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In the midst of imminent peril, Jing Qi nevertheless moved to the side with exceptional dexterity, critically dodging her. Miss Jiu’s slim, jade finger held a knife, its edge swiping across the hem of his clothes and slicing open a shallow cut on them.
Her hit not landing, she turned her hand and swept it horizontally out, straight for his middle. He quickly drew three steps back to evade it, but the other’s killing move came at him again.
Once he saw that… great. This was likely an ace of the martial forest, he wasn’t a match for her, and it was probably too late to call for anyone right now. He Ji, that bastard — if there was ever a bad time to go out and ‘fix your clothes’, it was this one!
He kept dodging and retreating all the way into the corner, where he couldn’t retreat any more. Miss Jiu’s knife came sweeping. Desperate, he took a small bottle out of his lapels and sent it right into the blade’s edge. With a crisp sound, a greater half of the bottle was pared off. Looking on as she cut Jing Qi’s hand, Miss Jiu nonetheless suddenly shrieked, tossing the knife away and abruptly taking a couple of steps back. That greater-half of the bottle she had doggedly cut apart happened to have ricocheted, leaping onto her hand.
The area that was contaminated from bumping into the bottle’s liquid felt like it was burning her all of a sudden, infiltrating with a sharp pain. Once the pain was done, it went numb, and the numb feeling followed along her hand, straight up her arm, and to the rest of her. Not long after, half of her body could no longer move.
Miss Jiu glared viciously at him. “You… you… dog official! You actually employed a despicable method like this!” As soon as ‘she’ said this, no more care was given to concealing anything, as that deepness and hoarseness was obviously a man’s voice.
The door got abruptly pushed open from the outside. He Ji barged in with Ji Xiang following behind, the latter cautiously carrying a small lidded cup in hand. Upon seeing this war, he promptly cared about nothing else. “Master!”
Jing Qi rolled his eyes, thinking to himself if I had been counting on you guys, I would’ve really been dead without even pants to go off in, and waved him off. “It’s fine, both of you go. Keep watch at the door for me.”
Once He Ji came near, he noticed Miss Jiu’s awkward predicament of being unable to move a muscle, and was minutely startled. He was someone who came from the palace, though; he hadn’t been following Jing Qi his entire time, but he still knew what matters were taboo, so he bowed and withdrew. Jing Qi swept his eyes over to Ji Xiang. Even if the latter was unwilling to, there was nothing he could do, either, so he had no choice but to place the cup down and say softly, “Master, the day is cold, if you’re wanting to drink.”
Nodding cursorily, Jing Qi expressionlessly watched them retreat. The door shut tightly once more, he casually sat down and observed ‘Miss Jiu’ — who had already gone numb through his leg and couldn’t stand at all, only able to kneel on one side and pant heavily — with a smile. “This Prince wholly doesn’t deserve the praise of being despicable and whatnot. Speaking of methods, my good… brother, you’re a majestic man disguising yourself in women’s trimmings. That’s also not very open and honest, is it?”
‘Miss Jiu”s mouth suddenly moved, but Jing Qi’s hand was even faster, clasping his jaw and nimbly unhinging it. “What are you up to? Is this you thinking of imitating suicide-agent assassins, biting down on poison kept in your mouth?”
He leaned over and picked up the knife from the floor, weighed it in his hand, then brought it up close before ‘Miss Jiu’. “Do you know what sort of knife you ought to use in late-night assassinations?” he quietly questioned.
This was clearly bullying a man that couldn’t speak. Smiling, Jing Qi spoke on without input. “You’re an amateur, aren’t you, Hero? The knives used in daytime are different from the ones in nighttime. This one you have glinted with cold light, so how blind would one have to be to not see it in pitch darkness? I’ll teach you, buddy; the next time you do something like this, seek out a master and get them to give you one specialized for use at night. Neither its blade nor hilt will be able to reflect light, as there’s going to be dark copper covering them.”
‘Miss Jiu’ had his mouth open, unable to close it, with saliva already dripping from it. Never before had he suffered this degree of mistreatment, watching Jing Qi’s gaze that seemed like it was going to swallow him whole.
Jing Qi recognized that the guy evidently had nothing to do with Liao Zhendong. If it weren’t for the stuff Wu Xi gave him coming into use just now, he might have had to hand over his little life here, and Liao Zhendong wasn’t too likely to be at the point that he would put on a fake show for a real act. Hesitating a bit, he crouched down, peering at ‘Miss Jiu’ as he spoke whisper-like to him. “I’m going to hinge your jaw for you now. A manly man, even one that’s an assassin, needs to have the presence of being able to kill someone within ten steps, even a distance of a thousand li unable hinder you. Isn’t it thus unpresentable for you to seek death because you got caught?”
His eyes were too clear and bright, a smile indistinctly inside of them, which made ‘Miss Jiu’ look at him blankly. Jing Qi had since carefully pushed his chin back in, though, not minding the filth, then sat on the ground next to him. Not waiting for ‘Miss Jiu’ to open his mouth, he asked, “You’re an assassin that kills corrupt officials, so what are you fixing your gaze on me for? With that sort of skill, Liao Zhendong is in the front courtyard — why didn’t you go chop his head off? Would that not be solving one problem to end them all?”
“That greedy official really cherishes life and fears death, and he knows that he’s guilty of doing lots of things. Afraid that a demon would drop by in the middle of the night, the place he stays in is layered up with what are openly imperial guards, but are actually all privately-stationed troops. Their patrols are so strict, they’re not any lesser than the royal palace, so how could I get inside it? I was thinking that if this Mister Imperial Envoy was good, then even if I put my life at risk, I could still lend him a strong arm, but I didn’t expect… that you and him are scoundrels conniving together, bringing harm to a loyal subject and meting out punishment to everybody! I am untalented, but I might as well have had you take his place!” ‘Miss Jiu’ explained angrily.
Turned out the guy was aware that he had gone picking for soft, low-hanging persimmons.
Jing Qi “oh”ed, narrowed his eyes, and drew his syllables out. “Privately-stationed troops… is this him about to rebel?”
He chuckled as he shook his head. Taking out a row of bottles and jars from his lapels, he spread them out on the floor, fished out a piece of paper, then compared them in turn. “Martial arts is something I’ve practiced for a few days,” he said mellowly. “I don’t dare boast, as it’s barely enough to get by in use. It can’t be compared to yours, of course — you could tell so, too.”
‘Miss Jiu’ huffed coldly. “If you didn’t use poison, I definitely would have fetched your dog life within two moves!”
Jing Qi didn’t mind him, reaching out to leave two bottles in the pile behind as he stuffed the rest of them back into his lapels again. “Of the two people who came in just now, one is my bookboy. All he does is serve tea, bring water, calculate bills, and run errands; all the more someone not to set in your sights, Hero. The other is a Forbidden City Guard that has martial artistry, and might barely be on par with you. There are also a few folks I had brought from the Prince Estate. You’ve noticed it, too — you made such a huge ruckus with your flailing about just now, yet they didn’t hear it at all. That’s because Sir Liao intentionally set up arrangements for them elsewhere, and had done so under the glorious name of strengthening protection against mob movements.”
Having not expected to hear a set of words like that, ‘Miss Jiu’ couldn’t help but be stunned.
He saw Jing Qi smilingly pick up a small bottle, which he passed beneath his nose. An acrid scent shot to the top of his head, and though ‘Miss Jiu’ promptly sensed that there was still no strength in his body, the potency of the numbness had gone away a bit. Before he could react, Jing Qi picked up another bottle, poured a pill out of it, then relentlessly stuffed it in his mouth and forced him to swallow it. “This stuff isn’t mine,” the other muttered to himself, “I’m just going off instructions. I don’t know if it’ll have effect or not. If, by any chance, I made a mistake, don’t blame me when you go off to the Yellow Springs, brother. You did try to assassinate this Prince first.”
‘Miss Jiu’ was stupefied at the start, but after hearing this, his face trended towards turning green.
He heard Jing Qi continue on. “You said… you were going to risk your life to help me. Dare I ask, Hero, why is that the way you’re going about it? There’s nothing you can do about Liao Zhendong, so you go congregate with our master-servant tri—… Ji Xiang wouldn’t matter, but, even if you got two-and-a-half people, would you be able to take him down then?” He suddenly jabbed ‘Miss Jiu’ hard on the head, quietly scolding him. “Hero, you were born of wheatpaste sellers, yes?”
Despite Hero ‘Miss Jiu’ having decent martial arts and a few tricks at hand, he was but a young lad that left his thatched cottage for the first time, acting only in accordance to being full of hot blood. He hadn’t expected this overlap, going stunned on the spot from his jab. Hesitantly, he reached up and felt the area where he had been poked, thus discovering that he could move again. “You…”
Jing Qi stood, patted the dust off himself, took the cup Ji Xiang had brought over, lifted its lid, and took a light sip. “Oh, right, you said that this Prince has brought harm to loyal subjects — I’ll explain this to you, Hero. You said that Sir Liao has tight security where even you couldn’t infiltrate it easily. How was that ‘loyal subject’, who didn’t even have enough strength to fight a chicken, able to charge in all willy-nilly?”
‘Miss Jiu’ stared blankly where he stood. He donned the fine painted skin of a beautiful woman, but his expression right now was that of an idiot’s. With an accidental glance at him, Jing Qi nearly bust out a laugh, and the rampaging little bit of fire he had tossed out was also gone. “Tidy yourself up,” he said, waving him off. “When someone asks after you go out, just say that this Prince dislikes excessively tall ‘beauties’ and told you to withdraw. Go on, then.”
There was a fake face on ‘Miss Jiu’ — no changes could be seen on it, but his ears did go red. “S… so you’re saying that you and Liao Zhendong aren’t in a group?” he mumbled.
Jing Qi laughed mockingly, thinking to himself that this guy was actually a sincere one. “This Prince never said that.”
Those words exceeded the scope of the Hero’s comprehension. He didn’t leave, nor did he stay, being bewildered for a long time before he had an epiphany. “No, you and he aren’t in a group. If you were, you could have killed me just then, or given me to that dog official.”
“Maybe I want to exploit you for something,” Jing Qi said, not even lifting his head.
“Anything you had, you could go tell it to Liao Zhendong, since he’s eager to fawn on you. If he couldn’t do something, how could I?” ‘Miss Jiu’ replied, completely self-confident.
Jing Qi lifted his head to look at him with some surprise, thinking that the guy was kind of interesting; when he thought someone else was crooked, then, regardless of how crooked they were, he would turn around and think towards whatever good areas they had. Disinclined to be caught up with him anymore, he nodded perfunctorily. “You said it isn’t so, so it isn’t so. Go. This Prince is going to rest.”
‘Miss Jiu’ was unforgiving, however. “No way. I swear to you, if you’ve come to investigate corruption on behalf of the commonfolk, I will stake my life to assist you!”
“This isn’t a matter you have use in.”
You not stirring up trouble would be great. That’d be helping.
“You say the word, and I’ll definitely be able to accomplish it for you.” ‘Miss Jiu’ looked at him with a determined face. “I won’t blink come mountains of knives or seas of fire.”
Despite the bit of exasperation, Jing Qi also inexplicably felt some geniality, thinking that this fake ladyfolk was somehow the same as that little toxic thing, obstinately walking a path into darkness. “What’s your name and surname?” he asked with a grin.
“My surname is Liang. I’m called Liang Jiuxiao.”
Jiuxiao, ‘the ninth and highest heaven’, with no small amount of spirit. Jing Qi nodded, but before he thought to speak, he suddenly remembered something… Liang Jiuxiao? That name was a bit familiar-sounding!
He recalled that, prior to his departure, Zhou Zishu had specifically sought him out and said that he just so happened to have a younger sect-brother that had gone off on his own to experience the world in the Guangs, and he was free to go find him if he had any use for him. That ‘sect-brother’… seemed to have been called ‘Liang Jiuxiao’. “What’s your relationship with Zhou Zishu?” he couldn’t resist blurting out.
Liang Jiuxiao’s eyes lit up. “You know my big sect-brother?”
Jing Qi nearly wanted to smash his head against something and die — what kind of convoluted mess was all this?
The author says: Um… this chapter has no Xiao Wu and no Crown Prince, but believe me, they’ll be in the next. Major character Liang Jiuxiao is quite important to drop in, soooooooo um, he’s a little stupid, but dedicated and stubborn. He has some likeness to Xiao Wu.
The translator says: Shixiong/shimei/shigu/whatever are the worst to translate. I can’t leave them in pinyin because it’d look out of place (and I’m not going to make non-Chinese speakers memorize literally fifteen relevant martial terms and their uses, okay), but we’re not doing that ‘senior apprentice brother’ shit, either, so… sect-brother it is. I’ll mention the seniority order and possibly shorten it to just ‘brother’ when I see fit.
 死士 – A person employed for something that is willing to die on the mission, and/or will kill themselves if something goes wrong and they get captured so they don’t get interrogated.