Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
There was a cloth tent set up in front of the mourning hall, and a few monks were reciting scriptures underneath it. The door wasn’t closed, so snowflakes outside drifted inside. They landed on Mingyue’s head, making it seem as if her hair had turned white all at once.
Xiahou Lian burned incense and stepped aside. He felt deep sorrow and also felt like he was in a trance. How could someone he had talked to last night be gone today? Most of the people who had come to burn incense were colleagues. Situ Jin had been a good person, and many people had received his kindness before. The underlings went forward one by one to offer incense and worship, and then silently stepped aside.
The chanting of scriptures was slow, forming an expanse of gathering clouds and rolling mists that enshrouded the mourning hall. Xiahou Lian felt suppressed in his heart and walked outside to breathe in fresh air. A few people came out from behind the screen wall; it was Shen Jue, Shen Wenxing, and the others. Shen Jue had just come out of the palace, and he had rushed over on his horse, so his black gauze hat and cloak were covered with snowflakes. He looked at Xiahou Lian and lifted his foot, wanting to go inside to worship. However, his sleeve was grabbed by a white and small hand. Looking back, it was a small person wearing mourning clothes and looking at him with wide eyes.
Shen Jue recognized her; she was Situ Jin’s daughter, Situ Nongyu.
“Uncle Governor, when is my daddy going to wake up? He’s been sleeping for such a long time. He promised me before that he would play horse with me,” Yu-jie’er bit her finger as she asked. She was only four years old, so she didn’t understand yet that her father would never be able to wake up, and that there would never be someone to be a horse for her to play with again.
For the first time, Shen Jue didn’t know how to deal with this. The two of them stared at each other, but he still didn’t have a reply after they looked at each other for a long time.
Next to them, Xiahou Lian squatted down and touched the top of her head as he said, “When you grow up, your daddy is going to wake up. So, Yu-jie’er, you have to listen to what your mother says and obediently grow up.”
Yu-jie’er asked in confusion, “But if he sleeps for that long, won’t my daddy need to eat?”
“Your daddy went to be an immortal, immortals don’t need to eat.”
“Then what if I want to play with my daddy?” Yu-jie’er looked down at her toes and said muffledly, “My daddy often never comes home, so he never plays with me. What if I want to talk to my daddy?”
Xiahou Lian held her small hand and said, “Yu-jie’er, if you miss your dad, you can talk to the stars. Your dad will hear, and when you’re asleep, he’ll go to your dreams to find you.”
“Of course.” Xiahou Lian patted his chest and assured, “My mother is also an immortal in the heavens. Every time I miss my mother, I talk to the stars, and she’ll come to my dreams to drink with me. However, she works sometimes and isn’t home, so she might not be able to hear and won’t be able to come. So, Yu-jie’er, you have to be patient and wait slowly.”
Yu-jie’er looked at Xiahou Lian hesitantly for a while before repeatedly nodding and making a mn. Then, she turned her head and went to play in the snow with the maids.
Shen Jue said, “She’ll find out, sooner or later.”
“Then delaying it for a while is still a while. She’s still so young, at least she can be happier for a while,” said Xiahou Lian.
Shen Jue gazed at Yu-jie’er’s back and stood for a while, then turned around and went to the mourning hall to burn incense. Mingyue saw him and stood up and saluted with a bowed body. She wasn’t crying anymore, and her tears were already dry. Her face was pale and had lost its color, as if she could melt into the snow.
Shen Jue held up an incense stick and inserted it into the gilded incense burner. Situ Jin was in the cloth tent, very serene, as if he was asleep. Shen Jue remembered the first time he had seen him. He had just fought with Xiahou Pei and had been severely injured. However, even though he had been severely injured, he still exhorted him to go to places that had light and to be on guard against assassins in the shadows. He had always had an easy-going temperament. He looked stern and grim, but in reality, he was sentimental, and he even liked to be a busybody.
Mingyue carried a cup of tea and came over, but Shen Jue didn’t take it. After losing his right-hand man, it was as if he had even forgotten how to pick up a teacup.
“What do you plan to do from now on?” Shen Jue asked her.
Mingyue put down the cup and said, “I plan to take Yu-jie’er to the North. A-Jin’s hometown is there, so I want to take a look. Then, we’re going to go to Jiangnan. I’ve saved some money, so I can set up a storefront and open a medical clinic.”
“You’re a woman after all, it’s not convenient. The imperial court gives special care to its workers and families, so there’s no need for you to work so hard.”
Mingyue shook her head and said softly, “This is my and Situ’s wish.”
Shen Jue was silent for a while before suddenly asking, “Did Situ ever tell you that he saved my life before?”
Mingyue shook her head blankly.
“The twenty-sixth year of the Xuanhe era, the emperor went autumn hunting. Someone messed with the horse of the former King Fu, and it went crazy. Wei De grabbed me to block the horse, and it was Situ who shot the horse. The former King Fu became crippled because of this, but I narrowly escaped. Afterward, Situ was exiled to the border. At the time, I was only a little eunuch in Fourth Qianxi Premises and didn’t have much capability, so I didn’t lend a helping hand. In the end, I owe him.” Shen Jue said, “So, if you have any difficulties in the future, do not hesitate to tell me.”
Mingyue shook her head lightly. “But you also saved my life later, and you transferred A-Jin to the Eastern Depot. Governor, you already don’t owe A-Jin anymore.”
“No.” Shen Jue gazed at the candlelight on the altar. “Situ Jin risked his life when he saved me, and we were complete strangers at the time. I saved you because I was already in a high position, so giving you a hand was nothing more than the lift of a hand. I still owe him in the end.” He turned his head and waved for Shen Wenxing to come over. “Go, send a team of guards from the manor to Mrs. Situ.”
“Governor…” Mingyue wanted to refuse.
Shen Jue interrupted her. “The North is near the Oirats. It hasn’t been peaceful these past few years, so it’s improper for you to take your child there by yourself. These guards will listen to your orders in the future, and there’s no need for you to return them to me no matter how you use them.”
Mingyue stopped refusing and bowed. “Thank you very much, Governor.”
Shen Jue stood for a while before turning around and leaving. After taking a few steps, he stopped again. “If there is progress in Situ’s case, I’ll send people to inform you.”
“No need.” Mingyue smiled sadly. “A-Jin is already gone, and killing that person wouldn’t help the situation. I only have one wish now, and it is for Yu-jie’er to grow up safely.”
Shen Jue nodded. “That’s good, you don’t need to worry about this matter anymore. I, Shen Jue, seek grievance for the smallest matters. I will collect this debt for Situ.”
After saying this, he went outside, and Xiahou Lian followed behind. The group stepped out of the festooned gate along the surrounding corridor, and when they got to the gate, Mingyue’s voice suddenly sounded from behind them.
Shen Jue paused in his footsteps and turned to look. Mingyue was behind the threshold and bowed with clasped hands from afar.
“A-Jin has always been very happy that he could meet you, Governor. The gratitude of being recognized and appreciated cannot be repaid, one can only offer their life. I hope that the governor will take care, and that A-Jin’s spirit in the heavens may also rest in peace.”
After Mingyue said this, she picked up Yu-jie’er, who had run over, and slowly walked back to the mourning hall. The large doors slowly closed, and in the end, the only thing left before Shen Jue’s eyes were the blue-black doors from which hung white flags, the door couplets that had lost their color, and two stone lions that were covered in snow.
Spurring their horses out of the alley, there were quadrangle courtyards on both sides, one after another. The walls were gray and the tiles were white, and they stood in the snow, appearing a little clumsy. On the way, Shen Jue asked Xiahou Lian, “The medical examiner has inspected the body already, did they find any clues?”
Xiahou Lian said, “There was only one wound on Situ’s body. It was three inches under his ribs, a single fatal stab, and he died from excessive loss of blood.”
“A single fatal stab?” Shen Jue knitted his brows. “Situ’s skills couldn’t have had no resistance at all. He practiced the authentic Blizzard Saber and he became a top martial scholar at fourteen years old.”
“I know. I’ve trained with him before on the drill grounds before, and I can only narrowly win against him.” Xiahou Lian stroked the scabbard of his goose quill saber and took a deep breath. “Situ’s saber left its scabbard, yet there was no blood. The person he encountered was very strong and drew their saber extremely quickly, so quickly that Situ Jin didn’t have time to counterattack at all.”
Who would it be? He hadn’t mixed in the martial arts world for a long time, so he didn’t know which people were fast with the saber in the martial arts world now. Xiahou Lian frowned as he thought. The fastest saber he had seen was Chi Yan; if he had encountered Chi Yan, Situ Jin indeed would have no possibility of surviving. However, Chi Yan was already missing, and even if he had come back, Shi Xin was already dead, so he had no reason to return to Garan.
Was Chi Yan still alive? Who had killed Situ Jin, was it Garan? They had just seized Bliss Fruit, and Situ had been ambushed right afterward. It was difficult for someone who wasn’t a well-trained assassin to achieve such a fast saber. Xiahou Lian had a splitting headache, and he felt very upset. Every time, as long as it involved Garan, he would feel upset. His shoulder was suddenly tapped, and he looked up, meeting Shen Jue’s eyes.
He smiled bitterly. “Young Master, you’re so calm every time, how do you do it?”
The light in Shen Jue’s eyes moved, and he shifted his eyes away. “No, not every time.”
They walked forward for a while and turned a corner. The place Situ Jin had been killed was in front, and a group of underlings had already sealed off the site, not allowing anyone to get near. However, there was heavy snow, so there were hardly any people on the road at all. Shen Jue dismounted his horse and checked the surrounding situation. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; there were gray dirt walls on both sides, and a few withered camphor trees stretched out from other people’s courtyards, the old branches spanning across and above the street, casting scattered shadows on the snow-white ground.
“Governor, we didn’t have anything here. There was only a frozen dead dog. What’s strange was that this dog’s head was cut off,” an underling said.
Shen Wenxing said doubtfully from behind them, “Could the assassin have killed it? They were afraid the dog would call people over, so they simply killed the dog as well?”
The dog’s corpse had already been completely frozen, but Xiahou Lian examined the cut at its neck, and his brows became knitted more and more deeply.
“What a neat wound.” Shen Wenxing stuck his head closer to look. “How fast must this person’s saber have been to cut such a wound.”
“No, it wasn’t a saber,” Xiahou Lian murmured. He put the dog’s head and body together. There was a thin red thread where they connected, almost invisible.
“What is that?” said Shen Wenxing.
Xiahou Lian stood up, and his gaze became heavy. “It’s Leading Mechanism Silk.”
“Leading Mechanism Silk? Isn’t Lead Mech Silk what you used to control the puppet Zhaoye? It can even slit throats?” Shen Wenxing was puzzled.
Xiahou Lian looked at him and shook his head, then walked next to Shen Jue. “I have bad news for you.”
“It was Garan who killed Situ?”
“Mn, when I killed Shi Xin, I left the Lead Mech Silk there. But that’s not the only troublesome matter. Having Leading Mechanism Silk isn’t enough, you also need Leading Mechanism techniques.” Xiahou Lian slowly clenched his fists. “Shiqi has been caught by them.”
Tang Shiqi tiptoed as he made his way into the duty room of the Eastern Depot. Today was a holiday, so besides the cavalrymen who were on duty, there were hardly any people in the Eastern Depot yamen. Fortunately, his boss had taught him the face-disguising technique, so he had disguised himself as an underling and came all the way in with no danger, smoothly getting into the interior of the yamen. However, he was dumbfounded when he got to its depths. The assassin who had given him the map was an idiot, as they had only given the half with the warehouse containing Bliss Fruit that had been marked, and the other half had disappeared without a trace.
The Eastern Depot embezzled the hard-earned work of the people and was very wealthy. This yamen had been built with twists and turns; every two steps was a building, and every five steps was a corridor. He didn’t know how to get back, so Tang Shiqi was instantly caught between a rock and a hard place.
At the moment, this storehouse was in a secluded location, so there temporarily wouldn’t be anyone coming over. Tang Shiqi bolted the door and started rummaging everywhere, seeing if the blind cat would stumble upon a dead mouse and happen to find a map of the yamen.
The furnishings in this storehouse were very simple but elegant: a flat desk, a hill censer, and a bamboo curtain hanging on the floor-to-ceiling screen. The people on duty in this storehouse were probably people in the Eastern Depot with some status. There was a large shelf and cabinet next to the wall, and there were books in its bookcases and probably scrolls in the cabinet below. Tang Shiqi used the thin wire he carried around to unlock the lock at the bottom, and as expected, he saw many scrolls.
Tang Shiqi sat down on the ground and flipped through them one by one. The painter was an expert. The ink was deep and light, and with simple strokes, the facial features and temple hairs were all lifelike. It was just that, after flipping through five or six paintings, they were all the same person——a man. Some were of him holding a wine cup at a window, some were him galloping on his horse in a long street, and there was one of him weaving a lantern, his head and eyes lowered. Tang Shiqi flipped for a long time but didn’t get to the map, and he was nearly discouraged. He simply took out the innermost scroll and spread it open to glance at it.
This glance made him instantly dumbfounded. The painting was still of that man, but he wasn’t well-dressed like he was in the previous paintings. In this painting, he was asleep, and his clothes were half-off, revealing his right shoulder, chest, waist, and abdomen. He was clearly adept at martial arts; the ink lines outlined his muscles, rough and uneven, and there were many scars on them. However, this drawing contained love, and even the scars had been drawn with an indescribable beauty. The front of his robes were open all the way to his waist and abdomen, and the brushtip paused and didn’t continue anymore, as if he wanted to explore yet also stop.
Tang Shiqi’s gaze shifted up, and a red seal came into view. It was evenly in the center, right on top of the bare chest of the man in the painting.
Domineering and charming.
On it were three characters——
“Shen Jue’s Seal.”