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Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations

 

“Is everyone in position?” Xiahou Lian asked in a low voice. 

He bent his body as he squatted in the dark alley. His black yesa robes practically melted into one with the night, and only the blade of the goose quill saber at his waist exposed a glittering luster when he moved inadvertently. Behind him, two lines of underlings were squatting next to the wall, around fifty of them. No one moved, and they were like black statues.

“Everyone’s in position. There are three hundred people in total on standby,” replied the eunuch-in-charge.

“Good,” said Xiahou Lian.

Voices came along the night wind, the rising and falling calls and sounds of peddling mixing together. This was Xishi Street 1; three hundred steps northward was the area of the Imperial City close to the walls, and beneath that was the busiest horse fair in the capital. Xiahou Lian drew his goose quill saber, the spine of the saber against his elbow as he reached it out, and the shiny blade reflected the archway of Chu Building. It had black scale tiles, grayish white gate posts, and there was a screen wall carved from brick on either side. A waiter stood below the arch, welcoming and seeing people off. It was a cold day and he were only wearing a short coat, yet his face was hot and red from running nonstop.

He was the captain under Xiahou Lian, and a short saber was hidden under his short coat. The moment he met and saw someone off, he glanced toward Xiahou Lian and nodded imperceptibly.

If one paid attention, they would discover that the passersby in front of Chu Building’s gate passed by more than once. They walked to the end of Xishi Street and then turned around, walking back. The customers at tea stalls, craftsmen in bakeries, singers on the street, and even people selling themselves so they could pay for their fathers’ funeral expenses were all disguised Eastern Depot underlings. Everyone was tense all over, casting their peripheral vision to the gate of Chu Building.

Tonight, Shen Jue was originally scheduled to dine with Grand Secretary Zhang Zhao in Chu Building, but the day before yesterday, Xiahou Lian had received a new tip-off from Tang Shiqi that Garan assassins were going to assassinate Shen Jue tonight. Now, the two people sitting inside were replacements. They were going to go outside and ride a carriage at a quarter past seven, and assassins were going to descend from the sky.

Xiahou Lian stroked the icy hilt of his saber and slowly adjusted his breathing. He felt the heart jump faster and faster in his chest and the blood in his veins slowly boil. He knew that he might meet the Garuda, his successor and the current strongest assassin in Garan.

“Sir, the governor instructed that you can’t personally fight.” The eunuch-in-charge reminded in a low voice, “Garan assassins are like tigers and wolves, and if something happens to you, it would be difficult for I and the others to explain.”

“No matter, we have a lot of people, don’t be afraid,” said Xiahou Lian.

“But…” The eunuch-in-charge still wanted to persuade him.

Suddenly, voices surged at Chu Building; Shen Jue and Zhang Zhao had come outside. The eunuch-in-charge stopped speaking, and everyone held their breaths in concentration, staring fixedly at the gate of Chu Building.

“Shen Jue” and “Zhang Zhao” were being routinely modest, discussing who should get into the carriage first. Depot guards surrounded them, their right hands that gripped their saber hilts tightly revealing their alertness. Xiahou Lian frowned slightly. They shouldn’t be so tense, and since assassins were sensitive, they would easily be found out like this.

There were sounds of wheels grinding on the ground in the distance, and the clatter of hooves sounded. Xiahou Lian was stunned and poked his head out to look. A four-horse carriage rattled as it drove over from the end of Xishi Street. It had carved sides, tassels that hung from the top, and a storm lamp lifted on the crossbar that illuminated the coachman driving the carriage. His cheeks were dark yellow, like crumpled and stiff paper.

“Who the hell’s carriage is this?” Xiahou Lian knitted his brows tightly.

“It has four horses, so it belongs to a vassal king.”

“Is there any way to stop it? The assassins are going to come in a bit, so the carriage will get in the way here.”

The eunuch-in-charge said, “We can’t stop it, sir, it belongs to a vassal king.”

Xiahou Lian swore quietly and said, “Who cares who it belongs to. Send people over, just say that the governor is here and that even the emperor can’t pass.”

Doing this indeed wasn’t good for Shen Jue’s reputation, but there was no choice. The eunuch-in-charge agreed and was just about to go out. The moon climbed out of the dark clouds, and the dim sky brightened a little, the cold light shining down. The instant the coachman lifted his hand to swing the whip, an extremely thin, metallic, and cold light flashed past, cutting past Xiahou Lian’s eyelids like a dagger.

There was a saber hidden in his sleeve!

Xiahou Lian was horrified and roared loudly, “Stop the carriage!”

Everyone drew their sabers out of their scabbards, the lights of sabers wove into an expanse, the night seemingly bright for an instant.

The coachman abruptly swung the whip, and the horses neighed loudly at the same time, pulling the carriage compartment forward as if they had gone crazy. Xiahou Lian pushed the eunuch-in-charge away and rushed out of the alley, cutting off the bridle rope of Shen Jue’s carriage and mounted the horse. The depot guards were one step behind and also got onto their horses to chase.

As the cold wind blew against his face, the sounds of hooves were like drums, and Xiahou Lian heard his own rapid panting. The carriage was very fast, and the wheels turned crazily. The carriage compartment shook continuously, emitting clanging sounds, as if it would fall apart in the next moment. Xiahou Lian slowly neared the back of the carriage, and the grains of snow that the wheels splashed up were practically about to hit his face.

Ahead of them was the end of Xishi Street, and it was also the border of where the depot guards were lying in ambush, so he definitely couldn’t let the carriage leave the street.

Xiahou Lian spurred his horse and caught up to the side of the carriage. Behind him, depot guards released short arrows, and the crossbow arrows dragging thin chains sliced out sharp whistles, embedding into the carriage wall. The instant they embedded, the arrowheads that pierced through the wall opened and stretched out hooks like a beast opening its sharp claws, firmly grabbing onto the inside of the wall.

“Pull!” Xiahou Lian ordered.

All of the depot guards reined their horses at the same time, and the chains were instantly stretched taut. The walls on three sides collapsed, pieces of wood flying. Countless arrows shot out from inside the carriage, as dense as a swarm exiting a hive. Xiahou Lian swiftly ducked and dodged the sharp arrows. Some depot guards were shot off their horses, but even more depot guards passed their companions and caught up. Looking from a distance, they were like a tattered carriage dragging a turbulent dark tide, surging on Xishi Street.

The horses of the depot guards caught up to the carriage, and the hooks were shot out once again. Countless hooks hit the bodies of the assassins on the carriage, causing them to be dragged out through the air. The assassins howled as they were dragged on the ground, and long blood marks slid in the snow. Their red color couldn’t be seen clearly in the night, so the blood looked like dreary ink marks scratched by shabby writing brushes in the snow.

Many heads emerged from the rooftops on both sides of the street; they were Eastern Depot calvarymen lying in ambush on the side. Everyone attached arrows to their bows, the icy moonlight congealing on the arrowheads, strikingly bright. The lead officer gave an order, and a shower of arrows that filled the sky whistled as they left, and the howls of slicing through the air piled together, like the wails of ferocious ghosts, so sharp they could pierce through heads.

However, an assassin shot with a handbow in the nick of time, hitting the depot guards on the sides of the carriage and using an astonishing jumping ability to plunge into the night like an owl, seizing a horse and riding it. Three other assassins along with the coachman cut the bridle ropes and leapt onto the horses.

The arrows missed, all of them piercing into the carriage’s base frame. The broken base crookedly blocked the depot guards’ path, but Xiahou Lian leapt with his horse, soaring over the wreckage of the carriage and continuing to chase.

“Sir, they’ve escaped the perimeter of the ambush!”

Having already exited Xishi Street, the assassins were fleeing forward in the night. Xiahou Lian looked back to see how many depot guards remained; there were around thirty people, and more depot guards were catching up from behind. Xiahou Lian promptly decided, “Continue chasing! Follow the path the assassins take, and be careful of Leading Mechanism Wire!”

The depot guards shouted at their horses in unison to chase. Crossbow arrows shot out nonstop, and assassins fell from their horses nonstop. Immediately, depot guards that caught up from behind went forward to capture them, but when they caught them, they discovered that the assassins had already committed suicide. There were fewer and fewer remaining assassins, and in the end, only three people were left galloping in the night.

“Only they are the true Garan assassins, the others were all spies.” Xiahou Lian ordered sternly, “Chase them!”

The moon was gradually blocked by dark clouds, and the streets were frighteningly dark, with dense shadows all around, as if hiding countless dangers. The sounds of the assassins’ horses’ hooves sounded from a distance, very rhythmically, like drum sounds that came from beneath the ground, thumping as if knocking on one’s heart. The assassins disappeared at the corner, and Xiahou Lian spurred his horse to catch up, just happening to see the corners of the assassins’ clothes flash past as they escaped into the alley, like the remnants of moth wings.

“Light fires! Sabers at the front, people at the back!” Xiahou Lian said loudly.

Torches were lit up one after another. Xiahou Lian took one, dismounted his horse, and went into the narrow alley. The shadows were heavy in the alley, and every person’s face was golden under the firelight, making them look like Buddha statues in a temple. The assassins were running in the alley, with them pursuing relentlessly. The alley was so narrow that it only allowed two people to travel side-by-side. There were many chamber pots piled upside-down next to the walls, so there was a smell of urine in the air, and there were continuous sounds of chamber pots being knocked over, the clattering mixing into one. The assassins separated, so the depot guards also separated. The spiderweb-like alleys stretched out like branches, and the fleeing assassins and pursuing calvarymen were like mercury pouring into the alleys, spreading out in the branches.

Xiahou Lian was in the lead, and there was the distance of practically only a few steps between him and the assassin, as if he could touch the corner of his clothes if he reached the torch out, but he was always a little bit off every time. Xiahou Lian reached out to feel for his arrows, but he discovered that he had already used up all of them, so he could only grit his teeth and chase. There were layers upon layers of corners, and the assassin’s shadow flickered, sometimes hazy and sometimes solid, like a ghost that was suddenly far and then suddenly near. 

It wasn’t right! Something flashed past in his mind like lightning and flint, and Xiahou Lian abruptly paused in his steps.

This wasn’t right! The alleys were the best place to arrange Leading Mechanism Wire, so why hadn’t he seen even one after running for so long? Moreover, Garan should have sheathes, and the assassins had been running for so long, so how come no sheathes had come to aid them?

These assassins didn’t seem to be assassinating, but they seemed to be luring them to some place! Xiahou Lian didn’t hesitate and immediately stopped chasing, turning around to withdraw. Only then did he discover that it was empty behind him, without a single person. He had run too fast and actually hadn’t noticed that no one had caught up behind him. The torch illuminated an area of a square inch, and the darkness lay on his shoulders. It was dark at the end of his field of vision, so every step seemed to go deep into enemy territory. He felt that his breathing was smothered, as if an iron hoop was choking his throat.

He suddenly felt a little strange; he used to be the one hiding in the darkness and spying on his prey, but he had now become the prey. 

Suddenly, a sharp whistle struck from behind him like a viper’s tongue flicking out, baring its fangs!

Xiahou Lian subconsciously lifted his torch and blocked it. The short arrow pierced through the torch, and the huge force took the torch out of Xiahou Lian’s hand, bringing it to the snow. The red firelight leapt for an instant like an udumbara 2 and was then extinguished, only leaving behind a sputtering echo. The world instantly darkened, and the heavy darkness pounced down from all directions, wrapping around him in layers. It was silent in the alleys, and he heard his own breathing and heartbeat. 

Xiahou Lian drew his saber and walked a few steps forward.

Darkness. Silence.

His black riding boots crunched as he stepped on the snow. Danger came from all directions, and he seemed to feel the icy gaze of that assassin hiding in the darkness, piercing his spine like a long needle. 

Who was his opponent? The Garuda? Or the Kinnara?

His heart was restless, as something seemed to be ready to jump out of the darkness. No, I have to calm down, calm down, he told himself. He took a deep breath and stopped walking forward. He held his saber with both hands and squatted down slightly. He closed his eyes and stopped looking, his vision sinking into an even deeper darkness. The night wind flowed by his ears, brushing his hair and sliding past his cheeks icily. He maintained the starting position of drawing his saber, and his entire body was as stern as a stone statue.

A very long time ago when he had been studying the saber techniques of hundreds of clans, he had practiced a type of saber called Blind Saber. The trainee had to cover their eyes and stay in the summer forest, listening to thousands of cicadas chirping. The trainer would throw down a needle in front of them, and they would have to distinguish the sound of the needle slicing through the air amid the overwhelming cicada chirps, and then swing their saber down. Sometimes, hearing was even more reliable than sight; when a saber was outside one’s field of vision, only sound could expose where the saber was.

There were no chirps of cicadas now, only silence. The night wind would tell him which direction the enemy was in.

Disorderly footsteps sounded from a very far distance; that was the depot guards running. The wind stirred the bamboos next to the wall, making them rustle. A small mouse climbed out of the sewer, squeaking as it burrowed into a trunk on the ground and then burrowed out. The sounds of the night watch came from the street outside the alley, banging three times, and then another three times. 

The wind moved in his ears, and everything was as quiet as rolling thunder.

Suddenly, in some place, a fracture suddenly appeared, like lightning tearing apart the darkness. Xiahou Lian opened his eyes!

The ghost was behind him!

Two sabers collided in the darkness with a clang, and the friction between the blades created fleeting sparks, like blooming fireworks in the dark night. With the gleam of the sparks, he saw the white porcelain mask that flowed with an icy light, as well as the indifferent pair of eyes behind the mask.

The instant the two sabers collided, they separated, and the two of them silently gazed at each other in the grim and cold darkness as if separated by iron.

Xiahou Lian’s hands went numb from the shock of the blow just then. That blow had been as fast as a dragon and snake leaving their cave. Only an extremely strong master could have this speed, and he didn’t need to ask to know this assassin’s name.

——The Garuda.

 

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Translator Notes:

  1. Lit. West City Street.
  2. Refers to the tree, flower, and fruit of the Ficus racemosa in Buddhism. The flower is said to only bloom once every 3000 years.
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WangXian31
September 27, 2022 10:29 am

I almost forgot to breathe, reading this!
This has come quicker than I imagined.
Will Chi Yan recognise his brother! XL had his features altered.
This is a dreadful cliffhanger 🙈😬😔
Thanks for translating, for the T/Ns and editing.

pesayakokaziyako
September 27, 2022 11:48 am

I really hope Chi Yan doen’t end up killing the only person he has ever loved…

wist
September 27, 2022 12:27 pm

AHHHH I CANT STAND IT CHI YAN, A LIAN PLEASE MAKE UPPPPP

LicoLico
September 28, 2022 12:32 am

Thank You for the chapter (๑°꒵°๑)・*♡

blerg1011
September 28, 2022 9:19 am

whoa! intense chapter! I hope chi yan and xiahou lian recognize each other now and we don’t have to wait longerrr!

loneplum
September 29, 2022 9:06 pm

Oh no! It’s a showdown between the two brothers!! 😱
Really hope that they recognize each other before anyone gets seriously hurt. 🤞

Thank you for the chapter!

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