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The new arrivals rushed up before them in a wink. Fu Shen and the rest successively held their breaths, secretly appreciating their luck at the same time: the woman had thankfully gone off elsewhere prior, else the two sides would have just run into each other, and they’d definitely have nowhere to run then.
The mountain road was narrow, forcing the Flying Dragon Guard to a halt. Fu Shen had set his mind on stalling them for a while as their group of young men didn’t make a path for them. “Who’s coming around here?” someone asked.
A white horse emerged from the crowd, its rider nodding his head courteously. “The Flying Dragon Guard is under imperial order to arrest a criminal of the Court. May I ask you all whether you’ve every seen any suspicious persons while you’ve been on this mountain?”
Each of the rich kids’ eyes rolled to the top of their heads and looked at them down their noses. “Yo, what a scene this is,” one of them jeered. “I wonder what kind of criminal fugitive is actually making the Flying Dragons work to get him.”
The man didn’t get angry, a firmness within his soft reply. “Your praise is in error and I dare not accept, Young Master. This lowly official is merely executing his orders.”
The questioning young man choked, an unpleasant look on his face. Fu Shen feared the two sides would get into it, and he thereupon interjected to mediate. “We happen to have been amusing ourselves here up until now, and we’ve never seen any criminal like you’ve asked for, Sir.”
The man glanced at him, the originally cold and indifferent tilt of his features actually raising into something of a smile. “So it’s you, Young Master Fu. It’s been a while,” he said cheerfully.
As soon he said that… the guy did look familiar! Fu Shen stared at him intensely until he finally remembered – wasn’t he that Imperial Guard that threw the twin-lotus flower at him on the streets that day?
Yi Siming wasn’t wrong. He actually was a Flying Dragon Guard.
“Sir… Yan.” Fu Shen’s mood was complicated. “It’s an honor to see you again.”
The group of coxcombs stared at the two, none of them able to make heads or tails of this, as they didn’t know if Fu Shen had ever crossed paths with the Flying Dragon Guard.
Yan Xiaohan slowly swept his eyes over the bunch, a substance within his fleeting gaze pressing down upon the guilty Young Masters and having their backs break out in cold sweats. Then he suddenly smiled. “The escapee is involved in a major conspiracy incident. There are guard checkpoints on every road inside and outside the capital and bounties offered for her arrest. Those who dare to shelter and cover for the criminal will be regarded a co-conspirator.
The Flying Dragon Guard pursued her all the way to Huanren County, but she yet escaped. This place is mountainous and forested, making searching for someone inconvenient. Provided that you all can lend your hands to help apprehend this major felon, when this one named Yan makes his report to the Court, I will request for merits in your name.”
This was the first time Fu Shen had done something like harbor a criminal fugitive, and he was getting the sense that there were malicious implications to Yan Xiaohan’s words. He couldn’t help but turn it over in his mind: did he already see something?
Yan Xiaohan finished speaking, and then their surroundings went silent. No one replied. After a short while, an unknown person chuckled coldly, his next words not lacking in ridicule. “You really think you’re somebody, eunuch’s whelp.”
It wasn’t loud, but due to the peculiar quiet right now, everyone could hear it.
Yan Xiaohan’s expression quickly stormed over, and he unconsciously pressed upwards on the handle of the sabre at his side. He was a very odd person, as the more extreme his anger, the softer he would speak, as if he were cautious about frightening someone. “So one of whom I’m speaking to is actually Second Young Master Xie. Its been a while.”
The one called upon was the second son of the Count of Qing Yi, Xie Qianfan. He snorted and swiveled his neck around, not looking at him.
“Now that this one named Yan has seen the Second Young Master, you are indeed a young, talented newborn calf that’s learned no fear of tigers, and are really not much like your older brother at all.”
Blue veins popped out of Xie Qianfan’s forehead.
“I heard that he had been transferred to the Imperial City the year before to be a Colonel within the Department of Servicemen,” Yan Xiaohan continued on languidly, “and his future prospects know no bounds. For a distinguished man like the Count of Qing Yi to have a similarly-outstanding son carrying on his legacy must leave him with no regrets.”
Xie Qianfan’s complexion instantly went from white to red to being tinged green, as if he’d just been struck upside the head.
The Count of Qing Yi’s eldest son, Xie Bailou, wasn’t born of his primary wife, but he was considerably hard-working, and the legitimate second son, Xie Qianfan, was an idiot wastrel. Not only that, but the Count also highly unfavored the Second Xie’s birth mother, resulting in the Count being biased towards his eldest son and repeatedly putting word out that he wanted to pass on his noble title to him. Xie Bailou was pressing down from all directions on Xie Qianfan’s head, and the Second Xie had nearly made him his archnemesis, as his friends and family didn’t dare to mention the former’s name in his presence.
Now that Yan Xiaohan was declaring this in front of everyone, it was just about equal to a huge slap in the face, ruthlessly poking at the scar he was least willing to speak of.
The Second Xie’s eyes turned red on the spot. Under the influence of anger and frustration, he went to take up his hunting bow without a single word more, aiming an arrow at Yan Xiaohan!
Yan Xiaohan been on guard against his movements for a while now, drawing his sword quick as a flash and effortlessly sweeping the arrow away. He vaulted through the air before Xie Qianfan, the light of his blade shining like a flowing river of silver as it hacked straight down.
Fu Shen and Yi Siming moved at the same time, one rushing to stop Xie Qianfan and one throwing themselves forward to block Yan Xiaohan. Fu Shen didn’t have an inch of steel on him, and in a moment of panic, he took the recurve bow off of his back, swiftly using it to hold back Yan Xiaohan’s extraordinarily heavy strike.
There was a sharp pain in Fu Shen’s wrist as he was continuously shaken by that immense strength. “Are you crazy?” he snarled. “If he’s said something wrong, then he should just admit his mistake and apologize to you – there’s no need to resort to murder!”
Yan Xiaohan’s murderous aura didn’t recede at all. He huffed coldly. “He shoots his mouth off with reckless abandon. If you provoke someone who shouldn’t be provoked, you can’t think your death unjustified!”
Fu Shen endeavored to grapple with Yan Xiaohan, pressing against the full strength of his blows. Though his recurve bow was sturdy, it couldn’t compete with the fine steel-forged swords the Flying Dragon Guard carried, and a short moment later, all that could be heard was the quiet sound of a crack as the longbow was unable to withstand the pressure and dramatically snapped into two pieces.
A wisp of sorrow flitted through his eyes. That bow was a birthday gift from Fu Tingxin and he’d had it for several years, not expecting that it’d be broken by Yan Xiaohan’s hand today. He was unable to care too much about that right now, however, and snatched the bowstring with both hands, twisting it around and pulling on Yan Xiaohan’s sabre to forcibly change its tip’s direction.
The Flying Dragon Guard eyed them like tigers, going to subdue Xie Qianfan with a roar back when Yan Xiaohan had made his first move. The rich young men headed by Yi Siming were also not to be trifled with, as all of them had brought out their weaponry. Both sides were getting into a battle royale right before the eyes, a few people coming to blows several zhang away. Fu Shen was forced between a rock and a hard place due to Yan Xiaohan’s bundled-up blade, giving a frenzied bark of “sword”!
Yi Siming promptly threw out the sword he carried at his waist. Fu Shen nimbly sped a few steps away, twisted around, and kicked hard off of a tree, leaping through the air with the litheness of a swallow as he reached out and snatched the handle of the sword, striking out in front of him thereafter.
He had turned his disadvantage around in a flash, his sword a tempestuous flurry as he attacked Yan Xiaohan!
Yan Xiaohan was forced back a few steps from his unrelenting class of swordsmanship, yet he still was relaxed enough to sing his praises. “You’re worthy of being the descendant of a famed general. How beautiful.”
In that moment the other had used a bowstring to entangle the edge of his blade, Yan Xiaohan had put away the contempt in his heart. For him to be able to become Duan Linglong’s adopted son and stand in his current position, he not only had to rely on his smarts and skill, but put in a good amount of effort to keep the Imperial Guard of the Northern Office under his control.
Were it that moron Xie Qianfan he’d gone against just then, he might have not even had to get close before striking him dead, but Fu Shen could take more than dozen of his moves without showing any signs of wavering. For someone of his age, that was very hard to come by.
Fu Shen was also inwardly apprehensive at this time, as he had felt that Yan Xiaohan hadn’t held back on his first hit at all – he had every intention to kill the Count of Qing Yi’s son. The Flying Dragon Guard was a gang of arrogant despots that ran amok in both the Court and the citizenry, and he just knew that the words spoken today weren’t to be taken lightly.
If he hadn’t won the advantage with a surprise counterattack, Xie Qianfan likely wouldn’t be here right now.
Fu Shen’s mind had never before been spinning around so quickly and vividly as it was in this critical moment. An idea flashed into his head like a spark, and he hurriedly snatched it, coming to a decision—
The clangs of the two blades colliding were as rapid as a hurricane and noisy as a dense rain, the light casting off of them nearly a silk-white. Fu Shen’s skill and strength were not enough, and he gradually came to lag behind. Upon brandishing their weapons towards each other once more, Yan Xiaohan unexpectedly struck the weapon right out of the other’s hand, and the leftover momentum carried on; the tip of his sabre was closing in on Fu Shen’s throat, a second away from stabbing right through it.
Yet it did not.
Yan Xiaohan could put Xie Qianfan to death without the slightest hint of hesitation, but to do the same to Fu Shen was an option he’d have to reconsider.
The edge zinged, its route forcibly changed mid-air.
The wielder’s control over this tool of death had reached its pinnacle, as with a twist of his wrist, the sabre deviated a hairsbreadth away from Fu Shen’s neck to sweep harrowingly close to his main artery.
At that same instant, Fu Shen suddenly lunged!
This was the moment he had been waiting for. He was certain that Yan Xiaohan wouldn’t land a killing blow on him, and while the edge of the other’s sabre was veering off, Fu Shen nearly choked himself on the blunt side of the blade as he closed the distance between them in a mere second and spun to grab him from behind, wordlessly sticking a compact hunting knife up against Yan Xiaohan’s Adam’s apple.
Fleeting as sparks from flint, as quick as a falcon swooping in on a cornered hare – in the blink of an eye, the situation had been reversed.
“Sorry, Sir Yan,” Fu Shen panted roughly into his ear as he threatened, “I didn’t want to make things difficult for you. Tell your people to release Xie Qianfen, step back, get on their horses, and go off the mountain.”
The strength he exerted from his hand was just the right amount to make Yan Xiaohan unable to speak, not enough to completely choke him. It made one want to know who taught him these skills. Yan Xiaohan was a virtuoso that could adapt to his circumstances, and under the other’s control, he promptly made a calm gesture to indicate for his subordinates to set their weapons down.
“Throw out your own sabre, too.”
Yan Xiaohan released it, and Fu Shen sent it flying away with a kick.
Xie Qianfan was used to being bossy, and after finally coming upon a rough patch today, he had turned pale with the horror of almost believing that he was going to die just now. Being newly freed from the Flying Dragon Guard, he shook as he went to stand back behind Yi Siming with his tail between his legs, until he heard Fu Shen abruptly call for him. “Second Xie.”
“You spoke offensively on your own initiative and tried to shoot and injure someone afterwards, so why don’t you come over and apologize for it to Sir Yan,” said Fu Shen.
Every single person present, the Flying Dragon Guard included, stared at him.
Xie Qianfan eventually came back to his senses from that huge stimulant, angrily clenching his fists hard as his face turned red. “I won’t! What is he known as?! The Court’s bloodhound! Why do I have to apologize to him?!” he hollered wildly.
Yi Siming rushed to restrain him. “Fu Shen…” he spoke up, wanting to keep the peace.
“You’re saying you won’t apologize?” Fu Shen’s face dimmed, his voice going cold. “If you make another senseless ruckus, I’ll let him go now and you can see how that goes.”
Second Xie: “……”
Yan Xiaohan, bound by his neck and yet still being used to strike fear into others, was narrowly unable to restrain himself and almost let out a laugh.
Xie Qianfan glared straight at him, his eyes getting redder and redder, until he at last actually started crying and wailing loudly. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t! You’re all biased towards him! Am I nothing to all of you?!”
Yan Xiaohan heard Fu Shen lightly sigh behind him.
“He’s just a spoiled kid. He really didn’t offend you on purpose,” Fu Shen said in a low voice. “I’ll admit fault on his behalf, and for taking you hostage as a last resort. I’m sorry.”
A truly soft-hearted person.
There was something of an inflection of youthfulness in the sound of his speech, but his tone and skill were just as steady as an adult’s. After his breathing calmed down, his breaths were very light, and when they brushed over the ears, they gave a slight tickle that could make one get jittery.
Yan Xiaohan silently thought to himself: you’re also still a kid—
That thought didn’t get to be finished, as a number of black shadows burst out from the depths of the forest, taking advantage of the time when everyone’s guard was down to run into the Flying Dragon Guard’s formation, instantly throwing someone down to the ground!
“What is that?!”
The frightened exclamations caused Fu Shen’s mind to go a bit astray, and, availing himself of that brief moment of distraction, Yan Xiaohan’s hand shot out like a lightning bolt to hold back Fu Shen’s wrist. A tug, a twist, and the accompanying sound of bone clacking that could make one’s teeth ache, he popped Fu Shen’s arm out of its socket.
Fu Shen’s reaction was also extremely fast, as he turned around and kicked the other a few paces away, rolling himself to the side from the force. He popped his arm back into place, sweating from the pain. However, he could not concern himself with seeking revenge on Yan Xiaohan, as the unwelcome intruders into his scheme had become a menace that could not be ignored. It wasn’t just the Flying Dragon Guard, but also a good number of people on their side that were being pounced on.
Even Yi Siming had started to cuss loudly. “Holy shit… where the fuck did they all come from?! Fu Shen! Didn’t you say there were no boars on this mountain?!”
“I haven’t been here in years, how should I know?!” Fu Shen snarled back. “Up the trees! Get up the trees now!”
There had been a period of time before where wild boars had overflowed out of Gemstone Mountain, which ruined crops and farmland below it. The local farmsteads really had no way to deal with this and were forced to go to the capital to seek out the owner’s family for them to do something. As a result, Fu Shen’s dad and both uncles took a team from the Northern Yan Army up to the Hidden Orchid Villa for half a month, discovering a dozen or so of the boars’ dens and exterminating them down to the last one. Gemstone Mountain no longer suffered their tyranny from that point on.
It wasn’t until recent years that wild boars were sighted once more, but there were only a few, and the farmers didn’t take them seriously. Who could’ve known that there would be so many hiding in the forest? Furthermore, they were sworn enemies with humans, and upon seeing one, they had to bite them, having the crowd of both well-trained Flying Dragon Guards and hapless wealthy young men in pants-wetting terror as they chased them.
They all started climbing up the trees one after the other in the middle of Fu Shen’s roaring, but the Flying Dragon Guard didn’t have Yan Xiaohan’s command, so they held their sabres as they contended with the boars. Fu Shen crouched within the tree to catch his breath, looked down, and couldn’t bear to watch; he went to call out to Yan Xiaohan to not have them suffer and die for the sake of reputation. The words had barely reached his lips when he glimpsed the man under the tree he was hiding in, about to be besieged by a few wild boars hemming in, the grass behind him shaking minutely.
Fu Shen’s pupils shrank. He sprang forward, leaping out at the same time the boars charged from the underbrush. “Be careful!” he shouted.
Yan Xiaohan was pushed down and away from the tree, the two holding onto each other as they rolled a good distance away on the ground. The clothes on his lower back had been punctured by a boar’s sharp tusks and a gash was cut into his back, blood flowing out of it to coat Fu Shen’s hands. Had the latter not been there then, that hit would have rung true, and there would likely be two much more concerning holes in him right now.
Fu Shen only heard him say that much, after which he felt a strong force on his shoulder, and his entire body flew involuntarily to the side – Yan Xiaohan had actually flung him away!
Without waiting for him to grab anything out of his stupefaction, a whirlwind-like shadow rushed out from behind him, and Yan Xiaohan didn’t have the opportunity to dodge it due to the move he’d just made. Fu Shen looked on helplessly as those broad, long tusks plunged into his abdomen—
“Are you still not running?!”
Yan Xiaohan’s thundering exploded in his ears, but he himself didn’t have any time to get up, as he was dragged along the ground by the boar. It was a great fortune that the belt that came with the Flying Dragon Guard’s robes was a wide, cowhide one with a copper beast-head buckle, as the beast-head happened to jam up the boar’s tusks and surprisingly allowed him to block a blow that was heavier than three-thousand catties.
The boar erratically towed Yan Xiaohan along with it as it furiously and randomly ran into things. Fu Shen was startled for but a moment, presently breaking into a run to catch up with them. Upon drawing close, he was right about to go mad, and almost mentally spit up a mouthful of blood.
He raged at the heavens. “Motherfucker! Did you leave the house today without taking a look at the Yellow Calendar?!”
Deep within the packed forest was an impressively wide, rugged, rocky, and steep cliff.
That boar had a great amount of intelligence, and as it had repeatedly failed to run him through and kill him, it consequently thought to pitch this annoying human down to his death.
Yan Xiaohan had also seen the precipice behind him and desperately reached out to grab onto the boar’s tusk, wanting to forcefully unstick it from his copper buckle. It was too late, however, as soon after, the boar had charged to the cliff’s edge and swung its head hard to throw him off.
The mountain wind whistled. In his state of being suspended in the air, the weight of one man could pull that copper buckle and tusk apart at last. Yan Xiaohan’s body plummeted, and he knew in his heart that this time, he was truly going to fall.
His eyes were going dark when the momentum of his drop suddenly halted.
Fu Shen had his upper half out over the cliff’s edge with one hand clutching Yan Xiaohan’s clothes, clenching his teeth as his veins bulged with the strain. “Grab my hand…”
Yan Xiaohan’s face, which always seemed to be covered with a mask, finally showed a genuine look of astonishment.
“You…” The movements of his lips were subtle, his tiny voice almost unable to be heard in the wind.
The next instant, his eyes suddenly widened. “Behind you! It didn’t leave yet!”
Fu Shen could feel a burst of sharp pain come from his back, and his body uncontrollably fell forwards. Even so, he kept a firm grip on Yan Xiaohan’s robes.
They fell from the top of the cliff down, together.
The translator says: And then they DIED *
Thanks to the person/people who put all the tags for this work on NU! I can’t tag for shit, personally.
 兵马司中郎将 = “(rank lower than general) of the department of armed forces”, where I filled in the gap with a word I just haven’t used yet, haha…
 The Yellow Calendar/Tung Shing is an ancient lunar calendar that, in a nutshell, depicts which days are ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’. Today is a bad day for everyone!