Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Shen Jue and Xiahou Lian returned to the Eastern Depot. Today was a holiday, so the Eastern Depot was very desolate. They went directly to the duty room; Garan’s documents had already been selected and sent inside.
To Shen Jue, there was never a holiday. Other people could sleep in and hug their wife and play with their kid at home, but he still had to diligently read documents and approve proposals. The proposals in the Directorate of Rites couldn’t be brought out of the palace and the confidential letters in the Eastern Depot couldn’t be moved around at will, so he could only run back and forth between the Eastern Depot and the Directorate of Rites. After finishing dealing with the documents on this side, there were documents on the other side waiting for him.
There was a charcoal fire in the duty room, a fragrant incense had been lit, and the documents were neatly piled on the desk. Shen Jue and Xiahou Lian sat down separately and buried their heads to read. The book Shen Jue had gotten was Garan’s pedigree, which recorded the past abbots and Eight Legions. Garan had been built since the founding of Great Qi, and during the span of over three hundred years, it had begun with the first generation to the now twenty-first generation of abbot. The Eight Legions were replaced even more quickly; the one with the most was the Mahoraga, which had forty-eight complete generations.
Each entry began with a portrait, a short biography in the middle, and a chronicle of their life at the end. Shi Xin’s chronology ended in the thirtieth year of the Xuanhe era, when he had been killed by the twenty-ninth Garuda, Xiahou Lian. Shi Xin’s predecessor was Du Xin 1. He looked human, and there was a clear and bright aura in his facial features. However, his biography stopped abruptly halfway through, and his chronology was also like this.
Shen Jue flipped forward and discovered that many people’s records were also like this.
Shen Jue looked up and asked Xiahou Lian, “Why aren’t these people’s records finished?”
“I don’t know.” Xiahou Lian said, “When I was younger, Garan held classes about sages, but I was either dozing off or sneaking away to catch loaches, so I never attended properly.”
“Your mother didn’t tell you?”
Xiahou Lian laughed. “She was the one who told me to go catch loaches.”
“…” Okay, Shen Jue held his forehead, not learning and not being skilled is passed down in the Xiahou family.
Shen Jue flipped forward. Out of the twenty-one abbots, there were eleven records that ended abruptly. Then, he looked at Garan’s Eight Legions; there were also many blank records. However, this pedigree wasn’t arranged very logically, as the abbot and each legion had been recorded separately. If one wanted to see who the Eight Legions were during each abbot’s reign, they would have to flip through each chronology and compare it themself. Shen Jue skimmed through them; for the abbots with blank records, some of the Eight Legions could match but some couldn’t, and he didn’t know why.
For a while, he couldn’t think of anything and would just have to think about it later. Shen Jue started flipping through the records of the Garudas, all the way to Xiahou Lian at the end. It was still his previous appearance that was drawn on it, and he was holding the black-sheathed Hengbo Saber and wearing black linen clothes. There was a frightening ruthlessness in his features, like a lone wolf traversing alone in the wilderness. His gaze shifted to this short biography——
“Xiahou Lian, once nicknamed the Nameless Ghost, wields Jingtie and Hengbo, good at killing techniques of puppets and leading mechanism. Mother Xiahou Pei, the twenty-eighth Garuda, nicknamed Avolu, wields Hengbo. Father Shi Xin, the twenty-first abbot and twenty-seventh Garuda, wields Bushenglian. Lian was very stubborn and disobedient in his childhood, running around in the wild and committing all evil, causing the mountain temple to suffer. He called five children in Garan Village and urinated together at the fence of the mountain temple, competing to see who was the highest and farthest. Lian won and obtained the nickname of Garan’s King of Urination, and the other children kneeled, not daring to look. Later, Shi Xin heard of this matter, found the children, and forbid them from playing with him. Lian then indulged himself in playing in the forest all day long. Fish and turtles hid themselves, birds and insects disappeared, and the mountain temple didn’t hear chirps and calls for many years.”
Shen Jue: “…”
Who would’ve expected that the Nameless Ghost who had once dominated the martial arts world had competed with imps in his village to see who urinated the highest and farthest in his childhood, and even emerged victorious, obtaining the title of “Garan’s King of Urination.”
He looked up at Xiahou Lian, who was still concentratedly flipping through documents. His concentrated appearance was very good-looking. It wasn’t like his usual improper and slovenly self; it had a stern and grim aura. After all, he was a man who had been tempered from a sea of blood. When his features congealed, he was as harsh and cold as winter.
Forget it, he wasn’t in the mood to joke around right now. Shen Jue continued to bury his head in the documents as snowflakes rustled outside the window. He didn’t know how long they had been reading for, but Shen Jue felt tired and stood up to stretch his muscles and bones. He had been sitting for too long, so when he stood up, his head was a little dizzy. Xiahou Lian held him from behind.
“How come you’re dizzy?” Xiahou Lian touched his forehead. “You don’t have a fever.”
“I’ve been sitting for too long.” Shen Jue waved his hand away.
Xiahou Lian laughed in spite of himself. “You’re too weak, I’ll take you to run two circles around the Imperial City 2 tomorrow.”
“Get lost.” Shen Jue picked up the Garan book again.
Xiahou Lian pulled the Garan book out from his hands. “Rest for a while.” He lifted his chin. “There’s a daybed over there, go and lie down for a while.”
“No matter, I’ll read some more.”
Xiahou Lian tsked and suddenly leaned over. He slipped his right hand around Shen Jue’s shoulder and reached his left hand under his knee. He pulled up with both hands, and picked him up. Shen Jue turned pale and glared at Xiahou Lian, shouting for him to put him down.
Xiahou Lian remained unmoved and put Shen Jue onto the small daybed, then bent down to take off his shoes for him. Shen Jue wanted to get up, but Xiahou Lian hastily pressed him down.
“Xiahou Lian!” Shen Jue shot a glare at him. “You want to rebel?”
Xiahou Lian stared at him for a while and sighed. “Young Master, even if you finish reading all of the documents today, you won’t be able to find Garan immediately and avenge Situ.”
Shen Jue was taken aback, and the two of them fell into silence. In their ears, there were only the rustling sounds of snowflakes landing on the window, the world an expanse of silence. Shen Jue gave up on struggling, his arms relaxing as he landed heavily on the daybed. He lifted his arm and covered his eyes.
“Xiahou Lian, I’m so tired.” Shen Jue covered his eyes as he said, “New laws are being enacted, and the old faction lodges complaints against me every day. Here in the Eastern Depot, it’s prohibited to sell official ranks, and since the eunuchs can’t make any profit, some are ready to make trouble. Forget this, it’s under my eyes after all, so I can still suppress it in the end. But the frontier is beyond my control, there is a drought in Liaodong, and the barbarians are revolting. The general ledger for armaments on the border reported that not one in ten beacon towers remained, so they can’t resist the enemy at all. The day before yesterday, I just received a war report that the border enemies had seized the opportunity to occupy the south Yaozhou fort and that they’re moving further south. The Grand Secretariat wants to use military forces, so I went to ask the Ministry of Revenue for money. The Minister of Revenue showed me the treasury, how is there any money left?”
He put down his arm and turned his body, burying his face in the cushion. “Add Garan, and now it really is a domestic and foreign trouble. Wei De killed too many people while he was here, so no one is available to use at all. And Situ…” He clenched his fists and said through gritted teeth, “Garan!”
Xiahou Lian felt his heart ache. Yes, Shen Jue had the title of a eunuch, yet he did the emperor’s job. In such a large country, the proper master only cared about playing, so matters fell onto his head. How could he not be tired? Now, he had also lost his right-hand man, which was undoubtedly a blow in the head. Xiahou Lian touched his sleeve and said, “Aren’t I a person? Promote me and let me investigate Garan. I understand Garan, so giving it to me is the most suitable.”
Shen Jue said no. “Just a few days ago, I received a secret report that Garan issued a wanted order and was catching people called Xiahou Lian everywhere. In less than three months, over ten people named Xiahou Lian died. Now, everyone named Xiahou Lian has changed their names. If you didn’t have my protection, you’d also be targeted. It’s better that you have a low position, since you won’t attract attention. If you always lead the matters of investigating Garan, wouldn’t it be directly sending you into the tiger’s mouth?”
“Then I’ll change my name, how easy.” Xiahou Lian smiled. “I’ll name myself after you, Xie Lian or Shen Lian, choose one.”
Shen Jue looked sideways at him. “Are you really willing to change it?”
“It’s just changing my name, how big of a deal is it, why wouldn’t I be willing?” Xiahou Lian was dismissive. “As long as it makes things easier.”
Shen Jue thought about it and said, “Okay, although almost all of my trusted aides in the fifth division died in Guangling Temple so Garan shouldn’t be able to find anything, it’s still best to be careful. If you change your name, at least you won’t attract Garan’s attention and bump into their spearhead. Xie Lian is hard to say, let’s use Shen Lian. You’ll take Situ’s place and assume the position tomorrow.”
Xiahou Lian said okay.
Shen Jue really felt tired. He had been sitting for too long, so his muscles were sore, and his shoulders and back were uncomfortable. He rolled over with his back facing up and said muffledly, “Massage me.”
His clothes were thick, and he couldn’t massage anything through the thick coat. Fortunately, there was a heating channel and charcoal fire in the room, so it wasn’t cold. Xiahou Lian undid his collar and took off his robe for him. He laid on the daybed with his face turned to the side, letting Xiahou Lian massage him.
This was Xiahou Lian’s first time touching Shen Jue when he was only wearing his undergarments. Shen Jue could also be called a martial artist, though it was just that his health was a little poor, and he often fell ill. Actually, there were even muscles underneath his shirt, but they weren’t coarse and didn’t have calluses, as if it had been polished like jade, exquisite and strong. That skin touching his fingertips through the thin and fine gauze was an enjoyment and also a torment. An inextinguishable fire arose in his heart, and his entire face heated up. Fortunately, Shen Jue’s eyes were closed, so he couldn’t see it.
Light sounds of breathing started; Shen Jue had fallen asleep. Xiahou Lian stopped and also laid down, looking at his features that were sound asleep: brows, eyes, nose bridge, all the way to his full lips. Was it because the aura in the palace was exceptionally good? Only then could this smoothness and fairness be cultivated. It didn’t seem so, as he had also been this good-looking the first time Xiahou Lian had seen him.
Xiahou Lian used the tip of his finger to touch his nose. He said in a low voice, “Ah, Young Master, how are you so likable?”
It was noon, but there were many trees, so the light couldn’t really shine in, and the entire room was dim. Xiahou Lian flipped over so that he was facing up. He gazed at the beams on the ceiling and started thinking. Garan had Leading Mechanism Silk; the assassins already excelled, but now that they had Leading Mechanism Silk, it was practically like adding wings to a tiger.
He recalled Mrs. Situ’s weak back in the wind and snow, and he recalled that day in the dungeon when Situ Jin had reached out and touched the moonlight that was like water. Such two good people had been separated by death in the end. He had also once been an assassin, and he had also once severed countless Situ Jin’s and Ming Yue’s. This world was always so strange; the people who deserved to die didn’t die, and the people who deserved to live couldn’t live.
Situ Jin had only been a beginning. It was Shen Jue who had ordered the Eastern Depot to investigate Garan, so Garan’s target must be Shen Jue. Xiahou Lian turned his head to look at Shen Jue. They were so close, Xiahou Lian only had to move slightly to kiss his lips.
He was going to protect him. Xiahou Lian made a decision; he was going to reopen the saber furnace and use meteoric iron to reforge Zhaoye. Only an unparalleled killing machine could oppose an unparalleled killing machine.
Impose the retribution from the heavens upon me. My young master, my Shen Jue, my Xie Jinglan, must be well.
“There’s a fire!” A scream pierced the silence.
Shen Jue abruptly opened his eyes and saw Xiahou Lian, who was extremely close, and they looked at each other.