[Please read for free on the source site, chichilations, and not support an aggregator or content thief. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason. Translator receives no income from any ads shown and actively encourages use of blocking extensions.
Let me know if there’s any typos afoot (archaic word usages do not count, I just like writing like that).
Likes and comments are appreciated~ I see and read them all~
Thank you to Olli, Someone, and yukinocake for the ko-fis~~~~]
It was pitch black outside, and Zheng Duanwen noticed nothing as he led the man inside. Only upon entering and standing beneath the candlelight did he discover that the youth had a lame leg.
Xue Sheng had the servants withdraw, then invited the man to sit down and talk.
“Dare I ask for this Young Master’s illustrious name?”
“Fu Ya.” There was an expression of mockery showing on his face, the corner of his lips hooking up. “You must’ve never heard of me before, Sir. I have a big brother named Fu Shen, though, and you definitely know of him.”
When Zheng Duanwen was outside the gate, he’d seen that his clothes were all made of rare, top-grade materials. Though only a coinpurse hung at his waist, he was still refined, and unlike a rough-skinned hoodlum – yet he had refused to state his name and only wanted to be led inside, which Zheng Duanwen thought odd. Even so, he hadn’t at all imagined that this ‘casual action’ would turn out to be him bringing back their archenemy’s little brother!
Truthfully speaking, though, the time they had spent in the capital wasn’t brief, yet they had indeed not heard of this brother of Fu Shen’s.
When the Duke of Jing was still the Marquis of Jing Ning, he had already branched off and lived separately from the Duke of Ying’s Estate. Many years passed like so, with he and his original Estate having very few dealings, and practically no visits to each other. Following the war’s chaos, despite the Duke of Ying’s Estate being progressively on the decline and his own influence being overwhelming, he never once set about helping the Fu family.
The North and South being at odds was something a figure not situated in Court would not come to know of. Fu Ya, the successor of a rich family, ought to have an inkling of what the Court’s situation was, though. Him coming to seek Xue Sheng out meant that he was already not unfamiliar with it, but also of a different mind.
“When I was at the Southern border, I heard about how Sir Xue’s beloved daughter held a grudge because of the Empress and killed herself,” Fu Ya said. “Though you haven’t once shown it, Sir, I’m sure you have resentment in your heart even now.”
Xue Sheng was suddenly jabbed in his scabbed-over wound, and his face went slightly cold. “Since you know this old man abhors the surname Fu, why have you still dared to tread upon my Xue home’s doorstep?” he asked sullenly.
“Because I’m just like you. I also hate the surname Fu.” Fu Ya grinned psychotically, subconsciously licking his canines a bit. “Especially that one surnamed Fu.”
The malice in his expression was undisguised, and almost innocent. His eyes squinted when he giggled, the glint coming through them like that of a snake’s, giving the two old men a wave of goosebumps. Xue Sheng’s palms sweated a bit. “Are you saying that you want me to help you deal with him?” he asked, forcing himself to be calm.
“No.” Fu Ya shook his head, then pulled something rolled-up out of his sleeve. He waved it at them as if he were flaunting it. “It’s me who came to help you deal with him.”
Xue Sheng didn’t anxiously demand the thing from him, rather sitting straight and unmoving. “What do you want from this old man, then, Young Master Fu?”
Fu Ya shifted his eyes around once, then gestured towards him. “Give me… this amount of silver banknotes.”
That was a hand signal commonly used by traders. Xue Sheng couldn’t make sense of it, so he tilted his head to shoot a glance at Zheng Duanwen, who quickly leaned next to his ear and supplied, “Six thousand taels.”
Xue Sheng nodded. “Are you willing to let me look it over first?”
Fu Ya flung the roll he held to Xue Sheng, and Zheng Duanwen also came close to inspect it. Once he finished rapidly giving it a cursory skimming, he instantly sucked in a cold breath, his cool sweat streaming downwards and none of his words coming out gracefully. “This… this is…”
“Exchanged writing between my uncle and that Southwestern traitor Duan Guihong. He can’t shirk his connection with the Longevity Feast assassination that shook the capital back in the day.” Fu Ya puffed up, crossing one leg over the other. “How about that? Did you expect this?” he asked, proud of himself.
What the roll had in it was some letters, as well as several gift lists and documents. The prior things explicitly stated how much ‘special product’ the Southwest sent the Duke of Ying’s Estate every year, and then how Fu Tingyi transferred this opium paraphernalia over to Clear Void Monastery.
The hand gripping the paper slightly trembled, veins popping up on the back of it. Xue Sheng could not have ever foreseen that Fu Ya would actually dare to exchange money for this. “Do you know what it is that you’ve brought?”
“I do. How could I not? No one’s that stupid.” Fu Ya smiled madly. “No one could’ve imagined that the impressive, renowned, useless third Lord of the capital would turn out to be not-so-useless! He even sent you all running around in circles while so many people watched! Hahahahaha!”
He abruptly restrained his laughter, as if he’d gotten caught up in some kind of chaotic insanity. “Shitty Duke, shitty General! They’re both fucking bastards!” he exclaimed furiously. “Wearing self-righteous human skins, having mouths full of hypocrisy – who knows what the hell’s actually inside of them?! They deserve to get given to a man, have their family lines cut off, die, and go down to the eighteenth layer of hell…”
Fu Ya’s own mouth was full of filthy words. Xue Sheng and Zheng Duanwen, who were both literary officials that came from cultured families, showed revulsion upon hearing them. They weren’t sure how a nice, well-born Young Master could have been raised to be like this. It was quite like he had some mental derangement, as he was the spitting image of a raging lunatic.
Zheng Duanwen coughed dryly. “Young Master Fu, are you aware that these things you hold will lead to disaster for the Duke of Ying’s Estate? Fu Tingyi is your respected elder. If he and Fu Shen really have committed such a heinous crime… though you will earn merit for reporting it, you too will be interrogated via torture, going by precedent. You… should think this through.”
Xue Sheng gave him a look, seemingly surprised that he still had this brand of generosity.
Fu Ya was entirely immersed in his own feelings, deaf to everything. He spasmed with laughter, hooting so hard he was losing his voice, like fresh blood was spurting out of his throat. “Hahahahaha… dying is great, and all of them dying can only be better! Leave no one behind! As for that mutt… that Flying Dragon Guard boss, Yan Xiaohan, ought to be sentenced to death by a thousand cuts!
What a great family! So many successful generations! A houseful of loyalty! It’s getting the family execution; everyone’ll be wiped clean!”
“Brother Yunping,” Zheng Duanwen spoke quietly to Xue Sheng, “seeing at how he is, he seems to have symptoms of having taken fallnight white. He’s delirious. There’s some credibility to his words, but they still need to be re-verified.”
“I know.” Xue Sheng rolled those few papers up with care, expressionlessly giving him parting words. “The day’s gotten late. Go ahead and return to your Estate, Fangde. I will get someone to help Young Master Fu settle in. Do not let tonight’s event spread to the ears of others.”
Zheng Duanwen felt cold on the inside. He clasped his hands towards him. “Then I’ll be troubling you with this, Brother Yunping.”
The faint yellow candlelight cast heavy shadows on Xue Sheng’s sunken eyes and nose, his face like the defined outline of a sculpture. All of his expressions were stored underneath cold apathy, and he looked senselessly aged, as well as inexplicably sinister.
He lightly nodded towards Zheng Duanwen. “Go on.”
The instant he walked out of the Xue Estate, the heavy door gently shut behind him. He let out a long breath, having the faint misperception that he had just barely escaped the place alive. A chill was in the late night wind that blew his hair out straight, and his entire body was drenched, clothes sticking to the center of his back. He could do nothing about his sorry figure, however, and hastily got onto the carriage, ordering the driver to ride on home.
The next day, Zheng Duanwen stated that he was taking sick leave at home, and never came to Court again.
Purportedly, it was because of his greater age, plus the wind blowing when he returned home at night. The day after, his family discovered him collapsed and unmoving in bed, with half of his body paralyzed and the corner of his mouth askew. Imperial medic Yan Zhi was quickly invited over, and he diagnosed it as a stroke. Due to treatment not being given in time, it was impossible for him to go back to how he was beforehand, and he had no choice but to lie in bed to recuperate, slowly nursing his health with medication.
After hearing of this, Xue Sheng didn’t seem to be at all surprised, nor any sort of sorry for him. He told his steward to get someone to deliver some medical supplies to the Zheng home, then considered this shallow workplace-friendship over.
Not even a few days later, the Young Master of the Duke of Ying’s Estate suddenly vanished, and the family wailed their way over to the Shuntian Office to report this. What a shame that the days of the present were not the days of the past; from the turmoil of war, the already-waning Estate had completely shot into a slump. Even if it was reported, no one was wanting to deal with this superficial, trivial matter. The grunt official who received it impatiently saw it through once, then turned around and threw the files aside to fall into the dust.
The tail end of summer still remained and autumn days had not yet arrived, yet there was already a portent for an eventful fall.
Xue Sheng sat upright before his study desk, carefully listening to his subordinate’s report on the investigation into Fu Ya’s entire life, then sneered frostily afterwards. “A tiger father, and a dog heir. Were Fu Tingzhong to learn that he sired such a great son, would he sit up in his coffin out of anger?”
Some years before, Yan Xiaohan had punished Fu Ya twice, both out in the open and in secret. One time was making him no longer be able to have children, and the other was dragging him out of the wedding party and beating him. That unabashed beatdown made Fu Ya pause for a spell, but before he could think of how to retaliate, the war broke out. When the foreigners breached the capital, Fu Tingyi took the whole family to flee to Jiangnan.
The journey was bumpy and survival was imperative, so no one was able to meticulously attend to him, so he forcibly held up his ailed body and dragged it to Jinling. With winter in Jiangnan being extremely wet cold, his leg wasn’t able to be completely healed, and he was left with residual lameness.
How ironic. His elder brother was handicapped in both legs yet still galloped on the battlefield, while he, a hearty man, ultimately became a cripple.
From start to finish, he was less than happy with his lame leg and lack of heirs, and that was further doubled upon arriving at an intoxicating dreamscape like Jinling, where one’s eyes would get lost among the flowers. From that point on, he loitered about brothels, indulged in base pleasures, and squandered his money in excess. As Fu Tingyi was a purified person who stood outside the world and almost had one foot in the doorway of immortality, he was unwilling to invest time in controlling Fu Ya, thus allowing him to go down such a wrong path in life until this day.
He got infected with fallnight white at a whorehouse in Jiangnan, and after returning to the capital, he still need to take the drug to maintain himself. His own monthly allowance wasn’t enough to spend, so he gradually began to steal stuff from home and go out to sell it.
Whitedew was forbidden as contraband by capital authories, so it could only be traded for on the black market, and its price was unusually high. He not only sold his own things, but even secretly sold his mother’s dowry. Once Lady Qin discovered this, she cried and cursed loudly, the unholy riot never permitting the house to have peace. Fu Tingyi couldn’t stand the noise, so he straight-up packed his things and went to live in a Daoist temple outside the city, henceforth putting it all out of sight, out of mind.
Fu Ya endured a chiding from his mother and didn’t dare to stick his hands into her room again, but he was really strapped for cash. He thus took advantage of the night to feel his way into Fu Tingyi’s room and rummage through it, yet found nothing of any value. Now, he got daring, and was in urgent need of money to use; he suspected that since Fu Tingyi had turned his back on them, he had hence secretly squirreled his property away in the Daoist temple. Fu Ya thusly hired a learned street thief and ordered him to steal a few things from his uncle’s residence there.
As a result, the thief made a mess in that cold, plain room for quite some time, up until he finally foraged out a locked wooden box from the depths of the wardrobe. Believing from the bottom of his heart that it was packed with banknotes, he diligently brought it to Fu Ya. The lock was elaborate and difficult to open, but Fu Ya did it one better by straight-up chiseling a hole through the box’s side, and when he got a look inside at last, he discovered the pile of Southwestern contact letters.
Fu Ya was an idiot, but he still knew the benefits and drawbacks of these items. He was both shocked by Fu Tingyi’s deeply-buried secret, and acutely aware of how this might have been a great, heavensent opportunity.
What he held was enough to make the entire Fu family instantly crumble, as well as pull Fu Shen down from the top of his godly altar, making it so he wouldn’t be able to turn things around for himself for the rest of his life.
Despite the earth-shattering elation and desire to ruin coursing through his body at the time, he had still been able to have half the mind to calmly think about things. He couldn’t directly present this evidence to the authorities, because Fu Shen still had that wily old fox Yan Xiaohan on his side, and sending it to his door was equivalent to casting himself into a net.
He had little power alone, so he needed to find someone who could stand against the Yan-Fu pair, then borrow their hand to accomplish this task.
After repeated deliberation, he took his ‘initiation letter’ and came before the door of Xue Sheng’s home.
Back in the study, the subordinate completed his report, then asked, “Sir, why would Fu Tingyi not burn such important letters after reading them, instead keeping them on hand? Might this be a trap their family set up?”
Xue Sheng shook his head. “It’s related to the Southwest, and with how big Fu Tingyi’s guts are, he wouldn’t dare to test me using something like this. His reason for keeping them can be none other than that he feared that he was consulting with a tiger on how to peel off its own skin, and he wanted to keep evidence in case there came a day that Duan Guihong bit back. Who could’ve known that it was the traitor in his own home that was difficult to defend against…” he soliloquized, half-rueful, half-mocking. “This is how Heaven’s will is, Duke of Jing. Don’t blame this official for sending you off on this journey.”
On the morrow, Xue Sheng entered the palace to have audience with the Emperor, dismissed everyone else, then stepped forward and offered up Fu Tingyi’s letters to him.
“The County Prince of Xiping, the Duke of Jing, the Duke of Ying…” The Changzhi Emperor uttered those three titles in succession. It seemed as if he was unable to control the direction the muscles on his face were going, as he looked awfully malicious. He held those papers up, trembling, for a time. All of a sudden, he stood and swept the tableful of brushes, inkstones, and tea cups to the floor with a swipe of his sleeve. “Unfaithful subjects! They went to great pains to dupe us!” he bellowed harshly, teeth clenched in fury.
An imperial eunuch heard his voice from outside the hall’s door, and he fearfully pushed it open a crack. The Emperor happened to notice this, so he seized a mutton-fat jade brushwash and threw it over there. “Get out!” he raged.
After that loud bang, the room was filled with silence. Xue Sheng stood unaffected within the mess, consoling him superficially. “Quell your anger, Your Majesty.”
Standing rigid for a moment, the Emperor then fell straight down into his chair.
His face was purple, chest heaving violently, and he roughly panted on repeat. “Two Dukes, one family…” he mumbled, “haa, high positions, generous pay… we actually supported a pack of wolf-hearted followers like them…”
Only upon taking note of his fierce anger did Xue Sheng step forward. “Your Majesty, this servant has a statement to put forward,” he said deferentially.
The Emperor eked out a spot of consciousness from within his daze. “Speak.”
Xue Sheng lifted his robe, knelt down in the center of the grand hall, then prostrated himself before him. “Duke of Ying Fu Tingyi had collaborated with Southwest traitor Duan Guihong in plotting against the Retired Emperor’s life, putting the country in jeopardy. Duke of Jing Fu Shen knew, but didn’t report it, and instead covered it up for him. Further still, he has a very deep camaraderie with Duan Guihong. The rebellious hearts of these three have manifested, and if they are not eradicated, they will inevitably rebel in the future.
As things have come to this point, this servant will be so bold as to request that you plan for your future generations by making the swift decision to dispose of the traitorous Fu clan, thus eliminating any future calamities!”
The Emperor was so shocked by him, he barely managed to calm himself down. “Good Subject Xue, tell us… how should we decide on this?” he asked, exhausted.
“May you permit my speech, Your Majesty. Fu Shen’s people are in the Southwest, and there’s also the faraway echo of the Northern Xinjiang garrison. Supposing that the censorate subsequently denounces him to the Court, the Three Departments of Law will investigate it, and that shall inevitably lead to discussion, thus suffering barriers upon barriers of obstruction. In the event that Fu Shen becomes pressured, he will unite with Duan Guihong and rebel on the spot, and the Dynasty won’t be able to do anything to apprehend him. This subject believes, for the sake of the present, this can only be put to task in secret. The chief traitor should be put to death first, with the surviving dregs cleaned up after. When done this way, not only will any future troubles be gotten rid of, but this also won’t be likely to trigger unrest in Northern Xinjiang.”
The Emperor’s heart immediately pounded. Anger had gotten to his head, but he still knew that when dealing with weighty officials like Fu Shen, they should always be given a chance to defend themselves. He hadn’t anticipated that Xue Sheng would step up for the finishing blow. “He… when all’s said and done, Fu Shen’s deeds have been for the nation. How can this sort of method be employed on him?”
“Your magnanimity is vast, Your Majesty, but traitorous officials can’t understand your hard efforts,” Xue Sheng replied softly. “Have you forgotten how he coerced you those years before, when soldiers encircled the capital?
He has enormous prestige in Court and numerous henchmen. He would not have had the great courage to swindle his own monarch otherwise.” He kowtowed, voice sorrowful. “If this traitor is not expunged, the whole country will be in danger. Please reconsider, Your Majesty!”
The Emperor went quiet.
Xue Sheng looked pained and apprehensive on the surface, but on the inside, he was patiently waiting for the Emperor to carefully ruminate on this. He knew a thorn had been stuck into the Emperor’s heart back in the day, and in the face of this iron-wrought evidence, it would eventually grow roots and sprout, transforming into a poisonous vine and ensnaring his psyche and rationality.
Fu Shen would die, without a doubt.
No matter how loyal he typically was, and even if he had reconquered the northern land on the Emperor’s behalf, all of that trust was unreliable. People weren’t necessarily able to remember all the good in someone, but they could definitely remember all of their offenses and damages.
So long as a white jade pendant had a nick, it wasn’t far off from breaking.
As expected, following an endless silence, the Emperor arduously opened his mouth, his voice even slightly rough and shaky. “Subject Xue… what’s a good plan?”
Xue Sheng counted his own breaths, waiting until the pulse pounding deafeningly in his ears slowly waned before he corrected his expression and once again bowed. “This humble servant’s imagination is lacking, but I am willing to help you with these worries, working with the efficacy of a horse.”
Outside the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the eunuch standing guard at the door could only hear intermittent dialogue coming through that small crack, yet those few phrases were enough to terrify him. His hands, hidden beneath his sleeves, were damp with sweat.
Some unknown amount of time later, the vermillion hall doors squeaked, pushed open by someone on the inside.
Xue Sheng stepped out, coming to a halt before the steps, and squinted at the all-encompassing sunlight that greeted him. The eunuch snuck a peek at him, getting the inexplicable feeling that despite High Official Xue’s lack of expression, there was a smile spilling over at the edges of his features at an extremely slow rate.
That was the cold smile of having a card up his sleeve, a victory in his grasp, and a poisoned knife hidden away.
The Emperor called out for him from within the hall. The eunuch named Yuan Zhen quickly retracted his line of sight, then strode inside with small steps. “This slave is here,” he said in a quiet voice.
“Call for people to come clean up the hall. You go brew some tea for us. Take this edict and use this seal to dispatch people to the Southwest this instant.”
Yuan Zhen bowed his head, accepted the edict with both hands, and left with his orders.
That very evening, troops with an imperial order set off from the capital, spurring their horses at full speed towards the Southwest.
On the same night, Wei Xuzhou received a notice from Yuan Zhen, then promptly sent confidants to rush to Jinling overnight and pass the information on to Yan Xiaohan.
The Imperial Guards left behind to guard the capital delivered the news as quick as they could, but in the end, they were not quicker than Xue Sheng’s premeditation. By the time Yan Xiaohan got the letter from the capital and hurried off to the Southwest, he was a step too late.
On the fifth of July, in the fourth year of Changzhi, Duke of Jing Fu Shen suffered an assassination attempt while meeting with Southwestern traitor Duan Guihong, spitting up blood and fainting at the scene. In the fray, he was captured by the Southwest’s rebel forces. His status and whereabouts were unknown.
The author says: Yan Xiaohan may come late, but he will never be absent.
 多事之秋 – lit. “autumn’s many happening”, which refers to troubled times, esp. in politics. I wasn’t able to find out exactly why it specifically refers to autumn, but I’m guessing because it means winter’s fast approaching, and winter sucks.