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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 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. 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.
The translator says: Wu Xi… you’re… you’re so bad at this… at least you’re not as biased and moronic as Emperor Stupid.
 Prince Ma (马王爷) is a three-eyed god.
 Bodhisattvas are immortals who forwent heaven to save people. When their visages are placed on one side of the river for protection, they can’t cross over to help anyone on the other side, because they’re made of clay and will dissolve.