Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Today was the Lantern Festival, so the fair had already begun on the streets starting from dusk. Those who blew sugar blew sugar, those who sang operas sang operas, those who spit fire spit fire, and there were also people selling velvet flowers and selling masks, their stalls open until one at night. Various styles of festive lanterns were hung in two rows along the streets, with flowers and birds drawn and words inscribed on the lampshades. They revolved quickly, very beautiful.
Tang Shiqi bought a festive lantern and held it in his hand, found a shabby noodle stall and ordered a portion of glutinous rice balls, and sat down, savoring it slowly. Tourists had gone to release lanterns, so there weren’t many people at the stall, and the seats were empty. Not long after, someone also sat down behind him, back-to-back with him, and ordered a portion of soaked glutinous rice balls.
Tang Shiqi saw that no one around was paying attention to him before stroking his sleeve. A ball of paper slid along his arm and into his hand, and he handed it backward, sending it into the palm of the person behind him. He leaned back slightly and lowered his voice as he said, “Garan wants to touch Shen Jue. The time and place are written on it, but they might change. If they change, I’ll find a way to notify you.”
Someone was walking on stilts in the center of the street, so three circles of people had crowded densely to watch. Their cheers drowned out his voice so that only the person behind him could hear.
Xiahou Lian’s voice sounded. “How many sabers?”
He replied in a low voice, “Three. The Garuda, Kinnara, and Gandharva. The Garuda seems to be fast with the saber, you have to be careful.”
Xiahou Lian’s voice paused for a while before he said, “You told me about Shu Qing last time, what happened?”
Tang Shiqi scratched his head. “I also don’t know what happened specifically. He defected before, but he was caught back by Garan, and he became a different person upon being back. He hates you quite a lot now, and he’s the most active about Garan catching you, he sharpens his saber every day.”
“Why?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“Because…” Tang Shiqi said hesitantly, “he said that when you killed Shi Xin to take revenge, you eternally doomed the entirety of Garan and made all assassins die together with you… s-so he hated you.” Tang Shiqi sighed deeply. “This also isn’t your fault. Hadn’t he defected at the time, who knew he would’ve been caught back. If he was there, you definitely wouldn’t have made a move against Shi Xin.”
This time, Xiahou Lian paused for a long time without speaking. Just as Tang Shiqi was about to turn his head to look at him, Xiahou Lian spoke. “No, you’re wrong, I still would’ve killed Shi Xin. Killing Shi Xin and destroying Garan was my original goal.”
Tang Shiqi didn’t know what to say, so he lowered his head and ate a few bites of glutinous rice balls. Tourists came and went around him, and the halos of lights of festive lanterns flickered before his eyes. He swallowed a bite of rice ball and used a handkerchief to cover his mouth, pretending like he was chewing something. “There’s something else I have to tell you, that Shen Jue…”
Their surroundings were too noisy, so Xiahou Lian didn’t hear him speak. However, he heard Xiahou Lian say, “Do you still want to eat something? Besides these soup balls, there are also glutinous rice cake, steamed corn bread, and whatnot, but I don’t know if you like to eat them or not.”
Tang Shiqi turned his head and saw that someone was sitting across from Xiahou Lian. They were wearing a scarf that covered their head, the black gauze covering their face, and Xiahou Lian was using a spoon to send rice balls under the black gauze. The wind swept past, blowing away a corner of the black gauze, and he saw the person’s fair chin.
It was Shen Jue. Tang Shiqi was shocked.
“It’s too much, I can’t eat it.” Shen Jue threw the spoon into the bowl.
“Eat as much as you can, I’ll take care of the rest.” After saying this, Xiahou Lian lowered his voice and asked him, “What did you say just now?”
Tang Shiqi laughed dryly. “Nothing, nothing. I just wanted you to follow the governor and work hard. If he asks you to go east, you definitely can’t go west, and if he asks you to go to bed, ahem, go to the sky, you definitely can’t go to the ground.”
Xiahou Lian knitted his brows. “What nonsense, talk business.” He paused and said, “Before when I was confiscating Bliss Fruit, I secretly hid a box. There’s enough for two people to take it for the rest of their lives.”
Tang Shiqi said in shock, “Boss, you can’t touch that thing!”
“It’s not for me, it’s for you and Shu Qing… Never mind, I’ll protect you first, we’ll talk about him later.” Xiahou Lian said, “After this matter of Garan assassinating the governor is over, come to the Eastern Depot to work. The Eastern Depot can protect you, there’s no need to be afraid of Garan.”
Tang Shiqi was so moved he felt like crying, and he said tearfully, “Boss, I’ll be reborn as a woman in my next lifetime and marry you to repay you.”
Xiahou Lian was revolted. “Fuck off.”
Tang Shiqi wiped his tears, finished eating the rice balls, and was about to leave. Before he left, he threw a copper coin onto the table and glanced to the side out of the corners of his eyes. Shen Jue was resting his head on his chin and waiting for Xiahou Lian to finish eating the rice balls, and that languid appearance indeed wasn’t like the governor he often heard of as killing decisively.
He shuddered and quickly slipped away. Forget it, forget it, he saw that his boss was enjoying himself quite a lot. Shen Jue was a eunuch anyway, and his appearance was like a fairy’s, so he still didn’t know who was taking advantage of whom! His boss wasn’t losing.
Chi Yan was gazing at the light on a desk. The glass covers covered the flames, but a few small green insects that had survived the cold winter were fluttering their wings and charging at the light, hitting the cover so that it made clanging sounds. They still didn’t give up, and they still charged. Duan Jiu was droning on about something, but he didn’t listen to a single word. He looked at the light snow outside the window. The snowflakes fluttered as they fell, like white moths flying wildly in the air. He thought that there were still many things he hadn’t done: what Shi Xin had told him, what Xiao Lian had wanted him to do, and what he himself wanted to do, but time was running out.
Today was the Lantern Festival, so there were fireworks outside. Yunxian Building was exceptionally lively, as men didn’t want to go home and face their yellow-faced wives 1, and they wanted more to come here to listen to songs and have fun. Women’s charming smiles were everywhere, sweet and smooth, like honey on silk. He inclined his ear to listen to the sounds outside, and his thoughts gradually flew afar, like a small mayfly, drifting away to distant clouds and mountains.
“Chi Yan.” Duan Jiu was calling him.
He looked up blankly and responded.
“You’ll be the head saber of this assassination, the Kinnara and Gandharva will be your assistants and listen to your assignments.” Duan Jiu pointed at Chi Yan’s file. “Open the file, Chi Yan, it’ll tell you what kind of person your prey is.”
Chi Yan looked down, and his gaze landed on the file in front of him. Two characters were written in red on the file cover: Shen Jue.
The Gandharva ground his teeth and said viciously, “You should let me be the head saber, Chi Yan isn’t reliable.”
“Assassins who have lost their sabers are like tigers that have lost their fangs. If a tiger without teeth can’t even be controlled, how can one control you bloodthirsty jackals and leopards?” Duan Jiu said slowly, “Not to mention, you still aren’t Garan’s strongest assassin, Gandharva, you haven’t learned how to control Leading Mechanism Silk yet. However, Chi Yan can already control three.”
It was like the Gandharva’s tail had been stepped on, and his forehead bulged ferociously. “What does Mech Silk count for, saber skills are the proper path! Do you trust the thing that brat Xiahou Lian made this much?”
Duan Jiu shook his head and laughed lightly. “Of course one or two Mech Silks don’t count for anything, but what if it was a net?”
“A net?” the Gandharva repeated in a low voice.
“That’s right.” The candle flames jumped on the desk in front of Duan Jiu, illuminating his face so that it was bright and dark. “You haven’t seen the killing array Xiahou Lian arranged for Shi Xin, but I have. It was an inescapable net, and it used fifty-six Mech Silks. Everyone, if any of you walked into it, including Chi Yan, you would become flies stuck in a spiderweb. You would be cut into pieces of flesh by the Mech Silk, and every piece would only be the size of a fist. Even if your relatives or friends found you, they would have no way of piecing you back to your original form.”
“Is this how Shi Xin died?” The Kinnara, who had been standing in the shadows the entire time walked out, revealing a pale face. There was a scar on the side of his face, but it was covered by his bangs, shadowy and unable to be seen clearly. He was already a man, and upon seeing this face, no one would recall that weak and cowardly scholar at the time.
The Kinnara turned his head to look at Chi Yan. Chi Yan’s face was still stony and without expression.
“Yes, it really was a vicious revenge.” Duan Jiu sighed deeply. “Unfortunately, although this killing technique is good, the threshold is too high. Leading silk into a net, the silks connected, pulling one part and moving the entire net. The net array constantly changes, strange and unpredictable. Therefore, in order to cultivate this killing skill, one must thoroughly study the “Nine Mathematical Algorithms,” know the development of the number method, mysterious and changing, and only then can they weave such a complicated killing array. But you all haven’t even read the ‘Mathematical Classic,’ so how can I ask you to weave nets into arrays.”
The Gandharva snorted coldly and said, “Using only a saber, I can still kill him.”
Duan Jiu laughed lightly, and the thin mustache above his mouth moved slightly, appearing ridiculing.
“Don’t underestimate Shen Jue, child. His name has stayed on Garan’s kill list for eight years, but not a single assassin has been able to bring back his head. However, since eight years ago when he ascended to the position of governor of the Eastern Depot, his lackeys have hunted and killed our spies and assassins everywhere in Great Qi. In these eight years, he has continuously infiltrated the inside of Garan with his lackeys. Four years ago, most of our secret dens were uprooted, nearly destroyed in one day. If it weren’t for Bliss Fruit making his lackeys willing to pay allegiance to Garan, we would certainly have been exterminated.”
“I will go by myself,” Chi Yan said.
Duan Jiu furrowed his brow. “I only just finished talking…”
“Chi Yan, are you afraid we’ll hinder you? Are you underestimating us?” The Gandharva squinted at him.
Chi Yan didn’t respond and merely covered his ears silently.
“You! What do you mean!”
The Gandharva was very angry, and he waved his fists, wanting to step forward. The Kinnara took a step forward and blocked him, saying sternly, “Do you want to die? You even dare to be presumptuous in front of Mr. Duan!”
Duan Jiu shook his head. “You are on such bad terms, how will you kill Shen Jue when the time comes? I’ll give you all three day’s time, I want to see you as close as brothers, otherwise I won’t give you Bliss Fruit next year. Read the file well, children. Knowing yourself and knowing the enemy can win a hundred battles.”
The Kinnara and Gandharva bowed their heads and respectfully saw Duan Jiu off as he pushed open the door and left the small room. Before leaving, Duan Jiu turned and glanced at Chi Yan. That child was still looking at the snowflakes fluttering outside the window, his gaze empty, as if besides that fluttering whtie snow, everything here had nothing to do with him.
The Kinnara and Gandharva left, and only Chi Yan was left in the room. This room was actually a water pavilion on Yunxian Building’s pond. The pond was already frozen, and it was an expanse of white under the moonlight. Yunxian Building’s bawd had had a good idea, putting pavement and holding a banquet on the ice. Men and women chased each other on the ice, and it was as if the women didn’t mind the cold. Their robes that were partly pulled off exposed their shoulders, which flowed with the cold light of the moon.
He actually didn’t really understand why they were so happy. It was as if drinking and hugging women were the greatest pleasures in the world, but the alcohol was clearly bad-tasting and the women were also very ugly. He thought that it would be nice of Xiao Lian was here, since Xiao Lian would tell him everything’s origins.
Someone suddenly emerged from below the window. Chi Yan’s pupils dilated, and he was clearly startled.
Baili Yuan smiled and held her chin as she looked at him. She was dressed up very prettily today. A golden cicada and jade leaf silver-based hairpin was inserted at her black hair at her temple, and jade gourd pendants inlaid with gold hung below her ears. They set off her snow-white face, like a finely polished porcelain doll. It was just that her eyes were a little excessively black, so there was a chilling cold aura when she looked at people.
“Gege, we haven’t seen each other in fourteen days and ten and three quarters of an hour. Did you miss me?”
Chi Yan shook his head. “No.”
“You said the wrong thing, you have to say ‘yes.’” Baili Yuan picked up a snowball and hit him. “Then have you been doing well these past few days?”
“You said the wrong thing again!” Baili Yuan rolled an even bigger snowball and hit his desk, enunciating, “Chi Yan, you should say ‘Not. Well’”!
The snowball broke on the file. The charcoal fire in the room was very warm, so the snowball melted into water and wetted the writing on the file. Chi Yan thought silently, I have not had time to read it yet.
“Hmph, Gege is a bad guy, I’m ignoring you!”
Baili Yuan stuck out her tongue and turned around to run outside. Suddenly, she heard Chi Yan call her from behind. She turned her head joyfully and saw Chi Yan standing behind the window, looking at her blankly.
She waved at him. “Gege, come out and play!”
“Baili, you are bleeding,” said Chi Yan.
“Huh?” Baili Yuan was taken aback.
Baili Yuan looked down. Blood seeped out from her trouser legs, sparse stains of blood landing on the snow. The blood was still flowing, and in hindsight, she felt her stomach hurt, as if something was twisting the inside of her stomach, hurting in waves.
She blankly walked below the window and gazed at Chi Yan, one tall and one short, one large pair of eyes and one small.
“Am I going to die, Chi Yan?” Her voice was very thin, as if it would disperse into the wind.
This was the first time Chi Yan had seen her be at a loss, like a normal child.
Chi Yan shook his head. “I do not know.”
She was blank for a while, before suddenly smiling. “Gege, are you happy? Shi Xin told you to kill me. Now that I’m going to die, your goal has been achieved.”