Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
After speaking for a long time, Xiahou Lian still wouldn’t agree, so Shen Jue gave up on persuading him. Although the two of them had completely different temperaments, they had the same stubbornness. He couldn’t beat Xiahou Lian, so he could only talk about it again later.
Feather-like snow drifted everywhere, emitting rustling sounds when falling on window eaves. Winter nights were too cold, so the market had gradually dispersed, only leaving behind sporadic street vendors packing up their things. There were also a few porters carrying shoulder poles and going home, leaving mottled footprints in the snow. Three wine jars were empty, and Shen Jue was a little drunk. He sat at the table for eight people with his head on his hand and was blank for a while before recalling that they should go home.
“It’s so late, come to my house and sleep,” Xiahou Lian suddenly said.
Heavens knew how much effort Xiahou Lian took to say this sentence calmly. His face was expressionless, but his heart thumped. He hid his improper thoughts and felt sinful in his heart, but he also felt that it was only sleeping together for a night, just like before, so it didn’t count as overstepping.
Shen Jue was stunned for a while before he reacted and smiled. “Okay.”
Under the dim candlelight, the face of Shen Jue, who was slightly drunk, was covered with a thin layer of red. With his fair and clear complexion, it was like a transparent jade dyed with rouge, beautiful for no reason. Xiahou Lian shifted his gaze away with difficulty and suddenly felt that he was like a beast, kidnapping the drunk son of a respectable family to warm his bed at home.
Shen Jue already couldn’t walk steadily, so Xiahou Lian put on his cloak for him and carried him home on his back.
Xiahou Lian’s house was in an alley, so they had to walk past the wide street, then turn a corner and go around the back of Fuxiang Temple to get there. Snow drifted silently, and the iron horses on the corners of the eaves of Fuxiang Temple were blown, making an indistinct ringing, desolate, a long and fine series. Depot guards followed behind them at a distance. Xiahou Lian was carrying Shen Jue on his back, walking in the snow with alternating heavy and light steps. Shen Jue’s head was on Xiahou Lian’s shoulder, and the world was very quiet in his ears, so quiet it was a little lonesome.
“A-Lian, do you feel that right now, it’s very similar to Shen Manor from before,” Shen Jue murmured.
Xiahou Lian lifted his head and looked at the snow. “It is very similar. That time, you were punished by kneeling by Mrs. Su, and I also carried you back like this.”
“At that time, I felt like I was suffering extremely, and I tried my best to get out. I studied painstakingly, I stole books when I didn’t have them, and I wouldn’t close my eyes the entire night when I did have books. I wanted to eat them all at once.” Shen Jue smiled. “I didn’t expect that, now, the days I miss the most are actually when I was in Shen Manor. Aunt was there, Lian Xiang was there, and you were also there. Everyone was there, how nice.”
Xiahou Lian recalled Shen Manor and recalled Shen Jue’s courtyard, the two tanks of withered lotuses in the yard, raising up an empty and small courtyard, extremely similar to Qiuwu Courtyard. There was also the pond in the garden; it was winter, so he was afraid it was also very similar to Wangqing Pavilion. Shen Jue was nostalgic, and he actually was as well. He also missed the days from a very long time ago, when there were no blood and no sabers, when he was only the troublemaker who dug out bird nests everywhere in Garan Mountain. So-called nostalgia, in the end, was to get back the time in the past that would never return.
But right now, it was actually also very good. Xiahou Lian walked slowly, and Shen Jue leaned on his shoulder, his fine and soft hair scratching his cheeks and neck, slightly itchy. The snowy path kept spreading, leading to the invisible night, as if it had no end. He would carry Shen Jue like this and keep walking and walking, never stopping.
How nice would it be if this moment never ended.
“A-Lian.” Shen Jue hugged Xiahou Lian forcibly.
“Actually, I lied.” Shen Jue’s voice was very low. “I don’t want you to leave. Don’t leave, A-Lian, no matter what, don’t leave.”
Xiahou Lian paused his footsteps and turned his head to look at Shen Jue, who was extremely close. They looked at each other in the snow. Time turned hastily, going back and forth like an arrow, yet it was as if it couldn’t penetrate their fixed gazes.
Xiahou Lian said, “Okay, I won’t leave.”
I’ll never leave in a lifetime.
Tang Shiqi was shrunk in the corner, doing his best to merge into one with the wooden partition behind him.
Voices boiled in the courier house, but all of them were tacitly standing against the wall, clearing out an empty space in the center. The tables and chairs had been moved out and stacked behind the angled counter, making the courier house appear even narrower. Snow was falling outside, yet it was warm inside. It was all warm air from the people’s exhales, rising in the small space.
Tang Shiqi was on the second floor. The second floor was actually just a narrow passageway with railing on the left side and small rooms for guests to stay in on the right. A jujube wood plaque hung in front of every room, and there were names copied from ancient books written on them extremely elegantly, such as “Viewing the Vast Sea,” “Begonia in Spring,” “Snow Under Wall,” and whatnot. Of course Garan couldn’t be this elegant; this was because this courier house had used to be a brothel, and prostitutes had lived in the rooms.
This brothel belonged to Garan now, and the prostitutes and bawds had been buried in the deep well in the backyard. Tang Shiqi had seen them die firsthand. Fortunately, Garan assassin’s means were swift, so they hadn’t died painfully. Tang Shiqi sighed and turned his head to look downstairs. Through the railing, he could see the scene on the first floor. Three men with their heads drooping were kneeling in the center of the clearing and were tied up very tightly by rope.
There would be three men added to the deep well. Tang Shiqi silently mourned for them, inwardly chanting amitabha.
The door of the room on which “Return of Wild Geese” was hung opened, and a group of men wearing black robes and white porcelain masks walked out. The man in the center was very tall, and he walked directly to the railing, looking down at the young people of the underworld on the first floor.
Tang Shiqi only recognized half of these people, but he knew that they were Garan’s newly appointed Eight Legions. The two standing at the other end of the passageway were the Gandharva and Mahoraga, and the one leaning against the doorpost was the Kinnara. The Kinnara was an old acquaintance of his, but he already didn’t dare to talk to him. The Garuda wasn’t among them, and he didn’t know where they had been sent. People who could be the Garuda were always Garan’s strongest assassins, so they had probably gone to kill some important person.
When the black-robed came out, all of the underworld people seemed to be mute, and the courier house instantly quieted. The dim candlelight shone on the black-robed people on the second floor. Their figures were sinister and tall, going all the way up to the ceiling. The terrible white porcelain masks were expressionless as they looked at the people below, making one feel frightened.
Someone carrying a big saber on their shoulder boldly walked out and looked up at the black-robed person in the center. “Mr. Duan, half a month ago, you and Garan issued an order to kill Xiahou Lian, a traitor of Garan. Now that the people have already been brought, you should give us the Bliss Fruit you promised us!”
Duan Jiu’s gaze swept in a circle on the three people below and said indifferently, “Three Xiahou Lians? I only know that Xiahou Lian can disguise his face, but I didn’t know he could be in multiple places at once.”
“The Nameless Ghost is ever-changing, it is really hard to distinguish. These three are already the most similar to the Nameless Ghost we could find.” The person holding the big saber pointed at them one by one. “The three of them are named Xiahou Lian. This one on the left is the same as the Nameless Ghost, he likes to use Japanese sabers, and his saber techniques are also extremely outstanding. Over ten of my disciples were hurt before we caught him. This one in the middle knows the face-disguising technique, and he can even shrink his bones. This one on the very right has excellent mechanism skills, and it’s said that he went to Bashu to learn them. We searched for so long and only found these three, one of them has got to be him.”
Duan Jiu let out two low laughs, his laughter sounding muffledly under his mask.
“Not one of them is Xiahou Lian.” Duan Jiu said, “However, I’d rather kill ten thousand than let one go.”
Duan Jiu lifted his right hand and made a gesture. The Kinnara straightened up and flipped down like a sparrowhawk from the railing. He landed steadily on the ground and drew a long saber underneath his black robes. The expressions of all three of the people changed, and they begged for mercy loudly. The Kinnara picked one person up with one hand. The person shuddered and was like a pheasant waiting for slaughter in his hand.
The Kinnara’s long saber cut. Tang Shiqi heard a cold and sticky sound, like silk being torn, and he could even imagine the skin texture being cut by the blade, the muscles slowly separating under the blade. The blood was like a spring, and a corner of the Kinnara’s white porcelain mask was dyed red.
Duan Jin’s voice sounded:
“I originally wanted to appoint Xiahou Lian as the abbot’s successor, but unexpectedly, this person obtained the antidote to Mid-July and defected from Garan. According to Garan Temple’s rules, those who resist are drowned, those who flee are whipped, those who defy are killed, and those who betray are executed. It has already been over four years now since Xiahou Lian defected. He is regarded as a rebel of Garan, he cannot be forgiven! Who of you all will bring the head on Xiahou Lian’s neck, you will have an inexhaustible supply of Bliss Fruit, never able to use it all! Today, although you have not obtained the head of Xiahou Lian, thank you all for doing your best. Garan will still give the Bliss Fruit, and I hope you all will continue to pledge loyalty to Garan in the future.”
After Duan Jin finished saying this, the Gandharva and Mahoraga moved a sandalwood box half of a person’s height out of a room. Dense black pills filled the inside, and light surged on them in the candlelight. The people below soon had greedy looks.
Bliss Fruit was the addictive drug Garan was using to replace Mid-July. It was said that its raw materials were the same as Mid-July, but it was ten times as addictive. However, what was most appealing about it wasn’t its addictiveness, it was that it could give people unimaginable joy, countless times more pleasurable than being in bed with a woman. It could make one see hallucinations, as if entering the Land of Bliss, a lifelong desire for everyone.
Last month at the courier house at Yajiao Mountain 1, Tang Shiqi had seen an assassin forget to lock himself up. After eating Bliss Fruit, he had run out of the room crazily, gone up a cliff, and dove headfirst into the clouds and mist. No one knew what he had seen, and Tang Shiqi also didn’t want to know. He touched his own pouch; five Bliss Fruits were inside, his share for the next year.
Bliss Fruits poured down like a tide, and the people below soon went crazy. They scrambled to go forward and fight for them, and some people directly stuffed it into their mouths after they grabbed one. The crowd surged crazily below and heads squeezed together, like dense fish eggs. Bliss Fruits rolled on the floor, and someone laid down to pick them up, but they were soon stepped on and beaten to pieces. The people in the back who couldn’t squeeze over drew their sabers and cut down the people in front. The people more in front noticed the danger and also drew their sabers to fight. Heaven-shaking battle shouts filled the small courier house, and blood gushed in the darkness, like an unparalleled and famous flower blooming prettily.
The Kinnara had already climbed back along the column and was using a towel to wipe the blood that had splashed onto his body. All of the assassins were impassive, their white porcelain masks silent and unmoving.
“Look, these are ants, greedy and stupid.” It was unknown who Duan Jiu was talking to. He laughed lightly and retreated out of the back door with his people.
In the pale light of dawn, the world outside was an expanse of pure white, the sky and ground one color. The snowfields in the North were flat and vast, and it was unobstructed when one looked out, as if one could see the end of the earth with one glance. The snow fell silently, and it was as if the chaos in the courier house behind them were the matters of another world, having nothing to do with this world.
In the distance, a carriage slowly drove over, the wheels grinding silently in the snow, creating deep ruts.
All of the assassins knew who was sitting inside. Tang Shiqi also knew, as he had seen that person’s figure from a distance at the Nine Garrisons 2. He only remembered an expanse of white, like an ice or jade sculpture, the clear bright moon, lofty and out of reach. That person’s clan had a long history, and also once commanded the wind and clouds, the world’s common hope. After hiding in the martial arts for hundreds of years, reorganizing Garan, the birth of Bliss Fruit, and the assassins finally becoming complete puppets that wouldn’t rebel, he also finally walked out of the shadows.
Last month, Garan spies had set off from the North, as the Underground City of Great Qi had already been restarted. Garan’s courier houses, brothels, banks, gambling houses, and black markets were all over Great Qi, as far as the Western Regions. Even if the Eastern Depot had eyes and hands everywhere, they couldn’t shovel out all of the mud in a pond. A steady stream of gold poured into the North from all over Great Qi, day and night and nonstop. If they could all shine, they were bound to weave a dense net of light on Great Qi’s map.
Tang Shiqi didn’t know that person’s name, he only knew that he was Garan’s true emperor. Some called him——King Yama.
Garan had rules; upon encountering the Yama, one could not look closely, could not gaze, and could only bow down.
The assassins kneeled in prostration, as if their knees had all been cut off, bowing their heads deeply in the snow. Tang Shiqia felt unsuppressable curiosity, so he quietly lifted his head slightly, his eyes glancing at the carriage. A hand pressed his head heavily into the snow, and bits of snow smeared over his entire face. He heard the Kinnara say in a low voice, “Do you want to die!”
He didn’t dare to move again. Duan Jiu’s deep voice came from ahead, like a lowly person’s prayers, and also like solemn chanting.
“I am willing to grovel with my hair down, abandon my liver and brain, and sink into ashes. I welcome your arrival, my Bodhisattva, my Buddha.”