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The instant the words ‘I have to save the Second Scion’ came out of Hua Yue’s mouth, Su Qingluan got the mind for murder. She had the sudden realization that the girl before her was greatly ambitious, and no longer that ignorant young lady that had been freshly bought and followed after her.
At the onset, when Hua Yue had hooked up with the Prince Estate’s Ji Xiang, she had tacitly accepted it, as she also wanted to imitate those major figures that conversed like they were playing go by burying her own chess piece. However, she very soon discovered that Ji Xiang held a dread towards Jing Beiyuan that exuded from his bones; even in the face of his beloved woman, he didn’t dare to relent a tiny bit.
And she, the one who had been placed in closest proximity to the Crown Prince by the Second Scion, had utterly no way to be useful. The initial honeyed affection had passed, and all she knew was what they called ‘crabapple flowers decline as easily as a man’s feelings, the flow of water as infinite as sorrow.’ What was in that man’s chest was his home and country, and he had a moon-like existence that the stars curled around. She was no more than a minor songstress that sang upon Fullmoon River, a performing plaything for the whole city to enjoy.
No matter how dumb a woman was, she could distinguish between what were true feelings and what were false. From that bit of deep love could hidden ire be born, from the hidden ire was resentment born — after that, the huge dream was woken up from, and then the heart was as cold as iron. Dear women ought not to indulge in gents! Gents indulge, and still get spoken of. Women indulge, and do not get spoken of.
Now, she wanted nothing more than to keep on living in wealth and glory like this.
Hua Yue might have had her own tiny calculations, but she didn’t comprehend the matters those major figures had at all. Even if what she had said was the truth — that the Second Scion had been framed and blame-shifted by someone — the real cause of his imprisonment certainly didn’t stop at that, and he had to have committed a disastrous taboo that would have gotten him lifelong jail. Sometimes, a matter’s truth wasn’t that important in the least.
Su Qingluan knew that this time, Helian Qi really had no way to recover from this. At this moment, if she didn’t know what it was to be smart and allowed Hua Yue to do something stupid, she was likely not going to able to ensure her own life, either.
Even insects snuck around in order to keep their lives!
Once a woman had determined a most savage resolution, she would either see it done to the end, or not do it at all. On one side, she sent Hua Yue off with an excuse, and on the other, she stealthily disguised herself and took a shortcut to the Prince Estate. Ji Xiang was different from Hua Yue; he was a servant of the Estate, and the beating of a dog depended on its Master. It was probable that the Prince still didn’t know that there was such a double-crosser in his Estate, and she wanted to sell this favor to him.
She feared Helian Yi from the bottom of her heart. Her feelings had vanished, and only fear remained — fear of the cold light in that man’s eyes, and because accompanying the monarch was like accompanying a tiger. Even so, she had an odd hunch that, if there came a day that she really was to die by the Crown Prince’s hands, only the Prince could save her when the time came.
Jing Qi indeed hadn’t expected it. For one, Ji Xiang was genuine too familiar with his everyday customs, and had acted quite carefully. For two, Ji Xiang had been following his side for over a decade. Even though that couldn’t compare with Ping An’s accumulated camaraderie of several lifetimes, he was still a child he had watched grow up and diligently educated.
He was guarded against the Emperor, the Crown Prince, and major officials both civil and military — if he also needed to be fearfully guarded against even the household members right under his nose, wouldn’t a life like that be a bit too senseless?
The colder people looked, the deeper their feelings were in reality. The more filthy things people saw, the more they wanted to cherish some good things in their hearts. At times, they always hoped to be able to believe in some people, and regret parting with some people.
Jing Qi thought that cherishing old affections like this was awful, and he really was getting old.
Hearing what Su Qingluan meant… the Crown Prince’s affairs, his affairs, and Zishu’s affairs were things Ji Xiang naturally wasn’t clear on. It was merely that he was in an advantageous pavilion near the water at the Prince Estate, and he was clever, so he could have guessed out some clues. Jing Qi had his own plans in doing things, and he never brought them up lightly, even to Ping An. It wasn’t that he refused to trust in others; he simply felt that these villainous matters, if possible, were fine for him to know, while anyone else wasn’t to be frightened.
However, he had also never painstakingly avoided taboo around them before.
Before Su Qingluan finished, he nodded absent-mindedly, and spoke like he was sighing. “Act how you see fit, Miss. This Prince will merely act like I know nothing of it.”
Therefore, he had someone get Ji Xiang to wait on him in the study while he held a book, mechanically flipping through the pages when he, in fact, wasn’t reading a single one. Out of the corner of his eyes, he glimpsed the youth making an extreme effort to repress his expression — pretending that everything was fine, yet looking apprehensive — and the ache in his heart was simply unbearable to speak about.
And no one could speak of it.
Steward Ping An was an expert at financial management; upon running into these calculative matters, though, both of his eyes practically clouded over. It was likely that, to date, he still ignorantly didn’t know what had happened, and, to date, entirely believed himself to be wise and powerful enough to foresee everything, watching Ji Xiang the whole time with only a cool eye…
But he wasn’t a god.
Jing Qi vacantly thought that he himself wasn’t a god, either. He was used to typically having a nonchalant expression on at all times, but it wasn’t like he could actually see five hundred years into the future and think of responses to everything in advance. He was just… broken-hearted, and couldn’t allow anyone to see that he was.
What he had said prior to Ji Xiang’s departure could be considered his final act of extreme benevolence to him: if you’re able to completely repent, if you have even a bit of your heart still with me, then you know what to say and what not to say, and will make Su Qingluan know you as a loyal servant. This was for the sake of gaining a favor with me, anyhow, and she wouldn’t move against me.
Then fate would go by Heaven’s will.
A breeze faintly picked up. Wu Xi took off his outer robe, unfolded it, and covered them both. Jing Qi didn’t open his eyes, but he abruptly grabbed his hand, startling him, and was heard to mumble like he was sleeptalking. “I hate to do it. Someone like that, just… gone, all of a sudden, I hate it…”
Wu Xi didn’t know who he was talking about, yet sensed that it was rare, and certainly not easy, for this man that never showed his emotions to speak some truth. Getting somewhat overwhelmed from this favor, he didn’t dare to even breathe heavy as he waited for him to keep going.
Jing Qi sighed, eyelids lifting slightly. The daylight inclined minutely. His gaze was in disarray, eyes appearing somewhat blank. “But there’s nothing I can do.” He chuckled miserably, let go of Wu Xi’s hand, then reached out a finger and lightly tapped him on the center of his chest. “Tell me, what are you made of inside? Say that you’ve a wolf’s heart and a dog’s lungs, and I’m afraid I’d tarnish even those…”
Wu Xi abruptly reached out to cover his mouth, silently holding him tightly in his arms — in my heart, you’re a great person. Don’t say such dispiriting things.
If you won’t take that seriously, I will.
Hua Yue and Ji Xiang exited the Prince Estate. She pulled a piece of thin silk out and carefully wiped the wound on his forehead clean. He suddenly grabbed her hand, gazing at her with scorching eyes. “Yue’r, I will never let you down.”
Her heart jolted, and she raised her eyes to look at him.
He laughed gently. “Don’t you worry.”
At that instant, the extremely earnest expression on the sorry face of the youth who had been foolishly deceived by her this whole time made her heart thump. Those sweetened words that were about to come out of her mouth got stopped up in her throat, stuffing up until she felt exceedingly unwell. She dove into his arms, closing her eyes.
She thought: Brother Ji Xiang, I’ll be taking advantage of you for the final time. After today, I will follow you unswervingly, for the rest of your life. I will compensate my whole life for the schemes and poor treatment I gave to you before.
In one’s life, they had to know kindness and attempt to recompense it. Utter loyalty was not only for peerless figureheads — she had owed the Second Highness prior, but she had repaid him now. In the future, she would owe Brother Ji Xiang alone.
Thinking this way, she suddenly felt certain, and she relaxed by a lot. For that reason, she gently parted from Ji Xiang’s embrace, smiling brilliantly. “Let’s go,” she said clearly.
Liang Jiuxiao was, of course, drinking by himself in a restaurant, a great many things that he couldn’t figure out going through his mind. These days, his sect-brother was constantly distracted by attending to him. Regarding both his side here and the Crown Prince’s side there, everyone was haggard, and he couldn’t take it anymore. Every day, he would simply say he was relieving his worries, take a stroll out by himself, and drink a couple of jars of wine at some tall building.
Getting dead drunk resolved his worries for a while, after which he would lay down on the table and take a nap. Then, he would ask the proprietor for a bucket of hot water, wash the scent of alcohol off of himself, and muster the strength to force a smile, allowing Zhou Zishu to fret less.
The young lady singing in the restaurant finished her song, then held a small dish and went around seeking tips. She came before him, and though he hadn’t heard much of her song, it would be bad to disappoint her, so he took out some tip money and placed it onto her plate.
“Thank you, Uncle,” she said in a delicate voice.
She thanked him for the tip, yet she still didn’t leave. He couldn’t resist lifting his head to look at her, only to witness her take a look around, then draw her hand out from her sleeve, a tiny piece of paper in her palm. “Someone entrusted me with giving this to you,” she said quietly to him, “saying that if you wanted to know who the murderer was, you should go here.”
He immediately sobered more than halfway up, but before he had time to ask for clarification, she gave him a pileup of words. “I don’t know anything, I’m just doing this for someone else. Don’t make things hard for me, Uncle.”
Sure enough, she was a slippery character that had mingled in the common streets.
He opened the paper up and saw an address written in tiny characters on it. Frowning, he put payment for the alcohol on the table, turned, and left.
He was familiar with the capital, but still felt that this place was out-of-the-way. Finding it was difficult. Seeing the tall-built courtyard walls, he first turned to passersby and asked, “Who lives here?”
In a string of successive questions, none could be clearly answered; they were apparently a hermit. Getting suspicious, he silently wound around to the back wall and put his lightfoot skill to use by flipping inside. The whole journey, he prudently avoided maids that came and went as they were ordered around, then discovered that there were only women here, which made him feel kind of awkward. Right when he wasn’t sure where to go, he saw two people swiftly come in the entrance. One was a beautiful girl, and the other one… was Ji Xiang of the Prince Estate?
Liang Jiuxiao furrowed his brows, vaguely detecting that something was quite off, and followed them in secret. Seeing them enter a place that seemed to be the main building, he walked to be below the foot of the wall and bent his ear to listen.
His martial arts had been taught a bit by Zhou Zishu, so his lightfoot and hearing were both excellent. Listening like this, he could distinguish that there seemed to be quite a number of people hidden in the room, all of whom had martial arts and knew how to repress their breathing, like they were imperial guards.
All he heard was a woman’s nice-sounding voice ringing out to strike down upon his head. “Hua Yue, you little bitch, kneel for me!”
Soon following came the sound of teacup falling to the ground, as well as another female voice. “My Lady, I—“
“Kneel!” The woman’s voice raised up, after which she took two deep breaths, then toned herself down. “Young Master Ji Xiang, I truly am sorry to have sought you out in such a way… can you guess what this double-crossing little slut said to me before?”
“Miss Su, what are you doing?” Ji Xiang said after. “Just say what you have to say, what mistake has Yue— Miss Hua Yue made?”
“Do blame me for not controlling a wench under my control,” the woman said coldly. “One moment of inattention, and the wench’s ambitions grew big; she has climbed onto the Second Scion.”
Shocked, Liang Jiuxiao couldn’t help but gather forward even closer, not daring to let a word slip.
“You said you were grasping a high branch?” The woman spoke again. “And now what’s happened these couple of days? Now, you can see that the Second Scion is convicted, yet you still don’t know your place, to have insanely said the words of ‘needing to save the Second Scion’! What are you? Is there any margin for you to butt into the affairs of gentlemen, and the Dynasty?!”
Ji Xiang appeared to be a bit dumbstruck, only mumbling out after half the day, “Miss Su, where… where have these words come from?”
“She said to me that the Second Scion was unjustly accused of murdering a Dynasty official. She said that to me herself, Young Master…” The woman laughed coldly. “I know how shameless this bitch acts, to still want to implicate you when her death quickly approaches. Does she think the Prince Estate has no standards?! I invited you here today for nothing other than one thing — to have you confront her, and to make her death one that she understands! Come, arrest her!”
A burst of movement was heard. It was probably the guards hidden at the side coming to arrest the young woman.
Ji Xiang immediately knelt down. “Be merciful, Miss Su!” he shouted.
“Why? This girl has vilified you so. How could you still plead on her behalf?” the woman asked with a smile. “That can’t be done. Though I, Su Qingluan, am merely an actress, my subordinates still have rules. I’ll ask you not to manage my household affairs for me. Seize her!”
He was silent. The girl in the room started shrieking.
“Haul her away!” Su Qingluan then ordered. “Follow regulations and whip her to death!”
The guards affirmed, and the girl’s wailing got even louder. “Hold on!” Ji Xiang suddenly shouted. “Miss Su, what she said isn’t baseless at all!”
All movement in the room suddenly seemed to stop. In that moment, Liang Jiuxiao felt his own heart suddenly stop, too.
He heard Ji Xiang speak, word by word. “On the day Sir Jiang was assassinated, I personally saw the Prince put a drug in Hero Liang’s wine, and then get someone to let Young Master Zhou know…”
 From a short poem by Liu Yuxi in Poems of the Bamboo Branch. (priest misquotes it slightly; instead of ‘the flow of water as infinite as sorrow’, she put ‘the flow of water, limitless, is deep affection’, which… makes no sense.)
 A poem from the Classic of Poetry, Wind of Wei, Mang. This verse is saying men are fickle-hearted trash, and women may as well as be lesbians because men leave all the time… well, not literally, but pretty much. (Read it in full here.)