the helmet concealed his head and face, so the other soldier guarding the gate couldn’t see his appearance clearly and thought he was his companion, asking, “What was there?”
Xiahou Lian didn’t reply and directly walked in front of him, covered his mouth with his left hand, and used his right hand to stab the dagger into his stomach.
In the chilling and dark night, the assassin walked in the shadows like a ghost, killing.
Blood sprays burst out and disappeared in the darkness, like gorgeous fireworks. The imperial guards were silently reduced one by one, and the last soldier died under the white marble railing outside the hall gate, his body covered by weeds. Xiahou Lian carried his bloody goose quill saber as he stepped up the stone steps, bending his waist and leaning on the vermillion door as he listened to the sounds inside for a while. He looked up at the moon; the moon had flown past the second eave, so it was already nine. He inserted his saber into the gap of the door and slowly pushed the latch aside.
It was silent inside the hall. Xiahou Lian dove into the room and closed the door lightly. He adjusted to the darkness for a while before making his way inside. The big carved bed was concealed by the darkness, and the fine light of eight inlaid pearls faintly showed from the cover plate at the edges of the bed. The apricot yellow bed curtains were tightly closed, so Xiahou Lian bent his waist as he made his way over and opened the curtains lightly.
The bed was empty!
Wan Bohai’s voice suddenly sounded from behind him. “Who are you!”
Xiahou Lian was horrified and looked back, yet he saw Wan Bohai standing barefoot on the arhat daybed. He picked up his goose quill saber from the saber shelf next to him, shook off the scabbard, and the piercingly cold saber light splashed like snow in the shadows.
This guy had actually been sleeping on the daybed!
He came down from the daybed and lit a candle. It was instantly a little bright in the hall, and Xiahou Lian’s figure appeared out of the darkness.
“I never thought there would be thieves in my tent! Which battalion are you from? When did you become Eunuch Shen’s lackey?” He strained his ears to listen outside and was suddenly shocked. “You killed everyone outside?”
“Commander Wan, you can’t beat me, why don’t you surrender yourself.” Xiahou Lian pressed down on his long saber, slowly drawing it out of its scabbard.
“Arrogant!” Wan Bohai smiled coldly. “I know who you are, you’re the Nameless Ghost. Eunuch Shen has such great abilities, he can actually order Garan’s strongest assassin about. Nameless Ghost, what Eunuch Shen can give you, I also can. Why don’t you surrender to me, money, women, reputation, power, you’ll have whatever you want.”
Xiahou Lian smiled faintly and lifted his head to glance outside the window. The moon had already swept past the third eave; it was a quarter past nine.
“Apologies, I only want to be the governor’s dog.” He knelt on the ground with one knee, hiding his blade behind his elbow. “Commander Wan, please.”
Under the whirling shadows of trees, the window gauze was like a stage for shadow play, and the shadows the two of them cast onto the plain gauze were shadow puppets onstage, like two beasts, lunging at and biting each other in the dim yellow candle shadows.
Xiahou Lian chopped his saber down, the blade slicing through the air and emitting a shrill howl. Wan Bohai faced Xiahou Lian’s goose quill saber and cut back, yet the moment their blades collided, his palm was abruptly shocked, and the part between his thumb and index finger cracked, blood pattering and seeping out. Xiahou Lian didn’t stop and swiftly launched the next blow. It was also a chop that was as swift and fierce as lightning, and Wan Bohai seemed to be struck by lightning the instant he met the blow.
The two sabers emitted a fierce buzzing, like a dying plea. Wan Bohai saw that Xiahou Lian’s hand had also cracked, and blood soaked the twine at the hilt of his saber. But he didn’t stop! One cut after another, pelting down head-on like a rainstorm. Wan Bohai retreated step by step, and fear finally arose in his heart.
This was a lunatic. They were right, this was a lunatic!
Perhaps his saber techniques could compete with this assassin, but someone who sought survival couldn’t beat someone who wasn’t afraid of death!
Wan Bohai stopped desiring to keep fighting and turned around, wanting to run. Xiahou Lian reached the door a step before him and latched the door.
“Commander, our battle isn’t over yet.”
The assassin raised his face in the darkness, the expression in his eyes fierce, his fangs bared.
The moon swept past the fourth eave; it was two quarters after nine! The two of them lunged at each other once again, their figures seeming to turn empty, and the momentum of Xiahou Lian’s saber became twice as fast. Wan Bohai seemed to be pressed down by a stone, unable to catch his breath. He couldn’t block, as Xiahou Lian’s saber was too fast. He would block one blow and the next blow would catch up immediately, slicing out a wound on his body. He wasn’t wearing armor so his waist, abdomen, hands, and thighs soon had thin wounds, and his entire body became bloody.
Xiahou Lian clearly had the opportunity to kill him, but he hadn’t killed him!
Wan Bohai suddenly understood; he wanted to capture him alive!
Xiahou Lian’s goose quill saber reached over obliquely and cut his wrist. His wrist hurt, and his saber slumped as it fell to the ground. He despaired; this was a Garan assassin, walking in the night, hunting souls, and claiming lives. He actually had no power to ward off his blows!
Suddenly, the earth quaked and mountains shook. A clap of thunder seemed to land outside with an extremely loud noise, and the world became white for an instant. Dust rustled as it fell in the room, and raging flames ignited outside, illuminating the entire main hall.
The red barbarian cannon was bombarding the barracks in advance!
The two of them lost their balance in the quaking of the earth and fell to the ground. Xiahou Lian’s goose quill saber also slipped out of his hand. He swiftly lowered himself to pick up the saber, but Wan Bohai rushed over and rammed Xiahou Lian onto a flat desk. The collision made the desk collapse, and his back hit the edge of the table extremely painful. Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth and got up. Wan Bohai swung his fist at him, heading directly toward his face. Xiahou Lian ducked and dodged, sweeping his leg at the same time, and Wan Bohai was swept onto the ground. However, he grabbed Xiahou Lian’s leg and also brought him down to the ground.
Artillery fire landed nonstop, and the ground shook violently. The two of them tumbled around in the shaking and tottering main hall. Xiahou Lian was punched several times in the face and the corner of his mouth had cracked; he tasted the sweet taste of blood. There was another huge quake, and Wan Bohai was hit by a falling lamp holder. Xiahou Lian seized the gap and knelt up, using his arms to lock Wan Bohai’s wrists. Wan Bohai struggled strenuously, and the two of them wrestled with each other, not using weapons, leaving only bloody fists. In the firelight, the expressions in their eyes were as fierce as a tiger’s.
Xiahou Lian suddenly lifted his head in a headbutt, and his steel headband hit Wan Bohai’s head, blood dripping. This blow used half of Xiahou Lian’s strength, and Wan Bohai was instantly dizzy. The world spun before his eyes, and his hands lost their strength. Xiahou Lian drew the dagger at his waist and used the wooden hilt to strike the side of Wan Bohai’s neck, and Wan Bohai finally passed out.
Xiahou Lian carried Wan Bohai on his shoulder and withdrew from the temporary palace courtyard. There were surging seas of fire all around, and the flames rushed straight into the horizon. A corner of the night was lit up, like red clouds. Xiahou Lian staggered as he walked outside. The ancient cypress had already fallen, its dense branches and leaves burning in the fire. Xiahou Lian climbed past the charred tree trunk, distinguishing the direction with difficulty. Guangling Temple was a scene of devastation, and the Buddha hall had collapsed.
There was another flame on the horizon. Xiahou Lian brought Wan Bohai and swiftly laid down next to a tree trunk. The cannonball landed several steps away from them, and the earthshaking sound penetrated Xiahou Lian’s mind. A shrill noise sounded in his ears, continuous and nonstop. Xiahou Lian practically couldn’t hear anymore, but he gritted his teeth tightly, pulled Wan Bohai up and carried him on his shoulder, and stubbornly walked toward Lishu Courtyard.
There were continuously soldiers fleeing on the road, but fortunately, no one cared about him. The ringing in his ears gradually stopped. Amid the continuous flames and roaring cannonfire, he suddenly heard someone calling his name.
“Xiahou!” Zhu Shunzi and a few underlings panted as they ran over. “Xiahou! We’ve found you at last!”
“What are you all doing here!” Xiahou Lian roared.
“You didn’t appear on time, so we followed the governor inside to find you!”
“Where’s the governor!”
An underling said, “We don’t know! A big cannon landed just now, we were separated from the governor! Xiahou, you go first, we’ll find the governor!”
Xiahou Lian put Wan Bohai onto him and said, “You all bring him and find Situ! He must be sent! I’ll find the governor!”
The cannonfire finally ceased. Blazing flames connected into a bright expanse, and all of the Buddha halls had fallen, a golden Buddha statue revealing its gray and dusty head from amid the ruins. Xiahou Lian ran toward the temporary palace courtyard as if he had gone mad. On the way, he passed by some ruins next to a sal tree, and he heard someone shouting feebly for help.
Worried that it was Shen Jue, he stopped and dug. He recognized that this was the ruins of the Main Hall. Because half of the Main Hall had collapsed in the tremors, the sal tree in front of it was actually still fine. A lot of the many red sandalwood plaques that had originally been hanging on the tree had fallen. They were for devout men and women to make wishes. It was said that Guangling Temple was very effective and that the sal tree in front of the Main Hall had already lived for a few hundred years, a divine tree that had descended to the world from the heavens. Many people would travel thousands of miles to trek to the capital and make a wish, only wanting to hang a wooden plaque onto the sal tree.
He dragged the person out from the ruins, but it wasn’t Shen Jue, it was a soldier from the Imperial Guard. He was extremely anxious and got up, wanting to go. His gaze inadvertently swept past a wooden plaque on the ground that had been covered by dust. The handwriting on it was elegant, each stroke slim and powerful.
“Wishing for Xiahou Lian to be forever safe and to return soon.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, and he picked up the wooden plaque. The wooden plaque was half-burnt, and the peace knot and red tassel below it were already dirty, stained with dust. There were still many wooden plaques on the ground, and Xiahou Lian flipped them over one by one. There were also others’, but his name was written on even more.
“Praying for safety and for Xiahou to return home.”
“I sincerely pray for blessings. May Xiahou be always peaceful, happy, and worry-free.”
Xiahou Lian, Xiahou Lian, Xiahou Lian… Stroke after stroke, every inch of ink mark was deeply soaked into the sandalwood texture, like distant calls, tossing and turning, passing through the long time and space of ten years, finally reaching his ears.
In a daze, he remembered that day in the hazy drizzle when Shen Jue had said, I believed for some time. I was consecrated, prayed and drew divination sticks at temples, and set up longevity tablets. I did those random things in temples, one by one. But what’s the use, the heavens can’t hear your prayers, and gods and Buddha also can’t see your kowtowing. The things you can’t ask for still can’t be asked for.
So this was how it was; the divination sticks had been drawn for him, the longevity tablets had been set up for him, and the star-moon Bodhi beads had also been worn for him. Everything of everything had been for him.
That idiot! He really is an idiot! His heart was astringent and bitter. Why had he done this for him, how was he worthwhile, how was he worthwhile! Searching for ten years hadn’t been enough, he also had to pray to Buddha, praying to Buddha wasn’t enough, he also had to rush into the fire. Idiot! Idiot! He ran wildly while shouting loudly, “Young Master! Shen Jue! Shen Jue!”
Dust filled the air, remains of buildings obscured his vision, and firelight reddened his face. A dirty arm reached out from the corner of the ruins, and he dug as if he had gone mad, doing everything he could to see every face clearly. They weren’t Shen Jue, none of them were.
“Shen Jue!” he roared, looking all around. “Xie Jinglan! Jinglan! Answer me!”
“Xiahou Lian!” A hoarse voice sounded from behind him, and he suddenly looked back. That person was standing in the depths of the ruins, alternating heavy and light steps as he walked toward him. He was usually such a fastidious person and would get angry when his clothes were slightly dirtied. Now, his military uniform was broken, his bun had come loose, and his head and face were covered in dust, like a lost beggar. He ran over, using his hands and feet to climb up broken bricks and tiles, stumbling as he walked to the top and grabbed Shen Jue’s arms.
“Do you have water in your fucking brain?! We agreed to meet at Lishu Courtyard, did you run in to seek your death?!” This was the first time he had yelled at Shen Jue like this. The rims of his eyes were red, and tears were practically about to fall out.
Shen Jue also roared, “We agreed on three quarters after nine, but you were late! The cannon sounded and there was still no trace of you! I was afraid you had died!”
Shen Jue wiped his face. Tears, blood, and dust mixed together, and his face appeared ferocious and terrible. Shen Jue’s eyes were red as he said, “You agreed to withdraw if there was danger, how come you got yourself like this again!”
He didn’t reply and looked down at Shen Jue’s hand and feet. “How are you, are you injured?”
Shen Jue gripped his wrists in exhaustion. They were both trembling, like two falling leaves in the cold wind, clinging to each other pityingly.
At this moment, it was as if everything was settled. Xiahou Lian laughed, but it was even more unsightly than crying. He stepped forward and embraced Shen Jue in his arms. The surrounding noises quieted at once: the running of crowds, the collapse of the Buddha hall… Everything seemed to be far away from them in that instant. Shen Jue was stunned for a moment. Even in the most ambiguous times, he had never dared to embrace Xiahou Lian. But now, Xiahou Lian had hugged him, suddenly and very, very tightly, as if he was using all of his strength, wanting to press him into his bones and blood.
There was a wet feeling at the side of his neck, and Shen Jue suddenly realized that this guy was actually crying. In his lifetime, this man as firm as crude iron had only shed tears for that assassin whose fame had shaken the world. At this moment, he was crying, silently shedding tears, quietly, for him.
Shen Jue slowly hugged Xiahou Lian back, putting his hands on Xiahou Lian’s trembling back and caressing him lightly again and again.
Shen Jue clearly remembered every time they had embraced. The first time had been in the small courtyard in Xie Manor; at that time, he had just taken his teacher and had also just found out that Xie Bingfeng didn’t remember his appearance. The second time had been in the narrow alley with the setting sun; they had parted for the first time, and he had watched Xiahou Lian sit on an ox cart, disappearing behind the corner that had been sprinkled with sunlight. The third time had been in Fourth Qianxi Premises; he had been bullied by a eunuch, and Xiahou Lian had cleaned his arms and face for him. He still remembered the floating and sinking fragrance of osmanthus in the air, the tears and bitter taste in his mouth.
He suddenly felt that time had reversed. He wasn’t the governor of the Eastern Depot and Xiahou Lian wasn’t some Garan assassin. They were still two helpless youths from many years ago, tightly embracing in the dark. The mountain breeze blew the flames, and firelight leapt and wandered on their bodies. Ruins and devastation spread and stretched underneath their feet. They were like two tiny shadows in the barren world, lone shadows together and forming a pair, sticking together in life and death from now on.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, A-Lian, you have found me, and I have found you.”
He patted Xiahou Lian’s back gently and slowly spoke this sentence. It was like a consolation, and it was like a promise.