Lord Seventh Chapter 51-60

Chapter 51: Heroes of All Roads

First, Jing Qi was somewhat uneasy from seeing his completely unmasked, fixed gaze. Soon after, he recalled that these days had gone by in dismal misery with schemes all over the place, meagre fare, no alcohol, and no songs to listen to, and felt that the cracks in his bones were all aching for a moment.

Therefore, he stood up, stretched his back, and said to Wu Xi, “Come with me to practice in the courtyard and loosen up our muscles.”

Wu Xi was still mentally plotting how to get the other back to Nanjiang, and didn’t react for a second once he heard this. Distracted, he subconsciously spoke with honesty, “I won’t fight you. Your martial arts aren’t good, I’m afraid of hurting you.”

As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew that he had misspoken, even if it was the truth. Sure enough, Jing Qi came to a firm halt mid-stretch, glared at him with malevolence, then smiled quite eerily at him all of a sudden, picking him up by the collar and going to drag him out of the study. “Whether I’m good or not is something you’ll know after enduring a couple of punches, brat.”

Wu Xi dared not to resist getting hauled away by him, asking him in bewilderment at the same time, “How about I get Nuahar to come exchange blows with you?”

Nuahar had always acted as a steward for him, able to talk comparatively better, read people’s expressions comparatively better, and, despite looking tall and powerful, having skills that were comparatively weaker; legend told that when he had already reached adulthood, he still underwent the glorious experience of getting toppled to the floor by his nine-year-old little brother. Jing Qi glared at him. “If I don’t make you know what power is today, you won’t even know how many eyes Prince Ma[1] has.”

He also could’ve said that it had been passed down from a famed teacher, but that ‘famed teacher’ was Great General Feng. Bringing his and Nanjiang’s past festival to mind, it wouldn’t be appropriate to mention him in front of Wu Xi.

There was a workout room specifically for the Master to use for practicing martial arts, in fact, but for several years, Jing Qi had been caring purely about playing around when idle and caring purely about events when busy, so it didn’t get much use. Ping An, unsure of what their Master was going nuts for again, hurriedly called for people to clean it up, then light the stove, then spread out a blanket on the floor out of fear of him falling down, instead busying it into a complete mess that implemented the words ‘born pampered, raised spoiled’ to their cores.

Wu Xi had never witnessed a martial arts practitioner like this before. Feeling both amused and angry, he couldn’t help but let out a pfft of laughter.

Jing Qi’s expression went stiff, and he coughed dryly, admonishing them as he tightened his face. “What are you doing this for? It’s just physical practice. Going over to the courtyard for a couple of muscle-relaxing moves would be enough.”

Ping An, turning pale with fright, nagged him. “What are you saying, Prince? On such a cold day, there isn’t even any grass growing on the ground. If you fall down or bump something and hurt your bones, how would that be good? The northwestern wind is blowing like this… if you sweat and let the cold wind blow against you, you’ll catch a cold again—“

“Ping An, throw something out for me,” Jing Qi cut him off with no expression.

“Ah, what do you not find pleasing to the eye, Master?”

“You,” he replied, no hesitation at all.

Ping An agreed. “Okay, that will now be thrown…” Halfway through his speech, he realized something was wrong, shriveling his mouth and squinting his little eyes to look at Jing Qi in grievance. “Why did you say that? But… this slave isn’t intending to nag you, but you don’t know how to cherish yourself…”

With Jing Qi glaring at him, Ping An finally stopped his mouth and left, crestfallen.

Unexpectedly, not even a blink’s worth of time had passed after he just left before Ji Xiang came running out of the study carrying a cloak. “Master, why are you standing outside with the Shamanet on this really cold day? Quick, put on a—“

The speck of heroic spirit within Jing Qi for wanting to swap pointers in brawling and fighting to his heart’s content soon leaked pretty much all out.

Wu Xi understood, then. When other people practiced, they would pay close attention to ‘practicing in all weather, even the coldest days of winter and hottest days of summer’; no matter how bitter it was, they would do it, becoming able to strengthen their physique using half the effort for twice the effect. This one… likely moved his arms and legs only in the workout room where eighty people attended to him, and only when the spring was warm, flowers bloomed, and autumn wind was happening to blow — that was indeed the framework of a Prince of the Great Qing.

He recalled that, in private, the loose-tongued manly man that was Nuahar had hypocritically stated, “The Prince is a good person. He’s polite, nice, and looks good, but he definitely… wouldn’t be easy to provide for.”

Wu Xi was rather in agreement, thinking that this guy sure would be hard to keep. If he was going to cajole him back to Nanjiang, he’d likely have to hoard some equity to allow him to live a life of luxury.

Thereafter, he started calculating what Zhou Zishu had sought him out to discuss for some time ago; Zhou Zishu had a means to sell those Nanjiang medicines of his, and he had something that would leave a bit of influence for him behind in the Great Qing’s jianghu wildlands. In the case that the Great Qing and Nanjiang became hostile in the future, having a correspondence would be good.

As a result, he felt that he should go back home to plan and prep properly. “Beiyuan,” he thus said, “I suddenly remembered that there’s still something happening at the Estate. Can I come and play with you tomorrow, then?”

Hearing that tone that was the spitting sound of coaxing a child, Jing Qi consequently blurted out unhappily, “What are you so busy with?”

“Taking a look at how to buy a few properties, lest you suffer from coming with me later,” Wu Xi answered in a deadpan.

Jing Qi got caught off guard from hearing him say something like that. A breath choked up his chest that almost couldn’t come up, his face turned green, and he pointed at Wu Xi, saying ‘you’s for half the day. He actually couldn’t get one word out, so he huffed coldly, flung his sleeves out as he strode away, and, a short moment later, was heard to slam a door shut inside.

Ping An heard that, and couldn’t help but stick his head out for a look. Patting his chest cautiously, he asked Wu Xi, “Was that our Master slamming the door?”

Wu Xi looked at him very innocently and nodded.

“It’s alright, don’t lower yourself to his level, Shamanet,” Ping An whispered. “Isn’t this a fast? One isn’t allowed to drink alcohol nor have fun. You know as well how our Lord lives idling by, participating in dogfights and horserides every day. The fast was brought up by him himself, though, and he doesn’t even have a place that he can vent his anger on about that. This is suffocating for him, and he’ll be fine once the bout of fasting passes.”

“I seem to have said something wrong today. I made him upset.”

Ping An waved him off. “What upset? He’s only displeased on the inside, and put on a show of taking the opportunity to leave in a huff, not truly taking it to heart. He’ll definitely forget about it tomorrow… this slave has followed him since childhood, and for these few years, we’ve never seen him get moved to genuine anger more than a couple of times.”

Wu Xi understood. Thinking to himself that the other had merely been acting like a brat, he consequently said goodbye to Ping An and left in a good mood.

That same night, the young eunuch in the palace that had previously obtained Jing Qi’s grace entrusted someone to send news outwards, stating that the Emperor had quietly gone to visit the Second Highness. After he dismissed the help, no one knew what the father-son pair had ended up talking about.

Even so, not hearing it didn’t mean that it couldn’t be guessed. Helian Pei’s action was more or less understood by those who knew him well, like Helian Yi and Jing Qi, and they showed no sort of surprise upon hearing the news.

The Imperial Clan Court began trial for the case the next day. The facts really couldn’t be any more obvious, but the group of people in the Clan Court were all stale dough sticks, and they dragged it out day after day. Obviously, these things could’ve been cleared up in the span of a second, yet they instead had to strike a pose and mess around for a few months.

They, too, were waiting to see which way the wind blew.

In a few days’ time, Lu Shen sent the manifest up in Court. Censor-in-Chief Jiang Zheng was accused of misconduct, though the crimes named were quite insignificant; there was no mention given to the oft discussed ‘formation of a clique for personal interests’ or ‘slandering of imperial kin’, and he was merely implicated in the crime of ‘failing to do his duty and being a sinecurist’.

The hearts of all gentlemen had bottom lines. Despite estimating that the Second Highness’s sudden downfall had to have something to do with the Crown Prince, they also thought that the latter standing out at this juncture was to demonstrate his understandable standpoint that he, his father, and his brothers stood on the same battlefront, and they watched as Lu Shen fervently scolded Jiang Zheng. “In his position, he does not organize his government, cannot supervise officials, cannot support main policy, always looks for ways to flatter and curry favor in those above him, and isn’t interested in the least in those below him…”

Now, they believed that Sir Jiang was about to be out of luck.

The Emperor happened to be unable to find an opportunity to lash out at him, so Sir Lu wisely and tactfully sent him to the door.

Yet, against expectations, Helian Pei listened to Lu Shen’s speech in its entirety, then mumbled to himself for a short moment. Not only did he not give a dramatic response, he also hesitated for a bit, then played things down. “Subject Lu has spoken excessively.”

Thus, he took the lid off the matter without bringing it up.

Every single person was wide-eyed and dumbstruck, secretly beating drums in their minds. They didn’t know what it meant for the Emperor to transform into a ‘wise ruler’-type all of a sudden, while some people already inwardly figured it out. Whether or not the Sacred One genuinely intended on tidying up the Second Highness, the Second Scion’s party was in quite some alarm for a second at the start, but some devotees of the party had already relaxed their hearts and begun to conspire with seeking help from connections everywhere.

Even He Yunxing, who had been anxious, ill at ease, and fearing for harm to Sir Jiang at the start, was clicking his tongue in wonder. He thought that the Crown Prince had talent, and this speech was indeed good; from making Lu Shen write a manifest like this, the Emperor would genuinely have no means, and now couldn’t lash out at Sir Jiang. It vaguely let the Court subjects catch sight of a certain mindset, too, and since all of them were accustomed to adapting to situations, not one would dare to recklessly send a manifest up in the future. If there came a time that the Emperor really did want to lash out, he likely wouldn’t have a justification for it.

Because of this, He Yunxing was inwardly delighted, simply thinking that Sir Jiang was safe this time around.

In truth, with the manifest Lu Shen sent over, regardless of how irritated Helian Pei was at Jiang Zheng for taking the lead in causing a disturbance, he couldn’t use it as grounds to strike at him, and the reason for that was simple — Jiang Zheng was someone he promoted to his position, and was the lone official that could be regarded as efficient for this ‘heroically bright, divinely martial’ long-lived lord to use.

Lu Shen claimed that Jiang Zheng ‘flattered and curried favor in those above him’ with complete confidence in his conviction, but the Emperor wasn’t confident in it at all on hearing it. Jiang Zheng wasn’t someone that didn’t understand technique. He had both always known that this long-lived lord was useless mud that couldn’t stick to a wall, and was sour-faced; for that reason, the words he used to advise the Emperor to be diligent in governance had never been said in public areas, but were a few phrases mumbled out in private. That was it. If annoyed by his harping, Helian Pei would just shut the door and not see him.

He could punish Jiang Zheng for any type of baseless accusation, but the sole exceptions were these ‘sinecure’ and ‘flattering’ ones — otherwise, it would be he who didn’t know someone well enough, and appointed a fawning lowlife.

Helian Pei had a lifetime of having best reputation. Back in the day, he had commanded hundreds of thousands of troops to attack Nanjiang for the sake of reputation. He resented Jiang Zheng because of reputation, as well. This time, he managed to swallow his breath back down, not punishing Jiang Zheng… due to reputation.

He looked at Lu Shen, who was both at a loss and astonished as he knelt in the Great Hall. Knowing that the one backing Prime Scorer Lu was the Crown Prince, he then glimpsed Helian Yi’s expression of righteous indignation. There was at last a bit of slight comfort in his mind as he thought that his young son was still placing importance on sentiment. Ordinarily, he watched on lukewarmly, but at a pivotal point, he knew to safeguard his father and brothers.

Soon after, he recalled the day before. He had listened to Helian Qi weep bitterly as he said that there was a ‘villain’ that had harmed him, insinuating the Crown Prince with every sentence, and had some second thoughts on the inside. He felt that though his second child was pitiful, he was a bit heartless, too; once he suffered a wrong, he didn’t call on outsider’s troublemaking, but first thought that his own blood-related brother had brought harm to him.

Somewhat unhappy, he felt that he ought to confine him for a chunk of time longer. Allowing him to exercise restraint and receive a bit of a lesson would be great.

The case got dragged out further, dragging and dragging until it was dragged to when the fast was about to break. For this period of time, groups of people of all roads eagerly tried hard to get active, attempting to deduce what the old Emperor meant; they simultaneously strove to clear themselves of relationship to Helian Qi and shift people they themselves disliked over to his side.

The investigation on Helian Qi hadn’t had much activity to begin with, but Zhao Zhenshu and the rest acted as scapegoats; pulling out a radish uncovered a string of dirt along with it. With all sorts of revelations, reports, blame-passing, and once-you-stop-singing-I’m-going-onstage things, no one knew where their own clay Bodhisattvas were on the river.[2] When everybody was keeping an eye on everybody, there was no emphasis on sentiment.

Helian Pei’s attitude had constantly been ineffable, not saying a word as he allowed them to make a fuss.

The greater the disturbance over this, the more people that would have their attentions diverted.

The one that initiated the trouble, Zhang Jin, naturally didn’t have a good decline, and was well aware of his own end. On the very night he was detained in prison, he took out the poison he had hidden in advance and ate it. With a kick of his legs, death ended all his troubles, and it was without physical pain.

Vermin of all sizes on the northwestern line were sacked in whole sum, spanning ten-something very brief days. How many there were and how great their scope was made people gasp in astonishment; some citizens among the people made a joke, saying that in the Northwest, if officials were chopped down successively, then one might actually die wrongly, but if they were chopped down one by one separately, then more would slip the net.

These people had devoured the Great Qing’s beautiful landscape into an empty frame.

The gold-spending cavern that was the Emperor’s Repository of Internal Affairs was once again replenished, the Crown Prince received verbal praise, countless corrupt officials were sacked, and the Second Scion’s party fell to pieces. As for Helian Qi himself, after being confined in the Imperial Clan Court for a spell, the matter was ultimately solved by remaining unsolved, causing the old dough sticks to beat around the bush. He was punished with a year’s salary take for only the crime of ‘promiscuity during a fast’, and Helian Pei ordered him to go on house arrest to reflect upon himself.

Although His Second Highness had disastrous losses, it could be viewed as being more scared than hurt.

Hence, the time for settling accounts at an opportune time arrived.

Chapter 52: Something Out of Nothing

The fast finished, and cold winter flickered, then passed. The royal capital, which had been silent for three months, was celebrating with song and dance once more in warm cottonrose curtains, with light upon Fullmoon River. An evening of spring rain washed the chill away; the scent of apricot blossoms was strong, dampened clothes were not wet, green and hazy fog was upon the branches of willows, and flowers bloomed everywhere.

Passing travelers came and went at the base of the Imperial City, unable to help but empty their minds. Refusing to think of anything, they only went along with the warm breeze and delicate willows in lazing about, listening to the crisp song of a woman of unknown location, and getting drunk without alcohol.

The whole capital was placed within a very peaceful atmosphere. Out of the fasting months, Helian Pei seemed to sigh in relief. His ‘brilliant monarch’ addiction passed, and he refused to crawl up in the middle of the night on fifth watch(3-5am) for Court. Naturally, the Second Helian didn’t have the strength to make a fuss. Helian Zhao and the Crown Prince seemed to be competitively getting all the more low-key, declining to say a word more in anything and following their old man in wasting time all day long.

Like the calm before a storm at sea struck, they awaited the level sound of thunder.

And that thunder echoed when the fragrances of the human world vanished in April.

It was unknown where the person was, nor what anger they suffered, but they wrote a ballad named “Seven Frights, Eight Confusions”, and it spread among the streets, copies incessantly made and sent; it wasn’t until it reached the Two Hus that local officials discovered it. Under the pseudonym ‘Tempest Visitor’, it depicted the looks of the monarch, Generals, and Chancellors in Court one by one, the details as if there was a pair of hidden, unseen eyes in the throne room that just watched as everyone jumped from the rafters and played dead.

No one knew where this crap had streamed out of, but it seemed like the entire country came to know of it the span of a night.

Helian Pei had just been hit once on his left cheek, and his anger hadn’t yet smoothed out before another big slap fell out of thin air to hit his right cheek, thus making him furious. Believing that this reactionary ballad involved very many areas, and certainly a lot of henchmen, he harbored worries in his heart. He had never thought that there would be such an extremely bold person within the citizenry who dared to brazenly chastise him. Later, he couldn’t refrain from raging out of humiliation again, and vowed to surely pull up the weeds of this rebel party and destroy its roots.

In Court, three layers of waves could come in even without wind, to say nothing of ones from a huge event such as this.

Liang Jiuxiao was accustomed to strolling the streets and picked up a copy from who-knew-where; not daring to give it to his humorless sect-brother for a look, he presented his treasure to ‘enlightened Prince’ Jing Qi.

Gloom settled on Jing Qi’s face, and he admonished him on the spot. “What have you dared to ask me about? Do you want the Emperor to raid your house?”

Liang Jiuxiao got embarrassed, touching his nose. He wasn’t sure why, but in the presence of this young Prince, he constantly had a feeling that he was unable to lift his head when facing an elder. He always thought that it was because he had indiscriminately tried to assassinate him before, and therefore had guilt about it. He rubbed his nose. “Take a look, Prince. They’re speaking the truth, too.”

Jing Qi passingly seized a book and smashed it down on his head, entirely acting as Zhou Zishu’s substitute in educating him. “Liang Jiuxiao… you truly are Giant Idiot Liang. The Emperor is in the middle of having anger rush to his head. The entire city is in a panic right now, and even strongly desire that no one dares to speak aloud, for fear that the walls have ears. Yet, you dared to bring it back here; do you hate the fact that I and your sect-brother are long-lived, or what? Out, out, out, don’t dangle that in front of me! If I see you, I’ll want to get you with a ladle.”

The cooks in the Prince Estate were known for their good craftsmanship, as they had originally worked in the imperial kitchens. Ever since Liang Jiuxiao stopped fasting, he would always come running here every couple of days to freeload a meal, so he wasn’t unfamiliar with Jing Qi. Even though he intensely admired him, he wasn’t afraid of him at all, and still quibbled, “Aren’t there no outsiders here…”

Jing Qi ignored him, lowering his head to the sable in his arms. “You’ll go watch the door for me tomorrow and not let the Giant Idiot in. If he comes in, bite him. Do you hear me?”

The sable immediately flashed Liang Jiuxiao with extended claws and puffed-up fur.

When Great Idiot Liang first came to the Estate, he noticed that this little thing was pretty cute, so he very despicably groped it on the butt, becoming its enemy ever since. When it saw him, it was like it had seen a foe that had killed its father, relentlessly chasing after him as it insisted upon giving him a slash and a bite. Unexpectedly, the antidote Jing Qi had stored up was all used up, so Liang Jiuxiao had no alternative but to specially go to the Shamanet Estate to find Wu Xi and request a bit more.

Wu Xi’s settling of the issue was very direct. He only called for someone to give him a small bottle, then informed him that it was a one-time use.

Liang Jiuxiao’s face was bitter. “Shamanet, this isn’t enough. It bites me once each time it sees me…”

“It’s an animal’s nature. I can’t manage it,” Wu Xi told him expressionlessly. “Since this is so, you can just not go to the Prince Estate.”

For that reason, once he saw the sable rising at him in demonstration again right now, Giant Idiot Liang’s heroic spirit disappeared by over half straightaway. “P-Prince, can you hold that little thing back?” he stammered out. “The Shamanet said that he wouldn’t give me any antidote next time… ah!”

Before he finished, he saw that, whether Jing Qi loosened his hands purposefully or not, the sable pounced out of the other’s arms at flying speed, rushing towards him aggressively. He screeched, declined hand-to-hand combat, threw down his helmet and armor, then fled the Estate without looking back.

Jing Qi took the copy of Seven Frights, Eight Confusions, then read it through carefully from beginning to end, laughing as he read. “Talented. This person is talented.

Finished reading and laughing by himself, he put the book face-down once again, then placed it close to a candle, burning it away. With only a pile of ash left behind, he called for no one, cleaning it up alone.

He mentally plotted that he’d have to go beat up Zhou Zishu some other day to make him look after his senseless, idiot sect-brother properly. Jing Qi didn’t understand; one master taught them, so how could Zhou Zishu, such a bright person, have a sect-brother like this that was missing some strings?

Matters became increasingly out-of-hand. The investigation of the commonfolk gradually changed course for the inside of the Court. Jing Qi had forecast that well; the Emperor had lost face twice, and was seriously looking for a chance to take this situation back. The atmosphere was unbearably pressurized. Those with keen senses of smell began to secretly burn the ballads and writings in their own homes.

It went without saying that this was going to be banned literature.

To put it even simpler, this was trending towards a persecution of writers…

It no longer became important who wrote that ballad; saying who wrote it was only that. A joke made in the composition of poetry might turn into proof of a party member’s conspiracy. The old Emperor was ultimately still the Emperor, and differed from the Scions that committed small-scale framing. He couldn’t do anything else, but for business like this, once he moved his hand, it was a world-shaking masterstroke — not one of the gentlemen that had filed against the Second Scion alongside Jiang Zheng remained, as each had been ‘taken care of’.

This situation of not prosecuting a crowd under law hadn’t existed from the beginning. There was no shortage of people wanting to act as officials; no one was the same.

Apart from Jiang Zheng, of course.

Helian Pei deceived others with his own self-lies an unusual amount, and thought himself bright as he hid his strength, as if no one else could understand that he was honing in his retaliation by doing it like this. From start to finish, he appeared to be targeting Jiang Zheng, yet also didn’t touch him from start to finish, which only made the old man on edge all day long, to the point that he ended up getting scared into serious illness.

And, when it rained, it poured. On the second day of Jiang Zheng’s bedrest, a ‘thief’ got into the Jiang family’s rear courtyard. The weird thing was that the thief didn’t steal anything, but firmly twisted the necks of several dogs that opened the door, as well as killed a young maid that had gotten up in the middle of the night. Unexpectedly, another maid had seen it and screamed without end, alerting the Jiang family, after which the thief desperately fled.

Generally, thieves would steal, not stir up lawsuits in human lives, and would have even drugged the dogs to knock them out and be done with it — that wasn’t a thief, that was an assassin.

It was unknown who was so bold as to attempt to assassinate a Dynasty official right under the Son of Heaven’s feet. Even Helian Pei was shocked by this incident. He immediately called for people to go investigate, then assembled several dozens of imperial troops to guard Jiang Zheng’s home. He also had Helian Yi visit the Jiang Estate on his behalf. Even though the Crown Prince had Lu Shen implicate Jiang Zheng, he now displayed unusual disregard for former hatred and joined forces against a common enemy, calling for Zhou Zishu and ordering him to summon some endurance to protect the Estate in secret.

Who Jiang Zheng had offended, and who was fond of making use of these nefarious means, was self-evident. At this point, the layer of dense, obscuring haze enveloped the capital all the more.

Wu Xi disregarded everything except for the matter of expressing to Jing Qi that he wasn’t going to give up, so he concentrated on earning his ‘wife money’. Zhou Zishu held an advantage therein, too, and knew that he had a good relationship with Prince Jing; being quite considerate of him, he acted under the name ‘Witch Doctor Valley’ in the outside world. Slowly, via Zhou Zishu, some Nanjiang warriors that had been idling in the Shamanet Estate stealthily left the capital to depart for elsewhere.

Zhou Zishu wouldn’t conceal his actions from Jing Qi, naturally. The latter knew that the kid was growing, and his mind was growing, too. He had spent so many years in the Great Qing; going into Court was a no-go, so wanting to leave his influence behind in jianghu was reasonable… of course, he acted like he had never heard any nonsense like ‘afraid that you’ll suffer from coming with me later’, merely closing one eye and opening the other.

With Zhou Zishu being commanded to defend the Jiang Estate on the sly, Liang Jiuxiao had finally found something to do. He regarded this mission as matchlessly glorious; he had heard of Sir Jiang before, and he was a good official, making this the defense of a loyal subject. As a result, he diligently wandered around the vicinity of the Jiang Estate, not having the time to stir up trouble every which way at last.

This caused his sect-brother Zhou Zishu, who was constantly worried for him, and Jing Qi, who was constantly so annoyed by him that his ears received no peace, to both sigh in relief.

Against expectations, there was a day that Giant Idiot Liang got free time again, then remembered Jing Qi’s private stash of good wine in the Prince Nan’ning Estate, then got greedy for it, then ran off to there. Upon joyfully following Ping An into the garden, the flash of a shadow suddenly came before his eyes, and he promptly had some unclear premonition. Sensing that his cheer was about to be turned into sorrow, he abruptly leapt backwards. In spite of his movement that could be judged as swift, there was still a mark left behind on the back of his hand — the sable had scratched him.

He sucked in a cold breath, quickly sealed a couple of major acupoints on his arm, and spoke to the sable, which was crouched on the doorsill and licking its paws in immense satisfaction, with a pained face. “Great Ancestor, will me begging you still not do? How much hatred is there between us for you to hold onto it up to now?”

Ping An, who had brought him in, quickly went to inform Jing Qi, who felt glum as soon as he heard it. “Why is he here again…” he asked somberly, holding his forehead.

Thus, he went to get the antidote, didn’t find it, and then remembered that he had long since allowed Giant Idiot Liang to eat it all like candies.

With no means, he said to Liang Jiuxiao as his one hand hung miserably at his side, “Go ask the Shamanet for it.”

Liang Jiuxiao curled his lips. “Prince, the Shamanet said the last time that he wouldn’t give it to me again.”

“Mn, then just bear with it. The poison on the sable’s claws isn’t as severe as the poison on its teeth, so you can probably survive for a couple of days before you die,” Jing Qi said, voice like cold wind.

“Prince, for the sake of this lowly one that follows your every order, you mustn’t watch me die and not save me!” Liang Jiuxiao howled.

Jing Qi rolled his eyes. “I should’ve made it bite you so you could go into reincarnation as soon as possible and save me from having to make trips for you.” Saying that, he picked up the sable by its scruff, then stood up and took him to Wu Xi.

Wu Xi welcomed him with delight. As soon as he saw the bothersome object that was following behind him, he knew why he had come, and his face immediately sank. “Why is he here again?”

Jing Qi thought to himself that pets really did resemble their owners; Wu Xi and the sable he raised looked at Liang Jiuxiao with practically carbon-copy expressions.

Seeing Liang Jiuxiao look at him pitifully, Wu Xi huffed, then tossed him a small bottle from out of his sleeve. “Antidote. Take it and go,” he said irreverently.

Without even glancing at him, he turned his head and his face immediately softened to Jing Qi, talking as he led him inside. “I have always gone to your place. You haven’t come in a long time, can you eat dinner here tonight?”

Before Jing Qi could answer, he kept going, “The season of growing and dying plants is when you should have supplements, pay attention to your diet, and nourish the liver and blood. I made medicinal food; I know you don’t like things with heavy flavor, so I specially made it with no taste. Come try it.”

Knowing that the Shamanet didn’t want to see him either, Liang Jiuxiao very tactfully took the antidote and ran to the Prince Estate to freeload alcohol. He still had this speck of minor craftiness; he knew that the Prince had no conscience, but Grand Steward Ping An would certainly be apologetic. He prepared himself for a good while so that he wouldn’t be an eyesore there.

Jing Qi had no choice but to get hauled away by Wu Xi. Who could’ve known that, for this meal, he truly would suffer an accident?

Chapter 53: Dream Stupor

Truthfully speaking, Jing Qi liked Wu Xi’s courtyard — it had many entertaining and novel things, and he used to frequently drop by here to mooch food. Yet, ever since that time Wu Xi drank too much and hugged him while blubbering, he harbored something of a grudge.

He had always previously taken Wu Xi as an obstinate and ignorant child. Never had he thought that the other would get an inclination like this after such a long time. Once the chaos in his heart passed, he decided to cut the tangled knot and simply refuse to meet up henceforth, intending to wait for him to get older and think more about things. The charming, unrealistic notion he had during his youth should have diluted by then.

But on that night of heavy snow, he stubbornly caused that heart of his, as cold and hard as iron, to soften for a time. One thing and another happened, and he ended up not having the heart to hold off the kid outside the gates of the Prince Estate.

He would sometimes think that, when he grew old later and started to reminisce on the grace and grudges of his old feelings he harbored in days past, how many ‘old feelings’ would still be had for him?

Prince Nan’ning had the money and power to dance well as well as everything going his way. When he returned to dreams at midnight, he would wake with a start empty-hearted, not having even one longing thought at all. He had enjoyed the extreme cravings of the human world, then gone three chi down to the Yellow Springs. Having seen all the beautiful and ugly scenes of the world, he naturally had a knowledge of what was good and bad, and since he knew, he was all the more reluctant to part with this current bit of minute good.

He was not Zhou Zishu. It was impossible for him to be the sort of vicious that struck down with decisiveness, following Heaven for fate; once he thought too much, too thoroughly, it was always somewhat difficult for him to reach a conclusion.

He felt that, in his previous human life, it was a bit of an injustice to die by Helian Yi’s hand because of his apprehensions towards him. The latter really had regarded him highly, while Jing Qi knew what kind of goods he himself was — eternally just one good-for-nothing, scheming strategist that followed by the Head Commander’s side, and innately didn’t have the presence for passing judgments or determining the universe.

Due to these indescribably challenging thoughts, he hadn’t come to the Shamanet Estate in more than a year. Backing down out of softheartedness was one thing; Jing Qi mulled the matter over a couple of times, and thought that when handling a one-track mind like Wu Xi (who was so undaunted by failure that there was sometimes no way to communicate with him), persuasion was useless, and yet he was always soft-hearted, unable to get hard-line on him. He could only play dumb and hope that his teenage nature, after this period of time, would change from the evil path and return to the proper one, and he would do what it was he should’ve been doing.

Even so, Wu Xi could see through him or something, because every so often, he had to remind him once with utter bluntness. Jing Qi would act like he didn’t hear, or half-heartedly joke that he wasn’t serious, but he had an increasing feeling of fear and suspense. He had deceived himself by saying that he wasn’t serious, but he knew well in his heart that Wu Xi’s words were absolutely realer than hazelnuts.

As soon as he entered Wu Xi’s small garden, he caught sight of a couple of strings hanging off of its big banyan tree at varying heights, upon which were tied small wooden slats no slimmer than a palm. Wu Xi had been watching him with a silly smile the whole time, so he had to divert his attention some, reaching out to lightly grasp a slat. “What is this for?”

He had only just finished speaking when Wu Xi grabbed his hand and pulled him back a step. Immediately following, cinnabar water dripped down from above, and happened to land right where he had just been standing. After that, he saw that there was a saucer balanced on top of the string, swaying in the breeze. Him bumping the slat knocked the precarious saucer off-balance and spilled the liquid out of it.

“Don’t get that on your clothes,” Wu Xi said. “That’s what I originally used for practicing lightsteps. The strength put on the slats every time they’re stepped on can’t be enough to spill the cinnabar water. Granted, I’m done with it and already have no use for them. Ashinlae messes around with them. Though, his body is too bulky, and he can never do light-body martial arts, so he gets a head and faceful of red water every single day.”

Jing Qi inwardly wiped off sweat, mentally thinking that it was fortunate that Ping An and Ji Xiang had annoyed him that day and caused him to be unable to exchange blows with this guy. He really wouldn’t have had anywhere to put his old face, otherwise.

Further yet was everything else the courtyard had. To the side was a rack for weaponry, and next to that were several plum tree stumps standing at uneven heights. Looking at it, it didn’t resemble a place that the Nanjiang Shamanet resided, but instead an area where a secret sect practiced martial arts. Beside it was a study; taking advantage of the day’s sunlight, a woven mat was spread out at the doorway with several books basking in it.

“Sit here for a moment,” Wu Xi spoke once more. “I’m going to take a look at the flower-paste syrup made a couple of days back that’s been soaking in sugar water. I was planning to send it to you when it was ready, and you happened to come over.”

The guy was honestly quick to act yet slow to speak, and, without waiting for Jing Qi to put on a show of saying ‘many thanks, don’t rush’, he ran away.

Setting spring had since arrived at the royal capital, putting it right in a period of excitement, yet it seemed not to meld into this tiny courtyard even one bit. The large banyan in the middle that had been there for an unknown amount of decades seemed to hide the sky and shade the earth, leaving a large swathe of shadow with light loitering from its gaps. The imperial bodyguards knew he was here right now, so they hadn’t come to the courtyard, making this place faintly exude an eerie, isolated atmosphere of somberly-chiming bells, the clean sound faraway and indistinct.

Every now and then, there would be a snake or scorpion or some such slowly crawling by, the poisonous bugs also appearing to be well-trained. They didn’t get near Jing Qi at all; they looked at him from afar, then made their ways for elsewhere, as if they were somewhat wary towards the sable he held.

Jing Qi strolled a circle around the courtyard, then opened up books that Wu Xi had simply left out in the sun, randomly reading them. He noticed that every one he read through had small characters attentively jotted in the margins, in vermilion brushstrokes or black ink. He examined them carefully; the vermilion sections were his everyday, casual lectures, and the rest were Wu Xi’s own annotations. The characters were in disarray and not very pretty, but had a rare earnestness.

He closed it with a secret bout of high praise, then glimpsed a tiny mat beside the book, where a pile of snow-white powder was sunbathing on it. He didn’t know what it was, and when he got closer to it, he still couldn’t smell anything. It flashed under the sunlight, being extraordinarily sparkling, clear, and beautiful.

He couldn’t resist wanting to reach out and grab a bit of it to examine it. Unexpectedly, before he touched it, Wu Xi happened to come in, and cried out as soon as he saw him. “Don’t touch that—“

Jing Qi was caught off guard, turning his head to look at him. However, with a mental distraction like that, the sable he held — having been long impatiently wanting to go bounce around the place — seized the opportunity to get free, giddily jumped out, and pounced right on the half-sun-dried powder. It really moved too swiftly, able to even scratch someone of Liang Jiuxiao’s skill, so Jing Qi naturally wasn’t able to haul it back. In the span of a spark, he got sprayed in the face with the powder the sable jumped on.

He abruptly stood up and took a big step backwards, unknowing if he had breathed any in or not. He caught sight of Wu Xi striding towards him, soon after which he felt dizzy, his consciousness becoming murky; as if dwelling in a nightmare at midnight, his mind was somewhat clear, yet muddled. He swayed, fingers clutching in midair like he was grabbing for something. Then, without him to realizing what he had grabbed, he knew nothing.

Wu Xi looked at the one that had plunged headfirst into his arms, then lowered his head to peer at the sable that was similarly lying motionless on its stomach on the ground. For a split second, he badly wanted to skin it, stew it, and eat it.

He sighed, used the tip of his toes to pick it up, then flung it to the side. Soon following, he leaned over, hooked one arm under Jing Qi’s knees, cautiously picked him up, and placed him on his own bed. When looking at him previously, he thought that he was tall, svelte, and confident, but, right now, Jing Qi’s body was weak, and appeared very frail with the way he was curled up in his arms. He also wasn’t heavy when he carried him, as if he were skin and bones; he maintained his three energies like this, yet bantered, joked, and devised strategies afterwards.

At this moment, when he had suddenly come into contact with the sable’s sudden mishap and fell over, the souls in his body were forced to rest, and he thus resembled a skeleton that was picked clean. The circle of shadows cast on his fair skin by his eyelashes made one feel some pity looking at him.

Wu Xi wasn’t sure why, but he felt that he’d be cold, so he pulled a silk blanket out and gently covered him with it.

After that, he got up, poured a cup of hot water, took a porcelain bottle out of a small cabinet, and put the antidote into the water. Once it cooled after a bit, he put droplets on the back of his hand to test it, then propped Jing Qi up only after he felt that it wasn’t scalding. With him leaning on his chest, he gently pried open his jaw and fed him the medicine.

That odorless white powder he had been sun-drying was a type of knockout agent. It hadn’t had a name at first, but after Zhou Zishu sold a batch of it, it received one from the jianghu folk: Dream Stupor. Zhou Zishu understood the way to people’s hearts the most — he didn’t sell much of it, merely distributing five or six bottles and then refusing to give any more, with each one selling at a sky-high price.

After it dried completely, it was colorless and tasteless. Whether placed in food and drink or scattered throughout the air, no one could detect it. If no antidote was had, one only had to inhale a little bit, and then they would need to lie down for five or six days. However, that timespan wouldn’t be spent in a coma. Those who took the drug would dream wildly without waking, dreaming about the things they most longed for in their hearts; that was thus how it got its name.

Even with feeding him the medicine, Wu Xi knew that he would still need a shichen or two to wake up. Dipping his head, he tenderly wiped off the wet drops on Jing Qi’s lips, his fingertips rubbing against them, and he couldn’t help but pause. The softness of the other’s lips made his heart palpitate.

The one that pondered days and nights was leaned against him without the least bit of consciousness. The heart in Wu Xi’s chest suddenly increased in speed, his breathing becoming disordered. As if infected by something, he slowly lowered his head, raised Jing Qi’s chin, and went to kiss the lips that had just burned his fingers.

Immediately following, it was not only his fingertips that burned; he felt like his entire soul was surrendering. Jing Qi subconsciously panted a bit due to his slightly invasive kiss. Wu Xi seemed to be able to feel the other’s bones as they pressed against him hard… but it still wasn’t enough.

That air-tight distance still wasn’t close enough. The thirst clamoring within him wasn’t appeased, wanting something else.

Ever since Wu Xi had arrived at the capital at the age of less than eleven, his life had constantly been simple and disciplined: physical practice, medicinal practice, studying, watching Jing Qi mess around. He had never experienced human relations before, but at this second, as if spurred by instinct, he lifted his hand and groped about. Starting from his collar, he undid Jing Qi’s buttons one by one.

Very soon, the white and exquisite skin of the pampered Prince Nan’ning was exposed. Wu Xi reached out and touched his compact, warm waist, like he was testing, like he was enraptured and couldn’t let go anymore.

The man seemed to be made of porcelain, yet wasn’t as cold as it, nor was he as high as his own body temperature. It was like he was at just the perfect warmth.

He had just the perfect looks everywhere, too. A strand of hair came loose and fell down, draping gently on his collarbone. Hanging near the side of the bed, the black and white contrast was astonishingly pretty.

Wu Xi went mad.

He felt like his entire body was steaming, abnormal heat flowing everywhere at random. He recalled the dreamland of touching tenderness. Memory and reality overlapping, the string in his head suddenly snapped, and he obeyed his instinct to lean over…

Right then, Jing Qi moved all of a sudden. Wu Xi startled, staring blankly where he was, and couldn’t react for a moment.

Jing Qi didn’t wake, though. As if Dream Stupor was beginning to take affect, he seemed to be dreaming of something, elegant brows slowly creasing, then relaxing again soon after. A small, uncertain smile showed at the corner of his lips, but the tips of his brows lowered, faintly shrouding him in a layer of sorrow.

Looking at the one he held whose clothes were disheveled, Wu Xi jolted all of a sudden. The flush on his face subsided, and he turned both green and white. Speedily gathering up Jing Qi’s lapels, he buttoned him up once more, then placed him on the bed, covered him with the blanket, and dashed out like he was fleeing.

Chapter 54: Blooming on the Other Shore

By the time Jing Qi woke from the bizarre, kaleidoscopic dreamland of the drug’s effects, the sky outside was already entirely black. Only one dusky lantern was shining in the corner of the room. A teen quietly sat there holding a book up, looking like he hadn’t moved for a very long time.

Wu Xi promptly detected the change in his breathing, of course, and lifted his head to look at him. “You accidentally inhaled a bit of a knockout drug,” he whispered. “The antidote was fed to you. There’s no headache now, right?” It wasn’t clear whether it was Jing Qi’s misconception or what, but he overall felt that Wu Xi’s attitude seemed to have changed a little, being somewhat too unnaturally estranged.

Jing Qi gave an mn, rubbing his eyes; he still wasn’t fully awake, and only felt that this nap had been deeper than a slumber of any length of time. Hearing a burst of thumping noises coming from over his head, he looked up to see that the sable was tied up snugly and hung from the bedcurtain. Its round little eyes watched him pitifully as its bound limbs repeatedly struggled without cease.

Jing Qi couldn’t resist laughing. As he propped himself up, he took it into his hands. “What was this for?”

Wu Xi lightly huffed. “Charge into disaster, and there ought to be punishment. If it weren’t for you spoiling the creature too much, it wouldn’t have gotten to the point that it bites people every couple of days.”

Jing Qi was clear-headed now, smiling. “What are you saying? I’m a big human that weighs a hundred or so catties. How could I bicker with this little thing that weighs a couple of taels?”

Wu Xi paused, suddenly feeling uncomfortable upon hearing that, because the attitude displayed in Jing Qi’s understating words was very similar to the attitude he had towards him — like he was a child. It was very indulgent, though it was an indulgence that wasn’t taken seriously… he thus had to say, “I… shouldn’t have let you be alone in the courtyard today. I should have told you in advance…”

Whilst Jing Qi got out of bed, he said casually, “It was my slip of the hand. What did it have to do with you?” He stretched his back, feeling rather energetic, and the ample sleep put him in a good mood. “It’s so late, I won’t trouble you. I’m returning to the Estate.”

Looking on as he was about to leave, Wu Xi abruptly stood up and called out to him as if supernatural forces were at work. “Beiyuan…”

Jing Qi paused, raised his brows, and looked at him. He noticed that the youth had a slightly confounded expression on his face, appearing to want to say something yet stopping, and looking like he got into trouble yet was hesitant and afraid to speak. He stopped in his tracks, gazing at him with a bit of profundity.

Wu Xi got a little flustered from his eyes watching him. He wasn’t in the habit of reading at night, so the lighting in the bedroom was dim. It was barely enough to see clearly, and it caused Jing Qi’s eyes, which were normally simply gentle and good-looking, to appear especially remote. His gaze pierced as though it had substance, like all the words hidden inside of him were seen through. That ambiguously feigned perplexion became more real.

For a short moment, he lowered his eyes and didn’t look at him. Forcing his mind to calm, he said, “The drug you breathed in is something I haven’t finished making. People who take it should dream, but I’m not certain yet…”

Jing Qi had an epiphany. “You’re asking me what the drug’s effects were?”

The other nodded.

“Brat,” Jing Qi scolded with a grin, “I actually tried out your drug for you… in my daze just now, I really did have a dream. Don’t worry, eh? It was pretty effective, and relieved tiredness, too.”

“What did you… dream of?” Wu Xi questioned closely.

Jing Qi stopped and swept his eyes over him. “Could that be controlled for, as well?” he doubted.

Wu Xi had never told a lie before. He didn’t know why he had blurted out that sentence just then, and mentally long regretted it. The more of a guilty conscience he had, the more he felt that Jing Qi knew something. Since he was asked, he had no choice but to be overly alert as he braced himself to nod. “It can, of course. There’s still drugs that can produce hallucinations and make people see demons and ghosts. Making people dream isn’t completely the same, either. Sometimes it makes people have good dreams, and sometimes it makes people have nightmares. What did you dream of?”

Jing Qi didn’t understand a single thing about this stuff, so he didn’t suspect him, thinking back on it for a bit. “It wasn’t good or bad… I dreamed of a big rock, and a river with its grounds full of safflowers that hadn’t grown leaves.”

Noticing that Wu Xi looked dumbfounded, he shook his head with a smile. “It’s nothing, just a drawn illustration that I’ve seen in folk literature before… didn’t you get up early? I won’t disturb your rest.”

He left, carrying the sable.

“A big rock, and a river… with its grounds full of leafless safflowers?” Wu Xi stood where he was, repeating his words for some reason. Then, he abruptly recalled the sad smile that came onto the other’s face, and slowly creased his brows.

The wave in Court hadn’t yet leveled out when another rose up. Perhaps his diet wasn’t harmonized with the change in seasons, or perhaps many years of indulging in sensuality had hollowed out his foundations, or perhaps he was angered by the incidents happening in quick succession; in not many days, Helian Pei fell ill.

His illness wasn’t serious, but no improvement was seen after a couple days of downing decoctions, and faintly invoked a lot of serious maladies to come. When another half month passed, he was too lazy to even say words, and was observed to have some intention of riding a crane out West.

For that reason, the momentum of the vast literary persecution was inevitably stopped. Helian Pei was holding a feeble breathing rate that could possibly be choked back at any time, his previous ambition vanished. Unable to care about about whoever was stirring people up or whoever was going to rebel, he merely switched out prescription after prescription. Others meant nothing while his life was most precious, lest he kick up his legs and die, leaving the utmost of glory and splendor to vanish entirely like smoke. Helian Pei had originally felt that he, sitting on the dragon throne for a lifetime, was a great hero that woke up grasping ultimate authority from his nap on the lap of a beauty, the sagely Son of Heaven. He didn’t expect that he would get so invalid in older age.

He feared death and old age. When he wasn’t sick, he was engrossed in mucking about and not caring about these many worries, but in this illness, all his private concerns were forced out.

He was unwilling to see Helian Zhao, feeling his eldest son to be overly violent, with ominous evil always within his gaze; whenever he came over, he wasn’t looking at him, but at the throne under him. He wasn’t willing to see Helian Qi, either, as his second son had broken his heart. He hadn’t felt so when he was angered, but now he had no strength to be angry, and every component was streaking across his mind. When he thought of the Mount Tai earthquake, that was in fact the Heavens giving him enlightenment, calling for him to be diligent in governance and fasting. At the start, it had been enough to avoid this catastrophe, but that unfilial son stubbornly destroyed it and caused such huge calamity, making the whole Court laugh behind his back.

He was even more unwilling to see Helian Yi. This son was well-behaved, but once Helian Pei recalled that upon his dying breath, everything before his eyes — the throne room, the imperial gardens, the infinite landscape, the infinite beauties — would become his, he couldn’t help but get envious of his successor’s youth.

In the end, he only called Jing Qi to his side, having him read to him and relieve his melancholy.

On the outside, Jing Qi gave him the same sort of ‘filial piety’ as a blood son would, and on the inside, he was naturally not scheming any less… of course, he wasn’t looking forward to the old Emperor’s death at the moment.

In the hubbub kicked up the time before, many sought refuge in the Crown Prince’s party, making the number of people the Crown Prince now had for use unknown. At the bare minimum, he’d be able to rival with Helian Zhao for longer. However, the Second Helian was right outside; even though he had suffered serious damage, he could be dead ash reigniting at any time, and the state of the Court would be unstable.

If the Emperor died at this juncture, Helian Zhao would have no scruples, being the first to fall out with Helian Yi. There were a few ways to deal with him, but it was still best to be capable of getting a victory with no blood on the troops’ blades.

The Emperor was currently a demon-dispelling barrier. During this period of teetering, all the parties of monsters were beginning to get restless; if he really did get snuffed out, would the sky not get overturned?

So, he was all the more sincere towards him.

Despite his heart having other calculations, Helian Pei couldn’t tell, and only thought that this was a truly good child, even claiming that there had been no filial sons before his sickbed for a long time. Those three wastrels he had raised couldn’t compare to his one adoptive son. He frequently pulled Jing Qi into talking endlessly about things that happened when he was young, and the child wasn’t bothered, simply quietly listening at the side.

This caused Helian Pei to be considerably touched, feeling that he had treated him poorly over these years.

Helian Yi kept doing his duty, conscientiously acting on his behalf to manage the Court and absolutely never deciding things in private. Every morning and evening he would visit his father with thorough courtesy (whether Helian Pei liked it or not), and he would give accounts of both huge matters and tiny situations, needing Helian Pei’s ideas before he would accept his orders and go manage them. He wasn’t the least bit brash because he was handling things, nor was he the least bit dejected because of Helian Pei’s poor tone of voice.

Lots of people didn’t say anything, but as soon as this came about, they sighed endlessly about the truth of the Crown Prince’s stability, where he was unaffected by the collapse of Mount Tai, knowing that the man had been hiding his strength before to have truthfully been as dependable and resolute as this. In comparison, Helian Qi and Helian Zhao, who had been jumping about randomly these years, really looked to have fallen downwind.

Unawareness of one’s own sight hence made them see clearly. Unawareness of one’s own accuracy hence made them truthful. Unawareness of one’s own glory hence gave them merit. Unawareness of one’s own esteem hence made them supreme. They alone did not contend, hence there were none in the realm that could contend with them… everyone could recite this book from memory, but that principle was one many people would likely never understand all their lives.

Laozi and Zhuangzi had exited the world, but in the opinions of those in the world — given that they genuinely wanted to contend — they would at least have to put on an appearance of ‘not contending’. Stirring things up into an obvious secret would then be undoably stupid.

Helian Qi obediently reflected upon himself at home, but Jiang Zheng’s side was on edge, neither the imperial troops nor Zhou Zishu withdrawing. The old Emperor was preoccupied with season-change depression and had no spare time to harass him, but the honest-looking ‘Second Highness’ might be making up some things out of nothing.

The Second Scion’s devilish, off-path image was set very deep in the people’s hearts. Liang Jiuxiao, in the capacity as a ‘Hero’ with an unusual sense of responsibility, couldn’t feel at ease about the Jiang Estate. Added in with the painful memories he had of the Prince Estate, he wholeheartedly devoted himself to guarding Sir Jiang’s home.

He was very carefree and outspoken. When he had nothing to do, he was fond of talking at will and laughing about nothing, thus getting a good relationship with all levels of the Jiang Estate. Jiang Yuqing appreciated wild ‘Heroes’ like him the most because it was easier to set his mind in motion, so he became good enough friends with him to sling an arm across his shoulder.

Jiang Zheng’s four-year-old daughter, Jiang Xue, was nevertheless a tiny scourge that could go on the roof and take off its tiles, a little monkey that followed after Liang Jiuxiao’s big monkey butt all day long. She was young and had no need for being suspicious, likely being the sole member of the Jiang Estate that felt nothing.

Liang Jiuxiao had huge guts, and once snuck out while carrying her to go see Zhou Zishu and ‘show off’ to his sect-brother. Yet, he happened to accidentally bump into Helian Yi, and only angered Zhou Zishu. The eternally-collected man took out a whip and chased him as he ran halfway around the capital.

The little girl Jiang Xue was an ignorant one that knew no fear, staring dim-wittedly at Helian Yi. After having a staring contest with the Crown Prince for half the day, she suddenly stuck out her pudgy little hands and grinned with her little baby teeth, calling out a crisp, “Hug!”

Chapter 55: Youthful Feelings

The Crown Consort had a pregnancy prior, but it was lost in a month. She had wept within an inch of her life, but Helian Yi didn’t have deep feelings about it, just some pity. Su Qingluan had always been squeaky clean, a bowl of medicine saving a lot of inconvenience… for that reason, he had never had his own offspring. Seeing such a chubby little girl reaching out to him and watching him impatiently, he first stood in place expressionlessly for a minute, following which he slowly stooped over, put his hands under the little lady’s armpits, then picked her up off the ground.

Only when he lifted her did he realize something was off. The girl was plump, not a single space on her that wasn’t soft, and carried the scent of milk, like she had no bones; he thus became slightly unsure of where to puts his limbs and what he ought to do next. Jiang Xue wasn’t shy with strangers, though, and giggled happily as she threw herself into his arms, all her spit wiping off onto his shoulder.

He side-eyed the small patch of dampness on his clothes, and the corner of his mouth immediately drew back.

“Li’l Liang said you’re the Crown Prince. Are you the Crown Prince?” she asked.

“Do you even know what a Crown Prince is?” he went along, finding this amusing.

She nodded, gripping his clothes like an octopus monster and wanting to climb onto his shoulders to sit on them. However, they weren’t wide enough — she messed around for a long time but still couldn’t find a good spot for herself, so she gave up, obediently shrinking into his arms. “Li’l Liang said that the Crown Prince is a big official, bigger than my papa,” she said in a childish voice.

Helian Yi couldn’t resist laughing.

After thinking for a bit, she said, “Does my papa listen to you?”

Getting a bit of a handle on how to hold a child, he crossed his arms and had her sit on them, one hand placed on her back. “He probably does,” he answered with a nod.

Jiang Xue got spirited, her pair of big, black-and-white, contrasting eyes blinking as she looked at him, then pulled out a small bag of candy from her lapels, putting it up to his mouth. “Eat one.”

Her hand was moistened with her own saliva, and when she grasped a piece of candy like that, she made it sticky. “I’m an adult, I don’t eat these,” he was forced to say.

Jiang Xue was happy, and, out of fear that he’d go back on his word, very nimbly flung the candy into her own mouth. “I told you to eat candy, you didn’t eat it. But I still offered it to you, right?” she spoke vaguely.

Helian Yi restrained his laughter and nodded, so she continued on, “Since I offered it, can you tell my dad, and not let him scold me?”

This time, he couldn’t hold back, laughing out loudly.

This girl was making such petty calculations; would she not be a little thing that caused worry when she actually grew up? For some reason, when he looked at her, he suddenly brought the young Jing Qi to mind, and his heart went unspeakably soft.

Seeing that he was solely regarding her with a grin and not answering, she got anxious, and used those flabby little paws to pat him on the face. “You haven’t said it yet.”

This was the first time the His Highness’s face got beaten. He looked at her happily now, however, not getting mad. “Okay, I’ll tell your dad, and he won’t scold you… Li’l Liang took you out today. What did he say he would bring you to see?”

Jiang Xue reached out a hand and counted on her fingers. “Big horses, buying sweets, his sect-brother, the Prince.”

Helian Yi gave an order for horses to be prepared. “Let’s go,” he said happily to her, “I’ll take you to see the Prince.”

They traveled to the Prince Estate, but someone was strolling out of it, too; right at the time Helian Yi brought young Jiang Xue through its front gates, Ji Xiang was leaving it through a side gate. He knew that right now, their Prince was in the middle of lecturing the Shamanet, so all he needed was a book and a pot of tea with a maid or two dozing off at the side. There was no use for him.

He went out the entrance, down a small road, and turned down a couple of alleys. Beneath a giant willow, a run-down carriage awaited, the driver watching him distantly from its side. Ji Xiang gulped and squeezed somewhat restlessly into the cabin. The driver waved his whip, and then the carriage started to roll forward, only going to areas with few people.

Inside it sat a woman — or, from looking at her age, she was maybe still a girl. She had apple-like cheeks, a pair of apricot-pit eyes that watched him limpidly, and a flowery, dimpled smile. When he caught sight of her, he felt his heart go entirely weak. Reluctant to blink, even his breathing automatically came out lightly, lest it frightened her.

“Hua Yue…” he carefully leaned against her side. “Yue’r, I m-missed you.”

The typically clever and attentive youth actually stuttered a bit, his heart pounding, and he seemed to be unable to talk.

The girl he called Hua Yue lowered her head, reed-like fingers wringing a handkerchief. Face turned to the side, she softly said, “What do you miss about me?”

He merely opened his mouth with no words coming out, thinking that the lady before him didn’t have one spot on her from head to toe that wasn’t beautiful. From one of her glances, it was like his three immortal souls left his seven mortal ones behind, and he thus gazed at her in infatuation.

She cast a look at him. Noticing his exceedingly foolish look, she laughed quietly, and leaned against him without batting an eye. There was a boom in his head, and he had nowhere to put his hands or feet — he felt that a sweet fragrance was spreading everywhere, his mind muddling into a wad of paste.

When first catching sight of Xiao Ping, two layers of words of love were woven upon her gauzy clothes…[1] youthful feelings were always this way.

Ji Xiang lifted his hand, placed it on her soft waist, then thought to himself that if he died for her right now, it’d be worth it. Yet, he heard Hua Yue sigh — sorrowful, mellow, and rather delicate — so he raised her face and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Hua Yue shook her head. With her cheek plastered to his chest, her apricot-pit eyes staring at the handkerchief with some absent-mindedness, and her little mouth pouting slightly, she made one feel pity looking at her. Worried, he questioned her repeatedly for a long time, and only then did she gently push him away, sit upright, and whisper to him. “The Crown Prince has been coming increasingly less to our courtyard recently. Though My Lady says nothing, she cries every night, and the morning after, her eyes will be swollen…”

With how he viewed her, he smiled and consoled her once he heard this. “What’s wrong with that? The Emperor is ill, so the Crown Prince is busy with Court management. How could he still have the mood to listen to songs and visit beauties? It’ll be fine once this burst of busyness passes. Besides, you say your Lady is your Lady; why so anxious? I treat you well, too. When I save up enough money, I’ll redeem you, and then we’ll be… be…”

She blinked as she watched him. “Be what?”

Ji Xiang smiled stupidly. “Be husband and wife. What do you say?”

She lowered her head and laughed, the laughter almost making him throw himself into her arms. The next instant, however, she became sad again, tears falling down. Confused, he scrambled to coax her. “Why are you doing that? What’s wrong now?”

“Idiot. You don’t understand,” she cried. “My Lady is nothing more than an outside concubine kept by the Crown Prince. People like us aren’t allowed to be someone’s second wife, nor a bedservant. In the future, the Lady will grow old and her looks will fade, so he won’t like her. How could we settle down and establish ourselves?”

He was dazed, but listened to her go on, “Besides that, him keeping an outside concubine is not a popular matter. The feelings are here, but no matter what, they won’t be here later on, and then… then, she won’t…”

When feelings weren’t there, he would naturally want to erase this disgraceful history. As one employed in a Prince Estate, how could he not understand a little something about this situation? Ji Xiang’s face promptly went white. “Th-then what can be done?” he said, somewhat at a loss. “I… I might be able to beg the Prince?”

Hua Yue grabbed his sleeve and looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Who is the Prince? Who are we? How could he care about the trivial matters of such lowly people as us? Furthermore, he has a relationship with the Crown Prince. If it wasn’t the latter speaking, how would he answer?”

His entire body jolted, and he then remembered that on the day the Crown Prince was angry, Jing Qi had him hang the rabbits in the study doorway, and even told him an excuse to give him. Now that Hua Yue mentioned it, he could faintly sense that the two’s relationship seemed to be a bit too abnormal — the Crown Prince’s ire was inexplicable, and the Prince’s words he told him to say were even more inexplicable, so the combined inexplicableness of the two sides gave a profound implication…

Seeing that he had heard her, she stuck to him even more bonelessly. “Brother Ji Xiang,” she said, velvet-like, “I only have you left, you… you have to save me no matter what.”

His mind was in a tangle. “What way do you think would work?”

She pressed in close to his ear, saying such and such.

Ji Xiang clenched his fists and forcefully shoved her away, scowling down at her. But, upon seeing her eyes that were whirling with tears and the threats of wailing, his face softened again. Heart in a mess, he only shook his head. “That’s impossible!”

She let out a winsome sob, turning her face to the side as giant teardrops fell down it for free. Ji Xiang was endlessly distressed, and he leaned in to hug her cautiously. “This… can’t be done. I can’t do something that goes against the one I work for. We’ll think of a way, we will.”

Hua Yue curled up in his arms like a kitten, only repeating herself. “I only have you, only you…”

Jing Qi, at this moment, had no idea that his wall was being dug under. The little girl Helian Yi brought back was currently in a flurry; he had originally been making Wu Xi copy a book, writing one sentence for every one he lectured, only for the Crown Prince to arrive.

When other visitors came, Wu Xi would normally be aware that him staying on-scene wasn’t too appropriate, and he’d leave of his own accord. Once he heard that the Crown Prince had come alone, however, he immediately felt upset, so he acted like he knew nothing and remained seated in wait.

Helian Yi carried Jiang Xue all the way in, then pointed at Jing Qi with a wide smile. “Do you see? That’s the Prince Li’l Liang was talking about.”

Before Jing Qi had time to give a bow, he saw a fat little girl biting her fingers and staring at him with wide-open eyes, looking exactly like she was viewing an uncommon animal, which made him not know how to react.

Helian Yi lifted his head, caught sight of Wu Xi, and couldn’t help but stare. He always felt that whenever the Shamanet looked at people — especially him — his eyes were black and murky, peering at them grotesquely. He had no idea why Jing Qi was willing to be friends with this beastly man.

Even so, he had to consider face, so he nodded to him. “You’re also here, Shamanet.”

Wu Xi bowed to him quietly, saying nothing.

Jiang Xue was more greatly interested in the living ‘Prince’ than anyone else, and she waved her fangs and claws to get out of Helian Yi’s hold. “Prince, hug!” she ordered.

Helian Yi had been carrying her the whole time and his arms had long gotten sore, so he quickly took the out and stuffed the girl into Jing Qi’s arms.

This was not good. Jing Qi had never held such a tiny child in his whole life. With a soft, warm lump wriggling into his arms like this, he could only feel utter trepidation; out of fear that he would choke her to death if he used too much strength, his entire body went stiff.

Helian Yi laughed.

All children liked good-looking people. As Jiang Xue looked, she discovered that there was no one here that looked better than the ‘real-life Prince’, and decided to cozy up to him. She didn’t know what a Prince was, having only heard Liang Jiuxiao say that it was a very big official, bigger than her own papa. For that reason, she got in close, smooched him noisily on the cheek (and smeared spit on his face), then took out her treasured candy again to offer it up.

As expected, this Prince and the Crown Prince had the same sort of tact — both expressed that they were adults and couldn’t eat children’s things — so she ate another piece in perfect satisfaction.

Jing Qi thoroughly liked the child and didn’t grow weary of carrying her, stopping to play with her as he roamed around the courtyard.

He ended up saying, intentionally or not, “Xiao Xue, you’ll come be my daughter, yes?”

The smile on Helian Yi’s face froze. He cast a glance at him, running right into Jing Qi’s own gaze coming over, then understood what he meant, thus shaking his head and laughing like it had been a joke. “Are you even old enough to act as a godfather? Wouldn’t that put Young Master Jiang a generation behind for no reason? Don’t talk drivel.”

Jing Qi lowered his eyes, pausing between laughter and non-laughter. Without saying anything, he sat down, put Jiang Xue down on the floor, then told her to find herself some snacks.

Jiang Xue persisted in standing before him, though. “I won’t be your daughter,” she said, completely serious.

Everyone was taken aback, simply listening to her continue on, “When I grow up, I want to take you as a wife!”

She had been born to Sir Jiang late. Her family spoiled her terribly and sheltered her too much, so no one had taught her about these things before, to the extent that she still couldn’t distinguish between men and women. Helian Yi laughed so much that his stomach hurt, while Jing Qi was depressed for a long time. He bent over to blow on her nose. “What nonsense are you saying, little girl? It would be more like you’d be my wife.”

Jiang Xue thought it over earnestly, then shook her head. “That won’t do. My big brother said that good-looking people are wives. My sister-in-law looks better than him, so if she’s his wife, and you look better than me…” She rather gloomily pinched the meat on her tiny arm, unhappy. “He also said that I’m a fat little pig!”

Jing Qi laughed heartily.

Unexpectedly, Wu Xi had come to stand behind him at some unknown point in time, and now he placed his hand on Jing Qi’s shoulder all of a sudden. “He can’t be your wife,” he said to her.

Jing Qi turned to look at him, wondering to himself when this brat had ever joined in the fun of teasing a kid, but he was caught off guard by Wu Xi hugging him by the neck, listening to him use the same completely serious tone as Jiang Xue.

“He’ll be my wife in the future.”

Note:
[1] From “After Dreams, a Balcony Locked Up High” by Yan Jidao. ‘Xiao Ping’ is the singer the poet it talking about. As for the second part (两重心字罗衣)… I guessed its meaning, because apparently, not even baidu was sure what the hell it means.

Chapter 56: Know the Monarch, Let the Monarch

As soon as Wu Xi said this, his own heart genuinely jumped about in disarray. He would never bicker with Jiang Xue, a four-year-reckoned little thing that couldn’t distinguish between men and women — those words were said for Jing Qi to hear, as well as for the Crown Prince.

He had received a letter from the Great Shaman a few days ago. The man was getting old, and missed him much, having the desire to hand supervision of Nanjiang over to him. Counting them up, it had been almost nine years since he had come to the capital. In consideration of the Great Shaman’s age at the start, it was agreed between Nanjiang and the Great Qing that the Shamanet would be a hostage for ten years. His martial arts practice was great, while his studies were so-so, but passable. The day he would depart this land of right and wrong was already not far away.

For that reason, he wasn’t afraid of Helian Yi.

Jing Qi had taught him that someone like Helian Yi could not do anything that threatened the security of his home country, nor could he risk the danger of war between Nanjiang and the Great Qing again from offending the sole successor of that three-thousand li of miasmatic land.

He was only worried about Jing Qi’s reaction.

Wu Xi knew that by openly saying this under such circumstances, he was pressuring the other party. He didn’t want to do this, but the time he had left in the Great Qing wasn’t much. If he had a choice, he would never use this half-bullheaded approach to compel Jing Qi.

In spite of this man appearing to go with the flow — seeming to be extremely satisfied with anyone and anything, nodding and agreeing with everything others said, and putting on a show of practicing tai chi when he was unwilling — Wu Xi had a hunch; his bottom line couldn’t be touched. He didn’t know where Jing Qi’s bottom line was, but he was apprehensive in advance.

Because he cared, he thus worried about the gains and losses of this.

Compared to Helian Yi, who had suffered a shock, Jing Qi didn’t look to have even a blink’s worth of hesitation. He pulled his arm off like he was playing around, lightly pat him, then smiled casually. “What crap. Misguide this young lady, and Sir Jiang will surely find your head.”

After that, he bent over, picked Jiang Xue up once more, took a piece of silk from the maidservant attending at the side, opened it, and dug out a piece of sweet to feed to her. “Don’t listen to this big brother’s nonsense, little lady. All you talk about is taking a wife; what’ll you do if you can’t get married off in the future?”

He had just said he wanted to recognize someone as a goddaughter, but the attending Wu Xi was morphed into a ‘big brother’. Helian Yi hung his eyes and held his cup silently, not responding.

He had seen Wu Xi’s expression just then clearly, making him upset on the inside, though that was ultimately hidden and not expressed. Once he witnessed Jing Qi’s intentional (or not) display, he was even more secure.

He knew of the agreement between Nanjiang and the Great Qing, and that the Shamanet was going back in another year. He mentally sneered — this southern barbarian had started to go for Beiyuan, but how was that any different from fishing the moon up out of the water?

Helian Yi originally had the worst headache from Jing Qi’s nature of making a scene practically every day and occasionally going to brothels all over the place, but at this moment, he was a bit proud. He believed that the man innately ought to be living a life of luxury in his wealthy homeland, surveying the realm; apart from these thirty li beside Fullmoon River, what other place could provide for him in the infinite zhang of the mortal world?

The barbarian really was a barbarian, to even have such a pointless dream.

No expression could be made out on Wu Xi’s face. He was constantly of few words, with even his looks accustomed to being placid and waveless, and merely rubbed the place Jing Qi had pushed his arm away in silence. Wordlessly returning to sit in his original spot, he watched Jing Qi playing happily with Jiang Xue and heard Helian Yi occasionally tease them.

It was like he became an unmoving, unspeaking, unsmiling mannequin.

He was tense for a long while, but he had ultimately underestimated Jing Qi’s ability to beat around the bush — Prince Nan’ning’s bottom line couldn’t be touched, but he also had the skills to prevent people from touching it.

Only when the sun had set did Zhou Zishu come bringing Liang Jiuxiao, face sullen, and personally picked Jiang Xue up to take her back to the Jiang family. Liang Jiuxiao’s head drooped, looking exactly like a frost-beaten eggplant, and he rolled his eyes in aggrievance from behind Zhou Zishu. Jiang Xue was worn-out from playing and unwilling to walk. She rested in Zhou Zishu’s arms, lying on her stomach on his shoulder and making silly faces at Liang Jiuxiao.

Helian Yi departed as well.

Jing Qi sent the group of miscellaneous people off, then returned to the courtyard, only to see Wu Xi standing there brush-straight and watching him steadily.

At the start, he only felt that his arm was somewhat sore from getting pressed down on by that fat little girl, but seeing Wu Xi like this made his head start to ache in succession, having quite a bit of the depression of a fine scholar coming across soldiers.

The Prince should have been used to this. He always thought that there were some words on earth, with such implications, that were fine to hint at, not to be said even if everyone knew what was going on. With leaving them behind, one could still advance and retreat — why bother disclosing it and blocking off a road?

He was a bit thwarted, feeling that these many years of lecturing this real-life donkey were nothing but playing a qin for a cow.

Before he could say anything, Wu Xi spoke. “Where am I not good enough? Tell me, no matter what it is you want me to do.”

He practiced martial arts year-round, was tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, and very good-looking. His features had grown out, no longer the immaturity of his youth; they seemed even more cut, with distinct edges and corners like a knife had carved them out, making him an exceedingly handsome young man.

Jing Qi leaned against the willow in the courtyard, arms crossing his chest, and shook his head.

Wu Xi took a step forwards, somewhat restless. “Tell the truth. I can change anything… or do you hate me?”

The other quietly shook his head again.

“Then why don’t you want me?”

Jing Qi sneered faintly. “Ever since Pangu opened the universe, starting from the three monarchs and five Emperors, men have tilled and women weaved, yin and yang in harmony. This is the heavenly law of human relations. I’ve lectured as much before, was it all for nothing?”

His gaze was cast slightly downwards, his features distant, jaw slightly sharp, and expression somewhat cold.

“Don’t cut back on me,” Wu Xi said. “You clearly told the Emperor that you like men before—“

“Me?” Jing Qi raised a brow, smiling fakely. “In this life of mine, I need to rely on living preposterously. To say nothing of me simply fancying men, even if I told him that I liked cats and dogs and wanted to live with animals for a lifetime, he’d be happy; are you the kind of person I am?”

Not waiting for Wu Xi’s answer, he flung his sleeve out and turned. “I am of humble talent and shallow knowledge. I taught for so long, yet nothing got through to you. You don’t need to come again, Shamanet. Do find someone more qualified.”

However, Wu Xi took a few steps forward like a bolt of lightning and grabbed him; he didn’t dare to touch him directly, only using his fingertips to pinch his wide sleeve. Trying hard to bear with it, he attemped to make his own expression look less profoundly emotionally tinted, getting his face under control only with half a day’s effort, but his mind was a white expanse, with not a sentence he could say.

Only after ages did a few words quietly emit from his throat. “Don’t… be mad.”

Jing Qi watched him unresponsively. “Don’t be mad,” Wu Xi said in a low voice, “I’ll stop being like this. Don’t… refuse to see me…”

He was panicking hard, out of fear that the other would strike him down with one ruthless word, and there would no coming back from it. Never had he felt so distressed and regretful before.

During youth was the first moment of heart would pound. During youth were months and years of all sorts of seeking yet not obtaining. During youth, soft heartstrings would be pinched by someone else, a light poke putting one in so much pain that they didn’t want to live.

But, over the years, hearts grew calluses, and they would not have that sort of soul-exhausting affection again, too experienced in the blue sea of life to bother with its water.

Unbridled drunkenness was planned, song accompanying wine, yet the potent pleasure was tasteless.

Clothes had slowly gotten looser, ending with no regret; for they, the body wasted away.[1] The look the other had suddenly evoked ancient memories that Jing Qi had buried at the bottom of his heart for these many past years. He recalled his own thirty-two years of heart-scratching time, and his infatuation of sitting in wait at the Bridge of Helplessness for several hundred years. The deep weariness infatuation caused someone… no one understood it better than he. He sighed quietly. “Wu Xi, don’t be like this. Why even bother?”

Three hundred years ago, Zhou Zishu was also here in the middle of the night, frowning. “Beiyuan, why even bother being like this?” he had said to him.

The feeling in this, a spectator wouldn’t understand. All sorts of emotions had nowhere to be laid in the human world, humanity lacking.

His self from three hundred years before and the one in front of him from three hundred years after suddenly overlapped together. “If… if I can live to the day that you return to Nanjiang, and if the world is at peace and the weather is good at that time, and if I’m able to leave the capital alive, there wouldn’t be any harm in going to stay with you for a couple of years,” he blurted nearly uncontrollably.

Wu Xi’s eyes widened. He stared blankly at him as if he understood every word, but didn’t know what they meant when strung together. A long while later, he trembled out, “You… you’re… you’re promising me…”

He felt like his heart was about to fly out of his chest, squeezing Jing Qi’s sleeve into a shape.

Jing Qi smiled bitterly. “If such a day comes, I will certainly keep my promise.”

To be able to leave the capital alive in a time of peace and good weather, retiring with his merits accomplished — that was the sole thing he had plotted for over these ten years since his reincarnation here. With one careless move, it wouldn’t only be his own worthless life that would be forfeit; how could things ever be so easy?

This was no more than him not having the heart to see him take things too hard like this, nor wanting to say groundless words to cajole him.

Yet, it was enough for Wu Xi to joyfully forget who he was, and he nearly floated — feet not hitting the ground — out of the Prince Estate that day.

It was unknown whether it was because the weather warmed up or what, but Helian Pei’s illness suddenly improved, as he actually simmered through it and slowly made a full recovery. After another month passed, not only did his complexion get ruddy, but the medicine stopped, and he was even able to put on the airs of going to Court.

Everyone’s stirring hearts were put back down into their bellies again. Helian Zhao, the one who was most looking forward to visiting a Late Emperor, had a good couple of days where he had no drive, feeling that his old dad was tactless to be aged but not dead, thus letting his expectations down. No one was pleasing to his eye; even his newly-acquired favorite concubine gave him the opportunity to vent his anger, which scared her into losing her two-month pregnancy, and made him feel increasingly unlucky.

Helian Pei had come to life again and felt that he had been blessed by the heavens. Rather proud of himself, he still remembered the unfinished matter from before his sickness, and he wasn’t happy catching sight of Jiang Zheng in Court. In consequence, he found out a flaw, then demoted Jiang Zheng out of the capital, having him serve as a minor, trivial official in a small town near the border of Nanjiang. This was a special favor in consideration of the man’s many years of bearing the burden of office.

The climate of that area was most overcast and humid. Jiang Zheng was already more than fifty, and with the repeated frights, his health was getting all the worse. This was a faraway journey to a wild, harshly miasmatic land; he would likely kick his legs up and pass away before he got there. This was the Emperor using special means to have his life, whilst dragging his whole family into it.

Helpless, he had no choice but to thank him for his grace.

Others didn’t think so, but Liang Jiuxiao was exceptionally dismayed. He liked the bizarre little lady that was Jiang Xue, and he knew it wasn’t just him; the young Prince, his eldest sect-brother, and even the Crown Prince all liked her.

The Prince had joked that, from watching her bounce around the courtyard, he felt a bit of the blessedness of a fat dog and a chubby girl guarding his gates, and whatever family had such a treasure wouldn’t exchange her for a mountain of gold. Yet, that chubby girl was going to have to follow her dad to such a distant place and leave the capital. Where would there be soft yogurts, sweet cakes, and little edible figurines?

Wouldn’t the girl wither to thinness?

The day before Jiang Zheng and his group left the capital, Liang Jiuxiao came to the Prince Estate, entering with a listless look. Jing Qi was somewhat surprised, having not expected him to arrive. “What winds have blown Hero Liang here again?” he asked with a smile.

Liang Jiuxiao sat down with a deep sigh. “I’m uneasy, Prince.”

Jing Qi was quiet for a minute. “No one can clearly explain the ups and downs of human life. The Emperor is already being particularly generous. There are no seating mats in the realm that won’t fall apart. Perhaps this’ll be Sir Jiang’s paradise.”

Liang Jiuxiao nodded. “You make sense, but I still feel uneasy.”

There was nothing good Jing Qi could say, so he sat with him for a while.

It took a long time for Liang Jiuxiao to get some energy back. “My sect-brother said that you got a few jugs of high-quality wine,” he said cheerfully. “He’s too busy to get away from his duties, so he had me come try it for him. I dunno… hehe.”

Jing Qi was startled for a moment, not understanding what Zhou Zishu meant.

Liang Jiuxiao continued elaborating. “Hey, I know that you’re charitable and always pay close attention to good wine, but don’t worry, I won’t drink much of yours. I have to go see Sir Jiang off tomorrow, I promised Xiao Xue. Grant me a couple cups to taste, and I can use that as an excuse to go back and show off to my sect-brother…”

Jing Qi understood now, his heart suddenly sinking. Forcing a smile, he kneaded a paw of the sable he held. “You’ll have to wait, then. You two can’t live under the same sky. I won’t be able to catch it a minute more, and then it’ll add color to you… I’ll take it back to the Shamanet’s place, before anything else.”

Saying so, he stood and left.

Liang Jiuxiao brainlessly tched. “That Shamanet’s arrogance is way too big, for the Prince to have to make a trip in person over such a petty matter…”

Before he could finish, the originally-docile sable that had been curled up in Jing Qi’s hold bared its fangs, scaring him into quickly shutting up.

Jing Qi’s steps didn’t stop.

Chapter 57: Ruined Temple in the Wilderness

Wu Xi was in the middle of preparing to eat dinner, and seeing Jing Qi come at this hour astonished him some.

Jing Qi put the sable down, allowing it to go have fun in the courtyard. “Give me a knockout drug that can be undetected in wine,” he said frankly.

Wu Xi was taken a bit aback, but didn’t ask, only saying to Nuahar, “Go and bring that to the Prince.”

Jing Qi paused, then suddenly called out to stop Nuahar. “Is there still any of that Dream Stupor that I accidentally inhaled last time?”

“Go bring Dream Stupor,” Wu Xi ordered, then.

Nuahar didn’t dare to delay, promptly fetching a small bottle. Wu Xi took it, handed it to Jing Qi, then meticulously informed him of the dosage amount. Jing Qi forced out a smile, thanked him, and didn’t remain seated, getting up and leaving.

Suddenly remembering something, Wu Xi stood up. Catching up with him, he embraced him by the shoulders, then lightly patted him. “No need to worry. This is a good drug. People who drink it will dream of what they want to have the most. At least in the dream, they will be very happy.”

Jing Qi smiled lightly, shook his head, and went.

Wu Xi continued to stare at his receding back in thought. “Shamanet, what’s the matter with the Prince?” Nuahar couldn’t help but ask. “Why did he want Dream Stupor?”

“He has to go do something bad,” Wu Xi replied softly. “Every single time he goes to do something bad, he has that empty sort of smile.”

Nuahar startled. “The Prince does things that are… bad?”

Wu Xi sighed and sat down once more. “He’s done a lot of bad things, but not one of them were what he wanted. I believe that’s how he is, because I like him.”

Liking a person, not liking a person, life within a drunken stupor, living in a drunken stupor — those were all fuzzy and confusing things. Sometimes, people had to spend their lives relying on belief. If they believed something to be true, then it was.

Helian Pei sat for a rare spell in the study. He wasn’t sure if it had been too long since he had stayed here or what; he felt that the things on the desk seemed to be somewhat familiar, yet also somewhat strange. He dismissed the attendants, leaving only Eunuch Xi in attendance. “We sometimes think that we have done wrong,” he suddenly mumbled to himself.

Eunuch Xi smiled apologetically. “From where have these words come, Your Majesty?”

Helian Pei raised his head and looked at him steadily, the look he had a bit dull, with peppered hair crowning his head. Although his complexion wasn’t bad, he had wrinkles. His hands had fat, but his skin hung loosely, giving one the illusion of emaciation at first glance. Even if he had recovered from his sickness, he was still a senior.

Excluding the dragon robe he wore, his wooden expression was exactly the one all lonely seniors in the realm had — haggard, lifeless, and with a bit of a heartbreaking, vacant hope.

It was as if all he had left was that robe.

It took until the time Eunuch Xi’s smile had gone stiff on his face for Helian Pei to slowly speak. “Good Subject Jiang has served as our Court official for many years, having toil yet no credit for it. Tomorrow… tomorrow, he leaves the capital, and you’ll go see him off on his excursion. Don’t allow him to go to that humid and damp place to suffer. They’re not going to be in the capital, so there’s no need to make the many subjects frightened.“

Eunuch Xi jolted, unable to resist raising his head to look at Helian Pei, then bowed. “This slave accepts your orders.”

People were as floating cotton, lives were as grass — the gentry and higher ranks were still so, so how would it be for ordinary citizens? If one didn’t stand high enough, then they needed to be intelligent enough, heartless enough, and deeply shrewd enough to adapt to opportunities.

Just to be able to live.

This night, Liang Jiuxiao had a dream. He dreamed that he was in a big garden resembling the place he lived in as a child. It was halfway up a mountain and had peach blossoms as far as the eye could see; when they flourished, they seemed to cover the world. The garden was surrounded by a winding bend of shallow water that lingered all the way down the mountain, and when looked down on from the top, it looked like a faintly-seen white ribbon in a sea of flowers.

The backmountain also had waterfalls, small springs, and water-like moonlight, the summit deep blue and naturally towering.

And… there was his sect-brother.

He, who disappeared and reappeared like a ghost over these years and was busy with all sorts of routine junk, was smiling lightly, with all his features even relaxed. He carried two pots of bamboo-leaf green wine, drinking one himself as he tossed one to him, after which he told him that he said he wouldn’t leave. Every year, he would return to this little garden when winter passed; once the peach blossoms bloomed, he would take him to roam jianghu with him.

Liang Jiuxiao couldn’t resist laughing.

Yet, there was no sun nor moon in the mountains, and a thousand years had since passed in the world.

By the time he woke up, it was already nightfall of the next day. He rolled up into a sit from the bed, rubbed his eyes, and stared mutely at the dark sky outside. It was a good minute before he could tell what time it was. He was a bit surprised; he felt like it was the exact same time that he had laid down, so why did he open his eyes now?

He sat for a time. His head didn’t hurt, but his mind was sluggish and couldn’t get into motion too well. For that reason, he got up with excruciating slowness, poured himself a cup of tea, and drank it down, sobering up a little then. The scene from his dream was before his eyes, which wasn’t a bit like how it normally was, where he would forget most of it once he came to. Remembering Zhou Zishu’s smile under the big peach blossom tree — no matter how real it seemed — entered his soul, and he couldn’t help but giggle unconsciously.

Suddenly, someone gently pushed the door open and came in. Seeing him awake, he exclaimed. “Hero Liang, you finally woke up.”

Liang Jiuxiao turned to see that it was Ji Xiang, then was somewhat embarrassed, rubbing his forehead. “Take a good look. The Prince said the wine’s strength was great, but I didn’t take him seriously. I made a fool of myself once I drank too much, right?”

Ji Xiang just smiled. “You didn’t do anything. Even if you drank too much, you didn’t shout at anyone. Should I bring you water so you can freshen up?”

“Which shichen is it?” Liang Jiuxiao quickly asked.

“You slept for one day and one night.”

Liang Jiuxiao was taken aback for a short moment, then stood up with a bang. “Gah, that can’t be, I promised Sir Jiang that I’d see him off! This…” He paced in place a few times, then strongly smacked himself on the forehead a few times. “Letting myself drink is letting myself screw up again!”

“Don’t worry, Hero Liang. The Prince noticed that you weren’t getting up when called, so he already went with all the other officials to see Sir Jiang off in the meeting this morning. He had to have explained things, so Sir Jiang won’t blame you.”

“He won’t blame me, but would Xiao Xue still not remember to hate me for a lifetime?” Liang Jiuxiao frowned, then ran out like he had made up his mind. “No, I have to chase them down the official roads. Brother Ji Xiang, tell the Prince—”

His voice hadn’t yet fallen before his person bounced away, no trace of him left.

Currently, Jing Qi was actually in the study, standing by the window and watching. Seeing Liang Jiuxiao’s image flash by and then disappear from view, there was no expression visible on his face.

“Prince, Hero Liang has left,” Ping An brought up quietly from behind him.

A long time after, Jing Qi nodded. “Go to where Young Master Zhou is. Let him know that I could only keep him here up until now. He’ll have to do the rest by ear.”

Ping An agreed and withdrew.

Wu Xi, who was reading behind the desk, had not turned a page for a long time now. Jing Qi stared blankly out the window, and he stared blankly at his back. A minute passed, and then he saw Jing Qi suddenly use a hand to cover his chest, stoop over slightly, and lean his side against the wall.

Wu Xi hurriedly stood and came next to him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, deeply worried.

“My heart hurts.” Jing Qi’s eyes closed slightly. His dense lashes trembled slightly, his brows creased into a ball, and his lips moved gently, as if he were sleeptalking. “My conscience hurts…”

Wu Xi stood silently beside him for a time, then slowly raised his arms and tentatively put them around Jing Qi’s waist. The man wouldn’t automatically lean into his embrace, of course, so he pressed in, putting his chest on his back. Through its slight curve, he could feel the other’s heartbeat — it was very slow, and getting slower, seeming to have a hint of heaviness and decay.

Jing Qi didn’t shrug him off.

Wu Xi counted his pulse unconsciously, as if by doing that, he could try to understand the man’s intermittent feelings of discomposure, or could sniff out the tracks of what had happened off of him. But… he couldn’t. He thought sorrowfully that his world eternally went in a straight line, while Jing Qi’s mind had countless circles tangled together in it, winding around until maybe not even he himself understood where they started and where they ended.

Outbound the capital, past the rest stop, out the gates. Mortal sounds resonated on Xianyang Road. One government lane went south, gradually getting wilder, gradually getting farther. The narrower the path became, the darker the sky was.

Liang Jiuxiao ran like wild. He thought of how Jiang Zheng’s group was mostly made of the old, weak, and invalid, and couldn’t have traveled very fast. They were only a day away, and the congregation would’ve had to stop for a rest — his on-foot journey would take half a night to get there.

Along the sides of the road were several towns and villages, and he went inquiring house by house. Jiang Zheng’s parade had many people and objects, so even if someone had only caught a wink of them, they would remember where they had come or gone. He followed their trail the whole journey. The further away from the capital he went, the greater the distance between settlements became. When he came to a place more than fifty li south of the capital, it happened to be the main city of the large county of Qinghe. Surmising that they were around here, he knocked on the doors of inns to ask in turn.

However, he had gone knocking all over the place, and every single one of the woken-up servants had impatiently shaken their heads, as if Jiang Zheng’s party had never arrived. He suddenly had an ominous premonition, jumped on his horse’s back, and ran back from where he came, thinking the whole way as he sped. Someone in the town before had clearly said that they saw the group, so how did they suddenly disappear?

Since they weren’t staying in the country, nor in that town, where could they have gone? Could a pack of elders, children, and family property stay in a mountain forest overnight?

He now slowed his speed, keeping a close eye out as he walked, and didn’t even leave out the ruined temples at the wayside by going in to check them out. Most of the night had passed, but he still had nothing.

He planned to improvise for the night in a ruined temple, thinking that he’d wait until tomorrow morning to ask around again. With a fire lit, he intended to curl up on wildgrass for a minute, but once he laid down, his eyes suddenly swept over some marks in the corner of the room.

Abruptly jumping up, he looked over the flames to see them — they were bloodstains.

His pulse quickened in vain. Following along the both dark and bright stains to the back, he pushed the rear door of the abandoned temple open, and froze on the spot.

The yard was filled with corpses, all collapsed in a jumble. In spite of them being mangled and mutilated, he could still make out a few familiar faces… and there was a tiny figure shrunk into the wet nurse’s embrace, a blade having stabbed through them both at the same time.

He involuntarily let out a yell; hoarse, deep, tuneless, and discordant. The continuous sound of buzzing was in his head. He thought that this was impossible, that it was definitely an especially real dream again.

The torch he held landed on the ground, rolled a couple of times, and went out.

Moonlight fell down coldly, shining on those that had died with their eyes open. The infinite pain of the human world never made any distinction.

Ages after, he walked out, tripping on the threshold. He staggered over to the side of Jiang Xue’s little corpse and knelt down with a thud. With shaking hands, he pushed away the nursemaid that held her, but rigor mortis had already set into the woman’s arms. He tried a couple of times without success. All he could see was that tiny face between the gaps in her arms.

Her eyes, which had always been in crescents from laughing, were wide open, yet had no light.

He stood there dumbly for a time, standing in stupefaction. “No,” he began to mumble, “I can’t let Xiao Xue freeze outside…”

Frantically, he searched out a space, then madly began to dig in the dirt using the sword at his waist, but that was too slow, so he began to use his hands to snatch it, face listless.

It went until someone abruptly embraced him from behind; he was already a complete mess from head to toe, and it wasn’t clear whether he was digging a pit, or about to bury himself alive. He turned his head around woodenly. A large group was standing behind him with torches, the flickering lights hurting his eyes badly. Only after a long time did he recognize that it was his sect-brother, Zhou Zishu, that was holding him.

He, at last, burst into tears.

Chapter 58: Not Too Late for Retribution

Once the body died, yin and yang separated.

Even though Liang Jiuxiao had once attempted to brutishly assassinate Jing Qi before, he had never truly stained his hands with human blood. Closing his eyes, the smell of earth mixed with the stench of blood and pelted down upon him, as if they were about to soundly bury him. The woman’s arms that wouldn’t let go in death, and the little girl’s eyes staring wide like they were going to split…

A man not crying easily was only because he had not yet reached the point of heartbreak.

He didn’t know how he had gotten back to the capital, nor how he got to sleep, but he knew how he came to be scared awake from a nightmare. The instant he opened his eyes, an ardent hope arose within him that the tragedy in that dream was entirely fake, and came entirely out of his biased imagination. Once he washed his face and woke fully up, he would recall that the little girl was still living well at the Jiang house, and she would nag him about sneaking out to go bug the Prince about the godfather and wife issue.

He froze there for a while, then suddenly remembered… that it was all real.

There was a nightmare when he closed his eyes, and a nightmare when he opened them, too. The human realm seemed to be endless and without edges. Even the torrents of the sea of bitterness were in his heart, frequently making him feel pain like he was drowning.

The door was pushed open from the outside with a creak, and Zhou Zishu stood in the entryway. Liang Jiuxiao turned his head to look at him mutely, expression vacant. Zhou Zishu couldn’t resist sighing, walking in to sit next to him on the bed. “Can’t sleep?”

He shook his head sluggishly. Zhou Zishu sat in silence for a bit, then took him by the shoulders, just like how he had done when he was very young — though, the numbskull boy had already grown so big, it was difficult for him to fully shrink into his arms again. The latter was only able to get into an awkward pose, his body bent like a prawn, to lean against his chest.

Zhou Zishu realized all of a sudden that this separation of many years had been an unfeeling era, and everyone had long been smudged until nothing remained the same of them.

The Crown Prince couldn’t sleep, the Prince couldn’t sleep, and he himself couldn’t sleep, either.

And the Emperor? He was probably sleeping well in the middle of the evening, and would need to wait to be roused awake.

Nevertheless, he thought incorrectly. In reality, Helian Pei wasn’t asleep, and had woken up abruptly in the middle of the night. It was unknown what he had dreamed of, but his heart was palpitating somewhat. The pretty concubine next to him sat up and slowly rubbed his chest, but he couldn’t fall asleep again. Once he asked the time, he figured Eunuch Xi would be back soon, so he kept his eyes open in wait.

Eunuch Xi only returned at nearly fourth watch.(1-3am) This secretariat-originated eunuch was an elder in the palace, but when he came back, his hair was disheveled, and he was almost crawling away in a panic.

Helian Pei shortly sat up, called for all the maids and concubines to withdraw, and leaned half of his body forward. “What is it? Did Jiang Zheng have the audacity to defy the decree?”

Eunuch Xi quickly gasped in some breaths, then threw himself to the ground, voice trembling. “Answering Your Majesty, this… this old slave met a group of black-clothed assassins halfway through the journey, and there was a long fight— I don’t know where they came from, but their arts were excellent, and I had believed that I wouldn’t be seeing you ever again. But there was a whistle all of a sudden, and they all drew back. I didn’t understand why this happened but didn’t dare to delay, and continued to travel to catch up with Sir Jiang. The place that was planned to be reached forty li south of the city is right between counties and scarce of people. I considered ousting them from there to save some of Sir Jiang’s face, and once it was done, I’d order the family to continue on their way, able to pull wool over everyone’s eyes… who could’ve… who could’ve known…”

Helian Pei coughed worriedly. “What?”

“The dozen or so members of Jiang Zheng’s family have all been killed at a deserted temple, with not even the animals that accompanied them spared.”

Helian Pei was shocked. Soon after, he suddenly grabbed the bed sheet, his fingers grasping it so tightly that they started to shake. “What… what did you say?”

“Your Majesty, Sir Jiang’s entire family was dead in the temple for reasons unknown. The assassins didn’t even deal with the bodies properly. There was a shallow pit to the side, maybe they didn’t have time for it… Sir Jiang and them were… were just left to dry there…”

Helian Pei seized his jade pillow and threw it on the ground, knocking a corner off of it. A crisp sound rang out. “…Bastard.” He lowly squeezed the word out of his throat, leaning powerlessly against the headboard. “Bastard!”

Eunuch Xi didn’t dare to say a word more, merely kneeling to the side. A long while after, Helian Pei spoke in quiet voice. “Transmit the order to go to the Second Scion’s Estate through the night and confiscate everything!”

The chaos of battles was everywhere, but the majority of people inside the capital had no idea. They would sleep through this night to a sky transformed the next day.

The Emperor wanting to kill Jiang Zheng was him bestowing grace. Eunuch Xi would naturally handle the matter of his death tidily, leave it settled for him, and allow Jiang Zheng to die on the official road in a way where even gods and ghosts wouldn’t know the facts.

Moreover, if the monarch wanted a subject dead, the subject couldn’t not die.

But what did Helian Qi do? Bought assassins, and didn’t let any elder or child off! Such means made one’s hair stand on end, one’s heart chill! Helian Pei promptly remembered that day in the Imperial Clan Court, and what Helian Qi had said to him in tears while locked up. He thought his son had made a huge blunder, to not neglect to falsely charge his brother that was running about on his behalf while he was in prison. So malicious, so inhuman — it was simply terrifying…

His motive… was appalling!

Three thousand royal soldiers held the imperial decree up high and charged into the Second Scion’s Estate without warning. In the instant of roiling turmoil, Helian Qi came out of the room of a boy he kept, his clothes not fully done. He wasn’t alarmed, merely having a cold smile on his face. Eunuch Xi turned away, almost unable to bear looking at him.

When daybreak came, more than thirty million taels of genuine gold and white silver were sussed out and seized from the Estate, which was nearly an entire year’s worth of income for the Great Qing’s public treasury. Further still were many antiques and treasures, making the rampantly accrued wealth simply infuriating. Apart from Daoist Li were a couple dozen minor practitioners, who made pills and cultivated evil methods on the daily, that were hanging out with beautiful catamites in the Estate, making a noxious atmosphere that was terrible to look at. In addition, there was a receipt — thirty-thousand taels of silver bought Sir Jiang’s life.

The evidence was a mountain.

However, during the entire period his house was getting raided to the time he was bound in the palace, Helian Qi’s expression was utterly calm. He knelt properly before Helian Pei as if he had done nothing wrong.

“Helian Qi, do you know your crime?” Helian Pei coldly asked.

Helian Qi sized up his surroundings, and discovered that outside of his father’s couple of trusted aides, not even the Crown Prince was present. He couldn’t resist mentally sneering. The older this old man actually got, the more heavily paranoid, and the more fond of his reputation, he became. The corner of his mouth curved. “Father Emperor, crimes have been added onto me. I have no worries, nor anything to say.”

Helian Pei was angered straight into trembling, and smashed a teacup onto the other’s forehead. “You… you… unfilial son… you’re actually this insane, to purchase the assassination of a Dynasty offical, not even sparing the elders and children?! Everyday, I teach you benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, truthfulness — was it all said for dogs to hear?!”

Helian Qi softly closed his eyes. “Father Emperor, I—“

“You still want to object?! Then what is this?!” Helian Pei slapped that receipt onto the table, anger sky-high as he glared at his former son.

Helian Qi went on anyways. “—only want to ask you something. In light of the statements of those gentlemen that had raided my house, how did you find out about those recently-dead people in the wilderness so quickly?”

He appeared somewhat crazed, glancing at Helian Pei with a not-smile. The expression on the latter’s face froze. Father and son both stared coldly at each other, as if the one opposite them wasn’t a blood relative, but a foe they could never reconcile with.

After a while, Helian Pei spoke flatly, and without emotion. “Lock him in the Clan Court. You want to go mad, so you can go in there and be mad for a lifetime.”

Helian Qi cackled like an owl. As he was forcibly dragged out, that laughter still echoed from the side, sounding extraordinarily shrill.

He staggered along the whole way, swaying from side to side as he was pulled outside, but, at the doorway, he saw Helian Yi hastily rush up to beg for leniency, and his laughter just stopped. Helian Yi looked at him like he couldn’t take this. “Brother, bear with it a bit for a couple of days. I’ll go and speak with Father Emperor, you—“

“Helian Yi.” Helian Qi cut him off, opening those evil and beautiful eyes wide, and paused between every word. “You are tremendous. I can’t fight you.”

Helian Yi stopped talking, only watching Helian Qi open his mouth and say in a low voice: “There will be retribution.”

The guards dragging him hurriedly pulled him away from before the Crown Prince. As they pulled him far away, Helian Qi kept looking back, staring at Helian Yi with a fake smile, and repeating himself until his voice could no longer be heard. “There will be retribution.”

Jing Beiyuan had told Zhou Zishu that too many wrongdoings would bring ruin to oneself, and that was a principle that applied to any one, at any place, at any time.

Helian Qi went to prison to be incarcerated for his entire lifetime; that news spread around, and his final ensemble abandoned his sinking ship. Su Qingluan paced back and forth in a room without end, her mind in tumult. All of a sudden, the door was pushed open, and her personal servant, little Hua Yue, entered with swift steps from the outside. “My Lady, have you heard—“

Su Qingluan quickly held up a finger to shush her.

Hua Yue quieted her voice. “My Lady, His Second Highness has been imprisoned. We have to save him.” Su Qingluan and she had both been bought from their troupe by Daoist Li, departing that depraved profession, and she knew that the Second Scion was their great benefactor.

She had also peeked at Helian Qi from a distance before. Whether by coincidence or not, he just so happened to raise his head like he had sensed it, and met with her gaze, smiling slightly at her. In her mind, he thought that the Second Highness was a god-like figure, so noble and beautiful. Knowing herself to be lowly and unworthy of yearning for him, she thus wanted to do anything for him. Even if she died like this, her worries would be over with.

Su Qingluan immediately jumped in fright on hearing that. “S… s… save him?” she asked, dazed. “What means do I have to save him?”

“He was framed by someone. I have an insider, we will find a way to expose this…”

“Who did it?” Su Qingluan asked hurriedly.

Hua Yue laughed coldly. “Can’t you tell, My Lady? Who else could it be, aside from the Crown Prince?”

Su Qingluan’s eyes widened, and she stared at her incredulously. “Is that the truth?”

Hua Yue nodded. “It is absolutely the truth. No matter how daring this maid is, I would never dare to dupe you like this, My Lady. I won’t keep it from you; that insider is at Prince Nan’ning’s Estate, and he’s the Prince’s personal attendant, Ji Xiang.”

Su Qingluan watched her with endless bewilderment for a time, then suddenly calmed down, her mind also getting to work. Lowering her eyes, she replied in a hushed voice, “This cannot be spoken of. You will never bring this up again. If you do, I cannot keep you here.”

Hua Yue was taken aback, “My Lady, what are you saying? The Second Scion is—“

“He was kind to us, of course,” Su Qinluan impatiently interrupted her, “and we’ve lied in wait by the Crown Prince’s side for him. We don’t owe him anything. Now that the trend of his downfall is a certainty, who else could we count on, aside from the Crown Prince? You must shut your mouth tight.”

Hua Yue opened her mouth, speechless.

“I’ll ask you this.” Su Qingluan gazed at her with a somewhat fierce look. “Do you want to survive, or not?”

Hua Yue nodded mutely, and Su Qingluan reached out to caress her tender and adorable face. “Good, then. Listen to me. To not only allow yourself to live, but live well for the rest of your life… go to the Prince Estate and think of a way to invite Ji Xiang out. The faster, the better.”

Hua Yue watched her for a long time, then made up her mind on something. Gritting her teeth, she nodded, and left.

Chapter 59: A Blossom Spring in the Outside World

On the daily, Jing Qi would take a trip to morning Court at dawn as usual. If he had nothing to do after, he would frequently go out for another trip, only willing to come back once he was infected by the scent of alcohol and rouge, and take a nap at noon. Sometimes, Wu Xi would come over in the afternoon. Sometimes, no one would come, and he would just sleep through.

No one knew how many things could pass by in his mind, as he instead appeared to be always somewhat lazy, like he hadn’t yet woken up.

When evening came, he was slightly more energetic. Sometimes, he would go to Zhou Zishu’s place, and sometimes, he would sit by himself in the study to read some things, typically not calling for anyone to come in and attend to him. Outside of Ping An occasionally coming in to grind new tea, others wouldn’t approach.

The subordinates of the Prince Estate were very relaxed, goofing off and avoiding work on normal days; even if Jing Qi or Steward Ping An caught sight of that, they would most likely turn a blind eye. These years, apart from that one time Jing Qi went out, met with an assassination attempt, then came back to rectify things, and apart from him getting annoyed by Ping An’s nagging, no one else had the fortune of hearing even an unpleasant phrase coming from the Prince’s mouth.

Ji Xiang had been following Jing Qi for these years, and was confident that his everyday actions were mastered to the point that they weren’t lacking in the slightest. Despite the fact that every time he went out to rendezvous with Hua Yue, he acted very carefully, didn’t dare to stay there for too long, and only chatted and pined, it still made him exceptionally uneasy.

He knew that Hua Yue was waiting for him at the rear entrance. According to the norm, at this time every day, the Prince ought to be napping; however, for some reason, Jing Qi appeared to have decided to hang in the study today. He was reclining against the soft couch as he held a book, reading it idly, and had even drunk through two pots of tea.

Ji Xiang was slightly anxious, but he didn’t dare to show signs of that. After enduring it for a long while, he cautiously probed, “Master, isn’t it time for you to rest? Are you not sleeping today?”

Jing Qi lazily mn’ed, but his gaze didn’t leave the book.

Ji Xiang pursed his lips. Once a short moment passed and he saw that he wasn’t answering, he thus boldly asked, “Master, you’re used to sleeping normally, so you should take a nap for a minute, right? Be careful to not get a headache in the afternoon.”

Then, Jing Qi raised his head to look at him. It wasn’t clear whether it was intentional or not, but those peach blossom eyes had a bit of an overtone of wanting to laugh, yet weren’t, though his gaze was not soft at all. When it floated over, it was like a small knife lightly stabbed Ji Xiang, producing a current of restrained chilliness.

Ji Xiang’s heart abruptly went cold, getting the overall feeling that the Prince seemed to know something. However, the next instant, he calmed once more. He was confident in his utter familiarity with both this Estate and his Master, and that he absolutely hadn’t given the jig up. This moment was nothing more than him being used to witnessing his Master’s typical sly tricks, which then gave rise to a slight misperception stemming from reverence.

Besides… he was just a grown boy liking a lady. If the other genuinely knew of it, what major problem would there even be?

For that, he nervously settled his heart.

“The tea is strong today,” he heard Jing Qi say. “I’ve gotten tired, but I can’t sleep. In any case, tomorrow I’ll rest and bathe; there’ll be no rush to get up early, so I’ll make up for it then.”

Ji Xiang thought to himself that he was apparently going to have to wait for the Shamanet to arrive for the other’s attention to be diverted, and she would have to wait for a little bit longer. With an affirmation, he obediently stood beside him.

Jing Qi’s attention returned to the page of the book again. Ji Xiang steadied somewhat, stooping to replenish Jing Qi’s tea once more. All of a sudden, he witnessed Jing Qi turn a page, then speak to him with unknown intentions without looking at him. “Don’t let that young lady wait for too long. Go, get someone to invite her in. Let me take a look.”

The pot Ji Xiang held fell to the floor with a crash. He lifted his head in alarm, took a half-step back, and knelt on the ground with soft knees. “M… Master…”

Jing Qi ignored him. Someone promptly and silently came in to clean up the floor.

A short moment later, the apprehensive little Hua Yue was accepted into Jing Qi’s study. She had been following Su Qingluan from the start, so she had met Prince Nan’ning before. Previously, she had only felt that he was an elegant and cute young man that was quite generous in his actions, and he did foppish things without a foppish air, having always treated them with extreme courtesy.

Yet, right now, a trembling panic senselessly arose from the bottom of her heart.

She knew that this man was the Crown Prince party’s most deeply-hidden strategist, but that was ultimately a matter between men, having no relevance to them at all as well as being something of a faux-pas. Now, it appeared that she had only come to know of a drop of the true colors of this somewhat excessively beautiful Prince.

Jing Qi lightly smiled and nodded. “Miss Hua Yue, sit.”

She hadn’t expected that he would still remember her name, and didn’t know how deep that went. Giving a blessing-bow, she sat down in a chair in accordance with his words and braced herself to bear with Jing Qi’s measurement.

“This boy Ji Xiang is very insensible, to have a young lady dryly wait outside the back entrance for such a long time,” Jing Qi said leisurely. “This Prince has already punished him just now.”

Hua Yue looked askance at Ji Xiang’s deathly pale face as he knelt on the floor. Suddenly, with a confidence that came out of nowhere, she stood up, then came in close to him and knelt as well. “Prince, this maid has something to request that you fulfill.”

The Prince, who had always widely been known for being kind to women, currently seemed to have transformed into a different person. Watching this young lady and Ji Xiang kneel together on the icy ground like it was no big deal, he unhurriedly lifted the lid of his tea cup, took a sip, and smiled. “What are you doing, Miss?”

“Prince, Brother Ji Xiang and I have had feelings for each other for a long time. I… know that my own status is lowly, and unworthy of him. In the future, I will act even as a concubine or a slave to be able to wait upon him for a lifetime, and will also be willing to know both heat and cold on his behalf.”

Jing Qi thought that the girl was pretty courageous and a truly talented person, but no change in weather could be gleaned from his surface. “Is that right? I had no idea,” he replied indifferently.

All of a sudden, Ji Xiang wordlessly used force to knock his head onto the ground. His forehead quickly bruised, and faint wisps of blood oozed downwards, giving quite a sense of having a broken head with blood pouring out. Hua Yue, who was watching from beside him, couldn’t help but feel terror in her heart. “Prince…” she implored in a whisper.

Jing Qi chuckled, then spoke to Ping An, who had come to silently stand behind him at some unknown point in time. “Take a look. This Prince has become a vile man that beats mandarin ducks with a club.”

Ping An regarded Ji Xiang’s incessant kowtowing with a poor expression.

“You came to look for him,” Jing Qi continued. “What for?”

“I had…” She felt her own voice shake a bit, so she cleared her throat to speak clearly and completely. “I had thought myself to be lowly, with words that carry little weight, so I planned to bring Brother Ji Xiang back to find my Lady and seek her grace, then ask her to come forward to seek the Prince. I didn’t expect that you would find out…”

“Mn.” Jing Qi nodded, speaking calmly. “If I knew nothing about everyone that found my Estate’s doorway, I would be quite dead.”

Hua Yue jumped in fright. “I didn’t have the intent to offend you, Prince…” she said quickly.

He waved her off, then shot a glance at Ji Xiang. “Alright. Stop kowtowing.”

Ji Xiang prostrated himself. “Master, I…”

Jing Qi lowered his eyes. “Since another household’s maiden has come to the door wanting to bring you to see her Lady, you may as well go — given that Lady Su nods her head, this Prince will naturally be happy to fulfill this for you.”

Saying this, he stopped and smiled. Seeing Ji Xiang stare at him with a stupid, disbelieving look on his face, he then said pointedly, “It’s merely that you, Ji Xiang, are going to Lady Su’s place, so you’ll need to pay attention to propriety. Don’t lose my Estate’s face.”

Ji Xiang was nearly about to cry. “Master, thank you for your grace, thank you!”

Jing Qi hooked up the corner of his mouth, but ultimately didn’t reveal a complete smile, waving him off. “Both of you can go.”

Once Ji Xiang and Hua Yue fled together, Ping An let out a long sigh, and knelt down without a word.

Jing Qi looked at him, then sighed with some exhaustion, extending a hand to pull him up. “Get up.”

Ping An knelt there stubbornly. “Master, this steward Ping An holds a cozy position, yet allowed something like this to happen under my control. Please enact punishment.”

Jing Qi sneered. “Punishment for what? Wouldn’t it be better to use that effort for some proper business? Go to the front hall and let Miss Su know that I’ve already released those two, and ask her…”

His words stopped here, the rest of them swallowed back down, after which he merely patted the back of Ping An’s head lightly. “Go on.”

Ping An looked at him, unable to speak despite wanting to, and ended up also swallowing his words back down, standing up to quietly withdraw.

Having missed today’s afternoon nap, it was truly as Ji Xiang had said; Jing Qi was a bit drowsy in the head after sitting for a while, and he sighed at himself for seriously being spoiled. Then, he heard someone outside the door report that the Shamanet had come.

He still didn’t get up, continuing to recline on the couch. With his eyes half-closed, he saw Wu Xi enter, nodded lethargically, and told him to sit. “I’ll lean here for a minute. Go find books to read first and call for me when the minute’s done.”

“What’s wrong?”

Before he could answer that, Wu Xi had put a hand on his forehead to test, after which he grasped his wrist to carefully examine him. He felt at ease afterwards, knowing that Jing Qi was only having another flare-up of his laziness disease. Viewing his complexion, however, he furrowed his brows again. “Why are you unhappy?”

Jing Qi was startled, opening his eyes. “When did I ever say I was unhappy?”

“I knew it with one look. Get up, don’t lean. You’re not ill, but your laziness will make you ill. I will bring you out.”

Jing Qi sneered and didn’t budge one cun. “You’ll bring me out? Are you ready to spread your wings, boy? You’ve only walked the streets of the capital a couple rounds before, yet you still dare to say that you’ll bring me out?”

Wu Xi decided that directly getting into action would be faster, so he leaned over to pick the other’s entire body up off the couch. Jing Qi thus used his elbow to not-softly jab him, forcing him to let go, and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “What are you doing, kidnapping me? There’s no use in that. Our resident cheapskate Ping An definitely won’t fork up the cash.”

“I want you to go out and distract yourself,” Wu Xi replied. Jing Qi faced off with him for a long time, but ultimately lost against his determination. Thinking to himself that everything really did have a weakness, and that he had no way to deal with this little toxin, he stood up with swaying limbs. “You’re fearsome. Let’s go, where to?”

Wu Xi beamed.

The two of them rode right out the city. Soon, the ten-year period would be satisfied, and Wu Xi’s days in the capital were numbered. Normally, he didn’t show his face and spoke little, making people think him all the more mysterious, imposing, and isolated, where no one dared to rashly provoke him. With his present ability, he would likely be able to act freely in the imperial forbidden city, to say nothing of a trip outside the capital. In this manner, the rule that the hostage couldn’t exit the city was an empty shell.

It was right in the season of spring flowers decaying. Hoofbeats startled the flowers into falling, the flowing wind revolving around; upon arrival at that abandoned, unmanned spot, he let loose and dashed forwards, giving one a sense of high aspirations. All of a sudden, Wu Xi hauled in the reins, turned over, and jumped off, smiling at Jing Qi. “Come down, follow me.”

Jing Qi dismounted, and followed him for a spell in a walk of both steep and light steps; the ground was bumpy and full of stones, and still had traces of rain left behind from the night before. Soon following, they abruptly turned to a tiny valley, and the field of view quickly opened up wide. Passing through its middle was a narrow, limpid stream, the sound of a mountain spring still able to be faintly heard. There were broad fields neighboring the capital that had no tall mountains, only small hills like this — but it had a special sort of uniqueness.

Walking along the flow of the water, it got wider and wider the further they went. Grass grew and orioles cried on both shores, and flowers fell into the running water, as if it was a Peach Blossom Spring.

“This flows to the inside of the city, but is it Fullmoon?” Jing Qi asked.

Wu Xi nodded.

The other sighed. “I didn’t expect that a strip of water so heavy with makeup could actually be this clear.”

Wu Xi took his hand. “Come over here.”

Jing Qi went with him on another journey through an area of some twists and turns, then caught sight of the mountain spring that he had heard prior, yet hadn’t seen the image of. It came out of nowhere, suspended upon a cliff; at the area where the current was rapid, white droplets sprayed out, and they made a tiny cascade, painting a rainbow in the sky.

The plants on the ground were velvety. Jing Qi straight-up sat down, generally sensing that there seemed to be an abnormal freshness in the air, like the scent had been washed clean by the water. The gloomy feeling within him really did vanish a little.

Wu Xi sat down beside him. “You all don’t have tall mountains here, yet a place like this could still be found. If it was our Nanjiang…” He paused, because Jing Qi had turned to look at him with a grin. He wasn’t sure when it had started, but the latter felt that this kid couldn’t go three sentences without talking about Nanjiang’s goodness, as if he was eager to sell it to him.

Realizing this himself, Wu Xi reddened, smiled, and said nothing. When he smiled, the glum, detached aura he had was shed entirely, and he resembled big, bashful, unusually adorable kid. “If you’re unhappy in the future, I’ll bring you here to distract yourself. Is that okay?”

Jing Qi didn’t nod, nor did he shake his head, only sighing. “This is a good spot.” He then stretched out his back and laid down on it.

Wu Xi hesitated, then tentatively came in close, leaning over to kiss him on the face at flying speed.

“Don’t mess around,” Jing Qi said with a smile.

Seeing that he wasn’t angry, Wu Xi reached out and hugged him in full content, then turned onto his side. Burying his face into his shoulder, he took in the faint scent coming off of his clothes, and closed his eyes.

The mountain stream flowed, the clean breeze blew past, and that man was in his arms.

Chapter 60: A Heart Like Dead Ashes

The instant the words ‘I have to save the Second Scion’ came out of Hua Yue’s mouth, Su Qingluan got the mind for murder. She had the sudden realization that the girl before her was greatly ambitious, and no longer that ignorant young lady that had been freshly bought and followed after her.

At the onset, when Hua Yue had hooked up with the Prince Estate’s Ji Xiang, she had tacitly accepted it, as she also wanted to imitate those major figures that conversed like they were playing go by burying her own chess piece. However, she very soon discovered that Ji Xiang held a dread towards Jing Beiyuan that exuded from his bones; even in the face of his beloved woman, he didn’t dare to relent a tiny bit.

And she, the one who had been placed in closest proximity to the Crown Prince by the Second Scion, had utterly no way to be useful. The initial honeyed affection had passed, and all she knew was what they called ‘crabapple flowers decline as easily as a man’s feelings, the flow of water as infinite as sorrow.’[1] What was in that man’s chest was his home and country, and he had a moon-like existence that the stars curled around. She was no more than a minor songstress that sang upon Fullmoon River, a performing plaything for the whole city to enjoy.

No matter how dumb a woman was, she could distinguish between what were true feelings and what were false. From that bit of deep love could hidden ire be born, from the hidden ire was resentment born — after that, the huge dream was woken up from, and then the heart was as cold as iron. Dear women ought not to indulge in gents! Gents indulge, and still get spoken of. Women indulge, and do not get spoken of.[2]

Now, she wanted nothing more than to keep on living in wealth and glory like this.

Hua Yue might have had her own tiny calculations, but she didn’t comprehend the matters those major figures had at all. Even if what she had said was the truth — that the Second Scion had been framed and blame-shifted by someone — the real cause of his imprisonment certainly didn’t stop at that, and he had to have committed a disastrous taboo that would have gotten him lifelong jail. Sometimes, a matter’s truth wasn’t that important in the least.

Su Qingluan knew that this time, Helian Qi really had no way to recover from this. At this moment, if she didn’t know what it was to be smart and allowed Hua Yue to do something stupid, she was likely not going to able to ensure her own life, either.

Even insects snuck around in order to keep their lives!

Once a woman had determined a most savage resolution, she would either see it done to the end, or not do it at all. On one side, she sent Hua Yue off with an excuse, and on the other, she stealthily disguised herself and took a shortcut to the Prince Estate. Ji Xiang was different from Hua Yue; he was a servant of the Estate, and the beating of a dog depended on its Master. It was probable that the Prince still didn’t know that there was such a double-crosser in his Estate, and she wanted to sell this favor to him.

She feared Helian Yi from the bottom of her heart. Her feelings had vanished, and only fear remained — fear of the cold light in that man’s eyes, and because accompanying the monarch was like accompanying a tiger. Even so, she had an odd hunch that, if there came a day that she really was to die by the Crown Prince’s hands, only the Prince could save her when the time came.

Jing Qi indeed hadn’t expected it. For one, Ji Xiang was genuine too familiar with his everyday customs, and had acted quite carefully. For two, Ji Xiang had been following his side for over a decade. Even though that couldn’t compare with Ping An’s accumulated camaraderie of several lifetimes, he was still a child he had watched grow up and diligently educated.

He was guarded against the Emperor, the Crown Prince, and major officials both civil and military — if he also needed to be fearfully guarded against even the household members right under his nose, wouldn’t a life like that be a bit too senseless?

The colder people looked, the deeper their feelings were in reality. The more filthy things people saw, the more they wanted to cherish some good things in their hearts. At times, they always hoped to be able to believe in some people, and regret parting with some people.

Jing Qi thought that cherishing old affections like this was awful, and he really was getting old.

Hearing what Su Qingluan meant… the Crown Prince’s affairs, his affairs, and Zishu’s affairs were things Ji Xiang naturally wasn’t clear on. It was merely that he was in an advantageous pavilion near the water at the Prince Estate, and he was clever, so he could have guessed out some clues. Jing Qi had his own plans in doing things, and he never brought them up lightly, even to Ping An. It wasn’t that he refused to trust in others; he simply felt that these villainous matters, if possible, were fine for him to know, while anyone else wasn’t to be frightened.

However, he had also never painstakingly avoided taboo around them before.

Before Su Qingluan finished, he nodded absent-mindedly, and spoke like he was sighing. “Act how you see fit, Miss. This Prince will merely act like I know nothing of it.”

Therefore, he had someone get Ji Xiang to wait on him in the study while he held a book, mechanically flipping through the pages when he, in fact, wasn’t reading a single one. Out of the corner of his eyes, he glimpsed the youth making an extreme effort to repress his expression — pretending that everything was fine, yet looking apprehensive — and the ache in his heart was simply unbearable to speak about.

And no one could speak of it.

Steward Ping An was an expert at financial management; upon running into these calculative matters, though, both of his eyes practically clouded over. It was likely that, to date, he still ignorantly didn’t know what had happened, and, to date, entirely believed himself to be wise and powerful enough to foresee everything, watching Ji Xiang the whole time with only a cool eye…

But he wasn’t a god.

Jing Qi vacantly thought that he himself wasn’t a god, either. He was used to typically having a nonchalant expression on at all times, but it wasn’t like he could actually see five hundred years into the future and think of responses to everything in advance. He was just… broken-hearted, and couldn’t allow anyone to see that he was.

What he had said prior to Ji Xiang’s departure could be considered his final act of extreme benevolence to him: if you’re able to completely repent, if you have even a bit of your heart still with me, then you know what to say and what not to say, and will make Su Qingluan know you as a loyal servant. This was for the sake of gaining a favor with me, anyhow, and she wouldn’t move against me.

If so…

Then fate would go by Heaven’s will.

A breeze faintly picked up. Wu Xi took off his outer robe, unfolded it, and covered them both. Jing Qi didn’t open his eyes, but he abruptly grabbed his hand, startling him, and was heard to mumble like he was sleeptalking. “I hate to do it. Someone like that, just… gone, all of a sudden, I hate it…”

Wu Xi didn’t know who he was talking about, yet sensed that it was rare, and certainly not easy, for this man that never showed his emotions to speak some truth. Getting somewhat overwhelmed from this favor, he didn’t dare to even breathe heavy as he waited for him to keep going.

Jing Qi sighed, eyelids lifting slightly. The daylight inclined minutely. His gaze was in disarray, eyes appearing somewhat blank. “But there’s nothing I can do.” He chuckled miserably, let go of Wu Xi’s hand, then reached out a finger and lightly tapped him on the center of his chest. “Tell me, what are you made of inside? Say that you’ve a wolf’s heart and a dog’s lungs, and I’m afraid I’d tarnish even those…”

Wu Xi abruptly reached out to cover his mouth, silently holding him tightly in his arms — in my heart, you’re a great person. Don’t say such dispiriting things.

If you won’t take that seriously, I will.

Hua Yue and Ji Xiang exited the Prince Estate. She pulled a piece of thin silk out and carefully wiped the wound on his forehead clean. He suddenly grabbed her hand, gazing at her with scorching eyes. “Yue’r, I will never let you down.”

Her heart jolted, and she raised her eyes to look at him.

He laughed gently. “Don’t you worry.”

At that instant, the extremely earnest expression on the sorry face of the youth who had been foolishly deceived by her this whole time made her heart thump. Those sweetened words that were about to come out of her mouth got stopped up in her throat, stuffing up until she felt exceedingly unwell. She dove into his arms, closing her eyes.

She thought: Brother Ji Xiang, I’ll be taking advantage of you for the final time. After today, I will follow you unswervingly, for the rest of your life. I will compensate my whole life for the schemes and poor treatment I gave to you before.

In one’s life, they had to know kindness and attempt to recompense it. Utter loyalty was not only for peerless figureheads — she had owed the Second Highness prior, but she had repaid him now. In the future, she would owe Brother Ji Xiang alone.

Thinking this way, she suddenly felt certain, and she relaxed by a lot. For that reason, she gently parted from Ji Xiang’s embrace, smiling brilliantly. “Let’s go,” she said clearly.

Liang Jiuxiao was, of course, drinking by himself in a restaurant, a great many things that he couldn’t figure out going through his mind. These days, his sect-brother was constantly distracted by attending to him. Regarding both his side here and the Crown Prince’s side there, everyone was haggard, and he couldn’t take it anymore. Every day, he would simply say he was relieving his worries, take a stroll out by himself, and drink a couple of jars of wine at some tall building.

Getting dead drunk resolved his worries for a while, after which he would lay down on the table and take a nap. Then, he would ask the proprietor for a bucket of hot water, wash the scent of alcohol off of himself, and muster the strength to force a smile, allowing Zhou Zishu to fret less.

The young lady singing in the restaurant finished her song, then held a small dish and went around seeking tips. She came before him, and though he hadn’t heard much of her song, it would be bad to disappoint her, so he took out some tip money and placed it onto her plate.

“Thank you, Uncle,” she said in a delicate voice.

She thanked him for the tip, yet she still didn’t leave. He couldn’t resist lifting his head to look at her, only to witness her take a look around, then draw her hand out from her sleeve, a tiny piece of paper in her palm. “Someone entrusted me with giving this to you,” she said quietly to him, “saying that if you wanted to know who the murderer was, you should go here.”

He immediately sobered more than halfway up, but before he had time to ask for clarification, she gave him a pileup of words. “I don’t know anything, I’m just doing this for someone else. Don’t make things hard for me, Uncle.”

Sure enough, she was a slippery character that had mingled in the common streets.

He opened the paper up and saw an address written in tiny characters on it. Frowning, he put payment for the alcohol on the table, turned, and left.

He was familiar with the capital, but still felt that this place was out-of-the-way. Finding it was difficult. Seeing the tall-built courtyard walls, he first turned to passersby and asked, “Who lives here?”

In a string of successive questions, none could be clearly answered; they were apparently a hermit. Getting suspicious, he silently wound around to the back wall and put his lightfoot skill to use by flipping inside. The whole journey, he prudently avoided maids that came and went as they were ordered around, then discovered that there were only women here, which made him feel kind of awkward. Right when he wasn’t sure where to go, he saw two people swiftly come in the entrance. One was a beautiful girl, and the other one… was Ji Xiang of the Prince Estate?

Liang Jiuxiao furrowed his brows, vaguely detecting that something was quite off, and followed them in secret. Seeing them enter a place that seemed to be the main building, he walked to be below the foot of the wall and bent his ear to listen.

His martial arts had been taught a bit by Zhou Zishu, so his lightfoot and hearing were both excellent. Listening like this, he could distinguish that there seemed to be quite a number of people hidden in the room, all of whom had martial arts and knew how to repress their breathing, like they were imperial guards.

All he heard was a woman’s nice-sounding voice ringing out to strike down upon his head. “Hua Yue, you little bitch, kneel for me!”

Soon following came the sound of teacup falling to the ground, as well as another female voice. “My Lady, I—“

“Kneel!” The woman’s voice raised up, after which she took two deep breaths, then toned herself down. “Young Master Ji Xiang, I truly am sorry to have sought you out in such a way… can you guess what this double-crossing little slut said to me before?”

“Miss Su, what are you doing?” Ji Xiang said after. “Just say what you have to say, what mistake has Yue— Miss Hua Yue made?”

“Do blame me for not controlling a wench under my control,” the woman said coldly. “One moment of inattention, and the wench’s ambitions grew big; she has climbed onto the Second Scion.”

Shocked, Liang Jiuxiao couldn’t help but gather forward even closer, not daring to let a word slip.

“You said you were grasping a high branch?” The woman spoke again. “And now what’s happened these couple of days? Now, you can see that the Second Scion is convicted, yet you still don’t know your place, to have insanely said the words of ‘needing to save the Second Scion’! What are you? Is there any margin for you to butt into the affairs of gentlemen, and the Dynasty?!”

Ji Xiang appeared to be a bit dumbstruck, only mumbling out after half the day, “Miss Su, where… where have these words come from?”

“She said to me that the Second Scion was unjustly accused of murdering a Dynasty official. She said that to me herself, Young Master…” The woman laughed coldly. “I know how shameless this bitch acts, to still want to implicate you when her death quickly approaches. Does she think the Prince Estate has no standards?! I invited you here today for nothing other than one thing — to have you confront her, and to make her death one that she understands! Come, arrest her!”

A burst of movement was heard. It was probably the guards hidden at the side coming to arrest the young woman.

Ji Xiang immediately knelt down. “Be merciful, Miss Su!” he shouted.

“Why? This girl has vilified you so. How could you still plead on her behalf?” the woman asked with a smile. “That can’t be done. Though I, Su Qingluan, am merely an actress, my subordinates still have rules. I’ll ask you not to manage my household affairs for me. Seize her!”

He was silent. The girl in the room started shrieking.

“Haul her away!” Su Qingluan then ordered. “Follow regulations and whip her to death!”

The guards affirmed, and the girl’s wailing got even louder. “Hold on!” Ji Xiang suddenly shouted. “Miss Su, what she said isn’t baseless at all!”

All movement in the room suddenly seemed to stop. In that moment, Liang Jiuxiao felt his own heart suddenly stop, too.

He heard Ji Xiang speak, word by word. “On the day Sir Jiang was assassinated, I personally saw the Prince put a drug in Hero Liang’s wine, and then get someone to let Young Master Zhou know…”

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