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Yi Siming, heir to the Duke of Chen, had been first awarded the position of fourth-rank Colonel of the Golden Crow Guard, then worked hard to be promoted to High General of the Left Golden Crow Guard. He was wellborn of a noble family, served the imperial frontlines,regarded by the Son of Heaven as a core component, and had everything going smoothly for him with endless prospects for the future.
Had he never plotted to suppress the Flying Dragon Guard like he so badly wanted, nor met Priest Chunyang, Yi Siming’s life would have been a stretch of smooth road. As long as he had adhered rigidly to his duties and didn’t commit a huge, heinous crime, he could have completed his life sailing smooth and worry-free.
What a shame…
“Yi Siming has already made a full confession. You hid your identity under one as a Daoist of the Clear Void Monastery, covertly luring people into taking the poison ‘whitedew’, causing the deaths of one Golden Crow Guard and three commoners, the sole survivor being Yi Siming. The Flying Dragon Guard located a box of smoking paraphernalia, several specialized small candles, and a certain number of residual drugs in the secret room of the scripture library. The witness and evidence are both here, Daoist Chunyang. Do you still have anything you want to say?”
There was dim and quiet in the prison, the scent of blood drifting through the air. The low recitation of the Scripture of Daoist Virtue had stopped at some unknown point.
Both of his hands were suspended from a roof beam. The man who was practically drenched from head to toe in blood opened his single remaining eye with difficulty, his sight passing over the crowd to land exactly on the shadow of the one outside the cell, Fu Shen.
He slowly drew back the corners of his mouth, unveiling a bone-chilling grin.
“Is that the Marquis of Jing Ning, Fu Shen out there… General Fu?” Priest Chunyang’s mouthful of teeth had all been knocked out, and his request was hazily unclear. “Please have him come in and see me.”
Yan Xiaohan regretted all this at once. Had he known earlier, he wouldn’t have let Fu Shen come along with the Guard, and because of Yi Siming’s incident, his heart must have been in disorder. Yan Xiaohan hadn’t felt at ease making him return to the Yan Estate by himself, and he wanted to use the opportunity of Yi Siming’s interrogation to let Fu Shen get a clear view of who exactly he was ultimately looking at, not letting him accrue further ennui because he was remembering old times.
Just like those in positions of power, Fu Shen had grown up with the family status of a noble, a high rank, and broad horizons since he was young, yet had a magnanimous nature at the same time; that was why he had previously been charitable in regards to outsider’s offenses. Meanwhile, Yan Xiaohan had climbed step-by-step up from the lowest rung of footsoldier in the Imperial Guard, encountering an untold amount of hindrances in the interim; if he wasn’t heartless and didn’t hold grudges, he would have long since been dead with not even ashes left over.
Their life experiences made it so that their attitudes towards treating Yi Siming were completely different. Now Yan Xiaohan was trying to pull Fu Shen over to his side, but he didn’t dare to use force for fear that coming on too strongly all of a sudden would make him snap off.
Priest Chunyang proposing to see Fu Shen of his own volition had him beginning to get anxious again. Mister Yan had always been just a bit of an old mother hen, and that was all amassed upon the Marquis of Jing Ning.
Fu Shen had sharp ears. Without waiting for Yan Xiaohan to come to a decision, he had cranked the wheelchair and slid out from the shadows on his own, motioning for the former to let him go in.
Before he even finished, Fu Shen was patting him comfortingly on the back of his hand. “You’re here, aren’t you? Don’t worry.”
He had truly learned from experience, and learned it well. Whatever magic spell was in those words had Yan Xiaohan’s heart entirely calmed in a wink. The tenderness in his eyes was unable to be hidden, suddenly rippling outward.
He reached out and pushed the cell open, letting Fu Shen join in.
Fu Shen wasn’t being superfluous with Priest Chunyang, either. “Speak,” he said mildly.
Priest Chunyang laughed hoarsely, unexpectedly cooperative in the way he talked. “Where do you want to start from, General? From when you got the broken arrow, or from when Yi Siming heard the news from Yang Hexuan and came to the Monastery looking for drugs?”
It was as if Fu Shen had suddenly been pricked with a poisoned needle, his pupils abruptly shrinking. “That was you?!”
Priest Chunyang’s sole eye was astonishingly bright, his sharp stare shooting out from his unkempt hair. “General, you should know now… this is simply retribution, Heaven’s law made manifest! All punishments fit the crime!”
Like a thunderclap resonating in the mind, all the scattered fragments of clues assembled together into an intact image. The third player in this contest between him and the Yuantai Emperor, who had been stirring up the weather in the seclusion of darkness since the beginning, had now finally emerged from the water’s surface.
The broken arrow that should have been buried deep underground had been returned to Fu Shen’s hands, and only then was he able to follow the clues and determine the truth behind the ambush at Blue Sand Pass.
This man had been silently watching his movements behind his back. That’s why, while Fu Shen was searching for Mu Boxiu, someone just so happened to be ‘beating the brush to spook the snake’, making Mu Boxiu mistakenly believe that Yi Siming wanted to kill him to keep him quiet. He thereby bit back, shaking Yi Siming and the Emperor’s entire project loose.
No wonder he constantly had the feeling that he was being led by the nose. No wonder investigating the truth went so smoothly… someone had hitherto cleared out the fog for him and placed the facts by the wayside, and was only waiting for him bend over and pick them up.
“No wonder… you wanted to assassinate the Emperor,” Fu Shen muttered, “and the whitedew, all this time, was intended for Yi Siming alone…”
“Yi Siming had a deep hatred for that Sir Yan beside you,” Chunyang derided. “The Southern Office was on decline, and the Golden Crow Guard was growing more inferior by the day. He looked down upon the Flying Dragon Guard and coveted the regard they got, so he thought every which way of how to ingratiate himself to the Emperor. Ha! Who’d have thought that the dignified heir of a Duke would ultimately be reduced to becoming the Emperor’s dog!”
“So you had Yang Hexuan get him on whitedew.”
“Dewy, electric, surreal, fantastical,” Chunyang delivered zealously. “Do you know what sort of person is most likely to become addicted, General Fu?
Greedy, lustful, ambitious, deluded, bigoted, narrow-minded… in one evening’s beautiful dream, they’ll believe themselves to sit atop the land, forgetting their worries and only wanting to conquer. There wouldn’t be a thing they couldn’t do.
The moment after they awaken from their dream and the fabrication falls apart, they can no long bear their own powerlessness and mediocrity. Therefore, they try it time after time, living life in a doped stupor up until their insides are completely hollowed out and they turn into an empty shell.
Whitedew is also called ‘soulloss’; spoken word states that those who take it will even have their soul dissolved.” He chuckled coldly. “These cruel-hearted things don’t deserve to be called ‘people’. They only deserve to be walking corpses.”
“Then what’s going on with Yang Hexuan?” Fu Shen suddenly asked. “It was via Yang Xu’s recommendation that you could enter the palace, but you brought death upon Yang Hexuan, so you and the Yang family aren’t comrades, but enemies. Why did you tie yourself to the Yang family’s boat?”
The interior of the cell instantly quieted. A pin’s drop could have been heard. The only sound left was Priest Chunyang’s rough, labored breathing.
“Why aren’t you talking?” Fu Shen continued. “Why did you want to guide me into finding out who the mastermind behind Blue Sand Pass was? Why did you want to assassinate the Emperor? Why did you want to plot against Yi Siming’s life? Provided that I’m not imagining too many feelings here, Priest, this was you methodically wanting to take revenge for me — do we know each other?
Tell me. The one behind you – between me, and between the Fu family – is there any thread binding us?”
His silence was further still like a tacit confirmation. Fu Shen wheeled the chair slowly over to be in front of him. “Based on your reaction, is there some kind of deep animosity between the Yang and Fu families that I don’t know about?”
Priest Chunyang fixed his eyes upon him quietly. Suddenly, he began to laugh.
It was a crazed sort of guffaw that seemed to tear all his insides to pieces, self-pride and unyieldingness showing through, hoarse as iron sand grinding together. The lack of meekness on that mutilated face was hard to conceal, and for an indefinite instant, Fu Shen actually felt some inexplicable familiarity to him.
He laughed and laughed, despite a trace of blood snaking down from the corner of his mouth.
“In the twentieth year of Yuantai, the Eastern Tartars and Zhe clan united to invade the Central Plains. At the battle of Mount Sound Gorge, General Fu Tingxin was caught up in a heavy siege and suffered injuries from the foe. The Northern Yan Army requested help from the defending army of Tang Prefecture. The Prefecture’s governor Yang Xu, because the Fu family hadn’t agreed to send their daughter into the Eastern Palace, harbored a grudge. He dragged his feet unwillingly in sending troops, causing the conclusion of General Fu’s death in battle.
A day that traitor Yang drifts through life with no purpose is a day General Fu’s martyred spirit can’t be at peace. This resentment is soaked in a sea of blood, they cannot share the same sky—“
Fu Shen snatched his throat with one hand.
“Jingyuan!” Yan Xiaohan shouted instinctually.
Fu Shen’s expression was chillingly frightening, his gaze like a knife. Every word of his seemed like it was squeezed out from between his teeth. “My uncle has been dead for six years. Why did you only wait until now to take revenge?”
“Yang Xu watching the fire burn from across the shore and delaying his army’s arrival until the Northern Yan retreated in defeat was something no one who survived back then knew,” Chunyang hissed. “Were it not for what had happened at Blue Sand Pass, us capturing a mounted bandit at Yuan Prefecture that had once served in Yang Xu’s troops, and him confessing to the old events of that year, Yang Xu would have continued to fool the world and steal the glory. How could the thousands of martyred spirits buried in Mount Sound Gorge rest at ease then?!”
“‘Us’?” Fu Shen asked. “Who else?”
Large swathes of blood spilled over from the man’s mouth and flowed onto the bulging tendons and bones of Fu Shen’s hand, marring his sleeve with mottled stains.
“I can’t say…”
“Liar.” Fu Shen sneered in vivid anger. “You went through torture in the North Prison and didn’t let your tongue wag for the life of you, yet when I came, you just happened to go and spill everything. Was that not you specifically waiting here for me? Talk!”
Chunyang’s face was red and swelling, chest violently heaving. Yan Xiaohan vaulted over to grab Fu Shen’s hand. “Let go, Jingyuan! You’re going to choke him to death!”
“Piss off!” Fu Shen furiously tore him off, his own fingers tightening up, their tips nearly pricking into Chunyang’s flesh. “Don’t fucking play dead! Say it! Who are you?! Who’s behind you?!”
The lone eye under disheveled locks and the densely frigid eyes of the young General met. Fu Shen could clearly see… a momentary glint of tears in that eye.
“…Eldest Squirt*, my hands are dyed with blood. I have killed innocents. I know my sins are challenging to forgive, and when I arrive at the springs below someday, I won’t have the face to look at my fellow soldiers. I am a pawn with no name. You don’t need to ask for it again…”
Fu Shen immediately understood.
Priest Chunyang had formerly been a member of the Northern Yan Army and soldier of the same time period as his father and second uncle. That was because it was only those people who, regardless of what his current rank was, would solely refer to him as ‘Eldest Squirt’.
Once this man’s status was laid bare, Fu Shen and the Northern Yan Army would be wholly drawn into the maelstrom.
That was conclusively why he had to die.
‘Wang Gou’er’s’ family that had lost their lives for no reason, the few additional civilians that he had used to test the drugs on; those were debts of blood that even death would have a hard time erasing.
Priest Chunyang struggled to the utmost of exhaustion. His eye protruded, his blood and tears blurring together. Only his lips feebly moved, his breath like gossamer. No one heard what he said apart from Fu Shen.
There was a snap of crunching bones. The man’s head gently drooped down.
Fu Shen’s eyes were half-lidded indifferently. He gave off an air of gloom that was hard to describe. His single pale hand was dripping with blood, like a god of murder walking out of Hell.
“Chunyang walked the demonic path and colluded with Court administrators. Under the guise of gifting a Gold Pill at the Vast Longevity Feast, he intended to plot against His Majesty’s life – that’s crime number one. He privately manufactured the malicious drug ‘whitedew’, bringing death upon Golden Crow Guard’s High General Yi Siming and Colonel Yang Hexuan, among a few other human lives – that’s crime number two. He probably knew his crimes to be unpardonable and that he would not be escaping death, thus he killed himself out of fear of punishment at the time of the Sheep today.
Is that alright, Mister Yan?” he asked insipidly.
Without waiting for the other’s reply, he turned the wheelchair all the way around and left the cell on his own.
In the split second he came out of the North Prison, his figure seemed to be abruptly and completely swallowed up by the torrential daylight.
A soldier of the Northern Yan who once crisscrossed the battlefield had concealed his identity, wandering about the various streets and alleyways of the capital like a spectre. Whitedew had unassumingly blended into the monastic practices of Clear Void Monastery, its extravagant aroma congealing into a thin blade that killed with no blood.
And the last words he set aside for Fu Shen were: “kill me.”
 白露散 – lit. “white dew powdered drug”. Not a real drug, obviously, but it shares many characteristics with opium/heroin (brown, powdery, highly addictive, can be smoked/inhaled). Probably irrelevant trivia, but it also shares a name with one of the 24 Solar Terms; the time of White Dew signifies the beginning of autumn, where ‘white dew’ forms on grass.
 失魂散 – lit. “soul-losing powdered drug”. Kinda made a lame pun here; instead of ‘soulless’, it’s ‘soul + loss’.
 固山关 – ‘solid mountain pass’. I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Mount Sound’, but everything else I’d thought of was even worse. Mount Stout? Firm Peaks? THICK MOUNTAIN???
*Oh boy, a terminology mix-up!… The term talked about here is 大公子 – “eldest son of an official”, often translated as Eldest Young Master. There’s also the term 大少爷, which Yan Xiaohan has called Fu Shen before, that literally means “eldest young master of the house”, which – you guessed it – also translates to Eldest Young Master. Since I can’t use Eldest Young Master, and the term was meant somewhat jokingly instead of respectfully anyway, the best I could do was Eldest Squirt. /lays down