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By the time Jing Qi woke from the bizarre, kaleidoscopic dreamland of the drug’s effects, the sky outside was already entirely black. Only one dusky lantern was shining in the corner of the room. A teen quietly sat there holding a book up, looking like he hadn’t moved for a very long time.
Wu Xi promptly detected the change in his breathing, of course, and lifted his head to look at him. “You accidentally inhaled a bit of a knockout drug,” he whispered. “The antidote was fed to you. There’s no headache now, right?” It wasn’t clear whether it was Jing Qi’s misconception or what, but he overall felt that Wu Xi’s attitude seemed to have changed a little, being somewhat too unnaturally estranged.
Jing Qi gave an mn, rubbing his eyes; he still wasn’t fully awake, and only felt that this nap had been deeper than a slumber of any length of time. Hearing a burst of thumping noises coming from over his head, he looked up to see that the sable was tied up snugly and hung from the bedcurtain. Its round little eyes watched him pitifully as its bound limbs repeatedly struggled without cease.
Jing Qi couldn’t resist laughing. As he propped himself up, he took it into his hands. “What was this for?”
Wu Xi lightly huffed. “Charge into disaster, and there ought to be punishment. If it weren’t for you spoiling the creature too much, it wouldn’t have gotten to the point that it bites people every couple of days.”
Jing Qi was clear-headed now, smiling. “What are you saying? I’m a big human that weighs a hundred or so catties. How could I bicker with this little thing that weighs a couple of taels?”
Wu Xi paused, suddenly feeling uncomfortable upon hearing that, because the attitude displayed in Jing Qi’s understating words was very similar to the attitude he had towards him — like he was a child. It was very indulgent, though it was an indulgence that wasn’t taken seriously… he thus had to say, “I… shouldn’t have let you be alone in the courtyard today. I should have told you in advance…”
Whilst Jing Qi got out of bed, he said casually, “It was my slip of the hand. What did it have to do with you?” He stretched his back, feeling rather energetic, and the ample sleep put him in a good mood. “It’s so late, I won’t trouble you. I’m returning to the Estate.”
Looking on as he was about to leave, Wu Xi abruptly stood up and called out to him as if supernatural forces were at work. “Beiyuan…”
Jing Qi paused, raised his brows, and looked at him. He noticed that the youth had a slightly confounded expression on his face, appearing to want to say something yet stopping, and looking like he got into trouble yet was hesitant and afraid to speak. He stopped in his tracks, gazing at him with a bit of profundity.
Wu Xi got a little flustered from his eyes watching him. He wasn’t in the habit of reading at night, so the lighting in the bedroom was dim. It was barely enough to see clearly, and it caused Jing Qi’s eyes, which were normally simply gentle and good-looking, to appear especially remote. His gaze pierced as though it had substance, like all the words hidden inside of him were seen through. That ambiguously feigned perplexion became more real.
For a short moment, he lowered his eyes and didn’t look at him. Forcing his mind to calm, he said, “The drug you breathed in is something I haven’t finished making. People who take it should dream, but I’m not certain yet…”
Jing Qi had an epiphany. “You’re asking me what the drug’s effects were?”
The other nodded.
“Brat,” Jing Qi scolded with a grin, “I actually tried out your drug for you… in my daze just now, I really did have a dream. Don’t worry, eh? It was pretty effective, and relieved tiredness, too.”
“What did you… dream of?” Wu Xi questioned closely.
Jing Qi stopped and swept his eyes over him. “Could that be controlled for, as well?” he doubted.
Wu Xi had never told a lie before. He didn’t know why he had blurted out that sentence just then, and mentally long regretted it. The more of a guilty conscience he had, the more he felt that Jing Qi knew something. Since he was asked, he had no choice but to be overly alert as he braced himself to nod. “It can, of course. There’s still drugs that can produce hallucinations and make people see demons and ghosts. Making people dream isn’t completely the same, either. Sometimes it makes people have good dreams, and sometimes it makes people have nightmares. What did you dream of?”
Jing Qi didn’t understand a single thing about this stuff, so he didn’t suspect him, thinking back on it for a bit. “It wasn’t good or bad… I dreamed of a big rock, and a river with its grounds full of safflowers that hadn’t grown leaves.”
Noticing that Wu Xi looked dumbfounded, he shook his head with a smile. “It’s nothing, just a drawn illustration that I’ve seen in folk literature before… didn’t you get up early? I won’t disturb your rest.”
He left, carrying the sable.
“A big rock, and a river… with its grounds full of leafless safflowers?” Wu Xi stood where he was, repeating his words for some reason. Then, he abruptly recalled the sad smile that came onto the other’s face, and slowly creased his brows.
The wave in Court hadn’t yet leveled out when another rose up. Perhaps his diet wasn’t harmonized with the change in seasons, or perhaps many years of indulging in sensuality had hollowed out his foundations, or perhaps he was angered by the incidents happening in quick succession; in not many days, Helian Pei fell ill.
His illness wasn’t serious, but no improvement was seen after a couple days of downing decoctions, and faintly invoked a lot of serious maladies to come. When another half month passed, he was too lazy to even say words, and was observed to have some intention of riding a crane out West.
For that reason, the momentum of the vast literary persecution was inevitably stopped. Helian Pei was holding a feeble breathing rate that could possibly be choked back at any time, his previous ambition vanished. Unable to care about about whoever was stirring people up or whoever was going to rebel, he merely switched out prescription after prescription. Others meant nothing while his life was most precious, lest he kick up his legs and die, leaving the utmost of glory and splendor to vanish entirely like smoke. Helian Pei had originally felt that he, sitting on the dragon throne for a lifetime, was a great hero that woke up grasping ultimate authority from his nap on the lap of a beauty, the sagely Son of Heaven. He didn’t expect that he would get so invalid in older age.
He feared death and old age. When he wasn’t sick, he was engrossed in mucking about and not caring about these many worries, but in this illness, all his private concerns were forced out.
He was unwilling to see Helian Zhao, feeling his eldest son to be overly violent, with ominous evil always within his gaze; whenever he came over, he wasn’t looking at him, but at the throne under him. He wasn’t willing to see Helian Qi, either, as his second son had broken his heart. He hadn’t felt so when he was angered, but now he had no strength to be angry, and every component was streaking across his mind. When he thought of the Mount Tai earthquake, that was in fact the Heavens giving him enlightenment, calling for him to be diligent in governance and fasting. At the start, it had been enough to avoid this catastrophe, but that unfilial son stubbornly destroyed it and caused such huge calamity, making the whole Court laugh behind his back.
He was even more unwilling to see Helian Yi. This son was well-behaved, but once Helian Pei recalled that upon his dying breath, everything before his eyes — the throne room, the imperial gardens, the infinite landscape, the infinite beauties — would become his, he couldn’t help but get envious of his successor’s youth.
In the end, he only called Jing Qi to his side, having him read to him and relieve his melancholy.
On the outside, Jing Qi gave him the same sort of ‘filial piety’ as a blood son would, and on the inside, he was naturally not scheming any less… of course, he wasn’t looking forward to the old Emperor’s death at the moment.
In the hubbub kicked up the time before, many sought refuge in the Crown Prince’s party, making the number of people the Crown Prince now had for use unknown. At the bare minimum, he’d be able to rival with Helian Zhao for longer. However, the Second Helian was right outside; even though he had suffered serious damage, he could be dead ash reigniting at any time, and the state of the Court would be unstable.
If the Emperor died at this juncture, Helian Zhao would have no scruples, being the first to fall out with Helian Yi. There were a few ways to deal with him, but it was still best to be capable of getting a victory with no blood on the troops’ blades.
The Emperor was currently a demon-dispelling barrier. During this period of teetering, all the parties of monsters were beginning to get restless; if he really did get snuffed out, would the sky not get overturned?
So, he was all the more sincere towards him.
Despite his heart having other calculations, Helian Pei couldn’t tell, and only thought that this was a truly good child, even claiming that there had been no filial sons before his sickbed for a long time. Those three wastrels he had raised couldn’t compare to his one adoptive son. He frequently pulled Jing Qi into talking endlessly about things that happened when he was young, and the child wasn’t bothered, simply quietly listening at the side.
This caused Helian Pei to be considerably touched, feeling that he had treated him poorly over these years.
Helian Yi kept doing his duty, conscientiously acting on his behalf to manage the Court and absolutely never deciding things in private. Every morning and evening he would visit his father with thorough courtesy (whether Helian Pei liked it or not), and he would give accounts of both huge matters and tiny situations, needing Helian Pei’s ideas before he would accept his orders and go manage them. He wasn’t the least bit brash because he was handling things, nor was he the least bit dejected because of Helian Pei’s poor tone of voice.
Lots of people didn’t say anything, but as soon as this came about, they sighed endlessly about the truth of the Crown Prince’s stability, where he was unaffected by the collapse of Mount Tai, knowing that the man had been hiding his strength before to have truthfully been as dependable and resolute as this. In comparison, Helian Qi and Helian Zhao, who had been jumping about randomly these years, really looked to have fallen downwind.
Unawareness of one’s own sight hence made them see clearly. Unawareness of one’s own accuracy hence made them truthful. Unawareness of one’s own glory hence gave them merit. Unawareness of one’s own esteem hence made them supreme. They alone did not contend, hence there were none in the realm that could contend with them… everyone could recite this book from memory, but that principle was one many people would likely never understand all their lives.
Laozi and Zhuangzi had exited the world, but in the opinions of those in the world — given that they genuinely wanted to contend — they would at least have to put on an appearance of ‘not contending’. Stirring things up into an obvious secret would then be undoably stupid.
Helian Qi obediently reflected upon himself at home, but Jiang Zheng’s side was on edge, neither the imperial troops nor Zhou Zishu withdrawing. The old Emperor was preoccupied with season-change depression and had no spare time to harass him, but the honest-looking ‘Second Highness’ might be making up some things out of nothing.
The Second Scion’s devilish, off-path image was set very deep in the people’s hearts. Liang Jiuxiao, in the capacity as a ‘Hero’ with an unusual sense of responsibility, couldn’t feel at ease about the Jiang Estate. Added in with the painful memories he had of the Prince Estate, he wholeheartedly devoted himself to guarding Sir Jiang’s home.
He was very carefree and outspoken. When he had nothing to do, he was fond of talking at will and laughing about nothing, thus getting a good relationship with all levels of the Jiang Estate. Jiang Yuqing appreciated wild ‘Heroes’ like him the most because it was easier to set his mind in motion, so he became good enough friends with him to sling an arm across his shoulder.
Jiang Zheng’s four-year-old daughter, Jiang Xue, was nevertheless a tiny scourge that could go on the roof and take off its tiles, a little monkey that followed after Liang Jiuxiao’s big monkey butt all day long. She was young and had no need for being suspicious, likely being the sole member of the Jiang Estate that felt nothing.
Liang Jiuxiao had huge guts, and once snuck out while carrying her to go see Zhou Zishu and ‘show off’ to his sect-brother. Yet, he happened to accidentally bump into Helian Yi, and only angered Zhou Zishu. The eternally-collected man took out a whip and chased him as he ran halfway around the capital.
The little girl Jiang Xue was an ignorant one that knew no fear, staring dim-wittedly at Helian Yi. After having a staring contest with the Crown Prince for half the day, she suddenly stuck out her pudgy little hands and grinned with her little baby teeth, calling out a crisp, “Hug!”
The translator says: You don’t want a hug from the bad man, little girl.